AFDLOX April 7, 10:33pm

FXUS66 KLOX 080533 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion...UPDATED National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 1033 PM PDT Tue Apr 7 2020 updated aviation discussion .SYNOPSIS...07/732 PM. Scattered rain and mountain snow showers will continue through early Friday with light snow on the major passes Wednesday morning. There is a slight chance of thunderstorms on Wednesday in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, including across the adjacent coastal waters. The weekend will be dry with a slow warming trend.

Do better incentives limit cognitive biases?

There is a new paper by Benjamin Enke, Uri Gneezy, Brian Hall, David Martin, Vadim Nelidov, Theo Offerman, and Jeroen van de Ven:

Despite decades of research on heuristics and biases, empirical evidence on the effect of large incentives – as present in relevant economic decisions – on cognitive biases is scant. This paper tests the effect of incentives on four widely documented biases: base rate neglect, anchoring, failure of contingent thinking, and intuitive reasoning in the Cognitive Reflection Test. In preregistered laboratory experiments with 1,236 college students in Nairobi, we implement three incentive levels: no incentives, standard lab payments, and very high incentives that increase the stakes by a factor of 100 to more than a monthly income. We find that cognitive effort as measured by response times increases by 40% with very high stakes. Performance, on the other hand, improves very mildly or not at all as incentives increase, with the largest improvements due to a reduced reliance on intuitions. In none of the tasks are very high stakes sufficient to debias participants, or come even close to doing so. These results contrast with expert predictions that forecast larger performance improvements.

Via Kadeem Noray (EV winner, btw).  This is perhaps related to behavior during and leading up to the lockdown…

The post Do better incentives limit cognitive biases? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

AFDSGX April 7, 9:36pm

FXUS66 KSGX 080436 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 930 PM PDT Tue Apr 7 2020 .SYNOPSIS... A low pressure system southwest of Point Conception will move slowly move across Southern California through Friday, finally moving eastward and out of the area on Saturday. It will be cold with scattered showers Wednesday through Friday. Saturday through Monday will be mostly dry and a little warmer.

*Markets, Minds, and Money: Why America Leads the World in University Research*

One of the best books on the history of American higher education, author Miguel Urquiola of Columbia argues for the importance of market competition in the rise and dominance of the American system.  Strongly argued and full of good evidence and stories, here is one excerpt I found of interest:

That Columbia would be among the first successful American research universities would have surprised many observers around 1850, as the school had seen real oscillations in its fortunes.  For the first decades after its creation in 1754, Columbia was a wealthy but small school.  In 1774 it had the highest collegiate endowment, but only 36 students, while Harvard and Yale had four or five times as many…in 1797 the college had eight faculty members, during most of the 1800s it had four.  In 1809, an inquiry warned that Columbia College “was fast becoming, if it has not become already, a mere Grammar School”; between 1800 and 1850, even as New York City grew, the school’s enrollment stagnated, and even in 1850 the average entering age was 15.

And this:

Among wealthy countries, the United States is unusual in letting its university sector operate as a free market.  Self-rule, free entry, and free scope are much less prevalent in Europe.

Recommended, you can pre-order here.

The post *Markets, Minds, and Money: Why America Leads the World in University Research* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

COVID-19 Will Touch Every Single One Of You

Message From The NASA Administrator: Prioritize Your Health & Safety, NASA

"The health and safety of the NASA workforce is our top priority as we navigate the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. For that reason, I want to re-emphasize a point I raised during our March 25 town hall - any employee who is reporting to work on-site but does not feel comfortable continuing to do so should not be afraid to raise that concern with his or her supervisor. Alternate work arrangements will be made without reprisal."

Keith's note: My next door neighbor who has often been a surrogate mother to me after I lost mine is in the hospital with COVID-19. The mother of one of my closest friends is also in the hospital with COVID-19. To everyone reading these words: this will happen to someone you know - someone you care about. Perhaps even you. Do what Jim says to do and we'll all get beyond this.

Taking Temperatures from ISS

Taking Temperatures from ISS
During nearly a year of flight testing on the space station, a new thermal infrared camera collected more than 15 million images.



Jelisa Castrodale, writing for Vice:

Then there’s that “Sexiest Man Alive” petition, which someone at People magazine actually had to respond to. “He has helped bring back ‘must-see TV’ to the masses, who are hungry for wisdom about how to best care for their family’s health and safety in this time of uncertainty,” Dan Wakeford, People’s editor-in-chief told Women’s Wear Daily. “Smart is sexy, no doubt.”

And, because each passing day presents the opportunity for me to type sentences that have never existed before, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is currently taking pre-orders for a Dr. Fauci bobblehead.


Alex Kantrowitz on Apple’s Apparently Dysfunctional Information Systems and Technology Group

An excerpt from Alex Kantrowitz’s Always Day One, published at BuzzFeed News:

A group inside Apple called Information Systems & Technology, or IS&T, builds much of the company’s internal technology tools — from servers and data infrastructure to retail and corporate sales software — and operates in a state of tumult.

IS&T is made up largely of contractors hired by rival consulting companies, and its dysfunction has led to a rolling state of war. “It’s a huge contractor org that handles a crazy amount of infrastructure for the company,” one ex-employee who worked closely with IS&T told me. “That whole organization is a Game of Thrones nightmare.” […]

When IS&T’s projects are finally completed, they can cause even more headaches for Apple employees, who are left with a mess to clean up. Multiple people told me their Apple colleagues were forced to rewrite code after IS&T-built products showed up broken.

Michael Tsai:

From what I’ve heard, this is a longtime problem, and it’s a mystery to me why this group has been immune to the Cook Doctrine. Apple buys forests to manage the paper used in its packaging and designs the desks its employees use and even the pizza boxes for its cafeteria. But when it comes to building the software that runs the company, that’s not considered a core competency.

I have to raise an eyebrow at Kantrowitz’s closing:

For Apple, fixing its broken IS&T division would not only be the right thing to do from a moral standpoint — it would help the company’s business as well. If Apple is going to become inventive again, it will need to give its employees more time to develop new ideas.

If Apple is no longer inventive, what is Apple Watch? What are AirPods? If it wasn’t inventiveness, what was it when Apple completely redesigned the fundamental interaction design of the iPhone with the iPhone X? When was Apple “inventive”? Once in 1984, and once more in 2007?


Trump Admin Still Pushed Mask Exports to China in Late Feb

Here is a fascinating new bit of information. It’s not new per se. But either I hadn’t heard about it or perhaps it’s simply been overrun in the furious last month of news. As recently as the end of February, the US Commerce Department was encouraging US companies to take advantage of newly relaxed Chinese import regulations to export masks, ventilators and other COVID-relevant medical supplies to China.

This is consistent with the Trump Commerce Department’s focus on gaining entry into Chinese markets. For China it made sense. They were the just beginning to get their own COVID-19 outbreak under control. But it was more than a month after the first US case was reported on January 21st and within days of the first community spread cases and deaths being reported in the US.

The Commerce Department bulletin advertised US Commercial Service China staff were available to facilitate the special export opportunity.

Here is a screen capture of the Commerce Department Bulletin.

The alert was flagged on February 28th by Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D). It was then referenced in a brief item in The New York Times on March 2nd.

Behind the Scenes at the JHU Coronavirus Dashboard

JHU coronavirus dashboard screenshot
JHU CSSE (screenshot)

ArcGIS-based dashboards tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus are now reasonably common, but the first was produced by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering. As Nature Index reports in this behind-the-scenes look at the JHU coronavirus dashboard, the decision to launch was spur of the moment, but now the dashboard and its underlying data get more than a billion hits every single day, and it is now managed by a team that numbers nearly two dozen. [GIS Lounge]

Two Quick Links for Tuesday Evening

Film release delays caused by the pandemic. Black Widow, Wonder Woman, The French Dispatch, Top Gun, Indiana Jones, Bond, and Minions have all been pushed back months. []

List of live streams from around the world, courtesy of The Social Distancing Festival []


Note: Quick Links are pushed to this RSS feed twice a day. For more immediate service, check out the front page of, the Quick Links archive, or the @kottke Twitter feed.

Raymond: Space Force acquisition proposals are about ‘going fast’

WASHINGTON — A report recommending changes in how military space systems are funded and acquired will be sent to Congress in the next few days, Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond said April 7.

Speaking on a video chat hosted by the Mitchell Institute, Raymond said the recommendations in the report are intended to help the Space Force “go fast” in the development and fielding of new systems.

Raymond said he could not discuss the specific proposals because the report has not yet been delivered to Congress. He said the recommended changes “will give us more flexibility, and help us on requirements on the front end.”

Accelerating the pace of acquisitions is important in order to stay ahead of adversaries that are developing anti-satellite weapons, said Raymond.

Two recent studies by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Secure World Foundation catalog the technological advances made by China and Russia in the development of space weapons that could physically take down U.S. military satellites. These studies also warn that nations and non-state actors increasingly are able to interfere with satellite signals using low-cost electronic jammers.

“I’m very concerned” about these developments, said Raymond. “The space capabilities we operate are critical and we need to be able to protect them,” he said. Right now “I’m very comfortable we have capabilities to protect and defend but I’m more concerned with our ability to go fast and stay ahead of the threat,” Raymond said. “Clearly our superiority margin is diminishing.”

Raymond said he was closely involved in drafting the acquisition report and called it a “bold” proposal.

Another area of focus for the Space Force now is the 2022 budget request, which Raymond called “our first ever budget.” The 2021 budget was essentially a transfer of accounts from Air Force to Space Force program lines.

“We’re also working on culture and outreach” efforts, he said. “The seal, the song, the uniforms, those things are important to our service members.”

Pandemic Dashboard: 3

Unanticipated Consequences Accidents down, so insurance companies refunding some premiums. Billboard advertising down because nobody out to look at them. Crime down. Beyond Fat and Lean Food getting tossed at farms while people face shortages. Toilet paper panic is partly legit because office/commercial toilet paper supply chain is different. The Great Indoors Not everything about […]

CASIS IRT Report Released

NASA Shares Findings, Recommendations, and Response to Review of International Space Station National Lab

"An external team appointed by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has completed its review of the operations and management of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory, which the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) manages. The Independent Review Team (IRT) delivered its report to the agency in February, and NASA is now publicly releasing the report in full as well as the agency's response to its recommendations."

Message from the CASIS Board of Directors in Response to the Findings and Recommendations of the Independent Review of the International Space Station National Lab, CASIS

"With the goal of full utilization of ISS resources achieved, CASIS also recognizes that realizing the return on investment that the American people have made in the ISS requires important changes in the model of the ISS National Lab, and in its relationship with NASA," said Co-chair of the CASIS Board of Directors Dr. Andrei Ruckenstein. "We embrace the recommendations of the IRT report, many of which are fully aligned with our strategic plan and changes we have already begun implementing with our NASA colleagues. We are committed to working with NASA, other non-governmental organizations, implementation partners, and the broader user community toward maximizing access to the ISS for diverse users, accelerating sustainable commercial development of space and inspiring a next-generation of innovators and leaders."

Earlier CASIS postings

Country Sky versus City Sky

Country Sky versus City Sky  Country Sky versus City Sky

HASC Chairman: Space Force launch contracts should stay on schedule to help industrial base

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force should not delay the selection of national security space launch providers scheduled for later this year, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said April 7.

“It is still my position that we should not delay that decision,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters during a conference call.

The Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center is reviewing bids from United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman. The four launch providers are competing for two five-year contracts to be awarded in mid-2020 for national security space launch services. SMC said that timeline is still in place but might be reconsidered if launch companies are unable to complete the development of their new rockets due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Smith said he would encourage SMC to stick to the schedule as much as possible as a delay would impact the finances of companies that are already hurting from the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

“I think it’s really important that we move forward and stick to the schedule,” said Smith. “The companies have clarity on what’s expected of them.”

As the space industry prepares for a slowdown in commercial business and venture funding because of the pandemic, winning military launch contracts will be hugely consequential not only for the large space companies but also for their smaller subcontractors that are more financially stressed.

“Our industrial base is going to be massively stressed,” said Smith. “We are going to have to work in a very creative and aggressive fashion to try to protect our industrial base in a broader way, without question.”

Smith said a lot of work “needs to be done with our large contractors to make sure small and medium size companies can survive.”

Wednesday: FOMC Minutes, MBA Mortgage Purchase Applications

CR Note: The mortgage purchase application survey will give us a hint about the housing market, and the FOMC minutes are for the key meeting of March 15th ('whatever it takes' meeting).

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

• At 2:00 PM: FOMC Minutes, Meeting of March 15, 2020

Final first-generation cargo Dragon spacecraft returns to Earth

Dragon at ISS

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Dragon capsule returned to Earth April 7, marking the end of the final mission of the original cargo version of the spacecraft.

The Dragon spacecraft, unberthed from the station’s Harmony module earlier in the day by the station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm, was released by the arm at 9:06 a.m. Eastern. The spacecraft maneuvered away from the station and later performed a re-entry burn, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean about 500 kilometers southwest of Long Beach, California, at 2:50 p.m. Eastern.

The departure and return of the Dragon took place normally despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. NASA noted in its coverage of the Dragon’s departure that personnel at Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center are alternating shifts between two control rooms, so that while one is in use the other is cleaned. Some controllers at SpaceX’s own mission control center at its Hawthorne, California, headquarters were seen in NASA TV coverage wearing face masks.

The Dragon launched to the station on the CRS-20 cargo mission March 6, arriving at the station early March 9. The spacecraft transported to the station 1,977 kilograms of cargo. It returned with more than 1,800 kilograms of cargo, including the results of experiments conducted on the station.

The mission is the last under SpaceX’s original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, which NASA awarded in 2008. The contract originally included 12 flights for $1.6 billion. NASA later added eight missions to the contract. The agency has not disclosed the total value of the extended contract, but a 2018 report by NASA’s Office of Inspector General stated SpaceX was due to receive $3.04 billion for those 20 missions, near the maximum allowed value of $3.1 billion for the CRS contract.

Future SpaceX cargo missions will use a version of the Crew Dragon spacecraft the company developed for NASA’s commercial crew program. That vehicle will have 20% more volume than the original cargo Dragon but lack the SuperDraco thrusters used in the Crew Dragon’s abort system. The spacecraft will also be able to dock directly with the station, rather than be berthed by the station’s robotic arm, and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Pacific.

The new cargo Dragon is designed for five flights, said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, during a briefing in March. The most flights a first-generation cargo Dragon spacecraft made was three, including the spacecraft on the CRS-20 mission.

Those missions will operate under a second CRS contract awarded to SpaceX, as well as Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman) and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), in 2016. The first SpaceX mission under that contract, CRS-21, is scheduled for this fall.

Northrop Grumman started its flights under the new CRS contract in November 2019, launching two Cygnus spacecraft to date under the award. SNC is building its first Dream Chaser spacecraft, which the company plans to launch in the fall of 2021. All three companies are guaranteed a minimum of six missions each under their contracts.

With successful splashdown, SpaceX retires first version of Dragon spacecraft

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo capsule — flying on SpaceX’s CRS-20 mission — is seen berthed at the International Space Station in this photo taken March 24. Credit: NASA

For the final time, a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule was released from the International Space Station’s robotic arm Tuesday and splashed down hours later in Pacific Ocean southwest of Los Angeles. Beginning later this year, SpaceX will fly upgraded Dragon freighters that will dock automatically with the space station and parachute into the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida.

The unpiloted cargo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 2:50 p.m. EDT (11:50 a.m. PDT; 1850 GMT) Saturday, bringing home more than 4,000 pounds of scientific experiments and other equipment, according to NASA.

SpaceX teams on station in the Pacific were expected to approach the floating spacecraft and hoist it aboard a recovery ship for the trip to the Port of Los Angeles, where ground crews will begin unloading the cargo inside the capsule.

The specimens packed inside the Dragon spacecraft for Tuesday’s return to Earth included live mice, plant cells grown on the space station, and an array of other biological and pharmaceutical research experiments.

The mice that rode the Dragon back to Earth on Tuesday are part of a Japanese research investigation studying how gene expression in the cells of the animals may have been altered after a long-duration spaceflight. The mice were housed in a centrifuge-equipped experiment facility on the station, where they lived under partial gravity conditions.

Researchers want to study now the mice responded to the partial gravity, and the results could be applied to preparations for future long-term human expeditions in space, according to NASA.

Refrigerated samples from an experiment that looks at how bone cells react to microgravity were also returned to Earth on Tuesday. The bone cells flown in space will be compared with bone cells that were magnetically levitated in a ground-based lab, allowing scientists to determine whether magnetic levitation accurately simulates microgravity.

Studying bone cells like those flown on the space station could help researchers develop treatments for medical conditions that cause bone loss.

Also aboard the Dragon capsule were samples from an experiment that studied the generation of cardiomyocytes, specialized heart muscle cells, for use in research and clinical applications, according to NASA. Research shows the cardiomyocytes generated in microgravity could have improved yield and purity, and further studies could help scientists create heart tissues for use in regenerative medicine, disease modeling and drug discovery, NASA said.

Samples from another experiment to evaluate changes and mutations in coffee and hemp plant cells in microgravity were also flown back to Earth on Tuesday.

The BioFabrication Facility, developed by an Indiana company named Techshot, also returned to Earth on Tuesday inside the Dragon capsule. Designed to 3D-print soft human tissue in microgravity, the facility could demonstrate capabilities researchers view as a stepping stone toward potentially manufacturing organs for transplant patients.

Techshot plans to upgrade the bioprinter, and experts will examine the properties of a knee meniscus printed aboard the space station.

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft delivered Techshot’s 3D BioFabrication Facility, seen here on the ground, to demonstrate technologies for manufacturing artificial human tissue in space. Credit: Techshot

The splashdown in the Pacific on Tuesday occurred hours after the Dragon capsule departed the space station.

Ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston commanded the station’s Canadian-built robotic arm to release the Dragon spacecraft at 9:06 a.m. EDT (1306 GMT). The Dragon fired thrusters to fly away from the station, setting up for a braking burn at 1:58 p.m. EDT (1758 GMT) to drop into Earth’s atmosphere for re-entry.

The Dragon jettisoned its disposable unpressurized trunk and deployed parachutes to gently descend into the Pacific.

The Dragon spacecraft arrived at the space station March 9, following launch March 6 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. It delivered 4,358 pounds (1,977 kilograms) of cargo and experiments to the station, including a new European-built outdoor science deck to accommodate external experiments.

The return Tuesday marked the end of the third flight of this particular Dragon capsule, and the final mission under a 20-flight Cargo Resupply Services contact between SpaceX and NASA.

The end of the Dragon mission Tuesday marks the transition to SpaceX’x next CRS contract with NASA. SpaceX’s next series of cargo missions will use a new Dragon spacecraft design known as the Dragon 2. Cargo flights to the space station using the Dragon 2 spacecraft are scheduled to begin in late October.

The Dragon 2’s human-rated variant is named the Crew Dragon, which is scheduled to fly astronauts to the space station for the first time as soon as late May.

The first-generation version of the Dragon spacecraft debuted in 2010 with a test flight in low Earth orbit. The Dragon capsule accomplished its first trip to the International Space Station in May 2012 on a second demonstration mission under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS, program.

Through the COTS program, NASA contributed $396 million toward the development of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launcher in a public-private partnership with SpaceX. NASA says SpaceX contributed roughly $450 million to the effort.

With the COTS demonstrations accomplished, SpaceX began regular cargo transportation services to the space station in October 2012 under the CRS contract. In 2014, SpaceX won a NASA competition to develop an upgraded Dragon spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the station.

The commercial cargo and crew transportation agreements were designed to give NASA a way to get astronauts, experiments, space parts and other equipment to the space station after the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

Northrop Grumman is NASA’s other commercial cargo transportation provider, and Boeing joined SpaceX as the other contractor the commercial crew program.

Since the initial contract award in 2008, NASA has extended the CRS agreement with SpaceX from 12 missions to 20 flights.

The Dragon spacecraft is pictured during departure from the International Space Station on Tuesday. Credit: NASA/Drew Morgan

The Dragon capsule itself has performed well on all its missions, successfully reaching the space station and returning to Earth on all but one flight. A Falcon 9 rocket failed during launch on a resupply flight in June 2015, destroying a Dragon spacecraft and its cargo load.

Counting the test flights and the failed launch, SpaceX has launched 22 missions using the first-generation Dragon spacecraft.

The missions carried more than 94,000 pounds (43 metric tons) of cargo to the International Space Station, and returned about 74,000 pounds (33 metric tons) of equipment and specimens to Earth, according to NASA.

SpaceX launched its last new first-generation Dragon spacecraft in August 2017. Since then, the company has reused Dragon vehicles that were refurbished after splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA awarded a second Commercial Resupply Services contract to SpaceX in 2016. Orbital ATK — now part of Northrop Grumman — and Sierra Nevada Corp. also received CRS-2 contracts to resupply the space station through the mid-2020s.

Northrop Grumman launched its first CRS-2 mission using upgraded versions of its Antares rocket and Cygnus supply ship last November, and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser space plane is scheduled to fly to the space station for the first time in 2021.

The Dragon 2 has a different aerodynamic shape than the first-generation Dragon, and it has body-mounted solar arrays to generate electricity, replacing the extendable wings on the first version of the Dragon spacecraft.

It can also dock automatically with the space station, without requiring station crews to capture it with the research lab’s Canadian-built robotic arm. That means Tuesday’s departure of the cargo capsule was the final time a Dragon spacecraft will be released robotically.

The cargo version of Dragon 2 will launch without seats, cockpit controls and other life support systems required to sustain astronauts in space. The cargo version will also launch without the SuperDraco escape thrusters fitted to human-rated Dragon capsules.

While SpaceX and NASA do not initially plan to reuse Dragon 2 capsules for crew missions, the cargo variant will be qualified to fly to the space station and back to Earth up to five times, officials said. The first-generation Dragon capsule was capped at three missions.

File photo of a SpaceX Dragon capsule descending under parachutes toward the Pacific Ocean at the ending of a 2017 cargo mission. Credit: SpaceX

Beginning with the CRS-21 mission late this year, the new Dragon 2 cargo capsules will splash down under parachutes in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida, rather than the current recovery zone in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California. It takes a day or two for Dragon capsules to get back to port in California on SpaceX recovery ships. That transit time will be cut with splashdowns in the Atlantic.

“When they do that, they’ll be a matter of hours from the port,” said Kenny Todd, NASA’s manager of International Space Station operations and integration, last month. “So that will allow us to get this critical science back in the investigators’ hands much quicker.”

The Dragon 2 will be able to carry more cargo to the space station. But the Dragon 2’s primary arrival mode, using docking rather than capture and berthing with the robotic arm, comes with a limitation.

The hatches through the space station’s docking ports are narrower than the passageways through the berthing ports currently used by Dragon cargo vehicles.

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus supply ship and Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser space plane are designed to berth to the space station, offering transportation for bulkier items.

NASA astronaut Drew Morgan monitored Tuesday’s Dragon departure from the space station.

“That was the last time the arm and Dragon will meet that way so it was fun to watch,” Morgan said. “Congratulations to the SpaceX team and the teams all around the world for the successful Dragon mission over the last month and wrapping up Expedition 62.”

Morgan and crewmates Jessica Meir and Oleg Skripochka will be joined by three fresh crew members Thursday, then they will head for landing in Kazakhstan on April 17 on a Russian Soyuz capsule.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

‘This Is What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis’

Jennifer Senior, writing for The New York Times:

And most relevant, as far as history is concerned: Narcissistic personalities are weak.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is genuinely afraid to lead. He can’t bring himself to make robust use of the Defense Production Act, because the buck would stop with him. (To this day, he insists states should be acquiring their own ventilators.) When asked about delays in testing, he said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” During Friday’s news conference, he added the tests “we inherited were “broken, were obsolete,” when this form of coronavirus didn’t even exist under his predecessor.

This sounds an awful lot like one of the three sentences that Homer Simpson swears will get you through life: “It was like that when I got here.

Cut through the nightly bluster at the podium and it’s simply strikingly clear: Trump is afraid to actually do anything in this crisis.


Sony Unveils DualSense, the New Wireless Game Controller for PlayStation 5

Looks beautiful, and very Sony. My son’s observation is that it looks “off-brand” to get away from color-coding the triangle/circle/X/square buttons. But this looks better.


The spacecraft that utterly transformed SpaceX has flown its last mission

The date August 18, 2006, forever altered the trajectory of SpaceX.

On that day, NASA awarded SpaceX a contract to develop a service for delivering cargo to the International Space Station. This "Commercial Orbital Transportation Services" agreement would pay SpaceX $278 million to design and develop a spacecraft and rocket for this purpose—what became known as Cargo Dragon and the Falcon 9.

At the time, SpaceX was just 4 years old. The company had attempted a single launch, of its Falcon 1 rocket, from an atoll in the Pacific Ocean a few months earlier. This small rocket, capable of putting a few hundred kilograms into orbit, had flown for about half a minute before falling back to Earth and crashing into a reef just offshore. The rocket failed because, even before it cleared the launch pad, a fuel leak caused the engine to catch fire.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Five Ways Maps Can Help Communities Respond to COVID-19

Este Geraghty, Esri’s chief medical officer, suggests five ways that maps can help communities respond to COVID-19. Very much in a GIS context: putting data on a map and letting users—officials in this case—make decisions based on that data.

April 7 Update: US COVID-19 Test Results

Note: the large increase Saturday in test results reported was due to California working through the backlog of pending tests.

Test-and-trace is a key criteria in starting to reopen the country.   My current guess is test-and-trace will require around 300,000 tests per day at first since the US is far behind the curve.  Some scientists believe we need around 800,000 tests per day.

Notes: Data for the previous couple of days is updated and revised, so graphs might change.

Also, I'm no longer including pending tests.  So this is just test results reported daily.

There were 137,367 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

COVID-19 Tests per Day Click on graph for larger image.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 23% (red line).  The US needs enough tests to push  the percentage below 5% (probably much lower).

Test. Test. Test. Protect healthcare workers first!

Macroeconomic Implications of COVID-19: Can Negative Supply Shocks Cause Demand Shortages?

There is a new NBER paper by Veronica GuerrieriGuido LorenzoniLudwig StraubIván Werning:

We present a theory of Keynesian supply shocks: supply shocks that trigger changes in aggregate demand larger than the shocks themselves. We argue that the economic shocks associated to the COVID-19 epidemic—shutdowns, layoffs, and firm exits—may have this feature. In one-sector economies supply shocks are never Keynesian. We show that this is a general result that extend to economies with incomplete markets and liquidity constrained consumers. In economies with multiple sectors Keynesian supply shocks are possible, under some conditions. A 50% shock that hits all sectors is not the same as a 100% shock that hits half the economy. Incomplete markets make the conditions for Keynesian supply shocks more likely to be met. Firm exit and job destruction can amplify the initial effect, aggravating the recession. We discuss the effects of various policies. Standard fiscal stimulus can be less effective than usual because the fact that some sectors are shut down mutes the Keynesian multiplier feedback. Monetary policy, as long as it is unimpeded by the zero lower bound, can have magnified effects, by preventing firm exits. Turning to optimal policy, closing down contact-intensive sectors and providing full insurance payments to affected workers can achieve the first-best allocation, despite the lower per-dollar potency of fiscal policy.

All NBER papers on Covid-19 are open access, by the way.

The post Macroeconomic Implications of COVID-19: Can Negative Supply Shocks Cause Demand Shortages? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Pandemic pushes SpaceX GPS 3 launch to late June

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center has decided to reschedule the launch of the third GPS 3 satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to minimize the potential of COVID-19 exposure to the launch crew and operators, a spokesperson said April 7.

The launch was scheduled for late April and is now projected for June 30 at the earliest.

The GPS 3 satellite made by Lockheed Martin will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This will be the second National Security Space Launch mission for the Falcon 9 rocket and the first NSSL mission where SpaceX will attempt to recover the booster.

The Space and Missile Systems Center decided that the current GPS constellation with 31 satellites in orbit is providing adequate services, so taking a pause in launches would not affect operations and allows the range to focus on the health of the workforce, SMC said.

The 45th Space Wing that operates the launch range at Cape Canaveral at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, was able to carry out a national security launch on March 26 during the pandemic. On March 30, the wing commander Brig. Gen. Doug Schiess declared a public health emergency for Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station due to the increased number of positive cases in the local area.

SMC said it still plans to complete the next three GPS launches in 2020.

Umbra Lab patent application reveals unique antenna design

SAN FRANCISCO – The patent application for Umbra Lab’s antenna is now public, revealing how the startup intends to deploy a large synthetic aperture radar (SAR) reflector on a microsatellite.

The patent published online in March, shows a reflector designed to stow compactly for launch. In orbit, a series of ribs attached to the central hub open to deploy a reflector covered in a flexible reflective material with a diameter of about four meters.

“We invented a novel way to fold a parabolic mesh antenna larger than 10 square meters to make it fit in a microsatellite,” said Umbra co-founder Gabe Dominocielo.

David Langan, Umbra co-founder and CEO, added by email, “In order to launch the world’s only microsatellite capable of high resolution it was pretty clear we had to invent something new.” (By high resolution, Langan said he is referring to sensors capable of producing images with a resolution of 25 centimeters in both azimuth and range.)

Umbra Lab plans to launch a constellation of SAR microsatellites to capture imagery with a resolution of 25 centimeters. The startup based in Santa Barbara, California, is preparing to send its first spacecraft into orbit this year, although it has not announced a launch contract.

Since emerging from stealth mode in 2019, Umbra has expanded its staff and facilities. Umbra currently employs 23 people.

Umbra plans to expand its current 929-square-meter facility to cover 2,137-square-meters with a laboratory large enough to manufacture dozens of antennas at a time, Dominocielo said.

Work at Umbra continues in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately one-third of Umbra employees travel to the facility daily. Other employees work from home.

Umbra plans to sell SAR imagery for prices comparable to that of electro-optical imagery.

“We believe the market is elastic,” Dominocielo said. The availability of “low-cost, high-quality products will create a large change in the market,” he said.

