Why active bond investors can beat the index when active equity investors can’t

Benchmark blues

Why America’s personal-saving rate is unusually high

Land of the frugal

Rethinking how we value data

Looking at the world’s most precious resource through new eyes

The European Union’s trade policy will involve some tough negotiations

Is Phil Hogan the person for the job?

Bank bosses in America stick around longer than those in Europe

A slew of changes show how uncomfortable the hot seat can be

How to get more innovation bang for the research buck

Narrow incentives such as citations can skew behaviour

SpaceX planning major increase in Florida launch activity

LC-39A mobile service tower

WASHINGTON — SpaceX is proposing a significant increase in launch activity in Florida over the next few years, including missions to polar orbits and those that will require the use of a new vertical payload integration tower.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation published a draft environmental assessment Feb. 27 regarding SpaceX launch activities from both Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center and Space Launch Complex 40 at neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The assessment, the FAA said, will be used in new or modified commercial launch licenses for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles from those sites.

One reason for the assessment, the report states, is “SpaceX’s launch manifest includes more annual Falcon launches and Dragon reentries than were considered in previous [environmental] analyses.” SpaceX performed 11 launches from LC-39A and SLC-40 in 2019 and 15 in 2018, the most any one year to date.

However, SpaceX projects performing 38 launches from Florida in 2020, 30 from SLC-40 and eight from LC-39A. By 2023, the company projects as many as 70 launches, 50 from SLC-40 and 20 from LC-39A, an annual rate that holds steady through 2025. The vast majority would be Falcon 9 launches, although it expects as many as 10 Falcon Heavy launches a year, all from LC-39A.

The report doesn’t discuss the missions that will account for that surge in activity, beyond a mix of NASA, national security and commercial missions. Deployment or replenishment of the company’s Starlink satellite constellation is likely a major driver in the launch rate. The report elsewhere projects 10 Dragon spacecraft reentries per year starting in 2022, which would mean an identical number of launches of such spacecraft on Falcon 9 rockets, carrying both cargo and people.

One change is the addition of launches to polar orbits, such as sun-synchronous orbit, from Florida. Those launches have traditionally taken place from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where rockets can launch on southerly trajectories over the open ocean. Florida has instead been used for low- and mid-inclination launches, ranging from geostationary transfer orbit to the International Space Station.

Florida polar trajectory
A map from the FAA report showing the trajectory that SpaceX would use for polar launches, including droneship landings near the Bahamas. Credit: FAA

However, the report states that SpaceX anticipates that “approximately ten percent” of future launches from Florida will use a new southern trajectory intended for polar orbiting missions. That trajectory would run parallel to part of the Florida coast south of Cape Canaveral, a few dozen kilometers offshore, before heading into the Caribbean. Falcon 9 first stages on such missions would land either back at Cape Canaveral or on a droneship positioned southwest of the Bahamas and north of Cuba.

The new trajectory does raise some issues regarding sonic booms along the Florida coast. A March 2019 report by Blue Ridge Research and Consulting, included as an appendix to the environmental assessment, said that cities along the coast including Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Port Saint Lucie could hear sonic booms roughly comparable to thunder and unlikely to cause damage.

However, the report said a “narrow focus boom region” of less than eight square kilometers could form north of Vero Beach where the overpressure from the sonic boom would exceed two pounds per square foot, including an area of about 0.025 square kilometers with a peak overpressure of 4.6 pounds per square foot. That would create a “low probability of structure damage (to glass, plaster, roofs, and ceilings) for well-maintained structures,” the report notes, adding that the specific location of the peak overpressure would depend on the flight trajectory and atmospheric conditions.

The first use of that polar trajectory is expected in about a month, when a Falcon 9 launches Argentina’s SAOCOM 1B radar imaging satellite from SLC-40 on March 30. Another Falcon 9 launched the SAOCOM 1A satellite into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in October 2018.

The environmental assessment also provided new details about a mobile service tower (MST) that SpaceX proposes to build at LC-39A. The MST would provide “vertical integration capabilities” there for payloads, principally for national security missions. SpaceX executives previously said they were planning such a structure to be eligible for future national security payloads that require vertical integration rather than the horizontal integration SpaceX performs for other payloads, but offered few specifics about it.

The 11-floor tower would be 86.5 meters tall and 36 meters wide. It would move on rails from an “integration position” surrounding the launch vehicle on the pad to a “launch position” nearly 40 meters away. The report doesn’t state when SpaceX expects to begin construction of the MST or when it would be completed.

The environmental assessment covers only Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch activity, and does not examine plans for SpaceX’s next-generation launch system, Starship/Super Heavy. The report does reference an earlier study on changes to LC-39A to support Starship launches there, published in August, and notes that as those new vehicles reach a planned flight rate of up to 24 launches a year, “the number of Falcon launches would decrease.”


Let's Get Mikey!

Mike Pence victimized by Trump yet again:

The decision to put Mr. Pence in charge was made on Wednesday after the president told some people that the vice president didn’t “have anything else to do,” according to people familiar with the president’s comments.

New Android Malware Can Steal Google Authenticator 2FA Codes

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for ZDNet’s Zero Day:

Security researchers say that an Android malware strain can now extract and steal one-time passcodes (OTP) generated through Google Authenticator, a mobile app that’s used as a two-factor authentication (2FA) layer for many online accounts.

Google launched the Authenticator mobile app in 2010. The app works by generating six to eight-digits-long unique codes that users must enter in login forms while trying to access online accounts.

Not good.


SMBC Takes the Mercator Projection into Its Own Hands

SMBC: Mercator
From “Mercator”, SMBC, 24 Feb 2020.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal’s take on the Mercator projection is … not what you’d expect. The punch line is similar to Christopher Rowe’s short story, “Another Word for Map Is Faith”: if you can’t make the map conform to the territory, make the territory conform to the map. Since we’re dealing with the Mercator projection, this requires some … escalation.

An International Eye Test Chart (circa 1907)

Mayerle Eye Test Chart

From the collection of the US National Library of Medicine, an eye test chart designed by George Mayerle around 1907 to be a complete vision testing solution for speakers of several languages.

Running through the middle of the chart, the seven vertical panels test for acuity of vision with characters in the Roman alphabet (for English, German, and other European readers) and also in Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew. A panel in the center replaces the alphabetic characters with symbols for children and adults who were illiterate or who could not read any of the other writing systems offered. Directly above the center panel is a version of the radiant dial that tests for astigmatism. On either side of that are lines that test the muscular strength of the eyes. Finally, across the bottom, boxes test for color vision, a feature intended especially (according to one advertisement) for those working on railroads and steamboats.

Mayerle was a German optometrist working in San Francisco when he made the chart, designing it for use in a city with a diverse population. My pals at 20x200 are offering limited-edition prints of Mayerle’s chart in a variety of sizes.

See also the history & typography of eye test charts, Optician Sans (a font based on eye chart typography), and Eye Charts for Drones.

Tags: design   George Mayerle   medicine   typography

*Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom*

That is the new, forthcoming book by my colleague Ilya Somin, due out in May.  It is the best book on geographic mobility and exit that has been written to date, and thus I am happy to recommend it heartily.

Here Ilya provides basic information about the book.  Here you can pre-order it on Amazon.

The post *Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Whimsical Drawings Hide in Punctilious Swiss Topo Maps

Swiss topographic maps are legendary for their precision, but that hasn’t stopped cartographers from having a little fun. As Zoey Poll reports for AIGA Eye on Design, whimsical little drawings can be found hidden in some editions of Swiss topo maps:

But on certain maps, in Switzerland’s more remote regions, there is also, curiously, a spider, a man’s face, a naked woman, a hiker, a fish, and a marmot. These barely-perceptible apparitions aren’t mistakes, but rather illustrations hidden by the official cartographers at Swisstopo in defiance of their mandate “to reconstitute reality.” Maps published by Swisstopo undergo a rigorous proofreading process, so to find an illicit drawing means that the cartographer has outsmarted his colleagues.

It also implies that the mapmaker has openly violated his commitment to accuracy, risking professional repercussions on account of an alpine rodent. No cartographer has been fired over these drawings, but then again, most were only discovered once their author had already left. (Many mapmakers timed the publication of their drawing to coincide with their retirement.) Over half of the known illustrations have been removed. The latest, the marmot drawing, was discovered by Swisstopo in 2016 and is likely to be eliminated from the next official map of Switzerland by next year. As the spokesperson for Swisstopo told me, “Creativity has no place on these maps.”

The article suggests these drawings are a coping mechanism, an opportunity to blow off a little steam. I can believe it. [r/MapPorn]

Silencing Fauci?

I’ve been watching the mix of very worrisome mishandling of the Coronavirus by the White House along with more positive developments from within the federal infectious disease bureaucracy. To be clear, in this case I’m talking mainly about things the President and his White House advisors have said – misinformation, happy talk, etc. I’m not talking about ways they may have concretely messed things up in the field. That is much less clear. On the CDC front, I’m not talking about “good news” in terms of the outbreak but rather signs that actual experts seem to be doing or saying the right things regardless of President Trump’s nonsense.

On that, we have President Trump apparently sidelining HHS Secretary Alex Azar in favor of Vice President Pence. But then today we hear that the two men have agreed to make Dr. Deborah Birx the White House “Coordinator” of the effort. She seems to be a well-regarded professional. Then a short time later we learned that Steven Mnuchin and Larry Kudlow have been added to the task force. Given Kudlow’s role to date, which has included numerous misstatements of what is happening and an apparently exclusive focus on trying to talk up the stock market, that is pretty troubling.

But just now we’ve gotten reports of something really worrisome. If you’ve been around for a few days watching the news you certainly know of Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’s been at NIH since 1968 and heading NIAID since 1984. Back in the early years of the AIDS epidemic he was often the guy in terms of getting real, factual information from the federal government. He’s someone who commands immense respect within the field and has a great record of explaining things to the public in a way that is candid, factual and useful.

Now we learn that the White House has apparently instructed Fauci not to speak publicly without prior sign-off from the White House about what he will say. And the person in charge of screening information, the one in charge of what federal officials say and don’t say, is Mike Pence. In a normal administration, some effort to coordinate message and make sure everyone is speaking consistently and clearly would likely make sense. But given what we have seen from the President and the White House so far it seems like a bad sign.

How the coronavirus is changing the culture of science and publication

A torrent of data is being released daily by preprint servers that didn’t even exist a decade ago, then dissected on platforms such as Slack and Twitter, and in the media, before formal peer review begins. Journal staffers are working overtime to get manuscripts reviewed, edited, and published at record speeds. The venerable New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) posted one COVID-19 paper within 48 hours of submission. Viral genomes posted on a platform named GISAID, more than 200 so far, are analyzed instantaneously by a phalanx of evolutionary biologists who share their phylogenetic trees in preprints and on social media.

“This is a very different experience from any outbreak that I’ve been a part of,” says epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The intense communication has catalyzed an unusual level of collaboration among scientists that, combined with scientific advances, has enabled research to move faster than during any previous outbreak. “An unprecedented amount of knowledge has been generated in 6 weeks,” says Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust…

The COVID-19 outbreak has broken that mold. Early this week, more than 283 papers had already appeared on preprint repositories (see graphic, below), compared with 261 published in journals. Two of the largest biomedical preprint servers, bioRxiv and medRxiv, “are currently getting around 10 papers each day on some aspect of the novel coronavirus,” says John Inglis, head of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, which runs both servers. The deluge “has been a challenge for our small teams … [they] are working evenings and weekends.”

Here is the full story, via Michael Nielsen.

The post How the coronavirus is changing the culture of science and publication appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Very Heavy Lake Effect Snow and Powerful Winds in the Northeast

NAR: "Pending Home Sales Ascend 5.2% in January"

From the NAR: Pending Home Sales Ascend 5.2% in January
Pending home sales rebounded in January, ticking up following a decline in December, according to the National Association of Realtors®. Only the West region reported a minor drop in month-over-month contract activity, while the other three major regions each saw pending home sales grow. Year-over-year pending home sales activity was up in all four regions and thus up nationally compared to one year ago.

The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, grew 5.2% to 108.8 in January. Year-over-year contract signings increased 5.7%. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001.
The Northeast PHSI rose 1.3% to 92.9 in January, 1.2% higher than a year ago. In the Midwest, the index increased 7.3% to 105.3 last month, 6.5% higher than in January 2019.

Pending home sales in the South grew 8.7% to an index of 129.4 in January, a 7.1% increase from January 2019. The index in the West declined 1.1% in January 2020 to 92.6, still a jump of 5.5% from a year ago.
emphasis added
This was well above expectations for this index. Note: Contract signings usually lead sales by about 45 to 60 days, so this would usually be for closed sales in February and March.

AFDLOX February 27, 9:51am

FXUS66 KLOX 271751 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 951 AM PST Thu Feb 27 2020 .SYNOPSIS...27/703 AM. High pressure and offshore flow will bring dry weather with well above normal temperatures to southwestern California through Friday. It will be much cooler Saturday as onshore flow returns. There will be further cooling with a chance of showers Sunday into Monday as low pressure moves into the area. Dry and slightly warmer weather is expected for Tuesday.

Mathematicians Discover the Perfect Way to Multiply

If you’re a computer, it turns out that the fastest way to multiply two numbers, especially two very large numbers, is not by the grade school method of stacking the two numbers and then multiplying each digit in the top number by each digit in the bottom number and adding the results. Since 1960, mathematicians have been discovering ever faster methods to multiply and recently, a pair of mathematicians discovered a method that is perhaps the fastest way possible.

Their method is a refinement of the major work that came before them. It splits up digits, uses an improved version of the fast Fourier transform, and takes advantage of other advances made over the past forty years. “We use [the fast Fourier transform] in a much more violent way, use it several times instead of a single time, and replace even more multiplications with additions and subtractions,” van der Hoeven said.

What’s interesting is that independently of these discoveries, computers have become a lot better at multiplication:

In addition, the design of computer hardware has changed. Two decades ago, computers performed addition much faster than multiplication. The speed gap between multiplication and addition has narrowed considerably over the past 20 years to the point where multiplication can be even faster than addition in some chip architectures.

(via @macgbrown, who passed this along after I posted this video on Russian multiplication)

Tags: mathematics

AFDSGX February 27, 9:25am

FXUS66 KSGX 271725 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 925 AM PST Thu Feb 27 2020 .SYNOPSIS... Gusty but weaker east to northeast winds will continue near the coastal slopes of the mountains and below passes and canyons into Friday morning. High temperatures today will be 5 to locally 10 degrees warmer than yesterday with high temperatures mostly in the 80s for coastal and valley areas except near the beaches. Slow cooling will begin to spread inland on Friday with greater cooling on Saturday. A cold low pressure system from the northwest could bring generally light precipitation as early as late Saturday night, but precipitation is more likely late Sunday through Sunday night, ending from the northwest on Monday. Dry and warmer for Tuesday through Thursday.

Smoking, Gender and Disease

As epidemiologists struggle to understand the biology of the novel Coronavirus, one question has been the role of smoking. There is evidence that the virus hits habitual smokers particularly hard and may play a role in the relative lethality of infection. It sort of stands to reason that this could be the case and there are few studies examining the question and attempting to quantify the potential impact. That is all tentative and I’m certainly not an expert. So I don’t want to dwell on that question. But reading up on this did allow me to learn some statistics about smoking in China that I found genuinely stunning.

First, 52.1% of Chinese men smoke. That is quite high. Smoking in the US peaked in the 1950s at around 45%. It’s now just under 15%. (Since smoking at the time was heavily gendered, the total for men was likely significantly higher.) Some countries are even higher. 59% of Russian men smoke. Indonesia is 76% for men. (The highest smoking rates in the world tend to be in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Russia has by far the largest percentage of smokers among the world’s biggest countries by population.)

But this wasn’t the number I found most surprising. It was how deeply gendered smoking is in China. 52% of men smoke but only between 1% and 3% of Chinese women do. In other words, smoking in China is an almost exclusively male phenomenon. The delta between the two numbers is what surprised me most.

Smoking in the US used to be highly gendered. But that is much less so today after decades in which tobacco companies marketed smoking as a form of female empowerment. Today about 14% or 15% of Americans smoke – 15.6% for men versus 12% for women, according to this recent CDC data.

Scanning other country rates, the only countries which seems to have comparably gendered smoking rates are a series of conservative Islamic and/or Middle Eastern countries. In Egypt and Iran, fewer than 1% of women smoke. In Saudi Arabia, it’s under 3%. Each have fairly high rates of smoking for men. Indonesia is a particular standout – 76% of men smoke and 3.6% of women.

Thursday assorted links

The post Thursday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Debates, Old School

From TPM Reader CH

I missed the last two presidential debates because I was part of the League of Women Voters team holding candidate forum in a nearby municipality. At the end of each, audience members came up to observe that these forums were much better than the mudfights that the network opining heads presided over. They preferred the League format and the League rules to the clickbait, max controversy approach of the network stars.

So, what does the League of Women Voters do that’s so popular? Here are a few of the guidelines:

1. The audience is reminded to keep quiet. No cheers, no boos, no applause. Just listen.

2. The audience can submit questions throughout the debate, but the moderator will ask the questions, and may rewrite them. No questions tailored to only one candidate will be asked; everybody must get to respond. Question collectors roam the auditorium with notecards and pencils, picking up cards and delivering them for sorting and passing along to the moderator throughout the entire forum.

3. Each candidate will answer each question, in a specific and rotating order. No favoritism. Each gets the same amount of time, and a timekeeper (that was me) enforces this. No crosstalk or interruptions are allowed.

These are the heart of the League’s rules for forums, and believe me, voters seem to really appreciate them, in contrast to what they see on their teevie screens. We always get asked, why doesn’t the League handle the presidential debates? Lots of reasons, the big ones being that the candidates and parties refused to agree to the League’s rules, and now, the National LWV is no longer interested in even pursuing the issue. It’s really too bad, because this year is the 100th anniversary of the League of Women Voters AND the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which affirmed women’s right to vote. It would be a perfect time to resume the presidential candidate forums, in my opinion.

But what do I know? I had thought that “Oldsmobile” should have made a big deal out of its 100th year in operation, but instead, it choose to go out of business.

It’s hard to say that the LWV was the traditional host of presidential debates. Because they’re actually a very new phenomenon. There were debates in 1960. But there wasn’t another until 1976. The presidential debate commission, which is an entirely self-created entity, took it over in 1988 and never looked back.

Building Boston, Shaping Shorelines: A Harvard Map Collection Exhibition

Harvard Library

Building Boston, Shaping Shorelines is a Harvard Map Collection exhibition going on now at Harvard Library’s Pusey Library Gallery. “This exhibition allows you to trace the projects to reclaim land and build the infrastructure that has produced a city out of a peninsula. Come learn how much of Boston is on man-made land and what impacts that has had and will have on the city.” There is no online version, but Harvard Magazine has a writeup. Until 1 May 2020.

Previously: The Atlas of Boston History.

The books I read in 2019

Here are all my extracted answers from our monthly Basecamp check-in question of What are you reading? for 2019. (See also my answers from 2016, 2017, and 2018).

The Sane Society
Another Fromm tome! This one starts from the premise of evaluating the different social characters of various societies. But not from the abstract, pretend objectiveness of “everything is equal; everything is just different”, but from a bold perspective of “some societies truly do better than others at promoting human health and flourish. That’s potentially a dynamite perspective, but Fromm handles it with utter grace and respect.

I particularly enjoyed the concept of mental illness or malaise as an act of rebellion against societal pressures and norms. Particularly the refutation that “the sane person” is whoever is performing their productive function in society. Yeah, fuck that.

I also really liked the depiction of a country’s social character to be an expression of what that society thought it needed. A German reputation for stinginess/savings as virtuous? A reflection of what the country needed in order to rebuild after 20th century devastation. It’s a fascinating recast of “stereotype” as something intellectually productive, and not just lazy othering.

Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought
It’s fair to say that I’ve been on a Eric Fromm kick ever since discovering Escape From Freedom. His analysis of the human condition is deep, profound, yet utterly approachable. He writes in a plain, well-sourced, and fluid manner that makes it hard to stop, but you really should. Fromm’s thoughts are so provoking that I often need to force myself to take breaks to truly digest the lessons.

This book is no different. It provides a guided tour through the psychoanalytical method that Freud invented with great depth. Whether it’s the exploration of the unconscious, dream analysis, the Oedipus Complex, and character classes. But what’s so brilliant about Fromm’s tour is that it’s a critical presentation. Fromm clearly has great respect for Freud’s discoveries, but has no time for his patriarchal, bourgeois, 19th century nonsense – nor his obsession to explain everything from a root of sexual drives.

What follows is a master class in a critical reading of a great master, without neither being overcome with disgust of his fallacies or try to excuse or pave over them. Really good.

That whirl wind tour of the history of our species. I’m liking it, but not uncritically so. There’s a lot of definitions, like that of religion, that seem hurried, if not outright glib. But I do really like the repeated emphasis on just how much of human society is a collection of shared myths that we’ve simply all decided to believe. And that things got the way they are through an endless series of historical accidents, unlikely events, and forks in the road. Not through some deterministic path. That’s a great story of both hope – and fear! – that we can make a better society, yet that history does not “bend” or “arc” towards that intrinsically. You have to do the work.

Kubernetes in Action
I don’t read a lot of new technical books these days, but Kubernetes seems like enough of a fundamental step in cloud computing that it’s worth being literate in its basics. Understanding the differences between images, pods, and coordinations. It’s pretty good!

The Great Mortality
The story of the plague that ravaged Europe from, primarily, 1347-1351. It’s like a real-life 28 Days. A third of Europe’s population was wiped out. Just unfathomable scale of societal destruction.

It’s really well-told too. Even if there’s a bit of repetitiveness to the “and then the plague hit the next city, and the result was DEATH”. It’s a constant reminder of just how fragile humanity actually is.

The insight into the catholic church’s management of affairs is scathing too. And the pogroms that blamed the jews for the plague, and lead to mass murderings, is a sober reminder of how genocide is never too far away when a society is brought to the brink.

Really enjoyed this one. 

Making Sense of the Troubles
I remember seeing stories about the IRA in the 1980s on Danish television. The bombings, the conflict. But I never really understood the underlying dynamics. This book lays it all bare.

And the story it tells might be from Northern Ireland, but it could just as well be set in Iraq or Israel. A religious group takes control of politics, uses the force of government to subdue the other group, and refuses to engage in power sharing until after years of blood sheath.

And this was all very recently. Right there in Europe. Long-running campaigns of insurgence, counter-insurgence, and a fragile peace. Given what’s going on with Brexit right now, it feels like just the time where you want to understand the history of Northern Ireland.

When Prophecy Fails
On the surface an exploration of cults, but beneath, really an exploration of how the mind bends to rationalize beliefs of any sort. We can learn a lot about our own stubbornness and filter bubbles and segregation of society by studying these cults and what made them double down on end-of-the-world claims, even after proven wrong.

Life without Principle, Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau’s thoughts on work and calm is right up the Basecamp alley. Reading through this short book, which is a recording of a lecture he gave, and I can see the root source material for much of our opposition to overwork and protecting attention.

An enjoyable reminder that there is little new under the sun, and that much of what we must do is to continue repackaging eternal truths for a new context.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World
Economic win-win thinking has taken over the world of politics and charity, and we’re all worse of for it. Three-plus decades of reverence to McKinsey-type thinking, the abandonment of faith in government to fix big problems, and an elite establishment bent on peddling Everything Is Actually Great You Know stories is coming to a clash with reality. A reality where 90% of the population has seen stagnant wages and shrinking opportunity.

You might feel like you’ve heard that story before in a NY Times piece on “let’s understand why rural American voted Trump”, but this is a much broader and much more interesting story. Told in large part by examining not just the plight of the dispossessed, but the complicity of “the globalists”. Even just examining that term from outside a right-wing media slant is fascinating.

Anand Giridharadas uses a series of vignettes with doing-well-by-doing-good insiders who share their doubt of how they’re really going to “they’ll dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools”. It’s a brave exposition of friends and acquaintances, and you occasionally cringe at the savage moral verdicts, whoever gentle they’re delivered in terms of disappointment rather than rage.

Really good.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche
A lot of my reading list as of late has come from Eric Dodson’s philosophy channel on Youtube, and the recommendations he offers. The majority has been great, but I’m having quite some trouble with this major work by Nietzsche.

It’s funny, because of all these older philosophical texts, it’s somehow quite modern in that it almost reads like a series of blog posts, at times even tweet storms. But it’s so all over the place. Yes, there are some general themes of striving for a better humanity (the superman), but it’s wrapped with all sorts of seemingly trivial or banal observations. It’s not an easy treasure chest to open.

It’s also just long. Anyway, nibbling at it. Maybe it’s just an acquired taste that’ll click. But this is the opposite of “oh, older works are so accessible and immediately poignant” experience I’ve had otherwise.

The Uninhabitable Earth by Wallace-Wells
After three years of wildfires near our home in Malibu, it’s intimately clear that climate change isn’t some far away, far future phenomenon. The effects are here, they’re scary, devastating, and yet, so utterly minor compared to what we have in store.

I thought I was pretty up to date on climate change. I follow the news, read articles, and remember watching The Inconvenient Truth when it came out. But still, I was shocked by the most recent data, science, and projections presented in this book. Just the fact that HALF of all the greenhouse gasses that are warming the earth were released since Seinfeld aired on TV. That’s my life time!

The consequences of climate change are already destined to be profound and dire. That’s just based on where we are now. But as this book dives into what a world of not +2C looks like, but +4C or +6C or even +8C, the towering calamity that is of our own making becomes both utterly real and surreal at the same time.

Discipline and Punish by Foucault
Tracing the history of punishment from the Middle Ages and forward tickles both an interest in history, philosophy, and the concept of punishment. Why did we stop torturing people in public? When did intent and mental state become such a big part of the picture? Foucault explores all of it. If you liked the Hardcore History episode on Painfotainment, this gives that show a much deeper ballast.

Permanent Record by Snowden
Snowden’s memoir is at once both gratifying and slightly frustrating. His stories of growing up with technology, “hacking” bedtime, and discovering the early internet overlaps almost entirely with my own timeline. But there’s also a little too much “just so” justification for the anecdotes and Snowden’s later heroic acts. Either way, the description of how the NSA/CIA inner world actually works, the role and freedom given to contractors, the implosion of accountability, and just what you can do with nation-state level surveillance systems is stunning, almost required reading. May a future president see the courage, wisdom, and self-sacrifice Snowden committed to and give him the pardon and the parade that he so rightly deserves.

The Tyranny of Metrics by Muller
This is one of those books where the title is worth more than the content. I just love the concept and the taste of those words put together. And, as someone prone to overanalyzing, it was a welcome reminder of not all that can be measured is worth measuring and much that it is worth measuring can’t be. But this should have been a blog post. It’s repetitive and the examples somehow appear weak and overworked at the same time. I didn’t make it all the way to the end.

The Divide by Hickel
Three books have already opened my eyes to the fallacy of the neoliberal economics program that I was thoroughly indoctrinated with as a business school graduate and long-term Economist reader. That is Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by Graeber, Capital in the 21st Century, by Picketty, and this book. Wow.

Hickel debunks the entire concept of “developing nations” by examining both the era of colonization and in particular the coups and interventions of the 20th century. It exposes with unique clarity the hypocritical way the global north have disposed the global side with the bludgeoning hammer of “free trade”. How both the EU and America kept protectionist barriers for their own economics and industries, while systematically opposing and stripping them from the so-called “developing nations”. He traces the money flows and exposes how the global south continues to send much more money out of their economics than what they receive back. How the idea of international aid serves as a justification to keep a corrupt status quo in place. And how, while corrupt indeed, the strongmen (that the global north mostly installed and supported!) might be plundering their own economies, but nothing to the scale of what’s being doing via trade, transfer mispricing, and other shenanigans. It’s eye opening reading, and it explains so much. Hickel was on the Citations Podcast for one of my all-time favorite episodes: The Neoliberal Optimism Industry. Good place to get a teaser for his work.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Trungpa
Stoicism and Buddhism shares a lot in their diagnosis of the human condition. How it is our ego, desires, and wants that lead us astray and to misery. But I actually came to this book by an off-hand recommendation in one of Fromm’s books, and the title immediately resonated. This sense that escaping the materialism of things with the materialism of beliefs struck me as a profound idea that I wanted to explore deeper.

It’s a bit of an uneven journey with this book, though. The endless tales of Buddhist masters and their cruel student selection process, the weird euphemisms like “my spiritual friend”, and a lot of other baggage that seems pretty foreign in 2019 is difficult to navigate. But as soon as I want to put it down, I keep getting to a passage that does seem relevant and apt, and I keep going.

I particularly like the emphasis of developing “personal truths” in interaction with teachings. The idea that you can’t just read something profound and then expect to be profoundly changed. That you have to engage with the material, stretch it, push it, and make it your own. There are some very strong ideas in the notion of teacher/student collaborations.

To Have Or To Be? by Fromm
Fromm’s diagnoses of the modern predicament is unrivaled in my readings so far, and this book strikes directly at the material obsession with things, achievements, and competition. He places this in opposition with a development of the self, a theme that echoes the stoic teachings directly.

But the way Fromm manages to combine his diagnoses of our predicament with a historical critique of both capitalism and communism is something else. His disappointment with communism is particularly potent for anyone sympathetic to Marx’s own diagnosis of what’s wrong with the world. The fact that communism still ended up focusing on production, consumption, and the material life, rather than embracing the socialist ideals of community and its flourishment. As Fromm puts it, is the worker doing mindless assembly work at a factory really any better off whether the plant is owned by a capitalist or the state?

Another fascinating section of the book is the contrast of conformity with community. The idea that the two are not the same, and that overly confirming communities can be just as suffocating as the hyper individualist pursuit is fascinating, if a bit flimsily argued.

Man for Himself by Fromm
Yes, another Fromm book! This one dives deep into the idea of character orientations and a defense for self-love. I particularly like his premonition of The Marketing Orientation, and how it commodifies life and persons. It’s almost like he knew that Influencer would be a 2019 phenomenon, writing, as he were, in 1947! And yet, he rejects the supposed virtues of complete self-sacrifice, as simply another escape. He redeems the idea of having self-love. Of being capable of loving who you are as a precondition for being capable of loving others. And to express that love for yourself by making the most of the human powers you are endowed with. It’s a beautiful, simple, yet counterintuitive notion.

Radical Candor by Scott
This is another modern management book that I wish had just been a blog post. I really like the fundamental premise, which is expressed as an opposition of two terms: Radical Candor vs Ruinous Empathy. The idea that you aren’t helping someone you work with by shielding them from criticism and feedback. If you pack all of that into so much soft cotton that they miss what’s being said, and actually think things are going well, you’re doing them a terrible disservice.

At the same time, Radical Candor isn’t just “brutal honesty”. It’s emphatic honesty. Telling people where they stand from a position of care, not disinterest. It’s a great frame to think about feedback in the workplace (and, really, life!).

Unfortunately this lovely dichotomy is tortured to book length with a series of ever more fawning anecdotes from the halls of Google and Apple. The constant name dropping, the constant excuses for bad behavior, and the inherent corporate worshipping that goes on in these anecdotes is simply too much. So too is the fact that the anecdotes just don’t really add much to the basic framework. Anyway, lovely dichotomy, would have made a great blog post, can’t recommend the book.

Simulacra and Simulation by Baudrillard
I’ve only just started on this, but already wrote a bunch of notes that have me eager to finish it. Here are a few choice ones: “Our entire linear and accumulative culture collapses if we cannot stockpile the past in plain view” and “Prisons are there to hide that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, that is carceral” and “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real”.

Where Things Stand: Giuliani's Suffering A Social Drought

There are always repercussions when you weld yourself to President Trump’s wagon.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani may not regret becoming the President’s unhinged cable news cheerleader or embarking on a shadow campaign to pressure a foreign government to pursue Trump’s political agenda, which ultimately got his boss impeached. But there’s one consequence of Trump fealty that may have the former New York City mayor down in the dumps: the demise of his social life.

Ever the boomer about butt-dialing journalists, Giuliani reportedly made a very Giuliani-esque mistake on Wednesday when he thought he’d hung up on the New York Daily News. The former mayor was overheard talking to someone in the room about how he only has “five friends left.”

But maybe that’s a small price to pay to please a president who hitched his reelection prospects on an attempt to force Ukraine to investigate one of his top political rivals. Here’s more on that and other stories we’re following:

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Matt Shuham is looking into how the anti-vaxxer community is reacting to the coronavirus, following Trump’s bizarre press briefing Wednesday night addressing the administration’s response to the epidemic.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) announced yesterday that he will not run for reelection, making him the 26th House Republican to call it quits before the 2020 elections. In contrast, only five House Democrats have decided to retire. We’ll continue monitoring this story.

Today’s Rundown

6:00 p.m. ET: Trump and the first lady will host an African American History Month reception at the White House

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

In Extraordinary Move, Judge Brings In Jurors To Blow Up Stone’s Claims Of Misconduct — Tierney Sneed

What We Are Reading

MTA Denies NYC Subway Operator Family Leave After His Wife Gives Birth To Stillborn Child — Clayton Guse

Pope To Catholics: For Lent, Give Up Trolling — Philip Pullella

Replaying My Shame: Thirteen Years Later, What Happened At Gawker Isn’t Going Away — Emily Gould

Kansas City Fed: "Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Increased Modestly" in February

From the Kansas City Fed: Tenth District Manufacturing Activity Increased Modestly
The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City released the February Manufacturing Survey today. According to Chad Wilkerson, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the survey revealed that Tenth District manufacturing activity increased modestly, reaching positive territory for the first time in eight months.

“Regional factory activity finally expanded again in February,” said Wilkerson. “This was despite over 40 percent of firms reporting some negative effect from the spread of coronavirus so far in 2020.
The month-over-month composite index was 5 in February, higher than -1 in January and -5 in December. The composite index is an average of the production, new orders, employment, supplier delivery time, and raw materials inventory indexes. The increase in district manufacturing activity was driven by both durable and non-durable goods plants, particularly food and transportation equipment producers. Most month-over-month indexes moved into positive territory in February, with many reaching their highest levels in over a year. However, the order backlog and employment indexes continued to fall. Year-over-year factory indexes rebounded strongly, with the composite index jumping from -7 to 5. The future composite index remained solid, inching slightly higher from 14 to 16.
emphasis added
This was the last of the regional Fed surveys for February.

Here is a graph comparing the regional Fed surveys and the ISM manufacturing index:

Fed Manufacturing Surveys and ISM PMI Click on graph for larger image.

The New York and Philly Fed surveys are averaged together (yellow, through February), and five Fed surveys are averaged (blue, through February) including New York, Philly, Richmond, Dallas and Kansas City. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) PMI (red) is through January (right axis).

Based on these regional surveys, it seems likely the ISM manufacturing index will increase further in February.

Kenneth Field on How to Map the Coronavirus Outbreak Responsibly

Kenneth Field has made no bones about his frustration with maps of the COVID-19 outbreak, many of which have presented data in ways that are at best misleading. A simple choropleth map isn’t always simple. He’s put his thoughts on what not to do, and what to do instead, in this Twitter thread, and followed that up with this article on the ArcGIS blog.

We live in an amazing time as far as cartography is concerned. Technology allows, and actively supports rapid, democratized mapping. Data, compiled and published in near real-time (if not actual real-time) encourages people to get their hands dirty to see what they can make. Media outlets all rush to provide their audience with fast, visible content. Social media drives sharing of these maps at a breathtaking pace. When you throw in a developing human health story the ingredients are ripe for maps to take centre stage, as they have become with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Let’s take a look at how maps can help shape the narrative and, as concern (fear?) grows, how to map the data responsibly.

Cross-Cultural Design

When I first traveled to Japan as an exchange student in 2001, I lived in northern Kyoto, a block from the Kitayama subway station.

My first time using the train to get to my university was almost a disaster, even though it was only two subway stops away. I thought I had everything I needed to successfully make the trip. I double- and triple-checked that I had the correct change in one pocket and a computer printout of where I was supposed to go in the other. I was able to make it down into the station, but then I just stood at a ticket machine, dumbfounded, looking at all the flashing lights, buttons, and maps above my head (Fig 5.1). Everything was so impenetrable. I was overwhelmed by the architecture, the sounds, the signs, and the language.

Photo of two subway ticket machines with complex maps above them
Fig 5.1: Kyoto subway ticket machines—with many line maps and bilingual station names—can seem complicated, especially to newcomers.

My eyes craved something familiar—and there it was. The ticket machine had a small button that said English! I pushed it but became even more lost: the instructions were poorly translated, and anyway, they explained a system that I couldn’t use in the first place.

Guess what saved me? Two little old Japanese ladies. As they bought tickets, I casually looked over their shoulders to see how they were using the machines. First, they looked up at the map to find their desired destination. Then, they noted the fare written next to the station. Finally, they put some money into the machine, pushed the button that lit up with their correct fare, and out popped the tickets! Wow! I tried it myself after they left. And after a few tense moments, I got my ticket and headed through the gates to the train platform.

I pride myself on being a third-culture kid, meaning I was raised in a culture other than the country named on my passport. But even with a cultural upbringing in both Nigeria and the US, it was one of the first times I ever had to guess my way through a task with no previous reference points. And I did it!

Unfortunately, the same guesswork happens online a million times a day. People visit sites that offer them no cultural mental models or visual framework to fall back on, and they end up stumbling through links and pages. Effective visual systems can help eliminate that guesswork and uncertainty by creating layered sets of cues in the design and interface. Let’s look at a few core parts of these design systems and tease out how we can make them more culturally responsive and multifaceted.


If you work on the web, you deal with typography all the time. This isn’t a book about typography—others have written far more eloquently and technically on the subject. What I would like to do, however, is examine some of the ways culture and identity influence our perception of type and what typographic choices designers can make to help create rich cross-cultural experiences.


I came across the word stereotypography a few years ago. Being African, I’m well aware of the way my continent is portrayed in Western media—a dirt-poor, rural monoculture with little in the way of technology, education, or urbanization. In the West, one of the most recognizable graphic markers for things African, tribal, or uncivilized (and no, they are not the same thing) is the typeface Neuland. Rob Giampietro calls it “the New Black Face,” a clever play on words. In an essay, he asks an important question:

How did [Neuland and Lithos] come to signify Africans and African-Americans, regardless of how a designer uses them, and regardless of the purpose for which their creators originally intended them? (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-01/)

From its release in 1923 and continued use through the 1940s in African-American-focused advertising, Neuland has carried heavy connotations and stereotypes of cheapness, ugliness, tribalism, and roughness. You see this even today. Neuland is used in posters for movies like Tarzan, Jurassic Park, and Jumanji—movies that are about jungles, wildness, and scary beasts lurking in the bush, all Western symbolism for the continent of Africa. Even MyFonts’ download page for Neuland (Fig 5.2) includes tags for “Africa,” “jungle fever,” and “primitive”—tags unconnected to anything else in the product besides that racist history.

