Monthly Archives: February 2016

El Camino del Rey

An evening pause: I posted this video of El Camino del Rey (The King’s Road) back in 2010, but when Willi Kusche suggested it I thought, why not post it again? It shows a walk along the crumbling walkway high on the cliff walls of El Chorro canyon in Andalusia, Spain and is not for those with any fear of heights. Considering the craziness we are enduring with this year’s presidential election, I think this hike is relatively mild in comparison.

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University President shuts down speech because it is conservative

Fascist: The president of California State University-Los Angeles (CSULA) has cancelled a speech by a conservative journalist because equal time would not be given to liberal positions.

CSULA president William Covino announced Monday that the event would not be allowed to continue without opposing speakers: “After careful consideration, I have decided that it will be best for our campus community if we reschedule Ben Shapiro’s appearance for a later date, so that we can arrange for him to appear as part of a group of speakers with differing viewpoints on diversity. Such an event will better represent our university’s dedication to the free exchange of ideas and the value of considering multiple viewpoints.”

As noted by the speaker and the conservative club that asked him to speak, this university president never required left wing speakers to provide air time to conservatives. What he is really doing is coming up with a fake reason to censor conservative thought, merely because he doesn’t like it.

What I like best about this story however is Shapiro’s response. He has said that the event is going on regardless. He is refusing to let them prevent him from expressing his opinions, a right guaranteed by the first amendment.

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Trump threatens private citizens for opposing him

Fascist: Presidential candidate Donald Trump yesterday threatened the owners of the Chicago Cubs because they have been donating to a political action committee that is running campaign ads opposed to his candidacy

His exact words: “I hear the Rickets family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $’s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”

As the link above notes,

This follows on him threatening Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) with a lawsuit for running an ad using old footage of him talking about abortion. And that follows on him threatening to sue a reporter who wrote about the failure of the Taj Mahal Casino. All of this has happened within the last four weeks.

I don’t like fascists, whether they are on the left or the right.

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Drop test of Boeing’s Starliner capsule

The competition heats up: Boeing has successfully dropped a fullscale test vehicle of its Starliner manned capsule into water.

Video below the fold. It isn’t very spectacular, as all they do is lift the capsule up about 35-40 feet and then drop it at an angle into a tank of water. Nonetheless, it shows that construction is moving forward briskly.
» Read more

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Investment in commercial space zooms

The competition heats up: According to a new report, venture capitalists invested twice as much money last year in commercial space startups than they had in the previous fifteen years combined.

From 2000 through 2015, space startups reeled in $13.3 billion in investment cash, including $2.9 billion in venture capital. A full $1.8 billion—or roughly two-thirds—of that venture capital was invested last year alone. The influx of all that VC cash suggests a shifting perception among investors, Christensen says.

Investment in space-related startups was once largely dominated by “advocacy investors” passionate about space travel (think Elon Musk) and corporations with strategic interests in Earth orbit (telecoms, satellite TV providers, etc.). Now, thanks to a handful of very visible successes from companies like SpaceX, a broader base of investors are looking at space startups as more traditional tech investments—the kind that rapidly bring a product to market and generate revenue in the relatively near term. Those products and revenues generally have less to do with space and more to do with information, Christensen says.

Combine this with the much less significant story yesterday about how NASA received a record 18,000 applicants for a mere 14 astronaut positions and it sure appears that western society is becoming increasingly space happy.

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Toy boat crosses the Atlantic

A toy boat launched by students in South Carolina has been found by beach-goers in Wales.

The boat had been launched by fourth graders from St Andrews School of Math and Science in Charleston as part of a project to teach students about the ocean. This was in May 2015. The Carolina Dreamer traveled over 6400 kilometers across the pond, making a pit stop in Bermuda along the way.

The students equipped the vessel with a time capsule and GPS tracker before sending it out to sea. Although it lost a sail along the way, the boat transmitted its location 16 kilometers from the town of Aberstwyth, prompting the teacher behind the idea, Amy McMahon, to contact the local marines.

