Friday, July 31, 2020

As The Teachers Unions Fight Reopening Schools

As the teacher's unions fight reopening schools, Daniel J. Mitchel (his own home on the webz) writes a piece for FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education) on just how bad the public school situation is.  A few things jumped off the page to bite me.

Let me start, as Mitchell does, by re-posting a graphic I must have posted a dozen times since 2013 when Cato published this.  This is about the costs of education vs the improvements in test scores.

You can see that total cost almost tripled, the total number of employees almost doubled while test scores were not affected at all.  Unless you're immune to measured data, you have to agree that no matter what we spend on education, it doesn't affect test scores.  There's no discernible positive trend such that someone could say "we only tripled what we spent, the data says we need to spend six times more" or any other number.  It's just as valid to say that since whatever we spend doesn't make a difference let's just not spend anything at all or let's cut spending to 1/10 of its current level and send the administrative staff home.  As Daniel Mitchell says, Andrew Coulson produced a graphic here that is probably more vivid and more telling than the vast majority of graphics you'll come across.

I mentioned some things jumped off the page at me, here's a paragraph from a paper Mitchell references:
Since World War II, inflation-adjusted spending per student in American public schools has increased by 663 percent. Where did all of that money go? One place it went was to hire more personnel. Between 1950 and 2009, American public schools experienced a 96 percent increase in student population. During that time, public schools increased their staff by 386 percent – four times the increase in students. The number of teachers increased by 252 percent, over 2.5 times the increase in students. The number of administrators and other staff increased by over seven times the increase in students. …This staffing surge still exists today. From 1992 to 2014 – the most recent year of available data – American public schools saw a 19 percent increase in their student population and a staffing increase of 36 percent. This decades-long staffing surge in American public schools has been tremendously expensive for taxpayers, yet it has not led to significant changes in student achievement. For example, public school national math scores have been flat (and national reading scores declined slightly) for 17-year-olds since 1992.
I've long known of the number of employees virtually doubling (as shown in the above graphic), but had not seen the details of the number of teachers going up 2.5 times the increase in the number of students while administrators, helpers and other staff increased seven times the increase in students.

Doubtless, you've heard statistics like 0% of graduating high school students in Baltimore are proficient at math.  That may be an extreme example but the trend is sadly not unusual.  Nationwide, only about a third of eighth graders do math or read at their grade level. 

When I read things like the LA teacher's union saying they won't allow the schools to open until officials adopt absurd changes like closing charter schools, defunding the police, and creating medicare for all it helps explain why the expenditures keep going up for no return. After all, if they want those things, are they intelligent enough to teach children?

When I was in my 20s, it wasn't unusual to hear retirees my current age saying "why am I paying taxes for schools that I don't use?"  The stereotype answer was that schools provide an educated public which benefits us all, so you're getting benefits from that tax money.   It's more and more apparent that we're getting essentially nothing for our money. 

As the modern saying goes, if taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society, I want my money back.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Busy Spacey Day

Between NASA, United Launch Alliance and SpaceX it proved to be a busy day.

This morning at the start of the two hour launch window at 7:50 AM, NASA's Perseverance Mars rover and the Ingenuity autonomous drone helicopter lifted off on a ULA Atlas V from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Base.  Kudos to all concerned for getting a mission that looked to be in trouble around the first of July back on track.  Since the early tests, the work seems to have gone well. 

(The two-chamber RD-180 engine and four solid rocket motors of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket propels NASA’s Perseverance Mars mission into space on the morning of Thursday, June 30th from SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. (Richard Angle))  - I've read to get that rich detail in the rocket exhaust plumes the trick is use an exposure of about 1/8,000 of a second.  Consider that an essentially useless Fun Fact because no one has a chance get these photos except the professionals who deploy remotely controlled cameras closer to the launch than a human can survive.

The trip to Mars will take around 7 months, so the Mars 2020 spacecraft is scheduled to land on Mars on February 18, 2021.   You can see mission status here.

Meanwhile, in Texas, after several delays (including Hurricane Hanna last weekend), Starship prototype SN5 finally had a successful static firing today, lasting about 4 seconds.

Photo credit SpaceX and Elon Musk, via Twitter
Shortly after the test, the founder and chief engineer of SpaceX, Elon Musk, confirmed that the static fire meant the company now plans to move forward with a short test flight of the vehicle. Based upon a notification from the US Federal Aviation Administration, this 150-meter flight test could take place as soon as Sunday, with a launch window opening at 8am local time (13:00 UTC).

This would be the first flight test of Starship hardware since a stubby prototype—Starhopper—soared to 150 meters in late August 2019. That test, in which a single Raptor engine powered the vehicle upward and laterally for about 100 meters before landing, was successful in demonstrating thrust and vector control of the methane-fueled engine. [Note: Starhopper is generally now called Hoppy on the LabPadre Nerdle Cam - SiG]
Musk tweeted “Starship SN5 just completed full duration static fire. 150m hop soon.”  While we don't know that there are issues found today that need to be resolved before they can let SN5 hop, I wouldn't put a lot of money on the hop taking place Sunday.  Which isn't to say I won't have a browser tab set to that camera. 

Ultimately, one of the many prototypes under construction there at Boca Chica, Texas is expected to hop to around 12 miles up or 66,000 feet.  Definitely suborbital, but higher than most commercial aircraft.  It seems likely that will happen before the end of 2020. 

But Sunday is still looking to be a pretty raunchy day here.  The latest forecast for Tropical Storm Isaias is to pass to our east, over the Atlantic as a Category 1 hurricane.  Closest approach looks to be early Sunday morning.  On Saturday morning, we'll decide if we're putting up the shutters.  

I've found that Saturday's early morning Falcon 9 launch has been postponed until next Thursday at 1:22AM.  I haven't found anything about changes to the conclusion of the Demo 2 mission from the ISS.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

This Is a Bad Weekend for a Tropical Storm

As Miguel at Gun Free Zone pointed out, we're under the 5 day forecast cone for a tropical storm this weekend.  Before the 5 day cone extended this far, it was clear the path was pointed this way.  The most current forecast map just came out a couple of minutes ago as I write this:

Earlier today, the model tracks were off the west coast; last night it was east of Orlando.  Now the track goes between Orlando and Tampa.  Either way those of us on the east coast around Cape Canaveral are in the uncertainty band.  This forecast map is strange looking to me.  For one thing, this is referred to as Potential Tropical Cyclone Nine.  PTC9 has winds of 45 MPH, which could qualify it as a tropical storm.   I'm not quite sure what nuance keeps them from classifying this as a tropical storm now, but I believe the system is too spread out - too big - so the circulation is too loose.  If it should become one, the name will be Isaias.  The environment is full of wind shear and that's why it will probably stay a tropical storm before landfall.

Tomorrow morning's Mars rover launch (NET 7:50 AM) won't be affected.  Even SpaceX's much-delayed Starlink-9 mission early Saturday morning (NET 3:21 AM) shouldn't be affected - the storm will be over 300 miles away, much closer to Cuba than the Cape.  Assuming the Starlink mission goes off on time and the booster is recovered, getting that booster back into port could well be affected by the storm.  Recovery drone OCISLY left Port Canaveral for the landing zone Tuesday night a little before midnight.  It takes the drones a couple of days to get back to the port which would certainly have it offshore during the storm.  I don't know what those ships are rated for.  The last time the fairing recovery ships were threatened by a tropical storm, they took shelter in a South Carolina port; the recovery ship stayed on station.