Fig 5.2: On MyFonts, the Neuland typeface is tagged with “Africa”, “jungle fever”, and “primitive”, perpetuating an old and irrelevant typographic stereotype (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-02/).

Don’t make, use, or sell fonts this way. Here are some tips on how to avoid stereotypography when defining your digital experiences:

  • Be immediately suspicious of any typeface that “looks like” a culture or country. For example, so-called “wonton” or “chop-suey” fonts, whose visual style is thought to express “Asianness” or to suggest Chinese calligraphy, have long appeared on food cartons, signs, campaign websites, and even Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts with racist caricatures of Asians (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-03/). Monotype’s website, where you can buy a version called Mandarin Regular (US$35), cringingly describes the typeface’s story as “an interpretation of artistically drawn Asian brush calligraphy” (Fig 5.3). Whether or not you immediately know its history, run away from any typeface that purports to represent an entire culture.
A font called "Mandarin" with a stereotypical Asian aesthetic
Fig 5.3: Fonts.com sells a typeface called Mandarin Regular with the following description: “The stylized Asian atmosphere is not created only by the forms of the figures but also by the very name of the typeface. A mandarin was a high official of the ancient Chinese empire” (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-04/).
  • Support type designers who are from the culture you are designing for. This might seem like it’s a difficult task, but the internet is a big place. I have found that, for clients who are sensitive to cultural issues, the inclusion of type designers’ names and backgrounds can be a powerful differentiator, even making its way into their branding packages as a point of pride.

The world wide webfont

Another common design tool you should consider is webfonts—fonts specifically designed for use on websites and apps. One of the main selling points of webfonts is that instead of putting text in images, clients can use live text on their sites, which is better for SEO and accessibility. They are simple to implement these days, a matter of adding a line of code or checking a box on a templating engine. The easiest way to get them on your site is by using a service like Google Fonts, Fontstand, or Adobe Fonts.

Or is it? That assumes those services are actually available to your users.

Google Fonts (and every other service using Google’s Developer API) is blocked in mainland China, which means that any of those nice free fonts you chose would simply not load (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-05/). You can work around this, but it also helps to have a fallback font—that’s what they’re for.

When you’re building your design system, why not take a few extra steps to define some webfonts that are visible in places with content blocks? Justfont is one of the first services focused on offering a wide range of Chinese webfonts (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-06/). They have both free and paid tiers of service, similar to Western font services. After setting up an account, you can grab whatever CSS and font-family information you need.

Multiple script systems

When your design work requires more than one script—for instance, a Korean typeface and a Latin typeface—your choices get much more difficult. Designs that incorporate more than one are called multiple script systems (multiscript systems for short). Combining them is an interesting design challenge, one that requires extra typographic sensitivity. Luckily, your multiscript choices will rarely appear on the same page together; you will usually be choosing fonts that work across the brand, not that work well next to one another visually.

Let’s take a look at an example of effective multiscript use. SurveyMonkey, an online survey and questionnaire tool, has their site localized into a variety of different languages (Fig 5.4). Take note of the headers, the structure of the text in the menu and buttons, and how both fonts feel like part of the same brand.

A SurveyMonkey page in Korean with a simple aesthetic A SurveyMonkey page in English with a simple and similar aesthetic
Fig 5.4: Compare the typographic choices in the Korean (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-07/) and US English (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-08/) versions of SurveyMonkey’s Take a Tour page. Do the header type and spacing retain the spirit of the brand while still accounting for typographic needs?

Some tips as you attempt to choose multiscript fonts for your project:

  • Inspect the overall weight and contrast level of the scripts. Take the time to examine how weight and contrast are used in the scripts you’re using. Find weights and sizes that give you a similar feel and give the page the right balance, regardless of the script.
  • Keep an eye on awkward script features. Character x-heights, descenders, ascenders, and spacing can throw off the overall brand effect. For instance, Japanese characters are always positioned within a grid with all characters designed to fit in squares of equal height and width. Standard Japanese typefaces also contain Latin characters, called romaji. Those Latin characters will, by default, be kerned according to that same grid pattern, often leaving their spacing awkward and ill-formed. Take the extra time to find a typeface that doesn’t have features that are awkward to work with.
  • Don’t automatically choose scripts based on superficial similarity. Initial impressions don’t always mean a typeface is the right one for your project. In an interview in the book Bi-Scriptual, Jeongmin Kwon, a typeface designer based in France, offers an example (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-09/). Nanum Myeongjo, a contemporary Hangul typeface, might at first glance look really similar to a seventeenth-century Latin old-style typeface—for instance, they both have angled serifs. However, Nanum Myeongjo was designed in 2008 with refined, modern strokes, whereas old-style typefaces were originally created centuries ago and echo handwritten letterforms (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-10/). Looking at the Google Fonts page for Nanum Myeongjo, though, none of that is clear (Fig 5.5). The page automatically generates a Latin Nn glyph in the top left of the page, instead of a more representative Hangul character sample. If I based my multiscript font choices on my initial reactions to that page, my pairings wouldn’t accurately capture the history and design of each typeface.
A font with a large sample character in Latin text rather than a more representative Hangul character
Fig 5.5: The Google Fonts page for Nanum Myeongjo shows a Latin character sample in the top left, rather than a more representative character sample.

Visual density

CSS can help you control visual density—how much text, image, and other content there is relative to the negative space on your page. As you read on, keep cultural variables in mind: different cultures value different levels of visual density.

Let’s compare what are commonly called CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) alphabets and Latin (English, French, Italian, etc.) alphabets. CJK alphabets have more complex characters, with shapes that are generally squarer than Latin letterforms. The glyphs also tend to be more detailed than Latin ones, resulting in a higher visual density.

Your instinct might be to create custom type sizes and line heights for each of your localized pages. That is a perfectly acceptable option, and if you are a typophile, it may drive you crazy not to do it. But I’m here to tell you that­ when adding CJK languages to a design system, you can update it to account for their visual density without ripping out a lot of your original CSS:

  1. Choose a font size that is slightly larger for CJK characters, because of their density.
  2. Choose a line height that gives you ample vertical space between each line of text (referred to as line-height in CSS).
  3. Look at your Latin text in the same sizes and see if it still works.
  4. Tweak them together to find a size that works well with both scripts.

The 2017 site for Typojanchi, the Korean Typography Biennale, follows this methodology (Fig 5.6). Both the English and Korean texts have a font-size of 1.25em, and a line-height of 1.5. The result? The English text takes up more space vertically, and the block of Korean text is visually denser, but both are readable and sit comfortably within the overall page design. It is useful to compare translated websites like this to see how CSS styling can be standardized across Latin and CJK pages.

A basic layout with English textA basic layout with Korean text
Fig 5.6: The 2017 site for Typojanchi, the Korean Typography Biennale, shows differing visual density in action. It is useful to compare translated websites like this to see how CSS styling can be standardized across Latin and CJK pages (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-11/).

Text expansion factors

Expansion factors calculate how long strings of text will be in different languages. They use either a decimal (1.8) or a percentage (180%) to calculate the length of a text string in English versus a different language. Of course, letter-spacing depends on the actual word or phrase, but think of them as a very rough way to anticipate space for text when it gets translated.

Using expansion factors is best when planning for microcopy, calls to action, and menus, rather than long-form content like articles or blog posts that can freely expand down the page. The Salesforce Lightning Design System offers a detailed expansion-factor table to help designers roughly calculate space requirements for other languages in a UI (Fig 5.7).

A chart showing how a different piece of content lays out in different languages
Fig 5.7: This expansion-factor table from Salesforce lets designers and developers estimate the amount of text that will exist in different languages. Though dependent on the actual words, such calculations can give you a benchmark to design with content in mind (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-12/).

But wait! Like everything in cross-cultural design, nothing is ever that simple. Japanese, for example, has three scripts: Kanji, for characters of Chinese origin, hiragana, for words and sounds that are not represented in kanji, and katakana, for words borrowed from other languages.

The follow button is a core part of the Twitter experience. It has six characters in English (“Follow”) and four in Japanese (フォロー), but the Japanese version is twenty percent longer because it is in katakana, and those characters take up more space than kanji (Fig 5.8). Expansion tables can struggle to accommodate the complex diversity of human scripts and languages, so don’t look to them as a one-stop or infallible solution.

The Twitter UI in JapaneseThe Twitter UI in English
Fig 5.8: On Twitter, expansion is clearly visible: the English “Follow” button text comes in at about 47 pixels wide, while the Japanese text comes in at 60 pixels wide.

Here are a few things you can do keep expansion factors in mind as you design:

  • Generate dummy text in different languages for your design comps. Of course, you should make sure your text doesn’t contain any unintentional swearwords or improper language, but tools like Foreign Ipsum are a good place to start getting your head around expansion factors (http://bkaprt.com/ccd/05-13/).
  • Leave extra space around buttons, menu items, and other microcopy. As well as being general good practice in responsive design, this allows you to account for how text in your target languages expands.
  • Make sure your components are expandable. Stay away from assigning a fixed width to your UI elements unless it’s unavoidable.
  • Let longer text strings wrap to a second line. Just ensure that text is aligned correctly and is easy to scan.

Mapping the Loss of Arctic Sea Ice

Aftenposten (screenshot)

This interactive map from Norway’s Aftenposten tracks the loss of permanent (in white) and seasonal (in purple) Arctic sea ice since 1985. In Norwegian.1 [Maps Mania]

The Danger of Moderation

One of the problems in all of the election prognostication–leaving aside phenomena like faith in polls not seen–is that people don’t explicitly state their theory of the election (for lack of a better phrase). I’ve argued that low-frequency, likely Democratic voters are the road to victory, especially in swing states (and that appealing to these voters might have the added bonus of bringing marginal Trump voters back into the fold). Getting these voters will not be achieved by moderation, but focusing on the issues they care about. Ibram Kendi makes a related point about moderate Democrats (boldface mine):

Moderate Democrats have been consistently inconsistent for decades. They have been rightfully critical of the prospect of a progressive presidential nominee: A progressive could alienate centrist voters, drive up voting rates among conservatives, and imperil the reelection chances of House Democrats in districts Trump won in 2016. Moderate Democrats have wrongfully refused to be self-critical of the prospect of a moderate presidential nominee: A moderate could alienate progressive voters into not voting or voting third party, drive down the voting rates of the party’s younger and nonwhite base, and fail to win back young or liberal white working-class swing voters who swung from Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016. To be a progressive in a party with a moderate is like being on a team with someone who sees all your deficiencies and does not see any of his own deficiencies, who always takes the credit when he wins, and never accepts blame when he loses

My fears are rooted in what the doctrine of the electable moderate conveniently misses: the crucial importance of the other swing voter in swinging elections in the 21st century. The traditional, white swing voter oscillates between voting Republican and Democrat—the be-all and end-all for moderate Democrats. Some Americans never vote. But I worry about the other swing voter, the one who swings between voting Democrat and not voting (or voting third party).

Despite all the talk of the 6 million Obama-to-Trump voters winning the election for Trump, more Obama voters in 2012 swung to not voting (4.4 million) or voting third party (2.3 million) in 2016. These other swing voters were more likely to be younger and people of color—and especially young black people. Today, they are likely to favor progressive candidates. They are likely to be turned off by moderate candidates, turned off by the records of Biden, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senator Amy Klobuchar on issues of race and gender.

If Democrats nominate a moderate who loses a decisive mass of young black voters in November, then I suspect most moderates will not blame the party’s choice for Trump’s reelection. I suspect they will blame those other swing voters who swung to not voting.

If Democrats nominate a progressive who loses a decisive mass of white swing voters in November, then I suspect those very same moderates will blame the party’s choice for Trump’s reelection. I suspect they will not blame those white swing voters who swung to Trump. They will blame the progressive nominee for turning them toward Trump. They will repeatedly say they warned progressives of a replay of 1972 if they nominated another McGovern in 2020…

Take the aftermath of the 2016 election. In her memoir, What Happened?, Clinton blamed FBI Director James Comey, Sanders, Russian operatives, sexism, the Green Party nominee Jill Stein, white resentment, the media airtime of Trump and the email scandal, and, bravely, herself. It is undeniable that all of these factors contributed to her defeat. But something even more basic could have been the deciding factor: moderate Democrats nominating Clinton over Sanders. Instead of blaming everyone else, including Clinton, perhaps those Democrats responsible for nominating her should be blaming themselves.

If the roles were reversed, most moderates would almost certainly be imploring progressives to blame themselves. If Sanders had been nominated in 2016, and similar factors contributed to his defeat, then I suspect moderates would not be highlighting all these factors, just as they do not highlight the factors that contributed to McGovern’s loss in 1972…

But it is clear McGovern was ahead of his time; and perhaps his time, the time of the progressive nominee, is now. Trump is an unpopular incumbent. And the chance of Trump winning the majority of young voters, 18 percent of black voters, and 36 percent of Democrats—as Nixon did in 1972—is slim. And as The New Republic’s Joshua Mound notes, “With each passing decade, the types of voters drawn to McGovern’s 1972 campaign have become a larger and larger share of the American electorate, while the issues championed by McGovern have become more and more salient.”

I don’t know if Kendi is right, but it’s worth noting that the Democrats who won the presidency–and turned out to be moderate–didn’t campaign as moderates, or at least had some left-ish campaign promises (often unmet, but that’s another blog post for another time).

Fish and Wildlife Service Kills Endangered Freshwater Mussels

Pipeline Construction Targets One of Just 19 Streams Where the Clubshell Species Lives. A Bill Barr Connection, Too.

Sarah Okeson

Trump’s Fish and Wildlife Service has pushed an endangered freshwater mussel closer to extinction. The creature is threatened through efforts to placate an energy company where Attorney General Bill Barr was once on the board.

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy want to route the proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline through Hackers Creek in West Virginia. That is the site of the endangered clubshell mussel. Trump’s Fish and Wildlife Service authorized trying to rescue mussels which could be smothered by sediment from pipeline construction instead of rerouting the pipeline. Sixty-nine mussels were collected from the creek to be taken to the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery. Most of them died.

“The agency’s obligation is to protect this species including this population, not hasten its end,” said attorney Patrick Hunter. He represents the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Sixty-nine mussels were collected, and most of them died.

The clubshell mussel, listed as endangered in 1993, was once was found throughout the Ohio River basin and tributaries of western Lake Erie. The mussels now appear to be limited to 11 populations in 19 streams. Many of those don’t appear to be reproducing.

‘Indicator Species’

Mussels such as the clubshell serve as an indicator species. They are much like the canaries that miners once carried to warn of possible suffocation dangers. When mussels die off, it means the streams aren’t healthy enough to support them. Clubshell mussels are vulnerable to being suffocated by sediment that flows into streams from farming or construction.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Tell Aurelia Skipwith, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, your thoughts on environmental reviews for pipelines. Write her at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1849 C Street NW, Room 3358, Washington, DC 20240 or email her at aurelia_skipwith@fws.gov.

Contact the Southern Environmental Law Center online.

Dominion Energy, once paid Barr $2.3 million in cash and stock awards as a board member. Duke Energy and Dominion want to build the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline to carry natural gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. Plans for the pipeline include almost 12 miles of roads near Hackers Creek and 6.4 miles where pipeline could be laid.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that assesses the impact of pipelines on endangered species, is headed by Aurelia Skipwith. She is an attorney and former Monsanto employee who was confirmed by the Senate in December. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has praised Trump’s efforts to speed up approvals for pipelines, was one of three Democrats who voted for Skipwith.

Agency Saw No Impact

The Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in 2018 that the pipeline wouldn’t jeopardize the survival and recovery of the clubshell and three other species: the rusty patched bumble bee; the Indiana bat, or the Madison Cave isopod.

Federal judges found that the Fish and Wildlife Service decided without legal authority that the clubshell population in Hackers Creek shouldn’t be protected because it didn’t appear to be reproducing. Judges also found flaws in the agency’s analysis of the three other species.

Supreme Court Case

The Endangered Species Act “is not focused exclusively on protecting those populations that currently are naturally reproductive,” wrote Roger Gregory, the chief judge for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In November, Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell told investors he expected to receive a new opinion from the Fish and Wildlife Service that would allow the company to resume construction on the pipeline. The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case focusing on another aspect of the pipeline, whether it can cross the Appalachian Trail.

Minutes from a meeting of federal regulators and employees from Dominion and Duke show that the Fish and Wildlife Service is once again considering authorizing the pipeline to cross the Hackers Creek watershed.

Featured image: Clubshell mussels (FWS photo)

The post Fish and Wildlife Service Kills Endangered Freshwater Mussels appeared first on DCReport.org.

Q4 GDP Unchanged at 2.1% Annual Rate

From the BEA: Gross Domestic Product, Fourth Quarter and Year 2019 (Second Estimate)
Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (table 1), according to the "second" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP also increased 2.1 percent.

The GDP estimate released today is based on more complete source data than were available for the "advance" estimate issued last month. In the advance estimate, the increase in real GDP was also 2.1 percent. In the second estimate, an upward revision to private inventory investment was offset by a downward revision to nonresidential fixed investment.
emphasis added
Here is a Comparison of Second and Advance Estimates. PCE growth was revised down to 1.7% from 1.8%. Residential investment was revised up from 5.8% to 6.2%. The revisions were small. This was at the consensus forecast.

India outlines launch plans, progress in human spaceflight and space transportation

GSLV Mk III liftoff

HELSINKI — India’s launch plans for the coming year include a range of Earth observation, communication and navigation satellites according to an annual report.

Progress in the areas of space transportation and human spaceflight is also laid out in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) report.

India is gearing up to launch 10 Earth observation satellites across the next financial year, starting April. These include optical, multi- and hyperspectral, and synthetic aperture radar satellites. 

India’s launch plans include three communication satellites and two navigation satellites are also planned for the coming year.

India’s next launch is set for March 5. A Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) is set to launch the 2,100-kilogram GEO Imaging SATellite (GISAT-1).  

The Space Docking Experiment (SPADEX) is another mission planned for 2020. A chaser and target will demonstrate the technologies needed for docking two spacecraft. The project is designed as a forerunner to future planetary missions and crew transfer capabilities. 

The proposed Indian space budget for 2020-21 is 13,480 Crore ($1.9 billion). ISRO published the annual report (pdf) for 2019-2020 earlier in February. 

U.S. President Donald Trump praised India’s efforts in lunar exploration and human spaceflight during a state visit this week.

Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to deepen defense and security cooperation, especially through greater maritime and space domain awareness, according to a White House briefing. The statement also notes discussions related to Earth observation, planetary exploration, heliophysics, human spaceflight, and commercial space cooperation.

Gaganyaan, reusable launcher

The ISRO report outlines recent progress in the areas of human spaceflight and space transportation. 

Progress has been made on India’s announced Gaganyaan human spaceflight program, with the configuration of the Gaganyaan Crew Escape System having been finalized. It will utilize five solid motors using a newly developed high burn rate propellant system.

Gaganyaan has the objective of demonstrating human space flight capability in Low Earth orbit. It aims to send three crew members into orbit for 5-7 days and safely return them to Earth. The crew module will be a height of 3 meters and a 3.5-meter-diameter.

An uncrewed test mission on a GSLV MkIII launcher is slated for launch in December 2020 or early 2021. A second test flight is planned for July 2021. 

In space transportation India is proceeding with a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) project to demonstrate technologies for developing a wing body vehicle similar to that of an aircraft. A Landing Experiment to test autonomous landing at an airfield in Karnataka, southwest India following airdrop from a helicopter was stated to be planned for the last quarter of 2019. No update on its status or outcome was provided.

The status of the Hypersonic Air Breathing Vehicle with Air frame integrated system (HAVA) is also provided. The hypersonic vehicle uses scramjet engine power and may be used for the design and development of a Two-Stage-to-Orbit (TSTO) vehicle.

India’s light launch plans, commercialization

Two demo flights of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) are also part of India’s launch plans. The 2-meter-diameter, 34-meter-tall launcher will be capable of lifting satellites between 10-500 kilograms to a 500-kilometer orbit. Microsat-2A will demonstrate launch on demand capability with SSLV. The 142-kilogram satellite will operate for 10 months in a 350-kilometer orbit. 

NewSpace India Limited, a newly formed commercial arm of the Indian space agency, is tasked with enabling Indian industry to scale up high-technology manufacturing and production base for Indian space efforts. It will be involved in the manufacture of SSLV in collaboration with the private sector. Another major activity will be the productionisation of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) through Indian industry.

No update on the proposed Chandrayaan-3 lunar landing mission appeared in the report. Chandrayaan-2 launched last year placed an orbiter into a 100 x 100-kilometer lunar orbit, but the Vikram lander failed to land safely.


Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Increase to 219,000

The DOL reported:
In the week ending February 22, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 219,000, an increase of 8,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 210,000 to 211,000. The 4-week moving average was 209,750, an increase of 500 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 209,000 to 209,250.
emphasis added
The previous week was revised up.

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

Click on graph for larger image.

The dashed line on the graph is the current 4-week average. The four-week average of weekly unemployment claims increased to 209,750.

This was higher than the consensus forecast.

“My Eyes never beheld such a funeral”

Yesterday I described how the Boston Whigs prepared for young Christopher Seider’s funeral procession on Monday, 26 Feb 1770.

The first newspaper published after that date was the 1 March Boston News-Letter, and it reported on the event this way:
a great Multitude of People assembled in the Houses and Streets to see the Funeral Procession;—it began about 3 o’clock from Liberty-Tree, (the Dwelling-House of the Parents of the deceased being but at a little distance from thence) the Boys from the several Schools, supposed to be between 4 and 500, preceded the Corps in Couples;—after the sorrowful Relatives and particular Friends of the Youth, followed many of the principal Gentlemen and a great Number of other respectable Inhabitants of this Town, by Computation exceeding 1300; about 30 Chariots, Chaises, &c. closed the Procession:

Throughout the Whole there appeared the greatest Solemnity and good Order, and by as numerous a Train as was ever known here.
Richard Draper at the News-Letter had evidently received complaints about his first report on the shooting, composed as the event unfolded, not condemning Ebenezer Richardson as much as people wanted. So this issue had more criticism of Richardson and mourning for his victim.

The Whigs supplied a longer, even more slanted report on the funeral to two Monday newspapers, the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post. (The Boston Post-Boy printers, Green and Russell, had already stated, “We are extremely cautious of publishing any thing which may raise a Prejudice in the Minds of People” while a trial was in the offing.)

The Boston Whigs insisted that “About Five Hundred School boys” led the procession of, “in the Estimation of good Judges, at least Two Thousand of all Ranks, amidst a Crowd of Spectators.” Merchant John Rowe agreed with the latter number, which would be the equivalent of one of every eight people in Boston.

John Adams, having ridden to Boston from legal business in Weymouth, wrote in his diary:
When I came into Town, I saw a vast Collection of People, near Liberty Tree—enquired and found the funeral of the Child, lately kill’d by Richardson was to be attended. Went into Mr. Rowes, and warmed me, and then went out with him to the Funeral, a vast Number of Boys walked before the Coffin, a vast Number of Women and Men after it, and a Number of Carriages. My Eyes never beheld such a funeral. The Procession extended further than can be well imagined.

This Shewes, there are many more Lives to spend if wanted in the Service of their Country. It Shews, too that the Faction is not yet expiring—that the Ardor of the People is not to be quelled by the Slaughter of one Child and the Wounding of another.
The Rev. William Gordon later wrote that the procession was a quarter-mile long. It ended at what is now called the Granary Burying-Ground, and the small coffin was placed in a tomb owned by the town of Boston.

In the newspapers, the Whigs declared of Christopher Seider:
His tragical Death and the peculiar Circumstances attending had touched the Breasts of all with the tenderest Sympathy, a few only excepted, who have long shown themselves void of the Feelings of Humanity.
Tributes continued. Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem, “On the Death of Mr. Snider Murder’d by Richardson.” The Boston Gazette assured the public that
a Monument will be erected over the Grave of young Snider, with an Inscription, to perpetuate his Memory; A Number of patriotic Gentlemen having generously subscrib’d for that Purpose…the Overplus Money, if any, will be given to the Parents.
No such monument was built. Over a year later, in the 21 Mar 1771 Massachusetts Spy, a writer asked what happened to “the Money so collected.” That letter said the man who had collected the cash was “a Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past”—which sounds like William Molineux. By then he was developing money troubles.

The Whigs’ report on the Seider funeral appeared in the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post on Monday, the 5th of March. The passionate description no doubt shaped the public mood that day and evening, which culminated in the Boston Massacre. Those deaths overshadowed Christopher Seider’s, and soon there were five more bodies in the tomb where his coffin lay.

[Photo from the Granary Burying Ground in winter courtesy of Boston Ghosts tours.]

Proposal to decriminalize polygamy in Utah

Marriage is special, a protected transaction in the U.S. and elsewhere, and that has led to odd situations as social mores change.  Same sex marriage is now legal in every U.S. state, but long before that happened, laws against homosexual sex had already been repealed. So same sex couples were able to live peacefully together before they could marry.*

In much the same way, it is not a crime in most places for unmarried people to live together, and start families.  The phrase 'polyamory' is sometimes applied to romantic relations among multiple adults.  But marriage, no longer defined as a relation between one man and one woman, is still defined as a relation between two people (but now they can also be of the same sex).  That "two-ness" may be starting to change too.

The WSJ has the story:

Utah Lawmakers Seek to Decriminalize Polygamy
Sponsor says bill will help ‘otherwise law-abiding consenting adults who practice polygamy’
By Talal Ansari

"Utah could decriminalize polygamy for the first time in 85 years.

"Lawmakers in the state House are considering legislation that would reclassify bigamy as an infraction in certain circumstances. The Republican-controlled Senate unanimously passed the bill earlier this week.

"More than 60% of Utah’s population belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially known as the Mormon Church, which practiced polygamy early in its history but banned it more than a century ago.

"Under current state law, bigamy is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. Bigamy is a legal term, defined as marrying someone while being legally married to another person.
"Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has said his office only prosecutes bigamy crimes “against those who induce marriage under false pretenses or if there is a collateral malfeasance.”

"Sen. Henderson has said her bill would essentially codify the attorney general’s prevailing practices into law.
"Polygamy was outlawed in the U.S. in the 1880s. The practice was banned by the Mormon Church in 1890, as Utah sought statehood. Utah wouldn’t become a state until 1896, under the condition that it explicitly ban polygamy in its constitution.

"Since then, the state and the Mormon Church have taken a hard stance against polygamy, with the latter excommunicating its members for engaging in plural marriage.

"In 1935, the state criminalized bigamy. Those moves pushed polygamists to the fringes of society and in geographic isolation.

"The law has been challenged over the years. In 2013, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups declared unconstitutional a key portion of Utah’s polygamy law after it was challenged by stars of the reality-television show “Sister Wives.” An appeals court later dismissed that decision and the Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal.

"According to a Gallup poll, acceptance of polygamy appears to be increasing in the U.S. In 2018, 18% of Americans believed marrying more than one person was morally acceptable. In 2003, 7% of those asked took the same stance."

In common usage, I think "bigamy" refers to one person having two spouses (often a man with two wives), but it sounds as if, used as a legal term in Utah, bigamy includes what used to be called polygamy,  the situation of having more than one spouse at the same time. The usual form of polygamy is polygyny, when a man has more that one wife. A less usual form of polygamy is polyandry, when a woman has more than one husband.

All these terms arose when marriage, even multiple marriage, was thought of as between men and women.  We may need new terms for plural marriage now that we recognize same sex marriages.  For example, in a plural marriage of the future, will all the members be married to each other?

This would make legalizing plural marriage potentially more difficult, in terms of defining the legal status of all the spouses, than was legalizing same sex marriage.  In the case of same sex marriage, all the customary rights and obligations of traditional marriage in each state could be extended to same sex couples by a judicial order.  But, e.g. how does divorce work in a plural marriage--is it pairwise, or is it more like dissolving a partnership, or resigning from a partnership?  Can some parts of the marriage persist while other parts are dissolved?

This suggests to me that it may be some time before we see new, plural forms of marriage enshrined in law.  But I wouldn't bet the farm against it in the long term.

(In the meantime, I think we can say that if you support plural marriage, that's big o' you.)

*In a geographically related story, the Salt Lake Tribune reported last week
BYU students celebrate as school removes ‘Homosexual Behavior’ section from its online Honor Code

Bernie Sanders Is Partly Right About Cuba

The Advance Market Commitment

NBER: Ten years ago, donors committed $1.5 billion to a pilot Advance Market Commitment (AMC) to help purchase pneumococcal vaccine for low-income countries. The AMC aimed to encourage the development of such vaccines, ensure distribution to children in low-income countries, and pilot the AMC mechanism for possible future use. Three vaccines have been developed and more than 150 million children immunized, saving an estimated 700,000 lives. This paper reviews the economic logic behind AMCs, the experience with the pilot, and key issues for future AMCs.

That’s Kremer, Levin and Snyder. Definitely deserving of a Nobel and kudos to Bill and Melinda Gates for being early and major supporters.

The post The Advance Market Commitment appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Cruz skeptical about prospects for NASA appropriations or other legislation


WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee expressed doubts any space-related legislation, or even spending bills, can make it through Congress this year.

At a Space Transportation Association event here Feb. 26, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suggested differences between the House and Senate versions of a NASA authorization bill might be too great to reconcile, and put the blame on the House.

“In the Senate we’re moving forward with a NASA authorization, and we’re working on getting buy-in across stakeholders, and we’ll continue to push it forward. I think it is very doable in the Senate,” he said.

The Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported a NASA authorization bill in November, one that largely supports the administration’s human space exploration plans. That bill is pending consideration by the full Senate, likely through a procedure known as unanimous consent that allows for expedited passage so long as no senator dissents.

The leadership of the House Science Committee introduced its version of a NASA authorization bill Jan. 24 that differs significantly from the Senate version. It would require a human return to the moon by 2028, four years later than the administration’s plans, and focus lunar activities on only those needed to support a human mission to Mars in 2033.

“I will say I’m not sure where the House is going to be,” Cruz said.

“Neither am I,” chimed in Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), a member of the House Science Committee who was in the audience at the event.

Cruz suggested that the House approach might threaten the bipartisan support that space policy has typically enjoyed in Congress. “An awful lot of the Pelosi House is profoundly partisan,” he said, referring to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “If they treat space as a partisan football, they will destroy the bipartisan cooperation that we’ve had going for a number of years.”

However, the differences in the NASA authorizations have been more on cameral than partisan lines. The House NASA authorization bill includes as original co-sponsors both the chairs and ranking members of the full House Science Committee and its space subcommittee. Republican leaders on the committee said they supported the bill, even if its content wasn’t what they would have drafted had they been in the majority, with the hopes of changing it as it makes its way through the House.

“There is, in fact, strong bipartisan support for the Administration & NASA’s Artemis program—not limited to the Committee—but Congress as a whole,” Weber himself noted in a series of tweets Feb. 21 criticizing one article about the bill.

Cruz was also skeptical about the prospects of a commercial space bill, the Space Frontier Act. The Senate passed that bill by unanimous consent in December 2018, but it died in the House when it failed to get the two-thirds majority needed for passage under suspension of the rules. Cruz reintroduced the bill last year, which was favorably reported by the Senate Commerce Committee in April.

However, Cruz said he was not pressing for the bill to be taken up by the full Senate because it wasn’t clear the House was interested in the topic. “I think it is a priority on the Senate side. With this leadership in the House, I don’t know,” he said. “Right now it doesn’t seem to be the same priority.”

Another obstacle, he said, is “jurisdictional turf battles” in the House, where both the House Science Committee and the House Transportation Committee have an interest in any legislation involving commercial space transportation. That’s not an issue in the Senate, where both aviation and space are in the jurisdiction of Cruz’s subcommittee.

A bigger issue than any authorizing legislation is appropriations. Cruz said he was heartened by the administration’s request for $25.2 billion for NASA in its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal but raised doubts any appropriations bills can make it through Congress during this election year.

“I don’t know if Congress, in this broken political environment, will have any appropriations,” he said. “It is entirely possible that we don’t see any appropriations passed in 2020.” In such a scenario, Congress would instead pass a continuing resolution that would set funding at the spending levels enacted for fiscal year 2020 for at least the first several months of 2021.

Despite the skepticism about the passage of legislation, Cruz said change is still possible. He noted that, after the administration proposed two years ago ending funding for the International Space Station by 2025, he chaired a series of hearings that found no support for terminating the station’s operations then. Provisions in several bills, including the Space Frontier Act and NASA authorization bills, would extend operations of the ISS to 2028 or 2030.

None of those bills have become law, but Cruz said the White House appears to have gotten the message. “Interestingly enough, that chatter about the ISS has disappeared,” he said.


Securing the Internet of Things through Class-Action Lawsuits

This law journal article discusses the role of class-action litigation to secure the Internet of Things.

Basically, the article postulates that (1) market realities will produce insecure IoT devices, and (2) political failures will leave that industry unregulated. Result: insecure IoT. It proposes proactive class action litigation against manufacturers of unsafe and unsecured IoT devices before those devices cause unnecessary injury or death. It's a lot to read, but it's an interesting take on how to secure this otherwise disastrously insecure world.

And it was inspired by my book, Click Here to Kill Everybody.

Musical traumas

There's a romanticised view that learning music as a child is a profoundly enriching experience, that it's a portal into a world of creativity and a means of achieving a host of secondary cognitive benefits. While learning an instrument is all of that and more for some people, music lessons can also be the locus of a very particular set of traumas, from the indignity of being forced to practise the piano with teacups on your hands to the paralysing performance anxiety that might surge forth at a dreaded recital. Composed of the true stories of unhappy music students rendered in varied animated styles, and shot through with an undercurrent of dark humour, this short from the Serbian filmmaker Miloš Tomić plumbs the depths of music education – including the gargantuan gap between fantasising about greatness and actually achieving it.

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon


The risk of nihilism is that it alienates us from anything good or true. Yet believing in nothing has positive potential

By Nolen Gertz

Read at Aeon

Inequality protest sentences to ponder

In countries that did experience mass protests (Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia) on the other hand, inequality was either constant or continued to decline in the last few years for which data is available.

Here is the full World Bank blog post by Francisco Ferreira and Marta Schoch.  That is via Gonzalo Schwarz of the Archbridge Institute, Gonzalo just wrote this excellent piece on economic mobility.

The post Inequality protest sentences to ponder appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The economic impact of the Bernie Sanders agenda

From Casey Mulligan:

If fully implemented, but otherwise implemented wisely, Senator Sanders’ agenda for the economy would reduce real GDP and consumption by 24 percent.  Real wages would fall more than 50 percent after taxes.  Employment and hours would fall 16 percent combined.  There would be less total healthcare, less childcare, less energy available to households, and less value added in the university sector.  Although it is more difficult to forecast, the stock market would likely fall more than 50 percent…

Even if without any productivity loss or increased utilization in healthcare, college, and daycare, this means that the Sanders agenda would be expanding the Federal budget by 13.25 percent of baseline consumption.  Including 19 percent additional utilization of these “free” goods and services, tax rates on labor income must increase by 23.5 percentage points (it would be more but the Sanders agenda does expand the tax base by eliminating the exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance).  GDP falls by 16 percent (this does not yet consider productivity losses — that comes below).

You can quibble with some of the numbers on productivity decline, but that such estimates are even possible from fairly standard parameters should give a number of you some pause.  Here is my earlier post on the economic policy ideas of Bernie Sanders.

The post The economic impact of the Bernie Sanders agenda appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Telesat sides with SES against Intelsat’s request for more C-band money

WASHINGTON — Telesat and SES are urging the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to reject Intelsat’s request for a larger share of the $9.7 billion in incentive payments the FCC plans to offer satellite operators to hasten the clearing of C-band spectrum the United States wants to repurpose for 5G cellular networks.

The FCC plans to use proceeds from an upcoming C-band auction to incentivize satellite operators to vacate the spectrum two years ahead of a 2025 deadline. Auction proceeds would also be used to reimburse the cost of new satellites and ground systems the operators will need to keep serving C-band customers while yielding 300 megahertz spectrum to companies building out U.S. 5G networks.

Under a proposal the FCC released Feb. 7, Intelsat would be entitled to the largest share of incentive payments. Intelsat has since asked the FCC to increase its potential $4.85 billion share of the $9.7 billion to at least $5.8 billion, arguing that a 60-67% share is more in line with how much work Intelsat needs to do to clear its swath of C-band by the end of 2023.

Late last week, Eutelsat took Intelsat’s side while submitting its own claim for nearly $1.5 billion of the incentive money, or about three times more than the 5% share the FCC has proposed setting aside for the Paris-based operator. 

Giving Intelsat and Eutelsat a combined $7.5 billion or more of the $9.7 billion would come at the expense of SES and Telesat, who united this week in a bid to preserve the FCC’s proposed payment allocations. Those allocations could be worth $4 billion to SES and nearly $375 million to Telesat.

In a joint letter the FCC released Feb. 25, SES and Telesat said that Intelsat’s justification for seeking more than the offered 50% share of the $9.7 billion is not valid. 

While Intelsat now says it previously underestimated the amount of work needed to clear what it calls an outsized share of North American C-band spectrum, SES and Telesat say that the scope of work hasn’t changed since all three firms and Eutelsat jointly commissioned a study to assess the effort they each face in making way for 5G. 

That study, undertaken as part of the C-Band Alliance that Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat and Telesat formed in 2018 to push for a private auction, was the basis for deciding how alliance members would divide a much larger share of auction proceeds than they stand to reap under the public auction.

SES and Telesat say the FCC shouldn’t believe Intelsat’s argument that the study underestimated its share of the work involved in clearing the spectrum. 

The FCC is scheduled to vote on its C-band auction plan Feb. 28. In addition to $9.7 billion in incentive payments, satellite operators stand to receive an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion — and possibly more — to cover costs associated with ordering replacement satellites, reducing their number of C-band gateways, installing signal filters, replacing C-band dishes and adopting new signal compression technology.

Although SES argued in a letter to the FCC last week that it deserves the same share of “accelerated relocation payments” as Intelsat, SES said this week it is not seeking any incentive money beyond the 41% share outlined in draft auction plan. Telesat, which would get about 4% of the incentive money under the draft plan,  also told the FCC it’s not seeking a larger share

In their joint letter, SES and Telesat urge the FCC “to hold fast” to the draft auction plan’s “core elements” by refusing to increase any company’s share of incentive payments. If the FCC sticks with its original allocations, 50% of the incentive payments would go to Intelsat while 41% would go to SES. The remaining 9% would go to Eutelsat, Telesat and Embratel Star One.

Eutelsat, in aligning itself with Intelsat, told the FCC in letter released Feb. 21 that Intelsat deserves 62.6%, or $6.07 billion, of the proposed incentive payments and that Eutelsat should get up to $1.47 billion — triple what the FCC included in the draft plan. Eutelsat, which quit the C-Band Alliance last year, urged the FCC to accommodate these higher allocations by reducing SES’s share to 22.1%, ($2.15 billion), Telesat’s share to 0.12% ($11.2 million) and Star One’s share to 0.03% ($2.7 million).

