January 2021 Archives

Sunday, January 31, 2021

CONTINUITY: How NASA Trained Lunar Lander Pilots

Posted at 13:26 Permalink

Saturday, January 30, 2021


Posted at 17:08 Permalink

CONTEXT: What Does “Weapons Grade” Mean?

Check yo' isotopes!

Posted at 16:58 Permalink

Friday, January 29, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: The Planets in 3D from the Parker Solar Probe

Use crossed-eye image fusion to view in three dimensions.

Posted at 21:58 Permalink

CONTEXT: Earth's Surface Area by Territory

Posted at 19:59 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Reusable Handwarmers That Get Hot by Freezing

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CONTINUITY: Cog Railway Switch

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Why SpaceX Will Catch Super Heavy

Posted at 15:01 Permalink

CONTEXT: A Bound System of Six Stars, Including Three Eclipsing Binaries

Here is the scientific paper: “TIC 168789840: A Sextuply-Eclipsing Sextuple Star System”. This is going to be great fun to model with numerical integration.

Posted at 13:43 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Open Source CubeSats Ease the Pain of Building Your Own

Here are the GitHub repositories with the hardware design files and software source code.

Posted at 11:42 Permalink

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

CONTINUITY: Make Your Own Efficient, Long-Lived “Dubai Lamps”

A simple series capacitive dropper allows running higher-wattage LED bulbs at lower current, increasing efficiency, reducing heat generation, and dramatically improving the lifetime of the bulb. These aren't as nice as real Dubai lamps, as featured here on 2020-01-14, since they lack the voltage regulator which eliminates blinking with voltage changes, but they're an improvement on bulbs that over-drive their LEDs and burn out in short order. They do have a poor power factor, but unless you have a smart electric meter that charges for peak current, that won't show up on your electric bill (and besides, most cheap LED bulbs use capacitive droppers anyway and already have low power factors).

One nice thing about LED bulbs is that under-driving them does not change the colour of the light—it purely reduces intensity by limiting the duty cycle.

Posted at 15:14 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: SpaceX's Record Breaking* Rideshare Mission Launches 143 Satellites

* Before viewing, can you guess which previous mission launched more objects into orbit in a single launch?

Posted at 13:35 Permalink

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: How Many Ways Can You Make Change for a Googol Dollars?

This problem is presented in Concrete Mathematics by Graham, Knuth, and Patashnik.

Posted at 14:36 Permalink

CONTEXT: Was ʻOumuamua an Artefact of an Intelligent Extraterrestrial Civilisation?

Posted at 13:43 Permalink

Monday, January 25, 2021

CONTINUITY: Seventy-Five Years Ago Today: The Last Strong (Mag. 5.8) Earthquake in Switzerland

Posted at 14:51 Permalink

CONTEXT: Blue Origin's Rockets and Rocket Engines

Posted at 13:02 Permalink

Sunday, January 24, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Lunar Lander that Makes its Own Landing Pad

Posted at 21:24 Permalink

CONTEXT: Solid Iodine Thruster for Microsatellite In-Orbit Propulsion

This thruster uses electricity to sublimate a solid block of elemental iodine and ionises the liberated iodine gas for propulsion. Thrust is low, but it is simple, light, has no moving parts, and should have a long life. One application is de-orbiting microsatellites at end of life, reducing space junk.

Posted at 15:18 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: A Countertop Dishwasher, and It Actually Works

The “detergent cartridges” seem kind of scammy, like the printer ink racket, but according to the manufacturer, you can use it with conventional detergent if you wish. Can this redeem the concept of “Bob” as a product name after the dog's breakfast Microsoft made of it?

Posted at 13:44 Permalink

CONTINUITY: SpaceX Transporter -1, Second Launch Attempt

After a scrub due to weather yesterday, the second launch attempt for the SpaceX Transporter-1 ride-share mission with 143 satellites bound for Sun-synchronous orbit is scheduled for 15:00 UTC on 2021-01-24.

