Building beauty with biology

‘It’s a different type of beauty that’s hard for humans to make on their own’: generating art by ‘crossbreeding’ images

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Final thoughts

Do deathbed regrets give us a special insight into what really matters in life? There are good reasons to be sceptical

By Neil Levy

Read at Aeon

AFDLOX March 8, 2:26am

FXUS66 KLOX 081026 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 226 AM PST Mon Mar 8 2021 .SYNOPSIS...07/832 PM. A strengthening onshore flow will cool temperatures and increase overnight and morning low clouds and fog. A cold storm system will bring gusty winds, rain, and low elevation snow to the region late Tuesday through Thursday. Temperatures will warm to near normal next weekend.

Emergent Ventures winners,13th cohort

Kenny Workman, building tools for computational biology.

Brianna GoPaul, “17 y/o learning fusion energy.”

Justin Glibert, from Belgium near Liege, nanotechnology and cryptography and space manufacturing.

Andrew Tate Young, custom audio from blogs, and to create audiobooks from science information in the public domain.

Rasheed Griffith, Barbados, podcast on China in the Caribbean, and Substack on the same.

Michael Trinh of Toronto, synthetic biology and immunology, general career development.

Austin Diamond, general career development.

Trevor Chow, from Hong Kong now at Cambridge studying economics and monetary policy, here is his blog.

Lea Degen, from southern Germany now in San Francisco, podcasting and general career support, more here.

A splendid cohort, we are honored to have you as winners, and here are previous Emergent Ventures cohorts.

The post Emergent Ventures winners,13th cohort appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

AFDSGX March 7, 9:31pm

FXUS66 KSGX 080531 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 930 PM PST Sun Mar 7 2021 .SYNOPSIS... This weeks weather will be cool and unsettled with periods of rain, mountain snow, and gusty winds. Some light rain is possible tonight into Monday morning over the coastal basin, but the steadier and more widespread precipitation will arrive Tuesday evening and Wednesday as a large storm makes its way into Southern California. Showers will continue Thursday, then taper off Friday. Temperatures will be well below normal by midweek, but as the storm departs, drier and somewhat warmer weather will return for the weekend.

From Sunlight to Starlight

Even after the Sun has set over ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, the site is not truly dark. Although light pollution is practically non-existent at the remote site high up in the Atacama Desert, as daylight disappears the flowing dunes are instead illuminated by the dazzling light streaming from the stars above. The only artificial illumination for miles around comes from Paranal’s facilities, including the telescopes themselves and the Residencia, photographed here.

A true oasis in the desert, the Residencia is a refuge from the harsh environment of the Atacama. The astronomers and other employees who work at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, located just a few kilometres down the road and home to ESO’s Very Large Telescope, can escape the arid environment after a long shift and enjoy a walk through the indoor garden or a dip in the swimming pool. The Residencia’s striking visual design is complemented by its world-leading environmental innovations, including careful power and waste management, and a huge 35-metre glass dome on the roof to allow natural star and sunlight into the building. As an added bonus, the view from the windows is pretty good too!

Links

Sunday Night Futures

Weekend:
Schedule for Week of March 7, 2021

The Employment Situation is Far Worse than the Unemployment Rate Indicates

Monday:
• No major economic releases scheduled.

From CNBC: Pre-Market Data and Bloomberg futures S&P 500 futures are up 22 and DOW futures are up 216 (fair value).

Oil prices were up over the last week with WTI futures at $67.31 per barrel and Brent at $70.53 per barrel. A year ago, WTI was at $31, and Brent was at $35 - so WTI oil prices are UP more than double year-over-year (oil prices collapsed at the beginning of the pandemic).

Here is a graph from Gasbuddy.com for nationwide gasoline prices. Nationally prices are at $2.77 per gallon. A year ago prices were at $2.36 per gallon, so gasoline prices are up $0.41 per gallon year-over-year.

March 7 COVID-19 Test Results and Vaccinations; Over 90 Million Doses Administered

SPECIAL NOTE: The Covid Tracking Project ends today (March 7th). Awesome job. Starting tomorrow, I will post from different sources.

From Bloomberg on vaccinations as of Mar 7th:
"In the U.S., more Americans have now received at least one dose than have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. So far, 90.4 million doses have been given. In the last week, an average of 2.16 million doses per day were administered."
Here is the CDC COVID Data Tracker. This site has data on vaccinations, cases and more.

The US has averaged 1.4 million tests per day over the last week.  The percent positive over the last 7 days was 4.1%.

Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to below 1%, so the US has far too many daily cases - and percent positive - to do effective test-and-trace.

There were 1,156,241 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 41,265 positive tests.

Almost 12,000 US deaths have been reported in March. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. (updated link to new site)

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

This graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported and daily hospitalizations. 

The dashed line is the post-summer surge low for hospitalizations.

Sunday assorted links

The post Sunday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Three Tails of Comet NEOWISE

What created the unusual red tail in Comet NEOWISE? What created the unusual red tail in Comet NEOWISE?


Allan McDonald

Remembering Allan McDonald: He Refused To Approve Challenger Launch, Exposed Cover-Up, NPR

"Now, 35 years after Challenger, McDonald's family reports that he died Saturday in Ogden, Utah, after suffering a fall and brain damage. He was 83 years old. "There are two ways in which [McDonald's] actions were heroic," recalls Mark Maier, who directs a leadership program at Chapman University and produced a documentary about the Challenger launch decision. "One was on the night before the launch, refusing to sign off on the launch authorization and continuing to argue against it," Maier says. "And then afterwards in the aftermath, exposing the cover-up that NASA was engaged in."

Links 3/7/21

Links for you. Science:

Brazil’s ‘Upside-Down’ Forest Is Facing Devastating Destruction
Is more simply better? Why Pfizer thinks a booster of its Covid vaccine might work against new variants
This complex microbial warfare is taking place in a single drop of water
Why Opening Windows Is a Key to Reopening Schools
People Who Have Had Covid Should Get Single Vaccine Dose, Studies Suggest

Other:

The Useful Idiot: Why We’re Not Done With Trump Yet
‘They got back to us’: How one school built trust and got reluctant parents to return
New York Times Columnist David Brooks Blogged For Facebook’s Corporate Site
How Does the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Compare to Other Coronavirus Vaccines? 4 Questions Answered
Andrew Cuomo Is Finished
Not One Republican Asked Deb Haaland About Her Vision For Indian Country
Debra Haaland as interior secretary — a champion for the land
Here’s Why Conservatives Are Always Saying The Name Of The Democratic Party Wrong
Bernie Sanders wants you to know the high cost of our low minimum wage
What the Neera Tanden affair reveals about the Washington DC swamp
Resign, Andrew Cuomo
Andrew Cuomo’s Bullying Has Finally Caught Up To Him
Now Ted Cruz may be buying his own books through a mystery company (seems to be a time-honored Texan tradition!)
The designer behind one of the iPad’s biggest apps is calling for an end to minimalism
Joe Biden says his hands are tied on a $15 minimum wage. That’s not true
Teachers Unions Aren’t the Obstacle to Reopening Schools
Trump Was Bored By His Own Speech Until He Got to the Revenge List
Sputtering GOP opposition has given Democrats a big opening. Will they take it?
Trump’s Delusional Attacks on H.R. 1 Show How Important This Bill Is
Fencing Comes Down At St. John’s Church, Lafayette Park, After Nearly Nine Months (now liberate Lafayette Square)
Republicans Are Trying to Kill What’s Left of the Voting Rights Act

w/e 2020-03-07

Hi! How are you? … Fine thanks.


§ I was looking forward to the release of adult mom’s new album Driver, and on Friday it was released, and now I am liking it. It’s nice when things work out. Here’s a track from it:

Photo 0f one person on a stage with an acoustic guitar, lit from behind with purple lights, the heads of a crowd watching her.

In the olden days of 2019 I enjoyed watching them playing to a few dozen people clustered round an outdoor stage in the late afternoon drizzle. They were very good.


§ When we were replacing the roof of the log shed last week we ran out of special nails but now we have more. I’m pleased to report that in finishing the job nearly all of my nails went in straight. The two that bent I’m putting down to there being something “wrong” with that bit of wood. It’s technical, you probably wouldn’t understand.

In parallel with people who post questions to r/django or wherever starting, “I’m learning Django and I want to make Facebook…”, I’m confident that because I can (mostly) hammer nails straight I’m probably ready to self-build a house. I think that’s how this works.


§ When we go for walks round here we’ve usually stuck to the roads, which mark out the square-ish borders of groups of fields. Most of the footpaths, especially close to us, led from one road, across a field, to another road, so while it’s a nice change it’s not exactly exploring wild countryside.

Today we went a bit further afield and followed some footpaths that, while they still lead from one road, across fields, to another road, have a lot more fields in the middle bit. At a couple of points I was struck by how it felt exactly like aspects of playing a game like Uncharted or The Last of Us.

“The paths led us to this deserted-looking farm, where now? I can’t see any signs. It looks like maybe we’re supposed to go this way… no, doesn’t look like there’s anything in that corner. How about round the back of this barn? Hmm, just lots of old machinery, I don’t think there’s a path. Let’s try that first route again, it felt like we’re supposed to go that way… oh, yes! Now I can see it’s not a dead end but the hedge leads around to a hidden stile! OK, over here and then up ahead I think that’s a tiny bridge over a river…”

I’m sure that parents saying to kids, “Let’s go for a long walk, it’ll be just like one of your computer games!” has always been a 100% successful tactic that has never lead to disappointment.


§ When I was very young I was fascinated by the squeegees that window cleaners used. Apparently I was leading such an uneventful life that it seemed miraculous that this little device could make water disappear and leave behind spotless windows!

I never had ambitions to be a window cleaner — let’s be realistic — but part of me has always yearned, yes yearned, for a great squeegee. We’ve owned a couple of small ones before but they weren’t great. This cheap Addis kit, for example, is sort of adequate, except it’s all a bit flimsy, the pole is way too short for anything but the ground floor, and the sponge soon starts coming out of the washer.

However, now, more than forty years after I first saw a quality squeegee working its miracles, I am proud – no, humbled – to announce that we have taken delivery of a professional window cleaning squeegee by Unger, along with a washer, pole and bucket, and I have cleaned the windows.

A photo of a metal squeegee with a green plastic handle. In the background, sitting on the grass, are a green rectangular bucket, and green-and-white-striped washer, and a metal pole with green plastic fittings.

Dreams can come true!


§ I think we’ll all be pleased when it’s possible to do stuff again and things like this aren’t one of the week’s big events.


§ We’ve been watching the final two seasons of Justified which continued to be very enjoyable. Sometimes there were almost too many people conspiring against, and double-crossing, each other to quite keep track of what was happening but it didn’t really matter – it was always a fun ride.

Obviously, I’ve become increasingly aware over recent years that lawmen-who-don’t-play-by-the-rules-just-to-get-the-job-done are, actually, problematic in real life. But still, it was fun?


