July 2021 Archives

Saturday, July 31, 2021

CONTINUITY: Building and Running an Apple I Replica

I remember seeing an original Apple I when I visited Paul Terrell's original Byte Shop in Mountain View, California in mid-1976. I had forgotten that the Apple I could be assembled to use either the MOS Technology 6502 or the Motorola 6800 microprocessor. The 6502 was much less expensive, and the overwhelming majority of Apple I boards used it.

Posted at 12:52 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: U.S. Government Accountability Office Denies Blue Origin and Dynetics Protests of NASA Lunar Lander Contract

Posted at 12:33 Permalink

CONTEXT: Fire Erupts at Tesla “Big Battery” Site in Australia

“As power density increases, batteries asymptotically resemble bombs.”

Posted at 12:06 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Nauka's Troubled Journey to and Arrival at the International Space Station

Posted at 11:04 Permalink

Friday, July 30, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Inside a Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A Turboshaft Engine

You'll probably never guess the airflow from observing the engine from the outside. Through November 2015, 51,000 of these engines have been delivered, logging more than 400 million flight hours, with an in-flight shutdown rate of around one per 300,000 hours.

Posted at 14:17 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Orbital Tug of War—Nauka Module vs. International Space Station

Yesterday, 2021-07-29, the Russian Nauka laboratory module docked with the Zarya core module of the International Space Station. Several hours later, as the process of opening the hatch was under way, attitude control thrusters on Nauka, which were supposed to have been disabled after the docking was complete, started to fire, rotating the entire space station out of its correct orientation. The station's attitude control system detected the deviation and fired thrusters on Zarya to attempt to correct and, when they proved inadequate, also fired thrusters on a docked Progress cargo ship. At the peak, the station was rotating around half a degree a second.

Nobody knows what caused Nauka's thrusters to fire. What caused them to stop was not a command, but rather running out of propellant, after which the station's thrusters, unopposed, restored its normal orientation. Here is a NASA report on the events.

“This is how we fix problems in Russian space station!”

Posted at 13:01 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Computing at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: 1953–1983

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CONTEXT: SpaceX: Exploring Lunar Starship Mission Modes

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Thursday, July 29, 2021


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CONTEXT: Intel to California et al.: “Beast Canyon”

Includes a 640 watt power supply, supporting a 65 watt CPU, 64 Gb DRAM, 2.5 Gb Ethernet, and support for 350 watt GPUs.

Posted at 14:07 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Nauka Module Docked to International Space Station

Posted at 13:49 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: RB211—The Engine that Bankrupted Rolls-Royce, then Made it a Global Leader

Posted at 12:10 Permalink

CONTEXT: Vitalik Buterin—Is the Gini Coefficient Appropriate for Measuring Concentration of Asset Ownership?

The Gini coefficient is widely used as a measure of income or wealth distribution among a population. The higher the value, the more income or wealth is concentrated among a small fraction of the population. For example, using World Bank numbers, Mexico has a Gini value of 45.4, while Norway comes in at 27.0. But is Gini a meaningful or useful measure when applied to distribution of an asset, like cryptocurrency, in which concentration of ownership may be more a measure of interest than wealth? This thoughtful essay examines the question and argues that other measures are required in such circumstances.

Posted at 11:42 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Rocket Lab Electron “It's a Little Chile Up Here” Launch

I have cued the video to start at one minute before liftoff. If you wish to see the preliminaries, scroll back to the start. Here are details of the mission, whose classified payload, called “Monolith”, is for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Posted at 11:23 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Lighting Up an Apollo Guidance Computer Display (DSKY) after Half a Century

Plus, a misadventure with copper-clad aluminium wire. “Maybe the wire is bad.”

Posted at 11:12 Permalink

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

CONTINUITY: NASA: RS-25 Rocket Engine “Improved”

Forty years after it first flew as the Space Shuttle Main Engine, the Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 rocket engine, which was originally designed for a service life of 27,000 seconds and 55 starts, has been “improved”, delivering a service life of 1700 seconds (6.8% of the original) and 4 starts (7.3% of the original). Thrust has been increased by 6%, along with “some cost savings”—the cost for the 24 RS-25 engines intended for the Space Launch System (SLS) comes to around US$ 146 million per engine.

The engines, routinely refurbished and reused in the Space Shuttle program, will be discarded as twisted wreckage in the briny deep on each flight of the SLS.

Elon Musk estimates the cost of the SpaceX Raptor engine, which has slightly more thrust (albeit less fuel efficiency) than the SL-25, and is intended to be reused numerous times, at less than US$ 1 million for current engines, and a quarter of that for improved versions in volume production.

