Climate change has made ESG a force in investing

But the figures behind ESG rating systems are dismal

The Trump administration’s trade policies clash with each other

The president’s tariffs-by-tweet contrast with his officials’ deliberate moves

Tax our tech and we’ll blacklist your bubbly

Tariff threats move from trade to tax

Splits in Italy threaten to derail euro-zone reforms

Politicians are quarrelling over reforms to the zone’s bail-out fund

The perils and rewards of economies in rehab

Why investors in serial recidivists like Pakistan keep coming back for more

Myanmar admits foreign life insurers

AIA, Chubb and others hope for rich pickings in South-East Asia’s most populous mainland country

For 15 years two currencies have outperformed all others

What accounts for the consistent strength of the baht and the shekel?

Created to democratise credit, P2P lenders are going after big money

But rising red tape and competition could see them stumble

Japan’s economic troubles offer a glimpse of a sobering future

As other rich countries age, their economies too will suffer from sluggish demand

Comments on November Employment Report

The headline jobs number at 266 thousand for November was above consensus expectations of 180 thousand, and the previous two months were revised up 41 thousand, combined. The unemployment rate decreased to 3.5%.

Earlier: November Employment Report: 266,000 Jobs Added, 3.5% Unemployment Rate

In November, the year-over-year employment change was 2.204 million jobs including Census hires.

Seasonal Retail Hiring

Typically retail companies start hiring for the holiday season in October, and really increase hiring in November. Here is a graph that shows the historical net retail jobs added for October, November and December by year.

Seasonal Retail HiringClick on graph for larger image.

This graph really shows the collapse in retail hiring in 2008. Since then seasonal hiring has increased back close to more normal levels. Note: I expect the long term trend will be down with more and more internet holiday shopping.

Retailers hired 466 thousand workers (NSA) net in November.   Note: this is NSA (Not Seasonally Adjusted).

In October and November combined, retailers hired about the same number of seasonal workers as in the previous two years.

Average Hourly Earnings

Wage growth was below expectations. From the BLS:
"In November, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents to $28.29. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.1 percent."
Wages CES, Nominal and RealThis graph is based on “Average Hourly Earnings” from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) (aka "Establishment") monthly employment report. Note: There are also two quarterly sources for earnings data: 1) “Hourly Compensation,” from the BLS’s Productivity and Costs; and 2) the Employment Cost Index which includes wage/salary and benefit compensation.

The graph shows the nominal year-over-year change in "Average Hourly Earnings" for all private employees.  Nominal wage growth was at 3.1% YoY in November.

Wage growth had been generally trending up, but has weakened recently.

Prime (25 to 54 Years Old) Participation

Employment Population Ratio, 25 to 54Since the overall participation rate has declined due to cyclical (recession) and demographic (aging population, younger people staying in school) reasons, here is the employment-population ratio for the key working age group: 25 to 54 years old.

In the earlier period the participation rate for this group was trending up as women joined the labor force. Since the early '90s, the participation rate moved more sideways, with a downward drift starting around '00 - and with ups and downs related to the business cycle.

The 25 to 54 participation rate was unchanged in November at 82.8%, and the 25 to 54 employment population ratio was unchanged at 80.3%.

Part Time for Economic Reasons

Part Time WorkersFrom the BLS report:
"The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons, at 4.3 million, changed little in November. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs."
The number of persons working part time for economic reasons decreased in November to 4.332 million from 4.438 million in October.   The number of persons working part time for economic reason has been generally trending down.

These workers are included in the alternate measure of labor underutilization (U-6) that decreased to 6.9% in November.

Unemployed over 26 Weeks

Unemployed Over 26 WeeksThis graph shows the number of workers unemployed for 27 weeks or more.

According to the BLS, there are 1.224 million workers who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks and still want a job. This was down from 1.264 million in October.


The headline jobs number was above expectations, and the previous two months were revised up.  The headline unemployment rate decreased to 3.5%; however, wage growth was below expectations.  Overall this was a solid report.

Note> The conclusion of the GM strike boosted employment in November, after negatively impacting employment in October.  

In 2019, the economy has added 1.969 million jobs through November 2019 ex-Census, down from 2.452 million jobs during the same period of 2018 (although 2018 will be revised down with benchmark revision to be released in February 2020).   So job growth has slowed.

On National Security | Government taking steps to better support commercial space industry

The U.S. Air Force just held its inaugural “Space Pitch Day” in which small businesses were given a chance to win contracts on the spot. No red tape. Officials said this will become an annual thing.

Live pitch events are one of several avenues the Air Force is pursuing to attract U.S.-owned startups and commercial businesses that are breaking new ground in space technology. A desire to reach out to innovators also has driven efforts like the Space Enterprise Consortium and a number of initiatives to help fund space tech incubators.

Amid a rapid growth in commercial space ventures, it dawned on the Air Force that many of its programs are stuck in the past and not benefiting from the spurt in innovation.

“We need to look beyond the big traditional primes to tap into true innovation,” Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno, director of space programs at the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said last month at the International Astronautical Congress.

“My boss Dr. Roper has been insistent that our future depends on a healthy industry and especially for space, that industry has to grow,” she said.

Will Roper is the Air Force’s top acquisition executive and one of the staunchest advocates for greater outreach to commercial space, particularly small businesses.

Engagements like Pitch Day are helping to build some credibility with small business, Armagno said, while also acknowledging that the government could do more to change its ways. “We must do things differently,” she said.

One sector of the commercial space industry where the Air Force is trying to become a better customer is small launch. Armagno said there is a recognized need for the U.S. military to work with emerging small launch providers.

Having access to a broad base of launch providers that can fly from multiple locations is a central component of a resilient space architecture, noted Armagno.

Roper told SpaceNews during a recent interview that he has been closely watching the small launch industry to understand the dynamics of the sector. Some small providers are counting on government contracts for their survival and the Air Force has been slow to figure out a business model to work with these companies, Roper acknowledged.

“I am pushing the Air Force to engage with small launch companies,” said Roper. He sees this industry as a potential disrupter that could make it possible for the United States to deploy entire constellations on demand and make it costly for enemies to try to take them down.

But he worries that some companies with promising technologies and novel launch approaches won’t make it because there is not enough work to go around.

“I talked to companies about what makes the business case close for them,” said Roper. He has asked the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center to come up with a plan. “We need to be able to partner with them on launch and test infrastructure. And we need to commit to a stable number of launches per year so they’ll get steady work from the Air Force even during commercial downtimes.” These are things the government can do, said Roper.

Many in the commercial space industry argue that the sector’s growth is being stymied by burdensome government regulations. On issues like space launch licensing, commercial companies large and small wonder why it’s taking so long for the government to update existing regulations that were written decades ago.

Wayne Monteith, the Federal Aviation Administration’s official who oversees commercial space, said the agency is working to revise launch and re-entry licensing rules to help the industry become more competitive. But it’s a tough balancing act, he said.

After spending 30 years in government, “what I see in the commercial world is that the risk calculus is completely different,” Monteith said at the International Astronautical Congress. “Whether they answer to private investors or shareholders, it’s different than answering to taxpayers,” Monteith said.

Commercial space companies are pushing technology and are in a constant race against time, he said. Like the Air Force, the FAA wants to be supportive, Monteith added. “To have collaboration is not always natural for a government agency. We want to be able to handle those innovative ideas from industry, as long as we continue to protect the public.”

“On National Security” appears in every issue of SpaceNews magazine. This column ran in the Nov. 11, 2019 issue.

Sandra Erwin


Sandra Erwin covers military space for SpaceNews. She is a veteran national security journalist and former editor of National Defense magazine.

Testing your own DNA is illegal in France has the story:

In France, it’s illegal for consumers to order a DNA spit kit. Activists are fighting over lifting the ban  By ERIC BOODMAN

"The French ban on direct-to-consumer genetic testing is part of the country’s bioethics laws, which legislators are supposed to revise every seven years. When those discussions got underway earlier this year, some geneticists expected the National Assembly to relax the rules about commercial DNA analysis. It didn’t. Now, Jovanovic-Floricourt and the other genetics enthusiasts in her education and advocacy group, DNA Pass, are agitating more and more to get some of these tests legalized, contacting lawmakers, chatting up scientists, promising a more vociferous campaign than they’ve waged before.

"But as one of the most vocal pro-legalization advocates, Jovanovic-Floricourt may have found her match in geneticist Guillaume Vogt and his bioethicist postdoc Henri-Corto Stoeklé. Theirs is an unusual standoff, in that they’re all motivated by the same ideas. Both sides hope to protect French genomes from exploitation by foreign companies. Both sides believe that French institutions are the best guardians for the job. They just disagree about how, exactly, to realize that vision. As Vogt, a scientist at the National Center for Human Genomics Research, put it, “Don’t change the law!”

November Employment Report: 266,000 Jobs Added, 3.5% Unemployment Rate

From the BLS:
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 266,000 in November, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 3.5 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Notable job gains occurred in health care and in professional and technical services. Employment rose in manufacturing, reflecting the return of workers from a strike.
The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for September was revised up by 13,000 from +180,000 to +193,000, and the change for October was revised up by 28,000 from +128,000 to +156,000. With these revisions, employment gains in September and October combined were 41,000 more than previously reported.
In November, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 7 cents to $28.29. Over the last 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 3.1 percent.
emphasis added
Payroll jobs added per monthClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the monthly change in payroll jobs, ex-Census (meaning the impact of the decennial Census temporary hires and layoffs is removed - mostly in 2010 - to show the underlying payroll changes).

Total payrolls increased by 266 thousand in November (private payrolls increased 254 thousand).

Payrolls for September and October were revised up 41 thousand combined.

Year-over-year change employmentThis graph shows the year-over-year change in total non-farm employment since 1968.

In November, the year-over-year change was 2.204 million jobs.

The third graph shows the employment population ratio and the participation rate.

Employment Pop Ratio, participation and unemployment ratesThe Labor Force Participation Rate decreased in November to 63.2%. This is the percentage of the working age population in the labor force.   A large portion of the recent decline in the participation rate is due to demographics and long term trends.

The Employment-Population ratio was unchanged at 61.0% (black line).

I'll post the 25 to 54 age group employment-population ratio graph later.

unemployment rateThe fourth graph shows the unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate decreased in November to 3.5%.

This was well above consensus expectations of 180,000 jobs added, and September and October  were revised up by 41,000 combined.   A solid report.

I'll have much more later ...

Today's Agenda: WH Questions Those Giuliani Call Logs

In what’s seen as an attempt to poke holes in House Democrats’ impeachment case, White House officials are disputing the details of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s contacts with White House aides during key moments in the Ukraine pressure scheme. Here’s more on that and other stories we’re following.

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Tierney Sneed will be monitoring whether House Democrats plant to include Trump conduct laid out by the Mueller report in their articles of impeachment.

Josh Kovensky will be following Giuliani’s exploits in Kyiv and how they bring the Trump lawyer closer to Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch with extensive legal issues in the US.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot back on Thursday evening at the Sinclair reporter who asked her in she hated Trump. The question appeared to bother Pelosi, who invoked her Catholic faith and declared in strong terms that the motivation for impeachment was based solely on defending the Constitution and nothing else. We’ll continue to monitor this petty back-and-forth.

White House officials told the New York Times that the phone number that Giuliani was calling is technically a White House switchboard line, making it more difficult to determine who exactly Guiliani might have been in contact with. While it’s been reported that the phone number is tied to the budget office, the officials told the the Times that it also is linked to the offices in the upper level of the West Wing and the National Security Council.

Today’s Rundown

Today: Trump will host a roundtable talk with small businesses to discuss his alleged “red tape reduction accomplishments.”

3:15 p.m. ET: Trump and the first lady will attend the Christmas reception in the Grand Foyer.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Kennedy Says He’s Done Pushing DNC-Ukraine Conspiracy After Retracting His Retraction — Summer Concepcion 

Reading List

How a CBC producer caught Trudeau on a hot mic gossiping about Trump — CBC Radio

I Worked For Alex Jones. I Regret It. — Josh Owens

Emotional baggage  —  Away’s founders sold a vision of travel … — Zoe Schiffer

James Otis’s Medical Recovery

According to James Otis’s first biographer, William Tudor, Jr., after his brawl in the British Coffee-House in September 1769 he received care from “Doctors Perkins and Lloyd.”

Dr. James Lloyd (1728-1810, shown here) was one of Boston’s leading medical practitioners. Although he was a Loyalist in his politics, he remained in town after the siege and reestablished his popularity and practice.

There were three prominent doctors named Perkins in Boston at this time: John Perkins (1698-1781), his son William Lee Perkins (1737-1797), and Nathaniel Perkins (1715-1799). Nathaniel seems to have had the most active practice, so he’s most likely to have examined Otis. The court records (more about that tomorrow) could say for certain.

Back in 1764 Dr. Nathaniel Perkins inoculated John Adams against smallpox, and Adams described him this way:
Dr. Perkins is a short, thick sett, dark Complexioned, Yet pale Faced, Man, (Pale faced I say, which I was glad to see, because I have a great Regard for a Pale Face, in any Gentleman of Physick, Divinity or Law. It indicates search and study). Gives himself the alert, chearful Air and Behaviour of a Physician, not forgeting the solemn, important and wise.
Lloyd and Perkins found James Otis had suffered a deep head wound. They reportedly testified that it must have come from “a sharp instrument,” which Whigs insisted meant a sword. Nonetheless, all the eyewitness evidence says Customs Commissioner John Robinson walloped Otis with a walking stick.

Years later Adams wrote that Otis bore “a scar, in which a man might bury his finger,” and joked, “what is worse, my friends think I have a monstrous crack in my skull.”

At first, people thought Otis would recover. Within a few weeks he was behaving more rationally than before the fight. Toward the start of this series of postings I quoted a couple of entries from John Adams’s diary just before the brawl. In early September Adams had been struck, then annoyed, by how much Otis was talking at social events.

The next time Adams mentioned Otis in his diary (which he kept sporadically enough that year that this might not have been the next time they met) was on 19 October. Adams wrote:
Last night I spent the Evening, at the House of John Williams Esqr. the Revenue officer, in Company with Mr. Otis, Jona. Williams Esqr. and Mr. McDaniel a Scotch Gentleman, who has some Connection with the Commissioners, as Clerk, or something.

Williams is as sly, secret and cunning a fellow, as need be. The Turn of his Eye, and Cast of his Countenance, is like [Ebenezer] Thayer of Braintree. In the Course of the Evening He said, that He knew that Lord Townsend borrowed Money of [Charles] Paxton, when in America, to the amount of £500 st. at least that is not paid yet. He also said, in the Course of the Evening, that if he had drank a Glass of Wine, that came out of a seizure, he would take a Puke to throw it up. He had such a Contempt for the 3ds. of Seisures. He affects to speak slightly of the Commissioners and of their Conduct, tho guardedly, and to insinuate that his Connections, and Interest and Influence at Home with the Boards &c. are greater than theirs.

McDaniel is a composed, grave, steady Man to appearance, but his Eye has it’s fire, still, if you view it attentively.—

Otis bore his Part very well, conversible eno, but not extravagant, not rough, nor soure.
Adams was acerbic about Inspector Williams’s boasting but thought Otis very well behaved. He no longer monopolized conversation or indulged in “bullying, bantering, reproaching and ridiculing” as he had weeks before. If Otis had indeed been suffering a manic mood back in early September, it had passed.

Unfortunately, in the following spring it became clear that James Otis had become prone to serious mental instability. The injury to his head might not have brought on such problems, but it certainly didn’t help.

Andy Ellis on Risk Assessment

Andy Ellis, the CSO of Akamai, gave a great talk about the psychology of risk at the Business of Software conference this year.

I've written about this before.

One quote: "The problem is our brains are intuitively suited to the sorts of risk management decisions endemic to living in small family groups in the East African highlands in 100,000 BC, and not to living in the New York City of 2008."

AFDLOX December 6, 4:45am

FXUS66 KLOX 061245 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 445 AM PST Fri Dec 6 2019 .SYNOPSIS...06/233 AM. A storm system over the eastern Pacific Ocean will bring increasing clouds today with rain becoming likely between tonight and Saturday. Shower activity should linger into Sunday, then a general warming and drying trend should develop through the rest of next week.

AFDSGX December 6, 4:35am

FXUS66 KSGX 061235 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 430 AM PST Fri Dec 6 2019 .SYNOPSIS... Dry and mild today with a weak ridge of high pressure over the region. A mild storm moving in from the Pacific will bring periods of mostly light rain this weekend. A large west swell bring high surf to our beaches. The storm will exit the region early Monday followed by building high pressure that will bring dry, warm weather most of next week.

Replacing Orange Livebox router by a Linux box

A few months ago, I moved back to France and I settled for Orange as an ISP with a bundle combining Internet and mobile subscription. In Switzerland, I was using my own router instead of the box provided by Swisscom. While there is an abundant documentation to replace the box provided by Orange, the instructions around a plain Linux box are kludgy. I am exposing here my own variation. I am only interested in getting IPv4/IPv6 access: no VoIP, no TV.


Orange is using GPON for its FTTH deployment. Therefore, an ONT is needed to encapsulate and decapsulate Ethernet frames into GPON frames. Two form-factors are available. It can be small Huawei HG8010H box also acting as a media converter to Ethernet 1000BASE-T:

Huawei ONT rebranded as Orange
The rebranded Huawei HG8010H is acting as an ONT and media converter

With a recent Livebox, Orange usually provides an SFP to be plugged inside the Livebox. For some reason I got the external ONT instead of the SFP version. As I have a Netgear GS110TP with two SFP ports, I have bought an SFP GPON FGS202 on eBay. It is the same model than Orange is providing with its Livebox 4. However, I didn’t get the motivation to test it.1

Sercomm SFP ONT
The Sercomm FGS202 GPON SFP ONT

IPv4 configuration

Internet is provided over VLAN 832 and configured with DHCPv4. The first step is to setup the DHCP client to send some additional information, notably the RFC 3118 authentication string. It includes the alphanumeric connection identifier prefixed by fti/ and provided by snail mail. /etc/dhcp/dhclient.conf looks like this:

option rfc3118-authentication code 90 = string;
interface "internet" {
  timeout 60;
  retry 1;
  select-timeout 0;
  send vendor-class-identifier "sagem";
  send user-class "+FSVDSL_livebox.Internet.softathome.Livebox4";
  # fti/xxxxxx identifier can be converted to hexadecimal with:
  #  echo -n 123456 | od -A n -t x1
  send rfc3118-authentication 00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:1a:09:00:00:05:58:01:03:41:01:0d:66:74:69:2f:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx;
  request subnet-mask, routers,
          domain-name-servers, domain-name,
          dhcp-lease-time, dhcp-renewal-time, dhcp-rebinding-time,

Orange expects some control packets, notably DHCP, to be tagged with 802.1p PCP 6. This is a 3-bit field within the Ethernet frame when using VLANs. By default, Linux leaves this field blank. With ip link, we can translate Linux’s skb->priority to a PCP. On Debian, here is how to declare the VLAN interface:2

auto internet
iface internet inet dhcp
  pre-up    ip link add link eno1 name internet type vlan id 832 egress-qos-map 0:0 6:6
  pre-up    /etc/firewall/run
  post-down ip link del internet

The last step is to add the appropriate code in /etc/firewall/run to ensure DHCP, ARP, IGMP and ICMP packets have an internal priority of 6. Netfilter’s CLASSIFY target would be the easiest solution. However, ISC DHCP client is using raw sockets and the packets it sent won’t pass throught Netfilter. A clean solution is to use tc to modify packets just before handing them to the network card. The skbedit action allows to change the priority associated to a packet:

# We need a qdisc to set filters
tc qdisc replace dev internet root handle 1: prio
tc filter del dev internet

# DHCP (raw sockets, do not specify "protocol ip")
tc filter add dev internet parent 1: prio 1 u32 \
     match ip protocol 17 ff \
     match ip dport 67 ffff \
     action skbedit priority 0:6
tc filter add dev internet parent 1: prio 2 protocol 0x806 u32 \
     match u32 0 0 \
     action skbedit priority 0:6
tc filter add dev internet parent 1: prio 3 protocol ip u32 \
     match ip protocol 2 ff \
     action skbedit priority 0:6
tc filter add dev internet parent 1: prio 4 protocol ip u32 \
     match ip protocol 1 ff \
     action skbedit priority 0:6

With this configuration in place, ifup internet should get you connected through IPv4.

IPv6 configuration

Native IPv6 is also available over the same VLAN. SLAAC autoconfiguration should be used to get a default route, but not the IP address. Instead, Orange is providing a /60 prefix through DHCPv6 “prefix delegation.”

The DHCP configuration is completed to send the DHCPv6 equivalents for vendor class, user class and authentication string:

# […]
option dhcp6.auth code 11 = string;
option dhcp6.userclass code 15 = string;
option dhcp6.vendorclass code 16 = string;
interface "internet" {
  timeout 60;
  retry 1;
  select-timeout 0;
  # […]
  send dhcp6.vendorclass 00:00:04:0e:00:05:73:61:67:65:6d;
  send dhcp6.userclass 00:2b:46:53:56:44:53:4c:5f:6c:69:76:65:62:6f:78:2e:49:6e:74:65:72:6e:65:74:2e:73:6f:66:74:61:74:68:6f:6d:65:2e:6c:69:76:65:62:6f:78:34;
  send dhcp6.auth 00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:00:1a:09:00:00:05:58:01:03:41:01:0d:66:74:69:2f:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx:xx;
  also request dhcp6.auth, dhcp6.vendorclass, dhcp6.userclass;

The firewall script is amended to classify DHCPv6 and ICMPv6 packets with priority 6:

# DHCPv6
tc filter add dev internet parent 1: prio 5 protocol ipv6 u32 \
     match ip6 protocol 17 ff \
     match ip6 dport 547 ffff \
     action skbedit priority 0:6
# ICMPv6
tc filter add dev internet parent 1: prio 6 protocol ipv6 u32 \
     match ip6 protocol 58 ff \
     action skbedit priority 0:6

The definition of the internet interface is updated to invoke the DHCPv6 client:

auto internet
iface internet inet dhcp
  pre-up    ip link add link eno1 name internet type vlan id 832 egress-qos-map 0:0 6:6
  pre-up    /etc/firewall/run
  post-down ip link del internet
  post-up   /lib/ifupdown/ && \
            dhclient -6 -P -pf /run/dhclient6.$ \
                           -lf /var/lib/dhcp/dhclient6.$IFACE.leases \
                           -df /var/lib/dhcp/dhclient.$IFACE.leases \
  post-down dhclient -6 -r -pf /run/dhclient6.$ dhclient \
                           -lf /var/lib/dhcp/dhclient6.$IFACE.leases \
                           -df /var/lib/dhcp/dhclient.$IFACE.leases \
                           $IFACE || true

The /lib/ifupdown/ script waits for the interface to get a link-local address before continuing. The -P option for the DHCPv6 client enables prefix delegation and disables the normal address query.

It is not over: the DHCPv6 client will receive a /60 prefix but there is nothing configured to make use of it. You need to drop a script in /etc/dhcp/dhclient-exit-hooks.d to actually distribute this prefix to your internal network. Here is a simplified non-tested version of this script:

IA_PD_IFACES="lan-trusted lan-guest lan-games"

case $reason in
    for iface in $IA_PD_IFACES; do
      # Remove old /64 prefix if there is a change
      [ -n "$old_ip6_prefix" ] && \
        [ "$old_ip6_prefix" != "$new_ip6_prefix" ] && \
        ip -6 addr flush dev $iface scope global
      # Compute and add new /64 prefix
      [ -n "$new_ip6_prefix" ] && {
        offset=$((offset + 1))
        address=$(sipcalc --v6split=64 --split-verbose "$new_ip6_prefix" \
                   | grep '^Compressed' \
                   | awk "(NR == $offset)"' { print $NF }')1/64
        ! ip -6 addr show dev $iface | grep -qwF $address || \
          ip -6 addr add $address dev $iface

At the top of the script, the IA_PD_IFACES variable contains the list of internal interfaces. From the /60 provided in $new_ip6_prefix, the script will assign a /64 to each of them—along with the first address. For example, when being assigned 2001:db8:f:b00::/60, we get:

$ ip -brief -6 a show scope global
lan-trusted@eno1  UP  2001:db8:f:b00::1/64
lan-guest@eno1    UP  2001:db8:f:b01::1/64
lan-games@eno1    UP  2001:db8:f:b02::1/64

I am using dnsmasq to offer IPv6 router advertisements to hosts in each network. This is done through the dhcp-range directive:


The script also handles the default route by switching accept_ra to 2 for the internet interface to accept IPv6 router advertisements even when forwarding is enabled and sending an IPv6 router discovery packet using rdisc6:

case $old_ip6_prefix,$new_ip6_prefix in
    # No IPv6 prefix delegation, remove old route
    sysctl -qw net/ipv6/conf/$interface/accept_ra=0
    ip -6 route del default proto ra || true
    # Otherwise, get a default route
    sysctl -qw net/ipv6/conf/$interface/accept_ra=2
    rdisc6 $interface

Be sure to use the complete script instead of the shortened code above! If after ifdown internet && ifup internet, you don’t get a /60 prefix, you may have to reboot the ONT to clear an old DHCP lease.

  1. As Orange is using the serial number to authorize the ONT, my plan is to call Orange customer service, pretend I have got a replacement and provide the new serial number. ↩︎

  2. There is no need to have the VLAN number in the interface name. I usually leaves them out as it doesn’t help to describe the interface. The VLAN number can still be recovered with ip -d link show↩︎

Rocket Report: Starship build sites shuffled, SLS “absolutely mandatory”

The Electron launch vehicle is ready to soar.

Enlarge / The Electron launch vehicle is ready to soar. (credit: Rocket Lab)

Welcome to Edition 2.25 of the Rocket Report! Please note that there will be no report next week due to extreme laziness on the part of the author taking a week off from his day job to work on a book project. Thank you for your patience, and we'll be back in mid-December.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Live coverage: Practice countdown underway for Starliner and Atlas 5

Live coverage of preparations for the next United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launch from pad 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission will launch Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is guided into position above a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket at the Vertical Integration Facility. Credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Check here for live updates on Atlas 5 launch preparations. Spaceflight Now Members can watch a live view of the launch pad.

Russian cargo freighter on the way to space station

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket climbs into the sky Friday over the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with the Progress MS-13 supply ship. Credit: Roscosmos

For the second time in less than 24 hours, a robotic resupply freighter departed Earth Friday for the International Space Station, this time aboard a Russian Soyuz booster launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

A Soyuz-2.1a booster lifted off at 4:34:11 a.m. EST (0934:11 GMT) from Launch Pad No. 31 at Baikonur and climbed into orbit in pursuit of the space station.

The Soyuz launch occurred at 2:34 p.m. local time at Baikonur, roughly 16 hours after a U.S. supply ship built and owned by SpaceX took off from Cape Canaveral to begin its own cargo delivery flight to the station.

Burning kerosene fuel mixed with super-cold liquid oxygen, the three-stage Soyuz launcher headed east-northeast from Baikonur, shedding its four first stage boosters, payload shroud and core stage in the first five minutes of the flight. A third stage engine ignited to place the Russian Progress MS-13 cargo freighter in orbit.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, confirmed the Progress MS-13 supply ship deployed from the Soyuz rocket in the planned orbit. The Progress vehicle’s solar panels and navigation antennas unfurled moments later, setting the stage for a series of orbit adjustment burns over the next three days to rendezvous with the space station.

Docking of the Progress MS-13 spacecraft with the station’s Pirs module is scheduled for 5:38 a.m. EST (1038 GMT) Monday, one day after the scheduled arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon cargo vessel.

The Russian and U.S. cargo shipments will together deliver nearly six tons of equipment, experiments and provisions to the space station’s six-person crew.

The Progress MS-13 supply ship is carrying 2.7 tons of cargo, propellant, water and oxygen to the orbiting research outpost.

