Monthly Archives: June 2016

A Russian space station spun off from ISS?

The competition heats up: Energia, Russia’s main contractor for building its part of ISS, has proposed a plan to separate the Russian modules from ISS, once they are finally launched, to create a new and solely Russian space station.

According to RKK Energia, the prime Russian contractor on the ISS, the new outpost would begin with the separation of the Nauka [Russia’s ISS science module, long delayed] from the rest of the old station in mid-2020s. By that time, Nauka should have two even newer modules in tow. One would be the so-called Node Module, a tinker-toy-like component that could connect to six other modules, crew ships, cargo tankers, structural elements, you name it. The Node Module is already in RKK Energia’s garage and ready to go within a few months after the Nauka.

Next would be the new Science and Power Module (NEM) which, as it name implies, will finally give cosmonauts a state-of-the-art science lab and a pair of large solar arrays, making the Russian segment fully independent from the rest of the ISS in terms of power, communications, and other resources. The launch of NEM, currently promised as early as 2019, would set the stage for these three components to leave the ISS to form ROS.

Russia has always given itself the option to do this, designing its part of the station in a way that would allow it to stand alone.

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The howl against democracy

Link here. Key quote:

In all the years I’ve been writing about political stuff, I cannot remember a time when anti-democratic sentiment has been as strong as it is right now. No sooner had an awe-inspiring 17.5m people rebelled against the advice of virtually every wing of the establishment and said screw-you to the EU than politicos were calling into question the legitimacy of their democratic cry. Apparently the people were ill-informed, manipulated, in thrall to populist demagoguery, and the thing they want, this unravelling of the EU, is simply too mad and disruptive a course of action to contemplate. So let’s overturn the wishes of this dumb demos.

The author then outlines the numerous calls by EU supporters in the UK to do anything possible to void the will of the people in a legitimate vote. Why would I not be surprised if these same people also align themselves politically with today’s American Democratic Party, which increasingly sees the Bill of Rights and freedom as an obstacle and an evil that must be destroyed.

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Judge rules No-Fly list unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled last week that the method by which the federal government places people on the no-fly list is inherently unconstitutional, and must either be changed, or cease.

Specifically, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown said the process doesn’t give Americans on the list an effective way to challenge their inclusion. The Oregonian reports: “In a 65-page opinion issued Tuesday … Brown ordered the government to come up with a new way for the 13 plaintiffs to contest their inclusion on the list that prohibits them from flying in or through U.S. airspace. The government must provide notice to the plaintiffs that they are on the roster and give the reasons for their inclusion, Brown wrote. She also ordered that the government allow the plaintiffs to submit evidence to refute the government’s suspicions.

“The decision marks a big win for the plaintiffs, all U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the case on their behalf. The plaintiffs have all been denied boarding due to their placement on the list, they argue, despite never having been charged with a terrorism-related offense.”

This decision has nothing to do with the issue of gun control, but it demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt how unconstitutional the gun control proposals being pushed in the Senate are. If the list itself is unconstitutional, it certainly is unconstitutional to use it to deny people their second amendment rights under the Bill of Rights.

Not that any of this will matter to the Democrats and the people who support them. It is clearly their goal to limit the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights, and they intend to do so come hell or high water, unless Americans finally decide to throw them out of office.

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Moon discovered orbiting Kuiper Belt Object Makemake

Worlds without end: Astronomers have discovered a moon orbiting Makemake, the fouth largest object in the Kuiper Belt.

A nearly edge-on orbital configuration helped it evade detection, placing it deep within the glare of the icy dwarf during a substantial fraction of its orbit. Makemake is one of the largest and brightest known Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), second only to Pluto. The moon is likely less than 100 miles wide while its parent dwarf planet is about 870 miles across. Discovered in 2005, Makemake is shaped like football and sheathed in frozen methane.

Tracking this moon’s orbit will help astronomers get a better understanding of Makemake itself, whose oblong shape has baffled them since its discovery.

