Friday, August 14, 2020

If I Was an Oregonian, This is Not What I'd Want to See

According to the Oregonian, the State Police have pulled their State Troopers out of Portland and returned them to their regular duties around the state.  They will no longer put their troopers on the line against the rioters in Portland, since the city will do nothing to stop them and the county has said most people will never be charged.  

State police committed to two weeks “and that two weeks ended today,” said spokesman Capt. Timothy R. Fox.

“We’re in a county that’s not going to prosecute this criminal behavior,” Fox added.

It was a pointed reference to Tuesday’s announcement by new Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt that his office won’t pursue many of the charges against demonstrators, including disorderly conduct, interfering with a police officer and even riot in some circumstances.

The state police have been in Portland since a July 30th agreement between Governor Kate Brown and the US Department of Homeland Security.  Yes, this was an agreement to the get the DHS out of Portland, where they had deployed special officers to protect Federal property in Portland; the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in downtown Portlandistan.  

While I can understand the state police wanting to GTFO of Portland, I think if I was living in Oregon, I'd prefer it if the State Police were to arrest the Portland city government, from the Mayor down as appropriate, charge them with dereliction of duty, and put them all into state prison to await trial.  That's because I don't know if the state recognizes treason as an offense, and to be honest, I don't know if they have dereliction of duty in their laws, either.  Just Get. Them. Out. Of. There.  Impeach?  Recall?  Tar and Feathers?  I'm easy. 

The Oregonian notes:

It’s unclear what the departure will mean at the federal courthouse as the city enters its 78th night of consecutive demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism since the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

This ceased being about “police brutality, systemic racism,” and George Floyd after the first few nights - if not the first few minutes.  It's about tearing down and taking over the country.  Classic top down, bottom up, inside out communist tactics.  It's how the communists took Czechoslovakia after WWII. 

Portland police and Oregon State Patrol officers work together to arrest a protester in front of the Portland Police Bureau North Precinct on the 75th day of protests on Aug. 11 in Portland, Oregon. Crowd sizes began growing again last week as protesters regularly march on city and county law enforcement buildings. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images) 



Thursday, August 13, 2020

New Solar Cycle 25 Forecasts and Revision of an Older One

The last month has had a couple of interesting items related to the new solar cycle.  One is the forced retraction of a paper by a researcher whom I've covered; the other is a new forecast from a group I haven't seen, using a new technique.  This technique predicts a better cycle 25 than virtually everyone I've seen, but it has its problems, too.  

To begin with, Watts Up With That reports the recent retraction of a Nature publication on solar cycles, predicting a ‘modern Maunder Minimum’ before 2050.  The paper, by a team including Dr. Valentina Zharkova was published in June 2019 and retracted by the journal March 4, 2020.   I've quoted Dr. Zharkova in these pages several times; perhaps the most detailed description of her work is in November of '18.  

Dr. Zharkova's work is on the solar dynamo, the magnetic fields that create virtually everything we see on the sun.  It began by observing the sun and attempting to come up with a model to explain the patterns we see.  Reviewing this work and trying to see the differences between this and some of her publications which I've talked about in the past, it's very similar to the research published in Nature.  That 2015 prediction was based on two Principal Components measured over perhaps three cycles (~33 years). 

In the current work, she includes more terms of the Principal Components, four terms instead of two.  Adding more terms should produce a better model fit.

The article on WUWT goes into why the paper was retracted by Nature. 

Post publication, a number of astrophysicists pointed out that a key calculation assumption—Earth/Sol barycenter fluctuations are random—was just wrong. Nature editors therefore had no choice but to retract the faulty paper when this was easily verified. (See the linked retraction notice footnotes.)

The WUWT author goes into some detail of what he considers a problem that I also expressed doubt over: they found their four principal components in a 33 year sample of the solar cycles.  My problem with that is the unstated assumption that everything that's visible in the solar dynamo now has always been there, will always be there, and nothing else has ever been in the dynamo.  They extrapolate their 33 years over thousands of years and while I understand constancy is a common assumption in science, I always wonder how well a rare event can be predicted. 

The author invokes Nyquist's sampling theory, but pretty badly.  Some of the commenters did a better job of it.

The other big story was mentioned in the ARRL Letter, their weekly news bulletin, on July 9th.  Just as Dr. Zharkova's technique was newly discovered and applied to the problem of solar activity forecasting, the authors of this paper (pdf) "Overlapping Magnetic Activity Cycles and the Sunspot Number: Forecasting Sunspot Cycle 25 Amplitude," applied a new technique.  

The paper notes that recent studies have illustrated a relationship between the sun's 22-year Hale magnetic cycle and the production of sunspot cycle landmarks and patterns, but not the amplitude of the cycle.

"Using discrete Hilbert transforms on 270 years of monthly sunspot numbers to robustly identify the so-called 'termination' events -- landmarks marking the start and end of sunspot and magnetic activity cycles -- we extract a relationship between the temporal spacing of terminators and the magnitude of sunspot cycles," the abstract explains. "Given this relationship and our prediction of a terminator event in 2020, we deduce that Sunspot Cycle 25 will have a magnitude that rivals the top few since records began. This outcome would be in stark contrast to the community consensus estimate of Sunspot Cycle 25 magnitude."

