Severe Storms in Upper Midwest and Across the East; Record Breaking Heat Continues

Thursday: Unemployment Claims, Philly Fed Mfg, Existing Home Sales

Thursday:
• At 8:30 AM ET, the initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for 210 thousand up from 203 thousand last week.

• Also at 8:30 AM, the Philly Fed manufacturing survey for May. The consensus is for a reading of 16.7, down from 17.6.

• At 10:00 AM, Existing Home Sales for April from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The consensus is for 5.62 million SAAR, down from 5.77 million.

On COVID (focus on hospitalizations and deaths):

COVID Metrics
 NowWeek
Ago
Goal
Percent fully Vaccinated66.5%---≥70.0%1
Fully Vaccinated (millions)220.7---≥2321
New Cases per Day3🚩99,34781,031≤5,0002
Hospitalized3🚩16,62414,258≤3,0002
Deaths per Day3273317≤502
1 Minimum to achieve "herd immunity" (estimated between 70% and 85%).
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37-day average for Cases, Currently Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7-day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the daily (columns) and 7-day average (line) of deaths reported.

New cases have quadrupled from the recent low, and hospitalizations are increasing week-over-week.

Average daily deaths bottomed in July 2021 at 214 per day.

AFDLOX May 18, 5:59pm

FXUS66 KLOX 190059 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion...UPDATED National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 559 PM PDT Wed May 18 2022 .SYNOPSIS...18/143 PM. Increasing onshore flow Thursday will bring cooler temperatures to most areas and increasing winds to the interior. Low clouds and fog will move into the valleys the next few nights with slower clearing. A warming trend is expected early next week.

Apple Previews Upcoming Accessibility Features

Apple, kicking off Global Accessibility Awareness Day:

Using advancements across hardware, software, and machine learning, people who are blind or low vision can use their iPhone and iPad to navigate the last few feet to their destination with Door Detection; users with physical and motor disabilities who may rely on assistive features like Voice Control and Switch Control can fully control Apple Watch from their iPhone with Apple Watch Mirroring; and the Deaf and hard of hearing community can follow Live Captions on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Apple is also expanding support for its industry-leading screen reader VoiceOver with over 20 new languages and locales. These features will be available later this year with software updates across Apple platforms.

Amazing features, one and all. And Apple has been delivering on these accessibility feature previews — we should expect to see all of these in action by this week next year. (A lot of them seem like they’d be useful with AR glasses, too.)

 ★ 

A Jewel on the Flower Moon

Cloudy skies plagued some sky watchers on Sunday as May's Cloudy skies plagued some sky watchers on Sunday as May's


Where Things Stand: Trump Just Wants His Own Mini-Me

When Donald Trump looks at Dr. Oz, he sees himself.

(He probably sees his own reflection in the glint in everyone’s eye, but …)

Mehmet Oz is super close to transforming into his highest self as a Trump mini-me — he’s already got the celeb status, he’s a reality TV host with no business being in politics, he’s just as bombastic in his MAGA beliefs as the ex-president. But he’s missing one key ingredient that Trump is already subtly calling him out for.

He hasn’t yet tried to steal his election.

Dr. Oz and Dave McCormick have been locked in a too-close-to-call near tie for Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate nomination, with Oz just barely holding a 2,500-vote lead with 95 percent of the vote counted as of this morning. While Oz may well be declared the primary winner, there’s still plenty of room for McCormick to pull ahead — Oz has 31.3 percent of the vote compared to McCormick’s 31.1 percent.

In a post on his TRUTH Social website — where posts are called “truths” because how could a personal truth ever be a lie — Trump urged Dr. Oz to preemptively declare victory before all the ballots are counted and the real victor is announced. Trump did exactly that in the same state in 2020. Trump was ahead in Pennsylvania and several other states on election night, before mail-in ballots had been tallied. The former president declared victory in Pennsylvania and other states that he went on to lose days later.

“Dr. Oz should declare victory,” Trump truthed. “It makes it much harder for them to cheat with the ballots that they ‘just happened to find.’”

The premature victory dance appears to be a principal element of Trump-style Big Lying. And also, a willful misunderstanding of how vote counting processes work. Nonetheless, Trump’s urging Oz to take his easier-to-apologize-than-ask-permission logic and run with it.

Declaring victory ahead of a loss makes it that much easier to cry voter fraud in the end.

The Best Of TPM Today

Here’s what you should read this evening:

Kathy Barnette Will Not Be The GOP Nominee For Senate In Pennsylvania

Prognosticator Shifts Pennsylvania Governor’s Race To ‘Lean Dem’ After Mastriano’s Win

Kinzinger Praises Cawthorn’s Defeat: This Is ‘Good For The Country’

Incredible stuff: MyPillow Guy Gets Indicted MAGA Clerk In Even More Trouble

Teddy Daniels, Mastriano’s Lieutenant Governor Pick, Loses Primary

On Trump’s first impeachment: Defense IG: Trump Admin Unlawfully Retaliated Against Yevgeny Vindman

And catch up on all our primary coverage from last night here:

Fetterman Wins Democratic Senate Primary In Pennsylvania

Insurrection Attendee Mastriano Will Be GOP Candidate For Pennsylvania Governor

Cawthorn Concedes In Face Of Primary Challenge

Idaho Governor Beats Back Challenge From Trump-Backed Lt. Guv.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Tucker Carlson Doesn’t Know What Buffalo Shooter’s Talking About With All This Crazy ‘Great Replacement’ Stuff — Cristina Cabrera

What We Are Reading

Federal agents find sophisticated tunnel under US-Mexico border and seize almost a ton of cocaine — Steve Almasy

Suddenly Pennsylvania Republicans Are OK With Counting Mail-In Ballots — Liz Skalka

U.S. Soccer and Top Players Agree to Guarantee Equal Pay — Andrew Das

Mailbag: Did I become a manager too soon?

I recently got an email about moving into an engineering management role too early in the email writer’s career:

I became an engineering manager two years ago, which was also two years into my career. The reason is mainly that we were a small team and when the time came to add line management I was around and down for it. I have loved this position, and find it extremely fulfilling to be able to remain technical and still have a deeply human job and build strong relationships with my team and across the company. I was quite successful at this job and well recognized in the company. Yet now that I am considering leaving the company, I feel like the “normal” path for an EM is to first have a lot of technical seniority and expertise (more than two years of IC work anyway). Deep down I want to remain a manager, but I am wondering if you think the sensible thing to do if I ever want to join a large organization as an EM, would be to instead go back to an IC role and build up my expertise?

The specific advice I give to folks who ask me this question is: if you are considering being a career manager, rather than just trying it for a few years, make sure you’ve accomplished what you want to as an engineer before cementing the transition. If you’re successful as a manager, it can be difficult to move back without slowing down your career.

Why do I give this advice?

You absolutely can move back and forth between manager and individual contributor work, as captured in Charity Majors' classic post on the engineer, manager pendulum. I’ve worked with many folks who’ve moved back and forth between these roles for the first ten or fifteen years of their career. That said, I do find it less common for folks to continue rotating across these roles as they get more senior, as there is a level of specialization that is difficult to attain while rotating.

Related to specalization, I’ve found that many folks encounter breakout roles in their careers which significantly advance them down the path they’re current on. My first breakout role was working in Uber’s infrastructure organization and founding the Uber SRE team. I could have moved back into an individual contributor role after that point, but there was an intense gravity pulling me to continue in the management track: over those two years I’d become a significantly stronger manager candidate than engineer candidate, and it was hard to walk away from the stronger career opportunities and compensation. This is a theme that I see in many folks’ careers: after a breakout role, it takes a lot of courage to walk away from that accelerating path, and very few folks do.

It’s not solely courage, it’s also a practical issue. The day to day work of a line manager in a small company has a lot in common with the work a senior engineer might be doing. This is less and less true the further you go up the technical and managerial career trees. As a VP of Engineering, you might spend most of your time on compensation policy and troubleshooting alignment between product strategy and the financial plan. As a Staff Engineer, you’d be doing very different work. This makes switching paths increasingly difficult as you move up the career ladder, unless you’re able to tolerate a reset in your career momentum. And maybe you should be, striving towards increasingly senior roles isn’t a very deliberate plan for working across a forty-year career.

These are all future concerns, and looking at your decision today, you can’t really make a wrong decision here. Similarly to you, I personally moved into a manager role after two years of full-time development experience, and it was entirely due to the company’s needs as all the managers had quit or been laid off. This early shift hasn’t harmed me, although I do wish I’d spent more time as an engineer simply because I really enjoyed that work. That said, forty years is a long time, and you can do a lot of stuff across that horizon!

NASA puts ISS spacewalks on hold to investigate water leak

Matthias Maurer spacewalk

NASA is continuing to investigate water that leaked into a spacesuit helmet during a spacewalk earlier this year and is holding off on future spacewalks until engineers can resolve the problem.

The post NASA puts ISS spacewalks on hold to investigate water leak appeared first on SpaceNews.

Google Messages RCS Being Abused for Spam in India

Ben Schoon, reporting for 9to5Google:

Brought to our attention by Ishan Argwal on Twitter, RCS ads in Google Messages appear to be coming from “Verified Business” accounts. Google first announced that functionality back in 2020, for the purposes of allowing customers to talk to businesses. Advertising was surely part of the functionality, but it’s clearly being abused in India. Android Police says these ads have been going out for almost a year now, citing examples of ads sent by Kotak Mahindra Bank, Bajaj Finserv, Buddy Loan, and PolicyBazaar. From what we can tell from user reports, it appears the frequency of these ads has been picking up over the past few months especially.

These ads are not harmless, either, with many of the examples we’ve seen being for personal loans, a category that tends to be full of predatory practices. One user reports that they were sent one of these ads on a phone that didn’t even have an active SIM card in it.

Currently, it seems as though this practice is primarily happening in the Indian market, at least in this quantity.

Yet another success story in Google’s storied history of messaging services.

According to Android Police, the only solution to this spam is to disable RCS. Anyone arguing that Apple should add RCS support to iOS should have their head examined.

 ★ 

AFDSGX May 18, 1:44pm

FXUS66 KSGX 182044 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 144 PM PDT Wed May 18 2022 .SYNOPSIS... Coastal low clouds will continue each night and morning at the coast and in portions of the valleys through the next week. Clouds will clear from most areas late morning each day, but could stick around the beaches into the afternoon at times. Onshore winds will increase over the mountains and deserts Thursday into Friday, with peak gusts to 45 mph. Drizzle is possible west of the mountains Friday morning and again Saturday morning. Little to no accumulation is expected at this time.

Fun With Linescores!

I have an Excel spreadsheet with every major league linescore from 1901 to 2021 (imported from Retrosheet's text file logs). This is exciting news for me. (It may be somewhat less exciting for you.)

The first thing I can tell you is that in those 121 years of major league baseball (a total of 203,095 games), there have been 16 instances of a team scoring, over four consecutive innings, 1-2-3-4 runs. It has happened five times in the first four innings (what I call a Ramones linescore*), by only two franchises: 

June 4, 1925 - Pirates 16 vs Phillies 3
May 29, 1943 - Pirates 12 vs Phillies 4
September 7, 1977 - Tigers 12 vs Orioles 5
September 23, 2001 - Tigers 12 at Red Sox 6
June 14, 2016 - Tigers 11 at White Sox 8

No team has scored 1-2-3-4-5 runs in consecutive innings (since at least 1901) at any point in a game.

There have been 19 games in which a team scored exactly one run in six consecutive innings, building a "picket fence" (do announcers still use that phrase?). Two of those 19 games happened on the same day (August 24, 1997). In the span of one week in 2001, the Royals had two opponents score one run in six consecutive innings (August 21 and 27).

Only one team has scored a single run in seven consecutive innings: the Padres did it against the Dodgers on April 9, 1982. And they did it without hitting any home runs in the entire game.

Are you curious if a team has ever scored 10+ runs in an inning twice in a game? It has happened twice:

August 25, 1922: Cubs 26, Phillies 23 (Cubs scored 10 in 2nd and 14 in fourth)
July 6, 1929: Cardinals 28, Phillies 6 (Cardinals scored 10 in 1st and 10 in fifth)

The most runs scored in a game where all of the runs were scored in only one inning is 13. The Phillies beat the Reds 13-1 on April 13, 2003, scoring all 13 runs in the top of the fourth.

Because several National League teams have scored in all nine innings as the visiting team, there is no list (that I know of) of NL home teams who have scored in all eight innings and did not bat in the ninth. I have a short list of those games, but this should help me find them all.

‘Watching You’ — New Privacy Ad From DuckDuckGo

Pairs well with Apple’s new spot. Fun too, to see the “Get It On Google Play” banner on the closing screen.

 ★ 

Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in April

From housing economist Tom Lawler:

Based on publicly available local realtor/MLS reports released across the country through today, I project that existing home sales as estimated by the National Association of Realtors ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.57 million in April, down 3.5% from March’s preliminary pace and down 6.5% from last April’s seasonally adjusted pace. Unadjusted sales should show a larger YOY % decline, reflecting this April’s lower business day count compared to last April’s.

Local realtor reports, as well as reports from national inventory trackers, suggest that the YOY % decline in the inventory of existing homes for sale last month was significantly lower than was the case last month, and other indicators suggest the inventory in May will be up YOY.

Finally, local realtor/MLS reports suggest the median existing single-family home sales price last month was up by about 15.2% from last April.

CR Note: The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is scheduled to release April existing home sales on Thursday, May 19, 2022, at 10:00 AM ET. The consensus is for 5.62 million SAAR.

Lightbulbs were so startup

Edison invented the first practical incandescent electric light in 1879. (That is, the filament lasted more than a few hours.)

But it couldn’t be brought to consumers because there was no commercially-available electricity.

AND SO:

In 1882, the Edison Illuminating Company opened the first commercial power plant in the United States: Pearl Street Station (Wikipedia) in Lower Manhattan.

Starting small… "it started generating electricity on September 4, 1882, serving an initial load of 400 lamps at 82 customers. By 1884, Pearl Street Station was serving 508 customers with 10,164 lamps."

They had to invent a new kind of dynamo to generate the electricity. Ahead of the power station, Edison ran a number of pop-ups as prototypes.

HOWEVER: power distribution.

… perhaps the greatest challenge was building the elaborate network of wires and underground tubes (called “conduits”) needed to deliver energy to customers. New York City politicians were initially skeptical and rejected Edison’s proposal to dig up the streets of lower Manhattan to install the needed 100,000 feet of wiring. Eventually, however, Edison was able to convince the mayor of the city otherwise. The conduit installation proved to be one of the most expensive parts of the whole project.

Not only a distribution problem, but a backchannel conversation between people with power to get around the rules. Capitalists gonna capitalise.

AND THERE’S MORE: the business model.

Since the early 1800s there had been special instruments to detect the flow of a current and indicate how much of it was flowing, but there was not an instrument to record that flow over time. Not until the spring of 1882 was a successful design for an electric meter available. However, Edison did not send bills to his customers until the whole system was running reliably, which took some more time. The first electric bill was sent to the Ansonia brass and copper company on 18 January 1883 and was for $50.44.

(That quote from the same ETHW article linked above.)

In addition light bulbs cost $1 ea.

The setup cost (including real estate) was $300,000 – a lot to return, 50 bucks at a time.

The company ran at a loss until 1884. Pearl Street Station burnt down in 1890, was rebuilt, then in 1895 decommissioned when it was made obsolete by newer, larger power stations.


A single value-creating innovation requiring a vast hinterland of enabling technologies in order to connect the product to its market.

It’s so startup it hurts.

Questions I have:

  • How can we compare the cost of “inventing the lightbulb” vs digging the streets, building the power station, getting to profitability, etc? Say, in terms of hours of human effort? Was it 50:50, 80:20, 1:99?
  • Were other models other than metered electricity considered? Like, light-as-a-service with bundled bulbs? Or somehow connecting the cost of the service to the value for the customer – could customer businesses be charged a fraction of revenue, say? My guess: it comes down to what’s easy to measure. Businesses nowadays will grab a % (the “take”) from their customers simply because it’s possible to do so.
  • Were other applications for electricity actively considered, or was this a pure lighting play? The fractional horse-power motor scaled down factory automation to the home, and the electrification boom brought with it vacuum cleaning and washing machines… yet the enabling tech wasn’t invented till 1888. But was it visible on the horizon? Or was it only lighting that justified the huge investment in Pearl Street Station and the 100,000 feet of conduits?
  • Why go for this very broad market first? Why not build smaller generators in the basement of department stores, lighting up just single buildings or single streets? Isn’t the value in (say) adding an extra hour of brightly-lit shopping every evening more obvious than trying to replace gas and oil for home customers?

Did Edison have a team of 1880s MBA-equivalents, crunching the numbers to figure out what to do?

What was the mood around electric lighting back then? Did it feel like a hype train? Was the social media of the time full of wild speculation about the social changes that would be unleashed and the fortunes that would be made?

