Monthly Archives: February 2016

Air Force awards contracts for American rocket engine

The competition heats up: The Air Force today awarded developmental contracts worth $160 million total to both Aerojet Rocketdyne and the partnership of ULA/Blue Origin for the development of an American-built rocket engine to replace the Russian engines in the Atlas 5 rocket.

Here is the ULA press release.

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Tom Lehrer – Poisoning Pigeons In The Park

An evening pause: Tom Lehrer has always been a favorite musical satirist of the modern intellectual community. In the 1960s he was radical, cute, and refreshing. There are many comedy songs by him that I like. This song, performed here on September 11, 1967 (a date quite appropriate in retrospect), illustrates however why in many ways the humor of the left has become somewhat shrill. Too many times, they actually mean it.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

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UC-Berkeley Chemistry College to shutter?

The coming dark age: The University of California in Berkeley is considering disbanding its College of Chemistry to deal with $150 million pf debt.

One commenter noted this key fact: “What about African American Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies? Are those programs going to be affected too?” with two others adding sarcastically, “No, they are essential,” and “Because they teach such marketable skills.”

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Steve Martin – The Great Flydini

An evening pause: The silliness couldn’t be greater.

Hat tip Peter Fenstermacher.

As always, I welcome suggestions from anyone for evening pauses. If you have made them before, please feel free to send me more. You know how to reach me. If you’ve never suggested any but want to, comment here (without including the suggestion-that would give it away) and I will contact you myself.

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Brownshirts try to silence conservative speaker

The coming dark age: Ben Shapiro speaks at California State U, despite fascist mobs, violent threats, and an attempt by the college president to silence him.

Be sure to watch all three video clips at the first link above. One shows Shapiro speaking as the fire alarm goes off. The other two clips show the hostile mob outside. The contrast is striking. All the mob needs are pitchforks and torches to complete the picture.

That it was possible for the left to harness such a large mob so quickly in an effort to silence Shapiro’s dissent suggests strongly to me that we are heading for very bad times. In a few short years, the students in that mob, who far outnumber the peaceful students who came to listen to Shapiro, are going to have powerful jobs and influential positions. And these fascists are going to be eager to use that power to squelch their opponents.

Addendum: Be sure to read this comment at the link from someone who was there. It is really frightening. As she notes,

I know from this site and others that this is what goes on. But actually being there and being shoved and taunted and blocked from hearing a speaker … it’s just another dimension. You can’t believe the insanity. You can’t believe the completely undeserved sense of moral superiority coupled with the simmering threat of violence. Really, really disheartening. …

The Young Americans for Freedom gang are a brave, brave group. Just completely outnumbered. Talked with one of them from the Reagan Center and she’d met Professor Jacobson and Mrs. Jacobson when they were at the center last year.

Seeing that in person, I think we’ve passed the point of no return. It’s not something you fix. It’s a stain you can’t get out … a complete mess. You cannot reason with people who refuse to listen to reason. At one point, one of the protestors was telling the guy next to me that Ben Shapiro was a racist and a supremacist because he was an Orthodox Jew, and thus should not be allowed to speak.

Tolerance. Behold.

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Our glorious Democratic leaders!

Dumb and dumber: When told that one of the Gitmo terrorists released by the Obama administration is now working for Al Qaeda recruiting more terrorists to attack the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry had a real smart answer: “He’s not supposed to do that.”

The link also provides some nice background, describing other absurd efforts of Kerry’s State Department to counter terrorism, such as when he enlisted a 1960s singer to serenade world leaders.

John Kerry was the Democratic Party’s choice to run for president in 2004. He is now the Obama administration’s choice to run the State Department. What does that tell us about that party? Could it be that they are all as dumb and incompetent as he is?

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The coming collapse of Obamacare

Finding out what’s in it: Link here.

I haven’t described this time any specific discovery about this monstrous law because the article at the link describes too many different examples where the law is failing. Here’s just one to give you a taste:

Insurers say they’ve also been hurt by customers who appear to be waiting until they become sick to buy coverage. The companies blame liberal enforcement of the ACA’s special enrollment exceptions. The law provides an annual enrollment window for several weeks starting in the fall. This is the main chance most people have to enroll or change coverage. But customers can enroll outside that window if insurance needs change because they’ve moved, gotten married or had a child, among other exemptions.

