Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy New Year

So it turns out that the year that I thought would known for optometrist jokes will be known as one of the worst years in recent memory.  I think about the only people for whom 2020 will have turned out as they hoped would be the people who rigged the election.  Their years of preparation and work to destroy election integrity came to fruition.  Can the complete collapse of the country be far behind?  Some of those same people have been working at that far longer than merely destroying elections.  

In light of just how big a crapfest 2020 has been, I raise my standard argument.  There are plenty of ways to delineate time and it's only New Year's Eve 2021 on the calendar the Western world generally follows.  It's like the end of the first quarter of 5781 in the Jewish calendar.  I'm going to pretend that opening a new year's calendar really does fundamentally change things in a way that flipping a one-page-per-day calendar doesn't.  Tomorrow will be a fresh start.

2020 was my fifth year of retirement and for the second consecutive year, our planned trips were cancelled.  Thankfully the reason wasn't personal injury as it was in '19, it was the reaction to the pandemic that shut down the events we were considering going to.  One of our annual events in the area, February's Orlando Hamcation, has been cancelled, as well as one we might travel to, the Cabin Fever home machinist's show.  From my view, '21 isn't off to a good start. 

Frankly, that's all the year-end review I have the stomach for.   

So Happy New Year, y'all.  Let's hope for better, while we prepare for whatever may come.  Meanwhile, I'll just paste an image I got from Daily Timewaster.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Two Days of Testing Eileen (SN9) Went By With No Problems

SpaceX Boca Chica had arranged road closures alongside the test pad for a series of tests this week, with closures Monday through Wednesday.  After the tests Monday and Tuesday, today's road closure was cancelled.  That indicates the tests probably went as expected and they're ready for more testing after the holiday weekend. You'll recall that back on December 13th, Serial Number 9 was standing in the high bay building when its support structure collapsed, causing the prototype to lean into a corner of the high bay, damaging its aero surfaces and earning the name Eileen.  Last week, on the 22nd, after replacing the damaged flap, Eileen was loaded onto a transporter and rolled to the test pad, where Bluto the giant crane lifted the ~165 foot tall, 200,000 pound spaceship onto the test stand.  

Honestly, it's remarkable to be able to repair a rocket subjected to loads it wasn't designed for.  If you're keeping track, record this as a minor miracle. 

On Monday, the 28th, they performed pressurization tests using ambient temperature nitrogen.  This is a first check for leaks, to ensure everything can be pressurized, verify basic vehicle valve and plumbing performance, and generally ensure a basic level of structural integrity.  Eileen appeared to pass her ambient temperature pressurization tests with no concerns.

Tuesday's tests focused on cryogenic tests.  The exterior of Starship SN9 began to develop a coating of frost after SpaceX started loading its oxygen and methane tanks with liquid nitrogen around 2:30 pm CST. While used similarly to verify structural integrity like an ambient pressure test, a ‘cryo proof’ adds the challenge of thermal stresses to ensure that Starship can safely load, hold, and offload supercold liquids.  Observers reported not seeing evidence of frost at the small header tank in Starship's nose.  Since the last second troubles in SN8's flight was insufficient pressure in that tank, that raises questions of why it didn't appear to be tested. 

It leaves us in an interesting place. 
According to NASASpaceflight’s managing editor, if Monday and Tuesday’s ambient and cryo proof tests were as uneventful and successful as they seemed, SpaceX may move directly on to triple-Raptor static fire preparations. In a first, Starship SN9 was transported to the launch pad last week with two of three central Raptor engines already installed and had that missing third engine installed within a few days of arrival. SN9 is also the first Starship to attempt its first proof tests with any Raptor – let alone three – installed.

If SpaceX does move directly from cryo proof testing to a three-engine static fire, that will mark another first for the Starship program and signal growing confidence and a desire for speedier preflight tests – both of which will help accelerate flight testing. As of now, SpaceX has yet to cancel a road closure scheduled on Wednesday, December 30th [Note: clearly written before this morning when today's closure was cancelled - SiG] but it’s far more likely that a trio of 8 am to 5 pm CST closures requested on January 4th, 5th, and 6th will host Starship SN9’s first static fire attempt(s). According to NASA Spaceflight (.com), Starship SN9 is expected to attempt a 12.5 km (~7.8 mi) launch similar or identical to SN8’s as early as a few days after that static fire. Stay tuned for updates!

Another great photo from Mary, @bocachicagal.  On the left is the remains of SN8's nosecone, middle shows Eileen and Bluto the crane on the right. 

In slight contrast to the quoted text above, they don't mention the Wet Dress Rehearsal test in which every step of a countdown down to liftoff is carried out except for lighting the main engines.  I expect to see that at some point next week.  I'm not so sure about a static firing, but wouldn't be terribly surprised to see them do one.  If they clear those hurdles, the hop to 12.5km could be the following week.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Primum non nocere

Among the few latin phrases that a large number of people have heard is that one: primum non nocere, which translates as "first, do no harm." Like most quotes, it's probably not from the source most of us think it's from - in this case it's not from the Hippocratic oath, which was in Greek.  Far from strictly being a Medical Doctor's oath, which is a person to person interaction, primum non nocere applies to group interactions as well.  When you contemplate doing things with a potentially large population that might be affected by something you do, it's good to remember this.

In this case the population is the entire world, and the issue is Bill Gates is throwing his spare change into an effort to cool the earth by dimming the sun.  Gates is one of the main funders of Harvard University's Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment (SCoPEx).
According to Reuters, a Harvard University project plans to test out a controversial theory that global warming can be stopped by spraying particles into the atmosphere that would reflect the sun’s rays.

The project represents one of the most controversial aspects of what’s known as “geoengineering” — the idea that, to tackle issues like climate change, massive aspects of our ecosystem can be played with or changed. In this case, it would involve reflecting some of the sun’s rays to stop them from reaching Earth.

“Open-air research into spraying tiny, sun-reflecting particles into the stratosphere, to offset global warming, has been stalled for years by controversies – including that it could discourage needed cuts in greenhouse gas emissions,” Reuters reported.
Since every single joule of energy that the earth gets comes from the sun, and every single living thing on earth, from the simplest virus to the most complex mammals, depends on the sun for its life,  this is one area of research where the ground rules need to be the most stringent that can be applied.  It needs to be verified with no doubt in a large number of experiments and every last little thing that doesn't seem to be exactly as predicted needs to be cleared. 

The article on Western Journal goes into some of the issues, but mostly from the standpoint that the objections to this project have come from people saying it will distract from getting the world to cut CO2 emissions. 
There are several problems with this plan, not the least of which is that we don’t know what the unintended consequences might be. But to environmentalists, the problem is that it doesn’t solve global warming the way they want to do it.

“There is no merit in this test except to enable the next step. You can’t test the trigger of a bomb and say ‘This can’t possibly do any harm,'” said Niclas Hällström, director of the Sweden-based environmentalist think-tank WhatNext?
I don't see how something of this magnitude could be done without unintended consequences; changes to weather patterns, changes to ocean circulation patterns, changes to plant growth with the potential of mass famine, changes to the amount of Vitamin D that people make from sunlight exposure with concomitant changes to wellness in the world's populations. Further, the extent of all of these things won't be known - at best - until exhaustive tests are run. 

