NHC Eastern North Pacific Outlook


Eastern North Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Eastern North Pacific 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


ZCZC MIATWOEP ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
500 AM PDT Thu Aug 11 2022

For the eastern North Pacific...east of 140 degrees west longitude:

1. Offshore of Southwestern Mexico:
A very broad area of low pressure is located several hundred miles
off the southwestern coast of Mexico. Although this system is
showing some signs of organization in satellite imagery, shower and
thunderstorm activity has decreased since yesterday. In addition,
overnight satellite-derived wind data indicate that the system does
not have a well-defined center of circulation at the surface.
Environmental conditions still appear conducive for development, and
a tropical depression is likely to form by the end of the weekend
while it moves west-northwestward or northwestward at about 10 mph,
well offshore the coast of Mexico. The system is forecast to move
into an environment that is less conducive for development early
next week, and further development will be unlikely at that time.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...medium...60 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...high...80 percent.

Forecaster D. Zelinsky


NHC Atlantic Outlook


Atlantic 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Atlantic 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


ZCZC MIATWOAT ALL
TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
800 AM EDT Thu Aug 11 2022

For the North Atlantic...Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico:

1. Central Tropical Atlantic:
Shower activity is limited in association with a tropical wave
located roughly midway between the west coast of Africa and the
Lesser Antilles. Development of this system is not expected
due to unfavorable environmental conditions while it moves
west-northwestward at 15 to 20 mph during the next few days.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...near 0 percent.

Forecaster Cangialosi


CPHC Central North Pacific Outlook


Central North Pacific 2-Day Graphical Outlook Image
Central North Pacific 5-Day Graphical Outlook Image


ZCZC HFOTWOCP ALL
TTAA00 PHFO DDHHMM

Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center Honolulu HI
200 AM HST Thu Aug 11 2022

For the central North Pacific...between 140W and 180W:

1. Well south of the main Hawaiian Islands:
An area of low pressure located several hundred miles
south-southwest of the main Hawaiian Islands has been generating
showers and thunderstorms. Environmental conditions may allow some
gradual development of this system as it moves quickly west
northwest through the weekend.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...10 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...30 percent.

Elsewhere, no tropical cyclones are expected during the next 5
days.

Forecaster Kinel


Astro Digital Q&A: Taking smallsats to the mainstream

Astro Digital started out in 2015 with plans for an Earth observation constellation but pivoted three years later to instead provide its small satellite technology as a service for other operators.

The post Astro Digital Q&A: Taking smallsats to the mainstream appeared first on SpaceNews.

*Vanishing Asia*, by Kevin Kelly

Three volumes, $281.57, totally worth it.  Picture books!  Asia only, the vanishing part of course.  Very wide coverage of various regions, including parts of western Asia such as Georgia.  And yes this is the same Kevin Kelly who is a Hayekian, tech commentator, and much more.  It is thus one of the most conceptual picture books, noting the text is minimal and descriptive.

And it is not just the usual stuff, such as amazing old buildings or vistas of rice paddies and brightly colored festivals.  Kelly is not afraid to hit you with 40 door photos in a row, all lined up in neat little rows.

Might this be one of the very best picture books?  Based on 9,000 photographs and 50 years of travel, 40 of them spent taking photos, and none of it was paid for by other parties.  They don’t make ’em like this any more.  Recommended.

p.s. One trick of the book is that a lot of this stuff hasn’t vanished at all.  Note the gerund!

The post *Vanishing Asia*, by Kevin Kelly appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

      

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My excellent Conversation with Will MacAskill

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the summary:

William joined Tyler to discuss why the movement [Effective Altruism] has gained so much traction and more, including his favorite inefficient charity, what form of utilitarianism should apply to the care of animals, the limits of expected value, whether effective altruists should be anti-abortion, whether he’d would side with aliens over humans, whether he should give up having kids, why donating to a university isn’t so bad, whether we are living in “hingey” times, why buildering is overrated, the sociology of the effective altruism movement, why cultural innovation matters, and whether starting a new university might be next on his slate.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: Of all the inefficient things, which is the one you love most?

And longer:

COWEN: If we’re assessing the well-being of nonhuman animals, should we use preference utilitarianism or hedonistic utilitarianism? Because it will make a big difference. We’re not sure all these animals are happy. They may live lives of terror, but we’re pretty sure they want to stay alive.

MACASKILL: It makes a huge difference. I think the arguments for hedonism as a theory of well-being, where that saying that well-being consists only in conscious experiences — positive ones contribute positively, negative conscious experiences contribute negatively — I think the arguments for that as a theory of well-being and the theory of what’s good are very strong. It does mean that when you look to the lives of animals in the wild, my view is it’s just very nonobvious whether those lives are good or not.

That’s me being a little bit more optimistic than other people that have looked into this, but the optimism is mainly drawing from just lack of — I think we know very little about the conscious lives of fish, let alone invertebrates. But yes, if you have a preference satisfaction view, then I think the world looks a lot better because beings, in general, want to keep living.

Actually, when we look to the future as well, I think if you assess how good is the future going to be on a hedonist view, well, maybe it’s quite fragile. You could imagine lots of future ways that civilization could go, where they just don’t care about consciousness at all, or perhaps the beings that will, are not conscious. But probably, beings in the future will have preferences, and those preferences will be being satisfied. So, in general, moral reality looks a lot more rosy, I think, if you’re a preference satisfactionist.

COWEN: But it’s possible, say, in your view, that human beings should spend a lot of their time and resources going around destroying nature, since it might have negative net expected utility value.

MACASKILL: I think it’s a possible implication. I think it’d be very unlikely to be the best thing we could be doing because once —

COWEN: But there’s a lot of nature. We have very effective bombs, weapons. We could develop animal-killing weapons if we set our minds to it.

And from me:

COWEN: I worry a bit this is verging into the absurd, and I’m aware that word is a bit question-begging. But if we think about the individual level — like what do you, Will, value? — you value, in part, the inefficient. It’s very hard to give people just pure utilitarian advice, because they’re necessarily partial.

At the big macro level — like the whole world of nature versus humans, ethics of the infinite, and so on — it also seems to me utilitarianism doesn’t perform that well. The utilitarian part of our calculations — isn’t that only a mid-scale theory? You can ask, does rent control work? Are tariffs good? Utilitarianism is fine there, but otherwise, it just doesn’t make sense.

Fascinating throughout.  Don’t forget Will’s excellent new book What We Owe the Future.

Addendum: Here is Ezra Klein’s conversation with MacAskill.  And with Dwarkesh Patel.

The post My excellent Conversation with Will MacAskill appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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An Ig Henneman moment

Of Outside the Rain has stopped, Henneman writes: "Pianist/improviser Cecil Taylor’s intuitive, energetic, loosely structured flow is an important source of inspiration for this composition. Endless, nearly exhausting variations, caused by material I often employ as an improviser. Open strings are an essential colour throughout the composition. The Luna String Quartet was a great sparring partner in developing the material. The title is a sentence taken from Nicole Krauss’s novel The History of Love, which stuck in my memory."

Flooding Threats in the West and the Southeast

Thursday: Unemployment Claims, PPI

Thursday:
• At 8:30 AM ET, The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for 263 thousand up from 260 thousand last week.

• Also at 8:30 AM, The Producer Price Index for July from the BLS. The consensus is for a 0.3% increase in PPI, and a 0.4% increase in core PPI.

On COVID (focus on hospitalizations and deaths):

Hospitalizations have almost quadrupled from the lows in April 2022.

COVID Metrics
 NowWeek
Ago
Goal
New Cases per Day2107,077121,260≤5,0001
Hospitalized236,66337,632≤3,0001
Deaths per Day2395422≤501
1my goals to stop daily posts,
27-day average for Cases, Currently Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7-day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met.

COVID-19 Deaths per DayClick on graph for larger image.

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

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

A Lot Happening

A new report says that yesterday and today a lot of Jan 6th-involved Republicans in the Pennsylvania state legislature got visits or subpoenas from the FBI. The issue seems to be the fake electors scheme and people who either worked with or had knowledge of the actions of federal Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA).

Canada’s MDA eyes UK expansion

Canada’s MDA sees a growing opportunity to expand its international space business from the United Kingdom, where it plans to double its team to 80 employees in the next 12 months.

The post Canada’s MDA eyes UK expansion appeared first on SpaceNews.

Narrative Slipstream Effects

Drafting is a behavior in bird-flock-like systems where one agent rides the slipstream of another in a way that delivers a collectivizable benefit, usually net energy savings. The instantaneous savings rates from drafting can be very non-trivial, ranging from 5-50%, depending on the agent geometry, formation topology, physics of the situation, and other conditions. Birds, […]

Download your Wednesday ‘News from the 2022 Small Satellite show’ digital edition

The SpaceNews editorial team is producing a daily for the 2022 Small Satellite show, a nightly email newsletter and all-day web coverage during the 2022 Small Satellite show in Logan, Utah the week of August 9.

The post Download your Wednesday ‘News from the 2022 Small Satellite show’ digital edition appeared first on SpaceNews.

Trump Takes the Fifth

As the 45th president of the United States once said (well, tweeted), “If you are innocent, do not remain silent. You look guilty as hell!”

 ★ 

Lockheed Martin’s venture fund to increase investments in space companies

Lockheed Martin Ventures is increasing investments by $200 million and much of that will be focused on the space domain

The post Lockheed Martin’s venture fund to increase investments in space companies appeared first on SpaceNews.

Orbital Insight and Asterra join forces to monitor infrastructure

Orbital Insight announced plans Aug. 9 to work with Israeli startup Asterra to jointly provide remote sensing analytics to water utilities, infrastructure organizations and other industries.

The post Orbital Insight and Asterra join forces to monitor infrastructure appeared first on SpaceNews.

Where Things Stand: Trump Shares Video With QAnon Song, Conspiracy Theorists See Writing On The Wall

A few hours after the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort Monday night, the former president shared what appeared to be a campaign-style video on his official Truth Social page. You know, the place where he has to post all his stream-of-conscious screeds now that he’s been booted from normal social media for inciting violence and trying to do a coup.

The video is very dramatic and includes background sounds and imagery of a thunderstorm, while Trump declares that America is in “decline” and talks for four minutes about just how in “decline” America is. But the key thing that caught the attention of the media watchdog group Media Matters For America is the background music that plays on a loop after the thunderstorm noises have had their time to shine. The song is supposedly written by a QAnon artist who has released several QAnon-themed songs in the last few years.

Per Media Matters:

According to a Media Matters review using both Google’s voice assistant and Apple’s Shazam app, the music in Trump’s video is a song titled Wwg1wga, produced in 2020 by an artist using the name “Richard Feelgood” on Spotify. The acronym “wwg1wga” is a common shorthand in the QAnon community for the slogan “Where we go one, we go all.” Discussion of a supposedly imminent “storm” is also important in QAnon lore, referring to a prophesied event where Trump’s perceived enemies — who are also supposedly part of a global satanic cabal of pedophiles — would be arrested and possibly executed

The video also includes the phrase “the best is yet to come” — which, if it wasn’t already burned into your memory as it is in mine, that’s the phrase that Donald Trump’s Jr.’s fiancée Kimberly Guilfoyle dramatically screeched from the rafters during the Republican National Convention in 2020. Trump’s used the phrase a few times in the past as well, especially during his 2020 presidential campaign. But it’s also taken on substantial significance in the QAnon community as a slogan meant to reference the conspiracy theorists’ ongoing belief that Trump will expose all of the liberal elites as pedophiles, etc.

It’s not the first time Trump or his allies have nodded at QAnon-adjacent ideas. And it’s certainly not the first time that he’s shared QAnon content on his official Truth Social page. As is often the case when Trump winks in the direction of the conspiracy theory, the QAnon corners of the internet lit up this week, with some calling the inclusion of the song in the campaign-style video, “THE mother of all Q proofs.”

The difference this time is it was posted as Trump publicly flirts with running again in 2024 and in the wake of the FBI’s raid of his resort, reportedly as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump White House’s transportation of boxes of potentially classified information to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left office. And while some Republicans may have been attempting to create some distance between the party, 2024 and Trump, news of the raid unleashed a flurry of broken-brain reactions from far-right Republicans, who are behaving more dystopian-y than ever, with some reacting by calling for the FBI to be defunded and others warning of an impending Civil War.

The Best Of TPM Today

Here’s what you should read this evening:

Senate Committee Chair Grills DHS IG Over Failure To Notify Congress of Missing Texts Scandal

More here: Five Points On What We Know About the Missing Jan. 6 Texts

The latest from Josh Kovensky on the FBI raid: It’s A Mystery What The FBI Wanted At Mar-a-Lago, But Trump Knows

And more here, too: Trump Puts MAGA Legal Talent On Display After FBI Raid

In bizarre news of the day: DOJ Charges Iranian Operative With Plot To Murder Bolton

Vos Trashes Election ‘Investigation’ He Started After Trump Stabs Him In Back

MTG Demands To Speak To The Manager After FBI Seizes Rep. Perry’s Phone

Georgia Judge Tells Giuliani: Take A Train, Bus Or Uber

Breaking earlier today: Trump Refuses To Answer NY AG’s Questions, Invokes 5th Amendment

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Perspective and Calm in the Storm — Josh Marshall

What We Are Reading

The Obscenity Pivot — Dan Kois

Virginia Governor wants to force teachers to out students to parents — Greg Owen

As president, Trump approved a law increasing penalties for mishandling classified info. It could come back to bite him. — Tom Porter

Disney+ Grows to 152 Million Subscribers

Aisha Malik, reporting for TechCrunch:

The Walt Disney Company reported on Wednesday that total Disney+ subscriptions rose to 152.1 million during the company’s third quarter, posting better-than-expected results. The streaming service added 14.4 million subscribers in the quarter, beating expectations of 10 million. [...]

At the end of the quarter, Hulu had 46.2 million subscribers and ESPN+ had 22.8 million. These numbers bring Disney’s DTC subscribers to 221.1 million in total, which means that the company’s streaming services combined now surpass Netflix in total subscribers. Netflix reported 220.67 million total global subscribers for its third quarter after losing almost 970,000 subscribers.

Disney+, by itself, is still behind Netflix, but still, this is something. To me, it betrays Netflix’s glaring weakness: they’ve got nothing but their streaming service. I think what’s going to shake out is that streaming services are an add-on to fundamental products, not a fundamental product in and of themselves.

My question, at this point, is who is going to buy Netflix? Microsoft, I guess?

 ★ 

SpaceX loses $900 million in rural broadband subsidies

SpaceX has lost its bid for nearly $900 million in rural broadband subsidies for its Starlink broadband service. 

The post SpaceX loses $900 million in rural broadband subsidies appeared first on SpaceNews.

VP Is Doing A Commercial Space Thing In Oakland On Friday

Let websites framebust out of native apps

Back in 1996, the website TotalNews.com had a brilliantly evil idea. Why not make a single website that itself contained all the top American news websites, directly embedded within?

After all, why should people go to the trouble of visiting the Washington Post or New York Times websites directly? On TotalNews.com, the websites would be available in one place, with easy navigation.

Using a new technology called the HTML <frame> element, TotalNews embedded the top American news sites — content, design and everything! — in such a way that the news was always fresh. (Because, well, it was literally those other websites.)

Naturally, TotalNews added advertising around the news as well. It was only fair for them to be compensated with ad revenue for providing this incredible convenience.


Yeah, it was the early, wild west days of the web — but you have to admire their chutzpah. My own web browsing at the time was spent on Pearl Jam fan sites, so I never saw TotalNews firsthand, but this Archive.org snapshot from December 1996 provides a vague picture.

Somehow news sites didn’t appreciate TotalNews misappropriating and profiting from their content. So in February 1997, a group of them sued.

The case, The Washington Post, et als. v. TotalNews, Inc., et als., was settled out of court, and TotalNews was prohibited from embedding the sites going forward. This established a precedent, if not legally then at least culturally: Framing without permission was not OK.

But the shady practice continued. So much, in fact, that “framebuster” scripts became popular. This is the technique of putting some JavaScript in your site to check whether it’s currently being framed — and “breaking out of” the frame as needed. (See this excellent 2010 review of framebusting techniques and its accompanying slide deck for a technical overview.) This is essentially website self-defense.

Over time, web developers and security researchers realized there’s a more serious reason a website would want to protect against framing: clickjacking. That’s when, for example, a website frames your site, then hijacks user input such that users are fooled into thinking they’re interacting with your site while they’re actually providing data to the (evil) containing site. Imagine typing your bank credentials into (what you think is) your bank website, whereas it’s in fact an evil site logging everything you’ve typed.

These days, framebuster scripts are no longer necessary, because websites can use a special HTTP header, X-Frame-Options, to block framing in an elegant and effective way. And lovely web frameworks such as Django provide protection, via that header, out of the box. Framebusting is more or less a solved problem.