The best part of the story? School officials in Wales are planning to launch the boat back towards the western hemisphere.

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Virgin Galactic unveils new SpaceShipTwo

The competition heats up: On Friday Virgin Galactic unveiled their replacement SpaceShipTwo, dubbed Unity, replacing the first ship destroyed 16 months ago during a failed flight test.

As is typical of Virgin Galactic, they managed to garner a lot of press coverage of this event. To me, it is a big big yawn. I want to see this ship flying, not towed out from a hanger by an SUV with Richard Branson waving to the crowd.

And until they do, I will consider everything Virgin Galactic does at this point to me nothing more than empty public relations bull.

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February 19, 2016 Batchelor/Zimmerman podcast

Below the fold is the podcast from my Friday appearance on the John Batchelor Show. The main topic was the bureaucratic turf war between the FAA and NTSB about how the new commercial space industry should be supervised. (O joy!).
» Read more

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The Obama-like promises of Trump

During an interview on CNN yesterday, Donald Trump was asked about Obamacare and the insurance mandate. The first words out of his mouth were “I like the mandate,” which is what most conservative websites are focusing on.

I think it is more important to focus on Trump’s entire answer, which goes on for about two and half minutes. (I have posted the video below the fold, so you can listen for yourself.) As noted at the first link above,

Trump doesn’t have a freakin clue as to what he’s talking about. What he’s obviously done is extract a few focus group tested themes, like “dying on the street,” and “get rid of the lines,” and he simply says these over and over with connecting verbiage. The plan Trump refers to, the one that apparently suspends the idea of supply and demand and guarantees everyone a free lunch, simply does not exist. In the tech field it is a concept known as vaporware.

During Trump’s answer, he notes the dishonesty of Obama for making wild promises about Obamacare that were outright lies (‘If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period.” and “Obamacare will cut costs by $2500 per family.”). Trump then proceeds to spout his own wild and unrealistic promises about what he will do about healthcare when he is President. And they sound to me as dishonest and incoherent as the promises Obama made. Both set of promises remind me of school elections when I was in junior high school, where candidates would promise free ice cream at every break and soda machines in the halls. Such promises are silly, childish, and unrealistic, and the voters should try to be mature enough to see that.

Trump might be a better choice than Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, but for Republicans to pick him as their nominee is insane. We can certainly do better.
» Read more

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A frozen underground ocean on Charon?

Data from New Horizons of the surface of Pluto’s moon Charon now suggests that the satellite once had an underground ocean that is now frozen.

Charon’s outer layer is primarily water ice. When the moon was young this layer was warmed by the decay of radioactive elements, as well as Charon’s own internal heat of formation. Scientists say Charon could have been warm enough to cause the water ice to melt deep down, creating a subsurface ocean. But as Charon cooled over time, this ocean would have frozen and expanded (as happens when water freezes), pushing the surface outward and producing the massive chasms we see today.

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Apollo 11 First Stage liftoff in Ultra Slow Motion

An evening pause: This footage was taken on July 16, 1969 at 500 frames per second, and shows only what happened at the base of the launch tower as the engines of the Saturn 5 rocket ignited and lifted the rocket into the air. Though the video is more than 8 minutes long, the actual events recorded lasted only about 30 seconds, beginning 5 seconds before T minus 0.

What struck me most as I watched this was the incredible amount of complex engineering that went into every single small detail of the rocket and the launch tower and launchpad. We tend to take for granted the difficulty of rocket engineering. This video will make you appreciate it again.

It is also mesmerizing. A lot happens in a very short period of time.

Hat tip Kyle Kooy.

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India okays its own LIGO detector

The Indian government today approved construction of LIGO-India, using some duplicate components already available from the American LIGO gravitational wave detector.

“We have built an exact copy of that instrument that can be used in the LIGO-India Observatory,” says David Shoemaker, leader of the Advanced LIGO Project and director of the MIT LIGO Lab, “ensuring that the new detector can both quickly come up to speed and match the U.S. detector performance.” LIGO will provide Indian researchers with the components and training to build and run the new Advanced LIGO detector, which will then be operated by the Indian team.

