Chicago Fed "Index Points to Slower Economic Growth in December"

From the Chicago Fed: Chicago Fed National Activity Index points to slower economic growth in December
Led by declines in production-related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI) fell to –0.35 in December from +0.41 in November. Three of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index decreased from November, and three of the four categories made negative contributions to the index in December. The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, moved up to –0.23 in December from –0.31 in November.
emphasis added
This graph shows the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (three month moving average) since 1967.

Chicago Fed National Activity Index Click on graph for larger image.

This suggests economic activity was below the historical trend in December (using the three-month average).

According to the Chicago Fed:
The index is a weighted average of 85 indicators of growth in national economic activity drawn from four broad categories of data: 1) production and income; 2) employment, unemployment, and hours; 3) personal consumption and housing; and 4) sales, orders, and inventories.
A zero value for the monthly index has been associated with the national economy expanding at its historical trend (average) rate of growth; negative values with below-average growth (in standard deviation units); and positive values with above-average growth.

Non-Importation in the New Year

At the end of 1769, the Boston merchants’ non-importation agreement ran out. But the Townshend duties were still in effect, so the Whigs insisted on maintaining that boycott into the new year.

That required leaning on people who wanted to resume regular business. After John Mein’s 1769 publications accused leading merchants of importing goods, the Whigs couldn’t allow any exceptions.

One threat to the town’s united front came from two Glasgow ships’ captains who wanted to commission new vessels from local shipyards, producing lots of jobs. They asked the merchants’ committee to approve importing what was necessary for those ships. A Crown informant reported:
A petition to that effect was immediately sett on foot by some of the tradesmen, and in a few hours was subscribed by upwards of 70 people. In the evening they met to fix the manner in which it was to be presented, when [John] Ruddock a Justice of the Peace and one of the Select Men of the town went to them and assuring the person who had been most active in promoting the subscription that he was ruining himself & his Country insisted on his delivering up the Petition which he immediately destroy’d, and such was his influence amongst these people that not one of them made any objections to his violent proceedings.
So much for those seventy signatures.

The merchants’ committee had pressured almost all of Boston’s importers into storing any goods that had arrived from Britain in 1769 under lock and key until… Well, there was a dispute about how long that commitment was for. The committee insisted the promise should last until they called off non-importation. Some tradespeople said they had promised only until the end of the year.

Benjamin Greene and his son had received a large order of dry goods in October. In December the committee learned he had shipped some of that material, packed in fish barrels, to John Chandler in Worcester. Under questioning, the Greenes admitted to making that sale. They declared they’d kept it secret only to preserve the image of a unified non-importation movement.

Then another merchant named John Taylor used a skeleton key to get into his locked storeroom and start selling imports. “You see, Gentlemen, how it is,” he told the committee, “and I always designed to do so.”

Theophilus Lillie put some of his imported stock on display and, he acknowledged, sold it to people who asked for it. How much of his inventory was gone? Lillie refused to let the inspection committee into his shop. He recalled: “Captain [Samuel] Dashwood was in a great rage, challenging me to come out of my house and he would break my neck, my bones, and the like.”

In the 11 Jan 1770 Boston News-Letter Lillie and Taylor publicly announced they no longer felt bound by the non-importation agreement. In fact, they declared that they had been intimidated into signing it in the first place, violating the spirit of liberty that the Whigs supposedly championed. Lillie got off one of the great lines of the entire pre-Revolutionary debate:
I had rather be a slave under one master, for if I know who he is, I may perhaps be able to please him, than a slave to an hundred or more who I don’t know where to find or what they will expect of me.
The most vociferous Whig merchants were actually hurting their cause. In particular, on 12 January a Crown informant wrote that William Molineux was turning off potential supporters:
Many were disgusted at Mollyneaux’s violent proposals particularly at a speech made at the meeting at which the vote against Green Lillie &c was pass’d, wherein he declared that were it not for the Law he would with his own hands put to Death any person who should presume to open their goods
Reportedly the two Boston merchants who held the highest political offices, speaker Thomas Cushing and selectman and representative John Hancock, were souring on the movement.

It was time for a meeting.

TOMORROW: The “Body of the Trade.”

Alex Chan on deceased organ donation policy, in JAMA

Alex Chan comments on an earlier article in JAMA:
US Organ Donation Policy
Alex Chan, January 21, 2020

"To the Editor Ms Glazier and Mr Mone touted the success of the current opt-in organ donation system and argued for focusing on increasing registered donors to 75% of the adult population.1 A challenge is the intrinsic difficulty of such a task: more coordinated promotional efforts and new incentives like giving registered donors priority on organ waiting lists would likely be required.

"Even if such an increase in donor registration is possible, another challenge is the extent to which transplant centers recover organs from registered donors. Although the number of registered donors is more than half of the US population, only 36.3% of possible donors become actual donors.2 This loss of approximately one-third of registered donors suggests that obstacles to recovery of organs, such as family objection, transplant center rejections of imperfect organs, and OPO performance, are pivotal. Anecdotal evidence suggests that rejections of imperfect organs account for approximately 10% to 20%,2 leaving 10% to 20% of the loss still unaccounted for. Family consent or its lack may be a big part of the gap.
"Furthermore, 2 of the 3 states with the highest donor registration rates (Montana, 93%; Washington, 89%) have lower-than-average actual donation rates,1,2 but states like Nevada and Pennsylvania with registration rates lower than 50% have actual donation rates much higher than the national average.2 This suggests that registration is only part of the solution, and the ability of OPOs to obtain family consent and convert registrations into donations can bound the effectiveness of the current system."

Here's the earlier post, about the article on which Alex is commenting

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

EU to invest 200 million euros into space industry

Ariane_62_in_flight Ariane 62

WASHINGTON — The European Union will provide 200 million euros ($222 million) to support Europe’s space industry, in the form of a loan to help fund development of the Ariane 6 and investment in space startups.

The European Commission and the European Investment Bank Group announced at a space policy conference in Brussels Jan. 21 that it would provide the space industry funding, a move that one EU official called a “game changer” for its support of the industry.

Half of the 200 million euros will be in a form of a loan to ArianeGroup to help the company pay for its share of the costs of developing the Ariane 6 rocket, set to make its debut late this year. The European Commission said in a statement that the loan will support “an innovative financing structure which will be contingent on Ariane 6’s commercial success, once operational.”

André Hubert Roussel, chief executive of ArianeGroup, said the loan will help finance facilities in France and Germany that will be used to produce and launch the rocket. The financing, he said, “fosters technological expertise allowing European launcher industry to remain always at the leading edge, becoming even more innovative and environmentally responsible.”

The other 100 million euros will go towards a new program, the InnovFin Space Equity Pilot, being developed in cooperation between the European Commission and European Investment Fund (EIF). That program will invest in European venture funds that support startups in the space sector.

The first example of such investment is Primo Space, an Italian firm raising an 80 million euro fund for backing early-stage companies seeking to commercialize space technologies. The agencies did not disclose how much they were investing into Primo Space.

“The first ever space equity pilot and our first fund, based in Italy, are a giant leap for the EIF in this sector,” Alain Godard, chief executive of the EIF, said in a statement. “Attracting more private capital to this sector enables us together to drive forward Europe’s space ambitions.”

European space startups have complained in recent years about the lack of venture financing available for their companies, in sharp contrast to the growing interest in space among venture capital funds in the United States and China. That has forced European companies to either seek alternative forms of financing or work with American or other non-European funds.

The EU effort is not the only one to try to bolster the funding environment for space startups in Europe. Last week, the government of Luxembourg announced it was joining with several companies and organizations to establish a new fund, Orbital Ventures, for early-stage space companies. That fund, which announced an initial closing of 70 million euros, will focus on “early stage space companies with ground-breaking ideas and technologies,” but will not limit itself to companies based in Europe.

European officials hailed the investment announcement. “The two announcements of today represent a game changer for Europe in the support of the European space industry,” said Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, in a statement. The loan to ArianeGroup, he said, ensures Europe maintains its own access to space, while the InnovFin Space Equity Pilot is “a clear signal that space business in Europe is an attractive opportunity.”

Questions remain, though, about the EU’s broader commitment to space. A budget drafted in 2018 proposed spending 16 billion euros from 2021 through 2027 on its space programs, primarily the Copernicus series of Earth observation satellites and the Galileo satellite navigation program. A revised budget published in December, though, proposed cutting that to 12.7 billion euros.

A final decision on the EU space budget is expected later this year. At a press briefing Jan. 15, Jan Woerner, director general of the European Space Agency, downplayed any impact the proposed cut would have on joint programs between his agency and the EU, but nonetheless advocated for the original, larger, budget.

“As I was involved last year for the 16 billion [euros], we will also support that this number is surviving, because we believe we need it for Copernicus as well as for Galileo,” he said.

Half a Million IoT Device Passwords Published

It's a list of easy-to-guess passwords for IoT devices on the Internet as recently as last October and November. Useful for anyone putting together a bot network:

A hacker has published this week a massive list of Telnet credentials for more than 515,000 servers, home routers, and IoT (Internet of Things) "smart" devices.

The list, which was published on a popular hacking forum, includes each device's IP address, along with a username and password for the Telnet service, a remote access protocol that can be used to control devices over the internet.

According to experts to who ZDNet spoke this week, and a statement from the leaker himself, the list was compiled by scanning the entire internet for devices that were exposing their Telnet port. The hacker than tried using (1) factory-set default usernames and passwords, or (2) custom, but easy-to-guess password combinations.

MBA: Mortgage Applications Decreased in Latest Weekly Survey

From the MBA: Mortgage Applications Decrease in Latest MBA Weekly Survey
Mortgage applications decreased 1.2 percent from one week earlier, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the week ending January 17, 2020.

... The Refinance Index decreased 2 percent from the previous week and was 116 percent higher than the same week one year ago. The seasonally adjusted Purchase Index decreased 2 percent from one week earlier. The unadjusted Purchase Index increased 4 percent compared with the previous week and was 8 percent higher than the same week one year ago.
“Mortgage applications dipped slightly last week after two weeks of healthy increases, but even with a slight decline, the total pace of applications remains at an elevated level. The purchase market has started 2020 on a strong note, running 8 percent higher than the same week a year ago,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s Associate Vice President of Economic and Industry Forecasting. “Refinance applications remained near the highest level since October 2019, as the 30-year fixed rate was unchanged at 3.87 percent, while the 15-year fixed rate decreased to its lowest level since November 2016. Even with more positive developments surrounding the U.S. and China trade negotiations and healthy retail sales data, investors seemed cautious and maintained their demand for safer U.S. Treasuries, which kept yields lower. Our expectation is that rates will stay along this same narrow range.”
The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($510,400 or less) remained unchanged at 3.87 percent, with points decreasing to 0.27 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.
emphasis added
Mortgage Refinance IndexClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows the refinance index since 1990.