It doesn't even have to work to cause trouble. Imagine if a country, say China (since they've expressed interest in weather control) runs some experiments that ultimately do nothing.  Two years later, the monsoons fail in India causing mass starvation and deaths.  Can you see Indians not being convinced China told the truth and starting a war over a failed experiment?  Similarly, what if the experiment works and the climate change makes someplace like China or the US' Midwest grain belt have better weather while people somewhere else have worse weather problems, even if it's not directly from the experiment.  Can you see the people with worse weather striking out against the people who they perceive made their weather worse? 

In August of '19, the Daily Mail (UK) did a good summary of the story and potential problems. I've barely scratched the surface.

Solar Geoengineering ideas, to reduce solar power reaching the Earth.  From the Daily Mail.

Ya know, it's awfully hard not to think of Gates as Mr. Burns in this classic clip from the Simpsons.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Clap For The Covid

Sung to the tune of Clap For the Wolfman because it has the same rhythm.  Now that I've implanted that ear worm...

In the most bizarre news story of at least the last 15 minutes (hey, it's still 2020 after all) we find that Covid-19 is being blamed for a particularly nasty strain of "the clap:" gonorrhea.  The New York Post covers the story, H/T to Twitchy by way of PJ Media.
The unnecessary overuse of antibiotics during the coronavirus pandemic has created a rise in drug-resistant strains of super gonorrhea, according to a new report.

Azithromycin, a common antibiotic used to treat chest and sinus infections, has been used during the pandemic to prevent co-infection of hospitalized coronavirus patients and to treat inflammatory symptoms of severe infections.
“Overuse of antibiotics in the community can fuel the emergence of antimicrobial resistance in gonorrhea,” a WHO spokesman told the outlet, noting that azithromycin was used for COVID-19 treatment earlier in the pandemic.
Covid-19: is there nothing it can't do? 

I have lots of issues with this story.  The big summary is that it's just more fear mongering.  There is not one study cited to justify the claim, not even the associational "he who" studies that are the bulk of all the junk science in the press.  They didn't say anything like Covid patients treated with azithromycin were more likely to have antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, and at least that makes some sense.  They presented no data whatsoever, except that there's more of this "super gonorrhea."  So frickin' what?  There could be reasons not even remotely related to using antibiotics to treat Covid-19.  Don't forget, there's this thing called coincidence, too.  

Besides, think of a Venn diagram of the sets of people who are fooling around with anyone they can find regardless of how sick they are and the set of people who are being treated for Covid.  How big do you think the intersection of those sets is? Who do you think comprises that intersection?  As a rough guess I'd say there aren't many 80 year old nymphomaniacs in nursing homes.  I can't say for sure, but I bet if an ICU nurse walked in on a patient hooked up to a ventilator having sex with anyone, that would be the stuff of legends in that hospital. 

(iStockphoto of a petri dish culture of something or other, used by the NY Post.  You know they meant to use a scary looking picture for their scary junk article.  Judging by the accuracy of the rest of the article, this is probably a cell culture of cucumbers)

There.  I saved you the time of reading this so I could make fun of the study.  Just doing my part to be a full service blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

We Had a Covid-19 Vaccine Just Under A Year Ago

But first a B-i-i-ig R-o-o-und number.  This is post number 3,700 in the life of this blog with my 11th blogiversary just under two months away.  For quite a while I've been averaging just under a post a day; maybe missing one or two a month.  At this rate, I'll reach post number 4,000 around mid-July.

Self-congratulations aside, it has been slow news week as I'm sure you've noticed.  An interesting thing I came across earlier in the week is an article on the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE's) website and daily email that said the Moderna vaccine was actually developed last January.  It could theoretically have been allowed to enter testing last January and might have been available months earlier than when it entered use a couple of weeks ago.  All except for one big thing: the Food and Drug Administration. 
The vaccine, a triumph of medical science known as mRNA-1273, was designed in a single weekend, just two days after Chinese researchers published the virus's genetic code on January 11, 2020.

For the entire duration of the pandemic, while hundreds of thousands died and the world economy was decimated by lockdowns, this highly effective vaccine has been available.
Why?  The FDA prohibited rapid "challenge trials"—where volunteers take the vaccine and then expose themselves to the virus in a lab, rather than waiting agonizing months to see how many catch the virus "in the wild."  The challenge trials could have proved the effectiveness of the vaccine in weeks or a month or two.  The FDA considered the risk to the volunteers to be too high.

The easiest word for a bureaucrat to say is "No" and that's what the FDA did here.  Now, I can understand the FDA's desire to make sure the volunteers don't get killed by the virus, but following blanket policies that apply at all times and in all circumstances doesn't make allowances for unusual circumstances.  As the author at FEE points out, somewhere close to the first 200,000 people to die of Covid-19 in the US died after this vaccine could have been available.  During a raging pandemic, might the balance of risk that's allowed be a little different? After all, the potential deaths of volunteers is not the only cost.  The monster cost is the death toll on the world's population from the virus.  The Godzilla: King of the Monsters cost is the suffering caused by lockdowns, especially the economic suffering.

There can be no other conclusion than the acronym CYA - Cover Your Ass.  The FDA was covering their collective asses rather than trying to help the population.  It's a tragic truth that they're a cowardly medical bureaucracy that would rather allow hundreds of thousands of people to die than face any potential criticism for allowing an accelerated vaccine trial.  CYA, unlike "no", is not a word that bureaucrats say.  It's just how they live their lives. 

The author at FEE suggests that based on what we know about how quickly the vaccines are produced and how quickly they could have been tested, that the Moderna vaccine could have been available last March or April.  Instead of the first wave of COVID deaths and lockdowns in the United States, we could have seen a wide vaccine rollout, leading to rapid herd immunity, and the pandemic being curtailed before it really got started. 

The Moderna vaccine being administered.  Photo from FEE.

The answer is more freedom and less Tyranny of Experts

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Holiday Recovery Odds and Ends

We had subdued holiday around the house, did a video phone call with Precious Grand Daughter, Son and Dear Daughter In Law in the evening, and generally didn't do much else, besides arm wrestle Windoze 10.  It just refuses to let me control my own computer.  I cooked some spare ribs in the Masterbuilt Electric Smoker because it's insulated while the Weber Kettle isn't.  I've seen videos of people cooking in the MES with outdoor temperatures around 30, so our 48 to 54 was easy for it.  

Oh, yeah, we had a lot of spare ribs.  This is after three people ate as much as they cared.  Probably about 2/3 left.

While there has been some activity visible at SpaceX Boca Chica around Eileen, the last three days have seemed slow, with no work yesterday as you'd expect.  It's hard for me to imagine they can keep fully staffed and going full speed this time of year.  It seems to be a nationwide thing that the high-tech sector facilities tend to shut down between Christmas and New Year because so many people working there come from other cities and travel home for the holidays.  I never looked into it from any statistical sense, just my experience both at companies I worked for and companies I had to talk business with.

Despite that general lull in activity, Elon Musk surprised a lot of people on Christmas Eve when he tweeted the first hop of the Super Heavy booster would be in "a few months".  It's no secret they've been working on Serial Number 1 Super Heavy in the shipyard at Boca Chica (which sometimes seems to be called BN1, perhaps Booster Number 1?).  Within a month or two would be "soon" for something that epic.