That sounds pretty spectacular, but my skeptical take comes forward.  Cycle 19 is the strongest cycle on record.  Granted that we didn't have the radio technology much before the 30s to determine that, but I'm always skeptical when someone predicts we'll have a repeat of something we know happened once in human history.  It sometimes seems as if every few months someone predicts another Carrington Event.  I'm highly skeptical of those predictions.

The prediction that "Cycle 25 will have a magnitude that rivals the top few since records began" sounds nice, but we get predictions like this almost every cycle.  The last cycle (24) is the only cycle I can't recall reading predictions that it would equal cycle 19.  What they don't say in that extract is that their prediction band is so big that the cycle could approach the strongest cycle on record, but it could also approach the weakest cycle on record.  Look at the plot on the left.  The low end is around Sunspot Number (SSN) of 80.  The consensus predictions for this cycle seem to have it as a duplicate of the previous cycle.  That's stronger than the bottom of the light blue band.  Their high confidence predictions, in the darker blue background, show 25 being markedly better than 24 (circled). 


Where does that leave us?  I'm afraid I get nothing out of that new paper making predictions of termination events.  With Dr. Zharkova's paper being retracted, we're left with a consensus like that last link, right above the graphs.  If this newest paper is right, it should be apparent in the next year or two.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Dem. Senators Introduce A Billionaire's Tax

Senators Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.  have come up with a tax that I think is a first of its kind.  H/T to Legal Insurrection with a link to CNBC.  

Top tech leaders and other billionaires would be forced to hand over billions of dollars in wealth they’ve gained during the coronavirus pandemic under a new bill introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

The “Make Billionaires Pay Act” would impose a one-time 60% tax on wealth gains made by billionaires between March 18, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2021. The funds would be used to pay for out-of-pocket health-care expenses for all Americans for a year. As of Aug. 5, the bill would tax $731 billion in wealth accumulated by 467 billionaires since March 18, according to a press release. If passed, the bill would tax billionaires on wealth accumulated through the end of the year, however.

Ignoring the theater-of-the-absurd, laughable statement that it's a one time tax, I don't think the Senate has the power to do this, but I'll get back to that in a minute.  

To begin with, the whole proposal reeks of the absurdly childish view the Stupid Party voices all the time that billionaires are Scrooge McDuck, swimming and playing in vast piles of gold coins and other material wealth.  Or maybe they think every billionaire is Smaug the Dragon from the Hobbit stories.   One of the Tweets I read while researching said, "If  you can spell hors d'oeuvres without checking, you need to have your taxes raised."  (Almost as dumb as the twit in the first link in this paragraph)  I've done inches of column space on this.  

Far from this idea, the vast majority of the wealth of the handful of American billionaires isn't in a savings, checking or money management account and it certainly isn't in 90 foot deep piles of money.  That wealth quite literally doesn't even actually exist.  It's a notional value on paper of what all their assets add up to.  The article lists examples, saying Jeff Bezos would pay $42.8 billion, Elon Musk would pay $27.5 billion, Mark Zuckerberg would pay $22.8 billion, and the Walton family would pay $12.9 billion.  But that's not based on income; those numbers are based on the projections of what their stocks and other investments would net for this year.  There's an age old saying about investments in the stock market that works when markets are up or down: you only make (or lose) money when you sell. 

First off, I don't believe the has the authority to tax wealth.  That's not part of the 16th Amendment that authorized an income tax.  Second off, and with all due respect to CNBC for their projections, no one can know how much those assets are worth until they're sold.  It doesn't matter if the stock price on January 1st, 2021 (the time at which this bill declares what they're worth) is some number of dollars per share.  What matters is how badly the stock price collapses when those shares go on the market and all the fund managers in the world who know the billionaires have to sell those shares bid them down.  What that means in practice is that if the price collapses badly, their bill may be based on 60% of their assets on 1-1-21, but when they sell for a fraction of that valuation, the payers will end up selling quite a bit more than 60% to pay that 60% tax. 

Wealth taxes are a bad idea.  How about an example where Elizabeth Warren's proposed 6% wealth tax really adds up a 158% tax?  To quote Larry Summers, who worked in the Obama and Clinton administrations, speaking about Senator Warren's planned wealth tax:

"We do need to study pretty carefully why it is that most of the European countries, who usually are more progressive than we are and had wealth taxes, have decided over the last 15 or 20 years to eliminate those wealth taxes and why almost none of them get anything like the kinds of revenue that Sen. Warren is aspiring to get,"

Sanders, Markey, Gillibrand and Warren are overcome with greed.  The people CNBC names in the article are all innovators who have made contributions to society that people willingly support with their own money, so they're infinitely more valuable to the world than any politician.  Politicians can't stand the idea that someone accomplished things on their own, without groveling to them, and are so insulted that they think they can claim that wealth.  Warren was famous for her, "you didn't build that" speech in the Obama years.  It's the same thing. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Where Did They Come Up With $600?

