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August 2021 Archives

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

CONTEXT: Boeing 737 vs. Brick Wall

Posted at 14:30 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Wireless Charging for Electric Vehicles on Highways

Posted at 13:53 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: World's Shortest Scheduled Airline Flight

Ninety-one seconds from takeoff to touchdown. It's faster on days there's a tailwind.

Posted at 13:11 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: L. Neil Smith, 1946–2021, R.I.P.


L. Neil Smith, libertarian, prolific author of science fiction and political and cultural commentary, founder of the Libertarian Enterprise, presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party of Arizona in 2000, died on August 27th, 2021.

L. Neil's work introduced generations of readers, including myself, to the promise of liberty, not as dry theory, but by following the science fiction maxim of “show, don't tell”, brilliantly illustrating genuinely free people and societies, and demonstrating how, by exercising their freedom and its inherent advantages in creativity, initiative, wealth generation, and adaptability, they can defeat the creeping grey poison of collectivism and have a tremendous amount of fun in the process.

Here is science fiction and fantasy author (and frequent contributor to the Libertarian Enterprise) Sarah Hoyt saying “Goodbye, My Friend”. Mike Glyer has posted a brief biography on File 770. The family has set up a memorial Web site where you can leave memories of Neil and his work and contribute to causes he supported.

I'm going to remember L. Neil by re-reading the two books that introduced me to his work and forever cured me of being what he dubbed a “nerf libertarian”, The Probability Broach (also available as a graphic novel) and The Venus Belt. If you've yet to discover his work, they're a fine place to start.

Here are reviews of works of L. Neil Smith that I've posted over the years.

Farewell, L. Neil, and thank you for the enjoyment, encouragement, intellectual stimulation and challenge, and all the laughs over these many years.

Posted at 11:03 Permalink

CONTEXT: A Slower Speed of Light

This video game, created by the MIT Game Lab, allows visualising a world in which the speed of light is comparable to walking speed and thereby gaining an intuitive grasp on the effects of special relativity. In the game, the player walks around an arena of modest size and picks up orbs, of each of which slows the speed of light. As the speed of light falls, all of the effects of special relativity become manifest: aberration, the Doppler effect, distortions due to the finite speed of light, and Lorentz contraction and time dilation. A clever scheme is used to re-map the electromagnetic spectrum into the visible range to keep the Doppler effect from rendering most objects invisible to the eye.

This game achieves the dream of George Gamow's Mr Tompkins stories dating from 1939, which were the inspiration for Fourmilab's C-Ship static renderings and animations of relativistic effects developed in the 1990s.

The game is free, and available for Linux, Macintosh, and legacy Microsoft platforms. You can download it from its page at MIT. Its hardware requirements appear to be modest.

Here is the official trailer for the game.

Posted at 10:54 Permalink

Monday, August 30, 2021

CONTEXT: Rocket Factory Augsburg Performs Cryogenic Test to Destruction of First Stage

Here is more information on Rocket Factory Augsburg and the launcher they are developing.

Posted at 13:46 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Google AI—“ High Fidelity Image Generation Using Diffusion Models”

Posted at 12:39 Permalink

CONTINUITY: After More than Six Decades and Five Generations, Atlas Rocket to Retire

Of course, today's Atlas V rocket has nothing in common with the original Atlas ICBM other than the name, having abandoned its original stainless steel pressure-stabilised “balloon” propellant tanks, 1½ stage architecture, and now using Russian RD-180 engines.

Posted at 12:02 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Material that's Black in Visible Light, White in Infrared

Here is the paper: “2D MXenes: Visible Black but Infrared White Materials”. It absorbs up to 90% of incident sunlight, but radiates away as little as 10% in the infrared.

Posted at 11:43 Permalink

Sunday, August 29, 2021

CONTEXT: The Largest Black Holes in the Universe

Here is more information on the ultra-massive black hole TON 618, whose mass is estimated as at least 66 billion solar masses, greater than the mass of all stars in the Milky Way combined, with quasar emission 140 trillion times the luminosity of the Sun.

Posted at 13:40 Permalink

CONTINUITY: M-1 Rocket Engine Evolutionary Plans

The Aerojet M-1 rocket engine was envisioned in the early 1960s as providing propulsion for heavy launch vehicles that would succeed the Saturn series as the U.S. developed a mature space program with a sustained presence in space. The original design was a gas generator cycle liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen engine with a single combustion chamber and nozzle, generating 1.5 million pounds (6.67 meganewtons) of thrust with a vacuum specific impulse of 428 seconds. The thrust was the same as the LOX/kerosene F-1 engine used in the first stage of the Saturn V, and like that engine, it used the relatively cool turbopump exhaust to cool the lower part of the engine nozzle.

The initial design was seen as the starting point for further evolution of the engine, increasing its thrust to 1.8 to 2 million pounds, increasing its efficiency by adopting a staged combustion cycle and expansion deflection nozzle, and ducted rocket and air-turborocket designs. This Aerojet design study [PDF] from the early 1960s sketches the evolution of the engine, including the Sea Dragon concept.

The M-1 engine project was cancelled in 1965 before the first prototype was assembled.

Posted at 13:07 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Artificial Intelligence Art Machine

An amazing notebook,“AI Art Machine”, has been posted on Google Colaboratory by Hillel Wayne, based on an earlier notebook by Katherine Crowson. It uses the VQGAN+CLIP technique to generate images from text prompts, having been trained on a large sample of tagged pictures. The results are often surreal, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them popping up as the covers of science fiction novels before long.