Electricity, generally, had that aura of excitement. A few years back I read every issue of Electrical Review from the 1880s and 1890s which covered the rollout of the telegraph and then lighting, simultaneous with figuring out the science of how electricity behaved (I wrote up my observations here) – but I think I need to go back and read the preceding decade too.

Military buyers challenged to stay up on the latest commercial space innovations

Space Force Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein said commercial innovation today is "outpacing the demand signal from the government."

The post Military buyers challenged to stay up on the latest commercial space innovations appeared first on SpaceNews.

Russia fact of the day

A study of Russian publications in the 1990s found that some 39 percent of all nonfiction published in Russia in that decade had something to do with the occult.

That is from the really quite interesting The Russian Cosmists: The Esoteric Futurism of Nikolai Fedorov and His Followers, by George M. Young.  And for more on Russian Cosmism, you might try reading this collection.  It is interesting to get such a different perspective on the issues raised by Bostrom, Hanson, Balaji, Musk, and the longevity writers, among others.  I don’t believe any of those thinkers would be happy with these Russian discussions, but…I suppose that’s the point!

The post Russia fact of the day appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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Related Stories

 

Ball and Raytheon win weather instrument study contracts

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. and Raytheon Intelligence & Space will begin developing technologies for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s next generation of weather satellites under contracts announced May 17.

The post Ball and Raytheon win weather instrument study contracts appeared first on SpaceNews.

TPM LIVE Discussions

On May 26 at 1 p.m. EDT, TPM’s Kate Riga will be hosting a virtual panel discussion with experts and practitioners on the reality of a post-Roe world. What can we expect when the Supreme Court rules, and in the days after? How did we get here, and what does this mean for civil liberties broadly? How will this affect the day-to-day lives of Americans state by state? Join us as we parse out answers. The event is free. Register here.

Confirmed panelists include:

Kulsoom Ijaz
Kulsoom Ijaz is a staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Justice. She is also a Founding Board Member of the American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA) and is currently serving as the Advocacy Chair. Her work focuses on developing strategy and campaigns, building intersectional coalitions, and co-authoring statements in response to pressing human rights issue.

Jennifer Haberkorn
Before arriving at the Los Angeles Times, Haberkorn spent eight years at Politico writing about health care policy, including the 2010 healthcare law, a story that took her to Congress, the states, healthcare clinics and courtrooms around the country. She also covered the politics of abortion. She currently covers Congress in Washington, D.C., for the Times.

Lauren Rankin

Lauren Rankin is a writer, activist, and expert in abortion rights in the U.S. She is the author of “Bodies on the Line: At the Front Lines of the Fight to Protect Abortion in America,” about the legacy of everyday volunteers on the fight for abortion rights, in bookstores everywhere.

Chanel Porchia-Albert

Chanel Porchia-Albert has been working within infant and maternal health since 2008 when she founded Ancient Song Doula Services in Brooklyn, New York. Her work in reproductive health has taken her across the world to Uganda where she was a maternal health strategist and board member of Village Birth International assisting mothers in rural areas, working on advisory boards with Ariadne Labs at Harvard School of Public Health, Columbia University Medical School, and various others. 

‘Data Auction’ — New Privacy Ad From Apple

Nice sequel to last year’s “Tracked”.

In a mere 90 seconds, while telling an actual story, it manages to work in a slew of iOS privacy features, including App Tracking Transparency, Mail Privacy Protection, Safari’s tracker detection, and the fact that your Contacts database requires your permission for an app to access. (Also worth noting, although it doesn’t come up in the ad: when you share a contact to someone else, the shared contact does not contain your Notes field.)

The only major recent privacy feature not featured in the ad is one of my favorites: iCloud Private Relay. The decision not to promote iCloud Private Relay in the ad could well be explained by the fact that it’s still labeled “beta” in both iOS and MacOS. I’ve been using it ever since it became available with very few problems.

 ★ 

Yet Another Report Tells NASA Things That NASA Will Ignore

Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Competed Space Mission Leadership at NASA Will Require Extensive Efforts Along Entire Career Pathways, Says New Report, National Academy of Sciences

"Inadequate data gathering and reporting are critical barriers to NASA's understanding of the efficacy of its own DEIA efforts to date, and of the proposal leadership pool's demographics, according to the report. These are necessary steps for measuring progress, and for identifying and eliminating barriers in the mission proposal process. The report recommends developing a systematic approach to routinely monitor and track the demographics of those participating in NASA-funded research, both for competed missions and research and analysis grants, with the public release of the resulting data. Further, SMD should provide funding for professional organizations to regularly conduct workforce surveys across the directorate's research fields to inform NASA on the demographics of the workforce and the barriers and opportunities for advancement along career pathways. The report also recommends that NASA empanel a standing NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committee specifically focused on DEIA issues. That committee should have a broad charter and world-class membership to advise top NASA leadership, and its chair should serve on the NAC."

Keith's note: This report focuses on the NASA Science Mission Directorate but is perfectly applicable to NASA as a whole. NASA gets reports like this on a regular basis. They pay lip service, say thank you, and then ignore whatever the report says. NASA is chronically lacking with regard to the basic data that you'd need to understand what NASA's audiences are, what services they need, who within those audiences actually pays attention to NASA education and outreach, and what the results of these interactions actually accomplish (and where they fail to do so).

NASA's education and outreach efforts are disjointed and do not talk to one another. They are duplicative, and are often tailored around the pet notions of the NASA individuals managing the programs. And no one at NASA in a position to plan strategy (there is no strategy)for education and outreach at NASA is actually professionally qualified to create and implement a strategy. People in jobs where these roles are located often moved there from unrelated jobs that they were originally hired to do. The NASA Advisory Council has a education and outreach working group that has short meetings and accomplishes nothing of value.

With regard to work force issues and understanding the actual audiences that need to be attended to so as to get the best possible research proposals, NASA is also sadly lacking. With regard ot the results of NASA research - aside from pretty pictures, and staged media events - NASA fools itself with large numbers of Twitter followers and news stories. Does NASA actually ask actual citizens what they think - and what they know - and what they want from NASA? No. NASA loves to transmit but they have a chronic problem when it comes to actually listening.

Did I miss anything?

Keith's update: AH, but then there's this - from the only AA at NASA who actually "gets it".

Wednesday assorted links

1. New non-profit for geothermal energy.

2. New Allison Schrager podcast, first episode with Joel Mokyr.

3. Who owns the publicity rights to Einstein?

4. Yann LeCun on AI risks.  And why (some) octopus mothers self-mutilate and kill themselves.

5. “The subscribers presumably think they’re talking directly to the woman in the videos, and it is the job of the chatter to convincingly manifest that illusion.” (NYT, those new service sector jobs)

6. Virginia Postrel has a new Substack.

7. Mihm on the Henry Ford parallel (Bloomberg).

8. Results of the UFO hearings.

The post Wednesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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AIA: "Architecture Billings Index moderates slightly, remains strong" in April

Note: This index is a leading indicator primarily for new Commercial Real Estate (CRE) investment.

From the AIA: Architecture Billings Index moderates slightly, remains strong
For the fifteenth consecutive month architecture firms reported increasing demand for design services in April, according to a new report today from The American Institute of Architects (AIA)

AIA’s Architecture Billings Index score for April was 56.5 compared to 58.0 in March. Any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings. During April, scores for both new project inquiries and design contracts moderated slightly, but remained strong, posting scores of 62.3 and 55.4, respectively.

“While business conditions at architecture firms have been very encouraging over the past year, project activity has been steadily shifting toward work on existing buildings,” said AIA Chief Economist, Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA, PhD. “Billings for reconstruction projects exceeded those for new construction for the first time in the last two decades. While the reconstruction share of building activity will continue to ebb and flow, in general, we’ll continue to move toward an increased share of building activity for reconstruction and a decreased share for new construction.”
...
• Regional averages: West (58.2); Midwest (57.6); South (57.3); Northeast (53.1)

• Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (61.2); commercial/industrial (60.7); multi-family residential (57.2); institutional (51.8)
emphasis added
AIA Architecture Billing Index Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the Architecture Billings Index since 1996. The index was at 56.5 in April, down from 58.0 in March. Anything above 50 indicates expansion in demand for architects' services.

Note: This includes commercial and industrial facilities like hotels and office buildings, multi-family residential, as well as schools, hospitals and other institutions.

This index has been positive for fifteen consecutive months.   This index usually leads CRE investment by 9 to 12 months, so this index suggests a pickup in CRE investment in 2022.

SpaceX launches 3rd Starlink mission in under a week

SpaceX launched its third Starlink mission in five days. This launch occurred May 18, 2022. Credit Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX launched its third Starlink mission in five days. This launch occurred May 18, 2022. Credit Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

In less than a week, SpaceX orbited three batches of Starlink satellites, one from each of its launch pads on both coasts of the United States.

At 6:59 a.m. EDT (10:59 UTC) May 18, 2022, the company lofted 53 satellites into low Earth orbit from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This flight utilized Falcon 9 first stage core B1052, which was on its fifth flight.

Just four days earlier at 4:40 p.m. (20:40 UTC) May 14, a Falcon 9 with a brand new first stage, core B 1073, sent 53 satellites into space from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, located less than 4 miles (6 kilometers) to the south.

Finally, at 6:07 p.m. (22:07 UTC) May 13, a Falcon 9 took to the skies from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. That mission also carried 53 Starlink satellites into orbit. It utilized the first stage core B1063, which was on its fifth use.

All three first stage boosters were recovered by SpaceX’s fleet of three drone ships: Of Course I Still Love You on the West Coast, and Just Read the Instructions and A Shortfall of Gravitas on the East Coast.

The three flights increase the total number of Starlink satellites launched to low Earth orbit to 2,653, of which nearly 2,400 are still operational and orbiting as part of SpaceX’s internet constellation, according to a list compiled by astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell.

Falcon 9 first stage core B1073 is one of the rare new boosters SpaceX has flown as of late. Three additional new boosters are expected to fly as early as August when the company launches a Falcon Heavy with NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission.

Its two side boosters, core B1072 and B1075 are planned to be recovered on the two East Coast drone ships while the new center core, B1074, is expected to be expended.

Psyche is slated to launch as early as Aug. 1, 2022, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The May 18, 2022, Falcon 9 launch with 53 Starlink satellites. Credit Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

The May 18, 2022, Falcon 9 launch with 53 Starlink satellites. Credit Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

The May 18, 2022, Falcon 9 launch with 53 Starlink satellites. Credit Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

The May 18, 2022, Falcon 9 launch with 53 Starlink satellites. Credit Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

The May 18, 2022, Falcon 9 launch with 53 Starlink satellites. Credit Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

The May 18, 2022, Falcon 9 launch with 53 Starlink satellites. Credit Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

Video courtesy of SpaceX

The post SpaceX launches 3rd Starlink mission in under a week appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Kongsberg orders satellites for Norwegian maritime surveillance

Norway’s Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace has ordered three microsatellites to keep tabs on vessels operating clandestinely in the North Sea.

The post Kongsberg orders satellites for Norwegian maritime surveillance appeared first on SpaceNews.

Early Voting is for Cucks, Say Trumpers

You can see some of the headlines from last night’s primaries here on the front page of TPM. I wanted to share a couple other general observations.

To me the most striking thing about last night was how much same-day voting, as opposed to early or mail-in voting, has become a central feature of partisan identity for Trumpy Republicans. If you’re for Trump, you vote in person on Election Day. The other stuff is all suspect. The fairly unique dynamics of the 2020 election and its Big Lie aftermath have ossified into doctrines.

This is a pretty dramatic reversal. Republicans long dominated mail-in and no-excuse absentee balloting. That was particularly the case for older Republicans and it was at least part of the GOP’s traditional turnout advantage. But again, now that’s all out the window.

You could see this play out last night because the sharper election observers rightly cautioned people not to put too much stock in the first numbers in the GOP primaries. Why? Because those were almost all early and mail-in votes. The Big Lie huckster Doug Mastriano was in something like 5th place at one point in the early results. After the Election Day vote came in he ended up totally crushing everyone else. Madison Cawthorn ended up going down to defeat last night by the thinnest of margins. But he was actually way behind based on the first reports. The same day vote almost allowed him to come back. Just came up slightly short.

I see this mainly as evidence of the cultic nature of the contemporary GOP and the tight hold of the Big Lie. Democrats are big supporters of early voting. But I don’t know anyone who has strong feelings about which option individuals use. Does anyone you know give you a funny look if you vote on Election Day? I doubt it.

The more operational question is whether this will affect the results of actual elections. It’s not like zero Trump Republicans vote early. A few do. Just not many. So presumably those who would struggle to vote in person do use this option. But it does at least open up some vulnerability. It’s just easier to vote on your own schedule and for many by mail. It’s also less risky. If your whole team is voting on Election Day you have extra exposure to the random chance of bad weather and other unpredictable events. I doubt this will be a big issue going forward. But it’s not nothing.

One counter-advantage Republicans have is that they tend to vote in areas with less long lines. Election Day voting is a challenge for Democratic campaigns because people have to wait in long lines. You want to bank as much of the vote as possible before Election Day to avoid that pressure on Election Day, avoid people bailing because they’re waiting for hours. That way there’s fewer numbers of people you have to get to the polls on that one day.

Republicans have some of this problem too. But they tend to be in suburban and rural areas where lines just aren’t as long. Some of that is the result of election practices targeting Democratic and non-white voters. Some of it is underfunding, which can be a passive form of targeting. But some of it is just inherent to Democratic voters being so concentrated in cities.

The other irony is that Mastriano — Big Lie promoter and Jan 6th organizer — now has the exact result that Big Lie jokers use to discredit Biden’s victory. He was losing and then “suddenly” mid-evening he pulled ahead. Clearly fraud. Or just different kinds of voting being favored by different groups. Presumably his supporters won’t have an issue with this.

April Housing Starts: All-Time Record Housing Units Under Construction

Today, in the CalculatedRisk Real Estate Newsletter: April Housing Starts: All-Time Record Housing Units Under Construction

Excerpt:
The fourth graph shows housing starts under construction, Seasonally Adjusted (SA).

Red is single family units. Currently there are 815 thousand single family units under construction (SA). This is the highest level since November 2006.

Housing Units Under ConstructionFor single family, many of these homes are already sold (Census counts sales when contract is signed). The reason there are so many homes is probably due to construction delays. Since many of these are already sold, it is unlikely this is “overbuilding”, or that this will significantly impact prices (although the buyers will be moving out of their current home or apartment once these homes are completed).

Blue is for 2+ units. Currently there are 826 thousand multi-family units under construction.  This is the highest level since May 1974! For multi-family, construction delays are probably also a factor. The completion of these units should help with rent pressure.

Combined, there are a record 1.641 million units under construction. This eclipses the previous record of 1.628 million units that were under construction (mostly apartments in 1973 for the baby boom generation).
There is much more in the post.  You can subscribe at https://calculatedrisk.substack.com/ (Most content is available for free, so please subscribe).

Housing Starts Decreased to 1.724 million Annual Rate in April

From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions
Housing Starts:
Privately‐owned housing starts in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,724,000. This is 0.2 percent below the revised March estimate of 1,728,000, but is 14.6 percent above the April 2021 rate of 1,505,000. Single‐family housing starts in April were at a rate of 1,100,000; this is 7.3 percent below the revised March figure of 1,187,000. The April rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 612,000.

Building Permits:
Privately‐owned housing units authorized by building permits in April were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,819,000. This is 3.2 percent below the revised March rate of 1,879,000, but is 3.1 percent above the April 2021 rate of 1,765,000. Single‐ family authorizations in April were at a rate of 1,110,000; this is 4.6 percent below the revised March figure of 1,163,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 656,000 in April.
emphasis added
Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years.

Multi-family starts (blue, 2+ units) increased in April compared to March.   Multi-family starts were up 40.5% year-over-year in April. 

Single-family starts (red) decreased in April and were up 3.7% year-over-year.

Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows single and multi-family housing starts since 1968.

This shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then the eventual recovery (but still not historically high).

Total housing starts in April were below expectations, and starts in February and March, were revised down, combined.

I'll have more later …

Medical resident sleep time reduces harmful errors

 Here's a new study of the effect on patient safety of the limitation on resident work hours to no more than 16 hour shifts, which was in effect in the US from 2011 to 2017.

National improvements in resident physician-reported patient safety after limiting first-year resident physicians’ extended duration work shifts: a pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies  BMJ Quality & Safety Published Online First: 10 May 2022. doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2021-014375by Matthew D   Weaver1,2, Christopher P Landrigan1,3,4, Jason P Sullivan1, Conor S O'Brien1, Salim Qadri1, Natalie Viyaran1, Charles A Czeisler1,2, Laura K Barger1,2

Abstract: Background The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) enacted a policy in 2011 that restricted first-year resident physicians in the USA to work no more than 16 consecutive hours. This was rescinded in 2017.

Methods "We conducted a nationwide prospective cohort study of resident physicians for 5 academic years (2002–2007) before and for 3 academic years (2014–2017) after implementation of the 16 hours 2011 ACGME work-hour limit. Our analyses compare trends in resident physician-reported medical errors between the two cohorts to evaluate the impact of this policy change.