§ We also watched Black Panther this weekend. Some time ago I decided superhero movies weren’t worth me spending £15 (or whatever) on at the cinema. But maybe they’re still worth me spending a couple of hours of my time sitting on my sofa?

I can see that if you like lots of fighting occasionally interrupted with exposition then Black Panther is certainly a well-done example of that kind of fairground ride. As with all the others, I just never cared what happened.


§ Most of the daffodils that started showing their faces have now gone back to bed for a while and that sounds like an excellent idea.


Read comments or post one

Atoms

My thanks to Atoms for sponsoring last week at DF. Atoms is best known for their everyday shoes. Last year, they expanded into face masks. The shoes are cool-looking and very comfortable; the masks are long-lasting and breathable, with a polyester blend outer layer and a copper-lined ionized quartz yarn inner layer offering 85 percent filtration.

At the moment, though, they’re largely sold out.

They’re sold out because Atoms co-founder Sidra Qasim told an 11-part story for the Instagram account Humans of New York that went hyper-viral, and thousands of people who loved her story wound up at the Atoms website buying shoes. It’s a wonderful story — deeply personal, about growing up in Pakistan, building her own life and destiny, and creating a business. A tidbit, from the early days, while she and co-founder (and eventually husband) Waqas Ali were still in Pakistan:

We called our collection “Hometown Shoes.” And after we launched our website, the first order came in right away. It was from a person in France who’d been following our story on social media.

Because we had no way of accepting credit cards, he sent us $85 through Western Union. It was a very big moment for us. We had finally discovered a business that would work. But our excitement only lasted until we got to FedEx, and learned that shipping would cost $120. We were torn about what to do. We considered giving the man a refund, but we had been reading so much about customer service. So we ended up shipping the shoes. It was not a promising start. We’d lost a lot of money on our very first sale.

Anyone who’s ever launched any new product can sympathize.

I (and Atoms) encourage you to read her story. It’s so good. And you can pre-order shoes and masks while they get them back in stock — orders placed now should ship by the end of April.

 ★ 

Vaccinations, in absolute terms

The post Vaccinations, in absolute terms appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

To Whom?

Observed at the corner of 18th and Q Streets NW, Dupont Circle, D.C.:

Much respect

The Employment Situation is Far Worse than the Unemployment Rate Indicates

The headline unemployment rate of 6.2% significantly understates the current situation. 

Here is a table that shows the current number of unemployed and the unemployment rate (as of February 2021). 

Then I calculated the unemployment rate by including the number of people that have left the labor force since early 2020, and the expected growth in the labor force.

 Unemployment
Rate
Unemployed
(000s)
Left
Labor
Force
(000s)
Expected
Labor
Force
Growth
(000s)
Adjusted
Unemployment
Rate
Jul-2010.2%16,3084,37060012.9%
Aug-208.4%13,5423,63770010.8%
Sep-207.8%12,5354,37780010.7%
Oct-206.9%11,0493,7379009.5%
Nov-206.7%10,7283,9191,0009.5%
Dec-206.7%10,7363,8881,1009.5%
Jan-216.3%10,1304,2941,2009.4%
Feb-216.2%9,9724,2441,3009.4%

As the economy recovers, many of the people that left the labor force will probably return, and there will likely be more entrants into the labor force (although recent demographic data has been dismal).

Fed Chair Powell made a similar argument last month: Getting Back to a Strong Labor Market Excerpt:
Employment in January of this year was nearly 10 million below its February 2020 level, a greater shortfall than the worst of the Great Recession's aftermath.

After rising to 14.8 percent in April of last year, the published unemployment rate has fallen relatively swiftly, reaching 6.3 percent in January. But published unemployment rates during COVID have dramatically understated the deterioration in the labor market. Most importantly, the pandemic has led to the largest 12-month decline in labor force participation since at least 1948.  Fear of the virus and the disappearance of employment opportunities in the sectors most affected by it, such as restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues, have led many to withdraw from the workforce. At the same time, virtual schooling has forced many parents to leave the work force to provide all-day care for their children. All told, nearly 5 million people say the pandemic prevented them from looking for work in January. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that many unemployed individuals have been misclassified as employed. Correcting this misclassification and counting those who have left the labor force since last February as unemployed would boost the unemployment rate to close to 10 percent in January.
emphasis added
Powell Unemployment Rate Click on graph for larger image.

This graph from the Fed shows the actually unemployment rate and some alternative estimates (mostly due to people leaving the labor force).

It would be a mistake to just look at the headline unemployment rate to assess the current situation.

The following graph - that I post each month - show the percent decline in employment since the start of each recession since WWII.

Employment Recessions, Scariest Job ChartThe second graph shows the job losses from the start of the employment recession, in percentage terms.

The current employment recession was by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms.

At the worst of the Great Recession, employment was down Down 6.29% from the previous peak.

Currently employment is down 6.21% - the current unemployment situation is about the same as the worst of the Great Recession (and there was no pandemic to contend with in 2009).

Deferred Acceptance with Compensation Chains by Piotr Dworzak

 Here's an interesting look at deferred acceptance algorithms, published online early in Operations Research 

Deferred Acceptance with Compensation Chains  by Piotr Dworczak 

Published Online:18 Feb 2021https://doi.org/10.1287/opre.2020.2042

Abstract: I introduce a class of algorithms called deferred acceptance with compensation chains (DACC). DACC algorithms generalize the Gale–Shapley algorithm by allowing both sides of the market to make offers. The main result is a characterization of the set of stable matchings: a matching is stable if and only if it is the outcome of a DACC algorithm. The proof of convergence of DACC algorithms uses a novel technique based on a construction of a potential function.

“Emptied and threw the Tea into the Water”

On Sunday, 6 Mar 1774, as described yesterday, the brig Fortune carried 28 1/2 chests of tea into Boston harbor, along with “Gun-Powder, Duck and Hemp.”

“The next day,” Gov. Thomas Hutchinson wrote, “the vessel was haled to the wharffe, where the vessels lay which had the East India Company’s tea.” And we know what had happened to that tea the preceding December.

That same Monday, the Boston Gazette ran this calm and measured item:
Messi’rs Edes & Gill, PUBLISH THIS!

It is said that Capt. [Benjamin] Gorham who is just arrived from London, has brought Forty Chests of that baneful, detested, dutied Article TEA, shipped by the East-India Company, their Brokers or Employers, and consigned to HENRY LLOYD, Esq; of this Town, Merchant.

Justice to ourselves and to AMERICA—Justice even to the other Consignees—A Regard to our own Reputation and Honor—Every Obligation binds us most SOLEMNLY, at once to DETERMINE ABSOLUTELY to oppose its Landing—Experience has fully convinced us that the Governor and the Custom-House Officers concern’d will lay INSUPERABLE Bars in the Way of sending it back to London. The Consent of the Consignee to have it return’d would be to no Purpose, if he be waited upon to request it.

The SACHEMS must have a Talk upon this Matter—Upon THEM we depend to extricate us out of this fresh Difficulty; and to THEIR Decisions all the GOOD People will say, AMEN!
That dispatch got some factual details wrong—namely, the number of tea chests, who had sent them, and who was to receive them.

But the Whig newspaper was accurate in predicting the royal authorities would make no compromises to allow the tea to be returned to Britain.

The owners of the FortuneThomas Walley, Peter Boyer, and William Thompson—laid out what they were doing that Monday in the next Boston News-Letter. With Lloyd, who had been sent sixteen tea chests; Henry Bromfield, who owned much of the ship’s cargo; and Gorham they “applied to the Collector and Comptroller of the Customs, and unitedly requested a Qualification for the Vessel to return with the Tea.” Because otherwise, they declared, there was “Danger of this Tea’s being destroyed.”

The Customs officers replied:
it was absolutely contrary to their Duty, and therefore could not give any Papers to qualify the Vessel to go back; and that although no Report [legal notice of the arrival] had been then made, yet she could not go away without being liable to be seized, and that even if they should give a Clearance, she would inevitably be stopped by the Officers of the King’s Ships, who were also Custom-House Officers . . . moreover that she could not be reported that Day after two o’Clock, and if not reported within 24 Hours the Capt. as liable to a Penalty of £100 Sterling.
Seeing where his interest lay, Capt. Gorham quickly reported the ship’s arrival and “took out a Permit to unlade the Gun-Powder.” Everyone agreed that was a good idea.

As for further steps, Boston town clerk William Cooper wrote to the Brookline committee of correspondence, seeking to rebuild the united front that had formed the preceding December:
We think it our duty to acquaint you that a Brigantine Benjamin Gorham Master is just arrived from London with a quantity of Tea on board liable to a duty: We ask the favor of your Company at the Selectmens Chamber in Boston toMorrow afternoon 3. OClock in order for a joint consultation, relative to this matter——
As it turned out, that meeting became moot.

Evening fell. Illuminated pictures of the Boston Massacre shone out from the windows of Mary Clapham’s Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street. (That display had been postponed from the 5th because that fell on the eve of the Sabbath.) As I recounted back here, in 1774 there was a new image attacking Gov. Hutchinson and Chief Justice Peter Oliver.

Bostonians had spent weeks talking about what to do with the first three shiploads of tea. They had no patience left for the Fortune. In the words of a petition from shippers in London:
about Eight o’Clock in the Evening…a great Number of Persons all of whom were unknown to the Captain and many of them disguised and dressed and talking like Indians armed with Axes and Hatchets with Force and violence entered on Board the said Vessel and broke open the Hatches and proceeded to rummage the Hold and hoisted out Twenty eight Chests of Tea…upon the Deck of the said Vessel and there with Hatchets axes and Clubs broke open the said Chests and emptied and threw the Tea into the Water whereby the same was wholly lost and destroyed.
That was the lesser-known second Boston Tea Party on the night of 7 Mar 1774.

COMING UP: Discussing the “Indians.”

Imagine the Covid-19 Economy Before Zoom and Amazon

Unsettled Weather In the West; Above Average Temperatures in the Central U.S.

The Covid-19 relief bill

Is that what they should call it?  In any case, for all the bickering over inflation, the real news to me is that the Republicans just didn’t try very hard to fight it.  Partly they are left with few good arguments after their own fiscal profligacy.  Partly they are consumed with their own internal squabbles.  And partly their own pollsters/advisors told them the thing is going to be pretty popular, at least initially and perhaps always.

In my view, this is the watershed event for entering a new era of politics.  Polarization in the old sense peaked in 2011 or so.  I call the new regime “Democrats can get a lot done if they soft pedal it, veer away from the mood affiliation, pretend they do not control the presidency, and stick to ideas that are popular.”

We’ll see how long that lasts, but I think for at least another year.

The post The Covid-19 relief bill appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The new version of “throwing away the key” — our prison regulatory state is failing us

According to Arizona Department of Corrections whistleblowers, hundreds of incarcerated people who should be eligible for release are being held in prison because the inmate management software cannot interpret current sentencing laws.

