Thursday, September 30, 2021

Blue Origin's "Toxic" Work Culture

This week's Rocket Report from Ars Technica includes a shocking story about Blue Origin.  In the wake of BO's lawsuits against SpaceX and NASA for having the gall to award a contract to someone besides Blue, Alexandra Abrams, Former Head of Blue Origin Employee Communications, and 20 other current and former employees signed on to a document about the company's culture, citing safety concerns, sexist attitudes, and a "lack of commitment to the planet's future."  

The statement is published on a website called and shows as a nine minute read.  It's called "Bezos wants to create a better future in space.  His company Blue Origin is stuck in a Toxic Past.

"In our experience, Blue Origin’s culture sits on a foundation that ignores the plight of our planet, turns a blind eye to sexism, is not sufficiently attuned to safety concerns, and silences those who seek to correct wrongs," the essay authors write. "That’s not the world we should be creating here on Earth, and certainly not as our springboard to a better one."

The only employee willing to publicly link their name to it is Alexandra Abrams.  Ms. Abrams led employee communications for the company until she was terminated in 2019.  The other employees are bit harder to summarize and I see no indication of a breakdown of the numbers between current and former employees.  

The article has all the subtlety of a punch in the face.  In one place, they say:

Former and current employees have had experiences they could only describe as dehumanizing, and are terrified of the potential consequences for speaking out against the wealthiest man on the planet. Others have experienced periods of suicidal thoughts after having their passion for space manipulated in such a toxic environment. One senior program leader with decades in the aerospace and defense industry said working at Blue Origin was the worst experience of her life. 

Many of the essay's authors said they would not feel safe flying on a Blue Origin vehicle. And the anecdotes of sexism and an unhealthy work culture are vivid.  

While I'm sympathetic to the complaints, parts of this don't sit well with me.  The two areas they talk about the most are sexism and environmentalism.  They focus a lot on Blue not doing enough to "save the planet" now and have the air of "with all of Bezos' money, why doesn't he spend that money to be greener?"  For example,

...The company proclaims it will build a better world because we’re well on our way to ruining this one, yet none of us has seen Blue Origin establish any concrete plans to become carbon neutral or significantly reduce its large environmental footprint.

Jeff Bezos has made splashy announcements and donations to climate justice groups, but “benefiting Earth” starts in one’s own backyard. In our experience, environmental concerns have never been a priority at Blue Origin. Time and again we saw new capabilities added to the Kent factory, but not until the machinery showed up did the company begin to consider the environmental impact, including whether a permit was needed to manage the waste products.

For years employees have raised environmental concerns at company town halls, but these have been largely left unaddressed. The company headquarters that opened in 2020 is not a LEED-certified building and was built on wetlands that were drained for construction. Eventually the surrounding roads had to be elevated to mitigate the severe flooding that ensued. We did not see sustainability, climate change, or climate justice influencing Blue Origin’s decision-making process or company culture.

I'm going to ignore the "carbon neutral" matador's cape (don't get me started...), but that last paragraph may have merit, and I agree completely that "benefiting Earth begins in one's own backyard." 

The 35,000 foot view is that there are always going to be people who aren't happy where they work, and we are talking about 21 people signing onto this out of 3600 employees.  From the outside, and without extensive interviews, how can we know how widespread this dissatisfaction is?  This is where Eric Berger, writing at Ars, has the advantage of having insider sources who work there that he can talk with; as sort of a sanity check.  

Although it is clear the essay was a product of disgruntled workers, these sources agreed that there were elements of truth in the essay. For these sources, the withering criticism of Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, and his hand-picked chief executive, Bob Smith, rang especially true.

Mrs. Graybeard spent her entire career being the "First Woman Whatever" wherever she worked; from working on power supplies at an electronics manufacturer to working on the Space Shuttles.  Suffice it to say I've heard stories similar to the ones they cite in the Lioness article many times.  Yes, it's a shame the work environment isn't perfect, but expecting perfection will always lead to disappointment.  

After publication, Blue Origin sent a statement to Lioness that appears at the end of the piece. 

Ms. Abrams was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations. Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind. We provide numerous avenues for employees, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct. We stand by our safety record and believe that New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built.

Eric Berger asked for her response to the response.

Abrams told Ars that she never received any warnings, verbal or written, from management regarding issues involving federal export control regulations. She has long weighed going public with this letter, she said, knowing it would open her up to expansive litigation. "They can come after me for as much money as they deem appropriate," she said.

The most likely result of this is that it's going to tarnish Blue Origin's reputation just a bit more.  The company has developed a reputation for being a bit too lawsuit happy in the wake of suing NASA.  CEO Bob Smith is already not well-regarded, but is still in his office.  He's probably not going to get in trouble due to this piece.  Ultimately, if anyone is to care enough to try to fix this, the corporate culture change has to come down from the top.  It's Bezos' baby to fix.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

SpaceX Starlink Satellites and Unintended Consequences

A second unintended consequence.  The first was that they interfere with a lot of astrophotography by being high enough to be illuminated in the first and last hour or so of night on the surface and therefore bright enough to show up as streaks in pictures taken of the night sky.  

This unintended consequence is that they can be used as an approximation to the Global Positioning System satellites, allowing position determination to within about 8m (26 feet).  For contrast, GPS accuracy is generally between 0.3 and 5m.  The story is about a couple of researchers from Ohio State University and published in the OSU News.  I got the tip via Ars Technica who printed a bit more details.   

This technology won't replace your smartphone's map application any time soon, and this initial experiment apparently required 13 minutes of tracking six Starlink satellites to pinpoint a location on Earth. But researchers were able to achieve the locational feat without any help from SpaceX, and they say the test proves the method could be used for navigation.

"The researchers did not need assistance from SpaceX to use the satellite signals, and they emphasized that they had no access to the actual data being sent through the satellites—only to information related to the satellite's location and movement," an Ohio State News article said.

"We eavesdropped on the signal, and then we designed sophisticated algorithms to pinpoint our location, and we showed that it works with great accuracy," Zak Kassas, the director of CARMEN (Center for Automated Vehicle Research with Multimodal AssurEd Navigation), a US Department of Transportation-funded center at Ohio State University, said in the article. "And even though Starlink wasn't designed for navigation purposes, we showed that it was possible to learn parts of the system well enough to use it for navigation."

The main reason this isn't going to replace your smartphones' app is that the Starlink satellites don't transmit in or even near the same frequency band as the GPS satellites.  GPS uses a couple of frequencies near 1.5GHz, specifically 1227.6 and 1575.42 MHz, both of which are close to 1700 and 1900 MHz where a couple of very heavily-used cellphone bands are located.  Starlink uses a band quite a bit higher in frequency, called Ku ("Kay-you") band.  The serendipity of having been able to add GPS reception relatively easily won't extend to adding Ku band and Starlink.  

During the experiment, "a stationary National Instruments (NI) universal software radio peripheral (USRP) 2945R was equipped with a consumer-grade Ku antenna and low-noise block downconverter (LNB) to receive Starlink signals in the Ku-band," they wrote. "The sampling bandwidth was set to 2.5 MHz and the carrier frequency was set to 11.325 GHz, which is one of the Starlink downlink frequencies."