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

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

According to the MBA, purchase activity is up 8% year-over-year.

AFDLOX January 22, 3:35am

FXUS66 KLOX 221135 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 335 AM PST Wed Jan 22 2020 .SYNOPSIS...22/305 AM. A weak front may bring a few showers to northern San Luis Obispo County this morning. Otherwise, skies will be cloudy this morning, then it will become partly cloudy. High pressure will bring dry and warmer weather Thursday through Saturday. A weak cold front will bring increasing clouds and a chance of light rain to the region Sunday, followed by day weather early next week.

AFDSGX January 22, 3:04am

FXUS66 KSGX 221104 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 304 AM PST Wed Jan 22 2020 .SYNOPSIS... High pressure aloft near the West Coast will bring warming for today and Thursday with minor day to day changes for Friday and Saturday. A weak trough of low pressure moving inland through southern California will bring cooling for Sunday and Monday and a chance for light precipitation from the coast to the mountains some time from late Sunday into early Monday. For Tuesday through the end of next week, high pressure from the subtropical eastern Pacific will expand across California bringing dry weather and a warming trend.

Could mining gold from waste reduce its great cost?

The myth of King Midas tells one of the world’s first stories about alchemy. The greedy Midas was granted one wish by the Greek god Dionysus, and he chose the ability to transmute anything he touched into gold. Unfortunately, the king quickly realised that this gift was more of a curse as he coul...

By Wendy Lee Queen & Mirko Bischofberger

Read at Aeon

Highbrows and self-helpers

Woolf loathed it but it spurred her on. Hemingway drew ideas of manliness from it. Self-help haunted the modernist imagination

By Beth Blum

Read at Aeon

Marginal Revolution University video for Anna Schwartz

It is excellent, one of my favorite MRU videos to date:

Here is some text from the release email:

The second episode of Women In Economics is out today! Join Harvard’s Claudia Goldin, UC Berkeley’s Christina Romer, and more on an insightful, engaging look at Anna Jacobson Schwartz’s life and achievements.

Did you know that Anna graduated from high school at 15?

Or that her dissertation couldn’t be published because of paper rationing during World War II? Yet despite this setback, she went on to coauthor one of the most important books about monetary policy and the Great Depression. Because of her work, she was hailed as one of the leading monetary economists of the 20th century by the end of her career!

We’re so excited to share Schwartz’s incredible story—click here to watch the video!

We’re also excited to announce our next video in our Women in Econ series, about Janet Yellen, will be released on March 8th. It will feature Yellen in her own words, along with Ben Bernanke and Christina Romer. Stay tuned!


The post Marginal Revolution University video for Anna Schwartz appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Schadenfreude 265: Captain Intangibles Non-Unanimous Edition (A Continuing Series)

Someone is totally not getting a gift basket.

Post Staff:
Derek Jeter fell one vote shy of becoming an unanimous Hall of Famer on Tuesday night, drawing outrage from many on social media. ...

Jeter officially received 99.7 percent of the vote [396 of 397 votes].

Ken Davidoff, Post:
Well, how about that? For once in his charmed baseball life, things didn't go absolutely perfectly for Derek Jeter. [JoS: Things did not go so great for him in 2004, to mention one example that springs to mind. He was also booed at Yankee Stadium during an 0-for-32 skid. And he was known as Mr. 27 for a while around these parts because, for a few weeks, he made the game's final out (instead of driving in the game-tying or winning run(s)) numerous times.]

Although, if any true justice existed in this universe ... Jeter would be a unanimous Baseball Hall of Famer right now. ...

Three hundred ninety-seven BBWAA members voted on this year's class. Three-hundred ninety-six, including all 13 voters from The Post, checked Jeter's name. ...

So who is Voter 397? For now, he or she remains private, under no obligation to disclose. The Hall wants the writers to make their choices without fear of public scrutiny and some members take that road. And look, should this person declare, there will be some uncivil discourse, and that won't be right. The low stakes don't merit such fury. ...

Consider that an astonishing 23 voters out of 432 turned down Willie Mays in 1979, his first year of eligibility. Then nine (out of 415) didn't support Hank Aaron in 1982. Fast-forward to 2016, when Ken Griffey Jr. established a new benchmark by tallying 437 out of 440. ...

It's not that Jeter deserved the unanimous support because of what he meant to the game or any such syrupy pablum; his life will go on just fine. It's that logic deserved a unanimous Jeter vote.

Mark Hale, Post:
In the sports version of "who's the identity of this mystery person," you can call Derek Jeter's Hall of Fame dissenter. . . Deep Vote.

But unlike the eventual emergence of the famed Watergate mystery figure, the fascinating question of "who didn't vote for Derek Jeter for the Hall of Fame" might be one for which we never learn the answer.

Voters for the Baseball Writers' Association of America are not required to publicly reveal their ballots for the Hall of Fame. ...

Jeter's dissenter remains unknown and will only be revealed if the voter himself/herself confesses — or is outed by someone who knows the truth.
Sarah Valenzuela, Daily News:
After it was announced the legendary Yankee captain received 396 of 397 votes, every Yankee fan in the universe screamed in ... fury.

Bill Madden, Daily News:
Where have you gone, Derek Jeter? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Originally, it was Joe DiMaggio for whom Paul Simon wrote those lyrics ...
Oh, was it really Paul Simon, Bill? And DiMaggio? Huh. I didn't know that.

What a disappointing way to begin a column for which you had years to prepare, with the most hackneyed, yawn-inducing, cliche. Jesus, even Jeter didn't suck that bad leading off.

Madden then regurgitates all the bullshit (or "the syrupy pablum" mentioned above by Davidoff) to which we were subject throughout (and too long after) Capt. Intangibles's career (we know the truth). Likewise, DiMaggio was a moody, greedy, selfish, cheap, controlling, friend of the Mafia, as detailed in Richard Ben Cramer's Joe DiMaggio, The Hero's Life.

Fun Fact: Mike Trout has already collected more WAR in 9 seasons than Derek Jeter did in 20 seasons!

Tomb Economics

The Mughals of Northern India are famous for their tombs, Humayun’s tomb in Delhi, Jahangir’s Tomb in Lahore and, of course, the Taj Mahal. Why so many tombs? Culture surely has something to do with it, although conservative Muslims tend to frown on tombs and ancestor worship as interference with the communication between man and God. Incentives are another reason.

Under the Mansabdari system which governed the nobility, the Mughal Emperor didn’t give perpetual grants of land. On death, all land that had been granted to the noble reverted back to the Emperor, effectively a 100% estate tax. In other words, land titling for the Mughal nobility was not hereditary. Since land could not be handed down to the next generation, there was very little incentive for the Mughal nobility to build palaces or the kind of ancestral homes that are common in Europe. The one exception to the rule, however, was for tombs. Tombs would not revert back to the Emperor. Hence the many Mughal tombs

Here is some lovely jali (stone lattice) work in Barber’s tomb in the Humayan tomb complex.

The Aga Khan Development Network has done some great restoration work on Isa Khan’s tomb, again in the Humayun’s tomb complex. Here’s  the ceiling and another piece of jali work.

The post Tomb Economics appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Hello from Asia!

I just wanted to let you know that I am going to be travelling for the next few weeks and the site’s regular metronomic schedule is going to get a little…weird. I am currently halfway around the world in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam1 in the US east coast’s Bizarro timezone (10am here, 10pm there). I’ll be posting while I’m here but on a local schedule, so for many of you there won’t be anything all day but you’ll have a bunch of stuff to read late at night or first thing in the morning.

While I’m here, I might write about my adventures on the site but I’m not quite sure yet — this is an experiment for me all around: solo travelling, digital nomading, working on an iPad instead of a laptop, etc. But I’ll definitely be posting photos and stories over at Instagram.

I’ll be in Saigon for about 2 weeks, followed by a few days in Singapore and about 48 hours in Doha, Qatar. If you’re a reader and you live in any of those places, let me know and maybe we can meet up for some food, drink, or wandering around! Or if you’ve have tips for me (esp food and design/architecure stuff), drop me a line on Twitter or via email.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of the bonkers waterfall and rain forest inside the Changi airport in Singapore.

The waterfall at Singapore's Changi airport

I mean…

  1. I’m told the locals still mostly call it Saigon, so I’m going to go with that.

Tags:   Saigon   Singapore   travel

Assessing State Capacity Libertarianism

Ryan Murphy and Colin O’Reilly suddenly have a 33 pp. (yes substantive) paper on my January 1 blog post on State Capacity Libertarianism (on speed, perhaps they have learned from a master).  Here is the abstract:

Cowen (2020) argues for a redirection of effort towards “State Capacity Libertarianism,” which keeps the core of policy proposals from libertarianism intact while emphasizing a select set of policies aimed at furthering economic growth. These policies center on the ability of the state to accomplish that which it sets out to accomplish, i.e. state capacity. This paper interprets Cowen’s proposal in terms of an interaction between economic freedom and state capacity. Using four measures of state capacity, it finds that state capacity and economic freedom are neither additive nor complementary. Rather, they are substitutes for one another. These results are uncomfortable for conventional libertarianism, for the advocates of state capacity, and for State Capacity Libertarianism itself. One measure of state capacity we use is a novel measure using data from the Varieties of Democracy dataset, which may be useful for researchers in other contexts.

I am very pleased (and flattered) they undertook this investigation.  In terms of response on the particulars, I would say that State Capacity Libertarianism is about living standard levels, not marginal growth rates holding per capita income constant (as they do), which tends to drain off the benefits of state capacity.  You can run into similar misspecification problems by regressing against growth rates for the particular American states, whereas again the levels ought to be central to the analysis.  I readily admit the levels are not easy to handle econometrically, mostly because (outside of some oil principalities) “all good things go together,” and the correct causal model is not well understood.