Posted at 14:27 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Tiny Electronic Components

Posted at 13:07 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Do It Yourself Challenge—CNC Mill to Automated Gun Turret

Bioshock Infinite automated gun turret

Posted at 12:08 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Who Is an “Astronaut”?

First, it was “What is space?”, now it's who deserves to be called an “astronaut”. (I don't know why Blue Origin's marketing department hasn't seized on my suggestion to call those who fly on Branson's ride below the Kármán line “asterisknauts”.)

As Scott Manley observes, those who fly on vehicles operated by coercive governments, or even those in their employ who do have not yet flown, have been called “astronauts”, including politicians, such as the current NASA administrator, “Ballast Bill”, who went on a taxpayer-funded junket into space. I think the answer is to make the term “astronaut” one of derision, applied to civil service space cadets who have appropriated a noble title rightly belonging to genuine pioneers of space exploration. There's a parallel to this: nobody calls airline pilots or passengers “intrepid aeronauts” these days.

As for those who travel above the Kármán line today, how about “spacers” or, for those who see it as a New Age experience, “space cases”?

Posted at 11:12 Permalink

CONTEXT: A Banana a Day

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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

CONTINUITY: Hewlett-Packard 150A Oscilloscope Restoration: Part 1

Here is information about this classic oscilloscope. It used 52 vacuum tubes plus CRT, and was fan cooled, with a furnace filter to clean the air entering the cabinet.

Posted at 14:47 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Dounreay—The Atomic Dream

Britain pioneered the use of a fast breeder fission reactor to generate electricity for the power grid. This is the story of the Dounreay reactor station in northern Scotland, which operated between 1955 and 1994, and is presently being decommissioned, a process whose initial phase is planned to be completed in the year 2036, with removal of all waste from the site by the late 2070s and complete restoration sometime in the 24th century.

Posted at 13:33 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: California and Other Stupid States Ban High-Performance Computers

There is more information about this on ZeroHedge: “59 Million Americans Prohibited From Buying High-End Dell Gaming PCs”.

It's always fun to pop up any of the Official State Media Web sites, type “California ban” into the search box, and see what it suggests.

Meanwhile, in the heart of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto is contemplating banning gas appliances in existing residences. They will be replaced, of course, with electric appliances which use power that, in the U.S., is primarily generated from—natural gas.

File under “AGE OF STUPID”.

Posted at 12:09 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Intel Process and Packaging Roadmap through 2025

In conjunction with this, and its entry into the foundry market, Intel is renaming its processes to be more consistent with the terminology used by competitors Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and Samsung.

Posted at 11:24 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Latest Problem for the James Webb Space Telescope—The Name

Another reason to consider adding “AGE OF STUPID” and “CRAZY YEARS” to our classic four rubrics. But then, if I did, they might drown out the originals.

Posted at 10:57 Permalink

Monday, July 26, 2021

CONTEXT: Sabine Hossenfelder: Has Physics Become Too Speculative?

Posted at 15:29 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Do-It-Yourself Cyanotype Photography

The cyanotype process was invented by astronomer John Herschel in 1842. The chemistry is sensitive only to ultraviolet light, so no darkroom is required. Exposure is usually by sunlight, which contains enough ultraviolet to (very slowly) form an image. This is the process used to make blueprints, and was used for that purpose well into the 20th century.

Posted at 14:47 Permalink

CONTEXT: The Galileo Project: Scientific Search for Extraterrestrial Artefacts

Here is the home page of The Galileo Project at Harvard University and a description of its three initial areas of research. According to project head, Prof. Avi Loeb of the Harvard astronomy department, more than US$ 1.7 million has been raised from private contributions to support the project.

Posted at 12:12 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: After Almost Twenty Years, Pirs Docking Module Departs International Space Station

The Pirs module was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on 2001-09-14. It has supported numerous dockings of Soyuz and Progress craft, and as the airlock for many spacewalks from the Russian segment of the station. It is being towed away from the station by a departing Progress cargo ship, which will deorbit and burn up in the atmosphere later today. The operation frees up the docking port for the Nauka laboratory module, expected to arrive at the station in a few days.

There had been speculation that vacuum welding between the module and its ISS attach point might interfere with undocking, but this has been shown to be unfounded. The attach point will be inspected by cameras on the station's robotic arm to verify it is ready to receive the new module.


2021-07-26 19:13 UTC

Posted at 10:59 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Explaining the Chain Fountain Phenomenon

Why, in particular, does metal ball chain rise over the lip of the container, while other kinds of chains don't?

Posted at 10:45 Permalink

Sunday, July 25, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Contemporary Human Evolution Driven by Female Sexual Selection for Male Cognitive and Behavioural Traits

Here is the full paper, “Sex-biased reduction in reproductive success drives selective constraint on human genes” [PDF].


