Monthly Archives: August 2014

Woman scares off attackers with gun

The right kind of gun control: An Ohio woman with a concealed carry license scared off two bat-wielding attackers when she pointed her gun on them.

This is not that unusual a story but I wanted to highlight it because of this quote:

The men took off and so far have eluded police. Dinah posted about the incident on Facebook to alert friends and neighbors, to criticism by some. “Most of the males’ opinion was, ‘Why didn’t you shoot them?'” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted quote above, nonchalantly advocating that she should have fired the gun, is incredibly stupid. Life is not a modern Hollywood movie, where idiots shoot their weapons indiscriminately without thought. This woman made exactly the right decision. She used her weapon to stop the attack, and then proceeded on her way. Had she fired she would made things very messy for herself, for no reason.

Guns in the hands of good people are without question the best defense against bad people. However, if you use that gun unwisely or without cause you make yourself a bad person. Stay good and stay safe. Arm yourself, but don’t use your weapon unless you really really really have to.

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Professor with leftwing ties to build hate speech database.

The Indiana professor who is going to build a database for the federal government to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution” turns out to have numerous links to and is a strong supporter of left wing causes.

“‘Truthy’ claims to be non-partisan. However, the project’s lead investigator Filippo Menczer proclaims his support for numerous progressive advocacy groups, including President Barack Obama’s Organizing for Action, Moveon.org, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, and True Majority. Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at Indiana University, links to each of the organizations on his personal page from his bio at the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research.”

Menczer of course has denied his database will have any partisan tinge. He is as pure as the wind-driven snow!

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Battle of the heavy lift rockets

Check out this very detailed and informative look at unstated competiton between NASA’s SLS rocket and SpaceX’s heavy lift rocket plans that are even more powerful than the Falcon Heavy.

Key quote: “It is clear SpaceX envisions a rocket far more powerful than even the fully evolved Block 2 SLS – a NASA rocket that isn’t set to be launched until the 2030s.”

The SpaceX rocket hinges on whether the company can successfully build its new Raptor engine. If they do, they will have their heavy lift rocket in the air and functioning far sooner than NASA, and for far far far less money.

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Opportunity to get a reboot

Because of an increasing number of computer resets on the Mars rover Opportunity, engineers plan to reformat the rover’s computer.

The resets, including a dozen this month, interfere with the rover’s planned science activities, even though recovery from each incident is completed within a day or two.

Flash memory retains data even when power is off. It is the type used for storing photos and songs on smart phones or digital cameras, among many other uses. Individual cells within a flash memory sector can wear out from repeated use. Reformatting clears the memory while identifying bad cells and flagging them to be avoided.

Obviously there is a risk, though small, that this action will not work and the mission will end here. Stay tuned.

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The decision on manned spaceflight

The rumors are swirling. Today alone the news included three different articles about NASA’s upcoming decision to down-select to either one or two in its manned commercial crew program.

The third article above speculates that the decision will be made shortly after this weekend, maybe as soon as next week. It also outlines in nice detail the companies who are competing for the contract.

I strongly expect NASA to pick two companies, not one, as the agency has repeatedly said it wants to have redundancy and competition in manned space flight. To this I agree whole-heartedly. Right now, if I was a betting man (which I am not), I would pick SpaceX and Sierra Nevada as the two companies to get the nod.

If NASA only picks one company that I don’t think there is much doubt that it will be SpaceX.

And then again, government agencies, because of politics, have sometimes made some incredibly stupid decisions. For example, back in the 1970s the company that proposed the space shuttle was rejected for another big space company that had more political clout, which then turned around and essentially stole the first company’s designs to build the space shuttle from them. It just took longer and cost more.

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The X-37B just keeps going.

The Energizer bunny of space: The X-37B has now completed more than 600 days in orbit, with no indication when it will return to Earth.

The Air Force is believed to have only two X-37B space planes. These space planes have flown at otal of three missions, which are known as OTV-1, OTV-2 and OTV-3. (“OTV” is short for Orbital Test Vehicle.) The first mission blasted off in April 2010, and the craft circled Earth for 225 days. The second X-37B vehicle launched in March 2011, performing the OTV-2 mission. This spaceflight lasted 469 days, ultimately landing at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in June 2012. That was the same landing site OTV-1 used after completing its mission.

The current OTV-3 mission is reusing the first X-37B space plane from the OTV-1 flight, showcasing the reusability aspect of the program.

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Fewer people to have health insurance under Obamacare

Finding out what’s in it: A new analysis of Obamacare predicts that in the next ten years the number of uninsured Americans will increase by 10 percent while premiums will continue to rise.

We estimate that average annual costs for the cheapest individual plans—the “bronze” plans—may increase by 96 percent, from roughly $2,100 to nearly $4,200. Bronze family plans prices, meanwhile, may increase by nearly 50 percent. The average plan in this category could come close to $13,000 a year in total premiums. Almost every plan will see a price increase of some kind.

