Monthly Archives: January 2015

Obamacare tax mess

Finding out what’s in it: The Obama administration is considering issuing more waivers to Obamacare in order to avoid a backlash for enforcing the law.

Timothy S. Jost, an expert on health law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law who supports the Affordable Care Act, said: “It will be very easy to find people who are unhappy with the new tax obligations — people who have to pay a penalty, who have to wait forever to get through to somebody at the I.R.S. or have to pay back a lot of money because of overpayments of premium tax credits.”

That the Obama administration has no legal authority to simply waive portions of the law is a fact that seems to escape the notice of the administration, the experts quoted in the article, and the reporter himself. Who cares if the law is abandoned if they can back up this unlawful President in his effort to save himself and his Democratic Party from the disaster they forced upon us all?

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Gravitational wave/inflation discovery literally bites the dust

The uncertainty of science: The big discovery earlier this year of gravitational waves confirming the cosmological theory of inflation has now been found to be completely bogus. Instead of being caused by gravitational waves, the detection was caused by dust in the Milky Way.

Even while the mainstream press was going nuts touting the original announcement, I never even posted anything about it. To me, there were too many assumptions underlying the discovery, as well as too many data points with far too large margins of error, to trust the result. It was interesting, but hardly a certain discovery. Now we have found that the only thing certain about it was that it wasn’t the discovery the scientists thought.

Nor is this unusual for the field of cosmology. Because much of this sub-field of astronomy is dependent on large uncertainties and assumptions, its “facts” are often disproven or untrustworthy. And while the Big Bang theory itself unquestionably fits the known facts better than any other theory at this time, there remain too many uncertainties to believe in it without strong skepticism.

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Air Force to open bidding on launches

The competition heats up? An unnamed Air Force official has said that they intend to open up competitive bidding on as many as 10 military launches through 2017.

This might be part of the agreement between SpaceX and the Air Force that included SpaceX dropping its lawsuit and the Air Force giving a spy satellite launch that SpaceX wanted to bid on to ULA. In exchange, the Air Force will allow SpaceX to bid on a number of GPS satellite launches.

Then again, this is not an official announcement. Until it actually happens officially, I would not trust the Air Force to do what it should or promised.

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Two Eagles manned balloon breaks record

The privately funded Two Eagles manned balloon has set a new endurance record as it drifts parallel to the west coast.

The team is making good progress in its flight parallel to the west coast of the United States and is now approximately 400 miles west of the Mexican border. It is still expected the landing will occur tomorrow (Saturday) morning on the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Pilots Leonid Tiukhtyaev (two-kh-TIE-yev) and Troy Bradley and the Mission Control team will be very busy during the final hours of the flight using winds at different altitudes to steer the balloon to a safe landing in Baja.

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Senate Democrats consider boycotting Israeli leader’s speech

Whose side are they on? When polled, almost no Democratic senator would commit to attending Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s joint speech to Congress in March.

Essentially, these partisan hacks are telling us that they are willing to put their party ahead of the nation and the threat from Islam. I think every liberal Jew who has voted with knee-jerk regularity for Democratic politicians should read this very closely and open their eyes.

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New Mexico wants out of the spaceport business

A state law-maker in New Mexico has introduced a bill to sell off the state’s spaceport, Spaceport America.

New Mexico spent $220 million to build it and Senator Munoz now says the state has come up short. “It’s not a revenue stream and they don’t know how to get that revenue stream and that’s what needs to change,” he said. He said a private company would do a better job behind the controls and believes there is a buyer out there.

The heart of the problem here is the long delayed first flight by Virgin Galactic. Spaceport America essentially has this one customer, and Virgin Galactic has simply failed to get off the ground with its commercial flights.

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Threatened water shortage on ISS

The crash of Antares and its Cygnus capsule in October has caused the possibility of a water shortage on ISS.

NASA had planned to certify Cygnus to carry water to the space station in early 2015; there were no plans for certifying SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship to do the same. Orbital plans to launch its next Cygnus aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, but that flight is not scheduled until Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, ESA has ended flights of its ATV cargo ship, which was certified to carry water. With the ATV program over and Cygnus off-line, the space station was left with two vehicles capable of carrying water, the Russian Progress and Japanese HTV.

HTV flights are now limited to once per year; the next one is planned for August 17, just over two weeks before ISS would run out of water on Sept. 2 unless it was resupplied by other vehicles. The schedule provided very little margin for error, ASAP said.

Essentially, if either a Progress or Dragon capsule does not bring additional water to the station before August, and the HTV flight fails or is delayed by more than two weeks, the station will run out of water in early September, requiring its evacuation.

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Hayabusa-2 in “tip-top” shape

Launched in December for a 2018 rendezvous with an asteroid, Hayabusa-2 has successfully completed its initial check-out according to Japanese officials.

Checkups on early-phase functionality are being carried out over a three-month period. Although the first Hayabusa had suffered malfunctions of its ion engines, it is confirmed that the four ion engines of Hayabusa-2 are functioning properly, JAXA said. Kuninaka said: “With the engines functioning, the explorer can set out on its voyage with a lot of leeway. I feel like, ‘Way to go!’”