The researchers recorded Starlink signals for 800 seconds, or about 13.3 minutes. "During this period, a total of six Starlink SVs transmitting at 11.325 GHz passed over the receiver, one at a time," they wrote. Researchers stored samples of the Ku signals "for off-line processing."

The Big Idea here is what's called Signals of Opportunity, in which any signals from known sources can be used for navigation.  SpaceX has launched over 1700 satellites but has talked about putting up over 40,000.  Far, far more than the GPS constellation. By then there will always be Starlink satellites available and the algorithms should get improved accuracy,

..."Signals from LEO Space Vehicles are received with higher power compared to medium Earth orbit (MEO) where GNSS [Global Navigation Satellite System] SVs reside. Moreover, LEO SVs are more abundant than GNSS SVs to make up for the reduced footprint, and their signals are spatially and spectrally diverse."

Another advantage of LEO satellites is that "they do not require additional, costly services or infrastructure from the broadband provider."...

Conceptual illustration of a small portion of the Starlink constellation.  Illustration from Getty Images

The work was done as a collaboration between Ohio State and University of California at Irvine, and was funded by grants from the US Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Transportation.  Their paper is titled The First Carrier Phase Tracking and Positioning Results with Starlink LEO Satellite Signals and was published last week in the journal IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems.   There's much more at Ars Technica.



Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Starship 20 Gets First Cryo Tests, Loses Some Tiles

Last night, Starship S20 had its first ever cryogenic testing, seemingly passing except for the loss of some Thermal Protection System (TPS) tiles around the cold gas Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters and the header tank in the nose area.  It was the first time S20 has been put through any of the common tests done to other Starships.  

Effectively SpaceX’s first Starship or Super Heavy test of any kind in more than two months, it thankfully didn’t take long for things to get interesting. Before the pad had even been cleared of the last few remaining workers, Starship S20 violently shed a good dozen or so fragile heat shield tiles. CEO Elon Musk quickly confirmed speculation that Starship S20 had effectively jetted the tiles off its nose during a brief test of high-pressure cold gas maneuvering thrusters, coincidentally around the same time as SpaceX began to pressurize the rocket for its first tests.

A view later into the test, venting supercold gas from a vent which looks to be on the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) tank.  (Image from @bocachicagal,  It was still daylight at the start of the test was when the TPS tiles fell off.

(Image credit to Nic Ansuini via Twitter.  Some photo processing to increase brightness and add the red circles where tiles are missing by me, SiG)

If you remember the loss of space shuttle Columbia with all of the crew on board, losing tiles might make you twitch a bit.  Losing TPS tiles can be serious, but it wasn't at all unexpected.  There have been only two vehicles to date that used non-ablative heat shields in the form of ceramic of tiles: the Space Shuttles and the Russian/Soviet Buran. You can essentially see in Nic Ansuini's picture that a large majority of the tiles on S20 are the same size hexagons.  The only exception seems to be on flaps/wings, the edge of one is visible in the bottom middle of the vehicle picture.  The tiles on a Shuttle were generally different sizes and different shapes, glued into place.  It was a much more "one of a kind" approach to creating a space vehicle rather than the vision for Starship of producing hundreds or thousands of identical vehicles. 

Going into what was believed to be Starship S20’s first ambient-temperature pressure test and cryogenic proof test, the loss of some heat shield tiles was almost universally expected. In a structure as large as Starship, even just the thermal contraction of steel at supercool temperatures (and expansion as it warms back up) could change the rocket’s diameter an inch or so, potentially causing tiles to scrape or press against each other. About the size of a dinner plate and the thickness of an average paperback book, Starship’s ceramic heat shield tiles have proven to be very fragile, with dozens routinely chipping, cracking, and shattering during and after installation on Ship 20.

One unique (and no less unproven) aspect of Starship is SpaceX’s decision to mount its heat shield directly to the thin steel propellant tanks and skin that make up the rocket’s entire airframe. SpaceX’s first stab at the problem involves studs/pins welded – by robot – directly to the exterior of Starship’s tanks and skin. By embedding small metal plates inside each cast tile, they can be easily installed by aligning the tile and pressing it against each set of three barb-like pins, which then irreversibly lock in place. Over most of Starship’s hull, SpaceX then tacks on blankets of off-the-shelf ceramic wool insulation before tiles are installed on top of that steel and blanket sandwich. Compared to the Space Shuttle and Russia’s Buran, ... Starship’s thermal protection system (TPS) is incredibly simple. Of course, the challenges imposed on heat shields by mechanical stresses during launch/landing, orbital reentry, and a need for rapid reusability are anything but simple.

The roads in Boca Chica were closed briefly tonight (so far).  Although they reserved road closures from 3 PM to midnight tonight, the road was closed at 5:30 PM and reopened at 6:38 PM.  Without a clear message from SpaceX that last night's test was successful, we can't be sure if that was the case or if they decided to rebuild something (or things) and test again.   



Monday, September 27, 2021

You Keep Using That Word...

Everybody can complete the Princess Bride meme, right?  "But I don't think it means what you think it means."  

In this case, it's the Evil Party line that their so-called $3.5 trillion spending plan (people who have analyzed it say it's more like $5 trillion) will really cost zero dollars.

(From Forbes on Twitter)

As if to underline for emphasis, the president tweeted the claim that “My Build Back Better Agenda costs zero dollars”  by saying, 

Instead of wasting money on tax breaks, loopholes, and tax evasion for big corporations and the wealthy, we can make a once-in-a-generation investment in working America.

And it adds zero dollars to the national debt.

Sorry, pudding-for-brains, but the term for paying for programs by taxing everyone is "revenue neutral" not "costs zero dollars."  Have you been listening to those Modern Monetary Theory idiots again? 

Of course, when they start a propaganda campaign, they push the same message everywhere possible, and within a little while Congress Critter Pramila Jayapal said that “This is a zero-dollar bill because it's all going to be paid for with taxes on the wealthiest corporations and the wealthiest individuals.”  Brad Polumbo from FEE responded this way

I would just add that what they're saying about only the most wealthy people paying for these programs is proven to be impossible.  When they tax corporations, those taxes will paid by two groups of people: (1) the people who buy their products and (2) the employees.  This has been studied literally more times than I can count.  Corporations don't have any revenues except for what they sell.  They can cover the expected tax expense by either adding that expense to the cost of their products or by cutting expenses in the company.  This has been shown to usually result in lower pay and benefits for employees.  In other words, corporations don't pay tax, they collect tax and send it in.    

As for taxing the wealthiest, I've written volumes on this but it comes down to a couple of things.  Most importantly, this bill is going to cost $3.5 trillion and if they confiscated, not taxed, the entire net worth of the 20 richest billionaires in America, they'd get $ 1.077 trillion.  There's not enough billionaires below that number to add up to what they need.