To use the notebook, you must be logged in to a Google account. Then, follow the instructions to generate your images. You may experience “Cannot connect to GPU backend” errors when you try to run the notebook. If this happens, there's nothing for it but to try again later.

Here are results produced from some Fourmilab-related prompts. There are numerous parameters you can tweak which change the results, and you can even supply the URL of an image whose style the generator will try to mimic (I haven't tried this).

Retro Psychokinesis


Atomic Space Car


Ant Laboratory


Mad Scientist Laboratory


Neutrino Collider


Posted at 12:17 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: A Smartphone Application that Sees for the Blind

Posted at 11:55 Permalink



Scott Manley wins the space Internet today for this clip from his in-depth analysis of the Astra LV0006 launch attempt, which literally “went sideways” after an engine failed immediately after liftoff. This reduced the rocket's thrust to weight ratio to almost exactly 1 and created asymmetric thrust that resulted in the horizontal translation which, by pure luck, did not collide with any part of the launch structure or surrounding objects. Eventually, as fuel was consumed and the rocket became lighter, it began to climb, but much slower than intended.

A few hours later, SpaceX successfully launched their CRS-23 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), recovering the first stage booster on the new autonomous drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas”. I have cued this video to start at one minute before launch: scroll back if you'd like to see the preliminaries, including a description of the cargo, among which is an ant farm. This is the 23rd Commercial Resupply Services mission to the ISS conducted by SpaceX, the fourth flight of its first stage booster, the 21st SpaceX launch of 2021, and the 90th first stage booster landing.

Posted at 11:25 Permalink

Saturday, August 28, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX CRS-23 Cargo Launch to the International Space Station—This Time for Sure!

After a weather scrub yesterday, the second attempt to launch the CRS-23 resupply mission to the International Space Station is scheduled for 07:14 UTC on Sunday, 2021-08-29.

Posted at 21:35 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Astra LV0006 Orbital Test Flight—Second Attempt

The launch window opens at 21:00 UTC on 2021-08-28.

Update: Launch failure—that was one weird launch. Immediately after liftoff, the rocket appeared to lose thrust and slide sideways like some of the early V-2 launches but, instead of flipping over and blowing up, recovered and continued to climb. But then, at 02:32 after liftoff, the engine cut off, something appeared to separate from the rocket, and the call “Termination sent” was heard. The rocket went all Kerbal, tumbling, and the rocket camera downlink was cut off.


2021-08-29 00:12 UTC

Posted at 18:42 Permalink

CONTEXT: Weekly Space Report: Starbase Developments, NASA Spacesuit Woes

Posted at 14:09 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Four Legged Amphibious “Whale”

Posted at 13:29 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Eugene Podkletnov’s “Impulse Gravity Generator”

Here is the original Podkletnov and Modanese paper from 2001, “Impulse Gravity Generator Based on Charged YBa_2Cu_3O_{7-y} Superconductor with Composite Crystal Structure”. You may remember Dr Eugene Podkletnov from his “gravity shielding” experiments with rotating superconductors in the 1990s. This is a different (although possibly related) phenomenon, created by discharging a high voltage Marx generator through a superconductor placed in an intense magnetic field, with a pulse length of 60 to 70 nanoseconds. The claimed effects are wild.

Despite the short duration of the effect, the beam we’re generating is able to knock down objects in the beam’s path, and under certain conditions it’s even possible to make holes in brick walls and even deform metals. So it’s a very powerful tool.

The force of the impulse depends entirely on the structure of the superconducting emitter and the voltage that we apply to it. Given the materials & voltages we currently have available, we can obtain large impulses capable of punching holes in thick concrete walls, and we’ve also been able to demonstrate deforming metal plates with a thickness of a couple of inches.

We’ve experimented with using the impulse generator on a variety of materials, and it’s led us to another important find: the beam can hit a target over very large distances with a minimum of divergence and what appears to be zero loss in energy, even after passing through other objects in the beam path.

A more recent experiment was conducted over a distance of 5 kilometers, and the beam penetrated through several houses made of concrete. We did not measure any loss of energy, but after closely evaluating the calculations that we’ve made, we should get some decrease in beam-energy at distances greater than 100 kilometers.

Oh, and “Nonetheless, we always had precise, consistent results, giving us a figure of 64 C, which indicates that the gravitational impulse is propagating at a speed 64 times faster than the speed of light.”

Extraordinary claims, and all that, but this sounds like a fun project with which those inclined to mad science should be tinkering away in search of extraordinary evidence. Reports of unexplained holes in concrete walls in the vicinity of Fourmilab are completely unsubstantiated, exaggerated, and not my fault.

Posted at 12:53 Permalink


Here is more about the IBM PCjr. The PCjr was much anticipated, with some analysts expecting IBM to dominate the home computer market as the original IBM PC had in business applications. But the machine's sorely limited memory, poor (and memory-hungry) graphics, crude sound, truly awful (although, innovatively, wireless) “chiclet” keyboard, limited expandability, and high price doomed it. Interestingly, the Radio Shack Tandy 1000 series, originally introduced as a PCjr clone, was highly successful and remained on the market from its introduction in 1984 through 1993.

