Monthly Archives: July 2017

Russ Roberts – It’s a Wonderful Loaf

An evening pause:

We know there’s order built into the fabric of the world
Of nature. Flocks of geese! Schools of fish! And every boy and girl
Delights in how the stars shine down in all their constellations
And the planets stay on track and keep the most sublime relations

With each other. Order’s everywhere. Yet we humans too create it
It emerges. No one intends it. No one has to orchestrate it.
It’s the product of our actions but no single mind’s designed it
There’s magic without wizards if you just know how to find it

I suspect that readers of Behind the Black will know the answer to this mystery.

Hat tip Edward Thelen.

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Another California Islamic iman calls for Jewish genocide

Land of fascism: Another California iman has cited Islam in calling for the destruction of the Jewish people.

In his sermon, Harmoush accuses Jews of plotting to take over Palestinian territory, the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and “most of the Middle East.” He also referenced the recent turmoil surrounding the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the city’s holiest sites revered by both Muslims and Jews. “Oh, Allah, liberate the Al Aqsa Mosque and all the Muslim lands from the unjust tyrants and the occupiers,” Harmoush said, according to the group’s translation. “Oh, Allah, destroy them, they are no match for you. Oh, Allah, disperse them and rend them asunder. Turn them into booty in the hands of the Muslims.”

In English, the imam also urged those gathered at the mosque: “Wake up, it is time to be a Muslim. Prayer is not the only thing.”

I am sure he will apologize when asked, with everyone knowing that he is merely following Muhammad’s policy of lying to the unbelievers in order to further Islam’s aims.

And I must note again that in California, it is now acceptable both for Muslims to freely preach genocide against Jews and for roving mobs to attack conservatives who wish to exercise their first amendment rights of free speech. What a fascist state.

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Robots communicating in languages humans can’t understand

The rise of the machines! When two bots of its artificial intelligence software (AI) began to communicate in a language humans could not understand, Facebook researchers put a stop to it.

At first, they were speaking to each other in plain old English. But then researchers realized they’d made a mistake in programming. “There was no reward to sticking to English language,” says Dhruv Batra, visiting research scientist from Georgia Tech at Facebook AI Research (FAIR). As these two [robot] agents competed to get the best deal–a very effective bit of AI vs. AI dogfighting researchers have dubbed a “generative adversarial network”–neither was offered any sort of incentive for speaking as a normal person would. So they began to diverge, eventually rearranging legible words into seemingly nonsensical sentences.

…Facebook ultimately opted to require its negotiation bots to speak in plain old English. “Our interest was having bots who could talk to people,” says Mike Lewis, research scientist at FAIR. Facebook isn’t alone in that perspective. When I inquired to Microsoft about computer-to-computer languages, a spokesperson clarified that Microsoft was more interested in human-to-computer speech. Meanwhile, Google, Amazon, and Apple are all also focusing incredible energies on developing conversational personalities for human consumption. They’re the next wave of user interface, like the mouse and keyboard for the AI era.

The other issue, as Facebook admits, is that it has no way of truly understanding any divergent computer language. “It’s important to remember, there aren’t bilingual speakers of AI and human languages,” says Batra. We already don’t generally understand how complex AIs think because we can’t really see inside their thought process. Adding AI-to-AI conversations to this scenario would only make that problem worse.

The article makes some interesting points about the advantages of allowing this AI software to create its own language. For me, none of these arguments are very convincing.

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Booking service now available to rocket and satellite companies

Capitalism in space: A new company, Precious Payload, is now offering a booking service to both rocket companies and satellite manufacturers to make it easier to match them together.

In the Precious Payload concept, launch providers and brokers share and exchange their immediate and future availability of inventory with the independent Precious Payload GDS, including the status of reservations of inventory (eg. available, reserved, booked, etc.).

Anyone who wants to launch a satellite uploads their mission profile into the Precious Payload GDS. A special algorithm then analyses the data and shows the real-time availability of launchers for specific types of mission.

Launch providers, both manufacturers and brokers, can benefit from the Precious Payload GDS by being able to open another sales channel for their core businesses. They not only receive and process the booking requests from satellite companies, but also browse through the backlog of satellites waiting for launch and bid for their business. Advanced services like rebooking the launches and effectively managing client cancellations and launch failures raise the bar for customer experience in the market.

To pitch their product, they are presently offering their initial service for free.

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Next test flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket delayed

Capitalism in space: Rocket Lab has revealed that the second test flight of its rocket Electron is still several months away.

Rocket Lab is in the early stages of a three-vehicle test programme and Moon Express is still developing its lander at its facilities at Cape Canaveral, from where Apollo missions were launched. Rocket Lab’s first test launch successfully made it to space in late May. The first stage performed as it should but the second stage failed to deliver the payload to orbit.