Like I say, over the years I've written not just inches of text on this subject, but yards of text.  One of my favorite ideas to show how absurd the socialists are was to point out that they view the rich as Scrooge McDuck swimming in his pool of gold coins.  It's a cartoon, OK?  There are no pools of gold coins.  The vast majority of the wealth of these people is in properties they own, like Jeff Bezos' Amazon stock or Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook stock, and I'm sure their advisors have diversified them, like Bill Gates advisors have by buying up land.  All of these are things that would collapse in value if they flooded the market with it to sell in order to pay a new tax bill. 

Years ago, David Stockman, who of course was Reagan's budget chief, said,

The income tax has been slashed so many times since 1981 that it’s no longer a broad based societal tax; it’s a kind of luxury tax on upper income salary earners and the small share of households which garner most of the capital income from dividends, interest payments and capital gains…

The only conclusion that stands up to reason is that if they really want to pass something this big that's revenue neutral, the taxes have to extend all the way down the income ladder.  Yes, they'll get more tax money from the wealthy, just like they do now.  I haven't seen any accurate numbers on this for a while, but a few years ago, I pointed out things like the lowest 50% of incomes pay 3% of all tax revenue, and the top 3% of U.S. taxpayers paid practically 90% of all taxes.  The top 1 percent paid a greater share of individual income taxes (37.3 percent) than the bottom 90 percent combined (30.5 percent).  The numbers of taxpayers paying most of the income tax become shockingly small. The top 0.1% of income tax payers, who paid more than the bottom 70% of the population combined, is just 1409 taxpayers.  Those 1409 people paid more than 98.7 million other taxpayers. 

If you know people who think that taxing corporations is a good idea, remind them they'll be paying those taxes themselves.  At the (probably) bogus $3.5 trillion cost, that works out to $24,000 per taxpayer.  If it's really the $5 trillion analyzed that bumps it up to $38,000 per taxpayer.  Like all tax and spend programs, it's going to hurt everyone, and some will be hurt more than others.  

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Trending Back Toward Normal

Or at least as normal as I get.  

A followup to my missed time last week due to my finger injury.  On Friday, I had an appointment with the hand surgeon, and while she didn't take out the stitches (I have another appointment next Friday), she said it was healing well and cleared me to start resuming more normal life. No more instructions to keep it dry, showering without my finger in a plastic bag is fine, just don't immerse it in water and leave it there. The pain is much better, and I think the last time I took even a Tylenol was last Wednesday night.  Yeah, it hurts if I bump it on something, but that's a little less true every day or even every hour.

Last night, I picked up a guitar for the first time since the injury.  All I really need my right index finger for is holding the pick and I found the pick drifted to my middle finger and thumb with no conscious thought at all.  I almost wondered if I usually played that way.  This morning, I took my first bike ride.  Until Friday, my orders were to keep it dry and when I asked her about riding, she said something like, "how about just walking for a week?"  Sure, I can do that.

Friday after the appointment, I spent a little time getting the lathe set up to resume working.  I set up three tools and, yes, I ran the lathe a little.  In a discussion on a machinist's forum about making a crankshaft like this, a guy posted pictures of his lathe with a crankshaft in the process of being made and an interesting looking tool he created to do most of the difficult stock removal.  Since I don't have permission to post his photo, let me show you a similar tool I was using on my lathe.

This is a square nose cutter like the one he started with, but there are a few differences between mine and his.  First, mine is 3/8" wide and his is 1/4" wide.  The gap that the cutter goes into is going to be 0.438, and the advantage of the smaller cutter is that it can be swept side to side easier than the bigger one.  Something he did that he said made a difference was to put a gap in the middle of the square cutting edge.  His theory is that it reduces any tendency to cut differently across the front of the tool.  

I've taken to calling this a Terry Thomas cutter, but maybe that only works for those of us old enough to remember the British Comedian from various movies and TV shows in the 1960s. 

He ground his tool out of steel, while this one is carbide, and relieved the sides a little to be doubly sure the sides of the tool don't cut the sides of that gap.  I considered trying to grind a tool, but there's the matter of having somewhat less than 10 fully functioning fingers and if I'm going to do something that requires intricate dexterity, that might not be the best choice in the world - at least not now.  My knowledge of grinding cutting tools is very limited.  I know that it's something people do and I've taken a few baby steps at trying to learn how to do that, but I really don't feel like it's something I can easily do.

What I thought I'd do is try to find a 1/4" carbide cutter like the 3/8 one I have and use the diamond files I have to give it the Terry Thomas gap in the middle. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

SpaceX Installs "Mechazilla Claw" On Launch Tower

A couple of months ago, as Starship and Super Heavy began to come together, the company let on that there had been some changes in their approach to the design.  The essence of the decision is that in the quantities they're going to build these in, considering their goal to transport people and cargo to Mars in sufficient quantity to bootstrap a civilization there, it's always better to move infrastructure to the ground support and off the ships. 

Every Starship prototype we've seen fly has been fueled through its base, and you probably have seen concept drawings of Starships refueling on orbit, attached butt to butt (base to base if you prefer).  Within the last few months, the drawings showed the two Starships switched to belly to belly orientation, and the fueling port moved to the lower side of Starship.  

Later on, in an interview and tweets, it became clear that the move away from longstanding ship-to-booster umbilical plans was part of CEO Elon Musk’s latest crusade: moving parts and complexity from Starship and Super Heavy to the launch pad at any cost. As a result, rather than adding a little extra weight to Super Heavy and likely reducing total payload to orbit by a percent or two for an extremely simple, protecting umbilical solution, SpaceX would instead have to implement a massive swinging arm that would reach out from Starship’s launch tower to connect it to pad systems.

The start of adding the capability of fueling the Starships was the addition of the base of the quick disconnect (QD) arm that was added at the end of August.  The next part of the build out of the QD arm was added to the Orbital Launch Integration Tower (OLIT) this week with the road closures we talked about. 

Photo credit to Starship Gazer on Twitter.  More pictures at that link.

This is being said to not be complete; there's no obvious panel to mate with a Quick Disconnect panel on the Starships.  The claw-like appendages that extend farthest forward and look to be on the lowest part of the QD arm are said to be like the Strongback SpaceX uses on Falcon 9 launches that help hold the booster and which is retracted in the last minutes of the countdown (T - 4:30 in the video I watched).

Final words to Eric Ralph at Teslarati:

Of course, the quick disconnect arm is just one of – and the most minor of – three massive ‘Mechazilla’ arms destined for the launch tower. Just a few hundred feet to the west, SpaceX is hard at work fabricating and assembling two far larger tower ‘catch’ arms and the cradle-like frame they’ll eventually attach to. While they will also give SpaceX far more flexibility to stack and manipulate Super Heavy and Starship in high winds and less than optimal weather conditions, the ultimate purpose of those arms is to catch Super Heavy boosters (and, maybe one day, Starships). According to a new contributor to NASASpaceflight forums, those Mechazilla catch arms could be installed as early as “this weekend or next week.”