Speaking of soon there are road closures at Boca Chica Monday through Wednesday, with commenters expecting from hypergolic testing to Wet Dress Rehearsal and even to a Static Fire test before Friday. We'll have to see.

Prototype SN9, also called Eileen, at sunrise on Christmas morning. Photo credit Boca Chica Mary.

Teslarati posted a link to a processed video of number 8's test flight, in 4k video.  I'd embed it here, but go watch it in full screen mode.  

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve. Roswell, New Mexico. 1949

The true story.

Found linked on Pinterest.  No true source credited.  Original URL from when I ran across the picture is dead.  

Let me wish each and every one of you who stop by here a very Merry Christmas.  Hold close the ones you love.  Spend time with family or friends or both.  Remember the good service members deployed far from home.  If you're Military, LEO, or fire; EMT, Nurse or MD, and are one who must work while the rest of us celebrate, thank you. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Good Grief - Christmas is Friday!

I love Christmas.  I've known people in my life who decorate for Christmas way more than I do, and I've known people who plan their Christmas six months in advance, way before I do.  I know a guy whose house decorations for Christmas put the local shopping centers to shame, and focused his whole year around decorating for Christmas.  Maybe if you saw me, or saw my barely decorated little house, you wouldn't think so, but I do love Christmas.

Christmas is unique among holidays in America.  It has a very strong Christian tradition (well, duh!) as well as very strong secular traditions, and I love them both.  I love giving gifts to loved ones - and even total strangers.  I love the old favorite songs and the whole feeling of this time.  People in retail will tell you that Christmas often determines whether or not they stay in business.  I'm sure you've noticed that news outlets report sales from the Friday after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) as if they're reporting scores from a bowl game.  Another part of the holiday is the annual struggle to "keep Christ in Christmas" and not overlook the spiritual side of the holiday.  I like to remind everyone there's actually a court ruling that says how many reindeer (three) a holiday display must have to remain "sufficiently secular" to be legal to display on public property.  If I'm putting on a public display and among all other other Winter Holiday symbols I have three reindeer on display, it's secular; if everything else is the same but it's only two reindeer and package of reindeer sausage, I'm obviously trying to convert you!  Does it get more stupid than that?  On second thought, don't answer that. 

Other than the perpetually aggrieved people who protest everything, who's offended by someone wishing them happiness?  For years, I used to run this video by Jackie Mason saying as "The Ultimate Jew" he wasn't remotely offended by people wishing him a Merry Christmas.  Now I could choose one from Dennis Prager, except this is half an hour.

A couple of weeks ago, in an email I just spent an hour looking for, the author said that all our lives there's been a secret hidden right in front of our eyes in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special from 55 years ago.  If you know the show, you know the scene where Charlie Brown in exasperation says he doesn't know what Christmas is all about and questions out loud if anybody does. 

When Linus recites the passage from Luke chapter 2 about the birth of Christ, he drops his security blanket right at the point where he quotes the angels saying, "Fear not." He drops his security blanket and doesn't pick it up until he's done reciting the passage.  When he finishes, he picks up his blanket to walk off stage.

For those of us who read Peanuts every day while growing up, I'd bet no image is as well-associated as Linus and his security blanket, yet he drops it on that cue.   A kid carries a security blanket because they're afraid.  He knows he doesn't need to be.  

As we plunge through the last days before Christmas, take time to enjoy it and your loved ones.  If you feel a need to get some perfunctory gift for someone you'd really rather not give to, I say don't.  That's some sort of bizarre social ritual, not Christmas.  Don't put yourself in debt for Christmas; even if it means the kids get a "meager" holiday.  It won't hurt them and may just help them.  If you're one of the 45% who recently said they'd just as soon skip the whole thing - I say skip it.  It's still a federal holiday, so you have that going for you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Study in Contrasts

I have to say I was surprised to see this but today, SpaceX put Eileen on a rolling transport to the test area.  Bluto (the crane) had been put in place yesterday.  Bluto lifted Eileen onto the new test stand around sunset this evening.  

Back when they moved SN8's nose cone to the pad it took days to get to the milestone of lifting the nose cone onto the existing prototype. 

Toward the left side of the picture, the test stand used for every launch to date is visible, yellow because of the flood lights on it (note the local time on the bottom - it's after sunset).  Visible in the distance between Bluto and Eileen, you can see the nose cone of SN8.  I've read the rest of the wreckage has been removed and many observers thought Bluto was only there to put that nose cone on some vehicle for transport back to the ship yard.

So now what? Eileen will undergo less testing than previous versions. More was known about how to build her than was known when SN8 was built on the test stand. Pretty much everything that allowed them to finish Eileen in the High Bay came from SN9. There's another road closure all day tomorrow, and I wouldn't be surprised if they did some pressurization tests, maybe cryogenic tests.

Meanwhile, at the Stennis Spaceflight Center, NASA's Space Launch System, SLS, had a "mostly successful" wet dress rehearsal (which they call a Green Run) as they prepare for a full static firing of that system.  I say "mostly successful" because of the last sentence in this paragraph.
Engineers working in the Test Control Center monitored all core stage systems during the test as propellant flowed from six barges into the core stage in the B-2 Test Stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. First looks at the data indicate the stage performed well during the propellant loading and replenish process. Part of the test was to simulate the countdown with the tanks loaded, leading up to 33 seconds prior to the engines firing. However, the test ended a few minutes short of the planned countdown duration.
The article goes on to say that it appears to have been a software flake. That's my interpretation of this statement.  (Don't worry, probably just some uncounted Biden ballots got into their system)
The core stage and the B-2 test stand are in excellent condition, and it does not appear to be an issue with the hardware. The team is evaluating data to pinpoint the exact cause of the early shutdown. Then they will decide if they are ready to move forward with the final test, a hot fire when all four engines will be fired simultaneously.
It looks like they might be ready to static fire the SLS early in the new year. 

SLS on the test stand at Stennis Space Center - NASA Photo.

While on the topic of the SLS, back at the start of the month, I passed on a report that the White House was pushing Congress to allow the Europa Clipper mission to choose another heavy lift vehicle if SLS was not looking to be available.   According to Ars Technica's Rocket Report this week, Congress appears to have gone along with that.
In the final text of the appropriations bill for fiscal year 2021, Congress may finally allow this. Some conditions to be met ... Congress said NASA should launch the Clipper on the SLS if a rocket is available, and if a "torsional loading analysis" determines that SLS is safe to launch the expensive spacecraft. However, if these conditions cannot be met, the authorization bill allows NASA to conduct "a full and open competition" for a commercial launch vehicle. It is likely SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket would win this competition, but not certain.
One of the most unsettled areas of the SLS program and Artemis missions is the Exploration Upper Stage. This is just about as far from the level of the rest of the SLS as one can be: NASA and Boeing just completed the Critical Design Review for the programThis is a larger, more powerful upper stage that will be used on the Block 1B variant of the SLS rocket, and enable the carrying of 10 tons of cargo and a crewed Orion spacecraft in a single launch.

Unfortunately ... neither NASA or Boeing have provided a cost estimate or timeline for development of the upper stage, which may take 5 years and cost perhaps $10 billion based upon past projects.