The recovery drones are unmanned virtually all the time they're offshore.  They use large motors and change the direction their huge props point to stay on station, using closed-loop position-keeping based on a GPS position.  To get to the recovery zone (based on other Starlink missions, probably off the South Carolina coast) and then get back to Port, a tug boat tows them. 

The mission with the biggest risk seems to be the return of Crew Dragon 2 on Sunday.  The map of possible landing areas  I posted Monday splits possible splashdown sites around the Florida peninsula, and none of those places are currently looking good.

NASA held a scheduled review today with NASA and SpaceX people in attendance, and they're still planning for the Crew Dragon to undock on Saturday. 
NASA and SpaceX are targeting 7:34 p.m. EDT Saturday, Aug. 1, for undocking of the Dragon “Endeavour” spacecraft from the space station and 2:42 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 2, for splashdown, which will be the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station.
They acknowledge that a storm is out there, but I see no mention of the time it takes to get a ship to the proposed return site or any of those nasty details.

My take is that they should leave crew dragon on the station another few days. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

I Give Up Trying to Understand the Coronavirus Reaction

William M. Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, has a summary of the insanity you must read, but even he misses a ton of it.  For example, he rightly points out:
Sodomy is back on in (the appropriately nicknamed) Sodom-on-Sea. Yes, the city’s leaders say “Restrictions Relaxed for Gay Bathhouses, Sex Venues“. Spreading COVID via glory holes is not a worry anymore, not in San Francisco. (Spreading HIV is no longer seen as entirely undesirable.)
You can’t get into to see granny on her 103rd birthday—as a man running a small shop told me about his experience with this aged relative—but at least you can sodomize a man through a hole in the wall.
I suppose we're supposed to be happy they didn't make “sodomizing a man through a hole in a wall” mandatory.

But he doesn't mention the Supreme Court siding with Las Vegas that it was perfectly acceptable to allow casinos to have hundreds of people or more inside, as long as it was less than 50% occupancy, but a church couldn't have more than 50 people inside no matter how many people it could seat. 

You can't go more than a few minutes without hearing, “cases are up!!!!!!”  But the number of deaths peaked in mid April and is way down by now.  (Gee, almost like these guys said in early May)

In my county in Florida, the peak number of cases is in 15-24 year olds, where the chances of dying from it are in the parts per million range.  Statewide, it's 25-34. We're being singled out in the national media for having a second surge, but then Briggs points out this:
Oops again: Coronavirus Surge Narrative Cast into Doubt After Antigen Tests Result in 73 Percent False Positive Rate in Just One Small Vermont Town. Many such cases.
Tests with 73% false positive rate should be taken off the market and burned in a big, hot fire. 

It sounds to me that having lots of 15 to 34 year olds coming down with the virus is a Good Thing.  That much closer to making the islands of people the virus has to hop over to get to victims too big.  “Herd immunity.”  Isn't that one of the reasons for vaccines in general?  The media makes you deaf screaming about how bad it is, but only bloggers will point out important truths (this one from Gun Free Zone).

And I'm not even getting near the story of how we have stacks of doctors worldwide who are treating Covid patients with hydroxychloroquine and claiming the combination of that with a few other treatments is very effective, but the American media is screaming endlessly that not only is it not a valid treatment but that it will kill people. 

If it doesn't make sense no matter how you look at it, it must be politics.  I have a suggestion for the media and the horses they rode in on. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

A Little Space News Roundup

Based on reports I'd seen a couple of weeks ago, I expected a launch readiness review for the Mars rover launch on Thursday morning.  I've just been searching the usual places on the web and don't find anyone giving results of such a review, so I'll go with what I have.  There's an 80% chance of acceptable weather for launch on Thursday morning (launch window opens at 7:50 AM). 
“For launch day Thursday, overall conditions are favorable,” the forecast team wrote. “However, an isolated shower just offshore and some mid-level clouds along the coast are likely as a weak front off the coast of the southeast (United States) sags southward. Therefore, the primary concerns for launch day are the cumulus cloud and thick cloud layer rules.

Forecasters predict partly cloudy skies, a temperature of between 80 and 83 degrees Fahrenheit, and muggy conditions Thursday morning on Florida’s Space Coast.
The SUV-sized rover and its piggyback payload, the Ingenuity autonomous drone helicopter were loaded onto the Atlas V back on the 7th, and the plutonium fuel for the rover's power generation was loaded on the 20th.

The NASA website to keep track of the mission is at .

If you haven't been watching it, there's a small fleet of Mars satellites and rovers that have launched in this opposition's launch window.  The United Arab Emirates and the Peoples' Republic of China both launched their first missions to Mars.  The UAE used a Japanese H3 rocket (video) launching on July 19th.  The Chinese used one of their Long March 5 rockets, launching their Tianwen 1 probe last Thursday the 23rd (video).

All three of these missions will arrive at Mars around next February.

Closer to home, on Wednesday, NASA and SpaceX will commit to a landing zone for Sunday's return of Crew Dragon Demo 2 vehicle, carrying Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.
A final target date and time will be selected on Wednesday, during a "Return Flight Readiness Review," which will consider both the health of the spacecraft and weather. There are seven potential splashdown zones for Dragon around the state of Florida, in both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Among the criteria for weather are winds less than 16.5km/hour, calm seas, and a low probability of rainfall.

A decision on where to splash down will come about six hours before undocking, but a final call on whether to actually undock may not be made until the final minutes before departure. Depending on the splashdown location chosen, it will take between six and 30 hours for the crew to return to Earth after undocking.

Unlike early manned space programs which depended on Navy vessels, SpaceX will handle the capsule recovery themselves with a specially equipped recovery ship, either the Go Searcher or Go Navigator recovery ship.  Whichever (or both) ships will have to leave Port Canaveral far enough ahead of the landing time to get there.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

A Ham Radio Series 9 – Software Defined Radio

Software Defined Radios (SDR) are kind of the “new hotness” in radio to hobbyists although they've been used commercially for a long time.  They almost have an air of magic around them.  One of the things that a few people wanted to read about was a primer on SDR.

At times like this, I like to start out with a definition of what we’re talking about just to make sure everyone is on the same page.  Several groups have suggested definitions, but I like the definition used by one of the biggest companies in the ham radio SDR world, Flex Radio Systems, who says an SDR is one:
where components that have typically been implemented in hardware (e.g. mixers, filters, amplifiers, oscillators, modulators/demodulators, detectors. etc.) are instead implemented using software running on a personal computer or other embedded computing devices.”  (Note: that last phrase could mean internal to the radio and not your computer) 
Those of you with some familiarity with SDRs might think of something like the RTL-SDRs, the seemingly magic little receivers that tune from around 24 MHz up to 1.8 Gigahertz and use software on your computer to do the many functions, “typically … implemented in hardware … modulators/demodulators, detectors...

Calling those little RTL-SDRs software defined is a distraction, though.  What makes those little SDRs capable of tuning 24 to 1800 MHz in something the size of a USB drive isn’t the software, it’s the hardware.  Dedicated hobbyist-software hackers (in the good sense) took a chip designed for TV reception and realized that they could control it and get outputs from it that they could use for whatever they thought of.  There are plenty of software packages to try to see what you like, things like SDR # (SDR Sharp) or HDSDR.  That previous link is your source for RTL-SDR information.