Posted at 12:29 Permalink

Friday, August 27, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX CRS-23 Cargo Launch to the International Space Station

Launch is scheduled for an instantaneous launch window at 07:37 UTC on 2021-08-28. Weather is predicted as only 40% favourable for launch at that time. If weather forces a delay, there is a backup launch window at 07:14 UTC the next day, 2021-08-29, when weather is predicted to be 60% favourable.

Update: Launch scrubbed due to multiple violations of weather constraints. They'll probably try the backup launch opportunity at 07:14 UTC on Sunday, 2021-08-29, unless weather further deteriorates. (2021-08-28 12:26 UTC)

Posted at 19:16 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Astra LV0006 Orbital Test Flight

Here is more about Astra, the rocket, and the flight. The launch window opens at 21:00 UTC on 2021-08-27, but extends through September 11th, with multiple opportunities in case of delays. The video coverage will begin one hour before the launch time, whenever that may be.

Update: Launch aborted at T0, after first stage engine start. The launch attempt has been scrubbed for the day, with a new launch time not yet announced. If the problem is resolved in time, another launch opportunity is available tomorrow. (2021-08-27 21:56 UTC)

Posted at 19:05 Permalink

CONTEXT: Looking Ahead to Science with the James Webb Space Telescope

Assuming it actually works, and they're allowed to call it that.

Posted at 13:07 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Unconditionally Secure Relativistic Multi-Party Biased Coin Flipping and Die Rolling

Posted at 12:40 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Japan Tests Rotating Detonation Wave Engine in Space

Here is a Scott Manley video explaining how rotating detonation engines work and why they can be more efficient than conventional combustion engines.

Posted at 11:36 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Visualising Tomography

Posted at 11:16 Permalink

Thursday, August 26, 2021

CONTINUITY: Chinese Zhurong Mars Rover: Images and Video from Now-Complete Primary Mission

Posted at 07:17 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Inside a Saturn I Fuel Tank in Flight

This film was captured by a camera inside one of the kerosene tanks of the first stage of the Saturn I booster during the SA-5 flight on 1964-01-29, the first to carry a live second stage and the first orbital launch of a Saturn I. The camera was intended to observe the performance of anti-slosh baffles placed inside the tank as it was rapidly drained of fuel during first first stage flight. After the first stage cut off and was jettisoned, residual fuel can be seen rushing forward and inundating the camera at the top of the stage.

Posted at 07:11 Permalink

CONTEXT: Comparing TTL Integrated Circuit Testers

Posted at 06:39 Permalink

CONTEXT: Parker Solar Probe—Edging Closer to the Sun

Posted at 06:28 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: SpaceX: Explosive Potential of a Full Super Heavy and Starship Stack

Posted at 06:21 Permalink

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

CONTEXT: Corporate Managers Are Taller Than Non-Managers, Regardless of Sex

This March 1991 paper is behind a Springer journal paywall. You absolutely should not read it for free on SciHub.

Posted at 11:58 Permalink

CONTINUITY: One Kilometre Ball Drop on Solar System Bodies

For gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn) and ice giants (Uranus and Neptune), the surface or sea level is arbitrarily defined as the radius at which atmospheric pressure is one Earth atmosphere. This simulation accounts only for gravity and ignores atmospheric drag. It would be interesting to compare it with another that accounts for atmosphere.

Posted at 10:56 Permalink

CONTEXT: Why You Shouldn’t Use Electronic Code Book (ECB) Mode When Encrypting Data

Posted at 10:11 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Building Muscles and Motors from Shape Memory Alloys

Posted at 09:58 Permalink

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Research and Development in Large U.S. Companies

Yes, MBAs have become very effective at maximising earnings over the new few quarters, haven't they?

Posted at 10:05 Permalink

CONTEXT: “Lifeline in Space”—U.S. Air Force Mid-1960s View of Space Logistics

Posted at 09:42 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Haile Unlikely—Ethiopia to Develop its Own Social Media Platforms

Posted at 09:17 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Vacuum Tube Computer Part 16: Full Adder

A single bit full adder has inputs of the two binary digits to be added and carry-in from the less significant bit, if any. It outputs the sum and carry-out to the more significant stage. For a one bit computer, it is a simple three input, two output combinatorial logic circuit, which is built from four vacuum tubes.

Posted at 09:08 Permalink

Monday, August 23, 2021

CONTINUITY: Anti-aging: Senolytics or Gerostatics

Posted at 12:39 Permalink


Posted at 11:28 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Samsung 512 Gigabyte DDR5-7200 Memory Modules

A server fully populated with these forthcoming modules will have 8 terabytes of RAM per socket. We may be back in strange situation of the original IBM PC, which could have up to 640 kB RAM, which was larger than the capacity of its 160/320 kB floppy disc drives. Microsoft Windows, of course, cannot handle this situation: it craps out with “insufficient swap space for memory capacity”. Competently designed operating systems should have no such problems.

Posted at 11:07 Permalink

CONTINUITY: NASA's Spacesuit Woes

After fourteen years of bungling, NASA's new spacesuits won't be ready for a Moon landing in 2024. Think of it as the SLS of astronaut attire.

Posted at 10:41 Permalink

Sunday, August 22, 2021

CONTEXT: Astronaut Maneuvering Units for Extravehicular Activity

Posted at 13:53 Permalink

CONTEXT: Automotive Turn Signals—Then and Now

But why would you want to synchronise turn signals across multiple cars?