Back in March, when Congress passed the CARES act - the creation of (allegedly) $2 trillion out of thin air - somebody, somehow, came up with the number $600 per week in extra unemployment insurance for victims of the COVID shutdowns.  That benefit expired on July 31st and since congress is incapable of working on anything that might not make their party look better than the other guys, that benefit is gone.  The president, as everyone must know, signed some executive orders to re-purpose other federal funds but couldn't come up with more than $400 - and $100 of that comes from telling the broke states with low tax revenue to pay it. 

Since the topic was in frequent discussion, I started wondering where $600 came from.  It seemed like an arbitrary figure; I mean why not $500?  Why not $750 or any equally arbitrary-sounding number? 

Like many people, during the financial turmoil of the end of the 70s and early 80s, I was unemployed for a while and received unemployment.  At that time, there were no Federal benefits, it was entirely state run, and the benefit was set at a percentage of your pay while working.  I seem to recall it was 50%, but that's hazy.  I only got one check and had to wait 6 weeks to get it. 

Then, last week, I heard a number that added detail to something I'd heard in the preceding months. 

Before the extra $600 expired, more than two-thirds of Americans received more in unemployment benefits than they did from their former jobs. [NOTE - “more than two-thirds” was 68% - SiG]

Additionally, one in every five (20%) eligible workers would receive benefits that were double their lost earnings.  That's awkward.  We know the intention was that since this isn't normal unemployment due to typical circumstances, the, in its infinite largess, would try to remove the gap between what the people made on unemployment and what they were earning.  They just overshot.  By a lot.  Another MarketWatch article included a short note on where $600 came from.   

... according to a paper titled “The Effect of Fiscal Stimulus: Evidence from COVID-19” circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research on Monday.

If federal unemployment benefits were $200 a week, the researchers found that the replacement rate would decline by 44% and spending would fall by 28%. At $400 a week, the replacement rate would fall by 29% and spending would fall by 12%.

So the National Bureau of Economic Research read tea leaves or did a seance and decided that the more money you give unemployed people, the more they spend.  Genius!  Who would have ever thought of that?  I mean besides anyone who can fog a mirror.  

Let's stop for a minute.  Let me throw some numbers around.  Let's assume the person receiving the unemployment was working 30 hours a week at the Federal minimum wage, $7.25 (leaving out paradises like Seattle that have enacted higher minimum wage laws).  They were grossing $217.50/week and taking home roughly 80% of that or $174.  Let's assume the state unemployment was 50% of their regular pay, or $87/week.  Now the Feds come along and give them $600/week on top of that.  That $687 total is almost 4 times their previous take home pay.  Do you think that might not make looking for a job their biggest priority in life?  Just sayin'.  

Clearly this depends on what they were making and the more they were making, the less the supplemental Federal unemployment pay affects them.  Someone working 40 hours/week at $15/hr, for example, would be taking home closer to $450/wk at work and $225 if their unemployment is 50%.  $600 in Federal unemployment benefits still puts them far beyond what they were taking home from work.  My examples might seem too simplistic, and maybe they are, but MarketWatch included this little fact:

In every state, the median earnings-replacement rate exceeded lost wages, ranging from 129% in Maryland to 177% in New Mexico.

To me, $600 doesn't make any sense.  $400 doesn't make sense.  If we were (as often stated by the likes of AOC and Bernie) the Richest Nation on Earth, it might be no big deal.  In actuality, we're the Most Broke Nation on Earth; the Most Indebted Nation on Earth, and we're making every single aspect of our long term financial health worse by doing this. 

What makes sense?  No flat dollar amount like those makes sense for the entire country.  If nothing else, the picture differs from state to state and even within a state where minimum wage laws change.  What makes sense to me is to restore their unemployment to 100% of their take home from work.  But that would require something other than just running the printer or automatically depositing checks in people's accounts.  It would take work on the's part. Which would cause a slowdown and inevitably end up in laughably wrong results

 A Florida handout of unemployment applications in April. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Monday, August 10, 2020

Starship SN5 Likely to Fly Again - Possibly “Many Times”

Although there haven't been any definite announcements of upcoming tests, I've been tuning into either the LabPadre live video feed or NASA Spaceflight's updates since SN5 flew last week.  Over the weekend, we watched SN5 get lifted by crane onto a new stand for work on its legs.  A couple of the legs crushed due to the vehicle's weight not being evenly distributed on the legs, leaving the vehicle with a noticeable angle to the vertical.


The crushed legs on SN5; those are designed to have a crush zone in case of this sort of landing.  

The news picked up today, presumably because it's Monday and more of the writers covering this are back at work.  Today, Teslarati reports that 

Over the last several days, SpaceX has gradually been working through the unprecedented task of inspecting, safing, and relocating a flight-proven Starship. At the same time, the company has to check out the fixed launch mount structure that supported the test flight and provided Starship with power, propellant, and wired communications. As teams work to get both ship and mount ready for round two, CEO Elon Musk has taken to Twitter to discuss some of SpaceX’s nearer-term goals and plans for Starship testing – including SN5’s role in them.