Friday, September 24, 2021

The Fight for $15 ... um $26 is a Fight for Poverty

The so-called Fight for $15 (new federal minimum wage) has been going on for many years; I've been posting about it since at least this time in 2013 - eight years ago.  The talk about $26/hr for minimum wage is quite a bit newer, I first heard about it from Divemedic at Area Ocho at the end of last month, but perhaps that was just from avoiding the political screaming a bit too much.  Don't follow the link from his post; at best it's a waste of time; at worst it might cause a cerebral hemorrhage.  I don't want to be responsible if your head explodes. 

One of the things to bear in mind about these arguments is that even economist Paul Krugman, the guy who is almost the laboratory standard for being wrong about everything, recognizes that minimum wage laws are ultimately self-defeating.  They always hurt most the people they claim to want to be helping.

Imagine my surprise when I found they had a quote from legendary liberal economist Paul Krugman and he was right!  More at the story itself, "5 Reasons Raising the Minimum Wage is Bad Policy".

As Paul Krugman explained, "So what are the effects of increasing minimum wages? Any Econ 101 student can tell you the answer: The higher wage reduces the quantity of labor demanded, and hence leads to unemployment."
At first, I wasn't sure if I could handle the brutal unfamiliarity of being in a universe where Krugman is occasionally right.  For years I've reflexively known that if he suggested we do something the safest bet is to do the opposite.  

In this case Krugman is simply demonstrating the truth of the saying, "even a blind pig finds a few acorns."  In that article from back in '13, I came up with an analogy for creating money out of thin air, like defining a min wage, that I liked enough to re-use and embellish over the years.

Let's pretend it would be legal to do everything I'm about to propose.  We just have to follow the consequences to logical conclusions.  Since we're talking about almost doubling minimum wage, here's the experiment.  Take every bill out of your wallet, pocket or money clip and double the denomination.  I mean, if you have $1 bills, mark them $2.  Take $5 bills and mark them $10, $10 bills and mark them $20, $20 and mark them $40 (yeah, I know there's no such thing, just work with me here).   I'm going to assume if you're worried about minimum wage, you don't have any $50 or $100 bills, but do the same with them if you have them.  Congratulations, you now have twice the money you had a few minutes ago.

The kicker is that everyone else in America gets to do the same thing.  Are you further ahead in life because we've doubled the numbers on the money you have?  Or is the guy that you worry about all the time, the guy who used to make twice what you make still making twice what you make?  What if the price of everything doubled, too?  Wouldn't you be exactly where you started from? 

The most insidious aspect of that analogy it is that it's still more kind than the actual effects of a min wage law.  In reality, the prices of everything go up and the people who are working for min wage are asked to do more, or work fewer hours (or both) to help the company stay competitive.  

The problem is that the majority of people have what's called the "money illusion;" they confuse the amount of money they have with wealth.  It's an easy mistake to make, but money isn't wealth, it's a measure of wealth.  The easiest visualization to make the point is perhaps the pictures of  people from Wiemar Germany during their hyperinflation in the 1920s, carrying wheelbarrows full of paper money. That money could buy almost nothing then, but the year before that picture a single bill off that cart could have bought lunch.  Money as a measure of wealth was collapsing so having any amount of money couldn't guarantee that the holder could buy anything they needed to stay alive.  

Source: RareHistoricalPhotos

Real hyperinflation is different from the inflation of redefining many of the wages in a country by increasing the minimum wage.  Hyperinflation is a monetary collapse, something the central banks fear almost as much as they fear a deflationary collapse. The Central Banks fear inflationary collapse less because they think they can control that.  As if. 

In the end, all that will be accomplished by arbitrarily increasing everyone's pay in relation to a new minimum wage, whether $15 or $26/hr, is inflation.  Workers make more nominal dollars (that is, they make a bigger number of dollars) but they haven't increased their wealth in any way.  They haven't advanced with respect to any other workers.  They haven't made themselves more valuable in any way, so their relative value compared to other workers still leaves them on the bottom of incomes.  It's still minimum wage, after all.  All they've done is crank another inflation source into the economy and that hurts them more than anyone else.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Boeing Starliner Update

It has been 5-1/2 weeks since I posted that Boeing had grounded their Starliner capsule while they continued to troubleshoot the valve failures they had before they aborted the re-test mission at the start of August.  

On Tuesday, NASA's chief of human spaceflight operations, Kathy Lueders, said teams of engineers and technicians from Boeing and NASA are continuing to assess the issue with sticky valves. "I think the team's making great progress on further troubleshooting," she said.

The original information I had gotten about problem the week before said there were 13 valves and that seven of the 13 were operating normally by then.  In today's article in Ars Technica, that gets made a bit less clear.

Just hours before launch, Boeing had to scrub the much-anticipated uncrewed test flight of the Starliner spacecraft in early August after 13 valves that control the flow of dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer through the service module of the spacecraft malfunctioned. There are 24 oxidizer valves in the propulsion system, which is critical both for in-space travel as well as launch emergency escapes. During investigations on the launch pad, technicians were able to open some but not all of the valves.

Since returning Starliner to Boeing's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility in Florida, engineers have been able to gather data about the "dry" side of the valves, but they may need to remove the valves from the spacecraft to assess the "wet" side, Lueders said. This would be a cumbersome process.

The 13 valves that are the issue are apparently all on the dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer side.  That makes it sound like the problem is in 13 out of 24 valves.  There's no mention of seven of them being OK.

Boeing and NASA have agreed to decide "within the next few weeks" if they're going to try to take this service module apart to remove the valves and conduct deeper failure analysis.   If they decide to remove those valves, Boeing would likely swap to a service module intended for a future crewed flight and use it for the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 mission.  I would hope that they've already checked that service module to see if its valves have the same problems.  

A new date for this OFT-2 mission has yet to be set, and Lueders indicated one may not be set any time soon. She suggested the mission probably will slip to 2022. "My gut is that it would probably be more likely to be next year, but we're still working through that timeline," she said.

Scheduling this mission is trickier than just launching Starliner into Low Earth Orbit and testing the systems because part of the test is for it autonomously dock to the International Space Station. To do that, the ISS has to have a docking port available.  Ars correspondent Eric Berger has looked into the schedules and concludes the timing doesn't look good.  There are two time windows when the ISS has an open docking port remaining in this year: the entire month of October, and from November 12 to December 1.  

October is next week, and it doesn't seem likely that Starliner could be made operational for early October.  The rest of the month doesn't look good either.  It turns out that Starliner's Atlas V has a conflict with another mission, a probe (called Lucy) to Jupiter's Trojan asteroids that will use the same launch pad.  Lucy's launch is No Earlier Than October 16 and turning the pad around is a two week operation.  It doesn't seem very likely its Atlas V booster can be made ready to go for either of those launch windows, although the second one might be more likely.  

If they can't conduct their unmanned test flight by around the middle of November, the next available window at the ISS is January 3rd to February 22nd.  That seems like the safer bet.    

For those who don't remember, SpaceX's Demo-1 mission, their version of this Starliner Orbital Test was conducted in March of '19.  That puts them roughly three years ahead of Boeing, who the Beltway Bandit crowd thought was the safe bet to provide these launch services. 

