Monthly Archives: January 2015

SpaceX confirms Google deal

The competion heats up: SpaceX has confirmed that Google as well as a second investor, Fidelity, have committed $1 billion for the company’s satellite project.

In its blog post, SpaceX wrote that the funding would “support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing.” But Google’s involvement has led many to believe that the funding will primarily back SpaceX’s new satellite venture, which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk announced late last week. At the time, Musk gave some indication as to the epic scope of the project that lies ahead. He seeks to create a network of hundreds of satellites that could not only connect people on Earth to the web, but also people on Mars—if and when people get there. The total cost of such an audacious project? $10 billion.

The satellite venture calls for more than 4,000 satellites. The SpaceX announcement suggests that the capital will also be used for other things, however.

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Holder’s end to federal property seizure ban exaggerated

Pigs land: A close look at Eric Holder’s announcement on Friday that he was ending the use of federal law to seize private property turns out to be greatly exaggerated.

Holder’s order applies only to “adoption,” which happens when a state or local agency seizes property on its own and then asks the Justice Department to pursue forfeiture under federal law. “Over the last six years,” the DOJ says in the press release announcing Holder’s new policy, “adoptions accounted for roughly three percent of the value of forfeitures in the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program.” By comparison, the program’s reports to Congress indicate that “equitable sharing” payments to state and local agencies accounted for about 22 percent of total deposits during those six years. That means adoptions, which the DOJ says represented about 3 percent of deposits, accounted for less than 14 percent of equitable sharing. In other words, something like 86 percent of the loot that state and local law enforcement agencies receive through federal forfeitures will be unaffected by Holder’s new policy.

The story also notes how the press, especially the Washington Post which led with this story, teamed up with Holder to overstate the impact Holder’s order would have.

Holder’s action is still in the right direction. He just didn’t go very far, which makes perfect sense considering the generally corrupt and oppressive nature of the Justice Department since he took it over. Initially I thought pigs were flying by his announcement. Now I know they can’t.

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Google and SpaceX team-up?

The competition heats up: A news report today claims that Google will invest $1 billion of the $10 billion SpaceX plans to spend to build a space-based internet system.

More here. Whether true or not, this story illustrates the growing buzz for the idea of investing, building, and making money in space. Increasingly, the biggest and most innovative capitalists in the world want a piece of that endless pie.

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New images of Ceres from Dawn

Getting closer! Scientists for the space probe Dawn have released new images of Ceres, the solar system’s largest asteroid.

Some of the images have been combined to produce a very short movie showing the asteroid’s rotation. The images also show that unlike Vesta, Dawn’s previous target, Ceres appears very spherical, like a planet.

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“They were talking about [killing] hundreds of millions.”

The religion of peace strikes again! The first reporter to successfully embed with ISIS and not get killed gives his report.

“I always asked them about the value of mercy in Islam,” but “I didn’t see any mercy in their behavior,” explained Todenhofer. He added, “Something that I don’t understand at all is the enthusiasm in their plan of religious cleansing, planning to kill the non-believers… They also will kill Muslim democrats because they believe that non-ISIL-Muslims put the laws of human beings above the commandments of God.”

But remember! The Islamic state has nothing to do with Islam.

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A Japanese Nobel laureate blasts his country’s treatment of inventors

The Japanese Nobel winner who helped invent blue LEDs, then abandoned Japan for the U.S. because his country’s culture and patent law did not favor him as an inventor, has blasted Japan in an interview for considering further legislation that would do more harm to inventors.

In the early 2000s, Nakamura had a falling out with his employer and, it seemed, all of Japan. Relying on a clause in Japan’s patent law, article 35, that assigns patents to individual inventors, he took the unprecedented step of suing his former employer for a share of the profits his invention was generating. He eventually agreed to a court-mediated $8 million settlement, moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and became an American citizen. During this period he bitterly complained about Japan’s treatment of inventors, the country’s educational system and its legal procedures.

…”Before my lawsuit, [Nakamura said] the typical compensation fee [to inventors for assigning patents rights] was a special bonus of about $10,000. But after my litigation, all companies changed [their approach]. The best companies pay a few percent of the royalties or licensing fee [to the inventors]. One big pharmaceutical company pays $10 million or $20 million. The problem is now the Japanese government wants to eliminate patent law article 35 and give all patent rights to the company. If the Japanese government changes the patent law it means basically there would no compensation [for inventors]. In that case I recommend that Japanese employees go abroad.”

There is a similar problem with copyright law in the U.S., where changes in the law in the 1970s and 1990s has made it almost impossible for copyrights to ever expire. The changes favor the corporations rather than the individual who might actually create the work.