Links 4/7/20

Links for you. Science:

Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks Find Opposition Within: Staff Scientists
Policy Decisions and Use of Information Technology to Fight 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease, Taiwan
Coronavirus lockdowns have changed the way Earth moves
Lead pollution in ancient ice cores may track the rise and fall of medieval kings
The coronavirus is washing over the U.S. These factors will determine how bad it gets in each community


The U.S. was beset by denial and dysfunction as the coronavirus raged (must-read)
How science finally caught up with Trump’s playbook – with millions of lives at stake (very good)
A catalog of capital incompetence: The short list of things Donald Trump did to kill America (good review)
Priorities for the Next Coronavirus Relief Package (Sanders isn’t wrong on this. At all.)
From Gates to Osterholm: The coronavirus was actually expected
An Unspeakable Horror: How Donald Trump Sentenced Hundreds of Thousands of Americans to Agonizing, Lonely Deaths
Unsanitized: The Gaping Hole in the Defense Production Act (professional Democrats hate governing. It’s the only explanation)
How’s that workplace health insurance working out for us now?
Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission
China’s Divorce Spike Is a Warning to Rest of Locked-Down World
Taxpayers Paid Millions to Design a Low-Cost Ventilator for a Pandemic. Instead, the Company Is Selling Versions of It Overseas.
What did people do before toilet paper?
The Reality of Healthcare in America Should Make You Uncomfortable
Do No Harm: Doctors at the frontline of the pandemic face down impossible choices
Three Ways to Make Emergency Economic Responses Better
The Difference Between America’s Coronavirus Response and Norway’s
The WHO Ignores Taiwan. The World Pays the Price. Taiwan was more prepared for the coronavirus than any other country, but the WHO puts politics first.
The Military Knew Years Ago That a Coronavirus Was Coming
Donald Trump’s Cult of Personality Did This: The autocratic political culture that has propped up the Trump administration has left the nation entirely unprepared for an economic and public-health calamity.
How this crisis could help us get to health-care reform
Trump Is Inciting a Coronavirus Culture War to Save Himself
In The Middle of a Pandemic, Our For-Profit Healthcare System Is Failing Us
Notes on a Nightmare #4: The Criminality of Donald Trump

Possible Developments in the Treatment of Acute COVID-19

This appears potentially quite important. Since it has to do with technical clinical details and treatment protocols I’ll try to be both as precise and general as possible. Yesterday I noticed this grainy youtube video posted on March 31st by a New York City emergency and critical care physician, Cameron Kyle-Sidell. Kyle-Sidell said that he thought the treatment protocol and basic understanding of acute COVID-19-induced respiratory distress were both wrong. He said that what he is seeing in his ICU does not look like pneumonia but rather oxygen deprivation (hypoxia). Thus the treatment shouldn’t be focused on high pressure for someone whose lungs aren’t able to function but rather more effective ways of delivering additional oxygen. Critically, he argued that the high pressure ventilation might be damaging the lungs. He also said his impressions were based both on his ICU work over the previous two weeks and conversations with other clinicians around the country.

I looked up Kyle-Sidell and he’s a real doctor in emergency and critical care. That checked out. So far so good.

The responses to his videos on social media, both pro and con, suggested he was saying that the COVID-19 virus wasn’t the cause of the sickness or that ventilators weren’t necessary. I listened closely. That was clearly not what he was saying. He was saying that the disease model most doctors are working with – pneumonia/ARDS – is not what these patients are presenting with and the treatment protocol is not suited to their disease.

He was cautious and tentative in his conclusions, just what you’d expect from a serious clinician. His argument was that it is a different syndrome requiring different treatments. Ventilators are the best treatment we have now, he said, but they should be used differently (different use of pressure, settings, all well beyond my understanding). It seemed legit. But obviously I have zero understanding about anything to do with respiratory disease or its treatment.

For all those reasons I was intrigued but didn’t write anything about it, though I was eager to hear from other clinicians who might be able to evaluate what he was saying.

I’m writing about it now because of this article I saw in Medscape, a publication for clinicians and researchers (you need to sign up for access but it’s free). The article discusses Kyle-Sidell’s findings along with others thinking along similar lines. There was also this interview which Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD, did with Kyle-Sidell discussing his ICU observations. So serious, credentialed people are taking this seriously.

The Medscape article notes that the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine are publishing, respectively, a letter and an editorial by Dr. Luciano Gattinoni of the University of Gottingen who makes a similar set of observations and recommendations to those in Kyle-Sidell’s videos. Gattinoni’s findings were based on his and his colleagues clinical experience in Germany as well as discussions with doctors in northern Italy.

From Medcape

In the editorial, Dr. Gattinoni and his colleagues explained further that ventilator settings should be based on physiological findings — with different respiratory treatment based on disease phenotype rather than using standard protocols.

“This, of course, is a conceptual model, but based on the observations we have this far, I don’t know of any model which is better,” he said in an interview.

Anecdotal evidence is increasingly demonstrating that this proposed physiological approach is associated with much lower mortality rates among COVID-19 patients, he said.

While not willing to name the hospitals at this time, he said that one center in Europe has had a 0% mortality rate among COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit when using this approach, compared with a 60% mortality rate at a nearby hospital using a protocol-driven approach.

Here is Kyle-Sidell’s first video from March 31st. He’s subsequently published two more. You can see why my initial impulse would be caution.

Given the discussion that this is getting from peer-reviewed publications and the write-ups in Medcape, I feel comfortable that this is at least a legitimate question and discussion, whether or not it ends up producing better treatment protocols for the treatment of COVID-19. While Kyle-Sidell’s videos were the first I’d heard about this approach or theory emerging from the New York City crisis it seems like at least some physicians in Europe have come to similar conclusions.

Pandemic Stories from Readers Around the World

In the latest issue of the newsletter sent out on Sunday evening, I asked readers if they would share what they’ve been up to during the pandemic and how their families and communities are coping. I received a bunch of responses and beginning today, I’m going to publish some of their experiences here and in the newsletter. Thanks to everyone who wrote in. The hope is that sharing these experiences will make us all feel a little more connected and a little less alone.

In this first installment, we’ll hear from a South African doctor, a French schoolteacher, a couple who live full-time on a boat (currently in the Bahamas), a Mississippi pastor, as well as folks from Kansas, Brazil, New Zealand, India, Ohio, and Wyoming.

Note: Submissions have been edited for length, clarity, and anonymity. If you’d like to share your experience, I’ll include submission suggestions at the end of this post. Thanks.

Patricia L. from Cape Town, South Africa:

I’m an emergency medicine doctor working in the public sector in Cape Town, South Africa. I work at a small district hospital with about 160 beds. In our emergency centre, we have 14 full time doctors and 3 intern doctors on rotation. Our hospital serves a large underprivileged population with a quadruple burden of disease at the best of times:

- HIV & TB and complications thereof
- Hypertension, diabetes and diseases of lifestyle
- Maternal, newborn and child illnesses
- Interpersonal violence and trauma

Our referral centre is Groote Schuur Hospital, home of the first heart transplant, and we refer patients for specialist care and imaging if needed (eg MRI’s & CT scans, cardiology, neurosurgery etc). We have a 2-bed resuscitation unit in our emergency centre, and a 3-bed high care unit. The hospital has a total of 9 ventilators. I’m trying to find recent stats on the size of the population that we serve but I estimate it is about 4-500 000 people.

We are well accustomed to working in a resource-scarce setting, and improvisation and decisions about which patients qualify for resuscitation, ventilation and ICU care are the order of the day for us generally. I have been very interested to read media reports about the moral dilemmas facing doctors; first in Italy and now in other parts of the first world where these types of ethical decisions are less commonplace.

Our president, Cyril Ramaphosa, announced a country-wide lockdown on the 23rd of March when we had a total of about 400 confirmed cases. We have one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, with a ban on the sale of cigarettes, alcohol, non-essential items (you can’t buy a kettle at a supermarket, for example). We aren’t allowed outside our properties except to buy food and access emergency health care. Dog walking and jogging, cycling etc is forbidden. Essential workers have to have permits to travel. There are no fast food outlets open even for deliveries, and UberEats and other similar services are not operating currently. Here’s a recent BBC article about it.

Our usually inefficient & corrupt government seems to be handling this with frankly surprising aplomb and urgency, for which I am very grateful. We have a huge underprivileged population who live in overcrowded townships with little education, poor hygiene, poor access to health care and a high rate of co-infection with HIV and TB. The consequences of a situation like Italy occurring in South Africa will result in unfathomable devastation, and although we may still reach that point we have some time to prepare to mitigate what we can during these early days.

Having said that, our economy is in tatters. We have been downgraded to “junk status” by all (I think) major ratings agencies (Moody’s, Fitch etc) — the outlook has been poor for the last few years following “state capture” under president Zuma’s government. State Owned Enterprises have been run to the ground with corrupt management, and this feels like the final nail in the coffin. We have high unemployment, and a huge informal labour force which has been affected by the lockdown.

We have adequate PPE (for now): N95 & surgical masks, visors / goggles, plastic aprons, gloves and re-usable fabric theatre gowns which will be washed daily. We have limited stock of disposable waterproof gowns for intubation and high risk procedures. We don’t have access to the hazmat suits seen in China and elsewhere in the first world, arguably not sure if they are necessary. One of our doctors has sourced bulk plastic shower caps as hair protection. I have deeply conflicting feelings of guilt about the amount of plastic I am going through per shift!

It feels like we are simultaneously over and under-reacting. I am strangely excited in amongst all the apprehension and anticipation — this is what I’ve trained for, I am part of an excellent hospital team, and we are ready to rise to the challenge despite all the fear and uncertainty.

Anne B. from central France:

I’m a high school teacher. Been on lock down for three weeks now, teaching from home. My students who have always been nice are going through a unique experience which compels them to be very autonomous and mature. As a teacher, I’ve always been close to my students but this thing has brought on a whole new level! I have to admit I enjoy talking to them as if I were the manager of their department, for real. I also make the most of the extra time to give personalized and customized advice to each of them when they send work.

I am glad I live in France and I know that no matter your social background and bank account status, if you get sick, you get treated the same way and for free.

I live in an a small town, and although I am interested in my surroundings, this lock down with limited freedom outside has compelled me to pay even closer attention to my neighborhood and getting to know the community I live in, people-wise (staying a few yards away though). We feel comfort, gathering outside our homes at 8 pm every single evening to clap and cheer for all the people still working in grocery shops, transports, doctors, nurses etc. Tonight we even shared a glass of wine in the middle of our street, still a few yards away from each other, this distancing is more physical than social… I’ve been feeling closer to my friends, family and colleagues and for the first time ever, hallelujah to WhatsApp!

Hugh H. reports from Jackson, Mississippi:

I live in Jackson, MS, which is somewhere between Yonkers and Syracuse in size — something like 170,000 people, and the largest city in Mississippi. Some things about Jackson that make this particularly difficult is that Jackson was already desperately poor before all this went down — 25% of the city has a household income of less than $15,000 a year, and 75% of the the city was a USDA food desert when everything is “normal”.

As a result, most of Jackson has to travel significant distances to go to the grocery store, and there aren’t huge amounts of money floating around to buy up supplies, anyway. So a big part of my work, as the pastor of a small church down here has been helping people get access to food and supplies.

The Governor enacted a stay-at-home order last week, and most of Jackson is a ghost town. The parking lots of the big box stores (Target, Walmart, Kroger, etc.) are relatively full, but you don’t see cars elsewhere. In the stores, perhaps 1 in 4 folks are wearing masks, but that really just started this weekend. All restaurants in Jackson are now, if they stayed open, take out only. Liquor stores are deemed an essential business.

Jackson is a pessimistic place. Life here makes you hard, and hope often seems far away — and that is when everything is “normal”. So, things are bleak, but I think they will get worse because I think we are in this for months, not weeks, and I don’t think that idea has hit a lot of folks here yet.

Alana C. wrote in from southeastern Kansas (with a “P.S.” that her sourdough starter is on day 4):

Our county of 13,000 has not yet had a confirmed case, but there’s at least 1 in all the surrounding counties. We are fortunate to still have 2 hospitals in the area, my town is in between them, about 9 miles either direction. 5 hospitals have closed in SE Kansas in the last 3 years, and we are still without Medicaid expansion so we are very, very lucky to still have options. Like with all rural hospitals, they usually airlift or drive the worst cases to Lawrence, KC, or Wichita, which of course isn’t an option right now. If we keep up the social distancing the way we’ve been, which there’s for sure a lot of grumbling about, I think they’ll be OK. I know there are a lot of Fox News Boomers in the area, and even more comorbidities, but a few pillars of the community took this seriously early, which I know made a big difference. The main job path here if you’re a woman who isn’t planning on leaving and never coming back, is to become a nurse, so maybe that has also helped to get people to take it seriously. Compared to the rural South, we’re doing pretty good.

I keep thinking about the parade we had for the Chiefs in Kansas City on February 5th, and am so thankful that the weather was awful that day so the turnout wasn’t massive, but mostly that it wasn’t a couple weeks later. It would have been our Mardi Gras. I have so many friends who went, and the thought of what could have been is horrifying.

Louise H. is on a boat in the Bahamas:

We are US citizens, and live full time on our boat. We (me, my husband, and our 19 year old cat) are currently cruising in the Bahamas. We had planned to be here for March, April and May, and had purchased 3 months of basic provisions before leaving at the end of February. (Yes, I might have accidentally started the toilet paper hoarding.) Food is VERY expensive here, so we try to only buy fresh fruits and veggies to supplement our packed cabinets and freezer.

We arrived in country just as the virus was starting to be news in the US, so we avoided large crowds, then small crowds, then everyone. We are anchored near a small island, Staniel Cay, with about 50 other boats. The island itself has a population of only around 150, so we feel very isolated and safe from the virus here. However, in the last week, the number of cases in the Bahamas have been growing, and the first death was on another small island. With only 70 ventilators in the entire country, and those 70 are only on two (out of hundreds) islands, the Bahamians are getting understandably very nervous and have instituted curfews. This weekend was a complete lockdown, with even grocery stores closed until Monday.

We feel extremely lucky to be here in this beautiful place, able to avoid most people, and be completely self-sufficient. We would have stayed until the start of hurricane season, but Saturday evening (April 4) the US Embassy advised all Americans to return to the US, whether we are tourists who arrived by commercial flight or in private boats. The risk now is too great that the Bahamian government, in order to stop the viral spread between islands, will stop all boat traffic indefinitely, trapping us here, unable to access medical care or escape hurricanes. So tomorrow morning we will set sail back to Florida, a trip which will take us about 4 days. Many other American and Canadian boaters are doing the same. It’s a nice community; we keep in contact over the radio, offering advice on engine repair. Several families with young kids on board organized a trivia night over the radio, and we even heard some makeshift karaoke floating across the water. Perhaps we’ll be able to actually meet them face to face on another trip, or in another place.

Rick M. from Tokyo, Japan sent a post he wrote about how he’s approaching his kids’ learning:

After a few weeks into this stay-at-home situation, it became very apparent that neither myself nor my kid were especially interested in assuming a teacher-student relationship. But what came as a big surprise was that the kid was open to flipping those roles, i.e. she was really eager to teach me something. So she has been teaching me some basic ballet (which she’s studied for a couple of years) for about 20 minutes a day. I won’t go into details here about how I’m doing (no one needs that mental picture) but my échappé-to-arabesque is pretty dope.

It turns out that her love of dance is keeping keeping her quite active even while she’s been house-bound. I always thought that ballet was kind of stupid and elitist, but it’s certainly coming in handy now. Rearranging the furniture to be less centered on the TV and more in favor of open space dancing was a bad idea my wife had months back, but in these past few weeks it has become less bad.

Scott G. in a central Ohio suburb:

Here in our small tree-lined suburb in central Ohio, we have been carefully observing the social distancing and stay home instructions for nearly four weeks now. As native southerners, we count ourselves lucky to live in Ohio where our (Republican, wow!) governor acted early and rapidly to take measures to flatten the curve of Covid-19. In his first address on the subject he proclaimed that he would be “guided by science” in passing guidelines to protect us, and we look at other less-proactive states and worry about our families there.

Life at home for our family of three has revolved around working, cooking (which we didn’t do much of before) and when we do venture out for take-out we try to support our favorite local restaurants that are struggling with less than 30% of their normal business. I’m a huge fan of our many local coffee shops, and after trying to stay open for carry-out they have all now closed, some maybe forever.

We count ourselves fortunate to be here together and make the best of staying in and taking care of each other. I know we’ll never take for granted coffee or lunch with a friend, eating in our local restaurants and the value of our personal relationships.

M. writes from Brazil:

We are experiencing here what I would call the paradox of the cordial man. Cordial man is a concept by anthropologist Sergio Buarque de Holanda who suggests that Brazilians do not distinguish between public and private, that everything can be interpreted from the perspective of cordis, from the heart. His concept goes deeper to explain the relations of colonial Brazil and our greater family structure.

Anyway, what we have in the last few days are people who disobey the recommendations to stay at home, either because they are followers of the president, or because they are uninformed or because they either need to go or return to their jobs. On the other hand, people who think it is absurd for a group to still be on the streets, even if only for a few moments, or keep the distance suggested, because it is fatally endangering the lives of other people. That is, is this not the paradox of the cordial man? Whoever is still on the streets only sees the prism from its individual perspective. But those who are at home complaining about who is on the street are concerned that the first one will steal their hospital bed or endanger the life of a loved one. At no time there is a collective understanding, but always from cordial perspectives, from cordis.

I was unable to find a good English summary/discussion of Buarque de Holanda’s cordial man theory, but this comes close.

Nicki C. from Wellington, New Zealand:

We’ve just finished our second weekend of a 4-week nation-wide lockdown. This currently lasts until 23rd of April, and release of the lockdown will depend on how well we all go at preventing the spread of the virus. We locked down pretty early (when we had 283 cases in total) and have gone hard. EVERYTHING is closed except for supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies and doctors offices. People are allowed out of their homes to go to an essential service (like to get groceries) and do exercise locally, such as walking or running. Swimming and surfing (lots of people live close to beaches), mountain biking, hiking and tramping are not allowed. That’s really hard for such an outdoors-based country like ours. It has been challenging for the government to determine what’s considered an essential service. Obviously businesses don’t want to close down completely because of the massive economic impact, so there’s a lot of lobbying to relax the restrictions. It’s slowly happening in some areas — for example, online delivery of alcohol is now allowed — but not in others, no magazines or non-daily newspapers are allowed to publish.

The fallout from our lockdown is going to be massive. No one is really confident at what it will look like, but numbers being thrown around are 30% of small to medium businesses (the category which most of our businesses fall into) will not be able to reopen when the lockdown is lifted. Thousands of people are being made redundant. It’s like nothing most of us have seen in our lifetimes here. Even the GFC didn’t have this bad an impact on our economy. Our parliament (the house of government) is closed, with most of our Members of Parliament locked down at home like the rest of us. What we have in place of the normal sitting of both government and the opposition parties, is a committee made up of representatives of all parties who scrutinise how the government is responding to the virus. The daily sittings of this committee are broadcast online so anyone can see what’s being asked and answered. This seems to be working well and at least safeguards some of our democracy in a time when we’re effectively on a war-footing.

In my suburb, the community spirit is amazing. There are a lot of kids who live around here and their parents take them out for walks most days to go on a bear hunt — most of the houses have teddy bears and soft toys in their windows and the kids get to hunt them out. It’s lovely hearing their excited voices when a new teddy is in the window. Lots of streets, ours included, have started Facebook groups to keep in touch and use for localised help and support. People have been findings all kinds of creative ways to keep themselves occupied. This is one of my favourites. There are so many more good stories than bad ones — but I have definitely seen social media’s bias towards complaints and horror stories come out. I’ve had to stop reading Facebook comments because it’s just too aggravating and depressing.

I’m working from home, but a lot quieter than is normal for this time of the year. My business works a lot with government departments and they are understandably refocused on virus response activities. This means projects we were working on are deferred or on hold for now. No one really knows when it will get back to ‘normal’ — I suspect that normal when this is over won’t look like normal did before it started. One really good thing to come from this is the rapid proving of the whole remote working thing. I see my team more often now than I did when we all worked in the same office! I hope that continues post-lockdown.

My overarching observation of this whole horrible situation is that it makes the world feel so much smaller and more human than I have ever felt it to be. Even with the dickheads and idiots (some of whom are in positions of power), I can feel the essential humanity of all of us fighting together to beat this thing. That gives me such hope for the future.

Jason K. writes in from central Vermont (Hi, this is me…you can find the rest of my story in the newsletter):

Some people here are really not happy about out-of-state visitors and those with second homes (from NYC, Boston, etc.) coming up to Vermont to ride out the pandemic. There’s a 14-day quarantine mandated for out-of-state or returning residents, but that’s largely unenforceable — we can only hope people comply with it. There were folks on a local mailing list calling for the governor to close the state borders, but most are supportive of out-of-staters with VT ties being here (as long as they are being responsible). Vermont is a small state with limited medical capability, but in normal times VT also relies heavily on tourism and out-of-state visitors & second home owners who spend heavily here and provide tax income to the state and local communities. So it’s an interesting dynamic/dilemma.

Sujay A. writes from Bengaluru, India:

The whole of India has been under a 21-day lockdown (started on 25th of March). Once the current lockdown ends, they might relax the lockdown in unaffected regions, and continue it in affected regions. We are not supposed to step out of our houses unless there is a strong reason to do so. Some of the strong reasons for most people include buying essentials, attending to family emergency, banking (reduced hours), etc. All factories and offices have either been shut down, or the employees have been asked to work from home. I get to work from home, and I recognise how privileged my position is.

The essentials such as fruits, vegetables, groceries, medicine, etc. are mostly available in grocery stores (kiranas), supermarkets, and push carts (most people buy their vegetables from them since it is most convenient, you just buy outside your door on the street). The government assures us that there is enough for everyone, and that we should not panic.

The restaurants are all closed for dining, only online deliveries and takeouts are available. Online stores such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Big Basket are only taking orders for essentials. Cab services such as Uber and Ola are shut down. The auto rickshaws, metro, and local buses are off service. All the parks, markets, lakes, malls, and cinemas are closed. We are expected to do any exercise indoors. It’s quite eery to see the streets being empty in Bangalore.

I live in an apartment complex, which is lucky for me since we have good landscaping and I can take walks. Kids within our apartment complex have a lot of area to play and enjoy a bit.

The vast majority of people in India live as a “joint family” (myself included). This basically means that the three generations live in the same house. This makes it all the more important for everyone to stay safe since you can get the elderly infected quite easily.

So far India has done a commendable job with restricting the infections. India started screening international passengers from affected countries starting in January as soon as the news from Wuhan broke. We are not doing as many tests as we would like. The biggest fear for India is if the disease spreads among the “community”. With India’s population and density, it’s going to be impossible to bring things to control. We are all hoping for the best, and the authorities seem to be doing the best they can. Hopefully it’ll be enough.

Steve J. writes in from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.

School is suspended indefinitely and everyone is home. I’m fortunate to have a family who gets along well and children (10 and 12) who I don’t have to worry about if they miss school for an extended run. I’ve tried to focus on how lucky we are as a family to be able to be together and sustain ourselves. One of the things I heard on the radio early in this period was a discussion on CBC Radio’s As It Happens (one of the nation’s greatest radio programmes, and a great source of information at a time like this) with authors Margaret Atwood, Waubgeshig Rice and Daniel Kalla. Something Rice, an Indigenous author, said, really stuck with me: “I think we’re all scared in some ways. But I think if your first response is fear, it’s important to acknowledge your privilege in that you maybe haven’t been to the brink before. Whereas a lot of marginalized communities have experienced that and continue to experience that. And there’s a long list of examples in Canada of world ending for different communities. You know, you can look at the destruction of Africville in Nova Scotia or the internment of Japanese Canadians. You know, it’s important to take a look at what your personal perspective is and your place in society and just, you know, acknowledge that privilege of being part of the dominant culture and things being generally good in Canada in the last 150 years or so.” I try to remember this as I think about my own fears and my own family’s situation.

I run a biomedical teaching lab for youth at a research building at one of the major hospitals in the city. My building and operation is shut down and we’re now trying to figure out how to carry on some sort of experiential learning for the teachers and students that we would regularly work with. Although I don’t have to go in, I just started volunteering to do staff screening at the main entrance to the hospital for 2.5h early every morning so they don’t have to pull nurses off of wards to screen employees and so maybe I can feel like I’m doing something to help. This entails me and others running through the list of symptoms and possible contacts with every employee as they show up for the morning shift, so every morning I get to interact with surgeons, managers, housekeepers, technicians, food service staff, maintenance, nurses and everyone else who is part of making the operation hold together. It’s hard to read how everyone is feeling, there’s certainly anxiety and stress, but there’s also resolve, dedication and still many smiles on faces that let me know we’ll pull through this in some way.

An anonymous reader from southwest Wyoming:

It’s strange to think about having to shelter in place when we have so much empty space that we can occupy our time with outside, so people are still out and about around our town. And I am completely in favor of shelter in place policies in major metro areas, but somehow it just doesn’t seem like it would work here given the political and personal leanings of the people of Wyoming. I am new to Wyoming (have lived here 2.5 years), but there is a certain way people seem to think this is still the old west and, for better or worse, they tend to have that independent spirit. The virus has just recently arrived in our county, but to be honest the scariest thing for me is the fact that this is Trump country and that people believe him. I’m more scared of jackasses flaunting this as a hoax and not taking the proper precautions when they are at the grocery store with me or my family.

Thanks again to all those who wrote in. I’ll be posting more stories from readers in subsequent posts. After reading these stories (and a bunch more that are in the queue), I feel compelled to remind you that’s readership obviously is not a representative sample of humanity. Also, the folks who are most likely to write in are those with a bit of time & energy on their hands, not generally those who are overwhelmed while trying to work with small children at home 24/7, doing 16-hour shifts at the hospital, working at the grocery store 6 days a week, or finding themselves with limited internet access at home, which makes the site’s unrepresentative readership even more unrepresentative. Just thought that was important to keep in mind.

If you’d like to share your story or perspective, just send me an email. Just a paragraph or two is fine and please include your location (vague is fine, e.g. “central Vermont”). When sharing, I’ll use your first name, the first initial of your last name, and your location — otherwise, please let me know if you’d like to remain anonymous or if you don’t want me sharing your story publicly at all.

Tags: COVID-19   Pandemic Stories

Let’s All Wear a Mask

Maciej Ceglowski:

The medical evidence for the practice is overwhelming. The post-SARS countries in East Asia have known this for a long time, and America and Europe are finally coming around. I’ve put a bunch of resources about the medical benefits of mask wearing in a further reading section at the bottom of this post.

But in this essay, I want to persuade you not just to wear a mask, but to go beyond the new CDC guidelines and help make mask wearing a social norm. That means always wearing a mask when you go out in public, and becoming a pest and nuisance to the people in your life until they do the same.

It’s encouraging how many people wearing masks I now see on the sidewalk here in Philly, but the number needs to go much higher. If you have family or friends who are resisting getting on board Team Face Mask, send them this link. Ceglowski makes the case.


SAS Global enters bankruptcy-like status

WASHINGTON — Cash-strapped startup Sky and Space Global transferred control of the company April 6 to an accounting firm in an effort to preserve some or all of its business. 

The internet-of-things startup, which had hoped to deploy a constellation of 200 cubesats, filed for “voluntary administration,” a bankruptcy-like procedure in Australia where it is publicly listed. 

Australian companies can file for voluntary administration when facing insolvency as an alternative to liquidation. The five- to six-week process involves establishing an administrator — SAS Global chose Hall Chadwick Chartered Accountants of Sydney, Australia — to meet with creditors and chart a course for the imperiled company. 

Sky and Space Global, in a brief notice to the Australian Stock Exchange, said it will host a meeting with creditors no later than April 14. The company gave no explanation of the reasons behind its financial shortcomings. 

Sky and Space Global had raised 47 million Australian dollars ($29.1 million) in equity, according to a January investor presentation. The company, at the time, was seeking to raise $14.2 million to build and launch an initial eight satellites. 

Sky and Space Global entered voluntary administration one day after another Australian internet-of-things startup, Myriota, announced completion of a $19.3 million Series B to fund a constellation of 25 small satellites. 

Myriota CEO Alex Grant said the company began fundraising before the coronavirus pandemic impacted global markets, making it difficult to gain new investment. 

Venture capitalists and private equity investors are rarely considering new investments amid the coronavirus pandemic, Chris Quilty, founder of Quilty Analytics, said during a SpaceNews webinar April 7. 

“They’re primarily looking at their existing portfolio and trying to save their existing companies — and deciding who lives and who dies,” he said. 

Sky and Space Global launched three prototype satellites in 2017. The firm anticipated launching service-grade satellites in early 2021, but hasn’t raised the funding to do so.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver on One America News

Last Week Tonight:

One America News, or OAN, is a far-right news network being embraced by President Trump at his coronavirus press briefings. John Oliver takes a look at who they are, how they report, and why they could be a big problem during the pandemic.

If you think Fox News is in the bag for Trump and the Republican Party, well, meet OAN. Just jaw-dropping.


The True Scale of Excess Mortality in NYC

In our on-going efforts to form a clearer picture of the true scale of mortality in the COVID-19 crisis yesterday I referenced a tweet by the New York City Council’s health committee which noted a 10 fold run up in the number of deaths that are being reported in homes across New York City. Here’s a great piece of reporting from WNYC/Gothamist filling out the details of what is happening.

The gist is comparable to what we’ve seen reported in other jurisdictions and countries. Fatalities are not recorded as COVID-19 fatalities unless there is a laboratory confirmed test. In the nature of things few who die at home will have been tested. (Current protocols in New York City generally limit testing to those who are hospitalized.) It is important to remember that a substantial number of these fatalities will be people with non-COVID-19 medical crises who would have died soon after being brought to a hospital or perhaps been saved with adequate medical care.

One grim additional note: As of a few days ago, EMTs and paramedics in New York City have been instructed that patients over 18 in cardiac arrest should be resuscitated on the scene. If they cannot be resuscitated after 20 minutes they cannot be taken to an emergency room.

Some key details. As of Monday, 2,738 New York City residents had died with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infections. That comes to about 245 fatalities a day. But another 200 or so New Yorkers are dying at home each day compared to a normal number between 20 and 25. The article confirms that unless those people had confirmed COVID-19 tests they are not being included in the official tallies.

The Department of Health is not providing tests to the Medical Examiner’s office. Those are being reserved for the living. The Medical Examiner’s office is noting cases where they suspect COVID-19 as the cause of death. But the Department of Health isn’t including those in the official death toll.

The reporter, Gwynne Hogan, was also able to get statistics from the FDNY.

Statistics from the Fire Department, which runs EMS, confirm a staggering rise in deaths occurring at the scene before first responders can transport a person to a hospital for care.

The FDNY says it responded to 2,192 cases of deaths at home between March 20th and April 5th, or about 130 a day, an almost 400 percent increase from the same time period last year. (In 2019, there were just 453 cardiac arrest calls where a patient died, according to the FDNY.)

That number has been steadily increasing since March 30th, with 241 New Yorkers dying at home Sunday — more than the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths that occurred citywide that day. On Monday night, the city reported 266 new deaths, suggesting the possibility of a 40% undercount of coronavirus-related deaths.

Clearly, there is a chaos of information that will only be able to be sorted out weeks or months or even years after the fact. But it is clear that the current death toll numbers greatly understate the true scale of excess mortality driven by the epidemic.

80,000 Hours’ package of anti-COVID articles

The post 80,000 Hours’ package of anti-COVID articles appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Staying at home: Estimates for large metro areas

How well are “stay at home” and “shelter in place” policies working in different metro areas?

Big data” from smartphones gives us a picture of how we’re dialing back on travel in response to “stay-at-home” orders to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve compiled the data from Google and Cuebiq on the variations in travel behavior in the nation’s largest metro areas.

  • Google reports that since mid-February, workplace visits have declined by between a third and a half in nearly all large US metro areas 
  • Cuebiq estimates that its total travel index has fallen by between 25 and 95 percent in large US metro areas, with the typical metro experiencing a decline of about 55 percent.

We’re currently analyzing these data, but have some early observations:

  • Hard hit cities (New York, New Orleans) have big travel declines.
  • Well-educated, tech-oriented cities have consistently high travel declines, possibly reflecting the ability of many workers to work remotely
  • Tourism centers have (Las Vegas, Orlando) have seen declines in travel

Metro areas ranked by decline in travel (Cuebiq)

Cuebiq estimates how much travel has changed in each county in the US compared to the year earlier.  By its estimates, all metro areas have seen declines in its travel index.  Declines range from less than 25 percent in Virginia Beach and Jacksonville to more than 95 percent in New York, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.  The typical large metro area has seen a decline of about 55 percent compared to the year earlier.  (We use data for the most central county in each metro area as a proxy for overall change in travel in that metropolitan area).