Consumers will learn these unpleasant truths in the fall of 2016 when they attempt to extend their policies.

No matter where you live, the effects will ripple across the entire industry. The dramatically higher prices will almost surely drive some consumers out of the exchanges. But they won’t have many places to turn. Many—perhaps most—won’t be eligible for Medicaid, while others won’t have jobs that offer replacement health insurance. People in this position will thus choose between health insurance they can’t afford and becoming uninsured. Not even the IRS penalty will convince everyone to bite the bullet.

Prior to 2016 the law allows insurance companies to use tax dollars, subsidizes from the federal government, to artificially depress premiums. After 2016 that option disappears, and the real cost of Obamacare gets passed to the consumer, most of whom will not be able to afford it.

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British government raises terror threat

Update: Sources in the federal government say that an Islamic terror attack coming from Mexico is imminent.

Original post:
While Obama has admitted he has no strategy to deal with ISIS, the British government today raised its terror threat level to “severe.”

[Home Secretary Theresa] May said the threat level was raised because of the risk from the deteriorating situation in Iraq and Syria, where extremist militants from the group calling itself the Islamic State (also ISIS or ISIL). May said, however, that there was no specific threat to Britain that caused the raise in the terror level. This is the first time Britain’s terror threat level has been at “severe” since 2011. “The increase in the threat level is related to developments in Syria and Iraq where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West. Some of these plots are likely to involve foreign fighters who have traveled there from the UK and Europe to take part in those conflicts,” May said in a statement.

Add to this the fact that U.S. intelligence has noted a “significant increase” in chatter among terrorist organizations as September 11 approaches.

Islamic terrorists have celebrated September 11 several times previously with terrorist attacks. We shouldn’t be surprised if they do it again, especially as they now have a resurgent base of operations with many resources in the territory now controlled by ISIS.

Barack Obama meanwhile will probably find out about the next terrorist attack from a newspaper he reads, after he finishes his next very important round of golf.

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Single sensor caused Falcon 9R failure

SpaceX has identified the cause of the failure of last week’s Falcon 9R test flight failure as a single sensor.

On the Falcon 9R, there was no backup for this sensor, so the rocket was required to self-destruct when the sensor failed. On a Falcon 9, other sensors would have picked up the slack and the rocket would have continued in flight.

That the sensor is used by the Falcon 9, however, explains why they have delayed the next commercial flight. They probably want to make sure they understand why the sensor failed so they can reduce the chance of failure on the Falcon 9.

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A new SpaceShipTwo glide test flight

SpaceShipTwo successfully completed an unpowered glide test yesterday, testing the dynamics and plumbing of the ship’s new engines.

They pumped inert liquid through the plumbing to make sure it functioned in flight. The flight itself tested the balance and position of the new engine.

Assuming the results from these tests are good, expect powered flights quite soon.

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“We don’t have a strategy yet.”

Heh: “Semi-retired president to address something he saw on the news today about Ukraine at 4 p.m.”

In truth, I really shouldn’t see any humor in this headline, as it appears to be 100% true. During the briefing President Obama, when asked about his plans to deal with ISIS, actually said, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

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Spitzer spots asteroid collision

A monitoring program of a young star by the Spitzer Space Telescope has paid off with evidence of a major collision between asteroids in the debris disk that surrounds the star.

Scientists had been regularly tracking the star, called NGC 2547-ID8, when it surged with a huge amount of fresh dust between August 2012 and January 2013. “We think two big asteroids crashed into each other, creating a huge cloud of grains the size of very fine sand, which are now smashing themselves into smithereens and slowly leaking away from the star,” said lead author and graduate student Huan Meng of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

While dusty aftermaths of suspected asteroid collisions have been observed by Spitzer before, this is the first time scientists have collected data before and after a planetary system smashup. The viewing offers a glimpse into the violent process of making rocky planets like ours.

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Court rules in favor of rock throwers and thugs

In a ruling today a court has ruled that the police have the right to curtail the free speech of Christians on a public street if Muslims threaten them with violence.

Let me describe what happened again that so there is no confusion. There was a Muslim festival open to the general public on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan. Some Christians wanted to walk through that festival holding signs and preaching the gospel. They were attacked by a mob. The police, instead of arresting the attackers, threatened the Christians with arrest if they didn’t shut up and leave.

If you doubt me, watch the video of that event, which I posted when it happened under the title The Stoning of Christians — in Michigan.

In essence, the court has sanctioned the heckler’s veto. If you don’t like what someone is saying, threaten them with violence and the police will shut them up for you so that you don’t behave badly.

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SLS first launch officially delayed one year

In a press conference today to tout the development of the SLS rocket, NASA finally admitted that the rocket’s first flight has been delayed a year until 2018, as had been rumored for months.