In the professional world I retired from, we had radios that met the basic SDR definitions 30 years ago.  These generally ran the Analog/Digital Converter (ADC) with a much lower clock frequency than the IF it was converting, called undersampling.  The first ones I worked on were in the early ‘90s, and that advanced with the hardware capabilities until the last radios I worked on (starting in about 2008) were close to having the ADC attached to the antenna.  These are called band samplers; they convert the entire desired band RF spectrum to digital and process the bits.  There's simply not much analog hardware at all.

The main radio in my ham shack has met the Flex Radio definition of an SDR since the early part of the ‘00s; I honestly don’t remember the year exactly but it was an Icom 746Pro.  In analog radios it was common to need to buy additional IF filters and you ordinarily only had a choice of only two filters for both voice (SSB) and Morse code (CW).  With the IC-746Pro, with filtering and demodulation done in software, I could have my choice of three filters for every mode and I could change the filter bandwidth while I was operating if I felt the need.

This is typical of the choice to buy an SDR over an “all analog” radio.  It may cost more but the cost buys you tons of convenience features; a choice of 3 IF widths for every mode (3SSB, 3CW, 3AM, 3FM and any other mode on the front panel) versus a couple of filters bought after the radio.  I believe the number talked about is at any given moment you have the equivalent of 15 IF filters in the radio and by changing them on the fly you have 41 IF filters available.  Plus, any other audio filtering or audio processing that can be done in Digital Signal Processing (DSP) software comes along with it.  Correlation cancelers (eliminate the annoying sound of guys tuning up on frequency; some systems remove more than one station tuning at a time), correlation enhancers (noise reduction), adjustable dual peak audio filters (for RTTY for example) and more operating conveniences.

It’s not that 15 filters couldn’t be done in hardware, but it’s terribly impractical; 15 filters would massively increase the size of the radio and add at least 14 more of the most expensive parts in the radio.  Additionally, the software allows the manufacturer to load the same software on successive models and have them behave the same way. 

To paraphrase something I said back in the Radio Sunday series,
The most important thing to point out is that an SDR isn't doing things that an analog radio can't do, but the SDR does them in more repeatable ways, and in ways that can be miniaturized more easily.
Today, the emphasis is on band sampling receivers, which buys you a tremendous advantage over most other radios: better linearity.  In a linear system, the only signals out of an amplifier stage are the ones you put into it.  A nonlinear stage adds signals because of mixing, a multiplication process.  The only intentionally nonlinear stages in an analog receiver are the mixers.  The incoming RF is multiplied by the Local Oscillator (LO) giving rise to more signals on the output than the input.

In a band sampling receiver more linearity is relatively easy to obtain.  Run more current in the RF amplifiers to increase their intercept points. In an analog receiver, there’s always a mixer (sometimes more than one) and those are intentionally nonlinear.  Making a more linear mixer is a more difficult design; there are off the shelf solutions for different levels of linearity, but since the intent of the part is to be nonlinear, it’s quite a balancing act.

A band sampling HF receiver looks like this.  It uses some filters to remove possible sources of signals that would combine into interference products,  has separate gain reduction circuits (Automatic Gain Control or AGC) for on channel and off channel signals, then samples them directly in 16 bit, high linearity analog to digital converter.

Naturally, you can't have a software defined radio without the software.  Flex Radio made software their emphasis, thinking that at some point within a few years anybody can do the hardware.  None of their radios had a front panel - until the advent of the Icom IC-7300 which took the ham radio world by storm.  There was a shocked reaction from the industry almost saying, "you mean people want an SDR with a front panel?"  Flex introduced their Maestro series of tablet computers that mount to the front of the radio and implement some knobs that can be assigned a function in software.  The major ham radio brands all have radios on the market which are SDRs with their software built in behind a front panel with tuning knobs, so that in some ways they behave much like radios have for decades but are already enhanced and can be enhanced more so with external software.  Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood.  I believe only the Icom is a band sampler.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Shop Update - Making Those Tiny Valves

Last week during my shop update, I showed a drawing of the valves I have to make for this little engine.  They're 1 inch long, the valve end is 1/4" diameter and the 0.9" long stem is 3/32" diameter, or 0.093".  Long, thin pieces like that are a challenge on the lathe because the cutting forces push the stem away from the cutter, which makes it easy to turn a taper onto the piece.

One of the engine makers I've read a lot from posted a guide to making valves a bit bigger than the ones I'm working on several years ago.  He's a designer who sells plans of engines he has designed and I asked him if he had written this up for sale and he said no.  I took it upon myself to copy every post and create a document out of them.  I've been following this Book of Valve Making. 

The first step in the valve making is to prepare the blank.  The drawings for the engine recommend 1/4" drill rod, which I had gotten in advance.  I had a 3" piece left so I cut it in half.  The book shows he cut his 1.040" long valve's blank to 3-1/2" long.  Now his was to be made on a large lathe and I wanted to make mine on my Sherline lathe.  The jaws on his big lathe's chuck might take up the an inch of stock (my big lathe's jaws do).  The Sherline jaws are 0.4".   That buys me back some of the length of stock, but the difference only turns his 3.5" long stock to 2.9".  The piece I decided to work on is small, but it fits and seems like it ought to work.

The first step is to make a testing fixture to check the valve diameter.  This is done by cutting a 1" piece of steel bar and drilling a hole along its axis that's reamed to that .093 diameter.  After making that, I chucked up the stock and prepared to cut it.  The author recommends cutting the stem to a little over the right diameter in thirds. My stem ends up 0.9" long, so I made a mark at 0.9, 0.6 and 0.3 to cut to. The Sherline is a micro lathe, 3" over the bed, and only about 1/10 HP, so I take small cuts, like .005" at a time (in radius) and just turn the crank a lot.  I make two passes each direction (toward and away from the chuck) until the last pass for final diameter, then make three passes. 

My micrometer says those segments are all about .005 oversize diameter.  The author said to shoot for .003".

This was actually the easy part.  The next part almost tripped me up.   The cutter I used produced an almost square face on the back of the valve. I needed to turn that to a 46o included angle (on either side - total of 92o included).  In the Book, he shows this diagram of how he repositioned the compound slide on his lathe to cut that.

At upper right is a hand crank that moves a cutter on the front side of the valve away from the centerline at a 46o angle making the 92o included angle.

Sherlines don't have such a compound slide, but they do have an accessory (add-on) compound slide that I had bought probably 15 years ago.  It wasn't until I tried to set it up that I realized I couldn't get anywhere near where I needed to get in order to cut the 46o angle. I can't recreate that geometry at all with the Sherline compound slide.  Could I have done it if my blank was 3 or 3.5" long?  I think so.

While thinking about this, I realized there was a way to cut this totally different from the book's; in fact, a couple of ways.  One would be to cut a form-cutting tool.  That would cut the 46o angle by cutting straight into the work.  It also means making a fixture to hold a blank cutting tool that would keep the precise angle I need.  The idea that appealed to me, though, would be to hold a tool I have at a different angle.  I have several thread cutting tools, ground to a 60o tip that would just cut 60o if pushed in straight, but if I rotated the tool around the point, I could get it to cut 46o.  Just set it in that compound slide and rotate it 14o (60-14=46).

I think I'm ready to move on to the next steps.  The next step is to reduce the diameter of the entire stem to fit the testing bar I mentioned before.  The procedure is to wrap some 220 grit carborundum paper around the stem and run the lathe piece at about 150 RPM while running the paper back and forth to cut evenly.  The aim is a sliding fit in that test bar.  Too tight and the valve springs won't pull the valves closed. Too loose and the intake stroke will suck air between the valve cage and the stem.  It has to be the Goldilocks "just right" fit.  Which is a lot easier to hit if you know what it feels like.