Monday, December 21, 2020

My Annual Christmas Song Post - Expanded

Regulars here know that I'm somewhat of a blues fan.  I've introduced the outrageously talented Joanne Shaw Taylor, and the late country blues master (and songwriting partner to Eric Clapton) JJ Cale.  More appropriate to Christmas, every year around this time I comment on my favorite bluesy Christmas song, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

The song dates from 1944, is credited to Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine for Judy Garland's 1944 movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, but it's generally acknowledged to be Hugh Martin's writing.  The somber tone is understandable; Christmas of 1944 was three years into World War II, and many people had undergone the hardship of long separations from or the loss of family members. The war was wearing on the national psyche; the death toll was the highest seen since the Civil War.  They were dark days.  It's interesting, then, that Martin has said he wasn’t consciously writing about wartime separations.

You'll note that at the end of the song, the line isn't “hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” it's the more subdued “until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow.” Much more fitting to a more somber song written during WWII. The change to “...highest bough” (which seems to be the last) was prompted by Frank Sinatra in 1957. According to Entertainment Weekly in 2007:
Then, in 1957, Frank Sinatra — who'd already cut a lovely version with the movie's bittersweet lyrics in 1947 — came to Martin with a request for yet another pick-me-up. “He called to ask if I would rewrite the 'muddle through somehow' line,” says the songwriter. “He said, 'The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?' ”
That request led to the line we hear most often, although Martin says he thinks the original line is more “down-to-earth.”  “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has become one of the most popular songs year after year.  EW says it's second only to the song Nat King Cole popularized: “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire).”  It has been covered by a gamut of artists from Sinatra to Connie Stephens, to James Taylor (who sings something closer to the '40s, Judy Garland version) to '80s metal band Twisted Sister, and many, many more.

I'm not so one-dimensional that this is the only song I can live with for the month, though.  When I play them myself, I tend to start by playing “O Holy Night” although I can't hope to get within a light year of the ability or the vocal range of Kerrie Roberts under any circumstances.

Still, a fingerstyle guitar can approach the sound of the piano in the mix here.  I can't really link to a video that sounds like what I attempt to play because I sit with a piano song book and work from that sheet music. 

And there are more.  If asked to pick my one most favorite Christmas song, as if I could, I'd probably pick one of these two.   There are lots that are fun to listen to once or twice a year, even the cliche' “Jingle Bell Rock” is fun a few times. There are fewer that I could listen to over and over throughout this month.

What are yours?

Sunday, December 20, 2020

A Ham Radio Series 20 – Modulation, Constellations and Bandwidth, Oh My!

The previous series on radio that I put together, back in the winter and spring of ‘19, included a very wide-ranging post on modulation.  It’s a worthwhile refresher to go back to read to get a feel for the whole process of modulation, if some of this seems like it comes out of the blue.  Nevertheless, there were some important concepts that I dropped in the effort to keep the post length a bit more reasonable. 

The most important part of the posting is the idea of a “universal modulator.”  A universal modulator is nothing more than a multiplier circuit that takes an RF input to be modulated splits the signal in two paths which then go to two mixers.  One side of the split is shifted in phase by 90 degrees.  The modulating signals, shown here as i and q (both as time-varying functions), are applied to the low frequency ports of those mixers. 

Let’s start with this concept.  Any characteristic of the radio signal can be modulated.  Amplitude can be modulated (AM or SSB); the simplest Amplitude Modulation is presence or absence of the transmit signal, On-Off Keying.  Frequency can be modulated (FM, FSK).  Phase can be modulated (analog PM, BPSK, QPSK, 8PSK, 16PSK).  There are even types of modulation that combine more than one kind; the most common of those being Quadrature AM, like 64 or 128QAM (pronounced “kw-ahm”).  Quadrature AM modulates both the amplitude and phase of the signal to transfer data. 

The only difference between generating AM, or SSB or 64 QAM is the way the i(t) and q(t) signals are created and processed.  If they’re kept identical in phase and a DC offset added, full-carrier AM is generated.  If they’re left in quadrature, single sideband is produced.  If Q is left constant and I varies 180 degrees for modulation, BPSK is generated.  Everything is produced by the way those i and q signals are created.

Because of the concept of modulation by applying I and Q signals, Q can be plotted versus I, producing what’s referred to as constellation.  BPSK, or Bi-Phase Shift Keying is simply shifting the phase of the carrier from no shift to 180 degree shift for each symbol.  The signal shifts from +1 to -1 constantly to transfer the information.  QPSK is Quadri-Phase Shift Keying, shown here as varying I and Q at the same time, giving constellation values at (1,1), (-1,1), (-1,-1) and (1,-1), or simply changing one axis at a time (1,0), (0,1), (-1,0), (0,-1).  8PSK and 16PSK are what the names imply: 8 and 16 values of amplitude and phase.

This isn’t the only interpretation.  16QAM is modulating both amplitude and phase.  There is 16 phase shift keying (16PSK), where the amplitude remains constant and the constellation points are all on a circle of constant amplitude but with (360 / 16 or) 22.5 degrees between the symbols. 

This is 64QAM as it would be seen on a piece of test equipment.  Each of those dots represents a transmission and their random looking appearance (spread out and not just a dot) is from the introduction of noise in the channel.  If it were pure phase noise each of those would be short arc centered on the origin (0,0) in the graph with the points farthest into the corners being the longest arcs.  These look to be amplitude noise and not phase noise. 

There are subtle changes to the constellations that affect not just the number of constellation points but also the trajectories that the signal takes to get between them.  Below is a math simulation of a differential 8-phase shift keying (D8PSK), which has become widely adopted in the aviation world.  In one application, data at 31.5 KBPS is used in a 16 kHz wide AM channel previously used for voice, which has a 6 kHz bandwidth.

As I’ve been saying in almost every post, physics doesn’t allow something for nothing.  Perhaps in your wanderings around the ‘net you’ve come across the concept that information is proportional to bandwidth.  Simply, the more information you’re sending in the same amount of time, the more bandwidth the signal takes.  I bet you know this even if you’ve never seen it stated online.  Voice channels take up more bandwidth than on-off keying; video takes up more bandwidth than voice.  Lower data rates take less bandwidth than higher data rates. 

The trade between the modulation types is that they convey more information in the same bandwidth, but require higher amplitudes for the same bit error rate.  That means more signal power at the receiver, so transmit powers may have to be higher and marginal signal strength might not work.  The complexity (read that as cost) of the transmitter and receiver go up.  For that cost, the D8PSK signal provides more digital data in the transmit bandwidth than plain AM voice.

These curves are generically referred to as “waterfall curves.”  It’s not quite as vivid in this graph but for some of these modes, as the signal to noise ratio (horizontal axis) goes up, the bit error rate (BER) falls off like going over a waterfall.  The signal to noise ratio is expressed as Eb/N0energy per bit to noise power spectral density ratio”  It’s calculated from the signal to noise ratio (SNR). 