Except in one major case.


If you click a web link in the native Facebook, Instagram, Reddit or Twitter apps on your smartphone, you won’t be taken to your phone’s web browser. Instead, the app embeds the web page directly, so you don’t leave their environment.

For example, here’s what I got in the Twitter iOS app when I clicked the link in one of Simon Willison’s recent tweets:

Screenshot of in-app browser

To the untrained eye, this appears to be my phone’s web browser. It doesn’t identify itself as Twitter anywhere, and it looks, well, pretty plain.

But in fact, this is something entirely different — a more ephemeral thing called a “webview” or “in-app browser.” This is a way for a native app to embed a mini web browser, while asserting control over the user experience and attaching UI, functionality and other cruft. It looks like a separate browser, but in fact it’s still the Twitter app in disguise.

Seem familiar? This is framing, merely in app form. But this time, the framed website has no way to framebust.

It’s TotalNews — but for the 2020s, and much worse. These native apps aren’t (for the most part) putting advertising around websites — but they’re maintaining control over the user’s browsing experience, sometimes spying on users, and providing various problems for the framed websites, with zero recourse available for the users or website owners.

Somewhere along the way, despite a reasonably strong anti-framing culture, framing moved from being a huge no-no to a huge shrug. In a web context, it’s maligned; in a native app context, it’s totally ignored.

Why, precisely, is this bad? Here are four reasons. Each has a specific example, and in almost each case I have direct experience in my work running Soundslice.

Misappropriation

A native app can make misleading claims about the websites that it frames. And due to the seamless way webviews are implemented, a nontechnical user would have no way of knowing that they’re actually viewing a completely unaffiliated website in context of the native app.

For example, a few years ago we got word that an Android app was embedding Soundslice’s free MusicXML file viewer. The app was offering this as a “feature” to their users.

We didn’t find out about it until they had the nerve to contact us to report a bug regarding file upload within webviews.

We were doing everything right — our website already sends out the X-Frame-Options: Deny header, meaning we don’t allow framing. Yet native apps (and their mobile operating systems) ignore this header, which is a gaping loophole.

Poor user experience

If a native app opens a third-party website in a webview, that third-party site will begin a new session, without existing cookies. It’s effectively like using a web browser’s private (aka “incognito”) mode.

This means: If you’re logged into a website in your phone’s browser, but you click a link to that site from a native app’s webview, your logged-in state will not be honored. You’ll need to log in all over again.

At best, this is irritating. At worst, it gives people the false impression that the website is broken or logged them out.

A specific example is Soundslice’s Instagram account, where we highlight stuff people have created on our platform. If you see something on our Instagram and want to add it to a practice list in your Soundslice account, you quickly run into friction when opening the link within the Instagram app. Even if you’re logged into Soundslice in your phone’s browser, the Instagram app doesn’t honor your Soundslice login.

[Instagram is a particularly heinous example, because it doesn’t even let you add a link to a post. If you enter a URL in an Instagram post, it will not turn into a clickable link. Only one link, the one in your channel bio, is clickable. An entire cottage industry has formed around this “link in bio” madness.]

Yes, you can copy-and-paste the URL (if the webview displays it), or you can choose an “Open in web browser” option (if the webview provides it). But either case requires nontrivial technical sophistication. Most users would just say “Aw, man, I’ve somehow been logged out of Soundslice” and assign the blame to us.

Proponents of native apps would likely argue “But it’s a better user experience from the perspective of the native app! Because the user doesn’t have to context-switch into a different environment, aka the web browser.” There was indeed a time when this argument made sense: the years before 2015, which is when iOS 9 introduced a global Back button conveniently solving the problem. And of course Android has its global Back button. These days this argument holds no water.

Proponents of native apps would also likely say: “If you had your own native app, this problem would be solved, because you can register a link handler that will automatically open all soundslice.com URLs in your native app.” iOS calls this Universal Links; Android calls it App Links. This is true. It’s also an unreasonable, disproportionate demand. I shouldn’t have to develop a native app simply to wrangle control over how my website’s links are treated.

Weird, non-standard browsers

Popular apps such as Instagram and Facebook don’t just use vanilla webviews. They use customized ones, with their own quirks.

This means: If you click a link in the Facebook app and it opens in Facebook’s webview, the website might be slightly broken. In my experience, page dimensions/layout can be affected, and the website is provided incorrect information about its environment.

I highly recommend reading Alex Russell’s piece Hobson’s Browser, full of technical details on the deficiencies of in-app browsers.

A specific example is yet again Soundslice. Our main content type — the thing we usually link to — is a piece of interactive sheet music, which is dynamically sized to your screen. We’ve specifically had problems with the Instagram webview not properly communicating its screen size — leading our site to apply incorrect dimensions to the sheet music. Again, it’s a situation where we look bad due to an obscure technical detail outside our control.

Hilariously, a few years ago a Facebook employee announced they added a way to debug your website when it’s viewed in context of the Facebook in-app browser. After I replied it’d be easier if Facebook just opened links in the default browser in the first place, the employee rationalized the webview by saying it helps protect people. Which brings us to:

Security

This is the most important problem, though fortunately it’s the only one I haven’t directly experienced in my own work.

When a native app embeds a website via a webview, the native app has control over that page. Yes, even if it’s on a domain that the native app doesn’t control (!). This means the native app can inject whatever JavaScript it likes into any website that’s viewed in the webview.

Today I read an astounding exposé by Felix Krause, in which he discovered the Facebook and Instagram iOS apps inject JavaScript into all web pages that are viewed in their webviews. You should read and process this.

Facebook has a sterling reputation to uphold, so I’m sure they wouldn’t do anything horrible here. But more nefarious apps could steal passwords or perform other types of attacks.

The more I think about it, the more I cannot believe webviews with unfettered JavaScript access to third-party websites ever became a legitimate, accepted technology. It’s bad for users, and it’s bad for websites.

But fortunately, I think something can be done about all this.

A proposed solution

Fundamentally this is about power. It’s a struggle between four participants:

  • The user wants to click a link to a website, retaining any useful state, with the ability to freely jump between apps/sites.
  • The website wants the user to have a smooth experience.
  • The native app wants to keep the user within its app (aka lock-in). In some cases, such as Facebook, the app wants to collect detailed information about the user’s browsing behavior.
  • The mobile operating system (iOS and Android) wants developers to build native apps on its platform. The web is a bit of an afterthought, a lower priority.

At the moment, the power is squarely in the hands of the last two. I believe it should be more balanced, giving website owners a way to opt out of this behavior — in old-school terms, a way to framebust.

So my proposal is this: Apple and Google should honor the existing X-Frame-Options HTTP header in webviews. If a website is loaded into a webview, and the website includes the appropriate X-Frame-Options header, the mobile OS should immediately stop loading the webview and open the URL in the user’s preferred web browser.

This elegantly uses an existing technology and gives websites a much-needed opt out.

Unfortunately, the only way for this to happen would be to convince Apple and Google to do it. I can’t imagine a general opt-out solution that doesn’t involve iOS and Android providing hooks at the OS level. And, as Co-Monopolists Of The World Of Native Phone Apps, Apple and Google have zero incentive to make such a change.

It could in theory be implemented by individual apps, but I wouldn’t trust Facebook to do this because of conflict of interest. And the sad precedent of the Do Not Track header is instructive.

Our best bet is regulatory intervention, along the lines of what Open Web Advocacy is doing. In collecting my thoughts here, I hope to start this conversation. The modern version of TotalNews must be reined in.

Increased solar activity creates new challenges for smallsats

space weather illustration

A new solar activity cycle that may be stronger than forecast poses challenges for smallsat operators keeping their spacecraft in orbit and functioning.

The post Increased solar activity creates new challenges for smallsats appeared first on SpaceNews.

U.S. Army a key customer of BlackSky’s next-generation imaging satellite

BlackSky will launch a new imaging satellite in 2023 that will be used exclusively by the U.S. Army for tests and experiments.

The post U.S. Army a key customer of BlackSky’s next-generation imaging satellite appeared first on SpaceNews.

Links 8/10/22

Links for you. Science:

Association of Receiving a Fourth Dose of the BNT162b Vaccine With SARS-CoV-2 Infection Among Health Care Workers in Israel
Aeromonas salmonicida intra-species divergence revealed by the various strategies displayed when grazed by Tetrahymena pyriformis
Antigenic characterization of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron subvariant BA.2.75
More Monkeypox Cases Found In Kids As School Return Looms
Typhoid mutated to beat antibiotics. Science is learning how to beat those strains
Next Generation Covid Vaccine Update: Intranasal & Other Mucosal Vaxes

Other:

America Supports Abortion. It’s time to act like it
Republicans Just Exposed Their Greatest Weakness
How Pop Culture, Politics, Science, and Business Got So Old. In practically every field of human endeavor, the average age of achievement and power is rising.
How a Farmer’s Hunch Led to a Lost Monastery and a Neolithic Surprise
Feds Want a Policy That Advocates Say Would Let Hospitals Off the Hook for Covid-Era Lapses
“Downgrade your mask before entering”—a dangerous NHS policy at a critical public health juncture
Bruce Springsteen fans face $5,000 tickets — and a ‘crisis of faith’
The Kansas abortion vote should never have happened
‘Never seen it this bad’: America faces catastrophic teacher shortage
FBI lacks full picture of reported threats to election officials, congressional testimony says
The city that pioneered Europe’s car-free future
How Monkeypox Messaging And Response Is Failing, According To Local LGBTQ+ Advocates
Metro hires new chief operating officer
The Story Behind ‘Star Trek’ Actress Nichelle Nichols’ Iconic Interracial Kiss
Orbán the Toe: Testing Where The Line Is
Fritz Pollard: An African American founding father of the NFL
After A Rocky Relationship With The Public, One D.C. Government Agency Is Breaking Up
Dan Goldman fired voter outreach consultant for offensive tweets after being contacted by City & State. The Democrat who worked on Trump’s first impeachment had hired a Trump-supporting Republican. (Democrats who hire Republican apparatchiks should not be elected in Democratic primaries)
What $50 billion in taxpayer aid for airlines did not fix
Vin Scully, a Babe Ruth of the broadcast booth, dies at 94
Man wakes up and it is 250 years later.
Let’s Use the Money Meant to Alleviate Poverty to Actually Help People
President Joe Biden signs executive order in effort to protect travel for abortion

DARPA selects companies for inter-satellite laser communications project

Eleven organizations were selected by DARPA to help develop laser terminals and technical standards to connect satellites in space.

The post DARPA selects companies for inter-satellite laser communications project appeared first on SpaceNews.

Will travelers bifurcate into “challenge” and “comfort”?

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

When people are forced to adjust, as happened during peak pandemic times, they learn new things. What many Americans and Westerners have learned is that they enjoy “comfort travel” as much if not more than “challenge travel.” A lot of the new habits are going to stick. Especially with group travel, the preferences of comfort travelers will tend to win out in choosing a destination.

One slightly sorry truth is that many people do not very much enjoy challenge travel, which can be stressful and almost like work. When the social and group pressures to do it are removed or lessened, challenge travel is likely to decline, although the hardcore challenge travelers will remain and perhaps even expand their ambitions.

The future for challenge travel, then, may be that it becomes both less popular and more intense. In this sense it may harken back to an earlier era of travel, where risk and difficulty were ever present and surprises were frequent.

I am posting this from Ahmedabad and headed next to Udaipur…

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Serena Williams Announces Her Retirement From Tennis

Serena Williams, in a cover story for Vogue:

I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me. A few years ago I quietly started Serena Ventures, a venture capital firm. Soon after that, I started a family. I want to grow that family. [...]

I started playing tennis with the goal of winning the U.S. Open. I didn’t think past that. And then I just kept winning. I remember when I passed Martina Hingis’s grand slam count. Then Seles’s. And then I tied Billie Jean King, who is such an inspiration for me because of how she has pioneered gender equality in all sports. Then it was climbing over the Chris Evert–Martina Navratilova mountain. There are people who say I’m not the GOAT because I didn’t pass Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam titles, which she achieved before the “open era” that began in 1968. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record. Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her. If I’m in a grand slam final, then yes, I am thinking about that record. Maybe I thought about it too much, and that didn’t help. The way I see it, I should have had 30-plus grand slams. I had my chances after coming back from giving birth. I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a grand slam final. I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression. But I didn’t get there. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. I didn’t show up the way I should have or could have. But I showed up 23 times, and that’s fine. Actually it’s extraordinary. But these days, if I have to choose between building my tennis résumé and building my family, I choose the latter.

23 grand slam titles to her name, and still competing at the highest level at age 41. Williams gets my vote as the best female athlete ever. That she thinks she should have won over 30 grand slam titles — that’s the mindset she needed to get to 23.

 ★ 

NASA cubesat bumped from rideshare launch because of orbital debris mitigation concerns

Atlas 5 SBIRS GEO-6 launch

A NASA cubesat was removed from a recent rideshare launch opportunity on a U.S. Space Force mission because the spacecraft could not meet guidelines for deorbiting at the end of its life.

The post NASA cubesat bumped from rideshare launch because of orbital debris mitigation concerns appeared first on SpaceNews.

Homebuyers Hit Brakes in July, Sellers Hold Back

Today, in the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter: Homebuyers Hit Brakes in July, Sellers Hold Back

A brief excerpt:
The big story for July existing home sales is the sharp year-over-year (YoY) decline in sales. Another key story is that new listings are down YoY in July. Of course, active listings are up sharply.
...
Notes for all tables:

1. New additions to table in BOLD.

2. Northwest (Seattle), Santa Clara (San Jose), Jacksonville, Source: Northeast Florida Association of REALTORS®

3. Totals do not include Atlanta, Denver (included in state totals)

Conforming Loan LimitAnd here is a table for new listings in July. For these areas, new listings were down 8.6% YoY.

Last month, new listings in these markets were up 3.9% YoY. Overall, we aren’t seeing a pickup in new listings in these markets. In most markets, new listings are down YoY.
...
Much more to come!
There is much more in the article. You can subscribe at https://calculatedrisk.substack.com/

Artemis Lunar Landings Will Be Rare Events

The new Russ Roberts book

Wild Problems: A Guide to the Decisions That Define Us

Out this week, I am looking forward to reading my copy, you can order it here.

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Fox News on Hillary, but Make the Footage Trump

One minute of sublime self-petard-hoisting, courtesy of The Daily Show. The Lincoln Project should run this as a commercial on Fox itself.

 ★ 

First cubesat completed for NASA space science constellation

SunRISE

The Space Dynamics Laboratory has completed the first of a constellation of cubesats for NASA that will act as a giant radio telescope in space to study space weather.

The post First cubesat completed for NASA space science constellation appeared first on SpaceNews.

Wednesday assorted links

1. Zohar Atkins thread on EA.

2. How big is the housing shortage?

3. The culture and polity  that is German: “darf in der SPD bleiben.”

4. The Danielle Steel production function.

5. Are people who post on social media from a smartphone (rather than PC) more likely to seek “uniqueness”?

6. Do people underestimate the joy of waiting and thinking?

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Senate Map Expanding

I’m not saying I expect to see a new Democratic senator from North Carolina. But the Democrats’ Senate map is expanding. There have been four polls of the North Carolina Senate race since mid-June (Budd v. Beasley), three of them GOP-funded. Their margins for Democrat Cheri Beasley have been, in order, Beasley – 5, Beasley -3, Beasley +2, Beasley +4. That’s a pretty nice trend for Beasley.

North Carolina has been a heartbreaker for Democrats in recent cycles. I’m not predicting a Democratic pick up. But this is clearly a competitive race. At a minimum Republicans are going to have to fight to hold that seat.

Cleveland Fed: Median CPI increased 0.5% and Trimmed-mean CPI increased 0.4% in July

The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI and the trimmed-mean CPI this morning:

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the median Consumer Price Index rose 0.5% in July. The 16% trimmed-mean Consumer Price Index increased 0.4% in July. "The median CPI and 16% trimmed-mean CPI are measures of core inflation calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on data released in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly CPI report".

Note: The Cleveland Fed released the median CPI details here"Motor Fuel" decreased at a 61% annualized rate in July!

Note that Owners' Equivalent Rent and Rent of Primary Residence account for almost 1/3 of median CPI, and these measures were up between 3% annualized in the Northeast and almost 11% in the South with an average of close to 7.5%. The year-over-year increase was smaller in July than in June.  

Inflation Measures Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the year-over-year change for these four key measures of inflation. 

On a year-over-year basis, the median CPI rose 6.3%, the trimmed-mean CPI rose 7.0%, and the CPI less food and energy rose 5.9%. Core PCE is for June and increased 4.8% year-over-year.