The cost? $7 billion more from now until that first launch, a number that does not include the billions already spent. I once again note that the entire commercial program, both manned and cargo, has cost less than that, from start to finish, and includes the entire manifest of actual cargo flights to ISS.

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The federal government wants to know what you are saying


What could go wrong? The federal government is spending almost a million dollars to make it possible to track “misinformation” and hate speech on Twitter.

The National Science Foundation is financing the creation of a web service that will monitor “suspicious memes” and what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online. The “Truthy” database, created by researchers at Indiana University, is designed to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution.” The university has received $919,917 so far for the project.

Anyone want to make a bet that the only ones who will be labeled with “political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution” will be conservatives?

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The DOT wants to know where you are

What could go wrong? The DOT has proposed that all new cars be required to broadcast their location and speed.

They claim that this data could be used to provide drivers with a warning if their vehicle might be getting too close to another vehicle. It will also be necessary to make driverless cars more reliable.

I wonder what other uses this information could have.

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Russian military abandons Rokot

Beginning in 2016, the Russian military will stop using its Rokot launcher, switching to Soyuz and Angara rockets instead.

The reason? Rokot relies on some imported parts, while Soyuz and Angara are build entirely in Russia.

It is interesting how fast the Russians are moving to stop their dependence on foreign parts, compared to the United States. Rather than try to build Russian-built parts for Rokot, they have taken the simplest and fastest approach and simply switched rockets.

In the U.S. Congress is instead demanding that a new rocket engine be build for Atlas 5 to replace the Russian engine, an expensive and time-consuming process. Wouldn’t it make more sense to say buy-buy to Atlas 5 and just switch to the Falcon 9?

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A tugboat for satellites

The competition heats up: An Israeli start-up is building a satellite tugboat that could be used to move stranded satellites to their proper orbits.

The planned satellite, once built and deployed, should be able to rendezvous with in-orbit satellites and propel them into new orbits, give them course corrections, or steer them towards what’s known as the “graveyard orbit” – a decommissioned satellite graveyard some 300km above their usual height of 36,000 kilometers over the equator. This fuel saving can extend a communications satellite’s life.

The company says its tugboat design could be a possible solution to two stranded Galileo Project satellites, now in possibly unusable orbits following a launch malfunction over the weekend.

The spacecraft would use an ion engine for propulsion.

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Rosetta’s camera zooms in

67P/C-G on August 23, 2014
Comet 67P/C-G as seen on August 23, 2014 from 38 miles.
Click on image for uncropped version.

The Rosetta team has begun releasing more close-up images of Comet 67P/C-G taken by the spacecraft. The image to the right was taken by the navigation camera, but rather than capture the entire nucleus in a single image the camera is now zoomed in and taking a mosaic of four images. This picture is one quarter of that mosaic.

Note the boulders and the sharp peaks in the image. The boulders are important to map for planning Philae’s landing site. The sharp peaks suggest recent outgassing.

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“International press coverage has become a morality play starring a familiar villain.”

Guess who that “familiar villain” happens to be. It shouldn’t surprise you, though it horrifies me that this is happening again, in the west, in civilized society, and among the so-called intellectual elites of the U.S. and Europe.

If you are really serious about understanding what has been going on in the Middle East these past few months, make sure you read the entire article, carefully, and slowly. The conclusion will tell you a great deal about what is going to happen in the coming years. The fact that most intellectuals in the West will be caught with their pants down when it does happen can best be summed up by how that conclusion begins:

Because a gap has opened here between the way things are and the way they are described, opinions are wrong and policies are wrong, and observers are regularly blindsided by events. Such things have happened before. In the years leading to the breakdown of Soviet Communism in 1991, as the Russia expert Leon Aron wrote in a 2011 essay for Foreign Policy, “virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union.” The empire had been rotting for years and the signs were there, but the people who were supposed to be seeing and reporting them failed and when the superpower imploded everyone was surprised.

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Antares to launch polar orbiting satellites?

The competition heats up: Orbital Sciences expects within a year to get government approval to use its Antares rocket to launch sun-synchronous satellites from its launch facility at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Currently Antares is used to launch cargo resupply missions to the international space station, whose orbital inclination — the angle at which it passes over the equator — of 51.6 degrees dictates that the rocket follow a southeasterly flight path over the Atlantic Ocean. To reach high-inclination orbits, the vehicle would presumably need to fly more directly toward the equator.

Among the details to be settled is the exact configuration of the Antares rocket Orbital would use to place satellites into sun-synchronous orbits, which are commonly used for Earth observation missions. The Antares rockets flown to date have been two-stage vehicles, but the company offers three-stage versions for missions with more stringent orbital-insertion accuracy or high-energy requirements.

The issue here is making sure the rocket stays clear of population areas during launch. An almost due south launch path, needed for polar orbit from Wallops Island, would pass this test.

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