Results of data analysis from the test flight could be available some time next week.

Earlier this month Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck said the company and its investors had confidence in the programme and they had another five rockets in various stages of production.
Beck said then a second test launch was about two or three months away and the company hoped to get its commercial launches underway as soon as it was satisfied with the test programme.

The company had previously said it hoped to launch the second test flight in mid-2017. It appears now that the second launch will not happen before October.

The article is strangely focused on selling the idea that Moon Express’s Google Lunar X-Prize flight, which must occur by the end of this year, is still on track. I don’t see how, with this news. Rocket Lab must first complete its three test flights, and I don’t see how they can do this, get their results, and update their engineering and still get this first commercial flight off by December.

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Solid gold Apollo 11 lunar module replica stolen from Armstrong museum in Ohio

On Friday thieves broke into the Neil Armstrong Museum in Ohio and stole a solid gold miniature replica of the Apollo ll lunar module that had been one of three gifted to the three astronauts in Paris during their post-flight world tour.

Police responded to a burglary alarm at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, shortly before midnight on Friday (July 28), where the 18 karat gold, five-inch-high (13 centimeter) miniature lunar lander was found missing. “Entry to the museum was discovered and taken was a solid gold replica of the 1969 Lunar Excursion Module that landed on the moon,” Russel Hunlock, Wapakoneta police chief, stated in a release. “The piece is very rare as it was presented to Neil Armstrong in Paris, France shortly after the moon landing.”

I am not hopeful the replica will be recovered. It was obviously stolen for its gold, and I would expect the thieves to quickly break it apart and melt the gold down for sale.

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Japanese private rocket launch terminates early due of communication failure

Capitalism in space: The first launch of the first privately-built and funded Japanese suborbital rocket was terminated early today because of a communications failure.

The rocket’s developers, Interstellar Technologies, said they aborted the launch after about 80 seconds and it landed about 8 kilometers (5 miles) offshore. The aim had been to launch the rocket, called “Momo,” to an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles), but it only traveled about 30-40 kilometers (19-25 miles).

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Trump fires chief of staff Priebus

Change! President Trump has replaced his chief of staff Reince Priebus.

The article gives two basic reasons. First, Priebus was there to help Trump get his legislative agenda passed. The failure to pass any Obamcare repeal was laid at his doorstep. Second, it appears that Priebus is suspected of being the source for many of the leaks that have plagued the Trump administration.

Priebus’s removal as well as Sean Spicer’s last week removes two prominent inside-the-beltway Republicans from the Trump White House.

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John McCain, Liar

In commenting about the failure yesterday by Senate Republicans to pass a trimmed down version of an Obamcare repeal by a vote of 49-51, Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has this to say:

There are going be a great many Americans who tonight feel a sense of betrayal. …If you stand up and campaign and say we are going to repeal Obamacare and you vote for Obamacare, those are not consistent. And the American people are entirely justified in saying any politician who told me that and voted the other way didn’t tell me the truth. They lied to me.

He then added:

“No party can remain in power by lying to the American people.”

Cruz is right, but only partly. The entire Republican Party did not lie to its voters. Instead, a small contingent of fake Republicans lied, led by John McCain, king liar and the most likely person to stab a friend in the back I have ever seen.
» Read more

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Pennsylvania school district apologizes for teacher who attacked pro-life protesters

This is a victory: The Pennsylvania school district where a teacher had verbally and physically harassed two pro-life demonstrators has apologized to the demonstrators as part of a lawsuit settlement.

It has also changed their school policy, making it clear that all students, whether pro-life or pro-abortion, have the right to express their opinions and should not be harassed by teachers for doing so.

I had posted the original story of the teacher’s misbehavior (including the video of his actions) under an essay entitled The Coming Fascism. This victory for freedom of speech gives me some reason to hope that my previous pessimism might have been premature.

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IRS routinely rehires fired workers

A new inspector general report has found that the IRS routinely rehires employees it has fired for cause, including some that have committed crimes.

Despite promises to Congress, the Internal Revenue Service has yet to take advantage of a red-flag alert system designed to prevent it from rehiring past employees with blots on their records, a watchdog found.

During the push to expand staff for the annual filing season, the tax agency is supposed to comply with a provision in the 2016 omnibus spending bill that requires a review of any rehire with past conduct or performance problems ranging from tax delinquency to falsification of documents to disruptiveness in the workplace.

But the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration found that more than 200 of 2,000-plus former employees “whom the IRS rehired between January 2015 and March 2016 had been previously terminated or separated from the tax agency while under investigation,” according to a report released on Thursday.