After docking, Russian cosmonauts will unpack some 3,000 pounds (1,350 kilograms) of dry cargo stowed inside the Progress MS-13 spacecraft’s pressurized compartment. The mission will also deliver 1,433 pounds (650 kilograms) of propellant to refuel the propulsion system on the station’s Russian segment, along with 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of water and 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of oxygen.

The gear to be delivered to the station by the Progress MS-13 spacecraft includes a new track for a treadmill used by cosmonauts for exercise.

The Russian resupply vessel is slated to depart the space station next July with a load of trash to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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Electron launches smallsats in test of rocket reusability

Electron launch

WASHINGTON — Rocket Lab successfully launched several smallsats Dec. 6 on an Electron mission also designed to test technologies to make the rocket’s first stage reusable.

The Electron lifted off from the company’s launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula at 3:18 a.m. Eastern after more than a week of delays caused by ground equipment issues and weather. The rocket’s Curie kick stage deployed its payload of seven smallsats starting about an hour after liftoff.

Six of the seven satellites were “PocketQube” picosatellites, smaller versions of cubesats, developed by Scottish company Alba Orbital for five customers in the United States and Europe. Those satellites will perform a variety of technology demonstrations, from intersatellite communications links to Internet of Things connectivity.

The seventh, and largest, satellite is ALE-2, from Japanese company Astro Live Experiences. The 75-kilogram satellite will demonstrate the ability to produce artificial meteor showers by releasing colored projectiles that will burn up in the upper atmosphere.

The launch, the tenth for the Electron and called “Running Out Of Fingers” by Rocket Lab, is the first of a “block upgrade” for the rocket that incorporates improvements as part of the company’s efforts to recover and reuse the first stage. Those changes include the addition of new flight computers and S-band telemetry for a guidance and navigation system to control the stage through reentry back to the ground.

Rocket Lab said prior to the launch that it would not attempt to recover the stage, but instead use the mission to gather data as it goes through what the company has dubbed the “wall” of heating as it renters. “We’re doing basically everything except popping parachutes,” Peter Beck, chief executive of Rocket Lab, said in a November interview.

While there was only limited video from the first stage as it started its reentry, Beck said a short time later that test went well. “Electron made it through wall! Solid telemetry all the way to sea level with a healthy stage. A massive step for recovery!!” he tweeted.

The launch was the sixth and final Electron mission of 2019. The company is anticipating a higher flight rate in 2020, which has been driving its work on rocket reusability as well as manufacturing upgrades to speed the production rate of rockets. The company will also later this month formally open its second launch site, on Wallops Island, Virginia, with a first launch from there scheduled for early 2020.

Bridenstine asks Congress to fully fund lunar lander program quickly

lunar lander

WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine used a Dec. 5 speech on Capitol Hill to implore Congress to finish a fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill for NASA as soon as possible to give the agency funding to proceed on a lunar lander program.

Bridenstine, speaking at a Space Transportation Association luncheon, told an audience of industry officials and congressional staffers that the agency needed a final appropriations bill, and not another stopgap spending measure, to keep development of a lunar lander on track to enable a human return to the moon by 2024.

NASA, along with the rest of the federal budget, is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) that funds programs at fiscal year 2019 levels but prevents new programs from starting. The current CR funds the government through Dec. 20.

“CRs are better than shutdowns, we all know that. But CRs are not appropriations,” he said. “CRs aren’t going to get us there. I asking you to work, as diligently as possible, Republicans and Democrats, in a bipartisan way, to get a bill that can get us a lander to put us on the surface of the moon.”

In an amendment to the agency’s fiscal year 2020 budget request in May, NASA sought $1 billion to work on human-rated lunar landers. The House version of its commerce, justice and science (CJS) appropriations bill included no funding for the lander, while the Senate version provided about $744 million for lander development.

“The Senate mark is good, and we’re very appreciative of that,” Bridenstine said. He added, though, that the agency “would have to turn some knobs” on the lander program if it does end up with that amount rather than the full $1 billion.

He urged full funding for the lander program as a measure that, he argued, would save money in the long run. “If we underfund at the beginning, we’ll have to downselect early, and then the costs in the end go way, way up,” he said.

The Human Landing System program envisions awarding initial study contracts to several companies, then selecting two for full development. “If we can come out of the gate with maybe three different, independent solutions, and then downselect to two, yes, that costs more money up front, but it will save the American taxpayer on the back end and it will increase the probability of success,” he said.

Bridenstine also pressed for a final spending bill as soon as possible, warning that if the process stretched on for too long, as could be the case if Congress instead passed another CR this month, it would jeopardize the ability to have a lander ready by the 2024 deadline.

“As time goes on, there’s going to come a date when I’m going to have to say, look, if we don’t have an appropriation for a lander that’s significant, we’re not going to be able to go to the moon on the timescale that we’re looking for,” he said. He added he didn’t know when that date was, but doubted it was when the current CR expires Dec. 20.

It might be possible, he added, to start work on the landers even if NASA is still under a CR in early 2020 because the program is part of NASA’s existing Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, rather than a wholly new effort. Companies are already working on their lander designs on their own, he noted, but won’t fund that work with their own money indefinitely.

Exactly how the appropriations process will play out over the next two weeks is unclear. House and Senate appropriators finally agreed last month on spending allocations among their 12 separate bills, allowing them to begin negotiations to reconcile differences between House and Senate versions. However, issues ranging from debates on border security funding to potential impeachment proceedings against President Trump could delay any final agreement on spending bills.

“Anybody who says they know how it’s going to end doesn’t,” said Jim Morhard, NASA deputy administrator and a former Senate Appropriations Committee chief of staff, of the appropriations process in a Dec. 3 interview. He said then he didn’t have any insights in how appropriations were leaning regarding funding the agency’s programs, including the lunar lander. “I can’t read the tea leaves, but I’m confident they’ll make the right decisions.”

Bridenstine concluded his luncheon speech with another request to Congress to act soon on NASA’s budget, including putting the CJS bill in an “minibus” of several appropriations bills that would be completed together. “I’m asking you to help us. We’ve got big projects ahead,” he said. “Help us with this landing system that we need so desperately.”

Julian Barbour: what is time?

The standardisation and accuracy of human timekeeping has improved by leaps and bounds over the millennia – from tracing the stars, to the invention of timepieces, to the atomic ‘clocks’ of today. But for all our efforts, the concept of time, including whether it’s little more than an illusion of human psychology, remains deeply puzzling. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, the independent British physicist Julian Barbour endeavours to distinguish between our experience of time and its scientific underpinnings, including what has and hasn't changed about our conception of time since we first looked to the skies to measure it.

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Is there anything especially expert about being a philosopher?

Outside a university setting, telling people that I’m pursuing a career in philosophy can be a bit of a conversation stopper. More times than I can count, I’ve faced the bemused but well-intentioned question: ‘How is that useful?’ I seem like a nice guy, smart, capable – why am I intent on doing ...

By David Egan

Read at Aeon

Luxembourg expands its space resources vision

Étienne Schneider, deputy prime minister of Luxembourg, frequently tells the story of how he got interested in building a space resources industry in the country. His efforts to diversify the country’s economy several years ago led to a meeting with Pete Worden, at the time the director of NASA’s Ames Research Center and a proponent of many far-reaching space concepts. During an Oct. 22 panel discussion at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington, he recalled Worden advocating for commercial space: “Why shouldn’t you go for space mining activities?”

“When he explained all this to me, I thought two things,” Schneider said. “First of all, what did the guy smoke before coming into the office? And second, how do I get him out of here?”

“For space mining, you will not have revenues for many years. You need to have short-term initiatives to raise some money on the way.” Étienne Schneider, Luxembourg deputy prime minister. Credit: Arno Mikkor via Flickr

He eventually bought into Worden’s vision, starting a space resources initiative that attracted companies to the country while enacting a space resources law like that in the United States. By the beginning of 2019, though, it looked like it might all be a bad trip. The two major startups in that industry, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, had been acquired by other companies with no interest in space resources. Worse, the Planetary Resources deal wiped out an investment of 12 million euros Luxembourg made in the startup.

Schneider is undaunted by those setbacks as he continues work to make Luxembourg a hotbed of entrepreneurial space, a scope that has expanded beyond, but has not abandoned, space resources. During the IAC, the country’s year-old space agency signed an agreement with NASA to explore potential cooperation, building on an agreement Luxembourg signed with the U.S. Commerce Department in May. Just before the conference, Luxembourg announced it would partner with the European Space Agency on a space resources center in the country.

Schneider and Mario Grotz, director of research in Luxembourg’s Ministry of the Economy, discussed those initiatives with SpaceNews during the IAC.

A condensed version of the interview follows.

The Luxembourg Space Agency is signing a memorandum of understanding with NASA. What are your aims with that agreement?

Schneider: In June, we met with [NASA Administrator Jim] Bridenstine and we talked about signing an agreement of cooperation between NASA and the Luxembourg Space Agency. Our aim is to really develop together all kinds of new activities in space. We’re trying to bring U.S. companies together with Luxembourg-based companies and see how they can cooperate. Through our Luxembourg Space Agency, we want to open the doors for them to ESA programs as well. That’s why it’s important for us to have this collaboration with NASA.

What’s the next step after signing the agreement?

Grotz: The next step will be to go into depth and see what topics, what projects we can do together, and how we can make sure our companies contribute to the technologies that will also be needed for the Artemis program.

You also announced an agreement with ESA to establish a Space Resources Research Center. What’s the goal of that effort?

Schneider: We were working together with the various research institutes in Luxembourg and with the University of Luxembourg. But we came to the conclusion that in order to really progress in research about space resources, we should have a proper Space Resources Research Center. The good thing is that ESA is very much interested in cooperating in this research center. In November, there will be a minister’s council of ESA in Spain, where we hope we will get the agreement of the member states to have ESA on our side developing this research center. I think it will show the lead of Luxembourg in the European Space Agency about NewSpace activities and space resources.

How long until the center is up and running?

Schneider: It might take a year, but we will start immediately. We are already trying to hire people now. We will still continue working with other research centers in Luxembourg and abroad.

Now that the space resources initiative is a few years old, how would you judge your progress?

Schneider: It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. When we launched it in 2016, I never believed it would develop that fast. We have a huge demand of different companies, NewSpace companies, from all over the world who want either to be incorporated in Luxembourg or to cooperate with Luxembourg or Luxembourg-based companies. We’ve now have more than 50 NewSpace companies that we’ve attracted to Luxembourg, and more than 150 in our pipeline.

How many of those companies are focused on space resources in one way or another versus a broader definition of NewSpace?

Grotz: There’s only two or three that are really focusing on space resources. But there are a lot of companies that contribute technologies that could make space resources happen.

Schneider: These companies have a broader view on activities in space because, for space mining, you will not have revenues for many years. You need to have short-term initiatives to earn some money on the way. We want this community to develop in Luxembourg and build this new venture together.

Did the sale of Planetary Resources have any repercussions on your efforts?

Schneider: It had some on me and my election results last year, but apart from that it didn’t change anything in our strategy. But it’s always like that: when you fail with something, the opposition is going to make a big fuss about it. I always said that this initiative is high risk, and you have to accept that sometimes you’ll fail. I don’t see this as a dramatic situation. It’s life.

You’ve talked about establishing a venture capital fund for space companies. What is the status of that?

Schneider: We expect to launch it at the end of this year. We’re still building up our teams.

Will it be limited to space resources companies, or will other space ventures be eligible?

Grotz: You need a deal flow of companies, and of course today the deal flow just for companies focusing on space resources is not enough. So, we have broader interests.

Has Luxembourg’s space resources law, giving companies based in the country rights to resources they extract from the moon or asteroids, helped attract companies?

Schneider: Absolutely. Due to this legal framework, they can be sure about owning, possessing and commercializing whatever they do in space. The legal framework in the U.S. has a condition that you are only covered if your capital is majority U.S.-owned. But you have startups going into B and C rounds that need huge amounts of money, and if they can’t find enough American capital, they have a problem because they don’t fall under the law any more. These are companies that are interested in at least taking a look at Luxembourg because we don’t have that requirement.

Besides your partnerships with the U.S. and with ESA, are there other countries you’re seeking to cooperate with?

Schneider: We’ve signed about nine agreements now, and we’re getting to a point where we think it’s better to get more in depth with the countries we’ve signed with than signing with even more countries. For us, one of the most important agreements was the one we signed with [Commerce Secretary] Wilbur Ross, and we really want to try and push on this. That’s why it was important for us to sign this agreement with NASA.

What’s next for the space resources initiative?

Grotz: We have the law on space resources, but we’re planning a comprehensive space law for all different types of activities. I think it’s very important that we have regulations that are up to date for all activities. That will probably be the beginning of next year.

Is that law intended to enable new space activities, or better coordinate existing ones?

Schneider: It’s more like coordinate and consolidate. We want to have one legal framework that covers everything, so it’s easier for companies to find their way. The government was reelected last year and so for another five years you can be sure that the government sticks to its engagement, its initiative, so that this will continue to be developed. That’s a kind of security. Political security is important for investors.

What level of public interest and support is there in Luxembourg for the space resources initiative?

Schneider: In the public’s mindset it’s becoming a real and interesting topic. Everybody’s talking about it, and the media’s talking about it quite a lot. In the beginning, people were joking about it because they didn’t see any sense in it, and didn’t see Luxembourg being an important player in this. But this has changed. People see that Luxembourg is going forward and showing the way for many European countries. Now it’s something that’s really accepted. People are really a little bit thrilled to see what will be next. For us as a government, it’s quite important to know that public opinion is more and more in favor of what we’re doing.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 11, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

Are we undermeasuring productivity gains from the internet?, part II

From my new paper with Ben Southwood on whether the rate of progress in science is diminishing:

Similarly, the tech sector of the American economy still isn’t as big as many people think. The productivity gap has meant that measured GDP is about fifteen percent lower than it would have been under earlier rates of productivity growth. But if you look say about the tech sector in 2004, it is only about 7.7 percent of GDP (since the productivity slowdown is ongoing, picking a more recent and larger number is not actually appropriate here). A mismeasurement of that tech sector just doesn’t seem nearly large enough to fill in for the productivity gap. You might argue in response that “today the whole economy is incorporating tech,” but that doesn’t seem to work either. For one thing, recent tech incorporations typically involve goods and services that are counted in GDP. Furthermore, there is a problem of timing, namely that the U.S. productivity slowdown dates back to 1973, and that is perhaps the single biggest problem for trying to attribute this gap mainly to under-measured innovations in the tech sector.

Other research looks at “worst case” scenarios from the mismeasurement of welfare adjustments in consumer price deflators and finds a similar result: a significant effect that nonetheless does not reverse the judgement that innovation has been slowing. 

The most general point of relevance here is simply that price deflator bias has been with productivity statistics since the beginning, and if anything the ability of those numbers to adjust for quality improvements may have increased with time. For instance, the research papers do not find that the mismeasurement has risen in the relevant period. You might think the introduction of the internet is still undervalued in measured GDP, but arguably the introduction of penicillin earlier in the 20th century was undervalued further yet. The market prices for those doses of penicillin probably did not reflect the value of the very large number of lives saved. So when we are comparing whether rates of progress have slowed down over time, and if we wish to salvage the performance of more recent times, we still need an argument that quality mismeasurement has increased over time. So far that case has not been made, and if you believe that the general science of statistics has made some advances, the opposite is more likely to be true, namely that mismeasurement biases are narrowing to some extent. 

You will find citations and footnotes in the original.  Here is my first post on whether the productivity gains from the internet are understated.

The post Are we undermeasuring productivity gains from the internet?, part II appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Claims about real rates of return

With recourse to archival, printed primary, and secondary sources, this paper reconstructs global real interest rates on an annual basis going back to the 14th century, covering 78% of advanced economy GDP over time. I show that across successive monetary and fiscal regimes, and a variety of asset classes, real interest rates have not been “stable”, and that since the major monetary upheavals of the late middle ages, a trend decline between 0.6-1.8bps p.a. has prevailed. A consistent increase in real negative-yielding rates in advanced economies over the same horizon is identified, despite important temporary reversals such as the 17th Century Crisis. Against their long-term context, currently depressed sovereign real rates are in fact converging “back to historical trend” – a trend that makes narratives about a “secular stagnation” environment entirely misleading, and suggests that – irrespective of particular monetary and fiscal responses – real rates could soon enter permanently negative territory. I also posit that the return data here reflects a substantial share of “nonhuman wealth” over time: the resulting R-G series derived from this data show a downward trend over the same timeframe: suggestions about the “virtual stability” of capital returns, and the policy implications advanced by Piketty (2014) are in consequence equally unsubstantiated by the historical record.

That is from a new paper by Paul Schelzing, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The post Claims about real rates of return appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Air Force projects increased launch activity for 2020

LOS ANGELES — At least twice as many national security launches are projected for 2020 compared to 2019, according to U.S. Air Force projections.

“It’s really going to be an exciting year,” Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s launch enterprise, told SpaceNews Dec. 5.

“We could have as many as 11 national security launches in 2020, although I don’t think we’ll get that many,” he said. “It’ll probably end up between eight and 10.”

That would be a dramatic increase over 2019, when only four national security launches were carried out, all by United Launch Alliance. In January, a Delta 4 Heavy flew the NROL-71 for the National Reconnaissance Office. In March, the Air Force’s WGS-10 satellite was launched aboard a Delta 4 Medium. In August, an Atlas 5 flew an Air Force AEHF-5 satellite, and a GPS 3 vehicle was launched aboard a Delta 4 Medium

Bongiovi said the 2020 manifest is very much in flux, especially because most of the launches are scheduled in the latter part of the year and payloads might not be ready on time. “That’s why I’m hedging on the number,” he said. “Some may slip into 2021. But even if we only do eight, that’s a big deal.”

A normal year is between six and eight, said Bongiovi. “This year was a little low, so even eight will be a big increase.”

“We could see four or five Atlas launches and potentially two Delta Heavies for the NRO,” said Bongiovi. SpaceX has national security missions scheduled for 2020 as well, with as many as three by Falcon 9’s and the first Falcon Heavy national security mission.

In addition to the pickup in launch activity, there are other reasons why 2020 will be eventful, Bongiovi said. “We’ll be making a Phase 2 award, and that’s going to be huge.” The Air Force intends to select two launch providers for the National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement.

Four companies — ULA, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman — are competing for two slots.

Once the selection is announced, “We’ll be ordering launches, three are funded in the president’s budget,” Bongiovi said.

Another trend to watch in 2020 is the progress of the new launch vehicles that ULA, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman are developing for the Phase 2 competition. All three companies project their new rockets will fly for the first time in 2021.

“That means we’ll be doing final development and production of first-flight hardware in 2020,” said Bongiovi. “We’ll be doing a ton of testing.”

Air Force soon to release revised launch solicitation in response to GAO’s ruling

LOS ANGELES — The Air Force will soon release a revised request for proposals for the procurement of national security launch services in response to concerns raised by the Government Accountability Office in a Nov. 18 ruling.

“We are going to take corrective action,” Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s launch enterprise, told SpaceNews Dec. 5.

“We appreciate GAO’s efforts,” said Bongiovi. “We’re trying to be transparent.”

The criteria for evaluating launch providers that submitted proposals for the National Security Space Launch program was one of a series of objections raised by Blue Origin in a pre-award protest. GAO did not challenge the Air Force’s overall procurement strategy but objected to the evaluation criteria laid out in the request for proposals.

An amendment to the request for proposals (RFP) is in the works, he said. “We’re still in final coordination,” said Bongiovi. Once the revised RFP is published, all four competitors will be given a chance to amend their bids. Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance submitted proposals.

“The timeline and exact changes are still in final coordination,” Bongiovi added. “We’re going to address the GAO’s concerns.”

He insisted that the change in the evaluation criteria will not affect the overall program schedule. The Air Force plans to select two launch providers who will be awarded five-year contracts in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020. “We’re still on the same plan,” Bongiovi said.

The RFP the Air Force issued on May 3 said it would make two awards by picking two independently developed proposals that, “when combined,” offered the best value to the government. GAO objected to the “when combined” clause because federal procurement rules require that each bid be assessed independently.

An industry source said bidders anticipate a revised RFP will be released before the end of the year and they will be asked to submit their best and final offers by early 2020. The source said it is unlikely that the bidders will change their original bids as the GAO’s ruling only affects how the Air Force will assess the proposals.

Raytheon deputy director joins SAR startup Umbra Lab

SAN FRANCISCO – Marcus Chevitarese was the deputy engineering director for Raytheon Vision Systems when he met David Langan and Gabe Dominocielo, co-founders of Umbra Lab, a Santa Barbara, California, startup building synthetic aperture radar (SAR) microsatellites.

After hearing of Umbra’s plan to capture SAR imagery with a resolution of 25-centimeters from 50-kilogram satellites, Chevitarese was curious. “I’ve been around long enough to know people come up with creative solutions,” Chevitarese told SpaceNews.

Langan and Dominocielo invited Chevitarese to see their SAR prototype. “It was an elegant design,” Chevitarese said. “I felt like when you’re trying to solve a problem and someone gives you the answer.”

Umbra announced Dec. 5 that Chevitarese is the firm’s new engineering vice president.

“At Raytheon Vision Systems, I saw hundreds of development programs and got a good feel for what is going to work,” he said. “It seemed like if I didn’t join Umbra, I would regret it later.”

Joining a startup is still risky, Chevitarese said, but since he manages Umbra’s rapidly growing technical team and is responsible for project management, he can systematically reduce the risk. “I can help build a good team” and because it’s a startup “we can move quickly,” he said.

Langan, Umbra co-founder and CEO, said in a statement, “Marcus and the engineering team as a whole are exceptional and have exceeded every expectation.” Langan and Chevitarese are working together to develop Umbra’s technical strategy and technical roadmap.

Prior to working at Raytheon, Chevitarese held engineering posts at Ericsson, Takata’s Automotive Systems Laboratory and Autoliv Electronics. Chevitarese also worked in the late 1990s for another startup. He was an electrical engineer at AstroTerra, an optical communications company.

“Marcus is the kind of guy people stand up for when he walks into a room,” Dominocielo, Umbra co-founder and chief strategy officer, said in a statement. “He is someone for whom we have tremendous respect. Umbra is very fortunate to have him.”

Check Out These Other Gift Guides

If The Map Room’s 2019 Holiday Gift Guide still leaves you wanting for ideas, and the additional books in the Map Books of 2019 page don’t do it either—maybe you just don’t want a book—here are some other map-related gift guides curated by colleagues and reviewers:

Over at Map Dragons, Betsy Miller posts 10 Great Gifts for Map Lovers that include not just books, but posters, wallpaper, notebooks and even rugs. Many items, like Eleanor Lutz’s Atlas of Space, Jim Niehues’s book of ski resort maps, and Anton Thomas’s still-forthcoming pictorial map of North America, will be familiar to regular readers of this blog.

Mapping London’s Christmas list focuses on recent books about maps of London, as you might expect.

The New York Times’s Tina Jordan looks at recent map books, starting, as you might expect, with the latest National Geographic Atlas of the World (“If you’re going to buy just one atlas this fall . . . ”). Her list also includes a couple of 2019 releases I somehow managed to miss:

Book cover: An Atlas of Geographical WondersAn Atlas of Geographical Wonders: From Mountaintops to Riverbeds (Princeton Architectural Press, September), by Gilles Palsky, Jean-Marc Besse, Philippe Grand and Jean-Christophe Bailly, explores nineteenth-century scientific maps and tableaux, beginning with those by Alexander von Humboldt.

Also from September, Infinite Cities (University of California Press), a boxed set of Rebecca Solnit’s trilogy of atlases of San Francisco, New Orleans and New York.

Mason and Miller’s Third Act: Map Dragons

Betsy Mason and Greg Miller started blogging about maps at Wired Map Lab (which ran from 2013 to 2015), then moved to National Geographic, where their blog, All Over the Map, provided first-rate coverage of all matters cartographic, and formed the core of their book, coincidentally also called All Over the Map, which came out at the end of last year (see my review). Unfortunately the blog seems to have come to a close at about the same time the book came out. But now it looks like Betsy and Greg have struck out on their own with a new website, Map Dragons, where they promise more map stories soon. Can’t wait.

Friday: Employment Report

My November Employment Preview.

Goldman's November Payrolls preview.

• At 8:30 AM ET, Employment Report for November.   The consensus is for 180,000 jobs added, and for the unemployment rate to be unchanged at 3.6%.

• At 10:00 AM, University of Michigan's Consumer sentiment index (Preliminary for December).

• At 3:00 PM, Consumer Credit from the Federal Reserve.

Pleiades to Hyades

Pleiades to Hyades Pleiades to Hyades

Imagine A Million People Living On The Moon in 50 Years

Keith's note: Jim Bridenstine spoke at a Space Transportation Association luncheon today in Washington DC. At one point he talked about seeing a "million people living on the Moon in 50 years". So I tweeted that. Soon Twitter lit up with people doing weird math as to how many SLS flights would be required and at what cost. Seriously space fans? SpaceX Starship anyone? Anyway I got a call from Bridenstine a bit later and then tweeted this out:

"OK I just spoke with @JimBridenstine about what he thought he said - and meant to say - but had a slip of the tongue. He meant to say "a million people on the National Mall" celebrating our progress on the Moon 50 years from now. First he referred to huge crowds on the National Mall in DC this past July for Apollo 50 events. He referred to seeing 500,000 people on the Mall here in DC before (we all have) noting "They are usually not happy". The Apollo crowds were happy. Then he started to talk about how we are going to the Moon to stay, and started to imagine what things would be like 50 years hence such that we could "have a million people on the National Mall" celebrating our exploration and utilization of the Moon."

Hmm ... maybe Bridenstine was subconsciously channeling "Star Trek First Contact" (even if he claims to be a SpaceBalls/Star Wars fan):

"Zefram Cochrane: You don't have a moon in the 24th century?

William Riker: Sure we do. Just looks a lot different. There are 50 million people living on the moon in my time. You can see Tycho City, New Berlin... even Lake Armstrong on a day like this."

One other thing Bridenstine said was "the thing about Apollo is that it ended. We want Artemis to continue". Imagine If Apollo never ended 50 years ago and that lunar exploration and development continued and expanded. How many people might be living on the Moon now? Its time to catch up.

Dear Space Force Fans: Please Chill Out

The Space Force's moment of truth, op ed, Peter Garretson, Politico

"Within the Bay Area itself are Made-in-Space, NASA's Ames Research Center, and a conglomerate of Silicon Valley affiliated companies. How will they fare without the Space Force? A recent report State of the Space Industrial Base: Threats, Challenges and Actions outlined the threat these companies face by China's predatory pricing, investment in front companies, control of supply chains, and theft of intellectual property. Just this month, the US-China Economic and Security Commission, created by Congress, endorsed a Space Force to ensure" freedom of navigation and keeping lines of communication open, safe, and secure in the space domain, as the U.S. Navy does for U.S. interests in the maritime commons."

Keith's note: Huh? How is Space Force going to help Made-in-Space? There is no Space Force now and they're doing just fine. Is Space Force going to place armed guards around the ISS to keep the Chinese away? Is Space Force going to prevent China from utilizing space for commercial purposes so that only the U.S. can? Is Space Force going to engage in IP and patent protection in space and on Earth? The national defense aspect of Space Force has some logic to it. But the way the Space Force fans are whipping this whole thing up its as if there will be Space Force Cops patrolling in outer space writing parking tickets, chasing bad guys, and directing space traffic.

Oh and then there's this little gem "Second, it will have a devastating and compounding effect on jobs in key congressional districts." Aren't all congressional districts "key"? Or is this a scare tactic for big aerospace and the members of Congress they have ensnared in their lobbying efforts?

With a little less of this hyperventillation and crass political favoritism - and perhaps a little more basic wartime defense/prevention discussion - maybe a few more people might support this Space Force thing. Otherwise this sort of breathless op ed arm waving invites nothing more than mockery on a slow news day.

SpaceX pausing some Starship work in Florida

SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 vehicle at Boca Chica, Texas. This Starship test article was damaged Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX says it is temporarily halting some activity on the company’s next-generation Starship program in Florida, allowing teams to focus on building a new Starship test vehicle in Texas.