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Next Falcon 9 launch delayed two weeks.

In the heat of competition: The next Falcon 9 launch and attempt to land the first stage has been delayed to no earlier than February 9.

The rocket will carry a NASA solar observatory,

No explanation for the delay was given, but, because there was no indication it is connected to the payload, I stronly suspect it is because SpaceX needed more time to make some modifications to the first stage in preparation for the vertical landing attempt.

It was interesting to get back from a weekend trip to the mountains and find that over the weekend almost every press in the country had published a story about the last first stage landing attempt. SpaceX’s effort to do this has truly captured the interest of a lot of people who normally poo-poo this space stuff.

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Holder bars use of federal law to seize private property

Good news: Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday barred state and local police from using federal law to seize any private property unless an actual crime is being committed.

Holder’s decision allows some limited exceptions, including illegal firearms, ammunition, explosives and property associated with child pornography, a small fraction of the total. This would eliminate virtually all cash and vehicle seizures made by local and state police from the program. While police can continue to make seizures under their own state laws, the federal program was easy to use and required most of the proceeds from the seizures to go to local and state police departments. Many states require seized proceeds to go into the general fund.

A Justice official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the attorney general’s motivation, said Holder “also believes that the new policy will eliminate any possibility that the adoption process might unintentionally incentivize unnecessary stops and seizures.”

As much as I think Holder has been a dishonest and corrupt attorney general who has used his power to attack his political opponents, this decision by him should be lauded highly. It was the right thing to do.

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Paul Ryan: No new gas taxes

Unlike his Senate Republican cohorts, who were very quick after the election to scream for a tax increase, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) has now made it very clear that the House will pass no gas tax increases this year.

Good for Ryan. The article notes that large majorities strongly oppose any tax hike. The Republicans ran on a platform of shrinking government, not increasing the tax burden. For Senate Republicans to make a gas tax increase practically their first order of business after taking charge in 2015 is beyond disgusting.

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Orbital signs deal for Russian engines

The competition heats up: Orbital Sciences has inked a deal with the Russian company Energomash to buy 20 rocket engines for its Antares rocket, with options to buy 40 more.

If Orbital ends up buying all 60 engines the deal will be worth one billion dollars to the Russians, which for them is a lot of money.

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Comet 67P/C-G’s plumes

plumes from Comet 67P/C-G

The science team running Rosetta has released an image (cropped by me on the right) from the probe’s high resolution camera showing the fine structure of Comet 67P/C-G’s plumes.

I call them plumes rather than jets, which is the word the scientists use as well as everyone else, because it appears to me that they really aren’t jets, tightly confined flows of material coming from a nozzle-like opening. Instead, the image makes me think of very fast-rising plumes of smoke rising from an extinguished fire.

This image was taken in November, and is one of only a very tiny handful of images released from the high resolution camera. Rosetta’s science team has been very possessive of images from this camera, holding them back for their own research papers to follow in the future. Even here, the image is not very detailed. I wonder what cool stuff this camera has snapped close in that they have not yet shown us.

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More Earthlike exoplanets found

Worlds without end: Using Kepler astronomers have discovered a red dwarf star 150 light years away with three Earth-like exoplanets, one of which is in the habitable zone.

The three planets are 2.1, 1.7 and 1.5 times the size of Earth. The outermost planet, at 1.5 Earth radii, is the smallest of the bunch and orbits far enough from its host star that it receives levels of light from its star similar to those received by Earth from the sun, said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who discovered the planets Jan. 6 while conducting a computer analysis of the Kepler data NASA has made available to astronomers. He calculated that the three planets receive 10.5, 3.2, and 1.4 times the light intensity of Earth. “Most planets we have found to date are scorched. This system is the closest star with lukewarm transiting planets,” Petigura said. “There is a very real possibility that the outermost planet is rocky like Earth, which means this planet could have the right temperature to support liquid water oceans.”

These planets were found by Kepler in its present reconfigured mission, which once again illustrates the incredible effectiveness of an optical telescope in space. If only we were building some.

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Funding obtained for 648-satellite internet constellation

The competition heats up: A commercial effort to build a 648 constellation of satellites to provide worldwide intenet access has secured funding from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Qualcom.

Not surprisingly, Branson was immediately saying that his LauncherOne concept will be launching many of these satellites, though I think he’s got to get it built and tested first.

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New Horizons to begin observations of Pluto

In preparing for its July 14 fly-by of Pluto, New Horizons will take its first images of the planet on January 25.