Worse, the rehires were not evenly spread. Some IRS offices were clearly more corrupt than others.

If you dig into the details of the report it appears that roughly ten percent of the rehires this season were previously dismissed for cause. But it wasn’t evenly spread across all of the offices. The Covington, Ky., office had 213 rehires examined and 96 of them were found to have been previously dismissed “while under investigation.”

That’s almost half the people this Kentucky office rehired, of whom a good percentage had been fired for literally breaking the law. Suggests that the management at that office might be complicit in these illegal acts.

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North Korea launches another ballistic missile

Does this make you feel safer? North Korea today launched another ballistic missile.

Not much is known about the rocket or the launch. My overall impression however is that North Korea is refining its approach to the launch of these rockets. Several years ago they would blast away, with no sense of rhyme or reason, often following up one failed launch with another almost immediately. Sometimes they would even try to launch a bunch of rockets in one day. To me these earlier launches suggested a mindless attempt at bravado, with little serious interest at improving the technology.

Now their launches seem to have a more measured cadence, as if they are properly treating each launch as an engineering test. They then review their results, apply them, and try again.

If so, we have much more to fear from their effort to develop rockets and nuclear bombs.

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The Great Red Spot

The Great Red Spot

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to post here, shows one of the close-ups taken by Juno during its recent close fly-by of the Great Red Spot. What makes it different is its colors.

This image of Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot was created by citizen scientist Björn Jónsson using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

This true-color image offers a natural color rendition of what the Great Red Spot and surrounding areas would look like to human eyes from Juno’s position. The tumultuous atmospheric zones in and around the Great Red Spot are clearly visible.

Normally scientists enhance the colors to bring out the details. This version does not, which definitely makes it a little less dramatic but more accurate. Even so, the whirls and storms within the Spot are clearly visible.

The image was taken on July 10 from about 8,600 miles away. Note also that the entire Earth would fit inside the storm.

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Have astronomers using Kepler discovered the first exomoon?

The uncertainty of science: Using data from Kepler astronomers think they have spotted the first exomoon, orbiting a star 4,000 light years away.

They think it might be the size of Neptune, and orbits a planet about ten times more massive than Jupiter.

All this is unconfirmed, however, especially because their conclusions are based on data from only three transits. They plan to use the Hubble Space Telescope to do more observations and hopefully confirm the discovery.

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SpaceX now one of the world’s most valuable companies

Data from a new round of investment capital fundraising says that SpaceX is now valued at $21 billion, placing it among the only six venture-backed companies worth more than $20 billion.

The article also notes that this new valuation is up from the $12 billion listed only two years ago.

Update: As noted by my readers, I have revised the post to note that this story refers not to all companies but to those that obtained their financing privately.

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Republican Senate committee restores all cuts to NASA climate budget

Failure theater: The Senate Appropriations Committee today marked up NASA’s budget, restoring almost all of the proposed cuts, including cuts to the agency’s climate programs that both the Trump administration and the House had proposed.

The only program it appears the Senate cut was NASA’s planetary program, which they trimmed by almost 25%.

This only provides more evidence that the large number of the Republicans in the Senate are not really Republicans. They certainly aren’t conservative. And it sure appears that they aren’t very smart either, considering that NASA’s planetary program is one of its most successful endeavors.

We shall see how this budget shakes out in the coming months. Overall I am not hopeful. It appears to me that this Republican Congress wants to spend big bucks, and is hell bent on doing it.

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Video of Iranian launch today

The Iranians have released video of today’s rocket launch.

I’d love a translation of what the crowd is chanting. I would also encourage the engineers in my readership to look at this and tell me if the launch looks right, and if there is any way to judge whether it is an rocket for orbital satellites or a missile. We still have no evidence the rocket successfully put anything in orbit.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has called this launch a breach of a UN resolution forbidding Iran from developing ballistic missiles.

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Iran launches satellite

According to its state news services, Iran today successfully launched a satellite into orbit.

Iranian state television described the launch as involving a “Simorgh” rocket that is capable of carrying a satellite weighing 550 pounds. The state media report did not elaborate on the rocket’s payload. “Simorgh” means “phoenix” in Farsi.

The website YJC.ir, which is affiliated with Iranian state television, as well as the semi-official Fars news agency, also reported the launch on Thursday, saying it was successful.

No information as yet on the payload. That the launch itself has not yet been recognized by websites that track these things, it is possible the launch was not successful, but they do not want to admit it.

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FBI arrest former IT staffer for many Democrats in Congress

A real Washington scandal: The FBI on Tuesday arrested a former Congressional IT staffer as he was trying to flee the country.

The man, Imran Aran, had run the computer systems for many Democrats in Congress, including former DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And while most Democrats fired Aran when he came under investigation months ago, Wasserman Schultz had kept in on her payroll until his arrest this week.