Metro areas ranked by decline in workplace visiting (Google)

Google estimates how much visiting to workplaces had changed between the middle of February and the end of March.  By its estimates, workplace visits have declined in all metro areas.  Declines range from as little as 33 percent in Jacksonville, Memphis and Phoenix to more than 50 percent in New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco.  The typical large metro has seen a decline of about 40 percent compared to February.  (We use data for the most central county in each metro area as a proxy for overall change in travel in that metropolitan area).

Comparing the Google and Cuebiq estimates

There are obvious differences in definitions, methodology and measures between Google and Cuebiq.  As the above summary suggests, the percentage decline in travel as measured by Cuebiq is considerably greater in magnitude than the percentage change in workplace visitation as measured by Google.  The following chart shows the estimated change in the travel index for each metro (per Cuebiq) compared to the average change in workplace visitation (per Google).

Overall, there’s a reasonable correlation between the two measures.  Cities that rank high on the Google index, also rank high on the Cuebiq index.  Statistically, the coefficient of determination (R2) between the two series is .19.

Some Initial Findings

Hard hit cities show big declines.  New York and New Orleans show large declines on both indices.  New Orleans ranks first in cases per 100,000, and has the third largest decline in workplace visitation according to Google.  Cuebiq estimates that New York has seen a 95 percent reduction it its travel index; Google ranks it number one for reduction in workplace visitation. It seems likely that the higher level of concern in these areas due to the prevalence of reported cases gives people strong incentives to avoid travel.

Well-educated, tech-oriented cities seem to have high levels of travel reduction.  The top of both the Google and Cuebiq lists are dominated by the nation’s tech centers including San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Denver, Washington.  This may reflect a high level of awareness and concern about the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ability and proficiency to work remotely. The lower-left hand corner of our scatter chart comparing the Google and Cuebiq estimates (which represents cities with the biggest declines on both indices, is populated by this well-educated tech centers.

The hit to tourism is apparent:  Las Vegas and Orlando are striking outliers in our analysis of the Google data, with large declines in total travel (which may directly reflect lower visitor counts) and indirectly, from layoffs in accommodations, food service, travel, and entertainment businesses.  The industry sector with the largest declines in employment appears to be accommodations and food service; it’s no surprise that metro areas heavily dependent on these industries would experience larger declines in associated travel.

These are just our first initial impressions:  We’ll be digging into this data in future commentaries, so stay tuned.

About the Data

This commentary draws on two sources of data:  Google’s “community mobility reports” and Cuebiq’s “mobility index”.  Both of these reports are based on these company’s analyses of data from smart phone and other device users.  Cuebiq tracks the trips we take, and has an index of total daily travel per person (really, per device) for the nation’s counties.  It’s unclear whether this is a distance measure or a count of trips, or some other measure. Google has aggregated and anonymized user location data to measure (apparently) the amount of time we spend or number of trips we make to various locations.  (We say “apparently” because Google’s explanation of its measures and methodology is quite vague.)  It, too, reports data for counties.

Because we focus on metropolitan areas, we used data for the central county in each large metropolitan area as an indicator for the entire metropolitan region.  Unfortunately, in our view, neither Google nor Cuebiq enable users to download their county level data in a machine readable format, such as CSV.  Consequently, assembling these county level estimates requires laboriously clicking through their interfaces (Tableau for Cuebiq and PDF for Google) and manually transcribing the data, and then entering it into a database for analysis.  (Our apologies if there are any transcription errors:  they could be avoided, and this data would be of infinitely greater value if both companies would release machine readable versions of their reports.  In the public interest, we call on them to do so at their earliest opportunity).

Google Community Mobility Reports

Google has started publishing “Community Mobility Reports” that tap the location data from smart phones to measure the approximate number of trips we take to various destinations.  Data are available at the county level (subject to minimum data requirements), and are available for six broad categories  destinations such as retail, recreation, work, home, and parks.  As this screenshot for Portland’s Multnomah County shows, work trips are down about 41 percent, retail trips are down more than 60 percent and grocery/pharmacy trips are down about 30 percent compared to a pre-pandemic baseline.


Google produces separate estimates for the percentage change in “visiting” at each of six categories of destinations between February 16 and March 29.  Google’s six categories are workplaces, retail shops, grocery and drugstores, parks, transit centers, and residences.  Google’s data show universal decreases for time spent at work, in stores of all kinds and in transit centers.  They show an increase in time spent in residences.  The pattern for time spent in parks varies across metropolitan areas (and over time, within metropolitan areas) with a wide range of increases and decreases.Its a very exiting and useful dataset, but inexplicably, Google has chosen to make it available only as a series of state-by-state PDF files, which make it extremely tedious for linking to other research.

Cuebiq Mobility Index Analysis

We examine Cuebiq‘s estimates of the total percentage change in its travel index between what it calls the “delta versus yearly average” (unclear whether this is 2019, 2020 or some other base period), and the estimated index for the current week (in this case the week ending March 30).  Cuebiq’s estimates show a pattern of universal declines in travel for all metro areas we examined.


Keep Sending the Emails

I want to thank you and again encourage you to keep sending in the emails. They are providing a huge assist to our understanding of the crisis and thus what we are able to report to the larger TPM community. Some is showing up in reports you’ve already seen. More we’re still in the process of reporting out. For confidential tips about information you know, for guidance based on your general knowledge of key aspects of the story (epidemiological, clinical career, transport logistics, et al.) and just for links to new press reports. These are all hugely helpful. Keep them coming. We cannot always respond but all of these emails are being looked at closely.

Space companies rally to supply medical equipment amid pandemic

A “bridge ventilator” designed by Virgin Orbit. Credit: Virgin Orbit

While production of rockets and satellites continues across much of the space industry amid the coronavirus pandemic, engineers at several space companies — including SpaceX, Virgin Orbit and Blue Origin — have started working on medical devices and protective equipment in response to shortages in hospitals across the United States.

Virgin Orbit has designed a simplified ventilator at its rocket factory in Long Beach, California, while SpaceX has agreed to supply valves for ventilators produced by the medical supply company Medtronic. The launch firm said it contacted California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose office connected Virgin Orbit with the California Emergency Medical Services Authority.

California government officials put Virgin Orbit, backed by billionaire Richard Branson, with the Bridge Ventilator Consortium, a group led by doctors, engineers and scientists at the University of California Irvine and the University of Texas at Austin. The consortium was established to help set up production of simple, producible ventilators.

“Usually we’re working on rocket engines and launch systems that take satellites to orbit, but with the looming COVID-19 crisis, we reached out to Gov. Newsom and asked what can we do to help,” said Dan Hart, Virgin Orbit’s CEO. “We assigned some of our best innovators in engineering and manufacturability on the problem: How to make a ventilator quickly that can be produced in mass.”

In a YouTube video posted by Virgin Orbit, Kevin Zagorski, the company’s lead engineer on the ventilator project, said emphasis is on finding the “simplest, scalable and soonest available design.”

The ventilator designed by Zagorski’s team uses a windshield wiper motor to drive a machine that mechanically compresses a self-inflating bag, also called a manual resuscitator or Ambu bag.

“While it’s not difficult to make devices that can perform this mechanical compression of medical Ambu bags, what is difficult, and what is something that we at Virgin Orbit can bring to bear, is a very, very simple and robust design that we can get out to the people who are in the most need and the hospitals that are in the most need of devices like these very, very quickly,” Zagorski said.

Virgin Orbit says the simple device could be used in the treatment of moderate cases of the novel coronavirus, freeing up more expensive full-size ventilators for the most ill patients.

Virgin Orbit announced the ventilator project March 30, and presented the preliminary design to Gov. Newsom on Friday.

On Monday, Virgin Orbit said it has submitted an application to regulators for Emergency Use Authorization for the ventilator.

“There’s more for us to do,” Hart said. “We have to work with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to get approval, but we hope to get a helpful unit into hospitals as soon as possible. We at Virgin Orbit want to do everything we can for the broader community as we all prepare for the challenges ahead.”

In a statement Monday, Virgin Orbit said testing and external evaluations of the ventilator indicate is is a “low-cost, easy-to-use, highly scalable device that can provide ventilatory support for the care of individuals who require mechanical ventilation.”

“Final production timelines will depend on the completion of testing and on our ongoing conversations with regulators, but we aspire to hit a production rate of 100 per week within a week or so, doubling that within a week, and then doubling again in the subsequent weeks,” Virgin Orbit said. “We intend to build them at a cost at least an order of magnitude lower than more sophisticated ventilators. Our effort has focused on immediate scalability, prioritizing speed over complexity.”

Virgin Orbit’s primary program is the development of the air-launched LauncherOne vehicle, a rocket designed to deliver small satellites to orbit. The first orbital test launch of the LauncherOne vehicle is expected later this year.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is partnering with Medtronic, a medial device firm, to help ramp up production of ventilators.

Omar Ishrak, Medtronic’s chairman and CEO, said Saturday that SpaceX is supplying an “important valve that will help us scale production sooner.”

“SpaceX is now making a vital component for critical care ventilators — more vents sooner for COVID-19 patients,” Medtronic tweeted.

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, confirmed Medtronic’s statements on Twitter: “SpaceX is spooling up to manufacture proportional solenoid valves for Medtronic.”

In this file photo, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is seen during a visit to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

SpaceX has also produced hand sanitizer facial shields for donation to hospitals and other businesses, according to CNBC. The company also donated protective suits to medical personnel.

Tesla, another of Elon Musk’s companies, is working on its own ventilator design using car parts. Tesla showcased a prototype of the ventilator in a YouTube video Monday.

United Launch Alliance’s chief executive is also helping out in the coronavirus crisis. Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, tweeted a video of his home 3D printers producing ventilator manifolds and face shields.

Bruno said he is using files generated by Makers Unite, a group set up to encourage people with their own 3D printers to use their resources to supply critical medical equipment.

Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, said Tuesday it is also 3D-printing face shields components to help combat the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our additive machines are working 24/7, and the volunteers for this effort also support BE-4 engine development,” Blue Origin said. “We are grateful for their dedication.”

Lockheed Martin said Friday it hired around 1,000 new employees in the second half of March as the coronavirus pandemic virtually shut down other sectors of the U.S. economy. The aerospace contractor, which builds airplanes, satellite and other defense equipment, said it is providing $106 million in accelerated payments to small businesses and other firms in the company’s supply chain.

Lockheed Martin said it is paying workers a bonus of up to $500 if they are regularly required to work at a Lockheed Martin or customer facility during the crisis, and the company is donating $2 million worth of personal protective equipment. The company said it has also initiated “limited” production of personal protective equipment and face shields, and is providing engineering support for initiatives to accelerate PPE production.

Arianespace, the French launch services provider, has donated ponchos to protect medical personnel working in hospitals in Europe.

Space companies are working on the medical equipment — and continuing regular manufacturing and launch operations — even as some of their employees test positive for the coronavirus.

ULA said Monday that an employee at one of the company’s Denver facilities tested positive for COVID-19.

“We are taking all necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of our teammates and facilities,” Bruno said in a statement. “Our best wishes are with this person as well as teammates and family members affected by the diagnosis.”

ULA said it has close the floor of the building that was exposed to the virus and following stringent cleaning and disinfection protocols.

“Our early and aggressive COVID mitigations have limited the number of personnel exposed,” Bruno said. “We are executing our prepared and rehearsed response plan and anticipate no impacts to our manifest. ULA continues to proactively take steps to protect our people, slow the spread of the virus, and maintain national security.”

CNBC reported that six SpaceX employees have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday, citing an internal company memo. Three workers at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Washington, have also tested positive for COVID-19, according to GeekWire.

While they are taking measures to minimize workforce levels and engage in social distancing, large U.S. space companies like SpaceX, ULA and Blue Origin are continuing operations during the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Defense Department issued a memo last month stating that aerospace, mechanical and software engineers — among other personnel — working for defenses contractors and subcontractors should continue working.

The U.S. government has defined the defense industrial base and the critical manufacturing sector to include aerospace companies, which have an exemption to continue working even in states and municipalities with stay-at-home orders.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Killing Journalism in Cleveland

My routine as a kid was pretty simple. I’d wake up, grab the Cleveland Plain Dealer (or The News-Herald, published in the neighboring county) sports section, read every single story and then try as best I could to memorize every box score, statistic and name for every sport. I loved (and love) sports. I also loved the Plain Dealer, but sadly the Plain Dealer is being murdered.

Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family, has been killing the paper for years and it appears to have dealt the death blow this week when it informed the remaining fourteen (14!) newsroom staffers they could no longer cover anything — wait for it — in Cleveland. Anything in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Summit County, or “statewide issues” will now be covered by the non-union, which is a sister site of the Plain Dealer. If that distinction is confusing, don’t worry, it is for everyone. 

The Plain Dealer, along with and a couple other entities, are part of Advance Ohio, which describes itself as “Both a marketing agency and publisher, driving daily conversations and engaging millions through stories on our website, newsletters, social channels and print publications.” It’s significant that “marketing agency” comes first, journalism second. 

The Plain Dealer only has 14 newsroom staffers because, last Friday, 22 were laid off. I encourage you to read Sam Allard of Cleveland Scene (thank god for alternative media) who has documented Advance’s miserly union-busting campaign. This paragraph gets at the shear cruelty exhibited by Advance:

“And so the paper’s remaining staffers are now faced with a devastating decision: they can either leave and let the state’s largest paper, (and the country’s first News Guild), die, ceding victory at last to the Newhouses of Advance Publications who’ve been ruthlessly and methodically busting the PD’s union for years; or they can stay on, suffering the indignities of filing low-stakes stories on distant locales that haven’t been part of the paper’s regular coverage area for years.”

Full disclosure: I hate Advance with every fiber of my being. There is no one company that contributed more to my decision to dedicate my career to finding ways to sustain journalism than Advance, who has gone from metro paper to metro paper, gutting staff and killing journalism with Kendall Roy levels of competency.

I’ve written about why media executives fail, and how it largely hinges on people who don’t understand journalism chasing profits. It’s difficult to view Advance as anything but that. It’s difficult to have any sympathy for a company that bought the company that puts on Ironman triathlons in the same week they inform dozens of journalists they no longer have a job in the midst of a national health crisis when information is at a premium. I mean, according to Advance Ohio, they are “the the #1 source of news and information in the state.” But, sadly, like many media conglomerates, there is no true dedication to journalism, or the communities their publications serve. They are dedicated to profits.

Hints and Clues

We are still in a space where we’re just getting hints and clues about just how this COVID-19 Crisis response is being handled, who’s doing what and just how much private companies are involved – and if so whether they are being allowed to extract windfall profits. Here’s a snippet from yesterday’s Morning Joe where The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported that Jared Kushner’s role in the taskforce is largely to liaise with GOP donors and the White House’s corporate allies. I think that speaks for itself.

The "Square Root Recovery"

This is an interesting way to look at the eventual recovery, from Josh Lehner at the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis: COVID-19: The Square Root Recovery?
The thinking is as follows.

The sudden stop of the economy sends us into a severe recession overnight. Once the health situation improves some, the curve flattens and caseloads peak, the restrictions begin to be lifted. This results in some initial bounce back in economic activity, although far from 100%. We may be able to got out to eat, or get a haircut again, or the like. These firms will staff back up to meet this demand, but is the rebound 1/3 of the losses? 1/2 the losses? We don’t know that answer today. ...

This initial bounce back likely takes the economy from near-depression level readings up to something resembling a severe or bad recession. From there the economy sees slow or moderate rates of growth until the health situation is under control.
Square Root Recovery Click on graph for larger image.

This graph is from Josh Lehner.
Finally, just to be clear, none of this is designed to be pitting the economy against public health. Research shows they are clearly connected and in past episodes, the economy is stronger in places that improve public health the most. As Bill Conerly said the other week, if you tell me the health outcomes, I can tell you the path of the economy. That remains true today.

A Lego Justin Trudeau Talks to Children About the Covid-19 Pandemic

During a press conference last month, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spent a couple of minutes talking directly to the nation’s children, acknowledging their hardships and role in mitigating the effects of the pandemic. Tyler Walsh and his two sons spent a week making this Lego stop motion animation of Trudeau’s address, something that kids might be more likely to watch.

In an interview with the CBC, Walsh described their process:

“[It took] a fair amount of time and hundreds and hundreds of photos,” he said.

Each working to their strengths, Walsh said the kids were primarily in charge of piecing together the Lego elements — such as a podium, as well as hair and a bearded head for Trudeau — to bring the set to life.

“I would have questions for them like, ‘I need a sad kid. Do we have any sad kid Lego heads?’”

Trudeau himself responded to the Lego version of his address:

This is really great, Tyler. I think my kids — and a whole lot of others — will get a kick out of this, all while hearing how they can help out too. Thanks for helping spread that message.

(via @auntmaureen)

Tags: COVID-19   Justin Trudeau   Legos   remix   stop motion   video

Two Quick Links for Tuesday Noonish

Original artwork from a high school aged Kanye West shows up on PBS's Antiques Roadshow. []

A personality quiz that will tell you which fictional characters you most resemble. This got me pretty well: Sam Tarly from GoT and MCU's Bruce Banner. Lisa Simpson, Lester Freamon, and C-3PO all in my top 25. []


Note: Quick Links are pushed to this RSS feed twice a day. For more immediate service, check out the front page of, the Quick Links archive, or the @kottke Twitter feed.

Where Things Stand: Trump Speaks For Himself

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham is returning to the first lady’s team as chief-of-staff, leaving behind a likely calculated legacy of not once holding a press briefing.

White House chief-of-staff Mark Meadows is reportedly appointing Kayleigh McEnany, who serves as a spokesperson for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, to replace Grisham.

But is the replacement just a formality, at least for now?

Since the coronavirus task force began holding its daily briefings, President Trump has largely used the platform to practice his preference for being his own spokesperson and casting himself as an equal alongside his team of experts. Here’s more on that and other stories we’re following:

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Matt Shuham is looking into Trump’s claim at last night’s press briefing that the administration built 18 hospitals.

Kate Riga and Josh Kovensky are looking into reports of mask seizures in New Jersey.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

The Wisconsin state Supreme Court ordered on Monday night that the primary election should be held as usual, in person today, despite efforts by the Democratic governor to delay the vote until June. The governor attempted to delay the primaries with an executive order on Monday. In-person voting began early Tuesday morning, drawing mass crowds — the exact scenario that the governor was hoping to prevent as the country continues to social distance to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We’ll keep an eye on how voting goes today and what impact the election has on the spread of the virus.

Today’s Rundown

3:00 p.m. ET: Trump will hold a small business relief update.

5:00 p.m. ET: The White House coronavirus task force will hold it’s press briefing.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Surgeon General: COVID-19 Cases Next Week Will Be ‘Our Pearl Harbor Moment’ — Summer Concepcion

What We Are Reading

‘Cancer Alley’ Has Some Of The Highest Coronavirus Death Rates In The Country — Sophie Kasakove

John Lewis Endorses Joe Biden For President — Associated Press

Phase 4 Disaster Relief

Note: Most of what I proposed in early March was enacted. This includes Federal government adding to unemployment insurance (UI), expanding the coverage of UI, small business loans, free testing and care, and sending money to everyone (and much much more than I proposed).  That was a start.

Now is the time to address Phase 4 of Disaster Relief. But first, a key point: This is disaster relief, not "stimulus". Many politicians and reporters are used to using the term "stimulus" for government packages. We are NOT trying to stimulate the economy, we are filling in an economic hole.

The first goal of disaster relief is to fight the virus. This includes any and all support for our healthcare workers and first responders, building up the supply chain of critical items like Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), and building a robust test-and-trace program that is a key to reopening parts of the economy.

The second goal of disaster relief is to fill the economic hole caused by the disaster.   There has been a sudden stop in economic activity, however the financial world continues.  Some people are advocating suspending paying bills, such as rents, mortgages, insurance, credit card, bond payments, and other bills during the crisis.  This is a terrible idea. We don’t want to add a financial crisis, on top of an economic crisis, on top of a healthcare crisis. If we have a financial crisis too, it will be much hard to eventually reopen the economy.

We want to provide sufficient economic support during the crisis so that people can pay their bills. This should be the message from all politicians: Pay your bills.

For Phase 4, I'd suggest:

1. Another round of direct payments to households (send another $1,200 this month, and $1,200 next month).
2. Massive support for State and Local governments (Say $2,000 per person in each state).
3. Rent and mortgage assistance for individuals and small businesses.  If the above isn't enough for people to keep paying their bills, then have a program that will provide short term assistance to help pay the bills.

In addition, we need to plan for a resurgence of the virus in the Fall (as Dr. Fauci has warned about).   This includes building up PPE, having adequate masks for all citizens, supporting a robust test-and-trace program, and protecting our Democracy in the Fall.  This includes preparing (and funding) to have mail-in voting in all 50 states in November if needed.

The Pandemic Has Driven Twitter to New Lows in Happiness

Since 2008, the Hedonometer has been tracking the language we use on Twitter to assign a daily score that measures how collectively happy we are (English tweets only). From the data, you can see that happiness spikes on holidays & after notable news events (same-sex marriage legalization) and unhappiness follows mass shootings, terrorist events, and Trump’s election. But the Covid-19 pandemic has brought Twitter’s collective happiness rating to an overall new low and its first sustained period of unhappiness.

Twitter Happy Pandemic

The day they identify as the unhappiest is March 12, 2020, which is the day after Americans finally took Covid-19 seriously. Within the space of a few hours on March 11, the NBA announced it was suspending its season, Tom Hanks revealed that he and his wife Rita Wilson had Covid-19, the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic, Donald Trump went on primetime TV to address the nation, and the DJIA closed down 1400 points (it would drop another 2350 points on Mar 12).

See also the previous low point after the Las Vegas shootings and my initial post on the Hedonometer from July 2016. In that initial post, I shared a hunch that Twitter’s happiness seemed to have reached a peak in early 2016. With four years of additional data, it’s obvious that the happiness peaked in late 2015 or early 2016 (at least according to their methodology).

Twitter Happy Overall

Tags: COVID-19   infoviz   language   Twitter

Tuesday assorted links

1. Personal unemployment savings accounts.

2. “We find that [British] individuals living in regions in which local labor markets were more substantially affected by imports from China have significantly more authoritarian values.

3. “Residents in Republican counties are less likely to completely stay at home after a state order has been implemented relative to those in Democratic counties. We also find that Democrats are less likely to respond to a state-level order when it is issued by a Republican governor relative to one issued by a Democratic governor.”  Link here.

4. Could it be that scientists are dramatically rising in status? (NYT)

5. Pharma prices are not too high (usually).

6. Why are there so few heart attack patients right now? (NYT)  Even fewer than you might think, it seems.

7. Very substantive Colin Camerer interview.

8. Josh Angrist video on randomized trials, for Marginal Revolution University (which is seeing sky high traffic as of late).

9. The ongoing delays in testing (NYT).

10. “This NJ deli serves sandwiches on giant pickles instead of bread.

11. New journal publishes replication studies in economics.

12. Neil Ferguson interview, do we have an exit strategy?

13. New paper on suicide by Covid-19?

14. GDP loss estimates for Covid-19.

15. Omidyar Network India, rapid grants.

16. Michael Rosenwald history of pandemics, WaPo, splendid visuals.

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Cybersecurity During COVID-19

Three weeks ago (could it possibly be that long already?), I wrote about the increased risks of working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One, employees are working from their home networks and sometimes from their home computers. These systems are more likely to be out of date, unpatched, and unprotected. They are more vulnerable to attack simply because they are less secure.

Two, sensitive organizational data will likely migrate outside of the network. Employees working from home are going to save data on their own computers, where they aren't protected by the organization's security systems. This makes the data more likely to be hacked and stolen.

Three, employees are more likely to access their organizational networks insecurely. If the organization is lucky, they will have already set up a VPN for remote access. If not, they're either trying to get one quickly or not bothering at all. Handing people VPN software to install and use with zero training is a recipe for security mistakes, but not using a VPN is even worse.

Four, employees are being asked to use new and unfamiliar tools like Zoom to replace face-to-face meetings. Again, these hastily set-up systems are likely to be insecure.

Five, the general chaos of "doing things differently" is an opening for attack. Tricks like business email compromise, where an employee gets a fake email from a senior executive asking him to transfer money to some account, will be more successful when the employee can't walk down the hall to confirm the email's validity -- and when everyone is distracted and so many other things are being done differently.

NASA is reporting an increase in cyberattacks. From an agency memo:

A new wave of cyber-attacks is targeting Federal Agency Personnel, required to telework from home, during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. During the past few weeks, NASA's Security Operations Center (SOC) mitigation tools have prevented success of these attempts. Here are some examples of what's been observed in the past few days:

  • Doubling of email phishing attempts
  • Exponential increase in malware attacks on NASA systems
  • Double the number of mitigation-blocking of NASA systems trying to access malicious sites (often unknowingly) due to users accessing the Internet

Here's another article that makes basically the same points I did:

But the rapid shift to remote working will inevitably create or exacerbate gaps in security. Employees using unfamiliar software will get settings wrong and leave themselves open to breaches. Staff forced to use their own ageing laptops from home will find their data to be less secure than those using modern equipment.

That's a big problem because the security issues are not going away. For the last couple of months coronavirus-themed malware and phishing scams have been on the rise. Business email compromise scams -- where crooks impersonate a CEO or other senior staff member and then try to trick workers into sending money to their accounts -- could be made easier if staff primarily rely on email to communicate while at home.

BLS: Job Openings decreased to 6.9 Million in February

Note: This is pre-crisis data.

From the BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary
The number of job openings was little changed at 6.9 million on the last business day of February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the month, hires and separations were little changed at 5.9 million and 5.6 million, respectively. Within separations, the quits rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent and the layoffs and discharges rate was little changed at 1.2 percent. ...

In February, the number of quits was little changed at 3.5 million while the rate was unchanged at 2.3 percent. Total private quits were little changed while the quits level edged up for government (+15,000). Quits decreased in real estate and rental and leasing (-27,000).
emphasis added
The following graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (dark blue), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.

This series started in December 2000.

Note: The difference between JOLTS hires and separations is similar to the CES (payroll survey) net jobs headline numbers. This report is for February, the most recent employment report was for March.

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey Click on graph for larger image.

Note that hires (dark blue) and total separations (red and light blue columns stacked) are pretty close each month. This is a measure of labor market turnover.  When the blue line is above the two stacked columns, the economy is adding net jobs - when it is below the columns, the economy is losing jobs.

Jobs openings decreased in February to 6.882 million from 7.012 million in January.

The number of job openings (yellow) were down 2% year-over-year.

Quits were down 1% year-over-year. These are voluntary separations. (see light blue columns at bottom of graph for trend for "quits").

Job openings were at a solid level, but had been declining recently.  Quits were mostly flat year-over-year.

However this was for February - the picture will change sharply in March and April.

Some Thoughts About the AEI’s Roadmap to Reopening the U.S.

Recently, the conservative think tank AEI released a plan describing the milestones needed to bring the U.S. back to normal-ish activity, economic and otherwise. It’s worth discussing because, like it or not, Republicans aren’t going to adopt a plan from left-leaning or even radical centrist think tanks–this administration listens to AEI*.

It’s long, so rather than recapitulate it here, I’ll discuss some of its weakenesses and strengths. Let’s start with the weaknesses:

  1. It moves too quickly from phase I–phase I is essentially where we are now (mostly), with stay-at-home rules. Here are the triggers to move to phase II:

    …the trigger for a move to Phase II should be when a state reports a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days (i.e., one incubation period); and local hospitals are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization without resorting to crisis standards of care; and the capacity exists in the state to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms, along with state capacity to conduct active monitoring of all confirmed cases and their contacts.

    What’s unclear from this is the role of a serological test plays. While the details suggest a test should be available to move to phase II, that’s not enough. We can’t move to the next phase without being able to deploy the test rapidly. We need to know who can move around safely, return to work, and so on. We also need to have enough serological testing to engage in surveillance–taking representative samples (there’s a whole subdiscipline that worries about what ‘representative’ means, so I’ll ignore that here) so we have some idea of what the community level of infection has been. Right now we’re flying blind without surveillance, since we’re really only testing the (very) sick and some people who have likely been exposed.

  2. Just for emphasis: we need population-based surveillance. That must be available.
  3. I think any plan will have this problem, but the requirement that “the trigger for a move to Phase II should be when a state reports a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days” will run afoul of Campbell’s Law, which is the strong (in this case, overwhelming) pressure to distort the statistics. One suggestion, not by AEI, is to explicitly tie temporary relaxation of quarantines to maintaining COVID testing rates at 100% of requests and suspected cases. It’s a good suggestion, though I would add the surveillance component discussed above too.
  4. Masks. Masks need to be available for frontline workers–not just healthcare workers.
  5. The supply chain is fucked in many places. Having people pack into stores to buy various scarce goods–and it’s not just the damn toilet paper (e.g., paper towels, thermometers, cleaning fluids are still short supply)–is not good. Get the supply chains for the basics running in order to cut down on unnecessary travel and social contact. (Oreo Cookies are not a basic, but they do seem in good supply…)
  6. I don’t like making this state-based, though I realize that’s the level of regulation at which this happens. What happens if New Jersey moves to phase II, but New York remains in phase I? In the D.C. area, there are three states, and there have been days where I have spent time (not just driven/traveled through) in each state. I would prefer using the CDC regions for release, but I’m not sure how that could be implemented, so we might just have to hope the two centuries old strictures of colonial era federalism don’t kill us.

To a considerable extent, I’m not worried about the other phases, since once we enter phase II, the worst is really behind us. Some strengths of the plan:

  1. We’re not getting out of this for a while. No Easter, or even April 30 bullshit.
  2. It removes the guidelines for relaxing restrictions from politicians by having measurable guidelines (see the above part about Campbell’s Law though).
  3. It gives conservatives cover. Most Republican governors have been breathtakingly irresponsible and stupid (Ohio’s Gov. DeWine has been the rare exception). This plan gives them some cover, and it might even inform them.
  4. From the previous point, if we take multiple governors at their word when they claim they didn’t realize SARS-CoV-2 could be spread asymptomatically, then they and their staffs are horrifyingly ignorant**, and this document will provide them some much needed education about SARS-CoV-2.

So, it’s not bad, but there are some weaknesses. Still waiting for the Democratic-aligned think tanks to get in gear and broach this subject***.

*Which, on many issues, is part of the problem.

**Multiple politicians have said this, including some Democrats, even though it had been well-established by late January that asymptomatic (and pre-symptomatic) spread was a problem. They should not be re-elected to office.

***Obviously, they have more important things to do like attacking Sanders supporters. Kidding aside, too many professional Democrats just don’t seem to like governing.

“Liberated upon each of them giving bail”

Back on 27 March, I described how a Suffolk County grand jury indicted four civilians for murder in the Boston Massacre.

As acting governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote, those four men had been “committed to close prison, where they lay about a fortnight,” because of the testimony of Charles Bourgate.

That “French boy” claimed that his master, Edward Manwaring, had fired a gun out of the Customs House window. The other three men were charged with being part of the fatal conspiracy simply because they testified in support of Manwaring’s denial.

Ordinarily, there was no bail for people charged with murder. But some Superior Court judges thought the evidence against those men was weak enough to make an exception.

According to an anonymous correspondent keeping track of events in Boston for the Customs service, the town committee gathering evidence about the Massacre “threw every obstacle in the way in order to prevent this affair coming to a hearing by informing the Court that they daily expected new Witnesses from the Country.”