What this new instrument will accomplish is to give astronomers more information when a gravitational wave rolls past the Earth. By having detectors half a world apart, they will be able to better triangulate the direction the wave came from, which in turn will help astronomers eventually pinpoint its source event.

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Hubble measures the rotation of an exoplanet

Worlds without end: Using the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have measured the daily rotation of a super Jupiter exoplanet 170 light years away.

They estimate, based upon brightness variations attributed to clouds in the upper atmosphere, that the rotation rate is about 10 hours long. We should all recognize however the significant uncertainty of this number. Clouds change, as do weather conditions. The data only gives us a hint at what is going on here.

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Bureaucrats fight over the regulation of commercial space

Battle of bureaucrats: The FAA’s office that regulates commercial space (AST) and the National Transportation Safety Boad (NTSB) are fighting over the procedures AST should use to control and manage the work of private space companies.

The issues deal with how the FAA inspects the work of space companies, prompted by the NTSB’s investigation into the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash in 2014. The kerfuffle also illustrates the absurdity of the regulatory responsibilities that Congress forced on AST when it amended the commercial space act in 2004. Somehow it is expected that bureaucrats in Washington will know better how to make sure a private company’s new space designs are safe than the very engineers who are building them. The disagreement here is merely about how the bureaucrats keep watch. The NTSB wants AST’s bureaucrats to hover over them like a worried mother. AST wants to hover from a little farther away, like a proud father.

In either case, the hovering will accomplish little to make the cutting edge engineering more safe except create fake jobs in the government for hovering bureaucrats, while squelching risky innovation since such risks go against the instincts of every bureaucrat.

Though Congress has recently revised the law to ease its regulations, they didn’t really do much to remove them. Expect these kerfuffles to get bigger in the coming years as the Washington bureaucracy moves to impose its will on this industry while simultaneously manipulating the press and Congress to create more useless jobs for themselves.

If they succeed, we should also expect them to succeed in making innovative commercial development in space become increasingly impossible.

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China’s long term space science plans

This article provides a nice detailed look at China’s planned space science missions, including an X-ray space telescope that will look for the X-ray counterparts of gravitational wave events. They also hope to launch their first Mars mission, which will include a lander, orbiter, and rover, by 2020.

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Harper Collins bans a sci-fi book because it isn’t sufficiently liberal

Fascists: A science fiction author had his book removed from the publication schedule, effectively banning it, because his editor didn’t like the conservative leanings of one chapter.

[A]pparently advancing the thought that a brand new life form might see us, humanity, as dangerous because we terminate our young, apparently… that’s a ThoughtCrime most heinous over at Harper Collins. Even for one tiny little chapter.

Here’s what happened next. I was not given notes as writers are typically given during the editorial process. I was told by my agent that my editor was upset and “deeply offended” that I had even dared advanced this idea. As though I had no right to have such a thought or even game the idea within a science fiction universe. I was immediately removed from the publication schedule which as far as I know is odd and unprecedented, especially for an author who has had both critical and commercial success. This, being removed from the production schedule, happened before my agent had even communicated the editor’s demand that I immediately change the offending chapter to something more “socially” (read “progressive”) acceptable. That seemed odd. How could they possibly have known that I would or would not change it? It seems reasonable to ask first. … They merely demanded that I rewrite that chapter not because it was poorly written, or, not supportive of the arc of the novel. No, they demanded it be struck from the record because they hate the idea I’d advanced. They demanded it be deleted without discussion. They felt it was for… the “greater good.” That is censorship, and a violation of everyone’s right to free speech. They demanded it be so or else… I wouldn’t be published. That’s how they threatened a writer with a signed contract.

He refused, and has made his book available by publishing it himself as an ebook. Go and buy it!