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Democratic Party platform will demand prosecution of global warming skeptics

Fascists: The Democratic Party, which has already unified behind legislation that would nullify the first, second, and fifth amendments of the Bill of Rights, has now decided that the party’s official platform should also call for the prosecution of companies that disagree with the Democratic position that believes in human-caused global warming.

A panel of Democrats voted Friday to approve a final draft of the party’s platform to promote “Progressive Democratic Values,” which apparently includes investigating energy companies who “misled” shareholders about global warming. “Another joint proposal calling on the Department of Justice to investigate alleged corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies who have reportedly misled shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change was also adopted by unanimous consent,” according to the Democratic National Convention’s website.

The drafting committee, led by DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, has decided to back ongoing investigations by mostly Democratic state attorneys general into ExxonMobil’s stance on global warming.

Make no mistake, the effort here by the Democrats has nothing to do with protecting the environment. Their goal is to make it possible for them to imprison their opponents, merely for daring to disagree with them.

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Juno closing in on Jupiter

Jupiter from Juno

On Friday the Juno science team released a new image of Jupiter taken by the spacecraft from about 6.8 million miles away.

The reduced resolution image on the right is cropped but with the colors enhanced to bring out the four Galilean moons, Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io. The website notes that “Juno is approaching over Jupiter’s north pole, affording the spacecraft a unique perspective on the Jovian system. Previous missions that imaged Jupiter on approach saw the system from much lower latitudes, closer to the planet’s equator.”

Rendezvous and orbital insertion happens on July 4.

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Why I use Linux, part 3,453,333

A woman has won $10,000 in damages from Microsoft for its attempt to upgrade her computers to Windows 10, without her permission.

I suppose one could argue that this is a reason to keep Windows, as you’d have a chance to win a jackpot from them in court. I prefer to be able to do the work I want to do, without harrassment.

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University of North Carolina publishes guide on squelching free speech

The coming dark age: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has published a guide to microaggressions that is essentially designed to allow leftists to shut down any speech they don’t like.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill issued a guide this week which instructs students that Christmas vacations and telling a woman “I love your shoes!” are “microagressions.” The taxpayer-funded guide — entitled “Career corner: Understanding microaggressions” — also identifies golf outings and the words “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” as microagressions.

The UNC Chapel Hill guide, published on Thursday, covers a wide range of menacing microaggressions — which are everyday words that radical leftists have decided to be angry or frustrated about.

The entire logic of “microaggressions”, where you are allowed to either put your fingers in your ears and scream “la-la-la-la-la-la-la” to avoid hearing words you disagree with or don’t like, or can use the law to punish anyone speaking those words, is offensive to the very concept of civilization and open-minded debate. That a university paid money to print a guide for doing so is even more appalling.

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Virgin Galactic gets another launch contract

The competition heats up: Virgin Galactic has signed a launch contract with new communications satellite company Sky and Space Global to use LauncherOne to put 200 nanosats into orbit in 2018.

This contract suggests that Virgin Galactic might be making good progress on LauncherOne. Or it might mean that Sky and Space has some commitments that forced it to pick Virgin Galactic over other smallsat launch companies that appear to be farther along in development. Either way, the stock market looked at this deal and, as noted in the article above, sold off enough Sky and Space stock for its value to drop.

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The elite speak!

The coming dark age: The journal Science published on Friday a nice collection of tweets from a lot of scientists expressing their contempt and disgust at the vote by the citizens of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

Two tweets say it all:

Dear Europe – for the record, I didn’t want this to happen. Please don’t judge all Brits by the poisonous rhetoric of the Leave campaign. — Dr Heather Williams (@alrightPET) June 24, 2016

Today is a sad day for science and sanity. #Brexit — Hannah Wakeford (@StellarPlanet) June 24, 2016

In the first the scientist accuses the Leave campaign of expressing “poisonous rhetoric”, while the second (one of many quite similar) declares anyone who disagreed with the Remain campaign to be insane. Does anyone but me see the blind stupidity here?