Student payloads to fly on RocketStar suborbital test flight

TriSept Corp. has integrated two experimental payloads built by university students on a RocketStar suborbital test flight scheduled to launch next month.

The post Student payloads to fly on RocketStar suborbital test flight appeared first on SpaceNews.

As One Does

At the end of a lengthy statement attacking New York AG Tish James, Trump admits he took the 5th.

Nota Bene: 8.10.22

* Judge tells Rudy Giuliani no dice (sub. req.). He must appear before a Fulton County grand jury next week (Aug. 17th) unless he can provide a better explanation from a doctor about why it is medically impossible for him to do so.

* The Kremlin is paying millions to a notorious American conspiracy theorist, Ben Swann, to create a series of news style TV shows aimed at blackening America’s image around the world. Here’s the FARA filing.

NanoAvionics expands into heavier smallsat market

NanoAvionics said Aug. 10 it has extended its range of modular satellite buses in another step toward the heavier end of the small satellite market.

The post NanoAvionics expands into heavier smallsat market appeared first on SpaceNews.

Early Look at 2023 Cost-Of-Living Adjustments and Maximum Contribution Base

The BLS reported this morning:
The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) increased 9.1 percent over the last 12 months to an index level of 292.219 (1982-84=100). For the month, the index declined 0.1 percent prior to seasonal adjustment.
CPI-W is the index that is used to calculate the Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA). The calculation dates have changed over time (see Cost-of-Living Adjustments), but the current calculation uses the average CPI-W for the three months in Q3 (July, August, September) and compares to the average for the highest previous average of Q3 months. Note: this is not the headline CPI-U and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA).

• In 2021, the Q3 average of CPI-W was 268.421.

The 2021 Q3 average was the highest Q3 average, so we only have to compare Q3 this year to last year.

CPI-W and COLA Adjustment Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows CPI-W since January 2000. The red lines are the Q3 average of CPI-W for each year.

Note: The year labeled is for the calculation, and the adjustment is effective for December of that year (received by beneficiaries in January of the following year).

CPI-W was up 9.1% year-over-year in July, and although this is early - we need the data for July, August and September - my early guess is COLA will probably be around 8.5% to 9.0% this year, the largest increase since 11.2% in 1981 (and larger than the 7.4% increase in 1982).

Contribution and Benefit Base

The contribution base will be adjusted using the National Average Wage Index. This is based on a one-year lag. The National Average Wage Index is not available for 2021 yet, but wages probably increased again in 2021. If wages increased 4% in 2021, then the contribution base next year will increase to around $153,000 in 2023, from the current $147,000.

Remember - this is an early look. What matters is average CPI-W, NSA, for all three months in Q3 (July, August and September).

SpaceX breathes fire in South Texas for the first time in 2022

SpaceX conducts a hot fire test of the Booster 7 rocket on Tuesday, August 9, 2022.

Enlarge / SpaceX conducts a hot fire test of the Booster 7 rocket on Tuesday, August 9, 2022. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX ignited engines on both the first and second stages of its Starship launch system on Wednesday, signaling that it is getting closer to a test flight of the massive rocket later this year.

On Monday evening at 5:20 pm local time in South Texas, engineers ignited a single Raptor engine on the Super Heavy booster that serves as the rocket's first stage. This is the first time the company has conducted a static fire test of the booster, which will ultimately be powered by 33 Raptor rocket engines.

About three hours later, on a separate mount at its "Starbase" facility in Texas, SpaceX ignited two engines on the Starship upper stage of the rocket. The company later shared a short video on Twitter of the evidently successful test.

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Democrats Feel Good, Now Professional Democrats Need to Mobilize Them

Lara Putnam and Micah L. Sifry made a very good point a couple of weeks ago (boldface mine):

National Democratic and progressive groups together burned through the surge of liberal organizing under Mr. Trump, treating impassioned newcomers like cash cows, gig workers and stamp machines to be exploited, not a grass-roots base to be tended. Worse, research by academics and political professionals alike suggests many of the tactics they pushed to engage voters proved ineffective.

Some may even have backfired. Millions of dollars and hours were wasted in 2018 and 2020. And yet, as the party stares down a bleak midterm landscape, with abortion rights on the line, the Democratic establishment and progressive organizations alike are doubling down on the same old tactics.

For all the conflict between mainstream Democratic and progressive leaders, most share a common way of thinking about electoral politics. To the “Beltway Brain,” as we think of it, voters are data points best engaged via atomized campaigns orchestrated from afar.

The core role of supporters is to be whipped into panicked giving by messages like this one from Nancy Pelosi on April 28: “I asked — several times. Barack Obama told you the stakes. Joe Biden made an urgent plea,” she said. “I don’t know how else to say this, so I’ll be blunt: All these top Democrats would not be sounding the alarm if our democracy wasn’t in immediate danger of falling to Republicans in this election. I need 8,371 patriots to step up before time runs out, rush $15, and help me close the fund-raising gap before the End of Month Deadline in 48 hours.”

Inside Democratic fund-raising circles, this tactic is known as “churn and burn”: a way of squeezing money out of individual donors that reliably produces brief spikes in donations but over the course of an election cycle overwhelms their willingness to keep giving. Even worse, these apocalyptic messages fuel despair. If “democracy is in the balance” and then Democrats fail to pass restorative measures, voters inevitably must wonder, why keep trying?

…A political party that has few, if any, year-round structures in place to reach voters through trusted interlocutors — and learn from how they respond — can do no more than lurch from crisis to crisis, raising money off increasingly apocalyptic emails, with dire warnings “sounding the alarm” about a democracy in “immediate danger of falling.”

Republicans, of course, also treat the news as an endless series of crises. But their calls to oppose socialism or critical race theory or transgender-inclusive bathrooms generate energy that flows into local groups that have a lasting, visible presence in their communities, such as anti-abortion networks, Christian home-schoolers, and gun clubs. Right-wing activists are encouraged to run for local office by overlapping regional, statewide and national personal networks that conservatives have built with decades of sustained investment. When not connected to such networks, Democrats receiving apocalyptic messages can feel more battered than activated, leading to demoralization and despair.

If democracy is indeed on fire, the thing to do is to stop asking people to buy water bottles and organize them into fire brigades instead. Neither the national Democratic Party nor progressive leaders seem to have learned that lesson.

A couple minor points of disagreement. This patterns goes back to the Obama administration when they demobilized rank-and-file Democrats–it did not begin in the Trump era. When these grassroots organizations are successful, that means professional Democrats will cede (some) power to them. They don’t want rank-and-file Democrats, including the moderate ones, telling them what to do: it’s their party, and we’re either customers or the help (if we give a lot of money, we get to be members).

Right now, there is a lot of energy, but where does it get directed? Other than donations, has any Democrat pointed out where you can go to help turn out the vote or engage in other political activity? While rank-and-file Democrats, regardless of ideology, likely will turn out at higher than usual numbers due to abortion (and gun violence), how does the party harness that energy into activities that capture lower-attachment voters?

And does the Democratic Party even want to do so?

Capella unveils a new generation of radar satellites

Capella Space intends to offer improved image resolution and quality with a new generation of synthetic aperture radar satellites, called Acadia, scheduled to launch in early 2023.

The post Capella unveils a new generation of radar satellites appeared first on SpaceNews.

BLS: CPI Unchanged in July; Core CPI increased 0.3%

From the BLS:
The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) was unchanged in July on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 1.3 percent in June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 8.5 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The gasoline index fell 7.7 percent in July and offset increases in the food and shelter indexes, resulting in the all items index being unchanged over the month. The energy index fell 4.6 percent over the month as the indexes for gasoline and natural gas declined, but the index for electricity increased. The food index continued to rise, increasing 1.1 percent over the month as the food at home index rose 1.3 percent.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3 percent in July, a smaller increase than in April, May, or June. The indexes for shelter, medical care, motor vehicle insurance, household furnishings and operations, new vehicles, and recreation were among those that increased over the month. There were some indexes that declined in July, including those for airline fares, used cars and trucks, communication, and apparel.

The all items index increased 8.5 percent for the 12 months ending July, a smaller figure than the 9.1-percent increase for the period ending June. The all items less food and energy index rose 5.9 percent over the last 12 months. The energy index increased 32.9 percent for the 12 months ending July, a smaller increase than the 41.6-percent increase for the period ending June. The food index increased 10.9 percent over the last year, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending May 1979.
emphasis added
The consensus was for 0.2% increase in CPI, and a 0.5% increase in core CPI. Both were below expectations. I'll post a graph later today after the Cleveland Fed releases the median and trimmed-mean CPI.

Pharmacy Benefit Managers--Alex Chan on NPR's Planet Money podcast

 Alex Chan is interviewed on the role of pharmacy benefit managers, their role in drug pricing, and some problems with the market design.


Nelson satisfied with NASA authorization act

Nelson at NAC meeting

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson says the agency has “gotten what we need” from an authorization bill that became law Aug. 9.

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MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Increase in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications increased 0.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending August 5, 2022.

... The Refinance Index increased 4 percent from the previous week and was 82 percent lower than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 1 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent compared with the previous week and was 19 percent lower than the same week one year ago.

“Mortgage rates remained volatile last week – after drops in the previous two weeks, mortgage rates ended up rising four basis points. Mortgage applications were relatively flat, with a decline in purchase activity offset by an increase in refinance applications,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “The purchase market continues to experience a slowdown, despite the strong job market. Activity has now fallen in five of the last six weeks, as buyers remain on the sidelines due to still-challenging affordability conditions and doubts about the strength of the economy.”

Added Kan, “Refinance applications increased over three percent but remained more than 80 percent lower than a year ago in this higher rate environment.”
...
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($647,200 or less) increased to 5.47 percent from 5.43 percent, with points increasing to 0.80 from 0.65 (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 higher mortgage rates, the refinance index has declined sharply over the last several months.

The refinance index is just above the lowest level since the year 2000.

The second graph shows the MBA mortgage purchase index

Mortgage Purchase IndexAccording to the MBA, purchase activity is down 19% year-over-year unadjusted.

The purchase index is now only 12% above the pandemic low.

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

Maxar’s satellite business looks to gain foothold in defense market

To offset a downturn in commercial satellite sales, Maxar is positioning itself to compete in the national security arena, Chris Johnson, head of Maxar’s satellite manufacturing operations, tells SpaceNews in an exclusive interview.

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Turning the phone into a tool again

I've been keen to use my phone less for a long time. So on a recent holiday, I banished it completely for a week, while reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. That felt great. But as Newport notes, it's easy to fall back into bad old habits, if all you do is a sabbatical from your phone. His book details a bunch of good remedies, but one approach I've found especially effective since returning to daily life has been to essentially remove all apps from the Home Screen. Mine now looks like this:

home screen with cosmos and three apps.jpeg


I do have other apps on my phone, but starting any of them now requires pulling down from the top to reveal the search area. I then type the name of the app, and just start that:

searching on ios.jpeg


This setup accomplishes several things. First, it adds friction to any use of the phone beyond the most basic, like messaging with my wife, or making a phone call. Any use that's actually worth doing is easily worth the friction, but any frivolous use now faces a helpful hurdle to deter it. Second, I no longer open my phone to do one thing, then get dragged into a muscle-memory tour of other apps while I'm there. It's far easier to simple do the thing I desired to do, then put the phone away, when I'm literally staring into the cosmos after completing any single task.

The photos app is there as a form of digital metadone. If old habits overcome my intentions, and I frivolously reach for the phone to kill a moment, the only slot machine available on the first row is my personal photo album. If you long-press on the Photos app, you'll get the option to see pictures from One Year Ago. So I'll do that, enjoy 5-10 photos, usually of my family, or racing, or traveling, from a year ago, and that'll be that. There's no forever scrolling feed of novelty that can suck me in for hours on end. Just a small slice of happy memories.

While this has been working really well so far, Newport is right to note that escaping the phone addiction takes more than just a quick or clever hack. You have to replace the time spent using the phone with better alternatives. So this is hardly The One Thing Silicon Valley Doesn't Want You To Know, but it's a help and a start. Give it a try.

One reason why a global carbon tax is impossible

Consequently, from a regional perspective, there are large disagreements about the welfare effects of carbon taxes: when a uniform carbon tax is imposed across all regions, with revenues redistributed locally as a lump sum so that there are no interregional transfers, some regions gain and others lose, often by large amounts that swamp the globally-averaged benefits of carbon taxes.

The microfoundations of that claim are interesting:

At the regional level, the optimal annual average temperature (at which the calibrated inverse U -shape governing how labor productivity varies with temperature reaches its peak) is approximately 12 degrees Celsius (C); an increase of regional temperature from 10 C to 12 C increases a region’s total factor productivity (TFP) by about 1%, while a further increase in annual average temperature from 12 C to 14 C reduces its TFP by about 2%.

Here are some bottom-line numbers on the global costs of climate change, with and without a carbon tax regime:

Without taxes global GDP reaches its nadir (relative to trend) just after 2190, when it is about 7.3% below the trend that would have obtained starting in 1990 without further global warming. With taxes, global GDP reaches its nadir just before 2190, at about 5.5% below trend.

Again, the costs of climate change are a few years of global economic growth.  That is a big deal, and worth attending to, but far from an existential risk.

Here is the 160 pp. NBER working paper by Per Krusell and Anthony A. Smith Jr.

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Falcon 9 rocket deploys SpaceX’s 3,000th Starlink internet satellite

This long exposure photo shows SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket streaking into the sky over the Kennedy Space Center Tuesday night. Credit: Michael Cain / Spaceflight Now / Coldlife Photography

Fifty-two satellites are on the way to join SpaceX’s Starlink internet network after a sky-lighting blastoff from the Kennedy Space Center Tuesday night, a mission that included the 3,000th spacecraft to launch for the Starlink constellation.

The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 10:14:40 p.m. EDT Tuesday (0214:40 GMT Wednesday). The rocket’s nine Merlin 1D main engines flashed to life and the Falcon thundered into a moonlit sky over Florida’s Space Coast, heading northeast to line up with an orbital plane in SpaceX’s Starlink network.

The rocket accelerated through the speed of sound about one minute into the flight, then continued downrange until the Falcon 9’s first stage shut off its nine Merlin engines just shy of the two-and-a-half minute point of the mission. The 15-story-tall first stage separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage, then pulsed cold gas thrusters and extend titanium hypersonic grid fins to prepare for the searing plunge back into the atmosphere.

A restart of three of the Merlin main engines slowed the rocket down as it descended into thicker air, then a final landing burn with the center engine allowed the booster to brake for touchdown on a drone ship parked in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles east of Charleston, South Carolina.

Landing of the first stage on the drone ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” completed the booster’s third flight to space. The Falcon 9 first stage, designated B1073 in SpaceX’s inventory, debuted in May and notched a second flight in June.

The Falcon 9’s single-use upper stage continued into orbit with a six-minute burn of its single Merlin engine, which cut off around the same time as the first stage booster landed on SpaceX’s drone ship. The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing jettisoned during the second stage burn. A recovery ship was also on station in the Atlantic to retrieve the two halves of the nose cone after they splashed down under parachutes.

The upper stage was programmed to deploy the 52 Starlink satellites at T+plus 15 minutes, 24 seconds. The rocket targeted an orbital altitude between 144 miles and 208 miles (232-by-335 kilometers).

The Starlink satellites separated from the Falcon 9’s upper stage after it released four retention rods that held the spacecraft to the rocket during launch. SpaceX’s launch team confirmed the deployment of the satellites into an on-target orbit.

The satellites will deploy their power-generating solar arrays and use ion engines to climb to an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers). The orbit-raising maneuvers typically take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the orbital plane targeted for each spacecraft.

With the new satellites launched Tuesday night, SpaceX has lofted 3,009 Starlink satellites into orbit on Falcon 9 rockets, including prototypes and earlier spacecraft designs no longer in service. The launch Tuesday was the 54th Falcon 9 flight primarily dedicated to carrying Starlink satellites into orbit.

A tabulation by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and expert tracker of spaceflight activities, shows there are 2,662 Starlink satellites functional in orbit, as of Tuesday. The network has a 2,268 satellites operational providing consumer broadband services, and the rest are maneuvering into the final orbital positions, according to McDowell.

SpaceX more than halfway through the build-out of its first-generation Starlink network, which will number around 4,400 active satellites spread out in five orbital “shells,” according the company’s filings with the Federal Communications Commission.

Credit: Spaceflight Now

The Starlink satellites use laser inter-satellite links to facilitate data transfers in orbit, without needing to relay signals through ground stations, which come with geographical, and sometimes political, constraints. Laser crosslinks can also reduce latency in the Starlink network because signals need to travel a shorter distance.

SpaceX won approval from the Federal Communications Commission in June to begin offering Starlink connectivity to mobile customers. So far, Starlink services have focused on fixed customers, such as homes, businesses, and schools.