Genome-wide sequencing of human populations has revealed substantial variation among genes in the intensity of purifying selection acting on damaging genetic variants. While genes under the strongest selective constraint are highly enriched for Mendelian disorders, most of these genes are not associated with disease and therefore the nature of the selection acting on them is not known. Here we show that genetic variants that damage these genes reduce reproductive success substantially in males but much less so in females. We present evidence that this reduction is mediated primarily by cognitive and behavioural traits, which renders male carriers of such variants less likely to find mating partners. These findings represent strong genetic evidence that sexual selection mediated through female mate choice is shaping the gene pool of contemporary human populations. Furthermore, these results suggest that sexual selection accounts for 21% of purifying selection against heterozygous variants that ablate protein-coding genes.

Posted at 13:46 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: The Case for Autonomous Vehicles

Note: this video was sponsored by Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc., the parent company of Google. Waymo is the spin-in company created to commercialise the technology developed by the Google self-driving car project. Waymo currently operates a driverless taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona, in the U.S., and is, at present, the only such service which operates without human back-up drivers.

This Veritasium video tries out the service, interviews some people from Waymo, and argues that even at the present “SAE Level 4” degree of autonomy, driverless vehicles are safer than the average human driver, so their introduction should be expected to reduce the number and consequences of motor vehicle accidents. This is the case made in the February 2021 Waymo Safety Report [PDF], which is referred to in the video.

This is far from a unanimous opinion, and presented by advocates engaged in developing and selling the technology. But here's their pitch.

Posted at 13:05 Permalink

CONTEXT: Double Jupiter Gravitational Assist

Posted at 12:47 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Restoring and Demonstrating an Early 1900s Nernst Lamp

The Nernst lamp was invented in 1897 by German physicist and chemist Walther Nernst (who would win the 1920 Nobel prize in chemistry for his work in thermochemistry). The Nernst lamp was an incandescent electric light which used a ceramic rod composed of oxides of yttrium and zirconium instead of the carbon filament employed by the contemporary Edison light bulb. The Nernst lamp produced about twice the light for a given amount of electricity as carbon filament bulbs, and emitted a whiter, more sunlight-like spectrum. Because the light-emitting element was already completely oxidised, it did not require a vacuum or inert gas environment, and operated with no problem in air (although lamps were usually enclosed in a glass bulb to protect objects from touching the hot element).

The main disadvantage was that the ceramic used did not conduct electricity at room temperature, and needed to be initially warmed to its conduction temperature by a separate heater, after which it would self-heat through electrical resistance. Consequently, Nernst lamps required a “starter” circuit not unlike that of fluorescent lights to initially engage the heater and then disconnect it after the light came on.

Due to its efficiency and more natural light, the Nernst lamp became popular, initially in Europe where it was manufactured by AEG in Germany. In the U.S. George Westinghouse licensed the design in 1901 and manufactured it domestically as it evaded Thomas Edison's patents on his light bulb, selling more than 130,000 by the year 1904.

Subsequently, development of tungsten filament bulbs, which emerged in their modern form during the 1910s and were more efficient and less complicated and expensive than the Nernst lamp, rendered it obsolete. Today Nernst lamps are scarce and expensive collectors' items and even more rare to see in working condition.

Posted at 11:49 Permalink

Saturday, July 24, 2021

CONTINUITY: Total Internal Reflection and Evanescent Electromagnetic Waves

Posted at 14:35 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Cosmological Inflation Crash Course

Posted at 13:03 Permalink

CONTINUITY: The First Nuclear Power Reactor: Experimental Breeder Reactor I

Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I), in December 1951, the first nuclear reactor to produce electricity from nuclear energy, was breathtakingly ambitious. Rather than rely on the conservative and extremely inefficient design of the reactors used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, it was a fast breeder reactor, using fast neutron fission in highly enriched fuel to breed plutonium in otherwise unreactive Uranium-238, producing more fuel than it burned. It was believed that this mode of operation would be required for civil nuclear power to be competitive with other sources. It pioneered the use of liquid metal cooling, using an alloy of sodium and potassium, allowing it to operate at a higher, more efficient temperature, and demonstrated inherently safe cooling, where the reactor core could be cooled by convection alone in the case of loss of the coolant system pumps.

Although EBR-I initially produced only enough power to light four 200 watt light bulbs, it served as the prototype and testbed for a wide variety of nuclear technologies. It operated from 1951 through 1964, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and is presently open to the public as a museum.

This documentary, with contemporary photos and film plus interviews with participants, recounts the story of EBR-I.

Posted at 11:55 Permalink

CONTEXT: Predator-Prey Behaviour in Self-Replicating Interstellar Probes

Here is the full paper [PDF].