"Results 14 796 residents provided data describing 78 101 months of direct patient care. After adjustment for potential confounders, the work-hour policy was associated with a 32% reduced risk of resident physician-reported significant medical errors (rate ratio (RR) 0.68; 95% CI 0.64 to 0.72), a 34% reduced risk of reported preventable adverse events (RR 0.66; 95% CI 0.59 to 0.74) and a 63% reduced risk of reported medical errors resulting in patient death (RR 0.37; 95% CI 0.28 to 0.49).

"Conclusions These findings have broad relevance for those who work in and receive care from academic hospitals in the USA. The decision to lift this work hour policy in 2017 may expose patients to preventable harm."

***

"From 2003 to 2011, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) limited residents in their first postgraduate year to a maximum of 30 consecutive work hours, including 6 hours for continuity of care and educational activities (30 hours 2003 ACGME work-hour limit).2 Subsequent evaluations found that shifts of 24 or more hours were associated with increased odds of fatigue-related medical errors and preventable adverse events (PAEs),3 percutaneous injuries4 and motor vehicle crashes.5 A randomised controlled trial found that limiting first-year resident physicians to 16 consecutive work hours significantly improved resident alertness and patient safety.6 7 Altogether, a body of evidence accumulated suggesting that reducing or eliminating shifts longer than 16 hours did not negatively impact resident education and likely improved patient safety and resident quality of life.8 Subsequently, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM) reviewed the available evidence and concluded that it was unsafe for any resident physician to provide clinical care for >16 consecutive hours without sleep.9 10 In response, the ACGME issued new work-hour regulations on 1 July 2011, limiting first-year resident physicians to a maximum of 16 consecutive work hours and emphasising a commitment to patient safety and mitigation of fatigue-related risks (16 hours 2011 ACGME work-hour limit).11

"The response within the medical community to the 16 hours 2011 ACGME work-hour limit was mixed.12 Many stakeholders expected the changes to diminish the educational experience.13 The increased frequency of patient handoffs raised concerns, as physician-to-physician handoffs have historically been non-standardised and prone to error.14 In addition, the work-hour limitations were not accompanied by an increased number of residency slots, leading to work compression and a shift in some responsibilities to other clinical providers,15 as well as concerns about resident physician understaffing. Several studies of the 16 hours 2011 ACGME work-hour limit found that it had no impact on hospital-level mortality or mortality following surgical procedures.16–18 In light of these studies and opposition to the work-hour limit from within the medical community, the ACGME lifted the 16-hour limit as of 1 July 2017, again allowing first-year resident physicians to be scheduled for 24 hours of continuous work, plus up to 4 hours for care transitions (28 hours 2017 ACGME work-hour limit)."

Proposed constellations would enhance Arctic weather observations

With Arctic aviation and maritime activity on the rise, Europe and Canada are taking the lead in developing weather satellites to gather global data and improve observation of Earth’s northernmost latitudes.

The post Proposed constellations would enhance Arctic weather observations appeared first on SpaceNews.

iPhone Malware that Operates Even When the Phone Is Turned Off

Researchers have demonstrated iPhone malware that works even when the phone is fully shut down.

t turns out that the iPhone’s Bluetooth chip­ — which is key to making features like Find My work­ — has no mechanism for digitally signing or even encrypting the firmware it runs. Academics at Germany’s Technical University of Darmstadt figured out how to exploit this lack of hardening to run malicious firmware that allows the attacker to track the phone’s location or run new features when the device is turned off.

[…]

The research is the first — or at least among the first — to study the risk posed by chips running in low-power mode. Not to be confused with iOS’s low-power mode for conserving battery life, the low-power mode (LPM) in this research allows chips responsible for near-field communication, ultra wideband, and Bluetooth to run in a special mode that can remain on for 24 hours after a device is turned off.

The research is fascinating, but the attack isn’t really feasible. It requires a jailbroken phone, which is hard to pull off in an adversarial setting.

Slashdot thread.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications decreased 11.0 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending May 13, 2022.

... The Refinance Index decreased 10 percent from the previous week and was 76 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 12 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 12 percent compared with the previous week and was 15 percent lower than the same week one year ago.

“Mortgage applications decreased for the first time in three weeks, as mortgage rates – despite declining last week – remained over two percentage points higher than a year ago and close to the highest levels since 2009. For borrowers looking to refinance, the current level of rates continues to be a significant disincentive,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Purchase applications fell 12 percent last week, as prospective homebuyers have been put off by the higher rates and worsening affordability conditions. Furthermore, general uncertainty about the near-term economic outlook, as well as recent stock market volatility, may be causing some households to delay their home search.”

Added Kan, “These results were consistent with MBA’s May forecast released earlier this week, which now calls for fewer home sales and mortgage originations in 2022 compared to a year ago.”
...
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($647,200 or less) decreased to 5.49 percent from 5.53 percent, with points increasing to 0.74 from 0.73 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans. The effective rate decreased from last week.
emphasis added
Mortgage Refinance IndexClick on graph for larger image.


The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

With higher mortgage rates, the refinance index has declined sharply over the last several months.

The refinance index is at the lowest level since December 2018.

The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index

Mortgage Purchase IndexAccording to the MBA, purchase activity is down 15% year-over-year unadjusted.

Note: Red is a four-week average (blue is weekly).

Backseat AI

James blogs a lovely thought about AI assistants for craft tasks. It reminded me of the story "Under the Northern Lights" by Charlotte M. Ray from this SolarPunk anthology. There are pocket-AIs in this world, they advise on things like how to build a craft and what materials and supplies you might need for a trip.

"We spent the next day following her AI’s directions in breaking apart the camper to dry it all out. It guided us in a childlike, cartoonish voice, which cracked me up every time I heard it. Krista looked a little embarrassed when I asked about it, but to me, it felt like we were breaking new ground. I knew something private about her now, something I got the feeling no one else knew. “I can change it into something more serious if you want,” she said, then continued before I had a chance to reply. “I figured being alone in a self-built blimp that I hadn’t tested for long flights yet was a little risky, so I wanted the AI to sound the opposite of serious. You know?”

James suggests using trackback for me to tell him about this. Does that still work? If it does I no longer know how to do it. If someone sees James will they tell him? But don't make a special trip.

Remote work and home prices

What explains record U.S. house price growth since late 2019? We show that the shift to remote work explains over one half of the 23.8 percent national house price increase over this period. Using variation in remote work exposure across U.S. metropolitan areas we estimate that an additional percentage point of remote work causes a 0.93 percent increase in house prices after controlling for negative spillovers from migration. This cross-sectional estimate combined with the aggregate shift to remote work implies that remote work raised aggregate U.S. house prices by 15.1 percent.

Here is more from John A. Mondragon and Johannes Wieland.

The post Remote work and home prices appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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NASA confirms impending end for InSight

InSight

NASA’s InSight Mars lander mission will likely conclude by the end of the year as power levels for the spacecraft continue to decline, project officials confirmed May 17.

The post NASA confirms impending end for InSight appeared first on SpaceNews.

It looks like we're headed for a soft landing

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post envisioning a future where interest rates go to 8%. I made it clear that this was only a possible bad scenario that people should have contingency plans for, not a forecast that people should expect to come true. In fact, I think the most likely outcome is a “soft landing” for the U.S. economy.

A “soft landing” sounds nice, and it is a hell of a lot nicer than the truly awful scenarios like runaway inflation or a deep and crushing recession. But that doesn’t mean it’s a painless outcome where inflation simply vanishes and economic growth continues apace. More likely, we’ll get a short and mild recession like the one in 2001:

Remember that the Fed and the markets are also expecting this. As I explained in that earlier post, if the Fed expected inflation to remain at its recent ~8% level indefinitely, it would raise rates to 8% or higher. The fact that it’s raising rates by much less than that (so far) means that it still expects inflation to come down without the need for a Paul Volcker-like crushing of the economy. And markets also expect inflation to be significantly lower over the next 5 years:

Of course predictions are hard, especially about the future, and especially about the future of the macroeconomy. So let me explain why a short and mild recession, and subsiding inflation, now looks like the most likely scenario.

It’s still really all about consumer demand

Read more

A Pascal Bentoiu moment

Dozens of attempts have been made at setting Hamlet to music; few have been deemed successful. One that deserves a second look is a 1974 adaptation by the Romanian composer Pascal Bentoiu. I found myself mesmerized by his approach, though I umderstood not a word. The second act can also be found on YouTube, courtesy of Thorsten Gubatz.

The new Covid equilibrium

Many people have stopped keeping track of where Covid is headed, if only because it is such a stressful and unpleasant topic.  To be clear, under current circumstances I favor complete “Covid laissez-faire,” though with subsidies for new and better vaccines.  Overall, things are not so peachy keen (NYT):

The central problem is that the coronavirus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Already, those infected with the first Omicron variant are reporting second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.

Those people may go on to have third or fourth infections, even within this year, researchers said in interviews. And some small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long Covid.

“It seems likely to me that that’s going to sort of be a long-term pattern,” said Juliet Pulliam, an epidemiologist at Stellenbosch University in South Africa…

“If we manage it the way that we manage it now, then most people will get infected with it at least a couple of times a year,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. “I would be very surprised if that’s not how it’s going to play out.”

I know many of you like to say “No worse than the common cold!”  Well, the thing is…the common cold imposes considerable costs on the world.  Imagine a new common cold, which you catch a few times a year, with some sliver of the population getting some form of Long Covid.  One 2003 estimate suggested that the common cold costs us $40 billion a year, and in a typical year I don’t get a cold even once.  That 2003 estimate also does not include the sheer discomfort of having a cold.

With a pinch of Long Covid in the distribution surely the current virus is a wee bit worse than that?  While many cases of Long Covid are malingerers and hypochondriacs, at this point it is clear that not all of them are.  Toss in some number of immunocompromised individuals (how many?).

Even under mild conceptions of current Covid, it is entirely plausible to believe that the costs of Covid will run into the trillions over the next ten years.

Death rates are not up, but more of the unvaccinated will die off with time and the rest of us will face this steady risk and planning annoyance for — how long?  Plus we’ll get lots of “colds,” some of them considerably worse than a cold.  And with what risk that it might mutate again and get worse? The next generation of vaccines probably will not be directly subsidized.  Which will mean much lower rates of uptake.  The point of maximum Covid immunity may well be behind us.  And you won’t be able to blame it all on lockdowns.

Please keep in mind that when it comes to your reactions I will read many of them as not much better than “I just don’t want to think about this, I am still in denial.”

The post The new Covid equilibrium appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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Live coverage: SpaceX rocket, Starlink satellites launch from pad 39A

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Starlink 4-18 mission launched SpaceX’s next batch of 53 Starlink broadband satellites. Follow us on Twitter.

SFN Live

SpaceX’s third Starlink satellite deployment mission in five days launched at 6:59 a.m. EDT (1059 GMT) Wednesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A Falcon 9 rocket carried 53 more Starlink internet satellites into orbit.

The commercial space company wheeled the Falcon 9 rocket to pad 39A on Tuesday, then raised the rocket vertical in preparation for liftoff just after sunrise Wednesday.

SpaceX recovered the first stage booster, making its fifth trip to space, on the deck of the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” a few hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral.

Stationed inside a firing room at Kennedy’s launch control center, SpaceX’s launch team began loading super-chilled, densified kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 vehicle at T-minus 35 minutes.

Helium pressurant also flowed into the rocket in the last half-hour of the countdown. In the final seven minutes before liftoff, the Falcon 9’s Merlin main engines were thermally conditioned for flight through a procedure known as “chilldown.” The Falcon 9’s guidance and range safety systems were also configured for launch at 6:59:40 a.m.

After liftoff, the 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket vectored its 1.7 million pounds of thrust — produced by nine Merlin engines — to steer northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket exceeded the speed of sound in about one minute, then shut down its nine main engines two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. The booster released from from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then fired pulses from cold gas control thrusters and extended titanium grid fins to help steer the vehicle back into the atmosphere.

Two braking burns slowed the rocket for landing on the drone ship around 400 miles (650 kilometers) downrange approximately eight-and-a-half minutes after liftoff.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket stands on pad 39A Tuesday night. Credit: Spaceflight Now

The booster — tail number B1052 — launched on its fifth mission. It debuted as a side booster on two flights of SpaceX’s triple-core Falcon Heavy rocket in April and June 2019, then engineers converted it to fly as a booster stage on the single-stick Falcon 9 rocket. Heading into Wednesday’s mission, the booster had flown twice — on Jan. 31 and March 9 — as a Falcon 9 first stage.

The landing of the first stage on the drone ship occurred just prior to shutdown of the upper stage engine. The rocket’s upper stage coasted halfway around the world before reigniting its Merlin-Vacuum upper stage engine about 45 minutes into the mission, paving the way for separation of the 53 Starlink satellites at T+plus 59 minutes, 17 seconds.

Retention rods released from the Starlink payload stack, allowing the flat-packed satellites to fly free from the Falcon 9’s upper stage in orbit. The 53 spacecraft will unfurl solar arrays and run through automated activation steps, then use krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.

The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aimed to deploy the satellites in a near-circular orbit ranging in altitude between 189 miles and 197 miles (305 by 318 kilometers), at an orbital inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use on-board propulsion to do the rest of the work to reach a circular orbit 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth.

The Starlink satellites on Saturday’s mission will fly in one of five orbital “shells” used in SpaceX’s global internet network. After reaching their operational orbit, the satellites will enter commercial service and begin beaming broadband signals to consumers, who can purchase Starlink service and connect to the network with a SpaceX-supplied ground terminal.

Credit: Spaceflight Now

After Wednesday’s mission, designated Starlink 4-18, SpaceX has launched 2,653 Starlink satellites to date, including spacecraft that were decommissioned or suffered failures. More than 2,300 of those satellites are in orbit and functioning as of this week, according to a list maintained by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who closely tracks spaceflight activity.

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1052.5)

PAYLOAD: 53 Starlink satellites (Starlink 4-18)

LAUNCH SITE: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: May 18, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 6:59:40 a.m. EDT (1059:40 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: 80% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of upper level winds; Low risk of unfavorable conditions for booster recovery

BOOSTER RECOVERY: “A Shortfall of Gravitas” drone ship east of Charleston, South Carolina

LAUNCH AZIMUTH: Northeast

TARGET ORBIT: 189 miles by 197 miles (304 kilometers by 318 kilometers), 53.2 degrees inclination

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Liftoff
  • T+01:02: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:30: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:33: Stage separation
  • T+02:40: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:47: Fairing jettison
  • T+06:15: First stage entry burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+06:34: First stage entry burn cutoff
  • T+08:01: First stage landing burn ignition (one engine)
  • T+08:23: First stage landing
  • T+08:45: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 1)
  • T+45:23: Second stage restart
  • T+45:25: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 2)
  • T+59:17: Starlink satellite separation

MISSION STATS:

  • 155th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 163rd launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
  • 5th launch of Falcon 9 booster B1052
  • 135th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 49th SpaceX launch from pad 39A
  • 143rd launch overall from pad 39A
  • 97th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
  • 47th dedicated Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites
  • 21st Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 21st launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 20th orbital launch based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

PBS NewsHour On The Future Of ISS

Astros Launch 5 Home Runs Off Eovaldi In Second Inning & Are Crushing Red Sox 13-4

Five of Nathan Eovaldi's pitches to the Astros in the second inning on Tuesday night were launched out of Fenway Park. The five home runs allowed in a single inning tied a major league record, now shared with two other unlucky moundsmen. Houston scored nine runs in the frame, erasing a 1-0 Red Sox lead and catapulting the Astros to a 13-4 victory.

It's the ninth time a Red Sox pitcher has allowed as many as five homers in a game. (The team record is six  homers, by Tim Wakefield on August 8, 2004). Because of a few repeat offenders, the list includes only six names.

Of the first eight instances, the fewest outs recorded was 10, by David Price against the Yankees on July 1, 2018. Eovaldi recorded only five outs: 1.2-8-9-0-0, 39 (31 of his 39 pitches were strikes!).

Here are three times a pitcher has allowed five home runs in an inning:

Michael Blazek, Brewers, July 27, 2017, third inning against Nationals: BB, HR, HR, HR, HR, F8, HR /
Chase Anderson, Blue Jays, September 17, 2020, fourth inning against Yankees: L7, BB, 2B, HR, HR, HR, K, HR, HR /
Nathan Eovaldi, Red Sox, May 17, 2022, second inning against Astros: HR, E3, HR, HR, F9, 1B, 2B, HR, 5-3, 1B, HR /

Eovaldi retired the Astros in order in the first on only five pitches and Rafael Devers's seventh home run of the year gave Boston a 1-0 lead. Any hope from that promising inning did not linger as the Astros tied the game immediately with a solo homer to start the second . . . and things quickly devolved.

The first Red Sox pitcher to allow five home runs in a game was Dennis Eckersley, against the Yankees on July 1, 1979. (The MFY were the opposing team in four of the first eight instances.)