The scramble for incentive money spilled into the open last week when Intelsat broke ranks with SES and Telesat by making an independent appeal for more money and telling the FCC that the C-Band Alliance was effectively dead. Intelsat’s move came shortly after a hedge fund assumed a 7% stake in Intelsat and urged the company’s board to either fight for a bigger share of the C-band money or file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. 

Telesat and SES, meanwhile, say the C-Band Alliance still exists and that Intelsat doesn’t have the right to unilaterally withdraw from the group.  

An Intelsat spokesperson said the C-Band Alliance was effectively null and void once the FCC denied the group’s request to conduct a private auction. 

“In our recent FCC filing, we detail that, from its inception, the C-Band Alliance was established solely to advocate for a market-based solution to clear C-band spectrum” Dianne VanBeber, Intelsat vice president of investor relations, said in a Feb. 26 statement.  “The existence of the CBA was obviated by the FCC decision to pursue a public auction. This is further emphasized by the draft order, which does not contemplate a meaningful role for the CBA, and thus the existence of the C-Band Alliance has run its natural course.”


Four short links: 27 February 2020

  1. BellTopo Sans — typeface and free font inspired by the sans serif in old maps. (via Flowing Data)
  2. YC’s Guide to Raising Series AThis guide is a distillation of everything we know about successfully raising an A. It includes insights learned from watching hundreds of founders succeed in raising, and in watching dozens fail.
  3. Information Disorders (Renee DiResta) — survey proposed regulatory approaches to addressing the range of challenges in the information environment, looking at regulatory proposals around ads, antitrust, and privacy, and how these proposed laws impact the privacy-security-free expression balance. (via Fast.ai)
  4. IssuesIssues come in many flavors, for example feature requests, bug reports, customer complaints, security alerts, team retrospectives, etc.; this page describes how our team uses issues, and how we communicate about them.

Phenomenal Faults and Folds

Phenomenal Faults and Folds
The striking patterns in northeastern Canada’s flood basalts tell a story of continental collisions that played out almost two billion years ago.


Patrick AFB, Cape Canaveral soon to be renamed Space Force bases

ORLANDO, Fla. — Preparations are underway to officially transition Florida’s Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the U.S. Space Force. There is still no firm date for the actual name change but it could happen sometime in March, said Brig. Gen. Douglas Schiess, commander of the 45th Space Wing and director of the Eastern Range.

But even when they become Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, these installations will still be maintained and supported by the U.S. Air Force, Schiess told SpaceNews on Feb. 26 at the Air Force Association’s annual winter symposium.

The renaming of bases is one of a long list of administrative changes planned for the coming year as part of the standup of the U.S. Space Force. Schiess said the date for the official name change is being coordinated with the White House as there will be someone “pretty high up” attending the event. “We’re hearing mid-March,” he said. “We’re preparing.”

Schiess said the communities in the Florida Space Coast are excited about the U.S. Space Force and are eager for the name of the new branch to be visible on billboards and road signs.

He said the Air Force and the Space Force are making these changes while being respectful of the history behind bases like Patrick, named after Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick, the first chief of the Army Air Corps’ air service in World War I.

There is also a discussion about what to call the current space wings. The term wing is associate with air warfare and the Space Force would like to have a different name for these organizations, said Schiess. A decision will be made eventually, but the Space Force first has to settle on what to call its members. “Are we going to be Guardians, Sentinels. Troopers?” Schiess said that has to be figured out “before we decide what the wing will be called,” he said. “I don’t even want to speculate, it’s all over the place on what it would be.”

Schiess pointed out the Space Force is only a few weeks old, although it feels that it’s been around longer because it’s been talked about for over a year. “You could argue we should have been ready” with a new name by the time the National Defense Authorization Act enacted the Space Force on Dec. 20, he said. But many people thought the NDAA would say to be ready a year from now, and Schiess himself was surprised the bill enacted the Space Force immediately upon signing.

“There’s a lot of things we should have had ready to go but we didn’t, and names is one of them,” he said. He constantly gets asked that question: what are we going to be called?

Having a name is the first step toward building an identity as a space service, said Schiess, who began his Air Force career as operator of intercontinental ballistic missiles. “As we become our own, as people start coming over and become part of the Space Force and as we bring new folks in, we’re going to build that culture of space warfighting,” he said.

The launch wings — the 45th Space Wing on the East Coast and the 30th Space Wing on the West Coast — are somewhat unique because they work closely with the commercial launch industry but still have to think about “assured access to space” as a key national security priority, said Schiess. It’s helpful for the Space Force ranks to hear the Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond talk about Russia’s aggressive behavior in space, for example, he said. “So people realize there’s an adversary out there.”

One of the more controversial issues in the standup of the Space Force has been the lack of a plan to create a Space National Guard or a dedicated reserve component to support the new service. That is an ongoing debate and DoD is expected to deliver a report to Congress March 19 with recommendations. Schiess declined to offer an opinion on which way DoD should go.

The 45th Space Wing relies on individual reservists but does not have National Guard units. There is a Florida National Guard at Patrick Air Force Base, the 114th Space Control Squadron, that conducts electronic warfare operations in support of the U.S. Space Force.

During a Space Force leaders meeting in Colorado Springs last week, “General Raymond said we have to get after that, what is the right mix of guard and reserves,” said Schiess. “They’ll have to work that out.”


Thursday: GDP, Unemployment Claims

• At 8:30 AM ET, The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released. The consensus is for 211 thousand initial claims, up from 210 thousand the previous week.

• At 8:30 AM, Gross Domestic Product, 4th quarter 2019 (Second estimate). The consensus is that real GDP increased 2.1% annualized in Q4, unchanged from the advance estimate.

• At 8:30 AM, Durable Goods Orders for January from the Census Bureau. The consensus is for a 1.5% decrease in durable goods orders.

• At 11:00 AM, the Kansas City Fed manufacturing survey for February. This is the last of regional manufacturing surveys for February.

Disney Names Bob Chapek CEO; Bob Iger Remains Chairman of Board and Will Continue to Run ‘Creative Endeavors’

Brooks Barnes, reporting for The New York Times:

The Walt Disney Company said that Mr. Iger, who has run Disney for nearly 15 years, would be replaced as chief executive by Bob Chapek, a 27-year veteran of the entertainment conglomerate who has most recently served as chairman of Disney’s theme parks and consumer products businesses. Mr. Chapek will report to the Disney board, which will continue to be led by Mr. Iger, who will also take on the title of executive chairman and “direct Disney’s creative endeavors,” the company said, until the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021. […]

Mr. Iger said the Disney board “identified Bob actually quite some time ago as a likely successor.” He said he decided not to elevate Mr. Chapek to an interim role — perhaps chief operating officer, a job that has not existed at Disney since Thomas O. Staggs, once Mr. Iger’s heir apparent, left the company in 2016. “I did not believe that would bestow on him the kind of autonomy that I wanted him to have during this transition,” Mr. Iger said. Furthermore, “I’m not going to suddenly be working three days a week. My new role is a full-time job.” […]

Mr. Chapek, who has limited creative experience, became the seventh chief executive in Disney’s nearly 100-year history. He can come across as a bit stiff in comparison to the magnetic Mr. Iger, whose celebrated run at the company has made him a corporate celebrity. But what Mr. Chapek may lack in charisma, he makes up for with an uncynical admiration for Disney’s sentimental style of entertainment, gladly clapping along with the parade when he visits the parks and gamefully engaging in scripted banter with costumed characters.

Iger running creative efforts full-time — and remaining, ultimately, in charge — while Chapek runs the company as CEO feels like what would have happened at Apple if Steve Jobs hadn’t succumbed to cancer. Jobs as chief design officer — and chairman of the board — with Cook as CEO would’ve been perfect.


Markets wake up with a jolt to the implications of covid-19

Could market turmoil add to the economic disruption?

With its epidemic slowing, China tries to get back to work

Officials shift their focus to reviving growth. But that isn’t easy

Two Hemisphere Night Sky

The Sun is hidden by a horizon that runs across the middle The Sun is hidden by a horizon that runs across the middle

Photos: Servicing spacecraft approaches Intelsat satellite high above Earth

Northrop Grumman’s first Mission Extension Vehicle captured spectacular views of the commercial Intelsat 901 communications satellite as it approached for docking this week, providing the first-ever up-close public views of a spacecraft flying near geosynchronous orbit more than 22,000 miles above Earth.

Flying on autopilot, the MEV 1 spacecraft docked with the Intelsat 901 satellite at 2:15 a.m. EST (0715 GMT) Tuesday high above the Pacific Ocean.

The Mission Extension Vehicle is a commercial servicer designed to latch on to satellites and take control of propulsion duties, allowing old spacecraft to continue operating even if they are out of fuel.

The automated docking early Tuesday marked the first docking of two commercial satellites in space, and the first link-up of two satellites in geosynchronous orbit, a region high above the equator where spacecraft move at speeds that match the rate of Earth’s rotation. The ability of satellites to move in lock-step with the spin of Earth makes geosynchronous orbit, or GEO, a popular location for communications relay stations.

It was also the first docking with a satellite that was never designed to receive a visitor after launch.

Read our full story for details on the mission.

The Intelsat 901 spacecraft seen from a distance by MEV 1. Credit: Northrop Grumman
MEV 1 moves closer to Intelsat 901. Credit: Northrop Grumman
The Intelsat 901 satellite, backdropped by planet Earth, is seen by Northrop Grumman’s first Mission Extension Vehicle more than 22,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean. Australia is visible on the lower right portion of the visible Earth in this image. Credit: Northrop Grumman
The Intelsat 901 satellite, more than 18 years since its launch, prepares for its first close-up in space. Credit: Northrop Grumman
This series of images shows the MEV’s final approach to the Intelsat 901 satellite, and its attachment to Intelsat 901’s engine nozzle with an extendable stinger. Mechanical arms then grabbed Intelsat 901 to pull the two vehicles together. Credit: Northrop Grumman

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Two commercial satellites link up in space for first time

The Intelsat 901 satellite, backdropped by planet Earth, is seen by Northrop Grumman’s first Mission Extension Vehicle more than 22,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean. Credit: Northrop Grumman

A Northrop Grumman robotic servicing spacecraft has hooked up with an aging Intelsat communications satellite more than 22,000 miles over the Pacific Ocean, accomplishing the first link-up between two commercial satellites in space, and the first docking with a satellite that was never designed to receive a visitor.

Northrop Grumman’s first commercial Mission Extension Vehicle, or MEV 1, will take over propulsion responsibilities for Intelsat 901, which is running low on fuel after more than 18 years in service relaying data and television signals. MEV 1 is the first spacecraft of its kind, and officials say the successful link-up with Intelsat 901 is a harbinger for a new era of commercial satellite servicing.

The automated docking early Tuesday also marked the first connection of two satellites in geosynchronous orbit, a region high above the equator where spacecraft move at speeds that match the rate of Earth’s rotation. The ability of satellites to move in lock-step with the spin of Earth makes geosynchronous orbit, or GEO, a popular location for communications relay stations.

“It’s a very historic day,” said Joe Anderson, vice president of business development and operations at SpaceLogistics LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, which built the MEV 1 spacecraft. “It’s the first time that satellites have docked in the GEO orbit. It’s the first time we’ve ever docked with a satellite that was not designed to be dock with, and it’s the first time two commercial satellites have ever docked.”

The MEV 1 spacecraft lifted off from Kazakhstan in October aboard a Russian Proton launcher, flying in tandem on the same rocket with a Eutelsat telecom satellite. After its release into an elliptical, or egg-shaped transfer orbit, MEV 1 activated electric thrusters to circularize its orbit more than 22,000 miles (roughly 36,000 kilometers) above Earth.

MEV 1 arrived in the vicinity of Intelsat 901 on Feb. 5, according to Anderson.

Intelsat 901 left its operating position and raised its altitude by 180 miles, or 290 kilometers, to the so-called GEO graveyard orbit, where geostationary satellites are typically decommissioned. Managers selected the GEO graveyard orbit for the first MEV docking to reduce the risk to other active satellites from space debris in the event of an accident.

“This has been a long time in the making,” Anderson said in an interview Wednesday with Spaceflight Now. “The company’s been working on developing this capability for over 10 years now. Our construction began back in 2016, and we launched here last October, made it into orbit, up to up to the GEO graveyard orbit, where we rendezvoused with this Intelsat satellite earlier this month.”

This series of images shows the MEV’s final approach to the Intelsat 901 satellite, and its attachment to Intelsat 901’s engine nozzle. Credit: Northrop Grumman

Since Feb. 5 up until Monday of this week, we were doing a number of approaches, calibrating our sensors and our algorithms, testing out our procedures,” Anderson said. “And then on Monday, we did the final approach. It was quite exciting.”

Switching from low-impulse electric thrusters to higher-power conventional liquid-fueled jets, MEV 1 approached the Intelsat 901 spacecraft and paused at pre-planned waypoints 80 meters (262 feet) and 20 meters (65 feet) from its docking target.

The robotic servicing craft was designed to extend a stinger into the nozzle of the main engine on Intelsat 901, which has not been used since the weeks after the satellite’s launch in 2001. A liquid apogee engine is mounted to the base of about 80 percent of the communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit.

A series of images released Wednesday by Northrop Grumman showed the MEV’s stinger entering the Intelsat 901 engine. Mechanical fingers reached out and grabbed the target craft to pull the two satellites together at 2:15 a.m. EST (0715 GMT) Tuesday.

“We lowered our orbit down down to about 80 meters behind the client satellite, and from there began the approach to the client,” Anderson said Wednesday. “The satellite autonomously maneuvers from one waypoint to the next is approaching the client. It takes a couple of hours to do that approach, and then we get to the final waypoint right behind the client, we get permission from the client to to do the docking and send the command, and a few minutes later we were captured and clamped together, locked together and the MEV took over control.”

Ground teams at Northrop Grumman’s satellite control center in Dulles, Virginia, and at Intelsat’s operations center in nearby Tysons Corner orchestrated the docking. But MEV 1’s on-board computer, using data gathered by a scanning LIDAR ranging sensor and infrared and visible cameras, guided the spacecraft toward Intelsat 901 autonomous, with occasional go-aheads from ground controllers.

Artist’s illustration of the Intelsat 901 satellite (left) after the docking of the Mission Extension Vehicle (right). Credit: Northrop Grumman

MEV’1 next act will be to relocate Intelsat 901 to a new operating position in geosynchronous orbit at 27.5 degrees west longitude, again using the spacecraft’s fuel-efficient xenon-fed electric thrusters. The servicer will also adjust the inclination, or tilt, of Intelsat 901’s orbit from 1.5 degrees back over the equator.

“Right now, we’re over the Pacific Ocean, and we’ll be continuing to drift westward to relocate the Intelsat satellite over to their new operating position in the Atlantic Ocean region,” Anderson said. “So they’ll be going to a new location at 27.5 degrees west longitude, and it will go into service there. The end of March, beginning of April timeframe is when we should be there. At that point, Intelsat will transfer the traffic from one of their other communications satellites to the Intelsat 901 satellite.”

Built by Space Systems/Loral, now known as Maxar, the Intelsat 901 satellite launched in June 2001 aboard a European Ariane 4 rocket from French Guiana with a design lifetime of 13 years. The satellite is still capable of providing services for Intelsat customers, but would need to be retired soon without the help of Northrop Grumman’s servicing craft.

The Mission Extension Vehicle takes over attitude control and propulsion responsibilities, acting like a jet pack for the customer spacecraft.

Under the terms the contract with Intelsat, the MEV 1 spacecraft will provide propulsion capabilities to Intelsat 901 to extend its usable life for five years, then return the satellite to a decommissioning graveyard orbit. At the end of the five-year service, MEV 1 could dock with another satellite in geosynchronous orbit to serve another client.

Intelsat, one of the world’s largest and oldest commercial satellite operators, signed up as the anchor customer for the Space Logistics satellite servicing program in 2016.

Satellite servicing is not new for Intelsat.

Astronauts flying on the space shuttle Endeavour installed a new upper stage on the Intelsat 603 satellite in 1992. Over the course of three spacewalks, Endeavour’s crew struggled to capture the cylinder-shaped communications satellite, which was stranded in an unusable orbit by a launch failure.

After two capture attempts turned up empty, space shuttle crew conducted the first — and so far only — spacewalk to be performed by three astronauts to grab the 4.5-ton satellite and connect a new kick motor to send it into geostationary orbit.

“Intelsat has been at the forefront of innovation and game-changing space technology for decades,” said Mike DeMarco, executive vice president and chief services officer at Intelsat, in a press release. “Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible is in our DNA here – that’s why we didn’t hesitate to sign up to be MEV-1’s first customer. We’re proud to make history with Space Logistics LLC and Northrop Grumman on this groundbreaking space milestone.”

The second Mission Extension Vehicle, set for launch in June, will also service an aging Intelsat communications satellite in geostationary orbit. The MEV 2 spacecraft will launch on top of an Ariane 5 rocket in tandem with Intelsat’s new Galaxy 30 communications satellite.

Customers can purchase MEV services on an annual basis.

For the MEV 1 mission, Intelsat is paying around $13 million per year for the life extension service, said Jacques Kerrest, Intelsat’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, in a quarterly earnings call last year.

Northrop Grumman’s satellite servicing program has weathered several corporate mergers and acquisitions. The Mission Extension Vehicle started under ATK, a precursor to Orbital ATK, which formed in 2015. Northrop Grumman acquired Orbital ATK in 2018.

Officials said the MEV design relies on existing technologies.

The navigation sensors flown on the MEV are similar to rendezvous aids used on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space station supply ship, and the MEV spacecraft is based on Northrop Grumman’s flight-proven GEOStar design. The MEV also uses a docking structure based on devices developed by ATK for space shuttle servicing flights to the Hubble Space Telescope.

“For us at Space Logistics, this is really just the first step,” Anderson said Wednesday. “We’ve really taken an approach here of keep it simple, incrementally improve the technologies and add new capabilities as those technologies are developed and the risks are retired.

“So we are currently working on our next generation of satellite servicing capabilities,” he said. “That consists of our Mission Robotic Vehicle and propulsion augmentation device — we call it a Mission Extension Pod. So that’s already on our horizon. We hope to have that in orbit by mid-2024. So that will bring many new capabilities for servicing, getting simple repairs, to adding augmentation devices to existing satellites.”

Intelsat 901, and the Intelsat satellite targeted by the MEV 2 mission, were never designed to join up with another spacecraft after launch. With satellite servicing now a reality, Anderson said he expects manufacturers to begin designing satellites to be repaired and serviced in orbit.

“We’ll begin designing our satellites for satellite servicing,” he said. “So rather than designing satellites for super-high reliability, like we do today, we’ll design satellites for serviceability in the future. So it will create a shift in that market.”

Other companies are pursuing satellite servicing and repair demonstration missions.

Maxar, a competitor with Northrop Grumman the satellite manufacturing business, is developing the Restore-L satellite servicing demonstration mission under contract to NASA that aims to refuel a Landsat Earth-imaging satellite, which orbits around 50 times closer to Earth than the geostationary altitude targeted by the the MEV.

Maxar was also the manufacturer of Intelsat 901, the client satellite for Northrop Grumman’s MEV 1 spacecraft.

SpaceLogistics and Northrop Grumman received technical assistance from NASA during development of the MEV, but the government provided no funding. NASA’s assistance included support tasks in rendezvous and proximity operations, management of electro-static discharges between vehicles, robotics operator training, and the development of electric propulsion systems, the space agency said.

Maxar’s Restore-L mission is more technically complex, and involves the transfer of propellant and an in-space manufacturing and assembly demonstration with robotic arms. The MEV is simpler, and it’s a purely commercial effort, but NASA and the U.S. military could be future customers for SpaceLogistics and Northrop Grumman.

Northrop Grumman is not planning to build more MEVs beyond the second extension vehicle scheduled for launch in June. But potential customers can still ask for an MEV if desired, Anderson said.

Officials instead are focusing on the next-generation satellite servicing vehicle, which could mount propulsion pods directly onto satellites, then move to another client rather than remaining docked for years at a time.

Services offered by the propulsion pods under development at Northrop Grumman could help extend operations of satellites in different orbits, and for spacecraft farther from Earth.

“We can use these for applications at low and medium Earth orbits, as well as cislunar space and Mars as well,” Anderson said. “So this need, this capability for servicing, for tugging satellites, for refueling satellites, apply in all of those all of those cases.”

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

SpaceX swaps upper stage for next Falcon 9 launch

In this image from the company’s most recent launch Feb. 27, a Merlin engine is seen firing on the upper stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is targeting launches March 6 and March 11 for its next two missions after swapping an upper stage for its next Falcon 9 rocket with another stage already being readied for liftoff at Cape Canaveral.

The launch targeted for March 6 from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station will send a Dragon supply ship toward the International Space Station with nearly three tons of cargo, crew provisions and experiments, including a new mounting platform for external research payloads outside the station’s European Columbus lab module.

Liftoff is scheduled for 11:50 p.m. EST on March 6 (0450 GMT on March 7) on SpaceX’s fifth Falcon 9 flight of the year.

SpaceX teams a few miles to the north at Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A will prepare a separate Falcon 9 launcher for liftoff as soon as March 11 at 10:40 a.m. EDT (1440 GMT). That mission will loft approximately 60 more satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink Internet network, which is expected to take up the bulk of the company’s 2020 launch manifest.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket is expected to return to landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station around eight minutes after liftoff of the space station resupply mission March 6. The booster is expected to attempt a landing on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean after the March 11 launch.

The March 6 mission will mark the 20th and final flight of a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule to the space station under a multibillion-dollar commercial resupply services contract awarded by NASA to SpaceX in December 2008. It will also be the last flight of SpaceX’s first-generation Dragon cargo freighter, which first flew in orbit on a test flight in 2010.

NASA said Tuesday that the launch of the Dragon cargo mission — designated CRS-20 or SpaceX-20 — was delayed from March 2 allow time for SpaceX to replace the upper stage on the Falcon 9 rocket with another stage already undergoing preparations for a subsequent launch from Cape Canaveral.

“During standard preflight inspections, SpaceX identified a valve motor on the second stage engine behaving not as expected and determined the safest and most expedient path to launch is to utilize the next second stage in line that was already at the Cape and ready for flight,” NASA said in a statement. “The new second stage has already completed the same preflight inspections with all hardware behaving as expected.

“The updated target launch date (of March 6) provides the time required to complete preflight integration and final checkouts,” NASA said.

SpaceX is retiring the current version of the Dragon spacecraft in favor of the Dragon 2 vehicle, which will come in two variants tailored for crew and cargo missions to the space station.

The first piloted flight of the Crew Dragon — the next-generation Dragon’s human-rated configuration — is scheduled to take off as soon as May from the Kennedy Space Center. On its initial missions, the Crew Dragon only fly with astronauts once.

The cargo variant of the Dragon 2 spacecraft — which will have cargo bags and racks in place of crew seats — is rated to launch and land up to five times, according to SpaceX.

File photo of a Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad. Credit: SpaceX

The following Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast was pushed back to March 11 from March 4, presumably as a ripple effect from the delay to the previous mission.

On the March 11 mission, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will haul around 60 more quarter-ton satellites into orbit for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband fleet, bringing the total number of Starlink nodes launched since last May to 360.

Including spares, SpaceX plans to deploy more than 1,500 Starlink satellites to begin providing low-latency Internet service around the world. Around 720 satellites are required to begin initial Internet services in high latitude regions, including Canada and the northern United States.

SpaceX could reach the initial service threshold by mid-2020. The company has not started selling subscriptions for Starlink connectivity, or announced a price for the Starlink network’s consumer-grade service.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Zillow Case-Shiller Forecast: House Price Gains "Back on the Gas"

The Case-Shiller house price indexes for December were released yesterday. Zillow forecasts Case-Shiller a month early, and I like to check the Zillow forecasts since they have been pretty close.

From Matthew Speakman at Zillow: December Case-Shiller Results & January Forecast: Back on the Gas
The final reading of 2019 confirmed that a reacceleration of home price growth has indeed begun, after growth spent nearly the entire calendar year tapping on the brakes.

The national Case-Shiller Home Price Index rose 3.8% year-over-year in December. The smaller 10- and 20-city composite indices grew more slowly, at 2.4% and 2.9% year-over-year, respectively.
For-sale inventory remains near its lowest level on record, which has stoked competition for the relatively few homes on the market and nudged prices back upward as a result. The rebound in home price growth is also rooted in the sustained strength of the U.S. economy, which continues to ride a robust labor market, and mortgage rates that finished the year near their lowest levels since 2016 and have fallen even further since.
emphasis added
Zillow forecast for Case-ShillerThe Zillow forecast is for the year-over-year change for the Case-Shiller National index to be at 4.0% in January, up from 3.8% in December.

The Zillow forecast is for the 20-City index to be up 3.2% YoY in January from 2.9% in December, and for the 10-City index to increase to 2.8% YoY compared to 2.4% YoY in December.

Links 2/26/20

Links for you. Science:

The next chapter for African genomics: Nigeria is poised to become a hub for genetics research, but a few stubborn challenges block the way.
Popular preprint servers face closure because of money troubles
Should ‘broken’ genes be fixed? My daughter changed the way I think about that question
Once widely criticized, the Wuhan quarantine bought the world time to prepare for Covid-19
Coronavirus-infected Americans flown home against CDC’s advice (doesn’t bode well if/when it hits the U.S.)


Real Men Cut Social Security
Fuck the Poolice
Trump’s Disregard for Truth-Tellers Is Just a Crude Extension of Previous Presidents
How Stephen Miller Manipulates Donald Trump to Further His Immigration Obsession
Another talking point proves ineffective. 72% of Democratic voters think Bernie will beat Trump.
The Oligarch Stage of the American Disease: Bloomberg Edition
The Joe Kennedy-Ed Markey Senate Debate Was Among the Most Desultory Political Events in Memory: If you can figure out why we should turf out a progressive of Markey’s caliber based on Kennedy’s fog of words Tuesday night, you’re a helluva lot smarter than I am.
Stacey Abrams Is Wrong to Compare Bloomberg’s $350-Million Spending Spree to Campaigning With a Dog
Thinking Past November
Where’s the Savior?
Can Democrats reclaim rural America? Jane Kleeb says yes — and wants to show them how
Why aren’t more Americans working? Fed Chair Powell says blame education and drugs, not welfare.
“They Call It Karma”
This One Chart Explains Why the Kids Back Bernie
Trump eliminates funding for program honoring Ambassador Stevens, who was killed in Benghazi
Sanders says Democrats should do the “same thing” as right-wing Federalist Society in nominating federal judges
The millennial/gen-z strategy
Why red baiting won’t work against Bernie Sanders
Why burned-out doctors despise electronic health records
Why Bernie Is the True Feminist Choice
Rural America Doesn’t Have to Starve to Death

Boeing Dropped The Ball Again - And NASA Let Them

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2020/data.gifBoeing didn't perform full end-to-end test of its astronaut capsule before troubled mission, 'surprising' NASA safety panel, Orlando Sentinel

"Boeing and NASA officials are expected to release the results of an independent investigation into the set of issues that occurred during Boeing's late December test of Starliner, its astronaut crew capsule, within the next week. But speaking to the Orlando Sentinel, members of NASA's safety advisory panel expanded on some of the testing decisions Boeing made that drew questions about whether Starliner was ready to fly. Critically, the panel learned early this month that Boeing did not perform a full, end-to-end integrated test of Starliner in a Systems Integration Lab with ULA's Atlas V rocket. The test typically shows how all the software systems during each component of the mission would have responded with each other through every maneuver -- and it could potentially have caught the issues Boeing later experienced in the mission."

- Boeing Really Needs To Get Their Software Fixed, earlier post
- ASAP: Boeing Starliner Software Issue Potentially "Catastrophic", earlier post

Sea Launch platform to leave California • Hispasat boosts Red Eléctrica’s financials


Sea Launch’s mobile Odyssey launchpad was loaded onto a cargo ship, the Xin Guang Hua, for transport from California. The 46,000-ton launchpad, last used in 2014, is expected to arrive near Vladivostok, Russia, in March. Russian aviation company S7 Group completed its purchase of Sea Launch in 2018. [Gazettes/TASS/@MXSOCAL]

EchoStar, Khosla Ventures and OneWeb founder Greg Wyler have invested an additional $24 million into Tarana Wireless, a California startup developing technology for long-distance wireless links. Tarana said the funds will help further a demonstration network in Silicon Valley that links multiple locations up to 15 kilometers away using a single transmitter, many without direct line of sight. Tarana said investors have committed to provide another $36 million in equity investment through October. [Tarana Wireless]

Spanish power company Red Eléctrica says its acquisition of Hispasat is boosting earnings. Red Eléctrica reported a profit of 718 million euros ($780.1 million) on 2 billion euros in 2019 revenue, up 3% from the year prior. Hispasat contributed 33 million euros to Red Electrica’s 1.58 billion euros in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. The Hispasat acquisition closed in October and added 200 people to Red Electrica’s head count, which numbered 2,056 employees at the end of 2019. [Red Eléctrica]


General Atomics used a ground-based observatory to test an optical laser link with a geostationary satellite. The test demonstrated how Tesat-Spacecom’s LCT 135 laser terminal could connect drones with 300 times the capacity of traditional radio-frequency links. General Atomics said the test was a “critical step” toward equipping aircraft with high-bandwidth communications that avoid jamming or detection by adversaries. [FlightGlobal]

Lockheed Martin will acquire the satellite technology assets of Vector after no competing bids were submitted. Lawyers handling the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Vector said Monday they received no qualifying bids for the GalacticSky technology by a Feb. 21 deadline, and thus Lockheed would acquire them with its “stalking horse” bid of $4.25 million. One startup, NewSpace Networks, had proposed bidding on the assets, but a court turned down a request to extend the bidding deadline so it could so more due diligence. Vector filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December. [SpaceNews]

Dutch antenna company Celestia received a 2.5 million-pound ($3.2 million) grant to develop a flat-panel antenna that can link aircraft to satellite Wi-Fi. Scottish Enterprise, Scotland’s national economic development agency, provided the grant, which is expected to generate 18 jobs in Scotland. Celestia’s UK subsidiary said it will initially set up shop at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, while it identifies a permanent Scottish location. Celestia said its flat-panel antenna will use phased array technology, enabling links between satellites in different orbits. [Celestia]

Australia’s emerging launch industry says there are a number of ways the Australian government can support them. At a recent conference, companies developing launch vehicles and commercial spaceports said the government can help streamline the regulatory process as well as commit to buying Australian services in much the same way the U.S. government procures launches from domestic companies. They also suggested a “national pathfinder mission” like a smallsat lunar orbiter could help promote the country’s overall space industry. [SpaceNews]

Eutelsat Communications has selected Satellite Mediaport Services (SMS Teleport) to provide backup broadcast services. SMS Teleport, located in Rugby, U.K., will ensure 24/7 broadcasting from the Eutelsat 8 West B satellite to viewers in the Middle East and Northern Africa. SMS Teleport is connected through multiple fiber links to Eutelsat’s Rambouillet teleport in Paris, which provides the primary link to Eutelsat 8 West B. [DigitalTVEurope]

SpaceX is raising an additional $250 million. The round, expected to close next month, would value the company at $36 billion, up from $33.3 billion is its prior round last year. The company did not comment on the funding round or how it will use the money. The company has several capital-intensive projects underway, including its Starlink satellite constellation and Starship next-generation launch system, which will likely require far more than $250 million this year to continue. [CNBC]


Kottke’s Trip to Vietnam, Singapore, and Qatar

Jason Kottke:

For three weeks in late January and early February, I travelled to Asia, spending two weeks in Saigon, a few days in Singapore, and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. Here are some of the things I saw and did and ate. Note: this is a long post, maybe the longest thing I’ve posted here in many years. But I think it’s a quick read — pack a snack, stay hydrated, and you’ll be alright.

Such a great piece — lovely writing, great photos.


NASA’s InSight mission shows Mars is a seismically active world

In this artist’s concept of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars, layers of the planet’s subsurface can be seen below and dust devils can be seen in the background. Credit: IPGP/Nicolas Sarter

While one of its two science instruments remains sidelined, NASA’s InSight probe has proven Mars is seismically active through the detection of hundreds of quakes, some of which can be traced to a volcanic region nearly 1,000 miles away.

Since landing on Mars in November 2018, the InSight spacecraft’s French-built seismometer has detected more than 450 seismic signals to date, according to NASA. Scientists believe the “vast majority” of the signals are probably from quakes, but some could be generated by wind.

But none of the quakes registered by InSight have been stronger than magnitude 4.0, too weak to penetrate Mars’ mantle and core and reveal insights about the red planet’s deep interior.

Data from the first year of results from NASA’s InSight mission were published in six papers Monday. Scientists released the papers in in the scientific journals Nature and Nature Geoscience.

InSight is the first mission to detect a “marsquake” on the red planet. The spacecraft landed on a broad equatorial plain in a region known as Elysium Planitia.

“The detections thus far are consistent with tectonic origins, with no impact-induced seismicity yet observed, and indicate a seismically active planet,” the InSight science team wrote in Nature.

The first batch of seismic measurements suggest Mars is “moderately active” with far more quakes than detected on the moon, scientists wrote in Nature. 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.

Scientists traced the origin of two of the quakes to a region named Cerberus Fossae roughly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) to the east of the InSight landing site. Images acquired by cameras orbiting Mars show faults and channels in the Cerberus Fossae region, evidence of lava flows and running water. Some of the volcanic flows at Cerberus Fossae occurred in the last 10 million years, scientists concluded due to the lack of fresh impact craters in the region.

Landslides at Cerberus Fossae appear to indicate boulders may have been shaken loose by marsquakes, presumably tremors triggered by volcanic activity.

“It’s just about the youngest tectonic feature on the planet,” said Matt Golombek, a planetary geologist at JPL. “The fact that we’re seeing evidence of shaking in this region isn’t a surprise, but it’s very cool.”

The two largest quakes detected by NASA’s InSight appear to have originated in a region of Mars called Cerberus Fossae. Scientists previously spotted signs of tectonic activity here, including landslides. This image was taken by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Scientists believe InSight may landed on Mars during a relatively quiet period of seismic activity because it took several months for the probe to detect its first confirmed seismic signal. By the end of 2019, the mission’s seismic instrument — named SEIS — was detecting around two seismic events per day.

Meanwhile, InSight’s other science instrument — an underground heat probe — continues having trouble hammering into the Martian soil.

The German-built Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, instrument was supposed to burrow up to 16 feet (5 meters) into the Martian crust, deeper than any sensor from previous Mars missions.

The HP3 instrument’s self-hammering mole got stuck on the first day it began digging into the Martian soil. The soil at InSight’s landing site appears to clump together rather than loosely fall around the mole as it hammers.

Inspections using InSight’s robot arm camera indicated the presence of 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of duricrust, a type of cemented soil thicker than anything encountered on other Mars missions, NASA officials said. The duricrust is also different from the soil the mole was designed for.

The unique soil properties have caused the mole to bounce in place as it recoils from each stroke of its built in hammer mechanism, rather than dig deeper as designed.

Last summer, ground controllers began using the scoop on the InSight lander’s robotic arm to push against the side of the 16-inch-long (40-centimeter) spike as it resumed hammering into the ground. The pinning method appeared to help, but the mole backed out of the ground two times.

Now mission managers have elected to try a more risky method to push on the back cap of the mole with the robotic arm as the spike hammers into the ground.

Ground teams will take it slow with the new pushing method to avoid damaging an umbilical that trails behind the mole. The tether contains multiple temperature sensors to gather thermal data at various depths underneath the Martian surface, and cables to route science data back to the InSight lander for transmission to Earth.

The robotic arm on NASA’s InSight spacecraft is seen in position to assist the mole of the mission’s underground heat probe in this Feb. 24 image. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The heat flow measurements intended to be collected by the HP3 instrument are part of the $1 billion InSight mission’s so-called “Level 1” requirements, but were listed as a stretch goal, not as a requirement for minimum mission success, according to Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator at JPL.

“NASA funds our mission and supports us, and in return, we sort of promise a certain number of scientific measurements and results,” Banerdt said last year. “We have about 10 of those for InSight. We call them our Level 1 requirements, and one of those Level 1 requirements is for a measurement of the heat flow of Mars using our HP3.

The mission must meet at least six of the 10 Level 1 requirements to meet minimum success criteria, according to NASA officials.

The InSight mission’s third major science investigation is the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment, or RISE. This experiment uses radio signals traveling between InSight and Earth receiving stations to track the wobble of Mars as it rotates, yielding insights into the planet’s interior structure, including whether Mars has a liquid or solid core.

Scientists have not yet made any conclusions from the RISE investigation.

“A solid core would cause Mars to wobble less than a liquid one would,” NASA said. “This first year of data is just a start. Watching over a full Martian year (two Earth years) will give scientists a much better idea of the size and speed of the planet’s wobble.”

Other data collected by InSight last year suggest rocks beneath the probe’s landing site are more magnetized than scientists predicted. The magnetic signals are relics left over from when Mars had a magnetic field billions of years ago.

The Martian magnetic field withered away, but rocks buried 200 feet (61 meters) to several miles beneath the planet’s surface were magnetized by the field. Rocks closer to the surface are too young to carry the remnant magnetism.

InSight carried the first magnetometer to the surface of Mars to investigate how the magnetic field’s ancient impacts can still be sensed today. The initial InSight results indicate the magnetism coming from the deep rock layers is 10 times stronger than expected.

“This magnetism must be coming from ancient rocks underground,” said Catherine Johnson, a planetary scientist at the University of British Columbia and the Planetary Science Institute. “We’re combining these data with what we know from seismology and geology to understand the magnetized layers below InSight. How strong or deep would they have to be for us to detect this field?”

Weather sensors on InSight have detected thousands of whirlwinds passing over the lander in its first year on Mars. The mission’s flat landing site has more whirlwinds than other place on Mars with weather instruments, but InSight’s cameras have not spotted any dust devils, which occur when the spinning winds pick up grit and become visible, according to NASA.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

How the Coronavirus Has Infected Trump’s Presidency

It’s Already Contaminated World Stock Markets and Is Spreading Through the Global Economy

Dana Kennedy

Nobody saw this coming. Turns out it may not be Bernie, Mike, Joe, Liz, Pete—or even Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff—who bring down Donald Trump.

Early indications suggest the coronavirus could spawn the pandemic that would torpedo the booming economy Trump calls his win. He assumes the state of the economy will sweep him back into office.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 2000 points Monday and Tuesday on coronavirus-fueled speculation. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control warned Americans to “work with us to prepare for the expectation that this could be bad” and outlined how schools and businesses should prepare if the virus spreads. San Francisco announced a state of emergency Tuesday.