The Boeing Starliner capsule on its Atlas V; last July before the test that resulted in the scrub.  Trevor Mahlmann photo at Ars Technica.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Angelo Codevilla - R.I.P.

Angelo Codevilla, brilliant observer, great thinker, and gifted writer, passed away last night.  Ace of Spades reported today as news started to break:

He was walking when he was struck by a drunk driver. He died of his injuries at the hospital.

Codevilla had just recovered from covid. And then a drunk driver killed him.

I got the link from Mike at Cold Fury, stumbling across it by accident.  

I know I've written about Angelo Codevilla before, around the time that one of his articles set the blogosphere on fire with its coherent and well-expressed recognition that America had devolved into an oligarchy with a Ruling Class who considers itself better than the rest of us, the Country Class.  A ruling class different from and so much better than the Country Class that the rulers believe it's not worth trying to explain it to us.  We should therefore just bow to our betters and allow them to do whatever they want. 

Ace of Spades runs a few paragraphs from that 2010 article.

Never has there been so little diversity within America's upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America's upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and "bureaucrat" was a dirty word for all. So was "social engineering." Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday's upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

Today's ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters -- speaking the "in" language -- serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America's ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century's Northerners and Southerners -- nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, "prayed to the same God." By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God "who created and doth sustain us," our ruling class prays to itself as "saviors of the planet" and improvers of humanity. Our classes' clash is over "whose country" America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark's Gospel: "if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand."

It's a wonderful piece, still necessary reading 11 years after the original post.  I don't see others mentioning his 2016 follow up piece, "After the Republic," a look at the collapse of the Constitutional Republic of America and the likely following Empire.  

Over the past half century, the Reagan years notwithstanding, our ruling class’s changing preferences and habits have transformed public and private life in America. As John Marini shows in his essay, “Donald Trump and the American Crisis,” this has resulted in citizens morphing into either this class’s “stakeholders” or its subjects. And, as Publius Decius Mus argues, “America and the West” now are so firmly “on a trajectory toward something very bad” that it is no longer reasonable to hope that “all human outcomes are still possible,” by which he means restoration of the public and private practices that made the American republic. In fact, the 2016 election is sealing the United States’s transition from that republic to some kind of empire.

Electing either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump cannot change that trajectory. Because each candidate represents constituencies hostile to republicanism, each in its own way, these individuals are not what this election is about. This election is about whether the Democratic Party, the ruling class’s enforcer, will impose its tastes more strongly and arbitrarily than ever, or whether constituencies opposed to that rule will get some ill-defined chance to strike back. Regardless of the election’s outcome, the republic established by America’s Founders is probably gone. But since the Democratic Party’s constituencies differ radically from their opponents’, and since the character of imperial governance depends inherently on the emperor, the election’s result will make a big difference in our lives.

The loss of Dr. Codevilla is a big loss.  He will be missed. From his bio at the Claremont Review of Books.

Angelo M. Codevilla (1943-2021) was a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and professor emeritus of International Relations at Boston University.

He received his B.A. from Rutgers University, an M.A. from Notre Dame University, and his Ph.D. in Security Studies, U.S. Foreign Policy, and Political Theory from the Claremont Graduate School.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Looks Like a Week to Keep an Eye on Boca Chica

SpaceX has scheduled road closures all week, with one closure in place as I type (it's just about 7PM CDT).  The county website says the only exception to "all week" is Tuesday, a secondary day to today's closure.

As you can see, most of the closures are for 5:00 to 11:00 PM, when traffic going the beach is lowest and extending the closure for a test that doesn't go as quickly as planned is less likely to interfere with someone going to the beach.

Teslarati is suggesting this could be a full week of testing.  

First rolled to SpaceX’s Starbase orbital launch site more than six weeks ago and stacked together for the first time on August 6th, the company has spent the last month putting the finishing touches on Starship 20 (S20) and Super Heavy Booster 4 (B4) – ranging from heat shield installation to plumbing and wiring. Perhaps most importantly, SpaceX has also installed some or all of the Raptor engines that are expected to support the ship and boosters’ first static fire qualification tests.

As a quick reminder, Booster 4 (B4) and Starship 20 (S20) first went to the test area around the start of last month, went through a trial stacking, then were de-stacked and both went back to the Shipyard area.  Both had their Raptor engines pulled with some sent to McGregor (Texas) to be tested on their static test stand.  S20 went back to the test area, had its engines replaced (three Raptor Boost engines and three Raptor Vac engines for use in space).  B4 followed on September 7th and similarly had its engines replaced.   Raptor 67 (left) was replaced by #64 (right) at some point recently.

Photo credit shown on the photo, to @bocachicagal, via 

Super Heavy boosters have only the Raptor Boost engines, like #67 and 64 above, which have been static tested many times.  We have never seen a vehicle static tested with the Raptor Vac engines so that will be big milestone for them, but much of what lies ahead are major milestones.  There was one static fire of three engines on B4.  I expect them to recreate the cryogenic tests to S20, perhaps just plunging ahead to the static firing on the first try.  I think that once S20 is tested with all six engines, it's ready for flight.  

B4 will need to be tested with all 29 of her Raptors and that will be epic to watch.  If those engines are set to maximum thrust, Super Heavy will likely become the most powerful rocket ever tested and – like with S20 – will be more or less qualified for its first flight if the test goes according to plan.

EDIT 9/21/21 1140 EDT:  Thanks to comment by Malatrope, who pointed out that I posted an obvious error.  My apologies.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Some Final Words on Inspiration4

Probably final words, but that could change.  

I was surprised to see that live coverage of the splashdown and completion of the mission was on Fox News last night.  All that I saw (not much) was a direct rebroadcast of the feed that SpaceX had on YouTube.  As is generally the case, SpaceX made it look routine.  One of my pet sayings is, "almost as if they knew what they were doing" and that was the case.  The view that public interest was high enough that Fox should broadcast it live was a good sign, and the local newspaper reported that there was a good influx of tourists into the area to watch Wednesday's launch.  

Screen capture of the Crew Dragon capsule just after splashdown as the the four parachutes fall slowly out of the sky, from the SpaceX video.

Rick Moran of PJ Media summed it up like this:

History will note that on September 19, in the year of our Lord 2021 (not sorry for offending atheist readers), 4 human beings returned home after a nearly routine journey to space. What made the journey more than routine was that none of the four humans were professional astronauts. The flight was privately funded and launched by the public/private space venture, SpaceX.

Jared Isaacman, a 38-year-old billionaire entrepreneur who paid for and organized the flight, is a noted pilot but not trained in the workings of the Dragon 9 space capsule. Others on the jaunt included the mission pilot, Sian Proctor, 51, a college professor from Arizona; a 42-year-old father of two from Arizona Chris Sembroski; and a physician’s assistant Hayley Arceneaux who works at St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Ms. Arceneaux is a childhood bone cancer survivor who was treated and cured at St. Judes.