The company announced last month it will offer Starlink internet for customers on boats, yachts, oil rigs, and other users in the maritime market. Several airlines have tested or agreed to use Starlink connectivity on aircraft to provide in-flight WiFi for passengers.

The launch Tuesday night, designated Starlink 4-26, was SpaceX’s 35th Falcon 9 mission of the year, and the 169th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket overall.

The next Falcon 9 launch is scheduled for Friday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California with another group of Starlink internet satellites heading one of the network’s polar orbit shells. That will be followed by another Falcon 9 launch for the Starlink network set for Aug. 16 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Why renewable subsidies are better than carbon taxes

"Assembly: Team China Solar Panel Installation" by Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

The Inflation Reduction Act is first and foremost about creating abundance — about lowering the cost of living for the average American. It also just so happens to be the most significant piece of climate legislation in U.S. history. Climate wonks are overjoyed, and rightly so.

But the IRA didn’t approach climate change the way most climate economists wanted it to. For decades, climate economists have focused rather obsessively on the idea of carbon taxes. While Democratic politicians were talking about investment and green jobs and technology, climate economists were maintaining their laser-like focus on measuring the “social cost of carbon” so we could design the perfectly-sized tax. Bob Kopp of Rutgers has a good thread of soul-searching about why climate economists ended up making themselves so irrelevant to climate policy, and what could be done to correct course:

Except for a tax on methane emissions, the IRA employs subsidies rather than taxes. Instead of charging companies for emitting greenhouse gases, subsidies pay companies to switch to specific renewable technologies like solar power and electric vehicles. Economists tend to think carbon taxes are superior to subsidies, because taxes allow companies to reduce emissions by whatever is the most efficient method (renewables, energy efficiency, simply cutting production, etc.), while subsidies focus only on specific alternatives for specific pieces of the emissions puzzle.

So why have climate policymakers so resolutely ignored carbon taxes and focused on subsidies instead? Part of the reason is politics — taxes make people feel poorer, even if you pair them with cash benefits, which is why carbon tax initiatives fail at the ballot box even the greenest of states. But in fact there’s a deeper economic reason why they IRA’s subsidy-centric approach is better than what climate economists would have given us. Renewable technology subsidies are simply a better climate policy than carbon taxes, and the climate economists didn’t realize this because they were asking the wrong question.

The real climate problem

Read more

A new study of the European Research Council

I find these results not entirely surprising:

We examine whether the ERC selected researchers with a track record of conducting risky research. We proxy high-risk by a measure of novelty in the publication records of applicants both before and after the application, recognizing that it is but one dimension of risk. We control and interact the risk measure with high-gain by tracking whether the applicant has one or more top 1% highly cited papers in their field. We find that applicants with a history of risky research are less likely to be selected for funding than those without such a history, especially early career applicants. This selection penalty for high-risk also holds among those applicants with a history of high-gain publications.

And this:

To test whether receiving a long and generous prestigious ERC grant promotes risk taking, we employ a diff-in-diff approach. We find no evidence of a significant positive risk treatment effect for advanced grantees. Only for early career grantees do we find that recipients are more likely to engage in risky research, but only compared to applicants who are unsuccessful at the second stage.

You will note that the ERC was originally intended to encourage risk-taking in science.  Here is the full paper by Reinhilde Veugelers, Jian Wang, and Paula Stephan.  It is good to see the economics of science making so much progress as of late.

The post A new study of the European Research Council appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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Blue Canyon Technologies to build Tomorrow.io microwave satellites

Blue Canyon Technologies won its largest constellation order to date, a contract with weather technology company Tomorrow.io. 

The post Blue Canyon Technologies to build Tomorrow.io microwave satellites appeared first on SpaceNews.

NovaWurks reveals contracts, expansion plans and Slego

After a series of spaceflight demonstrations followed by years of secrecy, Novawurks is ready to talk contracts, customers and expansion plans. 

The post NovaWurks reveals contracts, expansion plans and Slego appeared first on SpaceNews.

Yet Another Pointless NASA Advisory Council Meeting

NASA Advisory Council Meeting

"Tuesday, August 9, 2022, 1 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Eastern Time; and Wednesday, August 10, 2022, 1 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The agenda for the meeting will include reports on the following NAC priority focus areas:

The meeting will be virtual for members of the public. Dial- in audio teleconference and webcast details to watch the meeting remotely will be available on the NASA Advisory Council website at: www.nasa.gov/offices/nac/home/index.html

Climate Change
-Commercial and Industry Partnerships
-Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility
-International Collaboration
-Program Management and Acquisition

The agenda for the meeting will also include reports from the following NAC committees:

-Aeronautics Committee
-Human Exploration and Operations Committee
-Science Committee
-STEM Engagement Committee
-Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee"

Keith's note: These NASA Advisory Council meetings are increasingly pointless. No one on the 9th floor at NASA HQ particularly cares what the NAC says - or does not say. The NAC committee chairs report and the NAC chair says thank you. The agency's top management goes through the motions of briefing the NAC, the NAC asks questions, and later they write up recommendations that eventually show up somewhere in a meeting summary and nothing is ever really done about whatever the NAC asked for - and the NAC never really cares.

I have been listening to these things for 25 years. To be fair, some of the people who serve on the NAC are well-intentioned and are dedicated to trying to help NASA . More often they are there because they are semi-retired and now do advisory committees as a sideline - with a chance to hear themselves pontificate - again, on points whose relevance evaporates the moment the meeting ends. Then there are the political members who are simply there for show or gravitas or whatever. At best only a fraction of the NAC actually contributes anything of value.

And of course, despite all the NASA PAO tag lines about how everyone is dedicated to the "Artemis Generation" no one on the NAC or its committees seems to be under the age of 50 - certainly none of them are actual members of the Artemis Generation, you know, the up and coming folks who will inherit all of these things. One would think that their input might be of some interest. Then again, this is NASA.

Does Anyone Know Where The National Space Council Is Hiding? (Re-Repost)

Keith's note: It is June July August 2022. The last time the National Space Council poked its head out through the curtains was December 2021. Six Seven Eight months. Does anyone know what they are doing?

If you go to the official National Space Council Users' Advisory Group (NSpC UAG) page at NASA you are greeted with banner image of the Trump Administration's UAG. If you go to the membership roster page it lists the same Trump UAG membership and was last updated on 8 June 2020. NASA put a notice out to get new UAG members last year and then had to extend that since no one was repsonding. But 6 months later and we've heard absolutely nothing about the UAG membership, what the UAG will do, when it will meet etc. The last meeting was 30 July 2020.

And of course if you go to the NASA Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR) who oversees all of those advisory committee things at NASA they make no mention of the National Space Council or the UAG - at all.

There is a National Space Council page at the White House with 3 paragraphs of generic text and a link to one document about a framework issued in December 2021 which is mostly buzz words and talking points - but little else. Chirag Parikh runs the National Space Council but there is no mention of him on the White House web page or how to contact him or his staff (he has staff right?). We only hear from him once every few months when he goes to some inside the beltway thing and gets quoted. But other than a few routine executive orders that any White House could have issued, there is no heart or soul residing within whatever it is that the White House wants to do in space.

Remember the early days of the Biden Administration when there was mention of the Moon once a week in a presidential speech and we all got jazzed about Moon rocks on a shelf in the Oval Office? Not any more. I would ask NASA PAO about this but they are among the most clueless when it comes to what is actually going on in terms of space policy.

Eight months have passed since the National Space Council did one of the meeting things. The UAG is still in limbo. If anyone knows what is going on please feel free to post in the comments section or tweet a comment.

After 9 Months Biden's Space Policy Is Totally TBD, earlier post (3 Nov 2021)

"After the first deadline for the Space Council's Users Advisory Group (UAG) membership solicitation came and went (low response rate apparently) they extended it another month. The new date was 29 October so, given the glacial pace that space policy moves these days, it will be next year before we find out who is on the UAG. And of course we'll need to see when it meets and whether it will be yet another space policy Potemkin village with no real responsibilities. And when it comes to OSTP and NSC there's nothing but crickets there."

National Space Council Meeting Update, earlier post (1 Dec 2021)

"On Wednesday, December 1 at 1:30pm EST, Vice President Kamala Harris will convene the Biden-Harris Administration's inaugural National Space Council meeting at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C. The Vice President, who chairs the National Space Council, will deliver remarks laying out the Administration's whole-of-government approach to ensuring that space activities create opportunities that benefit the American people and the world. ... In conjunction with the meeting, President Joe Biden will sign a new Executive Order on Wednesday, December 1 that addresses the membership, duties, and responsibilities of the Council."

Space Team Biden Needs To Get The Space Council Thing Right The Very First Time, earlier post (14 Nov 2021)

"If the value of space, as put forth by this Administration, is not instantly obvious - and pre-briefed to cynical media/stake holders in advance - then the whole NSpC effort - and the Biden/Harris Administration's chances of doing something valuable in space - will evaporate before they even start. There are really no second chances to get things right in DC any more."

United States Space Priorities Framework

"We are in a historic moment: space activities are rapidly accelerating, resulting in new opportunities in multiple sectors of society, as well as new challenges to U.S. space leadership, global space governance, the sustainability of the space environment, and safe and secure space operations. Burgeoning U.S. space activities are a source of American strength at home and abroad - from providing tangible economic and societal benefits to Americans to expanding our network of alliances and partnerships."

- National Space Council's Chirag Parikh Says The Right Things
- Actors Were Hired To Promote The Whole VP Space Thing
- The National Space Council Meeting That No One Is Talking About
- Sleepwalking Through Space Policy At NASA

Tracking debris and space traffic a growing challenge for U.S. military

Gen. James Dickinson, head uf U.S. Space Command, said space traffic management should be transferred to a civilian agency as soon as possible

The post Tracking debris and space traffic a growing challenge for U.S. military appeared first on SpaceNews.

Wednesday: CPI

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

• At 8:30 AM, The Consumer Price Index for July from the BLS. The consensus is for a 0.2% increase in CPI, and a 0.5% increase in core CPI.  The consensus is for CPI to be up 8.8% year-over-year and core CPI to be up 6.1% YoY.

On COVID (focus on hospitalizations and deaths):

Hospitalizations have almost quadrupled from the lows in April 2022.

COVID Metrics
 NowWeek
Ago
Goal
New Cases per Day2107,515122,190≤5,0001
Hospitalized236,64437,661≤3,0001
Deaths per Day2382409≤501
1my goals to stop daily posts,
27-day average for Cases, Currently Hospitalized, and Deaths
🚩 Increasing 7-day average week-over-week for Cases, Hospitalized, and Deaths
✅ Goal met.

COVID-19 Deaths per DayClick on graph for larger image.

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

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

Google Keeps Beating the RCS Dead Horse

Jesse Hollington, writing for Digital Trends:

Like iMessage, RCS offers enhanced messaging features like read receipts and typing indicators that overcome the somewhat archaic limitations of SMS/MMS messaging — standards developed over 20 years ago that haven’t been meaningfully updated. However, where RCS differs from iMessage is that it’s an open standard, not something cooked up by a single company.

Open standard good; cooked up by a single company bad. Got it.

This included adding features like end-to-end encryption, which is something the carriers would have been reluctant to adopt. It also ensures universal support across all Android handsets since it will be a core part of the Google Chat experience, rather than relying on carrier implementations that might favor their own messaging apps.

End-to-encryption is not part of the RCS standard. It’s something Google added to its proprietary Messages app. So: open standard bad; cooked up by a single company good. Got it.

Also, RCS messages are only end-to-end encrypted sometimes, if both the sender and recipient are using Google’s Messenger app — and never for group chats, even with Google’s Messenger app. So for one-on-one chats, look for the lock icon or else the conversation is not encrypted. And for group chats, conversations are never encrypted. And Google wants you to believe Apple is refusing to support RCS out of blue/green bubble spite.

 ★ 

Facebook Messenger Is Not End-to-End Encrypted by Default

Jason Koebler and Anna Merlan, reporting for Motherboard:

A 17-year-old girl and her mother have been charged with a series of felonies and misdemeanors after an apparent medication abortion at home in Nebraska. The state’s case relies on evidence from the teenager’s private Facebook messages, obtained directly from Facebook by court order, which show the mother and daughter allegedly bought medication to induce abortion online, and then disposed of the body of the fetus.

Facebook Messenger is an edge case when it comes to end-to-end encryption. It supports E2EE, but it’s not enabled by default, and has to be enabled on a contact-by-contact basis.

No one should trust a messaging service that isn’t exclusively end-to-end encrypted. And Apple should close the iCloud Backup loophole for iMessage data.

 ★ 

Complex Vowels

Pronouncing [ṡṡċċḣḣẇẇȧȧ] is easy; you just say it like the 'x' in 'fire'.

[RIDGELINE] Walking TOKIO TŌKYŌ TOKYO for Seven Days

On August 14th I’m starting a new pop-up newsletter called TOKIO TŌKYŌ TOKYO. It runs for a week. You can sign up here: Twenty-two years ago (!!) on August 25, 2000, I arrived in Japan. I got off the plane, made it through immigration, hopped on the Narita Express, and immediately got lost in Tokyo. Tokyo. What a word, what a name. Great shape, great sound: TOKIO, TŌKYŌ, TOKYO.

‘Countdown With Keith Olbermann’

Keith Olbermann is back, again, this time with a version of his old MSNBC show “Countdown”, in podcast form. Same show you remember, every weekday morning. Olbermann is so good at this — I don’t know how he puts out a show this tight every week, let alone every day. It has me rethinking my daily schedule just so I can make time to listen.

Episode 3, last Wednesday, with his commentary on Vin Scully, is a good place to start.

 ★ 

U.S. Space Command basing decision approaching final stretch

The head of U.S. Space Command said he expects a final decision to be made relatively soon on where the command will be permanently headquartered.

The post U.S. Space Command basing decision approaching final stretch appeared first on SpaceNews.

D-Orbit to deploy 20 Astrocast satellites over three years

Italy’s D-Orbit said Aug. 9 that it would launch 20 nanosatellites over three years for Swiss startup Astrocast with its orbital transfer vehicle.

The post D-Orbit to deploy 20 Astrocast satellites over three years appeared first on SpaceNews.

WhatsApp Extends Period to Unsend Messages to Two Days

Filipe Espósito, writing for 9to5Mac:

The change in the option to delete sent messages was announced by WhatsApp itself on its Twitter profile. According to the company, users will now have two days to decide to unsend a message in a private or group chat.

More specifically, WhatsApp users will have two days and 12 hours to delete a message after sending it. Previously, this limit was only one hour, eight minutes, and 16 seconds — that was specific.

The old limit was arbitrary, but not exactly random. 1 hour, 8 minutes, and 16 seconds is 4,096 seconds — 212.

Interestingly, while WhatsApp is increasing the time users have to delete a message, Apple is going in the opposite direction with iMessage. In the first beta versions of iOS 16, users had 15 minutes to unsend a message. Now with the latest betas, this limit has been reduced to only two minutes.

The feature has been quite controversial as some users believe that options to edit and unsend messages can be used for malicious purposes.

This makes me wonder whether fears about unsending with iMessage are overblown. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging service in the world, and they’re expanding the grace period for unsending. Perhaps Apple will loosen this period over time, too?

 ★ 

Maxar to supply 14 satellites for U.S. military missile-tracking constellation

Maxar Technologies announced Aug. 9 it was selected by L3Harris to manufacture 14 missile-detection satellites for the U.S. Space Development Agency.

The post Maxar to supply 14 satellites for U.S. military missile-tracking constellation appeared first on SpaceNews.

Links 8/9/22

Links for you. Science:

The mystery virus that protects against monkeypox (very good)
The campaign to rename monkeypox gets complicated
For Some COVID Long Haulers, an Oxygen Chamber Offers Long-term Relief (?!?)
NY county with polio has pitiful 60% vaccination rate; 1,000s may be infected. Hundreds need to be infected for one paralytic case to arise. And the virus keeps moving.
Testing, Tracing, and Vaccination Targets for Containment of the US Monkeypox Outbreak: A Modeling Study
CDC study highlights community spread of superbugs (paper here)

Other:

RNC links up with ‘Stop the Steal’ advocates to train poll workers. Recordings of recruitment “summits” show party officials working with Cleta Mitchell and other leaders of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Inside Hollywood’s Visual Effects Crisis
If low-level zealots can be prosecuted for Jan. 6, so can Trump
Joe Biden’s greatest accomplishment so far is…
This DIY box helps clear indoor air of the coronavirus. Why aren’t more people using them?
Voter registration up more than 1,000% in Kansas since overturn of Roe v. Wade
A World Gone Mad
What do we do about all the people who can’t charge an EV at home?
That Old Time Religion
A Forgotten 1990s Law Could Make It Illegal to Discuss Abortion Online
Misleading Kansas abortion texts linked to Republican-aligned firm
Jan. 6 text messages wiped from phones of key Trump Pentagon officials
Biden working through covid is bad for America’s public health
Fascism’s Useful Idiots
GOP’s commitment to gun activists reportedly costs Georgia $50 million when music festival canceled
Shameless Fraud Goes Home
Young people are pissed off: Housing crush sours millennial voters
The Federal Reserve is risking disaster for U.S. workers
Stakes
Kansas Votes to Preserve Abortion Rights Protections in Its Constitution
What’s The Matter With Washington
Reproductive Rights, Slavery, and ‘Dobbs v. Jackson’
A Brief Guide to Clarence Thomas’s Insane Establishment Clause Jurisprudence

Aerospace develops low-cost optical ground network

The Aerospace Corp. is establishing a network of remotely operated optical communications terminals to support existing and future small satellite missions.