Borders Closed

Stocks plunged overseas as well. Europe remained on alert for possible border closures, especially between France and Italy.

Trump wrote on Twitter, however, that there was nothing to worry about. “The virus,” he said, “is very much under control in the USA. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Trump’s National Security Director Larry Kudlow echoed Trump’s good cheer when he told CNBC Tuesday that the country has “contained the virus.”

“I won’t say [it’s] airtight,” he said, “but it’s pretty close to airtight. There will be some stumbles. We’re looking at numbers, it’s a little iffy.”

‘Human Tragedy’

Kudlow called COVID19 a “human tragedy’ but pointedly said it was not likely to be an “economic tragedy.”

More than 80,000 people have been infected and at least 2,700 have died as a result of the virus around the world. If the CDC is right and COVID19 hits us with any severity, Trump will be blamed. the fallout will likely point up Trump’s decision in 2018 to essentially disband the government’s pandemic response team. That was just when many experts were saying we are not prepared for a pandemic or bioterrorism attack.

The nation’s top official for global health, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, left the administration suddenly in May 2018, A month earlier billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates met with Trump and warned him there needed to be more U.S. funding into therapeutics and vaccines because of the risk of bioweapons and disease outbreaks.

Trump’s favorite Congressional Medal of Freedom recipient did all he could to back the president this week.

Limbaugh’s Take

“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump,” Rush Limbaugh said Monday. “Now, I want to tell you the truth about the coronavirus. … Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

If only. New cases of COVID19 are being reported in Iran, South Korea, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and the Canary Islands off Spain. China and at least 100 million of its people remain virtually in lockdown. Surgical masks (which may or may not help) are barely being kept in stock at pharmacies in France. New “premium,” Darth Vader-like facial masks are being advertised all over social media but once you drop $29 a piece on them, you learn they won’t come for two to six weeks.

Much of Twitter wasn’t on board with the Trump administration’s insistence that all was well. Some were trying to find a silver lining in what could be a terrifying unknown.

“If #COVID19 causes Don Trump to lose in November,” read one tweet, “that would be the first known case of a disease conquering a disease.”

The post How the Coronavirus Has Infected Trump’s Presidency appeared first on DCReport.org.

In a historic first, one private satellite docks to another in orbit

On Tuesday, a spacecraft that was launched four months earlier docked with a communications satellite about 36,000km above the Earth. Northrop Grumman reported the historic docking on Wednesday, and the company heralded the mission as an "historic accomplishment" in the field of satellite servicing. Prior to this mission, no two commercial spacecraft had ever docked in orbit before.

Launched on a Proton rocket in October, the Mission Extension Vehicle-1 (MEV-1) has a fairly long history of development under various companies. Ultimately, it was brought to space by SpaceLogistics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. After the company's rideshare launch in October, its MEV-1 spacecraft used electric-propulsion thrusters to raise its orbit 290km above geosynchronous orbit.

Meanwhile, a communications satellite launched in 2001 (Intelsat-901) was pulled from active service in December 2019 as it ran low on fuel. Operators commanded the satellite to move into a "graveyard orbit" above geostationary space. It is here that MEV-1 linked up with the communications satellite on Tuesday.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New Home Prices

As part of the new home sales report released today, the Census Bureau reported the number of homes sold by price and the average and median prices.

From the Census Bureau: "The median sales price of new houses sold in January 2020 was $348,200. The average sales price was $402,300."

The following graph shows the median and average new home prices.

New Home Prices Click on graph for larger image.

During the housing bust, the builders had to build smaller and less expensive homes to compete with all the distressed sales.  When housing started to recovery - with limited finished lots in recovering areas - builders moved to higher price points to maximize profits.

The average price in January 2020 was $402,300, and the median price was $348,200.

The second graph shows the percent of new homes sold by price.

New Home Sales by PriceVery few new homes sold were under $150K in January 2020.  This is down from 30% in 2002.  In general, the under $150K bracket is going away.   

The $400K+ bracket increased significantly since the housing recovery started, but has been holding steady recently.  Still, a majority of new homes (about 55%) in the U.S., are in the $200K to $400K range.

Northrop Grumman’s MEV-1 servicer docks with Intelsat satellite

WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman’s satellite servicing spacecraft successfully docked with an Intelsat communications satellite Feb. 25 in a bid to keep the nearly 19-year-old satellite in service an additional five years, Northrop Grumman and Intelsat executives said Feb. 26. 

Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle-1, which launched in October, underwent months of in-orbit testing before finally docking with Intelsat-901 in a so-called graveyard orbit 300 kilometers above the geostationary arc where most large communications satellites operate. The docking occurred Feb. 25 at 2:15 a.m. Eastern. 

MEV-1 and Intelsat-901 will undergo additional checkouts as a combined stack before Northrop Grumman moves them into the geostationary arc so Intelsat-901 can resume service in late March. MEV-1 will remain attached to Intelsat-901 and use its own thrusters to keep the satellite properly oriented in orbit.

“This is the first time in history a docking has ever been performed with a satellite that was not pre-designed with docking in mind, and the first time two commercial satellites have ever docked,” said Joe Anderson, vice president of operations and business development at SpaceLogistics, Northrop Grumman’s subsidiary focused on satellite servicing, on a Feb. 26 call with reporters. 

MEV-1 launched on an International Launch Services Proton rocket in early October and used onboard electric propulsion to raise its orbit to that of Intelsat-901’s by Feb. 1, Anderson said. The 2,300-kilogram servicer then completed a series of calibrations and tests of cameras and rendezvous systems while approaching Intelsat-901, pausing 80 meters from the satellite Feb. 24, Anderson said. 

The next day Northrop Grumman moved MEV-1 next to Intelsat-901 and docked with the satellite using a capture mechanism that went “through the throat” of Intelsat-901’s apogee engine, Anderson said. 

Northrop Grumman is currently building a second MEV for Intelsat that is on track to launch later this year, according to Tom Wilson, SpaceLogistics president and vice president of Northrop Grumman Space Systems. Arianespace is slated to launch MEV-2 on an Ariane 5 rocket.

A Intelsat executive told reporters Feb. 26 that the MEV-1 docking operation went so well that the team plans to dock MEV-2 with its host satellite in geostationary orbit rather than take it temporarily out of service in order to conduct the rendezvous in a higher orbit. 

“This is a good pathway to the next docking for MEV-2, which we intend to do with customers on the satellite,” said Jean-Luc Froeliger, Intelsat’s vice president of satellite operations and engineering. “We’re very confident that we will have minimum perturbations of our services on our next docking.”

Intelsat has not publicly identified the host satellite for the MEV-2 mission. 

In designing the MEV servicing spacecraft, Northrop Grumman combined its GEOStar communications satellite bus with elements of the Cygnus cargo tug the company uses to deliver supplies to International Space Station, Anderson said. 

Northrop Grumman had previously expected to launch MEV-1 in 2018. Wilson said the additional year of preparation allowed Northrop Grumman to incorporate additional safety measures, such as the inclusion of patented technology to avoid electrostatic discharges on orbit. 

Intelsat is Northrop Grumman’s first and so far only customer for MEV satellite life extension missions. Now that MEV-1 has demonstrated its ability to dock, Northrop Grumman is hopeful it can attract new customers.

“For years we heard customers say, ‘if you were there now we would use your service.’ Now we are here,” Wilson said. 

MEVs are designed for 15 years of service, meaning Northrop Grumman can eventually use MEV-1 and the future MEV-2 to service spacecraft beyond its Intelsat contracts.

Wilson said that while nothing precludes Northrop Grumman from building additional MEVs beyond the first two, the company is focused on another system that uses a so-called Mission Robotic Vehicle mothership to attach smaller Mission Extension Pods to satellites. Northrop Grumman has three prospective customers interested in using the next-generation pod system, Wilson said. 

Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler said Intelsat-901 will enter service at the 332.5 degrees east orbital slot, where it will cover North and South America, Africa and Europe using C-band transponders and steerable Ku-band beams. The satellite will replace Intelsat-907, a 17-year-old satellite now four years past its design life. 

Intelsat-901 and Intelsat-907 are nearly identical satellites, Spengler said. The MEVs allow Intelsat to defer spending on new replacement satellites by keeping old but still useful satellites in service, he said. 

Intelsat-901 had only a few months of remaining fuel before it would have needed to retire for good in a graveyard orbit, Froeliger said. 


Wednesday assorted links

1. “Exploiting within-country and industry-level variation in regulatory burden, the analysis finds a large, positive effect of regulatory burden on corruption.

2. “Resumes that list study abroad experience in Europe for one year are 20 percent less likely to receive any callback and 35 percent less likely to receiving a call back for an interview, relative to resumes that do not list study abroad experience.

3. “…colleges that ultimately boost earnings also tend to boost persistence, BA completion, and STEM degrees along the way.” Lots more in that paper.

4. “Singapore Airlines is the first major carrier to serve produce harvested just hours before a flight.

5. I wish to thank and praise my Lubbock hosts, the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech.

6. 2006 study of the possible economic impact of avian flu.  Possibly 4.25% of gdp.

Addendum, from the comments, from Aleh:

You don’t need to read the study-abroad paper to realize that it’s implausible. 35% less likely to receive an interview! That would be approaching the impact that’s been found for declaring a criminal record. And it it has to be in Europe specifically, and one year specifically!

Ok, the paper itself. Overall, study abroad per se has no effect. So they slice and dice by location, length, and whether it is a call-back of an interview request, and use a significance level of 0.1, and then – as you’d expect – a couple of weak “findings” appear. A year of Europe seems VERY bad (and yet two weeks in Europe, or any time in Asia, actually improves the raw numbers; that’s the theory there?). Going to Asia doesn’t show a statistically significant change in your chance of getting a callback, unless it’s a callback specifically asking for an interview – when it does help so.

The data here is under-powered and reaches to find any results (slicing and dicing, 0.1 threshold). The “statistical significance filter” works in such cases to ensure that when does one does find a statistically significant result, it will be be a massively overstated – if true at all. A year in Europe doesn’t just have the opposite sign effect than any other experience; it has an absolutely catastrophic effect (-35%). Just no.

This is bad statistics and (not necessarily the authors’ fault) thoughtless promotion of almost a self-evidently implausible claim. If there’s anything to be learned or honestly reported here, it’s the top level finding: that a reasonably controlled experiment found essentially no difference either way by adding study-abroad experience to your resume.

The post Wednesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

NASA Tries To Explain Its Astrobiology Shyness

Keith's note: Over the past week I have posted several commentaries about how NASA shies away from using the word "astrobiology" in official agency releases and stories to describe missions and research designed to search for evidence of life on other worlds - which, of course, is the core mission of NASA's 20 year old Astrobiology Program:

- NASA Continues To Hide Its Astrobiology Program
- NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words

I asked NASA several times why this is the case. Below is my inquiry, their response, and my commentary on their response:

Op-ed | Is NASA ready to find life beyond Earth?

“The world is not ready for the discovery of life on Mars,” NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green recently told a British newspaper. “I don’t think we’re prepared for the results.”

Agreed. But we could take it one step further and ask, “Is NASA ready to find life beyond Earth?” The quest to find and investigate life beyond the Earth has reached a tipping point. We stand on the brink of changing the perspective of humanity’s place in the universe and finally answering the question “Are we alone?”

The quest to find life beyond Earth is compelling. However, the capabilities to achieve the quest are distributed across the NASA organization, primarily in the Science Mission Directorate. They compete against other priorities for resources and urgency. This is a quest for all humanity. For NASA to succeed requires a new approach.

Why now? This current quest began in the mid-1990s. Swiss scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz discovered the first planet orbiting another star in 1995, work recognized with the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physics. In 1996, the claim of a fossilized bacteria in a Mars meteorite sample created new momentum in the NASA planetary program. These discoveries set off a chain of missions and research that today is paying off handsomely.

The NASA Kepler mission science team has identified more than 2,700 confirmed extrasolar planets, the so-called exoplanets. Kepler and other observatories have demonstrated that our solar system is not typical, that planets come in many different types and orbits, and has identified candidates for Earthlike planets orbiting other suns. Those in the habitable zone where water is expected to be a liquid are of particular interest. These discoveries have created an enthusiastic and fast-growing exoplanet community, eager to find life beyond Earth.

Within our solar system, the Cassini mission team discovered geysers from Saturn’s moon Enceladus that are gushing salty water and possibly microbial life created in hydrothermal activity — analogous to life found around deep ocean vents on the Earth. Astrobiology, an interdisciplinary scientific field concerned with the origins of and search for life in the universe, has gone from a speculative theoretical research initiative started at NASA over 20 years ago, to the observational mainstream with a thriving science community.

The time is now to create a new “Life beyond Earth” organization within the NASA Science Mission Directorate. This would bring together the NASA life-finding capabilities including both the relevant future telescopes and solar system exploration missions. This may seem like a radical proposal to combine such different capabilities. However, the common science objective should drive the organization, rather than capability or technique. And it is worth remembering that telescopes discovered the planets in our solar system and the large future life-finding telescopes will provide amazing high-resolution imaging capabilities not just of exoplanets, but also of solar system planets and moons.

A “Life beyond Earth” organization would include the science enabled by human exploration. Future Artemis astronauts will return samples from the ice-filled, permanently shadowed lunar craters that may hold clues to the origins of life. Robotic missions and eventually astronauts will return samples from Mars that may provide definitive evidence for life beyond Earth. The important advocacy for planetary protection to prevent false alarms from contaminating microbes brought from Earth would be an essential part of this organization. Astronauts will most likely be needed to assemble in space the large life finding telescopes required to make detailed studies of candidate extrasolar habitable planets.

Such reorganizations have been successfully undertaken in response to the shifting scientific landscape. Heliophysics at NASA was created 20 years ago bringing together the solar astronomers and the space physicists toward a common goal: studying the Sun-Earth magnetosphere system. While initially there were concerns about how the two different scientific cultures would coexist, it has been a resounding success exemplified by successful missions, such as the Parker Solar Probe.

This new organization will also inform decadal surveys, which set priorities for future science missions. The astrophysics decadal survey (Astro2020) is currently underway. New observatories are being considered to directly image exoplanets and search for the signatures of habitability. Astro2020 has a Hobson’s choice to prioritize the search for life against other high priority astrophysics science. Likewise, the upcoming planetary science 2023 decadal will confront a similar dilemma (e.g., prioritizing returning samples from Mars against flagship missions to the ice giants.). Ultimately, under this new approach, there would be a “search for life” decadal survey that would focus on prioritizing resources toward this quest.

The quest for life beyond Earth has entered a new phase and requires a bold new initiative. It presents an opportunity to raise the tide to lift all boats. This will prepare NASA and the public not just for the first discovery of life beyond the Earth, but for what follows. In doing so this will be a winwin for NASA, the scientific community and humanity.

Nicholas E. White Ph.D. is a research professor of physics at George Washington University and owner of Space Science Solutions LLC. He previously served as senior vice president for science at the Universities Space Research Association and director of science at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 23, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


20 space industry predictions for 2020

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 20, 2020 issue of SpaceNews magazine. It was updated Feb. 26 to reflect OneWeb and SpaceX launches that have happened since.


In 2019, the U.S. Space Force was formally established, NASA received a 2024 deadline for returning Americans to the moon, and private companies the world over raised billions of dollars for everything from rockets to antennas. This year shows no signs of a let up in space-sector momentum. Here are 20 predictions for 2020 as seen by SpaceNews reporters and correspondents.

VSS Unity is the first suborbital spaceplane in Virgin Galactic’s growing fleet of spaceplanes. Credit: Virgin Galactic

1. Suborbital space tourism finally arrives

After years of delays, the two leading companies in suborbital human spaceflight may finally enter commercial operations. Virgin Galactic plans to move VSS Unity, its SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane, to Spaceport America in New Mexico early in the year for a final series of test flights. The company, which became publicly traded in October, said in filings it expects to begin tourism flights by June. Blue Origin said in early 2019 it expected to start crewed test flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle by the end of the year, but executives later said it wanted to perform a few more test flights without people on board first. The company has yet to disclose details regarding when people will start flying commercially on the vehicle, and for what price.

ESA’s ExoMars rover will join an orbiter launched in 2016 on a mission to search for evidence of past life on Mars. Credit: ESA

2. A flotilla of Mars missions takes off

As many as four Mars missions are scheduled to launch this year. The most ambitious mission is NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which will collect samples for return to Earth on a pair of missions in the latter half of the 2020s in cooperation with ESA. The biggest questions, though, surround ESA’s own ExoMars 2020 mission, which has suffered problems with its parachutes. A key set of tests early in the year will determine if the mission can launch on a Russian Proton rocket this summer or if it will have to wait until 2022. China is planning its first Mars mission that will include an orbiter as well as a lander and rover. The United Arab Emirates will launch its first planetary mission, a Mars orbiter called Hope, on a Japanese H-2A rocket. Assuming they launch on schedule, all the spacecraft will reach Mars in early 2021.

3. Angara 5 returns

After a five-year gap, Russia’s Angara 5 rocket is scheduled to resume flights in 2020. Russia launched the first and so far only Angara 5 mission in December 2014 from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. ILS Chief Technology Officer Jim Kramer said in December that two Angara 5 missions are planned for this year. Both are Russian government missions. Angara 5 is Russia’s successor to Proton, the country’s flagship heavy lift vehicle. A launchpad for Angara 5 at Russia’s new Vostochny Cosmodrome is expected to be ready in 2023.

4. FCC prepares to run public C-band auction

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission decided in November to run its own auction of satellite C-band spectrum instead of letting satellite operators handle it. Giulia McHenry, the acting chief of the FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics, said days later that the commission was “confident we can commence this auction before the end of 2020.” The FCC has emphasized a desire for speed in transferring 280 megahertz of C-band spectrum for use in 5G cellular networks. How satellite operators currently using American C-band, notably Intelsat, SES, Telesat and Eutelsat, will transition out of the spectrum is not yet clear.

5. Winners get picked for U.S. National Security Space Launch program

The big four in the U.S. launch industry — United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman — hope to be one of two providers that will receive five-year contracts later this year to launch national security payloads starting in 2022. ULA, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman are pitching newly designed vehicles for the competition, all projected to fly for the first time in 2021. “That means we’ll be doing final development and production of first-flight hardware in 2020,” Col. Robert Bongiovi, director of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s launch enterprise, said in December.

Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle-1 will be the first private attempt at in-orbit satellite servicing. Credit: Northrop Grumman

6. Satellite servicing and debris retrieval missions move forward

Spacecraft will demonstrate their ability to move satellites to new orbits and clean up orbital debris. Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle-1, launched in October, is scheduled to dock with Intelsat-901 in early 2020 to extend the life of the communications satellite. Also in 2020, Swiss startup ClearSpace plans to begin leading a European consortium focused on capturing a Vespa payload adapter in 2025 and dragging it into Earth’s atmosphere.

7. OneWeb and SpaceX begin major constellation deployments

The two leading megaconstellation companies project a rapid increase in launches, enough to begin partial service offering internet access from low Earth orbit later this year. OneWeb launched  34 small broadband satellites on a Soyuz rocket in February, kicking off regular launch campaigns as it builds toward an initial constellation of 650 satellites. SpaceX, having conducted five dedicated Starlink launches so far, projects two dozen such  launches this year. If each mission carries 60 satellites, SpaceX could have well over 1,000 satellites in orbit by year’s end.

8. NRO commercial imagery buys accelerate

The U.S. National Reconnaissance Office in 2019 awarded contracts to multiple commercial imagery providers as it seeks to bring new geospatial data suppliers into the national security overhead architecture. NRO officials said 2020 could be a pivotal year as the agency considers awarding larger procurement contracts to commercial players like Planet and BlackSky that are seeking a piece of the market now dominated by Maxar Technologies, which owns DigitalGlobe.

9. SpaceX will more than double its launch pace

The Dec. 16 launch of the JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 communications satellite was SpaceX’s last mission of 2019, a slower than expected year with 13 launches — 11 fewer than the company had projected. SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said the forecast for 2020 is 35 to 38 launches. That includes 15 to 24 Starlink missions as the company grows its broadband constellation. Shotwell told reporters Dec. 6, “you should see a mission every two to three weeks.”

The Long March 2D is one of China’s many launch vehicles. Credit: CGWIC

10. China’s launch rate stays high

China expects to conduct more than 40 launches this year, including flights of its most powerful rocket, the Long March 5. Missions on China’s manifest include launching Beidou navigation satellites, a mission to Mars and a lunar sample return mission. China completed 34 orbital launches last year, and 37 in 2018 — the first year it surpassed the U.S. and Russia in launches.

11. Telesat to choose LEO constellation builder

Telesat Canada was planning to pick a manufacturing partner to build some or all of its 300-satellite constellation last year, but that was before a competing team split up. Maxar Technologies and Thales Alenia Space were vying together for the $3 billion contract until late last year, when the two parted ways, citing disagreement over the size, scope and financial metrics of their partnership. Those companies are now competing separately against Airbus Defence and Space to build Telesat LEO, a constellation Telesat hopes to have fully in orbit in 2023.

12. New small launch vehicles enter the market

Several companies working on small launch vehicles will likely attempt their first launches in 2020. Virgin Orbit announced in December its first orbital launch attempt was “imminent” and would take place after a final series of tests of its converted Boeing 747 with the LauncherOne rocket attached. Firefly Aerospace will soon begin static-fire tests of the first stage of its Alpha rocket, with a first launch later this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Other companies, like ABL Space Systems, Relativity Space and Stealth Space Company (aka Astra Space) will at least make progress toward a first launch, as the industry awaits a long-anticipated shakeout among the dozens of companies that have announced plans to build small launchers.

Firefly is among the companies hoping to conduct a first launch in 2020. Credit: Firefly

13. Data Fusion becomes the norm for Earth observation

Electro-optical, synthetic aperture radar and radiofrequency data will be combined with information drawn from airborne and terrestrial sensors as well as social network feeds to create new data products for customers. During the 2010s, companies proved they could capture data with increasing frequency and spatial resolution. Data fusion will be a watchword of the 2020s.

14. Space startups find it harder to raise money

Recent space startup failures, including Vector Space Systems, Audacy and LeoSat, will make investors more cautious in their approach to space sector investment in 2020. That is not to say that private capital will dry up. Far from it. Many investors will continue to seek space-related investment. However, companies in some of the overcrowded sectors, like small satellite launch, may find it harder to raise additional funding.

15. Maiden flights of Ariane 6 and Vega C

Both of Europe’s next-generation launch vehicles, the heavy lift Ariane 6 and lightlift Vega C, are scheduled for first flight in 2020. Arianespace is conducting both missions, Ariane 6 with 30 small broadband satellites for OneWeb, and Vega C with the Italian Space Agency’s Lares-2 science mission. Ariane 6 is designed to cost 40% to 50% less than the Ariane 5, and Vega C is designed to lift around 700 kilograms more than Vega to low Earth orbit. Exact launch dates for the new launchers have not yet been announced.

16. Flexible communications satellites reign supreme

Satellite manufacturers have used the past few years of slow sales to invest in high-throughput technologies that offer more capacity and the ability to better control where that capacity goes. Manufacturers say the ability to offer “flexible” communications satellites that can adjust the power, shape and position of their beams is now the de facto standard to do business. Airbus, Thales Alenia Space and Boeing all rolled out new flexible satellite lines last year. Satellite operators discussing their future satellite plans now stress the importance of flexibility, as evidenced by Inmarsat’s purchase of three OneSat satellites from Airbus last year, and SES’s purchase of seven O3b mPower satellites from Boeing in 2018.

17. Artemis makes progress

NASA ended 2019 getting most, but not all, of what it asked for in additional funding for the Artemis program to return humans to the moon by 2024. The agency will likely award initial contracts for lunar lander development early in the year, but the funding shortfall that effort received — $600 million versus a request of $1 billion for fiscal year 2020 — could mean fewer companies will win contracts. Other major milestones for Artemis include completion of environmental testing of the Orion spacecraft at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in the spring and a “Green Run” static-fire test of the Space Launch System core stage at the Stennis Space Center later in the year. However, a first flight of the SLS, an uncrewed mission called Artemis-1, is unlikely to take place before early 2021. In Washington, NASA is expected to reveal just how much that first phase of the Artemis program, through a 2024 landing, will cost, a figure that could cause sticker shock among some in Congress.

18. Signals intelligence from space takes off

Companies planning constellations to detect radiofrequency signals from space all have important launches in 2020. HawkEye 360, which has three satellites in orbit, plans to launch another trio later this year on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. France-based UnseenLabs said in September it anticipates launching six more satellites in 2020 following the successful launch of its first satellite on a Rocket Lab Electron in August. And Luxembourg-based Kleos Space, having last year traded Rocket Lab’s Electron for a rideshare on an Indian PSLV, anticipates launching its “Scouting Mission” on the Indian space agency ISRO’s next mission with the rocket.

NASA intends to use Boeing’s CST- 100, above, and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft once they are ready.

19. Commercial crew test flights take place

Both Boeing and SpaceX performed uncrewed test flights of their commercial crew vehicles in 2019, setting the stage for crewed test flights in the coming year. NASA has yet to set dates for either SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 or Boeing’s CST100 Starliner Crew Test Flight missions, although SpaceX CEO Elon Musk suggested in late December his company’s flight might take place around the middle of the year, after an inflight abort test in January and final NASA safety reviews. NASA is counting on at least one company being able to enter service this year, but is negotiating with the Russian space agency Roscosmos for additional Soyuz seats, just in case.

20. Commercial alternatives surface to NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System

The increasing human and robotic space activity in low Earth orbit will prompt government agencies and commercial firms to invest in networks to relay communications to and from the ground. In 2020, Solstar Space Co. plans to upgrade transceivers to offer Wi-Fi to people and machines in orbit. Addvalue Innovation, a subsidiary of Addvalue Technologies, plans to expand production and delivery of Inter-satellite Data Relay System terminals, which it developed with satellite fleet operator Inmarsat. In addition, NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation program office will work to establish public-private partnerships aimed at creating resilient communications and navigation networks.



South Carolina in Sight

Jim Clyburn’s endorsement of Joe Biden is a big deal for South Carolina. Clyburn is the third ranking member of the House leadership and an institution in the state. Endorsements generally don’t make a huge difference. And I doubt this one will make a huge one. But we’re now all down to margins. So it’s important.

Polls generally show Biden on the upswing in the state after trending down for weeks. Biden winning seems likely. But what is the margin?

Here it’s important to remember that this is not only about Biden or Sanders. Indeed, it may not be mainly about either. A lot will come down to whether support bleeds from other candidates to those two.

South Carolina is the only state where Tom Steyer appears to be a big factor. Some polls show him tied or even ahead of Bernie Sanders and not that far behind Biden. If primary voters start to see the question as one of whether or not Sanders is the presidential nominee one can imagine a trend towards the frontrunner, Biden. That really depends on how solid and durable Steyer’s support is.

The best way to put it is that with so many candidates polling with non-trivial support levels, support can shift rapidly. Obviously relatively small margins in a single state which will never support the Democrat in November shouldn’t make that big a difference in the overall nomination. But for the reasons I explained last night, there are good reasons to think they’ll have a decisive impact on the contest overall. We’ve already seen that the results in small, single states can have a massive effects on the shape of the race.

My Trip to Vietnam, Singapore, and Qatar

The waterfall at Singapore's Changi airport

For three weeks in late January and early February, I travelled to Asia, spending two weeks in Saigon, a few days in Singapore, and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. Here are some of the things I saw and did and ate. Note: this is a long post, maybe the longest thing I’ve posted here in many years. But I think it’s a quick read — pack a snack, stay hydrated, and you’ll be alright.

Saigon, Vietnam

I flew to Saigon via Doha on Qatar Airways. On my seatback screen, I watched the flight map as we flew a precise path with several course correcting turns that you don’t find in a usual great circle route. We flew over Turkey and Iraq and then out over the Persian Gulf, being very careful not to cross into the airspace of Syria, Iran, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia — an aerial expression of Middle East tensions & alliances.

On my first full day, I arranged to go on a street food tour via motorbike. My guide, a local college student, picked me up at my apartment and, along with another guide & fellow tourist, we ate some bun bo hue (beef noodle soup), banh mì (pork sandwich), bap xao (stir-fried corn), com tam (broken rice w/ pork), drank some tra rau bap (corn silk tea), visited the flower market, and enjoyed a leisurely and engaging chat at a coffee shop. I did a food tour to kick off my time in Mexico City as well and would recommend it as a great way to meet some locals and quickly get the lay of the culinary land, which you can use as a blueprint for the rest of your trip.

Bowl of noodles in Saigon, Vietnam

The food here is off the chain. Street food is generally safe to eat, where all the good stuff is, and a full meal is never more than a few bucks. Some of my favorites were banh mì, bun cha (pork w/ rice noodles), and bo la lot (beef wrapped in lolot leaves).

Before I went, I did a bunch of research on specific places to eat, which turned out to be not so useful because about half of the places I’d flagged had permanently closed. In some cases, not only was the restaurant or food cart gone, whole blocks had been razed to make way for an entirely new buildings. Some of these missing places had just been written about a year or two ago, but the pace of change in Saigon is unimaginably fast. Locals I talked to said it feels like an entirely new city every few years.

Founded by a pair of Japanese expats, Pizza 4P’s makes excellent pizza. The growing chain also makes their own burrata and mozzarella in-house.

Mr. Masuko said he leased an alley-side building in Ho Chi Minh City and invested about $100,000 of his savings into a renovation, kitchen gear and other start-up essentials. He and a Japanese employee, Keinosuke Konuki, taught themselves how to make mozzarella by watching a YouTube video.

I also had one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had at Tomidaya in Little Toyko, a tiny place with only 8 seats at a counter. The shoyu was so good I went back a few days later for tsukemen (which was not quite as good but still very tasty).

Craft beer is growing in popularity in Vietnam and the cocktail scene is well established. The Vietnamese palete tends to run sweeter than in America, so go-to cocktails here used to lean towards the tiki end of the spectrum, but now is more varied. Thanks to my pal Brown, I got to visit the tiny speakeasy tucked away behind a hidden door in The Studio Saigon, where artist/bartender Richie Fawcett served up a couple of delicious drinks, including a barrel-aged whiskey cocktail that he smoked with some Irish peat right in front of us.

The official English name for Vietnam’s largest city is Ho Chi Minh City. But locals still call it Saigon (or Sài Gòn), particularly when referring to the central districts. It’s a bit like how New York or NYC refers just to Manhattan.

The War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes) is a must-visit if you’re in Saigon. It’s an eye-opening look at how the American role in the Vietnam War (which in Vietnam was known as the Resistance War Against America or the American War) was perceived by the Vietnamese. The photographs showing the damage done by Agent Orange and the almost casual brutality against Vietnamese civilians (including women & children) by US soldiers were really hard (but necessary) to look at. John Lennon’s Imagine was playing on a continuous loop in the lobby of the museum.

I ended up being in Vietnam for Tet, the lunar New Year, which in terms of celebratory scale is like Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s all rolled into one holiday that lasts for several days and reverberates for a few weeks. I hadn’t exactly planned on this timing, but having read about the Tet experience on Legal Nomads, I was prepared.

Families celebrating in Saigon on the first day of Tet

Most of the city was shut down for the holiday — the first day of Tet is a day for family and I saw people spilling out into the alleyways, eating and drinking and laughing — but it wasn’t that hard to find dinner or a place to stop for tea. The only time I really felt the Tet crunch was when I needed to buy a new phone (more on that in a bit) but couldn’t because all of the electronics stores were closed. Most of the time, though, I was thankful for the slightly slower pace and festive atmosphere.

Travel tip: find a rooftop bar in whatever city you’re in and pop in for a drink around sunset.

I’m always interested in cities where a particular mode of transportation sets the tone for everything else. In much of the US — particularly in places like LA, Dallas, or Raleigh — the car reigns. In Copenhagen and Amsterdam, it’s the bicycle. You could make the argument that in Manhattan, the dance of the streets revolves around the pedestrian. As a city, Saigon is defined by the motorbike. They overwhelm every other mode of transportation here — cars and pedestrians must tailor their movements to the motorbike swarm.

Because of the motorbikes, the process for crossing the street on foot in Saigon is different than in a lot of other places. You basically just wait for any buses (which will absolutely not stop for pedestrians) or cars to go by and then slowly wade out into traffic. Do not make any sudden movements and for god sake don’t run. The motorbike swarm will magically flow around you. It’s suuuuuper unnerving the first few times you do it, but you soon get used to it because the alternative is never ever getting across the street.

The motorbikes make walking around Saigon absolutely exhausting.1 It’s not just crossing the street. You literally have to be on the lookout for them everywhere. They drive up on the sidewalks. They drive into and out of houses and buildings, turning every doorway into a potential intersection. Having to look both ways every few seconds when you’re walking 6 or 8 miles a day around the city really drains the ol’ attention reserves.

Things I saw carried on motorbikes in Saigon, a non-exhaustive list: trees, dogs, tiny babies, ice (for delivery to a drinks cart, the ice block was not even strapped down), a family of five, a dessert cart, an entire toy store, a dried squid shop, and 8 huge bags of clams.

I spent a worthwhile morning exploring the antique shops on Le Cong Kieu street. Many of the shops carried the same sorts of items, so it got a little repetitive after awhile, but the shops with the more unique items were worth the effort.

The hip coffee shops in Saigon look much the same as those in Portland, Brooklyn, Berlin, or Mexico City.

Office in the basement bunker of the Independence Palace in Saigon

Designed by architect Ngô Viết Thụ, the Independence Palace was the home and office of the South Vietnamese President during the Vietnam War. After the North Vietnamese capture of the building effectively ended the war in 1975, the palace was preserved as a historical site, a time capsule of 60s and 70s architecture and interior design. I spent half a day wandering the palace taking photos like crazy. Lots of Accidentally Wes Anderson material there.

The oranges in Asia are green?

An American expat I met in Saigon said that American veterans who fought in Vietnam are now retiring here, a fact which I found to be a) true and b) deeply weird for a number of reasons. Here’s a recent LA Times article on the phenomenon.

Rapid growth in Vietnam and its Southeast Asian neighbors has created a situation that would have been unthinkable in the past: Aging American boomers are living a lifestyle reminiscent of Florida, Nevada and Arizona, but in Vietnam. Monthly expenses here rarely exceed $2,000, even to live in a large unit like Rockhold’s, including the help of a cook and a cleaner. The neighbors are friendly: A majority of Vietnamese were born well after the war ended in 1975, and Rockhold says he has rarely encountered resentment, even when he talks about his service as a combat veteran.

The vast majority of the owners in his apartment building are members of Vietnam’s burgeoning urban middle class; many work in government or in education, and can afford to take vacations abroad. He estimates that no more than 1 in 5 residents in the 25-floor complex are foreigners.

“The Vietnamese were extremely nice to me, especially compared to my own country after I came back from the war,” Rockhold said at a coffee shop recently inside a polished, air-conditioned office tower that also houses a restaurant and cinema.

Small truck full of flowers, Saigon

And last and certainly least, my phone was stolen while I was in Saigon. I’d really hoped that 2020 was going to be the year that I’d avoid making a blunder that would cost me thousands of dollars, but I’d neglected to pay sufficient attention to this bit in the Legal Nomads piece about Tet:

Unfortunately, the city also enters into what is locally known as “stealing season” — a proliferation of petty crimes like phone and purse theft, with the money used toward paying for these Tet gifts. In the weeks leading up to Tet and shortly thereafter, locals would come up to me on the street mimicking someone making off with my bag, a warning to keep an eye on belongings. Several friends found their phones snatched out of their hands in mid-conversation during this time, though no one had any more significant issues (e.g. there were no violence or armed muggings) to report.

It was the second day of Tet and I had just gotten off a motorbike taxi in front of a cafe in a tony part of town. I pulled out my phone to check on something quickly and was about 2 seconds away from putting it in my pocket and going into the cafe when a guy on a motorbike rode up onto the sidewalk — a totally normal thing here, so I didn’t think anything of it — and snatched my phone right out of my hand. I swore at the guy and ran after him for about two steps before I realized a) he was already halfway down the block and b) no one within earshot spoke English well enough to help me quickly enough to chase the guy down or flag down a police officer. The phone was gone.

Luckily, I had my iPad in my backpack, so I went into the cafe and deactivated the phone with Find My. For about an hour, I stewed and felt violated & pissed that I had been careless. I’ve had mixed experiences with solo travel — it’s hard sometimes! — so some despondency along those lines crept in too. I posted an Instagram Story about the theft (w/ my iPad) and some kind and wise words from my pals Craig and Stewart got me back on the right track. Stewart in particular reminded me that events like this are “the tax we pay on traveling” and that “maybe we don’t pay it every trip, but it comes around eventually”.

So yeah anyway, that shitbird didn’t ruin my trip — although being without a phone (no maps, no rideshare apps, no texting to coordinate meetups, no translation app) for a couple of days definitely restricted my movements for a couple of days until the electronics stores opened after Tet. That dude’s year may have gotten off to an unlucky start by stealing from someone, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let losing some property set the tone for my year or change my affection for this city and its people.


Singapore felt like the future, full stop. And it’s not just the incredible waterfall & tropical forest in the airport or the mid-building gardens in the skyscrapers. Energy-saving escalators ran slowly or not at all until human motion was detected. Infrared temperature scanners like this one were set up at the airport to automatically screen disembarking passengers for coronavirus-related fevers. Public transportation was fast, cheap, and ubiquitous — my train ride from the airport to downtown was ~$1.50. I exited the country via Automated Immigration — a machine scans your passport & thumb and you’re good to go. A vending machine made me a cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice, sealed with a thin plastic lid. A Buddhist temple I went to had self-serve offering kiosks. Everything was incredibly clean and just worked the way you thought it should — you could sense the organization and infrastructure behind every little thing. And did I mention the waterfall at the airport?!

Gardens spilling over from a Singapore hi-rise

Coming from Vietnam, the food in Singapore was going to have to clear a high bar. And it did. Unlike in Saigon, where street food sellers filled any and every possible nook and cranny of the streets, sidewalks, and alleyways, always-on-brand Singapore has organized their street food vendors into communal hawker centers. In these centers, you can get the most delicious food from all around the world — Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Singaporean cuisines are among the most popular. I ended up eating almost all my meals at food centers — I visited Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Hong Lim Food Centre, and Tekka Centre.

At the Chinatown Complex Food Centre, I waited in line for about 10-15 minutes to try the soya sauce chicken rice dish (just US$2!) at Hawker Chan, the first hawker stall ever to be awarded a Michelin star. This. Dish. Was. Amazing. I have never had chicken that tender & juicy. A revelation.

