Category Archives: Points of Information

IRS tech claims Lerner’s hard drive wasn’t damaged.

Cover-up: An IRS computer technician has contradicted the sworn testimony of IRS officials, stating that Lois Lerner’s hard drive was not damaged prior to its destruction.

Aaron Signor, an IRS technician that looked at Lerner’s hard drive in June 2011, said in IRS court filings that he saw no damage to the drive before sending it off to another IRS technician, leading some in the media to suggest that the lost emails scandal is basically over. But Signor’s statement, issued in response to the Judicial Watch lawsuit, does not jibe with sworn congressional testimony.

This testimony is one of the reasons Judge Emmet Sullivan has ordered an independent inquiry into the IRS’s lost emails.

Only some in the Muslim world condemn ISIS

The Islamic world’s reaction to the ISIS persecution of non-Muslims is decidedly mixed.

This sentence from the link sums the situation up nicely:

At the same time that Islamic religious leaders are mostly silent on the genocide, Islamic political leaders have spoken out.

It appears that Islamic political leaders have generally been forthright in condemning ISIS’s actions, something that we should take heart from. Islam’s religious leaders however have taken a more partisan stand, worrying that ISIS’s actions might harm Islam and thus condemning it for that reason. That Christians and other non-Muslims might be murdered however does not seem to be a concern for these Islamic religious leaders.

“A real Nobel Laureate takes pity on a fake Nobel Laureate.”

Mark Steyn takes a look a one of Michael Mann’s many false claims and tears it to shreds, while also making Paul Krugman look somewhat foolish at the same time.

Michael Mann, a bad scientist who created the discredited hockey stick graph that supposedly proved global warming, is suing Steyn and others for daring to criticize him. In the process Steyn and others are finding ample material for making a great deal of fun of Mann while also finding more examples of his dishonesty and fraudulent behavior.

Maliki steps down in Iraq

Good news: Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has agreed to step down as per the legal demands of the country’s government.

Maliki was a poor and weak ruler who even tried to engineer a coup when the government decided to legally remove him. He has found that the army wants to support the rule of law (something we might have taught them) and would not back him in his coup attempt. He is now gone, and maybe the new leadership in Iraq, chosen legally, can unify the country in its battle against the Islamic fascists that are attacking them from Syria.

Did Stardust capture stardust?

Scientists now believe that the spacecraft Stardust captured seven particles from interstellar space during its seven year journey.

Inside the canister, a tennis racket-like sample collector tray captured the particles in silica aerogel as the spacecraft flew within 149 miles (about 240 kilometers) of a comet in January 2004. An opposite side of the tray holds interstellar dust particles captured by the spacecraft during its seven-year, three-billion-mile journey.

Scientists caution that additional tests must be done before they can say definitively that these are pieces of debris from interstellar space. But if they are, the particles could help explain the origin and evolution of interstellar dust. The particles are much more diverse in terms of chemical composition and structure than scientists expected. The smaller particles differ greatly from the larger ones and appear to have varying histories. Many of the larger particles have been described as having a fluffy structure, similar to a snowflake. [emphasis mine]

It appears that for these seven particles, the scientists conclude they are likely interstellar particles because of the speed in which they were traveling when captured as well as their make-up. Both suggest an origin outside the solar system.

However, we should be cautious about this. The data still remains tenuous and preliminary. More work obviously needs to be done to pin this down definitively. More information here.

New footage of the Falcon 9 soft spashdown

SpaceX has released new additional footage showing the controlled descent and soft spash down of the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket during its July launch. I’ve posted it below.

As they note on their webpage, “Towards the end of the video, the camera operator attempted to zoom in and unfortunately lost sight of the stage and was unable to capture the tip over into the water.” Nonetheless, the controlled nature of the stage’s descent says that they succeeded, and need only try to do this over land to prove they can recover their first stage.

IRS lets contractors rummage through taxpayer data

Does this make you feel secure? An inspector general report found that the IRS allowed contractors access to personal taxpayer information without doing the required background checks required by IRS policy.

Contractors who have access to sensitive information, which also includes employee and law enforcement data, must undergo a background check if they’re with the IRS for more than six months.

But the inspector general’s audit found five contracts where contractors had not had any background checks out of the 28 total contracts reviewed. In one of those cases, a contractor working on printing and mailing tax forms was given a disk containing 1.4 million taxpayer names, Social Security numbers and other personal information. A separate contract, for couriers, had given a daily route to an ex-convict who served more than 20 years for arson, the report added. In another 12 cases, IRS staffers had started background checks for contractors, but contractors were allowed to start working before those investigations had concluded.

“It was the grossest incompetence.”