Not sure yet, but hopefully. Will need leg & other repairs. Probably SN6 flies before SN5. We need to make flights simple & easy — many per day.  — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 8, 2020

“... make flights simple & easy — many per day” is no small task, yet it's completely in keeping with what we know about Musk's dream for Starship.  The model of commercial aircraft is cited often; the goal is to make launches happen routinely, with less schedule slip due to weather.  For one reason, if they need to send a fleet of Starships to Mars, they need to fly with extreme reliability.  In the past, SpaceX has talked about using Starship as a rapid flight service as supplement to airline travel.  Transoceanic flights in minutes instead of hours. This suggests the next several months could be full of Starship hops.

But getting back to SN5 and when it will fly again; nothing definitive has been said. 

Musk also noted that Starship SN6 – a prototype built alongside SN5 and effectively completed weeks ago – would likely attempt its first flight before SN5 hops a second time. SpaceX began stacking the upgraded Starship SN8 prototype just a few days ago, raising the question of whether Starship SN6 would be made redundant before it even left the factory. [Minor edits for readability - SiG]


Screen capture from an hour ago.  In this case, SN5 is vertical; if you look at the horizon, you can see the camera is tilted.  Much work is being done on the launch platform, left of center, and SN5 has been moved most of the way back to that platform.



Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Ham Radio Series 10 – Transmission Lines - Part 1

When I say transmission lines, most of you will think of coaxial cables, which are the most common and most popular form of transmission lines in use today.  Two points: first, they’re not the only kinds used in ham radio and in our shacks; second, transmission lines are also circuit elements widely used in radio frequency design.  Having said that, let me go back and start from the basics.  As always, this is to ensure we’re all on the same pages.  

Transmission lines are what we think of when we want to get a signal from one point to another in our shacks or around our yards to get to antennas.  Ideally, you’d want no loss of signal and you’d want perfect shielding to keep the signal from radiating minute amounts of power into other circuits.  The strong point of coaxial cables is that they’re good at both of these.  A diagram of a typical cable shows the important dimensions.

The loss in the cable is more dependent on the overall diameter than on the exact construction; for example, details like whether the "dielectric medium" (insulator) is Teflon or polyethylene.  Larger cables have less loss.  Loss goes up as frequency goes up in any cable.  The shielding efficiency of single shielded coaxial cables is on the order of 50 to 60 dB (1/100,000 to 1/1,000,000 of the signal escapes – which can still be a problem in sensitive systems).  In those cases, double shielded cables (for example, RG-214 vs. RG-213) or cables with solid copper jackets (sometimes called hard line) get more shielding, with the rigid (solid copper jacket) cables providing shielding 1 to 10 million times better; leakage in the 10-13 range. 

The impedance of the cable is set by the dimensions it’s built to, but ordinarily you won’t build coaxial cables, you’ll buy the cable.
Where epsilon r is the dielectric constant of the insulator, D is the inside diameter of the outer shield and d is the outside diameter of the inner conductor.

The other common type of transmission line is formed by two parallel conductors.  These are available in different impedances, and the impedance of a parallel conductor line is given by a very similar equation.
Note that 276 is 2 times the 138 in the coax equation.  This equation uses k for the epsilon r used in the coax equation. 
The most common parallel conductor line impedance is probably 300 ohms; that’s usually a plastic insulated ribbon with thicker ribs on the edges, each carrying one wire, and called twin-lead.  There’s a higher impedance line called ladder line, which is sometimes constructed as the name implies: two wires with stick-like insulators between them so that it resembles a ladder.  There are 450 and 600 ohm ladder lines, a couple of examples from DX Engineering.  
Coaxial cable is easier to run around and get through windows and walls, but parallel conductor lines can offer better impedance transformations and allow more broadband antennas.  Coaxial cable has a bend radius that needs to be respected, but I find that easy to live with in Real Life.  Parallel conductor lines generally offer lower loss than coax, as this graph from the ARRL handbook shows, but are said to be more affected by rain and water on the lines.  Pick a frequency along the horizontal axis and go vertically to the transmission line you’re using to find the attenuation (in dB/100 ft).  You’ll note that the lowest loss is in the open wire lines at the bottom.  Higher is worse on this graph.

Graph with notation on it from here

It might be worth pointing out that these are typical numbers and that if you’re going to buy a coaxial cable, it can be worth researching the exact part number from the manufacturer you’re buying from.  If you can know that.  They’ll often give a table of losses in dB/100ft, like the chart here, that they guarantee their cable for. 

Since the theme of coaxial cables is “easier to live with and work with,” it’s worth mentioning connectors.  Over the years, manufacturers have migrated from soldered-on connectors to those that are crimped on.  This is because crimped on connectors have gotten better over the years and generally offer higher quality (higher repeatability) in the assembled connectors.  Much as you hardly see soldered on power connectors anymore, and they’re virtually all crimped, the same trend is in the RF world.  My station is still exclusively soldered-on connectors, but if I was starting over, or anticipating doing a lot of cable replacement, I’d seriously look at buying crimp on coax connectors and a good crimping tool.  