KJZZ is not naming the whistleblowers because they fear retaliation. The employees said they have been raising the issue internally for more than a year, but prison administrators have not acted to fix the software bug. The sources said Chief Information Officer Holly Greene and Deputy Director Joe Profiri have been aware of the problem since 2019.

The Arizona Department of Corrections confirmed there is a problem with the software.

As of 2019, the department had spent more than $24 million contracting with IT company Business & Decision, North America to build and maintain the software program, known as ACIS, that is used to manage the inmate population in state prisons.

One of the software modules within ACIS, designed to calculate release dates for inmates, is presently unable to account for an amendment to state law that was passed in 2019.

Senate Bill 1310, authored by former Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, amended the Arizona Revised Statutes so that certain inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses could earn additional release credits upon the completion of programming in state prisons. Gov. Ducey signed the bill in June of 2019.

But department sources say the ACIS software is not still able to identify inmates who qualify for SB 1310 programming, nor can it calculate their new release dates upon completion of the programming.

“We knew from day one this wasn’t going to work” a department source said. “When they approved that bill, we looked at it and said ‘Oh, s—.’”

Here is the full story, via Zach Valenta.

The post The new version of “throwing away the key” — our prison regulatory state is failing us appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Perseverance makes its first drive on Mars

Mars 2020 rover tracks

WASHINGTON — NASA’s Perseverance rover has started moving on the Martian surface as project scientists prepare to send the rover toward the remnants of a river delta in search of signs of past life.

At a March 5 press briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, project officials said that the rover made its first movements since landing in Jezero Crater Feb. 18. The rover moved forward four meters, turned 150 degrees to the left, and then went back 2.5 meters.

“Our first drive went incredibly well,” said Anais Zarifian, Perseverance mobility test bed engineer, at the briefing. During the drive, the rover took images that showed the tracks left by its wheels. “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see wheel tracks.”

That first drive by the rover is part of ongoing checkouts of the rover and its suite of instruments. “We haven’t had any hardware issues. Everything has been working that we’ve been checking out,” said Robert Hogg, Perseverance deputy mission manager, at the briefing. “It’s actually been amazingly smooth.”

As engineers test the rover’s systems, scientists are planning the rover’s trek to a delta that is a high priority region for the rover to explore. Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance deputy project scientist, said at the briefing that they’ve mapped two potential paths from the landing site — which the mission has named Octavia E. Butler Landing after the science-fiction author — to the base of the delta.

“We’re right in the middle of conversations” with rover planners on the best route and how long it will take to get to the delta, she said. That includes weighing the terrain against science that can be done along the way: while one route is relatively smooth, it’s less scientifically interesting than the other route goes past some deposits that offer a preview of the delta.

That trip to the delta will take place after Perseverance deploys Ingenuity, the small helicopter attached to the rover’s undercarriage, and observes a series of flight tests Ingenuity performs scheduled to last 30 days. Hogg said engineers are still scouting for a location to perform those flight tests, using images from the rover.

“We’re still analyzing various areas to determine the best place to do that,” he said. “We hope to get the whole helicopter thing going before spring is over.” Once the flight tests are done, the rover will head toward the delta.

Engineers continue to test some of the rover’s systems, including those that will be used to collect samples. Hogg said commissioning of the sample collection system will be completed after the helicopter tests.

One of the primary goals of the Mars 2020 mission is to cache samples for later return to Earth. With Perseverance safely on the surface, NASA is moving ahead with aspects of future missions needed to return those samples. On March 4, NASA awarded Northrop Grumman a contract worth up to $84.5 million to provide the propulsion for the rocket, called the Mars Ascent Vehicle, that will carry the samples from the surface into Mars orbit. That vehicle will be flown to Mars on a lander mission scheduled for launch no earlier than 2026.

“We’ve been thinking on the science team about notional samples to collect in Jezero Crater for years now, and thinking about the potential for Mars sample return,” Stack Morgan said. Now, she said, they can see the actual rocks they may sample through the eyes of the rover. “We’re talking about real rocks now, and that’s so exciting for us on the science team.”

“This is one for the ages for JPL and NASA. We’ve been talking about this for decades,” Hogg said, even though it will still be at least a decade before those samples are back on Earth. “Even though it seems like a long time away, it’s going to pass in a blink of an eye.”

SpaceNews

March 6 COVID-19 Test Results and Vaccinations

SPECIAL NOTE: The Covid Tracking Project will end daily updates on March 7th.

From Bloomberg on vaccinations as of Mar 6th.
"In the U.S., more Americans have now received at least one dose than have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. So far, 87.9 million doses have been given. In the last week, an average of 2.16 million doses per day were administered."
Here is the CDC COVID Data Tracker. This site has data on vaccinations, cases and more.

The US has averaged 1.4 million tests per day over the last week.  The percent positive over the last 7 days was 4.2%.

Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to below 1%, so the US has far too many daily cases - and percent positive - to do effective test-and-trace.

There were 1,409,138 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 59,620 positive tests.

Over 11,000 US deaths have been reported in March. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. (updated link to new site)

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

This graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported and daily hospitalizations. 

The dashed line is the post-summer surge low for hospitalizations.

Here is your liberal art!

Dispatch from the fair days of spring.

Pillars of the Eagle Nebula in Infrared

Newborn stars are forming in the Eagle Nebula.  Newborn stars are forming in the Eagle Nebula.


Lawmakers ask Biden administration to keep oversight committees in the loop on space activities

WASHINGTON — The top House Republicans on the committee that oversees civil and commercial space are asking the Biden administration to update lawmakers on its plans regarding space security and space traffic management.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; and Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), ranking member of the committee’s space and aeronautics subcommittee, on March 5 asked the Defense and State Department for details on their plans to propose rules and protocols for space activities. 

In letters to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the lawmakers noted that their committee has for decades been “significantly involved in the development of rules of behavior in space” and intends to continue that involvement. 

Lucas and Babin asked for details regarding U.S. plans to draft language in response to a United Nations General Assembly resolution that calls for norms of responsible behavior in space. The lawmakers cited a Feb. 24 SpaceNews interview where Maj Gen DeAnna Burt, commander of U.S. Space Command’s Combined Force Component Command, discussed these initiatives. Burt said a code of conduct is necessary to keep space safe for civil, commercial and military operations.

The committee wants to make sure efforts to regulate space activities are coordinated with Congress as they “will have a significant impact on not only the future of U.S. government activities in space, but also the U.S. private space sector’s ability to continue to prosper.”

The letters also mention Biden’s “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” released last week which also expresses support for norms of behavior in space.

“Without coordination with the Congress and specifically the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, any proposal offered to the United Nations could create confusion, complicate the enactment of statutes implementing such proposals, and conflict with existing statutes, policies, and constitutional rights,” Lucas and Babin wrote.

They warned that “failure to keep Congress informed could also be viewed as an attempt to limit private sector activities and undermine the rights of U.S. citizens by using treaties to circumvent Congress’s Article 1 prerogatives.”

The committee asked DoD and State to submit by March 12 any proposed language or draft documents being prepared for formal presentation to the United Nations.

Space traffic management

In a separate letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Lucas and Babin requested updates on the administration’s plans to fund and staff the Office of Space Commerce.

The Trump administration in 2018 directed Commerce to take over space traffic management duties currently performed by the Defense Department, such as tracking the location of satellites and debris, and sharing that data with satellite operators in order to prevent collisions in orbit.

The committee asked Raimondo to provide by March 19 a detailed spending plan for the Office of Space Commerce, a list of the office’s employees and contractors and a description of their duties, a list of Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs employees and contractors, and any documents related to the transfer or potential transfer of employees or contractors between these two offices. 

SpaceNews

Book Review: "Not Necessarily Rocket Science" by Kellie Gerardi

Keith's note: I grew up in the late 1950s, the 1960s, and the early 1970s - alongside NASA and the world's space programs. As such, my generation mostly had to make things up as we went in terms of what a space career was and how to pursue one. Flash forward a third of a century and Kellie Gerardi's generation arrives.

Arthur C. Clarke once said that there was a pivot point in history. On one side are those people who were alive before space travel was real such that it only existed in fiction. And on the other side there were people born and raised when space travel was a reality. I do not recall a time when we did not explore space. For me - even from the age of 6 - it has always been profoundly real - and exciting.

Kellie's generation grew up in a world where sending people and robots into space was perfectly routine. Indeed, she grew up where the Voyager missions to the outer solar system and the famous 'Pale Blue dot' image were "history". It is hard for me to grasp that having been alive when it all happened, standing at JPL during the two Saturn encounters. Her society depends on space technology to function. For two thirds of her life, she has never known a time when there was not always someone living in space - 24/7/365. And her young daughter will never know a world where humans were confined to one planet.

So, Kellie wrote a book subtitled "Not Necessarily Rocket Science: A Beginners Guide To Life In The Space Age".

The Open Letter: ‘Call for a Full and Unrestricted International Forensic Investigation Into the Origins of COVID-19’

It’s very much worth reading the open letter signed by 26 scientists. (I’m linking here to the version hosted by The Wall Street Journal, but the type looks weirdly squished. The copy hosted by The New York Times looks better, but in their copy, none of the links are actually links — they’re just blue underlined text. Better to link to the typographically-flawed version that has the actual links. I’m hosting a copy for posterity as well.) From the letter:

Although the “collaborative” process of discovery mandated by the World Health Assembly in May 2020 was meant to enable a full examination of the origins of the pandemic, we believe that structural limitations built into this endeavor make it all but impossible for the WHO-convened mission to realize this aspiration.

Based on our analysis, and as confirmed by the global study convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese authorities, there is as yet no evidence demonstrating a fully natural origin of this virus. The zoonosis hypothesis, largely based on patterns of previous zoonosis events, is only one of a number of possible SARS-CoV-2 origins, alongside the research-related accident hypothesis.

In particular, we wish to raise public awareness of the fact that half of the joint team convened under that process is made of Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, that international members of the joint team had to rely on information the Chinese authorities chose to share with them, and that any joint team report must be approved by both the Chinese and international members of the joint team.

We have therefore reached the conclusion that the joint team did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into all the relevant SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses - whether natural spillover or laboratory/research- related incident.

We are also concerned that the joint team’s work has been inaccurately reported by the media as an independent investigation whose conclusions reflect those of the WHO. The February 9, 2021 Wuhan joint press conference was a good example of this misunderstanding. Although the findings were those of the joint team, they were widely reported as representing the WHO itself.

The letter goes on to describe what a truly full investigation would look like.

 ★ 

Alvin Singleton moments

Students from Curtis perform Singleton's cycle Argoru.

W.H.O. Investigators to Scrap Plans for Interim Report on Probe of COVID-19 Origins

Betsy McKay, Drew Hinshaw, and Jeremy Page, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

A World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19 is planning to scrap an interim report on its recent mission to China amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington over the investigation and an appeal from one international group of scientists for a new probe.