I should note that his experience matches exactly with my own experience as a nonfiction writer as well as with other authors I have known in the past two decades. Book editors have become exceedingly oppressive, and now routinely demand that your work conform to their political beliefs (always liberal) or they will make your life hell, or get the book squelched.

It is this reason I now focus my writing on BtB, as I grew really really tired in the past five years having book proposal after book proposal blacklisted because editors were offended I did not kowtow to their left wing orthodoxies.

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Ukraine’s aerospace industry in collapse

The Russian government’s takeover of its entire aerospace industry, plus its war in the Ukraine, has caused an 80% crash in Ukraine’s aerospace industry.

The two largest enterprises are the Yuzhnoye Design Bureau and the PA Yuzhmash manufacturing company, which work closely together on Ukrainian launch vehicles. Yuzhmash produces the first stages of the Zenit and Antares boosters and a fourth stage for Europe’s Vega launch vehicle. The company is also involved in the conversion of retired ballistic missiles into Dnepr satellite launchers as part of a joint program with Russia.

However, Russia is phasing out use of the Zenit and Dnepr launchers. Russia is shifting over to using Angara and Soyuz-2.1v, newer rockets the nation produces domestically. Russia is also switching to domestic manufacturers for space components to reduce their dependence on foreign suppliers.

This destruction by Russia of its neighbor’s aerospace industry doesn’t necessarily bode well for Russia’s own aerospace industry. Consolidated as it is into one giant entity, with no competition, it is very likely it will not produce much that is very innovative or creative at a reasonable cost. Russia was better off with the competition.

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Astronomers make first analysis of a SuperEarth’s atmosphere.

Worlds without end: Using the Hubble Space Telescopes astronomers have made the first chemical analysis of a SuperEarth’s atmosphere.

The planet, 55 Cancri e, is estimated to have a mass of eight Earths. Its atmosphere was found to have hydrogen, helium, and the molecule hydrogen cyanide. No water was detected.

Astronomers have used Hubble to detect the components of a number of exoplanets, but these have all been giant planets more like Jupiter. This is the first measurement of an exoplanet whose mass is small enough that it might be rocky, like Earth.

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LISA Pathfinder’s cubes floating free

More gravitational wave news: LISA Pathfinder’s two gold-platinum 46mm cubes have been released and are now floating free inside their spacecraft.

After a week of further testing, they will stop controlling the cube’s positions with electrostatic force. They will then watch them very precisely with lasers to test whether the equipment is capable of detecting distance shifts small enough for a future version, made up of three such spacecraft, to detect gravitational waves. The idea is that, as a wave rolls by, the cubes will shift positions at slightly different times, just as different beach balls will do so on ocean waves.

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The first geology map of Pluto

Geology map of Pluto

The New Horizons science team has now released the first geology map of a portion of Pluto, seen by the spacecraft during its fly-by last year.

It is definitely worth your while to take a look at the full image, along with the legend explaining the different surface features. Most of the geological terms are merely descriptive, but the careful breakdown still provides a much deeper understanding of what is there.

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A toy replicator for kids!

Mattel is bringing back an old toy, Thingmaker, but the new version will be a 3D printer for kids.

After wirelessly linking the 3D printer to a mobile device running the ThingMaker Design App for iOS or Android, users decide whether they want to create a toy figure or jewelry, with the option to print ready-designed toys, or mix and match from hundreds of parts which can be popped together after printing thanks to ball and socket joints. After designing their creation, users simply push a button to start printing.

Features of the ThingMaker 3D printer which make it more suitable for children than your typical 3D printer include it being simple to use, and having an auto-locking door. This will stay shut until your toy is at a safe temperature and the hot print head has retracted into a recess, so that it can’t burn eager little fingers.

Simplicity is applicable to adults as well. This gives us a hint where all 3D printing is heading.

And though the article describes as a negative the fact that it will routinely take 12 hours for each toy to print, I consider this irrelevant. I would have loved to have this thing as a kid, and would have gladly tried out a new design each day, just for fun. The toys themselves are what is irrelevant, not the creation process.

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