But the company says it has not laid off any employees who were building a Starship test vehicle at an industrial yard in Cocoa, Florida, near SpaceX’s launch sites at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

A few temporary employees at the Cocoa site chose to leave the company, but SpaceX says it offered the Starship team in Florida opportunities to transfer to work on Starship in Texas, or remain in Florida and work on the company’s other projects.

Some Starship work in Florida is continuing, such as construction of a new launch mount on pad 39A at KSC, the same launch complex where Apollo moon missions and space shuttles departed Earth. SpaceX currently leases the launch pad from NASA, and has outfitted the facility for future astronaut missions using the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Meanwhile, components of a new Starship vehicle, designated Mk3, have arrived at SpaceX’s launch site at Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX is moving forward with construction of the Starship Mk3 vehicle after the company’s first full-scale Starship, Mk1, was damaged during a cryogenic loading test at high pressure last month at Boca Chica.

SpaceX has said that the Nov. 20 accident that damaged the Starship Mk1 vehicle was not a serious setback. At the time of the Nov. 20 accident, company officials said they had already shelved plans to launch the Starship Mk1 rocket on a high-altitude test flight to 65,000 feet (20 kilometers).

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, tweeted after the pressure test rupture that the Mk1 vehicle had value as a manufacturing pathfinder, but that the final Starship design is “quite different.” The Starship Mk3 will be designed for orbital missions, he added.

Musk’s statement Nov. 20 raised questions about the future of the Starship Mk2 vehicle, which SpaceX was building at the Cocoa, Florida, location. The fate of the Mk2 version of Starship remains unclear, but the latest information from SpaceX suggests it will not fly.

The Starship is one of two components of SpaceX’s next-generation reusable launch system, which the company says will be the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of lifting 150 tons of payload into space. Future Starship vehicles will be joined with a Super Heavy booster, which SpaceX is also developing, to loft cargo into Earth orbit, to the moon, Mars and other deep space destinations.

Six methane-fueled Raptor engines will power the orbital-class version of the Starship. In September, Musk said three Raptors will fly on the Starship for low-altitude tests, and up to 37 Raptor engines will power the Super Heavy booster.

The privately-developed Starship vehicle stands around 164 feet (50 meters) tall with its nose cone installed. The nose cone, which includes aerodynamic fins, was not on the rocket for Wednesday’s test. The vehicle measures around 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter, about one-and-a-half times the diameter of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.

Combined with the Super Heavy first stage, the entire stack will stand around 387 feet (118 meters) tall. The Starship serves as the upper stage of the combined vehicle, and SpaceX says it will introduce an in-space refueling capability to allow Starships to ferry heavy payloads into deep space.

Both stages will be reusable, returning to Earth for vertical propulsive landings similar to SpaceX’s Falcon rocket boosters. SpaceX only recovers the first stage on its Falcon rocket family.

The Starship will eventually replace the Falcon family of rockets, hauling satellites into orbit and delivering cargo and crews to the moon and Mars, according to SpaceX.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Links 12/5/19

Links for you. Science:

Conserving Cultures: Preserving Humanity’s Microbial Heritage
At NASA, 2019 was the year of the woman, yet women still are a big minority at the space agency
How we could sleep better – in less time
The Hairy Frogfish (Antennarius striatus)
Warming Waters, Moving Fish: How Climate Change Is Reshaping Iceland


I was a drug rep. I know how pharma companies pushed opioids.
Prime Mover: How Amazon Wove Itself Into the Life of an American City
We’re Still Waiting for ‘Early and Often’ Climate Debate Questions
Air travel shows what happens when we give companies ruinous power over us
A good thread on why you should never accept second-hand summaries of polling data
The first Star Trek film took off from an unlikely launchpad: Washington
Nancy Pelosi Pushes the House to Pass USMCA, but Neglects a Bill With Broad Support to Strengthen Unions
The Invention of Thanksgiving
It’s time for DC’s Donald Trump to Go
A tale of two health cares
House Democrats have passed nearly 400 bills. Trump and Republicans are ignoring them.
David Duke and His Twitter Nazis Got Mad at Me. Twitter Took Their Side.
Dutch Communist Party’s general strike in defense of persecuted Dutch Jews, Amsterdam, 1941.
Sierra Club Calls on DC Council to Expel Jack Evans (#4 is probably what led to the letter)
Rep. Duncan Hunter to plead guilty in case alleging misuse of campaign funds
Clear backpacks, monitored emails: life for US students under constant surveillance
Lisa Page Speaks: ‘There’s No Fathomable Way I Have Committed Any Crime at All’
Sanders outpaces other 2020 Dems in Latino fundraising support: An independent analysis shows the Vermont senator easily leading with contributions from a key voting bloc. (not surprising: he has put the work in, and the archetype 21st century New Dealer would be Latino)
Buttigieg is wrong — free college should be free for all, including children of the rich
A Hillary ‘shill’ goes all-in for Bernie

Goldman: November Payrolls Preview

A few brief excerpts from a note by Goldman Sachs economist Spencer Hill:
We estimate nonfarm payrolls increased 180k in November ... We expect a 46k boost from the end of the General Motors strike … We also believe some of the 68k ADP miss this month reflected legitimate weakness in the ADP jobs panel.

We estimate an unchanged unemployment rate at 3.6%
emphasis added

It's Time

The end of the year is just around the corner, and it’s time to look back and contemplate what was. Get ready for the annual TPM Golden Dukes: the awards celebrating the year’s political disasters of all stripes.

As I write this, we’re working hard to put together our long list of those in the political arena who deserve commendation for their corruption, moral turpitude, or general weirdness.

We dole out these honors every December. It’s a long-running tradition (Josh Marshall explains the history here), and a deeply important one as our politics grow ever more turbulent.

We’re looking for nominees in seven categories:

  • Best Scandal – General Interest
  • Best Scandal – Local Venue
  • Meritorious Achievement in the Crazy
  • Most Valiant Trump Defender
  • Wildest Press Conference Moment
  • Literary Achievement in 280 Characters
  • Most Off-The-Walls Conspiracy Theory

Share your suggestions in the Hive or send them via email. Our judges will begin deliberating a week from today.

Op-ed | Envisioning the next 50 years in space

Fifty years ago, the Apollo 11 moon landing changed how the world viewed space exploration. For the millions of people who watched Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon’s surface, it inspired new horizons for the human spirit and imagination and even offered the possibility of life beyond our pale blue dot.

It’s that same imagination that has led experts in the space industry to create increasingly sophisticated innovations like the International Space Station and the Mars Curiosity rover, which have led to further research and exploration in the past half-century.

Even so, since the 1969 moon landing, space exploration has largely stagnated. Humans haven’t revisited the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972 and a mere 571 people have been in Earth’s orbit.

Fortunately, a new Space Age is upon us that will rocket us past the stagnation. New technologies, decreasing costs, foreign interests and the emergence of the private sector have heralded the forthcoming of the second space race and with it a hopeful future on the horizon.

Over the next 50 years, at least a few key developments will transform our idea of space more than ever before.


Without a thriving and entrepreneurial spaceflight sector, deep-space exploration with people won’t be sustainable. The private sector for now is focusing on how to reduce costs through assembly-line production techniques, which is critical to sustainable space tourism and exploration in the future.

While space exploration was popularized by the world’s government space programs, innovative events and breakthroughs won’t come through the incremental funding of government space agencies, but instead through pioneering private space companies.

According to Scott Hubbard, a Stanford University professor who ran NASA’s Ames Research Center, 75% of the global space enterprise is already commercial, including satellites belonging to the likes of SiriusXM radio and DirecTV. It’s the human component that will take precedence in the nearest decades — first, through the likes of space tourism and observation.

Similar to the economic forces that explored the American West, they will open up space to the many, even if they start with just the few.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin anticipate flying their first crewed suborbital space missions in 2020 with commercial flights to follow. Many would-be passengers are lining up to pay up to $250,000 to fly Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo or Blue Origin’s New Shepard to the edge of space for an out of this world view and several minutes of weightlessness.

As private companies seek to decrease the price of suborbital flight to as little as $50,000, it will provide increased access and interest in space tourism and observation. While the private sector adjusts for cost-efficiency, a 2019 USB report expects that high-speed travel via outer space will be fully functional in a decade and represent an annual market of at least $20 billion while competing with long-distance airline flights. Space tourism, in general, will be a $3 billion market by 2030.


Space settlement has been a hot topic even before robotic rovers started exploring Mars’ surface. As more people feel comfortable flying to space, an increase in space tourism will lay the foundations for people who want to start building lives there as well. However, space settlement offers major barriers including dangerous radiation, energy supply and simply getting life-sustaining supplies to these alien worlds.

However, settlements on the moon and Mars are shaping up to be a reality and not just the stuff of science fiction. NASA’s Artemis program is pushing for humanity’s return to the moon in 2024 and has already awarded contracts to Northrop Grumman for a lunar habitat, to Maxar Technologies for the lunar Gateway’s cornerstone Power and Propulsion Module and is just accepted proposals from industry for an Artemis lander it intends to contract as a service.

The European Space Agency, under the leadership of Jan Woerner, continues to push the Moon Village concept of open, collaborative exploration and utilization of the moon, is looking to this month’s ministerial conference to firm up Europe’s contribution to Artemis and the lunar Gateway.

Meanwhile, architect and design firms like Foster + Partners have unveiled plans for lunar habitats. The structures consist of modules shrouded in lunar soil that are then molded into an exterior shell to protect the dwellings from radiation, asteroid strikes and extreme temperatures.

This space architecture is also envisioned for Mars colonies, too. Both lunar and Martian habitats could feature inflatable pods that will serve as the base of these settlement while robot-operated 3D printers cement together regolith — loose soil and rocks — to form a protective shield around the pods.

Peter Diamandis, the chairman of X Prize Foundation, says that human lunar research outposts, one-way missions to Mars and the first births in space are what we can expect in the next 50 years.

While the timeline depends on the progress of space manufacturing and the ability to preserve human life on extraterrestrial planets, some experts predict that by 2061, millions of humans will have gone to space and thousands may live there.


Industry leaders have become more serious about mining for space resources, partially because Earth’s own resources are facing dire depletion due to climate change. Over the past several years, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has experimented with how to mine space for resources.

The space-resources community is actively working with the USGS to see how they can mine minerals, water and energy from the moon, Mars and asteroids. USGS’ expertise in mapping terrestrial resources should inform further research initiatives in the next several years so that space miners can rely on much needed geological maps for precise landing sites and resource-deposit selection.

According to Lazslo Kestay, a USGS research geologist, the organization has completed enough research to feel confident that the criteria they use to assess mineral, water and energy quality on Earth can be used to assess these same resources in space. Kestay says that nearby asteroids hold enough water and metal resources to support humans if they become completely spacefaring.

Lunar ice may be one of the last resources to be mined by humans because of its cost to mine and find it, but with NASA’s follow the water mentality on Mars, it could become a reality and already companies like Blue Origin and Japan’s ispace have plans to mine for resources there, meaning past 2024 it could become a reality.

While humans likely won’t become fully spacefaring in 50 years, the amount of activity in private and public sectors will force movement in utilizing space resources to benefit space settlements and even Earth’s population.


Although these plans are still developing, the next 50 years of space exploration will transform global societies as humans become more active between the Red Planet, the moon and Earth. While there are many political, economic and moral considerations to achieving these goals, innovations from the most forward-thinking private and commercial NewSpace companies are necessary to revolutionize how we learn about and explore space.

While the original moon landing gave humans a giant leap of hope toward space exploration, the next half century in advancements will allow us to more deeply consider our own place in the universe and the way we interact with each other and our environment inside and outside of our home planet.

Dylan Taylor is chairman & CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, founder of the global non-profit Space for Humanity and co-founding patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 11, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

Dragon soars on research and resupply flight to International Space Station

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket soared into space Thursday on a resupply flight to the International Space Station. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

A commercial Dragon supply freighter built and owned by SpaceX rocketed into a clear blue sky over Florida’s Space Coast Thursday with a menagerie of research experiments and holiday surprises heading for the International Space Station.

Scientists loaded 40 genetically-engineered into the Dragon capsule to help gauge the effectiveness of an experimental drug to combat muscle and bone atrophy. There’s also an experiment sponsored by Anheuser-Busch to study the malting of barley in microgravity, which could lead to the brewing of beer in space, the company says.

A combustion experiment to be delivered to the station will guide research into the behavior of flames in confined spaces in microgravity. NASA and commercial teams have disclosed seven CubeSats stowed inside the Dragon spacecraft for deployment in orbit, including the first nanosatellite built in Mexico to fly to the space station.

And there are a few holiday treats in store for the space station’s six-person crew.

“As far as presents and so forth, I’m not sure I want to divulge anything, but I think I would tell you that Santa’s sleigh is certified for the vacuum of space,” joked Kenny Todd, manager of space station operations and integration at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Crammed full of 5,769 pounds (2,617 kilograms) of equipment, the automated cargo freighter blasted off from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:29:24 p.m. EST (1729:24 GMT) Thursday to kick off a three-day trek to the space station.

The 213-foot-tall (65-meter) Falcon 9 launcher ignited nine Merlin 1D main engines to climb away from pad 40 with 1.7 million pounds of window-rattling thrust. A clear autumn afternoon sky greeted the kerosene-fueled Falcon 9 as it turned northeast from Cape Canaveral to align its flight path with the space station’s orbit.

The takeoff occurred a day behind schedule after extreme high-altitude winds prevented the Falcon 9 from launching Wednesday. But the upper level winds subsided enough Thursday to permit the Falcon 9’s fiery departure, and the commercial launcher successfully delivered its Dragon cargo payload into a preliminary orbit eight-and-a-half minutes later.

The Falcon 9’s first stage did the first bit of lifting before detaching two-and-a-half minutes into the flight. The first stage booster flew itself back through Earth’s atmosphere and landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love” parked in the Atlantic Ocean east-northeast of Jacksonville, Florida, marking the 46th time SpaceX has recovered one of its boosters intact for reuse on a future flight.

The first stage flown on Thursday mission made its first trip to space and back.

Meanwhile, the Falcon 9’s second stage lit its single Merlin engine to inject the Dragon supply ship into orbit. A minute later, the cargo capsule deployed from the second stage of the Falcon 9, and a forward-mounted camera showed the Dragon flying away from the rocket against the inky blackness of space.

SpaceX confirmed the supply ship extended its power-generating solar panels to a span of 54 feet (16.5 meters), and all of the ship’s Draco maneuvering thrusters were primed to begin a series of maneuvers to rendezvous with the space station early Sunday.

A forward-facing video camera on-board the Falcon 9’s second stage showed the Dragon capsule separating from the rocket nearly 10 minutes after liftoff. Credit: SpaceX

After releasing the Dragon spacecraft, the Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage was expected to continue on an extended-duration coast lasting nearly six hours. SpaceX intended to collect thermal data and other information on the performance of the stage during several orbits of the Earth, before the Merlin engine reignites for a long disposal burn to drive the rocket body back into Earth’s atmosphere for a destructive re-entry over the far southern Indian Ocean.

SpaceX said the long-duration experiment is necessary to verify the upper stage’s readiness to support future missions that might require the rocket to coast in the extreme environment of space for up to six hours. Missions that require that capability include high-altitude orbital injections for U.S. military and National Reconnaissance Office satellites.

The extended flight of the upper stage was expected to take up some of the Falcon 9’s excess fuel capacity, leaving insufficient propellant in the first stage to allow the booster to return to a landing at Cape Canaveral. Instead, SpaceX landed the rocket at sea.

The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket clears the way for two other major spaceflight activities on opposite sides of the world.

At Cape Canaveral, United Launch Alliance is readying an Atlas 5 rocket for an 11-hour mock countdown Friday to rehearse procedures for the first launch of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule later this month. The countdown exercise will include filling of the Atlas 5 with liquid propellants at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad, a little more than a mile away from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch facility at pad 40.

The Atlas 5’s practice countdown at pad 41 could not go ahead the same day as SpaceX’s launch from the neighboring pad.

Russian teams in Kazakhstan plan to launch a Soyuz booster at 4:34 a.m. EST (0934 GMT) Friday with a Progress resupply and refueling freighter. The Progress cargo mission is scheduled to dock with the space station early Monday, roughly 24 hours after the arrival of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

An aft-facing camera captured this view of the Dragon spacecraft with its solar panels extended shortly after arriving in orbit Thursday. Credit: SpaceX

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano and NASA flight engineer Drew Morgan will man the space station’s Canadian-built robot arm to capture the Dragon supply ship Sunday. The robotic arm will position the Dragon spacecraft on the station’s Harmony module, where astronauts will open hatches and begin unpacking the cargo inside the supply ship’s internal compartment.

The Dragon cargo capsule launched Thursday is making its third voyage to the space station, following two previous round-trip flights in 2014 and 2017. This mission is SpaceX’s 19th resupply flight to the station under a multibillion-dollar contract with NASA.

Here is a break-down of the Dragon spacecraft’s 5,769-pound (2,617-kilogram) supply load. The figures below do not include the mass of cargo packaging, which is included in NASA’s overall payload mass:

  • Science Investigations: 2,154 pounds (977 kilograms)
  • Vehicle Hardware: 675 pounds (306 kilograms)
  • Crew Supplies: 564 pounds (256 kilograms)
  • Spacewalk Equipment: 141 pounds (65 kilograms)
  • Computer Resources: 33 pounds (15 kilograms)
  • Unpressurized Payloads: 2,037 pounds (924 kilograms)

Eight of the 40 mice launched toward the space station Thursday have been genetically-engineered to lack myostatin, a protein that acts to limit muscle growth in animals. The muscle-bound, myostatin-free mice — or “mighty mice” — are joined by four other groups of rodents, including groups that will be given an experimental drug in space to block myostatin activity and promote muscle growth.

All 40 mice will return to Earth alive on the Dragon capsule in early January. Scientists will administer the same myostatin protein blocker to some of the mice after they are back on the ground to assess how the drug affects their rate of recovery.

“The focus of this project is going to be to determine whether getting rid of myostatin in mice that we send to the International Space Station can prevent, or at least mitigate, the loss of muscle due to microgravity,” said Se-Jin Lee, professor at the Jackson Laboratory and University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and principal investigator for the rodent research experiment.

The drug trial to be administered to the mice on the space station also inhibits activin, a protein that regulates bone mass.

“By blocking activin with this drug, bone density increases significantly,” said Emily Germain-Lee, a co-investigator on the experiment and professor at University of Connecticut School of Medicine. “And as you probably know, astronauts who spend a lot of time in space lose not only muscle mass, but also bone mass.

“Anything that can be done to prevent muscle and bone loss would be very important to maintaining the health of astronauts during space travel,” Germain-Lee said. “But … loss of bone mass is also a huge health problem for people here on Earth. There are actually lots of diseases that lead to bone loss in both children and adults. And, of course, osteoporosis is a big health issue for people who are elderly or bedridden.

“By testing this experimental drug in life subjected to microgravity, we hope to be able to test the therapeutic strategies for combating both the bone loss and muscle loss that occur in lots of different conditions,” Germain-Lee said.

Gary Hanning, director of global barley research at Anheuser-Busch, said the company’s malting experiment aboard the Dragon cargo mission is the third in a series of investigations looking at how the environment of space affects brewing processes.

“This series has been constructed to look at the impact of space environment on the germination process of barley,” Hanning said. “So the germination processes is taking seed and creating the new plant from that, and so that’s a very key step in the life cycle of any plant, and particularly important to malting barley. So much of our research on earth is focused on seed germination and the environmental impacts that would affect seed germination, as well as physiological effects.”

Hanning said Anheuser-Busch’s experiments in space have given the company’s research team a new perspective.

“From our previous studies on the space station, we’ve noted that the gene expression — that’s the genes that are turned on or turned off and to what degree — are different on the space station then they are on Earth,” he said. “We think it’s a response to the stress, because it’s an abnormal environment, so there’s a stress related there. So gene expression is a part of that cascade of events as part of germination.”

The experiment launching on SpaceX’s next cargo mission will look at hardware solutions to support barley malting on the space station.

“Malting is basically a biological process,” Hanning said. “It is to convert barley into a product called malt, which is used in a lot of food and beverage applications. Malting is actually a three-step process,” he added, beginning with the steeping, or hydration, of barley grains, followed by germination and drying.

The Anheuser-Busch experiment launched with just 2.5 ounces (70 grams) of barley grains, separated into two units.

Another research payload aboard the Dragon spacecraft will allow scientists to observe flame behavior in confined spaces in microgravity. The combustion package includes solid fuel samples that will be ignited inside a protective enclosure on the space station.

“We want to study how solid materials burn in different confined conditions, and how fire interacts with its immediate surroundings,” said Ya-Ting Liao, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Case Western Reserve University.

“It turns out this is a very hands-on experiment,” said Paul Ferkul, an investigator on the confined combustion experiment. “We’re talking with the astronaut, we’re interacting with him, we’re telling him what to do, how to set the parameters. And he, in turn, tells us how it’s looking, what he’s experiencing, and the astronauts are very glad to do this.

“It’s way outside their usual routine on the space station, so that helps us a lot because they’re enthusiastic for our work, and they make very good investigators because of that.”

The Dragon capsule’s external cargo bay is loaded with a Japanese Earth-imaging instrument with high spectral sensitivity. The Hyperspectral Imager Suite, or HISUI, instrument will image Earth’s surface in 185 spectral bands, allowing scientists to distinguish between the composition and type of a range of vegetation, soil, rocks, snow, ice, and human-made objects like buildings, roads and other structures.

Using the robotic arm, the HISUI instrument will be mounted to a fixture outside the station’s Japanese Kibo lab module. It’s a follow-up to the Japanese-developed ASTER instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite, which launched in 1999.

A new lithium-ion battery for the space station’s solar array truss is also stowed inside the Dragon capsule’s unpressurized trunk. It will replace a battery flown to the station by a Japanese HTV cargo ship last year.

That battery was damaged by an electrical short soon after it was installed on a spacewalk.

Other equipment slated for delivery to the space station include a robotic tool stowage platform to store leak detectors outside the space station, and upgrades to allow scientists to make subtle measurements of gravity using the Cold Atom Laboratory, a research facility inside the orbiting lab.

A Falcon 9 booster was transferred from SpaceX’s hangar at launch pad 39A to the hangar at nearby pad 41 Thursday afternoon after the launch of the CRS-19 cargo mission. This previously-flown booster is seen here with a new second stage attached to it. The rocket is presumably assigned to SpaceX’s next mission in mid-December. Credit: Steven Young/Spaceflight Now

With the Dragon cargo launch out of the way, SpaceX is gearing up for its next Falcon 9 flight in mid-December from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral.

A Falcon 9 rocket — without its payload — was seen rolling from SpaceX’s hangar at pad 39A to nearby pad 40 Thursday afternoon, several hours after the previous Falcon 9 mission took off. The Falcon 9 appeared to feature a previously-flown first stage booster, with a new second stage attached to it.

The rocket moved Thursday afternoon to pad 40 is likely assigned to launch the JCSAT 18/Kacific 1 communications satellite, a Boeing-built craft designed to relay broadband signals across the Asia-Pacific region.

The launch of the JCSAT 18/Kacific 1 communications satellite was scheduled for no earlier than Dec. 15 after an unusually rapid turnaround following the CRS-19 cargo launch to the space station. It was not immediately clear whether the one-day slip in the CRS-19 launch this week might similarly delay the JCSAT 18/Kacific 1 launch.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

The 2019 Holiday Gift Guide

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve done for the past several years, I’ve combed through many of the best online gift guides to highlight some of the best holiday gifts out there. It’s a curated meta-guide for your holiday giving. Here we go!

First thing’s first: charitable giving should be top-of-mind every holiday season. Giving locally is key. I support our area food shelf year-round, with an extra gift for Thanksgiving and the December holiday; giving money instead of food is best. The kids and I also support Toys for Tots by heading to the local toy store to get some things — they like it because they get to pick out toys and games (they’re thoughtful about deciding which ones would be best). For national/international giving, do your research. GiveWell recently listed their top charities for 2019 and Vox has more tips here. Read up on big charities like Red Cross and Salvation Army…they are often not great places to give to. GiveDirectly sends money to people living in extreme poverty around the world.

If you’re anything like me, you never know what presents to get kids for their birthdays or holidays, even if they’re your own. That’s why I rely heavily on the gift guide from The Kid Should See This. On their list this year is Parks, a board game that takes players on a journey through US National Parks, The Dictionary of Difficult Words, this kit for building your own yarn giraffes, and Kano’s Harry Potter Coding Kit (which I also highlighted last year and still looks cool as hell). See also the 2019 Engineering Gift Guide from Purdue University.

The Accidental Shop is a collection of products I’ve previously linked to here on Some recently items I’d particularly recommend are The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland, the second volume of Jeff Bridges’ panoramic photographs that he takes on the sets of his films, this professional yo-yo, and Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle, a cooperative deck building game that my kids and I love.

For this year’s guide, I made an extra effort to include products and services from’s readership — you’ll see them sprinkled throughout. Let’s start with 20x200. Their motto is “Art for Everyone” and they’ve been populating the walls of homes worldwide since 2007. I’ve bought several things from them and even contributed to their blog earlier this year. 20x200 has prints of Hilma af Klint’s work as well as one-of-a-kind artworks by Yen Ha (who is also a reader).

The Wirecutter is still the first place I go when I need to read up on everything from kitchen essentials to headphones to board games, so their gift guide is always worth a close look. This year I found a high quality but inexpensive jump rope, a wooden alarm clock, the Nintendo Switch w/ Mario Kart 8 (which I am still coveting/resisting), the Raspberry Pi 4, and Sushi Go Party (the kids and I love this game).

I bought my daughter a pair of these antique stork embroidery scissors for her birthday and they look incredible in person. A true hand-crafted piece of art.

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

Robin Sloan and his partner Kathryn Tomajan operate Fat Gold, an olive oil subscription service. Sloan wrote a gift guide this year, in which he recommends buying some sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour, located right here in VT.

A pair of gift guides for buying products from Native American artists & entrepreneurs: Beyond Buckskin’s 2019 BUY NATIVE Holiday Gift Guide and’s 2019 Native American Holiday Gift Guide. Check out these socks from Eighth Generation and handmade moccasins by Jamie Gentry of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation.

If you’re giving books this year, check out The Best Books of 2019. Almost every best-of list this year included The Topeka School by Ben Lerner, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

Last year’s gift guide is full of great items, including a fire log that smells like Kentucky Fried Chicken when you burn it, A Die Hard Christmas (a Die Hard holiday picture book), and the AWB OneSky Reflector Telescope (a great beginner telescope).

It would not be a holiday gift guide if I didn’t highlight this 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. Someday someone is going to buy one of these — perhaps with a big novelty bow to surprise their loved one(s) on Xmas morning — and it’s going to make me so happy.

For your techie/futurist peeps, check out Wired’s Wish List 2019, which includes the Leica Q2 digital camera that I absolutely cannot afford but would absolutely love to own someday.

Earlier this year I bought a Thermapen Mk4 instant-read thermometer and OMG why didn’t I get this sooner? It’s made grilling and doing the Thanksgiving turkey so much easier.

Food-related gift guides from Chowhound, Serious Eats, Kitchn, and Food52. I have heard great things about Fuchsia Dunlop’s The Food of Sichuan and would happily try some of this barrel-aged soy sauce.

Holiday Gift Guide 2019

If you’re shopping for me this year, you should totally get me a gift certificate for an ultralight flight with birds (more info on these flights here).

More products from readers: a 3-pack of notebooks from Field Notes, prints of illustrations of NYC storefronts & restaurants by Kelli Ercolano, gear from Advencher Supply Co (founded by Dribbble cofounder Dan Cederholm), Journey to the End of the Night by Erin Przekop, and Wondermade marshmallows.

My friend Bryan designed this Global Architect Card for architecture tourists that says “I am an architect. I am here to see this significant building.” in 14 different languages.

