Monthly Archives: October 2012

The proposed IRS tax form every American will have to fill out when Obamacare goes into effect.

Finding out what’s in it: A proposed IRS tax form every American will have to fill out when Obamacare goes into effect.

This form is not from the IRS, but it is based on the actual law, and is I think a reasonably good facsimile of the kind of information the IRS will require when the individual mandate goes into effect and the IRS will have to determine whether you have health insurance or need to pay higher taxes because you don’t.

I especially like the section of the form that asks these questions:

  • Are you claiming a religious exemption from the individual responsibility mandate?
  • Are you an incarcerated criminal and therefore exempt from the personal mandate?
  • Are you an illegal immigrant and therefore exempt from the personal mandate?

All three exemptions exist, though the Obama administration has already made it clear that the first will only be available to actual religious organizations, and even there the exemption will be limited. However, if you are a criminal or illegal immigrant (also a lawbreaker) you are exempt from this law, though you receive all its benefits.

As I’ve said, Repeal this turkey! And vote out every idiot that supported it.

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The B612 foundation has signed its first contract for building Sentinel, its private infrared space telescope designed to find asteroids that might impact the Earth.

The B612 foundation has signed its first contract for building Sentinel, its private infrared space telescope designed to find asteroids that might impact the Earth.

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One of the major backers has pulled out of a solar energy power plant plan for Africa and the Middle East.

One of the major backers has pulled out of a solar energy power plant plan for Africa and the Middle East.

“We see our part in Dii as done,” says spokesman Torsten Wolf of Siemens, one of 13 founding partners of the consortium, which is also based in Munich. Siemens also said that it will pull out of the solar-energy business altogether. Its decision was made in response to falling government subsidies for solar energy and a collapse in the price of solar equipment. But to DESERTEC’S critics, Siemens’ exit also adds to doubts about the plan, which is expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars. “DESERTEC is an ambitious attempt to do every­thing at once,” says Jenny Chase, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in Zurich, Switzerland. “I think it’s something that will be achieved organically, bit by bit, which will probably be cheaper, easier and achieve the same results.” [emphasis mine]

The cited reasons suggest some fundamental problems with this particular project. That Siemens is abandoning the solar energy entirely, citing the lose of government subsidies as one reason, also suggests there is something fundamental wrong with the industry itself.

Then again, it could be just like the new commercial space industry. Some companies are willing to take the risks to make the money even without subsidies, while others are not.

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For the second time, a Progress freighter has launched and, after only four orbits, docked with ISS.

For the second time, a Progress freighter has launched and, after only four orbits, docked with ISS.

This was the fourth Progress launched this year, the second to follow an abbreviated four-orbit rendezvous with the space station. Russian flight controllers normally implement two-day rendezvous profiles, but they are perfecting procedures for single-day flights for possible use with manned Soyuz missions to shorten the time crews are forced to spend in the cramped ferry craft.

The Russians have used the leisurely two-day rendezvous path now for almost a half century. So, why are they suddenly trying to shorten the travel time to ISS to six hours? Though there are many good engineering reasons, I also suspect it is because they are now feeling the pressure of competition. The shorter travel time probably lowers their costs at mission control. It also makes using the Soyuz for manned flights more appealing. Dragon for example is presently using the two-day rendezvous path. And Dragon will soon become a direct competitor to Soyuz, when it begins flying humans in the next three to five years.

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A Russian ship carrying 700 tons of gold is missing off Russia’s eastern coast.

A Russian ship carrying 700 tons of gold is missing off Russia’s eastern coast.

The dry-cargo freighter Amurskaya, operated by a company based in Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, went missing in the Okhotsk sea on Sunday. It had a nine-member crew on board, local prosecutors who are checking the case said in a statement.

The ore came from Polymetal’s Avlayakan mine and was supposed to be delivered to its Hakanja processing plant, the company said in an emailed comment. It declined to give further details. At current gold prices , the 700 tonnes of gold ore may cost around $230,000, analyst Sergey Donskoy at Societe Generale said. Each tonne of ore out of the Avlayakan mine contains about 6 grammes of gold.

If this was a movie, the ship is right now hidden in an underground lair somewhere, being offloaded as engineers work to disguise it.

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The first results from Curiosity’s soil samples have come back.

The first results from Curiosity’s soil samples have come back.