Eventually the court scheduled a bail hearing on Saturday, 7 Apr 1770—250 years ago today. According to the diary of acting Chief Justice Benjamin Lynde, it took “all forenoon.” The anonymous report described the event this way:
The Witnesses brot. against the Custom house People Manwarings french boy and one [Samuel] Drown, the former had sworn to so many falsities that the Court paid no regard to his evidence—the latter was proven in Court to be a fool, unable to utter one coherent sentence. . . .

Upwards of 40 Creditable people were summoned by Manwaring to disprove Guns being fired out of the Custom house but only the family of Mr. [Benjamin] Davis who lives directly opposite was examined—they all declared they had their eye upon the Custom house during the whole affair, and that they saw no Guns fired nor believ’d any were fired. their Evidences were so very clear that the Court thought it unnecessary to examine any other of his exculpatory Witnesses.
Lynde was nonetheless still inclined not to grant bail. Judge Peter Oliver (shown above), brother of province secretary Andrew Oliver and related by marriage to Hutchinson, already believed there was “little cause of Confinement.” Judge John Cushing (1695-1778) cast the deciding vote.

The court let the four men out of jail pending trial if they paid bail of £400 each. As comparison, in 1770 Paul Revere paid £213 for an entire house in the North End. With the help of sixteen sureties, the defendants came up with the necessary money. They still had to go on trial, but until then they were free.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag Play to be Streamed Online

Fleabag Play

A recording of a live performance of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s play Fleabag (on which the TV show is based) is going to be streamed online to raise money for those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Said Waller-Bridge:

I hope this filmed performance of Fleabag can help raise money while providing a little theatrical entertainment in these isolated times. Thank you to all our partners and to the creative team who have waived their royalties from this production to raise money for such vital causes in this unbelievably challenging situation. All money raised will support the people throughout our society who are fighting for us on the frontlines and those financially devastated by the crisis, including those in the theatre community. Thank you in advance to those who donate. Now go get into bed with Fleabag! It’s for charity!

It’s available in the UK & Ireland right now and will appear on Amazon Prime in the US on April 10. (thx, caroline)

Tags: Fleabag   Phoebe Waller-Bridge   TV

Amid Trump’s Pandemic, FTC Turns a Blind Eye to Price Gouging

Don’t Look for the Watchdog Agency to Go After Those Marking-Up Prices for Hand Sanitizers, Masks and Other Necessities

Sarah Okeson

The Federal Trade Commission has washed its hands of protecting us as we search for hand sanitizer and face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Created more than a century ago by President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC is supposed to protect consumers. But don’t expect the commission’s Republican majority to step in as our nation’s citizens are overcharged for goods.

Sandeep Vaheesan, the legal director at the Open Markets Institute, said the FTC has been reluctant to act on complaints about price gouging.

“I’m sure the FTC will be pleading helplessness in the coming weeks and months when they are asked to go after price gouging,” said Veheesan. She previously worked for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

‘Profiteers who have cleaned the shelves of hundreds of stores are hoarding these very same supplies or charging unconscionable prices.’

Democratic representatives, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, asked the FTC for help in March.

ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

Tell FTC Chairman Joseph Simons your thoughts on price gouging. Call Simons at 202-326-3400 or write him at Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20580. He is also on Twitter.

Contact the Open Markets Institute online.


“Profiteers who have cleaned the shelves of hundreds of stores are hoarding these very same supplies or charging unconscionable prices,” they wrote. “This misconduct places critical goods out of reach for those who need them most.”

‘Unfairness Authority’

Vaheesan said the FTC could use its “unfairness authority” to challenge price gouging during the pandemic. The commission has this authority from a 1938 law, the Wheeler-Lea Act.

The commission used this authority in 1984 to rule that International Harvester had violated the law because it didn’t disclose that gasoline could shoot up more than 20 feet if fuel caps were dislodged or removed from its gasoline-powered tractors. At least one person was killed; others were severely burned.

In 2014, the commission used this authority in a case with Apple Inc. over allegations the company billed parents and other account holders when children used an app to make purchases without the account holders’ consent. Tens of thousands of people complained, including a woman whose daughter spent $2,600 in the app “Tap Pet Hotel.”

Apple agreed to refund consumers at least $32.5 million and change billing practices.

Substantial Injury

Using unfairness authority requires a three-pronged test: the injury must be substantial; it must not be outweighed by benefits to consumers or competition that the practice produces and it must be an injury that consumers could not have reasonably avoided.

Attorneys general from 33 states asked Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Facebook and Craigslist to crack down on overpriced items on their websites and create policies to detect surges in prices.

Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws against price gouging, but our country doesn’t have a federal law about price gouging.

Economists say price gouging laws can be harmful and lead to black markets where prices are even higher.

Trump signed an executive order to prevent price gouging and hoarding critical medical supplies that would allow the Justice Department to file criminal charges.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) have introduced bills S.3576 and S.3574 about price gouging.

Featured image: AP


The post Amid Trump’s Pandemic, FTC Turns a Blind Eye to Price Gouging appeared first on

CoreLogic: House Prices up 4.1% Year-over-year in February

Notes: This CoreLogic House Price Index report is for February. The recent Case-Shiller index release was for January. The CoreLogic HPI is a three month weighted average and is not seasonally adjusted (NSA).

From CoreLogic: CoreLogic Reports February Home Prices Increased by 4.1% Year Over Year
CoreLogic® ... today released the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI™) and HPI Forecast™ for February 2020, which shows home prices rose both year over year and month over month. Home prices increased nationally by 4.1% from February 2019. On a month-over-month basis, prices increased by 0.6% in February 2020. (January 2020 data was revised. Revisions with public records data are standard, and to ensure accuracy, CoreLogic incorporates the newly released public data to provide updated results each month.)

The CoreLogic HPI Forecast projects U.S. home prices to increase by 0.5% from February 2020 to March 2020. Homes that settle during March will largely reflect purchase contracts that were signed in January and February, before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices calculated using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. (The HPI Forecast for February was produced with projections for economic variables available prior to mid-March and does not incorporate subsequent deterioration in the economy.)

“Before the onset of the pandemic, the quickening of home price growth during the first two months of 2020 highlighted the strength of purchase activity,” said Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist at CoreLogic. “In February, the national unemployment rate matched a 50-year low, mortgage rates fell to the lowest level in more than three years and for-sale inventory remained lean, all contributing to the pickup in value growth.”

“The nearly 10-year-old recovery of the U.S. housing market has run headlong into the panic and uncertainty from the global COVID-19 pandemic. In terms of home value trends, we are in uncharted territory as we battle the outbreak with measures that are generating a never-before-seen, rapid downshift in economic activity and employment. We expect that many homeowners will initially be somewhat cushioned by government programs, ultra-low interest rates or have adequate reserves to weather the storm. Over the second half of the year, we predict unemployment and other factors will become more pronounced, which will apply additional pressure on housing activity in the medium term.”, Frank Martell, President and CEO of CoreLogic
emphasis added
CoreLogic house pricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This graph from CoreLogic shows the YoY change in the index.

From CoreLogic: "This graph shows a comparison of the national year-over-year percent change for the CoreLogic HPI and CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index from 2000 to present month with forecasts one year into the future. We note that both the CoreLogic HPI Single Family Combined tier and the CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index are posting positive, but moderating year-over-year percent changes, and forecasting gains for the next year."

CR Note: The impact of COVID-19 on house prices will probably not show up for several months. The report next month will be for March, and that is for contracts signed in January and February. The overall impact on house prices will depend on the duration of the crisis.

Allocating and reallocating scarce medical supplies

An op-ed in USA today points out that shortages of critical hospital supplies are occurring and will continue to occur at different times in different states, allowing for increased efficiencies in sharing (which is hampered by a vacuum in leadership at the Federal level).

One of the authors, Dr. Deborah Proctor, is in fact an experienced market designer, who led the (re-)adoption of a fellowship match for gastroenterology fellows.*

National redistribution of hospital supplies could save lives
Taking supplies from less stressed hospitals and sharing them with overwhelmed ones, we could maximize the use of equipment and save more lives.
Diane R. M. Somlo, Dr. Howard P. Forman and Dr. Deborah D. Proctor

"Since we now know more about the predicted peaks in COVID-19 across the U.S., we can see that peak demand will likely occur at different times in different states and cities, starting in early April and extending through May. While some hospitals are already starting to drown, other hospitals that are further from their peak demand have stockpiles of unused equipment lying in wait. 

"What if there was a nation-wide system that allowed hospitals that have equipment but have lower present and predicted demand to lend some reusable (ventilator) and non-reusable equipment (PPE, testing kits) to hospitals that are currently being overwhelmed? Then, as demand in one area rises and the other falls, freed up ventilators could be re-distributed, and manufacturers will have had more time to generate non-reusable equipment for hospitals that lent their equipment. By taking from stockpiles of less stressed hospitals and sharing it with currently overwhelmed ones, we could maximize the use of our national inventory of equipment and save more lives.
" redistribution approaches in other settings have enabled vast functional expansions of limited supplies, including kidney transplants and donated food for food pantries across the U.S. Bottom line: Redistribution has the potential to improve the trajectory of COVID-19 mortality in the U.S. Our country is already on track to employ these measures at a state level or voluntarily, so delaying set up of cross-state exchange only means missing out on the maximal benefit of redistribution. In fact, as of this writing, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has just signed an executive order enabling redistribution of medical supplies to struggling hospitals within New York state and Oregon has sent ventilators to New York.
"In these coming trying times, our healthcare system is facing an unprecedented, deadly burden, and we need to make supplies available where they are needed most —independent of state lines. Now is the time to start making the changes, to call on the federal government, national leaders, and private partnerships to coordinate our efforts as a nation, so we can provide the best care possible with our limited supplies. Lives depend on it."
Niederle, Muriel, Deborah D. Proctor and Alvin E. Roth, ''The Gastroenterology Fellowship Match: The First Two Years,'' Gastroenterology , 135, 2 (August), 344-346, 2008.

Live coverage: Dragon supply ship departs space station

Live coverage of the departure of SpaceX’s Dragon supply ship from the International Space Station and its splashdown in the Pacific Ocean with several tons of experiment samples and cargo. SpaceX and NASA will not provide live video coverage of the splashdown. Text updates will appear automatically below; there is no need to reload the page. Follow us on Twitter.

Confessions of a California Landlord

I was fortunate to have the best tenants on the planet for a while. I loved them. (Still do.) But as time went on their family grew and with the birth of their third child it became clear they would be leaving. I was pretty aggressive in trying to find creative ways to keep them around. They were already paying substantially below the market rate and I had made multiple improvements and upgrades to the property with their cooperation.

But we reached a point where I knew they had already checked out emotionally and I had to let them go. They were actively preparing to relocate to their hometown 3,000 miles away. I needed them to understand that they were welcome to stay with the old agreement, but it was predicated on them remaining for the long haul. They confirmed that they would be moving on. After that I gave them three months notice that the rent would increase by ten percent – still well below market. That was the push they needed to make a firm decision and they left the day the rent would have increased. We’re still in touch. I miss them.

Whenever old tenants leave I take the opportunity to do a fresh round of improvements. The garage door was ancient and needed to be replaced. The new door is an extra thick steel unit that’s well insulated and properly sealed from the weather.

The kitchen cabinets got an upgrade. I went over the numbers and realized that if I wanted to keep the project within a cash budget I was going to have to make some trade-offs. I could replace all the old stuff with inexpensive lower quality items, or I could replace some things with better quality units and wait to upgrade others in the future. I went with quality. There’s a huge difference between particleboard and melamine cabinets vs. solid wood. I chose solid maple with a factory finish in white. Fashions come and go. Durability outlasts any trend. The all white kitchen is a bit dull, but the new occupants can add their personal touches with curtains, art, table linens, and so on.

The vintage stove had character and I had a fondness for it. But it was old enough that it might devolve and pose a health and safety hazard in the future. That concerned me as a landlord. It also had multiple pilot lights that burned 24/7 and gave off heat and steady fumes. After I super insulated the house and replaced all the windows that little bit of gas built up in a noticeable way that worried me. The next door neighbors were renovating a family cottage and adopted the old stove. Ironically I bought the house from them so it was actually their grandma’s old stove. The new unit is a high quality stove that’s identical to the one I installed in my own home. It wasn’t cheap.

As I was renovating the house I was also searching for new tenants. This is a tricky business riddled with “unknown unknowns.” If a landlord selects the wrong people there’s a potential train wreck of unpaid rent, damaged property, hard feelings from the neighbors, and legal action. So I took my time and let things play out over a few months. I invited everyone I knew to enjoy the house while it was vacant hoping they, or perhaps people they knew, might be interested in living there. I spoke with all the neighbors and asked them to spread the word. There were dinners and lunches and long talks with all sorts of folks. Christmas came and went. But nothing solid appeared.

Reluctantly, I placed an ad on Craigslist and braced myself for the onslaught of strangers. There are laws about what a landlord can and can’t do in the way of screening potential tenants and I’m scrupulous about not violating any of them. But landlords absolutely must filter out people who are fundamentally unqualified. So I have a standard set of questions.

  1. Can you provide documents to prove your income for the last 24 months?
  2. Will you agree to a credit and background check?
  3. Do you have references from past landlords?

It’s best to rent to the very first applicant who qualifies so there’s no illegal cherry picking. I’ve learned over the years that merely asking for these things induces many people to voluntarily opt out.

There was an exceptionally beautiful woman (tall, slender, high cheekbones, impeccable clothes) who came to look at the place. She was obviously underwhelmed by the property. It was too low brow for her tastes. But it’s a tight market with limited availability. I know the type. She was never going to be happy with the house and would have endless needs I was never going to be able to fulfill. I asked her the three questions. She waved her hand dismissively. “My soon-to-be ex husband is paying. Money’s not a problem.” So I walked her through the situation. If her ex is paying I’ll need to see his documentation… She raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow, ignored the comment, poked around a little, and left. She self-selected out.

There were three young guys who pulled up in a pimped out Mercedes. The door opened and a plume of purple smoke escaped. They were very excited about the large half acre garden and garage workshop. I asked them the three questions. They offered to pay in cash – a whole year in advance. I politely declined and asked for official documentation and regular rent checks instead. They self-selected out.

Perhaps the most intriguing couple to inquire about the property had many pets, each with official papers describing their medical necessity. There was the low insulin detection dog, the emotional support pig, and so on. I actually kinda liked them in spite of their peculiarities, but they dragged their feet when I asked the three questions. They self-selected out.

This process went on for weeks as dozens of people passed through. A handful of folks did present some paperwork, but the numbers didn’t add up. I actually sat down with a few applicants and asked them to do a budget. What’s your car payment? Truck payment? Vehicle insurance? Student loan(s)? Credit card payments? Child support from a previous relationship? I could see how they never actually did the math on what they could or couldn’t afford. I didn’t have to reject them. They saw for themselves how this would end in tears.

As I was beginning to despair the perfect couple boomeranged back. We had talked casually a month earlier, but I never heard back from them. They had been recommended by a neighbor and I had liked them. I chatted with the neighbor again and decided to reach out one more time. They submitted their documents and lo and behold they had solid incomes in bulletproof occupations (which came in handy soon enough,) great credit, and no debt of any kind. Sold! We signed a lease and they moved in moments before the Covid-19 drama began.

Las Vegas Real Estate in March: Sales up 6.5% YoY, Inventory down 17% YoY

Note: Las Vegas will probably see a significant decline in visitor and convention traffic over the next several months due to COVID-19.  This will likely have a significant impact on local real estate.  Sales in March were solid, and prices were at a new high, however sales are counted when at the close of escrow, so the contracts for these homes were signed in January and February.  The impact from COVID-19 will be in future months.

The Las Vegas Realtors reported Southern Nevada home prices set new record in March despite coronavirus crisis; LVR housing statistics for March 2020
The total number of existing local homes, condos and townhomes sold during March was 3,472. Compared to the same time last year, March sales were up 5.2% for homes and up 11.7% for condos and townhomes.
By the end of March, LVR reported 5,687 single-family homes listed for sale without any sort of offer. That’s down 19.8% from one year ago. For condos and townhomes, the 1,628 properties listed without offers in March represented a 7.0% drop from one year ago.

Meanwhile, the number of so-called distressed sales in March remained near historically low levels. The association reported that short sales and foreclosures combined accounted for 2.0% of all existing local property sales in March. That compares to 2.5% of all sales one year ago, 2.9% two years ago, and 9.8% three years ago.
emphasis added
1) Overall sales were up 6.5% year-over-year to 3,472 in March 2020 from 3,260 in March 2019.

2) Active inventory (single-family and condos) is down from a year ago, from a total of 8,842 in March 2019 to 7,315 in March 2020. Note: Total inventory was down 17.3% year-over-year.   And months of inventory is still low.

3) Low level of distressed sales.

Report criticizes management of ISS National Laboratory

International Space Station (ISS)

WASHINGTON — An independent review panel sharply criticized the management of the International Space Station National Laboratory, with both NASA and the organization that manages the laboratory agreeing to significant changes.

The report, commissioned by NASA last August, was released by agency April 6 with little fanfare. It found serious issues with how the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the nonprofit organization contracted by NASA to manage the ISS National Lab, was set up and operated.

A 2005 NASA authorization bill designated the U.S. segment of the ISS as a national laboratory in response to concerns that NASA would not adequately support research on the station. In 2011, NASA selected CASIS to formally manage the ISS National Lab, allocating it half of the resources on the U.S. segment to support research.

The independent review team (IRT), led by Betsy Cantwell of the University of Arizona, found fundamental issues with how the ISS National Lab, or ISSNL, was set up, including its inability to do work for NASA. “The IRT does not find that the ISSNL is a National Laboratory in any sense other than its legislative designation,” the committee stated in its report. “To preclude the ISSNL from conducting work for its sponsor meets neither the spirit nor intent of a National Laboratory.”

The panel found that the agreement between NASA and CASIS was poorly structured. “Both this lack of flexibility and the ill-defined mission of the ISSNL have harmed NASA and CASIS, resulting in unprofessional behavior on the part of NASA, and un-business like behavior on the part of CASIS,” the report stated.

The panel raised issues with how CASIS was set up, including its use of a large board of directors. The directors, paid $40,000 a year for eight hours a week of work, not only oversaw the management of the organization but also served as marketers of the organization, working independently of CASIS staff. That compensation “is much higher than would be normal” for a small nonprofit, the report noted, and their marketing activities “had a significant adverse impact on the unity of operation of CASIS, as well as its economic progress.”

The report identified several other issues about the ISS National Lab. It complained about a lack of an advisory committee for the lab that would represent the user community, a role deferred to the CASIS board. NASA “has not treated CASIS as an independent organization,” managing the organization at a variety of levels and not through a single point of contact. The panel noted there’s little insight into how projects are selected for flight by CASIS and how they are spun out, an issue as the station’s overall research resources become more constrained.

The panel offered a number of recommendations for improving the management of CASIS and the ISS National Lab, many of which NASA accepted.

“We have heard the team’s recommendations, and NASA concurs that a significant change is needed to ensure American citizens obtain the most from their investment in the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “NASA and CASIS are now in alignment. Our forward plan is based on the Independent Review Team’s findings and recommendations, and we look forward to continuing work with CASIS to bring the ISS National Lab into a new era.”

Among those recommendations are changes in the composition and roles of the CASIS board, and creation of a user advisory committee by CASIS. NASA will identify a single program executive to serve as the liaison to CASIS, and who will be responsible for updating strategic priorities on an annual basis. NASA and CASIS will work together to establish “transparent” processes for evaluating and prioritizing projects and to optimize the allocation of resources for the ISS National Lab.

CASIS also accepted the report. “We embrace the recommendations of the IRT report, many of which are fully aligned with our strategic plan and changes we have already begun implementing with our NASA colleagues,” Andrei Ruckenstein, co-chair of the CASIS board, said in the NASA statement. Neither he nor Bridenstine gave a schedule for implementing those changes.

NASA called for the independent review in August 2019 “to ensure we are on mission and appropriately resourced to produce breakthroughs that improve lives on Earth,” the agency said in a letter to CASIS announcing the review. That came after CASIS sought to remove its chief executive, Joe Vockley, a move that would have required NASA approval.

At the time NASA announced the review, it expected the work to take 12 weeks to complete. The final report, though, was not delivered to NASA until Feb. 4. Craig Kundrot, director of NASA’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications Division, said at an April 1 meeting of the National Academies’ Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space that the agency had planned to release the report and its response by the end of March, but coordination issues among stakeholders had caused the schedule to slip slightly.

Four short links: 7 April 2020

  1. locustopen source load testing tool: define user behaviour with Python code, and swarm your system with millions of simultaneous users. (via @nzigel)
  2. Background Mattinga method for creating a matte – the per-pixel foreground color and alpha – of a person by taking photos or videos in an everyday setting with a handheld camera. Most existing matting methods require a green screen background or a manually created trimap to produce a good matte. With source.
  3. Learning to See Through Obstructionsa learning-based approach for removing unwanted obstructions, such as window reflections, fence occlusions or raindrops, from a short sequence of images captured by a moving camera.
  4. Covid-19 Primer — algorithmic summaries of Covid-19 research, updated every 24h. (via Sean Gourley)

The swimmer

but today you swirl and spin
in sea water as if,
creatures of salt and slime
and naked under the sun,
life were a waking dream
and this the only life.
– From ‘A Swim in Co Wicklow’ (2011) by Derek Mahon

In 2012, the Irish long-distance swimmer Stephen Redmond became the first person to complete the Ocean's Seven challenge, which includes marathon swims in seven channels around the world. In The Swimmer, the Irish filmmaker Thomas Beug takes us along on a brisk Atlantic swim, gracefully weaving lyrical images of Redmond on land and in the water with his musings on the ineffable sense of purpose he finds in the open water. Complementing Redmond's narration are lines written and performed by the Irish poet Derek Mahon, offering a refreshing glimpse of the sublime and the spiritual within the realm of extreme sports. 

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

The scholar’s vocation

A century ago, Weber both diagnosed the ills of the corporatised, modern university, and pointed out the path beyond it

By Chad Wellmon

Read at Aeon

New books of note, which I’ve been reading parts of

Jia Lynn Yang, One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle over American Immigration, 1924-1965.

Kate Murphy, You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters.  How to be a better listener — get the audiobook!

Kevin Peter Hand, Alien Oceans: The Search for Life in the Depths of Space.  A remarkably under-written and under-booked topic, I am delighted to see this book in particular.

Kate Elizabeth Russell, My Dark Vanessa: a novel, about a high school teacher abusing one of his students, effective if you are wishing to read a story with this plot line.

Alev Scott and Andronike Makres, Power & the People: Five Lessons from the Birthplace of Democracy.  Due out in September, a useful look at how politics worked in ancient Athens.

Peniel E. Joseph, The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.

John Guy, Gresham’s Law: The Life and World of Queen Elizabeth I’s Banker.

Jennifer A. Delton, The Industrialists: How the National Association of Manufacturers Shaped American Capitalism.  Manufacturing is one of the topics du jour, and this book gives good background on one particular angle of that story.

As for older books, I very much liked Paul A. Offitt, Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases, a biography of Maurice Hilleman.  How soon we forget that in the early 1960s — when I was born — the measles virus was killing about eight million children a year.  Even in 2018 it was 140,000 deaths a year.  Also excellent is Kendall Hoyt, Long Shot: Vaccines for National Defense, a paradigmatic example of Progress Studies.

The post New books of note, which I’ve been reading parts of appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

*Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment*

That is a recent book by Ahmet T. Kuru, published in August.  All books should have a (non-Amazon) abstract, and here it is for this book:

Why do Muslim-majority countries exhibit high levels of authoritarianism and low levels of socioeconomic development in comparison to world averages? Ahmet T. Kuru criticizes explanations which point to Islam as the cause of this disparity, because Muslims were philosophically and socioeconomically more developed than Western Europeans between the ninth and twelfth centuries. Nor was Western colonialism the cause: Muslims had already suffered political and socioeconomic problems when colonization began. Kuru argues that Muslims had influential thinkers and merchants in their early history, when religious orthodoxy and military rule were prevalent in Europe. However, in the eleventh century, an alliance between orthodox Islamic scholars (the ulema) and military states began to emerge. This alliance gradually hindered intellectual and economic creativity by marginalizing intellectual and bourgeois classes in the Muslim world. This important study links its historical explanation to contemporary politics by showing that, to this day, the ulema–state alliance still prevents creativity and competition in Muslim countries.

I don’t really have my own view on these issues, and due to various duties and also the slowness of my on-line reading, I have read only a segment of this book.  I can report it is clearly written, to the point, and well argued, and I am happy to recommend it to anyone interested in these issues.

I think I will use MR today to catch up on some “book news,” after that back again to coronavirus for a while.

The post *Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Crisis Innovation

That is the title of a new working paper by Tania Babina, Asaf Bernstein, and Filippo Mezzanotti, here is the abstract:

The effect of financial crises on innovative activity is an unsettled and important question for economic growth, but one difficult to answer with modern data. Using a differences-in-differences design surrounding the Great Depression, we are able to obtain plausible variation in local shocks to innovative ecosystems and examine the long-run impact of their inventions. We document a sudden and persistent decline in patenting by the largest organizational form of innovation at this time—independent inventors. Parallel trends prior to the shock, evidence of a drop within every major technology class, and consistent results using distress driven by commodity shocks all suggest a causal effect of local distress. Despite this negative effect, our evidence shows that innovation during crises can be more resilient than it may appear at a first glance. First, the average quality of surviving patents rises so much that there is no observable change in the aggregate future citations of these patents, in spite of the decline in the quantity of patents. Second, the shock is in part absorbed through a reallocation of inventors into established firms, which overall were less affected by the shock. Over the long run, firms in more affected areas compensate for the decline in entrepreneurial innovation and produce patents with greater impact. Third, the results reveal no significant brain drain of inventors from the affected areas. Overall, our findings suggest that financial crises are both destructive and creative forces for innovation, and we provide the first systematic evidence of the role that distress from the Great Depression played in the long-run innovative activity and the organization of innovation in the U.S. economy.

Further data coming your way…

The post Crisis Innovation appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Tropical Cyclone Harold Blasts Vanuatu

Tropical Cyclone Harold Blasts Vanuatu
The category 5 storm wreaked havoc on the small island nation in the South Pacific.


Larry David, Master of His Quarantine

I’m trying to end each day here at DF on an upbeat note. This interview with Larry David by Maureen Dowd for The New York Times fits the bill nicely:

When I ask if he is hoarding anything, he is outraged. “Not a hoarder,” he said. “In fact, in a few months, if I walk into someone’s house and stumble onto 50 rolls of toilet paper in a closet somewhere, I will end the friendship. It’s tantamount to being a horse thief in the Old West.”

“I never could have lived in the Old West,” he added parenthetically. “I would have been completely paranoid about someone stealing my horse. No locks. You tie them to a post! How could you go into a saloon and enjoy yourself knowing your horse could get taken any moment? I would be so distracted. Constantly checking to see if he was still there.”


White House looks for international support for space resource rights

WASHINGTON — An executive order by the White House April 6 seeks to establish international support for the U.S. position that space resources can be used by companies and organizations, and to head off alternative international legal regimes.

The executive order calls on the State Department to lead interagency efforts to encourage other countries to adopt the American position supporting “safe and sustainable operations for the public and private recovery and use of space resources.” That would follow federal law, in the form of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, which grants American companies rights to space resources they extract.

“Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law. Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons,” the order, signed by President Donald Trump, states. “Accordingly, it shall be the policy of the United States to encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law.”

The order explicitly opposes the Moon Agreement, sometimes known as the Moon Treaty, that treats the moon and other celestial bodies as the “common heritage of mankind” and would establish an international regime to govern the use of such resources. The United States and most other major spacefaring nations rejected the final version of the Moon Agreement in the late 1970s, and to date the treaty has been ratified by only 18 countries.

“Supportive policy regarding the recovery and use of space resources is important to the creation of a stable and predictable investment environment for commercial space innovators and entrepreneurs, and it is vital to the long-term sustainability of human exploration and development of the moon, Mars and other destinations,” a senior administration official, speaking on background, said in a call with reporters about the new executive order.

Planning for the executive order started last year, the official said, but was ultimately linked to the release by NASA April 2 of a report outlining its long-term plans for sustainable lunar exploration. That included the development of in-situ resource utilization technologies to make use of water ice or other lunar materials to create fuel, oxygen and other materials, “enabling sustainable surface operations with decreasing supply needs from Earth.”

Another factor in the timing was the status of the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), a forum where matters like use of space resources are discussed. The meeting of the COPUOS legal subcommittee, scheduled for late March, was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the U.N. has delayed the full COPUOS meeting from June until at least the latter half of August.

“We’re having State Department reach out to our counterparts, partners, because we still, of course, want to talk about international cooperation on Artemis,” the official said. “With the NASA plan being out, we thought it was important to then put out this statement about what our attitude was toward use of space resources.”

The executive order doesn’t call for a new treaty or a similar binding international agreement, but instead a series of bilateral or multilateral agreements with nations that share American views on space resources.

The official declined to name any specific countries the United States may already be in talks with on the topic, but noted that some countries have either enacted laws similar to the U.S. one on space resources, like Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates, or have otherwise issued statements in support of the American approach.

“There is not a whole lot which is new here,” said Chris Johnson, space law adviser for the Secure World Foundation, in an interview. That includes the rejection of the Moon Agreement and the concept of space as a “global commons,” but continued support for the Outer Space Treaty.

The executive order, he said, will reinvigorate a debate about how the use of space resources will be governed. “As of 2020, the conversation is no longer whether it’s legal or illegal to use space resources,” he said. “The conversation now at the international level is, do we need a new international regime? How do we govern this in a sustainable fashion?”

He said that, as the issue of space resources was discussed in the last few years, a few countries suggested the Moon Agreement as a model for an international regime. “That made a lot of folks nervous because it’s rules negotiated in the 1970s for activity that has yet to arise.”

Johnson said he thinks it’s likely that the United States is already talking with “like-minded” countries on the topic. That could help bolster the American view in eventual discussions at COPUOS or the U.N. General Assembly, noting that the consensus-based approach of COPUOS means it takes a long time to develop any rules or guidelines on space issues.

“In the meantime, there will be a lot of hand-wringing and scratching heads in other capitals around the world about what this means,” he said.

2020 iPad Pros Do Not Have U1 Ultra Wideband Chips

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors, “2020 iPad Pro May Not Have a U1 Ultra Wideband Chip After All”:

As a reminder, Apple’s tech specs for the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro list an Ultra Wideband chip for spatial awareness, but the chip is not mentioned in Apple’s tech specs for the new iPad Pro. Apple also did not mention the new iPad Pro featuring the U1 chip in its press release or in any other marketing materials for the device.

Beyond that, the directional AirDrop feature that the U1 chip enables on iPhone 11 models is not present on the new iPad Pro running iPadOS 13.4, nor is the Ultra Wideband toggle switch that Apple added to iPhones in iOS 13.3.1.

So the tech specs don’t mention it, Apple never mentioned it, and the U1-enabled features in iPhone 11 models aren’t there. And iFixit’s teardown found no hidden U1 chip.

There’s no reason to think the iPad Pros have a secret U1 chip other than this March 18 post at 9to5Mac that stated it does, “based on code from the latest iOS 13.4 build”. “Based on code” is a pretty dumb way to source this as true.

I confirmed with a little birdie who would certainly know the answer: there is no U1 chip in the new iPad Pro, and if there were one, Apple would have told us so.