Wakefield allowed five dongs to the White Sox on September 15, 1996 and six taters to the Tigers on August 8, 2004.

In 2009, it happened twice in five weeks: Josh Beckett against the Yankees on August 23 and Clay Buchholz against the Blue Jays on September 29.

Beckett and Buchholz teamed up again in 2012, this time within two weeks of each other: Beckett against the Tigers on April 7 and Buchholz against the Yankees on April 20.

Price's outing in 2018 was the most recent occasion before tonight.

Houston tied the major league record by bashing five home runs in an inning. (I wouldn't think too many guys would be left in to allow six jacks.) The Astros hold a share of the record with seven other teams:

June 6, 1939       - Giants, 4th inning/8 runs, beat Reds 17-3
June 2, 1949       - Phillies, 8th inning/10 runs, beat Reds 12-3 
August 23, 1961    - Giants, 9th inning/12 runs, beat Reds 14-0
June 9, 1966       - Twins, 7th inning/6 runs, beat Athletics 9-4
April 22, 2006     - Brewers, 4th inning/7 runs, beat Reds 11-0
July 27, 2017      - Nationals, 3rd inning/7 runs, beat Brewers 15-2
September 17, 2020 - Yankees, 4th inning/7 runs, beat Blue Jays 10-7
May 17, 2022       - Astros, 2nd inning/9 runs, beat Red Sox 13-4

A National League team hitting five home runs in an inning has happened five times  and the Reds were the opposing team the first four times!! . . . For 140 years, the Reds were the only NL team to allow five dongs in an inning - and they had done it four times

Wednesday: Housing Starts

Wednesday:
• At 7:00 AM ET, The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) will release the results for the mortgage purchase applications index.

• At 8:30 AM, Housing Starts for April. The consensus is for 1.773 million SAAR, down from 1.793 million SAAR in March.

• During the day, The AIA's Architecture Billings Index for April (a leading indicator for commercial real estate).

On COVID (focus on hospitalizations and deaths):

COVID Metrics
 NowWeek
Ago
Goal
Percent fully Vaccinated66.5%---≥70.0%1
Fully Vaccinated (millions)220.7---≥2321
New Cases per Day3🚩94,19974,889≤5,0002
Hospitalized3🚩15,97713,990≤3,0002
Deaths per Day3274307≤502
1 Minimum to achieve "herd immunity" (estimated between 70% and 85%).
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37-day average for Cases, Currently Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7-day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the daily (columns) and 7-day average (line) of deaths reported.

New cases have more almost quadrupled from the recent low, and hospitalizations are increasing week-over-week.

Average daily deaths bottomed in July 2021 at 214 per day.

Molly White, Interviewed by Harvard Business Review: ‘Cautionary Tales From Cryptoland’

One more on the “cryptocurrency is mostly about scams” front — a concise interview with Web3 Is Going Just Great creator Molly White, by Harvard Business Review editor Thomas Stackpole:

Stackpole: One of the most surprising (to me, anyway) arguments you make is that Web3 could be a disaster for privacy and create major issues around harassment. Why? And does it feel like the companies “buying into” Web3 are aware of this?

White: Blockchains are immutable, which means once data is recorded, it can’t be removed. [...] Many blockchains also have a very public record of transactions: Anyone can see that a person made a transaction and the details of that transaction. Privacy is theoretically provided through pseudonymity — wallets are identified by a string of characters that aren’t inherently tied to a person. But because you’ll likely use one wallet for most of your transactions, keeping one’s wallet address private can be both challenging and a lot of work and is likely to only become more challenging if this future vision of crypto ubiquity is realized. If a person’s wallet address is known and they are using a popular chain like Ethereum to transact, anyone [else] can see all transactions they’ve made.

Imagine if you went on a first date, and when you paid them back for your half of the meal, they could now see every other transaction you’d ever made — not just the public transactions on some app you used to transfer the cash but any transactions: the split checks with all of your previous dates, that monthly transfer to your therapist, the debts you’re paying off (or not), the charities to which you’re donating (or not), the amount you’re putting in a retirement account (or not). What if they could see the location of the corner store by your apartment where you so frequently go to grab a pint of ice cream at 10 PM?

Web3 is my favorite new blog in years. Everything about it is just perfect.

 ★ 

Matt Levine on ‘Yield Farming’

Speaking of cryptocurrencies as Ponzi schemes (powered by energy-intensive computing), here’s Matt Levine, in a podcast interview with FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, responding to Bankman-Fried’s description of “yield farming”:

I think of myself as like a fairly cynical person. And that was so much more cynical than how I would’ve described farming. You’re just like, well, I’m in the Ponzi business and it’s pretty good.

 ★ 

CPUs, cloud VMs, and noisy neighbors: the limits of parallelism

Sometimes your program is slow not because of your code, but because of where it’s running. If you have other processes competing for the same limited hardware resources, your code will run more slowly.

Once you add virtualization into the mix, those competing processes might be invisible… but they’re still there.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • The hardware limits of CPUs’ cores and “hyperthreads”.
  • How operating systems deal with multiple processes that want to use limited number of CPU cores.
  • The impact of virtualization on these various resources, including what cloud vCPUs mean.
  • CPU sharing limits available via containers.
Read more...

ISS spacesuits ‘no-go’ for non-emergency spacewalks after water intrusion

STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS & USED WITH PERMISSION
European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer on a spacewalk March 23 outside the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

The aging shuttle-era spacesuits aboard the International Space Station have been declared “no-go” for operational, normally planned spacewalks pending analysis to determine what led to excess water getting into an astronaut’s helmet during a March excursion, officials confirmed Tuesday.

But the bulky spacesuits — “extra-vehicular mobility units,” or EMUs — can still be used for emergency repairs or to resolve other unexpected issues if agency managers agree after assessing the overall risk.

“Until we understand better what the causal factors might have been during the last EVA with our EMU, we are no-go for nominal EVA (spacewalk),” said Dana Weigel, deputy manager of the space station program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “So we won’t do a planned EVA until we’ve had a chance to really address and rule out major system failure modes.”

Water intrusion has been a source of concern ever since a July 2013 spacewalk in which European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano’s helmet flooded with water, a frightening, potentially life-threatening malfunction that forced an early end to the excursion.

Parmitano was not injured, but after the spacewalk NASA said he reported “impaired visibility and breathing with water covering his eyes, nose and ears.” The astronaut’s “calm demeanor in the face of his helmet filling with water possibly saved his life.”

The “high-visibility close call” triggered a major investigation to pin down the source of the leakage. A detailed inspection revealed clogs in a component that inadvertently diverted water into a vent line that allowed intrusion into the helmet.

While working to resolve suit servicing to prevent such clogs in the future, NASA implemented two steps to help a spacewalker make it back to the station’s airlock in a similar emergency.

A “helmet absorption pad,” or HAP, is now placed at the back of the helmet to soak up any excess water that might make its way into the headpiece and a separate straw-like breathing tube was added to provide an unobstructed supply of air if needed. Astronauts now report the status of their HAPs throughout a spacewalk.

More recently, Weigel said, another absorbent pad has been added to form a dam of sorts, impeding the movement of any water toward the front of the helmet.

There have been no serious instances of water intrusion since Parmitano’s spacewalk, but at the end of the most recent EVA on March 23, astronaut Kayla Barron, helping German astronaut Matthias Maurer out of his spacesuit, found water inside the helmet.

“It’s a little bit difficult to judge the volume because it’s spread across the front of his visor,” Barron said. “But I think we should accelerate the steps to get him out of his suit here.”

Once the helmet was off, the crew estimated up to 50 percent of the visor was coated with a thin film of water and that the absorption pad at the back of the helmet was damp.

“The HAP is a little bit moist, but I think it would have been difficult to detect through a comm(unication) cap,” Barron reported. “Roughly, maybe an eight- to 10-inch diameter circle, a thin film of water on the helmet. And there is water in his vent port at the back of his neck ring.”

NASA plans to send Maurer’s EMU back to Earth in July aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship for an engineering analysis.

Four spacewalks to continue upgrading the station’s solar power system had been tentatively planned over the rest of the year, two in August and two in November, but such EVAs are now on hold pending analysis of Maurer’s suit.

“So far, we haven’t found anything unusual,” Weigel said of inspections aboard the space station. “We’re looking for any obvious signs of contamination or fouling or something else that might have gotten into our system. We’re not seeing that yet.”

While planned spacewalks are on hold, she said a contingency EVA could be approved after review and a “risk-versus-risk” assessment.

“Depending upon what has failed and what the risk is to the spacecraft and to the mission overall, we’ll look at where we are with the investigation, where we are with the additional mitigations that we’re putting in place and we’ll specifically make a call based on the contingency and where we are at the given moment,” she said.

Space Development Agency’s satellite contractors team up to deal with supply shortages

The Space Development Agency and its contractors have had to scramble to deal with parts shortages and other supply chain problems that have affected the entire space industry.

The post Space Development Agency’s satellite contractors team up to deal with supply shortages appeared first on SpaceNews.

Where Things Stand: Schumer Asks Fox To Put A Stop To Some Of Tucker’s Rampant Racism

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reached out to Tucker Carlson, Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch and other top Fox executives personally to ask them to stop promoting the racist bile that is the great replacement conspiracy theory.

“I write to urge you to immediately cease the reckless amplification of the so-called ‘Great Replacement’ theory on your network’s broadcasts,” he wrote in a letter obtained by the New York Times, before placing the blame for the conspiracy theory’s entrance into the mainstream squarely on Fox News’ shoulders.

“For years, these types of beliefs have existed at the fringes of American life,” Schumer wrote pointing to the dangerous extremist ideology. “However, this pernicious theory, which has no basis in fact, has been injected into the mainstream thanks in large part to a dangerous level of amplification by your network and its anchors.”

It’s a rare move for a senator or lawmaker to publicly reach out in this fashion, and in some ways speaks to the gravity of the problem at Fox News, but also how close to home the issue is for Schumer. While politically it makes sense — it was his constituents who were killed by the white gunman in Buffalo over the weekend — the letter also revealed a rare moment of tender emotion for Schumer, the majority leader known for his angry and fiery speeches from the Senate floor.

“The devastation and despair that families and communities feel in the wake of these incidents cannot be overstated. For instance, my constituents in east Buffalo who will be forced to relive this tragic event every single time they visit the supermarket for a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk,” he wrote.

Schumer also cited recent polling that revealed one in three Americans believe in the great replacement theory — that there is a cabal of elites in society who want “to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains,” as the poll states. Schumer also pointed out that Fox News viewers are three times more likely to believe in the conspiracy theory than those who watch other networks for their news.

It’s no surprise. Tucker Carlson loves to yell about the great replacement on his show. He can’t stop fearmongering about the racist conspiracy theory. As Schumer also noted, Carlson has “amplified this dangerous and unfounded theory in more than 400 episodes of his show” in recent years.

It was a smart move to send the letter publicly but it may just give Carlson more fodder for owning the libs. Schumer tweeted that Carlson reached out to invite him to come on his show tonight to talk about the letter. Schumer declined.

I can see Tucker’s disingenuous scowl from here.

The Best Of TPM Today

Here’s what you should read this evening:

New from Kate Riga: Court Temporarily Blocks Michigan’s 1931 Abortion Ban

In TPM Cafe: FEC v. Ted Cruz For Senate Is Just The Latest In A Wretched Line Of Cases

Wisconsin Dem Electors Sue Fake Trump Electors

This is what it’s come to: Fox Guest Claims Biracial Son Got Critical Race Theory’d Into Not Doing His Chores

State Behind Roe’s Likely Demise Also Does The Least For New Parents

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Proponents Of Racist ‘Replacement’ Theory That Motivated Mass Shooter Double Down — Matt Shuham

What We Are Reading

Gawker Review of Architecture: Supreme Court Edition — Tarpley Hitt

The Government Gave Out Bad Loans. Students Deserve a Bailout. — Charlie Eaton, Amber Villalobos and Frederick Wherry

New Florida law bans protests outside private homes — Sam Sachs

NASA, Boeing ready for long-delayed, high-stakes Starliner test flight

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft was hoisted on top of ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket May 4 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Credit: United Launch Alliance

Running years late, Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule program is poised for a crucial unpiloted test flight to the International Space Station set for launch Thursday, a do-over of an abbreviated 2019 demo mission that has cost the aerospace contractor nearly $600 million.

The Starliner crew capsule is scheduled for liftoff on the Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2 mission, from Cape Canaveral at 6:54 p.m. EDT (2254 GMT) Thursday on top of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

ULA, Boeing, and NASA, which oversees the Starliner commercial crew contract, gave a green light Tuesday to proceed with final launch preparations. Managers convened for a launch readiness review and gave a “go” to press on with the mission.

The review “went really well,” said Steve Stich, NASA’s commercial crew program manager. “It was short. It was very clean. There are really no issues that ULA, Boeing, or NASA are working for the launch coming up.”

The test flight is intended to gather data and prove the readiness of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the space station. It’s a redo of the OFT-1 mission in December 2019, which was cut short by software woes that caused the Starliner capsule to burn through propellant shortly after launch.

Developed in a public-private partnership, the Starliner spacecraft will give NASA a second human-rated capsule capable of ferrying astronauts to and from the space station, alongside SpaceX’s Dragon spaceship, which launched with a crew for the first time in May 2020.

The problems on the 2019 flight prevented the Starliner spacecraft from reaching the space station, and Boeing commanded the capsule to re-enter the atmosphere and land in New Mexico two days later.

After rewriting parts of the Starliner software code and running it through more extensive testing, Boeing and NASA moved forward with preparations for the OFT-2 mission — a test flight added to the Starliner schedule at Boeing’s expense.

The spacecraft was rolled to the launch pad last August at Cape Canaveral atop its Atlas 5 rocket. But on the morning of the scheduled launch, tests revealed 13 stuck isolation valves in the Starliner propulsion system.

Boeing and NASA agreed to remove the Starliner from the Atlas 5 rocket and postpone the mission to investigate the valve problem. Boeing says testing showed corrosion inside the valves — caused by a chemical reaction between moisture, nitrogen tetroxide propellant, and the valves’ aluminum housing — caused the components to stick inside the plumbing on the spacecraft’s service module.

For the OFT-2 mission, engineers improved seals on the valves to prevent moisture intrusion, and added nitrogen purges to keep atmospheric humidity out of the propulsion system. Boeing also swapped the balky service module from last summer’s launch attempt with a brand new propulsion section, with a fresh set of valves and thrusters.

The company says it is considering design changes to the oxidizer isolation valves — potentially reducing the amount of aluminum in the valve housing — for future Starliner missions, but officials are “confident” in the mitigations introduced to prevent moisture intrusion before the OFT-2 launch.

Boeing took an accounting charge of $595 million to pay for the delays, rework, and the unplanned OFT-2 mission. NASA’s fixed-price contracts for the Starliner commercial crew program total about $5 billion, an arrangement where the government and contractor shared costs in developing the spacecraft.

NASA signed a similar, less expensive contract with SpaceX in 2014 for development, testing, and operations of the human-rated Dragon spacecraft. After running into its own series of shorter delays, SpaceX launched its first astronaut mission to the space station in 2020.

While Boeing has wrestled with delays on the Starliner program, SpaceX has notched seven crew missions on its fleet of reusable Dragon capsules — five for NASA and two for private customers.

Boeing’s contract with NASA covers the unpiloted OFT-1 and OFT-2 missions, and a Crew Flight Test that could blast off with a team of two or three astronauts late this year or early next year, assuming a successful outcome to the upcoming demo flight. After the test flights are accomplished, NASA has booked operational six crew rotation fights with Boeing using the Starliner spacecraft.

Mark Nappi, Boeing’s Starliner program manager, said the delays haven’t zapped the focus of the Starliner team.

“This is very difficult to build and develop and launch this type of vehicle, so they are laser focused on doing this right, and that’s really where their minds are,” Nappi said, adding that Boeing wants to make the program the “safest and best quality possible.”

“When we launch, we launch,” Nappi said.

With the launch readiness review complete, ULA’s ground team is preparing to roll the 172-foot-tall (52.4-meter) Atlas 5 rocket out of the 30-story Vertical Integration Facility at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) Wednesday. Two “trackmobile” units will carry the Atlas 5 and the Starliner spacecraft on rail tracks for the 1,800-foot (550-meter) journey from the VIF to pad 41 at Cape Canaveral.

Teams stacked the Atlas 5 rocket’s core stage, two strap-on solid rocket boosters, Centaur upper stage, and the Starliner capsule inside the VIF over last few weeks.

Once on the launch pad, the Atlas 5 and its mobile launch platform will be connected to auto couplers to load propellants into the rocket. Kerosene fuel will be pumped into the first stage Wednesday afternoon, setting up for the start of the launch countdown at 7:34 a.m. EDT (1134 GMT) Thursday.

The launch team will load cryogenic propellants into the Atlas 5 beginning early Thursday afternoon, followed by an extended hold. On future missions carrying astronauts, the crew members will board the Starliner spacecraft through the capsule’s hatch during the four-hour pause in the countdown.