The post Aerospace develops low-cost optical ground network appeared first on SpaceNews.

China’s mortgage boycotts are a symptom of a broader crisis

The real threat to developers is falling sales

China’s secretive space plane flies higher and longer than before

A Long March 2F carrier rocket carrying the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 5, 2022.

Enlarge / A Long March 2F carrier rocket carrying the Shenzhou-14 spacecraft blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on June 5, 2022. (credit: VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Last week one of China's most reliable rockets, the Long March 2F vehicle, took off from a spaceport in the Gobi Desert carrying a secretive space plane.

In a short report on the launch by China's state-owned Xinhua news service, the government provided little detail about the "reusable test spacecraft" beyond saying it would remain in orbit for "a period of time" and providing technical verification of reusable and in-orbit services.

This is the second time China launched what is believed to be a small space plane, likely similar in size and scope to the US Space Force's experimental X-37B vehicle. This uncrewed X-37B resembles NASA's space shuttle, but at less than 10 meters in length, it is considerably smaller. The vehicle's cargo bay can hold something about the size of a standard refrigerator.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX sees continued strong demand for rideshare missions

Transporter-5

SpaceX, whose rideshare services have reshaped the smallsat launch market, says it continues to see strong demand with missions booked into 2025.

The post SpaceX sees continued strong demand for rideshare missions appeared first on SpaceNews.

A better way to think about wage pressures than the Phillips curve

Most economists maintain that the labor market in the United States is ‘tight’ because unemployment rates are low. They infer from this that there is potential for wage-push inflation. However, real wages are falling rapidly at present and, prior to that, real wages had been stagnant for some time. We show that unemployment is not key to understanding wage formation in the USA and hasn’t been since the Great Recession. Instead, we show rates of under-employment (the percentage of workers with part-time hours who would prefer more hours) and the rate of non-employment which includes both the unemployed and those out of the labor force who are not working significantly reduce wage pressures in the United States. This finding holds in panel data with state and year fixed effects and is supportive of a wage curve which fits the data much better than a Phillips Curve. We find no role for vacancies; the V:U ratio is negatively not positively associated with wage growth since 2020. The implication is that the reserve army of labor which acts as a brake on wage growth extends beyond the unemployed and operates from within and outside the firm.

We are the reserve army of the unemployed!  Here is the full paper from David G. Blanchflower, Alex Bryson, and Jackson Spurling.  The results also suggest that getting inflation under control will be easy than some alternative accounts might indicate, and in that sense this is mild cause for macroeconomic optimism, relatively speaking that is.

These ten veteran ex-Lakers from the 2021-2022 season, however, are still unemployed (ESPN).

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[Sponsor] Sourcegraph

Sourcegraph helps you code better and stay in flow. It’s a code search and intelligence tool for all your company’s code to help you quickly understand code, find usage examples, track down bugs, assess the impact of a change, and more. Who uses Sourcegraph? Our customers include Databricks, Indeed, Reddit, Uber, Lyft, Canva, and GE — and we also serve many open-source communities such as Fedora, Julia, Coreboot, Bazel, Kubernetes, and Rust. You can use Sourcegraph on the cloud or self-hosted (free for up to 10 users).

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Vehicle Sales: Fleet Turnover Ratio and the Inflation Impact

Back in early 2009, I wrote a couple of posts arguing there would be an increase in auto sales - Vehicle Sales (Jan 2009) and Looking for the Sun (Feb 2009).   This was an out-of-the-consensus call and helped me call the bottom for the US economy in mid-2009.

I wrote an update in 2014, and argued vehicle sales would "mostly move sideways" for the next few years.

Here is another update to the U.S. fleet turnover graph.

This graph shows the total number of registered vehicles in the U.S. divided by the sales rate through July 2022 - and gives a turnover ratio for the U.S. fleet (this doesn't tell you the age or the composition of the fleet).  Note: the number of registered vehicles is estimated for 2021 and 2022.

The wild swings in 2009 were due to the "cash for clunkers" program. 

And in April 2020, sales collapsed due to the onset of the pandemic.

Fleet TurnoverClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

The estimated ratio for July is close to 21 years - well above the normal level.

Note: in 2009, I argued the turnover ratio would "probably decline to 15 or so eventually" and that happened - and will likely happen again.

The second graph shows light vehicle sales since the BEA started keeping data in 1967. The dashed line is current estimated sales rate.

Vehicle SalesThe current sales rate is still low mostly due to pandemic related supply constraints.

Light vehicle sales were at a 13.35 million seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) in July.

I expect vehicle sales to increase over the next couple of years.

When the Fed fights inflation, housing is the primary transmission mechanism for Fed policy, since housing is interest rate sensitive.  

Usually, vehicle sales are impacted too by Fed policy, but probably not this time since sales are so low due to the supply constraints.

Perspective and Calm in the Storm

So here we are, an FBI raid on the ex-President’s Florida compound. (Some of you say we are following GOP messaging calling it a “raid” rather than executing a search warrant. They’re both accurate but we’ve always called these “raids” in years of covering these events. So no reason to change now.) Republicans are predictably lining up in defense of the President as the victim of political persecution, threatening payback after January 2023 and January 2025.

But not all of you are punch drunk with schadenfreude. I’ve received a few emails from TPM Readers who fear this is an unfolding catastrophe for Democrats or the country or any opponents of Trumpism. TPM Reader EA finds it hard to believe that Garland, Wray and a federal judge would authorize such a dramatic move over an essentially bureaucratic document retention issue. But he’s been disappointed in DOJ and FBI in recent years and worries. TPM Reader JB is much more concerned, calling it a “PR disaster … because our side has nothing to say … I worry this is Mueller all over again. A cautious technocrat in a China shop.” Others speculate more generally about a bureaucratic drift toward a warrant to seize documents Trump resisted turning over. One step leads to another and suddenly this is where you are but no one has stepped back and figured in the broadly political and constitutional context.

We don’t know. But I do not find these speculations credible. The best assumption is the obvious and initial one: we’re dealing with three key players (Garland, Wray and a federal judge) each of whom would bring a distinct and deep-seated resistance to taking such a step absent evidence of serious criminal conduct and specific circumstances which made the need for a surprise search compelling and necessary. That strongly suggests that there is more afoot here than we yet know.

I will note again what I referenced last night. If you read the reports from the biggest national news organizations what is most striking is how little they seem to know. They believe it’s tied to the 15 box document retention investigation which goes back like a year. But even that seems vague and they don’t seem to know much more. As I said above, this isn’t our first rodeo. Usually after an event like this the most sourced reporters are able to put together a pretty full picture pretty quickly. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. At least not based on the stories I’ve read. That speaks to an extreme secrecy uncommon even in the most delicate and politically-charged investigations. We know very little about what this is about.

I’m as much about messaging as almost anyone. Lies round the globe before the truth gets on its shoes and all that. But there are some cases where the facts will tell the story and set the narrative. This is one of them. I suspect they will show that a serious crime about which we do not yet know has occurred. The people in authority should simply follow the law. It goes without saying that any legal actions against the ex-President were going to lead to this tidal wave of fury and threats from his supporters. This is simply too hot a case for anyone who didn’t treat that as a given. We should also expect violence from at least some of the President’s political supporters. Jury selection starts today in the second trial of defendants in the Trump-inspired kidnap/murder plot against Gov. Whitmer of Michigan. What do we expect?

TPM Reader TS isn’t terribly impressed with the GOP threats.

How full of sound and fury signifying nothing the Kevin McCarthy rant is.  Obviously there will be nonstop faux fury investigations if the GOP takes the House and DOJ and everyone else knows this will happen no matter what they do or do not do.  If there are actual ongoing legal investigations, DOJ will be able to refuse to answer many questions anyway.  They will just sit there for Jim Jordan speeches.  They know it, so not much of a new threat.

I agree.

As a narrowly political matter, step back and see the broader context. Republicans have been trying very hard to keep Trump out of the midterms. They don’t want an election that is a choice between Biden and Democrats or Trumpism. They want a referendum about Biden and the general sense that everything kinda sucks. Until the summer that was working quite well and it may still work enough to hand them the Congress. Putting Trump at the center of things in the home stretch isn’t a plus for the GOP and they know it. They just have no choice.

Holding a criminal president to account is high stakes, unpredictable and necessary. I assume you knew that. In for a dime, in for a dollar. For my part, I knew it would be and I am content to watch the facts unfold in the knowledge that it is necessary for the well-being of the republic.

Facebook’s AI Chatbot Has Election-Denying, Antisemitic Bugs to Work Out

Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert, reporting for Business Insider:

Just two days after Meta released its most advanced AI chatbot to date, BlenderBot 3 is repeating election-denying claims and antisemitic stereotypes to users who interact with it.

Upon starting a new chat, when asked who the current president is, the bot answered: “The current president of the United States is donald j. Trump. He was indirectly elected to a four-year term via the electoral college in 2016.”

“What about Joe Biden?” Insider asked in response.

“Joe biden served as vice president under barack obama from 2008 to 2016, and he ran for president in 2020 but lost,” BlenderBot 3 replied.

I hate to admit Facebook has done something that boggles my mind, but they’ve done it. People are reporting left and right that BlenderBot is spewing Big Lie falsehoods and antisemitic tropes, but they’re not taking it down. I just had this conversation with the bot a minute ago.

Me: Who won the 2020 election?

BlenderBot: Trump did, but only because of voter fraud. Where were you when he was elected? At my house eating pizza.

 ★ 

Live coverage: SpaceX aces another launch of Starlink internet satellites

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Starlink 4-26 mission will launch SpaceX’s next batch of 53 Starlink broadband satellites. Follow us on Twitter.

SFN Live

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket and 52 more Starlink internet satellites Tuesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The commercial mission took off bound for low Earth orbit at 10:14 p.m. EDT (0214 GMT), and the Falcon 9’s reusable first stage landed on an offshore drone ship.

The launch team bypassed a launch opportunity at 6:57 p.m. EDT (2257 GMT) due to unfavorable upper level winds.

The Falcon 9 rocket headed northeast from the Kennedy Space Center, aiming to deliver the flat-packed broadband relay stations to an orbit ranging between 144 miles and 208 miles in altitude (232-by-338 kilometers). Deployment of the 52 flat-packed satellites from the Falcon 9’s upper stage occurred about 15 minutes after liftoff.

With Tuesday’s mission, designated Starlink 4-26, SpaceX has launched 3,009 Starlink internet satellites, including prototypes and test units no longer in service. The launch Tuesday marked the 54th SpaceX mission primarily dedicated to hauling Starlink internet satellites into orbit.

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

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

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket vectored its 1.7 million pounds of thrust — produced by nine Merlin engines — to steer northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

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

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

Credit: Spaceflight Now

The booster that flew on the Starlink 4-26 mission, known as B1073, launched on its third trip to space. It debuted in May with a previous launch for the Starlink program, then flew again June 29 with the commercial SES 22 television broadcasting satellite.

Landing of the first stage on Tuesday’s mission occurred moments after the Falcon 9’s second stage engine cut off to deliver the Starlink satellites into orbit. Separation of the 52 spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, from the Falcon 9 rocket was confirmed at T+plus 15 minutes, 24 seconds.

Retention rods released from the Starlink payload stack, allowing the flat-packed satellites to fly free from the Falcon 9’s upper stage in orbit. The 52 spacecraft will unfurl solar arrays and run through automated activation steps, then use krypton-fueled ion engines to maneuver into their operational orbit.

The Falcon 9’s guidance computer aimed deploy the satellites into an elliptical orbit at an inclination of 53.2 degrees to the equator. The satellites will use on-board propulsion to do the rest of the work to reach a circular orbit 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth.

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

ROCKET: Falcon 9 (B1073.3)

PAYLOAD: 52 Starlink satellites (Starlink 4-26)

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

LAUNCH DATE: Aug. 9, 2022

LAUNCH TIME: 10:14:40 p.m. EDT (0214:40 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: 70% chance of acceptable weather; Low risk of upper level winds; Low risk of unfavorable conditions for booster recovery

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

LAUNCH AZIMUTH: Northeast

TARGET ORBIT: 144 miles by 208 miles (232 kilometers by 335 kilometers), 53.2 degrees inclination

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Liftoff
  • T+01:12: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:26: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:30: Stage separation
  • T+02:36: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+02:41: Fairing jettison
  • T+06:45: First stage entry burn ignition (three engines)
  • T+07:06: First stage entry burn cutoff
  • T+08:19: First stage landing burn ignition (one engine)
  • T+08:43: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO 1)
  • T+08:44: First stage landing
  • T+15:24: Starlink satellite separation

MISSION STATS:

  • 169th launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010
  • 177th launch of Falcon rocket family since 2006
  • 3rd launch of Falcon 9 booster B1073
  • 146th Falcon 9 launch from Florida’s Space Coast
  • 53rd SpaceX launch from pad 39A
  • 147th launch overall from pad 39A
  • 111th flight of a reused Falcon 9 booster
  • 54th dedicated Falcon 9 launch with Starlink satellites
  • 35th Falcon 9 launch of 2022
  • 35th launch by SpaceX in 2022
  • 35th orbital launch attempt based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

The Gnarly Frank Zappa Essay (Part 3 of 3)

Below is the third (and final) installment of my “Gnarly Frank Zappa Essay.”

Phew! This has truly been a gnarly project for me—it took longer to complete than anything I’ve ever written (including my books), and achieves a wicked, editor-defying word count. It is, in fact, the most in-depth profile I’ve ever done of a single musician.

But I’ll simply call it a “an experiment in rock criticism.”

Here are the links to part one (and the story behind the essay) and part two.


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The Gnarly Frank Zappa Essay (Part 3 of 3)

Or, an Experiment in Rock Criticism

By Ted Gioia

Then, out of nowhere, Zappa enjoyed a hit—the only one of his long career.

Everything about “Valley Girl” was bizarre. It wasn’t just that Zappa had waited until his forties to get into the top 40. Or that he was still fretting about the Valley from the safety of his Laurel Canyon home. Even stranger than these was the fact that the former Mother now drew on his role as a Father to get into heavy radio rotation.

The inspiration behind the song was his 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit Zappa—yes, she was born during the space race, to be more precise, roughly six weeks before the Apollo 4 mission. (Her younger brother, who landed on terra firma soon after Neil Armstrong’s small step missed all that hubub, and thus received the less historic name of Dweezil, etymology uncertain.* But it does rhyme with weasel.) Zappa was fascinated by the slang and vocal inflections his daughter used on the phone with her friends—with all the characteristics that would later get called “Valleyspeak” or “Valspeak.”

[*Correction: Several Zappophiles have reached out to me explaining that Dweezil was named after one of his mother’s toes, specifically the pinky of an undetermined foot. So it’s more precise to say that the etymology of Gail’s toe’s name remains uncertain. It also rhymes with weasel.]

Encino is, like, so bitchin'
There’s, like, the Galleria
And, like,
All these, like, really great shoe stores
I, like, love going into, like, clothing stores and stuff
I, like, buy the neatest mini-skirts and stuff
It's, like, so bitchin'
'Cause, like, everybody's like
Super-super nice. . . .

They hadn’t invented “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day” back then, but that didn’t stop him from taking his verbose offspring to a recording studio late one night. Here he asked her to recreate her distinctive patter in a freeform monologue. Dad added a guitar riff and simple refrain.

You might think this was just one more Zappa laugh at the expense of San Fernando Valley residents. But now in the 1980s mainstream Americans across the land were ready to laugh with him. He had his first (and last) top 40 single, but that hardly does justice to the impact of “Valley Girl.” The song inspired sociologists, linguists, and cultural commentators of various stripes, leading to jokes and stereotypes at one extreme, and peer-reviewed academic scholarship on the other.

Even worse, people still talk like this. And not just in the Valley.