It's still not done.  After that, I need to take it out of the chuck and drill the .040 through hole 0.109" from the end.  At some point this valve gets ground against its valve cage to form the mating, sealing surfaces.

It would help if I knew what I was doing, but every part is a new encyclopedia worth of things to learn.  Well, not every part.  If I've made one before it's much easier to make the second and third.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Warmest Week of the Year

The date of the warmest week of the year depends on where you are.  For illustration, the folks at NOAA provide this graphic showing the week most likely to hold the warmest day of the year according to the long term (1981 - 2010) average.

If you live in the desert Southwest: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, you've probably already had your warmest day of the year.  In fact, everyplace on that map with colors between yellow and red (including the one area in light pink) has probably already had its warmest day of the year.  I'm looking at you, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and much of the country.  In the green and blue colors, your warmest day is later.  Where I live, we're going into the warmest week starting Sunday.

This kind of story is like most weather stories.  You probably have an idea of the answer before you look at it, as I do, but the map gives a visual presentation and you can see how it varies around the country.  When I first saw this I was a bit surprised that it says our warmest week is likely to be before August because I consider August to be the hottest month.  I think the hottest part of our year is usually August plus a week or two on both sides. 

On the other hand, I've been trying to get a look at Comet Neowise for about a week and haven't caught it yet.  The last couple of days have been too cloudy or outright raining in the evening and it's clear tonight.  I have a poor view to the Northwest, where the comet is located.  I've circled it in red in this screen capture from Stellarium, a high end planetarium program. This is the sky at 9:30 tonight. 

My view to the NW is compromised by all the trees in the neighborhood.  I simply can't see there from my backyard, so I need to try moving around the property.

EDIT 07-24-20 2214 EDT:  Left out the link to Stellarium.  No relationships to the company, I just think they're useful.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

New Stimulus Program Appears to be Moving Along

According to Forbes, the congress seems to be converging on Yet Another Stimulus Program and offers a potential timeline.  Writing on Monday, they said:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to introduce a new stimulus package this week in response to the Heroes Act, which is the $3 trillion stimulus package that House Democrats passed earlier this year. McConnell’s bill is expected to be around $1.3 trillion, which is less than half the size of the Heroes Act. Republicans and Democrats should start negotiations this week on the proposed stimulus package. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday on Fox News that McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will also meet with President Donald Trump and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to “fine tune” provisions in the stimulus package.
That lead-in is shocking; the small version of the stimulus they're talking about was $1.3 trillion of made-up money, which would push our national debt up to almost $28 trillion.  The big version would push it up to $29.6 trillion, almost $30 T.  Today, the word is that there has been a lot of argument and debate among McConnell and the Stupid Party members of the senate, but that they're working on it.  No word yet on what it costs. 
Republicans balked at various aspects of a potential relief bill including the overall cost, the inclusion of a payroll tax cut, and the exclusion of funding for coronavirus testing. Senators were, however, coalescing around other provisions, including sending a second stimulus check to Americans, although details on the size and scope were still hazy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is spearheading the legislation, told a news conference on Tuesday, “I’m going to introduce a bill in the next few days that is a starting place, that enjoys fairly significant support among Republican senators - probably not everyone.”
High-ranking Senate Republicans voiced their concerns publicly. “I’m not a fan of that,” said John Thune (R-South Dakota), the second-ranking senator, speaking of a payroll tax cut. “If it’s a choice between doing checks and payroll tax cut, I think it’s pretty clear the checks actually have a more direct benefit to the economy.”
I find it appalling that high-ranking, so-called conservative senators are in favor of a second stimulus check but not a payroll tax cut; that indicates that they don't see the fundamental difference between money that's created by declaring it to exist and money that has been earned by producing stuff.  A payroll tax credit is a cut in taxes on wages workers have earned, the other is creating money that doesn't exist.  They don't understand the fundamental difference there.

If all we had to do to have a booming healthy economy was to print money, how come that has never worked once in all of human history?  Let everyone stay home all day, play, and forget this work stuff (wait... aren't we doing that now with the virus, anyway?)  The stores will run out of things to sell, they'll be no food soon enough, no clothes, no toilet paper, and so on.  To quote, of all people, Elon Musk in an interview with Joe Rogan:
 “If you don’t make stuff, there’s no stuff.”
“This notion,” said Musk, “that you can just sort of send checks out to everybody and things will be fine is not true.”
Isn't that obvious?  If nobody is making thousands of pounds of steel and a hundred other things into cars, there will be no cars to buy.  If nobody is making farm-raised pigs into bacon, there will be no bacon.  I've probably said this about a billion times here, but money is not wealth.  Money is a measure of wealth.  To borrow from the FEE article about the Musk/Rogan interview:
Government checks are only valuable to the extent that there is enough actual “stuff” (goods and services) available for those dollars to buy. The more you lock down production, the more our stock of “stuff” will shrink, and the more our living standards will worsen. No amount of zeros added to those government checks can change that.

When “stuff” dwindles, printing government checks cannot magically reverse that impoverishment. It can only do two things:
  1. Shift who gets impoverished by redistributing wealth (that is, access to the remaining “stuff”), and
  2. Delay the drop in living standards by enabling higher consumer spending.
Higher consumer spending means burning through our remaining “stuff” faster instead of investing it in production. This means even less “stuff” down the road.
So how bad does it get?  Do they stick the debt at $28 or $30 trillion?  I can tell you what a lot of people seem to be thinking.  At the time I'm writing this, gold is $1872.80/oz.;  back in January (Before Covid - BC) it was under $1600.  Likewise, today silver is $23.02/oz, up from $18 BC.  Not everyone is buying silver and gold and not all the people who do buy it are "whack-job, doomsday preppers;" many are financial managers for major brokerages.  They see lots of fake money coming.  Fake money means prices going up on stuff.  The less stuff there is, because nobody's making stuff, the more expensive that stuff will get.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  The turtle on the spot. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

First Launch to Polar Orbit From Cape Canaveral On Schedule for Saturday

Back on March 24, I posted a story that had surprised me.  A mission had been planned to launch into polar orbit, going south from Cape Canaveral and over Cuba but was being postponed due to the Coronavirus lock downs.  What surprised me was that it was to be the first polar orbit launch from the Cape in nearly 60 years; since November 1960 to be precise.  It also gave me one of my favorite paragraphs I've ever read in space reporting.
Castro filed a complaint at the United Nations, and Washington sheepishly conceded the possibility that “fragments from the rocket booster” could have landed in Cuba. CIA Director George Tenet later quipped somewhat tastelessly that it was “the first, and last, time that a satellite had been used in the production of ground beef.” Further launches overflying Cuba were postponed, and improvements were made to the Cape Canaveral range-safety system. In any case, it was a dejected NRL group that returned to Washington.”