I love the idea of Slate’s list of Highly Unusual but Incredibly Useful Gifts Your Family Will Love, including this cool LED flashlight that fastens onto the end of a 9V battery and a rubber stamp with your face on it.

Jan Chipchase is a very occasional reader, if only because he’s so damn busy doing cool shit all over the world. His latest project is Hamidashimono, a kit for whittling your own izakaya-grade chopsticks. His company also has a line of field equipment called SDR Traveller. The D3 Traveller duffel bag was a total splurge for me, but I *love* travelling with that bag.

From Jada Pinkett Smith’s gift guide filled with products created by women and people of color, Homegirl Boxes inspired by women like Octavia Butler and Shirley Chisholm. See also this gift list inspired by African American artists, which includes a Jean-Michel Basquiat version of Uno (yes, the card game).

Check out Delph Miniatures, a tiny UK company that makes 1/12th scale miniatures of everyday things like washing machines, ironing boards, and mobility scooters. Here’s a charming video about their work.

Yet more products produced by readers: I have one of these Currency Blankets from Hiller Dry Goods and I love it. Five Two wooden spoons from Food52. The Aviary: Holiday Cocktails. The 2020 Astrologicalendar (a wall calendar based on the signs of the zodiac). Fitz (custom 3D-printed eyeglasses…the company was inspired in part by a post about DIY orthodontics). Am I Overthinking This? by Michelle Rial. This Book Is a Planetarium by Kelli Anderson. You Think You Know Me. Gracie’s Ice Cream.

Marie Kondo, the woman who has helped people get rid of all sorts of stuff with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, now has an online shop to help you welcome new stuff into your home. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And more gift guides: Cup of Jo, Black Enterprise, the NY Times, Dribbble, Tools & Toys.

Ok, that’s quite enough to get you started. I’ve got more recommendations that I’ll add in the next few days. If you’re interested, you can also check out my past gift guides from 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

When you buy through links on, I may earn an affiliate commission. Thanks for supporting the site!


Capella Space announces first in a series of global partnerships

SAN FRANCISCO – Capella Space, a radar satellite startup, announced an agreement Dec. 4 making Remote Sensing Instruments (RSI) of India Capella’s exclusive reseller in that nation and giving RSI non-exclusive reseller rights for the rest of Southeast Asia.

“Satellite imagery and remote sensing is global by nature and we plan to be very active in international markets outside of the United States,” Payam Banazadeh, Capella CEO and Founder, said by email. “We will be announcing more global partnerships over the next six months as we build our global presence and prepare for the commencement of our commercial services in 2020.”

Because each regions Capella is targeting has different sales and marketing processes, the firm will establish partnerships with companies around the world that can help it reach local customers, he added.

San Francisco-based Capella launched its first synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite in 2018, a technology demonstration. The firm plans to begin offering imagery and data from its first commercial SAR satellite scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2020. Capella plans to follow that up with the launch of six satellites in the second half of 2020 as it builds a constellation of 36 satellites offering X-band SAR data for commercial and government applications, according to the Dec. 4 announcement.

“India is one of the most advanced users of satellite remote sensing technology for use in disaster management, urban development, natural resources, environmental monitoring and national security,” RSI CEO Kumar VR Buragadda said in a statement. “Currently, commercial and government customers don’t have access to on-demand SAR data, which is invaluable for a range of applications — especially disaster management. After evaluating all the SAR providers, we chose to work with Capella Space due to its unrivaled technology, near real-time data delivery, highest resolution of SAR imagery commercially available and its commitment to customer service. Capella stands apart by addressing the needs of commercial and government customers in India.”

Banazadeh said Capella was eager to work with RSI because the 34-year-old firm “has deep connections and on-the-ground experience working with remote sensing data in India.”

Falcon 9 launches Dragon cargo spacecraft to ISS

Falcon 9 CRS-19 launch

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched a Dragon cargo spacecraft bound for the International Space Station Dec. 5 on a mission that will also perform a test of the rocket’s upper stage.

The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 12:29 p.m. Eastern after a one-day delay caused by high upper-level winds. The Dragon spacecraft, flying a mission designated CRS-19 by SpaceX, separated from the upper stage about 10 minutes after liftoff, shortly after the rocket’s first stage landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

This Dragon is making its third flight to the ISS, after the CRS-4 mission launched in September 2014 and CRS-11 in June 2017. This is the second time a Dragon spacecraft has been flown three times, and the eighth mission involving a reused Dragon.

CRS-19 is the penultimate mission in SpaceX’s original Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA. SpaceX will transition to its follow-on CRS contract with the CRS-21 mission in the fall of 2020. Those missions will use a cargo version of the Crew Dragon spacecraft with increased payload volume and the ability to be flown on up to five missions each.

Unlike many recent Dragon cargo launches, where the Falcon 9 first stage makes a landing back at Cape Canaveral, the Falcon 9 for this mission landed on a SpaceX droneship in the Atlantic east of Jacksonville, Florida. Jessica Jensen, director of Dragon mission management at SpaceX, said the droneship landing was because of plans to use the rocket’s second stage for a “thermal demonstration” experiment after deploying the Dragon spacecraft.

“It’s going to be a long six-hour coast that then results in a disposal burn,” she said at a Dec. 3 press conference. “We need extra performance for that demonstration, so basically what we have to do is burn the first stage for a longer period of time so the second stage can have its performance reserved for that demo.” That, in turn, limited the ability of the first stage to return to Cape Canaveral, requiring the droneship landing.

Jensen said that demonstration was for “some of our other customers for longer demonstration missions that we’re going to have to fly in the future.” She didn’t identify those customers, but some national security missions, such as those that place payloads directly into geostationary orbit, do require long coast periods.

The Dragon is carrying 2,617 kilograms of cargo in the form of science experiments, crew supplies and hardware. They include a Japanese hyperspectral imager, a rodent research payload, an experiment studying the behavior of flames in microgavity and a “robot hotel” for storing robotic tools outside the station. It will arrive at the station early Dec. 8.

At the Dec. 3 press conference, Kenny Todd, NASA ISS operations integration manager, demurred when asked if the cargo included any holiday presents for the crew. “There’s always goodies on the flight in general,” he said. “As far as presents and so forth, I’m not sure I want to divulge anything, but I would tell you that Santa’s sleigh is, I think, certified for the vacuum of space.”

This Bud’s for you! SpaceX sends ‘King of Beers’ to orbit on CRS-19

Stock photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. Photo Credit: SpaceX

Stock photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida. Photo Credit: SpaceX

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Beer lovers might be surprised and pleased to learn that among the investigations on board the Dec. 5, 2019, launch of the CRS-19 commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) is one that relates to the the malting process used to make beer.

An investigation, entitled “Malting ABI Voyager Barley Seeds in Microgravity,” is sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, with the cooperation of the U.S. National Laboratory. While this might conjure images of astronauts slamming back some brews on orbit (given the current state of NASA’s crew spaceflight capabilities, who could blame them?) don’t expect ISS crews to be guzzling their own “home-brewed” beer anytime soon.

Several years ago, Budweiser announced its goal to be the first beer on Mars – offering a colonized Red Planet the same refreshing beverages we enjoy here on Earth – including fresh beer! The company called it “Bud on Mars.”

The Bud on Mars logo. Image Credit: Budweiser

The Bud on Mars logo. Image Credit: Budweiser

“Budweiser is always pushing the boundaries of innovation and we are inspired by the collective American Dream to get to Mars,” said Ricardo Marques, vice president, Budweiser. “We are excited to begin our research to brew beer for the red planet.”

While socializing on Mars might be in the distant future, Budweiser has initiated a multi-step program to better understand how its ingredients react in microgravity. They partnered with CASIS (Center for Advancement of Science in Space) which manages the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, and Space Tango, a payload development company that operates two commercial research facilities within the National Lab.

“Anheuser-Busch pushes the boundaries of innovation in the beverage industry just as Space Tango is pushing the boundaries of innovation in microgravity research,” explained Space Tango Program Manager Gentry Barnett. “This partnership will not only produce scientific data that could lead to barley production improvements on Earth but could also lead to the first beer produced on Mars.”

The flight of the CRS-19 mission carried the fourth payload under this initiative. Prior missions carried to the orbiting lab investigated barley seed exposure and germination. This time, Budweiser is looking at malting in microgravity. The research team is examining the steeping (rapid hydration), germination, and kilning (drying) processes associated with malting barley and will compare barley malted in microgravity with ground controls. Meanwhile, onboard the space station, the malting process will be automated inside a 9U CubeLab, from ISS National Lab commercial services provider Space Tango.

The Falcon 9 rocket is slated to touch down 195 miles off the Coast of Florida. Photo Credit: Jim Siegel / SpaceFlight Insider

The Falcon 9 rocket is slated to touch down 195 miles off the Coast of Florida. Photo Credit: Jim Siegel / SpaceFlight Insider

For those worried the Budweiser initiative has the sole frivolous objective to provide alcoholic beverages to astronauts and the potential problems implied by this activity (nobody wants to get a DUI at 17,150 mph / 27,600 kph), don’t worry. This program goes well beyond providing space flyers with a 40. Barley is the fourth largest cereal grain grown in the world and is also used in a variety of other products—from animal feed to bread.

The results from Budweiser’s investigations could help the company develop new malt barley varieties that are more tolerant to extreme stress environments. Knowledge gained from this experiment could also be valuable to the broader agricultural community to help improve the growth of barley crops on Earth.

Nutritionists acknowledge that the hops, yeast, and grains in beer do contribute carbohydrates, a small amount of B vitamins, and potassium to a healthy diet. 

When will we see a Budweiser brewery on Mars? Probably not until the mid-2030s at the earliest. In the meantime, astronauts will have get settle for enjoying beer just like the rest of us, here on Earth.

According to CASIS, the investigation process is completely automated. The barley seeds arrive aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in a dry state to begin the malting process. During the steeping process, the seeds are soaked in water so that the moisture content of the barley increases. During the germination phase, the steeping water is removed and the seeds are surrounded by air. Once the seeds show early signs of germination, the system initiates the kilning process which uses heat to dry the seeds and prepare the resultant malt for stowage until return. The malt is examined upon return and compared to a control on the ground. With the launch of CRS-19, some 38 investigations were sent on their way to orbit.

Dragon has been packed with an estimated 5,700 lbs (2,585 kg) worth of supplies. If everything goes as planned, the CRS-19 Dragon should arrive at the station on Sunday (Dec. 8, 2019). Although it has been stated that Dragon will “dock” with the ISS. In actuality the spacecraft will be captured by the station’s Canadarm2 by the crew who will then berth it to the station.





The post This Bud’s for you! SpaceX sends ‘King of Beers’ to orbit on CRS-19 appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Thursday assorted links

1. Who can read the facial expressions of cats?

2. Ted Gioia’s 100 best recordings of 2019.

3. “Did you know: Brazil has more homicides than America + China + Russia + the EU + the rest of the Anglosphere combined?”  Link here from Scott Alexander links.

4. How Chinese science fiction conquered America (NYT).

5. Short history of Chinese state capacity.

The post Thursday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The Right Decision is to Move Ahead Now

I’ve seldom considered a public question in which the two possible answers both seem quite so compelling and convincing as this one. Late last month I said I had grave misgivings about ending the Impeachment inquiry, as the House appears intent on doing, without having deposed any of the key players in the scandal. The list is long: Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton in addition to as many as a dozen others. Stopping here seems crazy on several fronts: There are numerous key questions that remain unanswered. There are dimensions of wrongdoing that remain all but unexplored – side rackets pursued by Rudy Giuliani, his hustler pals Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas and others. These unknowns appear to contain at least substantial venal corruption, likely subversion of US foreign policy and even possible subversion by foreign nation states.

For all of these reasons, ones that are both substantive and narrowly political, it seems crazy to leave these questions unanswered. And yet I think they should. People talk about whether the Democrats should go small or go big. I think it’s more whether they should go fast or go slow. (After all, it’s easy enough to add on an obstruction article based on the Mueller Report. The work is already done.) I think they’re right to go fast, even as I agree that the arguments to the contrary are powerful and compelling.

Here are my four reasons.

First: The first and most important reason is that the evidence is already overwhelming. Even with minor discrepancies between the testimonies and some witnesses soft-pedaling or cushioning their answers, we know that the President repeatedly demanded that a foreign government intervene in a US election on his behalf. The verbiage about investigations and dirt just confuses the issue since the goal and the ask was not to find real information, let along conduct a credible probe. It was to inflict damage a political rival. Even if Trump had never withheld a meeting or military aide this would be open and shut an impeachable offense. The fact that he straightforwardly used extortion or bribery (depending on how you want to look at it) to do so only compounds the offense.

We have numerous witnesses explaining the demands. We have timelines of when the key events occurred. We have the President’s own words – literally – making the demands directly the foreign leader. It is impossible to look at the available evidence and not conclude that the President decided to use his presidential powers to coerce a vulnerable foreign head of state into intervening in the election on his personal behalf. There is not the remotest chance the effort was the work of rogue officials. Again, we have the President’s own words! Nor is there any question that the President knew it was wrong. Doing it covertly at the time and stonewalling investigations after the fact makes that crystal clear.

The evidence is truly overwhelming. Indeed, Trump’s supporters are telling us as much. Since they can’t deny the overwhelming evidence they aren’t even trying. They have opted to accept the facts and say they are just what a President should do. It’s fine. In the few cases where they are not doing that they are holding out for absurd standards of proof like the President literally having to say, “I’m bribing you.” In other cases, they are hung up on nonsensical questions of subjectivity about the President’s state of mind and intent, as though an insanity or diminished capacity defense was a reasonable response to impeachment.

With this audience, I probably don’t have to convince you that the evidence is overwhelming. You know that. But it is a highly relevant and dispositive fact. We can see that the President’s congressional supporters are holding firm. Polls suggest his voters are too. So if the most damning information – both substantively damning and politically damaging – is still to be uncovered, why stop now?

It’s a good question, one I’ve wrestled with myself and continue to do so. But here’s why it doesn’t make sense to wait. Going back for yet more evidence grants the specious premise that the case hasn’t already been made. Indeed, it concedes the bogus premise that there is anything the President’s supporters would accept as proof.

We hear a lot about how we live in a partisan age when two hostile camps see two utterly different, non-overlapping realities. That’s mainly not true. Everyone who’s watching can see these facts. Again, Trump’s supporters are conceding that point by not even contesting them. The issue here is authoritarian thinking and personalized, leader-based loyalism rather than any confusion over facts. That is a political and ideological issue rather than a dispute over facts. Heaping yet more evidence on top of a pile of already overwhelming evidence reduces constitution-defenders to a something like trained monkeys performing more and more elaborate tricks of a arms-folded audience that refuses to be impressed. That is not only a fool’s errand. It forces Democrats to cede all power to the President’s defenders. It forces them to make a mockery of themselves, something no self-respecting person should do but more importantly a decision that sends a message of weakness and irresolution.

It is self-defeating and demoralizing and a mistake. Moving ahead to impeachment now shows a clarifying confidence in one’s convictions. It signals strength.

Second: This is closely related to the first but yet distinct. One of the key decisions Democrats have made since September is to constantly maintain the initiative with the President. Much of this has simply been the product of the unfolding scandal itself. Almost every day new facts emerge. While the White House is struggling to respond to one set of facts a new set emerges.

But it’s not only this.

After the Democrats moved toward impeachment and Chairman Schiff took the reins, they made a basic, strategic decision not to get held up incourt fights. In most cases the delays were due to the fact that the judicial process just takes a long time if the White House refuses any good faith effort to engage the process. In other cases, it’s slow-rolling by an increasingly partisan Republican judiciary. In practice, the difference doesn’t matter much. Letting the courts dictate the pace of events simply means to rewarding the administration’s obstruction. Critically, it leaves all the initiative in the White House’s hands. Through their actions they say to everyone: this will move ahead when we say so. We hold the power.

Schiff took a very different approach: don’t get tripped up by obvious obstruction and simply add those acts to the bill of particulars underlying an impeachment article of obstruction of Congress. It moved the whole venue of action from where where the Congress is constrained to one in which it has near untrammeled power. One might argue that this is just the ultimate case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. The White House says no we won’t give you this or that information. And you “win” by saying fine, we won’t get that information!

But that doesn’t quite capture the situation.

For whatever reason, President Trump released some of the most damning evidence at the very beginning. A tsunami of additional evidence followed. If the situation were different and the key evidence were being withheld the calculus would be more complex. But it’s not. The evidence is overwhelming.

Just as important, not allowing the President’s obstruction or the court’s lethargy to dictate the pace of events has allowed Democrats to maintain the initiative pretty much throughout. That is critical. It’s kept the White House off-balance and reacting to the Democrats. Just as it does in combat or sports maintaining the initiative is usually more than half of winning an engagement. I make you react to me and while you’re still reacting I pile still more on top of you. I have little doubt that this dramatically assisted House investigators in securing the testimony they did. It also signals and demonstrates strength, which is both politically advantageous and tends to force positive outcomes.

Strength begets strength. Having a plan, rapidly executing it and proving your point without asking for permission sends a message that is far more powerful that a lot of redundant new evidence. Ceding the initiative is simply a mistake.

Third: All of what I’ve said above assumes that most of these remaining questions will go unanswered, at least from this judicial process (impeachment is a judicial process). But that is not necessarily the case. As far as I know there is no rule that the House can only present evidence gathered up until today or gathered up until articles of impeachment are passed. In fact I’m sure there’s not. Investigators likely have a good six weeks to keep investigating before they have to present their evidence in a senate trial. And, as we’ve noted earlier, they are probably more likely to secure testimony from Giuliani, Bolton, Mulvaney, Pompeo et al at trial than through the conventional judicial process. Nor is there any block on the House continuing to investigate these crimes after the trial is over, assuming President Trump is acquitted. I am not assuming these things will happen. As I said, I say all of the above assuming they will not. But we shouldn’t rule out the possibility – much more than notional – that more evidence will be produced in advance of and for trial.

Fourth: In politics as indeed in life no victory is forever and no defeat is permanent. So winning or losing isn’t all that matters. Just how you win and perhaps even more important how you lose is critical too. Do you do so with dignity, clarity and strength or haphazardly, confused and inconstant, betraying yourself? Nothing is forever. We seldom know the true impact or even meaning of our actions as we take them. A good loss often sends a powerful message to the future, often the near future, with consequences more lasting and profound than nominal victories. A loss with a clear purpose and set of beliefs behind it can send a powerful message. Winning usually takes care of itself. What’s important is knowing how to lose well, because a good loss can be a victory in disguise.

I have always assumed President Trump will be acquitted at his Senate trial. I’m completely fine with this. Or, rather, I accept that this is the reality of the situation, not a failure on the part of the constitution or those defending it. It is not Democrats who are on trial here. It’s actually not even Donald Trump. The proof of his guilt is obvious and overwhelming. It is really the Republican party that is being judged. The only remaining question is whether there is anything the President can do which the Republican party, in its current, more overtly authoritarian and white nationalist form, will find unacceptable. All indications are that there is nothing they will not accept from Donald Trump. It is the opposition’s job, in view of an impending national election, to put them to that test and make that clear.

The best way to make clear that the evidence is overwhelming and the case is proven is to act like it, which is to say, move forward with impeachment. In criminal trials sometimes prosecutors actually put on too much evidence. You start losing the big picture. Repetitive or duplicative evidence confuses more than it confirms. It can make people wonder if it’s more complicated than it is.

It is neither necessary nor wise for Democrats to live inside GOP mind games, to chase the assent of people who are determined and committed never to assent. They should let the facts speak for themselves because they are in fact shouting. This is not a factual dispute but an ideological one, a choice between civic republicanism and authoritarianism. In such a contest, clarity and power means everything.

As I’ve said, this is a close run thing in my mind. I turn to the counter-arguments and they are compelling and powerful. As an investigations junky I really want to know the answers to these questions. The country needs the answers to these questions. But mostly they need an opposition that will do its job with clarity and purpose. That’s why I think this is the correct course.

November Employment Preview

Special Notes on GM Strike and the Decennial Census: The GM strike ended in October, and 46,000 workers were on strike during the BLS reference week in October. These workers returned to their jobs in November, and this should boost employment gains for November. Decennial Census: In August and September, the Census Bureau increased the number of temporary workers by 25,000. This phase of the Decennial Census ended mid-October, and most of these temporary workers were let go in October (20,000), however another 5,000 or so were probably let go in November.

On Friday at 8:30 AM ET, the BLS will release the employment report for November. The consensus is for an increase of 180,000 non-farm payroll jobs in October, and for the unemployment rate to be unchanged at 3.6%.

Last month, the BLS reported 128,000 jobs added in October (including 20,000 temporary Census fires).

Here is a summary of recent data:

• The ADP employment report showed an increase of 67,000 private sector payroll jobs in October. This was well below consensus expectations of 140,000 private sector payroll jobs added. The ADP report hasn't been very useful in predicting the BLS report for any one month, but in general, this suggests employment growth below expectations.

• The ISM manufacturing employment index decreased in November to 46.6%. A historical correlation between the ISM manufacturing employment index and the BLS employment report for manufacturing, suggests that private sector BLS manufacturing payroll decreased around 40,000 in November. The ADP report indicated manufacturing jobs decreased 6,000 in November.

The ISM non-manufacturing employment index increased in November to 55.5%. A historical correlation between the ISM non-manufacturing employment index and the BLS employment report for non-manufacturing, suggests that private sector BLS non-manufacturing payroll increased 220,000 in November.

Combined, the ISM surveys suggest employment gains at 180,000 suggesting gains close to consensus expectations.

Initial weekly unemployment claims averaged 218,000 in November, up from 215,000 in October. For the BLS reference week (includes the 12th of the month), initial claims were at 228,000, up from 218,000 during the reference week the previous month.

This suggest a few more layoffs (during the reference week) in November than in October.

• The final November University of Michigan consumer sentiment index increased to 96.8 from the October reading of 95.5. Sentiment is frequently coincident with changes in the labor market, but there are other factors too like gasoline prices and politics.

• The BofA job tracker bounced back in November suggesting 195K jobs added in November.

• Conclusion: There were special factors in October (GM strike, decennial Census layoffs) that reduced employment. In November, the resolution of the GM strike will boost employment. Based on these indicators, my guess is employment gains are close to expectations.

Congress Takes a Law School Class in the Capitol

The Judiciary Hearing Probably Changed No Minds, But, Yes, the Democrats Had the Better Questions

Terry H. Schwadron

The opening of the new round of impeachment inquiries before the House Judiciary Committee was less about the answers than about the questions.

If you were a Democrat, you asked questions that prompted the constitutional scholars present to pin the available evidence about Team Trump to a rogue plot to trade Ukrainian recognition and military aid for Donald Trump’s personal political gain.

If you were a Republican, you asked about anything else, from historical precedents about elapsed time, about the meaning of bribery in the 18th Century, about non-existent testimony about Joe and Hunter Biden.

Actually, the four scholars – three chosen by Democrats, one by Republicans – agreed on a lot, including that Trump was involved in a lot of bad behavior. Their disagreement was more about whether right now, right at this instant with the available evidence deducible with the White House obstructing valuable witnesses from testifying, we should have a party-line impeachment.

The fundamental difference among the congress members was whether they were trying to justify impeachment for an audience that already is sure of its leanings, or trying to throw anything available into the cogs of impeachment machinery.

But amid the debates of whether Founding Fathers knew what we know, about the practices and values of the 1770s, about the erudite arguments of Madisonian democracy, the fundamental difference among the congress members was whether they were trying to justify impeachment for an audience that already is sure of its leanings, or trying to throw anything available into the cogs of impeachment machinery.

Not Changing Minds

If you were expecting this to be a dry, academic review, this was more exciting than that. If you wanted “pizzazz,” this was not the hearing for you, but for the colorful outbursts from congress members preening in the limelight for five minutes each. This was not a promotional video for enrollment in constitutional law courses.

These hearings moved the legal case for impeachment forward through the institutional steps. But outside the occasional notes of humor or confrontation (and one stupid reference to Trump’s youngest son), they were not changing minds about the events at hand.

The three scholars chosen by Democrats spoke in lockstep, carefully and intelligently connecting constitutional history and practices to the recent testimony by the ambassadors, diplomats and national security officials that have outlined a fact-based description of a Trump-directed plot. At heart, they argued that if there is no impeachment here for a combination of bribery/extortion and obstruction of justice, there won’t ever be an impeachment, because Trump will indeed be adjudged to be beyond the reach of the law.

The fourth, Jonathan Turley, who opened by saying he did not vote for Trump, was pretty much an attack on constitutional history and theory without actually trying to debate any of the facts come to mind. No one really challenged him on the idea that the reason there is more evidence out there that has not emerged is because the White House has blocked its witnesses. In Turley’s world, unlike that of his three colleagues, it is essential that we have completion of an identifiable crime. He never seemed to deal with the attempt to commit a crime, or conspiracy to do so.

Turley also insisted that Congress would be better off waiting months for courts to decide whether Trump was wrong to stop witnesses from testifying.

That allowed Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican, to repeat multiple times that this is a fast-tracked impeachment that will not be derailed for lack of facts. His Republican mates were busily making interruptive demands to call Hunter Biden or the whistleblower to testify.

It allowed everyone else, including pundits, to remind audiences that abuse of office and obstruction of justice do not require completion of an underlying felony for impeachment.

They were details, important, but details in a case described in the first week by the inspector general for the intelligence community as “urgent.”

Going Through the Motions

Once again, we weren’t talking about any fact-finding here, we were talking about the talking about fact-finding.

Democrats were going through the motions, with the only question being how many charges to bring.

Republicans were going through their disruptive motions, playing a weak hand for all that it is worth.

Meanwhile, the White House lawyer, Pat Cippolini, was meeting at the Capitol with Senate Republicans to map out how to conduct the impeachment trial that they know see as inevitable.

Rudy Giuliani was reported to be back in the Ukraine, filming a documentary with Ukrainian allies aimed at conservative news outlets to continue the work to throw dirt on Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden, and blame Ukraine for working to meddle in the 2016 election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

Oh, and Donald Trump was storming out of NATO talks in Britain, angered because other world leaders were videotaped mocking him.

Welcome home, Mr. President.

The post Congress Takes a Law School Class in the Capitol appeared first on

Inmarsat delists from stock exchange after buyout

WASHINGTON — British satellite operator Inmarsat delisted from the London Stock Exchange Dec. 5, completing a $3.3 billion buyout that some shareholders sought to delay. 

The High Court of Justice in England and Wales approved the buyout by a private equity consortium Dec. 3, completing the last step Inmarsat needed for the deal to close. 

Inmarsat, an operator of 14 geostationary communications satellites, now belongs to Connect Bidco, a consortium formed by Apax Partners in the U.K., Warburg Pincus in the U.S., and two Canadian pension firms. 

Connect Bidco’s purchase closed almost a month later than anticipated due to resistance by three Inmarsat shareholders. 

The holdouts, Oaktree Capital, Kite Lake Capital, and Rubric Capital, had asked the court to temporarily reject the buyout, arguing that Connect Bidco’s price did not reflect the value of Inmarsat’s spectrum lease agreement with Ligado. 

Ligado, the firms said, appeared much closer to gaining approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to create a 5G network, which could trigger $300 million in Ligado payments to Inmarsat spread across the remainder of this year and into 2020. 

Ligado spectrum payments would then continue for 89 years, the firms said, increasing Inmarsat’s value. 

Connect Bidco on Dec. 2 said Ligado’s inability to make such payments remains unchanged and that the consortium’s offer of $7.21 per share already constituted a “substantial premium” to Inmarsat’s share price prior to the merger offer. 

Connect Bidco said it had been ready to complete the merger since November, and that it would not agree to a further extension to placate the dissenting firms. 

Oaktree, Kite Lake and Rubric Capital issued a joint statement Dec. 3 withdrawing their objections to the merger. 

The majority of Inmarsat’s shareholders — constituting 79% of the operator’s shares — approved the merger in May. Oaktree, Kite Lake and Rubric Capital collectively held 8.9% of Inmarsat shares. 