The IRS takes more than two years to issue a refund check because of its own stupidity.

This paragraph best sums up the entire idiocy:

Dinesen [representing the citizen] immediately contacted the collection division. He was told they had no record of the return. The identity theft unit was handling it, and the collection division’s computers weren’t capable of interfacing with the identity theft unit’s computers. “I asked if he could just call the identity theft unit to confirm the return had been filed. He said he couldn’t. His explanation for why not boiled down to, ‘We don’t do that,’” Dinesen said.

The agent agreed to suspend collection actions against Boka Gonzalez while Dinesen tried to resolve the case. “He also asked me to give him a call if I got any information from the identity theft unit. It seemed ridiculous to me that one part of the IRS would ask an outside person to keep him informed of what another part of the IRS was doing, but that was the level of dysfunction we were dealing with,” Dinesen said.

Read the whole story. It is horrifying. And remember, this is a case where the IRS was simply incompetent. Imagine the harm they could do if they wanted to do harm, or were ordered to do so by our political leaders. Thank God such things never happen!

“You had one job.”

Guess who and the context!

I normally consider stories that beat up on a President for his time off to be partisan hack jobs, but the situation now is becoming absolutely ridiculous.

There there’s this satire, which imagines the kind of story we all know would have been written if Romney had won the election and had been doing exactly what Obama is doing today.

The IRS stonewalls a judge

Working for the Democratic Party: Required by a judge to explain in detail in 30 days the destruction of its emails, the IRS has instead provided nothing more than shallow platitudes.

The author of the article above is very confident that, based on his past history, the judge will come down very hard on the IRS for its stonewalling. I pray that he is right.

Michael Mann’s court suit under attack

Good news: Groups from across the political spectrum are expressing their opposition to Michael Mann’s court suit against his critics.

On Monday, The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press — along with 26 other groups including The Washington Post, Bloomberg and Fox News — filed an “amici curiae,” or “friend of the court,” brief with the D.C. Court of Appeals. An amici curiae is a brief submitted to a court to raise additional points of view to sway a court’s decision.

“While Mann essentially claims that he can silence critics because he is ‘right,’ the judicial system should not be the arbiter of either scientific truth or correct public policy,” the brief states, adding that “a participant in the ‘rough-and-tumble’ of public debate should not be able to use a lawsuit like this to silence his critics, regardless of whether one agrees with Mann or defendants.”

Just as Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg said it, I will say it also: Michael Mann is a fraud. He has no idea what it means to be a scientist, and should have been fired by his university after his climategate emails were uncovered. Instead, his university’s investigation was a whitewash and as much a fraud as Mann is.

Russia to build new satellite communications cluster

The competition heats up: The Putin government’s newly released draft plan for Russia’s space industry includes the development of a new communications satellite constellation.

In addition to encrypted mobile communications, the Ellips satellites will support air-traffic control and traditional fixed communications. Reflecting its dual (civilian and military) application, the Ellips project would be funded jointly by the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, and by the Russian Ministry of Defense at a price tag of 65.6 billion rubles to develop and deploy the constellation.

The article then goes on to detail at length the problems the Russian communications satellite industry has had for the past two decades, including their inability to build satellites that will last in orbit as long as their competitors.

Another look at why ULA’s CEO stepped down

Why did ULA’s CEO step down, and did SpaceX or the Atlas 5′s dependence on Russian engines play a part?

Very worthwhile reading, as it suggests that not only is the competition from SpaceX a major factor, so was ULA’s effort to monopolize the military launch industry as well as monopolize its access to the Russian engines, denying their use by Orbital Sciences.

And to this I say, thank god for competition. It always shakes things up in a good way.

Private lunar lander completes test landing

The competition heats up: One of the competitors in the Google Lunar X-Prize has successfully completed its first landing test, on Earth, of its lander.

The article does not really provide a lot of information about the test itself, spending most of its copy describing what the test was supposed to do. Still, they did complete it successfully, which means they will now revise, rebuild, and retest.

Worldview-3 in orbit

The competition heats up: Worldview-3, launched yesterday, has been successfully activated and can now provide commercial and private customers images of the Earth with resolution comparable to military intelligence satellites.

The sensor package on WorldView-3 will be able to image objects with a ground sample distance of 31 cm (12 in.). “So we can tell you if it’s a truck, SUV or a regular car,” says Kumar Navulur, director of next-generation products at DigitalGlobe. “If there’s a high contrast we can identify features of fine scale,” he adds, giving examples of markings in a parking lot or “a tomato plant in a backyard in Asia.”

Obviously, this has both good and bad possibilities. Nonetheless, its availability increases the value of the space-based industry.