The Asian Civilizations Museum and the Singapore National Gallery were both great — definitely worth visiting if you’re in town for more than a day or two.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a marvelous place to spend an afternoon wandering around. I particularly enjoyed the rainforest and the specialty gardens: the Evolution Garden, the Fragrant Garden, and the Healing Garden (full of plants with medicinal uses). (While looking at the website just now, I’m irritated to learn that I missed the Bonsai Garden. Dammit!) The National Orchid Garden was spectacularly beautiful — there’s an entry fee of $5 that’s well worth paying.1

The Atlas Bar is notable for its huge Art Deco space and extensive gin library. You can get a gin martini with gin made in the 1910s (~US$180) or have a G&T using one of their 1300 gins from around the world. Bar Stories was much more minimal and intimate with no cocktail menu at all — you just tell the bartender the flavors and spirits you’re into and they whip something up for you. You can check out some of their creations on Instagram.

For my first two nights, I stayed in a pod hotel. I opted for a private room and it was perfect. I had just enough space in my room to sleep and change — I was barely there for more than that as I spent most of my time exploring the city. The bathrooms were clean and private — and the showers were great, better than in many American hotels I’ve stayed in. They could do more to dampen the door noise, but other than that, it was really quiet.

The infinity pool on the 58th floor of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore

For my last night, I splurged on a room at the Marina Bay Sands, aka the hotel with the infinity pool on the 58th floor overlooking the city. Was it worth the price? I don’t know, but the views from the roof were incredible and I did spend a lot of time relaxing by that pool.

Doha, Qatar

Main atrium of the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar

On my way home from Singapore, I spent about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. In retrospect, I maybe should have opted for 2 more days in Singapore. Nothing against Doha, but I just didn’t have the energy to fully explore a third different place/culture in 3 weeks. (Still exploring my limitations…) I did have some great food there — including kofte at a Turkish restaurant and a simple fried halloumi sandwich I’m still thinking about more than a week later. The Museum of Islamic Art was fantastic and deepened my already significant appreciation of Islamic art.

Some miscellaneous thoughts and reflections

I met up with some kottke.org readers in both Saigon and Singapore. Thanks to Brown, Bryan, Joel, Corrie, and the Singapore meetup crew for taking me to some local spots with excellent food & drink, helping me understand a little bit more about Vietnamese & Singaporean culture, and making this solo traveller feel a little less solo. A special thanks to Brown for welcoming me into his home and introducing me to his family. After 20+ years of writing this site, it still blows me away how quickly complete strangers who read kottke.org seem like old friends. ♥

I posted several photos to my Instagram and also compiled Stories from Saigon and Singapore.

I got sick on the last day of the trip, which turned into a full-blown cold when I got home. I dutifully wore my mask on the plane and in telling friends & family about how I was feeling, I felt obliged to text “***NOT*** coronavirus, completely different symptoms!!”

Being in Asia during the early days of the coronavirus outbreak was an interesting experience. I wasn’t worried about contracting the virus — I kept my hands clean & sanitized, wasn’t interacting with anyone who had been to China recently, and wore my mask in the airport and on the airplane. By my last few days in Vietnam, the growing epidemic had the government worried, so people who normally wore masks only while riding motorbikes now wore them all the time in public. I observed that foreign tourists were more likely to wear masks than locals. Many businesses adopted a mandatory mask policy in their offices. Buddhist temples posted signs urging visitors to wear masks.

In the airport on my way to Singapore (and on the flight), every single person was wearing a mask, except for one guy who had no mask and a personal fan blowing air (and all the germs in the vicinity) right into his face. When I got to Singapore, way fewer people were wearing masks in the airport — probably only 50% — even though there were more coronavirus cases in Singapore than in Saigon. As I mentioned above, they had infrared scanners set up checking people for fever. At the Marina Bay Sands, all customers checking in had to have a temperature check with a hand-held thermometer — same if you wanted to use the hotel gym. I also got temp-scanned at one of the museums I went to.

This was my 7th long trip in the past two years and my longest one by more than a week. Despite the benefits of solo travel that I really enjoy, I’ve struggled at times with loneliness and getting a bit overwhelmed by having to figure everything out on my own in unfamiliar places. This trip, aside from a couple hours of stolen phone despair, was struggle-free — or rather the struggle was expected, manageable, and even welcome. Part of it is just practice — I feel like I’ve got the solo travel thing mostly down now. I’ve also had a couple of significant mindset shifts in recent months (like this one about winter weather) that have helped my general outlook. Working full time for two out of the three weeks I was gone helped anchor me to something familiar and provided some structure. And as I mentioned, meeting up with some friendly folks helped too.

And finally to finish up… Whenever I travel abroad, of course I have thoughts about the overall character of the places I go, but they’re based on such an incomplete experience of those places that I’m hesitant to share them. The Saigon metro area has a population of ~13.5 million and I was there for 2 weeks as a tourist, so what the hell could I possibly know about it beyond the superficial? What I mainly tend to come away with is how those places compare to the United States. What freedoms exist in a place like Vietnam vs Singapore vs Qatar vs the United States? How are those freedoms distributed and who do they benefit? And from what authority are those freedoms derived? The more places I go, the less obviously free the US feels to me in many ways, even though our country’s baseline freedom remains high (for some at least).

But the main observation I came home with after this trip is this: America is a rich country that feels like a poor country. If you look at the investment in and the care put into infrastructure, common areas, and the experience of being in public in places like Singapore, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin and compare it to American cities, the difference is quite stark. Individual wealth in America is valued over collective wealth and it shows.

I know that’s a bit of a downer to end on, but despite what you see on Instagram, travel is not always fun & games and often provides some potentially tough lessons and perspectives. You might get your phone stolen and come back feeling a little bit less great about your home country. Them’s the breaks, kid — welcome to the world. Thanks for following along as always.

  1. The awful state of repair of many of the city’s sidewalks didn’t help either.

  2. Soon after entering the orchid garden, I got stopped for a short survey and the woman gave me $10 for my time, so I actually ended up making money.

Tags: food   Jason Kottke   photography   Qatar   Singapore   travel   Vietnam

Yahsat joint venture boosts EchoStar subscriber count

Al Yah 3

WASHINGTON — Satellite broadband and hardware provider EchoStar added 20,000 HughesNet internet subscribers through its Brazilian joint venture with Yahsat, boosting subscriber numbers as EchoStar’s satellite capacity becomes limited. 

Germantown, Maryland-based EchoStar had 1.477 million subscribers at the end of 2019, up 116,000 from the year prior partly due to capacity made available in November on Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 satellite. 

During an earnings call Feb. 20, EchoStar executives said they continue to evaluate ways to add capacity while awaiting the launch of Jupiter-3, a half-terabit satellite Maxar Technologies is building for a 2021 launch. 

After selling nine on-orbit broadcast satellites to Dish Network Corp. last year for $800 million, EchoStar is now focused almost exclusively on broadband. 

EchoStar’s Hughes Network Services division generated $1.85 billion of the company’s $1.89 billion in 2019 revenue. 

Hughes President Pradman Kaul said the company’s satellites covering North America have “relatively full beams,” limiting the capacity available for new subscribers. 

Hughes is focused on adding higher paying subscribers in those beams while seeking to limit customer churn, Kaul said. 

In Latin America, Hughes’ community Wi-Fi service “Express Wi-Fi” has been deployed in 800 locations and is expanding rapidly in partnership with Facebook, Kaul said. Hughes provides services in seven countries across Central and South America, and counts 237,000 international subscribers, he said. 

Yahsat and Hughes are still combining their operations, a process Kaul said includes installing a Hughes Jupiter gateway pointed at Yahsat’s Al Yah 3 satellite, migrating more Yahsat customers onto HughesNet, and integrating Yahsat’s distribution network across Brazil.


Where Things Stand: Republicans Are Sweating Over Swelling Bern

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is not one to speak candidly. But while addressing reporters last night, he was uncharacteristically frank: His party would be “foolish” to not take Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) popularity seriously.

Republicans and their Fox News allies have spent the last several months — essentially since the rise of Democratic socialists like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — equating the Democratic Party to socialist regimes like the government of Venezuela. The effort has been seemingly coordinated and strategic. Stoking fear of socialism among the Republican base, especially those loyal to President Trump, would seem like a surefire way to ensure a Trump reelection if someone like Sanders or even Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) becomes the nominee.

But Republican leadership might not be as confident in that belief as they once were. While speaking to reporters McConnell hearkened back to the Reagan-era, when Democrats pushed for the Hollywood actor to become the nominee “because they thought he’d be the easiest to beat.”

“I think Republicans speculating about which Democratic candidate for president would be the easiest to beat may be a bit foolish,” he said.

Whether this is a concern shared party-wide or just the musings of the infamously tight-lipped majority leader is hard to say. But we’ll keep an eye on this shift in tone. Here’s more on that an other stories we’re following.

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Josh Kovensky is continuing on the Richard Grenell beat this morning, covering Senate Democrats’ efforts to get the Justice Department to look into the acting director of national intelligence’s consulting work, which Josh has written about extensively in the last few days.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

After last night’s final debate before the South Carolina primaries, candidates are making their last few campaign stops in the state to garner support — including former Vice President Joe Biden who held a flashy, and at times emotional, press conference this morning, alongside Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) who offered his official endorsement. Biden is widely expected to sweep the state on Saturday, primarily due to his popularity among black voters. We’ll keep an eye on how other candidates are preparing for the final primary before Super Tuesday.

Trump insisted last night that his administration’s doing a “GREAT” job with the coronavirus, another attempt to downplay the deadly disease as the CDC warns that its spread is inevitable and that “disruption to everyday life may be severe.” Trump is expected to hold a press conference on the spread of the virus and the U.S.’s response to it later today, so we’ll keep tabs on that.

Today’s Rundown

6:30 a.m. ET: Trump arrived back in the U.S. and returned to the White House at 6:50 a.m. ET. 

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

LIVEBLOG: South Carolina Democratic Debate — TPM Staff

What We Are Reading

I Was A Juror In The Roger Stone Trial. Attacking Our Foreperson Undermines Our Service. — Seth Cousins

The World’s Oldest Man Died In Japan At 112. He Credited His Long Life To Smiling. — Kim Bellware

NYPD Video Warning About Leaks To The Media Is Leaked To The Media — Graham Rayman and Thomas Tracy

A few Comments on January New Home Sales

New home sales for January were reported at 764,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR). Sales for the previous three months were revised up, combined.

This was the highest sales rate since July 2007.

Earlier: New Home Sales increase to 764,000 Annual Rate in January.

New Home Sales 2018 2019Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows new home sales for 2019 and 2020 by month (Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate).

The year-over-year comparison are fairly easy in the first half of 2020, and sales were up 18.6% YoY in January.

And here is another update to the "distressing gap" graph that I first started posting a number of years ago to show the emerging gap caused by distressed sales.

Distressing GapThe "distressing gap" graph shows existing home sales (left axis) and new home sales (right axis) through January 2020. This graph starts in 1994, but the relationship had been fairly steady back to the '60s.

Following the housing bubble and bust, the "distressing gap" appeared mostly because of distressed sales.

Even though distressed sales are down significantly, following the bust, new home builders focused on more expensive homes - so the gap closed slowly.

Now the gap is mostly closed, and I expect it to close a little more.   However, this assumes that the builders will offer some smaller, less expensive homes.

Ratio Existing to New Home SalesAnother way to look at this is a ratio of existing to new home sales.

This ratio was fairly stable from 1994 through 2006, and then the flood of distressed sales kept the number of existing home sales elevated and depressed new home sales. (Note: This ratio was fairly stable back to the early '70s, but I only have annual data for the earlier years).

In general the ratio has been trending down since the housing bust - and is getting close to the historical ratio - and I expect this ratio will trend down a little more.

Note: Existing home sales are counted when transactions are closed, and new home sales are counted when contracts are signed. So the timing of sales is different.

My Conversation with Garett Jones

Here is the transcript and audio, here is part of the opening summary:

Garett joined Tyler to discuss his book 10% Less Democracy, including why America shouldn’t be run by bondholders, what single reform would most effectively achieve more limited democracy, how markets shape cognitive skills, the three important P’s of the repeated prisoner’s dilemma, why French cuisine is still underrated, Buchanan vs. Tullock, Larry David vs. Seinfeld, the biggest mistake in Twitter macroeconomics, the biggest challenges facing the Mormon church, what studying to be a sommelier taught him about economics, the Garett Jones vision of America, and more.

Here is one bit:

COWEN: But let’s say it’s the early 1990s. Eastern European countries are suddenly becoming free, and they ask you, “Garett, what electoral system should we have?” What do you say?

JONES: What I really would go for is presidential systems, if you can handle it, something like a first-past-the-post system, where those people elected from local districts focused on local problems — which have less of a free-rider problem involved — go up to the parliament and actually argue their case. The presidential element is less important than the parliamentary idea of the single-district voting. I tend to think that creates more accountability on the part of the government.

And more:

COWEN: For the United States, what is the most effective way, in your view, that you would want us to have 10 percent less democracy? What’s the one thing you would change?

JONES: I would change the House of Representatives to a six-year term. I picked that because it’s not outside the range of plausibility, and because I think people would instantly understand what it accomplishes — not because it has the highest payoff, but because it balances payoff with plausibility in a democracy.

And on boosting IQ:

COWEN: But what’s the key environmental lever? Whatever Ireland did [to have induced an IQ rise], it’s not that people were starving, right? That we understand.

JONES: No, true.

COWEN: So why don’t we do more of whatever they did, whatever was done to the East Germans, everywhere?

JONES: Exactly.

COWEN: But what is that lever? Why don’t we know?

JONES: I would say that thing is the thing we call capitalism.

COWEN: Capitalism is a big, huge thing. Not all of capitalism makes us smarter.

JONES: Yeah, that’s the thing — figuring out which things within capitalism — what is it about living in a free society with competitive markets where, at least in our youth and middle age, we feel a need to sell ourselves as valuable creators. There’s something about that that probably is what’s most valuable for boosting cognitive skills. It’s a sort of demand-side desire to try to use our minds in socially productive ways. And I think in communism, we can —

COWEN: So marketing makes us smarter?

JONES: That’s what I would say, yeah.

There is much more at the link, an excellent Conversation.  Here you can order Garett’s book 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust the Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less.  You can read the introduction to the book on-line.

The post My Conversation with Garett Jones appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Don’t Blame Capitalism for Shrinking Airline Legroom

New Home Sales increase to 764,000 Annual Rate in January

The Census Bureau reports New Home Sales in January were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of 764 thousand.

The previous three months were revised up, combined.
"Sales of new single‐family houses in January 2020 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 764,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 7.9 percent above the revised December rate of 708,000 and is 18.6 percent above the January 2019 estimate of 644,000."
emphasis added
New Home SalesClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows New Home Sales vs. recessions since 1963. The dashed line is the current sales rate.

Even with the increase in sales over the last several years, new home sales are just at a normal level.

The second graph shows New Home Months of Supply.

New Home Sales, Months of SupplyThe months of supply decreased in January to 5.1 months from 5.5 months in December.

The all time record was 12.1 months of supply in January 2009.

This is in the normal range (less than 6 months supply is normal).
"The seasonally‐adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of January was 324,000. This represents a supply of 5.1 months at the current sales rate."
New Home Sales, InventoryOn inventory, according to the Census Bureau:
"A house is considered for sale when a permit to build has been issued in permit-issuing places or work has begun on the footings or foundation in nonpermit areas and a sales contract has not been signed nor a deposit accepted."
Starting in 1973 the Census Bureau broke this down into three categories: Not Started, Under Construction, and Completed.

The third graph shows the three categories of inventory starting in 1973.

The inventory of completed homes for sale is still somewhat low, and the combined total of completed and under construction is close to normal.

New Home Sales, NSAThe last graph shows sales NSA (monthly sales, not seasonally adjusted annual rate).

In January 2020 (red column), 57 thousand new homes were sold (NSA). Last year, 49 thousand homes were sold in January

The all time high for January was 92 thousand in 2005, and the all time low for January was 21 thousand in 2011.

This was above expectations of 715 thousand sales SAAR, and sales in the three previous months were revised up, combined.  This was a strong report with sales up 18.6% year-over-year.  I'll have more later today.

Bloomberg and How the Teachers’ Revolt Was Disappeared Down the Memory Hole

It’s always an interesting exercise to see what gets disappeared down the memory hole. Less than two years ago, in state after state, blue, purple, and red, teachers shut down state capitols and forced serious concessions. Yet now, Democratic-aligned pundits, not to mention a fair number of Democratic politicians support Bloomberg, or at least are very Bloomberg-curious. But Bloomberg isn’t going to build on that fervor, he would quench it (boldface mine):

Nominating Michael Bloomberg would be a disaster for public schools – and for the Democrats’ chances at beating Donald Trump in 2020. Because when it comes to education policy, it is virtually impossible to tell the two billionaire politicians apart.

Like Trump and his inept secretary of education, Betsy Devos, Bloomberg is a fervent backer of privatizing and dismantling public schools across the country. Education, in their view, should be run like a business.

While other establishment Democrats have begun changing their tune in response to the “Red for Ed” movement, Bloomberg’s campaign spokesman has made it clear that privatization will be a core message of his 2020 presidential run: “Mike has always supported charter schools, he opened a record number of charter schools as mayor of New York City, and he will champion the issue as president.”

If anything, the main difference between Bloomberg and Trump is that the former has spent far more of his immense personal fortune to boost corporate “education reform” and local candidates driving this agenda. The New York Times reported last week that Bloomberg has spent millions to promote charters in the state of Louisiana alone. And this is just the tip of the iceberg: Bloomberg’s foundation in 2018 announced its plan to spend $375m to promote charters, merit pay and the sacking of “failing” teachers, among other reforms.

Bloomberg is also an active promoter of high-stakes testing. Despite abundant evidence that an excessive testing regime does little to improve real educational achievement, Bloomberg has vociferously sung the praises of this system in op-eds such as Demand Better Schools, Not Fewer Tests. Accordingly, as mayor he fought for a merit pay system through which teachers’ salaries would be pegged to student test scores.

Like Trump and DeVos, Bloomberg has also viciously attacked teacher unions and scapegoated educators. He spent much of his mayoral tenure fighting with the powerful United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which he compared to the National Rifle Association. As he put it, “if the UFT wants it, it ain’t good”.

According to corporate education reformers, our country’s education crisis is produced not by systematic underfunding and social inequality, but rather by the inherent inefficiencies of the public sector, intransigent unions and bad teachers. Bloomberg has often been shockingly direct in expressing his contempt for teachers. In 2011, during a speech at MIT, he suggested that if he could have it his way, he’d “weed out all the bad” New York City educators by cutting “the number of teachers in half”. He insisted that coupling these cuts with doubling class sizes would be “a good deal for the students”.

But electability something something.

Related: For people wondering why Booker never caught fire, his support of charter schools cost him big. In terms of affect, tone, and overall message, Booker would be a natural ally of teachers unions, but they just won’t get that excited about someone who is a charter school advocate–and that cost him early momentum. You can’t piss off one of the last Democratic-aligned/leaning mass movements left.

Smithsonian Releases 2.8 Million High-Res Images Into the Public Domain

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

The Smithsonian Institution has released a massive trove of images and 3D models from their collections into the public domain, allowing the public to use the images however they see fit. From Smithsonian Magazine:

For the first time in its 174-year history, the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million high-resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections onto an open access online platform for patrons to peruse and download free of charge. Featuring data and material from all 19 Smithsonian museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives and the National Zoo, the new digital depot encourages the public to not just view its contents, but use, reuse and transform them into just about anything they choose — be it a postcard, a beer koozie or a pair of bootie shorts.

And this gargantuan data dump is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.

Part of the release is research data sets, 3D models of airplanes, chairs, and fossils, and developer tools like an API and GitHub repository. Here’s the Smithsonian’s official press release and a FAQ about the Open Access collection.

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

Smithsonian Open Access Collection

The images above are (from top to bottom): photograph of Frederick Douglass, 3D model of the Apollo 11 Command Module, inverted Curtiss Jenny stamp, 3D model & photographs of a tin of Madame C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, 3D model of a mammoth skeleton, carte-de-visite portrait of Harriet Tubman, 3D model of the 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, a placard carried in the 1968 Memphis march.

Tags: art   museums   photography   remix

If Bloomberg Is So Rich, Why Does He Steal Worker Wages?

His Privately Owned Company Has Paid $70 Million in Penalties for Wage and Hour Violations

Philip Mattera

Michael Bloomberg has been pummeled over the treatment of women at his media and data company. Yet that is not the only blemish on the employment record of Bloomberg L.P. The company also has a serious problem with wage theft.

Violation Tracker lists $70 million in penalties paid by Bloomberg for wage and hour violations. The company is in 32nd place among large corporations. Yet many of the companies higher on the list – such as Walmart, FedEx, and United Parcel Service – employ far more people than the roughly 20,000 at Bloomberg.

The bulk of Bloomberg’s penalty total comes from a 2018 collective action lawsuit. It agreed to pay $54.5 million to resolve allegations that the company violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state law in New York and California. Bloomberg failed to pay overtime to employees responsible for assisting customers using proprietary software on Bloomberg financial data terminals.

The company violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state law in New York and California by failing to pay overtime to employees.

The 2014 complaint alleged employees were required to:

  • be at their desks before their shifts began;
  • use parts of their lunch hour to finish requests; and,
  • work past the end of their shifts to finish jobs.

Combined, the requirements caused employees to work more than the 40 hours for which they were paid. Yet they received no additional compensation for the extra time. The complaint called for time-and-a-half pay.

Refused to Settle

For the next few years, Bloomberg’s lawyers fought the case on substantive and procedural grounds. But they failed to stop certification of a class by the court. Most employers who experience that setback agree to settle. But Bloomberg wanted its day in court. The trial finally began in April 2018. After about a week, the company apparently did not like the way things were going and entered settlement talks. A deal soon followed.

What makes the company’s aggressive posture in this case surprising is that it had previously settled four other wage and hour lawsuits. Amounts ranged from $346,000 to $5.5 million.

More Troubles

Bloomberg’s wage theft litigation troubles expanded after the company had been cited twice for wage and hour violations by the U.S. Labor Department. he company paid a fine of $522,683 in 2011 and $547,683 in 2013.

In addition to all these cases, Bloomberg recently agreed to pay $3 million to settle another overtime lawsuit involving call center workers. The case is not yet in Violation Tracker.

Bloomberg is not the only tech company to have run afoul of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Google’s parent AlphabetIntelAppleAdobe SystemsMicrosoft and Oracle are also high on the list of those companies that have paid the most in wage theft settlements and fines.

Yet Bloomberg LP is the only one on the list whose founder, majority owner and CEO is seeking to be the presidential nominee of a political party deeply concerned about the treatment of workers.


The post If Bloomberg Is So Rich, Why Does He Steal Worker Wages? appeared first on DCReport.org.

“A grand funeral” for Christopher Seider

Young Christopher Seider was shot and killed on Thursday, 22 Feb 1770. His funeral was held the following Monday, 26 February—250 years ago today.

Monday was also when the Whig newspapers published, so they ran their detailed, almost incendiary accounts of the killing over announcements of the funeral. The Boston Evening-Post and other papers told the public:
The general Sympathy and Concern for the Murder of the Lad by the base and infamous Richardson on the 22d Instant, will be a sufficient Reason for your Notifying the Publick that he was be buried from his Father’s House in Frogg-Lane, opposite Liberty-Tree, on Monday next, when all the Friends of Liberty may have an Opportunity of paying their last Respects to the Remains of this little Hero and first Martyr to the noble Cause.
The Boston Gazette offered further advance spin on the event:
It is said that the Funeral of the young Victim THIS AFTERNOON at Four o’Clock, will be attended by as numerous a Train as ever was known here.—It is hoped that none will be in the Procession but the Friends of Liberty, and then undoubtedly all will be hearty Mourners.
Acting governor Thomas Hutchinson thought the Whigs’ preparations were a little much. In the continuation of his history of Massachusetts, never published in his lifetime, he wrote: “The boy that was killed was the son of a poor German. A grand funeral was, however, judged very proper for him.”

There was a ceremony in King’s Chapel, the Anglican church where Christopher’s younger sister had been baptized and his employer owned a good pew. Ironically, that was also where the boy’s killer, Ebenezer Richardson, had married his second wife in 1754.

Then came the procession. The Boston Gazette stated, “The little Corpse was set down under the Tree of Liberty, whence the Procession began.” The Whigs published detailed descriptions of some aspects of the event and nothing about others, probably because readers were already familiar with standard funerals.

Some of the following description is therefore based on general British and New England customs of the time rather than specific statements. Furthermore, some of the customs for well documented upper-class funerals in London might not have been followed in Boston, even when the local gentry were trying to provide a “grand funeral.”

Four to six young men hired to be “under-bearers” probably lifted the small coffin onto their shoulders. It was draped in a black velvet pall that mostly hid those men from view. Some British pictures of funeral processions don’t show the under-bearers at all while a French picture of a British funeral (above, courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg) shows two of them peeking out from holes in the front of the pall.

All the honor of escorting the corpse went to the pall-bearers, who grasped the sides of the pall cloth but didn’t do the heavy lifting. As Samuel Johnson wrote in his dictionary, underbearers were, “In funerals, those that sustain the weight of the body, distinct from those who are bearers of ceremony, and only hold up the pall.”

For the funeral of Christopher Seider, the Boston Gazette said:
The Pall was supported by six Youths, chosen by the Parents of the Deceased. Upon the Foot of the Coffin was an Inscription in silver’d Letters, Latet Anguis in Herba! Intimating that in the gayest Season of Life amidst the most flattering Scenes, and without the least Apprehension of an evil Hour, we are continually expos’d to the unseen Arrows of Death: The Serpent is lurking in the Grass, ready to infuse his deadly Poison!—

Upon each Side Haeret Lateri lethalis arundo! In English, the fatal Dart is fix’d in the Side!

And on the Head was another Inscription, Innocentia nusquam tuta! The original Sentiment revers’d; and denoting that we are fallen into the most unhappy Times, when even Innocence itself is no where safe!
The first two phrases came from one of Virgil’s Eclogues and from his Aeneid. The last phrase was a variation on another phrase Virgil used in the Aeneid, Nusquam tuta fides, “confidence is nowhere safe.”

The Sons of Liberty who guarded Liberty Tree had fixed a board to its trunk with more quotations:
  • “Thou shall take no Satisfaction for the Life of a MURDERER;—He shall surely be put to Death.” (Numbers 35)
  • “Though Hand join in Hand, the Wicked shall not pass unpunish’d.” (Proverbs 16)
  • “The Memory of the Just is Blessed.” (Proverbs 10)
More New Englanders could recognize those words since they came from the English Bible.

At about three o’clock in the afternoon, the procession moved out from Liberty Tree.

TOMORROW: The turnout.

Crime and punishment in the sex trade--an ongoing controversy in the U.S.

Two stories in the NY Times speak of the difficulty of regulating the sex trade, which may consist of both voluntary sex workers and victims of trafficking.

Here's a story from October:

In Washington, a Fight to Decriminalize Prostitution Divides Allies

Supporters say a bill being considered by the District of Columbia Council would protect prostitutes in the nation’s capital. Critics say it would be a boon to sex traffickers.  By Timothy Williams, Oct. 17, 2019

"The proposal is dividing the city’s progressive community, pitting some women’s groups against advocates for sex workers. Some prostitutes who have been sex trafficked find themselves on the other side from sex workers who have not been. But all sides agree that prostitution practiced openly would reverberate well beyond the city’s thriving but shadowy sex industry of street prostitution, massage parlors, strip clubs and high-end call girls."

And a more recent story:
Charged With Prostitution, She Went to a Special Court. Did It Help?   By Christina Goldbaum, Jan. 6, 2020

"When New York State created a network of 12 Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, criminal justice professionals hailed it as an innovation. The courts send people into counseling sessions to help them leave the multibillion-dollar sex trade while dismissing their charges and sealing their records.
"But even as courts like these have begun to proliferate nationwide, New York’s own have come under increasing criticism, six years into their operation, that they are not living up to their promise.
"The division has become more pronounced in recent years with more mainstream acceptance of decriminalizing prostitution. The two camps have sparred over whether the goal should be to eliminate all sex trade — and by extension, sex trafficking — or make prostitution a regulated industry.

"While the debate unfolds, there is little question that the efforts have changed how prostitution is policed. The number of prostitution-related arrests in New York in 2019 dropped dramatically from the previous year."

All Praise the Fist Bump

Handshaking spreads germs and is a bad method of greeting. I prefer an elegant namaste but that is slightly hard to coordinate on when the other person sticks out their hand. The fist bump is a little smoother and has a greater chance of being adopted.

A study by Mela and Whitsworth in the American Journal of Infection Control found that fist bumps transferred one-quarter as much bacteria as a moderate handshake and even less compared to a strong handshake. Fist bumps are better because of lower contact times and lower contact area.

Here’s Tom Hanks showing you how it’s done.

Hat tip: Bryan Caplan for always asking for the numbers.

The post All Praise the Fist Bump appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Newly Declassified Study Demonstrates Uselessness of NSA's Phone Metadata Program

The New York Times is reporting on the NSA's phone metadata program, which the NSA shut down last year:

A National Security Agency system that analyzed logs of Americans' domestic phone calls and text messages cost $100 million from 2015 to 2019, but yielded only a single significant investigation, according to a newly declassified study.

Moreover, only twice during that four-year period did the program generate unique information that the F.B.I. did not already possess, said the study, which was produced by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and briefed to Congress on Tuesday.


The privacy board, working with the intelligence community, got several additional salient facts declassified as part of the rollout of its report. Among them, it officially disclosed that the system has gained access to Americans' cellphone records, not just logs of landline phone calls.

It also disclosed that in the four years the Freedom Act system was operational, the National Security Agency produced 15 intelligence reports derived from it. The other 13, however, contained information the F.B.I. had already collected through other means, like ordinary subpoenas to telephone companies.

The report cited two investigations in which the National Security Agency produced reports derived from the program: its analysis of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., in June 2016 and of the November 2016 attack at Ohio State University by a man who drove his car into people and slashed at them with a machete. But it did not say whether the investigations into either of those attacks were connected to the two intelligence reports that provided unique information not already in the possession of the F.B.I.

This program is legal due to the USA FREEDOM Act, which expires on March 15. Congress is currently debating whether to extend the authority, even though the NSA says it's not using it now.

NASA seeks bids to deliver VIPER lunar lander

VIPER rover

WASHINGTON — NASA is asking companies in its commercial lunar landing services program to bid on delivering a NASA rover whose launch has been slightly delayed.

NASA announced Feb. 25 it was asking the 14 companies that are part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to bid on a task order for sending the agency’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission to the lunar poles.

VIPER, formally announced by NASA last October, will examine regions at either the north or south pole of the moon thought to contain deposits of water ice. Such deposits, if confirmed, could become critical resources for future human missions.

When NASA announced VIPER, the mission was scheduled to launch by December 2022. In the announcement about the CLPS task order, though, NASA said that the rover would go to the moon “by 2023.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, confirmed the schedule slip in tweets Feb. 25 announcing the task order. “Moving delivery of VIPER to 2023 allows for upgrades so that the rover can conduct longer and more exciting science on the Moon,” he wrote.

NASA spokesperson Grey Hautaluoma told SpaceNews Feb. 25 that the changes include “lessons learned” from reviews of instruments and other rover systems, and “to enable the rover to live through the lunar night for longer mission duration for significantly improved mission value.”

VIPER, in some respects a successor to an earlier NASA lunar rover concept called Resource Prospector, is still in its early stages of development. The mission is scheduled for a preliminary design review in April, according to NASA’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, which requested $67.5 million for VIPER. The mission’s total cost is estimated at approximately $250 million.

The agency had been preparing to issue a task order late last year for VIPER, but then put it on hold. The agency said in early January it decided to delay the task order based on feedback from a workshop discussion the agency had with CLPS providers, citing “the complexity of the VIPER delivery.” The large size of VIPER, described by NASA as similar to a golf cart, means only a small fraction of the CLPS companies will have landers large enough to accommodate it.

NASA instead decided to issue a task order in January for a different CLPS mission that would deliver eight science payloads to the moon in 2022, similar to missions NASA awarded last year to Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines for 2021 lander missions.

However, NASA withdrew that task order after a week, without explanation. NASA reissued the task order in early February after it reviewed the requirements for the mission and “provided additional clarity in the request language to ensure that they are complete and in alignment with the Agency’s procurement strategy,” Hautaluoma said Feb. 8.


MBA: Mortgage Applications Increased in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications increased 1.5 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending February 21, 2020. This week’s results include an adjustment for the Washington Birthday (Presidents’ Day) Holiday.

... The Refinance Index decreased 1 percent from the previous week and was 152 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index increased 6 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent compared with the previous week and was 10 percent higher than the same week one year ago.
“Last week appears to have been the calm before the storm. Weaker readings on economic growth caused a slight drop in mortgage rates, bringing them back to their level two weeks ago, but applications overall moved 1.5 percent higher,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Refinance applications for conventional loans dropped a bit, but FHA refinances increased more than 22 percent. Purchase volume remained strong, supported both by low rates and the increased pace of construction over the past few months. With housing supply at low levels, new inventory is a positive development for prospective homebuyers.”

Added Fratantoni, “As fears regarding the coronavirus have increased, Treasury yields have dropped to record lows this week amid the ensuing financial market volatility. Next week’s results will show the impact this drop in Treasuries had on mortgage activity.”
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) decreased to 3.73 percent from 3.77 percent, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
emphasis added
Mortgage Refinance IndexClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

With lower rates, we saw a sharp increase in refinance activity, but mortgage rates would have to decline further to see a 2012 size refinance boom.

Mortgage Purchase Index The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index

According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 10% year-over-year.

Would you rather have a fish or know how to fish?

Imagine the following. You are living a life with enough money and health and time so as to allow an hour or two of careless relaxation, sitting on the sofa at the end of the day in front of a large television, half-heartedly watching a documentary about solar energy with a glass of wine and scro...

By Jonny Robinson

Read at Aeon

This ragged claw

It is a crab; no, a worm; no, a wolf. Early physicians weren’t entirely wrong to imagine cancer as a ravenous disease

By Ellen Wayland-Smith

Read at Aeon

Is common stock ownership really such a big deal?

We investigate the relation between common institutional ownership of the firms in an industry and product market competition. We find that common ownership is neither robustly positively related with industry profitability or output prices nor robustly negatively related with measures of non-price competition, as would be expected if common ownership reduces competition. This conclusion holds regardless of industry classification choice, common ownership measure, profitability measure, non-price competition proxy, or model specification. Our point estimates are close to zero with tight bounds, rejecting even modestly-sized economic effects. We conclude that antitrust restrictions seeking to limit intra-industry common ownership are not currently warranted.

That is from a new paper by Andrew Koch, Marios A. Panayides, and Shawn Thomas, forthcoming in the Journal of Financial Economics.  A useful corrective to some of the exaggerations I have seen floating around.

The post Is common stock ownership really such a big deal? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

How robust are supply chains?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Consider the supply chain of the Apple iPhone, which stretches across dozens of companies and several continents. Such complex cross-national supply chains generate relatively high profits, giving them a kind of immunity to small disruptions. If there is an unexpected tax, tariff or exchange movement, the supply chain can generally swallow the costs and move on. Profits will be lower within the supply chain, but production will continue, as it is too lucrative to simply shut everything down.

Do not be deceived, however: Supply chains are not indestructible. If the new costs or risks are high enough, the entire structure will be dismantled. By their nature, supply chains do not fall apart slowly, because each part of the chain relies upon other parts to add its value. It does not help much to have the circuit components of the iPhone lined up, for instance, if you cannot also produce the glass screens. In this way, these supply chains are less robust under extreme conditions.

Global supply chains have yet to come apart mostly because trade and prosperity generally have been rising. But now, for the first time since World War II, the global economy faces the possibility of a true decoupling of many trade connections.

It is not sufficiently well understood how rapid that process could be. A complex international supply chain is fragile precisely for the same reasons it is valuable — namely, it is hard to construct and maintain because it involves so many interdependencies.

The nature of the cross-national supply chain makes it especially vulnerable to shocks coming from the coronavirus. These supply chains do not adapt so well to complete cutoffs in materials or labor, as may happen if Chinese coronavirus casualties continue and workplaces find it hard to operate effectively.

Imagine that closed Chinese factories cannot produce the components of many American medicines. It is not a question of the supply chain simply losing some profits; rather, some critical pieces of the production process are missing. The medicines won’t work without these inputs. The U.S. medical establishment might try to source those components elsewhere, but it isn’t easy for other suppliers to produce enough of them at sufficient scale and quality.

U.S. medical producers might try to bid more for the Chinese medicine components, but if the workers are prohibited from even showing up at the factory, no feasible market clearing price can make this arrangement work. Production just won’t be possible. Fashionable practices of near-zero inventories can make these shortages appear all the more rapidly. About 80% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients in U.S. medicines rely on Chinese or Indian components, so this does represent a very real public health risk for the U.S., even if the coronavirus itself does not.

You will note that when it comes to ex ante planning, companies do not in general internalize the costs of a supply chain cut-off to their customers, since consumer surplus for the infra-marginal buyers exceeds market price.  Supply chain are thus too fragile relative to an optimum, though that matters only under very limited circumstances, as we may be seeing right now.

The post How robust are supply chains? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Four short links: 26 February 2020

  1. kernel-wasmSafely run WebAssembly in the Linux kernel, with faster-than-native performance..
  2. Smithsonian Open Access — images, 3d models, and more. The ultimate goal is digitizing their whole collection. (via Smithsonian Magazine)
  3. Systems that Defy UnderstandingIn such systems, we must resort to empirical methods. Instead of reasoning about the system and reading the source to answer questions, we find ways to ask questions about the running system. We can perform such queries by looking at existing logs and metrics, or by adding new instrumentation.
  4. TextFoolera model for natural language attack on text classification and inference.

ECOSTRESS Sees Plants Waking Up

ECOSTRESS Sees Plants Waking Up
An instrument on the International Space Station observed vegetation beginning to stir on summer mornings near Lake Superior.


A Few Thoughts on the Debate

That was a pretty messy debate. The moderators managed to tsk-tsk the candidates without actually controlling the time or keeping people on point. Many of the questions were trivial, meant to trip up rather than illuminate or simply gross. Asking the two Jewish candidates about whether to move the US Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv was a good example of that of gross. Asking Amy Klobuchar whether she’d bar US citizens from returning to the US to prevent the spread of Coronavirus was both dumb and trivial: a question meant to put a candidate on the spot for purely theatrical reasons.

But if it was a messy debate it was still a pivotal one.

Especially on the first hour it felt like all the contenders finally understood the true terms of the contest and had been given one last two hour chance to level the attacks they wished they’d starting leveling three months ago. The mix of antic questions and desperate attacks made it feel like two hours packed with chaos and bad energy.

Debates only matter inasmuch as they affect the outcome of the race. The rest is just theater criticism about canned answers and yelling. The big question in this primary battle is whether Bernie Sanders builds on his momentum coming out of the first three contests and goes on to a string of victories in Super Tuesday which make it hard for any other candidate to overtake him.