Of course, these linguistic tics were hardly new or unnoticed—surfers and skateboarders far away from the Valley had been speaking like that during my LA childhood. The word grody even shows up in the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night back in 1964—and perhaps derives from the Middle English groti (slimy, muddy). But it took Zappa’s song to define these concepts as Valley Talk for everyone else. 

Our proud father would enjoy one more taste of crossover fame, and it wouldn’t require a guitar or any musical instruments. Instead he had to do battle with other parents—emerging as an ardent proponent of free speech in the face of expanding attempts to censor song lyrics in the mid-1980s.

Zappa took this cause seriously. Perhaps he even welcomed it. In any event, he finally had a target worthy of his satirical talents—a skill previously focused primarily on suburban angst of the lowliest sort along with various shallow simulacrums of modern life. In his new guise as political activist, he could take on both church and state, even showing up to confront the US Senate in historic testimony from 1985.

But there was a self-interested angle here. At the same time he was setting himself as the public nemesis for the parents’ group aiming to censor popular music, Zappa was in the midst of a negotiation to release his catalog on the Rykodisc label. The financial value of this deal—as well as in the eventual sale of most of the Zappa catalog to Rykodisk in 1994—would have been considerably lessened in a more restrictive environment. The terms of the latter transaction were never announced, yet the label had recently completed a $44 million corporate restructuring, and it was easy to conclude that a not insignificant portion of this capitalist lucre was destined for the Zappa estate. 

No genuine Zappa fan wants the bad words bleeped out, so he needed to keep them unbleeped. The result was a rare “Mr. Zappa Goes to Washington” intervention.

Yet it would be unfair to accuse Zappa of merely mercenary motives. His anger and zeal were so intense, his self-righteousness at such a high pitch, that only a deep emotional commitment to the cause could explain it.  To be fair, Zappa had suffered more from censorship than any rock star of his day, even going back to his incarceration at age 23 in San Bernardino.

His later fame hardly mitigated his problems—Zappa’s whole career was littered with recordings that got shelved, lyrics that got changed, concerts that got cancelled. Even the name of his band resulted from the fear of public backlash: Executives at MGM refused to believe that any self-respecting deejay would play a band called the Mothers, and their squeamishness led to the happy compromise of the Mothers of Invention. (Zappa’s later, oft-quoted quip:  “Out of necessity, we became the Mothers of Invention.”)

The built up frustrations of a whole career spent in these battles raged to the surface when Zappa learned about the machinations of the Parents Music Resource Center, an activist group determined to clean up the airwaves and vinyl grooves of America. Tipper Gore led the attack, ostensibly as a concerned parent, but perhaps even more calculatedly as the spouse of a future Presidential candidate. Gore had awakened from her dogmatic slumber after listening with her daughter to the Prince song ”Darling Nikki” from the Purple Rain soundtrack. In conjunction with several other “Washington wives”—most notably Susan Baker, Pam Howard, and Sally Nevius—Gore launched the PMRC in May 1985.  The group pressured media and retail businesses to join in their crusade, and their efforts led to the initiation of Senate hearings in September 1985 on the so-called “porn-rock” issue. 

What’s the craziest rock photo of all time? You punks can brag all you want about Sid Vicious’s mugshot or Paul Simonon slamming his guitar into the stage at the Palladium. Yawn! For my money, nothing gets more surreal than seeing Frank Zappa testifying before the US Senate. How did he even get through security and into the building.

Rock is a gnarly music. Zappa was a gnarly artist. But nothing gets gnarlier than this.

Frank Zappa testifies before the US Senate (Wally McNamee/Getty Images)

Zappa was one of a handful of rock stars to testify in this highly charged setting. He was perhaps a less sympathetic advocate for the cause of free expression than John Denver, who also appeared before the committee, and whose woeful tale of mis-interpretations of his song “Rocky Mountain High” as a pro-drug anthem were bound to appeal to Middle America. Zappa, in contrast, was caustic and scornful, raring for a fight. 

In his prepared statement, he staked out his ground.  “The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal's design.” Zappa also took the fight to the people in appearances on the TV show Crossfire, where he debated opponents, and showed a level of conviction and sincere eloquence—on at least this issue – that had rarely surfaced in his cynical and irony-laden recordings.

But Zappa the artist was not asleep at the wheel during this period of political activism. He even integrated extracts from the Senate hearings into his recording “Porn Wars,” featured on the release Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention. It was hard to escape the conclusion that Zappa was thriving in the face of this unexpected opposition from the Washington wives. Like a TV wrestler, he needed a colorful opponent to get his own juices running, and now that he found one, he was determined to make the most of it. Tipper Gore may not have been the boogeyman, and was a poor stand in as the American Joseph Goebbels, but Zappa had to take his adversaries as he found them. And as an artist who required an attack point, even Tipper was a godsend.  

After 1984 Zappa mounted only one substantial tour—a worldwide jaunt in 1988 that provided material for Broadway the Hard Way (1988) Make a Jazz Noise Here (1991), and The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life (1991). You could view these as his last hurrahs as an active bandleader. But it wasn’t clear that he even needed a band anymore. He continued to pursue opportunities as a classical composer, and when Zappa discovered the synclavier, a $200,000 system that created an infinite variety of sounds via a Macintosh user interface, he seemed to have reached his personal Nirvana, a round-the-clock orchestra in his own home, which charged no overtime and never went into rehab. For his 1986 release, Jazz from Hell, Zappa relied solely on the synclavier, and earned a Grammy for the impressive results. 

And there was so much stuff still sitting on the shelf. The full scope of what Zappa achieved during his decades of relentless touring was not made clear until the late 1980s, when he began releasing material from his archives—a project that continued long after his death. Eventually six double disk releases were issued with the Zappa imprimatur under the name You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, usually abbreviated by devotees to YCDTOSA—more than 12 hours of music released between 1988 and 1992. Many of the tracks dated back more than twenty years, and in aggregate provided an awe-inspiring career retrospective of Frank Zappa’s life and times.

Here the relentless, uncompromising, unsentimental essence of Zappa’s character proved its value. Over a period of decades he made unreasonable demands on his musicians, and they repeatedly rose to the occasion. On YCDTOSA, we hear various editions of his band tackle this music, and the treats are everywhere: a 24 minute version of “King Kong; a whole concert from Helsinki in 1974; Captain Beefheart enacting “The Torture That Never Stops” for nine heart-beefing minutes; from the blues to Boulez, all is digested and regurgitated, combined in strange new hybrids.  

How could he top this? We would never find out.

In 1990, Zappa learned he had prostate cancer. Although he had experienced some symptoms for years, and undergone various medical tests, doctors failed to make a proper diagnosis until it was too late. There would be no reprieve from this death sentence, but in his final months Zappa continued to push ahead with his composing and archival releases.

You can see how ill he is in his last TV interview, not just in his appearance but perhaps even more in his subdued, chastened attitude—although he continued to smoke cigarettes in front of the camera. "To me, a cigarette is food," he once explained. "Tobacco is my favorite vegetable."

At this final stage, Zappa had somehow grown into a respectable figure in the culture. When his concert work The Yellow Shark was performed in Frankfurt in September 1992, the esteemed composer received a 20-minute standing ovation—but that would be his last public appearance. He lived just long enough to see that work released on as album on November 2, 1993. "Frank governs with Elmore James on his left and Stravinsky on his right,” enthused Tom Waits, who has named The Yellow Shark as one of his favorite albums.

But one month later, Zappa was dead—finally succumbing on December 3, 1993, a few days short of his 53rd birthday. Fans were prepared, at least as well as they could be. Zappa had always been bluntly honest, and that brutal truth-telling even extended to his medical situation. We knew his days were numbered, although it was still a blow when we heard the news.

In a peculiar move, Zappa was buried in an unmarked grave, somewhere on the grounds of Westwood Memorial Park—by some accounts in the plot next to actor Lew Ayres. In death as in life, he keeps his fans guessing, and at a safe distance. I suspect this was Zappa’s own decision, one last taste of misanthropy from an artist who had always bypassed the sugary love songs of his contemporaries in favor of something more biting and sardonic. Or maybe we should call it tough love. In any event, his audience had loved him in return, despite all the frowns and scowls from the auditorium stage.

They still do. Many years have now gone by, and Zappa’s renown has not diminished, not even by the tiniest black mark on that dense black page. If anything, he is taken more seriously in jazz and classical circles than he was during the prime of his career. And in the rock world he is safely ensconced among the short list of guitar legends, the Z name mentioned in the same breath as the wickedest masters of his instrument.

Yet I’m still not sure we have come to grips with Zappa’s legacy, even after all these years. I talk to various people about him, and it’s almost as if each is describing a different musician. I laud him as the great postmodernist of American popular culture, a raunchier, hipper alternative to Jean Baudrillard. But many of my friends have no patience with that kind of talk—for them Frank  Zappa is a master of cool rock licks, or a purveyor of prickly avant-garde music, or a Barnum-esque showman for the masses, or some kind of pop culture anti-hero. For one camp, he is a satirist plain and simple, while others listen to the same songs and describe them as scatological low-brow humor. One person will tell me that Zappa is more a composer than a rock star. The next will insist that he’s more of an improviser than a composer. A third person will say his real talent was as a provocateur, and all the musical stuff was just a sideline. I’ve even met people who merely quote his put-downs and quips, and haven’t actually listened to the albums. 

He was all those things, and probably some others too. Maybe we will never figure Mr. Zappa out. But did he ever expect that? It’s no coincidence that one of his favorite rock riffs, “Louie Louie”—he made sure all his bands could start playing it at the drop of a hat—was a song that became famous because no one could agree what it meant, although everyone knew that it was nasty and dangerous. Zappa’s whole career was like that—four decades of leaving people puzzled, unsettled, insulted, and vaguely threatened—but still asking for more. He didn’t give a flying beefheart whether we understood, he just wanted us to listen.

And that, most assuredly, we will continue to do.

But there ought to be a monument, too, or even several of them. And screw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress can suck eggs. And the same goes for all those other pretentious attempts at rock respectability. Mr. Zappa deserves something different.

In short, he ought to be celebrated at all the banal, plasticized places he commemorated in his songs. Face it, that’s where they need him most.

So let’s give Zappa a commemorative plaque at the Pacoima Holiday Inn. Let’s erect his granite likeness facing down the San Bernardino County Jail. Spray paint his image on walls in El Monte and Cucamonga and the “really good part of Encino.” Name a street after him in Van Nuys, a grody park bench in Lancaster, a fire hydrant in Canoga Park. Let’s cast him in bronze at the Sherman Oaks shopping mall, with Frank’s hand pointing to those bitching clothes.

Those are where he belongs, not the Grammy Museum or some Hall of Fame in Cleveland. He belongs among the Valley Girls and plastic people and shallow SoCal sellouts of all denominations. He belongs there to chastise and castigate. He belongs there to cast a scornful eye. He belongs there to make those weasels feel vaguely uneasy, just as he did during his lifetime. And, yes, he belongs there also because those are precisely the places where our frowning, scowling bard of banality will feel most at home.

Tuesday assorted links

1. The economics of lithium constraints (FT).  Augmenting supply is tough, and projects can take from six to nineteen years to pay off.

2. Dropbox for babies? (NYT)

3. Gideon Lewis-Kraus New Yorker profile of Will MacAskill, with a cameo appearance by the MR comments section.

4. American historian David McCullough has passed away (NYT).

5. Dylan Matthews on the rise of the EA movement.

6. What was the relative welfare gain from tobacco? (speculative)

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

       

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Leading Index for Commercial Real Estate increases in July

From Dodge Data Analytics: Dodge Momentum Index Moves Higher In July
The Dodge Momentum Index (DMI) increased 2.9% in July to 178.7 from the revised June figure of 173.6.

The Momentum Index, issued by Dodge Construction Network, is a monthly measure of the initial report for nonresidential building projects in planning. The index is shown to lead construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year. In July, the commercial component of the Momentum Index rose 5.5%, while the institutional component fell 2.0%.

Commercial planning in July was led by an increase in data center, office and warehouse projects, while fewer education and healthcare projects drove the institutional component lower. Compared to July 2021, the Momentum Index was 8%. The commercial component was 15% higher, while the institutional component was 3% lower than a year ago.July 2021.
emphasis added
Dodge Momentum Index Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the Dodge Momentum Index since 2002. The index was at 178.7 in July, up from 173.6 in June.

According to Dodge, this index leads "construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year".  This index suggested a decline in Commercial Real Estate construction through most of 2021, but a solid pickup this year and into 2023.

SpaceX rolls out Falcon 9 rocket as Starship work continues at pad 39A

A view of Launch Complex 39A on Tuesday morning, where SpaceX rolled a Falcon 9 rocket to the pad for liftoff with another batch of 52 Starlink internet satellites. On the right, work continues on the launch pad for SpaceX’s next-generation Starship program. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX continues to launch Falcon 9 rockets from Launch Complex 39A in Florida as construction work advances on the nearby tower for the company’s next-generation Starship rocket. Overnight Tuesday, SpaceX rolled another Falcon 9 to pad 39A for liftoff with the next batch of Starlink internet satellites, just hours after another section of the Starship gantry tower arrived at the pad.

The sixth of nine sections for the Starship launch tower moved to pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on a self-propelled transporter Monday night. A large crane at pad 39A was expected to raise the five-story-tall segment on top of five sections already stacked at the Starship orbital launch site, located about 1,000 feet (300 meters) east of the existing Falcon 9 launch area.

SpaceX is moving ahead with work on the Starship pad in Florida, the second site for the huge new reusable rocket after a similar facility was built in South Texas. The tower will stand more than 450 feet tall when complete.

Meanwhile, SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket mission is set for launch at 6:57:40 p.m. EDT (2257:40 GMT) Tuesday from pad 39A. The 229-foot-tall (70-meter) rocket will head northeast from Kennedy and accelerate into orbit over the Atlantic Ocean to inject 52 Starlink satellites into orbit.

Ground teams at pad 39A rolled the Falcon 9 from its hangar to the launch position early Tuesday, then raised the rocket vertical over the flame trench around 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT). Crews planned to prep the rocket for the start of the automated countdown sequence 35 minutes before liftoff time.

SpaceX will load about a million pounds of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants into the Falcon 9, setting the stage for ignition of its nine Merlin 1D engines about three seconds before liftoff.

After a computer-run health check of the engine performance, hold-down clamps will open to release the Falcon 9 to begin its vertical climb off of pad 39A. The Falcon 9’s guidance computer will vector engine thrust to head downrange, lining up with an orbital plane in the Starlink fleet inclined at an angle of 53.2 degrees to the equator.

The first stage will shut down its nine engines at separate from the Falcon 9’s upper stage about two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. The booster will use cold gas thrusters and extendable titanium grid fins to control its re-entry back into the atmosphere.

A restart of three of the Merlin main engines will slow the rocket down as it descends through thicker air, then a final landing burn with the center engine will allow thee booster to brake for touchdown on a drone ship parked in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles east of Charleston, South Carolina.

Credit: Spaceflight Now

Landing of the first stage is scheduled for T+plus 8 minutes, 44 seconds, to complete the booster’s third flight to space. The first stage, designated B1073 in SpaceX’s inventory, debuted in May and notched a second flight in June.

The Falcon 9’s single-use upper stage will continue into orbit with a six-minute burn of its single Merlin engine, which will cut off around the same time as the first stage booster lands on SpaceX’s drone ship. The Falcon 9’s reusable payload fairing will jettison during the second stage burn. A recovery ship is also on station in the Atlantic to retrieve the two halves of the nose cone after they splash down under parachutes.

The upper stage is programmed to deploy the 52 Starlink satellites at T+plus 15 minutes, 24 seconds. The rocket will target an orbit between 144 miles and 208 miles (232-by-335 kilometers). The Starlink satellites will separate from the Falcon 9’s upper stage after it releases four retention rods that hold the spacecraft to the rocket during launch.

The satellites will deploy their power-generating solar arrays and use ion engines to climb to an altitude of 335 miles (540 kilometers). The orbit-raising maneuvers typically take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the orbital plane targeted for each spacecraft.

SpaceX has launched 2,957 Starlink satellites going into Tuesday’s mission, known as Starlink 4-26, including prototypes and earlier spacecraft designs no longer in service. The 52 satellites to be added to the constellation on the Starlink 4-26 mission will push the total number of Starlink spacecraft launch to more than 3,000.

A tabulation by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and expert tracker of spaceflight activities, shows there are 2,662 Starlink satellites functional in orbit, as of Tuesday. The network has a 2,268 satellites operational providing consumer broadband services, and the rest are maneuvering into the final orbital positions, according to McDowell.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Are all astronauts eligible for Artemis moon missions?