Naval History Magazine – April 2008
SpaceX was to launch an Argentine satellite, the twin to one they launched in '18, and everything was proceeding on schedule until the Argentinian government prohibited Argentina’s National Commission for Space Activities (CONAE) teams from traveling to the US.
The SAOCOM-1B satellite will join its L-Band, synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) SAOCOM-1A sister satellite in a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) – essentially an orbit over the poles of the planet that allows the solar arrays of the satellite to be in sunlight at any given time. The satellites operate in SSO and use L-Band and synthetic-aperture radar to create two-dimensional, all-weather Earth observation imagery to assist in global disaster-monitoring efforts. The sister satellites will also work in conjunction with a constellation of four Italian satellites already in orbit operated by COSMO-SkyMed.
The launch had been scheduled for NET March 30th and the delay meant the satellite had to go into storage since mid-March.  The travel bans have been lifted and the team needed on the Cape for satellite support returned to the US two weekends ago.
On Monday, July 13 the team was able to get to work on launch campaign tasks with the satellite that had endured months of storage. The team ensured the health of the satellite and completed a full launch day simulation managed remotely from locations in Florida and Argentina. Following a successful run through and check of the satellite’s operational status, the launch campaign has just a few remaining steps before rocketing SpaceX into the history books once again.
The launch trajectory is slightly east of due south from the Cape, so rather than overhead down the coast it will be slightly east of that.  It gets better.  The 6600 lb payload is considered light enough for the Falcon 9 that the booster – I assume it's reused – will be able to perform a Return to Launch Site (RTLS) recovery, touching down at one of SpaceX’s two Landing Zone (LZ) pads on the Cape.  That implies the booster could go close to overhead and be visible on the way back, too.

 (Launch and production SAOCOM-1B team members are pictured during a launch day simulation from multiple remote locations in Florida and Argentina. (Image Credit: CONAE))

According to CONAE, the SAOCOM-1B mission launch window extends from Saturday, July 25 to Thursday, July 30 with a targeted liftoff at approximately 7:19 p.m. EDT (2319 GMT) from launch complex 40.  Sunset here is 8:16 PM so it's possible the booster will be lit from the side by the low sun and brighter than the sky, making it easy to see and track.  If we're lucky.

Monday, July 20, 2020

A Couple of Space Records Set on Peak of Western Civilization Day

Today we had the opportunity to watch SpaceX launch the ANASIS-II mission for Lockheed Martin (LockMart) in turn for the South Korean government.  You can watch it too on the SpaceX broadcast on YouTube.  As far as I can tell from their coverage, every single step was flawless. 

The mission today is noteworthy for pure space geek reasons.  The booster, B1058 shown here after successfully landing for reuse, was used to launch Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on Crew Demo 2 to the ISS, where they're currently scheduled to leave on August 1 and return to Earth on the 2nd.

Booster 1058 broke two records.  First, there was this 35 year old record:
Known as launch turnaround, the record SpaceX now holds refers to the time it takes for a reusable rocket to launch twice. Prior to today, NASA set that record in 1985 when it launched the same Space Shuttle orbiter (STS Atlantis) twice in 54 days – a truly incredible feat for such a complex vehicle. 
The record set today is 51 days.  The record set by Atlantis 35 years ago was on its first and second flights, and these were B1058's first and second flights.  B1058 also broke SpaceX's own internal record for turnaround of a booster; which had been 62 days.

SpaceX set another company record today, catching both halves of the fairings for the first time ever in the nets on the two recovery ships, Go Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief.  On previous missions, the best they had done was to catch one of two but there have been missions where halves were recovered after splashing down in the Atlantic.
The first successful double fairing catch comes after two failed attempts with both ships, suggesting that SpaceX has either made some significant improvements or got extremely lucky. Either way, it’s a huge step forward for a program that could ultimately save SpaceX up to $6 million (~10%) of the cost of every Falcon 9 satellite launch, while also acting as a multiplier for fairing production without requiring actual factory expansion.
SpaceX began experimenting with fairing recovery more than three years ago and started trying to catch fairing halves in February 2018. In 12 attempts, SpaceX managed to catch three single fairing halves, although many more were recovered and even reused after soft ocean landings.
It's arguable that compared to the real reason for today having been declared Peak of Western Civilization Day this is trivial stuff, and I have to agree.  Returning a rocket to flight a few days faster?  It's nice, it will reduce costs and make access to space cheaper, but it's not "going boldly where no one has ever gone before."  It's a reasonable argument that everything we've done in space exploration since the 1960s has simply been refinement of what they did back then. 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Shop Updates and Etc.

Much to my surprise, it has been since the end of June since I did an update on my Webster engine and all that.

There has been a lot going on for a handful of parts.  My main task has been to make three pieces that become what's called the Valve Block Assembly.  There are three slices, each 5/8 wide by 1" long and 1/4" thick aluminum.  The top and bottom look like each other except the top has drilled and countersunk holes to pass a #2-56 screw, and the bottom has holes tapped for the ends of those screws.  The middle piece has clearance holes in those same places (3/32", .094", from both closest sides).

Today I did a test fit assembly and posed the pieces on the drawing.

The tall things sticking off the top and bottom in the picture are valve guides or cages.  The valves and cages are the next parts to make, and they're fiddly little things.  The cages are 3/8" OD on that rim at the bottom, and smaller everywhere else; the valves are made from 1/4" diameter steel rod.

The valves require turning a 1/4" oil-hardening drill rod down to .093" diameter for most of an inch.  The backs of the valves are turned at a little over that marked 45 degrees, more like 46.0 degrees, and the valve guide (or cage) will get a matching taper on them.  Then each valve will be lapped onto its cage.  This is where fit gets critical.

Along the way to getting those valve block slices done, a problem that had been developing with my tools got to the point where it had to be fixed.  I have a nice drill chuck that I use on the milling machine.  The chuck is mounted to the milling machine with an adapter from the chuck's JT33 taper to the mill's R8 tooling mounts.  Over the last few months, that chuck started falling off in use.  Since someone always asks, that was while drilling holes not using it to hold cutters for milling.  Originally, it was an occasional thing but over the last several months it got more frequent.  Finally, when I was drilling two holes and countersinking them, it got to the point where it was impossible to cut the countersinks without the chuck dropping off.

My fix was to do one of those things I'd always heard of but never done.  After thoroughly cleaning the adapter and the inside of the chuck with mineral spirits, I put the chuck in a toaster oven at 200 F and put the JT33 to R8 adapter in our freezer at 0F.  I left them there for an hour and then dropped the adapter into the chuck.  Once there, I hammered the adapter with a brass chunk between hammer and adapter (softer metal so that the R8 adapter didn't get reshaped).  The idea is that the adapter has shrunk in diameter from the cold while the chuck has gotten bigger, making the adapter fit farther into the taper than if they were both at room temperature.  When they both return to room temperature, it should make a very tight fit.  Since then, I've done a few dozen operations and the chuck has remained in place.

Also along the way to getting the valve block slices done, I lost a critical drill bit.  When I got the mill, I bought one of those "900 drill bits for $1.50" sets - probably this one from Grizzly - fully expecting them to be able to drill one or two holes before they went dull, but thinking it would show me what I needed to buy.  Over the years, that set has gotten a lot of gaps in it from bits that have broken and it was getting hard to get the right size.  A lot of times, even with a numbered bit, you can get by with the one next to it in the set, but there are times when you can't.  I've had some bits not able to drill two holes before they broke, and some have lasted for many holes. In this instance, the bit stuck in the work.  Probably melted some aluminum chips and then they refroze.  I was able to get the bit free but it wasn't likely to make another hole.  Bottom line was I needed to buy a good set of the numbered bits - #1 to #60. 

Bottom line is that there has been a lot going on but not much in results.  I think I start cutting the valves tomorrow. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Ham Radio Series 8 – The Basics of RF Design

When I started asking what you readers wanted to know, the question came up about the fundamentals of radio design.  Radio Frequency (RF) design has been around as a specialty of electrical engineering pretty much as long as engineering has been practiced.  