Posted at 12:42 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Making a Power Meter Run Backwards—With a Light Dimmer

Here is the full paper: “How to Earn Money with an EMI Problem: Static Energy Meters Running Backwards” [PDF].

Posted at 11:46 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: How Holley Carburetors Are Made

Amazing—the key component of their high-end performance carburetors is individually CNC machined from aluminium bar stock.

Posted at 11:25 Permalink

Saturday, August 21, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Weekly Space Report: Starbase Developments, Inspiration 4 Flight Preparations, Blue Origin Lawsuit

Posted at 14:49 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Teaching John von Neumann

Posted at 14:20 Permalink

CONTEXT: Robert Zubrin—Life on Mars: Past and Future

Posted at 13:54 Permalink

CONTEXT: Detecting Quantum Gravitational Effects at Gravitational Wave Observatories

Posted at 12:49 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Spinning Up a Sperry Heading Gyroscope From 1949

Posted at 11:49 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: The Boulder on Tycho's Central Peak

Here is more about the Tycho boulder.

Posted at 11:00 Permalink

Friday, August 20, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Mutual Eclipse of Satellites of Jupiter

These images show the astonishing progress in amateur astronomy brought about by electronic image sensors and image processing software. Not long ago, even the largest observatory telescopes were unable to resolve the moons of Jupiter as more than starlike dots. Now, with a high-end (11 inch [30 cm] Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain) amateur telescope, perfectly able to be set up and used from a back yard, it's possible not only to resolve the discs of the Jovian moons but to observe the shadow cast by one on another!

Posted at 12:00 Permalink


Here is the full two and a half hour Tesla AI Day presentation, including the excerpts posted earlier about Tesla Bot and Tesla Dojo.

Posted at 11:13 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Spacewalk from Chinese Tiangong Space Station

Posted at 11:07 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Tesla Bot and Project Dojo

Tesla “Project Dojo”, machine learning training processor:

Question and answers:

Posted at 10:25 Permalink

CONTEXT: OneWeb/Soyuz Launch #9 Abort—Clueless Commentator Comically Confused

Let's watch the last minute of the countdown to the scheduled launch of 32 OneWeb satellites from Baikonur on a Soyuz launcher under contract to Arianespace. The launch sequencer cut off the countdown prior to start of the ignition sequence (in fact, before detachment of the second umbilical, which precedes it). News of this apparently failed to reach the Arianespace commentator who, unlike those on SpaceX launch webcasts who hail from the engineering staff, seems to represent the public relations department.

In any case, as the rocket just sits there long after the scheduled launch time, we're treated to a hilarious description of “smoke billowing” around it (just condensation from the cold liquid oxygen tanks) and the ignition process which wasn't happening. So far, there have been no reports of what caused the cutoff or announcement of the next launch attempt.

Posted at 09:48 Permalink

Thursday, August 19, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Compiler Optimisation of Hideously Bad Code

Posted at 15:55 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: National Ignition Facility Achieves 1.3 Megajoule Laser Fusion Yield

Posted at 14:29 Permalink

CONTINUITY: The Wright Flyer

Posted at 13:08 Permalink

CONTEXT: U.S. Government Attempts to Define “Animal”

Posted at 12:39 Permalink


Posted at 11:44 Permalink

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: A New Record for Computing Digits of π? Not So Fast!

Posted at 14:37 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Airdropping Live Fish

Posted at 14:09 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Spinning Spacecraft for Artificial Gravity—Practical Considerations

Posted at 13:14 Permalink

CONTEXT: Tom DeLonge and Jim Semivan: UFOs and Government Secrets

Posted at 11:38 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Boston Dynamics—Atlas: Partners in Parkour

Behind the scenes…

Posted at 11:06 Permalink

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Champlain Towers South Collapse in Florida—What We Know So Far

Posted at 13:32 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Arianespace Vega VV19 Launch—Pléiades Neo 4 / LEDSAT / RADCUBE / SUNSTORM / BRO-4

I have cued the video to start one minute before liftoff. If you wish to see the preliminaries, scroll back to the start.

Posted at 13:05 Permalink

CONTEXT: Relativity Space—Building (Almost) an Entire Rocket with 3D Printing

Posted at 12:29 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Hewlett-Packard 150A Oscilloscope Restoration: Part 2

After a release of the magic smoke event, replacing defunct capacitors, testing and changing defective vacuum tubes, the beast, with fifty-two tubes aglow, begins to come to life. More troubleshooting remains, but it's coming along.

Posted at 11:20 Permalink

Monday, August 16, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: OpenAI Codex Demonstration

From the creators of GPT-3, this is a neural network trained to write code based upon natural language instructions. This is one of the most “roaring twenties” things I've seen for a while. I've signed up for the waiting list for the beta programme, and if and when approved, I'll see what it can do for the kind of code I write.

Posted at 12:58 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Origin of the Dual In-line Integrated Circuit Package

I once worked with a guy who said he was in the room at Fairchild Semiconductor when they came up with the idea for the dual in-line package.

Posted at 12:25 Permalink

CONTEXT: Engineering Property Rights and Contracts with Non-Fungible Tokens


Posted at 11:03 Permalink


Posted at 10:43 Permalink

Sunday, August 15, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX: Super Heavy Booster 3 Dismantling Begins

Having served its purpose as a pathfinder for fit checks, ground service equipment tests, and a static firing, booster 3 is being scrapped.