The group of two dozen scientists is calling in an open letter on Thursday for a new international inquiry. They say the WHO team that last month completed a mission to Wuhan — the Chinese city where the first known cases were found — had insufficient access to adequately investigate possible sources of the new coronavirus, including whether it slipped from a laboratory. […]

Beijing, meanwhile, is pressing for similar WHO-led missions to other countries, including the U.S., to investigate whether the virus could have originated outside China and spread to Wuhan via frozen food packaging.

Beijing calling for WHO-led missions to other countries in search of COVID’s origin is like O.J. Simpson’s vow to search for the “real killers” of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

 ★ 

Two Dozen Scientists Question W.H.O. Inquiry Into the Coronavirus Pandemic’s Origins, Press for Investigation Into Possible Lab Leak

James Gorman, reporting for The New York Times:

A small group of scientists and others who believe the novel coronavirus that spawned the pandemic could have originated from a lab leak or accident is calling for an inquiry independent of the World Health Organization’s team of independent experts sent to China last month. […]

The open letter, first reported in The Wall Street Journal and the French publication Le Monde, lists what the signers see as flaws in the joint W.H.O.-China inquiry, and state that it could not adequately address the possibility that the virus leaked from a lab. The letter further posits the type of investigation that would be adequate, including full access to records within China. […]

Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University and one of the scientists who signed the letter, said it grew out of a series of online discussions among scientists, policy experts and others who came to be known informally as the Paris group. […] He said that no one in the group thought that the virus had been intentionally created as a weapon, but they were all convinced that an origin in a lab through research or by accidental infection was as likely as a spillover occurring in nature from animals to humans.

I caught more flak after linking favorably to Nicholson Baker’s “The Lab Leak Hypothesis” cover story for New York magazine two months ago than anything I’ve posted in recent memory. But the lab-leak theory is looking more likely as time goes on, not less. And without question it ought to be investigated thoroughly — which is what the open letter is calling for.

A lot of the “facts” people think they know about the coronavirus’s origins just aren’t true. The whole thing about the virus jumping to humans from meat sold at a Wuhan “wet market”? Not true. The market was just the location of a super-spreader event. Pangolins — the scaly anteaters that were much publicized last year as the possible source? Now deemed unlikely.

It’s true there is no available evidence that COVID-19 leaked from a Wuhan lab, but there’s also no evidence that it originated zoonotically. With the original SARS coronavirus, investigators found animals suspected of spreading it to humans. It is curious, to say the least, that no animal source for COVID-19 has been found. It is also suspicious, to say the least, that the Chinese government is stymying any and all attempts to investigate the Wuhan virology labs.

 ★ 

Links 3/6/21

Links for you. Science:

The effectiveness of the first dose of BNT162b2 vaccine in reducing SARS-CoV-2 infection 13-24 days after immunization: real-world evidence
President Biden’s Science Policies Are…Good, Actually. And That’s Worth Celebrating.
Garden-variety germs may explode in COVID’s wake, study suggests
“We mustn’t spend a long time with a lot of virus circulating among a partially vaccinated population”
Where did COVID come from? Five mysteries that remain

Other:

Savvy
America’s Most Reliable Pandemic Data Are Now at Risk
CDC balks at watchdog’s push to remake Covid-19 tracking
D.C. Council Could Further Regulate Delivery Apps With New Fee Cap
“I’m Sorry,” Says Ro Khanna, “An Unelected Parliamentarian Does Not Get to Deprive 32 Million Americans the Wage Raise They Deserve.”
The NFT frenzy
Bernie Sanders unveils his Plan B for a $15 minimum wage after Senate parliamentarian setback
This isn’t over: COVID-19 numbers have plateaued at a level still higher than previous spikes
Secret Memo Shows How Harris Must Now Advance Minimum Wage Hike
Republicans Are Trying to Make the January 6 Disgrace Go Away
“Danger Warning”: Women Say Madison Cawthorn Harassed Them In College
The Coronavirus Is Threatening a Comeback. Here’s How to Stop It. (this was written before the recent leveling-off)
The Life and Death of the Dream Job
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine accidentally predicted the 2020s by writing about the 1990s (because we still haven’t done what we said we would do in the 1990s, so the problems just festered)
All Roads Lead to Beijing
Satanic Panics and the Death of Mythos
‘Look What You Did to Us’: The Big Chill of Texas Politics
The Republican Party Is Now in Its End Stages: The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
Several times a day I see people (often blue checkmark types) sharing Bloomberg, Post, NYT, data to show that 1) DC is doing a terrible job of % doses administered but also 2) DC is doing a great job of vaccinating its population relatively % wise. Both are not really true.
Biden’s COVID Plan Is Just a Beginning: The public health system needs wide-ranging reform to address weaknesses exposed by the pandemic
CPAC Was the Real Republican Party All Along

Square Is Buying Jay-Z’s Tidal Music Service for $300 Million

Peter Kafka, writing at Recode:

Here is the straight news headline: Square, the financial services company run by Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, is buying Tidal, the streaming music service founded by Jay-Z.

And here is the question you, a normal person, may have about this deal: WTF?

The answer, depending on how you’re inclined to look at deals between billionaires, could be intriguing, silly, or stupid. Maybe all of the above.

 ★ 

The new phrenology?

Ubiquitous facial recognition technology can expose individuals’ political orientation, as faces of liberals and conservatives consistently differ. A facial recognition algorithm was applied to naturalistic images of 1,085,795 individuals to predict their political orientation by comparing their similarity to faces of liberal and conservative others. Political orientation was correctly classified in 72% of liberal–conservative face pairs, remarkably better than chance (50%), human accuracy (55%), or one afforded by a 100-item personality questionnaire (66%). Accuracy was similar across countries (the U.S., Canada, and the UK), environments (Facebook and dating websites), and when comparing faces across samples. Accuracy remained high (69%) even when controlling for age, gender, and ethnicity. Given the widespread use of facial recognition, our findings have critical implications for the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

Here is more from Michal Kosinki, published in a journal which is an offshoot of Nature.

The post The new phrenology? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

At Least 30,000 U.S. Organizations Newly Hacked via Holes in Microsoft’s Email Software

Brian Krebs, Krebs on Security:

At least 30,000 organizations across the United States — including a significant number of small businesses, towns, cities and local governments — have over the past few days been hacked by an unusually aggressive Chinese cyber espionage unit that’s focused on stealing email from victim organizations, multiple sources tell KrebsOnSecurity. The espionage group is exploiting four newly-discovered flaws in Microsoft Exchange Server email software, and has seeded hundreds of thousands of victim organizations worldwide with tools that give the attackers total, remote control over affected systems. […]

In each incident, the intruders have left behind a “web shell,” an easy-to-use, password-protected hacking tool that can be accessed over the Internet from any browser. The web shell gives the attackers administrative access to the victim’s computer servers.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, two cybersecurity experts who’ve briefed U.S. national security advisors on the attack told KrebsOnSecurity the Chinese hacking group thought to be responsible has seized control over “hundreds of thousands” of Microsoft Exchange Servers worldwide — with each victim system representing approximately one organization that uses Exchange to process email.

Microsoft Windows and Exchange have always been insecure, and probably always will be. It’s amazing how many widely-publicized hacks you can ignore if you just never use Windows or use Exchange server software. The massive SolarWinds hack exposed last month only affected organizations running Microsoft’s IT infrastructure too.

 ★ 

Three Quick Links for Saturday Noonish

Andy Slavitt shared some texts he's gotten from people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19. [twitter.com]

The Dalai Lama got his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine today. [instagram.com]

"America, my emotional teenage girl, I love you." [nytimes.com]

---

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

Apple Discontinues the iMac Pro, Apple Store Says Buy ‘While Supplies Last’

Benjamin Mayo, reporting for 9to5Mac:

The iMac Pro does not seem to be long for this world as the Apple Store on Friday removed all build-to-order configurations for the product. The only model now available to buy is the $4999 base config and the Apple Store says that is only available ‘while supplies last’. Some other SKUs remain available at third-party retailers for the time being.

Stu Maschwitz, on Twitter:

My iMac Pro has been the most stable, reliable computer I’ve ever owned. The cooling system is a masterpiece. It’s lasted me over three years and shows no signs of needing replacement.

The cooling system of the iMac Pro is simply uncanny. I’d hold it up as the best Mac Apple made, period, of the entire Intel era. The best days for pro-level iMacs are ahead of us, though, I suspect.

 ★ 

Yours Truly Rapping at Length About Old Macs

Speaking of Jason Snell, he’s releasing extended versions of the extensive interviews he did last year for his excellent 20 Macs for 2020 series. Last month he started with a three-episode series with John Siracusa (1, 2, 3).

This week starts my turn. In the first one, we talk about the Power Mac G5, PowerBook Duo, PowerBook 500 and 5300, Blue-and-White Power Mac G3, DayStar Genesis MP, Mac Mini, Mac IIcx and IIci, and the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. (I could have done a whole hour on the IIci — what a remarkable machine that was.)

 ★ 

Saturday assorted links

The post Saturday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

In Case You Missed It…

…a week of Mad Biologist links:

Stag

The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: We Have Stalled Out

Green Lanternism and Changing the Game

COVID-19 and a Tale of Two Gyms

Two COVID-Related Data I Would Like to See

The Radical Centrists

Will Senators Keep America’s Promises to Pensioners?

Despite Federal Guarantee, Some Retirees Get Only 30% of  the Pensions They Earned; COVID-19 Relief Bill Would Fix That

Brian O’Connor

After years of failed attempts to bolster struggling multi-employer pension funds, help finally may be coming through via the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill.

The measure allocates an estimated $86 billion to ensure that pension plans in critical or declining condition can continue to pay full pension benefits to an estimated 1.3 million retired truckers, construction workers and others.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 now headed to the Senate includes provisions of the Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act of 2021. It is one of several attempts by Congress since 2013 to rescue multi-employer pension plans in danger of going under. With a number of plans facing insolvency in the next few years, the plan allows the government’s pension insurance agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., to make lump-sum paymen. That will allow failing plans to continue paying full benefits to retirees through 2051.

The legislation comes after years in which Congress allowed employers to put less money into the plans than was prudent, provided skimpy oversight, failed to enact laws to minimize bad investment choices and didn’t do much investigation of corrupt pension plan trustees. All these issues were reported on in the mainstream news and labor and specialty publications.

These guys gave up wages and worked so hard … because they knew they’d be able to retire with decent pensions.

Under the 2014 Kline-Miller Multiemployer Pension Reform Act, struggling pension funds were allowed to cut retiree payments. Many did by anywhere from 20% to as much as 70% to stay solvent. Money from the new rescue plan, if it passes the Senate, will allow those plans to restore full payments.

“In some plans, benefits already have been devastated,” said Karen Friedman, executive director of the nonprofit Pension Rights Center in Washington, D.C. “We’ve talked to people who had to sell their homes and experienced a lot of trauma in their later years.

“These are people who earned their benefits fair and square and gave up their hard-earned wages to get their pensions.”

What Critics Say

Republican critics in Congress have questioned why taxpayers should make up for losses. That’s an important question but, as framed, it ignores the role of Congress in failing to make sure the system was properly funded, prudently invested and competently managed.

