Monthly Archives: December 2015

Make Trump go away with software!

The coming dark age: Want to be hip, cool, and with it? Then what you need is the Trump filter, a Chrome extension that will block any access to any website that mentions Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Dubbed as the “Trump Filter,” the Google Chrome extension will filter all Trump-related articles while users surf the Internet. The extension is described as “part of the antidote for this toxic candidacy.” The extension will identify parts of a web page that contain Donald Trump and remove them from the Internet, according to the creator’s description on his Trump Filter website.

In another more enlightened age, this would have instead been called “putting one’s head in the sand” to avoid dealing with reality. Donald Trump is not my first or second choice for president, but he is leading the polls and could very well win. To make believe he doesn’t exist is the height of close-minded foolishness.

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Science journal publishes fake study

The uncertainty of peer review: A science journal has published a fake study that supposedly proved that kissing a child’s “boo-boo” has no medicinal value.

In their study, the authors claim to be members of the Study of Maternal and Child Kissing (SMACK) Working Group, which they say is a subsidiary of Procter and Johnson, Inc., the maker of “Bac-Be-Gone ointment and Steri-Aids self-adhesive bandages.” Procter and Johnson, which is not a real consumer goods company, is an obvious mash-up of Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, two consumer packaged goods companies which sell health care items like bandages and ointments. The only contact information for the study’s authors disclosed in the research paper is a Gmail address. Bac-Be-Gone ointment and Steri-Aids also do not appear to be actual products available for sale. Additionally, many of the academic research references listed at the end of the study–including one article entitled “So what the hell is going on here?”–also appear to be fake.

The journal, the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, claims on its website that all papers published by it are copy-edited and peer-reviewed. In this case I suppose the reviewers worked for Comedy Central .

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Japan looks to private space

The competition heats up: Japan’s legislature is considering bills that would allow for the private launching of Japanese rockets.

Draft bills for the Space Activities Act and Satellite Remote Sensing Act, to be submitted to the regular Diet session from Jan. 4, will require the government to scrutinize launch plans before granting case-by-case permission. Under the Basic Plan on Space Policy set in early 2015, the government aims to expand the size of the space industry to around ¥5 trillion over the next decade. The government would also oblige companies to pay compensation in the event of accidents. Victims would receive government compensation if private operators are unable to cover all the damages, according to the drafts.

Currently, the only entity that has a space program is the state-sponsored Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The proposed laws will probably not work very well, as they they seem to maintain the government’s strong control over everything.

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Confusion in Russia’s space program

Today Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin appeared on Russian television where he tried to explain the government’s plans for the Russian space program.

He failed, miserably.

First he denied reports from yesterday that the government has cancelled all Moon missions in its still not-yet-finalized proposed ten-year plan for 2015 to 2025.

“We are not dropping the lunar program. Rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated,” Rogozin said during an interview with Russia’s Rossiya-24 television channel.

Despite this denial, he did not provide any details on what Russia plans to do in connection with the Moon during the next decade. Nor did lay out his 10-year plan, which still remains unapproved or finalized despite the fact that its first year is about to begin. Instead, he began describing a new government space project, the development of a super-heavy rocket he dubbed “Fenix.”
» Read more

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Russia cancels all Moon missions till 2025

Faced with a shrinking budget and poor economic conditions, Russia has once again trimmed back its proposed ten-year space plan for the next decade in space, cancelling all Moon missions until after 2025.

Russian might now have a giant government-run aerospace corporation, but flying space missions is not really its primary task. Like all government agencies divorced from profit and loss, its primary task is really to provide pork barrel jobs, regardless of whether those jobs do anything useful or not. Thus, Russia will have a very expensive space program for the next decade, but the money spent will not accomplish much of anything new.

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First test flight of India’s prototype space shuttle delayed

Because of a discovered leak, India’s space agency ISRO has delayed the first flight of an engineering test prototype of a reusable space shuttle.

Sources said on Sunday that the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), under development at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) here at Thumba, developed a minor leak during a test, forcing the ISRO to postpone the mission. The ambitious RLV-TD, the first small step to building a ‘space shuttle’ which can return to earth after accomplishing space missions, is likely to be delayed up to April 2016. ISRO had originally planned a mid-2015 launch for the RLV-TD. It had later been postponed to January 2016.

VSSC Director Dr K Sivan said that some of the components had to be re-assembled. ‘’If things go as planned, we can launch the mission in the first week of February. Otherwise, the test will be conducted in the first week of April,’’ he said.