Posted at 17:32 Permalink

CONTEXT: David Brin: Sousveillance as the Answer to Big Brother and Stupidity

Surveillance is the few monitoring the speech, thoughts, and actions of the many. “Sousveillance”, as described in David Brin's 1999 book The Transparent Society, is the many monitoring the few at the peak of the pyramid. Paraphrasing Brin more than two decades ago: “The ubiquitous cameras and microphones are coming. The only question is who gets to look and listen: the Man, or everybody?”

Here is a proposal along these lines I made in 2017.

My view is that if they want to snoop on every aspect of citizens’ lives, then turnabout’s fair play. Put cameras and microphones in all federal offices and taps on all their phones. These would be browseable by anybody. There would be no need to require them to archive it: this would be accomplished by citizen snoops using their own Big Data resources. There would be national security exemptions for, say, military officers of O-6 and above and civilians GS-15 and above, based upon access to sensitive information. Worker bees at CIA, NRO, and NSA would not be exempt. All elected officials would be subject to this citizen oversight.

I’d call it the “Surveillance Reciprocity Act".

Posted at 12:41 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Optical Tweezers—Levitating Objects in a Beam of Light

Posted at 11:29 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Raising the Roadway on London's Tower Bridge

Posted at 10:39 Permalink

CONTEXT: SpaceX: “Mechazilla” Catching Starship (Animation)

Posted at 10:26 Permalink

Saturday, August 14, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Weekly Space Report: SpaceX Starbase Progress, Orbital Refuelling Plans, Catching Starship in Mid-Air

Posted at 14:06 Permalink

CONTEXT: IBM Solid Logic—When Monolithic ICs Weren't Ready for System/360

Posted at 13:04 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: How the Immune System Works

Posted at 10:40 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Boeing Starliner OFT-2 “Hangar Queen” To Be Destacked and Returned to Factory: Likely Delay of Months

When Boeing moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago in September, 2001, I predicted that the result would be a decline in its technological leadership, reputation for quality, customer satisfaction, and market share. All of these have since occurred. One of the most historically-proven bonehead moves for what is at its core an engineering company is to move the senior management to a location apart, in this case by two time zones, from the engineering staff. For a while, Boeing distinguished itself as a leader in “maximising shareholder value” by buying back their own stock, deferring research and development investment, and milking existing product lines instead of developing state of the art replacements. But ultimately, “that trick never works”, and in reality one maximises shareholder value by designing, building, and delivering products which customers want to buy.

Fourmilab has long had the tradition of “vendor death penalty” for suppliers who deliver (or don't deliver) junk. It's long past time NASA did the same.

Posted at 09:30 Permalink

Friday, August 13, 2021

CONTEXT: Nine Transient Starlike Objects in a 1950 Palomar Sky Survey Plate

Here is the research paper from Nature Scientific Reports, “Exploring nine simultaneously occurring transients on April 12th 1950”, describing nine starlike objects recorded on Palomar Observatory Sky Survey red plate XE 325, a half-hour exposure. This is, of course, seven years before the launch of Sputnik, and the images show no trails as would be produced by aircraft or Earth satellites, even in geosynchronous orbits, although transient flares from objects in high orbits are a possibility. The objects do not appear on earlier plates of this region and have never been seen since.

This is probably the closest thing to a UFO report ever published in a Nature journal.

Posted at 12:37 Permalink


“Critical theory”: everything must be interpreted in the context of race and gender, which do not exist.

“It's a woke world after all.”

Posted at 12:14 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Wire-Wrapped Prototype of the Original IBM Personal Computer Motherboard

Note also the bypass capacitors soldered to the power and ground pins to the socketed ICs on the front of the board.

The IBM Personal Computer was announced forty years ago, on August 12th, 1981.

Posted at 11:47 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Knitting an Animation

Posted at 11:34 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: One Month Time Lapse of Dandelion Flower to Seed Head

Posted at 10:51 Permalink

Thursday, August 12, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Radiation Roulette: Solar Flares and Deep Space Missions

On August 4, 1972, an intense solar flare disabled spacecraft, interrupted radio communications on Earth, disrupted electrical power grid systems, and caused an intense aurora display. This was about mid-way between the Apollo 16 and 17 manned lunar missions. If the radiation from the flare had arrived while a crew was on the Moon, they would likely have received a lethal dose of radiation. If human spaceflight beyond the protection of Earth's magnetic field (which largely shields crews in low Earth orbit) becomes more common, protection against inevitable solar flares during missions will have to be provided.

Posted at 11:02 Permalink

CONTEXT: Earth and Moon from Moon and Earth

Posted at 10:02 Permalink

CONTINUITY: SpaceX: Starbase Launch Site Tour with Elon Musk

From atop the orbital launch mount, Elon Musk speaks eloquently of the urgency grounded in realising the next step of the human endowment before inertia, entropy, incompetence, coercive government and bureaucratic suffocation, resource exhaustion and societal bankruptcy close the window on achieving it.

Posted at 09:44 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Indian Space Research Organization Indian Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle F10 Launch Failure

I have cued the launch video to start ninety seconds before launch. Things go all Kerbal at 37:09 into the video, the point where the cryogenic upper stage separates and is supposed to ignite. The animation shows it firing, but telemetry shows it tumbling and following a ballistic trajectory, indicating the engine did not start. There follows a Soviet-style long silence, with people staring at consoles clearly indicating the failure. Near the end is the announcement “Performance anomaly observed in the cryogenic stage. Mission will not be accomplished fully”. This is a polite way to say, “Oops. The rocket and payload are tumbling toward burning up in the atmosphere, with debris falling into the Andaman Sea”.