Critics of the pension aid plan call it a simple bailout that just pushes pension problems off until 2051 and eliminates any pressure on Congress to bring about more comprehensive reforms for multi-employer plans. Some have suggested the support creates a moral hazard that could encourage plan administrators to ignore necessary changes to keep their plans solvent.

One big difference is that, unlike the huge tax cuts and new favors, like accelerated tax breaks for private jet owners in the debt-financed 2017 Trump/radical Republican tax law, this bill won’t make anyone rich.

“When we last looked, the average benefit payment was $11,000 a year, so we’re not talking about exorbitant payment amounts,” said Jean Pierre Aubry, assistant director of research at the Center Retirement Research at Boston College

ACTION BOX / What You Can Do About It

Tell your senators what you think about its responsibilities to pension plan participants.  To find contact information for your senators click here.

 

Multi-employer plans are agreements between a union and multiple employers who form an association. They were created to deliver lifetime retirement income to blue-collar employees in industries such as trucking and construction, where workers stayed in the trade for their entire careers but worked for a variety of different, often small, employers. The plans peaked in 1989 with more than 10 million members.

Faulty Assumptions

A key flaw in the multiemployer system was the assumption that even if some employers failed or withdrew, new employers and workers entering the plans would keep them solvent, along with the fact that the liability for pensions was spread among many companies. That approach assumes that as new workers come on board their labor subsidizes previous workers instead of requiring sufficient payments into the plan to fully cover the benefits earned by each worker as they get paid, along with a small extra reserve against companies that fold owing payments. Congress could have changed federal bankruptcy law to require that such payments get priority over some other debts, but that was never seriously considered.

The same underfunding problem afflicts many single-employer plans, which represent millions more participants. Some of those plans were so robustly funded and the money invested so well by employers that Congress, using a tax rule, barred them from contributing money earned during good times in the securities market. When the economy went south, as it always does, some of these companies couldn’t or didn’t pay enough into the plans, which left them even weaker.

For the multi-employer plans, shrinking union rolls, deregulation of several major industries and the financial crises of 2000 and 2007 all took their toll, especially as industrial jobs began to whither.

Companies withdrawing from a multi-employer plan were supposed to make a payment covering their liabilities, something bankrupt employers were unable to do. Growing pension costs had to be spread among fewer employers, discouraging new companies from joining the plans, a vicious cycle that undermined pension reliability despite the 1974 federal law intended to secure it.  The longer life spans of retirees, which few plans anticipated, plus bad times and bad investment decisions, further weakened the financial footing of many pension plans.

Running Out of Cash

Today, more than 10 million workers participate in multi-employer plans, with about 1.3 million in plans that are fast running out of cash. Only those plans that are in critical condition will receive cash infusions, giving managers an expected 30 years to put the plans back on solid financial footings. The Labor Department defines critical plans as those that are expected to run out of money in 20 years or less.

“We hope the dialogue about multi-employer pensions continues and is ongoing because this is only the first step,” said Sarah Bryan Fask, a pension law specialist with the Littler Mendelson law firm in Philadelphia.

Unresolved is a second key criticism of the rescue plan. Employers who leave a plan must still pay their entire liability as a condition of withdrawal without taking into account the cash infusion from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

“Requiring multi-employer funds to account for the subsidy they received in calculating an employer’s withdrawal liability immediately would be more fair than what’s in the current bill,” Fask told DCReport.

Still, no one is arguing that paying workers their full pension payments in an economy wracked by a global pandemic is a bad idea.

Friedman, the Pension Rights Center executive director, said, “The reasons these guys gave up wages and worked so hard wasn’t because they loved driving tractors through the country in rain and snow and sleet.

“It’s because they knew they’d be able to retire with decent pensions. The rug is being pulled out from under them.”

The bill pending before the Senate is the first step in that direction, but far from the last needed to ensure the viability of defined benefit retirement plans in America.

Brian O’Connor is a journalist specializing in personal finance.

Featured image: Pensions of United Airlines workers were taken over by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

 

The post Will Senators Keep America’s Promises to Pensioners? appeared first on DCReport.org.

“Chests of Bohea tea consigned to several persons”

At three o’clock in the afternoon of Sunday, 6 Mar 1774, Bostonians were jolted by the arrival of the brig Fortune.

More specifically, people were jolted by the news that that ship was carrying chests of tea. This was about ten weeks after the Boston Tea Party and about five weeks after local shopkeepers had agreed not to sell any tea.

Thomas Newell wrote in his diary for that day:
Captain Benjamin Gorham, nine weeks from London, brought 28 1/2 chests of Bohea tea consigned to several persons here.
Who were those “several persons”? Sixteen chests—more than half of the total—were consigned to Henry Lloyd (1709-1795), a wealthy Anglican merchant with relatives locally and on Long Island in New York. Those chests had been shipped to him by the London partnership of Monkhouse Davison and Abraham Newman, with insurance to the amount of £480 backed up five other London businessmen.

A letter to the Boston News-Letter identified “a principal Freighter in said Vessel” as “Mr. Bromfield”—the merchant Henry Bromfield (1727-1820). The Fortune carried a variety of cargo, so it’s possible Bromfield had no tea assigned to him, but it’s also possible he was supposed to receive up to 12 1/2 chests.

Three other businessmen also had a big financial interest in the situation: the owners of the Fortune, who were Thomas Walley, Peter Boyer, and William Thompson.

Thompson is hard to trace, not least because his name was so common. Walley and Boyer, on the other hand, were stalwart members of Boston’s mercantile and civic community. Walley had held town offices since 1763 while Boyer had served on town committees. Both those men dined with Boston’s Sons of Liberty in August 1769. They had signed most of the petitions and non-importation agreements of the past ten years.

What’s more, Boyer was one of the fifteen men whose names Paul Revere had engraved on the so-called “Sons of Liberty Bowl.” In 1770 the Boston town meeting had chosen Boyer for a committee “to draw up an Agreement for the Shopkeepers that have or do deal in Tea, not to dispose of any more of that Article untill the Revenue Acts are repealed.”

So how did those men’s ship end up carrying tea? That’s what they’d like to know, they said. In a 9 March letter to Richard Draper, printer of the Boston News-Letter, Walley, Boyer, and Thompson declared that back in September they had sent the Fortune to London “to have her sold.” They had told Capt. Gorham that if he couldn’t obtain their low asking price, he should bring back “a Quantity of Hemp on the Owners Account.”

As for tea, those three merchants said, they had been explicit in their instructions:
P.S. We are informed the India Company intend to ship a Quantity of Tea to this Place in private Ships,—if our brig should come back on Freight, we absolutely refuse to take on board any Tea for that Company, let the Offer be never so advantageous, or our Loss in the Sale of the Vessel never so great.
Yet the Fortune had returned with tea. Not shipped directly by the East India Company to its North American agents, but tea nonetheless. What‘s more, “a certain William Bowes, Brazier on Dock-Square,” was telling people that the ship’s owners had “imported a Quantity of Tea in that Vessel upon their own Account.” That they firmly denied.

But still, what could be done with the 28 1/2 chests of tea aboard the Fortune? For ten weeks people all over eastern Massachusetts had worked to keep all British tea out of the colony, even chests washed overboard in a shipwreck.

The situation was a powder keg—almost literally, since the Fortune was also carrying gunpowder.

TOMORROW: Attempts at official action.

Tom Schelling (who passed away in 2016) gets a Memorial Minute at Harvard

 From the Harvard Gazette, March 3, 2021

Thomas Crombie Schelling, 95.  Memorial Minute — Faculty of Arts and Sciences

submitted by Eric S. Maskin, Amartya Sen, Richard J. Zeckhauser, Benjamin M. Friedman

"Thomas C. Schelling taught at Harvard for 32 years, in the Department of Economics and in the Kennedy School. More than any other thinker, Schelling influenced the West’s conceptual approach to the nuclear dangers after World War II. He was an outstanding economist, but ordinary disciplinary boundaries could not contain his fertile mind. Schelling’s contributions interwove theoretical understanding and policy-relevant applications. He laid bare the underpinnings of such problems as nuclear deterrence, racial segregation, smoking, and climate change. Schelling eschewed mathematical expression; he wrote in plain but elegant English. He often developed ideas using examples from everyday life and then applied them to global issues. For instance, he illuminated the architecture of threats and promises first within the family and then in international affairs.

...

"The Nobel Prize committee wrote that Schelling’s insights proved “to be of great relevance for conflict resolution and efforts to avoid war,” and, unsurprisingly, he devoted his Nobel lecture to what he called the “nuclear taboo.”

"As the threat of nuclear war receded, Schelling applied his characteristic approach to other big problems. He analyzed the damage, to both the individual and society, of smoking and other personal addictions. He anticipated future work in behavioral economics and psychology with his working assumption that often what appears to be irrational behavior of an individual is instead a reflection of different aspects of that individual’s self. He probed the problem of racial segregation and showed how easily it can arise even if people have only a tiny preference for their own race. In his final decades, Schelling’s principal focus was climate change. That concern was not new for him; in 1980 he chaired the Ad Hoc Study Panel on Economic and Social Aspects of Carbon Dioxide Increase, under President Carter."

***********

Previous posts:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Schedule for Week of March 7, 2021

This will be a light week for economic data.

The key report scheduled for this week is February CPI.

----- Monday, Mar 8th -----

No major economic releases scheduled.

----- Tuesday, Mar 9th -----

6:00 AM ET: NFIB Small Business Optimism Index for February.

----- Wednesday, Mar 10th -----

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

8:30 AM: The Consumer Price Index for February from the BLS. The consensus is for a 0.4% increase in CPI, and a 0.2% increase in core CPI.

----- Thursday, Mar 11th -----

8:30 AM: The initial weekly unemployment claims report will be released.  The consensus is for a increase to 760 thousand from 745 thousand last week.

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey10:00 AM ET: Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for January from the BLS.

This graph shows job openings (yellow line), hires (purple), Layoff, Discharges and other (red column), and Quits (light blue column) from the JOLTS.

Jobs openings increased in December to 6.646 million from 6.572 million in November.

12:00 PM: Q4 Flow of Funds Accounts of the United States from the Federal Reserve.

----- Friday, Mar 12th -----

8:30 AM: The Producer Price Index for February from the BLS. The consensus is for a 0.4% decrease in PPI, and a 0.2% increase in core PPI.

10:00 AM: University of Michigan's Consumer sentiment index (Preliminary for March).

Detroit Fauci

The mayor of Detroit has turned down an allocation of the J&J vaccine.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan declined an initial allocation of the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine….”So, Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are the best. And I am going to do everything I can to make sure the residents of the city of Detroit get the best,” Duggan said during a news conference Thursday.

Sigh. What an error. Note, however, that the Detroit Mayor rejecting the J&J vaccine is exactly what the FDA has done with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Moreover none other than Anthony Fauci made exactly the same argument about AstraZeneca (an argument I criticized at the time):

But even if the vaccine ends up being approved, it will probably only have an efficacy of 60 to 70 percent. “What are you going to do with the 70 percent when you’ve got two (vaccines) that are 95 percent? Who are you going to give a vaccine like that to?” Anthony Fauci, the leading American expert on vaccines, recently wondered.