Posted at 11:33 Permalink

Friday, July 23, 2021

CONTEXT: Comrades! Don't Touch the Anthill!

Posted at 15:23 Permalink

CONTINUITY: NASA 1965 “Advanced Post-Saturn Earth Launch Vehicle Study”

This thirty-four page “Executive Summary Report”, NASA TM X-53200 [PDF, scanned full text], dated February 3, 1965, is wild. From the abstract:

The results indicate that gas core reactor and nuclear pulse engines are both attractive for the advanced Post-Saturn vehicle, and both should be investigated further. If emphasis is on Earth orbit and lunar delivery missions, the gas core reactor shows a slight advantage. The nuclear pulse concept is clearly preferable if emphasis is on lunar and planetary deliveries.

“Nuclear pulse”, of course, refers to Project Orion-type propulsion where a ship is propelled by setting off thermonuclear bombs behind a pusher plate to accelerate it.

Posted at 14:54 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: ALMA Observatory Spots Moon-Forming Disc around Exoplanet

Here is the research paper, “A Circumplanetary Disk Around PDS70” [PDF].

Posted at 12:29 Permalink

CONTEXT: United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno on Atlas, Vulcan, and the Emerging Space Economy

He has an interesting view of terraforming Mars: “Not going to happen. … There are many orders of magnitude less [CO₂] than we had originally had hoped would be there. … There just isn't enough—you're not going to be able to terraform Mars.”

But why would you want to escape from Earth's gravity well just to go down into another (dry and cold) hole? O'Neill colonies built from lunar and asteroid resources provide a far larger and more habitable environment for human and post-human settlement in the solar system.

Posted at 11:59 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: DeepMind/AlphaFold Publishes 3D Structure of Most Human Proteins

And the database presently includes twenty other organisms.

Plans are for the database to eventually cover more than 100,000 millions proteins catalogued in UniRef90.

For example, here is the paired box protein Pax-6 (“EYELESS”) from Drosophila melanogaster.

Posted at 11:22 Permalink

Thursday, July 22, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: “Look, no silicon!” ARM's Plastic Microcontroller

Here is the Nature paper describing the process and processor, “A natively flexible 32-bit Arm microprocessor” [PDF].

Posted at 14:27 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Martin Gardner's Three Dice Trick

Posted at 13:59 Permalink

CONTEXT: Exploding Monarchs of England

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CONTINUITY: Space Collection—Part 2: Mission Control Console, Apollo Fuel Cells, and More

Posted at 12:42 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Russian “Nauka” Module Launched to International Space Station, Experiencing Engine Problems

Posted at 11:44 Permalink

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

CONTINUITY: SpaceX Using Starlink to Relay Drone Ship Landing Video

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Analog Fractals with 1930s Technology

Posted at 12:49 Permalink

CONTEXT: Balancing a Ball on a Rotating Wheel

Here are more details at Hackaday.

Posted at 11:10 Permalink

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

CONTINUITY: Did the USS Thresher Crew Survive the Initial Mishap?

On April 10, 1963, the nuclear powered attack submarine USS Thresher (SSN-593) was lost during sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, with no survivors among the 129 crew and shipyard employees on board. An inquiry concluded that a failure had resulted in an uncontrolled dive which caused the hull to implode at a depth between 400 and 610 metres, instantly killing all aboard. Much of the investigation and supporting documents was classified secret and remained so for decades.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by a former Thresher-class submarine commander, the Navy has been releasing documents from the investigation in a series of batches, with the most recent on July 9, 2021. All of the releases to date are available here.

Here is an analysis of the most recent 600 page release, including reports from the USS Seawolf, which conducted search operations starting the day after contact was lost with Thresher. Seawolf detected what were interpreted as pings and metal banging noises from Thresher, but the court of inquiry concluded, “That while operating as a unit of the search force, the U.S.S. Seawolf (SSN575) recorded possible electronic emissions and underwater noises. None of the signals which SEAWOLF received equated with anything that could have been originated by human beings.”

The following analysis argues that it is extremely difficult to explain the contemporary reports from the Seawolf on multiple dives near Thresher's last reported location as having any possible origin other than crew surviving on the stricken submarine for at least a day after the accident.

Posted at 15:46 Permalink

CONTEXT: What Good Is Space Tourism? Democrat: “We will tax it!”

This is complete, of course, with a cute acronym, “Securing Protection Against Carbon Emissions”, of which, this idiot is doubtless completely unaware, Blue Origin's rocket has zero.