This is read by choosing an error rate you’re comfortable with; I’ll choose 10-4 because all three curves are on the chart.  That means 1 bit in 10,000 is wrong.  For BPSK, you’ll see where the blue curve intersects that line, go down to the X axis and see it’s a little over 8 dB; I’ll call it 8.5.  For the 16-PSK curve, you see it’s just over 16 dB.  You get a higher data rate but it costs you 7.5 dB more in the hardware complexity.  Adding 7-1/2 dB transmit power is expensive in the ham world, depending on the frequency and other requirements.  On the other hand, if the receiver is reasonably well-designed, it's physically impossible to make one 7-1/2 dB more sensitive. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Rocket Startup Astra's Rocket 3.2 Reaches Space but not Orbit

We've been trying to keep an eye on startup Astra in the San Francisco Bay area for a while, and note that this week their Rocket 3.2 launched from Kodiak in Alaska and easily made it into space, but its final velocity was just a little short of the velocity required to attain orbit. From the company's blog entry on the mission:
Rocket 3.2 lifted off from the Alaskan coast on December 15th at 12:55 pm PT followed by more than two minutes of a successful first stage flight. A few seconds later, we completed a nominal stage separation and ignition of the upper stage, and blasted past the Kármán line, the border between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. Almost seven minutes later, traveling over 16,000 miles per hour (Mach 21), Astra’s upper stage engine shut down nominally after depleting all of its fuel. Rocket 3.2 precisely achieved its target altitude of 380 kilometers at 7.2 km/sec… just short of orbital velocity of 7.68 km/sec.
This is the first time Astra has made it into space, even if it couldn't achieve orbit.  Their previous attempt, Rocket 3.1 failed on ascent last September.  In a video of the launch you can see the first stage fail after about 30 seconds, and then the vehicle starts tumbling.  It falls back to the ground and explodes on impact.  In contrast, reviewing this weeks' flight data they say that small tweaks to the fuel/oxidizer ratio are all it will take to achieve orbital velocity. 

Where Astra seems to fit into the launch ecosystem is the very bottom end.  Their booster is less powerful than the Rocket Lab Electron, which currently seems to be among the leaders in the small launch business, if not the actual leader.  The Rocket 3.2 is 11-1/2 meters tall, not even 38'.  The electron is 18 m or 59 feet tall.  A Falcon 9 is a much larger rocket at 229.6 feet tall. 

Liftoff from LP-3B in Alaska, from this video.

Still, we have to tip the hat to Astra.  As Elon Musk said, "orbit is hard."  Many try, nobody seems to make it without some pain.  According to that blog post, linked above, they have as many as 100 satellites contracted to be delivered to orbit and plan to start doing that soon. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Stepping Backward

I've been trying to troubleshoot why my Webster Internal Combustion Engine won't start since Sunday and still no joy.  You know the old adage about four stroke engines: we need Suck-Squeeze-Bang-Blow, with fuel and spark at the proper times.  "All I gotta do" is verify I get all of those at the proper time and in the proper amounts.  This week hasn't been "one step forward two steps back;" it has just been the steps back.

One of the tests I've done is to see if I get compression at the top of the piston stroke.  The prints say, "Rotating the flywheel counter-clockwise should produce a "snorting" sound through the carburetor as the intake valve lifts."  I can hear something, but I'm not sure it's at the right time.  I took off the intake/exhaust valve stack and if I put my finger over the combustion chamber port, it blows enough air to make snort/squeak around my finger on the compression (squeeze) stroke.  The way fuel and air feed into the engine is that during the suck stroke, the piston pulling back creates a partial vacuum, which opens the intake valve and that air flowing in creates the fuel flow in.  I've never seen the valve move while I'm cycling the engine.  That probably means the valve doesn't need to move to let air in.  It's not sealed and the air just blows in around the valve without it moving. 

Time to take that valve stack apart.  I started experimenting with adding a gasket between that block and the engine and I noticed something funny.  I had disconnected the fuel line from the carburetor and stood the tank up so that the tubes were sticking upward out of the top. I noticed that a metal weight that came on the fuel line was no longer in the fuel line, but just lying on the bottom.  It came out?  That's really in the "that's funny" category.

I didn't round up a glass bottle to pour the Coleman fuel into until about lunchtime today, and when I went to take off the top to pour out the fuel, found the plastics inside the bottle had come apart. Badly.

That black plastic thing, now in two pieces was used to seal the bottle by tightening that Phillips screw in the lid.  That's sure not going to work again.  The light blue fuel line on the brass tube and the much larger diameter light blue tube underneath and behind it were one piece when I got it. That tubing swelled in size until the metal piece fell out. I suppose if I had left it lying on its side much longer, it would have started leaking.

Obviously these plastics aren't compatible with the Coleman fuel!  I boneheaded the task and didn't check to make sure this tank was compatible with it.  The tank is fine, it's the rubber stopper and the fuel line that need to be replaced.  Just as obviously, I'm without a gas tank for now.  I've found some things that are compatible, but with Christmas shipping bottlenecks, I'll be lucky to have them by New Years.  I'll continue to work on the valves, I just have no way to test the engine until I get a gas tank.

While I'm here, for fellow watchers of the Starship work over in Texas, the last thing I posted was the next road closures were the Monday after Christmas, 12/28 through 12/30.  Sometime last night they added this coming Monday, 12/21 through 12/23, all are 8AM to 5:30PM.  They don't really say what those closures are for, but we might see Eileen move sooner than the last update. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

A Little More on the BATFE Attack on Polymer80

Hey, at least no kittens were stomped to death.  That's an improvement for the BATFE.

I regularly listen to Michael Bane's weekly podcast (currently Michael Bane TV on the Radio) and this week's final podcast of 2020, episode 50, found Michael going into the topic of the ATF going after gun parts.  He has been on this bandwagon for months and has a few "I told ya so" lines in there but it's worth it.  He also covers it in his blog and uses legal input I was unfamiliar with. 
I’m thinking that the thugs at ATF are going to hang their hats on the concept of “constructive possession.” Read NFA lawyer Joshua Price’s (who I turn to for legal information on NFA issues) piece on the issue here:…/florida-man-arrested-for…/

“As I stated before, one must be very careful when entering into the NFA realm, even where an individual does not assemble the firearm into a NFA configuration because of the legal implications under the doctrine of constructive possession. Constructive Possession exists when a person knowingly has the power and intention at a given time to exercise dominion and control over an object, either directly or through others. US v. Turnbough, 1997 U.S. App. LEXIS 11886, *6. The government may establish constructive possession by demonstrating that the defendant exercised ownership, dominion or control over the premises in which the contraband is concealed.”

This would represent a huge expansion of how constructive possession has been construed. It was, I believe, originally aimed at drugs (natch) and illegal weapons possession in the sense that a forbidden person was in the presence of a firearm. ATF expanded that to include possession of the parts to complete an NFA weapon.
This goes a long way toward explaining the next phase of the war on guns.  Don't get hung up on the reference to the NFA; it's bigger than that.  The reference to the NFA is more applicable to the pistol brace front in the battles that are starting.  The reference is a court case in which ATF argued that if someone had all of the parts to make an NFA item, the only reason they had those parts was to make it.  That view was rejected in a 1992 case against Thompson/Center Arms in which the court ruled that the “rule of lenity” applied (i.e., any ambiguities in criminal statutes should be resolved in favor of the defendant).