Update: both fairing halves have been recovered from the sea. (2021-01-24 18:36 UTC)

Posted at 11:50 Permalink

Saturday, January 23, 2021

CONTEXT: Animated View of Fuel Flow During a SpaceX Starship Hop

Note how the pressurised “header tanks” are essential to feeding propellant to the engines during the flip maneuver just before landing.

Posted at 19:15 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Three Hours of Conversation on Physics, Theories of Everything, and Doing Research outside Academia

With Brian Keating (host), Garrett Lisi (developer of the E8 theory of fundamental physics), and Eric Weinstein (in the second two hours).

Posted at 14:11 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Transporter-1 Launch: 143 Satellites to Polar Orbit

This will be SpaceX's second launch to sun-synchronous orbit from Cape Canaveral, which, prior to the first last year, hadn't been done since the 1960s. SpaceX's first stage recovery allows polar orbit launches which previously required launching from Imperial Space Base Vandenberg in the People's Republic of California to be launched from Florida. The ride-share launch will include 10 of SpaceX's own Starlink satellites, the first launched to polar orbit to serve high-latitude customers. The first stage booster has flown four times previously, including on the first Crew Dragon launch to the International Space Station. Liftoff is scheduled for 14:40 UTC.

Posted at 11:02 Permalink

Friday, January 22, 2021

CONTINUITY: Finally—a Personal Gatling Gun!

It takes 9 mm Glock magazines and isn't, under U.S. law, a machine gun, since you have to manually turn the crank to fire each successive shot. Here is a longer review video.

Posted at 15:38 Permalink

Thursday, January 21, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Tensegrity Structures Explained

Posted at 20:17 Permalink

CONTINUITY: For 21 Years, No-One in Britain Knew How Long an Inch Was

Posted at 13:20 Permalink

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

CONTINUITY: Rocket Lab: “Another One Leaves the Crust” Launch

Posted at 14:15 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Virgin Reaches Orbit with the Help of Cosmic Girl

Scott Manley wraps up Virgin Orbit's successful air launch mission.

Posted at 13:14 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starlink 17 Launch

Launch is scheduled for 13:03 UTC. This will be the eighth flight of the first stage booster, a record for reusability.

Posted at 12:50 Permalink

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Secrets of the “Nothing Grinder”

Posted at 13:18 Permalink

Monday, January 18, 2021

CONTEXT: Burning Oxygen in an Atmosphere of Propane

Isaac Asimov wrote a science fiction story, “The Dust of Death” based on a similar premise. We now know that the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan is composed mostly of nitrogen, with methane less than 5% by volume.

Posted at 21:37 Permalink

CONTINUITY: US Airways Flight 1549 Ditching in the Hudson River: A Pilot's Analysis

Posted at 16:10 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Virgin Orbit Demo 2 Launch Onboard Camera

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne air-launched rocket successfully put its payload in orbit after being dropped from the 747 mother ship. Air launching allows all-azimuth launches to be staged without multiple land-based launch sites, and equatorial launches with maximum assist from the Earth's rotation.

Posted at 11:51 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Diogenes: “Learn to live on lentils”

Posted at 02:10 Permalink

Sunday, January 17, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: First Full Test of SLS Booster Fails as Engines Trigger Emergency Shutdown

Here is Scott Manley's quick look analysis of the SLS test firing abort. He notes that in 2020, there was discussion about skipping the “green run” test and proceeding directly to launch. Had they done that, it might have been a really bad day for SLS (but at least the first launch will not carry a crew, although that was also considered in 2020, as part of the push to return to the Moon by 2024).

Posted at 21:17 Permalink

CONTEXT: Building an Apollo Ground Service Equipment Panel Prop

Putting a collection of those cool Apollo-era control panel switches to “work”.

Posted at 14:52 Permalink

CONTINUITY: A Working Edison Light Bulb from 1896

Posted at 13:57 Permalink

Saturday, January 16, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: NASA Space Launch System Test Firing Aborts after 60 Seconds

After 13 years of development and 18 billion dollars spent on development, the Space Launch System core stage test firing shut down 60 seconds into a planned 8 minute test firing, just at the point the engine gimbal test was to start.