St. Jude’s is the real beneficiary of the flight as Isaacman raised funds to raise awareness and research funds for the facility. To date, the flight has raised more than the $200 million goal with Isaacman pledging $100 million originally and Elon Musk “throwing in’ another $50 million after the successful conclusion of the flight.

They report that Chris Sembrowski entered a lottery for one of the seats.  He didn’t win, but a friend did and gave him the seat. The lottery raised $13 million.  The running tally of the fund raiser that YouTube has been displaying on this video's page shows the total raised from that page to be $606,890.

In a Twitter thread that I never screen captured, Eric Berger at Ars Technica says that his rumor sources are saying SpaceX is fielding lots of calls about doing more missions like this for hire.  I think it was a historic mission, but I still see these as being too expensive for all but a tiny fraction of people who would love to go to orbit.  They're expensive in time and money, which are ultimately related for most people; they did spend time away from their "normal lives" training for the mission.  

The key to opening space is to get the cost of getting to orbit down.  The Space Shuttles were supposed to solve that problem, getting the cost down $25/lb.  They ended up missing that goal by a factor of 1000; that's right, $25,000/pound.  With Starship, SpaceX is talking about costs to orbit closer to that $25 mark.  SpaceX bid on a NASA mission called TROPICS last March bidding 220,000 pounds to orbit for $8 million.  That's $36.36 per pound, which is cheaper than the over-the-counter rates for one pound from here to Japan at FedEx's website.  The $25/lb NASA was talking about in the late '70s adjusted for inflation is around $100/lb. today. 

The best hope for opening access to space that doesn't require a millionaire's budget lies with Starship.  I'd add "or something like it," but nobody appears to have anything like it in development.

About that Justice for J6 Thing

You know, that super scary “Justice for J6” rally in DC that was supposed to be Insurrection 2.0, possibly even worse than January 6th itself?  That's the rally that pretty much everyone with any sense looked at and said, "it's a trap!" like Admiral Ackbar himself? 

It was pretty much two or three uniformed and undercover cops per protestor and turned into a fest for the meme writers.  A good start is on, in a piece by Matt Vespa.   There's a photo of a bunch of guys who have almost identical outfits on that is the subject of most of them and I'll reproduce just one here because I laughed most at this one:

From Twitter account The Right to Bear Memes

Go check 'em out. 


Saturday, September 18, 2021

FAA Releases First Report on SpaceX Boca Chica

Yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration released a draft environmental review of SpaceX's plans for orbital launches from South Texas on Friday, kicking off a 30-day public comment period, Ars Technica's Eric Berger reports.  

The document, formally called a Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment, evaluates the potential environmental impacts of SpaceX’s Starship program, including launch and reentry. It also reviews debris recovery, the integration tower and other launch-related construction, and local road closures between Brownsville and Boca Chica beach.

For the large majority of these analyses, the FAA document finds "no significant impacts." The impact of noise to surrounding communities, including South Padre Island located several miles away, was believed to be one of the biggest concerns. But an independent assessment found noise levels to be manageable.

There's an almost obligatory reference to possible impact to "species listed under and critical habitat designated under the federal Endangered Species Act," but there may be ways to mitigate the risk.  The FAA also mentioned excessive road closures of Highway 4, which is something SpaceX has tried to involve the state or local governments handling by either building tunnels or roads.  

Berger seemed a little surprised at the report, headlining the story by saying, "... it's not terrible" and it does come across well.  A point worth noting is that the comment period is 30 days.  Those of you who followed the BATF's comment period on the definitions of a receiver or AR pistols will recall those had 90 day comment periods.  I'm not sure if that was because of a distinction between those being Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) reports vs. this being an environmental review.   The process isn't over at 30 days, but waiting 30 is better than waiting 90.

Following the release of this draft assessment, the FAA will hold virtual public hearings on October 6 and 7 before the public comment period ends on October 18, 2021. SpaceX founder Elon Musk asked for support on Twitter shortly after the FAA released the draft document. "Please add your voice to the public comments," Musk said. "Support is greatly appreciated! Humanity’s future on the moon, Mars & beyond depends upon it."

After the public comment period closes, the FAA will finalize its environmental assessment. Following this, the FAA will issue one of three rulings: a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), a Mitigated FONSI, or a Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. A "FONSI" would allow the formal launch licensing process to proceed. If a full Environmental Impact Statement is needed, launches from South Texas would likely be delayed by months, if not years, as more paperwork is completed.

Berger thinks this is a pretty decent sign for SpaceX, implying they'll be able to do some number of launches from Boca Chica.  Launching from a facility that's a couple of klicks (km) from the factory that built the vehicle is probably better for them than building vehicles and shipping them to the Kennedy Space Center by something like the giant barges other rockets have used (pictured here).  

A possibility that has been talked about but that seems iffy is launching and recovering from drone ships in international waters.  SpaceX has bought some offshore oil rigs that were said to be for this purpose. 

Booster 4 being put on the Orbital Launch Pad in August.  SpaceX photo.  

Friday, September 17, 2021

Some Relief for the Automotive Chip Shortage?

Yes, help is coming, but don't hold your breath.

By now, most people have heard of the chip shortages affecting US car and truck production, as well as everything else.  There are reports that some models of cars and pickups are completely out of production while others are in limited production.  This week brings some good news from Electronic Design.  US microprocessor giant Intel has said it's going to allocate some production capability at various facilities to the automotive sectors. 

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said he plans to commit some production at one of its largest non-US fabs for the automotive sector as it moves into a growing market that the global chip shortage has ravaged for months.

The Santa Clara, California-based company is reserving an unspecified amount of output at its Ireland fab to roll out chips for auto makers that urgently need them, the CEO said on Monday at the IAA auto conference. Intel would not say when it plans to start churning out automotive-grade chips from the plant–its largest 300-mm fab outside the US. The factory specializes in chips based on its previous generation 14-nm process.

Those two numbers mean very different things: 300 mm is the diameter of the silicon crystal that is sliced into wafers for chip production while 14 nm is the size of the smallest features on the chips.  That's a small geometry size and very advanced process.  The problem is that most of the automotive chips are using relatively much older processes and larger sized processes than 14 nm.  (a 300 mm wafer is 11.8 inches in diameter; 14 nm is 14 billionths of a meter or 551 billionths of an inch).  We've gone into a lot of this before, most recently about a month ago.  While processes like the Intel 14 nm fab are the glamor side of the industry, the vast majority of parts fabricated use larger geometries.  14nm and smaller geometries produce less than 15% of world semiconductor output.

IEEE Spectrum, the closest thing to a general readership publication the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers puts out, runs an article on the chip shortage saying the auto industry is primarily using much larger geometries, like 40nm and larger. 

Chips for the automotive sector are made using processes intended to meet safety criteria that are different from those meant for other industries. But they are still fabricated on the same production lines as the analog ICs, power management chips, display drivers, microcontrollers, and sensors that go in everything else. “The common denominator is the process technology is 40 nanometers and older," says Mario Morales, vice president, enabling technologies and semiconductors at IDC.