“Much of Mars is covered with dust, and we had an incomplete understanding of its mineralogy,” said David Bish, CheMin co-investigator with Indiana University in Bloomington. “We now know it is mineralogically similar to basaltic material, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine, which was not unexpected. Roughly half the soil is non-crystalline material, such as volcanic glass or products from weathering of the glass. “

Bish said, “So far, the materials Curiosity has analyzed are consistent with our initial ideas of the deposits in Gale Crater recording a transition through time from a wet to dry environment. The ancient rocks, such as the conglomerates, suggest flowing water, while the minerals in the younger soil are consistent with limited interaction with water.” [emphasis mine]

These results suggest that there has been very little water on the Martian surface for a very long time. They do not, however, mean that there is no water there now.

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A house-sized asteroid will zip past the Earth in February at a distance less than 14,000 miles.

Chicken Little report: A house-sized asteroid will zip past the Earth in February at a distance less than 14,000 miles.

The asteroid, referred to as 2012 DA14, has a diameter of approximately 45m and an estimated mass of 130,000 tonnes. It was discovered at the start of 2012 and is set to travel between the Earth and our geostationary communication satellites on 15 February 2013. At a distance of just 22,500km this will be the closest asteroid ‘fly by’ in recorded history. Asteroid and comet researchers will be gathering at the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, U.S., to watch the event, but experts say there is no chance of a collision – this time.

The claim that this is the closest “fly by” in recorded history sounds bogus to me, but because of the size of this asteroid the fly-by will nonetheless be quite interesting. Scientists should be able to get a very good look at 2012 DA14 as it goes by.

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The protective housing for the shuttle prototype Enterprise collapsed yesterday due to Hurricane Sandy.

The protective housing for the shuttle prototype Enterprise collapsed yesterday due to Hurricane Sandy.

There are clearly many more serious problems caused by the hurricane than damage to Enterprise. I note this however, because it seems to fit with Enterprise’s sad tale of woe in becoming a museum piece in New York.

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It appears that NASA is at the moment unconcerned should the investigation into the Falcon 9 engine failure on October 7 cause a delay in the next Dragon supply mission to ISS.

It appears that NASA is at the moment unconcerned should the investigation into the Falcon 9 engine failure on October 7 cause a delay in the next Dragon supply mission to ISS.

The supply cache delivered to the station in early to mid-2011 by the now-retired space shuttle placed the six-person orbiting science lab on a firm footing well into 2013, according to Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager. “The launch date itself, in January, is not really critical to the program from a supply standpoint,” Suffredini told an Oct. 26 news briefing. “So we have some flexibility.”

In the short run a delay here would not be critical. A long delay, which is unlikely, would however not be good for operations on the station, and illustrates why it is very important to get the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus cargo capsule up an running as soon as possible.

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An openly gay volunteer for a Republican running for Congress in Wisconsin was severely beaten in his home after receiving threatening and obscene messages from the husband of the Democratic candidate.

Democratic civility: An openly gay volunteer for a Republican running for Congress in Wisconsin was severely beaten in his home after receiving threatening and obscene messages from the husband of the Democratic candidate.

The Democratic candidate is also openly gay, and it was his husband who sent the messages, some of which are also include racial insults of the Republican candidate’s Mexican-American wife.

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A spacewalk November 1 will attempt to find and repair a coolant leak that could force a power reduction at the station.

Construction workers in space: A spacewalk November 1 will attempt to find and repair a coolant leak that could force a power reduction at the station.

A slight 1.5-pound-per-year leak in the channel 2B cooling system has been present since 2007 and during a shuttle visit last year, two spacewalking astronauts added eight pounds of ammonia to the reservoir to boost it back up to a full 55 pounds. The plan at that time was to top off the system every four years or so to “feed the leak,” replacing the lost ammonia as required.

But over the past few months, engineers saw the leak rate suddenly quadruple, either because something changed at the original leak site or, more likely, because another leak developed somewhere else in the system.

Whether the leakage was caused by space debris or a component failure of some sort is not yet known. But the result is: If the leak continues at its current rate, the coolant will drop below a 40-pound safety limit and the system will shut down by the end of the year or shortly thereafter, taking power channel 2B down with it. While the space station can operate without the full complement of power channels, the loss of channel 2B would force flight controllers to power down equipment, eliminating redundancy and reducing the amount of research the crews could carry out.

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