Not one of these tweeters, all supposedly highly educated scientists, consider for an instant the quite valid and reasonable intellectual arguments of the Leave campaign. Leave is wrong, and don’t you dare think otherwise! Some also suggest that the vote should be ignored, or invalidated, because they don’t like the result. So much for open-mindedness and a respect for democracy.

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China launches first Long March 7 rocket, recovers test capsule

The competition heats up: China successfully launched its first Long March 7 rocket on Saturday, the first launch also from its new Wencheng Spaceport.

According to this official Chinese report, the test capsule on the rocket also landed successfully and has been recovered.

Previously I had mistakenly reported that this launch would put into orbit China’s next test space station module. That launch is not until the fall.

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Getting and Installing Linux

After seeing the response to a number of my posts on the advantages of Linux (or anything) over Windows, one of my readers, James Stephens, offered to write a series of posts for Behind the Black, describing step-by-step the process by which one gets and installs Linux on a desktop or laptop computer. James is like almost every other user of Linux, self-taught and unafraid to play with the software. As he emailed me, “Over my long career I’ve had my hands in everything from vacuum tube televisions to sophisticated aerospace systems some of which are orbit today. I have designed and built recording studios, radio and television studios and serviced the equipment as well as the transmitters. But I must say I really enjoyed repairing televisions the most. I loved every aspect of the business and really enjoyed doing business with my customers.” At the present time James makes his living maintaining what he calls “a fleet of computers, Windows, Mac, and Linux.”

So, today we begin this series. If all goes as planned, James will be sending these to me on a weekly basis, whereby I will post them each Saturday. So, get one of your old unused computers out of the garage now and get ready to make it useful again, while simultaneously freeing yourself from Microsoft!

An Introduction

By James Stephens

Your phone your TV, most of the devices you use everyday use Linux. So too most of the world’s web sites including this one. So why not your PC? The purpose of this series, which we hope to post on a weekly basis every Saturday, is to at least in a general way acquaint you with desktop Linux and some of its advantages. More importantly, we hope to assist you with representative instructions for the installation and use of this most excellent computer operating system.

But first a few words of explanation.
» Read more

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Blue Cross Blue Shield pulls out of Obamacare in Minnesota

Finding out what’s in it: Blue Cross Blue Shield has decided to stop selling health insurance through Obamacare in 2016.

“Based on current medical claim trends, Blue Cross is projecting a total loss of more than $500 million in the individual [health plan] segment over three years,” the insurer said in an emailed statement. The Blues reported a loss of $265 million on insurance operations from individual market plans in 2015. The insurer said claims for medical care far exceeded premium revenue for those plans

Gee, too bad no one said that this law was unworkable and was going to cause big losses in the health insurance industry. Oh wait… Didn’t most tea party and conservatives say that repeatedly? And loudly? And were ignored pointedly by Democrats?

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Ceres’s brightest spot

Brightest Spot in Occator Crater on Ceres

Cool image time: While I was in Washington the Dawn science team released a very nice close-up image of the bright spots inside Occator Crater on Ceres. On the right is a cropped version which focuses solely on the central brightest spot. The spot appears to overlie a central dome with a depression in the middle. Other data says the spot is the low area in the crater, and the linear cracks that radiate away as well as in concentric rings around the spot suggest that this central area has subsided, causing those cracks.

Make sure you look at the full image, as it includes the other smaller spots that are also inside Occator.

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Data manipulation at U.S. Geological Survey science lab

A federal lab has been shuttered after an investigation revealed almost 20 years of data manipulation and scientific misconduct.

The inorganic section of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Energy Geochemistry Laboratory in Lakewood, Colo. manipulated data on a variety of topics – including many related to the environment – from 1996 to 2014. The manipulation was caught in 2008, but continued another six years.

“It’s astounding that we spend $108 million on manipulated research and then the far-reaching effects that that would have,” Rep. Bruce Westerman said at a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing. “We know how research multiples and affects different parts of our society and our economy and … if you’re working off of flawed data it definitely could be in a bad way.”