The basics really boil down to a few things.  In order of what I think of as the importance.
Cascade design; stage by stage gain, noise figure and intercept point.
Impedance matching
Transmission lines
Cascade design can be done as soon as you have an idea of what the block diagram should look like, and yet the results of the cascade design can determine the block diagram, too, as you answer practical questions like “do I need one amplifier here, or do I need two stages?”  While there are commercially available software tools to help you do cascade design, it can be done with Excel or your favorite freebie spreadsheet program (mine is LibreOffice Calc).  Gains in dB are simply added, or subtracted, which is why we use (dB) values instead of voltage gains.  There are straightforward equations for cascade Noise Figure (NF) and Intercept Point (IP) that are easy to program in a spreadsheet.  I’ve covered these before, but briefly, NF is a measure of how much a stage degrades the signal to noise ratio of the signal; SNRout / SNRin.  Ideally, there would be no degradation, but there’s always some and it can be an expensive parameter to achieve.  IP is a measure of how much interference off-channel signals can cause to what you’re tuned to.

This is what one of my generic receiver design sheets looks like, once it's filled in.  Each column across the top is one stage of the receiver.  This is a UHF receiver with a low noise amplifier mounted remotely and then connected by a long cable to the main receiver.  That makes the requirements for Noise Figure higher than a standalone UHF receiver.   

The cascade Noise Figure can be calculated by this relationship:

This is all done in the linear domain, "Noise Factors", not Noise Figure, which is 10*log(Noise Factor) that's why a couple of lines in the spreadsheet say "Linear" and others say "dB" and in the spreadsheet, it converts back and forth between linear and dB.  The first line is an example for up to four stages.  The combined result is the noise factor of stage one plus the noise factor of stage 2 minus 1, quantity divided by the gain of the first stage.  For three stages, you add another term that's the noise factor of stage 3 minus 1, quantity divided by the product of the gains of stage 1 and stage 2.  A concise way of describing that is in the bottom equation, which is the cascade noise figure of N stages; it's the sum of the previous stage's noise factor (minus 1) divided by the product of all the stage gains up to that point. 

It may not be apparent that a low noise, high gain first stage covers a multitude of sins farther down the chain and sets the system noise figure. 

This topic could take another blog post by itself, while the other subjects have had books written about them.  I could do basics in a post or two each.

Filtering is indispensable and there’s a metric butt load of commercial suppliers but the exact parameters you need in your filter can sometimes vary enough to not allow an off-the-shelf product.   This is especially true when you’re designing new systems that the market hasn’t responded to, yet.  If you’re building another ham radio transceiver, there’s probably something on the market you can use.  If you’re building a system custom-designed for yourself or a niche market, you might need to design a filter.  Assuming you don’t want to pay some professionals to design it for you.

Impedance matching is honestly less important than it used to be because as the level of integration of components has gone up, there has been a tendency to standardize on certain impedance values.  When RF design was mostly discrete transistors (and tubes before that), it was common to have to tune stages to each other and match input and output impedances.  Now that the level of abstraction has gone to integrated circuit amplifiers that can be arranged in series strings, complete FM receivers on a chip, and other functions, the impedance settled on is often 50 ohms.  This makes it relatively easy to choose, for example, amplifiers, mixers, filters and whatever function you need with 50 ohm input and output so that there’s no need to match impedances.  Cable TV systems or systems that only receive tend to be 75 ohms (cable TV is by far the largest market) and there are tons of 75 ohm components available to choose from. 

This is totally ignoring things like shirt pocket radios that have a builtin, telescoping antenna.  These systems tend to be more casually designed.

The reason radio systems have centered on 50 ohms since around WWII is that it’s a good compromise for both transmitting and receiving.  It can be shown that loss in coaxial cables is minimized around 75 ohms while power handling is best at lower impedance, around 35 ohms, so for systems that both transmit and receive, 50 ohms serves both well.  The range of impedances is because coaxial cable impedance depends on the geometry: the ratio of outer and inner diameters, and power handling depends on the loss in both of those – which also sets the sizes.

At this point, it’s worth mentioning that filters can also match different impedances between their input and output and can allow you to further reduce your use of parts.

Transmission lines are worth talking about because they help understanding lots of points about how to build things that work, plus they have properties that are mysterious and strange to first time learners.  Did you know that if you cut a length of coax to exactly 1/4 wavelength at some frequency and leave the end open that it behaves like a short circuit to ground for that frequency?  Not just that frequency where it's 1/4 wavelength long, but also at the odd harmonics; 3/4 wavelength, 5/4, and so on (although the behavior gets less perfect).  Unlike any other short to ground you make, the T line doesn't short out any DC you put on it.  It's only a short to RF at the frequency where the line is 1/4 wave long.  If you solder across that cable to short out the center conductor to the shield, you've made it an open circuit at that frequency.

That behavior can either be convenient or confuse the shit out of you! 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Not For You, For Those People You Know That Need It

It's pretty safe to say we all know some useful idiots.  People who are so indoctrinated to the anti-American, anti-Constitutional viewpoint that they're swallowing everything about the riots, burning and protesting.  Of course, the term is commonly credited to Vladimir Lenin but is used widely now.  In communist conversation it denotes the people who aren't really dedicated to the revolution but can be counted on to voice support for all their talking points and chant all their protest chants.  The idiots will be lined up against the wall when the executions start.  The communists don't want revolutionaries, they want obedient slaves.

Perhaps you've tried to point out their logical inconsistencies to them; perhaps you've disputed some of their points, but you haven't made any progress pulling their heads out of their asses; the vacuum is just too strong.  A staff writer for Glenn Beck's media company put together these “21 ways to know if you're a 'USEFUL IDIOT'”  You don't have to subscribe to anything to read it - unless my computer remembers things I don't.  I'll copy it here. 

Written in, and intended to be read in, Jeff Foxworthy's You Just Might Be A Redneck manner. 
  1. If you donate to a political organization without knowing how or where they actually use the money, you might be a useful idiot.
  2. If you find yourself having to defend or explain political slogans you don't actually believe in, like "Defund The Police" doesn't actually mean defunding the police, you might be a useful idiot.
  3. If you join a protest march or rally in order to feel like you're "doing something", you might be a useful idiot.
  4. If you continue to rationalize and justify violence against innocent business owners, police or bronze statues, you might be a useful idiot.
  5. If you support a political organization because of what they say they are against but are ignorant of what they claim they are for, you might be a useful idiot.
  6. If your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feed contains a black square in the past 60 days, you might be a useful idiot.
  7. If you support COVID-19 government orders to wear a mask as legal - unless someone feels the need to scream in the face of a police officer, you might be a useful idiot.
  8. If your support for police or justice reform includes a checklist of ideas like government-mandated vegetarianism, carbon-taxes on manufacturers and higher taxes on the wealthy, you might be a useful idiot.
  9. If you claim to support generic ideas such as "Black Lives Matter" but then donate to organizations like Planned Parenthood, you might be a useful idiot.
  10. If you are against The 2nd Amendment but also support defunding the police, you might be a useful idiot.
  11. If you claim to defer to science when the data supports your political ideals but then ignore it when it inconveniently does not, you might be a useful idiot.
  12. If you find yourself parroting vague aphorisms like "No Justice, No Peace" while claiming to be against violent protestors, you might be a useful idiot.
  13. If you claim 1st Amendment protections for speech and public assembly for protestors but then support government lockdowns for public health reasons, you might be a useful idiot.
  14. If you believe you can simultaneously support the Black Lives Matter or Antifa organizations and the US Constitution, you might be a useful idiot.
  15. If you are using an iPhone to Tweet a selfie wearing a #BLM T-shirt but believe Capitalism is part of the problem, you might be a useful idiot.
  16. If you feel guilty because of your skin color or something your dead ancestors did, you might be a useful idiot.
  17. If you support government-funded abortions for Black/Brown communities but are opposed to government-funded abstinence education, you might be a useful idiot.
  18. If you carry a sign supporting BLM, Antifa or Defund the Police and don't see Carl Marx when you look in the mirror, you might be a useful idiot.
  19. If you define generic words such as 'looting' or 'vandalism' as inherently racist, you might be a useful idiot.
  20. If you believe teenagers robbing beer from a CVS is some form of reparations for slavery, you might be a useful idiot.
  21. If you believe anything a white person has achieved or owns is proof that systemic racism exists, you might be a useful idiot.