In any case, the debate will go on.

The post Assessing State Capacity Libertarianism appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Four short links: 22 January 2020

  1. Elements of Scheduling — notable for several things, but my eye was caught by: finite convergence to completion fell beyond our reach. I know that state.
  2. Dungeons and Deadlines — a game of work/life balance.
  3. Microsoft Application Inspector — open source software characterization source code analyzer that helps you understand what a program does by identifying interesting features and characteristics using static analysis and a customizable json-based rules engine.
  4. Understanding Team DynamicsWe find that highly successful teams are significantly more focused than average teams of the same size, that their members have worked on more diverse sets of projects, and the members of highly successful teams are more likely to be core members or “leads” of other teams.

Capella unveils radar satellite design

SAN FRANCISCO – Capella Space unveiled the new design Jan. 21 for its Whitney constellation of seven synthetic aperture radar satellites scheduled to launch in 2020.

Weighing in at 100 kilograms, the new satellites are about twice the size of Denali, Capella’s 48-kilogram technology demonstration spacecraft launched in December 2018.

“We spent a lot of time talking to key customers and end users and the message we received was very clear,” Christian Lenz, Capella vice president of engineering, told SpaceNews. “A high-performance, low-latency, excellent user experience system was needed.”

To achieve that vision, Capella made significant changes to the Denali design. The firm doubled the size of solar arrays, added a second star tracker, opted for larger reaction wheels and redesigned the reflector antenna for its Whitney constellation. Capella’s new 3.5-meter aperture deployed mesh-based reflector antenna is designed to deliver high-contrast, low-noise imagery with resolution better than 50 centimeters.

“Implementing all of these improvements, however, did require making difficult choices,” Payam Banazadeh, Capella founder and CEO, said in a Jan. 21 blog. “We delayed commencement of service by eight months to complete and validate Sequoia’s evolved design.”

In addition to redesigning satellites, Capella worked on streamlining processes for accepting orders, tasking satellites and delivering imagery.

Capella customers will request imagery electronically. The firm will then uplink requests to its constellation through Inmarsat communications satellites. On the back end, Capella will rely on Amazon Web Services and Amazon Ground Stations to reduce the time it takes to get imagery and data from the satellite to the ground, process it and get it to the user, Lenz said.

Sequoia, Capella’s first operational satellite, is scheduled to launch in late March on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket alongside Argentina’s Saocom-1B synthetic aperture radar satellite. Capella plans to launch three additional radar satellites in mid-2020 and three more by the end of the year, Lenz said.

Capella customers include the U.S. Air Force, which awarded the firm a contract in November after Space Pitch Day, and the National Reconnaissance Office, which awarded the firm a study contract in December.

The Radiohead Public Library


Let’s be generous and say that over the years, Radiohead’s web presence has been eccentric. Disorganized and scattershot maybe. In order to remedy that, the band have launched a massive online archive of stuff called the Radiohead Public Library. Stereogum has a nice rundown, including some rare stuff the band has uploaded to streaming services to celebrate the library’s opening.

Dubbed the Radiohead Public Library, the band’s official website now contains comprehensive materials organized by album, starting with the A Moon Shaped Pool era and working backward. Among the treasure in this chest: high-quality concert and TV footage, B-sides and rarities, music videos, artwork, out-of-print merchandise, and playlists the band members shared during their recording sessions.

If you click on the ID card in the site’s nav bar, you can even download and print out your very own Radiohead Public Library card. It is still Radiohead though, so the library isn’t super easy to navigate — there’s a lot of clicking random images to see what’s hiding behind them — but it’s a start!

Tags: music   Radiohead

Tim Cook to Der Spiegel a Little Over a Year Ago: Apple Will Eventually No Longer Have a Key to iCloud Data

From a wide-ranging interview from October 2018 (filtered through Google Translate):

Spiegel Online: Is the data as secure on your iCloud online service as on the devices?

Cook: Our users have a key there, and we have one. We do this because some users lose or forget their key and then expect help from us to get their data back. It is difficult to estimate when we will change this practice. But I think that in the future it will be regulated like the devices. We will therefore no longer have a key for this in the future.

I believe “regulated” is an idiomatic glitch in the translation. In English we tend to reserved that word for rules and laws from the government; Cook I think clearly is talking about Apple’s own policies.

[Update: Via my friend Glenn Fleishman, who speaks German: “You are correct about the Spiegel story. The machine translation is quite good, but ‘regulated’ was translated from the verb ‘regeln’ which can be regulated, but also controlled/set/etc. So it would be better to say, ‘I believe that in the future, it will be handled like on devices.’ ”]

Joseph Menn’s blockbuster report for Reuters today claims Apple abandoned its plans for encrypting iCloud backups “about two years ago”. Something in the timeline doesn’t add up there. (It’s also very clear from the Der Spiegel interview that Cook is keenly aware of how encryption works with Apple’s devices and services.)


Android 9 and Later Offers Encrypted Backups to Google

From the end of Joseph Menn’s report for Reuters today, claiming Apple dropped plans for encrypted iOS backups after the FBI objected:

In October 2018, Alphabet Inc’s Google announced a similar system to Apple’s dropped plan for secure backups. The maker of Android software, which runs on about three-quarters of the world’s mobile devices, said users could back up their data to its own cloud without trusting the company with the key.

Two people familiar with the project said Google gave no advance notice to governments, and picked a time to announce it when encryption was not in the news.

First, while Android runs on 75 percent of mobile devices worldwide, not all of those devices use Google services like backup. None of the Android phones in China, for example — which is a lot of phones. It’s lazy to conflate Android phones with Google Android phones.

Second, I wasn’t aware of this until today. And it makes iCloud’s lack of backup encryption look bad. From Google’s official announcement of the feature a little over a year ago:

Starting in Android Pie, devices can take advantage of a new capability where backed-up application data can only be decrypted by a key that is randomly generated at the client. This decryption key is encrypted using the user’s lockscreen PIN/pattern/passcode, which isn’t known by Google. Then, this passcode-protected key material is encrypted to a Titan security chip on our datacenter floor. The Titan chip is configured to only release the backup decryption key when presented with a correct claim derived from the user’s passcode. Because the Titan chip must authorize every access to the decryption key, it can permanently block access after too many incorrect attempts at guessing the user’s passcode, thus mitigating brute force attacks. The limited number of incorrect attempts is strictly enforced by a custom Titan firmware that cannot be updated without erasing the contents of the chip. By design, this means that no one (including Google) can access a user’s backed-up application data without specifically knowing their passcode.

I can’t find much additional information about this. For example, how many failed attempts trigger the permanent lockout to the backup? That would be useful to know, but I can’t find it.

It also doesn’t seem to be optional on (some?) devices that support it. My Pixel 4 running Android 10 (Android Pie was version 9) doesn’t say anything about backups being encrypted by my device passcode — I believe they just are.

Not sure why the Department of Justice isn’t publicly complaining about this.

(Keep in mind that anything with a web interface, like Google Photos and Google Docs and Google Drive, cannot be end-to-end encrypted. Same goes for iCloud Photos.)


Welfare vs Subsidies

I was travelling yesterday and so missed observing Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the site, but I ran across this quote from him on Instagram and wanted to highlight it. It’s from a radio speech King gave called To Minister to the Valley and like many of King’s speeches and writing, it concerns economic justice & equality.

Whenever the government provides opportunities in privileges for white people and rich people they call it “subsidized” when they do it for Negro and poor people they call it “welfare.” The fact that is the everybody in this country lives on welfare. Suburbia was built with federally subsidized credit. And highways that take our white brothers out to the suburbs were built with federally subsidized money to the tune of 90 percent. Everybody is on welfare in this country. The problem is that we all to often have socialism for the rich and rugged free enterprise capitalism for the poor. That’s the problem.

The quote and its sentiment reminds me of the White Affirmative Action episode (transript) of the excellent Seeing White podcast series, in which Deena Hayes-Greene of the Racial Equity Institute asserts affirmative action in America has overwhelmingly favored and benefitted white people.

Tags: Deena Hayes-Greene   economics   Martin Luther King   politics   racism

Unsettled Weather Continues in the Northwest; Tracking a Storm from the Plains to Northeast

Stratolaunch confirms interest in launch services and hypersonic vehicles

Stratolaunch meeting

WASHINGTON — As Stratolaunch ramps up operations after being sold last year, it says it remains interested in providing launch services as well as supporting hypersonic vehicles.

In a Jan. 21 statement to SpaceNews, Stratolaunch spokesperson Art Pettigrue confirmed the company was interested in “reliable, routine access to space” while also confirming the company was interested in hypersonics research.

“Stratolaunch is exploring the development of aerospace vehicles and technologies, including the need for reliable, routine access to space,” Pettigrue said. “This exploration includes the need to significantly advance the nation’s ability to design and operate hypersonic vehicles.”

The statement was prompted by the recent resurfacing of a paper by three Stratolaunch employees presented at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space 2018 conference in Orlando, Florida. That paper described the company’s interest at the time in using the giant aircraft it built to host air-launched hypersonic experimental vehicles.

The paper described two concepts the company was studying at the time. One, called Hyper-A, would be capable of reaching speeds of Mach 6, while the larger Hyper-Z vehicle would fly to Mach 10. Both vehicles would be rocket-powered, released from Stratolaunch’s aircraft.

“This hypersonic testbed could provide risk reduction and technology maturation for hypersonic and space-launch vehicles in areas such as aerothermodynamics, air-breathing propulsion, guidance, navigation, and control (GNC), instrumentation, high-temperature materials, design tool validation, and other areas,” the paper stated.

At the time, the company was studying a number of concepts for vehicles that could launch from its aircraft, including a reusable spaceplane that could carry cargo or crew into orbit. A hypersonics testbed like the Hyper-A and Hyper-Z concepts, the company explained in the paper, could “validate technologies and reduce risk related to the design and operation of both space launch and hypersonic vehicles.”

According to the paper, Stratolaunch was only in the “early development stages” of those hypersonic vehicles. It’s unclear if the company is still interested in pursuing either those designs or other hypersonic concepts given the company’s recent interest in “high-speed research and development,” a phrase used in descriptions of the company in job openings. The company declined to comment further on its plans beyond its statement.