40 nm geometries are mature, 15 year old technologies, and larger geometries even older.  The bind here is that when the fabrication facilities for the bigger geometries were being built, they were designed around 200 mm wafers.  Those fabs produce smaller numbers of parts on a wafer and those wafers, like the larger geometry parts are still available, but in smaller quantities.  

Cars rely on chips made using mature—40-nanometer and older—manufacturing processes. Those processes make up most of the existing manufacturing capacity.  From IEEE (IDC was the creator)

It sounds like the industry needs more investment in the older technology fabs, because those 40 nm fabs still produce useful parts and the market for them is expanding.  IEEE reports that by 2022, 10 new fabs for larger geometry parts will be online, and the industry is dumping money into the problem.  

More than 40 companies will increase capacity by more than 750,000 wafers-per-month from the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2022. The long-term trend to the end of 2024 is for a 17 percent increase in capacity for 200-mm facilities. Spending on equipment for these fabs is set to rise to $4.6 billion in 2021 after crossing the $3-billion mark in 2020 for the first time in years, SEMI says. But then spending will drop back to $4 billion in 2022. In comparison, spending to equip 300-mm fabs is expected to hit $78-billion in 2021. 

Bear in mind that these are large, specialized, factories and once the factory is built, the parts don't just start being available immediately.   The time for a wafer to be made into parts ready to ship varies but can go from a couple to several months.  (BTW, John Wilder at Wilder Wealthy and Wise has done a couple of interesting posts on the drawbacks to the wonderful benefits that such specialization brings us.  Worth your time to read.  Part 1 and Part 2.) 

While Intel's commitment to producing automotive-market chips on its Irish 40 nm fab is good and will more easily address processor shortages for cars than the bigger analog parts, the answer is to not forget that those larger geometry parts still have very large demands and some investment in augmenting those plants or keeping them going is worthwhile.  Intel has predicted chips will account for 20% of the bill of materials (BOM) cost of a premium vehicle by 2030, up from 4% in 2019.  That phenomenal growth is expected to continue.  While the industry watchers predict the worst of the shortage situations will begin to be resolved in the third or fourth quarter of 2021, it could take much of 2022 for the resulting chips to work their way through the supply chain to products. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Another Night Off

I'm going to have to take another night off.  I had the surgery on my injured finger today and I'm supposed to keep that hand up above heart level, which doesn't go well with sitting here typing.  The doctor seemed proud of her work and showed me a picture of it.  She told me she thought there was a good chance that I'll end up with both a full length finger and full nail. 

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a favorite quote from one of my favorite role models, physicist Richard P. Feynman.  It goes well today with the "follow the science" crowd arguing for the removal of human rights.

A followup idea to this is another quote of his: "Since then I never pay attention to anything by "experts."  I calculate everything myself."  The idea of ruthlessly questioning everything you think you know is missing today.  We need to get back to that.  If experts weren't questioned and challenged, there would be no progress of human knowledge.  

Question everything.  And calculate it yourself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Inspiration4 is On Orbit

Just got in from watching the launch of SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission.  It was one of those launches where it's well past sunset here, but the sun was still up by the time they got up 50 or 60 miles.  Those conditions give us a wonderful light show here on the ground.  The cone of well-lit exhaust plume extended perhaps 45 degrees behind the second stage and we could see the cold gas thrusters keeping the first stage oriented as it approached its return landing on recovery drone Just Read The Instructions.  

This mission has been referred to as an all-civilian mission but that's not terribly unique; many civilians (that is, not military members) have been to space.  According to Harvard University's Jonathan McDowell, there have previously been 15 all-civilian orbital flights, beginning with the Soyuz TMA-3 mission in 2003. The most recent civilian flight was SpaceX's Crew-2 mission.  (H/T to Ars Technica)

What makes Inspiration4 truly unique is being the first completely private sector mission.  The four crew members are all private sector-people, and the company launching the mission is pure private sector.   Every other orbital human spaceflight before has been flown for or by a government agency.  If there had been one or two private citizens on board, they were strictly passengers along for the ride.  

Oh, by the way, Inspiration4 is headed for the highest orbit of any manned vehicle from America since the Shuttle missions to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.  Inspiration4 is set to orbit at 575km altitude.  The HST is at 540 km or just about 22 miles lower.  It's the highest orbit a Crew Dragon capsule has ever been to; they ordinarily go to the International Space Station at 420 km.  

They will orbit at 575 km or 357 miles for 72 hours.  The purposes are described as to raise $200 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for pediatric cancers and to conduct various other scientific experiments on orbit.  

From SpaceX's current missions page, Inspiration4 is commanded by Jared Isaacman, founder and CEO of Shift4 Payments and an accomplished pilot and adventurer. Joining him are Medical Officer Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® and pediatric cancer survivor; Mission Specialist Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran and aerospace data engineer; and Mission Pilot Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, entrepreneur, and trained pilot.  Jared Isaacman paid for all of crew.

I haven't read exactly what Isaacman paid for this privilege, but estimates for unmanned Falcon 9 flights with reused boosters run in $20 million range and up.  I'm guessing anything "man rated" is significantly more. 

"We know that the four of us are about to have an experience that only about 600 or so have had before us," Isaacman said during a news conference on Tuesday. "We're very focused on making sure that we give back every bit of that time that we get on orbit for the people and the causes that matter most to us."

At a ballpark price of $50 million, this isn't the beginning of orbital tourism for the masses, but it's still an historic launch. 

Inspiration4's Crew Dragon on Pad 39A.  SpaceX photo. 

EDIT: 9/15/21 10:09PM  The typo monster crept in and misspelled a word after it was posted.



Tuesday, September 14, 2021

About Yesterday

I mentioned on Sunday's post that I had received the tooling to machine the crankshaft.  After I finished putting up that post it seemed like as good a time as any to put the faceplate on the lathe and set up to work again.  

Let me note first that the people who make these accessories never include instruction sheets.  I think their view is that if you're using a lathe you should be professionally trained and you should know how to maintain or upgrade it.  I also wouldn't be surprised if not including instructions might have some aspect of trying to protect themselves from spurious lawsuits.  

Now, I'm fully self-trained and take responsibility for myself, and there really didn't seem like many ways to put it on incorrectly.  It has three bolt holes on the back which match with three through holes on the mounting plate that's standard on the lathe.  I put the first bolt in, went to rotate the two plates to put in the next bolt and quickly found it wouldn't turn.  There was interference between a different bolt on the lathe and the faceplate. 

That bolt (a metric M8?) has two nuts on it, putting that spring under tension.  It sticks maybe 1/8" inch into that cavity in the casting.  The bent, black sheet metal you see on the left and top edges is holding a clear plastic "lathe chuck guard" that is supposed to keep your fingers away from the chuck but really only seems to catch oil the chuck may sling.  A closer look showed that when the guard is down, the faceplate will rub on the plastic and I'm sure eventually (a few minutes) will wear through it.  A note on the faceplate's product page says, “This faceplate will not fit with the plastic chuck guard in place.” 