The NASA TV commentators are still reading from the script for a successful test.

Update: “Major component failure” (2020-01-16 22:47 UTC)

Posted at 22:35 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: NASA Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage Test Firing

The NASA Space Launch System (SLS) is easily the stupidest orbital launch system ever seriously developed. On each launch, which will cost around a billion US$, not counting the approximately twenty billion in sunk R&D costs before it ever flies, and flying at most once a year, it will discard as junk in the ocean four Space Shuttle Main Engines and two solid rocket boosters, all of which were routinely reused during the thirty years of the Space Shuttle program. Including its predecessor, the Constellation program Ares V, it has been under development for 13 years, whereas the comparable Saturn V took around five years from program start to first flight in the 1960s.

The Space Launch System has been called the “Senate Launch System” because it was largely mandated by politicians to keep NASA centres and contractors busy after the end of the Space Shuttle program. If this and a subsequent unmanned test flight are successful, it is not expected to fly its first crew before the summer of 2023.

The test firing is scheduled for 22:00 UTC on 2021-01-16.

Posted at 14:11 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: I Painted My Entire Room with Musou Black—the World’s Blackest Paint

Posted at 14:04 Permalink

Friday, January 15, 2021

CONTEXT: Humidifiers: Simpler Is Better?

Not mentioned: if you have a lot of lime scale (calcaire) in your water, the the wick of an evaporative humidifier will become less and less effective as its pores are clogged with scale deposits. So, even if you don't have a problem with smelly gunk growing in the humidifier, it's best to replace the wick(s) at least once per season or when you notice the relative humidity falling below where it's normally maintained.

Posted at 20:40 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Facial Recognition Predicts People's Politics with 72% Accuracy

Posted at 12:51 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Mathematicians Resurrect Hilbert’s 13th Problem

Did you know that every smooth cubic surface contains exactly 27 straight lines?

Posted at 12:24 Permalink

Thursday, January 14, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: LED Lamps from Dubai: They Leave the West Behind

Only sold in Dubai: Philips LED lamps that use more LED chips running at lower current, resulting in greater efficiency (light output per electrical power consumed) and much longer life. The initial cost is higher, but the longer life will probably more than recover this. There's an internal voltage regulator which keeps the lamps from dimming or brightening when the mains voltage varies (but means they won't work with dimmers).

Posted at 15:55 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Blue Origin NS-14 Suborbital Launch

The live Webcast is scheduled to begin at 15:15 UTC on 2021-01-14, with launch scheduled for 15:45 UTC. These launch times have frequently been delayed in the past.

Posted at 12:02 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starship SN9 Performs Three Static Firings in One Day

Posted at 11:57 Permalink

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

CONTEXT: Heeees back!

Posted at 19:35 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: The Many Forms of Brassica oleracea

And don't forget Brassica’s wacky fractal sibling, Romanesco!

Posted at 13:06 Permalink

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

CONTINUITY: Origin of the UNIVAC 1103A Scientific Computer (1953, 1956) ERA, Sperry Rand

The Univac 1101 through 1105, all vacuum tube machines, were the first generation of ERA/Univac scientific computers. The second generation, the transistorised Univac 1107, retained the original 36 bit word length, but re-architected the machine into what would be the 1100/2200 series for decades to come. The story of the 1107 and successors picks up in my Univac Memories archive.

Posted at 19:34 Permalink

CONTINUITY: So Many Ideas, So Little Time…

Some day, let me tell you the story of MTBF.NET and DATAIMMORTALITY.COM….