Posted at 15:19 Permalink

CONTINUITY: A Ride on the Claughton Aerial Ropeway

An earlier post on 2021-07-13, “Powered by Gravity—Britain's Last Aerial Ropeway”, described the last operating cargo ropeway in Britain. At the time, video maker Tom Scott, sent a GoPro Hero 9 camera down the ropeway with a bucket of cargo. The weather could have been better (as is often the case in the British Isles), but this 19 minute video gives the full experience of riding the ropeway with cargo. Note that buckets bound uphill are empty: it's the difference between the up-mass and down-mass that powers the ropeway.

Posted at 11:36 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX: Starship Super Heavy BN3 Successful Static Fire Test

As Elon Musk noted, this test involved only three engines on the booster, as I understand, one in the centre ring and two in the middle ring. There's no reason to risk the full complement of engines until the ground support systems, fuel delivery, plumbing, and firing and safing systems have been validated.

Posted at 11:26 Permalink

Monday, July 19, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX: Super Heavy Booster 3 Static Fire

Posted at 22:09 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Hearing Magnetic Domains Flip—The Barkhausen Effect

Posted at 14:27 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: The Secret Life of the Photocopier

Posted at 13:23 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Blue Origin New Shepard NS-16 First Human Flight

Here is yesterday's pre-flight briefing.

Posted at 11:11 Permalink

Sunday, July 18, 2021

CONTEXT: NASA Chief Scientist James Green—Searching for Life in the Solar System and Beyond

Posted at 14:11 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Demonstrating the Photoelectric Effect

Posted at 13:47 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Douglas DC-7—Nonstop Transcontinental Travel before the Jet Age

Posted at 12:51 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Is the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Ascent Stage Still in Lunar Orbit?

After delivering its crew back to the command module in lunar orbit, the ascent stage of Apollo 11's lunar module Eagle was jettisoned and left in lunar orbit. Unlike the ascent stage of Apollo 10, which was ejected into a heliocentric orbit, or those of subsequent lunar landing missions, which were deliberately crashed into the Moon to permit analysis of the Moon's interior by seismometers deployed on the surface, Eagle performed no further maneuvers after being discarded.

The Moon's gravitational field is substantially “lumpy” and objects in orbit around the Moon are perturbed by its variations and the influence of the Earth, Sun, and other planets' gravity. It has long been assumed that Eagle’s orbit must have at some time evolved until it intersected the lunar surface, resulting in the spacecraft's crashing at some unknown location.

Now, in a brilliant piece of independent science using publicly available data and open source analysis tools, James Meador finds, in a May 2021 paper, “Long-term Orbit Stability of the Apollo 11 Eagle Lunar Module Ascent Stage”, that long-term simulation of the evolution of Eagle’s orbit suggests it is possible it may still be in orbit around the Moon. Now, numerical integration over a period of more than half a century, taking into account the imprecisely-known gravitational field of the Moon, plus unknowables such as whether venting of propellants or pressurised and cryogenic fluids from the abandoned spacecraft, may have perturbed the orbit into one leading to an impact, is an uncertain business, but how cool would it be if radar monitoring the lunar limb could discover Eagle after all these years? If it's there, it certainly deserves a visit after humans return to the Moon once again so long after the false dawn.

And then…? “That belongs in a museum. ”

Posted at 12:06 Permalink

Saturday, July 17, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Emoji Candidates for Unicode 14.0 Include “Man with Beer Gut”

Perhaps we need to expand the rubrics here beyond the canonical four of Stand on Zanzibar to include “AGE OF STUPID”.

Oh, wait…

…it's a pregnant man! So, maybe we also need to add “THE CRAZY YEARS”.

Posted at 14:53 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Slime Molds: Thinking without a Brain

Posted at 14:14 Permalink

CONTEXT: If “Lab accidents happen” Should We Have Viral Gain-of-Function Labs at All?

This period in history will be called, in retrospect, “the bonfire of the experts”.

Posted at 13:24 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Measuring the Speed of Light the Old Fashioned Way

Posted at 12:55 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Hubble Space Telescope Payload Computer Successfully Switched to Backup

Posted at 11:32 Permalink

Friday, July 16, 2021

CONTEXT: “Journalist” Learns a New Phrase

How precious—it's like a toddler who's just learned a new word.

Posted at 14:50 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX: Super Heavy Booster 3 Static Fire as Soon as Monday 2021-07-19

Posted at 14:44 Permalink

CONTINUITY: A Simple Luxury—Ice through the Ages

Those who consider asteroid mining implausible may be unaware that in the nineteenth century ice, harvested in the winter, was exported year-round from Boston to India, a distance of 24,000 km and voyage of 130 days, in wooden sailing ships, to save the customers who eagerly purchased it from the horrors of tepid gin and tonics. By 1870, 17,000 tonnes of ice were shipped halfway around the globe every year. For details, see Gavin Weightman's superb book, The Frozen Water Trade.