There’s a world of “connector nerds” out there who are against the use of the so-called UHF connectors (PL-259 plugs and SO-239 sockets) and it’s true that if you apply that equation for the impedance of a coaxial cable to the dimensions of UHF connector you come with a lower impedance than 50 ohms (around 30, IIRC).  The argument, undeniably true, is that difference causes an impedance bump on the transmission line that decreases performance.
I think it's good to ask yourself if that matters.  My approach is to always think in terms of electrical length and how big the impedance bump is.  The length of a mated pair of UHF connectors is around 1.3 inches.  I’d like to make sure that’s under 1/20 wavelength – and 1/20 wave is admittedly arbitrary and probably because I can’t recall the last time I saw a bump that small that mattered.  The formula for the length of a quarter wave vertical, in feet, given f in MHz is 234/f; 1/20 wave is 1/5 of that, and since 1.3 inches is 0.1083 feet, that gives us
solving for f, we find f has to be 432 MHz before a mated UHF connector pair is 1/20 wavelength long.  I’ve long used UHF connectors through 6m (50-54 MHz) and virtually every commercial 2m (144-148 MHz) I’ve seen has a UHF connector on it.  Many commercial ham radios that cover the 420 to 450 MHz band also use UHF connectors.  I would prefer to have N connectors for 2m and up, but will accept UHF.  On 145 MHz, 1/20 wave is 3.87 inches, so 1.3 is just about 1/60 wave.  That’s a pretty small bump. 

While it's true the twin lead transmission line is trickier to work with than coaxial cable, there are some multi-band antennas, like a G5RV and several other doublet antennas, that pretty much require it. 

The antennas typically still require an antenna tuner, and tuners that will handle the twin lead are both harder to find and more expensive.  I've seen examples where people do a balun (balanced to unbalanced transformer) outdoors so that the twin lead is converted to coax and a single coaxial line comes into the house.  That may allow you to tune your multi-band doublet with a coaxial tuner inside the house.  It could give the best of both worlds of the twin lead where you need it and the ease of routing coax where you need that.  I've read of it being done, but never tried it.


Saturday, August 8, 2020

The What Club?

That was pretty much reaction when I saw the headline “Eating club at Princeton accepts up to $300K in COVID-19 relief funds” on the College Fix - linked from Rantingly today.  Maybe I've led a sheltered life, but I've never heard of an eating club.  Is this how one trains for eating competitions?  And what are they doing taking Paycheck Protection Program money? 

According to an article in the Daily Princetonian, Tower, an independent, not-for-profit eating club on the Princeton campus, was one of the businesses near the school to receive over $150,000 in loans.

None of Princeton’s other ten eating clubs received more than $150,000.

I'm sorry, I know this is written by college kids so it's possible they don't speak English, but that first paragraph says it's "on the Princeton campus" and yet "near the school" which I guess means it's not technically part of the school.  The second paragraph doesn't help much.  Saying none of the other ten eating clubs received more than $150,000 doesn't say much.  Did the other ten all take $150,000 or did one take $150,000 while all the others took nothing?  

It does make some sense on reading.  Eating clubs have nothing do with Hot Dog eating contests and everything to do with being an alternative to the campus cafeteria.  

Eating clubs on the Princeton campus originated in 1879, when students banded together to host their own dining facilities. Students in their junior and senior years are open to joining the clubs, which provide meals and social functions.

The money, of course, is part of the Federal CARES act, passed at the end of March, and over which much haggling has been going on this week.  As part of the bill, $14 billion was targeted to colleges and universities.  Princeton is one of the prestigious schools with a large endowment, and along with Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Northwestern, declined to accept the CARES Act funds.  Part of CARES was intended to help employees of small businesses, especially small restaurants, so it seems like these Eating Clubs fit right in.  Much more than the giant schools that could literally give away tuition forever (I recalled seeing those numbers for Harvard back in 2014 and reporting on them). 

By now, I assume you've heard that since he couldn't get a deal with congress, President Trump has signed an executive order to provide an extension of unemployment benefits, much like the $600 per week in the CARES act, but reduced to $400 per week because of the often-reported complication that people started making more on the enhanced unemployment than they were getting at work.  My immediate reaction was that he can't do that. 

Because of provisions in the Constitution that grant the legislative branch spending power, the White House can't just pull hundreds of billions out of the ether without Congressional approval.

But the Trump administration believes it has access to $140 billion which it can “reprogram.” That includes $80 billion in untapped money from the big coronavirus bill signed into law in March and roughly $40 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund.

This adds up to around another $1 trillion and the Democrats (of course) want to give away more.  Economic collapse lies down that road along with the World Economic Forum's goal of a “Great Reset,” including getting rid of the dollar as the world's reserve currency, elimination of fossil fuels and other ideas you'll see advocated at any Antifa riot.  Representative Thomas Massie gave an interesting interview to Glenn Beck about the budget and ideas down that train of thought (8:15 long).

In my mind, the answer isn't aid like this, it's opening the country back up.  Prices are already skyrocketing on food and other things because of shortages.  As we quoted Elon Musk saying a couple of weeks ago:

 “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.”

If people aren't working and there isn't enough stuff, the large supply of made up money will bid up the prices of all the stuff, and once all the stuff is gone, there will be no stuff to buy no matter how much money you have.