Posted at 13:13 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Exploding Hardened Steel Parts with 150 Ton Hydraulic Press

Posted at 13:09 Permalink

Monday, January 11, 2021

CONTINUITY: Monsanto's Plastic “Home of the Future” at Disneyland (1957)

Posted at 14:55 Permalink

CONTEXT: The Nuclear Salt Water Rocket

Posted at 13:00 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Moon Phases in 2021 (Including Libration and Position Angle)

For additional details, see my:

Posted at 12:06 Permalink

Sunday, January 10, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Amazon Web Services (AWS) to Terminate Parler's Hosting at Midnight

After being pulled from both Apple and Google's app stores, the free speech social network Parler is about to lose its server platform at Amazon Web Services (AWS). Parler CEO says it may take up to a week to bring up replacement hosting, until which time the service will be down for all users, whether on mobile apps or the Web.

Posted at 17:04 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Drilling Out the Microphone in Google's Stadia Game Controller

Posted at 16:31 Permalink

CONTEXT: 1962 Italian Magazine: “The World of 2022”

Posted at 14:51 Permalink

Saturday, January 9, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Time for Life after Google?


With a perfect storm of banning, de-platforming, un-publishing, and un-personing underway by the “social media” (Hayek observed in The Fatal Conceit that any word in the English language is devalued by preceding it with “social”) companies and their “woke” allies in the corporate world, media, and academia, it might be an excellent week-end to read, or re-read George Gilder's superb Life after Google (link is to my review: a Kindle edition is available).

Gilder explains how today's monolithic and monopolistic “data silos” are the consequences of the technologies and economic incentives under which they evolved, and that these precursors are on the threshold of being rendered as impotent and obsolete by emerging technologies (such as ubiquitous and inexpensive broadband connectivity via 5G mobile and massive low-Earth orbit satellite constellations, secure and distributed peer-to-peer data storage and transaction processing, and decentralised and secure payment and micropayment systems) as the continental-scale railroad-era coercive empires and the central banks and fiat money which sustain them.


Think about it—do we really want to live in a world where Chong, Apu, and Data get to decide what constitutes acceptable speech for human beings around the world? We presently have nearly all the technologies at hand to supplant these obsolescent and manipulative cathedrals of coercion with a bazaar in which people own their own data, cannot be silenced, and are compensated for their work on their own terms, not subject to the approval of oligarchs or illegitimate state control. (I say “nearly” because we aren't quite there when it comes to large-volume, high bandwidth video and streaming, but the widespread roll-out of 5G and the next generation of storage devices will take care of that.) Deploying these technologies in a way that empowers individuals and organisations that adopt them and leaving behind the present dark era which has betrayed the original promise and, indeed, the design goals of the Internet and the World-Wide Web, is one of the outstanding technological challenges and opportunities of the day. Indeed, were I a few decades younger, it's what I'd be working on right now, with the expectation not only of making the world a better place but, while giving away all of the core technologies for free, winding up wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice by the opportunities created as they were adopted and deployed.

Posted at 20:21 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: After BREXIT, Swiss Stocks to Trade on London Exchanges

Posted at 14:47 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Most Popular Programming Languages, 1965–2019

Posted at 13:58 Permalink

Friday, January 8, 2021

CONTINUITY: The Tyranny of Big Publishing

Simon says, “Shut up”.

Posted at 14:44 Permalink

CONTEXT: The Closest Star to the Solar System: Proxima Centauri with Parallax Nick

Posted at 14:41 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: “Mastering Atari, Go, Chess and Shogi by Planning with a Learned Model”

Posted at 12:01 Permalink

Thursday, January 7, 2021

CONTEXT: SAT Score Inflation over 45 Years

Posted at 19:50 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Vacuum Tubes: Getting Familiar with Getters

More about getters.

Posted at 16:20 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Extracting Personal Information from Large Language Models Like GPT-2

Original paper on arXiv.

Posted at 15:12 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Jamie Hyneman Can't Delete His Content from Facebook

Posted at 14:51 Permalink

CONTEXT: 1975 Mainframe CPU Module — Amdahl 470

In the 1970s, I worked right down the street from Amdahl headquarters and across the orchard from Intel's starship. I never imagined such hackery was being perpetrated chez Amdahl. Had I known, I might have applied for a job there.