Exchanges have not been asking for birth certificates, marriage licenses or other proof of these life-changing events. Insurers say that leaves them vulnerable. The Montana Health Co-Op had a severely ill customer in a hospital sign up for its coverage in October and then drop a $250,000 bill on the insurer. CEO Jerry Dworak said he asked the exchange operator for details on whether the patient had a legitimate reason for the special enrollment. The exchange would only say that the patient changed ZIP codes.

“They’ve got to do something about the special enrollment because we just got killed on that,” Dworak said.

Read it all. The story also describes how the law’s health exchanges are failing, how healthy people are not signing up, how the law has caused health costs to skyrocket, and how it is causing heath insurance businesses to go bankrupt.

Other than these minor details, however, we all have been able to keep the insurance plans we like, and costs per family have dropped by $2500, just as Barack Obama promised! Let’s hire as our next President his former Secretary of State, who actually first conceived a similar Hillarycare proposal in the 1990s!

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Changes in DARPA rocket projects

In its budget request for 2017, DARPA has dropped one of its low-cost reusable launch programs while asking for more money for another.

The XS-1 project, where three teams, (Boeing/Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems/XCOR Aerospace, and Northrup Grumman/Virgin Galactic) are trying to develop a fully reusable launch system, will got a boost from $30 million to $50.5 million. Meanwhile,

DARPA is ending the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) launcher program after budgeting $80 million for it over two fiscal years. ALASA aimed at developing a rocket that could place a 100 lb (45 kg) payload into low Earth orbit for less than $1 million per launch using an unmodified F-15 fighter. Tests indicated that Boeing’s mono-propellant had a tendency to explode.

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Iridium dumps Russia for SpaceX

In the heat of competition: Because of Russian red tape Iridium has switched from a Russian rocket to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 for placing its first 10 next generation communications satellites in orbit this year.

I thought the Putin government’s consolidation of its entire aerospace industry into a single corporation was going to speed things up? Not. Then again, SpaceX might not be any better, considering the problems it continues to have meeting its launch schedule.

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Wrapping up the longest space mission by an American

My how time flies: Astronaut Scott Kelly’s almost year-in-space is scheduled to end on March 1st.

Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko will come back to Earth Tuesday (March 1), wrapping up an unprecedented 340-day stay on the orbiting lab. (Crewmembers typically live and work aboard the station for 5 to 6 months at a time.)

The article is wrong when it calls this mission “unprecedented.” The Russians have flown four astronauts in space for more than a year, with one spending 14.5 months in orbit. Though Kelly’s experience will provide valuable data for future long term missions to the planets, it remains disappointing to me that NASA didn’t have the courage to push this beyond the previous Russian record.

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SpaceX scrubs Falcon 9 launch again

Update: It appears that they called the launch because of winds, though it also appears that the lower oxidizer temperatures have also reduced their weather margins.

In the heat of competition: For the second day in a row SpaceX has canceled a commercial launch of its Falcon 9 rocket because they were unable to get the oxygen in its tanks as cold as required.

The denser propellant gives the rocket added thrust, contributing to what SpaceX says is a 33 percent overall increase in its performance compared to the previous version.

But during countdowns Wednesday and Thursday, SpaceX reported trouble keeping the “deeply cryogenic” propellant cold enough. Although Thursday’s launch window lasted 96 minutes, it turned out SpaceX really only had one opportunity during that window. If any problem arose, SpaceX said the liquid oxygen would have to be drained and re-loaded, a process that would take too long.

This problem is troubling, suggesting that there might be a more fundamental issue here than they are saying. First, there was the significant delay since the last launch of this upgraded fueling system in December, implying that the data from that launch required some reworking. Now, they have scrubbed two launches in a row because they couldn’t get the oxygen cold enough to properly fuel the rocket. I also wonder if they need to reach a colder temperature in order to get enough fuel loaded to get the satellite to its proper orbit.

I generally trust SpaceX’s engineers to address a problem and fix it. Right now, however, they are under the gun. They need to get this working and begin launching rockets on a more reliable schedule. They have a lot of customers waiting in line.

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Lexington proposes gun confiscation

Fascists: The town of Lexington, Massachusetts, where the American Revolution was started by Minutemen armed with rifles, has proposed confiscating legally owned firearms from its citizens.