A way of thinking about that NFA reference might be helpful.  Imagine you have no AR platform guns except a single carbine you've bought.  You decide you would really like to build an AR pistol and you buy a nice 8 inch barrel as the first part.  Totally innocent, right?  The BATFE could argue that since you have only one lower receiver, which is a rifle, the only thing you could want to do with that barrel is build the NFA short barreled rifle (SBR).  A better approach would be to get the lower receiver first.  It doesn't have to be a receiver for a pistol, as long as it isn't paired as a rifle.  (There's that odd old rule that if a receiver is considered for a rifle, you can't make it a pistol and vice versa)  Constructive possession says that if you have the 8" barrel in a storage place you rent and the carbine in a safe in your home, they're still yours so your intent is to make the NFA firearm.

Where this gets odious is the anti-gun side absolutely hates the idea of being able to put together a gun from parts.  Being able to build you own gun has been US law (and custom) for as long as the country has existed.  In the early days of gun control, more people thought buying parts to repair, or build their guns was a normal thing, and the ATF took a relatively light touch.  They defined a particular part of the gun to be the gun.  In more restrictive countries, there's no such thing as buying a part from a place like Midway or Brownells to improve your gun.  Every single part is regulated and gets the buyer the equivalent of the rectal exam they'd get for a complete gun.  The anti-gun left wants that for the US.  No 80% receivers and certainly no kits of parts to complete one prepackaged with an 80% receiver. 

John Richardson over at No Lawyers - Only Guns and Money put up a leaked version of the BATFE's "Guidance on Pistol Braces" today.   It's 16 pages of legalese and John includes a summary from the Firearms Policy Coalition.  The key finding I see, because it's the kind of thing that "triggers" me is:
2) The draft document instead purports to be intended to inform the public on how brace-equipped firearms will be examined in the future. Based on the criteria set forth in the draft document, it appears that the ATF would take something of a ‘totality of the circumstances’ approach in determining whether a specific brace-equipped pistol is a ‘short-barreled’ firearm regulated under the NFA. These criteria include: the firearm’s type, caliber, weight, and length, the design of the brace itself, whether the firearm can be properly aimed when using the attachment as a brace, and whether an optic that cannot properly be used one-handed is present (i.e., something that suggests intent). The agency also indicates that it will observe the marketing of firearms and accessories, as well as other more subjective factors.
“Totality of the circumstances” reminds me of the old, “I can’t define pornography but I’ll know it when I see it” definition.  There's nothing specific, so people can never know how they will be viewed.  That allows the agency to make arbitrary rules, and sets up judges to always have the last word.  The rulemakers make it impossible for individuals to decipher what's acceptable and what isn't.  More importantly, there doesn't have to be the slightest bit of consistency in their rulings.  This is why every company that wants to market an 80% receiver has to submit them to the BATFE to get approval to sell them.  There are no objective standards.  Tyrants and other control freaks want it that way.  

The "Totality of Circumstances" approach combined with constructive possession is how they can rule that a Polymer80 plastic “Mock Glock” can’t fire and isn’t a firearm, but their Buy Build Fire kit which puts the parts needed to make it work in the same box with that plastic chunk makes it a firearm. It still can't fire anything because nobody has done the machine work to transform the chunk of plastic into something those parts can be put into.  Someone less determined to stop people from working on guns could look at the same circumstances and reach the opposite conclusion. 

If anything constructive possession means that if you don't buy the kit with the parts to complete it in one purchase, but buy them separately from another seller, they can still argue that there's nothing else you would do with that other than build a gun.  One step closer to getting rid of gun part sales completely.  Which would make working on your own guns a federal crime.

If anything, Michael Bane thinks it's part of a big picture attack by the big names in the anti-gun world.
One of the Left’s key goals has been not just the passage of antigun laws, but the elimination of the Gun Culture. As we have discussed at great length here and on the podcast, the “Bloomberg Model” laws adopted by so many states, including Colorado, were primarily focused on making illegal common practices within the culture, such as loaning a firearm to a friend for a hunting trip or competition, or passing guns down to children and other relatives. The laws themselves were far less consequential than their intent…making minor interactions between firearms owners harder and harder, thus weakening the bonds that weaves together what we call the Gun Culture.

Completed Polymer80 guns; photo from Michael Bane.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

What's Up With Eileen?

Eileen, the Starship Prototype formerly known as SN9, went for a short trip yesterday and there were road closures scheduled for tomorrow and Friday as backup.  It made me think that they were planning to bring Eileen down to the launch pad area and work on her there.   As of tonight, the road closures for this week have been canceled and the only mention of a road closure is December 28 and 29. At this point, it looks like Eileen isn't moving until then. 

When we last left Eileen, we gave her that name because the stand she was mounted to in the high bay building collapsed and she fell over into the front corner of the building.  Both of the small control surfaces on that side of the ship (I'd call it the starboard side) were damaged.  The things we couldn't get clarity on were first whether Eileen was deemed repairable at all, and then if the repairs would be done in the high bay or out at the launch pad.  She was lifted straight up and held in place by Bluto the crane (sometimes called Tankzilla - I am not making this up) on Sunday.  The work yesterday was to lift Eileen, bring her outside to remove the damaged support structure she was bolted to, replace the stand in the high bay with an upgraded version, put her back into high bay and bolt her to that new and improved support.

As a side note, I really don't know what to call those aero surfaces.  They're not functionally flaps and they're the wrong size and wrong location for those.  They're too small for wings, or at least too small to provide much lift.  I've seen them called flings - combining flap and wing - but that's just being cute.  Since they do provide steering, something ailerons do, perhaps we should call them that.  I've seen one writer refer to them as Elonerons.  Whatever we call them, the big one on the aft end of the Starship seems to have been replaced already and the small one at the forward end still needs to be replaced. 

Eileen's forward, starboard aileron is still crumpled up,

while her aft aileron on that side looks undamaged.   Both photos by Boca Chica Gal (Mary) for NASA Spaceflight (dot com).  By the way - that's SN5 or SN6 to Eileen's right and considerably closer to the camera.  I never could tell them apart. 

There's still many tons of debris to clear from the pad area and based on the road closures it looks like no more hops or significant tests will occur in 2020. 

Closer to home, we will watch the last Falcon 9 launch of the year  tomorrow morning, a mission for the secretive National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), dubbed NROL-108.  Liftoff will be No Earlier Than (NET) 9:00 AM EST (14:00 UTC), Thursday, December 17th.  The launch window extends until noon.  As usual, SpaceX will start a live webcast of the launch starting about 15 minutes before liftoff.  For those keeping track, this is booster B1059, last seen on the Argentine SAOCOM-1B satellite mission August 30th.  This will be B1059's fifth flight.  This marks a continuation of a trend with US government agencies, first NASA now NRO, trusting SpaceX's flight-proven boosters.  Sunday's launch of the Sirius-XM satellite marks acceptance by other industry customers as well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Where Do We Go From Here?

Some of you know one of my favorite gripes about the political class is that none of them ever seem to think one move ahead, and certainly never two.  Nobody ever seems to think, "and then what happens?"  Nobody ever thinks about how the world will respond to their new laws.  

From what I've seen, there's no doubt that the election was rigged.  Bill Barr actually told the truth when he said there was "no widespread voter fraud."  The whole point of what they did was that it didn't need to be widespread.  All they had to do was siphon off some votes from Trump and give them to Biden in a few key states.  This is exactly what was reported a month ago in that video by Dr. Shiva of MIT, and now appears in the Antrim County security report being talked about today.