Stratolaunch abandoned work on its own launch vehicles in January 2019, about three months after the death of the company’s founder and principal funder, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The company also ended development of the PGA rocket engine that would have been used by those launch vehicles, as well as the Hyper-Z hypersonic vehicle.

The company’s future appeared in question last year after just a single test flight of the company’s giant aircraft. However, in October Stratolaunch announced that Vulcan Inc., Allen’s holding company, had sold the company to an unidentified owner. That new owner was later identified in regulatory filings as Cerebus, a private equity fund, as first reported by GeekWire.

The company has been on a hiring spree since the change in ownership. In a Dec. 10 tweet, Jean Floyd, president and chief executive of Stratolaunch, said the company had grown from 13 to 87 employees in two months. He said the company’s mission was “to be the world’s leading provider of high-speed flight test services.”

★ Regarding Reuters’s Report That Apple Dropped Plan for Encrypting iCloud Backups

Blockbuster report by Joseph Menn for Reuters:

Apple Inc. dropped plans to let iPhone users fully encrypt backups of their devices in the company’s iCloud service after the FBI complained that the move would harm investigations, six sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The tech giant’s reversal, about two years ago, has not previously been reported. It shows how much Apple has been willing to help U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies, despite taking a harder line in high-profile legal disputes with the government and casting itself as a defender of its customers’ information.

I want to go deep on this, because, if true, it’s staggering, heartbreaking news. Go read Menn’s entire report. I’ll wait.

OK. First, Reuters’ headline — “Apple Dropped Plan for Encrypting Backups After FBI Complained” — is missing one essential word: iCloud. For at least the last decade, Apple has offered truly secure encrypted local backups of iOS devices, using iTunes on a Mac or PC. (Starting with MacOS 10.15 Catalina, this feature is now in the Finder.) With encrypted local backups, if you don’t have the passphrase used to encrypt the backup, no one, including Apple, can access the backup data. (Local backups to your Mac or PC are not encrypted by default — more on this below — and non-encrypted local backups therefore omit sensitive data like your passwords.)

It’s essential that Apple still supports local backups, for many reasons, but for most iPhone and iPad users it’s irrelevant, because they never connect their devices to a Mac or PC, and the overwhelming majority of them surely have no idea that the feature even exists. iCloud backups are the only backups most iOS users ever use, and it is a fact that there is no option to truly encrypt them.

This fact has been, to me, a bit of a head-scratcher for the last few years — it’s the one gaping hole in Apple’s commitment to cryptographically-guaranteed privacy for its customers.1

In fact, it’s so contrary to Apple’s stance as The Privacy Company that I’ve already heard from several tech-savvy users today, in the wake of Reuters’s report, that they had assumed until now that their iCloud backups were encrypted.

The bottom line is that iCloud backups are not encrypted, but should be, at least optionally. Menn’s report for Reuters suggests the reason they’re not is that Apple bowed to requests from the FBI. I do not believe his report is entirely correct. Menn writes:

More than two years ago, Apple told the FBI that it planned to offer users end-to-end encryption when storing their phone data on iCloud, according to one current and three former FBI officials and one current and one former Apple employee.

Under that plan, primarily designed to thwart hackers, Apple would no longer have a key to unlock the encrypted data, meaning it would not be able to turn material over to authorities in a readable form even under court order.

In private talks with Apple soon after, representatives of the FBI’s cyber crime agents and its operational technology division objected to the plan, arguing it would deny them the most effective means for gaining evidence against iPhone-using suspects, the government sources said.

When Apple spoke privately to the FBI about its work on phone security the following year, the end-to-end encryption plan had been dropped, according to the six sources. Reuters could not determine why exactly Apple dropped the plan.

Menn is a solid reporter and I have no reason to doubt what he is reporting. What I suspect though, based on (a) everything we all know about Apple, and (b) my own private conversations over the last several years, with rank-and-file Apple sources who’ve been directly involved with the company’s security engineering, is that Menn’s sources for the “Apple told the FBI that it planned to offer users end-to-end encryption when storing their phone data on iCloud” bit were the FBI sources, not the Apple sources, and that it is not accurate.

It simply is not in Apple’s nature to tell anyone outside the company about any of its future product plans. I’m not sure how I could make that more clear. It is not in Apple’s DNA to ask permission for anything. (Cf. the theory that a company’s culture is permanently shaped by the personality of its founders.)

Encrypting iCloud backups would be perfectly legal. There would be no legal requirement for Apple to brief the FBI ahead of time. Nor would there be any reason to brief the FBI ahead of time just to get the FBI’s opinion on the idea. We all know what the FBI thinks about strong encryption. How would this supposed conversation have gone down?

FBI Official: So, what brings you here?

Apple Representative: Well, we’re thinking about offering encrypted iCloud backups, such that only the user would hold the keys.

FBI Official: ——

Apple Representative: And, uh, we were wondering what you folks thought about that.

FBI Official: Is this a joke?

I would find it less surprising to know that Apple acquiesced to the FBI’s request not to allow encrypted iCloud backups than that Apple briefed the FBI about such a plan before it was put in place.

I’ll take as fact all of the following, based on Menn’s report and common sense:

  1. Apple had and perhaps still has a plan to encrypt iCloud backups in a way that only the user controls the keys. I.e. that without the backup passphrase, there would be no way for Apple to access the data contained in the backup.

  2. The FBI has requested that Apple not offer encrypted iCloud backups. I would be surprised if the FBI does not reiterate its stance on this issue whenever they meet with Apple regarding security matters. Apple might never have mentioned a plan to encrypt iCloud backups, but the FBI isn’t stupid. It has surely occurred to anyone who has followed Apple’s progress on security — which to date has only ever moved in the direction of providing customers with more cryptographically-guaranteed privacy — that encrypted iCloud backups are something the company has at the very least considered.

  3. Apple cancelled or postponed its plan to offer encrypted iCloud backups.

It does not necessarily follow that #3 is the result of #2.

It could be the reason, but there are several other logical explanations. It’s a subtle point, but the “due to” in VentureBeat’s headline on Reuter’s syndicated report — “Apple’s iCloud Backups Are Unencrypted Due to Law Enforcement Pressure” — is not justified by the reporting. (Reuters’s original headline uses “after”.)

I’ll repeat the last line of the previous quote from Menn’s report:

Reuters could not determine why exactly Apple dropped the plan.

Dueling sources follow:

“Legal killed it, for reasons you can imagine,” another former Apple employee said he was told, without any specific mention of why the plan was dropped or if the FBI was a factor in the decision.

That person told Reuters the company did not want to risk being attacked by public officials for protecting criminals, sued for moving previously accessible data out of reach of government agencies or used as an excuse for new legislation against encryption.

“They decided they weren’t going to poke the bear anymore,” the person said, referring to Apple’s court battle with the FBI in 2016 over access to an iPhone used by one of the suspects in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

If that is the case — that Apple’s legal department killed the project to avoid “poking the bear” — then it’s ultimately irrelevant whether Apple briefed the FBI in advance or not. It’s acquiescence, and users will be left unprotected. Not just in the U.S., where the FBI has jurisdiction, but everywhere in the world where encryption is legal.

Menn’s FBI sources clearly think that’s the case:

Two of the former FBI officials, who were not present in talks with Apple, told Reuters it appeared that the FBI’s arguments that the backups provided vital evidence in thousands of cases had prevailed.

“It’s because Apple was convinced,” said one. “Outside of that public spat over San Bernardino, Apple gets along with the federal government.”

What else could it be? This:

However, a former Apple employee said it was possible the encryption project was dropped for other reasons, such as concern that more customers would find themselves locked out of their data more often.

That’s a key point. Surely there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of people every day who need to access their iCloud backups who do not remember their password. The fact that Apple can help them is a benefit to those users. That’s why I would endorse following the way local iTunes device backups work: make encryption an option, with a clear warning that if you lose your backup password, no one, including Apple, will be able to restore your data. I would be surprised if Apple’s plan for encrypted iCloud backups were not exactly that.

Buried deep in the article is, to me, the most alarming aspect of Menn’s report:

Once the decision was made, the 10 or so experts on the Apple encryption project — variously code-named Plesio and KeyDrop — were told to stop working on the effort, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating — let’s see what Apple actually does. Reuters’s report notwithstanding, I would not be surprised if end-to-end encrypted iCloud backups are forthcoming. This should be at the top of our list of hoped-for-features at WWDC 2020.

This isn’t about Apple foiling law enforcement. It isn’t about Apple helping criminals. It’s about Apple enabling its customers to own and control their own data. As things stand, if you use iCloud backup, you do not own and control the data therein.

  1. Email is another gaping hole. But that’s how email works everywhere — it’s inherently insecure by design. Read this 2013 piece by Geoff Duncan for a cogent explanation. ↩︎

The Hyades Star Cluster

It is the closest cluster of stars to the Sun. It is the closest cluster of stars to the Sun.

Derek Jeter, Hall of Famer

James Wagner, reporting for The New York Times:

It was never a question that Derek Jeter, the longtime captain of the Yankees and one of the most celebrated players in baseball history, was going to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The intrigue instead centered on whether he would become the second unanimously elected player, following his former teammate and fellow five-time World Series champion Mariano Rivera.

On Tuesday, Jeter fell just short of Rivera’s historic mark from last season.

Jeter was named on all but one of the 397 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America — more than enough to clear the 75 percent hurdle for election. He eclipsed the previous second-highest voting mark, 99.3 percent, for outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016. Jeter received 99.7 percent of the vote.

The surprise isn’t that some cowardly little man decided to hide behind the anonymity of his vote and deny Jeter unanimity. The surprise is that there wasn’t a single cowardly dope who did the same last year for Rivera. Every single player among the top 30 on this list should have been unanimous. For chrissake Babe Ruth and Willie Mays only got 95 percent of the vote.

Jeter and Rivera were teammates for 19 seasons — the most, by far, of any Hall of Fame teammates. What a privilege it was to watch them play and win five World Series, all while playing for the greatest team in the history of professional sports.


What We Think Sekulow May Have Been Referencing With 'Lawyer Lawsuits' Tirade

A very amped-up Jay Sekulow ended his argument against Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) latest amendment with a diatribe against what Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) had said about “lawyer lawsuits.” His repeated comments about “lawyer lawsuits” appeared to prompt confusion on the House managers table in the well of the chamber, where the House members are joined by lawyers who have been working on the House inquiry.