The Starliner spacecraft set for launch Thursday on Boeing’s OFT-2 mission won’t have an astronaut crew on-board. An instrumented test dummy named for “Rosie the Riveter” from World War II sits in the commander’s seat on the spacecraft.

An instrumented anthropometric test device, named Rosie, inside the Starliner spacecraft. Credit: Boeing

The Starliner will also carry more than 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of food and other supplies for the seven-person crew on the space station, according to NASA. At the end of the mission, the spacecraft is slated to return to Earth with more than 600 pounds (272 kilograms) of cargo.

There’s a 70% chance of favorable weather for liftoff of the Atlas 5 rocket with the Starliner spacecraft Thursday. The primary weather concerns are associated with thunderstorms that could fire up west of Cape Canaveral. Anvil clouds at the top of the storm cells could blow back toward the launch site, creating a threat of lightning that could be triggered by the rocket as it climbs through the atmosphere.

On Friday, the backup launch opportunity, there is a 40% chance of good weather for launch, with higher chances of thunderstorms in the launch pad area.

The Starliner team will also assess wind and sea conditions along the Atlas 5’s flight corridor northeast from Cape Canaveral. The capsule could splash down in the Atlantic Ocean along the offshore flight path if an emergency triggers a launch abort, in which the Starliner’s abort engines would propel the ship away from the Atlas 5 rocket.

The capsule’s launch abort system will be active for the first time on the OFT-2 mission. It operated in a “shadow” mode on the OFT-1 launch in 2019, collecting data for analysis by engineers after the flight.

For a Starliner mission with astronauts on-board, the abort weather constraints would factor in to the decision on whether to proceed for a launch. On this unpiloted test flight, teams will monitor the conditions but would not hold the launch if they were out of limits.

If the OFT-2 mission doesn’t take off Thursday, the next opportunity to launch would be Friday at 6:31 p.m. EDT (2231 GMT). The launch times are determined by when Earth’s rotation brings the launch pad at Cape Canaveral under the space station’s flight path.

After liftoff, the Atlas 5’s two strap-on boosters and Russian-made core engine will generate 1.6 million pounds of thrust to send the Starliner spacecraft toward space. Once their roles are complete, the boosters and core stage will jettison to fall into the Atlantic, leaving two hydrogen-fueled RL10 engines on the Centaur upper stage to propel the Starliner spacecraft on an arcing trajectory just shy of the velocity required to enter a stable orbit around Earth.

The Atlas 5 is programmed to fly a flatter, less steep trajectory that it flies on typical satellite delivery missions, increasing opportunities for the Starliner crew capsule to safely escape from the rocket in the event of a failure.

Once it is flying free of the Centaur upper stage, the Starliner’s four on-board maneuvering will finish the work of placing the spacecraft into orbit with a burn about 31 minutes after liftoff. That burn is the first of multiple engine firings to guide the Starliner spacecraft toward an automated docking at the space station’s Harmony module.

The orbital linkup is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) Friday, assuming the OFT-2 mission takes off Thursday.

The astronauts on the space station will open hatches and enter the Starliner spacecraft Saturday, remove the cargo inside the pressurized crew cabin, and perform communications checkouts in the cockpit.

If all goes according to plan, and assuming good weather at the landing zone, the Starliner would undock from the space station May 25 and head for re-entry, targeting a parachute-assisted, airbag-cushioned touchdown at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

NASAWatch On Al Jazeera Arabic: Hearing On UFOs and UAPs.

Keith Cowing · NASAWatch on Al Jazeera Arabic - UFOs and UAPs

Spend the Money

Some of you likely have had similar experiences or know people who have. I continue to hear from people who got COVID, got fairly sick, then took the main antiviral, Paxlovid, and basically within a day or so went from bad flu to mild cold at worst. I just heard another story like this from a reader. To be clear, these weren’t people who were hospitalized. But the people who I’m talking about were, either because of age or health conditions, people who had heightened vulnerability to COVID. They were getting sick and then they got almost totally better very quickly. Probably most or all of them would have been fine. And in many cases they were just saved a miserable week or two. But as we know, a bad case of COVID can degenerate quickly.

I say all of this first to encourage you, if you’re vulnerable, to try to get this drug as quickly as possible if you get COVID. In some parts of the country it’s growing on trees. In other areas, it hasn’t moved through the medical bureaucracy as quickly. But try to get it. The main thing I want to emphasize is that COVID is clearly going to be with us permanently. So we should be continuing to invest in treatments and vaccines.

From what I can tell we’ve at least stood down significantly from the fire drill rapidity of a year ago. But there seem to be a lot of very powerful treatments coming online that we could be speeding to human use. These efforts cost money, yes. But the amounts are all but trivial compared to the almost unimaginable sum we spent keeping the country’s economy on life support for more than a year. Even judged by the most penny-counting terms it’s likely a good investment simply against the long term costs of health care for people with long COVID and other COVID-driven conditions.

Military experiment demonstrates intersatellite laser communications in low Earth orbit

Two small satellites launched last summer by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency successfully established an optical link during a nearly 40-minute test.

The post Military experiment demonstrates intersatellite laser communications in low Earth orbit appeared first on SpaceNews.

Operational AST SpaceMobile satellites could proceed without prototype

AST SpaceMobile will start deploying operational satellites in 2023 “even in the event of any complication” with the BlueWalker 3 prototype slated to launch this summer, an executive for the cellphone-compatible broadband constellation said.

The post Operational AST SpaceMobile satellites could proceed without prototype appeared first on SpaceNews.

Much warmer and drier second half of May, and some thoughts about summer to come

Recent conditions: mercifully cool and damp in NorCal, but severe drought is intensifying once again It has been a truly bizarre Water Year thus far in California. With all-time record wet conditions in October in Norcal, followed by very snowy conditions in the Sierra during December, then all-time record dry and warm conditions during the […]

3rd Look at Local Housing Markets; California Inventory up More Than 20% Year-over-year

Today, in the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter: 3rd Look at Local Housing Markets

A brief excerpt:
California doesn’t report monthly sales or inventory, but here is the press release from the California Association of Realtors® (C.A.R.): Rising interest rates and climbing home prices moderate California home sales in April as statewide median price sets another peak, C.A.R. reports
The number of active listings surged more than 20 percent on a year-over-year basis and recorded the highest yearly growth in properties for sale since January 2019. Active listings in April climbed to the highest level in seven months
Adding Austin, Boston, California, Colorado, Des Moines, Maryland, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sacramento, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.
...
Here is a summary of active listings for these housing markets in April. Note: Inventory usually increases seasonally in April, so some month-over-month (MoM) increase is not surprising.

Inventory was up 18.0% in April MoM from March, and down 3.2% year-over-year (YoY). Eleven of these 25 markets were up YoY.

Active inventory in these markets were down 23.5% YoY in February, and down 11.9% YoY in March, so this is a significant change from February and March. This is another step towards a more balanced market, but inventory levels are still very low.

Active InventoryNotes for all tables:

1) New additions to table in BOLD.

2) Northwest (Seattle), North Texas (Dallas) and Santa Clara (San Jose), Mid-Florida (Tampa, Orlando), Jacksonville, Source: Northeast Florida Association of REALTORS®

3) Totals do not include Denver, Atlanta on Minneapolis (included in state totals).
There is much more in the article. You can subscribe at https://calculatedrisk.substack.com/

A baby-formula shortage feeds criticism of corporate heft and price gouging

The former is a valid concern. The latter is a misleading distraction

NASA Wants Your Ideas - Or Do They?

NASA Seeks Input on Moon to Mars Objectives, Comments Due May 31, NASA

"As NASA moves forward with plans to send astronauts to the Moon under Artemis missions to prepare for human exploration of Mars, the agency is calling on U.S. industry, academia, international communities, and other stakeholders to provide input on its deep space exploration objectives. NASA released a draft set of high-level objectives Tuesday, May 17, identifying 50 points falling under four overarching categories of exploration, including transportation and habitation; Moon and Mars infrastructure; operations; and science. Comments are due to the agency by close of business on Tuesday, May 31."

Keith's note: These to-do 50 items that NASA lists are interesting questions - covering big topics which would require time and thought in terms of the input that people could provide. So what does NASA do? they drop this on the outside world with no advanced notice with only 2 weeks to respond - with a prominent national holiday on the day before comments are due. If NASA was really serious about getting quality input they'd give people more time to think, analyse, and respond.

As such, the real question is whether NASA actually needs help and will consider accepting help from outside the usual suspects within its bubble - or - if they are just going through the motions of asking for input - so as to be seen as being interested - when in fact they are probably not interested in outside input i.e. faux transparency.

Some of November Will Come Into Focus Tonight

For Democrats to survive the 2022 midterm with their majorities intact they must walk a very, very narrow tightrope. They also need a number of things that are mostly out of their control to fall into place. One of those things is the hope that you will see some replay of what happened in 2010 and 2012. The first was an extremely good year for Republicans. The second was just so-so — Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama after all. But it should have been a decent year for Senate Republicans since Democrats were defending their class of 2006, when they’d won Senate seats basically everywhere. In both years Republicans failed to win the Senate even though by rights they really should have. They just kept nominating crankish and extreme candidates in races that should have been winnable. That’s why there’s a Senator Chris Coons (“I’m not a witch”). That’s why Claire McCaskill (“Legitimate rape”) had one more term in the Senate. There are a bunch of other examples.

One takeaway people have from the Trump years is that you can’t be too extreme or too crazy. It doesn’t matter anymore. But that’s not really true. We should be less confident where the line is. But in many parts of the country full-on Big Lie/QAnon-type candidates just don’t cut it.

Yet there are a number of races where Republicans may nominate them anyway. One big test is going to come tonight in Pennsylvania. We all know that outside the two big cities at either side of the state, lots of Pennsylvania is hard to distinguish from the Upper South/Appalachian regions that are the heart of Trump country. But notwithstanding its gerrymandered seats, it’s still mostly a Democratic state. Maybe only barely. But mostly. Tonight we’re going to find out whether the state’s Republican voters are going to nominate two extremely far right candidates for Senate and Governor. To give you some of the flavor: The Trump mafia is out telling everybody that candidate Kathy Barnette is just way too mean to gays and Muslims. So that gives you a flavor of what we’re talking about. Then there’s Doug Mastriano running for governor. He’s a big time Big Lie guy who actually helped fund and organize the Jan 6th rally that turned into the insurrection.

If they win, the gamble is that 2022 is such a Republican year that a 100% Trump candidate can win statewide even in a state that mostly leans Democratic. We can’t rule it out. But I think that’s going to be a real challenge.

LA Port Traffic: Imports Steady in April

Notes: The expansion to the Panama Canal was completed in 2016 (As I noted a few years ago), and some of the traffic that used the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is probably going through the canal. This might be impacting TEUs on the West Coast.

Container traffic gives us an idea about the volume of goods being exported and imported - and usually some hints about the trade report since LA area ports handle about 40% of the nation's container port traffic.

The following graphs are for inbound and outbound traffic at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in TEUs (TEUs: 20-foot equivalent units or 20-foot-long cargo container).

To remove the strong seasonal component for inbound traffic, the first graph shows the rolling 12-month average.

LA Area Port TrafficClick on graph for larger image.

On a rolling 12-month basis, inbound traffic was unchanged in April compared to the rolling 12 months ending in March.   Outbound traffic was down 0.7% compared to the rolling 12 months ending the previous month.

The 2nd graph is the monthly data (with a strong seasonal pattern for imports).

LA Area Port TrafficUsually imports peak in the July to October period as retailers import goods for the Christmas holiday, and then decline sharply and bottom in February or March depending on the timing of the Chinese New Year.

Imports were unchanged YoY in April, and exports were down 7% YoY.

This tied last year for record inbound traffic for the month of April.   There is no impact - yet - on inbound traffic due to the shutdown in China.

Podcast with the excellent Patrick O’Shaughnessy

With Daniel Gross as well, here it is.

The post Podcast with the excellent Patrick O’Shaughnessy appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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Foust Forward | Building a space industry in Steel City

John Thornton and others want to ensure that Astrobotic isn’t the only space company in Pittsburgh or the wider region.

The post Foust Forward | Building a space industry in Steel City appeared first on SpaceNews.

NASA reveals launch dates for Artemis I through the first half of 2023

NASA's Space Launch System rocket is seen on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in April.

Enlarge / NASA's Space Launch System rocket is seen on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in April. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

NASA has published a list of potential launch dates for the Artemis I mission (see PDF), starting as early as July 26 and running through June of next year. During this time period, due to various constraints, the space agency has preliminarily identified 158 launch opportunities.

The Artemis I mission will encompass the debut launch for NASA's large Space Launch System rocket and the second orbital flight of its Orion spacecraft. Depending on when the uncrewed demonstration mission launches, it could last from 26 to 42 days as Orion flies into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.

In its news release, NASA helpfully explains the various constraints behind these dates, including orbital mechanics. For example, NASA says, "The resulting trajectory for a given day must ensure Orion is not in darkness for more than 90 minutes at a time so that the solar array wings can receive and convert sunlight to electricity and the spacecraft can maintain an optimal temperature range. Mission planners eliminate potential launch dates that would send Orion into extended eclipses during the flight."

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Guardians CF Records 10 Putouts In Eight Innings On Sunday

Cleveland Guardians centerfielder Myles Straw had 10 putouts on Sunday.

Box scores in 2022 generally do not include fielding stats, beyond mentioning who was judged to have committed errors, so an oddity like Straw's fielding chances would be easily missed. (Baseball-Reference's boxes have PO-A-E.)

Straw was in the field for only eight innings. His catches, in linescore form: 200 122 12x. There were 12 outs in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings and Straw recorded seven of them. No other Cleveland fielder had more than four putouts in the game.

The 10 putouts is not a record, but it is fairly close. The major league record for putouts by a centerfielder in a game is 12, by Lyman Bostock (Twins, May 25, 1977) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox, May 20, 2009) in the American  League and Earl Clark (Boston, May 10, 1929) in the National League. . . . There's something about flyballs in May . . .

The records for putouts by a left fielder and right fielder are both 11.

Fun Fact: On June 25, 1937, Red Sox right fielder Ben Chapman set a record for most putouts in a row  by an outfielder, with seven. Here is the St. Louis Browns' play-by-play for the last three innings:

7th Inning: BB, L8, F9, 1B, F9.
8th Inning: F9, F9, F9.
9th Inning: F9, 3B, F9*, 1B, F7.

Fund More Treatments

At some point around the new year I switched from obsessively checking my curated COVID experts Twitter list to obsessively checking my two newly curated Ukraine crisis Twitter lists (Ukraine Crisis and Ukraine military experts). Such is life.

This morning I was browsing through the COVID list and I found my way to this post by Eric Topol. Topol is a physician generalist who heads up a biomedical institute at the Scripps Research Center in California. He’s not an epidemiologist or virologist. But COVID has been his focus since the beginning of the pandemic. The post is entitled The Covid Capitulation. And it is part of that genre of COVID writing in which a COVID expert bemoans the fact that the whole country has decided the epidemic is over when in fact it’s clearly not.

I have an ambivalent response to these pieces. On the one hand I agree to a significant extent. (I’m that guy who is still wearing a medical grade mask in indoor public spaces. I don’t mind it and I’d prefer not to get COVID.) And yet, it’s all so much water under the bridge. Spitting into the wind. You might as well be holding out for a Beatles reunion. The particular issue Topol focuses on is the continuing evolution of Omicron. For a while we were in a cycle of novel variants and surges. But Omicron is different. It has kept evolving on its own trajectory, at a faster rate and its new subvariants seem to have much less immune crossover.

When I say that Omicron keeps evolving, some of that is just naming conventions. The WHO could have given the current subvariant BA.2.12.1 a new Greek letter. But it’s not just that. There does seem to be a consistent evolutionary path as opposed to seeing new evolutionary branches suddenly popping up out of the blue, as was the case with most of the earlier variants. But the key is that it’s evolving quickly and each new version seems to hold a good chance of reinfecting you.

We’ve known reinfection was possible since early in the pandemic. But it wasn’t common. The new trajectory of Omicron seems to be one in which it will be quite possible to get COVID 2 or 3 times in a single year.

Bummer.

In any case, none of this is what made me want to share the post with you. As I said, I read these things and think “yep, good point but it doesn’t matter.” But there is a point that Topol focuses on which I think does matter and which I think there’s at least a good shot at there being political will to act on.

There’s zero public appetite for masks or really any restrictions on public life. But I think there still can be a lot of public support for medicines. Antibodies treatments don’t work as well with Omicron. There are now issues of COVID rebounding with the main antiviral treatment. The course of taking it might need to be longer, at least for some people. But there are a lot of other treatments in the pipeline and they would benefit a lot from government support. We can get them to market quicker.

This seems like a no-brainer. Two years is enough for just about everyone having restrictions on their lives. But I think most normal people are pretty cool with having treatments available if they get sick.