To be clear, I don’t blame Fauci for the actions of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. Duggan would probably have said the same had Fauci never made his error. Indeed, perhaps you might even read this as excusing Duggan (if even Fauci, “the leading American expert on vaccines”, could make this error then…).

Still, Fauci’s error has been much more costly for the United States.

Hat tip: JF.

The post Detroit Fauci appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

My Economics in Argumentation seminars job

You can trace my earlier jobs here, my next job, which I believe started at age nineteen, involved giving summer talks to high school debaters.  The program was called Economics in Argumentation, and it continues today in a much broader form under the name Economic Thinking, led by the excellent Gregory Rehmke, who was program leader back then as well.

The program was looking for someone who had debate experience (I debated for one year, my high school debate partner was the later economist and Fed governor Randall Kroszner), someone who was available, someone willing to fly around the whole country, someone affordable, someone who could relate to the high school students, and someone who knew enough economics.  That was me.

So I barnstormed for part of the summer, doing I would guess six to eight events a year?  I was paid $500 plus expenses for a weekend, typically to give a few talks on how to apply economics to the year’s debate topic.  One topic example was “the economics of arms sales,” and so in advance I had to spend a few months reading up on the topic of that year.  Other potential speakers were not so interested in doing that.

For my first talk, which was my very first public talk ever, I was nervous and disorganized, but after that I was fine and just consistently got better.  That is when and how I learned to give public presentations.  It was also my first time taking flights on a regular basis, and navigating new locations other than the immediate Atlantic seaboard/95 corridor.

Here are a few things I learned and some related memories:

1. I visited Seattle and Houston most frequently.  But I also went to Louisville, Grand Rapids, Wichita, a bunch of other Midwest places, and Los Angeles and San Francisco for the first time.  I learned what a great country America is, and I began to figure out how to travel.  I became acquainted with locales such as eastern Kansas, and would have not otherwise seen them, or realized how much I enjoy seeing them.  My knowledge base expanded rapidly.

2. Greg was super-nice to me throughout, and he has ended up being one of the people who helped me out most.  The money was useful but most of all the experience.  Greg had to put up with a lot of me, and he enjoyed mocking me (gently) for thinking (at first) that all restaurants around the United States were going to be serving chocolate ice cream.  Greg had formerly been a student of Paul Heyne’s at the University of Washington, so he had broadly Austrian and market-oriented views, and I fit into his programmatic vision very well.  (In fact most of what I was teaching I had learned from Heyne’s own book, which I read when I was fourteen.)  Plus going around with Greg was a lot of fun.  He is also a basketball fan, explained to me articulately exactly why Bill Walton was such a great player albeit briefly, and he taught me things like “if you are going to fly around the country, you need to have a credit card.”

3. High school debate coaches are in general a great and very dedicated group of educators.  The debate world back then was a kind of privatized appendage to the public school system, and it was a good refuge for people who really wanted to learn things.  They were also good audiences to practice upon, because a) they are used to considering all sides of an argument, and b) they judge presentations as such and apply fairly high but not obnoxious standards.  They also expect you to get to the point very quickly.

4. Giving the talks forced me to figure out what I thought economics really was all about.  Incentives and opportunity cost were the two ideas I pushed the hardest.  I tried to show the audience, through the application of concrete examples and arguments to the topic area, that those ideas were useful for formulating and responding to debate arguments.  I also encouraged them to think about secondary consequences in a more rigorous and systematic fashion, rather than just tacking them onto arguments for the sake of debate.

5. Here is a seven-minute excerpt from one of my talks.  I was younger then.

6. I had the chance to meet Paul Heyne when we visited Seattle, and in general met lots of interesting people along the way.

6b. I have a memory of driving around with Greg, finding a delicious Basque restaurant in Nevada.  But how did we end up in Nevada?

7. A number of other speakers for the program were graduate students in economics, and with debate backgrounds, yet I noticed immediately that they did not really think like economists.  They knew more neoclassical economics than I did, but somehow they were lifeless in their approaches and were not able to integrate the economic way of thinking with debate topics.  Some remain in the profession to this day.  It was important for me to learn just how much of the educated world fit into this category, one way or another.

8. Most of all this job required the energy to start, finish, and maintain each talk in a way that would command the attention of bright high school students.  They also respected preparation, so you had to come in knowing more than they did about the topic, but at the same time make the economics the primary focus.  Ultimately “show up and perform” is one of the job styles I am most comfortable with.

9. I felt I was getting a good deal overall, and wasn’t looking to demand a higher wage.  At the margin, I was more likely to ask for more events on the West Coast and in other good places.

10. Maybe I did this for three summers in a row?  (One of my successor speakers was Air Genius Gary Leff.)  Graduate school and then moving to Germany pulled my attention toward other endeavors.  But it was a job I loved, and a job that in modified form I still have to this day.

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★ iA Writer

Me, my favorite iOS app for writing in Markdown, without question, is iA Writer. Jason Snell has it on his aforelinked shortlist, but dings it for its lack of extensibility. The truth is I don’t do much of my writing on my iPad (and almost none on my iPhone) but when I am writing on my iPad, it’s generally something long, and I’m trying to focus. The right words for each sentence, sentences that snap together into paragraphs, paragraphs ordered properly into sections, sections that together form a complete piece. I don’t use any of iA Writer’s actual “focus mode” stuff, I just find iPadOS naturally better for focusing on a single task. So while I’d never consider using a Mac writing app that wasn’t richly scriptable and customizable, it’s not an issue for me on iPad.1

And iA Writer is just beautiful. To me it’s the gold standard for Markdown syntax styling — great colors, real italic and bold styling for *italic* and **bold** spans, and, my very favorite touch, outdented #’s for headings. iA Writer is even so presumptuous as to only use its own custom typefaces: Mono, Duo, and Quattro. But they pull it off — all three of iA Writer’s typefaces are very good (I’m a Duo man myself).

The best way I can put it is that iA Writer is a classy app. BBEdit and MarsEdit are like pint glasses or coffee mugs. Occasionally, though, the mood calls for an elegant champagne flute. That’s iA Writer for me.


  1. iA Writer has a great Mac app too. Most iPad writing apps and text editors don’t. I generally don’t use iA Writer on the Mac, but I’m glad it’s there. (It syncs via plain text files in iCloud Drive.)  ↩︎

Your Space Station Vacation Just Got More Expensive

NASA Updates Pricing Policy to Full Value for Commercial Activities on Space Station

"In June 2019, NASA first released its commercial marketing pricing policy to establish subsidized pricing to stimulate and enable the use of resources on the space station. NASA anticipated revisiting the pricing policy periodically and adjusting prices as market forces dictated in response to interest, market growth, and competition (reference NID 8600.121). The pricing policy from June 2019 did not reflect full reimbursement for the value of NASA resources; it was intended to stimulate the market and was planned to be adjusted. Based on discussions with stakeholders, the current market growth, and in anticipation of future commercial entities capable of providing similar services, the agency has updated the Commercial Use Activities pricing policy effective immediately."

Keith's note: NASA has done a stealth increase on the cost of making commercial use of the ISS. This is what it cost on 13 July 2019. And this is what it costs now.

ISS expedition crew member time used to cost $17,500/hr. Now it costs $130,000/hr. Upmass (passive cargo) used to cost $3,000/Kg - now it costs $20,000/kg. The earlier rate chart included fees for private astronaut missions which cost $11,250 per day for life suport/toilet and crew suplies (and food) at $22,500 per person per day. The basic cost (without internet or power) was $33,750/day per person. NASA has yet to post a revised rate chart for private visitors but since everything else has increased by a factor of approximately 7, that daily cost will probably increase to around $236,250 per day.

- NASA Announces A Space Station Pricing Plan, earlier post
- OIG Announces Review Of NASA's LEO Commercialization Activities, earlier post
- SpaceX Announces First Wholly Civilian Crewed Space Mission, earlier post
- ISS Commercialization Is Here: Reality Shows and Perfume Ads, earlier post
- Trying To Figure Out The Axiom Team's NASA Agreements (Updated), earlier post
- Expanding The ISS For Customers That No One Can Identify, earlier post

Jason Snell on iOS Markdown Editors

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

The App Store is littered with Markdown text editors, but not all Markdown implementations are created equal. I expect my Markdown editor to show me every single keystroke I enter, which means any attempt to hide hyperlinks will be met with immediate rejection. (Sorry, Ulysses and Craft.) I do appreciate syntax coloring and styling where appropriate — so that bolded text is bolded, and headings are prominent… so long as the app doesn’t swallow the markup that makes them so.

Maybe I don’t know much about Markdown, but my understanding is that the whole point of it is to provide a syntax where the most common HTML tags for prose can be replaced by simple punctuation characters that are meant to be visible to the writer. I want to see the characters so I know I’ll get exactly the HTML output I think I’m going to get, but those punctuation characters shouldn’t distract from the readability of the prose. I created Markdown to use in BBEdit without any syntax coloring at all, and to this day, I do most of my Markdown editing in MarsEdit, which doesn’t color or style Markdown syntax at all. (It should though! Markdown is even better with some syntax coloring and styling.)

I have no idea why there are now apps that use Markdown as their back end storage format but only show styled text without the Markdown source code visible. Hey World, for example, gets this right: they just do simple WYSIWYG editing where bold is bold, italic is italic, and links look like links and the linked URL is edited in a popup. If you want WYSIWYG, do WYSIWYG. If you want Markdown, show the Markdown. Trust me, it’s meant to be shown.

 ★ 

Predictions 2021: Prospective

My previous blog was on retrospective predictions. Of course there’s selection bias but I tried to make sure that I picked at least a few that I did terribly with. This blog is prospective. Future looking. As of March 5, 2021.

I crowd sourced some questions. If you have any more, leave them in the comments and I’ll add them, with the appropriate dates and commentary. In a year or so I’ll do another fresh blog and grade myself.

Nuclear fusion propulsion is probably necessary for human travel to the outer solar system or other stars. It might work a bit like inertial confinement fusion but compact enough to fit on some sort of spaceship. The advantage is relatively high thrust and very high exhaust velocity, which provides enough delta V to really go somewhere. The disadvantage is that the tech is very immature, poorly understood, underfunded, and, for the moment, unneeded. I can see routine Earth-Mars-Earth flights pushing toward fission thermal propulsion, but fusion… maybe 2050 at the earliest?

Commercial transatlantic electric flight – this might never happen. I’m increasingly convinced that synthetic fuels will have better cost and energy characteristics than batteries, for trans-oceanic flights. On current trends, electric aircraft could probably fly that distance (perhaps with a stop in Iceland) by the late 2030s, but that’s a long time away.

Driverless cars are closer than most people think. Within 5 years for sure.