Jeb, check your staging!

Posted at 09:06 Permalink

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

CONTINUITY: Repairing a Hewlett-Packard 7475A Pen Plotter with a 3D Printed Part

The program referred to in the narration as “Inkspace” is actually “Inkscape”, a free multi-platform vector graphics editor.

Posted at 12:47 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Landing a Helicopter on a Pitching Deck

I wonder if after touching down the pilot uses the collective to produce down-thrust to “stick” the wheels to the deck.

Posted at 12:18 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Heavy Water, Norsk Hydro, and the Telemark Raids

Here is more about the World War II Norwegian heavy water sabotage raids.

Posted at 11:46 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Nanometre-Scale Turing Patterns in Bismuth Crystals

Alan Turing's work on morphogenesis, culminating in his 1952 paper, “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis”, is less known than his contributions to computing and cryptography, but remains the foundation for understanding the spontaneous formation of patterns in nature. Here is an apparent example of emergence of Turing patterns in an inorganic system without explicit activators, inhibitors, or diffusion.

Turing's investigation of morphogenesis is the jumping off point for Rudy Rucker's zany 2019 on-the-road novel, Turing and Burroughs.

Posted at 11:17 Permalink

CONTEXT: A Volcano in the Back Yard—Visiting the Site of the 2018 Hawaii Eruption

Posted at 10:48 Permalink

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Northrop Grumman Cygnus CRS-16 Cargo Launch to the International Space Station

Launch is scheduled for 21:56 UTC with a five minute launch window from NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Here is yesterday's pre-launch briefing for the mission.

Posted at 15:42 Permalink

CONTINUITY: SpaceX: Tracking a Falcon 9 Landing Burn to Touchdown

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CONTEXT: “Deadly 5G Radiation” vs. an Electromagnetic Field Meter

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CONTEXT: Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Photographs Rover Perseverance in the Distance

Posted at 11:46 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Boeing Starliner OFT-2 “Hangar Queen”—Seven of Thirteen Valves Still Stuck

In a post titled “NASA, Boeing Make Progress on Starliner Valve Issue”, the “issue” is identified as “…several valves in the Starliner propulsion system that did not open as designed during the launch countdown for the Aug. 3 launch attempt. The valves connect to thrusters that enable abort and in-orbit maneuvering.” So, with these valves stuck closed, Starliner is effectively a piece of space junk which cannot either save its crew in case of a launch accident nor manueuver in space to rendezvous and dock with the space station.

The Boeing “teams are applying mechanical, electrical and thermal techniques to prompt the valves to open” which is aero-speak for “hitting it with a hammer and heat gun” to try to fix it. “This is how we fix problems in Boeing space capsule!

U.S. taxpayers have paid Boeing more than US$ 570 million so far to develop this capsule, which has been in work for a decade and has yet to launch a human crew. Rumours that it is to be rebranded the “Starliner MAX” are unfounded.

Posted at 11:04 Permalink

Monday, August 9, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX: Starbase Tank Farm Status

Posted at 19:26 Permalink

CONTEXT: Shut Down the Good Engine—British Midland Flight 92 from 1989

Here is more about the accident, also known as the Kegworth air disaster. Forty-seven of the 118 passengers died in the crash or subsequently from injuries sustained in it. (All eight crew members survived.)

Posted at 13:06 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Monorail! The Bennie Railplane

Although electrically powered, the propellers would have been very noisy, but that wouldn't have been a problem since the monorail tracks were to be installed over existing railway right of ways, and would be quieter than the steam locomotives in use at the time. Sharing right of way would eliminate costs for acquiring land for the monorail system, but proved its undoing, since railways feared loss of their lucrative passenger business and refused to grant permission to install the overhead trackways.

Posted at 11:48 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: SpaceX: How Does Starship's Heat Shield Work?

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Sunday, August 8, 2021

CONTEXT: Perseid Meteor Seen from the International Space Station

This picture dates from 2011, but it's time to start looking for meteors in this year's Perseid meteor shower, which is expected to put on a fine display, peaking on August 11 through 12 (and maybe extending into the 13th), with no interference from the Moon which, only four days since new, will have set before the prime hours for observing the shower (11 P.M. and later local time, or whenever astronomical twilight ends if you're at a high latitude).

Posted at 14:17 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starship Fully Stacked, Starliner, and Starlink Updates

Marcus House's weekly space update recounts the furious pace of developments at SpaceX's Starbase, as well as regress with Boeing's Starliner, and the upcoming filling-out of Starlink's polar orbit planes for high latitude coverage.

Posted at 12:59 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Rocket Boots for Spacewalkers!

“As easy as riding a bicycle”—in six degrees of freedom—without gravity or friction.

Posted at 12:06 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Paper Models of Vintage Computers

The IMSAI 8080 page says:

I know these systems were often used as CP/M machines but who beyond the well-to-do and die-hard enthusiasts would have found a use for one of these systems in these early days is unclear to me.

Nonsense: most of these machines were connected to ASCII terminals and used with CP/M for software development, word processing, and other minicomputer-type work at a fraction of the cost of alternatives. For developing 8080 software, the cost was far less than Intel's development system. I used an IMSAI chassis and peripheral boards to develop and test my Marinchip 9900 16-bit S-100 CPU board.