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Privately-built weather satellite constellation to be built

The competition heats up: A private company, dubbed Spire, has announced its intention to launch a 20-satellite constellation of weather satellites, all cubesats, by the end of 2015.

Spire raised $25 million in Series A funding during the summer of 2014, bringing its total amount to $29 million. The company already has customers in a variety of verticals, but Platzer said weather was planned to be a focus from the company’s inception.

…With the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) facing an impending weather data gap, an increasing amount of focus has been placed on leveraging commercial options as well. Last year NOAA issued a Request for Information (RFI) on RO that piqued interest from the commercial sector. Congress has also urged the agency to leverage private sector capabilities.

For years I argued that there is no justification for the federal government to provide free weather satellite data to private companies like the Weather Channel. There is more than enough profit to be made tracking and predicting the weather for these companies to launch their own orbiting networks, just as the television and communications industries do. Thus, it is good to see a new start-up take advantage of this need and to push to make a business out of it.

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Boeing’s commercial manned space effort

In reading this review of Boeing’s commercial manned space effort, this particular quote from Boeing Vice President John Elbon stood out:

“This year Boeing is celebrating its 100th year as a company. Bill (William) Boeing founded the company with a focus on flying air mail and establishing commercial air transportation through United Airlines. If you look at the company today, the commercial airline division of the company is a 70 billion dollar per year business.

“I believe firmly that when the company celebrates its second hundred years, there will be a division of Boeing building commercial space vehicles that will be of that magnitude.” [emphasis mine]

I see no reason not to agree with Mr. Elbon. If Boeing and SpaceX both get their manned vehicles working, and SpaceX and ULA begin to really compete for the launch market, the possibilities are as endless as they were 100 years ago during the early days of the aviation industry.

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Update on Philae on Comet 67P/C-G

The Rosetta team has provided a detailed update describing their so far unsuccessful search for Philae on the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

In addition, the update also looks into the possibility that Philae might wake up in the late spring when the comet’s orbit and rotation changes enough so its solar panels are more exposed to the Sun.

Bottom line: Don’t expect them to find the lander from images. Right now it is a mere three pixels in size. And whether it will come back to life as well also remains unknown.

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Color snapshots of England 1960

A collection of snapshots purchased on ebay gives us a peek into life in England around 1960.

Because they are in color they show us that the past was not drab and colorless, but as bright as life today. There are differences, however, and they hint at how our western culture has evolved in the past half century, not necessarily for the better.

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Obama allies himself with Islam radicals

The side that President Barack Obama takes in the worldwide conflict between fundamentalist (and violent) Islam and western Judeo-Christian civilization can be seen I think by three stories this past week:

In the first case Obama chose to hurriedly change his plans so he could attend the funeral of the Saudi king. He did not consider attending or sending an important representative to the demonstrations in France condemning the Charlie Hebdo murders. Nor did he consider attending or sending an important representative to the ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

In the second case Obama has made his dislike for Netanyahu and Israel quite clear, almost to the point of performing childish tantrums. Yet, Israel is our ally. It is also the only real democracy in the Middle East that actually attempts to defend western values.

In the third case, Obama has his administration meet with Muslim Brotherhood leaders to coordinate an effort to remove Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, even though al-Sisi is one of the few in the Islamic world demanding that Islam reform itself away from violence.

So, what side do you think Barack Obama is on? Who do you really think he wants to win this war?

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Manned balloon approaches North America

In its effort to set a new record for the longest gas-filled balloon flight, the two-man Two Eagles flight has now almost crossed the Pacific and expects to reach the west coast of North America by Thursday evening.

The balloon’s speed, as expected, has slowed considerably as the balloon enters calmer winds associated with a high pressure system along the West Coast. At this writing the balloon is west of northern California, and the team meteorologist, Luc Truellmans, predicts the ridge will continue to pull the balloon north and then east into Canada.

Once they do reach North America they need only travel 100 miles more to set a new record.

Update: Because of weather shifting to the south.

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Air Force gives more launches to ULA

The heat of competition? The Air Force has added three launches to its $4 billion bulk-buy contract with ULA, including one that SpaceX had hoped to bid on.

The timing of this contract award, worth $383 million, is most intriguing, coming as it does mere days after SpaceX had dropped its lawsuit with the Air Force. It is almost as if the Air Force was waiting for that lawsuit to go away before it gave more contracts to ULA. Note also the launch cost for these three launches: $383 million for 3 launches, or about $127 million per launch. That’s more than twice what SpaceX charges for a Falcon 9 launch.

It sure looks to me like the Air Force does not have the taxpayers’ interests at heart, and instead is working an inside deal to help its buddies at ULA.

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Ted Cruz introduces bill outlawing political targeting of citizens.

Link here.

As Jazz Shaw notes at the link, “You mean that wasn’t already illegal?” Though Shaw does carefully analyze the political ramifications of making Democrats vote for or against these bills, ramifications that will likely weaken the power-hungry in government, my first thought when I read this was instead, “This is more evidence why I am increasingly not a big fan of Ted Cruz.”