Asteroid mining operation. Strongly depends on if Blue Origin gets its act together. I don’t think SpaceX is interested in non-planetary objectives, unless they’re very incidental. I’m also pretty skeptical about the value of asteroid mining. For nearly any mineral in an asteroid, there is more within a day’s walk (including vertically) in the Earth’s crust, nearly anywhere on Earth. There’s just a lot more material in just the crust than the whole asteroid belt combined.

First offworld live human birth – 2032. Offworld combat fatality – hopefully never.

2026, public private partnership between SpaceX, NASA and other commercial partners, and friendly foreign space agencies. Almost all the engineering work, on a per tonne delivered basis, will be done in Los Angeles and Texas.

Human Mars landing – I’m hoping for 2028. If not by 2032 then something has gone horribly wrong.

Lunar ISRU demonstration – shortly after permanent presence established. Will most likely be in the form of bulldozing regolith around to provide shielding. I’m reasonably sure that water importation will be cheaper than mining for a long time, let alone other minerals.

I think this is a question about crypto, but it’s worth noting that most transactions in the developed world are already digitally mediated, via credit cards or whatever. So the question might be better oriented towards the end of cash as legal tender in the US, which I don’t think will happen for a very very long time.

If this is going to happen, it had better happen soon. None of the OECD have neighbor-caused water shortage problems, and most of the traditionally dry ones (Mexico, Australia) will be the first to industrialize solar PV-powered desalination, at prices cheap enough to irrigate pasture, probably in the late 2030s.

I don’t think/hope the Olympics will be cancelled this year. I think US will be post scarcity in vaccines by the end of April 2021, and the IOC will be able to provision vaccines for all the athletes as well as any non-local spectators, plus testing and contact tracing on arrival. Compared to a year ago, the situation is greatly improved.

Electric vehicle market take over is hard to predict in terms of timing and factors that affect fleet retirement, but I’d guess 2026 for 50% of new vehicle sales being electric, and maybe 2034 for 50% of overall fleet.

Scotland split? I’m largely Welsh, Scottish and Irish in ancestry and part of me recognizes that these were the original colonies of the English empire, but I’m far from convinced that drawing more lines on a map solves any problems.

Mars base – starting 2028 with people, 2030s things should be very much underway. By 2034 all core Mars survival technologies should be localized.

SLS – will never fly humans. Cancellation date – hopefully next week.

MSR is looking like roughly 2030, it’s a multi year mission. Hopefully those tubes should be safely back here by 2032. Of course, if SpaceX’s future pans out hopefully we’ll have a lot more than that by then. Bring back 50 T of randomly selected rocks and put a big one in the entrance hall of every middle school.

ISS fate: I suspect a commercial entity will take it off NASA’s hands, at a steep discount. Like $1. Pieces of it will be cut loose and splashed. If there is going to be a bigger better space station in the 2030s, we’d better start building it soon. See my blog on space stations and their potential future utility.

Starship first orbital flight: 2022. First orbital reflight, late 2022.

Vulcan – not sure. Mid 2022 I’d say.

New Glenn. 2023 first orbital flight. Good chance first flight or two are a bit iffy. I hope booster recovery works out. Not sure New Glenn is big enough to be useful.

Europa Clipper/JWST are, I think, currently close to whatever the latest schedule says. I hope JWST is commissioned by mid 2022 without any drama. I predict Clipper will launch on Falcon Heavy, possibly FH’s last ever flight. I predict FH will fly at most 4 more times before retirement in favor of Starship.

US power to be majority (>50%) solar/wind/batteries: 2029. World: 2034.

First commercial flights on electric plane have already occurred. The Pipistrel Alpha Electro is an electric trainer that is fully certified.

Haha, or Venus. I think a dedicated, Cassini or Clipper-like robotic mission is pretty unlikely until the dust settles from Starship. There is a potential fly by mission to Triton which is pretty cool though.

Between 2024 and 2026. Oil drillers, pack your things.

Current trends suggest about 2040 until very few people live in poverty. This is pretty different from nearly everyone living in abundance, though, so work remains to be done.

I assume this means something like Skylon. I’m not holding my breath. I am pretty convinced that the two stage model embodied by Starship is much more effective.

I predict Mars base will have fuel plant and crap loads of solar power. Can’t do anything if basic infrastructure is scarce. I also predict that human factors will not prove to be show stoppers.

That’s it for now. I’ll take more questions!

3/6/2021 more questions from Filip (in the comments).

1. First AGI?
No idea. 2050 maybe?

2. Robots making meals at home that are just as accessible as Roomba?
No idea. More likely to see them in food processing plants with end user heating, which is basically what already happens.

3. Discovering other intelligent life out there?
No idea. I think in the next two decades we’ll be able to survey potential incoming signals more or less comprehensively, then it’s just a matter of waiting.

4. Million implanted Neuralinks.
2040. Wild guess.

5. First person living 150 and 200 years respectively.
No idea. I suspect major aging-related breakthroughs will happen in the next two decades, but it will then take a while for people to get that old.

6. First commercial E2E Starship.
2027. Not convinced it will be a wild success, though. Too noisy.

7. First commercial fusion reactor (>500MW)
Probably never. PV has won.

8. First cloned human.
Probably already alive. Aside from identical twins, of course.

9. Million people on Mars (I read your book, do you still hold the same dates?)
I think in the book I had 2040 as a very optimistic, but still possible date. Let’s keep the optimism.

10. Singularity (I know, it ties to the first one, but the question is more whether you believe in it in a Kurzweilian sense, that AGI can be replicated on silicon).
Yes, I think brains are Turing machines (or close enough). Yes, I think silicon-based hardware is capable of human level intelligence. I think the software is much more complicated but, in principle, a solvable problem. I don’t think we’ll have any insight into AGI in silicon, it will be more alien than dolphins or octopuses. I don’t really buy the Kurzweil Singularity propaganda.

Predictions: Retrospective

Prediction blogs seem to be in vogue. I suppose the idea is if you can demonstrate a track record of correct predictions then maybe you have some real insight? Or got lucky a few times? In any case, making bad predictions would seem to indicate poor insight. So I’m going to do two prediction blogs. This one is retrospective. I’m mining my past public statements for predictions and grading them on accuracy. The next one is prospective, talking about stuff that’s coming up or things that people have asked me.

Starship architecture
In January 2017, I published a book on transport architecture to Mars. I did this in an attempt to anticipate the SpaceX Starship architecture before it was officially unveiled at the IAU conference that year. What I got right included a lifting body reusable upper stage that is refueled in orbit and capable of flying single stage return from Mars to Earth. Even in 2021 this part of the architecture is a bit controversial, but the book was written to explain and motivate it, starting from first principles. What I got wrong was mostly scale and execution. Starship is much much bigger (as it must be, to be useful) and does a tail flip maneuver to land, ensuring that its load paths are simplified and structural efficiency is improved.

Hyperloop
In March 2015 I published this paper on Hyperloop routing. In it I recognize that the biggest obstacle to transsonic surface transportation is not levitation, propulsion, life support, vacuum, or any other exotic concern, but rather routing of the very low curvature right of way over the bumpy Earth. For generic use cases, nearly all the route has to be tunneled, which with current technology is extremely expensive. This is why, I believe, Boring Company came to exist. This fact is still not widely recognized.

The price of speed | Trains and Boats and Planes
There is a reason for the gap on the efficiency frontier at about 100 mph. Too slow for efficient flight, and too fast for typically bumpy terrain.

Grid battery dominance
In a number of blogs as early as 2018, I predicted that the PV+battery grid power modality would be able to control the market well enough to force spinning generation operators, mostly gas peaker plants, to lose money. I later discovered that Tesla had already built the battery “autobidder” software which can do just this. In 2021 the implications are still not widely appreciated, but they enable grid battery operators to systematically transfer revenue from the competition, if they want to. I also wrote that 2020 would see nameplate solar power at <$10/MWh, which proved to be a little optimistic. This plant managed $13.50/MWh. I also predicted that nuclear power would never overcome its decades of stagnation.

Carbon capture
I wrote in June 2020 that carbon capture and sequestration technology was impractical as the cost of capturing coal-produced carbon would always exceed the revenue derived from burning it. While I continue to believe that “clean coal” is total bullshit, I’ve more recently decided that electrical reduction of direct captured CO2 will be cost favorable to fracking by about 2026.

Tesla
I had the opportunity to tour SpaceX in 2011 and soon after dumped my extremely meager life savings into Tesla stock. Later I sold a bit of it to fund my Green Card application. I lost track but I think overall that investment has done 120x or so over the last 10 years. I think Tesla still has a long way to go. It is hard to overstate how much better their entire tech stack is than any of the traditional automakers. Every few weeks we hear that Volvo has pledged to stop making ICE cars by 2035, or some other vague and boring goal. No-one will buy ICE cars well before then, the only real question is whether they make cars at all, by 2035.

Starlink
In November 2019, I published a short note on Starlink. For the most part the calculations and predictions I made turned out very well.

Life on Mars
In December 2018, I wrote on Quora about reasons to suspect that there is life on Mars. I predict that there was life on Mars in the distant past, and that there is still life on Mars, in areas with geothermal heat. I predict that we will find evidence for past life in the next few years of Perseverance’s mission, ideally by the end of 2021. I predict that when we sequence the DNA of current life, some time before 2035, we will find strong evidence that Earth’s last universal common ancestor was a Mars organism. This view is actually not uncommon among interested scientists, though of course in one’s official capacity one must be somewhat sober about the current paucity of evidence.

March 5 COVID-19 Test Results and Vaccinations: 85 Million Doses Given So Far

SPECIAL NOTE: The Covid Tracking Project will end daily updates on March 7th.

From Bloomberg on vaccinations as of Mar 5th.
"In the U.S., more Americans have now received at least one dose than have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. So far, 85 million doses have been given. In the last week, an average of 2.08 million doses per day were administered."
Here is the CDC COVID Data Tracker. This site has data on vaccinations, cases and more.

The US has averaged 1.5 million tests per day over the last week.  The percent positive over the last 7 days was 4.2%.

Based on the experience of other countries, for adequate test-and-trace (and isolation) to reduce infections, the percent positive needs to below 1%, so the US has far too many daily cases - and percent positive - to do effective test-and-trace.

There were 1,744,446 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 68,787 positive tests.

Over 9,000 US deaths have been reported in March. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

And check out COVID Act Now to see how each state is doing. (updated link to new site)

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

This graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported and daily hospitalizations. 

The dashed line is the post-summer surge low for hospitalizations.

Apple Now Has a Feature to Transfer Your iCloud Photo Library to Google Photos

Apple support document:

You can request to transfer a copy of photos and videos you store in iCloud Photos to Google Photos. Transferring photos and videos from iCloud Photos doesn’t remove or alter the content you store with Apple, but sends a copy of your content to the other service.

The transfer process takes between three and seven days. We use this time to verify that the request was made by you, and to make the transfer.

Some data and formats available in iCloud Photos — such as Smart Albums, Live Photos, or some RAW files — may not be available when you transfer your content to another service. More information about what data is transferred is listed below.