ULA Reports COVID-19 Case In Denver

United Launch Alliance Statement on Positive COVID-19 Case

"A ULA employee in one of our Denver facilities tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on April 6, and we are taking all necessary precautions to protect the health and safety of our teammates and facilities ... Our early and aggressive COVID mitigations have limited the number of personnel exposed. We are executing our prepared and rehearsed response plan and anticipate no impacts to our manifest. ULA continues to proactively take steps to protect our people, slow the spread of the virus, and maintain national security."

Finally the Bigs Are Taking Notice

Been a long day. So I don’t have time for a full write up. But the airlift program and the shipment seizures are finally getting some big media org attention. The Times put out this article tonight. They were able to name the entity on the West Coast which I alluded to as having a shipment seized but wasn’t at liberty to name: Kaiser Permanente hospital system. They also add more detail on the airlift. The companies can sell half on the open market, half they have to allocate according to need as ascertained by FEMA. The details on seizures raise more questions than they answer. Give it a read. More tomorrow.

Math Has Prepared Me Poorly for This Pandemic

Here are two representations of the horror of this pandemic.

First, a graph of coronavirus deaths in Italy.

Graph of Coronavirus deaths in Italy.

Second, the obituary page of a newspaper in the Italian city of Bergamo, first from February 9 and later from March 13.

Both of these are only representations of this pandemic. They point at its horror, but they aren’t the horror itself. They reveal and conceal different aspects of the horror.

For example, I can take the second derivative of the graph of deaths and notice that while the deaths are increasing every day, the rate of increase is decreasing. The situation is getting worse, but the getting worse-ness is slowing down.

I cannot take the second derivative of an obituary page.

But the graph anesthetizes me to the horror of this pandemic in a way that the obituaries do not. The graph takes individual people and turns them into groups of people and turns those groups of people and their suffering into columns on a screen or page.

Meanwhile, the obituaries put in the foreground the people, their suffering, and their bereaved.

Math has prepared me poorly for this pandemic—or at least a particular kind of math, the kind that sees mass death as an opportunity to work with graphs and derivatives.

For students, it has never been more necessary to move flexibly and quickly between concrete and abstract representations—to acquire the power of the graph without becoming anesthetized to the horror that’s represented much more poignantly by the obituaries.

For teachers, there has never been a more important time to look at points, graphs, tables, equations, and numbers, and to ask students, “What does this mean?” and particularly now, “Who is this?”

Peter Navarro and the epistemic problem

A top White House adviser starkly warned Trump administration officials in late January that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.

The warning, written in a memo by Peter Navarro, President Trump’s trade adviser, is the highest-level alert known to have circulated inside the West Wing as the administration was taking its first substantive steps to confront a crisis that had already consumed China’s leaders and would go on to upend life in Europe and the United States.

Here is the full story (NYT), and of course he wasn’t heeded.  I have disagreed with Navarro on most major issues, most of all on trade and quite possibly he is overpromoting chloroquine.  Still, I think we should reconsider in light of this new information.  I have not changed my mind on the previous issues, but should we not now all admit Navarro is, in expected value terms, one of the best advisors in recent memory in any administration?

The post Peter Navarro and the epistemic problem appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

More Details on Airlifts and Supply Seizures

Here are a couple more details on shipment seizures and inter-state bidding we’ve been discussing here in recent days. Both are interviews on this evening’s Newshour, flagged to me by TPM Reader KM.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) appeared to confirm one point that remained ambiguous from the press conference last week in which Rear Admiral Polowczyk explained the ‘Airbridge’ flights from China. According to Pritzker, the US military planes airlift the PPE and other medical supplies to the US and then hand them over to the major medical supply distributors the White House taskforce is working with. That part was clear from the discussion April 2nd. What Pritzker confirmed is that the states then have to bid against each other to purchase the supplies from those distributors.

The distributors are McKesson Corp., Owens & Minor, Cardinal Health, Medline Industries and Henry Schein. Polowczyk has sometimes spoken of six or seven distributor partners. So this may not be exhaustive. These five received an exemption from US antitrust laws on Saturday for their collaboration on the COVID-19 Airbridge project.

Before the Pritzker interview Judy Woodruff interviewed Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) about events in his state. He appeared to confirm some version of the FEMA confiscation actions we’ve seen in other areas. But he states it in a more ambiguous way. Beshear says that one of the two problems his state is having is that orders they believe are on the way to their state “will be diverted by the federal government, by FEMA, and sent to a place that needs it.”

This doesn’t sound quite as draconian as the incidents that have been described in other states. And if you watch the video Beshear clearly is cautious about criticizing the federal effort. But the upshot seems similar: FEMA using some kind of extraordinary legal authority to intervene and redirect ordinary commercial transactions and deliveries while the states are supposed to be filling their needs by commercial transactions.

We’re still looking for more information to piece this together. If you know more or see more reports please let us know.

Robin Hanson responds on variolation

Here is the whole post, do read it.  Excerpt:

If he had one strong argument, he’d have focused on that, and then so could I in my response. Alas, this way I can’t respond except at a similar length; you are warned.

I am happy to give Robin the last word (since I think it is obvious that I am correct).  Here again is my original post.

The post Robin Hanson responds on variolation appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Boeing to fly second Starliner uncrewed test flight

Starliner in orbit

WASHINGTON — Boeing announced April 6 that it has decided to fly a second uncrewed test flight of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle later this year to confirm it has corrected problems encountered in a test flight last December.

In a brief statement, Boeing said it would perform a second Orbital Flight Test (OFT) of the spacecraft at its own expense. Boeing made the announcement shortly after the Washington Post reported that the company planned to repeat the flight.

“We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system,” the company said in a one-paragraph statement. “Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer.”

A second OFT mission looked increasingly likely in the months after the original OFT. That mission was shortened to two days and without a planned docking at the International Space Station because of a timer problem on the spacecraft that caused it to think it was at a different phase of its flight immediately after separation from the Atlas 5 upper stage that launched it.

An investigation also revealed a problem with software controls for the spacecraft’s service module that could have caused the module to bump back into the crew module after they separated shortly before reentry. The software was fixed just a few hours before reentry.

Boeing, anticipating the need to refly the mission, took a $410 million charge against earnings in January. “NASA’s approval is required to proceed with a flight test with astronauts on board. Given this obligation, we are provisioned for another uncrewed mission,” Greg Smith, Boeing’s chief financial officer, said in a Jan. 29 earnings call.

While an independent review of the OFT mission found 61 corrective actions for Boeing, NASA officials said in early March they had not yet decided if Boeing needed to perform a second uncrewed test flight.

“At the end of the day, what we have got to decide is, based upon the work that Boeing will do, do we have enough confidence to say we are ready to fly with a crew, or do we believe that we need another uncrewed test flight?” Doug Loverro, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in a March 6 call with reporters. “We are still a ways away from that, and I can’t even tell you what the schedule is for making that decision” about reflying OFT.

Ultimately, that decision came from Boeing, and not from NASA. In a separate statement, NASA said it not made its own conclusion about whether a second OFT was required.

“If Boeing would have proposed a crewed mission as the next flight, NASA would have completed a detailed review and analysis of the proposal to determine the feasibility of the plan,” the agency said. “However, as this was not the recommendation made by Boeing, NASA will not speculate on what the agency would have required.”

NASA added that Boeing still has to address the 61 corrective actions from the independent review. “NASA still intends to conduct the needed oversight to make sure those corrective actions are taken,” the agency said.

“Hats off to Boeing for recommending a repeat of their Orbital Flight Test for the Commercial Crew program,” Loverro tweeted after the Boeing announcement. “Corporate responsibility takes many forms, and this is one of them.”

NASA and Boeing are still working on an “agreeable schedule” for the second OFT mission, Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling told SpaceNews, but said that the company expects to fly it in the fall of 2020. That would mean it would come after SpaceX’s Demo-2 crewed test flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, currently scheduled for no earlier than the latter half of May. If that mission flies on schedule and is a success, NASA will likely launch the first operational Crew Dragon mission, Crew-1, in late summer.

Drelling also said that Boeing will use the Starliner spacecraft called “Spacecraft 2” for the second OFT mission. That spacecraft was originally slated to fly the Crew Flight Test. The Starliner used for the OFT, “Spacecraft 3,” was to be refurbished for the first operational mission for NASA.

'The Baseball Researcher' Tries To Date And Place A Seemingly Ordinary Old Picture

[Draft Post, December 2, 2011]

Tom Shieber (aka The Baseball Researcher) uses his detective skills to figure out the park and date of this picture:

A five-part series by Randall Brown about the game during the Civil War. "Blood and Base Ball": 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Caple: The Overrating Of Mariano Rivera

[Draft Post, September 27, 2013]

The Overrating Of Mariano Rivera
Jim Caple, ESPN
Before you bring the tar to a boil and gather more feathers, let me again cite the work of Project Retrosheet founder Dave Smith. He thoroughly and tirelessly researched games from more than seven decades and found that the rate at which teams win games with late-inning leads basically has not changed. Teams leading by one run after eight innings have gone on to win 85.7 percent of the time. That number goes up to 93.7 percent when leading by two runs, and 97.5 percent when leading by three runs.

Mull that over, and then please tell me why Rivera is so amazing for having an 89.1 percent career save rate (which, by the way, is lower than Joe Nathan's). Because, basically, Rivera was not used except in games the Yankees were going to win 88 percent of the time anyway. Actually, the percentages were usually higher than that. According to Elias, of Rivera's 652 career saves, just under a third (210) were with a one-run lead when he took the mound while 216 were with a two-run lead, 180 with a three-run lead and 46 with a lead of at least four runs. ...

Will Rivera reach the Hall of Fame? Undoubtedly. But other than being the greatest closer ever, his numbers aren't as overwhelming in that regard as many assume. I'm not a disciple of WAR, but even that statistic doesn't rank Rivera high enough to warrant the gushing. FanGraphs lists his WAR at 40.2, or 12.3 points lower than that of Jack Morris, who still isn't in the Hall after 14 years on the ballot. ...

I'm not saying Rivera does not deserve to be in Cooperstown alongside Hall of Fame relievers Goose Gossage, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bruce Sutter and Rollie Fingers. Personally, I would much rather have Rivera than Fingers, Wilhelm or Sutter. I'm simply saying that because of his limited role, his career wasn't as extraordinary as we're led to believe.

What separates Rivera from other closers is his great longevity. (Well, his longevity and playing in the narrative-setting New York media market.) Most closers are good for a handful of seasons, then break down from the physical and/or mental stress. Rivera never broke down, never produced ulcers in his managers. He was consistent and reliable throughout his career. But he was consistent and reliable while performing an easier task than pitching an entire game every fifth day or 200-plus innings during a season.

Tuesday: Job Openings

More pre-crisis data.

• At 8:00 AM ET, Corelogic House Price index for February.

• At 10:00 AM, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for February from the BLS.

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

A Path North

What happens if you keep going north? What happens if you keep going north?

After problem-plagued test flight, Boeing will refly crew capsule without astronauts

In this file photo from 2019, technicians prepare Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft for fueling before its first unpiloted space mission. Credit: Boeing

Boeing officials said Monday the company’s Starliner crew capsule will fly a second time without astronauts after software problems and other issues plagued a first test flight in December, preventing the ship from reaching the International Space Station.

The CST-100 Starliner crew capsule was expected to fly with astronauts for the first time this year, capping a multibillion-dollar NASA-funded development program. But a mission timing error caused the spacecraft to burn too much fuel to enter orbit after an otherwise successful launch Dec. 20 prevented the capsule from docking with the space station.

A potentially catastrophic programming oversight discovered after the Starliner’s launch had to be corrected with a software patch to ensure the capsule could safely come back to Earth.

The Starliner capsule, designed to be reusable, landed at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico on Dec. 22.

Beleaguered by back-to-back crashes and the subsequent global grounding of the 737 MAX passenger jet and more recent headwinds from the slump in air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, Boeing said it would fund the unplanned crew capsule test flight “at no cost to the taxpayer.”

Boeing told investors earlier this year it was taking a $410 million charge against its earnings to cover the expected costs of a second unpiloted test flight.

The company on Monday confirmed a report in the Washington Post that it will fly a second uncrewed demonstration mission — which Boeing calls an Orbital Flight Test — before astronauts ride a Starliner into orbit.

“We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system,” Boeing said in a statement Monay. “Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer.  We will then proceed to the tremendous responsibility and privilege of flying astronauts to the International Space Station.”

NASA said it accepted a recommendation from Boeing to fly a second unpiloted mission.

“Boeing has decided to fly a second uncrewed flight test as a part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program,” the space agency said in a statement. “Although no new launch date has been set, NASA has accepted the proposal to fly the mission again and will work side-by-side with Boeing to resume flight tests to the International Space Station on the company’s CST-100 Starliner system.”

The Washington Post reported the second Orbital Flight Test, with much the same objectives as the first, is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral “sometime in October or November.”

Boeing said the company is “committed to the safety of the men and women who design, build and ultimately will fly on the Starliner just as we have on every crewed mission to space.”

“Although many of the objectives of Boeing’s first uncrewed flight test in December 2019 were accomplished, Boeing decided the best approach to meeting the agency’s requirements would be to fly the mission again, including docking with the space station,” NASA said Monday. “Data from the next and previous flight test will be used as part of NASA’s process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.”

Earlier this year, Boeing officials said the company missed chances to uncover the software bugs during testing before the first Orbital Flight Test.

John Mulholland, vice president and manager of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner program, said in February that the company performed testing of Starliner’s software in chunks, with each test focused on a specific segment of the mission. Boeing did not perform an end-to-end test of the entire software suite, and in some cases used stand-ins, or emulators, for flight computers.

A review team investigating the miscues during the December test flight issued some 60 recommendations to be implemented before the Starliner flies in space again. Doug Loverro, head of NASA’s human spaceflight directorate, said last month he designated the botched Starliner test flight a “high-visibility close call,” which triggers another government review.

The Starliner spacecraft from Boeing’s first Orbital Flight Test is seen Jan. 15 inside the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A darkened streak from the heat of atmospheric re-entry is visible on the capsule’s thermal blankets, and the ship’s hatch is open. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

One of the software problems was immediately apparent after the Starliner’s ascent into space Dec. 20 from Cape Canaveral aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. A mission elapsed timer on the capsule had a wrong setting, causing the spacecraft to miss a planned engine firing soon after separating from the Atlas 5’s Centaur upper stage.

The orbit insertion burn was required to inject the Starliner capsule into a stable orbit and begin its pursuit of the space station. After the automated sequence failed due to the on-board timer setting, ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston had to uplink manual commands for the Starliner spacecraft to perform the orbit insertion burn, but the ship burned too much fuel during the process, leaving insufficient propellant to rendezvous and dock with the space station.

Ground teams in Houston also encountered trouble establishing a stable communications link with the Starliner when they attempted to send commands for the orbit insertion burn, further delaying the start of the maneuver. Boeing says ground teams had issues connecting with the spacecraft on more than 30 additional occasions during the Starliner’s two-day test flight.

With a docking to the space station no longer possible, mission managers cut short the Starliner test flight and targeted landing in New Mexico on Dec. 22.

After the mission timer problem, Boeing engineers reviewed other segments of the Starliner’s software code to search for other problem areas. They uncovered another software error that was missed in pre-flight testing, which could have caused the Starliner’s service module to slam into the craft’s crew module after the ship’s two elements separated just before re-entry into the atmosphere.

A software fix uplinked to the Starliner spacecraft before re-entry ensured the capsule could safely land.

“The second uncrewed flight does not relieve Boeing from completing all the actions determined from the joint NASA/Boeing independent review team, which was commissioned following the flawed initial flight,” NASA said in a statement. “NASA still intends to conduct the needed oversight to make sure those corrective actions are taken.”

Boeing has two space-rated Starliner crew capsules in preparation at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, including the craft that flew in December. Both are designed to fly up to 10 times to the space station, with each mission lasting up to seven months.

Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson — a former space shuttle commander — is assigned to the first crewed Starliner test flight. NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann will also be aboard the Starliner’s Crew Flight Test, a prerequisite to operational crew rotation missions using the Boeing capsule.

Space agency officials said Monday they have not determined a schedule for the first crewed Starliner mission.

NASA is paying Boeing more than $4.8 billion to design, develop, test and fly astronauts on the the Starliner spacecraft to the space station. Boeing announced the CST-100 Starliner program in 2010, and officials at the time said the capsule could begin operational crew rotation flights to the station by 2015.

That schedule fell aside after NASA encountered difficulty securing funding from Congress for the commercial crew program, which aims to restore U.S. human spaceflight capability and end NASA’s reliance on Russian Soyuz crew ships to get astronauts to the space station.

Once funded, the program suffered a series of delays caused by technical problems with the Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, NASA’s other commercial crew program.

NASA has agreements with SpaceX valued at $3.1 billion to develop and fly the Crew Dragon spaceship.

The Crew Dragon has successfully completed all of its test flights before astronauts strap in and ride the capsule into orbit. The SpaceX capsule successfully docked with the space station and returned to Earth on an uncrewed mission in March 2019, but an explosion during a ground test of the ship’s launch escape engines in April 2019 forced a multi-month delay.

SpaceX redesigned part of the high-pressure abort propulsion system, and demonstrated the change during an in-flight escape test in January over the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken could take off from the Kennedy Space Center on the Crew Dragon’s final test flight — the first one with a crew on-board — as soon as mid-to-late May atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a trip to the International Space Station, according to the space agency. Another Crew Dragon mission with four astronauts could launch to the space station later in the summer.

It will be the first crewed launch into Earth orbit from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

“This is exactly why NASA decided to select two partners in the commercial crew effort,” NASA said Monday. “Having dissimilar redundancy is key in NASA’s approach to maintaining a crew and cargo aboard the space station and to keeping our commitments to international partners. It also allows our private industry partners to focus on crew safety rather than schedule. The safety of our commercial crew team always will remain as our top priority.”

United Launch Alliance, a 50-50 joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is the launch provider for the Starliner program.

The Atlas booster originally assigned to the Starliner Crew Flight Test arrived at Cape Canaveral on June 5, 2019. The rocket is now expected to be used for the second Orbital Flight Test of Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule. Credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

“We are ready to support Boeing and NASA when they are ready to fly the second Orbital Flight Test,” ULA said in a statement Monday. “We continue to work closely with Boeing to ensure that the CST-100 Starliner flies as soon as the spacecraft is ready. We are committed to safety and mission assurance and are working to ensure the highest level of safety for the future crew.”

The Atlas 5 rocket for Starliner’s first piloted mission — called the Crew Flight Test — is already at Cape Canaveral after delivery from ULA’s factory in Alabama last year. That launch vehicle is expected to be used for the second Orbital Flight Test.

“The hardware for the next flight is at the Cape and is ready for launch processing once a launch date has been determined by the Boeing, NASA and ULA team,” ULA said in a statement.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Jake Tapper to Trump: ‘Mr. President, What’s the Plan?’

Jake Tapper, closing his State of the Union show on CNN yesterday:

Mr. President, I know you, like millions of Americans, are eager to have the nation go back to some semblance of normal. One of the questions the American people need answered for that to happen responsibly: What’s the plan?


Queen Elizabeth: ‘We Will Be With Our Friends Again. We Will Be With Our Families Again. We Will Meet Again.’

Remarkable address from Queen Elizabeth — well-written, well-delivered. Honest and truthful, yet hopeful. All the more powerful that it’s only her fourth formal address in 68 years.


Rocket for next space station crew arrives on launch pad in Kazakhstan

A Russian Soyuz-2.1a rocket rolled out to a launch pad Monday at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, ready for the first crewed flight to use the modernized Soyuz booster configuration. Liftoff with two Russian cosmonauts and a veteran NASA astronaut is scheduled Thursday on an expedition to the International Space Station.

Preparations for crew and cargo launches to the space station are proceeding amid the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The orbiting research lab has cost the U.S. government and partner nations more than $100 billion over three decades, and maintaining the outpost requires regular crew rotations and supply deliveries.

But there are restrictions imposed for this week’s crew launch. The crew’s families and media representatives are barred from attending the launch at Baikonur due to concerns about the pandemic. Instead, family members and journalists will watch the launch on television.

The liquid-fueled Soyuz rocket emerged on a railcar from its assembly hangar — known by the Russian acronym MIK — around sunrise Monday for the railroad journey across the Russian-operated cosmodrome to the Site 31 launch complex.

After arriving on the pad deck, a hydraulic erector lifted the Soyuz-2.1a launcher vertical. Folding gantry arms were later raised into position around the Soyuz rocket to provide access for technicians to ready the vehicle for liftoff.

The launch is scheduled at 0805:06 GMT (4:05:06 a.m. EDT) with nearly a million pounds of thrust blazing from 32 engine nozzles.

Liftoff is timed for 1:05:06 p.m. EDT local time at Baikonur, around the time the space station flies over the launch base on the steppes of Central Asia.

Russian Soyuz commander Anatoly Ivanishin, making his third trip into space, will occupy the center seat of the Soyuz MS-16 crew capsule. Flight engineer Ivan Vagner, a first-time space flier, will be to his left, and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy will sit to his right during the nine-minute climb into orbit.

Cosmonauts Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin, and astronaut Chris Cassidy (left to right) pose outside their Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 3. Credit: Roscosmos

The Soyuz will shed its launch abort motor and four liquid-fueled boosters less than two minutes into the mission. The capsule will then jettison an aerodynamic shield, and core stage will shut down and separate nearly five minutes after liftoff.

A third stage powered by a four-nozzle RD-0110 engine will inject the Soyuz MS-16 spaceship into a preliminary orbit at around T+plus 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Moments later, the crew capsule will fly free of the rocket’s third stage and unfurl two power-generating solar array wings.

Two major thruster firings by the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft less than 90 minutes after liftoff will commence the ship’s rendezvous with the space station.

If all goes according to plan, the Soyuz will home in on the space station’s Poisk module using a Kurs rendezvous radar. The ship is scheduled to autonomously dock with the Poisk module at 1415 GMT (10:15 a.m. EDT) Thursday to wrap up a six-hour pursuit from the launch pad at Baikonur.

Ivanishin, Vagner and Cassidy will join the station’s current three-person crew — commander Oleg Skripochka and NASA flight engineers Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan — for more than seven days of joint operations before Skripochka and company return to Earth on April 17 aboard the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft currently docked at the orbiting research complex.

Cassidy will take command of the space station from Skripochka, kicking off the Expedition 63 mission on the outpost. Cassidy’s crew will remain at the station for an expected 196-day mission before returning to Earth in late October.

The launch Thursday will be the first time a crew rides a Soyuz-2.1a booster into orbit. The Soyuz-FG variant of Russia’s venerable Soyuz launcher, which previous carried Soyuz crews into space, was retired last year.

The Soyuz-2.1a’s upgrades include a modernized digital flight control system, replacing the analog guidance system on older Soyuz models, along with improvements to engine injection systems.

The digital control system allows the Soyuz-2.1a rocket to execute a roll program a few seconds after liftoff to reach the correct azimuth to align its flight path with the space station’s orbit. The Soyuz-FG rocket previously used to launch Soyuz crews had to be rotated into the correct orientation on the launch pad before liftoff.

An unpiloted Soyuz capsule rode a Soyuz-2.1a rocket to orbit last August on a test flight to ensure the upgraded launcher configuration could safely loft station crews into space. The Soyuz-2.1a rocket variant has launched dozens of times since 2004, including flights with Progress cargo freighters on missions to resupply the space station.

The last flight of the Soyuz-FG rocket last September marked the final planned mission to take off from Site 1 at Baikonur. Site 1 is also called Gagarin’s Start because it was the departure point for Yuri Gagarin’s historic mission in 1961, when the Russian cosmonaut became the first human to fly in space.

Russian officials have said they hope to upgrade Site 1 for Soyuz-2 launches. But Site 31, which is outfitted for the Soyuz-2 rocket family and lies in a different section of the sprawling cosmodrome, will be the launch pad used for crewed missions for the foreseeable future.

More photos of the Soyuz rocket’s rollout to the launch pad Monday are posted below.

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Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

After troubled first flight, Boeing will refly Starliner without crew

The very top of a rocket on a launch pad.

Enlarge / A closeup view of the Starliner capsule with its service module immediately beneath it. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann )

Boeing announced on Monday evening that it will refly its Starliner spacecraft, without astronauts, to demonstrate the vehicle's safety for NASA.

"We are committed to the safety of the men and women who design, build and ultimately will fly on the Starliner just as we have on every crewed mission to space," Boeing said in a statement. "We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system. Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer."

The decision follows the initial uncrewed flight of Starliner in late December, when what was supposed to be a week-long mission was cut to two days and a plan to dock with the International Space Station was abandoned due to a "mission elapsed time" error.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Boeing Will Refly Uncrewed Starliner At Its Own Expense

Boeing Statement on Starliner's Next Flight

"The Boeing Company is honored to be a provider for the Commercial Crew mission. We are committed to the safety of the men and women who design, build and ultimately will fly on the Starliner just as we have on every crewed mission to space. We have chosen to refly our Orbital Flight Test to demonstrate the quality of the Starliner system. Flying another uncrewed flight will allow us to complete all flight test objectives and evaluate the performance of the second Starliner vehicle at no cost to the taxpayer. We will then proceed to the tremendous responsibility and privilege of flying astronauts to the International Space Station."

April 6 Update: US COVID-19 Test Results

Note: the large increase Saturday in test results reported was due to California working through the backlog of pending tests.

Test-and-trace is a key criteria in starting to reopen the country.   My current guess is test-and-trace will require around 300,000 tests per day at first since the US is far behind the curve.  Some scientists believe we need around 800,000 tests per day.

Notes: Data for the previous couple of days is updated and revised, so graphs might change.

Also, I'm no longer including pending tests.  So this is just test results reported daily.

There were 155,063 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

COVID-19 Tests per Day Click on graph for larger image.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 19% (red line).  The US needs enough tests to push  the percentage below 5% (probably much lower).

Test. Test. Test. Protect healthcare workers first!

Joanna Stern: ‘A MacBook Air Review at the Worst Possible Time’

Joanna Stern, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

It’s hard to know if the satisfyingly bouncy yet quiet keys are fabulous by themselves, or just a welcome relief after years of the flat, loud yet delicate butterfly keys. You know what? I’m going to go with “fabulous.”

Since those butterfly keys began to show issues after a few months of use, I’d hesitated to declare everything fixed. I’m happy to report, however, that six months into using the 16-inch MacBook Pro, I’ve had no issues with the new keyboard. In fact, it now feels even more broken-in—versus, you know, just broken.

She makes a great point about laptop web cameras sucking — and how their suckiness has been brought to the forefront during our collective stay-at-home saga. Her video comparing webcam footage from a bunch of laptops — including a 2010 MacBook Pro, whose camera at times outperforms the new MacBook Air’s — is excellent. But I think the problem here is technically difficult — laptop lids are way thinner than phones and tablets, and that thinness severely limits camera sensor size. Everyone wants a better MacBook camera, but I suspect few would accept the tradeoff of a MacBook with a lid as thick as an iPad.

(Apple News link, for News+ subscribers who don’t have a standalone WSJ subscription.)


A Pandemic Strikes Business Town

I featured Business Town, an ultra-capitalist spoof of Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy Town, on this site a few years ago. Their last few entries have focused on the pandemic and they are devastatingly spot on.

Business Town Pandemic

Business Town Pandemic

(via waxy)

Tags: business   COVID-19   remix   Richard Scarry

JPL Will Pay $10 Million Fine For Age Bias Toward Employees

Jet Propulsion Lab to Pay EEOC $10 Million for Alleged Age Bias, Bloomberg Law (Paywall)

"NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory agreed to pay $10 million and revamp its employment practices to settle an EEOC lawsuit alleging the lab's layoff and rehiring policies had an adverse impact on employees 40 and older when conducting layoffs and rehiring."

NASA Lab Inks $10M Deal To End EEOC Age Bias Suit, Law 360 (Paywall)

"The Pasadena-based laboratory that builds planetary robotic spacecraft entered into a consent decree with the agency Friday to end the Age Discrimination in Employment Act allegations by a class of workers who said they were forced to retire or were laid off after they turned 40. "Since at least 2010, defendant systemically, disproportionately adversely impacted employees aged 40 and older for layoff and rehire compared with employees aged 39 and younger," the complaint filed Friday said, adding that the actions were willful. In addition to the $10 million that will be distributed to the former workers, the lab will have to hire a diversity director to help the lab retain and recruit individuals of all ages and a layoff coordinator to make sure that employment decisions are lawfully made. The agency said it was forced to file suit after making multiple attempts to sort out the dispute through conciliation."

Keith's note: JPL response: "We are pleased to have worked collaboratively with the EEOC on a resolution to bring the matter to a close. The Lab has a longstanding commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace, free of discrimination. JPL is stronger because of our diversity and we value all our colleagues at every stage of their career."

Soon-to-be Space Force officers see opportunity for change

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force Academy class of 2020 will graduate on April 18 — six weeks ahead of schedule and without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the class of about 1,000 cadets who will be commissioned as lieutenants, 88 will join the U.S. Space Force, said Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond.

Raymond and senior enlisted leader Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman are the only two officials who so far have been formally sworn into the Space Force. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Air Force Academy said the details of Air Force and Space Force commissioning ceremonies have not yet been decided.

Of late, media attention has turned to what the members of the Space Force will be called and what uniforms they’ll wear. Cadet Coen Williams said the names and outfits are topics of lunchtime gossip at the academy. But space operators care more about the substance of the work, he said on a podcast posted April 6 by the Space Force Association, an advocacy group created to promote the mission of the U.S. Space Force. The podcast was hosted by Bill “Hippie” Woolf, founder and president of the Space Force Association.

“Cadets are looking in anticipation of what the Space Force will actually be doing,” said Williams. “I’m less worried about what I’m going to be called and what uniform I’ll wear,” he said, although “clearly, the cooler the better.”

“Space minded cadets are extremely excited about the possibilities … about being part of a new and relatively unknown system where we can actually make a real impact,” said Williams.

He said cadets also are concerned that many details about the organization and missions of the Space Force have been slow to trickle down.

Woolf, a retired Air Force colonel who launched the Space Force Association with an all-volunteer staff shortly after the service was created on Dec. 20, said there is a growing appetite for information about the Space Force not just among young officers but also more broadly in the space community.

Air Force Academy space club

At the Air Force Academy, Williams and classmate Eric Van Hegewald started a space-focused student club that morphed into the Institute for Applied Space Policy and Strategy, a program that has been endorsed by senior leaders.

Van Hegewald, also an engineering major, will be commissioned into the Air Force and is headed to the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program.

“We have tremendous amount of hope for the future of the Space Force,” Van Hegewald said on the podcast.

“I’m excited for all the space operators out there,” he said.

One of the challenges for the new service is to shape the culture and raise awareness of the role of space in military operations, Van Hegewald said. He noted that there is still confusion about what exactly the Space Force is and does.

“Space is important, it’s what powers my plane to an extent,” said Van Hegewald.

One of the frustrating realities of space operations is they are hard to visualize, Williams said. At the Air Force Academy and other military organizations, space courses are mostly academic lectures without visualizations of what’s in outer space, he said.

Williams and Van Hegewald have invited companies from the virtual reality and augmented reality industry to talk at their space club meetings about how these technologies are being used to visualize space operations.

Having a capability to do “strategic simulations” is important for space operators trying to prepare for what might come in the next 10 to 20 years, said Williams. “We have to start laying a foundation,” he said. One of the scenarios, for example, is the possibility that the military will be on the moon. “That’s extremely likely to happen in our careers,” he said. “We have to think about these issues.”