One of my favorite visualizations - $1 Trillion.  Each of those cubes you see is a pallet of $100 million in $100 bills.  Right now we're looking at a deficit of four of these fields of money just for this year.  Tax revenues are usually two of these, but revenues are low due to so many people being out of work.


Friday, August 7, 2020

It Looks Like I Was Wrong About SpaceX Last Month

Back on July 15th, I posted that SpaceX is Apparently Having Falcon 9 Problems prompted by the several delays to Starlink mission V1 L9 (the somewhat puzzling name for the 10th Starlink launch is because the the first launch was a prototype version of the satellites, so it's the 10th launch but the 9th of the Revision 1 satellites). The reasoning was straightforward:
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.

In addition to the eight missed launch dates, there were other oddities I mentioned in that post.

The mission launched this morning at 1:12 EDT and was flawless.  The booster landed on the drone ship OCISLY (Of Course I Still Love You), making B1051 the second Falcon 9 to take five flights and successfully land for reuse five times, opening the door to sixth and more missions.  This screen capture from the mission video replay captures the booster on OCISLY, with a little fuel still burning off the booster, while on the right, the second stage glows from the heat of its burn and is seconds from being turned off.  

Tucked into that article on the Teslarati news site was this paragraph that brings an important bit of news.  

While Starlink-9 was originally scheduled to launch as early as June 23rd, Principal Integration Engineer John Insprucker – a familiar fixture and voice on SpaceX webcasts – was quick to note that through the more than six subsequent weeks of delays, “Falcon 9 has been trouble-free.” He also partially answered the main question on everyone’s mind, noting that all of those delays could be traced back to bad weather and issues with the mission’s payloads.

While SpaceX wouldn't give more details (and nobody with any sense throws a customer under the bus), it stands to reason that the issues were probably related to the ride-sharing satellites from BlackSky on this mission.  After all, the previous nine flights that were (all but one flight) only Starlink satellites didn't have these issues.  The Ride Share satellites were pretty much last minute additions to the flight and it wouldn't be surprising if there were some sort compatibility issues between the satellites and the electronics they had to interface with.    

Long time readers will know that when I go out and make a prediction about something that turns out wrong, I prefer to correct myself publicly (which means I have no possible future as a TV pundit).  I misconstrued a lot of little things lying around and came to the conclusion they must be having problems with the Falcon 9 system, booster or second stage.  I never thought the two BlackSky satellites might be the issue. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

And Now For Something Completely Different

I'm acutely aware of the troubling reports coming from all around the country, as all of you are, but I have a hard time thinking I can make a meaningful improvement to the signal to noise ratio of what's being said around the blogs.  

But every so often, I come across something so bizarre that I have to share it.  Like many of you, I have more than a passing interest in photography, and have been trying to be a better photographer since the early '70s.  I subscribe to a weekly newsletter called Digital Photography Review, which is gateway to many features necessary if you're evaluating a choice of a camera or lens.  Along with a weekly dose of photography news. 

Today, a feature article was the Potato Photographer of the Year.  

Yes, you read the headline right. The Potato Photographer of the Year is a real photo contest and this year’s winners have been announced.

If you’re wondering where the idea for a potato photo contest came to be, look no further than Kevin Abosch’s Potato #345 (2010), a now-famous photo of a sole starchy tuber that sold for a wallet-mashing one million dollars in 2016, making it the 15th most expensive photo sold at the time.

The contest had the noble aim of raising money to end hunger and poverty in the United Kingdom - which is reminiscent of the Miss Universe contestants saying they want to bring world peace.  Since people have been committed to ending hunger for all of recorded history, we can be sure they're not going to do it with the proceeds from any contest, let alone one for a small niche market.  Nevertheless the contest was held, and the article linked shows the top 10 photos.  Allow me to present the winner (reduced from the full size version they post):

Caption: 'This picture manages to introduce a topical lockdown obsession to the brief of photographing a potato. It takes a great imagination to see a sprouting potato as a head covered with hair, and there is a lot of humor in the way the picture has been executed.' – Nigel Atherton

Judge’s comment: 'This is delightful, imaginative, and a good laugh. And again, a bit bonkers. What we all need at this grim time. Love it!'– Paul Hill

It's a gallery of goofy, bizarre photographs - the top 10 entries in the contest.  Every one of them is worth looking at and reading the short descriptions. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Flying Grain Silo Flies

In the last hour of daylight in South Texas, after a much earlier attempt that resulted in Yet Another Abort, Starship Prototype Serial Number 5 (SN5) took a powered flight up about 500 feet, translated sideways a little way, and soft landed.  We've been talking about this milestone since early May and the actual minute of flight was, to quote Twitter, “... simultaneously cool as hell and fucking ridiculous.”

Another view of the launch is in this video from LabPadre.  It's a bit longer than necessary, but I put the start just before ignition.