At one point, Barry Berke — a lawyer who has been working with the House Judiciary Committee — appeared to figure out Sekulow was referring to, and whispered to a female staffer sitting next to him, and she laughed. To my best lip-reading ability (and what I believe Sekulow had been referring to), Berke appeared to explain that “FOIA lawsuits” is what prompted the confusion. A note was passed down the table, and the other lawyers working with the managers smiled as they also appeared to recognize the snafu.

House Intelligence Committee Chair and impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-CA) later addressed Sekulow’s remarks about the since-scrapped suit involving John Bolton aide Charles Kupperman.

“So when they say something about ‘lawyer lawsuits,’ and they say there is nothing wrong (with) the House suing to get these witnesses to show up and they should have sued to get them to show up, their own other lawyers are in court saying the House has no such right,” Schiff said. “They’re in court saying, you can’t have lawyer lawsuits. So that argument cannot be made in both directions.”

Follow along with our latest impeachment trial coverage here. 

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly said Sekulow’s diatribe was in response to Schiff’s remarks, but it was in fact in response to Demings’ speech. TPM regrets this error. 

Wednesday: Existing Home Sales

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

• At 8:30 AM, Chicago Fed National Activity Index for December. This is a composite index of other data.

• At 9:00 AM, FHFA House Price Index for November 2019. This was originally a GSE only repeat sales, however there is also an expanded index.

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

• At 10:00 AM, Existing Home Sales for December from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). The consensus is for 5.43 million SAAR, up from 5.35 million.

Space Development Agency to start building its first constellation of surveillance satellites

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s Space Development Agency is soliciting pitches for technologies that will be used to build a network of satellites in low Earth orbit that would help the military find targets on the ground and track enemy missiles in flight.

By late 2022, the agency wants to have several dozen satellites in orbit “to show that we can operate a proliferated constellation and that the constellation can talk to weapon systems,” SDA Director Derek Tournear said Jan. 21 at a Pentagon news conference.

The agency issued a broad area announcement (BAA) on Jan. 21 titled “National Defense Space Architecture Systems, Technologies and Emerging Capabilities.” A BAA is an open call for ideas.

Tournear was named director of the SDA in October. The agency was established in March and sits under the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. Congress in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act directed that the SDA be moved to the U.S. Space Force no later than 2022.

Congress in fiscal year 2020 appropriated $30.5 million for SDA operations and maintenance, $20 million for research and development, and $75 million for technology prototyping.

With funding in hand, the SDA wants to start building its first constellation — called a transport layer — that will serve two primary goals: locate targets on the ground and at sea, and track advanced missiles such as hypersonic glide vehicles. The constellation will have a mix of sensing and communications satellites so data collected by the sensors can be passed to the communications satellites, sent down to commanders on the ground or used to directly tip and cue a missile interceptor.

The plan is to expand the constellation over time. By 2024 it would have hundreds of satellites to provide regional coverage. By 2026, there would be enough satellites for global coverage.

The SDA intends to ultimately deploy multiple constellations that collectively could amount to thousands of satellites.

In addition to the transport layer there will be a battle management layer, a tracking layer, a custody layer, a navigation layer, a deterrence layer and a support layer. Tournear said the SDA will deploy satellites faster than traditional military programs.

The agency last year issued a request for industry ideas that generated 150 responses, said Tournear. Based on the information received, the SDA decided that its constellations will operate in LEO but at higher altitudes, from 800 kilometers to 1,200 kilometers above Earth. The agency believes that there is a mature enough industrial base to support building the initial transport layer over the next two years and then start delivering one satellite a week to support the other layers. Satellites will be small to medium, in the several-hundred-kilogram category. They would have an operational life of about five years and cost around $10 million each.

A solicitation specifically for the transport layer will come out this spring and contracts could be awarded as early as this summer, said Tournear.

The tracking and communications satellites in the transport layer will have optical links so they can talk to each other. In a recent request for information SDA asked for pitches on optical inter-satellite link standards to inform the upcoming solicitation.

The communications satellites will have tactical data links such as Link 16. The tracking satellites will have infrared sensors and will share data with the transport satellites.

Tournear noted that SDA does not plan to develop a traditional communications satellite network but one designed specifically to share tactical data over a secure communications protocol.

Links 1/21/20

Links for you. Science:

New microbes discovered in a red fox, homemade kefir and a tick
How Climate Change Influenced Australia’s Unprecedented Fires
He helped make burgers safer. Now he’s fighting food poisoning again.
Behavioral Economics’ Latest Bias: Seeing Bias Wherever It Looks
Trump’s EPA is said to cut scientists out of new water policy that threatens New England wetlands
It’s time to take politics out of fisheries


The Ministry Of Untruth: What Donald Trump’s unending stream of lies has done to our White House, our country and us. (must-read)
There are no heroes in the Trump administration (excellent)
Bernie Sanders’s Foreign Policy Is Too Evidence-Based for the Beltway’s Taste
The Case Against Huawei
We Must Save and Strengthen Our Precious Public Assets
“Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy
New Jersey Just Passed the First Law in the Nation to Guarantee Severance Pay After Mass Layoffs
Fact Check: Joe Biden Has Advocated Cutting Social Security for 40 Years (yes, he has, and it could cost Democrats the election)
John Carlos Responds to the New Olympics Ban on Political Protest
Tons of New Apartments Are Being Built That Almost No One Can Afford
Bernie Is Less Sexist Than American Voters: Even if you think a woman could be elected as president, you’d be a fool not to worry about it. (was surprised by the author)
An Under-The-Radar SCOTUS Case Could Obliterate The Line Between Church And State
Iowa And Nevada Will Caucus With Mobile Apps Despite Hacking Fears
The Australian Open Is the Tip of a Melting Iceberg
Joe Biden Doubles Down On A Racist Myth About Black Parents
The Science of (Not) Ending Global Poverty
The Bernie Sanders Attack Joe Biden Can’t Ignore
The Warren-Sanders Feud Is Not About #MeToo: Couching the spat between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the language of #MeToo serves no one.
Your online activity is now effectively a social ‘credit score’
Andrew Bacevich on U.S. Foreign-Policy Mistakes

CASIS Independent Review Team Update

Brazil Charges Glenn Greenwald with Cybercrimes

Glenn Greenwald has been charged with cybercrimes in Brazil, stemming from publishing information and documents that were embarrassing to the government. The charges are that he actively helped the people who actually did the hacking:

Citing intercepted messages between Mr. Greenwald and the hackers, prosecutors say the journalist played a "clear role in facilitating the commission of a crime."

For instance, prosecutors contend that Mr. Greenwald encouraged the hackers to delete archives that had already been shared with The Intercept Brasil, in order to cover their tracks.

Prosecutors also say that Mr. Greenwald was communicating with the hackers while they were actively monitoring private chats on Telegram, a messaging app. The complaint charged six other individuals, including four who were detained last year in connection with the cellphone hacking.

This isn't new, or unique to Brazil. Last year, Julian Assange was charged by the US with doing essentially the same thing with Chelsea Manning:

The indictment alleges that in March 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications. Manning, who had access to the computers in connection with her duties as an intelligence analyst, was using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks. Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to her. Such a deceptive measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures.

During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning's transmission of classified records to Assange. The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that "after this upload, that's all I really have got left." To which Assange replied, "curious eyes never run dry in my experience."

Good commentary on the Assange case here.

It's too early for any commentary on the Greenwald case. Lots of news articles are essentially saying the same thing. I'll post more news when there is some.

For Later

More on the Saudis and the hacking of Jeff Bezos. Overshadowed for today. But if this bears out it’s a very big deal.

Satellite propulsion startup Dawn Aerospace developing small launch vehicle

Updated at 9:50 p.m. Eastern. 

WASHINGTON — A green propulsion startup with more than $1 million in sales says it is gaining traction in the smallsat market while funding its own small launch vehicle. 

Dawn Aerospace, based in New Zealand and the Netherlands, has its first propulsion system launching in March on a D-Orbit cubesat aboard a Vega rocket. A second is scheduled to launch on an Indian PSLV in the second quarter of 2020 on a cubesat for Hiber, a Dutch Internet of Things startup. Dawn Aerospace also has contracts from the New Zealand Space Agency and the U.S. Air Force, Dawn Aerospace CEO Jeroen Wink said in an interview.

Formed in late 2017, Dawn Aerospace has raised a little over $2 million. Tuhua Ventures, a firm that invests in New Zealand startups, led the company’s seed round in 2018. 

“The idea is to be able to commercialize something very early, to help fund future launcher development,” said Joshua Rea, who does business development at Dawn Aerospace, said. “People we sell propulsion to will likely be customers for launch in the long term.”

Dawn Aerospace is commercializing thrusters that use nitrous oxide and propene instead of hydrazine. Its 5-pound-force thruster is produced without components restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, according to the company. 

Wink said Dawn Aerospace built three flight-ready propulsion systems for cubesats in 2019, and eight larger thrusters for microsatellites. This year the company aims to build 50 cubesat thrusters and 100 microsat thrusters, he said. 

Dawn Aerospace is using revenues from those sales to develop a drone-launched rocket system. Rea said the uncrewed spaceplane would fly above 100 kilometers, reaching a speed of 4-kilometers per second. An expendable two-stage rocket would then vault “several hundred kilograms” into low Earth orbit, Wink said. 

Dawn Aerospace hasn’t finalized how much mass its future launch system will be able to carry, Wink said. The company plans to conduct a suborbital flight this year, in hopes of maturing launcher technology and creating an additional revenue stream by carrying payloads to microgravity, he and Rea said. 

The company’s orbital launch system is at least four years away from flying, Wink said. 

“What we’re really after is applying the model of aviation to space transportation,” he said. “Part of that is not requiring a whole lot of ground infrastructure. We want to be as flexible as possible, taking off from any place in the world.”

Dawn Aerospace is not alone in planning an air-launched rocket system. Virgin Orbit says it will debut LauncherOne with its modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft early this year, and Huntsville, Alabama, startup Aevum plans a first launch using a drone in 2021.

Wink said Dawn Aerospace’s founding team met during 2010 while working on suborbital rockets at the Delft University of Technology. That work gave them experience now leveraged on building a commercial launch system. 