A crop of useful idiots on the right, photo from the source website.

Does anybody recognize the city?  The only things I can read that offer a clue are the Tim Horton's shop behind the bike cops on the very left of the frame and, on the top tube of that bike on the left closest to the camera, I think it says Columbus Police.  The Webz tells me there's a few Tim Horton's shops in Columbus, Ohio.  That seems possible but isn't a slam dunk.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Can't Live With 'Em ...

You know the rest.  In this case, the 'them' is batteries.  Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.

Like a lot of you, I've had a jump starter battery that I keep in the car for emergencies for a while; I got my first one back in '14.  That first one died pretty quickly as a result of being left in the car during the day while at work.  It's replacement was upgraded a bit; that first one was an 11 Amp*Hour (AH) battery, and got replaced by a 15 AH.  The other day, I realized I hadn't run a battery analyzer discharge/charge cycle on that replacement battery for quite a while.   

This isn't really the story for tonight, but I tested that battery a few times.  I tested at the 5 hour discharge rate (C/5, or 3A) and at the 10 hour discharge rate (C/10 or 1.5A).  Neither test came close to the rated 15 AH capacity.  The measured data was close to 25% of rated - 3.5 to 3.7 AH.  It stayed that way after four cycles of discharge/recharge but then I dropped it and the plastic case broke in two.  That revealed the battery, a lithium battery, had swollen and I couldn't get the case back on.

So it was time to order an replacement, and I found an unknown brand replacement on sale (the one I had was unknown when I bought it, too).  It was rated 18 AH, so another upgrade; this was 20% bigger than the broken one and 64% bigger than the first one.  It's rated 800 cranking amps, for "up to 7.0L Gas" engines, much larger than either of my cars.  Plus it has the same output marked 12V 10A the previous one had, and that I plan as an emergency, last resort, backup power for ham radio.  I use this port to test the battery, too. 

When it came in last Sunday, of course, I topped off the battery on the charger and reran the test.  The capacity came out almost identical to my previous battery.  Here's the data:

It was clearly time to ask myself if I knew what I was doing.  Time to sit down with the manual (well, brochure).

In the specs, it says it's an 18,000 milliamp hour battery, so I just call that 18 Amp Hour.  For most rechargeable batteries, from Nickle Hydride AAs to AGM lead acid, the test I was doing was proper.  I discharged it at the C/10 rate, 1.8 Amps, and it came up at about 3.6AH to the (approx) 33% charged level.  Looking a little closer in the manual it says 66.6 Watt Hours.  It's not exactly 12V to start and the voltage slowly goes down over the discharge.  If I take the middle voltage (11.125V) and multiply by the 3.6 AH of discharge, that works out to about 40 Watt Hours, rather close to 60 % of the 66.6AH rating.  The numbers are starting to make sense. 

If it was really a constant 12V, 66.6 Watt hours would work out to be about 5.6 Amp Hours capacity which is a far, far cry from 18AH.  I see two possibilities: either it's just a sales claim and they're trying to sound good (this used to be legendary with stereo systems back in the day), or the battery is internally different and actually is designed differently for "cold cranking amps" like any other starting battery, not for a steady 10 hour discharge.  I'm leaning toward the second choice; that it's a starting battery designed for enormous loads on rare occasions and then it gets recharged.  I don't know enough about lithium batteries to know how they'd do that, but I barely understand the difference when making a lead-acid battery; in those it's the way the plates are made. 

It seems the best way to test it as a starting battery is something that can measure cranking amps.  Since it's not specified for slow discharges, I'm afraid I'm stuck with an "it is what it is."  I'll just run the discharge tests every six months or so and keep track of how it changes vs. time. 

I'm posting this for you, of course.  The 66.6 Watt Hour spec doesn't appear anywhere on that Amazon product page that I can find.  It's in the fine print in the paper manual that came with the battery.  That seems to be the most honest rating of the battery. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

SpaceX is Apparently Having Falcon 9 Problems

Back in June, SpaceX had scheduled the launch of the 10th Starlink satellite mission for the 22nd, a Monday.  That launch was delayed 24 hours until Tuesday, then Thursday and finally Friday.  On that Friday, they simply said,
“SpaceX is standing down from today's launch in order to allow additional time for pre-launch checkouts in advance of its tenth Starlink mission.  Falcon 9 and its payloads, 57 Starlink satellites and 2 satellites from BlackSky, a Spaceflight customer, remain healthy.  SpaceX teams are evaluating the next earliest launch opportunity and will announce a new target date once confirmed.”
The “next earliest launch opportunity” was last week, originally on Wednesday the 8th, but that one was scrubbed due to afternoon thunderstorms.  Launch was reset for Friday morning, but when I got up and set to watch, SpaceX said it was further delayed until Saturday the 11th.  That in turn was scrubbed with a shorter statement; the first sentence of the paragraph above.  

During the Wednesday scrub, they did something unusual that caught my eye.  The launch was scrubbed with 10 minutes left in the countdown, but they opted to run the countdown, fueling the vehicle completely and running lots of other operations until the T minus 1 minute mark (when the Falcon 9's computers take over things), “for data collection.”  I've never heard them say that; I've never heard anyone say that.

Something seems wrong.  The booster for this mission, B1051, was to fly its fifth mission, so since only one has completed five missions successfully, attention focuses on the first stage.  Along the way, I had heard that there was a static firing of B1051 but that they never specifically said it had passed.  It's hard to imagine them proceeding if it didn't pass, but not stating it passed is just another oddity that people are noticing.  Are they seeing something in the data during a countdown test that isn't normal but doesn't really mean a failure?  Are they seeing something fail then start working, or something that fails sometimes?

Then, Monday the 13th, SpaceX announced that the mission to launch a South Korean military satellite called ANASIS II set for No Earlier Than yesterday, July 14th, had also been delayed indefinitely to allow teams to inspect the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage and potentially replace hardware. Upper stage?  That's different.  Since the upper stages are always new, do both of these upper stages have a problem?  Or not necessarily even a problem, just something that “don't seem right?”

Whatever it was they wanted to look at, they seem to have regained confidence in it.  Spaceflight Now reported today that:
Airspace warning notices associated with the Falcon 9/Anasis 2 mission indicated SpaceX might reschedule the launch for Sunday, July 19, during a launch window opening at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT).
That mission, by the way, will use the booster from the first manned Crew Demo mission on May 30th, B1058.  If that mission flies on Sunday, it will be 51 days from launch, through recovery, refurbishment, and relaunch.  The previous record is 62 days.  