Van Hegewald said the maritime security model — the idea that the U.S. Navy helps secure freedom of navigation in critical chokepoints of the globe — is helpful to envision the future role for the Space Force. “Freedom from threats is a broad way to define space superiority,” he said.

“Space is a different way of thinking and different way of fighting,” said Williams. “Operators have to visualize and understand. You don’t see what your enemy is doing on the radar scanner, “said Williams. Technologies like machine learning help anticipate trends over time, he said. “It’s going to b a weird way of thinking for operators that came from traditional career fields. It’s going to be a challenge for a lot of people.”

COVID-19 Cases At Blue Origin (Update)

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture says three workers in Kent have tested positive for coronavirus, Geekwire

"Three employees at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture have tested positive for coronavirus and are now in quarantine, a spokeswoman for the company says. One case came to light on Friday, and two other cases were confirmed over the weekend, said Linda Mills, Blue Origin's vice president of communications."

Links 4/6/20

Links for you. Science:

Americans Are Already Too Diseased to Go Back to Work Right Now
Should scientists infect healthy people with the coronavirus to test vaccines?
A Heart Attack? No, It Was the Coronavirus
Evaluating the effectiveness of social distancing interventions against COVID-19
How LSU researchers, hospital leaders created a new coronavirus test lab in a week


There was always a way to pay for the programs we need
Coronavirus Creates an Opening for Progressivism — Also Barbarism
Is It Possible to Overstate Trump’s Depravity? (nope)
‘Stumpy’ The Short Tidal Basin Tree Is Reaching Peak Bloom, Giving Hope To Washingtonians
It’s Probably a Bad Sign If Your Political Success Depends on People Not Voting
‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ songwriter dies of COVID-19. His widow’s story is heartbreaking
Inside America’s mask crunch: A slow government reaction and an industry wary of liability
Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed: Trump’s son-in-law has no business running the coronavirus response.
None Of This Is Normal
The Coronavirus Worker Revolt Is Just Beginning
Predictions Are Hard, Especially About The Future
One of the most intensely discussed questions about Japan’s anti-virus strategy is why, despite having growing capacity, the authorities carry out so few tests. A meeting this morning with a senior official of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party offers a answer to the mystery. (even worse bureaucratic response than the U.S.)
Witnessing Wuhan
After ignoring warnings, Israeli ultra-Orthodox hit by virus
People need to get outside and move while stuck at home. Opening streets can help.
The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Opened the Curtains on the World’s Next Economic Model
The Coronavirus Class War Has Already Started
Bernie Sanders Soared Back To Life. But He Couldn’t Close The Deal.
Strategic National Stockpile description altered online after Kushner’s remarks
MacBook Air 2020 review: The most boring Mac is among the best

NASA Langley Reports COVID-19 Case

NASA Langley reports first coronavirus case, WTKR

"NASA Langley reported their first positive coronavirus case Monday. NASA Langley officials say they were notified over the weekend that an employee tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently being treated. This case marks the first confirmed positive case at NASA Langley. NASA Langley officials says they were notified quickly and were able to take steps to mitigate potential impacts on the health and safety of the Langley team."

Keith's note: NASA Langley is still at Stage 3..

According to an email sent to me by NASA LaRC PAO: "Over the weekend, we were notified that a member of the NASA Langley team tested positive, and is being treated, for coronavirus (COVID-19). It is our first confirmed positive case at NASA Langley. Because we were made aware of this so quickly by the employee's emergency contact, we were able to take steps to mitigate potential impacts on the health and safety of the Langley team. We immediately notified any employees who may have come in contact with the individual, and the individual's work areas have been professionally cleaned and sanitized. Additionally, the workforce at NASA Langley is currently at Stage 3 of the agency's Covid-19 response, meaning the entire workforce is on mandatory telework with the exception of a very few mission essential personnel. Most of the Langley workforce has been teleworking since March 17. The positive test for Langley does not change our status at Stage 3 of the agency's response plan. There is no anticipation of Langley moving to Stage 4 at this time."

How does isolation change status-seeking?

That is the topic of my new Bloomberg column, excerpt:

The plunge in status-seeking behavior is yet another way in which the lockdown is a remarkable and scary social experiment. One possible consequence is that many people won’t work as much, simply because no one is watching very closely and it is harder to get that pat on the shoulder or kind word for extra effort.

Worse yet, for many people social approbation compensates for economic hardships, and that salve is now considerably weaker. Time was, even if you were unemployed, you could still walk down the street and command attention for that one stylish item in your wardrobe, or your cool haircut, or your witty repartee. Now there’s no one on the street to impress.

Americans are learning just how much we rely on our looks, our charisma and our eloquence for our social affect. As Sonia Gupta asked on Twitter: “Extremely attractive people, I have a genuine question for you, no snark: What’s it like to not be getting the regular daily social attention you might be accustomed to, now that you have to stay inside and isolate from others?”

…To some extent this status erosion is liberating. It may cause a lot of people to reexamine perennial questions about “what really matters.” There are other positive effects: fewer peer-related reasons to go out and spend money, for instance (do you really need that new jacket, or to try all the hot new restaurants?). That will help make tighter budgets or even unemployment more bearable. Some socially anxious people may even feel they are better off.

Yet overall this is a dangerous state of affairs.

There is much more at the link.

The post How does isolation change status-seeking? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Comparing Wuhan to Italy and New York

There’s some very tentative information today that New York may be nearing the peak of its outbreak. I want to emphasize very tentative. If we go by the progression in the hardest hit countries in Europe, even if this is at or near the peak we are likely to see more days where numbers spike again. And I will finally say that there has been evidence of some numbers slowing over weekends. With all that, the number of fatalities in New York was lower yesterday and today than it was on Saturday when it hit 630. The number of new hospitalizations has also slowed while discharges have risen. There’s also some evidence of decline in new cases. But, as we’ve discussed, this can simply be an echo of testing constraints. We can finally note that before its revisions yesterday, the IHME COVID-19 model had predicted that New York would hit its peak on April 6th.

If this does turn out to be the plateau of the epidemic in New York I want to share some information about dates and how they compare with the remarkably consistent pattern from China and Italy.

To provide some context, let’s look at Italy where the epidemic has clearly crested, albeit maintaining itself still at a brutal level of more than five hundred fatalities per day.

We can now see that Italy’s reported fatalities peaked on March 27th when 919 people died from the disease. Italy shutdown with a rolling series of actions from March 8th-10th. The lockdown in Lombardy was announced on March 8th. So there were 19 days from the imposition of dramatic social distancing/lockdown and the peak of fatalities. Notably, this is very close to the pattern in Wuhan, China, where there were 20 days between the lockdown of the city of Wuhan on January 23rd and the mortality peak on February 12th. (There were slightly more fatalities recorded on February 23rd. But that was because of a change in manner of diagnosis.) The two regions were also one day apart on peak reported infections.

If April 4th does to turn out to be the peak of daily fatalities in New York, 19 days before would be Monday, March 16th. So let’s look at what was happening on that and surrounding days. That was the first day of school closures in New York City and one day after Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced the closure on March 15th. As we noted at the time, we saw anecdotal accounts from around the country that school closures – whatever their impact directly – were the key social signal of crisis and a dramatic change in behavior in cities and regions around the country.

Gov. Cuomo’s “pause” (New York’s version of shelter in place) was announced on March 20th and went fully into effect on the 22nd. So that is another key date.

We can also see the progress of the lockdown of New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak from daily subway ridership, which fell from 91% to 24% of normal ridership over the second and third weeks of the month.

Let me reiterate that we don’t know New York is at its peak. But we are seeing some evidence of it. The remarkable overlap of lockdown to peak fatalities and infections in Italy and China is also important for understanding the duration of outbreaks in other regions.

Ryne Hager, Writing at Android Police: ‘Do Yourself a Favor and Buy an iPad During Lockdown’

Not the usual fare at Android Police. (I have never understood the name “Android Police”. What is that all about?) Feels like the inconvenient truth, though. There are flagship Android phones from several companies that are, undeniably, competitive with the iPhone. Tablets, not so much (other than at the low end of the market, with devices like Amazon’s Fire tablets). But what I’m most interested in isn’t what Hager likes about iPads, but what he doesn’t:

By far, the biggest advantage of having an iPad comes down to apps. iOS has more of them. It also has more exclusives, it usually gets apps for new services or games first, and apps for iPads often make better use of big-screen layouts than Android apps do. Even if you hate iOS and its weird dated home screen layout, awkwardly monolithic Settings app, arbitrary and draconian default app restrictions, and the lack of deep Google services integration, the apps kind of make up for it.

That’s a pretty interesting list. First, not one of them is hardware related. (He does mention subsequently that Samsung has tablets with AMOLED displays, but that’s tech spec gibberish — no one can argue that iPad displays aren’t best of breed at each price point). iPad hardware is undeniably great. Second, his software complaints don’t even include the multitasking UI complaints I’ve been preoccupied with. Instead his list is:

  • Weird dated home screen layout”. Near universal agreement on this one. I don’t think Android shows the way forward here, at all, but the iOS home screen really is dated and limited. And it’s not even simple — it’s downright tricky and error prone to move apps around to rearrange them.

  • Awkwardly monolithic Settings app”. This I don’t get. Yes, the iOS Settings app contains a lot of stuff. But it’s organized pretty well for the most part, and search helps quite a bit when looking for something deep. Ideally every single setting in Settings would be indexed for search, but I find the iOS Settings app easier to navigate logically than the Android Settings app on my Pixel. Regarding monolithism, I assume he’s referring to the fact that Apple’s built-in apps keep their settings in Settings, rather than in each app. At the outset of the App Store, Apple’s guidelines prescribed that all apps put their settings in the Settings app — an idea that was clear on day one wouldn’t scale.

  • Arbitrary and draconian default app restrictions”. Nothing arbitrary about it, but yeah, that’s been a complaint ever since the App Store opened. According to Mark Gurman, though, Apple is considering changing this in iOS 14.

  • Lack of deep Google services integrations”. From this side of the fence, that’s a feature, not a bug. Makes about as much sense to complain about this as it would to complain about the lack of iCloud integration on an Android phone, except for the fact that Google actually does offer a slew of iOS apps, whereas Apple’s offerings for Android are, uh, Apple Music. (Why no Apple TV? If they’re making Apple TV apps for TVs running Android why not make an Apple TV app for Android phones?)

(And, of course, the comments section on this post is a goldmine of hot takes.)


Boots & Cats: A World Champ Explains the 13 Levels of Beatboxing Complexity

This is fantastic: former beatboxing world champion Butterscotch explains the 13 levels of complexity involved in beatboxing, from the simple “bass drum” to how to breathe while beatboxing to singing to emulating real instruments.

Expert beatboxers go so fast that it’s amazing to see someone with Butterscotch’s skill level break this down — like watching a water balloon bursting in slow motion. Her short explanation & demonstration of “breathing within the beat” bleeeewww my tiny little mind. Also, she is soooo good — what a treat to watch.

See also Robert Lang on the 11 Levels of Complexity of Origami, Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks, and A Demonstration of 16 Levels of Piano Playing Complexity.

Tags: audio   Butterscotch   how to   music   video

Women and Minorities Bear the Brunt of Trump’s Pandemic Mishandling

Overworked, Falling Ill and Going Broke—Healthcare Workers to Supermarket Clerks Are Being Pushed Beyond Their Limits

Joe Maniscalco

Low-paid women and people of color across the country,  who were in dire economic straits long before the coronavirus crisis, are being pushed to the absolute brink. These marginalized workers are now essential foot soldiers on the front lines of the global pandemic, taking great risks for little reward.

For the last couple of weeks, Candice Martinez, who cleans and sterilizes rooms at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, has been working 12- and 16-hour days, taking on extra shifts to make up for the medical center’s short staffing.

Privacy regulations prevent workers whose job is to sterilize rooms from knowing much about the people they’re cleaning up after. Only haphazardly are signs placed on doors meant to indicate what kinds of Personal Protection Equipment [PPE] are required upon entering. Martinez never really knows what she’s walking into.

‘Every morning is waking up and realizing I still have symptoms and wondering if it’s going to get worse.’

Now Martinez is isolated at home after falling ill and testing positive for COVID-19.

“Every morning is waking up and realizing I still have symptoms and wondering if it’s going to get worse,” Martinez recently told reporters during a telephone press conference arranged by the Service Employees International Union.

No Equipment

Those scarce N95 masks — the ones that block 95% of tiny airborne particles as small 0.3 microns — are supposed to be essential pieces of PPE for hospital staffers and other frontline workers confronting COVID-19 head-on.

Martinez says she never got one on the job.

She said personal protection equipment or PPE “is not always offered to us —[administrators] hold onto those masks if they have them,” she added.

Hospitals are now quickly turning into “death traps,” according to Kim Smith, a Northwestern patient care technician.

Personal care technicians “are being told to return to work even though they were possibly exposed,” Smith told reporters during the same teleconference. “Nurses are paid three- to four-times the hourly rate. You have offered us nothing. Our lives are just as important. Nobody chose this field to lose their life — they chose it to improve life.”

Hospitals Evil?

“Are hospitals evil?” Smith said. “I think they forgot what they were made for. I think they forgot about the people whom they service. I think they forgot about the communities that help them thrive. So, when we go back and say we want a union – we need a union. It’s the only way to get our voices heard!”

Wellington Thomas, an emergency room tech at Chicago’s Loretto Hospital, said his is among the first faces seen by people seeking emergency room care.  Colleagues are afraid to come into work now because PPE is not available or hard to come by — and communication between administrators and staff is poor.

“Workers are in the dark about sick patients,” Thomas said, adding that the virus “is spreading like a wildfire through the hospital. It’s moving around everywhere. It’s not isolated. Leaders are not communicating.”

Fear of Job Loss

Connecticut rest stop workers along I-95 are afraid of contracting COVID-19, too — but many are also too afraid to stay home even if they have symptoms for fear of losing their jobs. Some have already been terminated after speaking out against poor training, reduced shifts, lack of paid sick days and insufficient PPE.

Until last week, Mario Franco was the night manager at a northbound McDonald’s rest stop in Darien. He’d been on the job for more than 25 years, 20 of those years working alongside his late wife who died four years ago, after passing out and hitting her head in the backroom of the store on a “busy, hot summer day.”

“McDonald’s only paid for the headstone on her grave — nothing more,” Franco said during another teleconference with frontline workers.

Fast-Food Firings

The latest stimulus package, which extends a one-time payment of up to $1,200 to those earning under $75,000 payment, gifted Corporate America hundreds of billions of dollars to ride out the coronavirus crisis. The windfall hasn’t stopped fast food chains along I-95 from terminating low-wage earners in the midst of a global pandemic, however.

Franco was abruptly fired along with the entire night crew.

“Management did not give us an opportunity to move shifts or giving us at least a day of work — they did not respect our dedication and experience,” he added.

Andrea Hernandez worked at the Darien rest stop for three years — a period of time where she said she never saw a sick day or medical leave. When she gave birth last fall, Hernandez said she had to use her vacation days just to have some paid time off with her newborn. According to Hernandez, the only PPE she and her co-workers have received during the pandemic are “the same gloves we always used in the kitchen.”

“The coronavirus is causing a tremendous crisis around the world, but the problems it’s causing at McDonald’s isn’t new — just more dangerous,” she said via teleconference.

Ascha Porter is a mother of two. She lost her job at a southbound Subway rest stop in Fairfield last week.

Financial Worries

“These corporations are getting government relief and they can support us through this time — but they’re not,” she recently told reporters via teleconference. “I’m worried about the next time I have to go grocery shopping or pay a bill. I understand our nation didn’t have a plan [to confront the pandemic], but something should be done. Give us our basic rights — [corporations] have the money — they can afford it.”

“Where is the relief” for ordinary workers, she asked. “We’re stuck in a loop right now.”

Arcadio Mejia, a certified nursing assistant at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, is one of the 400,000 Temporary Protected Status [TPS] holders, the majority of them living in the United States for more than 20 years. They  could face deportation in January should the Trump administration succeed in terminating that program.

Mejia emigrated from El Salvador and has been on the job for 12 years. He worries about what will happen should he lose his Temporary Protected Status. He also fears his job caring for patients has exposed him to COVID-19, yet he can’t get tested.

Exposed But Still Working

“I was exposed to a COVID-19 patient and I’m still working,” he told me this week. “I asked my clinical coordinator and they told me if I don’t have any symptoms, they’re not going to do a test.”

That means that if Mejia is infected, he could be passing the virus on to others in the hospital, both patients being treated for other ailments, their visitors and healthcare professionals

After working extra hours at the hospital during the coronavirus outbreak, Mejia wonders why he also has to fear being deported in January.

“I have given so much to this country and the government makes me feel like a criminal,” he added. “Why is Trump continuing to take away my rights despite being a good citizen?”

Rena Rodriquez was a physician in her home country of El Salvador and now works as a health educator in North Carolina to support herself and two children. She, too, is experiencing the incredible stress of working without proper PPE and possibly being deported.

“I’m here to serve, I’m here to help the United States,” Rodriquez recently told reporters during an emergency teleconference with TPS holders. “We are exposing ourselves in this situation, we know about the risk — but we are still helping.”

Greg Kelley is the first African American to lead SEIU Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri & Kansas, — the largest local union in the Midwest. Indeed, he told me, COVID-19 is disproportionately pushing Black and Latino workers “to the brink.”

“Lower-wage workers historically have not been considered,” Kelley added. “[They have been] disregarded in a way that we, as a society, cannot allow to continue.”

But continue it does, with no shortage of elected officials wagging their fingers at Corporate America and urging them to do the right thing for workers.

Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey sent a stern missive to Vice President Mike Pence and FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor, imploring the federal government to “ensure that all frontline workers are valued and protected.”

Featured image: COVID-19 testing in Minnesota. (Fairview Health Services)


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White House Releases Executive Order On Space Resource Use

Administration Statement on Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources

"Today, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources. This order addresses U.S. policy regarding the recovery and use of resources in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. Dr. Scott Pace, Deputy Assistant to the President and Executive Secretary of the National Space Council, released the following statement on behalf of the Administration: "As America prepares to return humans to the Moon and journey on to Mars, this Executive Order establishes U.S. policy toward the recovery and use of space resources, such as water and certain minerals, in order to encourage the commercial development of space."

Fact Sheet: Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources

Hobby Lobby vs. Coronavirus, a Tale in Three Acts

Act 1: March 19. Hobby Lobby owner’s wife receives a message from god telling her their stores should remain open.

Act 2: April 1. Hobby Lobby re-opens dozens of stores in states with strict shelter-in-place orders.

Act 3: April 3. Hobby Lobby to furlough most of its employees, close most operations nationwide.

Bonus Post-Credit-Sequence Flashback: Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green spent millions of dollars on “Dead Sea Scrolls” that turned out to be fakes made from used shoe leather.


Free Epix Via Apple TV App Through May 2

Good roundup of free trials and special offers for streaming video from Chance Miller at 9to5Mac:

A handful of streaming services are offering extended trials through the Apple TV app during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, you can get extended one-month trials of Showtime and other services, as well as completely free access to Epix. […]

Epix is unique because it’s not offering an extended free trial right now, but rather completely free access for the next month. That means you can access all Epix content in the Apple TV app for free, without signing up for anything, until May 2.

Among Epix’s offerings: the entire library of James Bond films. Goldfinger awaits.

(Pretty cool offer from Epix, where you don’t even need to sign up. They’re simply looking to raise brand awareness and simultaneously do something good in the midst of this stay-at-home saga.)


COVID-19’s Next Hot Spot: Burning Through the Developing World

“Do you know how to distribute food?” Aung Ko Ko was trying to learn—fast—how disaster relief works.

U.S. Heavy Truck Sales down 43% Year-over-year in March

The following graph shows heavy truck sales since 1967 using data from the BEA. The dashed line is the March 2020 seasonally adjusted annual sales rate (SAAR).

Heavy truck sales really collapsed during the great recession, falling to a low of 180 thousand SAAR in May 2009.  Then heavy truck sales increased to a new all time high of 575 thousand SAAR in September 2019.

Heavy Truck Sales
Click on graph for larger image.

However heavy truck sales started declining late last year due to lower oil prices.

And then heavy truck sales really declined at the end of March due to COVID-19 and the collapse in oil prices.

Heavy truck sales were at 291 thousand SAAR in March, down from 453 thousand SAAR in February, and down 43% from 514 thousand SAAR in March 2019.

Heavy truck sales in April will likely be below the low of 180 thousand SAAR in May 2009, and probably below the record low of 159 thousand SAAR in 1982.

Cyber Threats At NASA Significantly Increasing

NASA CIO Agencywide Memo: Alert: Cyber Threats Significantly Increasing During Coronavirus Pandemic, NASA CIO

"A new wave of cyber-attacks is targeting Federal Agency Personnel, required to telework from home, during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. During the past few weeks, NASA's Security Operations Center (SOC) mitigation tools have prevented success of these attempts. Here are some examples of what's been observed in the past few days:

- Doubling of email phishing attempts
- Exponential increase in malware attacks on NASA systems
- Double the number of mitigation-blocking of NASA systems trying to access malicious sites (often unknowingly) due to users accessing the Internet

Experts believe these malicious cyber-attacks will continue and likely increase during the pandemic. NASA's SOC continues to monitor and protect Agency systems, data, and intellectual property 24x7.

Please continue your vigilance, as you use NASA systems, and extend this to your home-computer usage as well."

Honor Blackman, Pussy Galore in ‘Goldfinger’, Dies at 94

Simon Murphy and Andrew Pulver, writing for The Guardian:

Honor Blackman, the actor best-known for playing Bond girl Pussy Galore, has died aged 94.

The actor, who became a household name in the 1960s as Cathy Gale in The Avengers and enjoyed a career spanning eight decades, died of natural causes unrelated to coronavirus.

One of the greats. Feels like a good time to rewatch Goldfinger.



One of the things that is lost in the tsunami of statistics about the COVID-19 epidemic is something as elementary as national and jurisdictional population. When we look at death tolls how does this compare to a country’s population. On this per capita basis Spain and Italy are far and away the worst hit major countries in the world. (I say major countries because some city states like San Marino or Andorra have outsized numbers with relatively few fatalities.) In Spain there have been 282 deaths per million people; in Italy it’s 263. For another hard hit country, France, it’s 124. For the UK, it’s 79. To date, for the USA it’s 29.

Here are also you get a sense of the scale of the epidemic in New York state. Here the number is 243. Two other states, New Jersey (103) and Louisiana (102), are over 100 and rest are far behind.

Landforms of Michigan

Daniel Huffman, “Landforms of Michigan” (2020).

Daniel Huffman finally finished a map he’d been working on, off and on (though mostly off), for years. Landforms of Michigan appeared in draft form on this 2016 blog post about mapping terrain using Photoshop layers; last week, Daniel says, “I finally overcame my inertia enough to finish it.” It’s available as a large poster on Zazzle.

No Respite From Trump’s Vindictiveness and Foolishness

He Uses the Pandemic to Cover His Firing of Experts and Hiring of More Incompetent Loyalists

Terry H. Schwadron

As we know, even in the midst of a national emergency, Donald Trump could find time and bandwidth to continue his retribution campaign.

He dismissed Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence agencies, for doing “a terrible job,” satisfying his own thirst for vengeance for anyone who actually adhered to law and practice over blind loyalty to Trump himself. Indeed, asked about it the next day, Trump underscored his action by saying, Atkinson “was no Trump supporter, that I can tell you.”

It was an act that we once would have labeled corruption, by Democrats and Republicans – that is using the office for personal purposes – if Congress and too many Americans had not since become inured by so many like instances.

The firing of the inspector general for the intelligence agencies reflects the continuing Trump insistence for personal loyalty over experience of almost any kind.

The reason this particular act still sticks in the craw is not only because of the timing, but because it reflects the continuing Trump insistence for personal loyalty over experience of almost any kind. It is exactly that kind of attitude that has led to such confusion in messaging and such bureaucratic delays in addressing both coronavirus effects and the economic mess it has created.

Governors and medical personnel are complaining loudly about a reality at total odds with Trump’s description of the current state of crisis response. We see a White House rewrite of recent history to glorify the Trump administration while the emerging record shows a documented case of delay and confusion.

At heart: a disdain for science and expertise.

Once Congress reconvenes later this month, we have other such cases lining up in bad judicial appointments and national security appointments who bring no experience.

Trump has nominated Judge Justin Walker, a counselor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, despite less than six months as a district court judge and an “unqualified” rating from the American Bar. Trump also announced that Stephen Feinberg, a New York billionaire who owns military contractor DynCorp International, will lead a White House executive board that reviews the effectiveness and legality of foreign intelligence. He has no particular experience but a lot of loyalty.

Ratcliffe Redux

All this reflects the preliminaries before we take our ringside seats to look in as Trump nominee Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican with absolutely no credentials, comes before the Republican-majority Senate for confirmation as director of national intelligence.

By contrast, Trump’s appointment of Rep. Mark Meadows, his most ardent congressional defender from North Carolina, as White House chief of staff, required no such Senate approval.

It is especially interesting to see these changes come about now, just after having finished reading “A Very Stable Genius” by Washington Post reporters Phil Rucker and Carol Leonnig, a book that underscores the Wild West spontaneity of an uncontrolled West Wing. And, the change comes as this White House has reflected an unparalleled inability to manage national effects of a global coronavirus panic.

Apart from the skill-sets of the new appointees, it is notable just how many senior officials and cabinet officers this White House has churned through, and Trump’s preference to use acting titles for more and more appointees just to avoid Senate review.

That review should prove particularly important this time since Ratcliffe’s name was withdrawn previously for lying about his record as a prosecutor in Texas, and now has been put forward only because the temporary holder of the job, Richard Grenell, the controversial ambassador to Germany, is even less qualified.

Bad or Worse

The Washington Post editorialized against approval of Ratcliffe, a rabid defender of Trump during the House impeachment proceedings, as being an aggressive attacker of the findings of U.S. intelligence services – as is the wont of Trump.

Actually, the editorial went further, rejecting the false and bad choice being offered through Ratcliffe’s nomination.

The editorial noted Trump believes he can force the Senate to swallow his choice because the alternative is to retain the even more objectionable Grenell — despite having absolutely no experience in the intelligence world and a record of insulting Europeans.

As the appropriate federal rules prescribe, if Ratcliff is not confirmed Grenell can remain in the post for seven more months. Trump would force the Senate to choose between the two.

In replacing Joseph Maguire, a former SEAL, both Grenell and Ratcliffe are Trump loyalists first, and ill-equipped to oversee 17 government intelligence agencies. Last summer, the previous Ratcliffe nomination lasted five days before withdrawing, an act drawing approval from senators from both parties. They said he lacked any qualifications for the job – and had lied about his successful prosecution of terrorists cases in which he was never involved.

When he scrapped the appointment, Trump conceded that the White House had never vetted Ratcliffe before nominating him.

Maybe Mark Meadows can take care of that part this time.

Conspiracy Nuts

Both Ratcliff and Grenell have disputed intelligence agency findings that Russia intervened in the 2016 election — or since — to aid Trump. Ratcliffe has promoted the conspiracy theory that the investigation into the meddling was the result of “a secret society of folks within the Department of Justice and the FBI” trying to prevent Trump’s election. During the House impeachment hearings, Ratcliffe demanded an investigation of the whistleblower in the Ukraine matters. As director of national intelligence, Ratcliffe presumably could just order such an investigation himself.

Trump fired the previous acting director, Joseph Maguire, after a member of his staff briefed the House Intelligence Committee that Russia had “developed a preference” for Trump in 2020. The absence of such reporting in the coming months would, no doubt, make interference easier.

Clearly, the question for Republican senators is whether to politicize the workings of intelligence for a president who does not even want to sit through briefings.

They could easily just insist on a more qualified candidate.

If coronavirus has no other effect, perhaps it can underscore the country’s need for competence over Trump personal loyalty.


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Why Has Germany Been Effective at Limiting Covid-19 Deaths?

As I’m writing this, according to Johns Hopkins’ Covid-19 tracker, Germany has recorded 100,186 confirmed cases of Covid-19 (fourth most in the world) and 1590 deaths — that’s a death rate of about 1.6%. Compare that to Italy (12.3%), China (4%), the US (2.9%), and even South Korea (1.8%) and you start to wonder how they’re doing it. This article from the NY Times details why the death rate is so low in Germany.

Another explanation for the low fatality rate is that Germany has been testing far more people than most nations. That means it catches more people with few or no symptoms, increasing the number of known cases, but not the number of fatalities.

“That automatically lowers the death rate on paper,” said Professor Kräusslich.

But there are also significant medical factors that have kept the number of deaths in Germany relatively low, epidemiologists and virologists say, chief among them early and widespread testing and treatment, plenty of intensive care beds and a trusted government whose social distancing guidelines are widely observed.

This article is a real punch in the gut if you’re an American. Obviously there are bureaucracies and inefficiencies in Germany like anywhere else, but it really seems like they listened to the experts and did what a government is supposed to do for its people before a disaster struck.

“Maybe our biggest strength in Germany,” said Professor Kräusslich, “is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.”

This whole crisis is really laying bare many of the worst aspects of American society — it’s increasingly obvious that the United States resembles a failed state in many ways. I can’t be the only American whose response to the pandemic is to think seriously about moving to a country with a functioning government, good healthcare for everyone, and a real social safety net.

Tags: COVID-19   Germany   medicine   politics   science   USA

Three Quick Links for Monday Noonish

Four measurable effects of the pandemic on the natural world: less air pollution, less seismic activity, cities are quieter, oceans are quieter. []

Really interesting thread from virologist @PeterKolchinsky about how SARS-Cov-2 goes about its business in the human body. SARS-Cov-2 "is stealthier [than SARS-1], spreading first before revealing itself (and causing harm)." []

I baked a loaf of this white sandwich bread last week and it was delicious. Flour + yeast + water is an ancient magic – no wonder so many folks have gotten hooked on bread baking. []


Note: Quick Links are pushed to this RSS feed twice a day. For more immediate service, check out the front page of, the Quick Links archive, or the @kottke Twitter feed.

Monday assorted links

1. 2007 Thomas A. Garett piece on the economics of the 1918 flu pandemic.  What else has been written on the macro side?

2. The economic impact of the 1918 flu on Brazil.

3. John Gray being John Gray (but “Second Life”??).

4. Economists studying the coronavirus (NYT).  and 2009 Becker-Posner short essay on the economics of pandemics.

5. Why Veneto did better than Lombardy (FT, less hospitalization is one reason).

6. Covid requests for everything: “Kaddish will be said by a group of people who currently have a mild case of Coronavirus and are together at the Prima Palace Hotel in Jerusalem (they are the only people who are legally able to Daven with a Minyan right now.”

7. Scott Adams, Covid-19 forecaster.

8. How Chinese apps handled Covid-19, excellent post.

9. The Covid culture that is middle-aged Pink Floyd fans from New Jersey.  You know you want to read this one.

10. MIT economics paper on ventilator rationing schemes, offers concrete proposals, not just BS.

11. “It’s not clear to me whether the divergent dynamics of epidemics will outweigh the homeostatic effect of human behavior.

12. Covid-19 has disrupted the progressives’ “organizing juggernaut.”

13. A South Korean exam with social distancing.

14. New NBER paper on Covid-19 and stock returns, and another.  And the curve is already flattening in NYC.

15. Japan finally declares state of emergency.  By the way, the mounds of evidence (testing data, not all public) are piling up against the “so many of us already have been exposed” theories.