One such town meeting member, a Harvard professor named Robert Rotberg has taken it upon himself to enact, what he hopes will be “a movement against assault weapons that would capture the state and therefore maybe explode to reach the country.” He has seized upon the recent ban enacted in Highland Park, IL, and has modeled his own ban, almost copying the language verbatim. Filing it to the town meeting warrant as Article 34.

Among other things, Article 34 includes any firearm that is semi-automatic and can accept a magazine that will hold more than 10 rounds. It also includes any magazine that holds more than 10 rounds. The article also has a provision in which Lexington’s licensed gun owners who own firearms included in the ban would be forced to sell, render inoperable, or have them seized and destroyed by the police department

It doesn’t seem to occur to this Harvard professor that this ordinance would violate both the second amendment (“the right to bear arms shall not be infringed”) and the fifth amendment (“nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”). But then, who cares about some old document called the Bill of Rights written by some white guys more than 200 years ago? We are Progressives! We know better!

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Successful test of India’s GSLV rocket engine

The competition heats up: India has successfully completed a full duration static hot fire test of the cryogenic engine it is developing for its more powerful GSLV rocket.

The press release is very short and lacking in many details, including any detailed information about the engine being tested. However, this success bodes well for India’s plans to launch a new upgraded GSLV before the end of the year.

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Fraud in many science surveys?

The uncertainty of science: An analysis of scientific surveys suggests that one in five may contain fake data.

With few exceptions, they limited their analysis to studies that asked more than 1000 people at least 75 questions on a range of topics. And to be conservative, they forgave studies for which at least 95% of the data passed the test.

That made the results all the more worrying: Among 1008 surveys, their test flagged 17% as likely to contain a significant portion of fabricated data. For surveys conducted in wealthy westernized nations, that figure drops to 5%, whereas for those done in the developing world it shoots up to 26%.

To me the difference found between first and third world countries makes the results more believable. It suggests that survey companies who do these surveys have a problem that should be addressed. Instead, the research

is being hotly disputed by the Pew Research Center, one of the major funders of such surveys. And the organization has gone so far as to request the researchers desist from publishing their work.

Pew reviewed the questionable surveys and found evidence that the analysis produced some false positives. They used this as reason to reject its results entirely. That the analysis has also been successful in detecting fraud in several surveys apparently does not concern them.

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The moment Yeltsin became a capitalist

In 1989 Boris Yeltsin, member of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and leader of one of what could be considered the equivalent of one of its mid-western states, visited Texas and toured the Johnson Space Center as well as a typical American supermarket. It was the grocery store that impressed him, not America’s space program.

He was dazzled by the fact that grocery stores were everywhere, and that they even offered free samples. A year or so later, a biographer wrote that on the plane ride from Texas to Florida, Yelstin couldn’t get the vision of the endless food supply out of his mind, and lamented how different things were for his own countrymen. According to wikipedia, Leon Aron, quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote in his biography, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000): “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands. ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.” He added, “On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.’”

He wrote that Mr. Yeltsin added, “I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans.”

And then, in his own autobiography, Yeltsin wrote about the experience at the grocery store himself, which reshaped his entire view on communism, ultimately leading to his leaving the Communist party. “When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people,” Yeltsin wrote. “That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

In writing Leaving Earth, I read all these same sources and was struck as well by how much this moment influenced Yeltsin. Very clearly, what Yeltsin saw that day led him to abandon communism.

If only more Americans could experience the same contrast he did, that of the shortages and poverty of top-down, command economies like socialism and communism vs the wealth and vibrancy and freedom of capitalism. I suspect unfortunately they will have to turn the U.S. into a new Soviet Union before they will realize how bankrupt such systems are.

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GAO finds fraud rampant in Obamacare subsidy program

Finding out what’s in it: A GAO report has found that the Obamacare bureaucracy gave out millions of dollars in subsidies to more than 35,000 applicants who did not qualify.

Worse, the GAO decided to test the system directly, and created twelve fake applicants whose applications had problems that should have prevented them from receiving subsidies The result?