Whether that happens or how quickly it happens seems to come down to how Joe Biden does in South Carolina. Biden has had an unbelievably bad month. Nothing is more demoralizing or destructive for a consensus, ‘safe’ candidate than losing badly again and again. South Carolina was always his supposed ‘firewall’. Now it also seems like the last possible obstacle between Sanders and the nomination. Despite his momentum and leads in most Super Tuesday states, Sanders’ support in most states doesn’t get above the high twenties. (One very big exception is California.) There are a lot of Democrats not yet sold on Sanders and there’s plenty of press hunger for a new turn in the story. If Biden can deliver a convincing victory in South Carolina he has a shot at using that 72 hours to pull support from other declining candidates and draw to ties or even leads in a number of states.

Everyone was attacking Sanders and at critical moments the attacks seemed to pull him into the rabbit holes which are strewn throughout his decades in public life. He also had good moments. He managed to take the incredibly dumb final question – what’s your motto and what is the misperception people have about you – and make it into an almost lyrical exposition of the meaning of his candidacy.

We can talk about who did well, who had what strategy, who should get votes. But this seems like the one operative question, which of these two scenarios happens: Sanders building on his momentum and moving into a dominating lead or Biden using a South Carolina win to check Sanders’ drive and shift the contest to something like a two or three person race.

On those terms I think Biden had about as good a night as he could have hoped for. He himself had a strong debate. But it was more the other things that happened – mainly, Elizabeth Warren continuing to savage Mike Bloomberg; everyone else beating up on Sanders; and Tom Steyer giving a mainly anemic performance. (Steyer may seem like an irrelevancy but he’s actually Biden’s biggest problem in South Carolina.)

Even though it’s usually hyperbole, the next seven days do seem critical for the whole contest.

NASA's Stealth Space Grant Event

Keith's note: Too bad news media were not invited to this event. Perhaps more people could have learned about the various education programs NASA supports. There is no mention of this event on the National Space Grant page, NASA.gov home page calendar, on the Welcome to 'Inside Space Grant' page, or on the NASA STEM Engagement home page, When you visit the main NASA STEM page and go to the about the project, Consortium Directors and Websites, NASA Wants to Tell Your Space Grant Story!, and Space Grant in Action Image Gallery links under National Space Grant College and Fellowship Project on the left side of the web page you get a "404" (not found) error message (the links in the middle work). How can people learn about Space Grant when NASA does not tell people about events like this and can't even keep a basic website working?

According to the proposed NASA FY 2021 Congressional budget (page 651):

"EXPLANATION OF MAJOR CHANGES IN FY 2021 No funding is requested for Space Grant, Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP). NASA proposes to use unobligated balances previously appropriated to support the termination of these activities, including but not limited to, ongoing administration, oversight, monitoring, and funding of grants previously awarded by the Office of STEM Engagement."

No money for Space Grant. Not good news. So wouldn't you think that everyone involved with Space Grant activities would want the news media to know the value of what they do? Guess not.

Space Force Is Using NASA Spacecraft As A Recruiting Tool

Keith's note: NASA and the military have done low level things together for half a century when an astronaut from one of the service branches has flown in space. The two organizations share a common aeronautical and engineering heritage - so this is not at all surprising. But there has always been a clear line denoting NASA's chartered nature as a civilian organization. But now the brand new Space Force is dialing up that interaction - using NASA imagery on social media to promote a large, national military-themed event on board a NASA (civilian) spacecraft. Oddly NASA is not telling anyone about this event at NASA.gov - it is not on the home page or on the NASA.gov calendar. But it you happen to dig down into the schedule for NASA TV it is listed. NASA overtly promotes events between ISS astronauts and a hundred kids at a grammar school - why not this event? Just sayin'

Meanwhile. it is sort of strage that while the Space Force PR squad is pumping out social media posts with pictures of astronauts in space - and then swearing a bunch of them in - from space - that the deputy Space Force guy says that there is scant opportunity for any recruits to actually go into space. Looks like they need to work on their messaging - this is bit like the old "bait and switch" marketing ploy

Space Force's second-in-command admits he's a Star Trek fan but says there's 'almost ZERO' chance for recruits to follow in the footsteps of his heroes and go into space with his organization, Daily Mail

"The Space Force will also have a series of sensors on the ground, hiring 26,000 people with a $12 billion annual budget. But he warned that budding astronauts need not apply. 'That opportunity to be an astronaut inside the Space Force today is almost zero. The best thing to do if you want to be an astronaut is go talk to NASA,' he declared. 'But the rest of the world is going in the direction of the Space Force. We're talking about remotely piloted aircraft, drones, artificial intelligence, vehicles that operate by remote control or autonomous control -- that's Space Force.'"

The One About Time Management

In our 34th episode, we discuss the value created by Executive Assistants, explain what a Chief of Staff does, how to build teams, why calendars are hard, and why Lopp keeps rewriting the book.

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

Wednesday: New Home Sales

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

• At 10:00 AM, New Home Sales for January from the Census Bureau. The consensus is for 715 thousand SAAR, up from 694 thousand in December.

Bloggin' This Thing

8:48 p.m.: This was a moment …

8:34 p.m.: This is pretty wild. That’s all I’ve got.

8:20 p.m.: Jeez, that one fusillade from Warren on Bloomberg. I’m not sure, in the current dynamics of this race, that any of this will redound to Warren’s benefit. But these attacks on Bloomberg on merciless.

8:07 p.m.: Warren’s line here about why she’d be a better President than Sanders, let me say something about that. I tend to see all of this through the prism of who can beat Trump and who can build the largest political coalition. But when I think about who would likely be the best President in terms of actually using the levers of the presidency, I think Warren would be the best. It’s the mix of her deep grasp of policy and — something that is talked about much less — a deep understanding of the intricacies of how the federal bureaucracy works. Over her dozen years at the highest level of American politics she’s demonstrated that again and again.

8:06 p.m.: Yikes, that Putin line from Bloomberg.

More on App Defaults in Files on iPadOS

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

I know it’s been open season on the deficiencies of the iPad’s interface lately, but it does feel like portions of the iPad have progressed enough to have reached a sort of uncanny valley. It’s so advanced now that we have to start judging it the same way we judge other advanced interfaces. The Files app is finally worthy of criticism — and it deserves a lot of it.

This whole thing about being able to map a default handler for file types — but not PDFs or audio or video — is bananas. Bananas that even Jason Snell didn’t know about it, bananas that PDFs and AV files are special-case locked to Quick View, bananas all around.


Trailer for Season 2 of Ugly Delicious

Chef David Chang, who I guess is in the process of being not a chef now in the way that Bourdain became not a chef, is back for season 2 of Ugly Delicious, a food/travel/culture show on Netflix. From Eater:

Like the first season, this one promises to “use food as a vehicle to break down cultural barriers, tackle misconceptions and uncover shared experiences,” per a press release. The four episodes — only half the number of episodes as season 1 — will focus on food made for babies and children (“Kids’ Menu”), the vast world of Indian food (“Don’t Call It Curry”), the appeal and mystique of steak (“Steak”), and the varied cuisines that encompass what’s generalized as “Middle Eastern” cooking (“As the Meat Turns”).

I really liked season 1 of this show and I am not going to lie, I would love to somehow be involved in season 3. David, I have a passport, love to eat, and can talk about *gestures around at website* almost anything. Hit me up!

Tags: David Chang   food   trailers   travel   TV   video

Virgin Galactic hints at more delays for start of SpaceShipTwo commercial flights

SpaceShipTwo Spaceport America

WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic executives suggested Feb. 25 that the beginning of commercial flights of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle might slip again, even as the company starts planning to resume ticket sales.

The company, which became publicly traded in October after closing a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Social Capital Hedosophia, released its fourth quarter and full year 2019 financials after the markets closed Feb. 25, showing, as expected, a significant loss as the company continues development and testing of SpaceShipTwo.

Virgin Galactic reported a net loss of nearly $211 million on revenue of about $3.8 million for 2019. That revenue came from flights of research payloads on SpaceShipTwo test flights as well as unspecified engineering services. The company had adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, debt and amortization (EBITDA) of –$187 million for 2019, compared to an adjusted EBITDA of –$132 million in 2018.

The company’s net loss in the fourth quarter of 2019 was $72.8 million, compared to a net loss of $51.5 million in the third quarter. Jonathan Campagna, Virgin Galactic’s chief financial officer, said in a conference call with analysts that the company had additional expenses in the fourth quarter associated with compliance costs of being a public company, as well as with moving personnel and equipment to Spaceport America in New Mexico and with outfitting the cabin of its existing SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity.

The company projects those losses to quickly turn to profits once SpaceShipTwo enters commercial service, with an increasing number of flights as the company gains experience and puts additional vehicles into operation. In an investor presentation in September 2019, the company projected positive EBITDA in 2021, growing to $274 million in 2023.

Those projections assumed the start of commercial operations in June 2020, but during the call George Whitesides, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, hinted that commercial service, already delayed by years, might slip again.

“We continue to focus on our top priority of the year, which is to fly Richard Branson into space on a commercial flight,” he said. Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, has long said he will be on the company’s first commercial flight.

However, there may be few, if any, additional commercial flights in the year. “While we would like to have some commercial revenue this year, the main focus for this year, from a company and engineering perspective, is working to get the vehicles, and our operations, prepared for long-term, regular commercial service,” Whitesides said. That includes completing the flight test program for SpaceShipTwo, optimizing the “end-to-end customer experience” that includes events before and after each flight, and readying the vehicles for long-term, high-flight-rate operations.

Asked by analysts on the conference call about the schedule, including that prior plan to begin service in June 2020, Whitesides emphasized his earlier comments. “What we’re affirming today is that our number one priority is to fly Richard Branson into space on a commercial flight in 2020,” he said.

“Ultimately, the amount of revenue that we generate in 2020 is really not the thing that’s going to make this company a great success,” he continued. “What’s going to make it a great success is having a vehicle that we can turn around relatively rapidly and do that on a consistent basis, and then build a fleet of them so we can add more capacity into the market.”

Whitesides didn’t discuss any technical issues with VSS Unity, the SpaceShipTwo vehicle relocated to Spaceport America in New Mexico for final tests Feb. 13. He said the company had completed 20 of 29 milestones in a “verification and validation” program with the Federal Aviation Administration that will clear the way for final approval for flying commercial customers on the vehicle. However, he added it may be possible that Unity will return to Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing facility in Mojave, California, “one or two times” for additional work before starting commercial service.

In past regulatory filings, the company said it has sold 603 tickets. Whitesides said the company formally closed that initial round of ticket sales after SpaceShipTwo’s first flight to the edge of space in December 2018, although sales effectively ended after an October 2014 crash that destroyed the first SpaceShipTwo and killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury.

The company is preparing to reopen ticket sales in the near future. Virgin Galactic announced Feb. 25 that it will start offering potential customers an opportunity to go to the front of the line when ticket sales resume. The company said it has received nearly 8,000 “registrations of interest in flight reservations,” primarily through its website. That figure has more than doubled since September 2019.

Virgin Galactic said it will allow potential customers to sign up for its “One Small Step” program, paying a refundable deposit of $1,000 applicable to a future ticket sale. Participants in the program, which will start taking reservations Feb. 26, will get the first opportunity to purchase tickets, although the company has not announced when it will start selling tickets again or their price.

The One Small Step program “marks a significant milestone as we prepare to reopen ticket sales,” Whitesides said. For Virgin Galactic, the program will support its sales funnel and create “a pool of qualified prospects” for later ticket sales.

While the company didn’t announce pricing, Whitesides confirmed later in the call that those tickets will be more expensive than past sales, which cost up to $250,000 per ticket. “We think that’s justified by the extreme interest that we’re seeing as well as the great product that we’ll be offering,” he said. The number of new tickets the company will sell, as well as its “premium pricing strategy,” will be disclosed later this year, he added.

Analysts also asked Whitesides about the company’s stock price, which has soared in recent weeks. After falling to as low as $7 a share late last year, the stock rose to as high as $37.35 per share at the close of trading Feb. 19. The stock closed Feb. 25 at $34.04 per share, down a fraction of a percent over the day despite a much steeper selloff in the broader market triggered by concerns about the effects the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak will have on the global economy.

Whitesides declined to discuss the stock’s recent rise. “We’re just going to keep executing,” he said. “I run a team full of space engineers, and what we’re best at is just keeping our heads down and focused on the engineering.”


Truck Proximity

See also: Farm animals and dinosaurs. I am so confident that there exists children's media that involves dinosaurs driving trucks on a farm that I'm writing this without even Googling to check.

Loading NumPy arrays from disk: mmap() vs. Zarr/HDF5

If your NumPy array is too big to fit in memory all at once, you can process it in chunks: either transparently, or explicitly loading only one chunk at a time from disk. Either way, you need to store the array on disk somehow.

For this particular situation, there are two common approaches you can take:

  • mmap(), which lets you treat a file on disk transparently as if it were all in memory.
  • Zarr and HDF5, a pair of similar storage formats that let you load and store compressed chunks of an array on demand.

Each approach has different strengths and weaknesses, so in this article I’ll explain how each storage system works and when you might want to use each. In particular, I’ll be focusing on data formats optimized for running your calculations, not necessarily for sharing with others.


NGTS-10b: Discovery of a Doomed Planet

This hot jupiter is doomed. This hot jupiter is doomed.

Instagram CEO’s Bullshit Excuse for Not Having an iPad App

Mitchel Broussard, writing for MacRumors last week:

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri took to the platform over the weekend to answer a few user questions on his story, shared by The Verge’s Chris Welch. Among the many things asked, the topic of an official iPad app for Instagram was brought up, and Mosseri explained why we haven’t seen one yet.

According to Mosseri, the company “would like to build an iPad app” for Instagram, “But we only have so many people, and lots to do, and it hasn’t bubbled up as the next best thing to do yet.”

I don’t buy this for a second. Instagram isn’t some scrappy little startup — they’re a hugely popular, hugely profitable division of Facebook. If they wanted an iPad version of their app, they’d have one. They obviously don’t want one, and don’t want to explain why.

My best guess is they think engagement on the phone is worth more, so they do everything they can to drive you to the phone app. But that’s just a guess.


From the Department of ‘I Did Not Know That’: iOS Files App Has View Options for List and Column View

Until this afternoon, I had been working under the assumption that the iOS/iPadOS Files app only had one view: icon/grid view. Turns out there’s also a list view, and on iPadOS in landscape, column view. The trick is that you need to pull down on the view to expose these controls. There are also controls to change the sort criterion (name, date, size, kind, tags) and direction.

I had no idea these controls were there. Yes, this was demoed on stage at WWDC last year — I forgot. I do not understand why these controls are hide-able at all, let alone hidden by default. And the way these controls are hidden behind a downward swipe, with no visual hint whatsoever that there’s something there to be exposed, is another sign of how iOS’s design has more antipathy toward visual affordances than MacOS.


Schadenfreude 267 (A Continuing Series)

Post Sports:
Yankees GM Brian Cashman said on Tuesday that team doctors have recommended Tommy John surgery for the 26-year-old right-hander. ...

Severino did not make his 2019 debut until September after suffering an inflamed right rotator cuff and then straining a lat muscle. The flamethrower will not be returning at all in 2020 and it is possible he will not be ready for the start of the 2021 season.

Severino was expected to be the No. 2 starter behind newly acquired ace Gerrit Cole, following the back surgery that will sideline James Paxton for the start of the season. ...

The Yankees, who were once thought to have strong rotation depth, will now have to find two starters out of the group of Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga, Mike King, Luis Cessa and Deivi Garcia.
Kristie Ackert, Daily News:
The visiting clubhouse ... was quiet Tuesday. Word that Luis Severino would need Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2020 season had filtered through the dugout ... and it was like a punch to the gut.

"It can't get any worse right? And it feels like it's going that way already," said Luke Voit. ...

[The Yankees had] a record 30 players who went on the injured list in 2019 ... Now, with James Paxton having back surgery earlier this month and Severino going down, it's a bit like deja vu all over again.
Matt Kelly, mlb.com:
Luis Severino has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) that will require Tommy John surgery ...

This is the second season of a four-year, $40 million contract extension signed by Severino ... [I]njuries were the story of Severino's 2019 season [he pitched 12 innings], and he traveled to New York twice for examinations during the offseason related to tightness in his forearm. Tuesday's news confirmed the worst fear ...
[More to come ...]

Real House Prices and Price-to-Rent Ratio in December

Here is the post earlier on Case-Shiller: Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 3.8% year-over-year in December

It has been almost thirteen years since the bubble peak. In the Case-Shiller release today, the seasonally adjusted National Index (SA), was reported as being 15.8% above the previous bubble peak. However, in real terms, the National index (SA) is still about 6.6% below the bubble peak (and historically there has been an upward slope to real house prices).  The composite 20, in real terms, is still 14.0% below the bubble peak.

The year-over-year growth in prices increased to 3.8% nationally, as expected with lower mortgage rates and fewer homes for sell.

Usually people graph nominal house prices, but it is also important to look at prices in real terms (inflation adjusted).  Case-Shiller and others report nominal house prices.  As an example, if a house price was $200,000 in January 2000, the price would be close to $291,000 today adjusted for inflation (45%).  That is why the second graph below is important - this shows "real" prices (adjusted for inflation).

Nominal House Prices

Nominal House PricesThe first graph shows the monthly Case-Shiller National Index SA, and the monthly Case-Shiller Composite 20 SA (through December) in nominal terms as reported.

In nominal terms, the Case-Shiller National index (SA)and the Case-Shiller Composite 20 Index (SA) are both at new all times highs (above the bubble peak).

Real House Prices

Real House PricesThe second graph shows the same two indexes in real terms (adjusted for inflation using CPI less Shelter). Note: some people use other inflation measures to adjust for real prices.

In real terms, the National index is back to March 2005 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to July 2004.

In real terms, house prices are at 2004/2005 levels.


In October 2004, Fed economist John Krainer and researcher Chishen Wei wrote a Fed letter on price to rent ratios: House Prices and Fundamental Value. Kainer and Wei presented a price-to-rent ratio using the OFHEO house price index and the Owners' Equivalent Rent (OER) from the BLS.

Price-to-Rent RatioHere is a similar graph using the Case-Shiller National and Composite 20 House Price Indexes.

This graph shows the price to rent ratio (January 2000 = 1.0). The price-to-rent ratio has been moving sideways recently.

On a price-to-rent basis, the Case-Shiller National index is back to March 2004 levels, and the Composite 20 index is back to November 2003 levels.

In real terms, prices are back to late 2004 levels, and the price-to-rent ratio is back to late 2003, early 2004.

Links 2/25/20

Links for you. Science:

Remdesivir and chloroquine effectively inhibit the recently emerged novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in vitro
In The Fight Against COVID-19, Labs Look To Create Coronavirus Antibodies
First Ebola, Now Coronavirus. Why an Omaha Hospital Gets the Toughest Cases.
Methane is a hard-hitting greenhouse gas. Now scientists say we’ve dramatically underestimated how much we’re emitting
The EPA is about to change a rule cutting mercury pollution. The industry doesn’t want it.


Garbage Language: Why do corporations speak the way they do?
My building used a rent control loophole. Here’s what happened. (for me, concerns about rent control are overblown because it’s so easy to evade)
To Tackle Inequality, We Need To Start Talking About Where Wealth Comes From
A 26-Year-Old Progressive May Defeat One of Congress’ Most Conservative Democrats
How conservatives learned to wield power inside Facebook
Sanders Comes To Save Capitalism, Not Destroy It (again, he’s just a New Dealer for the 21st century)
In New York City, Homeless is Where the Heart is
Something in the Air (too big to be clean)
We Arab Americans and Muslims Are Voting for Bernie. Because He’s Jewish
Can Dupont Underground Survive Financial Woes and Government Foot-Dragging?
Klobuchar Is in Fourth Place, and Her Policies Are Shockingly Conservative
Where Has This Elizabeth Warren Been? (and how long will it last?)
The regional transit proposals that predated Metro, from express buses to monorails
Judge Who Ended Stop-and-Frisk Slams Bloomberg on Past Attempt to ‘Scare Me’
Florida Republican Party Facebook Pages Managed From Turkmenistan
Metro’s ‘Nervous System’ Breakdown
Poverty Is All About Personal Stress, Not Laziness (he’s not wrong, but the Dirty Fucking Hippies have been making this point since the advent of ‘welfare reform’ in the 1990s)
Infamous NYPD Transit Cop Gives Secret Testimony About Racist Policing Practices
Mexico City Is Proposing to Build One of the World’s Largest Urban Parks
The Rise and Fall of Danchi, Japan’s Largest Social Housing Experiment
Medicare For All Will Help Improve The Lives Of Black Women (interesting where it was published)

Poll: Are The Red Sox's Owners "Profoundly Unpopular" With Fans?

Sean McAdam (Boston Sports Journal) discussed the public perception of John Henry and Tom Werner a few days ago.

McAdam calls the last 18 years "arguably the most successful era of Red Sox baseball". (Myself, I'd omit "arguably".) He says the team owners "have been philanthropic via the Red Sox Foundation and have spent freely" on the roster.

Yet McAdam also claims they "remain so profoundly unpopular with" Red Sox fans. Henry and Werner "appear tone-deaf", offering "rambling" public statements at "awkward, disingenuous press conferences", somehow somehow "manag[ing] to forfeit the goodwill" that comes with four World Series championships. (I'll add that those are the only four Red Sox championships in the last 101 years.)

I don't agree with McAdam's assessments. I am confused by them, to be honest, though I also admit I have not watched many, if all, press conferences in full. However, I do share McAdam's opinion that Henry and Werner "should be able to explain their moves and motives without apology" and any "unpopular announcement should offer temporary — not permanent — damage to the team's public standing".

It is sometimes tricky to be both rational and a devoted fan of any team, but I think we all understand that the next owner who is completely transparent with the press and public will be the first. It's foolhardy for anyone (fan or sportswriter) to judge a team's owner based on that unrealistic expectation. Anyone listening to Henry or Werner or any other member of the Red Sox front office will undoubtedly wish for a more complete answer than what she has been given. Overall, I do not have much of any issue with the team's explanation of its decisions. I disagree with some decisions and am happy with others, but overall have adopted an attitude (only since November 2004, of course) of simply seeing how everything plays out. Again, if you're looking for perfection from your favourite team's players or its front office, you're going to be continually upset.

McAdam notes: "Officially, we still don't know why Betts was traded." Perhaps, but it's almost certainly not one particular reason — and we can figure it out, can't we? Would an actual press statement make everything okay? Even if we felt the team's reasons made sense, would we suddenly like the sight of Mookie Betts wearing a Dodgers uniform?

I find myself living 3,457 miles from Fenway Park, so perhaps I'm out of touch. I have set up a poll. I included an "I have no opinion" option in the hopes that everyone reading the post will vote. (It would give me some idea of how many people are reading.)

In the same article, McAdam expresses his disappointment at the recent comments from Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz concerning Mike Fiers and the Astros' cheating scandal. I could not agree more.
In the more than three decades that I've covered the Red Sox, I would be hard-pressed to come up with two more fascinating figures than Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz.

Intelligent, insightful, and often hilarious, the two could always be counted on to provide candid and illuminating perspective — all of which makes their recent comments about Mike Fiers so disillusioning.

Martinez weighed in last month and Ortiz added his take last week. Both came to the same conclusion: Fiers had betrayed his teammates and the game itself by revealing the extent of the Houston Astros' sign-stealing from 2017 when Fiers was a part of the team. ...

In an interview with WEEI in January, Martinez complained that Fiers had run afoul of baseball's code and charged that his actions revealed him to be "a bad teammate." Last week, speaking with reporters in Fort Myers, Ortiz went a step further, labeling Fiers "a snitch."

These are regrettable comments.

I'm not suggesting that Fiers should be in line for the congressional medal of honor for serving as the whistleblower. But he deserved credit for shining a public light on the Astros' transgressions. He had the courage to put his name to his comments, the latter of which helped lead to baseball's investigation. ...

It's unfortunate that Martinez and Ortiz have focused more on Fiers refusal to stay quiet and honor the game's silly "code" than on the bravery he demonstrated. It's quite likely that the sign-stealing mess would continue to be covered up without the information he supplied. ... [T]heir insistence on casting Fiers as some sort of dastardly, disloyal villain is, at minimum, regrettable.

★ What You See in the Finder Should Always Be Correct

Last week Marco Arment tweeted this screenshot of a glitch/bug in the Finder on Catalina: he selected a folder full of multi-hundred megabyte files and the Inspector panel showed the folder size as “Zero KB”.1

Clearly that’s wrong. I know from talking to Arment privately that about 30 seconds after he took the screenshot, the Inspector updated to show the actual folder size. But that’s still very wrong. The Finder should never show inaccurate information regarding the state of the file system. Never.

This is the sort of problem in recent versions of MacOS that clearly isn’t getting enough attention within Apple. John Moltz and I discussed this on yesterday’s episode of my podcast, and Moltz mentioned a similar problem I’ve seen too: you put some large files in the Trash, then empty the Trash, and the available space shown in Finder windows (View → Show Status Bar) doesn’t change at all for an indeterminate amount of time.

This is terribly wrong. Everything the Finder displays should be correct all the time. If, for some technical reason, it doesn’t know the size of something and needs to wait, it should show a spinner or some other indicator that you, the user, need to wait to get the information. The actual file size of a folder is what you want to see, and ideally you should see it as soon as you ask for it. But a spinner, if the system needs time to calculate the size, is still correct — it’s correctly showing you that you need to wait. But the Finder should never show the wrong number for a file or folder size.

Obviously, the actual integrity of the file system is the most important factor here. It’s reasonable to say that the integrity of the file system is the single most important responsibility of any operating system. Do not corrupt or lose data. And by all evidence, the APFS file system is exemplary in that regard. Apple treats the actual integrity of the file system with the utmost attention that it deserves.

But the visual representation of the file system in the user interface should be treated with almost the same amount of attention. This is how users see the file system. Showing “Zero KB” for a folder full of large files, or having the available disk space not change at all after emptying the Trash when it was full of very large files, is profoundly wrong. It creates mistrust in an aspect of the system that the user should, ideally, trust completely.

Consider your bank account. The most important job of your bank is to maintain the integrity of the actual amount of money in your account. But if you log into your account and it shows a balance of “Zero dollars” for 30 seconds before updating to show your actual balance — or, say, if you make a large withdrawal (like emptying the Trash) and the “available balance” doesn’t change — well, you’re probably going to start looking for a new bank. Even if your bank hasn’t actually misplaced a single penny, it’s a real problem if it looks like they have.

The Finder should treat every bit of information it displays as though it’s as important as your bank account balance.2

  1. Here’s a fun tip you might not know. The Finder has a File → Get Info menu command with default shortcut ⌘I. This opens a regular window displaying information about the currently selected item(s). But if you hold down the Option key, File → Get Info changes to Show Inspector (and the shortcut, of course, is ⌘⌥I). The Inspector is very similar to the Get Info window, but it’s a floating palette window, and instead of statically showing info for whatever was selected when you invoked it (which is how the standard Get Info window works), the Inspector dynamically changes as you select different items in the Finder. ↩︎

  2. It used to, for decades. I can’t recall the classic Mac OS Finder ever showing incorrect file sizes. You did have to wait sometimes — often quite a while, because spinning disks were slow (especially floppies, if you want to go back that far) and HFS wasn’t efficient for computing folder sizes. But while waiting for a folder size to compute, you’d see a spinner, and in list view with folder sizes turned off, you’d see “--” as the folder size, not “0”. I don’t recall Finder info ever being incorrect in the early years of Mac OS X either.

    Something went awry in this regard in recent years. ↩︎︎

A Reader Exchange

A few days ago I got into a rather intense spat with a longtime reader who became incensed with me after reading this tweet exchange.

Here’s the tweet, which is a reply to a tweet by Bernie Sanders.

Twitter is notoriously bad for any kind of reasoned exchange. And my reader/friend decided that I was calling Sanders a liar and him, the reader, in some sense not a Democrat. We went a few rounds in a kind of pointless argument between what I said I meant and what he said I meant. So I tried to pull back from that and explain more clearly what I mean. I thought it might be helpful to share my response since it’s often implicit in other things I write and, right or wrong, it’s central to my understanding of the dynamics of this election.

I wrote this out from my iPhone as I waited for a subway this morning. But sometimes needing to write quickly concentrates the mind. I reprint it here unedited.

I think that when Sanders talks about the Democratic establishment he is to a significant extent conflating the mix of party officials and leaders with a mass of Democrats who simply don’t share his views. This is greatly amplified by his most vocal supporters on line. Are older people or people in the suburbs who are less ideological the establishment? Or older African American voters who’s gravitated to Biden or bizarrely to Bloomberg?

One can see this play out in a lot of the primary races where Sanders supported challengers were defeated by more ‘ establishment’ candidates who went on to win? Well, sort of but those people aren’t just chosen by party elites. They were able to get more support from Democratic voters.

As I think is clear this isn’t calling anyone a liar. It’s a different understanding of what constitutes the Democratic Party. His is also one that comes naturally to a more movement oriented political vision. It’s just one I see as inaccurate as description and problematic ideologically.

Another way to come at this is that I think i see the Democratic Party as more of a coalition of fairly disparate groups who disagree on a lot of things. I think Sanders to a real degree and even more those around him see his movement kind of progressivism as the real thing and the other parts of the coalition as the establishment. Again, that’s a natural way for movement political leaders to think. I simply think it’s inaccurate and potentially destructive since it writes off a lot a Democrats or potential Democrats who aren’t “the establishment” they’re just not aligned with Sanders.

As I have been writing, since Sanders now seems like the likely nominee is how he creates a general election message that includes those people. Whether he can is obviously critical since the outcome of the election depends on it.

Digging Into The Sanders' Numbers

Here’s a good article that gets at the real issues with predicting how strong a general election candidate Bernie Sanders would be. It’s different because it gets down into the specifics with real data. Indeed, what is particularly strong about it is that much of what it says people on both sides of the intra-Democratic debate agree on. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

As I’ve argued, I don’t think you can say Sanders is unelectable or some kind of sure loser when a year’s worth of public polls show him beating President Trump. Current polls show Sanders and Biden both beating Trump by comparable margins. Until recently, they showed Biden doing somewhat better. But compared to all the other candidates they ran relatively similar margins against the incumbent President.

This article gets into the fact that even though the toplines are similar, they’re made up of significantly different coalitions.

The Democrats House majority is made up mostly of gains in more affluent suburbs, especially women in those suburbs. These are sometimes called “GOP suburbs” as though it’s Republicans becoming Democrats. That’s partly true but a lot of it is the people in those suburbs changing. These are longterm trends which Trump catalyzed and accelerated. Regardless, that’s where the gains are.

Sanders does significantly worse with those voters than more conventional center-left candidates like Biden and others. Where he makes up for it is a small but significant percentage of generally left-wing voters under 35 who say they’ll turn out to vote for Sanders but not any of the more mainstream Democrats. So this means not only expanding the electorate but with voters who say they’ll only become voters if Sanders is on the ballot.

Here’s the rub.

For the young/left voters to make up for the losses in the suburbs those voters have to turn out in historically unprecedented numbers. As I said, this is hardly a debunking of Sanders. This is basically Sanders’ campaign’s argument, expanding the electorate, particularly with young voters where all agree his strength is concentrated.

The more affluent professionals in the suburbs vote at relatively high margins. It’s a question of who they vote for. You’d need to see something dramatically new to see young voters turning out at those margins. Again, this is basically Sanders’ argument. (Sanders’ supporters often say he has draw with those mythical “white working class” voters who are the backbone of Trumpism. The actual data doesn’t support that.)

My take on this is partly based on small-c conservatism: we should be skeptical that things that seldom or never happen will happen. But to me we actually have evidence on this. Sanders numbers in the primaries to date show no evidence of expanding the electorate. If anything, the opposite. He’s winning. But he’s winning with the same basic types of voters as have voted in previous primary cycles. Many of them are new. But that’s always the case. One would at least expect this to be pretty different if Sanders claims about his ability to expand the electorate were valid.

Environmental impact statements can do great harm

In pursuit of federal approval for the nation’s first congestion pricing scheme, the one officials suggested would launch in January 2021, the question was this: Should New York State and New York City conduct a quick “environmental assessment” or a full scale “environmental impact statement,” a process that could take years?

Federal officials didn’t provide a definitive answer in that meeting, nor have they since.

That haziness puts MTA officials, and the massive system-wide rehabilitation plan whose funding is reliant on congestion pricing, in a serious bind.

Here is the full story, via Austin V.

The post Environmental impact statements can do great harm appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Canine collar markets in everything

There are a lot of great options for dog collars on the market, but none of them will amuse you quite like the Cuss Collar from Mschf Labs. It’s a relatively simple product that combines a patent leather collar strap with an injection-molded speaker that does exactly what you think it does–it swears every time your dog barks. After all these years, it turns out Fido wasn’t saying things like “I love you,” “let’s go for a walk,” or “feed me,” he was saying things like “motherf#*ker,” “shit,” and all kinds of other expletives.

Here is the full story, via Michael.

The post Canine collar markets in everything appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

NASA Continues To Hide Its Astrobiology Program

Keith's note: NASA SMD has an extensive Program Officers list of contact information for all of its research programs. Virtually everything SMD does has a contact listed - except Astrobiology. The word is not mentioned at all - even though many of its sub topics are mentioned. NASA issues research solicitations for "Astrobiology" yet they can't be bothered to tell people who to contact for the programs managed under "Astrobiology" at NASA?

Oh yes - it has been a week and no one from NASA SMD, PAO, JPL, etc. has responded to my inquiry to explain why JPL and GSFC avoid the use of the word "Astrobiology" when referring to missions overtly focused on Astrobiology research. See "NASA's Science Mission Directorate Has An Issue With Certain Words"

While I am on this topic last week NASA issued this release "NASA Adds Return Sample Scientists to Mars 2020 Leadership Team" which says "the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life..." Yes folks, that is "Astrobiology". The JPL and NASA HQ PAO folks just cannot bring themselves to mention NASA's Astrobiology program or the discipline of "Astrobiology". Searching for life on other worlds is what NASA's Astrobiology program is chartered to do. Read the reports from the National Academy of Sciences and NASA ROSES solicitations and you will see. Read NASA's own websites and you will see what the agency defines Astrobiology as being. Indeed, one of the two scientists mentioned, Tanja Bosak, is part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. But does anyone bother to mention this? No.

And FWIW as an actual former NASA biologist, this stock phrase of NASA JPL's PAO folks "signs of past microbial life" is goofy. Are you only looking for microbial evidence? What if the only biosignatures the Mars 2020 rover finds are chemical in nature with no remaining or obvious structural fossils? How will NASA know if the past life was microbial i.e. unicellular or multi-cellular? This is another planet so what may have once lived there might not even fit the terrestrial classification of "microbial". What if viral forms are what existed - they are acellular (i.e. not composed of cells) and not considered to be "microbes" - even though some of them can be as large as cellular life i.e. "microbes". What if NASA finds bones or exoskeletal remains? Or trails made by larger living things as they moved? They are not "microbial" in nature so will NASA's rover not see them? And what if the rover finds evidence of recent/current life? It does have that ability even if it is indirect. NASA press statements suggest that NASA is not interested in that either.

I would hope that that answer is "of course we're interested in whatever we find on Mars". OK, then say so. I can understand the hesitance to say that the Mars 2020 rover mission has the ability to find extant life when that is not its explicit purpose. Why not just say "evidence of past life?" Why use this odd "past microbial life" phrase? Otherwise it sounds like NASA has already decided what sort of life was on Mars before ever having seen any evidence of it - and that this is all that the agency cares to think about.

Missions searching for evidence of life on another world have the potential to for paradigm-shifting and sociologically explosive repercussions. One would think that the agency could get its act together as to what you call things and not ignore the people who actually do the core research that serves as the purpose of your missions. If NASA is incapable of making internal sense of what it is doing, then how can NASA expect the public to fully grasp what NASA is doing?

Within the next year or so there could be as many as four rovers operating on Mars with overt Astrobiology-related missions: Mars Curiosity, Mars 2020, ExoMars/Rosalind Franklin, and China's rover. Nothing like this has ever happened before on another world. Again, one would think that there'd be some sort of coordinated effort to show the country and the world that we're really dialing up the search for life on Mars - past and/or present - and in so doing, use the globally-accepted name for the the discipline wherein such research is conducted i.e. "Astrobiology".

Kratos, Bechtel join Northrop Grumman’s bid to develop future ICBM for U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON — Defense and space contractor Kratos and the engineering firm Bechtel have joined Northrop Grumman’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent team to develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile for the U.S. Air Force.

Bechtel will provide launch system design, construction and integration services; Kratos Defense and Security Solutions will supply missile and payload transporters, Northrop Grumman announced Feb. 25.

The Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program will be a decades-long effort to design, develop, produce and deploy a replacement for the current Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile. ICBMs are the land-based leg of the U.S. strategic nuclear triad.

Greg Manuel, vice president of the GBSD enterprise at Northrop Grumman, said the company is investing in “people and facilities in order to meet the Air Force schedule of fielding GBSD in 2029.”

The Air Force confirmed in December that Northrop Grumman was the only bidder for GBSD after Boeing decided to drop out of the competition. Boeing said Northrop Grumman’s dominance of the solid rocket motors market gave it an overwhelming pricing advantage it could not compete against.

The nation’s only other manufacturer of solid rocket motors, Aerojet Rocketdyne, joined Northrop’s team in September. Other partners include BRPH, Clark Construction, Collins Aerospace, General Dynamics, Honeywell, L3Harris, Lockheed Martin, Parsons and Textron Systems. Northrop’s GBSD operations will be headquartered in Utah, near Hill Air Force Base.

In the absence of other competitors, the Air Force is expected to award a sole-source development contract to Northrop Grumman in August.

The Pentagon’s 2021 budget request includes $1.5 billion for GBSD engineering and development. The Air Force plans to request an additional $12 billion for the program between 2022 and 2025, according to budget documents.


Blogroll Keepers #4

It’s been a couple of months since I last mentioned some blogs and newsletters I’m moving from my “Tryout” tag in Feedbin to a more permanent location (and listing on my increasingly-unwieldy blogroll). Here are some more.

§   Blogs

  • James Bennet (RSS). I thought I was already reading this, which is mostly about python and Django, but I wasn’t, but now I am. His recent post about testing Django apps was full of useful tips on setting things up.

  • Tom Stuart (RSS). Weeknotes are feeling like a friendly informal club, or lots of overlapping clubs, with friends and strangers updating each other on their lives every weekend, and it’s lovely to read Tom’s.

§   Newsletters

(Although, because I get newsletter emails piped straight into Feedbin alongside all those RSS feeds, to me they just seem like poorly-formatted blog posts, with unnecessary cruft at the start and end.)