Inmarsat is the third satellite operator to delist from public markets this year, following Hong Kong-based AsiaSat and London-based Avanti in September. 

Inmarsat reported a loss of $89.1 million on $1.06 billion in revenue for the first nine months of the year. The company claimed $36.1 million in profits on $327.3 million in revenue for the months of July, August and September — it’s last public quarter before the buyout.

Incredible Display of Ice Crystal Halos Around the Sun in the Swiss Alps

Ice Halos

This is a photo of several ice crystal halos around the Sun taken by Michael Schneider in the Swiss Alps with an iPhone 11 Pro. It. Is. Absolutely. Stunning. I can barely write more than a few words here without stealing another peek at it. According to Schneider’s post (translated from German by Google), this display developed gradually as he waited for a friend as some icy fog and/or clouds were dissipating at the top of a Swiss ski resort and he was happy to capture it on his new phone.

Using this site on atmospheric optics, Mark McCaughrean helpfully annotated Schneider’s photo to identify all of the various halos on display:

Ice Halos 02

Displays like this are pretty rare, but Joshua Thomas captured a similar scene in New Mexico a few years ago and Gizmodo’s Mika McKinnon explained what was going on.

Ice halos happen when tiny crystals of ice are suspended in the sky. The crystals can be high up in cirrus clouds, or closer to the ground as diamond dust or ice fog. Like raindrops scatter light into rainbows, the crystals of ice can reflect and refract light, acting as mirrors or prisms depending on the shape of the crystal and the incident angle of the light. While the lower down ice only happens in cold climates, circus clouds are so high they’re freezing cold any time, anywhere in the world, so even people in the tropics mid-summer have a chance of seeing some of these phenomena.

Explaining the optics of these phenomena involves a lot of discussing angular distances.

So so so so cool.

Tags: Joshua Thomas   Mark McCaughrean   Michael Schneider   Mika McKinnon   photography   physics   science   Sun

The Politics of Mortality

JAMA recently published a paper about the increase in mortality among 25-64 year olds in the U.S.–and it’s not just for white people anymore! Snark aside, it’s not good (boldface mine):

Despite spending more on health care than any other country, the United States has seen increasing mortality and falling life expectancy for people age 25 to 64, who should be in the prime of their lives. In contrast, other wealthy nations have generally experienced continued progress in extending longevity. Although earlier research emphasized rising mortality among non-Hispanic whites in the United States, the broad trend detailed in this study cuts across gender, racial and ethnic lines. By age group, the highest relative jump in death rates from 2010 to 2017 — 29 percent — has been among people age 25 to 34.

It’s really not good out there (boldface mine):

According to the new study, the death rate from 2010 to 2017 for all causes among people ages 25 to 64 increased from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 people to 348.2 deaths per 100,000. It was clear statistically by 2014 that it was not just whites who were affected, but all racial and ethnic groups and that the main causes were drug overdoses, alcohol and suicides.

The fact that it’s so expansive and involves so many causes of death — it’s saying that there’s something broader going on in our country,” said Ellen R. Meara, a professor of health policy at Dartmouth College. “This no longer limited to middle-aged whites.”

The states with the greatest relative increases in death rates among young and middle-aged adults were New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia and Ohio.

Dr. Woolf said one of the findings showed that the excess deaths were highly concentrated geographically, with fully a third of them in just four states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Indiana.

“What’s not lost on us is what is going on in those states,” he said. “The history of when this health trend started happens to coincide with when these economic shifts began — the loss of manufacturing jobs and closure of steel mills and auto plants.”

As some asshole with a blog recently noted, this increase in mortality is a political problem–shitheads like Matthew Yglesias can snark all they want about ‘economic anxiety’, but that anxiety is killing people. And drove some of them to either stay home or even vote Trump.

What struck me about the JAMA paper was a table in the supplemental materials (always read the entire paper, kids!):


The first few years of Obama’s presidency, we saw a marked decline in mortality among most age groups. Then in 2014 and 2015, depending on the group, mortality increased, often dramatically, with younger GenXers and millenials getting hammered DUE TO ALL THE AVOCADO TOAST, along with younger Boomers. If you’re the party in power (sort of, anyway), you don’t want more people dying as you approach the election, especially if they’re dying in battleground states. Hard to win: it makes people a lot less hopey, and a lot more angry changey.

This is why I have a hard time figuring out whether Trump’s economy is good. If mortality has dropped, I think Il Trumpe can count the economy in his favor (not saying he’s responsible, but he’ll get the credit for it). If these groups are still doing poorly or even worse, then I think he’s in a lot of trouble.

One more point: at some point, many Democrats are going to have to face the reality that Obama did some good things on public health (antimicrobial resistance was taken seriously for the first time), this rise in mortality, along with the opiate crisis and the vaping crisis (which will kill people down the road, just not right now) were real public health failures. And it wasn’t the policies pushed by the Dirty Fucking Hippies who led us to these failures either.

On its second attempt, SpaceX sends Dragon soaring to the ISS [Updated]

12:45pm ET Thursday Update: A Falcon 9 rocket launched on Thursday from Florida, delivering its Dragon spacecraft into orbit. The first stage then made a safe landing on a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The company's webcast ended without any coverage of the second stage's six-hour coast to demonstrate a capability for an unnamed customer.

This was the tenth Falcon 9 launch of 2019. Overall the rocket has now launched 76 times. Sometime in 2020, among rockets in active service, the Falcon 9 will almost certainly become the U.S. booster with the most launch experience, surpassing the Atlas V. That rocket has launched 80 times, with one more mission scheduled for later this month—a test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft.

Original post: At Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday morning, the countdown clock is again ticking toward a launch of the Falcon 9 rocket.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Today's Agenda: Trump Tries New Tactic To Spin 'Favor' Request From Zelensky Call

Happy Thursday, December 5. President Donald Trump took a stab at explaining away his damning request for a favor from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on the July 25 call. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Today’s the deadline for Trump to ask the Supreme Court to formally review the Mazars case in an attempt to dodge a congressional subpoena requiring him to turn over his tax returns.

Josh Kovensky will be tracking Rudy Giuliani’s exploits in Kyiv, Ukraine.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met with her caucus last night to survey the room about impeachment. She will publicly address the status of the inquiry at 9:00 am E.T.

Trump is now trying to claim that his request for a favor from Zelensky was harmless because by “us,” he meant “U.S.” By this twisted logic, he is claiming that he was acting in the interest of the country.

Today’s Rundown

9:00 a.m. ET:  Pelosi will make an announcement on the status of the impeachment inquiry, followed by her weekly press conference at 10:45 a.m. ET. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will hold his weekly presser at 11:30 a.m. ET.

1:00 p.m. ET: Trump will have lunch with the United Nations Security Council in the Cabinet Room.

5:00 p.m. ET: Trump will make remarks at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and then return to the White House to host the Christmas reception.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Kennedy Says He’s Done Pushing DNC-Ukraine Conspiracy After Retracting His Retraction — Summer Conception

Reading List

Is There a Thief Loose in the White House? — Benjamin Wofford

How two undocumented housekeepers took on the president — and revealed his company employed illegal immigrants — Joshua Partlow and David Fahrenthold

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, takes bigger role in China trade talks — David Lawder and Jeff Mason

York Space Systems opens Washington-area office

SAN FRANCISCO – York Space Systems, a small satellite manufacturer and spacecraft operator, opened an office and mission operations center Dec. 5 in the Washington area.

The five-person office, based in Arlington, Virginia, will handle government relations, business development and mission planning for commercial and government customers. In addition, customers visiting the new mission operations center will be able to task satellites.

Government policymakers and acquisition personnel don’t always know what products and services are available commercially, said Chuck Beames, the retired U.S. Air Force colonel who serves as York’s chairman. York is eager to invite government customers to its new mission operations center to see and operate satellites in orbit, Beames said. “We want them to see how easy it is,” he added.

Denver-based York Space Systems does not reveal information on its financing, nor does it frequently announce contract awards. In recent months, though, the firm has offered clues to steady growth.

In October, York announced plans to expand production facilities for its S-Class satellites, gearing up to producing 50 satellites in 2020 and hundreds of satellites annually in later years. York also won a $12.8 million Air Force contract in July to build a microsatellite called Tetra-3, Aviation Week reported.

York’s latest announcement offers further evidence that government agencies are buying the firm’s small satellites. “Many of York’s key government customers are in the Washington D.C. area, including the Pentagon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA and the intelligence community,” according to the Dec. 5 news release.

The agencies mentioned are either current York customers or are “very likely to become customers in the near future,” Beames said. “I’m not at liberty to discuss the details.”

York, a firm founded in 2015, waited until it had working products before establishing a government relations office, Beames said.

York’s primary and secondary mission operations centers are located in Denver. However, if a commercial or government customer wanted York to operate spacecraft from the new mission operations center in Virginia, York could do that, Beames said. The new mission operations center is designed to handle one to three satellites but could be expanded, he added.

Trade Deficit decreased to $47.2 Billion in October

From the Department of Commerce reported:
The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $47.2 billion in October, down $3.9 billion from $51.1 billion in September, revised.

October exports were $207.1 billion, $0.4 billion less than September exports. October imports were $254.3 billion, $4.3 billion less than September imports.
U.S. Trade Exports Imports Click on graph for larger image.

Both exports and imports decreased in October.

Exports are 25% above the pre-recession peak and down 1% to October 2018; imports are 10% above the pre-recession peak, and down 5% compared to October 2018.

In general, trade both imports and exports have moved more sideways or down recently.

The second graph shows the U.S. trade deficit, with and without petroleum.

U.S. Trade Deficit The blue line is the total deficit, and the black line is the petroleum deficit, and the red line is the trade deficit ex-petroleum products.

Note that the U.S. exported a slight net positive petroleum products in September and October.

Oil imports averaged $52.00 per barrel in October, down from $53.12 in September, and down from $61.25 in October 2018.

The trade deficit with China decreased to $31.3 billion in October, from $43.1 billion in October 2018.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims decrease to 203,000

The DOL reported:
In the week ending November 30, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 203,000, a decrease of 10,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 213,000. The 4-week moving average was 217,750, a decrease of 2,000 from the previous week's unrevised average of 219,750.
emphasis added
The previous week was unrevised.

The following graph shows the 4-week moving average of weekly claims since 1971.

Click on graph for larger image.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims decreased to 217,750.

This was lower than the consensus forecast.

The Career of Captain Dundas

Once I saw that “Captain Dundas” had come up in the dispute between James Otis, Jr., and John Robinson, I had to figure out who that was and what role he played in the coming of the Revolution.

In September 1769, Otis called Dundas “a well known petty commander of an armed schooner,” meaning he was in the Royal Navy. (The Customs service had just lost its one and only armed schooner, the Liberty.)

Fortunately, the Royal Navy keeps good records, and websites like Three Decks make that information available as long as one keeps running searches. So here’s what I’ve put together.

Ralph Dundas was born on 12 Oct 1732, the eldest son of Ralph and Mary Dundas of Manour, Scotland. He was serving in the Royal Navy by 1748, when he was in his mid-teens, and passed the exam to be a lieutenant in October 1757.

Lt. Dundas received his first command in 1764: H.M.S. St. Lawrence (also spelled St. Laurence). In British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792 Rif Winfield writes that this schooner was “purchased on stocks at Boston [or Marblehead?],” though J. J. Colledge and Ben Warlow’s Ships of the Royal Navy says the Royal Navy bought it in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It carried thirty men, six three-pounder cannon, and twelve swivel guns—by no means a fearsome warship but powerful enough for peacetime patrols, carrying messages, and supporting larger vessels as a “tender.” Among the crew was master’s mate John Whitehouse, who later sailed under Capt. James Cook.

On 28 July 1766, the Boston Evening-Post reported:
Friday last arrived a Schooner from Louisbourg, by whom we learn, that some time before he sail’d fro thence, his Majesty’s armed Schooner the St. Laurence, commanded by Lieut. Dundas, was struck by Lightning as she lay at Anchor there, which set Fire to the Powder Magazine in the Fore Part of the Vessel and blew her up, by which Accident three Men were instantly killed, and several others terribly wounded, two of whom died the next Day:

We hear that the Officers on board, being in the Cabin, escaped unhurt; and that the Bows of the Vessel being carried away by the Explosion, she sunk in a few Minutes after.
The Boston Post-Boy of the same date said the explosion happened “between two and three Weeks ago.” The Narrative of American Voyages and Travels of Captain William Owen, R.N. names the site of the wreck as Neganishe, now probably called Ingonish.

Commodore Samuel Hood then bought a merchant’s sloop called the Sally, renamed it St. Lawrence, and assigned it to Lt. Dundas.

In the spring of 1768, the St. Lawrence accompanied H.M.S. Romney from Halifax to Boston. On 23 May, the Boston Chronicle carried Lt. Dundas’s advertisement for four deserters. Keeping the sloop fully manned was a challenge. Within a month the town was upset about a “man pressed by Capt. Dundas, and carried down to Halifax.” Capt. John Corner of the Romney and Councilor Royall Tyler sat down to discuss that issue and others, according to the 27 June Boston Chronicle.

The Boston News-Letter and Post-Boy show that over the next several months the St. Lawrence sailed back and forth along the northeast coast: off to Halifax in August, back to Boston in November and then heading off to Halifax again, collecting military stores at Canso and Louisburg over the winter, then back to Halifax. The St. Lawrence returned to Boston again in August 1769.

That put Lt. Dundas in town for the busy fall of 1769. He probably wasn’t in the British Coffee-House when Robinson and Otis started hitting each other with their canes on 5 September. Otis hinted that he participated in the fight, but Robinson denied that. Otis also said rumor had it Dundas “swore last year that the whole Continent was in open Rebellion.” However, the lieutenant’s name doesn’t appear to have come up again in this or other political disputes, which suggests that Otis’s Whig allies didn’t think they could make a case against him, even to their own followers.

The next month brought the Neck Riot on 24 October, followed four days later by the attacks on printer John Mein and sailor George Gailer. In the next couple of weeks, Royal Navy captains helped to hide Mein from the crowd. On 11 November, provincial secretary Andrew Oliver reported to Gov. Francis Bernard that Mein “thinking it unsafe for him to continue in Tow has taken his passage for England with Capn. Dundass.” In fact, it looks like Mein sailed away on another ship, but Oliver’s letter indicates that Dundas left Boston early in the month.

In April 1770, the sailmaker Ashley Bowen wrote in his diary that Dundas’s schooner had come into Marblehead harbor. However, the diary’s annotations suggest he mistook that ship for the Magdalen under Lt. Henry Colins. That suggests how common it was for New Englanders to see Dundas’s schooner. The 16 July 1772 Massachusetts Spy stated that Dundas had sailed the St. Lawrence to the Bahamas, and the 17 June 1773 Boston News-Letter reported that it had come back from the Bahamas to Boston.

As of June 1774, the Royal Navy listed the St. Lawrence, with six guns and thirty men, at Boston. It was small part of the big fleet under Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves sent to enforce the Boston Port Bill. In November Lt. Dundas sailed for London; part of a letter he carried was forwarded to Lord North as useful intelligence in January 1775.

That was the last voyage of that St. Lawrence, at least as a naval schooner. In May 1775, immediately after the war began, Graves reported that he had bought and armed two schooners at Halifax and planned to call one the St. Lawrence. He assigned it to a new commander. Lt. Dundas’s ship was sold off in London the next year.

Ralph Dundas became commander of the new fourteen-gun sloop Bonetta in April 1779, then the new sixteen-gun sloop Calypso (shown above) in December 1782. He served in that post until 1787. Dundas died that year at age fifty-four, having spent about four decades in the Royal Navy. He was buried at St. Clement Danes in Middlesex County. He left no known wife or children.

Commander Dundas served during two wars, but his naval career was overshadowed by his little brother George (1756-1814), who rose to be a rear admiral—having presumably joined the navy with Ralph as inspiration. An intervening brother, David (1749-1826), became a doctor to George III and a baronet.

The still struggling legal market for cannabis

Here's an indirect update on the state of the American cannabis market, from the WSJ (hemp is a source for cannabidiol, or CBD):

Farmers Rushed Into Hemp. Now They Face a Glut.
Prices for the crops are falling, and some growers are struggling to unload their product

"A rush of farmers seeking to grow hemp, which became legal to cultivate in the U.S. last year, is creating a glut, damping prices and leaving some farmers struggling to unload their product. It is among the growing pains in the nascent industry for hemp-derived products—a potentially lucrative market, but one beset by regulatory uncertainty, financing constraints and other challenges.
"Hemp—which is the same plant species as marijuana, but with a minimal amount of the psychoactive compound in pot—was farmed legally in the U.S. until a 1937 federal law began a period of hemp prohibition. It became legal again because of a provision of the 2018 federal farm bill."

Why Don’t We Know More About the Subway Cost Disease?

Alon Levy has a good deck based on data he collected covering 205 projects in 40 countries on why subway costs are so expensive in the United States compared to much of the rest of the world.

One of the points he makes is that a significant fraction of cost varies across countries which means “the explanation should be institutional and not geologic or geographic. This is difficult and requires qualitative research, since N is about 40.”

Costs are lower in poorer countries but Levy argues that GDP per capita is not a big factor once differences in type of subways are accounted for, I find that surprising and somewhat difficult to believe.

Levy’s major factor is simply that Americans and New Yorkers in particular don’t know much about how things are done elsewhere. In Europe, when a city builds a subway it can look to ten or twelve examples in three to four nearby countries for best practices. New Yorker’s don’t look anywhere else and say things like “New York has a more built-out commuter rail network than London,” as MTA chair Pat Foye recently claimed. In one way, this is good news because Levy argues that if Americans adopted European practices such as separating design from construction and simplifying station construction they could cut costs significantly.

Levy is to be lauded for his pioneering work on this issue yet isn’t it weird that a Patreon supported blogger has done the best work on comparative construction costs mostly using data from newspapers and trade publications? New York plans to spend billions on railway and subway expansion. If better research could cut construction costs by 1%, it would be worth spending tens of millions on that research. So why doesn’t the MTA embed accountants with every major project in the world and get to the bottom of this cost disease? (See previous point). Perhaps the greatest value of Levy’s work is in drawing attention to the issue so that the public gets mad enough about excess costs to get politicians to put pressure on agencies like the MTA.

The post Why Don’t We Know More About the Subway Cost Disease? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Election Machine Insecurity Story

Interesting story of a flawed computer voting machine and a paper ballot available for recount. All ended well, but only because of that paper backup.

Vote totals in a Northampton County judge's race showed one candidate, Abe Kassis, a Democrat, had just 164 votes out of 55,000 ballots across more than 100 precincts. Some machines reported zero votes for him. In a county with the ability to vote for a straight-party ticket, one candidate's zero votes was a near statistical impossibility. Something had gone quite wrong.

Boing Boing post.

The driver is red

'The noose that had hung his friends after the war for what they had done, the noose that he thought he had escaped, had found him.'

In the wake of the Second World War, former SS officials and Nazi collaborators fled Europe, hoping to evade prosecution and knowing that South American governments were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Adolf Eichmann, the chief ‘architect’ of the Holocaust, was the highest ranking member of the Third Reich to escape to the continent, where he made Buenos Aires his new home and 'Ricardo Klement' his new name. 

The US artist Randall Christopher’s animation The Driver Is Red follows the Israeli mission that captured Eichmann on 11 May 1960, forcing him to finally stand trial for his crimes. With the pace and tension of a spy thriller, the short documentary frames the fervour for justice as a tribute to those who committed themselves to tracking down Nazi war criminals long after the Second World War’s end. Now that very few people with memories of Nazism’s rise are still alive, Christopher made the film freely available online, warning of the ominous spectre of ‘extreme nationalism, open racism, attacks on the press [and] reckless talk of war’ in our own era.

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Real love stories

Romantic expectations are often ridiculous and unhelpful, but attachment science can guide us to real and lasting love

By Sue Johnson

Read at Aeon

Foust Forward | Voyager’s stellar achievement: A one-in-many-generations mission beyond the solar system

Nov. 5 marked the first anniversary of Voyager 2’s great escape from the solar system. It was on that day in 2018 when the spacecraft passed through the heliopause, the boundary between the part of space surrounding the sun dominated by the solar wind and interstellar space, some 18 billion kilometers from Earth. Scientists marked the anniversary by publishing a series of papers in the journal Nature Astronomy about data Voyager 2 has returned since its entry into interstellar space, and comparing it to Voyager 1, which passed through the heliopause in 2012.

Both Voyagers, launched in 1977, are still operating, but neither will last forever. Within a decade, the nuclear batteries on the two spacecraft will decay to the point where they can’t produce enough power to keep alive their instruments and communications system, ending their missions.

Given a taste of interstellar space, scientists are looking for ways to follow up on the Voyagers. In 2014, a study by Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies examined the feasibility of sending a mission directly into interstellar space and the scientific benefits of doing so.

“Not only is there a compelling scientific reason to go to the interstellar medium, but there’s plenty of science to be done on the way,” said Leon Alkalai of JPL during a panel discussion at the end of this year’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington. That science outlined in the study ranges from planetary flybys to searches for Kuiper Belt objects in the outer solar system.

Since that study, Alkalai said a small team at JPL (“zealots, in a way,” as he put it) have been looking at interstellar mission concepts. They’re not alone: last year the Applied Physics Lab (APL) of Johns Voyager’s stellar achievement Hopkins University started its own “Interstellar Probe” mission study that will be incorporated into planning for the next heliophysics decadal survey in the early 2020s. The European Space Agency has also supported studies, including a paper presented at its recent “Voyage 2050” workshop that included contributions from China.

There’s little doubt such a mission could reap a bounty of science, and there’s no shortage of technical approaches to developing the mission, including one concept that would slingshot the probe around the sun. But the biggest obstacle for an interstellar mission (besides its cost, which the panel studiously avoided bringing up) is the timescales involved.

“This will be a long mission. It will take on the order of 30 to 50 years to get out there,” said Robert F. Wimmer-Schweingruber of the University of Kiel in Germany. That poses unique challenges for spacecraft that, traditionally, typically last no more than a couple decades even when extended past their prime mission.

That includes how such missions are run. “This is a long-term effort, and I think we’ll have to divide an interstellar probe into multiple phases,” he suggested. That would start with planetary discoveries and searches for Kuiper Belt objects before passing the heliopause into interstellar space. Each phase would have a different science team. “That should be the opportunity for old men like us to step down and hand over the mission to another principal investigator.”

He had a point with the “old men” remark. The entire panel for that IAC session featured senior male scientists and engineers, with no sign of younger and more diverse voices being involved in concepts for a mission that will span their entire professional careers.

At one point, Ralph McNutt of APL asked those in the audience born after 1990 to stand. “Once we get this thing launched,” he told them, “you are the people who are going to end up being some of the best candidates for keeping the darn thing running. Don’t screw it up.”

But if a multigenerational mission like this is to succeed, those younger generations need to play a bigger role sooner, rather than later. Otherwise, they may decide to do something else.

“Foust Forward” appears in every issue of SpaceNews magazine. This column ran in the Nov. 11, 2019 issue.



Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. His Foust Forward column appears in every issue of the magazine.

NASA faces spacewalk schedule crunch

Parmitano spacewalk

WASHINGTON — NASA space station managers are still trying to find ways to squeeze in at least three spacewalks into a crowded schedule before the station’s crew drops to three people in February.

NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano completed the third in a series of spacewalks Dec. 2 to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) instrument mounted on the station’s truss. While the two astronauts successfully installed a new coolant pump for the AMS on that spacewalk, one more spacewalk is needed to wrap up the complex repair effort.

NASA, though, hasn’t set a date for that final AMS spacewalk, and a busy schedule of visiting vehicles means it is unlikely to take place this month. “The fourth EVA was something we were going to have to find a home for and we’re still in that position,” said Kenny Todd, NASA ISS operations integration manager, during a Dec. 3 press conference about the upcoming Dragon cargo mission to the station.

That Dragon mission, now scheduled for launch Dec. 5 after winds scrubbed a Dec. 4 launch, is just the first of three spacecraft scheduled to visit the station this month. Russia will launch a Progress cargo spacecraft Dec. 6, docking with the station Dec. 9. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is scheduled for a Dec. 19 launch on an uncrewed test flight. If that launch date holds, the Starliner would dock with the station Dec. 20 and remain there four or five days.

That makes it unlikely that final AMS spacewalk will take place this month. “We’ll be looking to do that probably some time after the first of the year, unless between now and then a window opens up,” Todd said.

NASA also has unfinished spacewalking work to replace batteries that are part of the station’s power system. Astronauts performed two battery replacement spacewalks in early October, but halted that work when a battery charge/discharge unit, or BCDU, failed after the second spacewalk. Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir replaced the unit on a third spacewalk Oct. 18.

Todd said engineers are still investigating why the BCDU failed and how it might be linked to the battery replacement process. “That team is still doing their job and coming up with their version of what might be happening,” he said, along with steps to mitigate any such problems in the future.

He said managers see a window to carry out the remaining spacewalks, for both the battery replacements and the AMS repair, that opens after the Dragon spacecraft departs the ISS in early January. That window would run through about Feb. 6, when Koch, Parmitano and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov return to Earth, dropping the crew size to three.

It’s unlikely, Todd said, that NASA would carry out a spacewalk with only a three-person crew except in contingency situations, closing that window. He added later that there may be a brief opportunity to conduct a spacewalk in April, during the “handover” period after the arrival of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin, bringing the crew back to six for a short time.

Todd said the higher priority is to complete the battery replacements, assuming engineers understand by then what caused the BCDU failure and how to prevent it from happening again. “If we have a window to do three EVAs,” he said, “it would be two battery EVAs and then, if we have time, we can get the third one, which would be an AMS EVA.” He added, though, that it might be more efficient to do the AMS repair spacewalk first, since the spacesuits are already set up for Morgan and Parmitano to use.

If NASA does proceed with the battery replacements, but runs out of time before completing the AMS work, Todd said there is no danger to the instrument if its repair is delayed. The AMS was turned off for the cooling pump replacement but won’t be turned back on until after the final repair spacewalk, and can remain dormant for months.

He said NASA made it clear to the AMS project before the repairs started that there was no commitment to completing the repairs by a specific date. “We were very upfront about the fact that there may be a window in January, there may be a small window in April, but none of those are guarantees at this point,” he said. If that final repair spacewalk doesn’t take place in January or April, he added, “we’re going to have to wait until we get some larger crews on station when we start to see some of the U.S. commercial vehicles coming on for longer stays.”

Is the inequality of intelligence increasing?

“The inequality that matters,” as they used to say:

In a large US-representative adolescent sample, a Flynn Effect was found for IQs ≥ 130, and a negative effect for IQs ≤ 70

IQ changes also differed substantially by age group

A negative Flynn Effect for those with low intellectual ability suggests widening disparities in cognitive ability

Findings challenge the practice of generalizing IQ trends based on data from non-representative samples

So maybe yes — beware!

Here is the paper, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The post Is the inequality of intelligence increasing? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Are we undermeasuring productivity gains from the internet? part I

From my new paper with Ben Southwood on whether the rate of scientific progress is slowing down:

Third, we shouldn’t expect mismeasured GDP simply from the fact that the internet makes many goods and services cheaper. Spotify provides access to a huge range of music, and very cheaply, such that consumers can listen in a year to albums that would have cost them tens of thousands of dollars in the CD or vinyl eras. Yet this won’t lead to mismeasured GDP. For one thing, the gdp deflator already tries to capture these effects. But even if those efforts are imperfect, consider the broader economic interrelations. To the extent consumers save money on music, they have more to spend or invest elsewhere, and those alternative choices will indeed be captured by GDP. Another alternative (which does not seem to hold for music) is that the lower prices will increase the total amount of money spent on recorded music, which would mean a boost in recorded GDP for the music sector alone. Yet another alternative, more plausible, is that many artists give away their music on Spotify and YouTube to boost the demand for their live performances, and the increase in GDP  shows up there. No matter how you slice the cake, cheaper goods and services should not in general lower measured GDP in a way that will generate significant mismeasurement. 