Posted at 13:14 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: A Non-Euclidean Rendering Engine

Posted at 12:56 Permalink

CONTEXT: Federal Aviation Administration vs. SpaceX—Crab Mentality and the Road to the Stars

What is crab mentality?

In any sane world, the only thing an aviation regulator should have to say about a tower fixed to the ground is whether it has the prescribed anti-collision warning lights and is properly marked on aeronautical charts. But ours is not a sane world, or at least not in these crazy years we're enduring. As I've been saying for some time, “Elon, time to emigrate—again.”

Here are some headlines from the Crazy Years, as described in Robert A. Heinlein's novel Methuselah's Children:

BABY BILL BREAKS BANK 2-year toddler youngest winner $1,000,000 TV jackpot White House phones congrats

COURT ORDERS STATEHOUSE SOLD Colorado Supreme Bench Rules State Old Age Pension Has First Lien All State Property



CAROLINA CONGRESSMAN COPS BEAUTY CROWN “Available for draft for President” she announces while starting tour to show her qualifications



LOS ANGELES HI-SCHOOL MOB DEFIES SCHOOL BOARD “Higher Pay, Shorter hours, no Homework—We Demand Our Right to Elect Teachers, Coaches.”


Posted at 11:47 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: AlphaFold Methods Published, Source Code Released


Proteins are essential to life, and understanding their structure can facilitate a mechanistic understanding of their function. Through an enormous experimental effort, the structures of around 100,000 unique proteins have been determined, but this represents a small fraction of the billions of known protein sequences. Structural coverage is bottlenecked by the months to years of painstaking effort required to determine a single protein structure. Accurate computational approaches are needed to address this gap and to enable large-scale structural bioinformatics. Predicting the 3-D structure that a protein will adopt based solely on its amino acid sequence, the structure prediction component of the ‘protein folding problem’, has been an important open research problem for more than 50 years. Despite recent progress, existing methods fall far short of atomic accuracy, especially when no homologous structure is available. Here we provide the first computational method that can regularly predict protein structures with atomic accuracy even where no similar structure is known. We validated an entirely redesigned version of our neural network-based model, AlphaFold, in the challenging 14th Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction (CASP14), demonstrating accuracy competitive with experiment in a majority of cases and greatly outperforming other methods. Underpinning the latest version of AlphaFold is a novel machine learning approach that incorporates physical and biological knowledge about protein structure, leveraging multi-sequence alignments, into the design of the deep learning algorithm.

Posted at 11:16 Permalink

Thursday, July 15, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Peter Shor—The Story of Shor's Algorithm

Shor's algorithm, invented in 1994, demonstrates that a quantum computer can factor integers in polynomial time. It was one of the first quantum computing algorithms to solve a real-world problem, and is the basis of the claim that a functional quantum computer with a sufficient number of quantum bits (“qubits”) will render many present-day encryption and authentication systems insecure..

Posted at 14:30 Permalink

CONTINUITY: From 1959—“Mission: Sonic Boom”

“It's the Sound of Security™!”

Posted at 14:13 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Beautiful Visual Proof of Fermat's Two Squares Theorem

Here are details of Fermat's two squares theorem and proofs over the centuries.

Posted at 12:48 Permalink

CONTEXT: Crow Skiing down a Roof

Here is a bird, using a tool, in order to play.

Posted at 11:56 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Napier Deltic—Triangular Opposed Valveless Diesel Engine

Here is more on the Napier Deltic.

Posted at 11:31 Permalink

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Daniel Ellsberg: Nuclear Risks—Doomsday Hiding in Plain Sight

This is an extended (two hours and forty minutes!) discussion of the issues discussed in Dr Ellsberg's 2018 book, The Doomsday Machine.

Posted at 14:55 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Easter Island: Collapse or Resilience?

Fourmilab's 2010 Easter Island expedition.

Posted at 12:40 Permalink

CONTEXT: SpaceX: What to Expect from a Super Heavy Static Fire Test

Posted at 12:14 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: SpaceX: The Starship's New Thrusters

Posted at 11:40 Permalink

CONTINUITY: The 2020 Lunar Olympics

From the 1979 Children's Britannica book, Future Cities.

People always talk about how sports records such as the high jump and shot put would be broken on worlds with lower gravity, but how would other records fare? Running, for example, might be slower because of the limited time the foot was able to deliver impulse to the body before leaving the ground.

Once, again, Alan Shepard was first.

Posted at 10:48 Permalink

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Powered by Gravity—Britain's Last Aerial Ropeway

Posted at 14:15 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Those Clever Bacteria—First CRISPR, Now Borgs

Here is the full paper, “Borgs are giant extrachromosomal elements with the potential to augment methane oxidation” [PDF].