Would be cool if Google provided a feature to go the other way. (Via Juli Clover at MacRumors.)

 ★ 

Utah Legislature Passes Bill Mandating Porn Filter on All Phones and Tablets

Gustavo Turner, reporting for XBiz:

Utah’s controversial “porn filter” bill passed the State Senate this afternoon on a 19-6 vote (with four absences), a Salt Lake City capitol source told XBIZ. The bill, introduced into the Utah Senate last month by staunch anti-porn crusader Wayne A. Harper, is now headed to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

On February 19, the Utah House of Representatives passed an amended version of the controversial bill that would mandate a default “porn filter” on any phones, computers, tablets or any other electronic devices sold in the state starting in 2022.

HB 72, sponsored by Rep. Susan Pulsipher (R-South Jordan) — a realtor with no technology experience — was speedily passed by the House only hours after it had cleared the committee stage by the narrowest of margins (a 6-5 vote).

Good luck with that — Utahns love porno.

(If you think this is a silly thing for an individual state to attempt to mandate, keep it in mind if you find yourself rooting for any of the various state-by-state attempts to regulate iOS and Android.)

 ★ 

Why people are worried about the bond-equity relationship

Buried in the quant argot is a fear of a return to 1970s-style inflation

Greensill Capital’s woes will reverberate widely

The supply-chain financier’s troubles highlight overlooked risks in the system

With growth on track, China starts to unwind stimulus

Its exit will offer a partial preview for others

What is a celebrity worth?

How celebrities price themselves on Cameo

Which emerging markets are most exposed to a Treasury tantrum?

Some countries may be victims of their own success

Romeo and Juliet

How long until the lovers meet?

Perseverance Takes a Spin

After arriving at Jezero Crater on Mars, After arriving at Jezero Crater on Mars,


Linquest gets $500 million contract from U.S. Space Force for analysis support

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force awarded LinQuest Corp. a $500 million contract for analysis work over five years. The contract was awarded Jan. 4 but the Defense Department announced it March 5.

Based in Los Angeles, LinQuest is a longtime support contractor of the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and other defense organizations.

The $500 million contract is for work previously done by The Perduco Group, based in Beavercreek, Ohio, under a Small Business Innovation Research Phase 3 contract.  The Perduco Group, a provider of data analytics, modeling and simulation services for military and intelligence agencies, was acquired by LinQuest in November 2019.

According to the DoD announcement, the $500 million contract is for “tradespace analysis support” for the Space Acquisition Management Directorate, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

The company will fill “critical analysis gaps in acquisitions and increase the rigor of Space Force and Air Force, Army, Navy, and other Department of Defense entities in resourcing decisions towards them,” said DoD.

LinQuest last month received a $200 million contract for advisory and support services for the Space Force’s Space Operations Command headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base.

SpaceNews

Perseverance rover aces first test drive on Mars

This image was taken during the first drive of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars on March 4, 2021, shortly after its first drive after landing. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Two weeks into its mission of exploration on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover has completed its first test drive and returned some 7,000 images from its station in Jezero Crater, including mesmerizing vistas of distant outcrops from the first zoom-capable camera to reach the Red Planet, mission managers said Friday.

The rover is doing an “exceptional job” and with no notable faults or glitches, said Robert Hogg, Perseverance’s deputy mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

Other major tasks since the rover’s landing Feb. 18 included a software update to configure Perseverance’s computers for long-distance drives, instrument checkouts, and activation of the rover’s 7-foot-long (2.1-meter) robotic arm.

Perhaps the most significant milestone since landing occurred Thursday, when ground teams commanded the rover to drive forward, turn in place, and then back up. The first 33-minute test drive covered just 21 feet, or 6.5 meters,but Perseverance will soon travel much farther.

“Our first drive went incredibly well,” said Anais Zarifian, a Perseverance mobility test engineer at JPL.

Perseverance has six aluminum wheels, each with titanium spokes for support, and a suspension capable of traveling over rocks as big as the wheels themselves. The one-ton rover is based on the design of NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, but with some improvements.

The wheels on Perseverance are sightly narrower, have a larger diameter, and are made of thicker materials, Zarifian said. Engineers also changed the tread pattern on the wheels to reduce the risk of damage from sharp rocks, which created dings and cuts in Curiosity’s wheels.

A big change on Perseverance is the introduction of new autonomous driving software, which will allow the rover to navigate itself to a destination. Using images from its suite of cameras, the rover can autonomously steer around rocks and other obstacles, or stop the drive if conditions are unsafe. It currently takes more than 10 minutes for radio signals to travel from Earth to Mars, eliminating any chance for ground teams to send up real-time driving commands.

The software update on Perseverance’s primary and backup flight computers gives the spacecraft the smarts it needs for its surface mission, which is expected to last at least two Earth years, or one Martian year.

“The end result is kind of like getting an update to your electric car software,” Hogg said. “One day, your car knows how to do autonomous driving, detecting obstacles and navigating by itself, amongst many, many other bells and whistles that we have in store.”

“We still drive at 0.01 mph, same as Curiosity, but thanks to our improvements on our autonav software, our enhanced navigation software, and our new cameras, we can really drive about five times faster than Curiosity, and we’re capable averaging about 200 meters (660 feet) per sol (a Martian day),” Zarifian said.

This image was captured while NASA’s Perseverance rover drove on Mars for the first time on March 4, 2021. One of Perseverance’s Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams) captured this image as the rover completed a short traverse and turn from its landing site in Jezero Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We’re able to think while driving,” she said. “So in other words, Perseverance can walk and chew gum at the same time. So we’re able to take a stereo pair of images, process those images on the VCE (Vision Compute Element), identify hazards in the terrain and choose a path forward, all while the wheels are still turning… So this means we can drive longer in the same amount of time, and we can have less time planning drives and driving on the surface, which means more time to do science.”

Controllers at JPL sent up commands for the test drive Thursday after checking the functionality of the rover’s wheel actuators, and putting the four corner wheels — which do the steering — through 30-degree range of motion tests.

With those tests successful, the rover “perfectly” executed commands to drive about 13 feet (4.5 meters) forward, turn 150 degrees to the left, then back up about 8 feet (2.5 meters). During the drive, the rover took pictures to image the points on the wheels where the rover landed last month. Perseverance’s “sky crane” descent system lowered the rover from a rocket-powered jetpack to the Martian surface directly on its wheels.

NASA has named the landing site “Octavia E. Butler Landing” after the late science fiction writer.

A second drive was planned Friday, when Perseverance was expected to turn on its ground-penetrating radar to begin collecting data on geologic layers in the Martian crust, according to Katie Stack Morgan, Perseverance’s deputy project scientist at JPL.

“Looking ahead, we’re going to to do some longer drives,” Zarifian said. “This is really just the beginning.”

Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater, an equatorial basin carved out by a violent impact from an asteroid or comet. The crater was filled with water more than 3 billion years ago, and a river flowing into the lake deposited layers of sediment now evident as a dried-up delta.

The rover’s mission is to explore the site, probe its ancient habitability, and collect more than 30 samples of rock and soil for return to Earth by a future spacecraft. The Mars Sample Return mission, a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency, is set for launch as soon as 2026, and could return Perseverance’s samples as early as 2031.

From its landing site, “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” NASA’s Perseverance rover can see a remnant of a fan-shaped deposit of sediments known as a delta (the raised area of dark brown rock in the middle ground) with its Mastcam-Z instrument. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

Hogg said the rover is working well. Perseverance’s instruments have all passed preliminary post-landing checkouts, and the rover’s weather station deployed and is already collecting meteorological data. Earlier this week, the robotic arm moved for the first time, demonstrating it can maneuver a 100-pound (45-kilogram) turret packed with scientific instruments and a drill that will core out the rock samples for return to Earth.

“We haven’t had any hardware issues,” Hogg said. “Everything has been working that we’ve been checking out. It’s actually been amazingly smooth in that respect. I’m going to knock on wood here.”

Ground teams at JPL are analyzing images from the rover to find a safe place to release the Ingenuity helicopter, a 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) rotorcraft that will attempt the first flight of an aircraft through the Martian atmosphere. The Mars helicopter is scheduled to separate from its mounting point on the rover’s belly and begin tests flights in the next few months.

“We’re still analyzing various areas to determine the best place to do that, and the right place to do its flight,” Hogg said.

The exact timing of the helicopter flight will depend on the location officials select.

Hogg said the rover’s Sample Caching System still has to undergo more activations and testing before Perseverance can begin collecting rock specimens. The caching system is one of the most complex mechanisms ever sent to another planet, with its own internal robotic arm, seals, and a spinning carousel holding multiple drill bits for rock sampling.

The first use of the drill to gather a rock sample is expected this summer, following the helicopter demo.

In the meantime, scientists are eagerly awaiting every new image beamed down by Perseverance. The rover’s zoom-capable mast camera has returned jaw-dropping views of distant rock outcrops at the edge of the ancient river delta.

“The imagery coming down with the cameras that we have on this rover — the 25 cameras — the resolution, the colors, and the spectra has just been amazing,” Hogg said. “We’ve never been able to see Mars in this way.”

This image shows two possible routes (blue and purple) to the fan-shaped deposit of sediments known as a delta for NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars. The yellow line marks a notional traverse exploring the Jezero delta. The white dot at right is the rover’s current location. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

According to Morgan, the rover planning team is plotting out potential routes for Perseverance to leave its landing site and head for the river delta more than a mile away.

“Before we can think about exploring the Jezero delta, we have to figure out how to get the rover there,” Morgan said. “The science team is working with engineers to determine the best path for the rover to drive to the delta.”

One possible route would take the rover to the north over flatter, safer terrain before turning to the northwest to the edge of the delta. Another option is to drive toward the south and then west, taking Perseverance closer to rugged outcrops that scientists believe are the eroded remnants of the once-larger delta.

All along the way, the rover will be collecting and storing rock core samples inside 43 hermetically-sealed tubes it carries on-board. Each of tubes is about the size of a small cigar.

Once on the delta, the rover will likely start placing the sample canisters on the ground for retrieval by a fetch rover on the Mars Sample Return mission, which will take the tubes to a rocket for launch back into space.

“We’re working with engineers now to determine which path is most efficient, and safest, and most scientifically interesting for the rover to explore, and then we’ll arrive there at the front of the delta,” Morgan said. “From there we’ll go and explore the delta, and eventually wind up at the mouth of the river that once entered Jezero, where we will likely deposit our very first sample depot.”

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R2-D2 and C-3PO Say “Get Vaccinated!”

Star Wars Vaccination

In the 70s, the US government enlisted the droids of Star Wars to encourage parents to immunize their kids against childhood diseases like whooping cough and measles.

American parents weren’t getting their kids vaccinated. Measles, polio and whooping cough were taking a toll on young lives. Just as it is today, the message was important but the spot itself was horrible — a sludgy, if informative script. We shot it in a faux sci-fi control room. Most memorable was the way R2 appeared to pay no attention to the laws of physics.

(via kottke ride home)

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