Here’s one paragraph …

We’re not just looking at running out of vaccines and antiviral medications. Congress should immediately allocate for an Operation Warp Speed (OWS)-like initiative to bring nasal vaccines over the goal line. Three of these are in late stage clinical trials and success of any would markedly ameliorate our problems of transmission, no less the alluring aspect of achieving mucosal immunity and being variant-proof. That brings us to catalyzing the efforts for a pan-β-coronavirus vaccine, previously reviewed, now that we have discovered tens of broad neutralizing antibodies but have limited traction of these in the form of advanced clinical trials. Our backstop to infections in people at increased risk has turned to Paxlovid, which is increasingly being recognized to have a liability of rebound with infectiousness in many people after the 5-day blister pill pack. Not only does this unanticipated problem urgently need to be sorted out, but we may confront mounting resistance to Paxlovid in the months ahead as its continues to gain wide scale use, and that phenomena that has already been recognized in selected cases after remdesivir treatment. Look at how the evolution of the virus has blown through most of the monoclonal antibodies that were previously highly effective. We urgently need more safe and effective medications, preferably pills, easily administered shots (subcutaneously, not intravenous or intramuscular), or inhalation treatments. There are so many promising ones in the pipeline, yet little to no support to accelerate their progress. Ignoring all these vital needs surely represents Covid capitulation.

The nasal vaccines are a potentially a very big deal because that puts the immunity directly at the primary point of entry into the body. To a significant degree the current vaccines really go to work after the COVID has gotten a foothold in your nasal passages and is trying to move into the rest of your body, especially your lungs. That’s the basis of a lot of comparatively mild breakthrough infections. These nasal vaccines can potentially block COVID at the doorstep of the body. This isn’t just another vaccine that’s a bit easier to administer. They likely offer a different level or kind of immunity.

The point is simple. People are done with COVID. There’s high resistance to even minimal impacts on people’s daily activities. But outside of a core of delusional anti-vax types and ivermectin freaks, there’s no similar resistance to investing in treatments. We should get on this. Comparative small investments of public money could have a big impact.

Tuesday assorted links

1. How long-term space missions change the brain.

2. Innovation in NYC subway crimes (New Yorker).

3. “Right to repair” doesn’t have to work out well.

4. “I find that 501(c)(4)s do not have significant effects on [Congressional] candidate vote share when accounting for the spending of candidates, parties, PACs, and Super PACs.

5. The UFO hearings are on, and “For the majority of the incidents we had in last years report, the majority had multi-sensor data…”

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For Alexander Toradze

Alexander Toradze, one of the most formidable and passionate exponents of the music of Sergei Prokofiev, died on May 11 at the age of sixty-nine. I knew Lexo from several interviews over the years, and was charmed, as so many others were, by his amiable, boisterous personality. I last saw him in 2014, when he played Prokofiev's Third Concerto at one of Iván Fischer's midnight concerts with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. His recording of the Prokofiev cycle, with Gergiev conducting, is the one to which I usually turn.

More: A lovely remembrance by Joe Horowitz.

NAHB: Builder Confidence Decreased to 69 in May, "Housing market is now slowing"

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 69, down from 77 in April. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

From the NAHB: Builder Confidence Plunges on Rising Interest Rates, Growing Affordability Woes
In a sign that the housing market is now slowing, builder confidence took a steep drop in May as growing affordability challenges in the form of rapidly rising interest rates, double-digit price increases for material costs and ongoing home price appreciation are taking a toll on buyer demand.

Builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes fell eight points to 69 in May, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This is the fifth straight month that builder sentiment has declined and the lowest reading since June 2020.

Housing is the business cycle, and the sector is particularly sensitive to changes for interest rates. And the housing market is facing growing challenges. Building material costs are up 19% from a year ago, in less than three months mortgage rates have surged to a 12-year high and based on current affordability conditions, less than 50% of new and existing home sales are affordable for a typical family. Entry-level and first-time home buyers are especially bearing the brunt of this rapid rise in mortgage rates.
...
All three HMI indices posted major losses in May. The HMI index gauging current sales conditions fell eight points to 78, the gauge measuring sales expectations in the next six months dropped 10 points to 63 and the component charting traffic of prospective buyers posted a nine-point decline to 52.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast held steady at 72 while the Midwest dropped seven points to 62, the South fell two points to 80 and the West posted a six-point decline to 83.
emphasis added
NAHB HMI Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the NAHB index since Jan 1985.

This was well below the consensus forecast, but still historically a decent reading.

DIU selects nuclear-powered spacecraft designs for 2027 demonstrations

The Defense Innovation Unit announced May 17 it selected Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp. and Avalanche to develop small nuclear-powered spacecraft for in-space demonstrations planned for 2027.

The post DIU selects nuclear-powered spacecraft designs for 2027 demonstrations appeared first on SpaceNews.

Satellites key to Canada’s Arctic surveillance strategy

Citing a changing security climate, Canada is bolstering its defense and surveillance capabilities in the Arctic with a focus on using space assets and new technology.

The post Satellites key to Canada’s Arctic surveillance strategy appeared first on SpaceNews.

Uzbekistan woos Starlink, OneWeb to bring satellite broadband

The overtures to Starlink and OneWeb are part of the Uzbek government’s efforts to strengthen the Central Asian nation’s information technology competitiveness and provide better communications services to underserved remote areas.

The post Uzbekistan woos Starlink, OneWeb to bring satellite broadband appeared first on SpaceNews.

Industrial Production Increased 1.1 Percent in April

From the Fed: Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization
In April, total industrial production increased 1.1 percent—the fourth consecutive month of gains of 0.8 percent or greater—and manufacturing output rose 0.8 percent. The index for utilities moved up 2.4 percent, and the index for mining advanced 1.6 percent. At 105.6 percent of its 2017 average, total industrial production in April was 6.4 percent above its year-earlier level. Capacity utilization climbed to 79.0 percent, a rate that is 0.5 percentage point below its long-run (1972–2021) average.
emphasis added
Capacity Utilization Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows Capacity Utilization. This series is up from the record low set in April 2020, and above the level in February 2020 (pre-pandemic).

Capacity utilization at 79.0% is 0.5% below the average from 1972 to 2020.  This was well above consensus expectations.

Note: y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the change.


Industrial ProductionThe second graph shows industrial production since 1967.

Industrial production increased in April to 105.6. This is above the February 2020 level.

The change in industrial production was well above consensus expectations.

Retail Sales Increased 0.9% in April

On a monthly basis, retail sales were increased 0.9% from March to April (seasonally adjusted), and sales were up 8.2 percent from April 2021.

From the Census Bureau report:
Advance estimates of U.S. retail and food services sales for April 2022, adjusted for seasonal variation and holiday and trading-day differences, but not for price changes, were $677.7 billion, an increase of 0.9 percent from the previous month, and 8.2 percent above April 2021. ...The February 2022 to March 2022 percent change was revised from up 0.7 percent to up 1.4 percent.
emphasis added
Retail Sales Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows retail sales since 1992. This is monthly retail sales and food service, seasonally adjusted (total and ex-gasoline).

Retail sales ex-gasoline were up 1.3% in April.

The second graph shows the year-over-year change in retail sales and food service (ex-gasoline) since 1993.

Retail and Food service sales, ex-gasoline, increased by 5.9% on a YoY basis.

Year-over-year change in Retail Sales Sales growth in April were above expectations, and sales in February and March were revised up, combined.

Fentanyl test strips save lives. Why do Kansas and Missouri ban them?

 You can imagine a world, with virtually no drug abuse, in which we would want to inhibit the recreational use of fentanyl and so might outlaw tools that might promote it.  But that isn't the world we live in, and instead simple tests for the presence of fentanyl can save lives by preventing fatal accidental overdoses.

Here's an editorial bemoaning the fact that these tests are sometimes banned.

Simple, cheap fentanyl test strips save lives. Why do Kansas and Missouri ban them? BY THE KANSAS CITY STAR EDITORIAL BOARD

 "As the Kansas and Missouri legislative sessions come to a close, there’s at least one more matter lawmakers in both states should attend to. They could save lives with tiny strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in recreational drugs. 

"Fentanyl test strips are designed to prevent people from overdosing on illegal recreational drugs that have been spiked with potentially fatal amounts of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. 

"Overdose deaths have risen to well over 100,000 a year in the United States. Synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl — are the primary reason for the overall increase in total drug overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 

...

"But in some states, including Kansas and Missouri, the strips are considered drug paraphernalia and are not legal. Now there are proposals before both state legislatures to decriminalize them. This is not a partisan issue, and no one should oppose this move."

The State of Public Transit in the Nation’s Capital

The mismanagement of the metro system in the nation’s capitol is astounding.

WashPost: Metro’s train delays are projected to worsen as the agency abruptly yanks from service more than 70 operators who have been working without undergoing a mandatory retraining process for at least a year, officials announced Sunday.

The agency pledged corrective action in a release acknowledging that nearly half of the agency’s 500 train operators lack required recertification testing and training, while warning that staffing issues would lengthen wait times on the Green and Yellow lines from 15 to 20 minutes until the end of the month.

…Metro’s latest predicament coincides with a train shortage that has forced the agency to operate at reduced service with longer-than-normal wait times since mid-October. The safety commission ordered about 60 percent of its fleet out of service after a federal investigation into a Blue Line derailment found a defect affecting the wheels of the 7000 series, Metro’s latest and most advanced model of trains and rail cars.

Without the series’ 748 cars, Metro has been forced to rely on older models, some 40 years old and nearing retirement. The smaller, older cars, coupled with lower frequencies, have driven many passengers away because of crowding and social distancing concerns as coronavirus case numbers continue to fluctuate. Those concerns will only grow with longer wait times and fewer trains in service.

You may recall that in 2015 there was a deadly fire on the Metro which I wrote about in 2016.  (post repeated below).

WTOP: A Metro worker blamed for falsifying records about the tunnel fans that failed during last year’s deadly smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza has been granted his job back by an arbitration panel — and Metro’s largest union has just filed a lawsuit against Metro because the worker hasn’t been reinstated yet.

The union’s defense is that everyone was doing it so no one is to blame. The Union is probably right that the WMTA suffers from a culture of poor safety and responsibility but you can’t fix that culture without clear signals that the incentives have changed.

I had to take the Metro to DC earlier this week and due to track closings for safety improvements it was miserable, at least 45 minutes of delays for the roundtrip. Some 700,000 people ride the metro every day and if each is delayed by just 15 minutes total (7.5 minutes each way) then at $15 an hour that’s 2.6 million dollars worth of delay every day.

Before traveling on the DC Metro I recommend checking the twitter account @IsMetroOnFire.

Addendum: At least this time heads are rolling.

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Attacks on Managed Service Providers Expected to Increase

CISA, NSA, FBI, and similar organizations in the other Five Eyes countries are warning that attacks on MSPs — as a vector to their customers — are likely to increase. No details about what this prediction is based on. Makes sense, though. The SolarWinds attack was incredibly successful for the Russian SVR, and a blueprint for future attacks.

News articles.

Building a Better Middleman

In the previous article, I explored the role of the middleman in a two-sided marketplace.  The term “middleman” has a stigma to it. Mostly because, when you sit between two parties that want to interact, it’s easy to get greedy.

Greed will bring you profits in the short term. Probably in the long term, as well.  As a middleman, though, your greed is an existential threat.  When you abuse your position and mistreat the parties you connect–when your cost outweighs your value–they’ll find a way to replace you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will happen.

Luckily, you can make money as a middleman and still keep everyone happy.  Here’s how to create that win-win-win triangle:

Keep refining your platform

Running a marketplace is a game of continuous improvement. You need to keep asking yourself: how can I make this better for the people who interact through the marketplace?

To start, you can look for ways to make your platform more attractive to existing customers. I emphasize both customers, not just one side of the marketplace. Mistreating one side to favor the other may work for a time, but it will eventually fall through. Frustration has a way of helping people overcome switching costs.

Some stock exchanges designate market makers (“specialists,” if you’re old-school), firms that are always ready to both buy and sell shares of a given stock. If I want to offload a thousand shares and there’s no one who wants to buy them from me, the market maker steps in to play the role of the buyer. By guaranteeing that there will always be someone on the other side of the bid or ask, exchanges keep everyone happy.

If you constantly review how the two parties interact, you can look for opportunities to mitigate their risk, create new services, or otherwise reduce friction. Most platforms connect strangers, right?  So if you look at your business through the lens of safety, you’ll find a lot of work to do. Note how eBay’s review system provides extra assurance for buyers and sellers to trade with people they’ve never met.  Similarly, in the early days of online commerce, credit card issuers limited shoppers’ fraud risk to just $50 per purchase.  This improved consumers’ trust in online shopping, which helped make e-commerce the everyday norm that it is today.

Safety improvements also extend to communications. Do the parties really need to swap e-mail addresses or phone numbers?  If they’re just confirming a rideshare pickup or flirting through a dating app, probably not.  As a middleman, you are perfectly positioned to serve as the conduit;  one that provides an appropriate level of masking or pseudonymity.  And the money you invest in deploying a custom messaging system or temporary phone numbers (Twilio, anyone?) will pay off in terms of improved adoption and retention.

Design new products and services

If you understand how your parties interact and what they want to achieve, you’re in a position to spot new product opportunities that will make your customers happy.

From a conversation with Cyril Nigg, Director of Analytics at Reverb, the music-gear marketplace was “founded by music makers, for music makers.”  Musicians like to try new gear, but they want to offload it if it doesn’t pan out. Reverb has therefore built tools around pricing assistance to help musicians with their product listings: You want to sell this distortion pedal within 7 days? List it as $X. This extra assurance that they’ll be able to resell a piece of equipment, in short order, reduces apprehensions about buying. (Going back to the point about keeping both sides of the marketplace happy: Cyril also pointed out that a Reverb customer may act as both buyer and seller across different transactions.  That means the company can’t skimp on one side of the experience.)

People on a dating site want to communicate, so an easy win there is to keep an eye on new communications tools. Maybe your platform started out with an asynchronous, text-based tool that resembled e-mail.  Can you add an option for real-time chat?  What would it take to move up to voice? And ultimately, video? Each step in the progression requires advances in technology, so you may have to wait before you can actually deploy something. But if you can envision the system you want, you can keep an eye on the tech and be poised to pounce when it is generally available.

Unlike dating sites, financial exchanges are marketplaces for opposing views. One person thinks that some event will happen, they seek a counterpart who thinks that it will not, and fate determines the winner.  This can be as vanilla as people buying or selling shares of stock, where the counterparties believe the share price will rise or fall, respectively.  You also see situations that call for more exotic tools.  In the lead-up to what would become the 2008 financial crisis, investors wanted to stake claims around mortgage-backed securities but there wasn’t a way to express the belief that those prices would fall. In response to this desire, a group of banks dusted off the credit default swap (CDS) concept and devised a standard, easily-tradable contract.  Now there was a way for people to take either side of the trade, and for the banks to collect fees in the middle.  A win-win-win situation.

(Well, the actual trade was a win-win-win. The long-term outcome was more of a lose-lose-win. Mortgage defaults rose, sending prices for the associated mortgage-backed securities into decline, leading to big payouts for the “I told you this was going to happen” side of each CDS contract. The banks that served double-duty as both market participant and middleman took on sizable losses as a result. Let this be a lesson to you: part of why a middleman makes money is precisely because they have no stake in the long-term outcome of putting the parties together. Stay in the middle if you want to play it safe.)

Granted, you don’t have to roll out every possible product or feature on your first day. You have to let the marketplace grow and mature somewhat, to see what will actually be useful. Still, you want to plan ahead. As you watch the marketplace, you will spot opportunities well in advance, so you can position yourself to implement them before the need is urgent.

Focus on your business

Besides making things easier for customers, being a better middleman means improving how your business runs.

To start, identify and eliminate inefficiencies in your operations. I don’t mean that you should cut corners, as that will come back to bite you later.  I mean that you can check for genuine money leaks. The easy candidates will be right there on your balance sheet: have you actually used Service ABC in the last year?  If not, maybe it’s time to cut it. Is there an equivalent to Service XYZ at a lower price? Once you’ve confirmed that the cheaper service is indeed a suitable replacement, it’s time to make the switch.

A more subtle candidate is your codebase. Custom code is a weird form of debt. It requires steady, ongoing maintenance just like payments in a loan. It may also require disruptive changes if you encounter a bug. (Imagine that your mortgage lender occasionally demanded a surprise lump sum in mid-month.) Can you replace that home-grown system with an off-the-shelf tool or a third-party service, for a cheaper and more predictable payment schedule?

You also want to check on the size of your total addressable market (TAM).  What happens when you’ve reached everyone who will ever join? It’s emotionally reassuring to tell yourself that the entire planet will use your service, sure. But do you really want to base revenue projections on customers you can’t realistically acquire or retain? At some point, your customer numbers will plateau (and, after that, sink). You need to have a difficult conversation with yourself, your leadership team, and your investors around how you’ll handle that. And you need to have that conversation well in advance. Once you hit that limit on your TAM, you’ll need to be ready to deliver improvements that reduce churn. Perhaps you can offer new services, which may extend your addressable market into new territory, but even that has its limits.