There have been eight announced launch dates for the Starlink 10 mission; I don't know if they consider all eight to be scrubs, but until now they've been going pretty much like clockwork, whenever the mission is scheduled.  Maybe they scrub due to weather or some typical little problem, but they don't scrub eight times, spread over most of a month.
As of July 1st, SpaceX has completed 11 launches in 2020 and has at least another 16 within tentative launch targets in the second half of the year. To complete all 16, the company would have to average almost three launches per month for the rest of 2020, a cadence it’s only managed to sustain for two or so months at a time.
Starlink mission 10 still doesn't have an announced launch date and appears to be holding up several additional launches.  It would be interesting to learn what caused the eight launch delays. 

An “experienced” Falcon 9, apparently ready for a Starlink mission from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.  (Richard Angle/Richard Angle/NASASpaceflight photo)  I'd like to say it's B1051 and the Starlink 10 mission, but it's not identified that way at the source. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Seattle Takes Another Poison Pill

Seattle is struggling.  They were struggling before the riots started and now with the resultant costs from Covid and the Chaz/Chop, it has gotten worse.  Being a city council that's run by socialists, and therefore idiots, they've decided to punish upper middle class workers by instituting another city income tax.  Naturally, being idiots, they exempted themselves.
Nonetheless, the Seattle City Council has decided that now is the right time to impose a new tax burden on its residents. On July 6, the council passed the so-called “JumpStart” tax, which specifically targets middle-class jobs.

The council’s new tax will affect employees at medium-to-large companies, but not most small businesses. Applied to businesses with a total payroll of $7 million or greater, it will impose an additional 0.4 percent to 2.4 percent payroll tax on jobs that pay an annual salary of $150,000 or higher. This is on top of already steep federal and state payroll taxes.
According to, 601 city employees in Seattle earned $195,000 or more. Analysts found that “tree trimmers lopped off $160,604; the chief librarian made $197,704; electricians earned $271,070; electrical lineworkers made $307,387; and police officers earned up to $414,543.” The new payroll tax will not apply to any of these government employees or their peers otherwise drowning in taxpayer cash.
Now I realize that an annual salary of $150,000 sounds pretty high - if you're not working in any of those Seattle city jobs - but it's not the top 1% of salaries.  It takes close to $500,000 per year to make that, extrapolating from this 2019 piece, but $150,000 should be in the top 5%. 
According to, the average salary in Seattle is $79,000. It’s the fifth most expensive place to live in America, with the highest rents anywhere in the country outside of California. With this context in mind, workers making $150,000 are far from members of “the 1%.” More realistically, many of the targets of this new tax are middle class by Seattle standards. So while the tax isn’t massive, it does showcase an important trend: In their class warfare charge, left-wing officials aren’t constraining themselves to “soaking the rich,” but are quickly reaching down the income ladder for fresh wallets to tap.
You may have heard about Seattle telling Amazon that they didn't want them in the city anymore.  OK, that's not exactly how they said it.  They attacked Jeff Bezos by name, said, “we're coming for you” and one particularly idiotic councilwoman, Kshama Sawant, said she wants to “dismantle the deeply racist, sexist, violent, utterly bankrupt system of capitalism” and replace it with “a socialist world.” Sawant has also promised to “take into public ownership the top 500 corporations and banks that dominate the US economy.”  Sawant and fellow socialist city Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda promise this new tax will be a “victory for working people.”

Doubtful.  They claim it will raise $200 Million.  Also doubtful.  The simplest thing for companies affected by the tax to do is to get out of the city limits.  When Seattle instituted a $15 minimum wage that was supposed to wonderful things, too, but reality is simply what it is.  Some restaurants went out of business and closed.  Others went outside the city limits.  Workers' hours went down, or they lost job flexibility and many ended up making less.   Prager University has a new video from a Seattle restaurant server talking about how the $15 minimum wage screwed up her world. 

If you were making just under $150,000 in Seattle and were due for a raise, would you want that raise if it went to the city?  Would the company want to give that raise, knowing you'd get a smaller piece of it than they had in mind?  Would you or the company look for ways around that?  It has been known for ages by anyone with the sense to observe cause and effect that revenue streams from soaking the super-rich dry up pretty quick - the world is full of these stories. So the “soakers” eventually must resort to soaking the less rich, and eventually the middle and working classes. 

I predict that they may take in some more revenue before the systems adapt, but in the second year, they'll lose money and the city will teeter closer to bankruptcy and collapse.  Seattle is in decline.  It could be terminal if they continue to elect socialists and other idiots.  

Twitter video is here.  I didn't really feel the need to watch it. 

By the way, in the strange world of the Internet, it has happened more than once that people I've written about have stumbled across my blog.  Should that happen to you, Mr. Bezos, I think people in Florida would be happy to have your small but tasteful world headquarters of Amazon move into the state.  Putting it in Central Florida would put you that much closer to your Blue Origin operations on the Kennedy Space Center.  I do have to warn you about the oppressive, Crematoria-style heat and the mosquitoes that raped and killed the invading Murder Hornets, but air conditioning takes care of both of those.

Monday, July 13, 2020

U.S. Conference of Mayors Adopts Resolution in Favor of Reparations

The U.S. Conference of Mayors released a letter backing a Democratic plan to form a reparations commission to come up with a payment for slavery.  While the mayors didn't address the cost, one study by a small group of college professors has suggested it could reach $6.2 quadrillion.  For those people who aren't familiar with the word: a quadrillion is a thousand trillions or a million billions, so that's $6,200 trillion.
Bedard reported a study called "Wealth Implications of Slavery and Racial Discrimination for African-American Descendants of the Enslaved" recommended a payment of $151 million to each descendent of a slave.

He explained the study essentially calculates the unpaid hours slaves worked, a price for massacres and discrimination, and adds interest.

The study states, "Whether the full cost of slavery and discrimination should be compensated, or only a portion, and at what interest rate remain to be determined by negotiations between the federal government and the descendant community."
It's worth noting that's quite a bit more than "all the money on earth."  Wikipedia tells us that the Gross Domestic Product of the world for 2019 was about $88 trillion, making the reparations about 70 years worth of all the money in the world, assuming zero growth in world GDP and 100% of the world GDP going to the American descendants of slaves.  Of course, there have been no slaves in the US since the 1860s unlike today's middle east or lots of other countries.  The US produces 2/3 of the world's GDP, so since we'd be the only country paying this, it consumes our entire GDP for 105 years. 

Since only about a third of the American population pays income tax, or about 100 Million people, the tax bill due American taxpayers amounts to $62 million per taxpayer. 

Those numbers indicate it's impossible.  It'll never happen.  I can imagine no scenario in which the total economic output of the US could be collected for 105 years; that's at least four generations of people.  Then consider that all of these numbers are based on American people for the next 105 years not getting anything they work for.  Since letting them starve to death would mean zero tax collected, we couldn't collect 100%.  Which stretches 105 years out even farther.  They're saying they want reparations for slavery by enslaving the next six or seven generations of Americans?  That's not reparation, it's revenge.

What could they do?  If they played Liz Warren and stole every penny from every billionaire in the US, I don't think we could drop that $6200 billion bill down to $6,000 billion; most of that wealth is in the hardware of the companies they own, it's not like they're swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.  If they tried to create $6.2 quadrillion from thin air, as they've done with economic stimulus for the last (nearly) 50 years, the dollar would collapse to worthlessness.  It would literally be worth less than paper it's printed on.

WND concludes with this cheery thought.
If American taxpayers think, however, they're going to get by with paying only $6.2 quadrillion, they shouldn't put away their checkbooks just yet.

The same study claims the value of lost freedom to Japanese American World War II internment detainees could be $16 quadrillion.
I certainly hope there are some adults in the room that will tell them how insane these ideas are.  

The letter.  Screen capture from SCRIBD