Posted at 11:26 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Arctic Fox Walks 3500 km from Norway to Canada—Tracked by Satellite

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CONTEXT: Touring Starbase with Elon Musk—Part 2

This segment includes a deep dive into the iterative development philosophy used by SpaceX, glimpses of the new radially gored nosecone design, views of Starship thermal protection tile application, and discussion of goals for the first orbital flight test (“Don't blow up and destroy Stage 0 [the launch site]).

Posted at 10:26 Permalink

Saturday, August 7, 2021

CONTEXT: Chaotic Bouncing Balls and Concave Billiards

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THE HAPPENING WORLD: University of Wisconsin Removes Giant Rock Due to Nickname in 1925 Newspaper Headline

Behold another to file under “AGE OF STUPID”. Here is an article with more details, including information about the 1925 newspaper article and nickname. The rock, with a mass of 42 tons, is a pre-Cambrian “glacial erratic” carried by glaciers during an ice age and deposited after they receded, is estimated to be more than two billion years old. It was officially named “Chamberlin Rock”, in honour of Thomas Chamberlin, a geologist who was president of the university from 1887 through 1892.

Posted at 14:03 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Observing Transits of Earth from other Stars

Observing transits, where planets pass in front of the stars they orbit, has become the means by which most exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) have been discovered. Precision measurements allow detecting the diameter, possible moons, and atmospheric properties of these planets. Future instruments may make it possible to identify signs of life, such as the presence of atmospheric gases (for example, methane and free oxygen) which are produced by living organisms and unstable unless continually replenished by them.

From how may stars, nearby and more remote, might transits of the Earth be observed, and what might alien astronomers learn about Earth? The European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft, which is assembling a three dimensional map of around a billion stars in the Milky Way, allows estimating this for the first time. The paper, “Past, present and future stars that can see Earth as a transiting exoplanet”, was published in Nature, and is behind a paywall.

Posted at 12:36 Permalink

CONTINUITY: SpaceX: Mating Starship and Super Heavy

Posted at 11:30 Permalink

CONTEXT: X-Ray Echoes from a Black Hole

Here is the research paper, “A Joint Chandra and Swift View of the 2015 X-Ray Dust Scattering Echo of V404 Cygni”.

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Friday, August 6, 2021

CONTEXT: Virgin Galactic Raises Ticket Prices to US$ 450,000, Delays Customer Flights to Second Half of 2022

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: SpaceX: Starship Fully Stacked

Posted at 15:26 Permalink

CONTINUITY: The "Racketeer Nickel"—When the U.S. Mint Omitted “Cents” from a Coin

“A continent populated by grifters.”

Posted at 14:33 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Apple iOS: World Police

In my 2003 essay “The Digital Imprimatur”, I forecast that “Protecting the Children” would be the initial wedge used to subvert privacy and free speech on the Internet, warning that “Whenever a politician starts talking about ‘the children,’ keep one eye on your wallet and the other on your liberty.”

Well, here we go again, with something far more pernicious: snooping on files stored on a personal device to which people entrust vast quantities of intensely personal information. Once the infrastructure is in place and state media have silenced the whacko-birds denouncing this infringement of liberty, they'll move on to other items on the check list I enumerated in “The Digital Imprimatur”: hate speech and the “unholy trinity” of terrorists, drug dealers, and money launderers. Then the turn will come for “spreaders of misinformation”, “vaccine and climate change deniers”, “conspiracy theorists”, and other instances of wrongthink and circulation of “hate facts”. This is the holy grail of which oppressive snooper states have dreamed for decades: you can be assured that aspiring commissars in China, Russia, the United States, the European Union, and every crap-hole despotism bent on protecting Fearless Leader from dissent and mockery are already drawing their plans on how best to exploit this capability.

Note one absolutely crucial point in this. They aren't just scanning files posted on a public server or even (hideously pernicious enough) those in an individual user's private “cloud” archive. This scanning of content is done on the client (i.e. individual privately-owned mobile device) side, and without the user's knowledge or ability to disable it. This means that the very same technology, once deployed, will have the ability to see content sent and received even by messaging applications with end-to-end encryption, since they are running at a level in which the content appears in the clear on the sending and/or destination device.

In a sane world, this should be the coffin nail in Apple's already shrinking share of the mobile device market. But ours is not a sane world. Watch for coercive governments to mandate equivalent technology in all mobile operating systems and prohibit open source “ghost phones” which permit their “owners” to disable it.

Posted at 13:15 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Boeing Starliner OFT-2 “Hangar Queen” Rolled Back for Repairs, May be Delayed “Months”

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Thursday, August 5, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX: How Starlink Positions Satellites in their Constellation

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TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: A Flame that Won't Burn You

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CONTINUITY: Space Collection—Part 2: Puzzling Out an RL10 Rocket Engine

Here is more about the RL10.

Posted at 04:43 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Disappearing, Reappearing Staircase

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CONTEXT: Rocket Lab: Global Facilities Tour

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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Searching for Alien Technosignatures with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

Here is more about the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

Posted at 13:12 Permalink

CONTEXT: Touring Starbase with Elon Musk—Part 1

This not only shows Elon Musk as the hands-on chief engineer of the entire project, but also includes details I'd never before heard such as Super Heavy's using ullage gases instead of cold- or hot-gas thrusters for post-separation attitude control, why the grid fins on Super Heavy do not retract, and that the landing mode of lunar Starship is not yet settled.