As I understand it, here's what Dominion did.  In Michigan, for example, they took the results by precinct and skimmed "excess" votes for Trump and gave them to Biden.  Let's say it was a precinct that voted 85% for Trump.  They skimmed a percentage, let's say 30% and gave them to Biden.  The amount of votes they moved to Biden depended on how much he led by; the more votes there were for Trump the more they stole while not changing the precinct's overall decision; Trump still won the precinct, but elections aren't really run by precinct.  The end result was they skimmed so many votes that it swung the state.  In the handful of states in question, it swung the nation.

Obviously, that's no software error, no "glitch:" it's a carefully implemented software algorithm.  When people point out the results are statistically impossible, or that they violate Benford's Law, they're referring to the results of these changes.  As the report from Antrim County by the Allied Security Operations Group, LLC,(ASOG) (the whole pdf) says:
The allowable election error rate established by the Federal Election Commission guidelines is of 1 in 250,000 ballots (.0008%). We observed an error rate of 68.05%. This demonstrated a significant and fatal error in security and election integrity.
Lawyers like to talk about whom the damaged party is, and that's a good question.  The easy answer is Trump was damaged, but in a very real sense, anyone whose vote was moved was also damaged.  I think the argument could be made that damages go beyond the states where the Dominion systems were used.  Like the suit by Texas and 28 other states said, voters in other states were also damaged by votes being negated in the Dominion systems.  As the president has authority over all 50 states, anyone that voted for him and didn't get him in a free and fair election was also a damaged party.  I shouldn't have to say this, but losing like this is different from losing in a fair election. 

Where do we go from here?  Unless the voting system in this country is completely reformed, there will never be another free and fair election.  The vast majority will never trust voting again, unless I misread people.  I am not a lawyer, let alone a constitutional lawyer, but there is no Federal authority to do the first thing about that; it's left to the states, specifically to their legislatures, and you've got to believe the states that cheated not only wanted their systems so they could cheat, they'll fight to keep it that way.  (Arizona might be an exception)  Further, whom do you trust to clean up the elections in all 50 states?  The swamp creatures in DC?  The FBI - the same agency that led a four year long coup against the sitting president?  I've heard several times that the election monitors we send to foreign countries would never accept this one at home; how do we get other countries to clean up?

Part of me is saying that this is only different in degree from previous elections.  Remember how many times people have talked about some phrase like, "the margin of fraud."  Think of Al Franken but there are lots more.   Now that the fraud has been computerized and made adaptive (the reason for the late night delivery of more ballots), I don't see how anyone can ever overcome the margin of fraud.  Does anybody trust these hundred million dollar US Senate runoff elections in a state that already cheated?

If states don't voluntarily clean up their acts, and I don't believe they will, I can envision attacks by "white hat" hackers, or relentless software bots programmed to attack exposed electronic voting systems and destroy them - or enhance their cheating.  That might incentivize the manufacturers to keep their machines off the Internet, which might make it harder to implement their cheating.  I expect that Dominion is monitoring what's being said about their algorithms being detectable by statistical inference and working on ways to make them less detectable.  Think of an electronic arms race as what happens if there are no reforms to the election systems.  Electronic measures, electronic counter measures, counter-counter measures, and so on.

It's tempting to say the Republic is dead.  If nobody trusts going to the polls anymore, how do we continue?  Everything from secession to open warfare is on the table.   Where do we go from here?

From NewsLA

Monday, December 14, 2020

Still Relevant After All These Years - Maybe More Relevant

Here on this day when the Electoral College named Slow Joe and the Ho as the new administration. 

The Gods of the Copy Book Headings - Rudyard Kipling

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return! 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Another Step Forward and Still Not There

This time in reference to getting my Webster running. 

That's right, it's finally time to try to get the little engine I've been working on since May of '19 running.  My last update just showed off the mounting of the replacement points.  This week, I started hooking up my Capacitive Discharge Ignition system (CDI).  

First, a day or so after that last post, I went to adjust timing on the engine with everything I had available to work to and found the points didn't move anymore.  The large diameter of the cam holds the points open and they only close briefly during the flat spot on the cam.  That requires the spring to close the points and it wouldn't.  I removed them and they barely would move in my hand, eliminating something about the way I mounted them.  After about a half hour of pushing on them, examining them, and agonizing over it, I put a drop of light oil around the part of the spring near the cap screw you can see in the picture. They started moving again.  It has been almost 40 years since I last worked on a car with points so my memory might not be the best, but I've never oiled points before.

With the points working, it was time to hook up the CDI. The system is designed to work on a battery pack, and the notes with the set said it ran best closest to 5V, although it would survive to 6.5.  Maybe.  My four alkaline AAs measured too close to 6.5 for comfort, so I took out one out of the string of four, replacing it with a jumper.  It's now 4.75V (or was when I started).  Once I was sure all the connections were good, I looked at the workbench and decided I had a nice way of organizing the setup; a piece of 3" wide aluminum channel that I bought to cut one 1" wide piece off. 

See that green jumper?  That makes a four cell battery pack into a three cell pack.  The on/off switch in the middle seemed like a good thing to add.  At bottom right, you'll see the end of the engine; the white piece is the CM6 spark plug with the spark plug wire (the heavy black wire) running back to the black plastic CDI module marked S/S.  There's a thinner black wire that's the engine ground for the ignition.  Before getting this far along, I removed the spark plug, laid the plug on the metal ground of the engine and cranked the flywheel with my electric drill to see if it sparked.  It sparked just fine. 

Finally, it was time to put some fuel in the tank and try to get it to start. 

It won't start.  If it had started I would have been more surprised than if SpaceX had nailed the landing on the SN8 test flight instead of cratering on the landing pad.  In fact, if it had started, I probably would have fainted and broke my skull on my concrete floor.

I've been expecting to have to start a lot of troubleshooting here, so here we are.  I know I messed with the carburetor, and have gotten the instructions from the maker to reset it to normal.  The next thing is to go back into the ignition timing. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Starship Prototype SN9 Set to Roll to Pad Monday

Well, that was the story yesterday on Teslarati.   I'm not sure, but I think it was posted before SN9's support structure in the Hi Bay partially broke and SN9 got a little tipsy into the corner (thanks to regular reader/commenter Malatrope for the info and link).  Like this.

SN9 has earned the name Eileen from now on for forever.

The question is whether Eileen was hurt badly enough that she can't make it to the pad without repairs there in the high bay.  As of minutes ago, Saturday night, the large crane kept around for lifting these 50 meter tall rockets, a crane affectionately named Bluto (the body of the crane is blue) was extended partly into the building and being set to lift Eileen up and out.  A bit farther down the page at NASA Spaceflight, we can see damage to Eileen's lower flap on the side near the front corner of the High Bay.  Whether that's better repaired there in the assembly area (called the shipyard) or if it should be fixed out on the test pad is a question I can't answer. 

All I can say is we shall see over the course of the next couple of days.  If they pull Eileen out of the High Bay and start repairs in the shipyard, that probably means they won't move her to the test area until the repairs are done.   If they pull her out, stand her there and work on the collapsed stand in the High Bay, that probably means she's over there until all repairs are completed. 

No matter where they're done, the repairs probably rule out a flight before January.

Has The Use-By Date Passed Already?