Posted at 13:27 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Hewlett-Packard 7575A Pen Plotter and HP-GL from the Command Line

I always loved pen plotters, especially the sound effects they made when intent on intricate work such as text and cross-hatching. Here is a demonstration of a classic introduced in 1983, which was widely used in the formative days of AutoCAD. Sean O'Donnell's classic AutoCAD sample drawing, Columbia, features prominently. (That image pops up in the strangest places.)

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CONTEXT: Eric Berger: Untold Stories of SpaceX

Eric Berger's superb book, Liftoff, recounts the early, hard-scrabble days of SpaceX and how that experience formed the people and company of today. In this hour long interview, he discussed his insights from extensive access to SpaceX old timers.

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Monday, July 12, 2021

CONTEXT: The Secret Life of the Electric Light

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CONTEXT: Ozone—Facts vs. Fear

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CONTINUITY: Launching a V-2 from an Aircraft Carrier—Operation Sandy, 1947

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Using a Drop of Water and Laser Pointer as a Microscope

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Sunday, July 11, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Mars Helicopter Ingenuity: Video from Ninth Flight

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CONTEXT: What Happened to the Moon?


Explanation, from Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2021-07-11.

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CONTINUITY: “Under Your Bonnet”—Manufacturing Lead-Acid Batteries in the Early 1950s

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Optimal Stirring Strategies

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CONTEXT: Suborbital Tourism: Comparing Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two VSS Unity 22 Flight

Due to overnight weather, the takeoff and start of the live stream coverage has been delayed until 14:30 UTC on 2021-07-11. Refresh the live stream page for updates.

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Saturday, July 10, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Salt Water Light Dimmers—An Unregrettably Forgotten Technology

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CONTEXT: Splashdown—How Many Ships and Men Did It Take to Recover One Spacecraft Crew?

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CONTINUITY: British Airways Flight 9: “We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped.”

The video includes an interview with the captain of the flight. Here is more information on British Airways Flight 9.

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Barry, the Swiss Hero Rescue Dog—Facts and Legend

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: NASA Funding Search for Alien Technosignatures in Transit Survey Databases

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Friday, July 9, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Space Tourism Bragging Wars

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Nitrocellulose—It's a Lot More Common Than You May Think

This gives a whole new meaning to “explosive guitar solo”.

When I was a kid, we had some Christmas tree ornaments made of nitrocellulose. After a number of fires, a warning was circulated in the newspapers about how to identify and safely dispose of them.

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CONTEXT: David Kipping on Black Swan Events in Astronomy

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CONTINUITY: Postwar Transcontinental Aviation in the DC-3 Era

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CONTEXT: Olympus Mons

Mars's Olympus Mons is twice the height of Mount Everest above sea level, but so huge that if you were on its slopes you'd barely be aware you were on a mountain. This size, combined with Mars's small radius, means you can't see the summit from the surrounding terrain or the terrain from the summit,

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Thursday, July 8, 2021

CONTINUITY: Construction of Hoover Dam

This 1937 U.S. Department of the Interior film, which in some ways resembles Stalin-era Soviet industrialisation propaganda, refers to the dam throughout as “Boulder Dam”. The present Dear Leader must not, of course, name anything after the previous Dear Leader. The dam was officially named “Hoover Dam” by an act of Congress in 1947.

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: Dubai Port Explosion Visible from Space

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CONTEXT: Don't Leave Your Bicycle Outside—at the South Pole

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: What Is Chia, and Why Is It Devouring Solid State Drives?

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CONTEXT: Hand-Flying a Rocket to Space

Both the Apollo command module and Space Shuttle had the ability for the crew to take over manual guidance during the ascent to orbit, but this was a backup mode never used in a mission. One question I've tried to answer for many years is whether crews were actually trained on this mode. Anybody know a pilot-astronaut who remembers?

While manual control of rocket flight is possible (and, as mentioned in the video, people can do a pretty good job of it), for pure rocket flight I'd argue that an “autopilot” is still necessary to provide closed-loop stability augmentation by thrust vectoring. I doubt that human response time is adequate to keep the pointy end up and flamey end down on an inherently aerodynamically unstable vehicle in the rapidly-changing centre of mass and centre of pressure environment of a rocket ascent.

For a humorous aside, see my “Landing by Hand on the Moon”.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2021

CONTINUITY: “Face to Face with Communism”, Film from 1951

Today, they'd probably say, “Isn't it great!”

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Space Collection—Part 1: Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer and Titan III Computer

Here is an in-depth look at the IBM Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer with an engineer who worked on it in the Apollo program.