I'm going to gloss over me looking at the lathe and trying to figure out how to remove that for several hours when the answer is visible right there in that picture. 

All I had to do was unscrew the two nuts on the right end of the interfering bolt and then the cover just slides off the bolt, followed by unscrewing that bolt into the left side of the lathe.  That's when I set things up to hurt myself.  

This is the faceplate, lathe dog, crankcase blank and all.

Overall view.  Look closely on the left slide of the cut away area midway down the bar.  You can see I used a parting (cutoff) tool.  It's a 1/16" (.062) thick blade and because I know that's going to bend sideways under slight side forces, I minimized the amount that tool sticks out of its holder.  Trying to stiffen it. 

I'm not completely sure how it happened, but I think I put my right hand on top of the tool holder (that large hex nut along the bottom of the picture) and let my finger stick out forward a little too far.  The bar was spinning and it whacked my finger.  It took out almost all of the fingernail and nail bed, and we figured it was time to go to an urgent care place.  The doctor there said the end segment of bone in that finger was broken and they don't treat "open fractures."  They told me to go to an ER.  Where I sat for 3-1/2 hours, never talked to or saw a doctor, never really had anyone look at it closely, then had a nurse leave a blood soaked and hardened gauze pad on it, wrap some self-adhesive gauze around the finger, and refer me to a hand surgeon.  We got home around 10PM last night.   

I'll see the hand surgeon in the morning. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

This Week's Update on the 1 by 1 - part 8

My progress on cutting the crankshaft I talked about last week can best be summed up like this:





That's right; nothing.  I didn't go backwards, so there's that to be thankful for, but my shop-made lathe dog wasn't up to the job.  It bent too easily, which was obvious from the start, and when the lathe pushes on the dog, it just folds up and collapses.  I tried reinforcing it with a little printed piece of plastic that would hold the bar and fit snugly in the dog, like this:

That just tore apart when the metal pressed on it. 

I ended last week by saying, "Within a few days, I'll know if it held up to the stresses of making this crankshaft."  Within a few days I knew it wouldn't hold up.

As some cartoon character used to say, "back to the old drawing board."  In this case, ordering something  made by someone who knows what they're doing.  My main reason for going down the road of the shop-made tool was that it was a long weekend and I assumed I'd be unable to get any work done for a week.   

So off to Little Machine Shop (no connection; they're just the place I bought the lathe from, and lots of other stuff) to get a faceplate and a couple of their lathe dogs, just not the complete set.  I ordered them on Thursday; they were promised Monday (tomorrow) and arrived early Saturday.  

Saturday, September 11, 2021

9-11 - the Taliban's National Holiday

For me, 9-11 always rolls in like a fog of memory.  Like the tragedies of  JFK's assassination or space shuttle Challenger exploding on ascent, or the triumph of Apollo 11's landing, I'll always remember where I was and details of the day it happened.  As I've said before

On that bright Tuesday morning, I was out of the office at a small company that we contracted to do some testing on our radios.  As the technician and I were setting up the test, the company's secretary/receptionist came in and said the local radio station had a bulletin that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.  My first reaction, perhaps strangely, was that radio navigation systems can't be that wrong, it must have been a terrible accident.  Act of war did not enter my mind.  As the morning went on, a TV set was put in place and large antenna hooked up outside (there are no local over the air TV channels).  We watched the second plane hit and quickly realized this was no accident.  That's when the thoughts of Pearl Harbor and other acts of war started.  I've heard it credited to Ian Fleming as his character Auric Goldfinger, but the saying goes, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action."  And so it appeared that day. 

In the days that followed, I learned that friends were affected by the events of 9-11, but weren't directly involved.  A co-worker was on business at Boeing, and had to rent a car to drive home.  A very close friend was waiting at JFK airport to fly home, and saw the attacks in real time.  He also had to rent a car and drive home.  A cousin lives within viewing distance of the Twin Towers and watched it. And now I have friends who have sons in the armed forces in Afghanistan, and others who have been in Iraq.  We need to remember we are at war, even if our enemy isn't a convenient nation-state.  You can pretend we're not at war if you'd like, but if someone swears to destroy you, it's prudent to believe them.

I'm a mix of groups of responses.  The first group of feelz is "remember the fallen", "remember the first responders who ran into the buildings", "remember the dead and wounded servicemen, the ones who came back with missing limbs, or injuries that can't be seen" and "remember their families."  The second group of feelz is along the lines expressed best by Aesop at Raconteur Report in his excellent post in 2018: "Every Day is 9/11. That's Exactly the Problem".  While I'm not sure, that may be the column that made me a regular reader over at his place. 

This year is different.  This is the year that we lost.  We weren't defeated, we formally demonstrated defeating ourselves to the whole world.  We lost in what might have been the most incompetent cluster fuck in the history of man.  A team of Brownie Girl Scouts could have planned and executed that withdrawal abandonment of Afghanistan better than the Bidenites did.  As Keith Finch, a former Marine writing for GAT Daily, says:

That’s the strangest thing about this longest war. We weren’t defeated. We won the fights. We’re damn good at fighting. We lost because ‘winning’ never had a defined end state. It wasn’t ‘When we get Bin Laden’ or ‘The Total Annihilation of the current Al-Qaeda structure no matter where they hide.’

This would have been a very different war if we had told certain states to shove it, we are going hunting anyway. It wouldn’t have been diplomatic, but with the righteous rage of the United States at that moment who could have lodged more than token protests?

We lost because we just said, okay we’re done and went home in a way that looked shaky weak and deceptive… we didn’t even have the fortitude to stand up and declare, Afghanistan you are on your own guys because we’re out. Biden boldly promised that he didn’t believe and we had no indication that the Taliban would roll up the country… which was utter bullshit of course. They were our escort out. An ass-backwards neobarbarian culture that we kicked out was back in the seat of power.

It makes it feel like we were never there to many.

While that's a good summary it ignores the aspect of the war that may be the most telling.  The incredible transfer of wealth to the so-called beltway bandits - the contractors that profit off war.  Everyone focuses on the businesses, especially the defense contractors, but it's just as big a crime for the congress critters and the employees who participate with the dirty money, too.  Early on, we could have easily turned Afghanistan and more of the Mideast into plains of Trinitite, but we didn't do that "for the chidrin."  We didn't do it because our civilization respects not punishing innocents for things they didn't do.  That's hard to believe when you look at things from abandoning people like Biden's translator in Afghanistan to the Covid response.  The problem is that nation building doesn't really work.  Does it ever?  I don't really know. 

Just to be clear, it's not that I think we should still be in Afghanistan, I'm closer to those who have said we should have gotten out long ago, only we should have done it competently.  We didn't leave from any position of strength, we left with our tails between our legs looking so weak as to be pitiful to the charitable observers and pathetic to the rest of the world.  I'm sure we're especially pathetic to the heirs of Bin Laden who declared us "a weak horse" easy to roll over.  I expect lots more actual attempts to emulate 9/11 while we're showing weakness.  Less like shirtless guy with buffalo horns and more like, you know, actual acts of terrorism.