What are you doing for risk management? A risk represents a possible future entry on your balance sheet, one of indeterminate size. Maybe it’s a code bug that spirals out of control under an edge case. Or a lingering complaint that blossoms into a full-scale PR issue. To be blunt: good risk management will save you money. Possibly lots of money. While it’s tempting to let some potential problems linger, understand that it’s easier and cheaper to address them early and on your own schedule. That’s much nicer than being under pressure to fix a surprise in real-time.

Sharp-eyed readers will catch that subtle tradeoff between “addressing inefficiencies” and “proactively mitigating risks.” Risk management often requires that you leave extra slack in the system, such as higher staff headcount, or extra machines that mostly sit idle. This slack serves as a cushion in the event of a surge in customer activity but it also costs money.  There’s no easy answer here. It’s a blend of art and science to spot the difference between slack and waste.

Most of all, as a marketplace, you want to mature with your customers and the field overall. The term “innovate” gets some much-deserved flack, but it’s not complete hogwash. Be prepared to invest in research so you can see what changes are on the horizon, and then adapt accordingly. Also, keep an eye on the new features your customers are asking for, or the complaints they raise about your service. You’ll  otherwise fall into the very trap described in The Innovator’s Dilemma. Don’t become the slow-moving, inattentive behemoth that some nimble upstart will work to unseat.

Use technology as a force multiplier

Bad middlemen squeeze the parties they connect; good middlemen squeeze technology.

Done well, technology is a source of asymmetric advantage. Putting code in the right places allows you to accomplish more work, more consistently, with fewer people, and in less time. All of the efficiencies you get through code will leave more money to split between yourself and your customers.  That is a solid retention strategy.

To start, you can apply software to real and artificial scarcity that exists in other middlemen. A greenfield operation can start with lower headcount, less (or zero!) office space, and so on.

Tech staffing, for example, is a matching problem at its core. A smart staffing firm would start with self-service search tools so a company could easily find people to match their open roles. No need to interact with a human recruiter. It could also standardize contract language to reduce legal overhead (no one wants a thousand slightly-different contracts laying around, anyway) and use electronic signatures to make it easier to store paperwork for future reference.

You don’t even have to do anything fancy. Sometimes, the very act of putting something online is a huge step up from the incumbent solution. Craigslist, simply by running classified ads on a website, gave people a much-improved experience over the print-newspaper version. People had more space to write (goodbye, obscure acronyms), had search functionality (why skim all the listings to find what you’re after?), and could pull their ad when it had been resolved (no more getting phone calls for an extra week just because the print ad is still visible).

Technology also makes it easier to manage resources. Love or loathe them, rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber can scale to a greater number of drivers and riders than the old-school taxi companies that rely on radio dispatch and flag-pulls. And they can do it with less friction. Why call a company and tell them your pickup location, when an app can use your phone’s GPS? And why should that dispatcher have to radio around in search of a driver? To arrange a ride, you need to match three elements–pickup location, dropoff location, and number of passengers–to an available driver. This is a trivial effort for a computer. Throw in mobile apps for drivers and passengers, and you have a system that can scale very well.

(Some may argue that the rideshare companies get extra scale because their drivers are classified as independent contractors, and because they don’t require expensive taxi medallions. I don’t disagree. I just want to point out that the companies’ technology is also a strong enabler.)

Being at the center of the marketplace means you get to see the entire system at once. You can analyze the data around customer activity, and pass on insights to market participants to make their lives easier. Airbnb, for example, has deep insight into how different properties perform. Their research team determined that listings with high-quality photos tend to earn more revenue. They publicized this information to help hosts and, to sweeten the deal, the company then built a service to connect hosts with professional photographers.

What about ML/AI? While I hardly believe that it’s ready to eat every job, I do see opportunities for AI to make a smaller team of people more effective. ML models are well-suited for decisions that are too fuzzy or cumbersome to be expressed as hard rules in software, but not so nuanced that they require human judgment. Putting AI in the seat for those decisions frees up your team for things that genuinely merit a human’s eyes and expertise.

I’ve argued before that a lot of machine learning is high-powered matching. What is “classification,” if not rating one item’s similarity to an archetype?  A marketplace that deals in the long tail of goods can use ML to help with that matching.

Take Reverb, where most pieces of gear are unique but still similar to other items. They’re neither completely fungible, nor completely non-fungible.  They’re sort of semi-fungible. To simplify search, then, Director of Analytics Cyril Nigg says that the company groups related items into ML-based canonical products (where some specific Product X is really part of a wider Canonical Product Y). “[We use] ML to match listings to a product–say, matching on title, price point, or some other attribute. This tells us, with a high degree of confidence, that a seller’s used Fender guitar is actually an American Standard Stratocaster. Now that we know the make and model, a buyer can easily compare all the different listings within that product to help them find the best option. This ML system learns over time, so that a seller can upload a listing and the system can file it under the proper canonical product.”

Machine-based matching works for food as well as guitars. Resham Sarkar heads up data science at Slice, which gives local pizzerias the tools, technology and guidance they need to thrive. In a 2021 interview, she told me how her team applies ML to answer the age-old question: will Person X enjoy Pizza Y at Restaurant Z? Slice’s recommendations give eaters the confidence to try a new flavor in a new location, which helps them (maybe they’ll develop a new favorite) and also helps pizzerias (they get new customers). This is especially useful when a pizza lover lands in a new city and doesn’t know where to get their fix.

Any discussion of technology wouldn’t be complete without a nod to emerging tech. Yes, keeping up with the Shiny New Thing of the Moment means having to wade through plenty of hype. But if you look closely, you may also find some real game-changers for your business. This was certainly true of the 1990s internet boom. We’ve seen it in the past decade of what we now call AI, across all of its rebrandings. And yes, I expect that blockchain technologies will prove more useful than the curmudgeons want to let on.  (Even NFTs. Or, especially NFTs.)

Skip past the success stories and vendor pitches, though. Do your own homework on what the new technology really is and what it can do. Then, engage an expert to help you fill in the gaps and sort out what is possible with your business. The way a new technology addresses your challenges may not align with whatever is being hyped in the news, but who cares? All that matters is that it drives improvements for your use cases.

Watch your tech

Technology is a double-edged sword. It’s like using leverage in the stock market: employing software or AI exposes you to higher highs when things go right, but also lower lows when things unravel.

One benefit to employing people to perform a task is that they can notice when something is wrong and then stop working. A piece of code, by comparison, has no idea that it is operating out of its depth. The same tools that let you do so much more, with far fewer people, also expose you to a sizable risk: one bug or environmental disconnect can trigger a series of errors, at machine speeds, cascading into a massive failure.

All it takes is for a few smaller problems to collide. Consider the case of Knight Capital. This experienced, heavyweight market-maker once managed $21BN in daily transaction volume on the NYSE. One day in 2012, an inconsistent software deployment met a branch of old code, which in turn collided with a new order type on the exchange. This led to a meltdown in which Knight Capital lost $440M in under an hour.

The lesson here is that some of the money you save from reduced headcount should be reinvested in the company in the form of people and tools to keep an eye on the larger system. You’ll want to separate responsibilities in order to provide checks and balances, such as assigning someone who is not a developer to manage and review code deployments. Install monitors that provide fine-grained information about the state of your systems. Borrowing a line from a colleague: you can almost never have too many dimensions of data when troubleshooting.

You’ll also need people to step in when someone gets caught in your web of automation. Have you ever called a company’s customer service line, only to wind up in a phone-tree dead-end? That can be very frustrating. You don’t want that for your customers, so you need to build escape hatches that route them to a person. That holds for your AI-driven chatbot as much as your self-help customer service workflows. And especially for any place where people can report a bug or an emergency situation.

Most of all, this level of automation requires a high-caliber team. Don’t skimp on hiring. Pay a premium for very experienced people to build and manage your technology. If you can, hire someone who has built trading systems on Wall St. That culture is wired to identify and handle risk in complex, automated systems where there is a lot of real money at stake.  And they have seen technology fail in ways that you cannot imagine.

Markets, everywhere

I’ve often said that problems in technology are rarely tech-related; they’re people-related. The same holds for building a marketplace, where the big problem is really human greed.

Don’t fall for the greed trap. You can certainly run the business in a way that brings you revenue, keeps customers happy, and attracts new prospects. Identify inefficiencies in your business operations, and keep thinking of ways to make the platform better for your customers. That’s it.  A proper application of software and AI, risk management, and research into emerging technologies should help you with both. And the money you save, you can split with your user base.

If you’re willing to blur the lines a little, you will probably find markets in not-so-obvious places. An airline sits between passengers and destinations. Grocery stores sit between shoppers and suppliers. Employers sit between employees and clients. And so on. Once you find the right angle, you can borrow ideas from the established, well-run middlemen to improve your business.

(Many thanks to Chris Butler for his thoughtful and insightful feedback on early drafts of this article.)

The AI and the Tree

Here’s something that popped into my head recently, and seems worthy of a blog post, to see what comes back…

We’re using machine learning for all the wrong things, as I write about extensively in Ways of Being: to make things that beat us at games, deplete the planets resources more efficiently, confuse images and art, and so on and on. What we need are intelligences that help us do useful things in new and better ways, ways which we could not have imagined alone. AIs which are colleagues and collaborators, rather than slaves and masters.

Here’s one idea: an optimisation engine for woodworking: an AI Carpenter – except that the human is the carpenter, AI is the planner / assistant. (Gepetto? Jiminy Crickett? Kricket, like in Douglas Adams. They could have carved a Wicket and Bails.)

Given the dimensions of some wood – or even of a tree – but preferably a bunch of surplus or recycled wood, whatever materials and shapes and planes you have lying around, and a sketch of the desired structure, the machine outputs a complete guide/spec for building.

Where it gets interesting is when you see it doing some of the deeply weird stuff AI is really good at, optimising for strength and structure no human would conceive of, like (via):

A non-human understanding of grain, lignin, knots, and bark, of joints, pressure, loads. Structural properties in new configurations

It could get into wooden pegs and joints, no nails, like Japanese carpentry – if Japanese carpentry were performed a thousand years from now, on Mars.

What are the steps? (Not necessarily in this order)

– Understanding the sketch/needs

– Evolving and optimising a design

– Matching with available materials

Is this being done with anything? Feels very Walkaway. Not a Universal fabber, but a scarcity one. All the machine 3d printing fabrication stuff seems to be focussed on things that humans are already good at – or can learn – and on weird, expensive, complex materials which are hard to obtain and work with.

What we need from machines is things we’re not very good at. Planning, optimisation, novel strategy. New ways of thinking about problems. Pushing the problem space in strange, novel directions, but making solutions which are affordable, sustainable, educative and generative.

Also: machine learning at the grain of human craft. An AI optimised not for precision, but for hand-tooling. Not for CNC-levels of fit, but for Segal affordances and tolerances. A tolerant AI. A colleague in the wood shop. Hammer time.

Phenomena: electricity

Phenomena: electricity | Aeon Videos

An electric circuit, a salt solution and a wooden board demonstrate how electricity ignites, in this mini fireworks show

- by Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Philosopher of the apocalypse

Philosopher of the apocalypse | Aeon Essays

From the ashes of the Second World War, Günther Anders forecast a new catastrophe: technology would overwhelm its creators

- by Audrey Borowski

Read at Aeon

Space systems dominate Rocket Lab revenue

Electron launch

Rocket Lab, the company best known for its Electron small launch vehicle, generated most of its first quarter revenue from other space systems and not launch itself.

The post Space systems dominate Rocket Lab revenue appeared first on SpaceNews.

ABL Space Systems completes acceptance testing of RS1 upper stage

RS1 stage 2 tests

ABL Space Systems has completed testing of the second stage of its small launch vehicle, four months after a previous version of the stage was destroyed in a test accident.

The post ABL Space Systems completes acceptance testing of RS1 upper stage appeared first on SpaceNews.

My *Talent* podcast with the excellent David Wright

Here is the episode page (includes transcript): https://www.buzzsprout.com/126848/10628363-tyler-cowen-on-talent

Here is the Youtube link.

The post My *Talent* podcast with the excellent David Wright appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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Why I love the new labor movement

"Crowds fill the street during the New York Dressmakers Strike of 1933." by Kheel Center, Cornell University Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A lot of Americans are focused on disasters and threats these days — terror attacks, Supreme Court decisions, war, or the threat of disputed elections. Sometimes the parade of dire news can make it seem like everything is going wrong in the country. But there are some bright spots if you look for them. One of these is the new labor movement.

Starbucks is leading the charge. Unionization at the iconic coffee chain started with a store in Buffalo and is quickly spreading nationwide. About 70 stores are now unionized.

Here’s a good story about how they did it. Now the Starbucks workers are inspiring workers at other retail outlets to unionize as well — most prominently, workers at Amazon warehouses. Significantly, the movement seems to have captured the imaginations of young workers. It’s even spawning fashion trends:

It’s going to be a long while before this budding movement moves the needle on unionization rates in the American workforce as a whole. Those rates have been falling for decades.

But the new movement is significant, because it focuses on a sector that isn’t very unionized — retail. As I’ll explain in a later section, local services like retail have long been the industries most in need of unions.

Before I explain why that is, however, I want to address some of the doubts that many of my readers are likely to have about unions. I’m not dogmatically pro-union, and I think there are many cases in which organized labor has been counterproductive. But it’s important to understand why those problems occurred, so that we can know when unions are and aren’t a good idea.

The two failure modes of unions — and why neither applies here

As I see it, there are two basic ways that unions can be counterproductive:

  1. When there are few or no real checks on union power

  2. When unions face foreign competition that can’t be unionized

The first failure mode is the well-known public sector union problem. De-unionization of the U.S. private sector means that government unions now largely dominate organized labor. But this is not a good thing.

When a private-sector union forces its employer to make a bad business decision, the company is naturally punished by the market. This tends to align the interests of labor and management in the private sector to some degree — nobody wants to see the company go down.

But when a government union screws up and makes public services worse, there’s no competition to keep them honest. Because there’s only one government, the union can simply threaten to stop providing needed public services, like education or policing. That forces a horrible choice on elected leaders and their voters — either fire the unionized workers wholesale and suffer a long period of crappy public services while they rebuild, or knuckle under to the union’s unreasonable demands. This can be seen most vividly in the resistance of police unions to reform efforts and efforts to prosecute bad cops, and also in teachers’ unions resistance to best practices in the educational space. This is one why many progressives, including FDR, have been traditionally wary of public-sector unions.

Freedom from competition can also allow unions to hold back productivity in order to protect their jobs in the short term. A great example is how longshore unions in the U.S. often resist port automation, which has contributed to recent supply chain snarls. (Side note: This is the main danger of sectoral bargaining, an approach to unionization that Pete Buttigieg supported during the 2020 primary campaign. A way to circumvent this problem is to use Australian-style wage boards that focus bargaining narrowly on wages.)

The second failure mode is when unions in tradable industries — especially manufacturing — make bad short-term decisions that put their U.S. employers at a long-term competitive disadvantage against foreign rivals. Countries like China that suppress labor organizing naturally have a cost advantage against countries that want to give their workers a better life. That unfortunate fact sometimes requires unions to make wage sacrifices in order to stay competitive and keep industries in the U.S. If they don’t do that, the result can be steady offshoring and degradation of manufacturing unions themselves. Evidence suggests that this effect is modest but real.

Note that neither of these failure modes is written in the stars. Swedish unions embrace new technology eagerly:

And Germany unions often exercise wage restraint, a far-sighted sacrifice that allows German manufacturing exporters to maintain global market share.

But more importantly, local service industries like Starbucks stores and Amazon warehouses are not subject to either of these failure modes. Starbucks and Amazon are not essential public services. If workers at these companies resist the introduction of new productivity-enhancing technology, it’ll ultimately put the companies at a competitive disadvantage and result in the loss of jobs; thus, the unions will have incentives to boost productivity to maintain market share. And of course local services like Starbucks stores and Amazon warehouses aren’t competing against cutthroat foreign rivals; they are located near their customers, here in America.

Thus, unionization in the local service industry is just inherently a lot safer than public-sector unions or unions in export manufacturing.

Why we needed a new labor movement

So now we come to the main question: Why do we need a new labor movement at all? Well, the answer is simple: To reduce inequality and create a broad-based middle class in which most of the American populace feels that society affords them dignity.

Income inequality in the U.S. has gotten very high, and much of this is due to wage inequality. Unions tend to reduce inequality by compressing the distribution of wages — by redistributing income within companies from higher-paid workers to lower-paid ones. Farber, Herbst, Kuziemko, and Naidu (2018) find:

A combination of low-skill composition, compression, and a large union income premium made mid-century unions a powerful force for equalizing the income distribution. We show that unions were a major force in the Great Compression, above and beyond what can be accounted for by the direct effect of unions on union members. We…find that [the Wagner Act and War Labor Board had] large effects on inequality as measured by the labor share or the top income share, further providing evidence that unions affect…the income distribution…Our results push the body of evidence towards the conclusion that institutions can have substantial and lasting effects on the income distribution[.]