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SpaceX to display recovered first stage

The competition heats up: Rather than re-fly it, Elon Musk suggested today that, after some testing, SpaceX will likely put its first recovered Falcon 9 first stage on display instead.

“[We will] do a static fire at the launch pad there, to confirm that all systems are good and that we are able to do a full thrust hold-down firing of the rocket,” Musk said after the stage landed. The static fire will also test the modifications SpaceX has made to Pad 39A to support its rockets.

After that though, the stage will become a display piece. “I think we will keep this one on the ground for tests that prove it could fly again and then put it somewhere — just because it is quite unique,” Musk said.

Since they already have a satellite company, SES, willing to buy that first stage, this only underlines how this last Falcon 9 launch changes everything. Nor do I think this change has sunk in with most people yet. The last launch was not a one-time event. SpaceX’s intends to recover as many of its first stages as it can in all future launches. Their Falcon 9 first stage is no longer expendable. Thus, they can afford to put this first recovered stage on display because they expect all future first stages to fly again.

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Vostochny update suggests further delays and corruption

Government marches on! This detailed update on the status of construction at the new Russian spaceport at Vostochny contains this very revealing quote:

During his year-end press-conference on December 17, Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed hope that the space center would be ready in the first quarter of 2016, however he stressed that there was no need to rush with the completion of the project and that the quality (of the construction) was more important. The lag in schedule had been reduced from as long as 1.5 years to between four and six months, Putin said.

However, an unofficial posting on Russian social media by a local witness claimed that there was no chance for the first launch in April, because all additional funds disbursed by the Kremlin for the project had already been spent or stolen, while most expensive hardware needed for the completion, including some to be imported from China, was yet to be delivered. Such reports were backdropped by continuous publications in the Russian press about corruption and waste plaguing the project. Even the official TASS joined in, disclosing that Spetsstroi had spent a part of the federal funds allocated for the spaceport to develop commercial real estate in the nearby city of Khabarovsk. The Russian Deputy Prime-Minister Dmitry Rogozin vowed to sell these residential properties and return at least part of the money into the budget. [emphasis mine]

I fully expect Vostochny to get built, and its first rocket to launch sometime in 2016. I also expect the corruption and waste that permeates Russian society — much of it resulting from decades of centralized government control during the Soviet era — to make the spaceport far less competitive or useful. The Russians have spend a lot of money here building a spaceport designed for 20th century rockets. Changing this infrastructure to handle new rocket designs is likely to be complicated and expensive.

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California high schools to get diploma for failing

The coming dark age: Among a number of new laws going into effect in California on January 1 is a law that requires high school students to get a diploma regardless of their grades.

High school seniors will receive their diploma whether or not they pass or even take an exit exam; the law also applies retroactively to students who have graduated since 2004.

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Proton successfully launches satellite

The competition heats up: A Russian Proton rocket successfully placed a commercial communications satellite in orbit today, the fifth successful launch in a row since a May launch failure and the second launch in only 10 days.

For the Russians the Proton successes during the second half of 2015 are encouraging. Whether they have solved their chronic quality control problems, however, remains unknown. I remain doubtful, especially because they have eliminated competition within their industry and folded everything into a single government entity that runs it all.

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Prosecutors investigate scientists while blocking efforts against plant disease

The coming dark age: Italian prosecutors have ordered that all efforts to halt the spread of a deadly disease that attacks olive plants cease while they investigate scientists who study the disease.

Under European Union rules, Italy is obliged to carry out a scientifically based containment plan to stop the disease from spreading to other EU countries. In addition to culling infected trees, this plan involves destroying healthy trees to create buffer zones. But farmers, supported by environmental activists who deplored the destruction of ancient trees, have protested against its implementation. Individual court rulings have found in their favour, stopping tree felling and the spraying of insecticide on their land.

On 10 December, just over a week before Italian public prosecutors announced their investigation, the European Commission opened an infringement procedure over Italy’s failure to carry out containment measures quickly enough. Commission spokesman Enrico Brivio says that he does not know what will happen now that Italian courts have blocked the entire containment plan. “Xylella in all its strains is the most dangerous pathogen for plants, and epidemics have huge economic impact,” he says. “The emergency measures are necessary and need to be implemented.”

The article also notes that the disease can only have come from Costa Rica, which is an area that none of the scientists under investigation have ever worked.