The inspector general report [pdf] is very vague about the specific acts of data manipulation and misconduct, which is not surprising since this specific inspector general has herself been accused of “politicized IG investigations, pulling punches in trying to avoid upsetting political appointees.”

From what I can gather, the results from a mass spectrometer, used to identify the chemical make-up of samples, were repeatedly faked by the individuals who operated it. The research “predominantly affected coal and water quality research and related assessments.” It is however unclear whether politics played a part in this misconduct, or whether it was merely incompetence. I suspect the former, especially because the Obama-appointed inspector general went out of her way to avoid describing the misconduct in detail, and because it continued for so long, even after it was first discovered in 2008.

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Russia looks to reduce Proton launch costs

The competition heats up: Russian officials are considering developing a new variant of the Proton rocket that would cost less to launch and thus make the rocket more desirable in the increasingly competitive launch market.

They have not made a decision yet. As the article notes,

[G]iven the extended length of time required for even less radical upgrades of Proton and the official Russian strategy to phase out the vehicle in favor of Angara-5, it is unclear whether it would be possible to justify the Proton-Light development effort. A number of previous proposals to change the shape and size of the Proton-M rocket were deemed too expensive more than a decade earlier in the rocket’s operational career.

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Science elites move to block UK exit from EU

A statement today from the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society, reacting to yesterday’s vote to leave the European Union, calls for the government to do whatever it can to nullify that exit.

Professor John Zarnecki, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, commented: “We must remember that whatever happens, science has no boundaries. It is vital that we do not give the message, particularly to our younger colleagues, in the UK and beyond that our country is not a good place in which to do scientific research, however uncertain the economic and political environment is.

“I have been privileged during my career to have worked in a research environment in Europe which has had few borders for either people or ideas. We must strive to make sure that these rights are not taken away – this would be enormously to the detriment of UK society.”

The statement includes a laundry list of benefits that membership in the EU brings scientists, including lots of funding to pay the salaries of these scientists. The statement also insists that all these benefits must be maintained, despite the will of the electorate.

While many of these benefits (easy travel between nations) are beneficial and a reason to have a European Union, the electorate understood that the benefits have been increasingly outweighed by the heavy regulatory burden imposed by the EU, with no democratic recourse allowed.

Articles in the science journals Science and Nature, here, here, and here, also note the distress and opposition by scientists to yesterday’s vote.

This unwillingness of the elite community to accept the will of the public is part and parcel to the same bubble I found in Washington when I attended the CNAS conference. Unfortunately, I see no evidence of a willingness in the elite community to bend at all to the will of the general public, meaning that we can only expect the conflict between the top and the bottom to intensify in the coming years. The question will be whether our institutions of democracy will be able to withstand that battle, especially when those in power continue to find their power being attacked from below.

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UK votes to leave EU

The revolt continues: The voters of the United Kingdom tonight chose to leave the European Union.

The EU was a great idea, unfortunately spoiled in the past few decades by a crushing regulatory bureaucracy unaccountable to anyone, which is why every single time the question has been put to the voters in recent years the voters have chosen to quit the EU.

The unrest among American voters, fueling the success of outsiders and the defeat of incumbents in recent elections, is based on similar issues and dissatisfactions. I thus expect similar surprises here come November. This essay expresses these circumstances here in the states quite nicely:

This is not about ideology. If people trusted elites and institutions they defend to look out for them, in a non-ideological sense, the breakdown of our systems would have been mitigated or confined. The fact that it is so sweeping is due to a generation of elites who didn’t do their jobs well, or pretended things weren’t their job for too long.

We have breakdown, chaos, and upheaval in our politics today not because the people are “insane”, as Rauch writes, but because they are sane. They know the leadership class which held power for the past generation has not looked out for them. Don’t blame a people for turning on elites who thought they knew better but proved over and over that they didn’t. It is thoroughly rational to want something else instead. Even if that something else turns out not to deliver either, at least you know it’s not the same as what’s failed. [emphasis mine]

Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same failed thing over and over again, even though it is proven to never work. This what our elites have been doing for the past three decades. The voters, however, are increasingly showing that they are not insane, that they want to try new things. Kudos to them!