Many Americans pine for the days when good manufacturing jobs created a broad middle class — a class that could stand up and be proud of their work and their skills, and who could afford houses and cars and lifestyles that were at least somewhat similar to that afforded by the educated upper class. But in a 2016 post, Ben Casselman (then of FiveThirtyEight) argued persuasively that unions were a big part of what made manufacturing jobs good. Factory jobs were low-paid and involved horrific conditions in the early Industrial Age; only once unions took over did factory work transform into the dignified, well-paid sort of job that we now associate with the mid-20th-century middle class.

Since the turn of the century, retail and warehousing jobs have eclipsed manufacturing in terms of total employment:

When you add in other local services like leisure and hospitality and health care, the disparity will be even greater. The average American worker is no longer one who puts things together — it’s someone who helps customers.

Now, I definitely want to re-shore manufacturing industries to the U.S. But I recognize that this will require a lot of automation; the manufacturing of the future will be more like a tech industry and less of a source of mass employment.

So if we’re going to build a broad middle class through the creation of huge numbers of good middle-class jobs, those jobs are simply going to have to be in local services. And that means that we must transform employment at Starbucks and Amazon from low-paid, unstable fallback jobs into the kind of jobs people wouldn’t mind growing up and doing for a living.

That means higher wages, sure. But it also means better working conditions. Investigations by muckraking journalists have found that Amazon workers have often been forced to endure awful hardships:

Other stories tell of workers in Amazon warehouses being forced to work in freezing conditions, bullied by management, and forced to maintain a grueling pace. Remember that about 1 out of 153 Americans is employed by this company.

That American workers have to live like this, day in and day out, is a tragedy. That they have to do it in exchange for low wages — the average salary for Amazon warehouse workers is just $30-35k a year — is nothing short of a national disgrace. This huge, downtrodden local service class is the new proletariat, and if the U.S. doesn’t change its system to give these people a decent life, it will fuel unrest and erode people’s trust and belief in the nation.

The new labor movement at Starbucks, Amazon, and other retail outlets is still small, but if it continues to build — and to get support from elected leaders and appointed bureaucrats — it has the chance to transform America’s broad local-service class into a middle class.

What if the workers just get replaced with robots?

Of course, opponents of unionization argue that if we unionize this vast American service class, that we’ll simply be setting them up for unemployment. Instead of raising wages, they say, Starbucks and Amazon simply replace unionized workers with coffee dispensing machines and shelf-stocking robots. So I suppose I should say a little about this argument.

First of all, this is really a case of “don’t threaten me with a good time”. Automation is what we want; it’s what drives productivity upward. In fact, one of the leading theories of why the Industrial Revolution happened in the first place was that Britain’s unusually high wages forced a wave of labor-saving innovation that ultimately gave rise to industrialization. So to worry that unions would lead to an inefficiently high number of robots is hand-wringing over nothing — if anything, this is a way to speed the march of technology.

But second, if you really believe that Americans are inherently such low-productivity workers — that the only way for America’s vast local-service class to stay employed in any kind of a job whatsoever is to accept borderline-poverty wages and work in freezing conditions and pee in bottles — then the days of mass human employment are numbered. If our workers are already balanced on the knife-edge of total obsolescence, then it’ll only be a few years before the robots put them all out of a job anyway. Might as well get that over with, and transition to universal basic income or whatever.

Personally, I don’t believe that Americans are so unproductive and useless. I believe that automation will result in productivity gains and wage gains, as it has in the past, and that essentially all humans will find more useful things to do with their labor. But even if I’m wrong, it’s not worth keeping untold millions of Americans in downtrodden working conditions just to stave off the supposed rise of the robots for a little longer.

So if you care about America’s vast, underpaid, overworked service class — a modern proletariat searching for a life of dignity — then you should probably be happy about the new labor movement. Unions are far from perfect, but in this case they’re pushing in the right direction. That’s one small trend to be cheerful about in these troubled times.


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What is the best interview question of all time?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, also picked by the WaPo.  Excerpts:

What are the open tabs in your browser right now?

…First, the question measures what a person does with his or her spare time as well as work time. If you leave a browser tab open, it probably has some importance to you and you expect to return to the page. It is one metric of what you are interested in and what your work flow looks like.

It’s not just cheap talk. Some job candidates might say they are interested in C++ as a programming language, but if you actually have an open page to the Reddit and Subreddits on that topic, that is a demonstrated preference…

The question also tests for enthusiasm. If the person doesn’t seem excited about any of those open browser tabs, that may be a sign that they are blasé about other things as well. But if you get a heated pitch about why a particular website is the best guide to “Lord of the Rings” lore, you may have found a true nerd with a love of detail. That will be a plus for many jobs and avocations, though not all.

There is much more at the link, and to consider some other competing questions, do see my new book with Daniel Gross Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World, publication date is today!

And do note that this particular question comes from Daniel.

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Tuesday: Retail Sales, Industrial Production, Homebuilder Survey, Fed Chair Powell

From Matthew Graham at Mortgage News Daily: Mortgage Rates Unchanged to Slightly Lower
Mortgage rates are coming off of one of their best weeks in nearly 2 years, which isn't quite as glamorous as it sounds, but still a good accomplishment (read more about it in last week's recap HERE). Rates managed to maintain those levels as the new week began. Some lenders were microscopically better, but not enough to have a noticeable impact on most quotes. [30 year fixed 5.37%]
emphasis added
Tuesday:
• At 8:30 AM ET, Retail sales for April is scheduled to be released.  The consensus is for 0.8% increase in retail sales.

• At 9:15 AM, The Fed will release Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization for April. The consensus is for a 0.4% increase in Industrial Production, and for Capacity Utilization to increase to 78.5%.

• At 10:00 AM, The May NAHB homebuilder survey. The consensus is for a reading of 75 down from 77 last month.  Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

• At 2:00 PM, Discussion, Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell, Conversation with Nick Timiraos, At the Wall Street Journal Future of Everything Festival, New York, New York

On COVID (focus on hospitalizations and deaths):

COVID Metrics
 NowWeek
Ago
Goal
Percent fully Vaccinated66.4%---≥70.0%1
Fully Vaccinated (millions)220.6---≥2321
New Cases per Day3🚩90,33768,610≤5,0002
Hospitalized3🚩14,52413,683≤3,0002
Deaths per Day3263308≤502
1 Minimum to achieve "herd immunity" (estimated between 70% and 85%).
2my goals to stop daily posts,
37-day average for Cases, Currently Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7-day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayClick on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the daily (columns) and 7-day average (line) of deaths reported.

New cases have more than tripled from the recent low, and hospitalizations are increasing week-over-week.

Average daily deaths bottomed in July 2021 at 214 per day.

Nicholas Weaver: ‘Cryptocurrency Should “Die in a Fire”’

Current Affairs:

Despite being hyped in expensive Super Bowl ads, cryptocurrency is now having a difficult moment. As the New York Times reports, “the crypto world went into a full meltdown this week in a sell-off that graphically illustrated the risks of the experimental and unregulated digital currencies.” One of cryptocurrency’s most vocal skeptics is Nicholas Weaver, senior staff researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and lecturer in the computer science department at UC Berkeley. Weaver has studied cryptocurrencies for years. Speaking with Current Affairs editor-in-chief Nathan J. Robinson, Prof. Weaver explains why he views the much-hyped technology with such antipathy. He argues that cryptocurrency is useless and destructive, and should “die in a fire.”

I can’t say I learned anything particularly novel from this interview, but Weaver’s cogent arguments and descriptions of how cryptocurrency works gave me confidence that I wasn’t missing anything. There just isn’t any there there other than burning an unconscionable amount of electricity.

Weaver:

So the stock market and the bond market are a positive-sum game. There are more winners than losers. Cryptocurrency starts with zero-sum. So it starts with a world where there can be no more winning than losing. We have systems like this. It’s called the horse track. It’s called the casino. Cryptocurrency investing is really provably gambling in an economic sense. And then there’s designs where those power bills have to get paid somewhere. So instead of zero-sum, it becomes deeply negative-sum.

Effectively, then, the economic analogies are gambling and a Ponzi scheme. Because the profits that are given to the early investors are literally taken from the later investors. This is why I call the space overall, a “self-assembled” Ponzi scheme. There’s been no intent to make a Ponzi scheme. But due to its nature, that is the only thing it can be.

Weaver also makes a strong case that ransomware is only feasible as an industry because of cryptocurrency.

 ★ 

NGC 1316: After Galaxies Collide

Astronomers turn detectives when trying to Astronomers turn detectives when trying to


Geostationary comsats delivered to Florida for SpaceX launches in June

A spacecraft container is unloaded from a transport ship Saturday at Port Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

A transport ship delivered the SES 22 and Nilesat 301 geostationary communications satellites to Cape Canaveral over the weekend to prepare for two launches on SpaceX rockets in June, completing a trans-Atlantic journey from France originally planned on Russian-owned cargo planes.

The satellites will be prepared for launches on two Falcon 9 rockets next month. Nilesat 301 is scheduled for liftoff June 10 from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, and SES 22 is set for launch in late June.

Thales Alenia Space, which assembled the satellites in Cannes, France, originally planned to deliver the Nilesat 301 and SES 22 spacecraft to Cape Canaveral on Russian-owned Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft. The An-124 airplanes operated by Russian-based Volga-Dnepr Airlines have been used for decades across the space industry to haul heavy satellites from their factories to their launch sites.

But Russian-owned aircraft have been banned from U.S. and European Union airspace in the wake of Russia’s military attack on Ukraine. That forced satellite companies to find a backup plan for transporting their spacecraft.

Nilesat 301 was ready to leave its factory in France at the end of March for a scheduled launch on a Falcon 9 rocket at the end of April. The launch was delayed to allow time for Thales to secure another means of transportation for the satellite.

Officials settled on transporting Nilesat 301 by ship. SES 22, also built by Thales, traveled from France to Florida on the same vessel. The ship carrying Nilesat 301 and SES 22 left a port near Marseille, France, in late April and arrived at Port Canaveral on Saturday.

Teams unloaded the containers holding the satellites to be trucked inside Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for launch preparations. Engineers will test each satellite to confirm they remain healthy after arriving from France, then load maneuvering propellants into the spacecraft. Finally, the satellites will be encapsulated inside the payload shrouds of their Falcon 9 rockets.

The SES 22 communications satellite undergoing tests at Thales Alenia Space in France. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

The launch schedule for SES 22 was not impacted by the change in transport plans, according to a spokesperson for SES, the Luxembourg company that owns the satellite.

Nilesat 301 will provide digital broadband and internet connectivity services for the Egyptian operator Nilesat. SES 22 will provide C-band television and data services in the United States. The satellites will weigh about 3.5 to 4 metric tons once fully fueled for liftoff.

The Nilesat 301 and SES 22 communications satellites will operate in geostationary orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) over the equator.

SpaceX will launch each satellite into an elongated, oval-shaped transfer orbit, then the spacecraft will use on-board propulsion to reach their final operating positions.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

NASA lander detects biggest ‘marsquake’ yet

The InSight lander’s seismometer instrument, covered by its wind and thermal shield, on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s InSight lander operating on the surface of Mars has detected the most powerful seismic tremor ever measured on another planet, a “marsquake” estimated at magnitude 5, strong enough to reveal new insights about the deep Martian interior.

The InSight spacecraft’s seismometer instrument detected the quake May 4 from its position on a broad equatorial plain in a region known as Elysium Planitia. NASA sent $1 billion InSight mission to Mars in 2018 to collect data on the internal structure and geology of the red planet.

Since landing on Mars, InSight’s seismometer instrument has detected more than 1,313 quakes. But most have been relatively faint signals. Before May 4, the most powerful tremor felt by InSight was a magnitude 4.2 quake on Aug. 25, 2021, according to NASA.

Scientists analyze the seismic signals registered by InSight’s quake detector, developed and built by French partners, to learn about the layered structure of rock deep inside Mars. The science team can determine the composition and depth of internal layers by measuring how seismic signals pass through the planet.

In early results from the InSight mission, scientists wrote in 2020 that Mars was “moderately active” with seismic events, with far more quakes than instruments have detected on Earth’s moon. Mars lacks the tectonic plates responsible for the strongest seismic tremors on Earth, but evidence of volcanic activity on Mars in the recent geologic past could provide clues to one origin of the quakes registered by InSight.

“Mars trembles more often – but also more mildly – than expected,” NASA said in 2020.

The space agency described the May 4 tremor as a “medium-size quake” compared to those felt on Earth. But the magnitude 5 quake is “close to the upper limit of what scientists hoped to see on Mars during InSight’s mission,” NASA said.

“The science team will need to study this new quake further before being able to provide details such as its location, the nature of its source, and what it might tell us about the interior of Mars,” the space agency said in a statement.

This spectrogram shows the largest quake ever detected on another planet. Estimated at magnitude 5, this quake was discovered by NASA’s InSight lander on May 4, 2022, the 1,222nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ETH Zurich

“Since we set our seismometer down in December 2018, we’ve been waiting for ‘the big one,’” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the mission. “This quake is sure to provide a view into the planet like no other. Scientists will be analyzing this data to learn new things about Mars for years to come.”

InSight’s other science instrument, a subsurface heat probe developed in Germany, failed to hammer itself into the Martian crust soon after landing.

The InSight lander completed its primary mission phase at the end of 2020, after one Martian year of science observations. The mission is now in an extended phase running through the end of this year.

But InSight is facing a power crunch due to dust in the Martian atmosphere, which blocks sunlight from reaching the spacecraft’s polar panels. Declining power levels have forced InSight to suspend science observations and enter safe mode multiple times in recent months.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Where Things Stand: Most Americans Don’t Want SCOTUS To Do What SCOTUS Is About To Do

New polling conducted by NBC News has found that American opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade is at a record high. The poll was conducted after the draft Supreme Court majority opinion overturning Roe was leaked earlier this month.

Abortion access has become a more important political priority for those polled than it has been in previous years, too. NBC has been conducting polls on Americans’ support for abortion since 2003.

Sixty-three percent of respondents indicated they oppose the Supreme Court overturning Roe, which is what the high court is poised to do if the leaked draft of the majority opinion is indicative of a final ruling. We’ll know whether or not it is by the end of the summer, but political observers, politicians, the media, pro-abortion and anti-abortion advocates, voters and most other sectors of American public life are safely running with the assumption that Roe will be struck down, given what we saw during oral arguments on the case in December.

NBC News also found that 60 percent of Americans support abortion being either always legal (37 percent), or legal most of the time (23 percent). On the other end of the spectrum, just 32 percent of respondents indicated they believed abortion should be illegal with some exceptions. Only 5 percent of those polled said it should be completely illegal, with no exceptions.

That number seems really important. Outright bans with no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking have been proposed, and, in some cases, have become law in some red states, such as Oklahoma, in recent months as the nation prepares for a post-Roe America. The-more-extreme-the-better has been the flavor of proposals popping up in red states across the union — in Louisiana, some Republicans in the state legislature pushed to have murder charges for women who get abortions added to the abortion restricting bill currently being debated in the state legislature. The proposal was eventually dropped, but that brand of extreme thinking is starkly out of line with Americans’ thinking on the issue, according to this poll.

The results on either end of the spectrum are hardly surprising. American support for abortion access has been on the rise for years. NBC conducted a similar poll in 2013 that found 45 percent of those surveyed were in support of abortion being legal. In 2018, NBC News found that 55 percent supported the same.

While overturning Roe has been the Republican Party’s most concentrated political goal for decades, Republicans are finding themselves in a tricky spot because of how popular access to abortion has become among Americans of all political ideologies. NBC has a more in-depth breakdown of the polling on support for keeping Roe intact depending on political party, but support is obviously higher among Democrats. Thirty-three percent of Republican respondents said they supported keeping abortion legal.

NBC surveyed 1,000 adult Americans for this poll, from May 5 to May 7 and May 9-10. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

The Best Of TPM Today

Here’s what you should read this evening:

The latest from Matt Shuham: Who’s Mainstreaming The ‘Great Replacement’ Theory?

And then this: Proponents Of Racist ‘Replacement’ Theory That Motivated Mass Shooter Double Down

To prep for tomorrow, catch up here: Far-Right On The Ballot: What To Look Out For In Tomorrow’s GOP Primaries

Trump Gives Himself An Out To Rejoin Twitter

Cheney Slams House GOP Leadership That’s ‘Enabled’ White Supremacy

New in TPM Cafe today: How Christian Nationalism And The Big Lie Fused To Fuel Doug Mastriano’s Candidacy

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Alito Calls Decision Expanding LGBTQ Rights ‘Indefensible’ — Kate Riga

What We Are Reading

American Racism and the Buffalo Shooting — Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

A Guy Spotted A Delivery Robot “Lost In The Woods,” But We Like To Think It Was Just Trying To *Find* Itself — David Mack

What to Watch in the May 17 Primaries — Bolts