Not shown: Starship SN20 with all six engines installed.

Posted at 12:44 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Moths Taking Flight at 6000 Frames per Second

Posted at 11:48 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Pressure Lamps: Mantle Gaslight from Liquid Fuels (with Occasional Excitement)

Before I was born, my parents had a gasoline stove like the one shown in the video, except it was a full four-burner kitchen stove, complete with a big tire pump like handle to pressurise it. The thing was on wheels, so if (when) it caught on fire, you could roll it through the kitchen door to the outside until it calmed down. The thing was still in the barn when I was a kid, and I heard stories about adventures using it. To this day, I cannot explain why I never once decided to “fire it up” and see what would happen.

Posted at 09:25 Permalink

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

CONTINUITY: Welwitschia mirabilis Has Only Two Leaves, Lives for Millennia

Here is the research paper, “The Welwitschia genome reveals a unique biology underpinning extreme longevity in deserts” from Nature Communications. Here is more on Welwitschia.

Posted at 11:11 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX: Engines Installed on Starship Super Heavy Booster

I knew that reminded me of something!


Posted at 11:04 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Bouncing Cosmological Models vs. the Big Bang and Inflation

I have no idea why Prof. Keating saddles these in-depth, technically sound videos with click-bait titles (“New Model DUNKS on the Big Bang!”) or clutters them with “video clip art” having nothing to do with the presentation. If you can get past that, there's a serious discussion of cyclic cosmological alternatives to the standard big bang cosmological model, the problems they solve, the challenges they face, and how observations may allow testing them.

Posted at 10:49 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Vacuum Tube Computer Part 15: Soft-Start Power On Circuit

With the project about half done and already employing around 90 vacuum tubes, it's time to deal with the massive in-rush of current when power is applied to all of those cold heaters at once. (Vacuum tube filaments have low resistance when cold, which rises as they reach operating temperature.) A clever circuit which uses the filament warm-up of gas-filled thyratron tubes as a time delay comes to the rescue.

Posted at 10:40 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Boeing Starliner OFT-2 Launch

“This time for sure!”


2021-08-03 14:33 UTC

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Monday, August 2, 2021

CONTINUITY: “That Trick Never Works”: Prohibition in Imperial Russia

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CONTINUITY: An Accessible Global Ocean—“The Science Case for a Return to Enceladus”

Freeman Dyson suggested looking for freeze-dried fish in the plumes erupting from Enceladus's south pole.

Posted at 13:08 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Car Crashes—Simulation vs. Reality

Posted at 12:35 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Navigating a Submarine Below and Surfacing through Arctic Ice

Posted at 12:08 Permalink

CONTEXT: Visualising the International Space Station's Accidental Spin

As frequently happens, when three-dimensional rotations are involved, we find ourselves treading into the weeds of gimbal lock and quaternions. Sounds like a job for the Fourmilab Orientation Cube!

Posted at 11:54 Permalink

Sunday, August 1, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Predicting the Performance of Intel Microprocessor Cores through Simulation

Here is the paper, “Accurate Throughput Prediction of Basic Blocks on Recent Intel Microarchitectures”. This paper provides insight into just what is going on inside these processors, which work nothing like the programmer's view of the x86 instruction set.

Posted at 13:05 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: How's that “Genetically Engineered Super-Soldier” Programme Coming Along?

Su Bingtian of China is the first man without Sub-Saharan African ancestry to quality for the Olympic men's 100 metre final since 1980.

From American Military News, 2020-12-04, we have “China’s testing ‘biologically enhanced’ super soldiers on their own troops, says DNI Ratcliffe”, and from the Jamestown Foundation's China Brief, Vol. 19 No. 18 of 2019-10-08, “China’s Military Biotech Frontier: CRISPR, Military-Civil Fusion, and the New Revolution in Military Affairs”.

Posted at 12:39 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Nuclear Powered Bomber Testbed—Convair NB-36H “Crusader” Progress Report, 1956

The Convair NB-36H was a B-36 bomber modified to carry a General Electric one megawatt air-cooled nuclear reactor in its bomb bay. The reactor did not power the plane's engines, but was intended to test shielding and operational procedures for a nuclear powered bomber with range limited only by crew endurance. The program, and its planned follow-on, the Convair X-6 nuclear powered experimental aircraft, was cancelled in 1961.

Posted at 12:24 Permalink

CONTEXT: Stephen Wolfram and Nassim Nicholas Taleb in Conversation

Here are two brilliant and original thinkers, covering topics ranging from fat tails in statistics, theory vs. experience, evidence-based medicine, cryptocurrencies, intuition and non-Gaussian distributions, survival and absorbing barriers, risk-taking and precaution, the difference between economics and finance, and much more. The conversation is in two parts, totalling more than three and a half hours, with questions from participants in the 2021 Wolfram Summer School. I found it more than worth the investment of time.

Posted at 11:56 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Can't Operate an Umbrella

His Royal Highness, the heir apparent, is amused.

Posted at 10:41 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: “All night long the [future] Martians were hammering and stirring, sleepless, indefatigable, at work upon the machines they were making ready”

To keep up to date with the furious pace of events at Starbase, as well as other space-related news, a superb resource is Marcus House's weekly space reports, posted every Saturday. Here is the most recent, including progress on the Starship launch tower and orbital ship launch mount.

This post's title is from H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, chapter 8.

Posted at 10:24 Permalink