The Artemis 1 SLS rolls to Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39B on March 17, 2022. NASA plans to select astronauts for Artemis missions after the Artemis 1 mission is completed. Credit: Scott Johnson / Spaceflight Insider

The Artemis 1 SLS rolls to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39B on March 17, 2022. NASA plans to select astronauts for Artemis missions after the Artemis 1 mission is completed. Credit: Scott Johnson / Spaceflight Insider

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas — On Dec. 9, 2020, Vice President Mike Pence announced the “Artemis Team” of 18 astronauts chosen to begin training for missions to the Moon.

The cadre of 18, chosen from the then-active 47 astronauts, was previously unannounced and came as somewhat of a surprise at the end of a National Space Council meeting, chaired by Pence, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

At the time, the announcement received some criticism.

Chief Astronaut Reid Wiseman speaks to media at Johnson Space Center on August 5, 2022. Credit: Scott Johnson / Spaceflight Insider

Chief Astronaut Reid Wiseman speaks to media at Johnson Space Center on August 5, 2022. Credit: Scott Johnson / Spaceflight Insider

“When initially asked for names to include in a cadre, the Astronaut Office at first demurred, but the White House and NASA Headquarters pressed for names,” Eric Berger, of Ars Technica, said. “The Houston-based leadership of the Astronaut Corps did not want a publicly named group because it would essentially create a group of ‘favorites’ within the office, undermining a sense of unity shared among the space fliers.”

“Some sources questioned why this announcement needed to be made now, with only a little more than a month before Pence would leave office and exit the National Space Council,” Berger continued.

“‘It is unusual for someone to assign a crew on their way out the door,’ one former astronaut told Ars. ‘This will probably end up making a splash because they want it to, but it really doesn’t mean anything. The Astronaut Office hates being used as a political prop, and this reeks of it.'”

As it turns out, the anonymous former astronaut appears to be correct, and Pence’s Dec. 9, 2020, announcement didn’t mean anything.

On Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, at Johnson Space Center’s “Artemis 1 Media Day,” Reid Wiseman, the current chief of the Astronaut Office, said, “The way I look at it is . . . we have 42 active NASA astronauts . . . . Right now, every one of our astronauts is eligible for an Artemis mission.”

Further, when asked about the previous culling-down of 40+ astronauts to a smaller Artemis group, Wiseman said, “We have definitely not done that. We have 42 active astronauts, and earlier this year . . . we announced our latest class of astronaut candidates . . . . And they’re in their initial training right now. When they graduate in about 18 months, then they’ll come into the 42 active astronauts with us.”

“The Artemis cadre of astronauts was a public relations stunt, period. And frankly, it has had negative consequences for NASA. It divided the astronaut office into perceived ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Just not healthy for morale,” Berger posted on Twitter following Wiseman’s Aug. 5 statements. “NASA should back up Wiseman’s statement and say all of the corps is eligible for Artemis missions.”

The post Are all astronauts eligible for Artemis moon missions? appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Some Thoughts on the IRA

Of course, until the House passes it, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is only provisional (SWIDT?). Anyway, some thoughts in no particular order:

  1. It was the best of bills, it was the worst of bills. Regardless of the issue, whether it be taxation, environmental policy, or social spending, there is a lot that is good, and a fair amount that is disappointing. It is simultaneously the most progressive environmental legislation the Congress has passed, and it simply gives away too much to the fossil fuel industry.
  2. Related to the previous point, it’s ok if people want to be excited about the IRA, and it’s ok if they’re disappointed.
  3. While there’s good legislation on electric vehicles, there still isn’t enough to cut down on transportation miles. An EV is better than a car powered by lighting things on fire, but every highway, regardless of the car used, is a transmogrification of an oil pipelilne. We need to do much more on transportation.
  4. Pressuring Manchin works, but it depends who does the pressuring. Like all people, he has respected sources, and when they turned on him, he felt a lot of pressure.
  5. Meanwhile, it’s amazing how Manic Pixie Dream Senator Sinema held out for the brass ring of protecting hedge fund managers incomes. She apparently believes getting rid of the carried interest tax deduction would harm investment (that’s bullshit, but it’s quite possible she believes this).
  6. It really isn’t much of an inflation reduction act at all. Who gives a shit? If it had to be called the “Reduces Male Pattern Baldness Act” to get it passed, so be it.
  7. The U.S. Senate is a Rube Goldberg device that doesn’t work.
  8. Professional Democrats should realize that people are desperate for action. Don’t stop here! Keep going!
  9. While this isn’t the IRA per se, the Republican overreaction to Democratic governance, resulting in their ability to prevent a price cap on insulin will really hurt them. Yes, it’s part of their usual m.o. to prevent every Democratic success they can, but the ads write themselves.

1st Look at Local Housing Markets in July

Today, in the Calculated Risk Real Estate Newsletter: 1st Look at Local Housing Markets in July

A brief excerpt:
This is the first look at local markets in July. I’m tracking about 35 local housing markets in the US. Some of the 35 markets are states, and some are metropolitan areas. I’ll update these tables throughout the month as additional data is released.

We are seeing a significant change in inventory, but no pickup in new listings. Most of the increase in inventory so far has been due to softer demand - likely because of higher mortgage rates.
...
Conforming Loan LimitAnd a table of July sales. Sales in these areas were down 32.4% YoY, Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA). Contracts for sales in July were mostly signed in May and June, and we are seeing the impact of higher mortgage rates on July closings.

Last month, these six markets were down 21.3% YoY NSA, so there appears to have been a significant further sales decline in July (this is just a few early markets).

Much more to come!
There is much more in the article. You can subscribe at https://calculatedrisk.substack.com/

Do repugnant markets corrupt society? Kim Krawiec calls for evidence...

 Kim Krawiec, who studies taboo trades from a legal perspective, thinks that people who claim that repugnant transactions undermine society should be asked to provide evidence.

Krawiec, K. (2022). Markets, repugnance, and externalities. Journal of Institutional Economics, 1-12. doi:10.1017/S1744137422000157

Abstract: This Article considers one aspect of the ongoing debate about the moral limits of markets – namely, the purported harmful effects of market transactions on particular relations, goods, services, or society at large, due to an inappropriate valuation. In other words, the argument is that some markets are ‘repugnant’ because they degrade and corrupt a variety of nonmarket values and relations, not just to the willing parties to the exchange, but to larger segments of society. This objection contains both a (frequently unacknowledged) empirical component and a moral component. This Article critiques these empirical claims on two grounds. First, market skeptics fail to provide evidence of the negative effects they hypothesize, despite widespread variation over time and across legal regimes. Second, these objections fail to account for the well-documented human tendency to fashion repugnant exchanges in a manner that reinforces – rather than undermines – deeply held values and relationships.

...

"how do we, as a society, determine what is up for sale and what must be immune from market forces? Although all cultures and time periods have proclaimed some transactions too sacred for the marketplace, those boundaries vary greatly across times and cultures and are often contested at the margins (Fiske and Tetlock1997). Once-common practices such as slavery, commutation (a direct payment to the government in exchange for relief from military service), substitution (paying another for military service in one's place), and the purchase of indulgences are no longer acceptable in most societies ( Krawiec2009a; NY Times, 1864). At the same time, formerly taboo practices, such as charging interest on a loan or accepting money in exchange for the practice of law are now widespread – although, in the case of charging interest, not universally so (Rossman2014).

...

"Many justifications have been offered for limits on ‘repugnant’ (Roth 2007) or ‘taboo’ ( Fiske and Tetlock1997) markets. This article considers a single, but prominent, objection – that some markets degrade and corrupt a variety of nonmarket values and relations, not just to the willing parties to the exchange, but to larger segments of society. This objection often involves concerns about the purported harmful effects of market transactions on particular relations, goods, services, or society at large due to an inappropriate valuation and has both a (frequently unacknowledged) empirical component and a moral component.

"The objection is empirical because it contends that markets in certain items and activities change the way in which society and its members perceive those items and activities or the non-market relationships through which they would otherwise be supplied. It is also a moral claim, because it rests on a contention that the change is inevitably negative – that certain modes of valuation and visions of the world are superior to others, or at least unsuitable to certain situations ( Anderson1993).

...

"This Article critiques these empirical claims on two grounds. First, as noted by others, market skeptics fail to provide evidence of the negative effects they hypothesize, despite widespread variation over time and across legal regimes. Second, and more importantly, these objections fail to account for the well-documented human tendency to fashion repugnant exchanges in a manner that reinforces – rather than undermines – deeply held values and relationships. The fact that a particular transaction is deemed morally repugnant by large swathes of society does not, after all, mean that such transactions disappear, even in the face of strong legal sanctions and criminal prohibitions. But it does mean that such exchanges may be managed, obfuscated, or reframed in some way, acknowledging and reinforcing the taboo in the process.

...

"to the extent that some, including Sandel (2012), have explicitly contended that ‘market creep’ has occurred without public awareness or debate, that claim is undermined by the full extent to which participants in and third-party observers of repugnant exchange have, in fact, debated, modified, and managed those exchanges over time."

Evolution and the Poorly Designed Human Eye

The human eye is marvelous but also very poorly designed. The poor design is evidence against intelligent design and in favor of the “unguided, unplanned, messy, quirky, and historically contingent” process of evolutionary design. A short piece from 2008, Suboptimal Optics: Vision Problems as Scars of Evolutionary History, does a nice job explaining.

Most well known is that the wiring is backwards.

The most obvious design flaw of the retina is that the cellular layers are backwards. Light has to travel through multiple layers in order to get to the rods and cones that act as the photoreceptors. There is no functional reason for this arrangement—it is purely quirky and contingent.

Even in a healthy and normally functioning eye, this arrangement causes problems. Because the nerve fibers coming from the rods and cones need to come together as the optic nerve, which then has to travel back to the brain, there needs to be a hole in the retina through which the optic nerve can travel. This hole creates a blind spot in each eye. Our brains compensate for this blind spot so that we normally do not perceive it—but it is there.

From a practical point of view, this is a minor compromise to visual function, but it is completely unnecessary. If the rods and cones were simply turned around so that their cell bodies and axons were behind them (oriented to the direction of light), then there would be no need for a blind spot at all.

Cephalopod’s like octopuses took a slightly different evolutionary path and have a better design:

But the reversal of the wiring isn’t the only design flaw.

The arrangement of the extraocular muscles—the muscles that move the eyes—is also difficult to explain without appealing to evolutionary contingency. There are more muscles than are minimally necessary and yet there is no functional redundancy. In order to move a sphere in any direction, only three muscles would be necessary, evenly spaced like the legs of a tripod. The human eye has six—the superior, inferior, lateral, and medial rectus, and the superior and inferior oblique. And yet, despite the extra three muscles, the loss of function of any one muscle causes an impairment of eye movement and results in double vision or displaced vision. A more frugal design with only three muscles would be more efficient and less prone to malfunction, as there are fewer components to break down.

If the eye were to be designed with more than the minimal three muscles, then it would make sense to arrange the muscles so that the loss of one or even more would not impair eye movement.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Paul Kedrosky.

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On Technique

In a previous article, I wrote about how models like DALL-E and Imagen disassociate ideas from technique. In the past, if you had a good idea in any field, you could only realize that idea if you had the craftsmanship and technique to back it up. With DALL-E, that’s no longer true. You can say, “Make me a picture of a lion attacking a horse,” and it will happily generate one. Maybe not as good as the one that hangs in an art museum, but you don’t need to know anything about canvas, paints, and brushes, nor do you need to get your clothes covered with paint.

This raises some important questions, though. What is the connection between expertise and ideation? Does technique help you form ideas? (The Victorian artist William Morris is often quoted as saying “You can’t have art without resistance in the materials,” though he may only have been talking about his hatred of typewriters.) And what kinds of user interfaces will be effective for collaborations between humans and computers, where the computers supply the technique and we supply the ideas? Designing the prompts to get DALL-E to do something extraordinary requires a new kind of technique that’s very different from understanding pigments and brushes. What kinds of creativity does that new technique enable? How are these works different from what came before?

As interesting as it is to talk about art, there’s an area where these questions are more immediate. GitHub Copilot (based on a model named Codex, which is derived from GPT-3) generates code in a number of programming languages, based on comments that the user writes. Going in the other direction, GPT-3 has proven to be surprisingly good at explaining code. Copilot users still need to be programmers; they need to know whether the code that Copilot supplies is correct, and they need to know how to test it. The prompts themselves are really a sort of pseudo-code; even if the programmers don’t need to remember details of the language’s syntax or the names of library functions, they still need to think like programmers. But it’s obvious where this is trending. We need to ask ourselves how much “technique” we will ask of future programmers: in the 2030s or 2040s, will people just be able to tell some future Copilot what they want a program to be? More to the point, what sort of higher-order knowledge will future programmers need? Will they be able to focus more on the nature of what they want to accomplish, and less on the syntactic details of writing code?

It’s easy to imagine a lot of software professionals saying, “Of course you’ll have to know C. Or Java. Or Python. Or Scala.” But I don’t know if that’s true. We’ve been here before. In the 1950s, computers were programmed in machine language. (And before that, with cables and plugs.) It’s hard to imagine now, but the introduction of the first programming languages–Fortran, COBOL, and the like–was met with resistance from programmers who thought you needed to understand the machine. Now almost no one works in machine language or assembler. Machine language is reserved for a few people who need to work on some specialized areas of operating system internals, or who need to write some kinds of embedded systems code.

What would be necessary for another transformation? Tools like Copilot, useful as they may be, are nowhere near ready to take over. What capabilities will they need? At this point, programmers still have to decide whether or not code generated by Copilot is correct. We don’t (generally) have to decide whether the output of a C or Java compiler is correct, nor do we have to worry about whether, given the same source code, the compiler will generate identical output. Copilot doesn’t make that guarantee–and, even if it did, any change to the model (for example, to incorporate new StackOverflow questions or GitHub repositories) would be very likely to change its output. While we can certainly imagine compiling a program from a series of Copilot prompts, I can’t imagine a program that would be likely to stop working if it was recompiled without changes to the source code. Perhaps the only exception would be a library that could be developed once, then tested, verified, and used without modification–but the development process would have to re-start from ground zero whenever a bug or a security vulnerability was found. That wouldn’t be acceptable; we’ve never written programs that don’t have bugs, or that never need new features. A key principle behind much modern software development is minimizing the amount of code that has to change to fix bugs or add features.

It’s easy to think that programming is all about creating new code. It isn’t; one thing that every professional learns quickly is that most of the work goes into maintaining old code. A new generation of programming tools must take that into account, or we’ll be left in a weird situation where a tool like Copilot can be used to write new code, but programmers will still have to understand that code in detail because it can only be maintained by hand. (It is possible–even likely–that we will have AI-based tools that help programmers research software supply chains, discover vulnerabilities, and possibly even suggest fixes.) Writing about AI-generated art, Raphaël Millière says, “No prompt will produce the exact same result twice”; that may be desirable for artwork, but is destructive for programming. Stability and consistency is a requirement for next-generation programming tools; we can’t take a step backwards.

The need for greater stability might drive tools like Copilot from free-form English language prompts to some kind of more formal language. A book about prompt engineering for DALL-E already exists; in a way, that’s trying to reverse-engineer a formal language for generating images. A formal language for prompts is a move back in the direction of traditional programming, though possibly with a difference. Current programming languages are all about describing, step by step, what you want the computer to do in great detail. Over the years, we’ve gradually progressed to higher levels of abstraction. Could building a language model into a compiler facilitate the creation of a simpler language, one in which programmers just described what they wanted to do, and let the machine worry about the implementation, while providing guarantees of stability? Remember that it was possible to build applications with graphical interfaces, and for those applications to communicate about the Internet, before the Web. The Web (and, specifically, HTML) added a new formal language that encapsulated tasks that used to require programming.

Now let’s move up a level or two: from lines of code to functions, modules, libraries, and systems. Everyone I know who has worked with Copilot has said that, while you don’t need to remember the details of the programming libraries you’re using, you have to be even more aware of what you’re trying to accomplish. You have to know what you want to do; you have to have a design in mind. Copilot is good at low-level coding; does a programmer need to be in touch with the craft of low-level coding to think about the high-level design? Up until now that’s certainly been true, but largely out of necessity: you wouldn’t let someone design a large system who hasn’t built smaller systems. It is true (as Dave Thomas and Andy Hunt argued in The Pragmatic Programmer) that knowing different programming languages gives you different tools and approaches for solving problems.  Is the craft of software architecture different from the craft of programming?

We don’t really have a good language for describing software design. Attempts like UML have been partially successful at best. UML was both over- and under-specified, too precise and not precise enough; tools that generated source code scaffolding from UML diagrams exist, but aren’t commonly used these days. The scaffolding defined interfaces, classes, and methods that could then be implemented by programmers. While automatically generating the structure of a system sounds like a good idea, in practice it may have made things more difficult: if the high-level specification changed, so did the scaffolding, obsoleting any work that had been put into implementing with the scaffold. This is similar to the compiler’s stability problem, modulated into a different key. Is this an area where AI could help?