Let me sum up: Environmentalists, hostile to the killing of “ancient trees”, have worked to block any effort to stop the disease, which can now run rampant killing “ancient trees.” Prosecutors, searching for blame, have teamed up with the environmentalists to attack the scientists studying the disease, making sure that any effort to either cure the disease or stop its spread will be discouraged now and in the future.

Maybe the prosecutors and environmentalists should get some torches and pitchforks and burn the scientists at the stake. That will surely solve the problem!

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Jose Feliciano – Feliz Navidad

An evening pause: From this secular Jew to my Christian fans, please accept my sincerest wish that you have a glorious and merry Christmas.

Hat tip Tom Biggar. (I like this particular performance because it is so raw. Feliciano is blind, and the video shows it clearly. Yet he has the incredible courage to get up and perform to millions.)

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A new lightweight and very strong metal

Engineers have developed a new superlight and very strong metal.

A team led by researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science has created a super-strong yet light structural metal with extremely high specific strength and modulus, or stiffness-to-weight ratio. The new metal is composed of magnesium infused with a dense and even dispersal of ceramic silicon carbide nanoparticles. It could be used to make lighter airplanes, spacecraft, and cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency, as well as in mobile electronics and biomedical devices.

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Russia hints at Vostochny schedule

The competition heats up? Russian sources today suggested that the first unmanned launch from Vostochny will occur on April 25, 2016 (subject to testing) while the first manned flight will occur in 2023

The second story is more significant, as it demonstrates the slow, laborious pace of this government operation. Based on the pace being set by the private companies in the U.S., by 2023 they will be flying regular manned missions from several privately run launch sites, all built quickly with as little cost as possible, with some flights possibly going beyond Earth orbit. Vostochny is expected to cost about $2.9 billion and take more than a decade to complete. The first manned missions will go to ISS only, with the first lunar manned mission not expected until after 2025 (this link also gives some details about the Russian government’s ongoing struggle to establish a 10 year plan for its space program amid continuing and changing budget crises).

The differences here are striking. While the Russian government builds an expensive spaceport built on old technology, Americans will be launching innovative and low-cost rockets that no one has ever seen before. Who do you want to hitch your ride to?

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“The Democrats’ theme for 2016 is totalitarianism.”

There are those who have read Behind the Black who have been very offended when I refer to the policies and behavior of the Democractic Party and the left as fascist. This article provides a nice summary of their recent activity, which when read all together should make every freedom-loving American downright horrified:

Donald Trump may talk like a brownshirt, but the Democrats mean business. For those of you keeping track, the Democrats and their allies on the left have now: voted in the Senate to repeal the First Amendment, proposed imprisoning people for holding the wrong views on global warming, sought to prohibit the showing of a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton, proposed banning politically unpopular academic research, demanded that funding politically unpopular organizations and causes be made a crime and that the RICO organized-crime statute be used as a weapon against targeted political groups. They have filed felony charges against a Republican governor for vetoing a piece of legislation, engaged in naked political persecutions of members of Congress, and used the IRS and the ATF as weapons against political critics.

On the college campuses, they shout down unpopular ideas or simply forbid nonconforming views from being heard there in the first place. They have declared academic freedom an “outdated concept” and have gone the full Orwell, declaring that freedom is oppressive and that they should not be expected to tolerate ideas that they do not share. They are demanding mandatory ideological indoctrination sessions for nonconforming students. They have violently assaulted students studying in libraries and assaulted student journalists documenting their activities. They have staged dozens of phony hate crimes and sexual assaults as a pretext for persecuting unpopular organizations and people.

He keeps going. And with every statement he provides a link to a documented story that backs-up his accusation. Worse, he doesn’t even address the attacks on traditional religions and their practitioners.

The Democratic Party and the left have become the party of brownshirts and dictators. No wonder they often seem more sympathetic to Islamic terrorists and tyrants than they do to the innocent people those terrorists and tyrants have killed. They empathize with this oppressive behavior, especially because it appears to be attacking their own enemies.

Unfortunately, there are too many powerful Republicans who have little problem with this behavior, because they themselves see the behavior of the Democrats as useful because it also attacks their own enemies. It is thus imperative for the voters to aggressively vote against all these brownshirts, from either party, and support those candidates — who unfortunately appear to only be running in the Republican Party — who are dedicated to defeating these fascists.

In fact, it appears this is exactly what Republican voters appear to be doing, illustrated by their consistent support for outsider-type candidates like Trump and Cruz.