You see, how does one really increase freedom and weaken the power of government by passing another law? You really don’t. This law might be politically effective, but if it should happen to pass and Obama actually sign it, all it will accomplish is create another law that can be used as a wedge to pry more power into government.

Cruz does this kind of showboating a lot. Though I almost always agree with him, the behavior illustrates why a senator is not the best choice for President. We don’t need a showboat right now. We need a conservative President who understands how to run a hostile executive branch even as he cuts its power and influence and still wins elections.

Sounds like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, doesn’t it? Both have the right qualifications, winning elections even as they were being slimed by the left wing union, media, and Democratic Party attack machine for actually cutting the power of these power-hungry groups.

As a senator Ted Cruz does not have and cannot get that track record. Worse, he has made me doubt his tea party sincerity with his talk of rebuilding NASA and going to Mars. Instead of trimming the waste in NASA, it appears he wants to keep feeding the Texas pork that NASA sends his way.

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The surprisingly dark and organic surface of Comet 67P/C-G

Link here.

The first surprising result emerging from VIRTIS’s study of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is the measurement of its albedo, or how much sunlight is reflected by the surface of the nucleus. With an albedo of only 6%, about half as much as the Moon’s, 67P/C-G is one of the darkest objects in the Solar System. Such a low reflecting power indicates that the surface of the comet contains minerals such as, for example, iron sulfides, but also carbon-based compounds. The low albedo also indicates that there is little or no water ice on the outermost layers of the surface of the nucleus.

“This clearly doesn’t mean that the comet is not rich in water, but only that there is no water ice in the outermost shell, just over one millimetre thick,” explains Fabrizio Capaccioni, VIRTIS Principal Investigator from INAF-IAPS in Rome, Italy. “The reason for this is rooted in the recent history of the comet’s evolution, since repeated passes in the vicinity of the Sun cause surface ice to sublimate.”

This result, combined with other Rosetta data, also suggests that during each pass the dust that did not escape along the comet’s tail settled back down to coat the surface and hide the lower layers of water ice.

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SpaceX animation of Falcon Heavy launch

The competition heats up: SpaceX has released a short animation showing the launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket, with all three of its Falcon 9 first stage boosters returning to the launchpad and landing vertically.

I have posted this animation below the fold. When NASA makes these kinds of animations, which the agency has been doing for more than forty years now, I pay little heed. They don’t signal any achievement, merely the dreams of the engineers there. In the case of SpaceX, however, I pay close attention, because the company’s track record is that they are likely to make this animation quite real in a surprisingly short period of time.

Enjoy!
» Read more

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JPL releases movie of asteroid fly-by

Using 20 radar images of asteroid 2004 BL86 as it flew past Earth on January 26, scientists at JPL have created a movie showing the orbital motion of the asteroid’s moon.

The images also show one of the most spherical asteroids I have ever seen. Like Ceres, the larger size has helped shape the asteroid into a more typical-looking planetary sphere.

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Got $500? You too can get a scientific paper published!

A Harvard scientist used a random text generator to create a fake science paper entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” and was able to get it accepted at 17 journals. [Note: the link includes an auto-download of the pdf of the scientist’s fake paper.]

Shrime decided to see how easy it would be to publish an article. So he made one up. Like, he literally made one up. He did it using www.randomtextgenerator.com. The article is entitled “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” and its authors are the venerable Pinkerton A. LeBrain and Orson Welles. The subtitle reads: “The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals.” Shrime submitted it to 37 journals over two weeks and, so far, 17 of them have accepted it. (They have not “published” it, but say they will as soon as Shrime pays the $500. This is often referred to as a “processing fee.” Shrime has no plans to pay them.) Several have already typeset it and given him reviews, as you can see at the end of this article. One publication says his methods are “novel and innovative”!. But when Shrime looked up the physical locations of these publications, he discovered that many had very suspicious addresses; one was actually inside a strip club.

Essentially, these fake journals are scams to get $500 from scientists, generally from third world countries who can’t get their papers published in the bigger first world journals. (What does that tell us about those bigger first world journals?)

The best line of the article however was this: “Many of these publications sound legitimate. To someone who is not well-versed in a particular subfield of medicine—a journalist, for instance—it would be easy to mistake them for valid sources.” [emphasis mine] It seems to me that if you are a journalist writing about a particular field, you should be reasonably educated on that field and be able to spot a fake journal. I certainly can. That it is assumed that mainstream journalists who report on medicine cannot speaks volumes about the quality of the field.

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Massive federal/state program uncovered to track millions of cars nationwide

What could possibly go wrong? A massive federal/state government partnership has been built to track the movements of millions of cars as they move across the country.

The program is also linked to a number of databases that provide a significant amount of private information about the drivers of those cars. The program has also been designed to aid state and federal officials in their efforts to grab cash and property from citizens in their civil forfeiture programs.

Doesn’t that make you feel safe?

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Manned balloon crossing the Pacific

A privately-funded effort to set a new distance record for a gas-filled balloon is more than halfway to its goal as it crosses the Pacific.

The two-man crew has also sent back its first image. If they reach the west coast and then travel into the U.S. a significant distance they will break a record that has stood since 1981.

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