So what's the big deal?  I like the summary Eric Berger from Ars Technica, put on Twitter
Just so we're clear, SpaceX built a Mars rocket out of rolls of steel, in tents, in South Texas, in weeks. And the first time they flew it, it made a smooth launch, a controlled flight, and safely landed. This is truly remarkable.
A comment I saw somewhere was that Starhopper did this almost exactly a year ago, so what's the big deal?  That comes down to the purpose of the vehicles.  Starhopper was a test bed for the controllable Raptor engines.  It was built heavy - I've read mostly half inch steel plate, so far too heavy to make orbit and carry a payload.  SN5, in contrast, was built as a pathfinder for testing the assembly concepts of the Starship itself.  It's built of thin stainless steel sheets, 4mm or about 5/32" thick, and part of pathfinding was learning how to weld the ship so that it stays together.  That hasn't been a sure thing.  (example 1, example 2, example 3). 

In time, they will almost certainly invest in sophisticated robots to improve weld quality and speed, but instead of doing that first, they hired expert welders to develop the process and do it manually. 

Why does the flight look so awkward?  Starship is designed for three Raptor engines laid out in a triangle on the base.  Because SN5 is so light compared to an orbital class Starship, they used one engine but that meant the line of action of the thrust is off the centerline, which both pushes the vehicle sideways and acts to tip it over.  Even with going down to one engine, one is still too powerful for this load, so they had to put a huge mass on the top of the vehicle.  Back on SN4, that was lost in a Ground Support Equipment methane explosion, the so-called mass simulator weighed over 50,000 pounds.  I have no reason to think this one was any smaller.  With the 50,000 pounds on top and one Raptor engine, the thrust to weight ratio was better. 

So what's next?  I don't know.  I know the plans are to launch one of these Starship prototypes to quite a bit more than 150m/500 feet approved for this one and eventually to 20 kilometers (65,000 feet) but I don't know if they'll use prototypes SN6 or 8, already built and standing by, or if they'll do more with SN5.  Considering that a few attempts to fly were aborted by a valve in the Raptor engine, that will have to be looked at, too.  The booster for Starship, Super Heavy, will have over 30 Raptor engines and if they have trouble getting one to start reliably a Super Heavy will never fly.  In the long run, there will be suborbital flights of Starship and orbital tests.  Those will require Super Heavy.  I've heard that we might see a Super Heavy by the first of the year.  It's helpful to remember the first of the year is five months away. 
The Super Heavy vertical assembly building is being built, and as recently as June, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's VP of Build and Flight Reliability, was saying we might be able to see an orbital Starship mission by the end of the year. Seems ambitious to me, but it's worth  keeping an eye on them for progress.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Lots of Financial News - Not Much Good

It doesn't seem to be widely discussed but the credit rating agency Fitch lowered its outlook for the US credit rating last Friday.  That's in the no man's land between saying "everything is fine" and we "don't think it will stay that way." 
WASHINGTON -- Fitch has lowered the outlook for its U.S. government credit rating to “negative” from “stable” due to soaring budget deficits, but the agency is keeping its overall rating at the highest AAA level.

Fitch said Friday that the downgraded outlook reflects the surge in government debt and “the absence of a credible fiscal consolidation plan” to get the deficits under control.
Most all media was breathlessly reporting about the 33% decline in US GDP also reported last week.
The U.S. economy shrank at a record-breaking 32.9% rate in the second quarter of this year as Americans sheltered at home during the coronavirus pandemic and slashed personal spending, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

That figure shatters the previous record for a quarterly decrease in the nation's gross domestic product, a 10% decline in 1958.
As in most things the mainstream media wants to report on that's a little deceptive.  Yes, it declined 32.9%, but that's an annualized rate.  It's the way those reports are written.  Since the measurement was for one quarter, the decrease was actually smaller.
Gross Domestic Product, the combined tally of all goods and services produced, fell a colossal 9.5% between April and June as many Americans were forced out of work and asked to stay home as the coronavirus pandemic raged. That number, at an annualized rate — or what the decline would look like if it occurred for a full year — equals 32.9%.

The plunge, however, was not quite as bad as predicted. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected a 34.7% annualized decline in the second quarter.
I'm going to bet that you haven't heard the perspective in that last sentence.

These two - especially the first - go along with the increase in the prices of gold, silver and precious metals.  The credit rating downgrade is an indication of lack of faith in the economy's ability to recover.  Those metals are "safe haven" assets that people get into when confidence in the monetary system is going down.   Gold is up 30% this year while silver is up 43%.

The ordinary perspective on those facts is people are bidding up the price of gold and silver: they value the metal more than the paper.  The other perspective is worth considering, too: Silver and Gold are staying constant in value and the dollar is becoming worth less as more and more dollars are created.  That's a natural, even inevitable consequence of making up currency on demand backed by nothing except the promise it's worth something.  The people who are holding the resources that others want are aware that an almost unlimited amount of currency is being created and they want more of that paper for their metal.

In either case, the fact that people value the metal more than the paper they're holding is a good explanation.  The buyers are willing to give more slips of paper, but that's good because the sellers don't value those slips of paper as much as they did, either.  At some point, sellers of all sorts of things could decide they don't want those slips of paper anymore at all.

Inflation is always a monetary policy problem.