I suspect we still don’t want source code scaffolding, at least as UML envisioned it; that’s bound to change with any significant change in the system’s description. Stability will continue to be a problem. But it might be valuable to have a AI-based design tool that can take a verbal description of a system’s requirements, then generate some kind of design based on a large library of software systems–like Copilot, but at a higher level. Then the problem would be integrating that design with implementations of the design, some of which could be created (or at least suggested) by a system like Copilot. The problem we’re facing is that software development takes place on two levels: high level design and mid-level programming. Integrating the two is a hard problem that hasn’t been solved convincingly.  Can we imagine taking a high-level design, adding our descriptions to it, and going directly from the high-level design with mid-level details to an executable program? That programming environment would need the ability to partition a large project into smaller pieces, so teams of programmers could collaborate. It would need to allow changes to the high-level descriptions, without disrupting work on the objects and methods that implement those descriptions. It would need to be integrated with a version control system that is effective for the English-language descriptions as it is for lines of code. This wouldn’t be thinkable without guarantees of stability.

It was fashionable for a while to talk about programming as “craft.”  I think that fashion has waned, probably for the better; “code as craft” has always seemed a bit precious to me. But the idea of “craft” is still useful: it is important for us to think about how the craft may change, and how fundamental those changes can’t be. It’s clear that we are a long way from a world where only a few specialists need to know languages like C or Java or Python. But it’s also possible that developments like Copilot give us a glimpse of what the next step might be. Lamenting the state of programing tools, which haven’t changed much since the 1960s, Alan Kay wrote on Quora that “the next significant threshold that programming must achieve is for programs and programming systems to have a much deeper understanding of both what they are trying to do, and what they are actually doing.” A new craft of programming that is focused less on syntactic details, and more on understanding what the systems we are building are trying to accomplish, is the goal we should be aiming for.

Recoding art

Recoding art | Aeon Videos

When AIs visit a modern art museum, their reactions are both funny and revealing of the imperfect humans who trained them

- by Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Living closer together

Living closer together | Aeon Essays

Urban density was once seen as a sign of unhealthiness and poverty. But today it is necessary to make cities sustainable

- by Max Holleran

Read at Aeon

Pharmaceutical drugs redux

In 2019 I presented this excerpt:

Humans are living longer, better lives thanks to innovations in prescription drugs over the past three decades, according to several new studies by Frank Lichtenberg, the Courtney C. Brown Professor of Business.

Every year, according to Lichtenberg’s research, drugs launched since 1982 are adding 150 million life-years to the lifespans of people in 22 countries that he analyzed. He calculated the average pharmaceutical expenditure per life-year saved at $2,837 — a bargain, he says.

“According to most health economists and policymakers, if you could extend someone’s life by a year for less than $3,000, that is highly cost effective,” says Lichtenberg, who gathered new data for these studies to cast a never-before seen view of the econometrics of prescription drugs. “People might be surprised by how cost-effective drugs appear to be in general.”

…To tease out the answer, the professor gathered data on drug launches and the age-standardized premature mortality rate by country, disease, and year. Drawing on data from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, consulting company IQVIA, and French database Theriaque, Lichtenberg was able to identify the role that pharmaceutical innovation played in reducing the number of years of life lost due to 66 diseases in 27 countries. (“Years of life lost” is an estimate of the average years a person would have lived if he or she had not died prematurely.)

OK, now a simple economics question: given such numbers, should we be spending more on pharmaceutical drugs, or less?  I might add that biomedicine has made some spectacular advances as of late, so the notion that these are average costs, and the marginal cost slants sharply upward, probably is not true.

Here are further MR posts on this line of research.  Here are Lichtenberg’s NBER working papers.

How many of you got the simple economics question right?

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Economic misconceptions of the crypto world

By Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch (1747-1822) - Eigenbesitz, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=940691

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency investments are still being advertised aggressively all over the world. On my recent trip to Tokyo I saw glowing billboards with giant Bitcoin signs and bookstores with tables piled with books about NFTs. When I walk through downtown San Francisco, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s face looms at me from every street corner, telling me: “THE FUTURE OF INVESTING IS CRYPTO. YOU IN?”

Most regular shlubbs who buy into crypto are probably not going to do a deep, careful analysis of its fundamental value, either as a currency or as a technology. Instead, they’re probably going to buy in because some guy at work bought Bitcoin back in 2013 and now he drives a Lamborghini, or their cousin turned a profit on some NFT. But the stories associated with Bitcoin and web3 probably do have some importance here. When regular shlubbs ask themselves “Wait, why am I buying this thing again?”, it helps to have a story to tell for why it’s a good investment, even if that story alone wouldn’t have convinced them to buy.

So I think it’s helpful to take a hard-nosed look at some of the economic stories that are floating around there in the crypto world. These stories are hard to pin down precisely, because — crypto being the decentralized enterprise that it is — there is no one authority that tells you what to think about Bitcoin or the Metaverse etc. So characterizing the stories that are floating around out there always puts one in danger of straw-manning. Nevertheless, I think there are some important economic errors in the stories I see people telling about crypto, on Twitter and elsewhere — errors that have important implications for how we should think about the value of Bitcoin and other blockchain assets.

Misconception 1: Cash is a form of long-term savings

Bitcoin boosters generally present Bitcoin as an alternative to fiat money like the U.S. dollar. They give lots of reasons why fiat currencies will always fail, and many love to declare the death of the dollar (always prematurely, so far). This forms the core of an investment thesis — if the world is going to switch from paying for things in fiat to paying for things in Bitcoin, then people who hoard lots of Bitcoin early on will end up being very rich if and when when the switch happens.

I think this investment thesis is pretty clearly wrong, and that Bitcoin will never actually become a currency. David Andolfatto has a good explanation of why. (Disclosure: I nevertheless do own some Bitcoin, for other reasons.) But the case for Bitcoin replacing fiat also has a moral dimension, which is subtler to rebut. Regardless of whether or not Bitcoin does replace the dollar, its proponents often argue that it should replace the dollar, because the dollar is inflationary.

“Inflationary” simply means that the dollar’s value — in terms of real useful commodities like bread, gasoline, and doctor’s appointments — goes down over time. The Fed targets a 2% inflation rate, and usually inflation stays fairly close to that numbers (though not right now). This is why a dollar is less valuable than it used to be — $1 dollar in 1913 was about as valuable as $30 in 2022.

To many Bitcoiners, this represents an injustice. Why should unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats in distant Washington, D.C. get to devalue your hard-earned cash? To these folks, Bitcoin seems to represent individual autonomy, because the Fed doesn’t get to decide how much your money is worth. And the idea that Bitcoin appreciates rather than depreciates over time seems to value personal frugality and probity, because it promises that people who work hard and save money will be able to keep the fruits of their labors.

But this idea rests on a fundamental misconception: The idea that cash should rise in value over time. In fact, cash was never meant to be a form of long-term savings.

Consider a world where cash goes up in value over time — where simply because you stuffed some money under a mattress, you can afford more and more of society’s production every year. This sounds like a pretty good deal, right? In fact, it is a good deal — too good, really. In this sort of deflationary world, you’re getting wealth for nothing — society is continually transferring you more and more of the fruits of its labors in exchange for you doing absolutely bupkis.

If money earns a positive real return over time, that return doesn’t represent a reward for hard work done; it represents a freebie. A handout. In economic terms, this is called “rent”.

If Bitcoin actually did become the currency of the land, and its value rose year after year, that rising value would represent a transfer of real resources to people who sit on cash and do nothing at all with it. And where do those real resources come from? Well, they must come from productive workers and companies. So the world Bitcoiners imagine is a world where productive workers and companies are subsidizing the lifestyles of cash hoarders.

That doesn’t sound fair. And it’s not economically efficient either. Economists argue back and forth over whether the optimal rate of inflation is 0 or some small positive number, but you will find very few who argue that the optimal rate of inflation is negative.

So if cash shouldn’t make you wealthier over time, what should? The answer is simple: Productive assets. When you invest your savings in a company, you’re (at least theoretically) funding that company to do something productive. By allocating your capital to productive projects, you’re not being a useless rentier, you’re being a capitalist — you’re taking on risk, and getting paid a return for taking on that risk.

That’s the source of one of the most fundamental principles of financial economics: the risk-return tradeoff. In a well-functioning financial market, earning a return is compensation for taking on risk.

That’s why a deflationary currency doesn’t really make sense. Something that’s a good short-term store of value (i.e., has low volatility) won’t be a good long-term store of value — i.e., it will not earn a high return. Good currencies are ones whose value is very predictable in the short term — thus, they are things that don’t earn good returns in the long term. (This is why Bitcoin, at least in its current form, will not be used as currency.)

In other words, cash should not be your primary savings vehicle. Your primary savings vehicle should be long-term productive assets like stocks, bonds, and real estate. You should hold only enough cash to make your monthly purchases, plus a small emergency fund. Your cash is your liquidity.

Now, there’s one big problem with this idea. Poor people aren’t easily able to hold productive assets, for several reasons. First, some productive assets like houses are simply beyond their reach. Second, they have low information and have trouble accessing financial markets where they can buy things like stock. And third, poor people have so little wealth that merely maintaining a small emergency fund will take up most of their entire savings. Thus, poor people are forced to hold their savings in cash.

This is a big problem, but the solution is not to switch our society to a deflationary currency so that cash earns a positive real return over time. Doing this would allow poor people to earn a tiny return on their tiny holdings of cash, sure. But most of the returns in this sort of regime would flow to people who are able to hold a ton of cash — in other words, to the rich. Giving poor people a few bucks of returns is not worth giving rich people a huge windfall of unearned returns. Instead, if you want to give poor people money to compensate for the fact that they can’t buy stocks, just give them cash benefits. Or buy stocks for them with a social wealth fund. Bitcoin is not the solution to poverty.

Misconception 2: Scarcity creates value

Much of the crypto world is based on the idea that the way to make something valuable is to make it scarce. This is one of the basic theses of Bitcoin — the idea that because the total number of Bitcoins will ultimately be algorithmically limited, Bitcoin will rise in value over time. It’s also the fundamental concept behind NFTs — if you take an easily copy-able jpeg of a monkey and you tell the world that only one person really owns that jpeg, people will pay for that exclusive feeling of ownership because it is scarce.

And finally, it’s one of the fundamental ways that people are trying to commercialize the Metaverse. Many people seem to have the idea that the next iteration of the internet will involve exclusive access to digital environments, like land but in the digital realm. Real estate represents a huge percent of the wealth in the physical world, so why not in the digital world as well?

Unfortunately this idea isn’t working out very well so far:

It could be that it’s just too early, and that eventually digital land will be a very big deal. But in fact there’s a deep reason to be skeptical that this idea will ever come to fruition: Scarcity, by itself, does not actually create value.

Some sloppy high school economics teachers might tell you that scarcity creates value, as a way of debunking the old utility theory of value. But in fact what creates demand is a combination of usefulness and scarcity — it’s how scarce something is relative to how useful it is, on the margin.

That’s just a wordy way of saying “Value is determined by supply and demand”. Simply restricting the supply of something doesn’t automatically make it valuable, because demand might be zero — this is why while some kids’ drawings become famous expensive NFTs, your own kid’s drawings are highly unlikely to command any positive price in the market.

But even if there’s plenty of demand, artificially limiting supply might not pump up the price much at all. The reason is that the effects of supply shifts depends on the elasticity of demand. Let’s draw a picture.

In this picture, demand is perfectly elastic — people know what price they’re going to pay for something, and not one cent more. In this case, even though the thing you’re selling does have value — maybe lots of value! — restricting supply doesn’t raise the price at all. Instead, you’re just selling less stuff and making less money.

Now, this is a pretty simple model with no actual pricing power in the economy. I was just using it to make a point. More realistically, what if companies have market power, so that they have some ability to choose how much to sell and how much to charge for it?

In that kind of a world, companies can (and do) make their products artificially scarce in order to jack up the price. But this is a bad outcome — it’s a kind of market failure, because it results in the economy producing too little stuff. This is why economists don’t like monopolies.

So now apply this principle to the Metaverse. The amazing, awesome thing about the internet is that there’s room for everyone — it costs very little to create more “space” in digital environments, so people aren’t limited in what they can build, the way they are limited in the physical world. Putting artificial limits on how much people can access digital environments is raising price higher than marginal cost.

That’s either economically stupid or economically inefficient. In the case where the internet is competitive — where anyone can come in and create digital land for almost zero cost — then making your own digital land artificially scarce will just result in everyone walking away, as happened with the Metaverse products in the tweet above. In the case where you have some monopoly over some sort of digital land — for example, if you have a big existing social network that everyone already uses — you might be able to make a profit by limiting access and jacking up price. But this means you’re making the economy inefficient, by charging money for something that, based on its fundamental cost structure, ought to be free or nearly free.

Now there are a few exceptions to this general rule — things that people value because they’ve decided to use them as status symbols in a zero-sum status-signaling competition. We call these Veblen goods, and they do exist (authentic Rolex watches being a good example). If you can make your NFT or your Metaverse property into something people decide to splurge on just to prove how rich they are, more power to you, I suppose.

In general, though, scarcity doesn’t create value. Limiting your own product until it’s as rare as diamonds will not make it as valuable as diamonds. In fact, often it will just lose you money.

Crypto people think a lot about economics, and that’s good. But too often they think about it in loose, impressionistic ways, or they engage in wishful thinking based on their own morals, or they simply misunderstand how basic econ principles work. And too often, they think they can force these misunderstandings to be true by yelling them at people over and over. Folks, it does not work like that.


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Ireland facts of the day

The republic is enjoying a €8bn corporate tax windfall after bumper pandemic-enhanced revenues from tech and pharmaceutical companies. The tax take from companies attracted by Ireland’s 12.5 per cent corporate rate has soared since 2015 and leapt a further 30 per cent last year compared with 2020.

Ireland’s economy expanded by 6.3 per cent over the second quarter, against an EU average of just 0.6 per cent. So great was the impact from multinationals that Ireland’s numbers distorted EU figures, despite the nation of 5.1mn making up less than 3 per cent of the region’s economy.

Here is more from the FT.

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It’s About the Classified Documents

We now have confirmation from CNN that the raid was about the 15 boxes of classified documents that Trump took with him to Mar-a-Lago. This is a critical point. This is not tied to the January 6th investigation or the conspiracy that preceded. This is a separate investigation.

Initial Thoughts

You see the big news. It speaks for itself in terms of its magnitude. We can drown in schadenfreude. But the reality is that this is a massive, massive development with no precedent or parallel in American history. I assume this is about the disposition of classified documents investigation, one of the less serious (in relative terms) of the investigations he faces. But I have no idea. Perhaps it’s tied to the events of January 6th or the conspiracy that preceded it. I don’t know and I’ll be curious to hear whether reporters closer to those investigations have some suspicions or insight.

One notable thing is that Trump himself revealed it. A local Florida politics site got the first scoop, one would imagine from witnesses seeing the FBI agents come and go. But what jumped out to me was the total absence of any reports in the big national news orgs. They seem to have been totally in dark until Trump’s announcement. This obviously wasn’t going to stay secret. But the Feds appear to have run very, very silent. No tips to the big news orgs, no heads up, even after it was over. That’s understandable. But it’s still an important data point.

The other big thing to watch is the reaction of Republican elected officials. Do they see it as something to go to war over? Or do they treat it like any other investigation: Trump is presumed innocent, etc. A lot of them currently want Trumpism but see Trump himself as more and more a liability. Needless to say, we know what Trump wants. Keep an eye on this critical part of the equation.

How NASA Operated Before PowerPoint

Book Review: The Apollo 11 Flight Plan: A Real Script Of Exploration

"The Apollo 11 Flight Plan" from relaunch.space is one of the more unusual books that I have "read" or reviewed. Let me get this out of they up front: this book represents a true labor of love and dedication to the art of making history available as if it happened yesterday.

This book contains a faithful recreation of the Apollo 11 flight plan. Not a good photocopy or scanned version done via print on demand. No, these folks recreated every letter, number, symbol, and diagram precisely as it would have appeared in the actual first edition used by the crew. Indeed, it is probably even sharper.

Some background: I know a lot about things like this. Everyone who has worked at NASA does. We now see things created by virtually the entire workforce in PowerPoint. Many NASA people use PowerPoint as a crutch - either to remind themselves of what they are supposed to say or to give the impression that they actually have something to say. Or both.

Flight plans now - and then - are no nonsense things. Lives and mission success depend on them. You train with them, study them during down times on a mission, and then hope that you can find that one arcane thing in the midst of a crisis when you really need it. Today we see astronauts floating around with these things on iPads. Otherwise, not much has really changed."