Moving to the more formal studies, the Federal Reserve’s David Byrne, with Fed & IMF colleagues, finds a productivity adjustment worth only a few basis points when attempting to account for the gains from cheaper internet age and internet-enabled products. Work by Erik Brynjolfsson and Joo Hee Oh studies the allocation of time, and finds that people are valuing free Internet services at about $106 billion a year. That’s well under one percent of GDP, and it is not nearly large enough to close the measured productivity gap. A study by Nakamura, Samuels, and Soloveichik measures the value of free media on the internet, and concludes it is a small fraction of GDP, for instance 0.005% of measured nominal GDP growth between 1998 and 2012. 

Economist Chad Syverson probably has done the most to deflate the idea of major unmeasured productivity gains through internet technologies. For instance, countries with much smaller tech sectors than the United States usually have had comparably sized productivity slowdowns. That suggests the problem is quite general, and not belied by unmeasured productivity gains. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, the productivity slowdown is quite large in scale, compared to the size of the tech sector. Using a conservative estimate, the productivity slowdown implies a cumulative loss of $2.7 trillion in  GDP since the end of 2004; in other words, output would have been that much higher had the earlier rate of productivity growth been maintained. If unmeasured gains are to make up for that difference, that would have to be very large. For instance, consumer surplus would have to be five times higher in IT-related sectors than elsewhere in the economy, which seems implausibly large.

You can find footnotes and references in the original.  Here is my earlier post on the paper.

The post Are we undermeasuring productivity gains from the internet? part I appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Four short links: 5 December 2019

  1. Rediscovered Incomplete Infocom Text Adventure: Hypochondriac — download link in the video description. Discovered by Adam Summerfield by rummaging through the directories of the Infocom Hard Drive. It’s not finished and it crashes, but wow—that’s like finding a new Shakespeare play. (via Renga in Blue)
  2. What TikTok Reports About You, and How (Matthias Ebert) — great Twitter thread where he shows how TikTok tracks you and where the data goes. I learned heaps, including Canvas Fingerprinting. They draw an image in the background using vector graphic commands. Afterward, they save the image to a rasterized PNG. This data is quite unique among different devices, depending on settings and hardware.
  3. COBOL Day — a conference for COBOL developers, in Italy. It’s a skill with immense employability.
  4. Practice Difficult Conversations (Lara Hogan) — details how to practice hard conversations, and how to have them. Includes sample situations to roleplay.

Founder Institute opens space accelerator with ties to NASA Ames

SAN FRANCISCO – The Founder Institute, an accelerator with operations in 180 cities globally, is establishing a new program with ties to the NASA Ames Research Center.

The Founder Institute announced open applications Dec. 3 for the Advanced Technologies Accelerator for aerospace, space and frontier technologies firms that have not yet raised seed funding. (Frontier technologies is a broad term that encompasses artificial intelligence, drones, quantum computing and other emerging technologies.)

Through the accelerator, startup founders will be matched with mentors and advisors like Sean Casey, managing director of the Silicon Valley Space Center, Michael Sims, Ceres Robotics CEO, and Arundhati Banerjee, commercialization specialist at NASA Ames.

In addition, the Founder Institute will help entrepreneurs identify whether NASA Ames technology could further their businesses and, if so, help them license the technology.

“NASA has had a long history of finding new, innovative uses for its space and aeronautics technologies,” Kimberly Minafra, a software specialist in the NASA Ames Strategic Partnerships Office, said in a statement. “We are excited to work with Founder Institute to help connect NASA technology to start-ups that can effectively commercialize the technology for the betterment of life on Earth.”

This is not the first time the Founder Institute, based in Palo Alto, California, has opened its doors to space entrepreneurs. In 2017, it established the Star Fellow Program, which waived the usual fees for space entrepreneurs to participate in its intensive three-and-a-half-month curriculum.

The Star Fellow program has led to more than 50 space startups, Founder Institute CEO Adeo Ressi told SpaceNews, including Ceres Robotics, a firm NASA selected to participate in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. Ressi, who spent nine years on the board of the XPrize Foundation, says the space ecosystem needs far more entrepreneurs.

“If we want to colonize Mars in the next decade or at least land humans on Mars in the next decade, if we want to have a moon base in the next decade, we will need thousands of companies working on space,” Ressi said.

Many fledgling space companies could benefit from work NASA has already performed. However, entrepreneurs may not be aware of all the research and technology related to “life support, propulsion and everything else that is available for license today,” Ressi said. Or, entrepreneurs may not know how to approach the space agency, he added.

“What we’re saying is, “Don’t be intimidated, NASA Ames is eager to work with you and we’re going to help make that interface as easy as possible,’ ” Ressi said. “By providing an easy interface to find technologies and opportunities, we hope dozens, if not hundreds, of startups will take technology that is ready to be commercialized today and turn it into products and services to make the world better.”

Anyone interested in learning more can contact the Founder Institute or go online to


Did Sheldon make a big purchase? From TPM Reader AM

I’d written you previously about Pompeo’s likely senate run. Just reading that piece in McClatchy now about the warchest he’s amassing and the outreach he’s doing to megadonors and this caught my eye:

The timing of Pompeo’s exchange with Adelson coincided with the secretary’s on-camera announcement on November 18 that the Trump administration would revoke its longstanding legal determination on the legitimacy of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Adelson supports the settler enterprise.

Maybe it’s nothing, but making foreign policy moves on the fly that sell out entire ethnic groups in order to gain help with elections would certainly be an on-brand move.

Launch of CRS-19 cargo freighter to ISS delayed

Falcon 9 will not be launching today due to upper level winds and rough seas (Archive Photo). Photo Credit: Jim Siegel / SpaceFlight Insider

Falcon 9 will not be launching today due to upper level winds and rough seas (Archive Photo). Photo Credit: Jim Siegel / SpaceFlight Insider

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. — Beautifully clear skies do not necessarily ensure a launch. SpaceX, no stranger to the precise requirements for launch ran afoul of an old foe on Wednesday Dec. 4.

High winds and rough seas prevented a 12:51 p.m. EDT. liftoff the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon capsule payload. The launch has been rescheduled for 12:29 p.m. EDT (16:29 UTC) tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019.



The post Launch of CRS-19 cargo freighter to ISS delayed appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

NASA JSC Certainly Got All Of The Safety Memos

Keith's note: From a retired NASA employee and long-time NASAWatch reader:

"Keith, the attached photo was just too instructive to pass up. Let me explain. This is at the Gilruth Center at JSC.

I believe that it visually shows the risk averse nature of NASA and says something about space politics. I.e., one stop sign wasn't enough. A second one is safer. And then a sign explaining what a stop sign means. Man are we safely redundant.

I am a retired NASA engineer and could not pass up the hilarious sight.


Larger image

Thursday: Trade Deficit, Unemployment Claims

• At 8:30 AM: The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released. The consensus is for 215,000 initial claims, up from 213,000 last week.

• At 8:30 AM: Trade Balance report for October from the Census Bureau. The consensus is the trade deficit to be $49.0 billion.  The U.S. trade deficit was at $52.5 billion in September.

Fact Associations: Fantastic Futures 2019

Fact Associations: Fantastic Futures 2019

I attended the plenary sessions of the second Fantastic Futures conference about artificial intelligence in libraries, archives and museums yesterday. I took notes throughout the day some of which manifested themselves as blocky letter form word-drawings, some of which I've included here.

These are the very definition of notes to self and I do not recommend trying to reconstruct the substance of anyone's presentation from these drawings. Some are actual quotes, other are fragments of quotes, others are observations. Some are all three combined. These should be treated as figure drawings where the value lies more in the exercise of doing them and in the shadow of their suggestion rather than any actual representation.

Wherever there is something that presents itself as inevitable you are in the face of ideology.

Zadie Smith

As to the subject of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the cultural heritage sector I am not a disbeliever but I not yet a true believer either. To the extent that these drawings might be seen as snarky, or even hostile, that should be understood more as more a commentary on the language we use to discuss these subjects than a reflection on the nuance and subtlety of anyone's argument.

Also, spelling is hard.

It was encouraging to hear both Michael Keller and Aslak Sira Myhre, the Librarian of Stanford and the director of the National Library of Norway respectively, agree that the distinctions between libraries and archives and museums is vanishing as everything that the near-future makes possible permeates these institutions. This idea has been something of hobby horse for me so it was nice to know there are others who see that future with sympathetic eyes.

As the day progressed and as the question of what it means to be a library, and in particular a librarian, in the face of all these new technologies kept resurfacing I found myself thinking again about the AK-47 story. This was part of the preamble to a talk I delivered at the Technology experiments in art: Conserving software-based art symposium, in January 2014. (The irony of that link being an Eventbrite listings page with nothing of substance about the symposium is not lost on me.) The talk then had nothing to do with artificial intelligence but the broader questions about the relationship between inference and meaning that the AK-47 was meant to raise still seem relevant and germane to the issue of artificial intelligences in the service of cultural heritage today. I've included that part of the talk in-full below:

I also considered adding a slide with Bill Clinton's famous quote questioning the meaning of the word is when asked whether he had had an affair with Monica Lewinsky but the common thread in all these passages is the idea of motive and how we recognize it. That's an important question for all museums, but especially for a design museum since by-and-large we all have the same things in our collections. By their nature design objects come in multiples, often to the point of being mass-produced or in some cases not even being considered design objects unless they are mass-produced.

For example, this is an AK-47 from the collection of the Kalashnikov Museum in Izhevsk. It is from the first pilot batch of assault rifles produced in 1948 that would go on to be adopted for use by the Soviet Army in 1949.

This is a Chinese-made AK-47 from the collection of the National Museum of American History. Which is to say: The Smithsonian has a Chinese-made Russian assault rifle in its collection. Is it just a talisman of the Cold War period or might we imagine that it was a gift from Mao Zedong to Richard Nixon during his famous 1972 visit to China? It is currently not on display.

This is an AK-47 from the collection of the CIA Museum. It was acquired sometime in 2012. It is said to have belonged to Osama bin Laden. The museum remains closed to the public and I get the sense that it was never really meant to be known to anyone outside the family in the first place.

By now you've probably figured out that these are all the same image and it's not any of the actual machine guns that I've been describing. By now you've probably all figured out that this is the same picture of the same AK-47 from Wikipedia, so here is a picture of a plush AK-47 by Mindy Sue Myers.

I might also have also told you that any one of those AK-47s belonged to a child soldier in Sierra Leone. That is was from a museum devoted to telling the history of child soldiers and the mineral wars that have plagued Africa for the last fifty year. Not a word of that story would have true been, by the way. So why does this matter?

It's difficult to look at the CIA Museum's AK-47 and not also see Napoleon's Vendôme Column. For anyone not familiar with the Vendôme Column it's a big-ass sculpture in the center of Paris in a square originally built the celebrate the conquests of the French Empire. It is said to have made from the melted canons belonging to all the armies that Napoleon defeated at the Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon was not lent to subtlety and the Vendôme Column is essentially the 19th century version of the fictional Conan the Barbarian's answer to the question What is best in life? to which he replied To crush your enemies. To see them driven before you. To hear the lamentation of their women.

If you think I am just being provocative stop for a moment and imagine what the reaction in the United States would have been if the Kalashnikov Museum had acquired Osama bin Laden's AK-47.

This on the other hand is a proper work of art by Peter Kennard and Cat Phillipps. It was on display at the Imperial War Museum in Manchester, in 2013, as part of an exhibition about contemportary art and war.

The late painter Francis Bacon gave an interview, somewhere around the mid-point of his career, in which he said that he aspired to create paintings that defied narrative. Whether or not he succeeded or whether or not he even still believed that idea by the time of his death is sort of irrelevant. We have always celebrated works of exceptional execution and in contemporary times we increasingly afford artists the luxury to pursue a singular itch to that end.

It is interesting to consider that as the art world and the discourse that surrounds it continues to get wordier and more theory-driven we are also seeing both museums and artists create works that can only be described as spectacles. That's a whole other talk but just keep this idea in the back of your mind: That people are starting to use spectacle itself as a kind of medium in part, I think, because it remains bigger than words.

I want to mention craft and the timeless arts-and-crafts debate only long enough to describe a scenario guaranteed to upset everyone involved. That capital-A art is the Abel to capital-C craft's Cain, but with a twist. If art will knowingly murder his brother the problem he faces is that his brother is also a zombie who can never die and wants to eat his brain.

It's not a very flattering picture for anyone but the reason I enjoy this fiction is because it's a useful way to consider design. That is, design is the shadow of the unresolvable struggle between an outstanding, over-achieving sociopath and a his seen-to-be lesser sibling who refuses to give up no matter what anyone says.

This is the world's first operational 3D printed hand gun. It was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum last year. It is worth mentioning that in writing about the acquisition Dezeen (.com) made a point of noting that the original prototypes did not arrive at the museum in time for London Design Festival, so the museum printed out a copy in London based on (the) blueprints.


Because, you know... it's a 3D printed object. The whole point of 3D printing is to make anything Walter Benjamin ever said seem quaint by comparison. That does not make it any less difficult to resist the allure of a thing imbued with aura, whether it's real or imagined. Is the very first 3D printed hand gun any more or less special than the very first AK-47?

Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744

Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744 Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744

What The Shift To Judiciary Meant For The Tenor Of The Impeachment Probe

Some aspects of Wednesday’s impeachment hearing — the first in front of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel with jurisdiction for advancing the ultimate articles of impeachment — felt like déjà vu all over again.

The hearing was in the same room as the week and a half of House Intelligence impeachment inquiry hearings: a cold, cavernous space usually used by the Ways and Means Committee.

There were echos of the last hearings in the format: a 45-minute round for each side to share between its top member and staff counsel, before moving towards the 5-minute member question periods.

And many of the GOP lines of defense were similar: a supposed lack of direct evidence, an allegedly pre-determined process, an effort to purportedly “overturn” the 2016 election.

But there were differences, too, that signaled what the shift to the Judiciary Committee will mean for the tenor of the House impeachment inquiry.

The witnesses were law professors: three scholars picked by Democrats and a fourth by Republicans. They were here not to attest to the facts of what happened, but compare those facts to the standards of the Constitution.

With a few exceptions, the Democrats questioned mostly the majority-chosen witnesses, and Republicans stuck to theirs. They were seeking sound bites of analysis of what was already known, and very little, if anything new, was revealed.

It was a stark contrast between the House Intelligence Committee’s public hearings, which provided plenty of surprising answers, lines of inquiry that backfired, and even a few major revelations.

The discussions Wednesday were a broad look at what the Framers thought about impeachment, the abstract legal concepts Congress must now engage with, and how past inquiries compare to this one.

And of course there was plenty more speechifying. Several members spent spoke three or four minutes before asking their first questions, and some didn’t even bother asking anything.

This sleepy slog was disrupted a few times, especially when Republicans went after the majority witnesses, for donating to Democratic candidates, for their previous commentary on Trump and impeachment, and for a cheesy pun one witness made invoking the name of the President’s teenage son.

There were some questions from the Democrats that made my ear perk as well. At least a handful of Democrats asked their witnesses about conduct laid out by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Those questions come amid internal uncertainty whether the articles of impeachment that the Judiciary Committee ultimately drafts should addresses Trump’s obstructive conduct towards the Mueller investigation.

Democrats also took some question time to engage with the main argument laid out by the GOP witness, Jonathan Turley, who testified that the House had not turned up enough evidence warranting impeachment and that lawmakers should keep digging.

Democrats asked their witnesses about the Trump’s vow to block cooperating with Congress and the court precedents that already exist backing compliance with congressional subpoenas. Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) questioned Turley directly to note that even President Nixon allowed his White House counsel to cooperate in his impeachment probe. A subpoena for Don McGahn’s testimony issued in April is just now being litigated by an appellate court.

Those moments point to what is now facing the House 0n its road toward impeachment and what decisions the House Judiciary Committee will have to make now that the impeachment baton has been passed to it: What to include in the articles of impeachment and how quickly to move to advance them.

Just because the work that was started today wasn’t sexy, it presents tough questions that will have to be solved.

Soyuz rocket set to launch Russian Progress freighter to space station

A Soyuz-2.1a booster is set to launch the Russian Progress MS-13 cargo freighter Friday to the International Space Station. Credit: Roscosmos

A Russian resupply and refueling freighter loaded with 2.7 tons of cargo, propellant, water and oxygen for the International Space Station is in position on a launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for liftoff Friday aboard a Soyuz booster.

The three-stage rocket rolled out to Launch Pad No. 31 at Baikonur Tuesday, riding a rail car at dawn from the Soyuz booster’s assembly building, or MIK. Once at the pad, the Soyuz was lifted vertical by hydraulic lifts and suspended over a cavernous flame bucket carved from the bedrock of the Kazakh steppe.

Gantry arms were raised into position around the Soyuz-2.1a launcher to give Russian technicians access to the rocket for final checkouts and inspections.

The Soyuz will be loaded with kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants during a countdown Friday, setting the stage for ignition of rocket’s core stage engine and four liquid-fueled strap-on boosters. Liftoff is timed for 4:34:11 a.m. EST (0934:11 GMT; 2:34:11 p.m. Baikonur time) to begin the 74th Russian Progress resupply mission to the International Space Station.

The RD-107A engines on the Soyuz rocket’s four first stage boosters will shut down and jettison around two minutes after liftoff, while a four-nozzle RD-108A engine on the core stage continues firing. A protective aerodynamic shroud will then fall away from the top of the rocket to reveal the Progress MS-13 spacecraft.

The core stage will shut down and separate nearly five minutes after liftoff, giving way to an RD-0110 engine on the Soyuz third stage to inject the Progress freighter into orbit. Separation of the Progress cargo craft from the Soyuz third stage is scheduled nearly nine minutes into the mission.

Moments after separation, the Progress will unfurl its two power-generating solar array wings and navigation antennas. Russian ground controllers will oversee a sequence of thruster burns to align the cargo ship’s orbit with that of the space station, positioning the Progress freighter for docking with the Pirs module on the orbiting research lab Monday at 5:38 a.m. EST (1038 GMT).

The Progress cargo freighter’s docking at the station is scheduled a day after the planned arrival of a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule, giving the station’s six-person crew back-to-back shipments of fresh supplies and experiments.

Russian cosmonauts will unpack some 3,000 pounds (1,350 kilograms) of dry cargo stowed inside the Progress MS-13 spacecraft’s pressurized compartment. The mission will also deliver 1,433 pounds (650 kilograms) of propellant to refuel the propulsion system on the station’s Russian segment, along with 926 pounds (420 kilograms) of water and 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of oxygen.

The gear to be delivered to the station by the Progress MS-13 spacecraft includes a new track for a treadmill used by cosmonauts for exercise.

The Russian resupply vessel is slated to depart the space station next July with a load of trash to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Additional photos of the Soyuz rocket’s rollout Tuesday at Baikonur are posted below.

Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos
Credit: Roscosmos

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

A Map of the 637 Languages Spoken in NYC

NYC Language Map

The Endangered Language Alliance has produced a map of the 637 languages and dialects spoken by the residents of NYC (past and present).

It represents ELA’s ongoing effort to draw on all available sources, including thousands of interviews and discussions, to tell the continuing story of the city’s many languages and cultures. The patterns it reveals — the clustering of West African languages in Harlem and the Bronx, a microcosm of the former Soviet Union in south Brooklyn, the multifaceted Asian-language diversity of Queens, to name a few — only hint at the linguistic complexity of a city where a single building or block can host speakers of dozens of languages from across the globe.

The online map embedded in the page works ok, but a $50 donation to the organization will get you a 24″ x 36″ print for your wall.

According to a Gothamist post about the map, the size and diversity of the city sometimes means that a significant chunk of a language’s worldwide speakers live in NYC:

Seke is a language spoken in just a handful of towns in Nepal-worldwide, there are fewer than 700 people who speak it. More than 100 of those people live in Brooklyn and Queens, according to the Endangered Language Alliance, a group that seeks to document and preserve smaller, minority, and Indigenous languages across New York City.

(via gothamist)

Tags: language   maps   NYC

Perfect Timing! Giuliani Lands In Kyiv Ahead Of Delicate Peace Talks With Russia

Rudy Giuliani picked a precarious moment to arrive in the Ukrainian capital: days before crucial talks are to begin with Russia over a potential deal to end the war in the country’s east.

President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, along with German and French leaders Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron, in a summit aimed at generating a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine conflict.

Into this delicate diplomatic environment waltzes President Trump’s personal lawyer, who also happens to be a central figure in the impeachment inquiry that is all about Ukraine. It perfectly highlights the damage that the Trump-Giuliani pressure campaign is still doing to U.S.-Ukraine relations, and how dramatically it continues to undermine Ukraine’s position with respect to Russia.

Steven Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine, told me in a phone call on Wednesday that the scandal had “caused a lot of nervousness in Kyiv about the strength of American support for Ukraine,” citing conversations he had on a trip he took to Kyiv last month.

“It’s also had an impact in Moscow where the Russians are calculating what does this mean, is American support going to be undermined, does it mean Zelensky will be more likely to make concessions?” Pifer added. 

It’s long been clear Trump himself does not believe in U.S. policy towards Ukraine. But longstanding U.S. policy toward Ukraine had continued under Trump due to bipartisan support from Congress.

Now, that’s in jeopardy.

The concern in Kyiv, Pifer said, boils down to whether GOP support in Congress for Ukraine will continue, or whether Republican parroting of talking points issued by Russian propaganda will eventually degrade the party’s support for Ukraine.

“The question coming up now is that you keep having Republican senators and members of Congress repeating the Russian talking point that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election,” Pifer said. “That’s gonna make the nervousness in Kyiv go up.” 

The issue comes down to whether the rhetoric around Ukrainian interference – delivered in service of supporting Trump – will translate to congressional votes against providing various forms of support to Kyiv.

Much of the impeachment inquiry’s focus has rightly been on Trump’s freeze on $391 million in military aid, as the official act held hostage to the President’s personal political machinations. But in reality, the military aid mattered less on the battlefield than at the negotiating table.

Ukraine had held out against the Russians for years without lethal military aid from the U.S., until the Trump administration issued it Javelin anti-tank systems, though on the condition that they wouldn’t be deployed.

But according to Pifer, the importance of the military aid that was held up this summer was more symbolic than material.

Rather than something that would have significantly changed the balance of power between the two armies, the aid was meant to signify solidified political support that could have given Ukraine an edge in negotiations with Russia.

But the freeze, tie-in with U.S. domestic politics, and resulting scandal annihilated that objective.

Compounding the issue is the sense that the scandal has, in some ways, only just begun. Giuliani’s arrival in Kyiv on Wednesday further adds to the notion that Trump and his allies will continue to push narratives around Ukrainian interference into the 2020 election, rendering the country a domestic political football as it seeks to find a way out of the war in which it has been trapped since 2014.

For Zelensky, that’s even more potentially damaging: He ran for the Ukrainian presidency in part on a campaign of ending the war. Doing so on acceptable terms is a difficult proposition for a country that has already effectively lost Crimea and has fought the rest of the war on its own territory.

So the risk of all this is a situation where Ukraine, lacking bipartisan support, is forced to accept terms with Russia that are politically untenable domestically. That’s not to say that U.S. security aid is some kind of panacea; but Republican parroting of Russian propaganda does not bode well.

Or, as Pifer asked, “Can they separate that out and still be supportive of Ukraine in the way they have previously?”

“I hope that’s the case, but I can see why people looking at it might not be so sure.” 

Photos: Starliner makes first appearance on launch pad

This gallery of photos shows the rollout Tuesday of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket and Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule to pad 41 at Cape Canaveral, plus additional views of the 172-foot-tall (52.4-meter) launcher standing next to the crew access tower Wednesday as teams prepared for a countdown rehearsal.

The Atlas 5 rode its mobile launch platform Tuesday for the 1,800-foot (550-meter) trip from the Vertical Integration Facility to Cape Canaveral’s Complex 41 launch pad. The rollout marked the first time Boeing’s commercial crew ship, named the CST-100 Starliner, reached its launch site after a decade in development.

ULA and Boeing are gearing up for the Integrated Day-of-Launch Test, or IDOLT, an exercise in which the Atlas 5 launch team and Boeing spacecraft specialists will research launch day procedures. The Atlas 5 countdown for Starliner missions is lengthened to allow ground teams time to help astronauts board the spaceship before liftoff.

The Atlas 5 launcher and Starliner spacecraft at pad 41 are scheduled to launch Dec. 19 at 6:59 a.m. EST (1159 GMT) on an unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station. The Orbital Flight Test, or OFT, mission will help Boeing and NASA, which has paid the lion’s share of the Starliner’s development costs, ensure the crew capsule is ready for astronauts.

In the photos taken Wednesday, the crew access arm at pad 41 is seen extended to the Starliner’s side hatch, where crews will board the vehicle on future missions.

Read our full story previewing the upcoming launch day dress rehearsal.

Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Video of the day: Fuck Wagner

Sky and Space Global narrows immediate goal to eight satellites as funding remains elusive

WASHINGTON — Sky and Space Global, a startup planning a constellation of 200 cubesats for low-data-rate communications, has narrowed its near-term focus to raising enough money for an initial eight satellites.

Difficulty obtaining financing has delayed Sky and Space Global’s target launch, once anticipated for late 2019, to the end of 2020, the company said in a report released Dec. 4. 

The Australian company, whose staff of approximately 50 people are spread across Israel, the U.K. and Poland in addition to its home country, is seeking to raise 15.8 million Australian dollars ($10.8 million) in the coming months after an unsuccessful attempt in August. 

Sky and Space Global is again facing manufacturing delays with its Internet of Things constellation due to financial instability. 

GomSpace, its manufacturing partner, said in an August financial report that its contract with Sky and Space Global is “treated as cancelled” due to the startup’s postponed financing. 

GomSpace briefly suspended manufacturing of Sky and Space Global satellites last year due to a missed payment. The European manufacturer laid off 80 of its 230 employees this year in part due to a lack of anticipated business with the constellation startup. 

Sky and Space Global has a trio of prototype satellites in orbit it calls the “Three Diamonds,” which have demonstrated the ability to provide voice and data communications from cubesats. The company’s planned operational constellation is based on satellites called “Pearls” that feature upgrades for service-level quality, plus software for autonomous collision avoidance. 

Sky and Space Global said it “will progress the manufacturing process for the Pearls after appropriate financing has been secured.”

Sky and Space Global said there is “insufficient certainty” that it can raise the full 15.8 million Australian dollars it needs since the amount is not underwritten, and the company’s “recent history of unsuccessful capital raising.”

Sky and Space Global has non-binding agreements with Rocket Lab and Arianespace to launch its first satellites. 

As of June 30, Sky and Space Global had 1.9 million Australian dollars on hand, down from 8.9 million Australian dollars that time last year. 

Sky and Space Global borrowed $1.1 million from Israeli finance provider Telefox in May, and $550,000 from CSS Alpha of the British Virgin Islands in September. Both loans mature in May 2020. 

Sky and Space Global also received a British tax rebate worth 1.43 million pounds ($1.87 million) in October. In an effort to reduce overhead costs, SAS Global founders and directors agreed to a 50% pay cut, according to a May letter to shareholders.