Dawn Aerospace’s New Zealand staff handle launcher airframe development, in-space propulsion assembly, verification and validation and most commercial activities, Wink said. Launcher propulsion and avionics are under development in New Zealand, where test flights are planned, he said. 

Wink said Dawn Aerospace is working to close a $10 million Series A round in the second quarter of 2020. He said spaceport discussions are also underway with airports in New Zealand and Germany.

Rea said Dawn Aerospace plans to open an office in the U.S. and build up a sales team there. The company is comprised of 25 people today, Wink said. 

For satellite propulsion, Dawn Aerospace is using a combination of commercial off the shelf technologies and customized 3D-printed parts, Wink said. He said Dawn Aerospace can provide propulsion systems for larger satellites by scaling the number of thrusters, but that that method loses efficiency as satellites grow into the multi-ton range.


So far, I would say Chairman Schiff has done a good job at putting Senate Republicans on trial. As I’ve suggested previously, I don’t expect this will shift their views. But it will put their participation in this cover-up in stark relief. And that is a story for the November election.

It was also striking the degree to which the President’s lawyers made a series of unambiguously false claims. Lawyers spin. That’s their job. I would expect lots of huffing and puffing and conspiracy theories. But some of these lies were about things we also saw only a few weeks ago. I confess a lot of it I found hard to watch. I got angry. It is grating to watch lawyers for the President lie brazenly on the floor of the Senate and claim the President is above the law.

Do I expect Republican Senators to say, okay, that’s really enough, that’s not something we can allow on the Senate floor? No, I don’t. But they have helped the House managers by casting the whole matter in high and sharp relief. Senate Republicans want to make this all go away. And it’s entirely in their power to do so. But Schiff and his fellow managers are creating a record of their decision. That has to be the goal. Because it is a goal that is within their power to achieve.

NRO, the U.S. spy satellite agency, preps for first dedicated launch from foreign soil

The payload shroud for Rocket Lab’s next mission — designed NROL-151 by the National Reconnaissance Office — is pictured inside a processing facility in New Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab’s first mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, which owns the U.S. government’s fleet of intelligence-gathering satellites, is scheduled to launch from New Zealand as soon as Jan. 30 (U.S. time), officials announced Monday.

Designated NROL-151, the previously-unannounced mission will be the first dedicated launch for the NRO from a spaceport outside the United States.

With rare exceptions, information about the NRO’s payloads is typically classified. The spy satellite agency and Rocket Lab released no details about the payload set to fly into orbit on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket later this month.

Most of the NRO’s missions are large, requiring boosts from heavier rockets from United Launch Alliance or SpaceX. But the organization has expanded its use of small satellites in recent years, deploying CubeSats and arranging dedicated launches on smaller rockets, such as Northrop Grumman’s Minotaur launch vehicle family.

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket provides a different launch service, offering a dedicated ride to orbit small satellites without requiring payload owners to hitch a ride on a larger rocket, which often requires operators to compromise on schedule or orbital parameters.

The Electron is designed to carry up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of payload to a sun-synchronous polar orbit around 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth. Rocket Lab — which is headquartered in California, and has a factory and a primary launch site in New Zealand — says its base price to purchase the entire capacity of an Electron rocket mission is around $5.7 million.

The NRO said the NROL-151 mission is the first launch it has procured through the agency’s new Rapid Acquisition of Small Launch, or RASR, contracting mechanism. The NRO said the small launch program “enables our exploration of new launch opportunities by providing a streamlined, commercial approach for launching smallsats.”

“Under this approach, RASR helps us pursue the use of both large and small satellites to create an integrated architecture that provides global coverage to answer a wide range of intelligence questions,” the NRO said.

The first opportunity to the launch the NROL-151 mission opens at 7 p.m. EST on Jan. 30 (0000 GMT; 1 p.m. New Zealand time on Jan. 31). A four-hour window is available daily through Feb. 12 (U.S. time), according to Rocket Lab, which has nicknamed the upcoming flight “Birds of a Feather.”

Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket fires off its launch pad on Mahia Peninsula. Credit: Kieran Fanning/Rocket Lab

The NROL-151 mission will mark the 11th flight of a Rocket Lab Electron booster since its debut in May 2017. It will be Rocket Lab’s first flight of 2020, and the fourth dedicated Rocket Lab mission for the U.S. government.

“We are honored the NRO has selected Rocket Lab as the launch provider for this dedicated mission,” said Lars Hoffman, Rocket Lab’s senior vice president of global launch services. “The Electron launch vehicle is perfectly positioned to provide the kind of rapid and responsive access to space that puts the NRO in complete control over their own launch schedule and orbital requirements.

“As the industry shifts toward the disaggregation of large, geostationary spacecraft, Electron enables unprecedented access to space to support a resilient layer of government small satellite infrastructure,” Hoffman said in a statement.

The NRO said it was looking forward to a new partnership with Rocket Lab and a continued collaboration with New Zealand on the NROL-151 mission. New Zealand is a partner in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance with the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Rocket Lab says it will attempt another guided re-entry of the Electron booster’s first stage after it shuts down around two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff. While the Electron’s second stage and Curie kick stage place the NROL-151 payload into orbit, the first stage will use thrusters to flip around 180 degrees and re-enter the atmosphere.

Engineers will analyze data gathered by sensors on the first stage to determine how the rocket weathers the extreme heat and pressures of re-entering the atmosphere. Rocket Lab debuted an upgraded first stage on the company’s previous launch in December, including a guidance system and thrusters to control the pencil-shaped composite booster’s orientation during re-entry, plus a base heat shield to protect the rocket during descent.

Rocket Lab will add parachutes to future rockets. The company eventually aims to retrieve the boosters using a helicopter as they descend under a parachute, enabling the company to recover and reuse the stage while avoiding contamination from salt water.

Unlike SpaceX’s larger Falcon 9 rocket boosters, Rocket Lab’s Electron first stage does not have enough leftover propellant after its ascent burn to attempt a propulsive landing. That’s simply a matter of physics, Rocket Lab says, because a small rocket inherently has thinner performance margins than a large launcher.

Rocket Lab is the first of a new crop of commercial small satellite launch companies to enter operational service. Other major players in the smallsat launcher market include Virgin Orbit and Firefly Aerospace, both of which claim they are within months of attempting an orbital launch.

Rocket Lab’s launch site on Mahia Peninsula on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Rocket Lab is constructing a second launch pad at the spaceport — seen here behind the Electron rocket’s Launch Complex-1 — to accommodate a faster flight cadence. Credit: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab built a privately-owned launch site for the Electron rocket on Mahia Peninsula, located on the eastern coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The Launch Complex 1 facility at Mahia is undergoing an expansion, with construction underway on a second launch pad there.

Rocket Lab announced the completion of its first launch site in the United States — named Launch Complex 2 — last month at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island, Virginia.

The first Electron launch from Virginia is scheduled this spring with a U.S. military satellite.

Rocket Lab says it built the new launch pad in Virginia primarily to accommodate U.S. government payloads.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

"Chemical Activity Barometer Rose in January"

Note: This appears to be a leading indicator for industrial production.

From the American Chemistry Council: Chemical Activity Barometer Rose in January
The Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB), a leading economic indicator created by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), jumped 0.6 percent in January on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis following a 0.1 percent gain in December. On a year-over-year (Y/Y) basis, the barometer rose 1.4 percent.
"The CAB signals gains in U.S. commerce into the third quarter of 2020,” said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC.
Applying the CAB back to 1912, it has been shown to provide a lead of two to fourteen months, with an average lead of eight months at cycle peaks as determined by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The median lead was also eight months. At business cycle troughs, the CAB leads by one to seven months, with an average lead of four months. The median lead was three months. The CAB is rebased to the average lead (in months) of an average 100 in the base year (the year 2012 was used) of a reference time series. The latter is the Federal Reserve’s Industrial Production Index.
emphasis added
Chemical Activity Barometer Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the year-over-year change in the 3-month moving average for the Chemical Activity Barometer compared to Industrial Production.  It does appear that CAB (red) generally leads Industrial Production (blue).

The year-over-year change in the CAB suggests that the YoY change in industrial production might have bottomed, and suggests some "gains in U.S. commerce into the third quarter of 2020".

Op-ed | What should we call the men and women of Space Force?

Last year, I was invited by the U.S. government to a couple of workshops to help visualize future scenarios and strategies, which triggered a question in my mind: So what do you call members of the Space Force in all their varied roles?

Several things must be considered:

  • There is no centuries-old tradition to inform our choice.
  • The traditions that do exist in other services can be inconsistent and confusing.
  • Science fiction and culture have already set some expectations, both good and bad (starship trooper, space cadet, spaceman spiff).
  • We have a preexisting space culture with its own terminology, namely “astronaut” for those who actually fly in space.
  • The new service is being carved from the Air Force, but space is seen as analogous to the sea and thus the domain of the sea services and nautical terminology enter the discussion.
  • Any term should be usable as a formal designation for lower ranks.
  • It should cover all members of the service. Everyone in the Navy, from ensign to admiral, is a Sailor. In the Army, all are Soldiers. In the Marine Corps, it’s Marine. And in the Air Force, all service members are Airmen (male or female — an awkward problem we can fix in the space service.)
  • We must include gender neutrality in our choice to reflect modern sensibilities.

    A makeshift Space Force uniform is modeled during a Halloween celebration in San Diego in 2018. Credit: Nathan Rupert via Flickr

As a side note, this entire conversation would be much easier if the new service were called Space Guard. I prefer this as the title for the force, as I see it as a lot less confrontational and reflective of many more of the new service’s roles. Frankly, it is not out of the question that a new administration changes the embryonic service’s name as part of the traditional erasing of legacies in space projects, and as a step short of trying to reverse its creation (a very bad idea). If this happens, we’ve got this part of the job handled: we can simply call them Guardians.

But back to the question at hand. An early contender for a Space Force service member was Sentinel. While that’s great for those managing early warning systems, it’s too passive overall, as it denotes someone who waits, when many current and future activities will be active and proactive. Some suggest Spaceman but up comes the gender issue and we would have to have Spacewoman. It’s just too ponderous.

I believe the best name for Space Force members is Spacer. It combines simplicity and gender neutrality with the ability to apply it specifically to the enlisted ranks.

Now hold your giggle. It works.