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Hubble lives on!

NASA has extended the contract with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland to operate the Hubble Space Telescope for another five years, through 2021.

Launched in 1990 and repaired for the first time in 1993, Hubble appears likely to operate for more than three decades, a stunning record for any spacecraft.

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Colorado university investigates professors for noting alternative opinions

Fascist academia: Two professors at a Colorado university are under investigation for mentioning to students the existence of opposing viewpoints.

Two professors at the University of Northern Colorado were investigated after students complained that they were forced to hear opposing viewpoints. The complaints were made to Northern Colorado’s “Bias Response Team,” an Orwellian office on campus that asks students to report their peers and professors for anything that upsets or offends them. When the news outlet Heat Street made an open records request for some of the complaints, it discovered that two students had become so upset about having to hear an opinion they disagreed with they filed reports with school administrators.

And rather than telling the students to buck up because they might hear those opinions outside of college or on the news or in the media, the schools told the professors to stop teaching that there’s an alternate viewpoint. [emphasis mine]

In both cases the professors were not advocating the alternative viewpoints, only teaching their students that those viewpoints exist. To the students and the university, even this was unacceptable.

There is no way you can have a free and open society if the people running the universities consider it unacceptable to even mention the existence of alternative points of view. Be prepared for worse things in the coming years, as these coddled close-minded students take the reins of power. They won’t be satisfied with merely shutting up their opponents. They will want to eliminate them entirely.

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Saturn from Cassini

Saturn's rings

Cool image time! The image on the right, reduced in resolution to post here, shows how, because of the seasonal tilt of Saturn, the shadow of its rings is now cover much of the gas giant’s southern hemisphere.

When NASA’s Cassini spacecraft arrived at Saturn 12 years ago, the shadows of the rings lay far to the north on the planet. As the mission progressed and seasons turned on the slow-orbiting giant, equinox arrived and the shadows of the rings became a thin line at the equator. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 16 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in red light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on March 19, 2016.

We will continue to get from Cassini increasingly beautiful images of Saturn and its rings as the spacecraft positions itself better for its final flight down into the planet’s atmosphere.

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Hubble spots new dark storm on Neptune

The Hubble Space Telescope has imaged a developing new dark spot storm on Neptune.

New images obtained on May 16, 2016, by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope confirm the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune. Though similar features were seen during the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989 and by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994, this vortex is the first one observed on Neptune in the 21st century. The discovery was announced on May 17, 2016, in a Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) electronic telegram by University of California at Berkeley research astronomer Mike Wong, who led the team that analyzed the Hubble data.

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Democrats perform sit-in in Congress to protest 5th amendment of Bill of Rights

The fascist Democratic Party: For the past two days Democrats have been holding a sit-in protest in Congress against the idea that American citizens should have the right to due process before their rights under the Bill of Rights are denied.

Not 24 hours ago, Senate Democrats had the chance to vote on a bill that would have given them the core of what they want, namely, DOJ power to block gun purchases by anyone on a terror watch list. All they had to do was make a simple concession to due process by requiring the feds to go to court and show their work, proving to a judge within three days of the attempted purchase that the person on the list was actually dangerous. Too many innocent people have been put on watch lists erroneously to grant the federal government power to strip them of their rights with no judicial safeguard. That was the Cornyn bill; it died in the Senate, 53/47, when Democrats refused to give it the 60 votes it needed for cloture. The left killed the bill only because it provided due process to gun owners. [emphasis in original]

Previously the Democrats introduced a constitutional amendment to nullify the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, and this protest not only demands a nullification of the fifth amendment and due process, it is focused on nullifying the second amendment as well.

But I have been told I shouldn’t call these fascists fascists, because it might hurt their feelings. Well, I hope I hurt their feelings bad, along with the feelings of anyone even thinking of voting for them in the future. If you do, you are enabling the rise of oppression, and should be ashamed of yourself.

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