Several details that give some important political context to this story, and are not mentioned in the CNN article above:

The last story above includes other details about how Aran also threatened the renter of his home for cooperating with police. As the renter (a Marine and apparently a Democrat) noted, “He’s dangerous. This is a crime syndicate that has successfully infiltrated Congress,” he said. “If Donald Trump and the Republicans had hired foreign nationals to be their top IT guys and somehow their congressional files had been compromised, this would have been all over the news.”

Update: The correction above is because the news article linked to had mistakenly said that the hard drives were taken from Wasserman Schultz’s home. There were instead recovered from the Marine above when he found them in Aran’s former home, which he was now renting.

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Cameras on next Kepler-like exoplanet space telescope out of focus

NASA has revealed that the cameras on the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) become slightly out of focus when they are cooled to -75 Celsius, the temperature they will experience in space.

NASA has also decided that the fuzziness is not enough to require a fix, and is proceeding with the mission as is, despite concerns expressed by scientists.

Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution, brought up the issue in a summary of a meeting last week of the Astrophysics Advisory Committee, of which he is a member. “That could have some big effects on the photometry,” he said of the focus problem. “This is certainly a concern for the folks who know a lot about photometry.”

TESS will use those cameras to monitor the brightness of the nearest and brightest stars in the sky, an approach similar to that used by Kepler, a spacecraft developed originally to monitor one specific region of the sky. Both spacecraft are designed to look for minute, periodic dips in brightness of those stars as planets pass in front of, or transit, them. Chou said that since TESS is designed to conduct photometry, measuring the brightness of the stars in its field of view, “resolution is less important compared to imaging missions like Hubble.” However, astronomers are concerned that there will be some loss of sensitivity because light from the stars will be spread out onto a slightly larger area of the detector.

“The question is how much science degradation will there be in the results,” Boss said. “The TESS team thinks there will be a 10 percent cut in terms of the number of planets that they expect to be able to detect.”

It could be that NASA has decided that the cost and delay required to fix this is not worth that 10% loss of data.

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Time/PBS video documentary nominated for Emmy despite factual error in title

Fake news: The Time/PBS video documentary A Year in Space has been nominated for an Emmy award, despite a blatant factual error in the show’s title.

I haven’t seen the documentary, and so it might a great achievement. Nonetheless, this mission only lasted 340 days, not a year, and to call it “a year in space” is not only false, but an outright lie. For a news organization to start out this wrong, in the title, and then for it to get an Emmy nomination, tells us a great deal about the standards of accuracy in television news.

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Breakthrough Starshot puts smallest satellites ever into orbit

Breakthrough Starshot, the privately funded $100 million effort to launch a probe to the nearest star, has put into orbit the world’s smallest satellites ever.

The six prototypes, dubbed Sprites, weigh only 4 grams and contain solar panels, computers, sensors, and radios on a surface equal to that of a U.S. postage stamp. Developed by researchers at Cornell University and transported into space as secondary payloads on a rocket built by the Europe-based company OHB System AG, the nanosatellites are being tested for electronics and communication performance in orbit.

The significance here is not so much that this advances the project’s interstellar mission, but that this technology is becoming more likely for use on both commercial and planetary spacecraft.

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Judge okays TMT permit

In a 305-page decision, an Hawaiian judge has approved a new construction permit for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea.

This does not mean that the project now proceeds.

This isn’t the final say on whether the embattled project will proceed.

Now that Amano has issued her 305-page proposed decision and order, the state land board will set a deadline for telescope opponents and permit applicants to file arguments against her recommendations. The board will later hold a hearing and then make the final decision on the project’s conservation district use permit.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic governor of Hawaii issued a short, non-committal statement, stating that he supports “the co-existence of astronomy and culture on Mauna Kea,” whatever that means.

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Denmark facing the first “summerless” July in four decades

Does this mean anything? Denmark is facing the first July in four decades with no days warmer than 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature the weather bureau there defines as a summer day.

According to the Danish Meteorology Institute (DMI), July is likely to end without a single ‘summer day’, which is defined as any day in which temperatures top 25C (77F) at least somewhere in Denmark. If the next five days come and go without hitting 25C as predicted, it will mark the first time that Danes will have suffered through a summer-less July in nearly four decades.

“There are only three years in our records in which July contains a big fat zero when it comes to summer days and temps above 25C. That’s 1962, 1974 and 1979,” climatologist John Cappelen said on the DMI website. DMI’s database goes back to 1874.

Actually, this doesn’t mean a lot. It is however an interesting factoid that once again raises questions about the NASA and NOAA claims that this year (along with the past few years) were the hottest on record.

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