Like Sailor, Soldier or Marine, Spacer encompasses anyone in the service regardless of rank or gender. This is important for morale, creating a unified bottom-up identification for all ranks and levels of command. Thus, while everyone in the Space Force would be a Spacer, it is also a specific prefix for enlisted members (Spacer Second Class, First Class,etc..).

Spacer is also clean and short. After all, the NCOs who actually run all branches of the military do not like too many syllables. “Drop and give me twenty, Spacewoman!” doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Hit the airlock, Spacer!”

Next come officers. How to blend the air and sea traditions? Perhaps a slight melding of the ranks and their meanings is a solution.

For noncommissioned officers, Air Force terminology can remain in place. A Sergeant will always be a Sergeant anywhere in the Solar System (my dad was one and we still call him “Sarge”).

We can keep the term Lieutenant, common to several services. A midrank officer can be a Commander (Navy). Then comes Captain, which is common to the Army, Air Force, the Navy and Marines (although Captain is a higher rank in the Navy and Coast Guard, the equivalent of a Colonel in the other services). In the Air Force, a Captain may or may not fly hardware. However, in Space Force it can be reserved for one who runs a spacecraft with a crew. Above this grade, we could keep the Major, Colonel and General officer ranks used by all the services except the Navy and Coast Guard. Admiral is a nice title and is used in space fiction but I don’t see Air Force brass transitioning into the new service getting too excited about changing their titles. (Perhaps when we launch Star Fleet).

Yes, for now, the term Spacer may elicit a smile, even a giggle for some. But it checks off all the boxes for a military branch created in the 21st century, and is flexible enough that even if the new service shifts to a more maritime orientation, it still works.

The men and women who step up to serve on the high frontier of space will create a culture that is unique, and will establish their own traditions. Let’s start them off with names and ranks that fit their unique role. Frankly, there is no term in this science fiction-like discussion that won’t cause some poking of fun, but in the future it will become something kids aspire to be.

Of course, next will come the name for the first graduates of the Space Academy, as the term Space Cadet flips to a new meaning. Yes, it too may have some small smile factor at first, but that will fade quickly, especially after coverage of the first graduating class in their new black uniform…

Rick Tumlinson is a founding board member of the X Prize who led the commercial takeover of the Russian MIR space station. He has testified before the U.S. Congress six times, and won the World Technology Award in 2015. His company Spacefund is a VC firm investing in space startups. Follow him on Twitter: @rocketrick

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 20, 2020 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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What Do We Call Space Force Personnel?

What should we call the men and women of Space Force?, Rick Tumlinson, Space News

"I believe the best name for Space Force members is Spacer. It combines simplicity and gender neutrality with the ability to apply it specifically to the enlisted ranks. Now hold your giggle. It works. Like Sailor, Soldier or Marine, Spacer encompasses anyone in the service regardless of rank or gender. This is important for morale, creating a unified bottom-up identification for all ranks and levels of command. Thus, while everyone in the Space Force would be a Spacer, it is also a specific prefix for enlisted members (Spacer Second Class, First Class,etc..)."

Keith's note: "Spacer". Make sense to me.

More on Space Force

Says It All

I’m going to be doing running updates in our staff blog with my colleagues. But here’s one nugget I wanted to share with you here. It really captures the whole story. The President’s lawyer Pat Cipollone says that all the evidence will show that “the President has done absolutely nothing wrong.” In other words, there’s no argument here that this hasn’t met some threshold or that there’s some shortcoming in evidence. The argument is that everything we’ve learned is completely fine.

Tuesday assorted links

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Did Boeing's Starliner Have Thruster Issues?

Starliner's thruster performance receiving close scrutiny from NASA, Ars Technica

"Although it did not fly up to the altitude of the space station and perform a rendezvous and docking during its test flight, Starliner did fly an "abort demonstration" that simulated approaching and backing away from the space station. The NASA source said Boeing may also have failed this test due to thruster issues. Boeing denied this. "In testing the system the spacecraft executed all the commands, but we did observe a lower than expected delta V during the backing away phase," Boeing said in a statement. "Current evidence indicates the lower delta V was due to the earlier cautionary thruster measures, but we are carefully reviewing data to determine whether this demonstration should be repeated in the subsequent mission."

Revisiting: Has Housing Market Activity Peaked?

I wrote this in July 2018 (see: Has Housing Market Activity Peaked? and Has the Housing Market Peaked? (Part 2)
First, I think it is likely that existing home sales will move more sideways going forward. However it is important to remember that new home sales are more important for jobs and the economy than existing home sales. Since existing sales are existing stock, the only direct contribution to GDP is the broker's commission. There is usually some additional spending with an existing home purchase - new furniture, etc. - but overall the economic impact is small compared to a new home sale.
For the economy, what we should be focused on are single family starts and new home sales. As I noted in Investment and Recessions "New Home Sales appears to be an excellent leading indicator, and currently new home sales (and housing starts) are up solidly year-over-year, and this suggests there is no recession in sight."

If new home sales and single family starts have peaked that would be a significant warning sign.   Although housing is under pressure from policy (negative impact from tax, immigration and trade policies), I do not think housing has peaked, and I think new home sales and single family starts will increase further over the next couple of years.
Since that post, existing home sales have mostly moved sideways, and both new home sales and single family starts have hit new cycle highs.

Here is the graph I like to use to track tops and bottoms for housing activity. This is a graph of Single family housing starts, New Home Sales, and  Residential Investment (RI) as a percent of GDP.

Starts, new home sales, residential Investment Click on graph for larger image.

The arrows point to some of the earlier peaks and troughs for these three measures.

The purpose of this graph is to show that these three indicators generally reach peaks and troughs together. Note that Residential Investment is quarterly and single-family starts and new home sales are monthly.

RI as a percent of GDP has been sluggish recently, mostly due to softness in multi-family residential.   However, both single family starts and new home sales have set new cycle highs this year.

Also, look at the relatively low level of RI as a percent of GDP, new home sales and single family starts compared to previous peaks. To have a significant downturn from these levels would be surprising.

Facts from The Browser

Each year, about 15% of queries on Google have never been searched for before

The average American church sermon lasts for 37 minutes — but only 14 minutes in Catholic churches

Japan now has over 70,000 people who are more than 100 years old

The average human-body temperature is 97.5 degrees, not 98.6 degrees

The average new American home now has more bathrooms than occupants

Do subscribe to what is the very best general email newsletter!

The post Facts from The Browser appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Impeachment Liveblog

The TPM team is busy live-blogging as the impeachment trial gets underway in the Senate. Follow every twist and turn with us here.

Starliner’s thruster performance receiving close scrutiny from NASA

A close-up view of the Starliner capsule with its service module immediately beneath it.

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

Nearly one month ago, Boeing completed the first orbital test flight of its Starliner spacecraft with a near-perfect landing at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico.

The mission had to be cut short due to a well-publicized timing error that delayed the spacecraft's service module from performing an orbital insertion burn. This caused the thrusters on board the service module, which provides power to Starliner during most of its mission, to fire longer than expected. As a result, the spacecraft did not have enough fuel to complete a rendezvous with the International Space Station, a key component of the test flight in advance of crewed missions.

Since providing some initial information during a post-flight news conference, NASA and Boeing have gone mostly quiet about the investigation into the timing error. Two weeks ago, the space agency said it had initiated two investigations. One would find the root cause of the "mission elapsed timer anomaly" over the course of about two months, and the second will determine whether another uncrewed test flight of Starliner is required before astronauts fly on the vehicle.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Made In Space expands facilities, moves headquarters to Florida

SAN FRANCISCO – Made In Space is moving its corporate headquarters from Mountain View, California, to Jacksonville, Florida.

The company founded in Mountain View in 2010 established a presence in Jacksonville in 2015 and a partnership with Space Florida in 2017. Since then, Space Florida has provided financing to help the commercial space startup expand operations in the Sunshine State.

“With this move they are investing nearly $3 million,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said during a Jan. 17 press conference at the firms new headquarters. “Their footprint has increased from a two-room facility to this 19,000 square foot facility.”

Made In Space’s Jacksonville campus includes facilities for manufacturing, integrating, testing and controlling spacecraft as well as in-space manufacturing equipment. It also brings the firm’s administrative, engineering, operations and production teams for major programs under one roof.

“Florida is in the midst of a great renaissance with respect to space,” DeSantis said. Made In Space is a great example of the private sector’s role in the rennaissance, he added.

“Relocating our headquarters to Jacksonville is a strategic step to position the company for long-term growth,” Andrew Rush, Made In Space president and CEO, said in a statement. “By expanding our presence in Florida, we can leverage a skilled aerospace workforce, large scale infrastructure to support our growth, and key strategic partners like Space Florida that will accelerate our momentum as we continue to develop world-class space technology.”

Made In Space will maintain a presence in Silicon Valley to support additional technology programs and strategic relationships with industry partners, Trey Clinton, Made In Space spokesman, said by email.

Made In Space has not determined how many jobs will move from California to Florida. Employees affected by the move will be offered positions in Florida, he added.

An Astronomer Explains Black Holes in 5 Levels of Increasing Complexity

In this video from Wired’s 5 Levels series, NASA astronomer Varoujan Gorjian explains the concept of black holes to five different people, ranging from a five-year-old to a college student to a Caltech astrophysicist.

A research astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Grojian specializes in — and I’d just like to pause here to emphasize that this is the official title of his research group at JPL — the structure of the universe. Which means the guy not only knows about event horizons and gravitational lensing but stuff like tidal forces (what!), x-ray binaries (hey now!), and active galactic nuclei (oh my god!). Seriously, the guy’s knowledge of black holes is encyclopedic.

Gorjian lost me somewhere in the middle of his conversation with the grad student.

Tags: astronomy   black holes   physics   science   space   Varoujan Gorjian   video

Where Things Stand: Trump Will Have Loudest Cheerleaders On His Team During Sham Trial

The Senate impeachment trial will officially begin this afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) officially placing his rules for the trial on the Senate floor. The rules are designed to push the proceedings through the upper chamber quickly, with each side getting just 24 hours to make their opening arguments within two calendar days. McConnell is also barring any House evidence from entering the record automatically — everything must be approved by vote.

Under these rules, the Senate will be in session late into the night, likely losing the attention of many working Americans. Trump will have some of his most vocal supporters from the House making his case in the media, including those who ardently defended him and raised conspiracy theories about Ukraine and the 2016 election throughout the House Intelligence Committee’s public impeachment hearings. Here’s more on that and other stories we’re following.