16. Henry reviews the new William Gibson book.

The post Monday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Emotat Malware Causes Physical Damage

Microsoft is reporting that an Emotat malware infection shut down a network by causing computers to overheat and then crash.

The Emotet payload was delivered and executed on the systems of Fabrikam -- a fake name Microsoft gave the victim in their case study -- five days after the employee's user credentials were exfiltrated to the attacker's command and control (C&C) server.

Before this, the threat actors used the stolen credentials to deliver phishing emails to other Fabrikam employees, as well as to their external contacts, with more and more systems getting infected and downloading additional malware payloads.

The malware further spread through the network without raising any red flags by stealing admin account credentials authenticating itself on new systems, later used as stepping stones to compromise other devices.

Within 8 days since that first booby-trapped attachment was opened, Fabrikam's entire network was brought to its knees despite the IT department's efforts, with PCs overheating, freezing, and rebooting because of blue screens, and Internet connections slowing down to a crawl because of Emotet devouring all the bandwidth.

The infection mechanism was one employee opening a malicious attachment to a phishing email. I can't find any information on what kind of attachment.

Where Things Stand: Of Course Giuliani Is Behind This

President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is apparently whispering in the President’s ear again. This time, it’s about an unproven cure to COVID-19.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Giuliani described himself as a special science adviser to Trump and said he has had several one-on-one calls with the President in recent weeks, hyping the efficacy of the use of an anti-malaria drug to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The use of the drug to treat or even cure the novel disease has not been proven, but Trump, and some of his White House advisers, have seized on a flawed study that claimed the drug, hydroxychloroquine, could treat the disease at the center of the pandemic.

“I discussed it with the President after he talked about it,” Giuliani told the Post in an interview. “I told him what I had on the drugs.”

Giuliani has been hyping the drug as a cure for COVID-19 via Twitter and on his podcast for some time now and it’s no surprise — given his history of peddling conspiracies to Trump personally — that he now has the President’s ear. Trump’s been desperate to reignite an economy tanked by the pandemic and Giuliani’s pushing the kind of quick-fix, but highly unproven, cure that’s bound to get the President’s attention.

Here’s more on that and other stories we’re following:

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Matt Shuham is looking into an outbreak in Rockland County New York and accusations of anti-Semitism over how it’s been handled.

Kate Riga is reporting on the efforts by Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature over the weekend to block the governor’s attempt to delay the election amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

It seems a lifetime ago, but Trump hasn’t forgotten those who he perceives wronged him throughout the impeachment inquiry and trial. Over the weekend, Trump fired Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, the man responsible for the handling of the whistleblower complaint whose allegations launched the impeachment inquiry. Last night, Atkinson accused Trump of firing him for how he handled the complaint, which focused on Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president.

“It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General, and from my commitment to continue to do so,” Atkinson said in a statement. We’ll keep an eye on this development.

Meanwhile White House trade adviser Peter Navarro recently had an argument with Dr. Anthony Fauci in private over the efficacy of anti-malaria drug against COVID-19. According to a new report, Fauci had pointed out that the single study Navarro cited on the drug was flawed, which reportedly set off the adviser. Navarro dug in his heels on the drug this morning, telling CNN John Berman that his background as a “social scientist” made him qualified to discuss how to treat the coronavirus. We’ll continue monitoring this back-and-forth.

Today’s Rundown

12:30 p.m. ET: Trump will have lunch with the vice president.

5:00 p.m. ET: The White House coronavirus task force will hold its briefing.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

What’s Up With The Feds Seizing PPE Shipments to States and Hospitals? — Josh Marshall

What We Are Reading

This Brooklyn Landlord Just Cancelled Rent For Hundreds Of Tenants — Matthew Haag

Inside The Secretive Group Trying To Bring Down North Korea’s Regime — Bradley Hope, John Lyons and Alastair Gale

What OneWeb’s failure tells us about space resiliency in the age of COVID-19

Soyuz ascends from the Spaceport in French Guiana in February, 2019, carrying the first six satellites for OneWeb.

Enlarge / Soyuz ascends from the Spaceport in French Guiana in February, 2019, carrying the first six satellites for OneWeb. (credit: Arianespace)

Last week, one of the leading companies attempting to build a satellite mega-constellation, OneWeb, filed for bankruptcy and laid off all of its employees. This was the largest failure in the aerospace industry of late, but it's hardly the only one, as other prominent companies such as LeoSat and Bigelow Aerospace lay off staff and potentially shutter operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated financial pressures on the space industry, where many small and medium-sized businesses already live on the edge, needing regular infusions of private capital or government contracts to remain afloat. To get a sense of what OneWeb's failure means for this industry, Ars spoke with Chuck Beames, executive chairman of York Space Systems and chairman of the SmallSat Alliance (of which OneWeb was a member).

Beames also previously managed more than $1 billion in assets during his time at Vulcan Aerospace, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's fund to support space ventures. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Two Key Stories

Two key issues we’re following are a) the question of the true death toll from COVID-19 and b) finding out more information about the federal government’s seizures of medical goods destined for states, localities and major hospital and medical systems. On the second story particularly, I want to renew my call for information. If you see local reports that we haven’t found yet, please send them in. If you know of incidents that have not been reported on yet, please contact us via email. We will zealously guard your confidentiality, as always do. Here is the main story I published over the weekend. Here’s a follow up from last night which adds in the AP report about how late the federal government began ordering masks.

As I discussed with one of my colleagues a few moments ago the most concerning part of this seizure story is that there’s no communication about what’s happening, what the strategy is, under what authority it’s being done. It is very notable that in every case I have found the intended recipients of the goods are given no explanation of what happened or which federal agency seized the goods. That is highly irregular. Even 19th century armies would issue warrants and what amounted to receipts when they confiscated civilian goods for their armies. It’s possible this is just confusion and disarray. But it’s a consistent pattern.

On the mortality front, I’ve now been able to confirm what I had strongly suspected: all the mortality numbers we are seeing include or until just recently included only those who had been tested positive for COVID-19. In other words, even many victims of the disease who clinicians assumed had COVID-19 are not included in these lists because they lacked a positive test. Some post-mortem testing is being done. But given the constraints on testing capacity, many clinicians and officials are understandably deciding that they should be reserved for the living.

This is not a cover-up. It’s a bureaucratic and technical reality our system is having difficulty catching up with. The CDC just issued guidance that issuers of death certificates need no longer require a positive test. “Ideally, testing for COVID–19 should be conducted, but it is acceptable to report COVID–19 on a death certificate without this confirmation if the circumstances are compelling within a reasonable degree of certainty.”

The need for a positive test has been the norm at least across Europe as well.

On a related front, the Chair of the New York City Council health committee tweeted this morning that the number of people dying at home in New York City has risen tenfold.

It is important to note that with people told to stay away from emergency rooms unless they are seriously ill and with the justified fear of contracting COVID-19 a significant number of these fatalities are likely from other causes or deaths which would ordinarily have taken place in hospitals. But there’s little doubt a significant number of victims of COVID-19. It’s likely that some number of people are dying because they did not seek medical care.

There’s lot of information we’re going to try to get through today on both stories. Stay tuned and stay healthy.

A Virtual 16th-Century Globe

Mercator Globe – © National Maritime Museum by on Sketchfab

The National Maritime Museum is closed right now, obviously, but in the meantime they’ve given us a virtual version of one of their treasures: a 1541 table globe by Gerardus Mercator.

Previously: Antique Globes, Virtual and Real.

Something Different

Starting last week, and continuing this week, we’ve been publishing a series of articles by historians and legal scholars. Full disclosure: they have nothing to do with the coronavirus. This series was in the works for a few months, and though the crisis has our attention more or less 24/7, it’s sometimes a welcome break to think about something else. Even a democratic crisis.

The basic idea for this series is one shared with us by historian Greg Downs: that even if Democrats retake the Senate in 2020, hold onto the House, and win the presidency, it wouldn’t be enough for the Party to truly control the levers of power. They are, in a sense, not safe at home. The current political system enabled and in many cases ratified the excesses of the Trump presidency. Whoever holds power next must contend with that fact.

In past times, as Downs has written, politicians of both parties were far more willing to rewrite the rules when the rules fell out-of-step with the time. The Civil War, and the years that followed, provides one example:

When Republicans needed more states to balance the Senate, they created them. When the Supreme Court threatened Republicans’ Reconstruction policies, Congress restricted the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, added and then subtracted justices, and threatened to dismantle the court altogether. When the Constitution did not defend the civil and voting rights Republicans prized, they transformed the nation’s founding document through three sweeping constitutional amendments, the last two passed in the face of bitter opposition not only from white Southerners but from many white Northerners. Between 1860 and 1870, Congress considered many other constitutional amendments, including some to eliminate the Electoral College or to enfranchise women.

It would behoove Democrats, Downs argues in the intro to the series, to take a page from politicians of past centuries, and bend yesterday’s rules to today’s political environment.

This series looks at some steps they might consider.

Our latest installment today, from University of Texas law professor Joseph Fishkin, looks at the ways in which the elected branches of government can apply pressure to a Supreme Court out of step with the American people. Read that here »

Last week, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University Martha Jones made the case for a constitutional amendment that doesn’t just protect the right to vote, it promises it. Read that here »

Check back at TPM Cafe throughout the week. We’ll have more installments.

Australian IoT startup Myriota raises $19 million

WASHINGTON — Myriota announced April 6 it raised $19.3 million to continue developing a constellation of at least 25 satellites to connect internet-of-things devices globally.

Australian investors Hostplus and Main Sequence Ventures led Myriota’s Series B round, with participation from Boeing HorizonX, In-Q-Tel, Right Click Capital, Singtel Innov8 and the South Australian Venture Capital Fund. 

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also participated in the round. 

In an interview, Myriota CEO Alex Grant said the company started fundraising last year, before the coronavirus pandemic impacted global markets. 

“That was very fortunate for us,” Grant told SpaceNews. “It didn’t directly affect our round.”

Founded in 2015 to commercialize cheap, narrowband signal transmitters developed at the University of South Australia, Myriota has raised $37 million total. Grant said the company’s core systems are cloud-based and that its communications services haven’t been disrupted by the coronavirus.

The pandemic may delay Myriota from launching the three satellites it has under construction by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc, however. Grant said the 3U cubesats are in an “advanced stage” of production, and should launch on rideshare missions this year barring delays caused by the pandemic. He declined to name launch vehicles. 

Absent its own satellites, Myriota jump-started its constellation effort by signing a purchase agreement with Canadian ship-tracking company exactEarth to buy satellites it was already using for early service offerings. Myriota said March 31 it is buying four small satellites (EV-1, EV-6, EV-9 and EV-11), six ground stations and associated spectrum licenses from exactEarth. 

ExactEarth said Myriota will pay 600,000 Canadian dollars ($421,000) for the assets, comprising 150,000 Canadian dollars in cash and 450,000 Canadian dollars in preferred shares of Myriota.

Peter Mabson, CEO of exactEarth and chairman of Myriota, said the transfer helps exactEarth because it “achieves several strategic and financial objectives as we position ourselves in line with that of a pure-play data services business.”

Grant said buying the exactEarth satellites will help Myriota reach an hourly revisit rate — a target he said will require 10 satellites. With 25 satellites, Myriota will be able to revisit IoT sensors every one to 10 minutes, he said. 

Myriota is supporting its ground station network with gateway services from KSAT and Amazon Web Services, Grant said. 

Myriota has discussed a long-term goal of operating 50 satellites, which Grant said would enable near-real-time connectivity. The company has no timeline for reaching 50 satellites, though, he said. 

Myriota will use its new capital to fund additional satellites and increase its head count from around 40 people up to 80 people, Grant said.

TSA checkpoint travel numbers

The TSA is providing daily travel numbers. (ht @conorsen)

This is another measure that will be useful to track when the economy starts to reopen.

TSA Traveler Data Click on graph for larger image.

This data shows the daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Blue) and 2020 (Red).

On April 5th there were 122,029 travelers compared to 2,462,929 a year ago.

That is a decline of 95%.

Pandemic Paradoxically Offers Relief from Depression & Anxiety for Some

This is an interesting piece by The Daily Beast’s Laura Bradley, who is one of a number of people who have seen their symptoms of anxiety and depression actually lessen during the pandemic. Part of it is the odd sense of joy experienced by some people going through disasters, but there are other possible explanations:

“I’m used to being in a room alone with my thoughts for an extended period of time,” Weinstein said, adding that under quarantine, “You kind of run through the gamut of, ‘OK what if I’m not out of here in 20 days; what if I’m not out of here in 40 days; what if I’m not out here in 60 days? What will happen to me?” Due to her history of depression and anxiety, Weinstein is also used to, as she put it, “shrinking away from life” for a period of time.

“These are thought processes I am used to having and welcome — and know how to cut off in a kind, loving way after they’ve been around a little too long,” Weinstein said.

It would also make sense that if your depression or anxiety focuses on being out in a busy and complicated world, dealing with a greatly simplified situation might be beneficial. Either way, this is another reminder of the infinite number of ways that different people can react to a crisis.

Tags: COVID-19   Laura Bradley   medicine

What D.C.’s (More) Pessimistic COVID-19 Model Means

And I’m referring to D.C., not Wor-Shing-Tun. Last week, the D.C. government released a ‘ COVID-19 situational update’ (pdf). This figure, which they recently re-released and made harder to read (though the key points are clear, I suppose…; p. 11) is very different from what has been said by most public health officials:

Screen Shot 2020-04-05 at 9.58.57 AM

The key point is that the mortality rate will be at least double that of the model that the federal government is basically using* (the IHME model funded by Gates Foundation researchers), and could be five times as high. As importantly, the peak won’t be until early July, not mid-April. This discrepancy isn’t a D.C.-specific phenomenon (in fact, D.C. compared to many states started earlier with restrictions).

The discrepancy (and that’s an understatement) has to do with the differences between the model the federal government is using versus the model the D.C. government is using (the CHIME model). In other words, the peak in many places might be much later than currently predicted, and the death toll considerably higher. As to which model is better, it’s not clear. The CHIME model** is more in line with the Imperial College of Medicine Report, and the CHIME model uses more pessimistic assumptions about the benefits of social distancing (it assumes they will be less effective because they won’t be followed as much as people hope), while the IHME is far more optimistic about social distancing measures. (It’s also unclear what parameters D.C. used to reach these conclusions, so I can’t figure out how robust this estimate is).

All that said, there are implications for what D.C.’s use of a different model means about returning to work, especially in the D.C. area (hint: the federal workforce). If the seat of the federal government doesn’t think that the peak will hit until July (and presumably in other states too), then we better settle in for the long haul.

In the mean time, we can learn to never forget what Trump and his Republican enablers needlessly inflicted on the U.S. Anger is the appropriate emotion.

*Though who knows what they’re doing when you get right down to it.

**There are also differences in terms of the mechanics of the CHIME and IHME models, but it’s not clear to me what role those would play in the wildly different results.

Samuel Fitch Takes the Case

Jonathan Sewall wasn’t the only attorney missing from the big trials in Boston in the spring of 1770.

As the Massachusetts Superior Court geared up for the Boston Massacre trials, Ebenezer Richardson was having a hard time finding a lawyer to represent him.

Richardson was arraigned on Monday, 19 March, and brought out for trial that Friday. British law already recognized that a man charged with a capital crime deserved to have legal representation. But no attorney, not even those politically allied with the Crown, had agreed to represent Richardson.

That echoed how on 2 March the Customs service, as I noted back here, had publicly and falsely claimed that Richardson had “never been employed as an Officer or Under Officer, or in any Capacity in the Customs.” Killing a child had made the man even more unpopular than he already was. No one wanted anything to do with him.

An anonymous correspondent for the Crown reported on Richardson’s lament:
He observ’d to the Court that he had made application to almost every Lawyer in town to undertake his cause, which no one would do, that the Constables had refused summoning his Witnesses, that the Jailer, had used him in so cruel a manner that he was even frequently debarred the Liberty of conversing with his friends, that every Newspaper was crouded with the most infamous and false libels against him in order to prejudice the minds of his jury; that without Counsel, without the privilege of calling upon his Witnesses to support his innocence he was now to be tried for his life.
The royal judges accordingly postponed the murder trial, which is just what the Boston Whigs were pressuring them not to do. They also tried to get Richardson representation.
The Court then made application to the several Lawyers present to appear as his Counsel but this one and all of them declined. The court finding that a requisition had no effect asserted their Authority and order’d Mr. Fitch the advocate General to appear on his behalf on his trial. Fitch made use of a variety of arguments in order to excuse himself which the Court did not judge sufficient. He concluded with saying that since the Court had peremptorily ordered him, he would undertake it, but not otherways.
Samuel Fitch (1724-1799) had come to Boston from Lebanon, Connecticut, and Yale College. He was an established lawyer but not particularly prominent. Politically Fitch leaned toward the Crown, though not so strongly as to prevent him from representing James Otis, Jr., in his lawsuit against Customs Commissioner John Robinson.

In 1768, Jonathan Sewall was seeking a successor to himself as advocate general in the Admiralty Courts, now that he was going to be attorney general. He approached John Adams with hopes of winning the younger lawyer to the side of the Crown. Adams later wrote that when he declined, he suggested that Fitch would be more comfortable in the job. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson eventually did give Fitch that permanent position.

The judges scheduled Richardson’s trial for 6 April. Fitch told the judges that he was feeling sick that month. Also, he had received an anonymous letter hinting at a valuable witness. The court postponed the trial to give Fitch time to investigate that information and decamped to Charlestown for a weeklong session in Middlesex County.

Richardson’s new trial date was Tuesday, 17 April. When the court convened that day, Fitch was nowhere to be found.

Update: Framing Lumber Future Prices Down 25% Year-over-year

Here is another monthly update on framing lumber prices.   Lumber prices declined sharply from the record highs in early 2018, and then increased until the COVID-19 crisis.

This graph shows two measures of lumber prices: 1) Framing Lumber from Random Lengths through Apr 3, 2020 (via NAHB), and 2) CME framing futures.

Lumcber PricesClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

Right now Random Lengths prices are unchanged from a year ago, and CME futures are down 25% year-over-year.

There is a seasonal pattern for lumber prices, and usually prices will increase in the Spring, and peak around May, and then bottom around October or November - although there is quite a bit of seasonal variability.

The trade war led to significant volatility in lumber prices in 2018.   Prices have fallen sharply due to COVID-19 (Note: Construction is considered an essential activity is ongoing in many areas)

Mapping the Lockdown-Related Drop in Emissions


The European Space Agency maps the drop in nitrogen dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere in the wake of coronavirus lockdowns in many countries (see above). [GIS Lounge]

Meanwhile, CESBIO researcher Simon Gascoin built a map that compares NO2 concentrations over the last 30 days with the same period in 2019.

Data for these analyses generally come from the Copernicus Programme’s Sentinel-5P satellite. The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service issued a warning last week about using the data improperly.

Concentrations of NO2 in the atmosphere are highly variable in space and time: they typically vary by one order of magnitude within each day and quite substantially from one day to another because of the variations in emissions (for example the impacts of commuter traffic, weekdays and weekend days) as well as changes in the weather conditions. This is why, even if observations are available on a daily (currently available from satellites) or even hourly (ground-based observations) basis, it is necessary to acquire data for a substantial period of time in order to check that a statistically robust departure from normal conditions has emerged.

Cloud cover is a factor that needs to be taken into account as well.

Previously: Emissions Drop Due to Coronavirus Outbreak.

Some Good News: The Hamilton Edition

So, the second episode of John Krasinski’s Some Good News might be even better than the first one (which included, if you recall, an The Office reunion with Steve Carell). I don’t want to entirely ruin it, but in the second half of the show, John and some co-conspirators totally make the day/year/century of a young Hamilton fan who missed going to the live show because of the pandemic.

Tags: crying at work   Hamilton   John Krasinski   Lin-Manuel Miranda   video

Transplantation slows in Canada, too...

Ventilators in short supply may be part of the problem (since most deceased donations involve ventilators), but there's also a general risk aversion at play...

Donated organs not being used as hospitals scale back transplants for COVID-19

"OTTAWA — Transplant centres across the country have massively scaled back organ transplants as hospitals try to make sure they are able to accommodate COVID-19 cases.

"Living-donor surgeries have largely shut down across the country, and deceased-donor transplants are happening only when the case is urgent.

"Dr. Atul Humar, past president of the Canadian Society of Transplantation, said that means many organs are not going to good use.

“There’s some donors, deceased organ donors, and we’re not sending teams to procure those organs,” said Humar, who is also the director of the transplant program at Toronto General Hospital.

“It’s quite tragic.”

"Patients who go through certain types of organ donation often require time in the intensive care unit on a ventilator — resources desperately needed by patients with serious cases of COVID-19.

"At Humar’s hospital, organ transplant surgeries have decreased by about 80 per cent, though the numbers vary from province to province."

NASA Releases Its Artemis "Plan" - 5 Months Late

NASA's Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development

"This document covers and responds to the Chairman of the National Space Council's direction to provide a plan for a sustained lunar presence, including the technologies and capabilities to enable the first human mission to Mars. For millennia humanity has looked at the Moon in wonder and awe. As the United States leads the development of a sustained presence on the Moon together with commercial partners and international partners, our presence on the Moon will serve as a constant reminder of the limitless potential of humanity. It will continue to inspire humanity as we seek ever more distant worlds to explore - starting with Mars.

... After Artemis III, the overall plan is to conduct operations on and around the Moon that help prepare us for the mission durations and activities that we will experience during the first human mission to Mars, while also emplacing and building the infrastructure, systems, and robotic missions that can enable a sustained lunar surface presence. To do this, we will develop Artemis Base Camp at the South Pole of the Moon."

... In addition to establishing Artemis Base Camp, another core element of the sustained lunar presence that feeds forward to Mars will be the expansion of habitation and related support systems at the Gateway. This evolution of the Gateway's systems to include large-volume deep space habitation would allow our astronauts to test, initially in lunar orbit, how they will live on their voyage to and from Mars. Gateway can also support our first Mars mission analogs on the lunar surface. For such a mission, we currently envision a four-person crew traveling to the Gateway and living aboard the outpost for a multi-month stay to simulate the outbound trip to Mars, followed by two crew travelling down to and exploring the lunar surface with the habitable mobility platform, while the remaining two crew stay aboard. The four crew are then reunited at the Gateway for another multi-month stay, simulating the return trip to Earth, before landing back home."

Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Sixth Meeting of the National Space Council, 20 August 2019

'And I recommend to the public's attention the public record that you will find that we are setting specific timelines for the Administrator in the next 60 days to designation of an office and submission of a plan for a sustainable lunar surface exploration and the development of crewed missions to Mars."

- NASA Really Really Needs An Artemis Plan - Soon, earlier post
- Where Is NASA's Plan For Sustainable Moon/Mars Exploration? (Update), earlier post

Four short links: 6 April 2020

  1. RufusCreate bootable USB drives the easy way.
  2. Improving Audio Quality in Duo with WaveNetEQ — Google filling in missing packets in voice calls using deep learning.
  3. CRN++language for programming deterministic (mass-action) chemical kinetics to perform computation.
  4. Crafting Crafting Interpreters — story behind the writing of the Crafting Interpreters book.

Marshall officials expect center closure to last for weeks

NASA Marshall

WASHINGTON — The leaders of one of NASA’s largest field centers that has been effectively closed by the coronavirus pandemic expect it will be at least several weeks before personnel can start working on site again.

In an online town hall meeting April 2, top officials of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama said it was impossible to give a specific date for reopening the center for all personnel, but indicated it would be May at the earliest before the center could start allowing more staff to work at the center.

“I just don’t know when we’ll be able to come back to work,” Jody Singer, director of Marshall, said in opening remarks in the hourlong event, noting it was the most common question she’s heard from the center’s workforce. “This virus is dictating our timeline. We must let the data drive our decisions.”

Later in the meeting, Steve Miley, associate director of the center, said the decision to allow people back at Marshall will be based on several factors. That includes, he said, the “social distancing” protocols issued by the White House that recommend people work from home and avoid large gatherings. Those protocols, originally intended to last for the latter half of March, were extended last week through the end of April.

“We know we will not return before this date and probably not immediately after that date as well,” he said. “As much as I would like to, I won’t predict a return-to-work date.”

A decision to allow people back to work, he said, will also depend on guidance from NASA Headquarters as well as coordination with local officials. The state of Alabama instituted a stay-at-home order April 4 that, like those in many other states, requires people to remain at home except for a set of activities deemed essential.

“I will not authorize a partial or full return to the work site until it is deemed appropriate for our workforce to be there,” Singer said. That return will likely be a phased approach, she and others said, moving from Stage 4 to Stage 1 — normal operations — in a gradual way.

Marshall was the second NASA center to go to Stage 3 of the agency’s pandemic response plan, instituting mandatory telework for all but mission-essential personnel on March 14 when one center employee was diagnosed with COVID-19. The center went to Stage 4, the highest level, March 27 because of the growing number of cases of the disease in the state and guidance from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey to close nonessential businesses. Stage 4 further restricts access to the center to those needed for safety and security, with few exceptions. Marshall is one of 10 NASA facilities currently at Stage 4. The other eight are at Stage 3.

David Thaxton, the occupational health officer for Marshall, said in the town hall meeting that three Marshall employees had tested positive for COVID-19, two of which after the center went to Stage 3. At the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, which is run by Marshall and is also at Stage 4, 13 employees have tested positive. He added that, with teleworking in place for more than two weeks now, the center was not during further tracking of cases among the workforce except for those who are working on site.

With Stage 4 in place, the staff working at Marshall is limited to people such as security and essential infrastructure staff, like information technology. A few other operations remain open, such as the International Space Station payload control center at Marshall. “The Payload Operations Integration Center has done an excellent job of being resilient through this disruption,” Singer said, maintaining round-the-clock operations.

Activities that can be done primarily through telework have continued largely uninterrupted. That includes the Human Landing System program, managed by Marshall, for developing human lunar landers for the Artemis program. Awards of initial study contracts for that effort are expected later this month. “We should hear something fairly soon from Washington on that,” Paul McConnaughey, deputy center director, said of the program.

However, Singer and other Marshall officials acknowledged that some programs that require working on hardware at Marshall and Michoud facilities are on hold. That includes work on the Space Launch System and Orion hardware, as well as hardware for the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer astronomy satellite being assembled at the center. “The safety of our people is more important than the schedule of these important projects,” McConnaughey said.

The Economic Consequences of the Virus?

The inhabitant of New York could order by computer, sipping his morning coffee in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate with passport or other formality and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing just a credit card upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved by the TSA but otherwise much surprised at the least interference. But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, exclusion and of pandemics which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily twitter feed, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice.

Only slightly modified.

The post The Economic Consequences of the Virus? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Fed Needs to Throw a Lifeline to Junk Bonds

Visualizations of Coughing and Sneezing

This video produced by researchers at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar demonstrates the effect on the air surrounding a person when they cough.…

Rashomon's fire: another perspective on Apollo 1 from NASA official Paul Dembling

Different people involved in historical events have different recollections of what happened. Dwayne Day demonstrates that from an interview with another NASA official who was at an infamous Senate hearing after the Apollo 1 accident.

What is the future for commercial suborbital spaceflight?

Earlier this year, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic appeared to be finally ready to start flying people to space by the end of the year. Jeff Foust reports that the pandemic has put those plans into question.

The US Space Force's long war

The Space Force has had some stumbles in the months since its establishment, but appears to have general public support. John Hickman argues one challenge the Space Force faces is changing how the public perceives spaceflight itself.

Space Force: the struggle continues

While the US Space Force was formally established last December, it's still struggling with some organizational and policy issues. Taylor Dinerman discusses some of those issues and their importance to the nascent service.

Review: Extraterrestrials

It's been 70 years since Enrico Fermi's question became the paradox that bears his name about the existence of other civilizations. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines the history of SETI and offers some potential answers to the Fermi Paradox.

Dating on the rebound – when looking for love can be a lifesaver

What is the right amount of time to start a new romantic relationship after a breakup? There are popular ‘rules’ about how long to wait. One rule of thumb is that you’ll need to wait half the length of the previous relationship. Another says to wait one month for every year of the last relationsh...

By Claudia Brumbaugh

Read at Aeon

We are wayfinders

Navigation and spatial awareness sustained humans for tens of thousands of years. Have we lost the trail in modern times?

By Michael Bond

Read at Aeon

Our regulatory state is failing us, installment #1437

The Trump administration has stumbled in its initial push to implement the $2 trillion coronavirus aid package, with confusion and fear mounting among small businesses, workers and the newly unemployed since the bill was signed into law late last month.

Small-business owners have reported delays in getting approved for loans without which they will close their doors, while others say they have been denied altogether by their lenders and do not understand why. The law’s provision to boost unemployment benefits has become tangled in dated and overwhelmed state bureaucracies, as an unprecedented avalanche of jobless Americans seeks aid.

Officials at the Internal Revenue Service have warned that $1,200 relief checks may not reach many Americans until August or September if they haven’t already given their direct-deposit information to the government. Taxpayers in need of answers from the IRS amid a rapidly changing job market are encountering dysfunctional government websites and unresponsive call centers that have become understaffed as federal workers stay home.

Here is the full piece by Jeff Stein.  And here is me in WaPo:

Cowen said it’s inexplicable why the federal government, given all the warnings and evidence from China of a spreading pandemic, did not move more rapidly.

“You know, Trump was terrible, but you can’t just pin it on him. It’s far more systemic than that. The NBA [which suspended its season on March 11] really gets so much credit. I would put the NBA in charge of fighting climate change at this point.”

The piece there is by Dan Balz.

The post Our regulatory state is failing us, installment #1437 appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” is not an instruction manual

Part of my series on countering common misconceptions in space journalism.

Well, dear reader(s), we’re getting close to the bitter end here. I’m on shaky ground. This blog is about misconceptions that are neither common nor found in space journalism. But someone once said something that annoyed me and so now we have a blog about it.

To begin with the usual disclaimer, I’m not a book critic. Nor have I ever been to the Moon. I have, however, written reviews or technical commentaries on this blog of several books, including “The High Frontier” and “The Martian”.

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress: Robert A. Heinlein: Books

“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Robert Heinlein is a fun book and it’s not particularly hard sci-fi, so I will resist the urge to be a joyless bore and abstain from enumerating technical problems with the plot. It’s a novel. It has technical inaccuracies. If you’re into that sort of thing, my review of “The Martian” is a good place to start.

No, it turns out that Heinlein’s book is a fine piece of writing on its own terms. What ruined it for me is its use by a small hard core of fans to argue about vision for space exploration, as though it was some kind of holy text or scientific primary source. Indeed, since its publication in 1966 it has spawned countless imitators, almost all of which (if I may go so far as to say) completely miss the point. If you disagree, well, I could be wrong. It has happened before.


TMiaHM is a coming-of-age story set on a subterranean Moon city. To create narrative conflict, this city is expected to squander its limited water supplies growing grain (!) to ship to Earth with an electromagnetic mass driver. Manipulated by a sentient AI (the main character!), the supporting human characters foment a violent revolution which culminates in their kinetic bombardment of strategic targets on Earth, as though the Moon was some sort of strategic high ground.