Posted at 00:40 Permalink

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: India’s Chandrayaan 2 Reveals Highest Resolution Images of the Moon from Orbit

Posted at 14:46 Permalink

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

CONTINUITY: Orbital Launch Scorecard, 2020

Jonathan McDowell has published his “Space Activities in 2020” [PDF, 112 pages], with the authoritative data we have come to expect from this publication. Below is a summary I have extracted about orbital launch attempts in 2020 by country. There were a total of 114 orbital launch attempts from Earth in the year, of which 104 succeeded in placing their payloads in orbit. In addition, there was one successful orbital launch from the Moon, China's Chang'e 5 sample return ascender, which is not included in the table below.

Country   Launches   Successes   Failures
China 39 35 4
U.S. 37 34 3
Russia 12 12 0
Europe 10 9 1
New Zealand 7 6 1
Japan 4 4 0
India 2 2 0
Iran 2 1 1
Israel 1 1 0
TOTAL 114 104 10

Because it has become increasingly common to deploy multiple payloads from a single orbital launch, whether constellation deployments such as SpaceX's Starlink or ride-share and cubesat swarms, the statistics for payloads orbited look very different from those of launches. Here are payloads orbited in 2020 by country,

Country   Payloads  
U.S. 979
Europe 129
China 74
Other 57
Russia 22
TOTAL 1261

Posted at 11:50 Permalink

Monday, January 4, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Thunderstorm Sprite Lightning at 100,000 Frames per Second

Details from Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Posted at 19:51 Permalink

CONTEXT: Empire of Stupid: “Amen and Awomen”

Posted at 15:09 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Amazon Has Trucks Filled with Hard Drives and an Armed Guard

Related: “168 AWS Services in 2 Minutes”

Posted at 14:40 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Tighten This Bolt in Any Direction You Want

Posted at 14:32 Permalink

Sunday, January 3, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Technology Forecasts for the Roaring Twenties

Posted at 20:42 Permalink

CONTINUITY: “At Home, 2001”—Late 1960s View of the 21st Century Home

From the CBS TV series The 21st Century with Walter Cronkite.

Posted at 16:11 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX to Catch Super Heavy Booster by Its Grid Fins?

Posted at 13:22 Permalink

CONTEXT: Average Colour of Solar System Bodies

The Earth is purple? Who knew?

Posted at 12:39 Permalink

Saturday, January 2, 2021

CONTINUITY: Fourmilab Gridmark: Automated Benchmarks for Second Life

Available for free with full permissions in the Second Life Marketplace, with complete source code published at GitHub.

Posted at 13:52 Permalink

CONTEXT: Welcome Aboard the R.100

For a detailed account of the British airships R.100 and its government boondoggle competitor R.101, see Nevil Shute's magnificent book Slide Rule.

Here is a video about the R.101 by Bill Hammack, author of the book Fatal Flight.

Posted at 13:13 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Extracting Potassium Metal from Bananas

Posted at 12:09 Permalink

Friday, January 1, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: U.S. House of Representatives to Eliminate “Gendered Terms” from its Rules

In clause 8(c)(3) of rule XXIII, strike “father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, half sister, grandson, or grand-daughter” and insert “parent, child, sibling, parent’s sibling, first cousin, sibling’s child, spouse, parent-in-law, child-in-law, sibling-in-law, stepparent, stepchild, stepsibling, half-sibling, or grandchild”.

I stand by my 1985 prediction that this will eventually lead to mandating the term “s/he/it” to avoid excluding artificial intelligences, followed soon thereafter by the complete collapse of this folly everywhere outside Marin County, California.

Read the whole (stupid) thing. [PDF]

Posted at 23:27 Permalink

CONTEXT: Jill Tarter: Signals from Proxima Centauri, Advice from Carl Sagan, and SETI @ 60!

Posted at 20:06 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: How SpaceX Recovers Falcon 9 after Drone Ship Landings

Posted at 15:18 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Every Orbital Launch Of 2020

Includes launch attempts which did not reach orbit. A summary is at the end of the video.

Posted at 14:50 Permalink