Snapped by New Horizons’ telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, known as LORRI, those pictures will give mission scientists a continually improving look at the dynamics of those moons. And they’ll play a critical role in navigating the spacecraft as it covers the remaining 135 million miles (220 million kilometers) to Pluto. “We’ve completed the longest journey any craft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring!” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Over the next few months, LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto against star fields to refine the team’s estimates of New Horizons’ distance to Pluto. Though the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until May, mission navigators will use those data to design course-correction maneuvers that aim the spacecraft toward its flyby target point this summer. The first such maneuver could occur as early as March.

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IRS chief warns of bad service due to budget cuts

IRS Commissioner (and Democratic Party shill) John Koskinen has warned in an agency-wide email that the tax agency faces a short-term shutdown and increased bad taxpayer service because of Republican-led budget cuts.

“The effect of these cuts will hurt taxpayers and our tax system,” he wrote. He said the cuts could force the IRS to shut down operations for two days later this year, resulting in unpaid furloughs for employees and service cuts for taxpayers. But in the near-term, the commissioner said cuts in overtime and temporary staff hours could cause delays in refunds. “People who file paper tax returns could wait an extra week — or possibly longer — to see their refund,” he wrote, adding: “Taxpayers with errors or questions on their returns that require additional manual review will also face delays.”

Why am I reminded of the claims of federal agency heads everywhere just before sequestration, claiming doom and gloom should it take effect? None of their claims proved true. Sequestration did nothing to harm government operations and actually saved the taxpayers a load of money.

Koskinen is full of it. This email by him is only intended to pressure Congress to give him more money, so that his agency can continue to abuse anyone who might express opinions hostile to the Democratic Party.

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Scientists demand more skepticism of doom-sayers

The uncertainty of science: Ocean scientists have published a review of the literature, criticizing the ocean science field and the journals and journalists who report on it for overstating the environmental damage to the oceans.

The state of the world’s seas is often painted as verging on catastrophe. But although some challenges are very real, others have been vastly overstated, researchers claim in a review paper. The team writes that scientists, journals and the media have fallen into a mode of groupthink that can damage the credibility of the ocean sciences. The controversial study exposes fault lines in the marine-science community.

Carlos Duarte, a marine biologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, and his colleagues say that gloomy media reports about ocean issues such as invasive species and coral die-offs are not always based on actual observations. It is not just journalists who are to blame, they maintain: the marine research community “may not have remained sufficiently sceptical” on the topic. [emphasis mine]

Gee, what a concept! These guys actually want scientists to base their claims of environmental disaster on actual observations. Who wodda thunk it?

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SpaceX to open satellite-building operation in Washington state

The competition heats up: Within three years SpaceX hopes to establish a new satellite operation in Seattle, Washington, employing 1,000 people and focused on the design of smaller, cheaper satellites.

The key quote from the article perhaps is this: “Musk said the office would focus on developing satellites but could also be a base for rocket-design talent uninterested in moving to SpaceX’s base in the Los Angeles area.” To put it another way, California’s socialist and highly restrictive state government has forced Musk to consider an alternative location for the expansion of his company.

His effort should also strike fear into the established satellite makers, who have done relatively little innovative design changes in the past four decades. As SpaceX has done with the launch industry, I expect SpaceX will do with the satellite industry: force them to lower costs while developing new technologies.

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A 132-year-old Winchester rifle found leaning on a tree in national park

Archeologists made the astonishing discovery of a 132 year old Winchester rifle leaning against a tree in Great Basin National Park in Nevada during a survey sweep.

“The 132 year-old rifle, exposed to sun, wind, snow, and rain was found leaning against a tree in the park. The cracked wood stock, weathered to grey, and the brown rusted barrel blended into the colors of the old juniper tree in a remote rocky outcrop, keeping the rifle hidden for many years,” Great Basin National Park said in a statement.

They hope with some historical research they might be able to identify who left the rifle there more than a century ago.

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Islamic leaders worldwide react with hostility to Charlie Hebdo cover

bombhead

The religion of peace marches on: Throughout the world Islamic leaders and Islamic populations are reacting with anger, outrage, fear, or condemnation to the most recent cover of Charlie Hebdo that features Mohammed.

Meanwhile, I don’t remember any of these Muslims being bothered in the slightest by this week’s genocide in Nigeria, or the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, or the murder of journalists in France, all in the name of Islam.

I guess it is okay to Muslims that Muslims murder and destroy. Dare draw a cartoon they don’t like, however, then you’ve really done something bad!

Note: The only reason I haven’t printed the Charlie Hebdo cover myself is because I think the Mohammed bomb cartoon on the left makes the point much better.

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