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U.S. production of plutonium-238 resumes

After a 30 year hiatus, the Department of Energy has produced the first plutonium-238 in the United States since the late 1980s.

Plutonium-238 is the fuel of choice for deep-space exploration. But for nearly 30 years, nobody in the United States was making it.

On Tuesday, that all changed. The Department of Energy announced that 50 grams of the stuff had been made by researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Fifty grams isn’t much, but this is the first time the substance has been made in the country since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina stopped making it in the late 1980s.

What this does is provide NASA and the U.S. the ability to fly unmanned deep space missions for many more years. Without this plutonium-238, there would be no practical way to power spacecraft traveling out beyond Mars orbit.

And why did the U.S. stop making plutonium-238 in the late 1980s? The story is of course complicated, but one of the big factors is that at that time nuclear power had become politically incorrect after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear power plant failures, and thus politicians fell over themselves to be the first to ban any such production, even if it was harmless and incredibly beneficial.

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ULA buys 20 more Russian engines for Atlas 5

With the Congressional ban on buying Russian rocket engines lifted, ULA today wasted no time and immediately purchased 20 more engines from its Russian supplier to use in its Atlas 5 rocket.

I could also title this post “The Death of the Vulcan Rocket”. With at least 20 engines available, ULA no longer has any need to develop that new rocket. The Air Force is still willing to overpay for Atlas 5 launches, and they will now have enough engines to fly that rocket for probably 5 to 10 more years. Since there have already been indications that the bean-counters at ULA have been reluctant to fund Vulcan’s development, I expect them to now kill it.

This of course will be a very short-sighted decision. They might get some business with the Altas 5 and the Delta from the government for those few years, but this will not make them competitive in the new rocket industry. Eventually, they are going to go the way of the American steel industry, which failed to innovate and compete with foreign companies, and in the end lost its business to those foreign companies.

In the case of aerospace, however, the competition is coming from American companies. And that is wholly to the good.

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Musk vs Bezos vs Branson

The competition heats up: Two stories today highlight the entertaining and totally beneficial space race that now exists between private American space companies, instigated by SpaceX’s successful vertical landing of its Falcon 9 first stage.

The first is a Popular Mechanics post showing two graphics comparing the flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket with Falcon 9’s first stage.

As they correctly note,

Both companies did a big thing and deserve accolades for it. The race is on to bring on true reusability, which has the potential to drive down the cost of space launches if done correctly. But Jeff Bezos is working with a rocket barely the size of the engine of the Falcon 9 first stage. For suborbital flight, Bezos did a big thing. For orbital flight, SpaceX did an even bigger thing. In suborbital flight, Bezos may have beat SpaceX’s Grasshopper rocket to a full suborbital flight and return, but he isn’t ready to fly with the Falcon yet.

Blue Origin is posed to become SpaceX’s biggest competitor, but they clearly are behind in the race and will need to do a lot to catch up.

The second article is an excellent essay by Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc noting that at this stage the race isn’t really between Musk and Bezos but between Bezos and Richard Branson.

Messier notes that Bezos’ New Shepard rocket is built to sell tickets to tourists on suborbital flights. He is not competing with SpaceX’s orbital business but with Richard Branson’s space tourism business at Virgin Galactic. And more significantly, it appears that despite a ten year head start, Richard Branson appears to be losing that race, and badly.

Not only that, but while SpaceShipTwo is essentially a deadend, capable only of suborbital tourism, Bezos’s New Shepard was designed to be upgraded to an orbital ship and rocket. Once they chaulk up some suborbital ticket sales and some actual flights, something they seem posed to do in the next two years, they will likely then begin moving into the orbital field. They will then leave Virgin Galactic far behind.

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Ditto Orchestra – Christmas Medley

An evening pause: I like this because, as Danae says, the orchestra is “somewhat obscure and youthful, but apparently Korean and affiliated with a concert hall named ‘Club Balcony.’ The director’s nickname seems to be ‘Izzy.'” They come at this music, which to western ears has become so familiar you almost don’t hear it anymore, with fresh ears. And I especially like their hats.

Hat tip Danae.

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InSight Mars mission suspended

Because of a serious technical problem with its prime instrument, NASA has decided that its InSight Mars lander will not make its March 2016 launch window and has suspended the mission.

NASA said the decision to delay follows unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak affecting the device, which requires a vacuum seal around its three main sensors to withstand the harsh conditions of the Martian environment. A leak discovered earlier this year, that prevented it from retaining vacuum conditions, was successfully repaired, and the mission team “was hopeful the most recent fix also would be successful.”