While some readers celebrate a thread of libertarianism that runs through the novel, it is worth pointing out that few derivative works by other authors captured the quotidian weirdness that Heinlein managed to bake into the Moon’s social culture. In particular, the unbalanced gender disparity leads to the adoption of an alternative family unit where marriages occur in concatenated “lines” rather than persistent diads. This draws on Heinlein’s interest in the free love movement, which he wrote as early as the 1930s.

Much of the book is consumed with theorizing about violent revolution, and draws heavily on the American revolution, while its publication anticipated the global socialist instability of 1968 by a few years.

The ambiguity of its moral message is a testament to the complexity of the text, but to me the “boys own adventure” and risk-free libertarianism reading misses the point. Of course, if there is anything more petty than taking a novel literally, it would be criticizing that action, so I will desist. Soon.

Let’s be specific. In what ways does this novel (and others in the genre) fail as an instruction manual?

We know that a Moon city is not a good place to grow plants, that water is relatively abundant on the surface near the poles, and that underground construction is pointlessly difficult. So any future Moon city will have to be structured around some other premise, which is to say its foundational architecture on both a social and technical level will be completely different.

We know that AIs are pretty good at tweaking our amygdala, but strictly speaking we don’t need to build one on the Moon, and I would hope its existence is strictly orthogonal to the question of political control.

Lunar cities, and all other space habitats, are tremendously vulnerable to physical destruction. This means that, for all practical purposes, Earthling power centers hold absolute escalation dominance. No combination of sneaky AIs, secret mass drivers, or sabotage would be enough to attain political independence through force. If space habitats want some degree of political autonomy, they will have to obtain it through non-violent means. Contemporary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson makes this argument powerfully in this recent podcast, when discussing how he structured the revolutions in his Mars trilogy.

Lastly, the “Brass cannon” story is like “Starship Troopers” – a falsifiably satirical critique of popular conceptions of political control. For some reason, libertarians swarm Heinlein novels and space advocacy conferences like aphids in spring. I will resist the temptation to take easy shots, but point out merely that every real-world attempt at implementation of libertarianism as the dominant political culture has failed, quickly and predictably. This is because libertarianism, like many other schools of thought that fill out our diverse political scene, functions best as an alternative actually practiced by very few people. It turns out a similar thing occurs in salmon mating behavior.

I always try to end these blogs on a constructive, positive note. When we set out to build cities on the Moon and Mars, we do so because we are inspired by compelling visions, often delivered within powerful narratives told by gifted story tellers. But narrative is something constructed from reality, not the other way around. In getting down to the nuts and bolts, we must abandon our preconceptions and instead reason by analogy.

Why I do not favor variolation for Covid-19

Robin Hanson makes the strongest case for variolation, here is one excerpt:

So the scenario is this: Hero Hotels welcome sufficiently young and healthy volunteers. Friends and family can enter together, and remain together. A cohort enters together, and is briefly isolated individually for as long as it takes to verify that they’ve been infected with a very small dose of the virus. They can then interact freely with each other, those those that show symptoms are isolated more. They can’t leave until tests show they have recovered.

In a Hero Hotel, volunteers have a room, food, internet connection, and full medical care. Depending on available funding from government or philanthropic sources, volunteers might either pay to enter, get everything for free, or be paid a bonus to enter. Health plans of volunteers may even contribute to the expense.

Do read the whole thing.  By the way, here is “Hotel Corona” in Tel Aviv.  Alex, by the way, seems to endorse Robin’s view.  Here are my worries:

1. Qualified medical personnel are remarkably scarce right now.  I do not see how it is possible to oversee the variolation of more than a small number of individuals.  Furthermore, it is possible that many medical personnel would refuse to oversee the practice.  The net result would be only a small impact on herd immunity.  If you doubt this, just consider how bad a job we Americans have done scaling up testing and making masks.

The real question right now is what can you do that is scalable?  This isn’t it.

I recall Robin writing on Twitter that variolation would economize on the number of medical personnel.  I think it would take many months for that effect to kick in, or possibly many years.

2. Where will we put all of the Covid-positive, contagious individuals we create?  What network will we use to monitor their behavior?  We have nothing close to the test and trace systems of Singapore and South Korea.

In essence, we would have to send them home to infect their families (the Lombardy solution) or lock them up in provisional camps.  Who feeds and takes care of them in those camps, and what prevents those individuals from becoming infected?  What is the penalty for trying to leave such a camp?  Is our current penal system, or for that matter our current military — both longstanding institutions with plenty of experienced personnel — doing an even OK job of overseeing Covid-positive individuals in their midst?  I think not.

Under the coercive approach, what is the exact legal basis for this detention?  That a 19-year-old signed a detention contract?  Is that supposed to be binding on the will in the Rousseauian sense?  Where are the governmental structures to oversee and coordinate all of this?  Should we be trusting the CDC to do it?  Will any private institutions do it without complete governmental cover?  I don’t think so.

If all this is all voluntary, the version that Robin himself seems to favor, what percentage of individuals will simply leave in the middle of their treatment?  Robin talks of “Hero Hotels,” but which actual hotels will accept the implied liability?  There is no magic valve out there to relieve the pressure on actual health care systems.  Note that the purely voluntary version of Robin’s plan can be done right now, but does it seem so popular?  Is anyone demanding it, any company wishing it could do it for its workforce?

3. The NBA has an amazing amount of money, on-staff doctors, the ability to afford tests, and so on.  And with hundreds of millions or billions of dollars at stake they still won’t restart a crowdless, TV-only season.  They could indeed run a “Heroes Hotel” for players who got infected from training and play, and yet they won’t.  “Stadium and locker room as Heroes Hotel” is failing the market test.  Similarly, colleges and universities have a lot at stake, but they are not rushing to volunteer their dorms for this purpose, even if it might boost their tuition revenue if it went as planned (which is not my prediction, to be clear).

The proposal requires institutions to implement it, yet it doesn’t seem suited for any actual institution we have today.

4. Does small/marginal amounts of variolation do much good compared to simply a weaker lockdown enforcement for activities that involve the young disproportionately?  Just tell the local police not to crack down on those soccer games out in the park (NB: I am not recommending this, rather it is the more practical version of what Robin is recommending; both in my view are bad ideas.)  Robin’s idea has the “Heroes Hotel” attached, but that is a deus ex machina that simply assumes a “free space” (both a literal free space and a legally free space) is available for experimentation, which it is not.

5. Society can only absorb a small number of very blunt messages from its leaders.  You can’t have the President saying “this is terrible and you all must hide” and “we’re going to expose our young” and expect any kind of coherent response.  People are already confused enough from mixed messages from leaders such as presidents and governors.

6. There is still a chance that Covid-19 causes or induces permanent damage, perhaps to the heart and perhaps in the young as well.  That does not militate in favor of increasing the number of exposures now, especially since partial protective measures (e.g., antivirals, antibodies) might arise before a vaccine does.  This residual risk, even if fairly small, also makes the liability issues harder to solve.

7. The actual future of the idea is that as lockdown drags on, many individuals deliberately will become less careful, hoping to get their infections over with.  A few may even infect themselves on purpose, one hopes with a proper understanding of dosage.  One can expect this practice will be more popular with the (non-obese) young.  The question is then how to take care of those people and how to treat them.  That debate will devolve rather rapidly into current discussions of testing, test and trace, self-isolation, antivirals, triage, and so on.  And then it will be seen that variolation is not so much of a distinct alternative as right now it seems to be.

8. The main benefit of variolation proposals is to raise issues about the rates at which people get infected, and the sequencing of who is and indeed should be more likely to get infected first.  Those questions deserve much more consideration than they are receiving, and in that sense I am very happy to see variolation being brought (not much risk of it happening as an explicit proposal).  That said, I don’t think Heroes Hotel, and accelerating the rate of deliberate, publicly-intended infection, is the way to a better solution.

Soon I’ll write more on what I think we should be doing, but I would not put explicit variolation above the path of the status quo.

The post Why I do not favor variolation for Covid-19 appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Measuring Drought in South America

Measuring Drought in South America
Twin satellites are assessing the state of soil moisture and groundwater on the continent and around the world.


A very large eye exam

Surrounded by the gleaming metal of one of ESO's Very Large Telescope’s Unit Telescopes, two engineers are carrying out maintenance work on the telescope’s complex and delicate optical systems. Similar to human eyes, the eyes of ESO’s Paranal Observatory must be constantly checked, maintained and tested in order to continuously provide the very best astronomical images.

The huge 8.2-metre Unit Telescope mirrors are housed in protective structures, ensuring that the delicate opto-electronic systems are sheltered from the harsh and dusty desert surroundings. But even with this level of protection, it still pays to spring clean the mirror from time to time! This is vital, as even the slightest contamination can distort the astronomical images received.

The fine dust particles of the Atacama desert not only lower image quality, but can also have an abrasive effect on the mirror’s surface. This means that not only does the mirror have to be cleaned, but it must be periodically recoated too. This episode of the ESOcast shows the process in action!

This image was taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Gerhard Hüdepohl, who formerly worked as an electronics engineer on Cerro Paranal.

Barbados Claims US Seized Ventilators En Route to Country

The government of Barbados is charging that shipment of 20 ventilators it had ordered and already paid for were seized by US authorities and prevented from reaching Barbados. Minister of Health and Wellness Jeffrey Bostic told reporters at a press conference “They were seized in the United States. Paid for, but seized, so we are trying to see exactly what is going to transpire there.”

To date, the epidemic appears limited in Barbados. But cases have grown rapidly in recent days. The country has 48 ventilators but only 3 of the 56 Barbadians who have tested positive are currently on ventilator support. The country has just under 300,000 residents.

Acting Prime Minister Santia Bradshaw placed the country on a full shelter in place order on Friday.

[Thanks to TPM Reader SK for the tip.]

Storm System Continues To Impact Southern California, Severe Weather Threatens The Southern And Eastern U.S.

Feds Only Started Ordering Masks As Lockdowns Were Starting

Here’s a very damning but also unsurprising report from the AP. The gist is that the federal government didn’t start placing orders for n95 masks and other PPE until mid-March, just as the country was heading into the COVID-19 maelstrom. To orient ourselves in time this was well after the initial outbreak in Washington state and roughly the period when New York City began to move toward lockdown.

On March 4th, HHS announced its intention to purchase 500 million masks. But according to an AP review of federal purchasing records, the first order wasn’t placed until March 12th for $4.8 million of n95 masks. To put that date in perspective, the last day public schools were open in New York City was March 13th. 36 Americans died from COVID-19 on the same day. A far larger order for $173 million was placed on March 21st. On that date 272 Americans died. Both of these orders were placed through an ordinary commercial process rather than a directive under the Defense Production Act.

This late start provides some context for the aggressive bidding and confiscations of PPE shipments we’ve been discussing in the Editors’ Blog, as well as efforts to argue that the federal emergency stockpile is not meant for the states. It’s hard to quite line up the dates. But it appears that at least some of these states and localities placed their orders for supplies before the federal government started. So the federal government was trying to play catch-up and, it seems, in at least some cases catching up by canceling these states’ orders or even confiscating the orders.

ESA restores operations of space science missions

Mars Express

WASHINGTON — The European Space Agency has restored operations of four space science missions it placed on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, a move that illustrated how one agency’s actions can affect others.

ESA announced March 24 it had suspended operations of the Cluster, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, Mars Express and Solar Orbiter missions, putting them into safe modes for indefinite durations. The agency said at the time staffing restrictions at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, including one person there testing positive for COVID-19, forced ESA to put those missions on hold to devote staff to other missions.

However, on April 2, ESA announced it was resuming operations of all four missions that had been suspended, going into new detail about the COVID-19 case that led to those missions being suspended.

In the statement, Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations at ESOC, said an employee came into contact with about 20 people at the center in the two days before his diagnosis. Those 20 people, he said, primarily worked on the four missions whose operations were suspended, and were asked to stay home as a precautionary measure. Building at the center were also “thoroughly cleaned and disinfected” to eliminate any traces of the virus.

“We decided to preventatively suspend operations on these missions until the risk of a potential cascade of follow-on infections and quarantines disappeared,” Ferri said. None of the employees placed in self-quarantine showed symptoms of the disease, and Ferri said that person who was diagnosed with COVID-19 “is thankfully fine, and recovering well.”

At the time ESA announced the suspended operations, the agency didn’t link it to controllers working on specific missions being potentially exposed to the disease. Instead, it said it was primarily targeting interplanetary missions—of the four, only Cluster is orbiting the Earth—because they require more personnel on site.

Ferri said ESA was taking steps to minimize contact among those personnel who are still working at the center, while many others telework. “There are very few people. They work completely isolated. I think ESOC now, from a COVID-19 infection case, is one of the safest places you can find in Germany,” he said.

He added that if another employee does come down with the disease, the physical separation among personnel means “there’s very little chance we need to quarantine other people.”

ESA started restarting the missions with Solar Orbiter, launched Feb. 9 and still undergoing commissioning of its instruments. “It takes some time,” Ferri said. “We started with Solar Orbiter, because we’re still in a manual mode of operations. It’s easier to restart.”

Temporarily halting Solar Orbiter operations had an effect that went beyond ESA, since the mission is a joint one with NASA. At a March 31 meeting of the National Academies’ Committee on Solar and Space Physics, Nicola Fox, director of NASA’s heliophysics division, said that at time ESA put the spacecraft into safe mode, 9 of its 10 instruments had gone through initial commissioning.

At that meeting, she said it appeared ESA would soon resume spacecraft operations. “They worked out a way to do it remotely, so there will only be one or two people having to go into the mission ops center,” she said. “They are going to try and continue to do some low-level commissioning as we move forward.”

Ferri said that, after Solar Orbiter, ESA would move to restart the four Cluster satellites and the two Mars orbiters. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) also serves as a communications relay for spacecraft on the surface. Having it offline was a concern for Mars scientists because of NASA’s plans, in its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, to end operations of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, which also serves as a communications relay for the InSight lander and Curiosity rover.

“I think the COVID situation we’re in right now highlights the fragility of that, because TGO is in safe mode right now and not taking passes because of how ESA is shut down,” said Bethany Ehlmann, a professor of planetary science at Caltech and member of the National Academies’ Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, at a March 31 committee meeting. “If we didn’t have Odyssey, we would definitely be seeing impacts on InSight operations.”

Ferri said it’s not unusual for missions, in particular Mars orbiters, to be out of contact with Earth for extended periods. Outages lasting a few weeks at a time occur when Mars goes behind the sun as seen from Earth. “This time stopping it for issues related to health of the ground people of course is unique,” he said, “but, to be honest, you feel even more compelled to do that rather than saving a machine.”

Homemade Masks

I'm going to change the sign so the pole is horizontal and the sign is mounted on the front like a plunger, so I can carry it around like a lance to gently push people back if they try to approach.

How to Use a Differential Analyzer (to Murder People)

A differential analyzer is a mechanical, analog computer that can solve differential equations. Differential analyzers aren’t used anymore because even a cheap laptop can solve the same equations much faster—and can do it in the background while you stream the new season of Westworld on HBO. Before the invention of digital computers though, differential analyzers allowed mathematicians to make calculations that would not have been practical otherwise.

It is hard to see today how a computer made out of anything other than digital circuitry printed in silicon could work. A mechanical computer sounds like something out of a steampunk novel. But differential analyzers did work and even proved to be an essential tool in many lines of research. Most famously, differential analyzers were used by the US Army to calculate range tables for their artillery pieces. Even the largest gun is not going to be effective unless you have a range table to help you aim it, so differential analyzers arguably played an important role in helping the Allies win the Second World War.

To understand how differential analyzers could do all this, you will need to know what differential equations are. Forgotten what those are? That’s okay, because I had too.

Differential Equations

Differential equations are something you might first encounter in the final few weeks of a college-level Calculus I course. By that point in the semester, your underpaid adjunct professor will have taught you about limits, derivatives, and integrals; if you take those concepts and add an equals sign, you get a differential equation.

Differential equations describe rates of change in terms of some other variable (or perhaps multiple other variables). Whereas a familiar algebraic expression like specifies the relationship between some variable quantity and some other variable quantity , a differential equation, which might look like , or even , specifies the relationship between a rate of change and some other variable quantity. Basically, a differential equation is just a description of a rate of change in exact mathematical terms. The first of those last two differential equations is saying, “The variable changes with respect to at a rate defined exactly by ,” and the second is saying, “No matter what is, the variable changes with respect to at a rate of exactly 2.”

Differential equations are useful because in the real world it is often easier to describe how complex systems change from one instant to the next than it is to come up with an equation describing the system at all possible instants. Differential equations are widely used in physics and engineering for that reason. One famous differential equation is the heat equation, which describes how heat diffuses through an object over time. It would be hard to come up with a function that fully describes the distribution of heat throughout an object given only a time , but reasoning about how heat diffuses from one time to the next is less likely to turn your brain into soup—the hot bits near lots of cold bits will probably get colder, the cold bits near lots of hot bits will probably get hotter, etc. So the heat equation, though it is much more complicated than the examples in the last paragraph, is likewise just a description of rates of change. It describes how the temperature of any one point on the object will change over time given how its temperature differs from the points around it.

Let’s consider another example that I think will make all of this more concrete. If I am standing in a vacuum and throw a tennis ball straight up, will it come back down before I asphyxiate? This kind of question, posed less dramatically, is the kind of thing I was asked in high school physics class, and all I needed to solve it back then were some basic Newtonian equations of motion. But let’s pretend for a minute that I have forgotten those equations and all I can remember is that objects accelerate toward earth at a constant rate of , or about . How can differential equations help me solve this problem?

Well, we can express the one thing I remember about high school physics as a differential equation. The tennis ball, once it leaves my hand, will accelerate toward the earth at a rate of . This is the same as saying that the velocity of the ball will change (in the negative direction) over time at a rate of . We could even go one step further and say that the rate of change in the height of my ball above the ground (this is just its velocity) will change over time at a rate of negative . We can write this down as the following, where represents height and represents time:

This looks slightly different from the differential equations we have seen so far because this is what is known as a second-order differential equation. We are talking about the rate of change of a rate of change, which, as you might remember from your own calculus education, involves second derivatives. That’s why parts of the expression on the left look like they are being squared. But this equation is still just expressing the fact that the ball accelerates downward at a constant acceleration of .

From here, one option I have is to use the tools of calculus to solve the differential equation. With differential equations, this does not mean finding a single value or set of values that satisfy the relationship but instead finding a function or set of functions that do. Another way to think about this is that the differential equation is telling us that there is some function out there whose second derivative is the constant ; we want to find that function because it will give us the height of the ball at any given time. This differential equation happens to be an easy one to solve. By doing so, we can re-derive the basic equations of motion that I had forgotten and easily calculate how long it will take the ball to come back down.

But most of the time differential equations are hard to solve. Sometimes they are even impossible to solve. So another option I have, given that I paid more attention in my computer science classes that my calculus classes in college, is to take my differential equation and use it as the basis for a simulation. If I know the starting velocity and the acceleration of my tennis ball, then I can easily write a little for-loop, perhaps in Python, that iterates through my problem second by second and tells me what the velocity will be at any given second after the initial time. Once I’ve done that, I could tweak my for-loop so that it also uses the calculated velocity to update the height of the ball on each iteration. Now I can run my Python simulation and figure out when the ball will come back down. My simulation won’t be perfectly accurate, but I can decrease the size of the time step if I need more accuracy. All I am trying to accomplish anyway is to figure out if the ball will come back down while I am still alive.

This is the numerical approach to solving a differential equation. It is how differential equations are solved in practice in most fields where they arise. Computers are indispensable here, because the accuracy of the simulation depends on us being able to take millions of small little steps through our problem. Doing this by hand would obviously be error-prone and take a long time.

So what if I were not just standing in a vacuum with a tennis ball but were standing in a vacuum with a tennis ball in, say, 1936? I still want to automate my computation, but Claude Shannon won’t even complete his master’s thesis for another year yet (the one in which he casually implements Boolean algebra using electronic circuits). Without digital computers, I’m afraid, we have to go analog.

The Differential Analyzer

The first differential analyzer was built between 1928 and 1931 at MIT by Vannevar Bush and Harold Hazen. Both men were engineers. The machine was created to tackle practical problems in applied mathematics and physics. It was supposed to address what Bush described, in a 1931 paper about the machine, as the contemporary problem of mathematicians who are “continually being hampered by the complexity rather than the profundity of the equations they employ.”

A differential analyzer is a complicated arrangement of rods, gears, and spinning discs that can solve differential equations of up to the sixth order. It is like a digital computer in this way, which is also a complicated arrangement of simple parts that somehow adds up to a machine that can do amazing things. But whereas the circuitry of a digital computer implements Boolean logic that is then used to simulate arbitrary problems, the rods, gears, and spinning discs directly simulate the differential equation problem. This is what makes a differential analyzer an analog computer—it is a direct mechanical analogy for the real problem.

How on earth do gears and spinning discs do calculus? This is actually the easiest part of the machine to explain. The most important components in a differential analyzer are the six mechanical integrators, one for each order in a sixth-order differential equation. A mechanical integrator is a relatively simple device that can integrate a single input function; mechanical integrators go back to the 19th century. We will want to understand how they work, but, as an aside here, Bush’s big accomplishment was not inventing the mechanical integrator but rather figuring out a practical way to chain integrators together to solve higher-order differential equations.

A mechanical integrator consists of one large spinning disc and one much smaller spinning wheel. The disc is laid flat parallel to the ground like the turntable of a record player. It is driven by a motor and rotates at a constant speed. The small wheel is suspended above the disc so that it rests on the surface of the disc ever so slightly—with enough pressure that the disc drives the wheel but not enough that the wheel cannot freely slide sideways over the surface of the disc. So as the disc turns, the wheel turns too.

The speed at which the wheel turns will depend on how far from the center of the disc the wheel is positioned. The inner parts of the disc, of course, are rotating more slowly than the outer parts. The wheel stays fixed where it is, but the disc is mounted on a carriage that can be moved back and forth in one direction, which repositions the wheel relative to the center of the disc. Now this is the key to how the integrator works: The position of the disc carriage is driven by the input function to the integrator. The output from the integrator is determined by the rotation of the small wheel. So your input function drives the rate of change of your output function and you have just transformed the derivative of some function into the function itself—which is what we call integration!

If that explanation does nothing for you, seeing a mechanical integrator in action really helps. The principle is surprisingly simple and there is no way to watch the device operate without grasping how it works. So I have created a visualization of a running mechanical integrator that I encourage you to take a look at. The visualization shows the integration of some function into its antiderivative while various things spin and move. It’s pretty exciting.

A nice screenshot of my visualization, but you should check out the real thing!

So we have a component that can do integration for us, but that alone is not enough to solve a differential equation. To explain the full process to you, I’m going to use an example that Bush offers himself in his 1931 paper, which also happens to be essentially the same example we contemplated in our earlier discussion of differential equations. (This was a happy accident!) Bush introduces the following differential equation to represent the motion of a falling body:

This is the same equation we used to model the motion of our tennis ball, only Bush has used in place of and has added another term that accounts for how air resistance will decelerate the ball. This new term describes the effect of air resistance on the ball in the simplest possible way: The air will slow the ball’s velocity at a rate that is proportional to its velocity (the here is some proportionality constant whose value we don’t really care about). So as the ball moves faster, the force of air resistance will be stronger, further decelerating the ball.

To configure a differential analyzer to solve this differential equation, we have to start with what Bush calls the “input table.” The input table is just a piece of graphing paper mounted on a carriage. If we were trying to solve a more complicated equation, the operator of the machine would first plot our input function on the graphing paper and then, once the machine starts running, trace out the function using a pointer connected to the rest of the machine. In this case, though, our input is just the constant , so we only have to move the pointer to the right value and then leave it there.

What about the other variables and ? The variable is our output as it represents the height of the ball. It will be plotted on graphing paper placed on the output table, which is similar to the input table only the pointer is a pen and is driven by the machine. The variable should do nothing more than advance at a steady rate. (In our Python simulation of the tennis ball problem as posed earlier, we just incremented in a loop.) So the variable comes from the differential analyzer’s motor, which kicks off the whole process by rotating the rod connected to it at a constant speed.

Bush has a helpful diagram documenting all of this that I will show you in a second, but first we need to make one more tweak to our differential equation that will make the diagram easier to understand. We can integrate both sides of our equation once, yielding the following:

The terms in this equation map better to values represented by the rotation of various parts of the machine while it runs. Okay, here’s that diagram:

The differential analyzer configured to solve the problem of a falling body in one dimension.

The input table is at the top of the diagram. The output table is at the bottom-right. The output table here is set up to graph both and , i.e. height and velocity. The integrators appear at the bottom-left; since this is a second-order differential equation, we need two. The motor drives the very top rod labeled . (Interestingly, Bush referred to these horizontal rods as “buses.”)

That leaves two components unexplained. The box with the little in it is a multiplier respresnting our proportionality constant . It takes the rotation of the rod labeled and scales it up or down using a gear ratio. The box with the symbol is an adder. It uses a clever arrangement of gears to add the rotations of two rods together to drive a third rod. We need it since our equation involves the sum of two terms. These extra components available in the differential analyzer ensure that the machine can flexibly simulate equations with all kinds of terms and coefficients.

I find it helpful to reason in ultra-slow motion about the cascade of cause and effect that plays out as soon as the motor starts running. The motor immediately begins to rotate the rod labeled at a constant speed. Thus, we have our notion of time. This rod does three things, illustrated by the three vertical rods connected to it: it drives the rotation of the discs in both integrators and also advances the carriage of the output table so that the output pen begins to draw.

Now if the integrators were set up so that their wheels are centered, then the rotation of rod would cause no other rods to rotate. The integrator discs would spin but the wheels, centered as they are, would not be driven. The output chart would just show a flat line. This happens because we have not accounted for the initial conditions of the problem. In our earlier Python simulation, we needed to know the initial velocity of the ball, which we would have represented there as a constant variable or as a parameter of our Python function. Here, we account for the initial velocity and acceleration by displacing the integrator discs by the appropriate amount before the machine begins to run.

Once we’ve done that, the rotation of rod propagates through the whole system. Physically, a lot of things start rotating at the same time, but we can think of the rotation going first to integrator II, which combines it with the acceleration expression calculated based on and then integrates it to get the result . This represents the velocity of the ball. The velocity is in turn used as input to integrator I, whose disc is displaced so that the output wheel rotates at the rate . The output from integrator I is our final output , which gets routed directly to the output table.

One confusing thing I’ve glossed over is that there is a cycle in the machine: Integrator II takes as an input the rotation of the rod labeled , but that rod’s rotation is determined in part by the output from integrator II itself. This might make you feel queasy, but there is no physical issue here—everything is rotating at once. If anything, we should not be surprised to see cycles like this, since differential equations often describe rates of change in a function as a function of the function itself. (In this example, the acceleration, which is the rate of change of velocity, depends on the velocity.)

With everything correctly configured, the output we get is a nice graph, charting both the position and velocity of our ball over time. This graph is on paper. To our modern digital sensibilities, that might seem absurd. What can you do with a paper graph? While it’s true that the differential analyzer is not so magical that it can write out a neat mathematical expression for the solution to our problem, it’s worth remembering that neat solutions to many differential equations are not possible anyway. The paper graph that the machine does write out contains exactly the same information that could be output by our earlier Python simulation of a falling ball: where the ball is at any given time. It can be used to answer any practical question you might have about the problem.

The differential analyzer is a preposterously cool machine. It is complicated, but it fundamentally involves nothing more than rotating rods and gears. You don’t have to be an electrical engineer or know how to fabricate a microchip to understand all the physical processes involved. And yet the machine does calculus! It solves differential equations that you never could on your own. The differential analyzer demonstrates that the key material required for the construction of a useful computing machine is not silicon but human ingenuity.

Murdering People

Human ingenuity can serve purposes both good and bad. As I have mentioned, the highest-profile use of differential analyzers historically was to calculate artillery range tables for the US Army. To the extent that the Second World War was the “Good Fight,” this was probably for the best. But there is also no getting past the fact that differential analyzers helped to make very large guns better at killing lots of people. And kill lots of people they did—if Wikipedia is to be believed, more soldiers were killed by artillery than small arms fire during the Second World War.

I will get back to the moralizing in a minute, but just a quick detour here to explain why calculating range tables was hard and how differential analyzers helped, because it’s nice to see how differential analyzers were applied to a real problem. A range table tells the artilleryman operating a gun how high to elevate the barrel to reach a certain range. One way to produce a range table might be just to fire that particular kind of gun at different angles of elevation many times and record the results. This was done at proving grounds like the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. But producing range tables solely through empirical observation like this is expensive and time-consuming. There is also no way to account for other factors like the weather or for different weights of shell without combinatorially increasing the necessary number of firings to something unmanageable. So using a mathematical theory that can fill in a complete range table based on a smaller number of observed firings is a better approach.

I don’t want to get too deep into how these mathematical theories work, because the math is complicated and I don’t really understand it. But as you might imagine, the physics that governs the motion of an artillery shell in flight is not that different from the physics that governs the motion of a tennis ball thrown upward. The need for accuracy means that the differential equations employed have to depart from the idealized forms we’ve been using and quickly get gnarly. Even the earliest attempts to formulate a rigorous ballistic theory involve equations that account for, among other factors, the weight, diameter, and shape of the projectile, the prevailing wind, the altitude, the atmospheric density, and the rotation of the earth1.

So the equations are complicated, but they are still differential equations that a differential analyzer can solve numerically in the way that we have already seen. Differential analyzers were put to work solving ballistics equations at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1935, where they dramatically sped up the process of calculating range tables.2 Nevertheless, during the Second World War, the demand for range tables grew so quickly that the US Army could not calculate them fast enough to accompany all the weaponry being shipped to Europe. This eventually led the Army to fund the ENIAC project at the University of Pennsylvania, which, depending on your definitions, produced the world’s first digital computer. ENIAC could, through rewiring, run any program, but it was constructed primarily to perform range table calculations many times faster than could be done with a differential analyzer.

Given that the range table problem drove much of the early history of computing even apart from the differential analyzer, perhaps it’s unfair to single out the differential analyzer for moral hand-wringing. The differential analyzer isn’t uniquely compromised by its military applications—the entire field of computing, during the Second World War and well afterward, advanced because of the endless funding being thrown at it by the United States military.

Anyway, I think the more interesting legacy of the differential analyzer is what it teaches us about the nature of computing. I am surprised that the differential analyzer can accomplish as much as it can; my guess is that you are too. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of computing as the realm of what can be realized with very fast digital circuits. In truth, computing is a more abstract process than that, and electronic, digital circuits are just what we typically use to get it done. In his paper about the differential analyzer, Vannevar Bush suggests that his invention is just a small contribution to “the far-reaching project of utilizing complex mechanical interrelationships as substitutes for intricate processes of reasoning.” That puts it nicely.

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Previously on TwoBitHistory…

  1. Alan Gluchoff. “Artillerymen and Mathematicians: Forest Ray Moulton and Changes in American Exterior Ballistics, 1885-1934.” Historia Mathematica, vol. 38, no. 4, 2011, pp. 506–547.,

  2. Karl Kempf. “Electronic Computers within the Ordnance Corps,” 1961, accessed April 6, 2020,

A differential analyzer is a mechanical, analog computer that can solve differential equations. Differential analyzers aren’t used anymore because even a cheap laptop can solve the same equations much faster—and can do it in the background while you stream the new season of Westworld on HBO. Before the invention of digital computers though, differential analyzers allowed mathematicians to make calculations that would not have been practical otherwise.

NGC 1672: Barred Spiral Galaxy from Hubble

Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers.  Many spiral galaxies have bars across their centers.