Snapshot from Kitco

Monday, August 3, 2020

I Think It's A Valve

I've been documenting my progress on the valves in the Webster engine for a while now.  I think it's time to say my test valve has taught me all it's capable of teaching and declare it done.

The major difference between this state and the view I posted last weekend (7/25) is  that I performed the size reduction from oversized about .004 down to a sliding fit in the test piece, reamed to a .094" hole.  That was done by turning the piece on a strip of sandpaper.

The critical part here was making sure the stem came out the same diameter on the three sections I cut.  There's a tendency for any part to deflect due to cutting forces and the bending moment is greatest when cutting at the far end.  I cut the far and middle thirds of the stem .005 at a pass (radius).  The test cylinder was a little tight just before the taper, but rattled over the first 2/3 of the stem. A micrometer showed it was undersized where the test cylinder was tightest and the rest of the stem was the closer to the right size (working from memory here and I don't remember the size).

I haven't quite understood that, but if there's any real lesson it's the one I already knew.  Measure twice several times, cut once. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Well, That Was a Giant Nothing Burger

A giant Nothing Burger with a side of Nothing.  We got two light sprinkles of rain and nothing beyond a pleasant breeze.  As late as the 2PM update, the local NOAA site gave a plot of expected winds that had the same basic shape as yesterday's plot only weaker by about 20mph  The 5PM update just gives a constant breeze of 23mph gusting 30 overnight. 

I'm not sure I remember a bigger fumble of a storm forecast.  I shouldn't complain - it does come with 50% less pain in the ass than if they got it right.  I have to take down my few shutters, but at least I don't have to clean up all the crap I do after hurricanes.

On the positive side, it gave me time to sit around and watch the return of Doug and Bob from the ISS and the completion of the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission with what looked like a completely nominal reentry and splashdown.  

I watched the coverage on SpaceX's site (that link will change to another mission in a couple of days).   About an hour before the splashdown, they were showing SpaceX mission control in California.  Suddenly a guy in the front row caught my attention.  He looked vaguely familiar.  Then I noticed the blonde woman he was sitting next to.  One of the voices in my head said, "that's Musk and Gwynne Shotwell."  (For those who don't know, Gwynne Shotwell is the President and COO of SpaceX; Musk is CEO and Chief Engineer). They were announced a bit later in the coverage.  Shown circled in this screen capture from YouTube just now. 

During reentry, there's a period where the superheated plasma around the spacecraft wipes out radio communication.  It lasts several minutes and although anyone who has watched space missions a lot has gone through bunches of these blackouts, they're always been a pucker moment.  When the ground controllers called the capsule the first time, the crew didn't reply.  The announcer calmly said, sometimes they get some little bits of data down from the ship before it's out of the blackout.  About thirty seconds later, the ground calls, "Dragon, Spacex.  Comm check."  Doug Hurley responds and you can see Gwynne Shotwell visibly relieved to hear them.  Right around the 6:21:00 mark in that video.

Once the dragon capsule was in the water a little while and while the SpaceX guys were readying it to be pulled onto the recovery ship, they were suddenly joined by a flotilla of fishing boats.  A couple were flying American flags and at least one a Trump banner.  They were asked to stand back and they all formed a circle a hundred yards or so away.  It was interesting to watch because I could imagine being well offshore and seeing a capsule coming down under four big parachutes.  I think I'd have to leave the fishing spot and check it out, too.  Around 6:50 and a few minutes after that. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

T-24 Hours and We're Half-Hunkered Down

We've been in and out of the hurricane's projected impact path like being in the cross hairs of a drunk holding a rifle. Currently it looks like we'll get the storm, but it won't be much of one.

So we're half-hunkered (maybe half-assed hunkered).  I haven't taken down my antennas, but we've put the shutters on the windows on the North and East sides of the house.  Those get the strongest winds in all of the hurricanes we've been through. 

Isaias will be the earliest hurricane here since Erin in 1995.  That was a category 1 hurricane that came ashore at Vero Beach, Florida, August 2nd, 1995.  Because of the path shape, we were in the strongest winds of that storm for the entire passage.  I was on a business trip for my second to last employer, the place I call Major Southeast Defense Contractor, and we had flown out on August 1st, to survey a couple of crystal oscillator vendors in the northeast.  I missed the storm entirely.  Even had a hard time coming home because the airport was shutdown. 

As of the 5PM update, the National Hurricane Center posts this forecast map.

While hard to tell at this scale, it appears to come ashore about 60 to 80 miles south of here, then ride up the coast to north of Cape Canaveral, dropping to tropical storm strength and recurving out along the eastern seaboard.   The local NOAA forecast webpage has this detailed look at our forecast weather.  Historically, this has been better than the Hurricane center at pegging the local conditions.  Winds are shown in the second horizontal plot from the top.

It says the worst of it will be Sunday afternoon from 5PM to 1AM, with continuous winds never going above 60 and gusts staying below 75.  Hurricanes are defined by continuous (one minute) winds of 75, not gusts. 

All in all, it just looks like a rainy day, a good day to stay inside.  While the power in our neighborhood has been getting flakier as it ages, there's no reason to expect to lose power.  Oops.  I shouldn't say that...