  • The Imperica newsletter is a very long newsletter containing many, many links to interesting things every Friday, written by Matt Muir. I must confess, for several weeks I thought each section was written by a different person, before realising the bylines referred to the creator of the image heading the section. Anyway, while it seems aimed at people who work in marketing/advertising/PR and wish they didn’t, it’s also a great round-up of “stuff that’s appeared online” for people who don’t work in marketing/advertising/PR and are glad they don’t.

  • I mentioned Ben Brown’s newsletter about William Gibson’s Agency in weeknotes but adding it here for my own sense of clarity. After Agency-related stuff it might move on to something else, but it’s still Ben, so it’s a keeper.

  • Please Like Me is from Buzzfeed and is all about influencers and is fascinating; I only wish it was longer. These days there are so many shards of life that huge numbers of people know loads about, and are emotionally invested in, but which only surface in the mainstream media when some massive scandal hits. The world of influencers is one of those and I love having a high-level insight into some aspects of it without having to experience any of its unpleasantness first hand. I feel there must be blogs/newsletters like this about the worlds of video games (not that they’re unpleasant). Suggestions appreciated!

  • Utopian Drivel by Huw Lemmey, commentary on UK culture, politics etc. I liked this comparison, for example, in his recent email about a culture war in English media:

    In the BBC television comedy The Office the tragic figure of David Brent, a relentlessly unfunny and unlovable boss who has “confused respect with popularity” is given a moment of bathos through comparison with his friend Chris Finch, an ignorant bully and practical joker, who, unlike Brent, doesn’t even mean well. The English press operates with the same logic; the people it mercilessly hounds are expected to suck it up and laugh along, or take it for granted. If they reject the culture as cruel or an infringement of their privacy, they’re subjected not only to the original abuse, but to an even worse charge — of not being able to take it.

§   That’s enough for now. I hadn’t realised how skewed towards newsletters this would be. They’re obviously A Thing these days aren’t they.

The 15th Anniversary of Doing Kottke.org as a Full-Time Job

Kottke 1996

Fifteen years ago this week, on Feb 22, 2005, I announced that I was going to turn kottke.org, my personal website, into my full-time job.

I recently quit my web design gig and — as of today — will be working on kottke.org as my full-time job. And I need your help.

I’m asking the regular readers of kottke.org (that’s you!) to become micropatrons of kottke.org by contributing a moderate sum of money to help enable me to edit/write/design/code the site for one year on a full-time basis.

It seemed like madness at the time — I’d quit my web design job a few months earlier in preparation, pro blogs existed (Gawker was on its 3rd editor) but very few were personal, general, and non-topical like mine, and I was attempting to fund it via a then-largely-unproven method: crowdfunding. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, attempting this is “still the most bonkers I-don’t-know-if-this-is-going-to-work thing I’ve ever done”.

These days, people are used to paying directly for online media through services like Kickstarter, Patreon, and Substack and kids want to run their own personality-driven businesses online when they grow up. But back then, aside from the likes of the WSJ, websites were either a) free to read or b) free to read & supported by advertising and being an online personality was not a lucrative thing. But I figured that enough of you would pitch in to support the site directly while keeping it free to read for everyone with no advertising.

In order to make it feel somewhat familiar, I patterned it after a PBS/NPR fund drive. During a three-week kick-off period, I asked people to support the site by becoming micropatrons. The suggested donation was $30 (but people could give any amount) and there were thank you gifts — like signed books, software, signed photo prints, a free SXSW ticket — for people who contributed. Several hundred people ended up contributing during those three weeks, enough for me to do the site for a year. I still remember that first day, responding to well-wishes from friends on AIM and watching my PayPal account fill up, and it hitting me that this bonkers scheme was actually going to work and pretty much bursting into tears.

Fast forward to the present day and this little website is still chugging along. In its almost 22 years of existence, kottke.org has never gotten big, but it’s also never gone away, predating & outlasting many excellent and dearly missed sites like Grantland, Rookie, The Toast, The Awl, Gawker, and hundreds of others. I have other people write for the site on occasion, but it’s still very much a one-person production by a reluctant influencer (*barf*) who, as an introvert, still (naively?) thinks about posts on the site as personal emails to individual readers rather than as some sort of broadcast. I’d like to thank those early supporters for having faith in me and in this site — you’re the reason we’re all still here, gathered around this little online campfire, swapping stories about the human condition.

About 3 years ago, I returned to the crowdfunding model with kottke.org’s membership program. Since then, I’m very happy to report, readers like you who have purchased memberships have become the main source of financial support for the site. As I’ve written before, I have come to love the directness of this approach — I write, you pay, no middlemen, and, crucially, the site remains part of the Open Web, unpaywalled & free for everyone to read. If you’ll indulge me in a request on this anniversary, if you’re not currently a member of the site (or if your membership has lapsed) and can afford to do so, please consider supporting the site with a membership today. I really appreciate everyone who has become a member over the past few years — thank you!! — and I hope you will consider joining them.

Note: I have no photos of myself taken around this time in 2005, so the photo at the top of the post is me circa spring 1996. I’d dropped out of grad school & was back living at my dad’s house, spending 10-12 hours a day online (via a 28.8K modem) trying to figure out how to build websites. I applied for jobs & internships at places like Wired/Hotwired, Razorfish, Studio Archetype, and MTV but no one wanted to hire a physics major w/ no art or design education or experience to design websites. kottke.org was still a couple of years off at this point…

Tags: Jason Kottke   kottke.org   webdev

Inside Trump’s Purge of His Enemies

We’ve Seen This Sort of Thing Before

Terry H. Schwadron

If you’re a bruising president like Donald Trump or Richard Nixon you’re bound to develop enemies easily with your sharp insults and political elbowing.

In fact, we had been expecting the boomerang of post-impeachment political vengeance. That’s why it was totally predictable that Trump, like Nixon, would create an enemies list.

But now, Trump seems to be raising the ante: He’s embarked on a specific campaign to denude the federal government of anyone who is disloyal or who might be disloyal.

According to The Washington Post, Johnny McEntee, Trump’s former personal aide and director of presidential personnel (another appointment with no experience), has begun combing through various federal agencies to oust or sideline political appointees who have not proved their loyalty. To Trump.

Trump’s former personal aide is combing through various federal agencies to oust or sideline political appointees who have not proved their loyalty.

Got it? Not just disloyal, but now people who have not proved their loyalty. You could put me high up on that list, though I don’t work for the government.

You’d think that the president of the United States would want some countering opinions from which to choose, a process that acting Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney said actually still goes on. But then there are more and more reports from inside the White House saying the opposite.

New York Times story for example, said that National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien distributes Trump’s latest tweets to his staff. He indicates that they should find ways of justifying, enacting or explaining Trump’s policy, not to advise Trump on what policy should be or even might be.

Dangerous Stuff

Call me nuts, but that sounds pretty dangerous: Trump, who does not read Intelligence reports or backgrounders, who tweets on gut based on what he just saw on Fox News, is then listening to a group of advisers insistent on telling him what he wants to hear.

Trump loyalist Richard Grennell, the new acting director of American spy agencies, began his temporary tenure by firing his number two and replacing him with Kashyap Patel, former key aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), with an order to “clean house.” Patel immediately has summoned whatever the government knows about governmental bad behavior against Trump in the 2016 elections. Grennell also asked to see the intelligence behind the classified briefing last week where lawmakers were told Russia was interfering in the 2020 election to aid Trump.

Remember, please, that we’re facing Iran and North Korea in nuclear showdowns, electoral interference by Russia and maybe China, a tariff war with China and Europe, a fractured set of military allies, dispersed terrorism and a Mideast in disarray. But these guys are using intelligence agencies to pursue Trump’s fixation on his four-year-old election.

Post-Impeachment Purge

The new Johnny McEntee disloyalty campaign follows the impeachment process in which several Trump administration figures provided testimony about Trump’s bad behavior with regard to Ukraine. “We want bad people out of our government!” Trump tweeted last week, kicking off a stretch of firings, resignations, controversial appointments—and pardons.

Unlike the overall director of personnel in the White House, McEntee reports directly to Trump, and apparently to Jared Kushner.  McEntee lost his White House job in 2018 over concerns about his online gambling.

Naturally, the national security council and staff have been a particular target, but now this is moving well beyond that area. McEntee asked officials in various cabinet agencies to provide names of political appointees working in government who are not fully supportive of Trump’s presidency, sources to Axios said.

Disloyalty Undefined

Now the thing that makes all this tricky is that, of course, there are no rules.  Disloyalty is in the eye of the beholder.

The goal seems to be a complete federal government totally in sync with whatever Trump is thinking at any moment.

It is unclear whether civil servants will be targeted as well, but it would be harder to dislodge them than removing political appointees, but they could be moved or demoted.

In his recent remarks, Mike Mulvaney spoke against the “deep state” and lamented that the administration could not fire more agency employees who do not implement the president’s orders.

Trump has also called for law enforcement officials who investigated his campaign to be investigated or prosecuted. Administration officials conducted a search for the “Anonymous” author of a tell-all book and apparently moved the employee believed responsible.

It is impossible to hope that a fully Trump-oriented government would be somehow better. Anytime loyalty tops talent and experience for hiring suggests a major problem at hand.



The post Inside Trump’s Purge of His Enemies appeared first on DCReport.org.

Tuesday assorted links

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Links for Staying Informed about the Coronavirus

For those of you who are following the news of the spread of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), here are a few links that I find helpful.

* Here’s a constantly-udpated interactive map created by Johns Hopkins which gives detailed information on confirmed cases in every country, deaths and recoveries.

* One of the most informative reads I’ve been following is the regularly updated summary provided by The New York Times. They’re publishing numerous articles on all aspects of the outbreak. But this is a regularly updated page that pulls all the key developments into one summary that’s a pretty quick read.

* Medscape is a new medical news site that covers lots of issues but they’re publishing detailed daily articles, more aimed at doctors or people in the field but also helpful information that is pretty digestible for a lay person. You have to sign up but it’s free.

* StatNews is a site you should know about even aside from worrisome potential pandemics. It’s a site run by the owner of the Boston Globe and it’s one of a new breed of sites focused tightly on health care. My familiarity with is mainly tied to their coverage of health care policy debates. But they have very good daily reports on aspects of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Technocracy, Propriety and Obama

We’ve been overwhelmed by great emails engaging this debate about Obama and the rise of Trumpism, which of course is also a debate about the nature of the Democratic party at its heart. I am trying to make my way through them and choose if not necessarily the best (it’s hard to pick!) then the ones that pivot the conversation in an interesting or helpful direction.

TPM Reader JO makes a separate but good point …

My tuppence worth on this debate.

In assessing the role of the Obama administration in the rise of Trumpism, I certainly would agree that it cannot be attributed to policy failures as such. But neither was it an Act of God that Democrats were helpless to do anything about.

The problem, as I recall, was that Democratic public relations was calamitously complacent and/or wrong-headed. The most basic partisan political posture–always be boasting about your accomplishments, always be drawing a contrast with the other party, always be shouting that the glass is half full and not half empty–was refused. The reason for this refusal is debatable–it probably involves a mixture of incompetent leadership and liberal inferiority complex–but the phenomenon is surely unarguable. Most saliently, the Democratic Party saw fit to support, even promote, the fiction that the GOP was a good party at heart and that its racist, hateful elements were marginal, and that all was well in the United States. This communicates: “Go ahead and vote R if you want to. It’s all good. We’re all Americans, and Republicans can be trusted with power as much as we can.” I mean, that’s political malpractice.

The TPM debate, with its anxious focus on which Obama policies might have made a difference, is quite typical of how we liberals continue to think–that the world is secretly fair, that merit prevails, that good is rewarded. Unfortunately politics isn’t won by the most effective or virtuous managers of the nation’s affairs. It’s won or lost by perceptions of the parties.

This is likely one of the best hits on Obama and his style of political leadership. It’s a classic case of the bad side of a good coin.

Obama was in many respects of a technocrat – if he wasn’t himself that was his vision of politics and it informed how he staffed his government. It meant a government staffed by incredibly competent, knowledgeable and dedicated people.

One of the many whiplashes of the Obama to Trump transition with Trump routinely grossly interfering in the process of government to protect allies and damage foes is just what a turnabout it was from Obama. No modern President has broken through these boundaries like Trump. But Obama was the ultimate propriety President. It’s comical to think that it was seen as a big deal that Bill Clinton exchanged a few pleasantries on a tarmac with the Attorney General. But Barack Obama would not have done that. Just not in the guy. There’s a reason we went eight years with Obama as President, six with a Republican House, and there was really never a hint of real scandal. Not just scandal touching him but even touching significant appointees. That stuff really does flow from the top. Like I said, the ultimate propriety President.

But the other part of that coin is that Obama’s presidency was largely governed by an assumption that if you did the job of government well that would translate into political support. It’s a depoliticized style of government. And there are many good things about that. We see that in spades today with a government informed almost 100% by politics and personal loyalty. But it is at best a limited and incomplete theory of politics.

FDIC: Fewer Problem banks, Residential REO Declined in Q4

The FDIC released the Quarterly Banking Profile for Q4 2019 today:
For the 5,177 commercial banks and savings institutions insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), aggregate net income totaled $55.2 billion in fourth quarter 2019, a decline of $4.1 billion (6.9 percent) from a year ago. The decline in net income was led by lower net interest income and higher expenses. Financial results for fourth quarter 2019 are included in the FDIC's latest Quarterly Banking Profile released today.
The Number of Banks on the "Problem Bank List" Remained Low: The number of problem banks fell from 55 to 51 during the fourth quarter, the lowest number of problem banks since fourth quarter 2006. Total assets of problem banks declined from $48.8 billion in the third quarter to $46.2 billion.

The Deposit Insurance Fund's Reserve Ratio Stood at 1.41 Percent: The Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) balance totaled $110.3 billion in the fourth quarter, up $1.4 billion from the end of last quarter. The quarterly increase was led by assessment income and interest earned on investment securities held by the DIF. The reserve ratio remained unchanged from the previous quarter at 1.41 percent.

Mergers and New Bank Openings Continued in the Fourth Quarter: During the fourth quarter, three new banks opened, 77 institutions were absorbed by mergers, and three banks failed.
emphasis added
FDIC Problem Banks Click on graph for larger image.

The FDIC reported the number of problem banks declined slightly.

This graph from the FDIC shows the number of problem banks declined to 51 institutions from 60 at the end of 2018.

Note: The number of assets for problem banks increased significantly in 2018 when Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas was added to the list (it must still be on the list given the assets of problem banks).

FDIC Insured Institution REOThe dollar value of 1-4 family residential Real Estate Owned (REOs, foreclosure houses) declined from $2.65 billion in Q4 2018 to $2.27 billion in Q4 2019. This is the lowest level of REOs since Q1 2006.

This graph shows the nominal dollar value of Residential REO for FDIC insured institutions. Note: The FDIC reports the dollar value and not the total number of REOs.

Since REOs are reported in dollars, and house prices have increased, FDIC REOs are probably close to a bottom.

Special Edition GIF/JIF Peanut Butter Jar

Gif Jif

Online image emporium Giphy has partnered with Jif (the peanut butter people) to offer a limited edition jar of peanut butter with a dual-sided label: one side features the soft-G pronunciation of Jif and the other side the correct hard-G pronunciation of GIF. You can purchase a jar on Amazon. (via @waxpancake)

Tags: food   Giphy   Jif   remix

Update: A few comments on the Seasonal Pattern for House Prices

CR Note: This is a repeat of earlier posts with updated graphs.

A few key points:
1) There is a clear seasonal pattern for house prices.
2) The surge in distressed sales during the housing bust distorted the seasonal pattern.
3) Even though distressed sales are down significantly, the seasonal factor is based on several years of data - and the factor is now overstating the seasonal change (second graph below).
4) Still the seasonal index is probably a better indicator of actual price movements than the Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA) index.

For in depth description of these issues, see former Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko's article "Let’s Improve, Not Ignore, Seasonal Adjustment of Housing Data"

Note: I was one of several people to question the change in the seasonal factor (here is a post in 2009) - and this led to S&P Case-Shiller questioning the seasonal factor too (from April 2010).  I still use the seasonal factor (I think it is better than using the NSA data).

House Prices month-to-month change NSA Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the month-to-month change in the NSA Case-Shiller National index since 1987 (through December 2019). The seasonal pattern was smaller back in the '90s and early '00s, and increased once the bubble burst.

The seasonal swings have declined since the bubble.

Case Shiller Seasonal FactorsThe second graph shows the seasonal factors for the Case-Shiller National index since 1987. The factors started to change near the peak of the bubble, and really increased during the bust.

The swings in the seasonal factors have started to decrease, and I expect that over the next several years - as recent history is included in the factors - the seasonal factors will move back towards more normal levels.

However, as Kolko noted, there will be a lag with the seasonal factor since it is based on several years of recent data.

Artist in the World

Andre Smits

Andre Smits

Andre Smits

For more than 10 years now, André Smits has been traveling the world taking photos of artists (from behind) in their studios and out in the world. Earlier this year, Smits explained how the project got started:

He laughs, “I realized it was an alibi for getting in their studios, because most artists keep their doors shut and otherwise I would not get to come in. That was the beginning of the project, really. Then artists from other buildings in Rotterdam asked me to come to their place, it was like a snowball, it just started happening,” he recalls.

After Rotterdam, he visited Amsterdam and Antwerp, realizing the strength of the concept could take him all over the world. “So, I sold my house, quit my job, and now I am traveling everywhere, the project was developing in all different directions.”

It’s fun to get a glimpse into so many studios of working artists — they’re all very similar and yet different in the details. (via Noah Kalina, who Smits photographed in 2015)

Tags: Andre Smits   art   photography

Loyalty, Disloyalty And Language

Following up on the last post, let me share an email from TPM Reader MR:

Not placing blame, but using this morning’s TPM headline as an example.

This mornings headline is relatively well phrased compare to most of the language I’ve seen around Trump’s purges.

But “loyalty” is an extremely soft euphemism for “unwilling to lie and cheat enough and with enough enthusiasm.”

Just so frustrating that the language we are working with has been so far distorted.

Where Things Stand: Trump Hypes Blind Loyalty Overseas

While overseas in India, President Trump not only confirmed reports of his disloyalty purge, he claimed it was good for the country.

During an overnight press conference, Trump shrugged off reports that he’s working with outside allies to oust and replace folks across his administration who he deems disloyal to him personally. The effort has reportedly ramped up in recent weeks, as the President takes a retaliatory victory lap post-acquittal.

“I don’t think it’s a big problem. … We want to have people that are good for the country, are loyal to our country because that was a disgraceful situation,” he said, tying the expulsions directly to the “very sad situation” of the “fake” whistleblower whose complaint ignited the impeachment inquiry.

It’s not surprise that Trump would tie personal fealty to the health of democracy, but doing so while overseas sets a dangerous precedent. Here’s more on that and other stories we’re following:

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

At 1:30 p.m. ET there will be a hearing on Roger Stone’s request for a new trial, but it’s still unclear if the hearing will be open to the public. Tierney Sneed will be at the courthouse covering any developments.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

Ahead of tonight’s Democratic debate, CNN surfaced old comments Michael Bloomberg made about fellow 2020 candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Bloomberg called Warren “scary” and he promised in 2016 that he would “defend the banks” from her progressive ideology. We’ll keep an eye on this story and any candidate news before the South Carolina debate.

Today’s Rundown

1:30 p.m. ET: Possible public Stone hearing will begin

3:00 p.m. local time: Trump will travel to the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and will do a business meet and greet

5:00 p.m. local  time: Trump will hold a press conference and will depart for the presidential palace at 7 p.m. local time.

7:30 p.m. local time: The President will have a call with  Indian President Ram Nath Kovind followed by a state banquet. They’ll depart at 9:25 p.m. local time.

8:00 p.m. ET: Democratic debate begins.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

This Provision In Trump’s Infamous NDAs Could Come Back To Haunt Him — Tierney Sneed

What We Are Reading

This Tiny Louisiana Police Force Is A National Leader In Taking Guns From Abusers — Ann Givens

Harvey Weinstein Guilty: Jury Convicts Him Of Rape, Criminal Sexual Act — Jeremy Barr

Zamboni Driver, 42, Stars As Emergency Goalie For Hurricanes — Emily Kaplan

Where We Are

We woke up this morning to the news that President Trump is calling his purge of supposed disloyalists within the government good for America AND demanding that Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg recuse from any cases involving Trump.

It recalls the brilliant long-running episodic Slate series: “If It Happened There”

The conceit is simple: “American events are described using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.”  (Making the series even more salient today, the second installment back in 2013 was about the end of Michael Bloomberg’s mayoralty: “If It Happened There: Twilight of an Oligarch.” Maybe, maybe not.)

In addition to spoofing the ways and manners of American correspondents abroad, the series also indirectly mocks the too-close-to-it earnestness, caution, and dependence on euphemism that mark domestic political reporters. It’s a two-fer that slays in both directions.

We struggle at TPM with the language choices, too. We don’t have collectively have the vocabulary or the willingness to deploy it to capture what we’re witnessing with Trump.

So what would the headlines be if this were happening abroad, especially in Africa or South America?

Have at it in the TPM tip line (talk at talkingpointsmemo dot com).

NASA Is Worried About Infectious People Returning From China

Keith's note: The following is being added to all of the NASA advisory group meeting notices such as the one for NASA Advisory Council Human Explorations and Operations Committee Meeting: "Note: As a precaution, individuals returning from China will not allowed into NASA Headquarters until the 14 days of observation and self-care period has expired, and they are determined not to be infectious. Attendees to the NAC Human Explorations and Operations Committee meeting who are returning from China should only participate virtually through the provided dial-in audio and WebEx, until the 14 days of observation and self-care period has expired."

You'd think that NASA would be just a little more explicit as to what "infectious" means i.e. identify the specific reason - like "Coronavirus" or "COVID-19". Reading/refering to the actual CDC guidelines might be useful. NASA is simply treating all persons who have been in China as high risk. Oddly there have been no such warnings issued for other NASA meetings. And the concern amongst experts now is that the threat is no longer limited to people who have been in China. When agencies and organizations are inconsistent on things like this people simply get more confused. Just sayin'

Delay seems likely as parachute problems plague European Mars lander

ESA’s ExoMars rover (foreground) and Russia’s stationary surface science platform (background) are scheduled for launch in July 2020,

Enlarge / ESA’s ExoMars rover (foreground) and Russia’s stationary surface science platform (background) are scheduled for launch in July 2020, (credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

The European and Russian space agencies have announced they will decide the fate of their ExoMars mission at a meeting on March 12.

The joint mission to deliver a rover and suite of scientific instruments to the surface of the red planet is set for a July on a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. However, serious questions were raised about the viability of the lander's complicated parachute systems last year and ongoing problems in testing them.

According to a spokesperson for the European Space Agency (ESA), a "working-level review" for the project was held among ESA and Roscosmos officials in late January, and a preliminary assessment was forwarded to the respective heads of the space agencies, Jan Wörner of ESA and Dmitry Rogozin of Roscosmos, on February 3.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Firefox Enables DNS over HTTPS

This is good news:

Whenever you visit a website -- even if it's HTTPS enabled -- the DNS query that converts the web address into an IP address that computers can read is usually unencrypted. DNS-over-HTTPS, or DoH, encrypts the request so that it can't be intercepted or hijacked in order to send a user to a malicious site.


But the move is not without controversy. Last year, an internet industry group branded Mozilla an "internet villain" for pressing ahead the security feature. The trade group claimed it would make it harder to spot terrorist materials and child abuse imagery. But even some in the security community are split, amid warnings that it could make incident response and malware detection more difficult.

The move to enable DoH by default will no doubt face resistance, but browser makers have argued it's not a technology that browser makers have shied away from. Firefox became the first browser to implement DoH -- with others, like Chrome, Edge, and Opera -- quickly following suit.

I think DoH is a great idea, and long overdue.

Slashdot thread. Tech details here. And here's a good summary of the criticisms.

Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Softened in February

From the Richmond Fed: Manufacturing Activity Softened in February
Fifth District manufacturing activity softened in February, according to the most recent survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index fell from 20 in January to −2 in February. All three components of the composite index — shipments, new orders, and employment — moved lower from January. Firms also reported a decrease in backlog of orders. Still, the index for local business conditions remained positive, and manufacturers were optimistic that activity would improve in the coming months.

Survey results suggest that firms saw continued growth in employment and wages in February. However firms continued to struggle to find workers with the necessary skills, as this index dropped to −35.
emphasis added

There’s More to Healthcare than Bending Cost Curves Like Beckham

One of my concerns, among several, about the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., as well as our ability to mitigate the damage from an outbreak, is our crappy healthcare system. There are too many assholes who view healthcare as a completely private problem: you might die from a lack of insulin, but I won’t. The problem is that completely breaks down with an infectious disease, as this case from Miami, FL, illustrates (boldface mine):

After returning to Miami last month from a work trip in China, Osmel Martinez Azcue found himself in a frightening position: he was developing flu-like symptoms, just as coronavirus was ravaging the country he had visited.

Under normal circumstances, Azcue said he would have gone to CVS for over-the-counter medicine and fought the flu on his own, but this time was different. As health officials stressed preparedness and vigilance for the respiratory illness, Azcue felt it was his responsibility to his family and his community to get tested for novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

He went to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he said he was placed in a closed-off room. Nurses in protective white suits sprayed some kind of disinfectant smoke under the door before entering, Azcue said. Then hospital staff members told him he’d need a CT scan to screen for coronavirus, but Azcue said he asked for a flu test first.

“This will be out of my pocket,” Azcue, who has a very limited insurance plan, recalled saying. “Let’s start with the blood test, and if I test positive, just discharge me.”

Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened. He had the flu, not the deadly virus that has infected tens of thousands of people, mostly in China, and killed at least 2,239 as of Friday’s update by the World Health Organization.

But two weeks later, Azcue got unwelcome news in the form of a notice from his insurance company about a claim for $3,270.

In 2018, President Donald Trump’s administration rolled back Affordable Care Act regulations and allowed so-called “junk plans” in the market. Consumers mistakenly assume that the plans with lower monthly costs will be better than no insurance at all in case of a medical catastrophe, but often the plans aren’t very different from going without insurance altogether.

Hospital officials at Jackson told the Miami Herald that, based on his insurance, Azcue would only be responsible for $1,400 of that bill, but Azcue said he heard from his insurer that he would also have to provide additional documentation: three years of medical records to prove that the flu he got didn’t relate to a preexisting condition.

People already avoid medical care they need because they can’t afford. For non-communicable diseases, that’s horrible, but it doesn’t directly affect others. Now, people will avoid seeking medical attention because they can’t afford to pay for it. To say that neo-liberal market incentives fail in this situation would be an understatement. Between Trump’s narcissism–and narcissists will desperately latch onto any scintilla of good news (e.g., ‘some coronaviruses become less infectious in warmer weather’), until they fail and them blame everyone but themselves–and general incompetence rivaling that of ‘Heckuva job, Browine’, this will likely be our status if we get hit hard by COVID-19:

If the WHO’s worst predictions come true, the United States of America may be faced with controlling a pandemic while the national leader, an expert in no discernible field outside of reactionary trolling and surrounded by loyalists and sycophants who know truthful dissent means defenestration, devotes at least as much energy to further dismantling an already broken healthcare system as he does to public health and the general welfare.

If COVID-19 hits us hard, we can only hope von Bismarck’s adage ‘God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America’ holds. Hopefully, Trump will stay out of the way and not politicize this, but I’m not optimistic about that, to say the least, especially given his behavior to date.

Yet Another Example Of The Global Reach Of The NASA Brand

- Bridenstine: "The NASA brand is the most valuable brand America has", earlier post

Keith's note: NASA has done a good job - an increasingly good one - at allowing the logo's use - and not discouraging its use when the its is used in a positive and inspiring context. This is a consumate, textbook example of soft power. One would hope that NASA can continue along this path and that legislation that currently hinders NASA's ability to project its message via advertising and other venues - can be lifted by Congress.

- NASA's Global Branding Reach Is Often Under Appreciated, earlier post
- Understanding NASA's Global Reach, earlier post
- NASA is Still A Potent (If Underutilized) Brand, earlier post
- Using NASA's Logo: Expensive T-Shirts Or Global Soft Power?, earlier post
- NASA's Pervasive Brand Recognition, earlier post
- One Major Road Block To Bridenstine's Advertising Ideas, earlier post

Case-Shiller: National House Price Index increased 3.8% year-over-year in December

S&P/Case-Shiller released the monthly Home Price Indices for December ("December" is a 3 month average of October, November and December prices).

This release includes prices for 20 individual cities, two composite indices (for 10 cities and 20 cities) and the monthly National index.

Note: Case-Shiller reports Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA), I use the SA data for the graphs.

From S&P: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index Shows Growth in Annual Home Price Gains to End 2019
The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price NSA Index, covering all nine U.S. census divisions, reported a 3.8% annual gain in December, up from 3.5% in the previous month. The 10-City Composite annual increase came in at 2.4%, up from 2.0% in the previous month. The 20-City Composite posted a 2.9% year-over-year gain, up from 2.5% in the previous month.

Phoenix, Charlotte and Tampa reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities. In December, Phoenix led the way with a 6.5% year-over-year price increase, followed by Charlotte with a 5.3% increase and Tampa with a 5.2% increase. Twelve of the 20 cities reported greater price increases in the year ending December 2019 versus the year ending November 2019.
The National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.1%, while the 10-City Composite posted a 0.1% increase and the 20-City Composite did not post any gains before seasonal adjustment in December. After seasonal adjustment, the National Index posted a month-over-month increase of 0.5%, while the 10-City and 20-City Composites both posted 0.4% increases. In December, 10 of 20 cities reported increases before seasonal adjustment while 19 of 20 cities reported increases after seasonal adjustment.

"The U.S. housing market continued its trend of stable growth in December,” says Craig J. Lazzara, Managing Director and Global Head of Index Investment Strategy at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “December’s results bring the National Composite Index to a 3.8% increase for calendar 2019. This marks eight consecutive years of increasing housing prices (an increase which is echoed in our 10- and 20-City Composites). At the national level, home prices are 59% above the trough reached in February 2012, and 15% above their pre-financial crisis peak. Results for 2019 were broad-based, with gains in every city in our 20-City Composite.
emphasis added
Case-Shiller House Prices Indices Click on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the nominal seasonally adjusted Composite 10, Composite 20 and National indices (the Composite 20 was started in January 2000).

The Composite 10 index is up 2.6% from the bubble peak, and up 0.4% in December (SA) from November.

The Composite 20 index is 6.5% above the bubble peak, and up 0.4% (SA) in December.

The National index is 15% above the bubble peak (SA), and up 0.5% (SA) in December.  The National index is up 59% from the post-bubble low set in December 2011 (SA).

Case-Shiller House Prices Indices The second graph shows the Year over year change in all three indices.

The Composite 10 SA is up 2.4% compared to December 2018.  The Composite 20 SA is up 2.9% year-over-year.

The National index SA is up 3.5% year-over-year.

Note: According to the data, prices increased in 19 of 20 cities month-over-month seasonally adjusted.

I'll have more later.

Why ‘Don’t-Care Democrats’ May Re-Elect Trump

How Major News Outlets Misread Sanders’ Nevada Victory: Turnout Was Awful, 84% of the State’s Democrats Said No

David Cay Johnston

We caution readers to be very careful in interpreting the Democratic primary election results so far for reasons cited below. We think the way our major news organizations are reporting the primary results can easily create a misleading impression of voter sentiment.

The analysis below should give you pause whether you think Sanders is, and should be, a shoo-in to beat Trump. Or you fear a Sanders nomination will ensure a second Trump term and a romp by Republican Congressional candidates.

We ask ardent supporters and foes of Sanders, or any other candidate, to avoid a hot or presumptive reaction to what follows . My concern is based on many responses to some of my caucus night tweets and Facebook posts in recent weeks.

Please ponder what follows in terms of the real issues in the 2020 General Election.

As a general historic rule, the bigger the turnout the better Democrats fare; the worse, Republicans.

First, will our Electoral College give Trump a second term even as he will certainly lose the popular vote—and by a huge margin? Second, how will voter turnout affect whether Republicans retain control of the Senate? That would enable Mitch McConnell to continue packing the federal courts with minimally qualified corporatist and right-wing ideologues.

As a general historic rule, the bigger the turnout the better Democrats fare; the worse, Republicans.

Now let’s look at the Nevada primary that ended Saturday.

News reports focus on Bernie Sanders as the winner—alongside his win in New Hampshire and his tie with Pete Buttigieg in Iowa.

Different Measures

Measured in percentages, Sanders won by a huge plurality with more than 40% of the final caucus votes. Nearly all votes were counted by Monday morning Nevada time. That’s impressive, especially since in initial caucus voting Sanders got 33%. Second-place finisher Joe Biden’s final results came in at less than 20%. (These numbers are updated from an earlier version, when only 60% of votes had been counted.)

But now consider the numbers of votes cast.

Nevada has almost 611,000 registered Democrats. Final results will show a bit more than 40,000  votes for Sanders. That means for every vote Sanders won, there were 15 Democrats who choose someone else or no one at all.

The low turnout is surprising since the party made voting easy. Ballots could be cast in person for four days or at the Saturday caucuses. Yet about 84% out of Nevada Democrats didn’t vote or caucus.

Most Democrats Didn’t Bother

Let’s call the roughly 555,000 Nevada Democrats who didn’t participate the “Don’t-Care Democrats.” What does it say about the Culinary Workers Union and its much-discussed political power in Nevada that so few Democrats voted? What does it say about the union, slightly more than half of whose members are Latino, endorsed no candidate and by some accounts was openly hostile to Sanders?

The numbers of votes cast, rather than percentages, were downplayed in many news reports, especially on television and radio. Actual votes cast were pushed down in reports like those in The New York Times. Even worse was the main Washington Post Sunday story, which never mentioned how many ballots were cast or the overall percentages, but declared in its headline that “Sanders decisively wins.”

Granite State Voting

Now compare the Nevada results with New Hampshire, where Sanders also won. New Hampshire has less than half the population of Nevada—1.3 million people to 3.1 million.

There are 276,400 registered Democrats in the Granite State. Sanders won more than 76,000 votes.

Democratic primary votes for all candidates totaled 296,622 or 107% of the number of New Hampshire Democrats.

Don’t be alarmed. No gravestones voted. In New Hampshire, people who register without choosing a party affiliation can vote in primaries as either Democrats or Republicans. New Hampshire’s largest registration is undeclared with 415,900 out of 981,000 total registered voters.

Sanders got 11% of the potential primary vote in New Hampshire. And that state’s “Don’t-Care Democrats,” even assuming every undeclared voter is a Democrat, were 58% of potential voters compared to 95% in Nevada.

Trump Fatigue

The results from these two of our 50 states show that the overwhelming majority of Democrats in a demographically diverse and fast-growing western state seem to have no interest in who lives in the White House. They show that in New Hampshire, with its century-old town meeting traditions, draws many more voters. But still a majority can’t be bothered to cast ballots.

And they show that it is possible to win a party primary with a tiny number of registered primary eligible voters, less than one in 17 in Nevada.

What do the Nevada numbers tell us?

When the overwhelming majority of eligible voters do nothing does that mean they are content with Trump in the White House? Do they believe (wrongly) that their votes don’t matter? Is the problem political lethargy? Indifference? Tacit acceptance?

The fact is that until after-vote survey work is finished we won’t know.

A Handful of Voters Will Decide

What we do know is that a tiny fraction of registered voters could determine who faces Trump. And we now know that there is not much enthusiasm for Sanders in Nevadaa. The state is more like America as a whole than either New Hampshire or Iowa, the first caucus state.

Trump won despite only 46% of actual voters favoring him. Trump brags about his not quite 63 million votes, but Hillary Clinton got close to 66 million votes. Add in minor candidates and 74 million Americans voted against Trump.

The big question is whether Trump fatigue weighs so heavily on America that the November election will be determined not by the American people, but by tiny minorities in picking the Democratic Party candidate. Even if Sanders founders in the next few primaries, a minority of Democrats will decide.

And what happens if most stay home on Nov. 3?

In the end, our government is the result not of what the American people want, but of who votes. Turnout first. Turnout last. Turnout is all that matters.

Ask yourself what it means that in the Nevada Democratic primary the real vote was 16% care enough to vote for someone and 84% couldn’t be bothered.

I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that we should be actively discussing this. And we should do so not from wishes or fears, but from thoughtful concern about the future we will soon choose for our nation.


The post Why ‘Don’t-Care Democrats’ May Re-Elect Trump appeared first on DCReport.org.

“A youth, son to Captain John Gore”

The older boy wounded by Ebenezer Richardson’s shot on 22 Feb 1770 was nineteen-year-old Samuel Gore.

He appears here in his early-1750s portrait by John Singleton Copley, a detail from a painting now at Winterthur. Of course, this when Sammy was still a toddler and Copley was still developing his technique.

In contrast to Christopher Seider, a servant born to poor German immigrant parents, Sammy Gore came from an old New England Puritan family that was rising swiftly in society. The portrait of the kids was one sign of that social ambition, even if the young artist might have done it for practice or in barter for paints.

Sammy’s father John Gore had started as a decorative painter. Specializing in heraldic designs, he developed an upper-class clientele and began to move into that class himself—as a paint merchant, a militia officer, and eventually an Overseer of the Poor, one of the most respected town offices. By 1770 he was considered a gentleman.

Capt. John Gore’s oldest child, Frances, married Thomas Crafts, Jr., another decorative painter. (I suspect he was one of Gore’s early apprentices, but I can’t confirm that.) Crafts became an active member of the “Loyall Nine” who organized the first anti-Stamp Act protests and looked after Liberty Tree. He, too, was rising through militia service and town offices.

Capt. Gore’s first son, also named John, became a dry goods merchant. He married the niece of the Rev. Henry Caner, minister of King’s Chapel. Both John, Jr., and Samuel had tried schooling at the South Latin School, which would have prepared them for Harvard, but decided to drop out for more practical education. Their little brother Christopher (Kit), however, was sailing through the Latin School curriculum.

In August 1769, Capt. Gore, his son John, and his son-in-law Crafts all dined with the Sons of Liberty at Lemuel Robinson’s tavern in Dorchester, as described here. At the time John, Jr., advertised that he was sticking to the non-importation agreement in the cloth he sold from his shop.

Of course, it was hard for a paint merchant to take that stance and stay in business—the Townshend Act put a tariff on painter’s colors. Sammy, training under his father in decorative painting, had a close-up look at that situation. In late January 1770, the Boston Chronicle published Customs house documents revealing that Capt. Gore had paid duties on “4 barrels Painters colours” that had arrived on the Abigail and more goods that had later come on the Thomas.

That revelation might have motivated the family to demonstrate their commitment to non-importation. In the third week of February, the Gores—more probably, Frances Gore and her daughters and perhaps daughters-in-law—hosted a spinning bee at their house on Queen Street. This was a social occasion, but it also showed the women’s support for local manufacturing.