I don't know.  It's close to expired, but I only did it last night. 

As you were.  Today might be a bit disjointed, with lots in the news.  

Friday, December 11, 2020

BATFE Going After 80% Receivers Again - Revised

The BATFE has apparently decided to start going into regulatory expansionism again, with a perceived change in administration coming to someone who's more likely to grow the Bureau's budgets again.  Back in October they started going after pistol braces in an apparent attempt to outlaw AR pistols - or start down that road.  According to TTAG (The Truth About Guns), on Thursday the 10th the BATFE raided Polymer80, one of the largest makers of 80% lowers and pistol frames.

According to the Wall Street Journal:
The raid target, Nevada-based Polymer80, is suspected of illegally manufacturing and distributing firearms, failing to pay taxes, shipping guns across state lines and failing to conduct background investigations, according to an application for a search warrant unsealed Thursday after the raid took place.

The probe focuses on Polymer80’s “Buy Build Shoot Kit,” which includes the parts to build a “ghost” handgun. The kit, which Polymer80 sells online, meets the definition of a firearm, ATF investigators determined according to the warrant application. That means it would have to be stamped with a serial number and couldn’t be sold to consumers who haven’t first passed a background check.
TTAG supplied this product photo of a “Buy Build Shoot Kit.” From what I know there isn't one gun in this photograph.  Nothing that requires a serial number or a background check.  It's no different than if you bought a bar of metal and some hunks of plastic.

Like everyone who sells these so-called 80% receivers (the percentage, though widely used, has no correspondence to reality), Polymer80 submitted their designs and products to the BATFE for a ruling on whether they met the criteria for not being a gun.  The Feds ruled that they're not guns, yet somehow the BATFE is saying when they sell a hunk of plastic that's not a gun with handful of small parts that aren't a gun in a common package, it becomes a gun.  Non-gun + non-gun = gun  
But the Buy Build Shoot Kits, which are advertised as having “all the necessary components to build a complete…pistol” weren’t submitted to the agency for approval, according to the application for the search warrant. These kits can be “assembled into fully functional firearms in a matter of minutes,” the warrant application says.
There was no reason to submit it to the agency for approval.  Nothing was a gun and nothing about what they were selling was new except being in one package.  Convenience makes it a gun?  This reminds me of the BATFE vs. Ares Armor case in 2014 in which the BATFE argued Ares Armor was illegally manufacturing guns.  What they were doing was making a plastic lower with a different color plastic in the fire control pocket, which would be removed when making it into a gun.  BATFE said the second plastic had to be added to a complete receiver which was turning a gun into "not a gun" and during the brief existence of the gun, it needed to be serialized and treated as a gun thereafter.  Ares Armor said their process documents proved that it was made all at once and a finished receiver was never present. 

As an aside, the absolute coolest trick in the world, and I've never heard anyone else ever talk about doing it, would be to mold this out of two grades of plastic. Wouldn't it just be the coolest thing you've ever seen if the body of the lower melted at say, 400 degrees, and the part that needed to be removed melted at 200? So that all you'd have to do to turn this 80% lower into a finished one would be to soak it in boiling water? I wonder if that could be done.

Of course, the BATFE is not a group to be all sophisticated about "dat legal shit."  They're much more interested in the "control" part of gun control.  I'm just surprised that they seem more than happy to open a can of worms that just a year ago they didn't want to get near.  Last October, the BATFE dropped charges of manufacturing guns against a guy who had set up a gun club so that any member could pay their $25 dues to join, put their lower receiver in a fixture he had designed, press "GO" on the CNC controller and let it turn an aluminum lower into a gun for them.  Considering that the BATFE had previously said if someone so much as marked where to drill a hole on an 80% lower that they had manufactured a gun, that seems like a pretty open and shut legal case, so why did they drop the case and let the guy go?

The judge in the case had given an opinion that completing a lower receiver still didn't turn it into a gun!  BATFE's laws don't do what they're intended to do, and if BATFE lost the case firearms law would collapse into a black hole of nothingness.  BATFE is terrified that they created a situation where there is no definition for which part of the AR-15 is the gun.  Their definition of a receiver is spread across both the upper and lower receiver in an AR-15. 

As I like to say, "don't worry; it's not that bad. It's worse." That ruling last October isn't the first. There was another case in 2016 in which BATFE dropped the case because the Judge read the law and said the guy wasn't manufacturing guns because a completed lower isn't a gun. To borrow a quote, BATFE is muy FUBAR.

As I said in my conclusion last October:
What the rulings seem to be saying is that the AR platform with its regulated lower and unregulated upper is inconsistent with Federal law. Since it's impossible to redesign the platform with millions of them already in peoples' hands, the solution is for congress to come up with a definition for the lower receiver that's workable. That's going to be a giant ball of fail; congress never writes laws that require technical details because none of them are qualified. On the other hand, if someone was to do things that the BATFE frowned on with some lower receivers, we have two cases that say they're going to quit before they get ruled against for all the marbles. In the words of Dirty Harry, "do you feel lucky?"
In this case, the polymer pistol isn't an AR, so I wonder if Polymer80 can argue the precedent set in 2016 and 2019, that nothing they're selling meets the federal legal definition of a gun? 

EDITED 12/12 1200 EST to add:

Today's Ammoland Shooting Sports News adds some context to this story.  This is wider than just a raid on Polymer80. 
This week ATF has shown up at multiple shooting-sports-related companies and retailer's door to demanded customer information about those American citizens who legally purchased 80% pistol frames.
They make the point that BATFE has demanded that Polymer80 turn over lists of buyers of the BATFE's targeted Buy Build Shoot kits, to do background checks on buyers to find prohibited persons.  Again, the problem with the kits appears to be convenience, and BATFE is essentially saying that anything a company sells that is based on the incomplete receiver concept needs to be submitted for their review.  Just as anything using the pistol brace concept needs to be submitted for their review. 

Rob Pincus of the Personal Defense Network has a worthwhile video here - there are two, the top one is nearly six minutes long, but worth the time.

Ammoland also points out that the BATE also "paid a visit" to Brownells to ensure they were not selling the convenient Buy Build Shoot kits, and found they were not (which they could have determined by visiting their online store and searching for them). 
“The ATF did visit our facility on Thursday, December 10, 2020,” said Ryan Repp, Brownells VP of Marketing. “It’s my understanding they inquired about our sales of the Polymer 80 ‘Buy, Build, Shoot’ kit. Brownells has not and does not sell that kit. Polymer 80 continues to be a great partner for Brownells. We proudly sell their 80% products and other parts.”

The ATF did raid or show up at other companies that sell other kits that include 80% part kits, barrels, and slides that are not Polymer80. AmmoLand News sources inside the ATF say that the agency is now considering 80% kits with all the parts needed to finish a pistol as a firearm. None of the companies had any warning on the change to ATF’s regulations before actual agents showed up making attempts to retrieve customer information.

The ATF is interested in the customer records, and this seems to be a nationwide crackdown. The agency’s intent on acquiring customer's personal records and run criminal background against the list to see if any felons have purchased the 80% frame. The ATF is making a de facto 80% gun registration. [I would add bold for emphasis, but it would take up the entire second two paragraphs: SiG]
This is a fast-developing situation.  I'll try to keep updates coming as I read about them.