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CONTINUITY: United Airlines Douglas DC-7 Overhaul

This film, from the late 1950s, shows the overhaul procedure for United Airlines' Douglas DC-7 airliners, the last piston-powered plane operated by the company, and previews the soon-to-dawn jet age.

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CONTEXT: Cartoonist Firearms Literacy

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: “Biography of a Missile”—1959 Film with Edward R. Murrow

This half hour film chronicles Juno II launcher AM-16 from fabrication in Huntsville, Alabama through its launch and very brief flight on July 16, 1959. At the end, the successful Juno II launch of Explorer 7 is shown. The Juno II, derived from the Jupiter missile, was one of NASA's less successful rockets. It was launched a total of ten times, with only four completely successful missions, then retired in favour more capable and reliable launch vehicles.

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: Capella Space Synthetic Radar Smallsat Images Giza Pyramids, Boca Chica Starbase

Here is more information on Capella Space and the company's home page.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: From 1967—Ampex HS-100 Instant Replay and Slow Motion Video Disc Recorder

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: Grocery Delivery Order Fulfillment Robots

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CONTINUITY: Wernher von Braun: “Challenge of Outer Space” from 1955

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CONTINUITY: Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Completes Ninth Flight

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Monday, July 5, 2021

CONTEXT: Kerguelen—A Bit of France in the South Indian Ocean

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Conquering the Demons of Quantum Field Theory

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CONTEXT: From 1958—“Ditching Techniques for Transport Aircraft”

This is a military training film directed to cabin crew on transport aircraft. In the era of piston engines, ditching was always a possibility on long over-water flights, even in four engine planes.

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CONTINUITY: Sixty Years Later—Space Debris Still in Orbit

The primary payload of the Thor Ablestar 008 launch was a Transit navigation satellite for the U.S. Navy. These satellites were launched into 1100 km polar orbits, which is higher than many low Earth orbit satellites, so debris from the rocket booster takes much longer to decay and re-enter.

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Sunday, July 4, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Transair T4810—Boeing 737-200 Dual Engine Failure and Ditching off Honolulu

This was a freight flight, with just two pilots on board, who were rescued by the Coast Guard after ditching the aircraft, which promptly sank.

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CONTEXT: Ketamine in China

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: Augmented Reality Overlays Advertisements for Individual Markets

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: Helion Energy Achieves 100 Million °C in Pulsed Fusion Reactor

The Helion Energy design is a pulsed aneutronic fusion device designed to use helium-3 and deuterium as fuel and produces electricity directly from the reaction, without generating heat to run steam turbines. Helium-3 is rare on the Earth, but can be mined from the lunar regolith, where it is deposited by the solar wind.

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CONTINUITY: Fifty Years Ago—Remembering Soyuz 11

Here is information about Soyuz 11, whose crew was lost when their re-entry capsule depressurised after undocking from the Salyut 1 space station on June 29th, 1971. They are, to date, the only humans to have died in space (as opposed to in a launch or landing accident while in the Earth's atmosphere). The film shows unsuccessful attempts to revive the crew after landing which some may find disturbing.

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Saturday, July 3, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Blowing on Your Own Sail

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CONTEXT: Destroying the Nuremberg Zeppelinfeld Swastika—Story of an Iconic Moment from World War II in Europe

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CONTEXT: Goldbach's Conjecture—Still a Mystery after 279 Years

Here is more on Goldbach's conjecture. Well, thanks to our analytical engines, we now know that any counter-example must be greater than 4×1018.

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CONTINUITY: Gas Mantles—Incandescent Light before Electricity

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Friday, July 2, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Wild Weasels—Electronic Warfare Comes of Age

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: Billionaire Suborbital Public Relations Battle

Blue Origin:

Here is more about Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk.

Virgin Galactic:

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CONTEXT: Klein Bottle Listing on Amazon Hijacked Using “Brand Registry” to Sell Blackhead Remover

Here is information on Amazon's Brand Registry.

SCANALYZER has previously discussed Clifford Stoll's Klein bottles.

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CONTINUITY: Hubble Space Telescope: Computer Systems Origin and Present Problems

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Thursday, July 1, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starship Super Heavy Booster BN3 Moved to Launch Pad

This booster is not intended to fly. It will be used to for ground-based tests of its structure and systems and compatibility with ground support equipment. The next booster, BN4, is presently slated for the first flight test.

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Inside a Small Engine Carburetor

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CONTINUITY: Vacuum Tube Computer Part 14: Building an Exclusive-Or (XOR) Gate

Alas, the long-deferred power-up sequencing challenge requires all-up testing to be deferred until a future episode.

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: Arianespace Soyuz ST33 / OneWeb Launch

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