Most spinning bees took place in rural towns, usually in ministers’ houses, with the host accepting the gift of the spun yarn to benefit the poor. Of ten spinning bees that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich counted in and around Boston in 1766-70, the Gores’ was one of only two not in a minister’s home.

Early in its local news roundup, the 26 Feb 1770 Boston Gazette put a strong political spin on the Gores’ event:
One Day last Week a Number of Patriot Ladies met at the House of John Gore, Esq; of this Town, when their Industry at the Spinning Wheel was at least equal to any Instance recorded in our Paper.

It is principally owing to the indefatigable Pains of Mr. William Mollineux; and it will be said to his lasting Honor, that the laudable Practice of Spinning is almost universally in Vogue among the Female Children of this Town; whereby they are not only useful to the Community, but the poorer Sort are able in some Measure to assist their Parents in getting a Livelihood—

The Use of the Spinning-Wheel is now encouraged, and the pernicious Practice of Tea-drinking equally discountenanced, by all the Ladies of this Town, excepting those whose Husbands are Tories and Friends to the American Revenue-Acts; and a few Ladies who are Tories themselves.
By the time that item was published, Sammy Gore had made his own political statement about non-importation by showing up outside Ebenezer Richardson’s house on 22 February. We don’t know if he was among the boys who organized the demonstrations at Theophilus Lillie’s shop or if he threw garbage and rocks at Richardson’s house. But we do know Sammy Gore was close enough to the front of the crowd to be struck by pellets from Richardson’s gun.

The Boston Gazette stated, “A youth, son to Captain John Gore, was also wounded in one of his hands and in both his thighs.” The Boston Evening-Post reported:
Dr. [Joseph] Warren likewise cut two slugs out of young Mr. Gore’s thighs, but pronounced him in no danger of death, though in all probability he will lose the use of the right forefinger, by the wound received there, much important to a youth of his dexterity in drawing and painting.
As it turned out, Samuel Gore would enjoy a long and healthy career as a painter and manufacturer. In the 1830s a Boston barber recalled that he would show young people his scarred fingers and describe how he’d been wounded in the Revolution “with some relish.”

(For more about Samuel Gore’s Revolutionary activities and reminiscences, see The Road to Concord.)

TOMORROW: A grand funeral.

Pay transparency in the NY Times

An article on the virtues of pay transparency in the NY Times publishes the salaries of all Times editors, reporters and columnists... just kidding.  But it does report on recent research about the effects of pay transparency:

Breaking the Salary Sharing Taboo
Transparency about salaries can make workplaces more equitable, especially for women and people of color. Why are so few Americans willing to open up?
By Susan Dominus

The article mentions several academic studies

Here's one from a forthcoming paper

"About a decade ago, a naturally occurring social experiment took place in Norway that revealed how people react when they are given the opportunity to learn not just a co-worker’s income but the salary of every citizen in the country. Key information from tax returns in Norway has been public since the 19th century, available to anyone willing to wait in line at City Hall and scour tax records. But that understandable interest in other people’s finances became something of a national obsession in 2001, when newspapers first started making the information searchable online. By 2009, one newspaper offered an app — instantly one of the country’s most downloaded — that allowed Facebook users to see leader boards that ranked friends’ salaries from highest to lowest. The app also created maps that allowed users to see the pay of all their neighbors. In 2010, during the first week that the most recent year’s information became available, Norwegians were Googling “skattelister” — tax lists — more than “YouTube,” according to data analyzed by Ricardo Perez-Truglia, now an assistant professor of economics at the U.C.L.A. Anderson School of Management; during that same period, Norwegians were scanning other people’s income more often than they were checking the weather. There were anecdotal reports of students’ being bullied for their families’ poverty, and increasingly, officials became uncomfortable with what the head of the Norwegian Tax Administration called the “peeping Tom” phenomenon (the media called it “tax porn”). In 2014, the law changed so that individuals could still access this public information — but the person whose information they were seeking would know who sought it. Salary searches plummeted, suggesting that Norwegian taboos around discussing pay are not, in the end, all that different from those in America.

Perez-Truglia realized he could use the case of the skattelister to determine the effect of that short window of widespread transparency on well-being, using data from a happiness survey that has been conducted in Norway since 1985. Perez-Truglia found that the newfound accessibility of other people’s pay led to a significant increase in the happiness gap: Higher-income earners were happier than they were before the information was widely available, and lower-income workers were less happy. (There was no change in happiness levels in the survey respondents with more limited access to the internet, further evidence that it was the availability of the skattelister that was having an influence on the survey results.)"

and here's the paper:
[Perez-Truglia, R. (2019). The Effects of Income Transparency on Well-Being: Evidence from a Natural Experiment. American Economic Review, forthcoming. Ungated] [ Slides]]

Here's a link and an earlier post about another of the papers mentioned in the article,
Cullen, Zoë B., and Bobak Pakzad-Hurson. "Equilibrium Effects of Pay Transparency in a Simple Labor Market." Working Paper, April 2019. (Formerly two papers, "Equal Work for Unequal Pay" and "Is Pay Transparency Good?" Selected as Exemplary Applied Modeling Paper at EC '19.)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Australian launch industry looks to government for regulatory and financial support

Gilmous Space rocket

WASHINGTON — Australia’s nascent launch industry says it would like to see the country’s government provide more financial and regulatory support to help it get established in the global market.

In a panel discussion during the Ninth Australian Space Forum in Adelaide Feb. 18, leaders of launch vehicle companies and spaceport operators in the country emphasized the benefits of their industry in creating jobs and overall economic development, and that Australia was well-positioned to capture a share of the growing demand for satellite launches.

“Australia is actually an excellent place for launch but also for investment more broadly, and launch in itself is a critical enabler of future growth economically in Australia,” said Carley Scott, chief executive of Equatorial Launch Australia, which is setting up a launch site in the Northern Territory.

Other panelists emphasized Australia’s capabilities both in terms of available land to support launches but also its economic and political situation. “You need a geopolitically stable country and a large land mass,” said Blake Nikolic, chief executive of Black Sky Aerospace, which provides launch vehicle, propulsion and related services. Australia is one of the few countries in the Southern Hemisphere that can offer both, he argued.

To be successful, though, companies said they were looking for government support that parallels what is available in other countries. Adam Gilmour, chief executive of small launch vehicle developer Gilmour Space Technologies, said that while most of the customers for his company’s vehicle are from outside Australia, his company can’t compete for contracts from government agencies in some countries, like the United States, where they have to buy domestically.

He called for a similar policy in Australia. “We can’t compete for U.S. government launches because, in America, they have to use an American launcher to launch a U.S. government payload,” he said. “We don’t have that here, so that would really help.”

Gilmour also advocated for the Australian government to support development of launch infrastructure like spaceports, citing examples like the United States where both federal and state governments have invested in launch sites.

Australia does have regulations for licensing commercial launches, but how they’re applied can be an issue. Scott said she’s run into issues involving environmental regulations for her launch site. “We needed to apply ourselves and our practice and align it to what the mining industry does,” she said. “Not only is that a very heavy process, it also isn’t fit for purpose.”

She and other panelists also said that launch licenses should allow vehicles to switch launch sites, or make minor modifications, without having to file for a new application. That has been an issue in the United States, where ongoing regulatory reform proposes to allow a single launch vehicle license be applicable from multiple launch sites. “That will save a lot of time and a lot headcount,” said Gilmour.

The speed of the regulatory process is another issue for launch operators, said Lloyd Damp, chief executive of Southern Launch, a company establishing a launch site in South Australia with South Korean small launch vehicle developer Perigee Aerospace as one customer. “It’s not really for us so much the content of the approval process,” he said, “it’s about the timeliness so that Australia as a whole can do safe launch from our lands as well as reap the financial benefits that we as all Australians would like to see.”

The panel suggested one approach for building up Australia’s launch and overall space industry is through some kind of “national pathfinder mission” that demonstrates the country’s space capabilities. One option they discussed was a smallsat lunar orbiter mission.

“Ambitious projects are what inspire us,” said Nikolic. “Finding a mission within a short period of time, a couple of years, could be a fantastic program to run that could see many of the existing companies and future startups getting involved. It’s almost like our own mini moon-to-Mars Artemis program.”

Damp said that national pride, and competitiveness, could help fuel the industry. He compared Australia, which last hosted an orbital satellite launch in 1971, with neighboring New Zealand, which has seen 11 launches of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket since 2017.

“We in Australia have launched two satellites to date,” he said. “New Zealand has launched 42 satellites over the last couple of years. It’s time for us to jump on board.”



Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year), which starts on the new moon that falls between 21 January and 20 February, is celebrated by some 1.5 billion people around the world. And, as travel has become more affordable to China’s rapidly growing middle class, the holiday now accounts for an estimated 3 billion trips (called chunyun in Chinese), making the celebration the world’s largest annual human migration. The New York-based filmmaker Jonathan Bregel uses scenes of this extraordinary human flow to convey both the sheer magnitude of the movement of people and the moments of celebration that are a crucial aspect of the holiday. 

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

The ethics of speech acts

It’s one thing to say something. It’s quite another for a person to do (or not do) something because of what you’ve said

By Guy Longworth

Read at Aeon

Ancient animistic beliefs live on in our intimacy with tech

When Alexa replied to my question about the weather by tacking on ‘Have a nice day,’ I immediately shot back ‘You too,’ and then stared into space, slightly embarrassed. I also found myself spontaneously shouting words of encouragement to ‘Robbie’ my Roomba vacuum as I saw him passing down the ha...

By Stephen T Asma

Read at Aeon

Lubbock, Texas notes

Hill BBQ is perhaps the best I have had — ever.  It is open Thursday and Saturday only, get the burnt ends and beef ribs.  Next in line is Evie Mae’s, better known on the barbecue circuit, but still mostly unsullied by tourists and so the lines remain manageable.

There is no real center of town, but you can visit the world’s largest windmill museum (it is windy there), a prairie dog park, and Robert Bruno’s self-constructed, funky Steel House on a nearby lake.  There are Confederate memorials remaining by the main courthouse.  You will see tumbleweed.  There is a strange man walking around town with a tricolor hat.

The economy is cotton, health care, and Texas Tech at about 40,000 students.  Buddy Holly was from Lubbock.

It still has a strong regional feel, much as say parts of the Dakotas do.  The dinosaur displays in the museum are labeled “The Original Longhorns.”

I would go long on Lubbock: no NIMBYs (yet), the housing stock is rising in quality, they are opening an entertainment center downtown, and it could be the next Marfa but on a larger scale.  What’s not to like?

The post Lubbock, Texas notes appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

How to Enable the Mac Startup Chime on New Macs

Mr. Macintosh:

sudo nvram StartupMute=%00


I have literally rebooted 5 MacBook Pros multiple times just to hear that classic sound. I could not be more happy!

Hell yeah I enabled this. No idea why Apple did away with this chime.

(Use “01” in place of “00” to turn the chime off.)


Four short links: 25 February 2020

  1. Dispatch — Netflix’s incident management framework. (via Netflix Tech Blog)
  2. Text-to-Text Transformer (Google) — In “Exploring the Limits of Transfer Learning with a Unified Text-to-Text Transformer,” we present a large-scale empirical survey to determine which transfer learning techniques work best and apply these insights at scale to create a new model that we call the Text-To-Text Transfer Transformer (T5). We also introduce a new open source pre-training dataset called the Colossal Clean Crawled Corpus (C4). The T5 model, pre-trained on C4, achieves state-of-the-art results on many NLP benchmarks while being flexible enough to be fine-tuned to a variety of important downstream tasks. With code, notebook, and pre-trained models.
  3. Antifragile Ideas — a 2015 John Carmack internal talk at Facebook.
  4. fastpages — fast.ai’s blogging system designed to publish research outputs. SWEET. (via fast.ai)

Dust Blankets the Canary Islands

Dust Blankets the Canary Islands
Flights were grounded as visibility was severely hampered by a Calima event.


A Deceptively Simple iPad Multitasking Concept

This design concept by Tommy Walton is interesting. What I like about it:

  • It’s direct manipulation.
  • It’s consistent. The way you launch an app for the second spot on the screen is the same as the way you launch an app for the entire screen — you tap it. The way you close an app in split-screen is the same as way you close it in single-screen — you swipe up from the bottom.
  • Everything is a one-finger tap or swipe — no complex multi-finger gestures.

I do see a few problems. Today, iPadOS uses a swipe from the left side of the screen as a shortcut for “go back”. In Walton’s concept, this would be a way to resize a full-screen app to take up the right side of the display. And how would this work with multitasking with other apps — i.e. how do you get a split-screen “space” into the multi spaces view, and how do you get the Dock to appear? There’s a lot more to think through here, but as a starting point this is a good concept — and so much better than what we actually have.


About Those Ugly Prefixes in Folder Names in ‘Group Containers’

At the end of my piece last night about the location of the Apple Podcast app’s cache folder on MacOS 10.15, I griped about how ugly the folder’s name is: “243LU875E5.groups.com.apple.podcasts”. Most of the folders in Group Containers have similar ugly prefixes.

I figured there was a logical explanation, and there is: those prefixes are Apple Developer Account Team IDs, and according to Apple’s documentation, they’re mandatory:

The value for this key must be of type array, and must contain one or more string values, each of which must consist of your development team ID, followed by a period, followed by an arbitrary name chosen by your development team. For example: com.apple.security.application-groups


Just because there’s a reason for this doesn’t make it a good reason. There are logical reasons why the Windows Registry is the way it is, but that doesn’t make an elegant, graceful design. Mac OS X inherited an elegant, graceful design for the layout and naming conventions of the entire Library hierarchy (not to mention the elegance of the separate System, Local, Network, and User domains for the Library). There’s no reason the naming and structure for everything in Library not to be friendly both to developers and users looking there to troubleshoot or simply to figure out how things work.

Like I wrote last night, arguing that it doesn’t matter if these identifiers are ugly and inscrutable (and break alphabetical sorting) because most users will never see them is exactly like arguing that it doesn’t matter what the back of the cabinet looks like.



You know how some apps and system services have system-wide keyboard shortcuts? Usually, that’s handy. But sometimes it means that a shortcut in the app you’re using doesn’t work because some system-wide utility is eating the keystroke. When that happens it can be hard to track down what app or service is taking that shortcut.

ShortcutDetective, a free utility from Irradiated Software, is designed specifically to track down which app is receiving a shortcut. Just run the app (after granting it Accessibility permissions), type the shortcut, and in most cases ShortcutDetective will tell you which app is receiving it. Saved me a lot of troubleshooting effort today.

(Thanks to Matt Cassinelli for the tip.)


Tuesday: Case-Shiller House Prices

From Matthew Graham at Mortgage News Daily: Important Lessons From Near-Record Low Mortgage Rates
Mortgage rates continue to carve out the unlikeliest of victories in 2020 with significant help from coronavirus. The epidemic has taken a year that was almost certain to start off with a steady move toward higher rates and turned it into one of the strongest starts on record. In fact, when it comes to the combination of ground covered and levels achieved, no other year has started off any better. [Most Prevalent Rates For Top Tier Scenarios 30YR FIXED - 3.375 - 3.5%]
emphasis added
• At 9:00 AM ET, FHFA House Price Index for December 2018. This was originally a GSE only repeat sales, however there is also an expanded index.

• At 9:00 AM, S&P/Case-Shiller House Price Index for December. The consensus is for a 2.8% year-over-year increase in the Comp 20 index for December.

• At 10:00 AM, Richmond Fed Survey of Manufacturing Activity for February.

A Text Renaissance

There is a renaissance underway in online text as a medium. The Four Horsemen of this emerging Textopia are: Roam, a hypertext publishing platform best understood as a medium for composing conspiracy theories and extended universes. Substack, a careful and thorough ground-up neoclassical reconstruction of the age-old email newsletter. Static websites, built out of frameworks […]

How India Can Get Growth Back on Track

It's Not About Defending Obama

There’s one point I want to reiterate or clarify about the posts from earlier today. We’ve gotten a lot of great emails agreeing and disagreeing with my basic points – I’ll be publishing several of them this evening. But some of those who on balance agree with me have asides like, ‘but here’s a case where I think we can criticize Obama.’

Let me be clear: this really isn’t about defending Obama.

I have lots of criticisms of Obama. On balance I think he did a pretty solid job under very challenging circumstances. And I greatly admire him personally. But again, it’s not about defending Obama. It’s about understanding the radicalization of the American right on its own terms, which is really the only way you can understand it or grapple with it.

Otherwise, you end up with this very shallow and circular thinking that, well, Obama was basically XYZ and that got us Trump. So if we do the opposite of XYZ that will get us less Trump. That obviously doesn’t follow.

Authoritarian nationalism has its own ambitions and goals that are not just about the shortcomings of the left or center-left or the debates which are internal to it. So everybody is free to criticize Obama on every front; and we should, just in the sense that these things are important to think through. But it’s not a proxy for understanding Trumpism or the Republican radicalization which gave birth to it.

Readers Respond on the Road To Trumpism, Pt. 1

TPM Reader JB on the road to Trumpism …

Interesting exchange of views among you and your readers on this subject. A couple of thoughts, for what they’re worth.

It’s probably useful for us to distinguish between things Obama did as President and events that took place while he was in office. The Great Recession was chief among the latter; it had a massive economic and political impact we are still trying to process over a decade later.

I think there are some things the Obama administration could have done better to respond to the economic catastrophe it inherited from the Bush crowd, for example with respect to home foreclosures. But the impact of the Great Recession would have been considerable in any event — not only because of the wealth it destroyed, but because of how it changed the economy.

Take Wisconsin. The economy here mostly recovered from the Great Recession a couple of years ago, but “recovered” does not mean restored. The jobs lost throughout the rural parts of the state included many that never came back; the new jobs created have been concentrated in medical and information technology businesses concentrated in Dane County (around Madison) and to a lesser extent in businesses in suburbs of Milwaukee. This has altered the politics of the state. Previously swingy rural areas are now solidly Trumpish, the change bolstered by resentment of booming Dane County — where Democratic margins are even more lopsided than they were before.

There must have been similar changes in many states. Consolidation of many industries (certainly in agriculture, the one I’m most familiar with) has hollowed out rural communities across the country, leaving them full of grievance and resentment. It’s not fair to blame this on Obama — I don’t think, though of course some people disagree. But it is a fact of life that probably hurts Democrats politically because it became evident while Obama was President.

The other thought involves something you said about evaluating the Trumpers on their own terms, rather than as products of one thing or another Democrats said or did while Obama was in the White House. Democrats tend to spend much effort arguing about solutions to problems they assume are widely understood. They haven’t responded well to the enthusiasm Trump generates with rhetoric that describes a problem America faces in terms of non-white immigration — and with policies that, if anything, go well beyond the rhetoric.

Democrats think of tolerance here in terms of striking a pose of indifference to change, specifically to local increases of residents with a different skin color or native language. Many Americans respond poorly to indifference. They are not so interested in appearing tolerant, certainly not to themselves. In the last ten years or so they have seen a great deal of change, enough to be suspicious of more.

I don’t think this means they endorse cruelty to helpless people, or are deaf to arguments that America needs more immigrants. It doesn’t mean they are wedded to the explicitly racist ideology & practice that has taken such firm root of Trump administration immigration policy. I do think it means Democrats need to make affirmative arguments for more immigration. And it means, as I think you suggest, that Democrats need to acknowledge, explicitly and often, that intense dislike of non-white people is very important to this Republican administration and its partisans in Congress.

One last thought, one that does involve criticism of Obama. I’ve been trying to think of another politically significant President who handed off leadership of his party, not to the next generation but instead to the previous one. I can’t think of any besides John Kennedy, a special case for obvious reasons. And, of course, George W. Bush — whose administration was such a disaster he must also be considered a special case.

It’s just bizarre that nearly half of the remaining major Democratic candidates for President this year — two of them Democrats of convenience — would see their 80th birthday during their first term as President. It was, frankly, not much less bizarre to see the consensus among leading Democrats four years ago that Obama’s logical successor in the White House was the wife of his Democratic predecessor.

Obama excelled as a symbol, and as a personal example. He wasn’t much of a politician, once his own position was not at issue. He’s hardly the first President to give inadequate attention to who would follow him, but the absence of an Obama political “tree” is one of the most striking things about American politics.

[ridgeline] So Now You Own a Kissa

Fine walkers — Welcome to week 60 — 60! — of Ridgeline, your one-stop weekly fix on thinking about taking a walk in Japan, written by me, your surrogate walk-automaton, Craig Mod. Last year, for research on morning sets and pizza toast, I ended up spending a few weekends in the general Nagoya area. About a month ago, Eater released an excellent Nagoya city food guide by Nina Li Coomes, and it reminded me that I had a bunch of notes from Nagoya I had yet to write up.

Jupiter's Magnetic Field from Juno

How similar is Jupiter's magnetic field to Earth's? How similar is Jupiter's magnetic field to Earth's?

Fresh out of stealth mode, Astra gearing up for orbital launch from Alaska

Astra employees open the payload fairing last week on the company’s small satellite launcher at Kodiak Island, Alaska, to mate several small payloads ahead of the company’s first orbital launch attempt. Credit: DARPA

Some time in the next few days, a California-based company that has quietly toiled to develop a new light-class satellite launcher since 2016 will attempt to send three CubeSats into orbit from Kodiak Island, Alaska, on the first of two missions scheduled before the end of March to win up to $12 million in prize money from the U.S. military.

Astra, which operated in stealth mode until earlier this month, is gearing up to launch its first orbital mission as soon as this week. If it succeeds, and can follow up with another successful orbital launch in March, Astra stands to receive a prize of $12 million from the DARPA Launch Challenge, an initiative set up by the U.S. military research and development agency.

DARPA says it wants companies like Astra at the ready to deliver military payloads into orbit at low cost on short notice, giving commanders the ability to rapidly deploy orbiting assets or reconstitute communications and surveillance networks.

“Today, space launch is a process that begins years in advance, and it relies on a limited number of launch ranges that have complex, expensive, and one-of-a-kind, fixed infrastructure,” DARPA says on its website. “The DARPA Launch Challenge is stressing the time, technology, systems, and processes that currently constrain access to space.

“The Challenge aims to minimize launch infrastructure, improve responsiveness, and take advantage of advances in commercial launch cadence to demonstrate flexible launch capabilities in days rather than years, for our nation’s defense.”

“When we originally set up this challenge, it was set up largely to take advantage of the things that were happening in the commercial marketplace,” said Todd Master, a program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “We saw a bevy of really interesting companies who were doing interesting things, many of which seemed to have the possibility of meeting our goals of DARPA Launch Challenge, which were flexible and responsive. When I say flexible, I mean, launch from anywhere. When I say responsive, I mean launch on demand. Those are our goals to get to that one day we’d be able to do literally anywhere and literally anytime.”

A responsive, on-demand launch system has been on the U.S. military’s wish list for years. DARPA has sponsored several of the military’s efforts to support development of such a launch vehicle, with little success.

A flexible small satellite launcher would help the military with “things like battlefield reconnaissance, battle damage assessment, things that we use very tactically today,” Master said in a conference call with reporters Feb. 18. “We use those tactically when we have air dominance and air control. It gets a lot harder to do when we’re talking about protected airspace of over other countries or near adversaries who have capability to deny us that.

“I think you’ll see a lot more use of tactical communications for short duration missions in the future as the cost availability to do this … comes down,” Master said. “If you could imagine something like a special forces raid on a protected target behind enemy lines, the ability to proliferate a substantial amount of communications for for data … I think will be a strong need that we see, especially as we look at some of the things that we’ve looked at DARPA, from the perspective of what a (future) battlefield might look like. The ability to get data in and out of that is going to become really critical.”

DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane Program, formerly known as the XS-1, effectively ended last month when Boeing pulled out of the partnership. DARPA had selected Boeing to lead development of a reusable hypersonic booster that could take off like a rocket, deploy an upper stage to send a payload into orbit, then return to Earth for a runway landing.

Another DARPA program — the Airborne Launch Assist Space Access, or ALASA, initiative — ended in 2015 without placing anything into orbit. Through the ALASA program, DARPA and Boeing aimed to develop an air-launched rocket that could place a small satellite in orbit after dropping from the belly of an F-15E fighter jet.

DARPA also supported the launch of the first two flights of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket in 2006 and 2007. Both missions failed to reach orbit, and after finally achieving success with the Falcon 1, SpaceX terminated the program in favor of the larger Falcon 9 rocket.

Astra’s first orbital-class launcher, named “1 of 3,” arrived Feb. 18 at the main airport on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The launch vehicle fits inside a standard cargo trailer. Credit: DARPA

Officials announced the DARPA Launch Challenge in February 2018, and three companies qualified for the competition last year. But Vector Launch, one of the launch firms, ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy last year before ever conducting an orbital launch attempt. The other company, Virgin Orbit, withdrew from the DARPA Launch Challenge to focus on commercial missions, according to DARPA.

That left Astra, then operating in stealth mode, as the only company still vying for the prize. Earlier this month, Astra exited stealth mode with an exclusive feature story published by Bloomberg.

Astra has not offered an interview to Spaceflight Now despite multiple requests.

A successful launch of the first mission from Kodiak Island would net Astra $2 million in DARPA prize money. If the second mission succeeds by March 31, DARPA would pay out the remaining $10 million prize to Astra.

In a bid to test the flexibility of Astra, DARPA officials did not disclose the developers of the payloads for the first DARPA Launch Challenge mission until a month before launch, according to Master. The payloads were not delivered to Astra for integration with the rocket, which Astra has named “1 of 3” or “Rocket 3.0,” until less than a week before the planned liftoff date.

The second mission for the DARPA Launch Challenge has a 14-day launch window opening March 18, according to Master. The second mission will take off from a separate launch pad at Kodiak than Launch 1, but DARPA did not inform Astra of the launch site until Feb. 18, a month before opening of the launch window, in order to challenge the launch vehicle team.

Other sites under consideration for Launch 2 of the DARPA Launch Challenge included Wallops Island, Virginia.

A two-week launch window for Launch 1 opened Feb. 17 under the rules of DARPA’s Launch Challenge. Astra requested extra time to prepare the rocket and set a preliminary launch date of Tuesday, Feb. 25.

Astra’s two-stage launch vehicle — already assembled at the company’s headquarters in Alameda, California — arrived on Kodiak Island aboard an air transport plane Feb. 18. The 38-foot-long (11.6-meter), 52-inch-wide (1.32-meter) launch vehicle fits inside a standard trailer, which was trucked from the airfield to the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on the southeastern flank of Kodiak Island to begin launch preparations.

“What you see when you start is basically a bare pad of concrete, with the idea that one day you could extend this to anywhere,” Master said. “So the team doesn’t get access to the actual facility to start doing preparations of their equipemtn or their vehicle until days before (launch).”

In the last week, a lean team of less than a dozen Astra engineers and technicians have unpacked the rocket and ground support equipment, including a mobile launch mount. Astra has also mated three CubeSats and a hosted payload to the rocket’s second stage.

DARPA said Monday the liftoff would be postponed from its planned launch date Tuesday due to a “major winter weather event” predicted to impact Kodiak Island. A new launch date “will be determined when conditions improve, and the launch countdown clock will be adjusted accordingly,” DARPA tweeted.

A countdown clock on DARPA’s Launch Challenge website was reset for a possible launch attempt Thursday. Airspace warning notices originally released for launch attempts Tuesday and Wednesday were deleted and replaced with warnings for possible launch attempts Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The daily launch window opens at 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT; 11:30 a.m. Alaska Standard Time) and extends three hours.

While the window for Launch 1 extends through March 1, Master said last week that officials will ensure Astra has at least four launch days with good weather available before closing the book on the DARPA Launch Challenge.

“So if we high winds for every single for the next two weeks, which I really hope we don’t have, we would give them additional time,” Master said.

Astra teams test-fire a rocket at the company’s headquarters in Alameda, California. The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the skyline of San Francisco are seen in the background. Credit: Astra

Founded in 2016, Astra is headquartered in Alameda, California, just across the bay from San Francisco. Chris Kemp, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former IT executive at NASA, established Astra in partnership with Adam London, who led a startup named Ventions focused on developing miniaturized rocket propulsion technologies.

“Our mission is to really focus on earth, and companies and governments and any project that helps make life on earth better, helps connect life on Earth, observe and influence our planet in a way that advances human interests and commerce,” Kemp said. “I think we’re really open to working with any government agency and/or commercial entity that has payloads that are focused on our planet.”

Astra’s first orbital-class launcher is on the small end of the burgeoning light-class satellite launch market.

“We have designed it to fit inside of a shipping container, and the payload performance to the orbit of this (mission) in its direct insertion mode, which is lower performing, is a little over 10 kilograms (22 pounds),” London said Feb. 18 in a conference call with reporters. The rocket is designed to do 25 kilograms (55 pounds) to sun-synchronous orbit.”

Other companies competing in the small satellite launch market are aiming to haul heavier payloads into orbit.

Rocket Lab, the only small launch firm with an operational booster, can deliver up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of payload to a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) sun-synchronous polar orbit. Virgin Orbit, which once participated in the DARPA Launch Challenge, says its air-dropped LauncherOne vehicle will be able to carry up to 660 pounds (300 kilograms) to a similar sun-synchronous orbit when it begins flying later this year.

Other startup U.S. launch companies, such as Relativity Space and Firefly Aerospace, are working on rockets with heavier lift capacities. But they are still significantly smaller than rockets owned by entrenched launch companies like SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

Numerous other launch startups in the United States, Europe and China are also developing privately-owned vehicles to loft small payloads into orbit for a range of commercial and military customers.

While the diminutive dimensions of Astra’s launcher stand out among competitors, it wouldn’t be the smallest rocket to reach orbit. That distinction goes to the Japanese SS-520-5 launcher — a modified solid-fueled sounding rocket — which injected a CubeSat  into orbit in 2018 in a one-off demonstration of Japan’s small satellite launch capability.

Astra’s first orbital rocket is powered by five kerosene-fueled first stage engines. A single engine is mounted to the rocket’s second stage.

Prototypes of the launcher flew two times on suborbital missions from Kodiak in 2018. The Federal Aviation Administration classified the flights as mishaps, but on Astra’s website, the company writes that both rockets launched successfully, while acknowledging that the second flight was “shorter than planned.”

Lessons from the suborbital missions were incorporated into Rocket 3.0, the company’s first orbit-capable launcher, according to Astra.

“We’ve done a lot of testing already back here in California with the upper stage and the first stage doing full-duration hotfire tests,” Kemp said. “But the thing that we haven’t done and that we will do on a very public stage is put the entire system together and do the ultimate test, where literally everything has to work perfectly for us to achieve the objectives of this challenge.”

New rockets have often required several launch attempts before successfully achieving orbit.

“From our company’s perspective, it is a campaign of launches that will result in a successful orbit, not this first launch,” Kemp said. “This first launch will deliver to DARPA a system capable of being moved around the country and launching small, affordable agile payloads into earth orbit. But from our company’s perspective, it’s the first of a series of launches, where we will achieve orbit.

“What we will do up in Kodiak is we will test this entire system — the launcher, the rocket, the software and everything at the range —  as a fully integrated suite of hardware and software for the very first time,” Kemp said.

Investors have supplied more than $100 million to fund development of Astra’s rockets and a 250,000-square-foot launch vehicle factory in California, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.

That’s significantly more than the $12 million up for grabs in the DARPA Launch Challenge.

“Typically, a challenge is not a fantastic mechanism for cost recovery,” Master said. “It’s not intended to be (where) you win this thing, and you’re going to make money on this event. I don’t think in most of our other prior challenges, you would see that any team probably came out necessarily in the black as a direct result of their prize money.

“The … incentives that we were hoping our teams would see when they entered was that you may have to invest a little to win this challenge, but once you do, you’re going to highlight yourself as as solely capable or uniquely capable,” Master said.

In the Feb. 18 conference call, Kemp tempered expectations that Astra’s first orbital launch attempt might be 100 percent successful.

“We would be delighted, but are not expecting to fully achieve all of the objectives here,” Kemp said. “But the nation now has a completely portable launch system, and we are capable of, and will over the months ahead, launch and launch and launch again, potentially from different sites.

“Now we have the capability that DARPA wanted to see America challenged with creating, and I think to some degree taxpayers have already won because we’ve developed a system that will work,” Kemp said. “And we’re really excited to have the opportunity to compete.”

Master said the DARPA Launch Challenge was set up to be different from a typical military launch contract solicitation.

“While we’re extremely excited about having a team that that we’re hopeful is capable of completing this challenge — and we think that Astra’s approach seems like it’s viable — part of the goal setting us up as a challenge was was not having necessarily a preferred provider or preferred approach,” Master said.

In a typical procurement, DARPA or other military agencies might issue a request for proposals to ask for bids from contractors.

“And we award and manage a contract with those providers,” Master said. “In the case of the challenge, we basically set … goals and it’s really left to the team to decide how they’re going to accomplish those. It takes us a little bit out of the driver’s seat, which for an engineer is hard sometimes because you don’t have the specific insight.

“But we really are trying to say, while we’re hopeful for Astra and we would like to accomplish our goals … it’s not necessarily the only approach or DARPA’s preferred approach. But it is the one that is is most likely to accomplish the challenge in in the near-term here.”

Astra employees prepare to mate one of the small nano-payloads assigned to fly on first orbital launcher, designated “One of Three.” Credit: DARPA

DARPA revealed last week the payloads slated to fly on the first DARPA Launch Challenge mission.

One Prometheus CubeSat developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Department of Defense will fly on Astra’s rocket. A series of Prometheus CubeSats have launched on previous missions, and the shoebox-sized Prometheus nanosatellite launching from Kodiak will demonstrate capabilities aimed at “reducing tasking and data dissemination timelines to provide military operators with tactically relevant information.”

Two identical CubeSats from the University of South Florida will also launch on a mission named ARCE-1.

The twin CubeSats “will fly together in the same orbit and perform inter-satellite networked communications and a high degree of system autonomy,” according to DARPA.

“Through ARCE-1, the University of South Florida aims to demonstrate the algorithms and hardware systems necessary to support large constellations of LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites that will intelligently reconfigure around different tasks, gracefully handle faulty and failed satellites, and operate with a minimum of oversight from Earth-based operators,” officials wrote on DARPA’s website.

There’s also a miniature radio beacon that will remain attached to the Astra rocket’s second stage once in orbit. The Space Object Automated Reporting Systems, or SOARS, transmitter from Tiger Innovations will allow engineers to improve orbit tracking and space situational awareness.

Astra will attempt to place the payloads into an orbit roughly 276 miles (445 kilometers) in altitude, with an inclination of 97.2 degrees to the equator, according to Master.

“While we would like them to achieve that target orbit — ultimately customers want to achieve a target orbit — our success criterium from the challenge is achieving orbit,” Master said. “For the purpose of the challenge, we’ve defined orbit as a 250-kilometer (155-mile) circular orbit, which may sound low to some, but from a future military tactical use case would still show some benefit.

“We believe if a team is able to achieve orbit successfully through a series of first stage, second stage, payload separation, etc., that you have really accomplished the technical goals that we have set forth, and performance improvements can follow,” he said.

Assuming the first mission of the DARPA Launch Challenge reaches orbit, Astra will try to launch a second rocket with another set of nanosatellite payloads in the second half of March. The window for Launch 2 at Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska opens March 18, according to DARPA.

“To win this challenge, we have to be prepared in a few weeks to have another rocket,” Kemp said. “So the silent heroes are the teams back here in the Bay Area that are producing rockets. So we have a rocket factory that is producing rockets at about a rate of one per month, and we have another rocket 90 percent complete. And as we either succeed or as we learn — either outcome is fine for us — from this first launch, we will either make changes, or test and ship another rocket and launch again here in the next month or two.

“And we will keep doing that,” Kemp said. “I think without this contest, and without this challenge, this might have taken longer, and it certainly might not have been as possible for us to show up anywhere in the country with this capability.”

The rules of the DARPA Launch Challenge originally stipulated that the second flight must take off from a different launch site than Launch 1. Other launch sites under consideration by DARPA included Vandenberg Air Force Base and San Nicolas Island in California, and Wallops Island, Virginia.

In the end, DARPA directed Astra to ready for Launch 2 at a separate launch pad at Kodiak around 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the pad to be used for Launch 1.

“Our team will accomplish Launch 1 from one of those with the trajectory we’ve given them and payload that we’ve given them,” Master said. “If they’re successful, they will have to recalculate a new trajectory from a new pad with a different payload.

“The reason why we opted to do this (was) once we looked at it, we really didn’t want to make this a logistics challenge or a regulatory challenge,” Master said. “Whether we moved 5,000 miles or 1,000 feet, the technical challenges associated with it and the benefit to what we are trying to demonstrate from a goals standpoint remain the same.”

DARPA officials said they carefully considered staging Launch 2 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. But the launch range at Wallops is busier than Kodiak, with launch pads in use early this year by Northrop Grumman’s Antares and Minotaur rockets.

A new launch pad at Wallops for Rocket Lab, a competitor of Astra in the small launch market, is also undergoing final testing before the Rocket Lab’s first mission from Virginia in the coming months.

Public safety at Wallops, which lies closer to populated areas than the launch complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska, was also a concern, Master said.

Pam Underwood, manager of operations and integration at the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, said the federal regulatory agency will need to approve a separate license request from Astra for Launch 2 because it will take off from a separate launch pad at Kodiak and follow a different trajectory into space.

An FAA license for Launch 1 has already been approved, officials said.

With Astra’s launch from Kodiak Island, Alaska, Master said officials will experiment with techniques to reduce the impact of space launches on air traffic.

“Knowing in the future that we want to use space launch much more frequently. air traffic integration becomes an increasing challenge with that,” Master said. “Today, the way we treat it is generally space launches are treated as a national event, and we close lots and lots of air traffic corridors

“At a time when we do launches a dozen times a year, something like that is still trackable, but once we start to expand to hundreds of launches a year, that approach is no longer going to work,” he said. “So we identified pretty early on that we were going to have some challenges with that and wanted to put in place any early fixes that we could.”

The Space Data Integrator aims to incorporate data from launch and re-entry vehicles into operational air traffic management systems, allowing the FAA to track trajectories of launches and re-entry operations an the status of mission events, according to an FAA fact sheet on the project.

The FAA first activated the Space Data Integrator in “shadow mode” for a suborbital Blue Origin launch in 2018.

“This is where we start to integrate real-time data of launches into the broader air traffic control system and allow us to feed that information back to the FAA and then dynamically control the windows while maintaining safety,” said Mark Lester, president and CEO of Alaska Aerospace, which owns and operates the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska. “While we don’t have the congestion that the East Coast has, we do have trans-Pacific flights we need to be mindful of, and the local air carriers as well. So it’s exciting to integrate all this together as we increase our ops tempo.”

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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