Links 12/4/19

Links for you. Science:

These corals could survive climate change — and help save the world’s reefs
Prestigious NY Cancer Center Will Spend $3.7M To Study Bogus Cancer Treatment
Big Calculator: How Texas Instruments Monopolized Math Class
Chesapeake Bay dead zone was “high normal” for 2019
A Lawsuit at Harvard Pries Open Debates About Science and Reparations


Everything You Need To Know About The Next Recession (Max speak. You listen!)
What’s Behind the Subprime Consumer Loan Implosion? (important)
Trump official who promoted fringe conspiracy theories now senior adviser at State Department
Why I’m Running to Be America’s First Black, Gay Congressman
Biden Claimed He Wanted to Earn Every Vote
Medicare for All isn’t tanking Warren (“It is not, in other words, Medicare for All that has sunk Elizabeth Warren – it’s Elizabeth Warren who is sinking Medicare for All.”)
Meet the Men Fueling the Climate Crisis: Until there are courts willing to hold the titans of the climate crisis accountable, it’s up to people to begin calling them out by name.
There’s a major political war brewing in New York (Cuomo is still an asshole)
Crusading Autoworkers Are Fighting to Take Back Their Union From an Employer-Backed Culture of Corruption
How The Interior Department Got Swamped
An interview with historian Gordon Wood on the New York Times’ 1619 Project
Silicon Valley’s Sun Kings
Books Have the Power to Rehabilitate. But Prisons Are Blocking Access to Them.
Red Summer, 100 years later: 1919 was a yearlong litany of white brutality against black Americans
Red Summer, 100 years later: Its legacy of racial division and hate is buried in our demography
Trump Regularly ‘Can’t Remember What He’s Said or Been Told,’ White House Insider Says
The death of free markets
Photos: Preserving community in Chinatown
Boston’s Chinatown is poised on a precipice
Congress should let D.C. buy RFK Stadium
In academia, there’s a caste system for parents and it could backfire

NileSat buys satellite from Thales Alenia • Arctic comms payloads pass review • NationSat launch slips to 2021

To receive FIRST UP Satcom, a weekly SpaceNews newsletter for satellite and telecom professionals, sign up here.


Thales Alenia Space received a contract from Egyptian satellite operator NileSat to build a new geostationary communications satellite. The Franco-Italian manufacturer will build the NileSat-301 satellite using its Spacebus 4000-B2 platform, along with ground control infrastructure. NileSat-301 has a projected weight of 4,100 kilograms and is expected to launch in January 2022. It will eventually replace NileSat-201, which retires in 2028. NileSat-301 has a design life of 15 years. The contract follows a week after the launch of the Egyptian government’s TIBA-1 satellite, for which Thales Alenia Space provided the communications payload. [Egypt Independent/Thales Alenia Space]

Two military communications payloads passed their critical design review, keeping them on track for a December 2022 Falcon 9 launch aboard the semi-commercial Space Norway satellites. The Enhanced Polar System Recapitalization payloads are now cleared to begin production at Northrop Grumman, the U.S. Air Force said Dec. 3. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems has a $410 million contract to develop the payloads, which will provide protected tactical communications over the arctic. Space Norway is including the payloads on its twin Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission satellites, which will also carry communications payloads for the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and British commercial satellite operator Inmarsat. [SMC]

The launch of Saturn Satellite Networks’ first NationSat satellite has slipped to the second quarter of 2021 due to a delay from its launch provider. Saturn CEO Tom Choi said the rest of the small-GEO program is on track. He didn’t name the launch provider, but Saturn Chief Technology Officer Ken Betaharon identified it as SpaceX during a June presentation in Indonesia. Choi estimated the size of the small-GEO market at six or more satellites a year, of which Saturn hopes to win two annually. He said the company is also working on products for low- and medium-Earth orbits. [Via Satellite]


A new study on space debris says that deorbiting low Earth orbit satellites within 25 years of retirement is insufficient to avoid collisions. The University of Southampton study simulated LEO constellation activity over the next 1,000 years and concluded that, for altitudes above 1,000 kilometers, the rate of destructive satellite collisions doubled every 200 to 300 years. “At the beginning of a simulation, catastrophic collisions above 1000 km were occurring roughly every 50 years,” Southampton professor Hugh Lewis said. “By the end, the interval was down to six years despite the fact that only one or two satellites had been added to this region each year.” Lewis said the study also showed an increase in collisions at lower altitudes, since satellites performing deorbiting maneuvers created additional traffic on their way to Earth’s atmosphere. [University of Southampton]

Blue Origin is continuing to expand the number and size of its facilities. The company has opened an office in the Los Angeles area to work on propulsion systems, tapping into the expertise in the area, although only a few of its approximately 700 job openings companywide are for that new office. Blue Origin is continuing to work on an expansion of its headquarters in the Seattle suburb of Kent, as well as a new engine production factory in Huntsville and launch vehicle facilities in Florida. [GeekWire]

Israeli satellite operator Spacecom has selected Satellite Mediaport Services in Great Britain as a ground segment partner for its recently launched Amos-17 satellite. Satellite Mediaport Services will help Spacecom by enabling C- and Ku-band uplinks to Amos-17 for television and broadband internet connections in Africa. Amos-17, a Boeing-built satellite, launched in August on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The satellite’s coverage reaches Europe, Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, including India. [Broadband TV News]

Globalstar says a recent refinancing of its debt should stabilize the company’s finances through the mid-2020s. The company announced last month it borrowed $199 million led by fleet operator EchoStar and Thermo, Globalstar’s largest shareholder, using the money to make three payments toward the company’s French loans and to negotiate more favorable terms for future payments. Globalstar’s revenues had been failing to keep up with loan payments, and efforts to monetize its S-band satellite spectrum for terrestrial applications were taking longer than anticipated. With the refinancing in place, the company believes it will have sufficient cash flow through 2025. [SpaceNews]

Hughes Network Systems received contracts from SES and Speedcast for Jupiter ground segment infrastructure. SES will use a Jupiter system, including data centers and hub equipment, to provide broadband services from SES-17, a satellite Thales Alenia Space is building for a 2021 launch. The satellite is designed to provide Wi-Fi on aircraft and boats, as well as to office buildings and network operators. Speedcast is deploying a Jupiter gateway and 3,000 satellite terminals to provide Wi-Fi in public areas throughout the Philippines as part of a Filipino government program supported by the United Nations. [Hughes Network Systems]

Northrop Grumman believes that its financial stability should be a strength in an Air Force launch competition. In a speech Tuesday, Charlie Precourt, Northrop Grumman’s vice president of propulsion systems, said that its ability to leverage existing assets for its OmegA rocket, along with a diversified product line, means it would not need many Air Force launches to remain a viable supplier. That, he said, would allow it to better deal with future downturns in launch demand than competitors that are more dependent on government and commercial customers for launch services. Northrop is one of four companies competing for two Air Force launch services contracts. [SpaceNews]

SpaceNews Senior Staff Writer Jeff Foust contributed to this newsletter.

A Circle Thief

A Circle Thief is a lovely little animation by Natsumi Comoto of a robber of circular objects and the chalk-wielding commuter who attempts to stop him.

See more meta-animation in Duck Amuck (starring Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny). (via the kid should see this)

Tags: Natsumi Comoto   video

Airline markets in everything

Out of the many repulsive things about air travel, airline food probably ranks high. But not for AirAsia.

Asia’s largest low-cost carrier is betting people love its food so much that it opened its first restaurant on Monday, offering the same menu it sells on flights. It’s not a gimmick, either: AirAsia, based in Malaysia, said it plans to open more than 100 restaurants globally within the next five years.

The quick-service restaurant’s first location is in a mall in Kuala Lumpur. It’s called Santan, meaning coconut milk in Malay, which is the same branding AirAsia uses on its in-flight menus.

Entrees cost around $3 USD and include local delicacies such as chicken rice and the airline’s signature Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak dish, a rice dish with chilli sauce. Locally sourced coffee, teas and desserts are also on the menu.

Here is the full story, via Michael Rosenwald.  P.S. Pablo Escobar’s brother is now selling a folding smart phone.

The post Airline markets in everything appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Shortcuts and Screenshots on iOS

Shortcuts App Icon Periodically I’ll find myself fascinated for weeks at a time with Apple’s Shortcuts automation app for iOS and iPadOS, tinkering…

‘A Letter From Larry and Sergey’

Larry Page and Sergey Brin:

With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about!

Nice friendly exclamation mark!

This whole “Alphabet” thing is a joke. I still don’t get what they’re even trying for with it. The company is Google and we all know it. The subsidiary owns the parent and everyone knows it. No one is fooled by this. Nothing has changed regarding the goofy super-class shares that Page and Brin hold that give them complete control of the company. Google is a privately-held company that trades as a publicly-held one.

Here’s the thing that’s always rubbed me the wrong way about Google. They’re insulting. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates — I completely believe they’re all geniuses. But they never seem(ed) condescending. Tim Cook and Satya Nadella aren’t founders but they’re both great examples of what a CEO should be: smart, honest, respectful.

Brin and Page are almost certainly smarter than you and me. But they’re not as much smarter as they think they are. Read this whole announcement through the filter of “they think we’re dumb” and it makes a lot more sense. And if they were as smart as they think they are, they’d therefore be smart enough to recognize how tone-deaf this plays.


The One About the Pro Leisure Circuit

25 episodes in. In this episode, we briefly talk about Lopp’s founding of the Pro Leisure Circuit and how stress is hard to measure and different than worrying.

Enjoy it now or download for later. Here’s a handy feed or subscribe via Overcast or iTunes.



Snowbrawl is a fun short film of a children’s snowball fight shot as if it were a John Wick or Mission Impossible action sequence. David Leitch, the uncredited co-director of John Wick and director of Deadpool 2, shot the whole thing for Apple on an iPhone 11 Pro.

It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate just how amazing this is. Your cell phone camera can shoot video that meets the standards of an Apple commercial. It’s truly astonishing.


How Giuliani’s Ukraine Media Blitz Forecast What Was Going On Behind The Scenes

The biggest bombshell in House Democrats’ impeachment report on President Trump’s Ukraine gambit was the phone records they obtained detailing calls that Rudy Giuliani and other players made at key moments.

But the juxtaposition of episodes and statements that were already publicly known with more information about what was going on behind the scenes also stood out to me.

It was remarkable to review what Rudy Giuliani was blabbing about on Fox News and on Twitter during the early stages of the pressure campaign, and compare it to what we now know about the shady backchannel diplomacy he was engaged in.

Here are a few examples, as highlighted by the House Intelligence Committee report.

“I got information about three or four months ago.”

The public rollout of the baseless allegations about Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Joe Biden and supposed Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election began in earnest with a series of John Solomon opinion pieces in The Hill in March and April. And Rudy Giuliani joined in on the effort by promoting the claims on Fox News. On one such April 7 TV hit, he revealed he was involved in the information gathering.

“I got information about three or four months ago,” Giuliani said, before diving into the theory of “people in Ukraine” colluding with the Clinton campaign in 2016.

It stems around the ambassador and the embassy, being used for political purposes,” Giuliani said on Fox. “So I began getting some people that were coming forward and telling me about that. And then all of a sudden, they revealed the story about Burisma and Biden’s son.”

That timeline matches January conversations Giuliani had with then-Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko and a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Sholkin, during which, according to the report, both Biden and Yovanovitch came up. Per the report:

Mr. Giuliani engaged with both Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Shokin regarding these baseless allegations. According to documents provided to the State Department Office of Inspector General, in January 23, 2019, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas, and Mr. Fruman participated in a conference call with Mr. Shokin. According to notes of the call, Mr. Shokin made allegations about Vice President Biden and Burisma. Mr. Shokin also claimed that Ambassador Yovanovitch had improperly denied him a U.S. visa and that she was close to Vice President Biden.

Mr. Giuliani separately met with Mr. Lutsenko in New York. Over the course of two days, on January 25 and 26, Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Lutsenko, Mr. Parnas, and Mr. Fruman, reportedly discussed whether Ambassador Yovanovitch was “loyal to President Trump,” as well as investigations into Burisma and the Bidens. For his part, Mr. Lutsenko later said he “understood very well” that Mr. Giuliani wanted Mr. Lutsenko to investigate former Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter. “I have 23 years in politics,” Lutsenko said. “I knew. … I’m a political animal.”

“Now Ukraine is investigating.”

On April 23 — and after calls with the White House, one of his now-indicted associates, and an unidentified “-1” number that some speculate belongs to Trump — Giuliani claimed on Twitter that Ukraine was “now” investigating the Clinton 2016 collusion theory.

The next day, he instructed Fox News’ viewers to keep their “eye on Ukraine,” predicting  you’d get some interesting information about Joe Biden from Ukraine.” There were more calls between Giuliani and the White House, as well as the OMB, throughout that day.

Giuliani’s confidence that Ukraine was going to produce the goods came after several retainer agreements were drafted involving Giuliani and Victoria Toensing, a conservative lawyer and Trump ally. Under these agreements, Giuliani or Toensing would represent some of the same former Ukrainian officials who had offered Giuliani Biden dirt back in January. Two of these documents, April 12 and 15 retainers, were signed by Toensing, according the report.

Meanwhile Trump’s mood towards Ukraine’s newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared positive around this time, with an April 21 call that by all accounts went smoothly (by Trump standards) and without triggering the same White House alarm bells that followed the July 25 call.

“I’m walking into a group of people that are enemies of the President.”

Whatever Giuliani and Trump thought they were getting with Zelensky, Giuliani’s attitude towards him quickly soured.

On a Fox New appearance the evening of May 10, Giuliani announced he was bailing on plans to travel to Ukraine “because I think I’m walking into a group of people that are enemies of the President.”

He told Politico he believed Zelensky was in the “hands of avowed enemies of Pres Trump.”

What exactly changed Giuliani’s mind was unclear. The trip had been reported on May 9, and even through the early afternoon of May 10 — including in a 2:00 p.m. call lasting 30 minutes with U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker — Giuliani still seemed set on going. Volker testified that he warned Giuliani on that call that Lutsenko was “not credible.”

After his Volker call, Giuliani apparently spoke on the phone to Kash Patel, National Security Council official who worked previously for Rep. Devin Nunes, and then an unidentified “-1” number. He also spoke to Lev Parnas, his now indicted associate, that afternoon, according to the call records.

Notably, Parnas had met with Zelensky booster Ihor Kolomoisky the month before. Per Kolomoisky’s account of the meeting, Parnas was hoping to set up a meeting between Zelensky and Giuliani. Kolomoisky blew him off. On May 18, Giuliani went after Kolomoisky by name on Twitter.

Regardless, Giuliani’s May 10 reversal on his Ukraine travel plans reverberated back to the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. A U.S. official in that embassy testified about learning that Vice President Mike Pence would no longer attend Zelensky’s inauguration.

“The Giuliani event happened, and then we heard that [Pence] was not going to play that role,” the embassy aide David Holmes testified. He clarified that by Giuliani event, he meant “the interview basically saying that he had planned to travel to Ukraine, but he canceled his trip because there were, quote, unquote, enemies of the U.S. President in Zelensky’s orbit.


Snowbrawl is a fun short film of a children’s snowball fight shot as if it were a John Wick or Mission Impossible action sequence. David Leitch, the uncredited co-director of John Wick and director of Deadpool 2, shot the whole thing for Apple on an iPhone 11 Pro.

Tags: advertising   Apple   David Leitch   telephony   video

Wednesday assorted links

1. Kittyconomics (teaching economics through cat videos).

2. Imagery on good vs. bad banknotes.

3. “This contains official information about the upcoming Harvard Graduate Students Union – United Auto Workers strike. Strikers will stop work on the first hour of December 3rd.

4. “We won’t deal with millionaires,” says Sean Hoey, managing director of the facility, run by International Bank Vaults (IBV). “We will be dealing only with billionaires.”  Article link.

The post Wednesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Black Knight: House Price Index up 0.3% in October, Up 4.3% year-over-year

Note: I follow several house price indexes (Case-Shiller, CoreLogic, Black Knight, Zillow, FHFA and more). Note: Black Knight uses the current month closings only (not a three month average like Case-Shiller or a weighted average like CoreLogic), excludes short sales and REOs, and is not seasonally adjusted.

From Black Knight:
Based on the latest data from the Black Knight HPI, October was a strong month for home price gains. And it makes perfect sense.

The annual home price growth rate rose from 3.9% in September to 4.25% in October.
Black Knight House Prices Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from Black Knight shows their estimate of the MoM and YoY change in House Prices.

This index suggests a pickup in house price appreciation.

Interesting Results Today From Parker Solar Probe

NASA to Present First Findings of Solar Mission in Media Teleconference

"NASA will announce the first results from the Parker Solar Probe mission, the agency's revolutionary mission to "touch" the Sun, during a media teleconference at 1:30 p.m. EST Wednesday, Dec. 4. During the teleconference, mission experts will discuss research results from four instruments on the probe, which are changing our understanding of the Sun and other stars. Their findings also will be published at 1 p.m. Wednesday on the website of the journal Nature. Teleconference audio will stream live at:"

Parker Solar Probe: We're Missing Something Fundamental About the Sun, University of Michigan

"Our closest-ever look inside the Sun's corona has unveiled an unexpectedly chaotic world that includes rogue plasma waves, flipping magnetic fields and distant solar winds under the thrall of the Sun's rotation, according to University of Michigan researchers who play key roles in NASA's Parker Solar Probe mission."

Reader’s Block

I stumbled across this comic by Grant Snider this morning and realized that I am often afflicted by reader’s block but have never quite thought about it in that way, somehow.

Readers Block

Some of Snider’s reasons affect my reading more than others: too little time, too much TV, not enough sleep, crippling ennui, low curiosity. I’ve recently started to use an app to help me form some good habits and break bad ones, and one of my daily tasks is “read a book for 15 minutes”. I hit that target almost every day and when I do, I usually get in the groove and go for longer, sometimes an hour or more. This has revealed “too little time” and “too much TV” to be falsehoods that I no longer believe — “too much phone” I am still working on.

I’ve also stopped reading books that don’t grab me, as interesting as they may seem and as acclaimed as their recommenders insist. If I’m reading something and I find myself daydreaming or wanting to check my phone or switching to an episode of something on Netflix, that’s a sign that I should put it down and find another book. The only problem with this is that some of my favorite books (Infinite Jest for one) did not grab me in the beginning but picked up in a major way later, sometimes hundreds of pages in. Great books sometimes do not hand everything to the reader on a silver platter and the hard work they demand becomes part of their reward.

But my main two reader’s block problems persist. The first is represented by “low curiosity” in Snider’s comic — I read all day long for my work here on and when it comes time in the evening to wind down, more reading is often not something I can manage, especially with nonfiction (brain sometimes function at night not good). Reading right after I wake up has helped somewhat, but I typically have a logjam of tasks vying for my attention in the high-energy early morning and reading only occasionally wins.

The second thing is that I often get stuck between books. Part of it is the “overwhelmed by infinite possibility” factor — soooo much good stuff to read, how can you possibly choose what’s next? Succumbing to the temptation of other possible diversions or wavering in my disbelief of “too little time” becomes much easier when I’m not currently caught up in a story or someone else’s world view. Lining up your next read before finishing your current book is a possible solution, but that can be tough when you’re fully engaged in what awaits you in the closing chapters of your present literary love.

You can read more thoughts on reader’s block and how to tackle it from Stuart Jeffries, Emily Petsko, and Hugh McGuire. And if you and your preschooler are stuck looking for something new to read together, Snider has a new picture book out called What Color Is Night?

Tags: books   Emily Petsko   Grant Snider   Hugh McGuire   Stuart Jeffries

Photos: Falcon 9 in the starting blocks for space station resupply run

EDITOR’S NOTE: Launch attempt scrubbed Dec. 4.

Ready for a resupply run to the International Space Station, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was raised vertical at Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad Wednesday ahead of a planned liftoff with more than 5,700 pounds of science experiments and crew supplies.

The 213-foot-tall (65-meter) rocket and a Dragon supply ship is scheduled for liftoff from pad 40 at 12:51:58 p.m. EST (1751:58 GMT) Wednesday to begin a three-day trek to the space station.

The Falcon 9’s first stage booster, designed No. 59 in SpaceX’s inventory, is brand new. The Dragon capsule is a veteran of two previous trips to the space station in 2014 and 2017.

See our Mission Status Center for live coverage.

Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stands 213 feet (65 meters) tall. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
Four titanium grid fins will help guide the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage booster toward landing on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now
The Dragon cargo capsule flying on the SpaceX CRS-19 mission previously flew to the station on the CRS-4 an CRS-11 resupply flights in 2014 and 2017. Credit: Stephen Clark/Spaceflight Now

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

My Conversation with Daron Acemoglu

Self-recommending of course, most of all we talked about economic growth and development, and the history of liberty, with a bit on Turkey and Turkish culture (Turkish pizza!) as well.  Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is one excerpt, from the very opening:

COWEN: I have so many questions about economic growth. First, how much of the data on per capita income is explained just simply by one variable: distance from the equator? And how good a theory of the wealth of nations is that?

ACEMOGLU: I think it’s not a particularly good theory. If you look at the map of the world and color different countries according to their income per capita, you’ll see that a lot of low-income-per-capita countries are around the equator, and some of the richest countries are pretty far from the equator, in the temperate areas. So many people have jumped to conclusion that there must be a causal link.

But actually, I think geographic factors are not a great explanatory framework for understanding prosperity and poverty.

COWEN: But why does it have such a high R-squared? By one measure, the most antipodal 21 percent of the population produces 69 percent of the GDP, which is striking, right? Is that just an accident?

ACEMOGLU: Yeah, it’s a bit of an accident. Essentially, if you think of which are the countries around the equator that have such low income per capita, they are all former European colonies that have been colonized in a particular way.


COWEN: If we think about the USSR, which has terrible institutions for more than 70 years, an awful form of communism — it falls; there’s a bit of a collapse. Today, they seem to have a higher per capita income than you would expect a priori, if you, just as an economist, write about communism. Isn’t that mostly just because of what is now Russian, or Soviet, human capital?

ACEMOGLU: That’s an interesting question. I think the Russian story is complicated, and I think part of Russian income per capita today is because of natural resources. It’s always a problem for us to know exactly how natural resources should be handled because you can do a lot of things wrong and still get quite a lot of income per capita via natural resources.

COWEN: But if Russians come here, they almost immediately move into North American per capita income levels as immigrants, right? They’re not bringing any resources. They’re bringing their human capital. If people from Gabon come here, it takes them quite a while to get to the —

ACEMOGLU: No, absolutely, absolutely. There’s no doubt that Russians are bringing more human capital. If you look at the Russian educational system, especially during the Soviet time, there was a lot of emphasis on math and physics and some foundational areas.

And there’s a lot of selection among the Russians who come here…

The Conversation is Acemoglu throughout, you also get to hear me channeling Garett Jones.  Again, here is Daron’s new book The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty.

The post My Conversation with Daron Acemoglu appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

ISM Non-Manufacturing Index decreased to 53.9% in November

The October ISM Non-manufacturing index was at 53.9%, down from 54.7% in October. The employment index increased to 55.5%, from 53.7%. Note: Above 50 indicates expansion, below 50 contraction.

From the Institute for Supply Management: November 2019 Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business®
Economic activity in the non-manufacturing sector grew in November for the 118th consecutive month, say the nation’s purchasing and supply executives in the latest Non-Manufacturing ISM®Report On Business®.

The report was issued today by Anthony Nieves, CPSM, C.P.M., A.P.P., CFPM, Chair of the Institute for Supply Management® (ISM®) Non-Manufacturing Business Survey Committee: “The NMI® registered 53.9 percent, which is 0.8 percentage points lower than the October reading of 54.7 percent. This represents continued growth in the non-manufacturing sector, at a slightly slower rate. The Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index decreased to 51.6 percent, 5.4 percentage points lower than the October reading of 57 percent, reflecting growth for the 124th consecutive month. The New Orders Index registered 57.1 percent; 1.5 percentage points higher than the reading of 55.6 percent in October. The Employment Index increased 1.8 percentage points in November to 55.5 percent from the October reading of 53.7 percent. The Prices Index increased 1.9 percentage points from the October reading of 56.6 percent to 58.5 percent, indicating that prices increased in November for the 30th consecutive month. According to the NMI®, 12 non-manufacturing industries reported growth. The non-manufacturing sector had a slight pullback in November. The respondents hope for a resolution on tariffs and continue to be hampered by constraints in labor resources.”
emphasis added
ISM Non-Manufacturing Index Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the ISM non-manufacturing index (started in January 2008) and the ISM non-manufacturing employment diffusion index.

This suggests slower expansion in November than in October.

The Business Rent Is Too Damn High

Returning to what is an irregular series, we note that in Chelsea, NYC, the business rents are too damn high (boldface mine):

Here we can see how an ideology of convenience is reshaping the economy. Ordering things like tape or bolts online is rarely cheaper or faster than popping down to the local hardware store — not to mention the wasteful packaging — but many of us do it anyhow. Clicking on a product from the comfort of your couch seems more convenient — and that impression of ease can have more influence on our behavior than better service, quicker acquisition and lower prices.

Even more damaging than the competition from Amazon, according to Mr. Feygin, was a huge rent increase. He says he faced a near-doubling of rent, from about $6,000 to $10,800 per month, for his 600 square feet. Property taxes, which are tied to property values, also rose sharply. It was too much.

Competition from Amazon and a rent increase might seem like distinct phenomena, but they are two sides of the same coin. Both reflect the transformative consolidation and centralization of the American economy since the 1990s, which have made the economy less open to individual entrepreneurship. Amazon represents the increasing monopolization of retail; the high rents are a symptom of the enormous concentration of wealth in a handful of coastal cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington.

Both phenomena contribute to the same regrettable outcome: In today’s economy, returns on investment have shifted away from the individuals like Mr. Feygin who take personal risks. Instead, wealth is being routed to large middlemen, national monopolies, property owners and shareholders.

So Chelsea Convenience is scheduled to shut down on Nov. 30, not because of a recession or poor business decisions, but because of what amounts to a fundamental change in American capitalism.

Feygin’s costs would increase over $57,000 annually. That moves you from an upper-middle or middle class income to…well, not that. Not only do we have urban housing crises (note the plural), but we also have a small business crisis–the businesses that make neighborhoods liveable simply can’t survive without significant help. What’s worse is that business tenants often are forced out and then the property sits vacant. If nothing else, cities should, if a tenant is forced out without due cause, require that the landlord find a new tenant within six months, or else the landlord is required to pay a fine equal to the previous rent every month.

We need to help these small businesses.

The Next Phase Of The Impeachment Probe

The podcast is back after a (brief) Thanksgiving hiatus. We take a look at where the impeachment probe is headed next, and Matt Shuham reports on the latest in the case of indicted Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Upper-level winds scrub SpaceX launch attempt on Wednesday [Updated]

12:20pm ET Wednesday Update: SpaceX says it has canceled Wednesday's launch attempt due to high winds over the launch site, as well as rough seas in the vicinity of its drone ship, which may have precluded a safe first stage landing.

Fortunately the company has a back-up launch attempt on Thursday, set for 12:29pm ET (17:29 UTC). Weather conditions are expected to be more favorable at that time.

Original post: A twice-flown Dragon spacecraft is ready to be launched on Wednesday to the International Space Station. The mission, which will ferry nearly 2.6 tons of supplies to the orbiting laboratory for NASA, will remain in orbit for about a month before returning to Earth with more than 50 science experiments.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Army Quietly Re-Opens Its Infamous Germ Warfare Lab

The Fort Detrick Laboratory Experiments with Ebola, Plague and Other Deadly Toxins; Anthrax Connection

Sarah Okeson

Research at a secretive Army germ warfare lab about 50 miles from Washington, D.C. that works with tularemia, which spreads more easily than anthrax, has been partially restarted after a federal inspection found two failures in containing unnamed germs or toxins.

No one was exposed to any germs or toxins at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Maryland, according to the institute commander. The institute, once the fiefdom of Sidney Gottlieb who conducted LSD mind-control experiments for the CIA, has a long history of safety lapses.

“Our concept is to start with a small group of people, secure approval for a limited number of studies, and then gradually expand,” said Col. E. Darrin Cox, the new commander of the institute.

The previous commander, Maj. Gen. Barbara Holcomb, who oversaw the lab when problems were found has retired.

The inspection also found the lab failed to implement safety procedures with lapses such as propping open a door while biohazard waste was removed.

In June, an inspection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found leaks and mechanical problems with the lab’s new chemical system to decontaminate wastewater. The institute was also working with Ebola and the agents known to cause the plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis when high-level research was voluntarily halted.

The lab will return to sterilizing with heat.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Tell the institute’s new commander, E. Darrin Cox, your thoughts on safety at Fort Detrick by calling him at 301-619-7613 or mailing him at Fort Detrick, 810 Schreider St., Frederick, Md. 21702. He is also on Facebook.