Maps showing the territories of the Kurds and the Islamic State

Since I think it useful to have a rough geographical understanding of the situation, I have been digging around to find some maps that will outline the territories controlled by the both the Kurds and the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS]), including the areas of dispute. This link provides the best selection I’ve found so far.

Based on these maps, I wonder when ISIS will start moving into next door Iran, as its western regions are adjacent to their present holdings.

The flight of gifted engineers from NASA

Rather than work in NASA, the best young engineers today are increasingly heading to get jobs at private companies like SpaceX and XCOR.

It is a long article, worth reading in its entirety, but this quote will give the essence:

As a NASA engineering co-op student at Johnson Space Center, Hoffman trained in various divisions of the federal space agency to sign on eventually as a civil servant. She graduated from college this year after receiving a generous offer from NASA, doubly prestigious considering the substantial reductions in force hitting Johnson Space Center in recent months. She did have every intention of joining that force — had actually accepted the offer, in fact — when she received an invitation to visit a friend at his new job with rising commercial launch company SpaceX.

Hoffman took him up on the offer, flying out to Los Angeles in the spring for a private tour. Driving up to the SpaceX headquarters, she was struck by how unassuming it was, how small compared to NASA, how plain on the outside and rather like a warehouse.

As she walked through the complex, she was also surprised to find open work areas where NASA would have had endless hallways, offices and desks. Hoffman described SpaceX as resembling a giant workshop, a hive of activity in which employees stood working on nitty-gritty mechanical and electrical engineering. Everything in the shop was bound for space or was related to space. No one sat around talking to friends in the morning, “another level from what you see at NASA,” she said. “They’re very purpose-driven. It looked like every project was getting the attention it deserved.”

Seeing SpaceX in production forced Hoffman to acknowledge NASA might not be the best fit for her. The tour reminded her of the many mentors who had gone into the commercial sector of the space industry in search of better pay and more say in the direction their employers take. She thought back to the attrition she saw firsthand at Johnson Space Center and how understaffed divisions struggled to maintain operations.

At NASA young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor. At private companies like SpaceX, things are getting built now. With that choice, no wonder the decision to go private is increasingly easy.

NASA headquarters staff votes to unionize.

NASA’s bureaucracy marches on: The staff at NASA headquarters today voted to unionize.

“This successful vote will allow us to work with management to improve working conditions for NASA support and administrative staff here at NASA headquarters, thereby improving operations, saving money, and retaining an engaged and professional workforce,” said Tifarah Thomas, a program specialist within NASA’s Office of the Chief Health & Medical Officer. Professional support specialists at NASA headquarters include budget analysts, policy analysts, administrative specialists, secretaries, and others.

NHPA currently represents nearly 200 engineers and scientists at NASA in Washington. The combined unit, including the professional support specialists who voted today for IFPTE representation, will now represent more than 500 workers at the headquarters of America’s space agency. IFPTE also represents engineers and scientists at NASA labs and research facilities from coast-to-coast.

Anyone with the slightest objectivity knows that the working conditions for federal employees in Washington is glorious, with pay about double what everyone else in the country makes and benefits far exceeding even the best private packages. In addition, the hours are great and just slightly longer than what my generation would have called bankers’ hours. Moreover, if I can be blunt, these engineers are mostly paper pushers. They are not the one’s designing and building anything that might fly in space. Their only reason to unionize now is because they see a threat to their cushy jobs with the advent of private space and are organizing to secure their unneeded positions.

It ain’t gravity holding this asteroid together

Astronomers have discovered that near Earth asteroid 1950DA is spinning so fast that gravity can’t hold it together. Instead, it is kept whole by cohesive forces called van der Waals forces, predicted but never detected before on an asteroid.

This is the coolest factoid from the article, however:

“We found that 1950 DA is rotating faster than the breakup limit for its density,” said Rozitis. “So if just gravity were holding this rubble pile together, as is generally assumed, it would fly apart. Therefore, interparticle cohesive forces must be holding it together.”

In fact, the rotation is so fast that at its equator, 1950 DA effectively experiences negative gravity. If an astronaut were to attempt to stand on this surface, he or she would fly off into space unless he or she were somehow anchored.

The important take away from this discovery is that it will be very easy to break this kind of asteroid up, turning a large and big threat into a collection of small but harmless rocks.

The militarization of the police in Ferguson

As wrong as the rioting in Ferguson might be, the militarization of the police there can do no good, and likely will make it worse.

More here: A massive SWAT team demands that peaceful protesters go home.

The second story includes details about the arrest of two reporters for reporting the events.

1 2 3 4 304