It was able to secure $2,500 a month subsidies for 11 of those applicants. When CMS [the bureaucracy administering Obamacare] asked for documents to resolve inconsistencies in the files, GAO either sent fake documents or simply didn’t send anything. In both cases, CMS sent letters acknowledging receipt of documents and stating the matter had been resolved. Again, this was the case even when GAO had sent nothing in response to the initial CMS query. In the end, GAO was able to keep all 11 fictitious applicants on subsidies throughout 2014, each one directing about $30,000 in federal funds to an insurer under false pretenses. And it’s worth noting that, later on in the report, GAO makes clear it created this fake applicants with no prior or inside knowledge of any verification procedures that might be applied. This was something that anyone could have done.

There’s more at the link, such as the fact that the bureaucracy also decided, quite arbitrarily, to send subsidies to applicants who claimed they were not in prison, even if those applicants were on the official database of individuals in prison (and thus not qualified for subsidies according to the law).

But hey, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and even Donald Trump want to use the government to administer health care. Trump might say he wants to get rid of Obamacare, but he also wants the government to run the system he will create to replace it. What could possibly go wrong?

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LISA Pathfinder cubes in freefall

After a week of testing scientists have now completely released LISA Pathfinder’s two gold-platinum cubes so that they are floating free within the spacecraft.

With the cubes released, the spacecraft is now measuring the position of each cube and using thrusters to adjust its position and keep the cubes floating within it. This success has essentially proven that the technology works, though they now have to see if the technology can be maintained in orbit for a long enough period of time to be worthwhile. If so, this mission will be followed by multiple similar spacecraft, flying in formation while also measuring their positions precisely relative to each other. If a gravitational wave rolls past, they will detect it by the tiny differences of each cube’s position, kind of like beach balls floating on the ocean as a wave rolls past.

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Cam – Can’t Help Falling In Love

An evening pause: I’ve posted the original version by Elvis Presley from the movie Blue Hawaii (1961) back in 2013, but this live version,live at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on January 8, 2016, is definitely worth seeing. She dedicated the song to her fiancé, Adam Weaver, and during the performance it is obvious that she is singing directly to him in the audience.

I also dare you to watch it without singing along.

Hat tip Edward Thelen from reminding me that this song needs a revisit.

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The cratered surface of Ceres

Craters on Ceres

Cool image time! As Dawn continues its survey of Ceres the science team is beginning to release images looking sideways at the planet, rather than straight down, in order to get a better understanding of the topography. The image to the right is an example. It shows the area around 37-mile-wide Fluusa Crater. I have cropped it to emphasize the most rugged areas, especially the jagged cliff meandering away towards the horizon.

This image provides a hint at the differences between Ceres and the Moon. Up until now Dawn images have given the impression that Ceres is very much like the heavily cratered lunar surface. The terrain in this image however suggests to me that Ceres’ surface crust is much less dense because of the low gravity, and thus has a light puffy feel to it. The Moon’s surface is rarely this uneven, as its higher gravity has pounded things down, smoothing them out somewhat.

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SpaceX launch scrubbed

SpaceX today scrubbed its Falcon 9 launch of a commercial communications satellite about a half hour before launch time.

They have not revealed why they cancelled, though they report the rocket is in good condition and have rescheduled for the same 6:46 pm (Eastern) launch tomorrow.

Update: It appears they had not gotten the rocket’s liquid oxygen as cold as they want. The colder it is, the denser it is, and the more fuel they can pack into the tank.

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No security at Homeland Security

Does this make you feel safer? Homeland Security has lost 165 firearms and more than 1,300 security badges in the past three years.

The people running Homeland Security are generally the same people who want to prevent ordinary citizens from possessing guns. I would say instead that we all would be safer if we owned the guns and they were banned at Homeland Security.

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America’s ten most oppressive colleges

Fascists: A new review of free speech on campuses across the United States has listed the country’s ten most oppressive colleges, with examples of why they earned this odious status.

The first link is the actual report, while the second provides a good quick summary. In either case, the behavior of college officials in attempting to squelch dissent is quite disgusting. Far more horrifying and worrisome for the future were the number of cases where the students themselves moved to stamp down on opposing views. They are the future, and that future does not look pleasant.

Some good news: In South Carolina students are suing their college for interrogating them for daring to hold an event in support of free speech that offended some students.

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First map of Comet 67P/C-G’s southern hemisphere

The Rosetta science team has released their first rough map of the geological regions of Comet 67P/C-G’s southern hemisphere, in darkness up until recently.

As Rosetta moves closer to the comet in the coming months, they will gather high resolution images of the south and compile them to produce a final map.

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