The inspection also found the lab systematically failed to implement safety procedures with lapses such as propping open a door while biohazard waste was removed.

Tularemia, known as rabbit fever, can cause life-threatening infections, and is a potential biowarfare agent. People can fall ill with the disease after inhaling just 10 to 50 particles of the bacteria, compared with 8,000 to 50,000 anthrax spores needed to cause that disease.

Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist who was suspected but never charged in the anthrax mailings in 2001 that killed five people, worked at the institute. He died in 2008, apparently by suicide. An investigation by ProPublica and other news organizations found problems with the anthrax investigation.

Other problems identified in the Fort Detrick inspection include not having a complete, accurate inventory of the agents the lab was working with. The inspection report obtained by The Frederick News-Post under a Freedom of Information Act request includes a large section that is redacted.

The institute has about 900 employees and does research for government agencies, universities and drug companies, which pay for the work. Scientists and other employees continued to work during the shutdown but couldn’t work with especially dangerous germs and toxins.

Fort Detrick was created in World War II and became the center for America’s biological warfare efforts. But that role shifted in 1969, the government says, to focus solely on defense against the threat of biological weapons.

In 2009, research was suspended after the discovery that more than 9,200 vials, about one-eighth of its stock, wasn’t listed in the institute’s database.

Featured image: Department of Defense

The post The Army Quietly Re-Opens Its Infamous Germ Warfare Lab appeared first on

Today's Agenda: Judiciary Committee Takes Over Impeachment

Happy Wednesday, December 4. The House Judiciary Committee will take over the impeachment inquiry today, kicking off the process with constitutional law experts. Here’s more on that and the other stories we’re watching.

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Tierney Sneed will attend the House Judiciary’s first impeachment hearing scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Meanwhile, Josh Kovensky will be on the lookout for more details surrounding Ukrainian billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky’s role in the Ukraine scandal.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is taking pains to reassure his committee members that he won’t “take any shit,” a clear reaction to Republicans’ reported belief that he’ll be easier to push around that Intel Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) was.

Overseas, President Donald Trump is clearly not the most popular world leader in the room, as the likes of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson were caught on camera seemingly mocking him.

Today’s Rundown

Already today: Trump participated in an official welcome ceremony with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and had a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

9:00 a.m. ET: Trump will meet with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, followed by a discussion with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

Trump will then head back to Washington in lieu of a previously planned press conference. In a tweet, he said he’d already done “so many over the past two days” that he was going to travel home early. Some attribute the early departure to the mockery of the other world leaders.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

What We Learned From The Phone Records Obtained In The Impeachment Probe — Tierney Sneed

Reading List

Impeachment: Clinton, Trump & lessons from Chicago dad whose son wrote famous letter — Lynn Sweet

The Politics of Abortion Is Entering a New Era — Emily Douglas

Sushi, cocktails, roasts and one lawyer’s plan to deal with ‘a national emergency’ — Ben Terris

BEA: November Vehicles Sales increased to 17.1 Million SAAR

The BEA released their estimate of November vehicle sales this morning. The BEA estimated sales of 17.09 million SAAR in November 2019 (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate), up 3.4% from the October sales rate, and down 1.7% from November 2019.

Sales in 2019 are averaging 16.92 million (average of seasonally adjusted rate), down 1.6% compared to the same period in 2018.

Vehicle SalesClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows light vehicle sales since 2006 from the BEA (blue) and an estimate for November (red).

Note: The GM strike might have impacted sales in October.

A small decline in sales to date this year isn't a concern - I think sales will move mostly sideways at near record levels.

This means the economic boost from increasing auto sales is over (from the bottom in 2009, auto sales boosted growth every year through 2016).

Vehicle SalesThe second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967.

Note: dashed line is current estimated sales rate of 17.09 million SAAR.

Otis and Robinson Continue Their Fight in the Newspapers

The earliest public comment I’ve seen from James Otis, Jr., about his altercation with John Robinson on 5 Sept 1769 was an “Advertisement” that appeared in the 11 September Boston Gazette.

It’s remarkable for the amount of emphasis Otis asked of the printers:
From a regard to truth, and to the character of a true soldier, whose honor, is ever, justly dearer to him than life: It is with pleasure I take this first opportunity voluntarily and freely to DECLARE, in the most open and unreserved as well as public manner, that in the premeditated, cowardly and villainous attempt of John Robinson, Commissioner, and his confederates, last week, to assassinate me, I have not the least reason to think, or even suspect, that any officer or officers, either of the army or navy, were directly or indirectly concerned in so foul a deed, except a well known petty commander of an armed schooner, of about 4 swivels, who if fame for once tells truth, swore last year that the whole Continent was in open Rebellion.
Because of the styling of this blog template, in long quotations I boldface words originally set in italics. That makes Otis’s writing style even more blatant. I imagine him furiously scratching lines under one word after another. To me this paragraph seems like more evidence that Otis might have been in the middle of a manic episode that month.

Customs Commissioner Robinson responded to that and other newspaper items in a long letter to the Boston Chronicle dated 18 September. The second half of that letter addressed Otis directly, saying among other things:
On Tuesday [the 5th] you went to a shop, and asked, if I did not buy a stick there, and being told I had, you desired to have the fellow of it which you bought accordingly.—

In the evening we met at the Coffee-house, when I immediately laid aside my sword.—Did that look like assassination?—

Your insult was public, and I determined to give you a public chastisement; but I did not attack you abruptly:—We had a parley together, and I attempted to take you by the nose, which, one would think, was a sufficient warning of what was to follow. What ensued served to balance our accompts.
I do enjoy that “one would think.”

Robinson then addressed Otis’s insinuation in his “Advertisement”:
You have thought proper to acquit the officers of the navy and army, (one excepted,) for which I give you due credit.—You charge the officer so excepted, whom you are pleased to call a petty Commander, &c. with being my Confederate.––To set your right in this particular, I must inform you, that that Gentleman, if you mean Captain Dundas was not in the Coffee-house during the engagement between us, and you may have proof of it, if you desire it.—

Before I conclude, I would remind you, that the man who appeals to the public, should confine himself within the verge of truth, and for his own sake within the bounds of credibility.
In his reply Robinson demonstrated the more restrained, rational deportment of an Enlightenment gentleman—albeit one who had tried to grab his nemesis’s nose.

TOMORROW: Who was “Captain Dundas”?

Congestion and competition in college admissions (in the WSJ)

Is college admissions ripe for re-design?  (The problems outlined are real, but I'm skeptical that there's the consensus needed for a major overhaul...)

How to Fix College Admissions
Getting into a top school is a stressful, unpredictable process. Here are 10 ways to make it fairer and more transparent.  By Melissa Korn

"We asked college admissions officers, high school and private counselors, parents, students and others for ways to make the system fairer, more transparent and less painful for everyone involved. Here are 10 of their ideas—some easy to implement, others just meant to start a conversation—to reform the status quo.
"2. Limit the number of colleges to which students may apply. Thanks in part to the ease of applying online—especially through the Common Application, which allows applicants to use one basic form for hundreds of colleges—36% of students submitted seven or more applications in 2017, up from 10% in 1995. “The number of clicks you can make on the Common App causes congestion in the system,” says Alvin Roth, a Nobel Prize-winning Stanford University economist who helped to design the system that matches new doctors with residency programs.

"Schools pursue aggressive outreach, urging even fairly unqualified applicants to apply, then boast every spring about how many they rejected, as if exclusivity is proof of quality. Ballooning application numbers, combined with stagnant class sizes, cause acceptance rates to slide even lower into the single digits at places like Columbia and Pomona. As a result, high-school seniors apply to more schools just in case, and the vicious cycle continues—creating havoc for schools that can’t predict their yields. The overall yield rate for new freshmen at U.S. colleges fell to 34% in 2017 from 48% in 2007.
"Almost nobody needs to submit 20 applications; a reasonable limit would be as low as a half dozen, assuming that students receive meaningful counseling. High schools could enforce the cap by only agreeing to submit a certain number of official transcripts to colleges. The College Board and ACT could also limit distribution of SAT and ACT results, but they have little incentive to do so, since they make money from sending scores.
"9. ...Even more radical, schools could try some version of the algorithm used to determine matches for medical residency programs, which involves programs and medical students ranking one another and then being paired up by a computer system. This would be a heavy lift, however, as colleges would need to coordinate their procedures to rank candidates, run the computer program and inform all parties about the outcomes."

ADP: Private Employment increased 67,000 in November

From ADP:
Private sector employment increased by 67,000 jobs from October to November according to the November ADP National Employment Report®. ... The report, which is derived from ADP’s actual payroll data, measures the change in total nonfarm private employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.
“In November, the labor market showed signs of slowing,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “The goods producers still struggled; whereas, the service providers remained in positive territory driven by healthcare and professional services. Job creation slowed across all company sizes; however, the pattern remained largely the same, as small companies continued to face more pressure than their larger competitors.”

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said, “The job market is losing its shine. Manufacturers, commodity producers, and retailers are shedding jobs. Job openings are declining and if job growth slows any further unemployment will increase.”
This was below the consensus forecast for 140,000 private sector jobs added in the ADP report.

The BLS report will be released Friday, and the consensus is for 180,000 non-farm payroll jobs added in November.

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Dmitry Rogozin Certainly Has A Sweet Deal Right Now

A big salary, luxury cars, and a new dacha--Russia's space leader lives large, Ars Technica

"A leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny, recently turned his attention toward the country's space program. In an entertaining 13-minute video not unlike those produced by "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" on HBO, Navalny tackles corruption surrounding the construction of the Vostochny Spaceport in far-eastern Russia, as well as the apparently lavish lifestyle of Roscosmos leader Dmitry Rogozin. (The video is in Russian; it was translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell. The English-language captions are mostly accurate.) ... Evidently Rogozin's job has other perks. According to the documents, Rogozin has also purchased new vehicles: for himself, a Mercedes-Benz S560, and his wife, a Range Rover. Combined, these vehicles are valued at about $300,000. And then the Roscosmos chief also acquired an 8,600 sq. foot dacha north of Moscow worth about $3 million. And the documents appear to obscure even more gains, Navalny argues."

- Vostochny Spaceport Corruption Has Not Gone Away, earlier post
- Russia Wants To Lead In Space By Spending Less Money On It, earlier post
- Vostochny Spaceport Has A Few Criminal Issues, earlier post
- Putin Wants To Jail Spaceport Employees, earlier post
- Earlier Russia postings

New NASA human spaceflight leader calls SLS “mandatory” for return to the moon

Bridenstine and Loverro

WASHINGTON — The new head of NASA’s human spaceflight programs affirmed his support for the Space Launch System Dec. 3, saying the long-delayed heavy-lift rocket is “absolutely mandatory” for returning humans to the moon.

Speaking at a town hall meeting with agency employees at NASA Headquarters, Doug Loverro, who started work Dec. 2 as the new associate administrator for human exploration and operations, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine pushed back against criticism that the SLS is too expensive to be sustainable for NASA compared to commercial vehicles that promise to cost far less.

That lingering criticism of the SLS was renewed after an October letter by Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Vought, in that letter, sought relief from a provision in a Senate appropriations bill that directed NASA to launch Europa Clipper, a mission to study Jupiter’s large icy moon Europa, on an SLS.

“At an estimated cost of over $2 billion per launch for the SLS once development is complete, the use of a commercial launch vehicle would provide over $1.5 billion in cost savings,” Vought wrote.

Bridenstine, though, claimed that cost estimate was too high. “I do not agree with the $2 billion number. It is far less than that,” he said at the town hall meeting. “I would also say the number comes way down when you buy more than one or two.”

“I think at the end, we’re going to be at the $800 million to $900 million range. I don’t know, honestly,” he said, because NASA had just started negotiations with prime contractor Boeing on a long-term production contract for the SLS.

Loverro said he disagreed with the belief that SLS was competing with commercial vehicles under development, such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn and SpaceX’s Starship/Super Heavy. “I think there is a large ecosystem of space capabilities, and we need every capability that the nation is going to provide, whether the nation provides it through government funding, as SLS is, or through entrepreneurial and commercial funding.”

The SLS, he added, was essential to the goal of returning humans to the surface of the moon by 2024, the goal established by the Trump administration eight months ago. “The fact of the matter is, the only system we have today that is designed, purpose-built, to go ahead and get men to the moon and women to the moon is the SLS,” he said. “That program is absolutely mandatory, in my view right now, to go ahead and get there.”

SLS will be one of Loverro’s top priorities as the new head of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The vehicle’s first launch, originally scheduled for the end of 2017, is now planned for no earlier than late 2020, and widely expected to slip into 2021. The vehicle’s core stage is nearing completion at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and will be shipped around the end of December to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for testing, including a full-duration static-fire test.

Loverro said at the town hall meeting he will spend the next few months reviewing the status of that program and others in his portfolio, such as the Orion crew vehicle. “I think we’ve got a good plan. I think we will find elements of the plan that have to be changed,” he said. “My job over the next three months is to examine all of those things, figure out where we are in the baseline of the program, what do we need to go ahead and modify, what do we need to change, in order to raise even more our chances of success.”

To emphasize his commitment to achieving the 2024 goal, he showed off a pin on the lapel of his suit. The pin had the number “1855” on it, the number of days until Dec. 31, 2024. “This is my ‘D-minus’ pin to the end of 2024,” he said, one that he will change each day as he counts down to that deadline.

He rejected the notion a pin like that or other efforts would create undue schedule pressure. “Some people have commented to me that this could create launch fever,” he said. “Well, if this is launch fever, I’m feeling pretty healthy right now.” The intent of the pin, he said, “is to make every day count.”

“If every individual makes something happen every day that helps us achieve our mission, this is going to be easy,” he said. “It is going to be easy to make this happen.”

Loverro, who comes to NASA after a long career in the national security space field, succeeds Bill Gerstenmaier, who was reassigned to a special advisor position in July after more than a decade in associate administrator roles involving human spaceflight. Bridenstine praised Gerstenmaier while saying Loverro brought in key skills needed for this stage of NASA’s exploration efforts.

“It was time, in my view, to find a leader that had a long history of making program run on schedule and on budget, and I think Doug is that kind of leader,” Bridenstine said.

“We are poised where we are today to succeed in what the president and the nation has asked us to do because of the work Bill did,” Loverro said, asking the town hall audience to give him a round of applause.

Becoming a Tech Policy Activist

Carolyn McCarthy gave an excellent TEDx talk about becoming a tech policy activist. It's a powerful call for public-interest technologists.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications decreased 9.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending November 29, 2019. This week’s results include an adjustment for the Thanksgiving holiday.

... The Refinance Index decreased 16 percent from the previous week and was 61 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 33 percent compared with the previous week and was 24 percent lower than the same week one year ago.
U.S. Treasury rates stayed flat last week, as uncertainty surrounding the U.K. elections offset positive domestic news on consumer spending,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Despite the 30-year fixed rate remaining unchanged at 3.97 percent, mortgage applications fell last week, driven down by a 16 percent drop in refinances. Purchase applications were up slightly but declined 24 percent from a year ago. This week’s year-over-year comparisons were distorted by Thanksgiving being a week later this year.”

Added Kan, “The purchase market overall looks healthy as we enter the home stretch of 2019. The seasonally adjusted purchase index was at its highest level since July, as a combination of wage gains, slower home-price appreciation, and slightly easing inventory conditions continue to support increased activity.”
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($484,350 or less) remained unchanged at 3.97 percent, with points increasing to 0.32 from 0.30 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
emphasis added
Mortgage Refinance IndexClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

With lower rates, we saw a sharp increase in refinance activity, but mortgage rates would have to decline further to see a huge refinance boom.

Mortgage Purchase Index The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index

According to the MBA, purchase activity is down 24% year-over-year unadjusted for the Thanksgiving holiday (the timing of the Holiday was different in 2019 compared to 2018).

Pluck versus luck

Meritocracy emphasises the power of the individual to overcome obstacles, but the real story is quite a different one

By David Labaree

Read at Aeon

Why learning a new language is like an illicit love affair

Learning a new language is a lot like entering a new relationship. Some will become fast friends. Others will hook their arms with calculus formulas and final-exam-worthy historical dates, and march right out of your memory on the last day of school. And then sometimes, whether by mere chance or ...

By Marianna Pogosyan

Read at Aeon

FAA approves commercial space office reorganization


WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration has approved a reorganization of the office that oversees commercial launches in a bid to improve its efficiency as the number of launches grows.

During a panel discussion at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce commercial space conference here Dec. 3, Wayne Monteith, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson formally approved the reorganization of Monteith’s office the night before.

“That will allow us to be more responsive to industry as we move forward,” Monteith said at the conference. Neither Monteith nor Dickson, who spoke at the conference later in the day, offered details about what that reorganization entailed.

The FAA, in a statement to SpaceNews, said that the reorganization creates two new directorates with the office, known in FAA terminology as AST. One is an “operational” directorate responsible for licensing, permitting, safety and compliance. The other will handle other issues, such as policy, research and development, stakeholder outreach, support services and the new Office of Spaceports.

“This reorganization will posture the Office of Commercial Space Transportation for the future by enhancing accountability, productivity, efficiency, effectiveness; and it is good governance,” the FAA stated.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced the proposed reorganization during a speech in April at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “The office has performed well to date, but in order to prepare for the future it will be reconstituted under the leadership of General Monteith to maximize the efficiencies of the new streamlined rule,” she said then, a reference to the ongoing revision of commercial launch and reentry regulations.

Monteith, in the conference panel, emphasized the need for his office to be more efficient to deal with a sharp increase in launch activity. “In the last seven years, our licensing activity has increased by about 1,000%,” he said. “We see the potential for that to happen again over the next five years.”

He said he does want to hire more people to handle licensing work, but that approach has limits. “I can’t increase the size of my office by 1,000%, so we’ve got to get more efficient and effective.”

Reorganizing the office is just one step to address that growing launch activity. Monteith also highlighted ongoing work within the FAA, between his office and the Air Traffic Organization, to better integrate commercial spaceflight into the national airspace system. That has become an increasing concern in the commercial aviation industry in particular, who worry about disruptions to flights caused by airspace closures for launches and reentries.

The biggest step, though, remains a revision of commercial launch and reentry regulations. “The pace has picked up to the point where it’s quickly becoming impractical,” Dickson said of the current licensing approach at the conference.

The FAA is continuing to review comments on a draft rule published earlier this year that would streamline the licensing process. “Our commercial space team is carefully reviewing all the input,” Dickson said, “and is working towards publishing a final rule in the fall of 2020.”

Self-hosted videos with HLS: subtitles

In a previous article, I have described a solution to self-host videos while offering a delivery adapted to each user’s bandwith, thanks to HLS and hls.js. Subtitles1 were not part of the game. While they can be declared inside the HLS manifest or embedded into the video, it is easier to include them directly in the <video> element, using the WebVTT format:

<video poster="poster.jpg"
       controls preload="none">
  <source src="index.m3u8"
  <source src="progressive.mp4"
          type='video/mp4; codecs="avc1.4d401f, mp4a.40.2"'>
  <track src="de.vtt"
         kind="subtitles" srclang="de" label="Deutsch">
  <track src="en.vtt"
         kind="subtitles" srclang="en" label="English">

Watch the following demonstration, featuring Agent 327: Operation Barbershop, a video created by Blender Animation Studio and currently released under the Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 2.0 license:

You may want to jump to 0:12 for the first subtitle. Most browsers should display a widget to toggle subtitles. This works just fine with Chromium but Firefox will not show the menu until the video starts playing, unless you enable preloading. Another annoyance: there is no simple way to specify safe margins for subtitles and they get stuck at the bottom. These two issues seem minor enough to not warrant pulling hundred of kilobytes of JavaScript for a custom player.

Update (2019.12)

This does not seem to work with Firefox 68 on Android. The browser makes no attempt to download the selected subtitle.

  1. Some people may be picky over the difference between closed captions and subtitles. Closed captions are usually targeted at people with hearing impairment and they include non-speech information like sound effects. Subtitles assume the viewer can hear but may not understand the language. ↩︎

Live coverage: Falcon 9 launches Dragon capsule on cargo delivery mission

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral with SpaceX’s 19th operational Dragon resupply flight to the International Space Station. Text updates will appear automatically below; there is no need to reload the page. Follow us on Twitter.


SpaceX Webcast

NASA TV coverage of the Falcon 9 launch begins at 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT). SpaceX’s webcast will begin at approximately 12:14 p.m. EST (1714 GMT).

Superstar firms and market concentration

A new paper by Autor, Dorn, Katz, Patterson and Van Reenen (some real heavyweights) rebuts the notion that market concentration is rising because of inadequate antitrust concentration:

The fall of labor’s share of GDP in the United States and many other countries in recent decades is we ll documented but its causes remain uncertain. Existing empirical assessments typically rely on industry or macro data obscuring heterogeneity among firms. In this paper, we analyze micro panel data from the U.S. Economic Census since 1982 and document empirical patterns to assess a new interpretation of the fall in the labor share based on the rise of “superstar firms.” If globalization or technological changes push sales towards the most productive firms in each industry, product market concentration will rise as industries become increasingly dominated by superstar firms, which have high markups and a low labor share of value-added. We empirically assess seven predictions of this hypothesis: (i) industry sales will increasingly concentrate in a small number of firms; (ii) industries where concentration rises most will have the largest declines in the labor share; (iii) the fall in the labor share will be driven largely by reallocation rather than a fall in the unweighted mean labor share across all firms; (iv) the between-firm reallocation component of the fall in the labor share will be greatest in the sectors with the largest increases in market concentration; (v) the industries that are becoming more concentrated will exhibit faster growth of productivity; (vi) the aggregate markup will rise more than the typical firm’s markup; and (vii) these patterns should be observed not only in U.S. firms, but also internationally. We find support for all of these predictions.

Here is coverage from Peter Orszag.  As I’ve said before, people are opting for Philippon’s Great Reversal story because of ideology and convenience and mood affiliation, but it is not supported by the facts.

The post Superstar firms and market concentration appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Four short links: 4 December 2019

  1. The Complexity Exploreronline courses, tutorials, and resources essential to the study of complex systems. Complexity Explorer is an education project of the Santa Fe Institute.
  2. 52 Things I Learned in 2019Each year, humanity produces 1,000 times more transistors than grains of rice and wheat combined.
  3. How to Fight Lies, Tricks, and Chaos Online (The Verge) — When to look deeper: You have a strong emotional reaction; A story seems totally ridiculous—or perfectly confirms your beliefs; You’re going to spend money because of it; You immediately want to amplify the story. A lot of sound advice on spotting dodgy content and then what to do to dig into it. The trick is to find someone who wants to read it…
  4. Phosphor Colors — detailed answer on what colors the old amber and green-screen terminals were.
  5. AWS CodeGurua machine learning service for automated code reviews and application performance recommendations. Pricey: $0.75 per 100 lines of code scanned per month. Machine learning that helps programmers is here.

Scolese: NRO advancing space technology, developing tactics to defend satellites

McLEAN, Va. — In his first meeting with reporters as director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Christopher Scolese said the agency is focused on staying ahead of China and on forging closer ties with U.S. Space Command to ensure the nation’s satellites can be defended during a conflict.

Scolese, a longtime NASA executive who was tapped in February to lead the NRO, is the first Senate confirmed director of the organization. Five months into the job, one of his key messages to the workforce is “how important it is for us to move quickly with technology,” Scolese said Dec. 3.

After meeting with a small group of reporters, Scolese addressed a dinner event hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. That speech was closed to media.

China’s advances in space are a major concern, Scolese said. “They are putting spacecraft up very quickly and we have to stay ahead. We are still the world leader but we have challenges.”

The NRO, which develops the nation’s spy satellites, started out as a secret program in 1960, established jointly by the Air Force and the CIA. Its existence was declassified in 1992. About 40 percent of NRO employees are members of the U.S. Air Force, and the rest are civilians and CIA employees. The size of the workforce is classified.

Scolese said there are efforts underway to modernize satellites and ground systems to improve the speed and quality of data. “One of our priorities is on-board processing so we can deliver data more effectively to the warfighter in the field and help get information from the sensor to the user as quickly as possible,” he said.

The NRO also is interested in using small satellites to take advantage of the growing availability of smaller launch vehicles that can provide a faster response, he said. In ground systems, the agency is upgrading its cloud computing infrastructure and using artificial intelligence to help analysts work faster.

The NRO will continue to operate a mix of satellites of many sizes, he said. “Physics ultimately decides how big or how small and how many,” Scolese added. “Clearly we’re going to need a diverse architecture. We’re very much looking at proliferated architectures to increase revisit time, to reduce latency and provide resiliency and fast refresh when you need it.” There will also be “some number of large satellites to address questions that only they can address.”

Scolese highlighted his tight working relationship with U.S. Space Command and its commander Gen. John Raymond. Scolese and Raymond had a joint confirmation hearing June 4 in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Our partnership with U.S. Space Command is going really well,” he said. “General Raymond and I talk regularly … We are building some things together and developing tactics, techniques and procedures on how we’re going to operate.”

“We have agreed that in times of conflict we’ll take direction from Space Command,” said Scolese. “We need to have unity of effort to protect satellites and the information we get. It’s not going to be easy.” The NRO is increasing its participation in multinational space war rehearsals like the Schriever Wargames. During the recent games, he said, “we learned some things.”

Wednesday: ADP Employment, ISM Non-Mfg

• At 7:00 AM ET, The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) will release the results for the mortgage purchase applications index.

• At 8:15 AM, The ADP Employment Report for November. This report is for private payrolls only (no government).  The consensus is for 140,000 jobs added, up from 125,000 in October.

• At 10:00 AM, the ISM non-Manufacturing Index for November.  The consensus is for a decrease to 54.5 from 54.7.

Space Development Agency in state of uncertainty

WASHINGTON — The newly created Space Development Agency has laid out ambitious plans to develop new satellite constellations for military communications and missile defense. For now, many of the agency’s efforts are temporarily on hold until Congress approves funding and decides whether to establish a Space Force as an independent military service, said Mike Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.

The federal government is currently funded with a stop-gap continuing resolution that expires Dec. 20. All agencies are being affected by the congressional impasse over the fiscal year 2020 budget, but not having a full-year appropriation is especially damaging to the SDA and to national security programs more broadly, Griffin said Dec. 3 at a space industry conference organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Projects are being delayed are some may be prevented from happening at all, he said. “Budget battles of any kind are an enormous problem for the national security community,” Griffin insisted. The SDA is one of the many “casualties of our current situation,” he added. “It slows us down and in some cases prevents us from doing things.”

The SDA was created in March specifically to help modernize the military’s space architecture so it can be more resilient if anti-satellite weapons were used to disable or destroy U.S. spacecraft. The agency has authority to “work outside the existing acquisition system,” Griffin said, so it can move faster. The immediate priorities are to develop a mesh network of low Earth orbiting satellites to provide secure communications, and a constellation of surveillance satellites to track advanced hypersonic glide weapons that China and Russia are developing.

Griffin said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that “we need to reform our space architecture.”

But in the current political climate it’s not clear how fast SDA will be able to move.

The possible establishment of a Space Force, if Congress agrees to create it in the National Defense Authorization Act, could mean more uncertainty for SDA as it would be moving from Griffin’s shop to the new branch.

Griffin said turning over the SDA to the Space Force is “the right thing to do” even if it means he has to relinquish control and power over how the agency is run. The current director of SDA, Derek Tournear, reports to Griffin.

“I’m not interested in what organization does the work as long as the work gets done,” said Griffin. “Our plans are consistent with the SDA’s continued life under the Space Force.”

As far as the budget situation, he said he could not predict the outcome. “I don’t know what we’re doing short term, I have no idea about long term budgets.”

AI Hiring Algorithm

So glad Kate over in R&D pushed for using the AlgoMaxAnalyzer to look into this. Hiring her was a great decisio- waaaait.

Electric Night

It may appear, at first, like the Galaxy is producing the lightning, but really it's the Earth. It may appear, at first, like the Galaxy is producing the lightning, but really it's the Earth.