However, the instrument once again failed to hold a vacuum during testing on Monday in extreme cold temperature.

It is even possible that the mission will be cancelled entirely because of the problem.

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Images of Ceres from Dawn’s lowest orbit

The Dawn science team has now released new high resolution images of Ceres taken from the spacecraft’s lowest orbit.

Dawn took these images of the southern hemisphere of Ceres on Dec. 10, at an approximate altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers), which is its lowest-ever orbital altitude. Dawn will remain at this altitude for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward. The resolution of the new images is about 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel.

Among the striking views is a chain of craters called Gerber Catena, located just west of the large crater Urvara. Troughs are common on larger planetary bodies, caused by contraction, impact stresses and the loading of the crust by large mountains — Olympus Mons on Mars is one example. The fracturing found all across Ceres’ surface indicates that similar processes may have occurred there, despite its smaller size (the average diameter of Ceres is 584 miles, or 940 kilometers). Many of the troughs and grooves on Ceres were likely formed as a result of impacts, but some appear to be tectonic, reflecting internal stresses that broke the crust.

Make sure to click on the link. The images show that Ceres is not the dull boring surface that the wider shots have suggested.

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The coming bright age

As regular readers of Behind The Black know, I routinely report on the depressing state of western culture, where our intellectual academic community appears more interested in standing with their eyes closed and their fingers in their ears yelling, “La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!!!” as loud as they can so they can avoid learning new things or hearing facts that might disturb their tiny little bubble of incorrect assumptions. Such behavior is comparable to the close-minded thinking that caused the medieval dark ages, when the search for knowledge died and Roman culture withered. It took a thousand-plus years for western civilization to come out of that shadow and begin to grow again.

The success of SpaceX yesterday to vertically land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket while also successfully putting eleven smallsat satellites in orbit however that gives me hope that a dark age is not coming. Despite living in a time when freedom is denigrated, when free speech is squelched, and when oppressive regulation and government control is the answer to every problem, the enduring spirit of the human soul still pushed through to do an amazing thing.

SpaceX’s success is only the beginning. The ability to reuse the engines and first stage will allow them to lower their launch costs significantly, meaning that access to space will now be possible for hundreds if not thousands of new entrepeneurs who previously had ideas about developing the resources of the solar system but could not achieve them because the launch costs were too high. In fact, the launch of Orbcomm’s smallsat constellation by this Falcon 9 demonstrated this. Not only is this company proving the efficiency of smallsats, they now have a launch vehicle, the Falcon 9, that they can afford to use. In the past Orbcomm would have been hard-pressed to finance its satellite constellation using the expensive rockets of older less innovative launch companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

SpaceX however is not alone in revolutioning the launch industry. Blue Origin has also demonstrated some of the same launch capabilities as SpaceX, vertically landing its first stage. In competition these two companies and their armies of brilliant and creative engineers are going to make it possible for the human race to explore and colonize the solar system.

Even as old Earth sinks into increasing regulation, oppressive rule-making, and tyrannical close-mindedness, the explorers of the solar system, led by this new American launch industry, will break away from that morass. Hopefully, the new space-faring societies they create out there amid the stars will, like the settlers of North America in the 1600s, help re-establish freedom for future generations back here on Earth.

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Fossil fuels might cool the planet

The uncertainty of science: New data suggests that the burning of fossil fuels might actually act to cool the planet, not heat it as predicted by all global warming models.

Major theories about what causes temperatures to rise have been thrown into doubt after NASA found the Earth has cooled in areas of heavy industrialisation where more trees have been lost and more fossil fuel burning takes place. Environmentalists have long argued the burning of fossil fuels in power stations and for other uses is responsible for global warming and predicted temperature increases because of the high levels of carbon dioxide produced – which causes the global greenhouse effect.

While the findings did not dispute the effects of carbon dioxide on global warming, they found aerosols – also given off by burning fossil fuels – actually cool the local environment, at least temporarily.

Not surprisingly, some of the scientists who wrote this study, who also happen to be central to the tampering of global temperate data at NASA to create the illusion of more warming in the last century than the raw data indicates, immediately spun the result as proof that carbon dioxide is a greater threat for global warming than they previously thought. How they came to this conclusion is to me quite inexplicable, unless they really don’t care what results they get as long as they can say that humans are killing the planet.

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