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Tierney Sneed will be on the Hill covering impeachment proceedings for us all day today, including the debate that ensues after McConnell officially submits his rules resolution to the floor around 1:00 p.m. ET. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is expected to request an amendment to the rules around 3:00 p.m. ET, which would allow witnesses and documents to be brought forth as part of the initial trial proceedings.

Josh Kovensky is digging into the batty story surrounding Andrew Peek, the senior director of European and Russian Affairs at the National Security Council, who was escorted off the White House grounds on Friday. Peek has since been placed on administrative leave as the White House conducts a “security-related investigation.” Peek is the third person to hold this post in the past year. The other two — Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison — both testified before the House during the Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

We’ll be covering any and all developments surrounding the launch of the Senate impeachment trial in our impeachment liveblog, found here. So far this morning, we’ve been tracking Democratic leadership’s reaction to McConnell’s trial rules. Needless to say, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are furious. Schumer called McConnell’s proposal “a national disgrace” while Pelosi accused the GOP leader of choosing “a cover-up for the President, rather than honor his oath to the Constitution.”

Trump will have some of his most loyal House pit bulls on his impeachment defense team, working to “combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment,” The White House said. The team includes: Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA), Mike Johnson (R-LA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Mark Meadows (R-NC), John Ratcliffe (R-TX), Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY).

Today’s Rundown

So far this morning: Trump gave an address in Davos around 5:00 a.m. ET and spoke with World Economic Forum chief Klaus Schwab at 6:15 a.m. ET. Trump participated in an International Business Council reception at 6:30 a.m. ET and met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at 8:30 a.m. ET.

10:15 a.m. ET: Trump will meet with Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga.

11:20 a.m. ET: Trump’s scheduled to meet with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

12:30 p.m. ET: The President will have dinner with a group of CEOs.

1:00 p.m. ET: The Senate impeachment trial will commence with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) officially presenting his resolution for debate. Each side will have an hour.

3:00 p.m. ET: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will request an amendment to the rule to allow for witnesses and documents at the start of the trial. That Schumer request will also be subject to an hour of debate.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

READ: House Dems Say Trump Made ‘Chilling Assertion’ In Senate Summons Response — Summer Concepcion

What We Are Reading

Hillary Clinton In Full: A Fiery New Documentary, Trump Regrets And Harsh Words For Bernie: ‘Nobody Likes Him’ — Lacey Rose

We Knew Who Trump Was All Along: The Assassination of New York Edition

If you were paying attention.

I recently read Robert Fitch’s The Assassination of New York, which is about the transformation of New York City and was published in 1993. It’s always fascinating to see how and if ‘current events’ books hold up years later. Fitch’s work does, in that he describes how gentrification was happening and would continue to happen in NYC. He also places that gentrification in a larger economic context, one that a quarter of a century later has been forgotten by most urban planners, even the ‘good guys.’

But that’s not what this post is about, it’s about Il Trumpe. Fitch mentions Trump when describing the 1980s (p. 164):

Just about the same time Twentieth Century Task Force was promoting the idea of New York as the capital of the world, Donald Trump was articulating his own more free-wheeling brand of globalism. The customer Trump had in mind for his Tower on 57th Street was not

the sort of person who inherited money 175 years ago and lives on 84th and Park Avenue…I’m talking about the wealthy Italian with the beautiful wife and the red Ferrari.

Trump explained he filled up his condos so fast with Europeans, South Americans, Arabs, and Asians, anxious to avoid being vetted by snooty co-op boards that he was able to double the offering prices.

Trump Tower’s global dimensions were genuine, if not exactly those emphasized by Mr. Trump himself. It was built with the help of illegal Polish aliens hired off the books to remove asbestos at a fraction of union scale. Naturally, Trump said he liked their work ethic. On some days, hundreds, even thousands, of workers from Poland and elsewhere around the globe “stood in lines down the street, waiting, begging” for jobs at Trump Tower. And, shades of Zoe Baird, Trump would later testify he didn’t even know what “off-the-books” meant. Welcome to what academics called the Global City’s “informal sector.”

Trump Tower’s globalism was also manifested in the disproportionate number of its residents who belonged to international crime syndicates. There was David Bogatin–the Russian émigré crime family member who bought five condos. And Robert Polo who bought half a dozen while he faced charges “in more countries than most people have visited.” They joined Luchese and other crime family associates, who, while they have been in New York a while, still retain a certain international panache.

People knew he was a bagman. If both the media and professional Democrats hadn’t sucked at their jobs, maybe 2016 would have been different.

Sixth Marketplace Innovation Workshop (MIW) Columbia University, June 2-3, 2020

Sixth Marketplace Innovation Workshop (MIW)

Columbia University, New York, NY

June 2-3, 2020


Itai Ashlagi, Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University
Omar Besbes, Columbia Business School, Columbia University
Ilan Lobel, Stern School of Business, New York University
Gabriel Weintraub, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University


Markets are an ancient institution for matching the supply for a good or service with its demand. Physical markets were typically slow to evolve, with simple institutions governing trade, and trading partners generally facing a daunting challenge in finding the “right” partner. The information technology revolution, however, has generated a sea of change in how markets function: now, markets are typically complex platforms, with a range of mechanisms involved in facilitating matches among participants. Recent trends point to an unprecedented level of control over the design, implementation, and operation of markets: more than ever before, we are able to engineer the platforms governing transactions among market participants. As a consequence, market operators or platforms can control a host of variables such as pricing, liquidity, visibility, information revelation, terms of trade, and transaction fees. On its part, given these variables, market participants often face complex problems when optimizing their own decisions. In the supply side such decisions may include the assortment of products to offer and their price structure, while in the demand side they may include how much to bid for different goods and what feedback to offer about past purchasing experiences. The decisions made by the platform and the market participants interact, sometimes in intricate and subtle ways, to determine market outcomes.
In this workshop we seek work that improves our understanding of these markets, both from the perspective of the market operator and the market participants. With respect to the former we are particularly interested in work that derives useful insights on how to design these markets, taking into account their operational details and engineering and technological constraints. With respect to the market participants, we seek for work that introduces novel approaches to optimize their decisions and improves our understanding of their interactions within the market. We look for a mix of approaches including modeling, theoretical, and empirical, using a wide range of tools drawn from operations management, game theory, auctions and mechanism design, optimization, stochastic modeling, revenue management, econometrics, or statistics.
The list of markets to be studied includes but it is not restricted to:
  • Online marketplaces, such as eBay, Etsy, etc.
  • Internet advertising, including sponsored search and display ad exchanges
  • Sharing economy markets, such as Uber/Lyft, AirBnb, etc.
  • Online labor markets, such as Amazon mTurk, Upwork, etc.
  • Procurement markets, such as technology-enabled government procurement
  • Health care exchanges
  • Financial exchanges
The workshop will begin on the morning of June 2nd and continue through the afternoon of June 3rd.

Plenary speakers

The workshop will have several invited distinguished plenary speakers from academia and industry, including:
  • Jun Li (University of Michigan)
  • Vahideh Manshadi (Yale University)
  • Tim Roughgarden (Columbia University)
  • Daniela Saban (Stanford University)
  • Amin Saberi (Stanford University)
  • Glenn Weyl (Microsoft Research)

An Update on Anton Thomas’s Map of North America

Anton Thomas’s pictorial map of North America (previously) is now complete, and he’ll be selling giclée prints and posters from his website soon. (I know exactly where mine will be going.) In the above video, he looks at the multiyear process of creating the map—on paper, with pencils and pen, and how he had to correct and redraw (the inked parts!) as he went. Here’s an interview he did with Atlas Obscura last month.

Retired Workers and the Overall Labor Force Participation Rate

In December I wrote Ten Economic Questions for 2020. I noted that I expect the overall participation rate to start declining again in 2020, pushing down the unemployment rate.

Note: Every month, with the employment report, I focus on the prime participation rate because of changing demographics - but this post is about the overall participation rate.

Here is a graph of the annual change in Retired workers and dependent receiving Old-Age Social Security benefits and the annual Labor Force Participation Rate since 1970.  This doesn't mean these people are actually retiring (they may still be working), but this gives us an idea of how many people are retiring per year.

Retired vs Participation RateClick on graph for larger image.

The number of people retiring per year was declining until the late '90s, and then started increasing.

The annual overall (16+ years old) participation rate peaked around 2000, and has generally been decreasing as more people retire.

Note: There are other factors involved in the decline in the overall participation rate - such as more people staying in school - but retiring workers is a key.

A few years ago, I predicted the overall participation rate would move mostly sideways or increase slightly as solid employment growth offset the large number of retirements. Now, given demographics, I expect to see a downward trend for the overall participation rate over the next decade, even with a healthy job market.

The Corporations Spending the Most to Undo Our Democracy

New Report Lists Industries, Companies Exploiting the  Controversial Citizens United Court Decision

Phil Mattera

It has now been exactly 10 years since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for special-interest political advertising in its Citizens United ruling. To mark the occasion, the Center for Responsive Politics has published an excellent report detailing how political spending has changed over the last decade.

One significant finding is that, although Citizens United overturned the prohibition on independent political expenditures by corporations, most companies have not taken advantage of that new right directly. The biggest surges in spending have come from wealthy individuals and from Super PACs.

Although Citizens United overturned the prohibition on independent political expenditures by corporations, most companies have not taken advantage of that new right directly.

This is not to say that corporations have stayed on the sidelines. CRP notes that it is funneling much of its spending through trade associations and dark money groups that do not disclose donors.

Energy Companies Head the List

To emphasize its point about the limited role of corporations in independent expenditures, the CRP report notes that only 36 companies in the S&P 500 have contributed $25,000 or more to Super PACs since 2012. The report notes that the biggest of these spenders are oil and gas companies but otherwise does not identify them.

Karl Evers-Hillstrom, author of the report, agreed to share the full list with me, so I could learn more about which corporations are bucking the trend and getting more directly involved with political spending.

Seven of the 36 are those oil and gas companies, including giant producers such as Chevron and ConocoPhillips as well as the big fracking player Devon Energy. The utility industry accounts for eight of the 36 and includes some of the largest contributors to air pollution and carbon emissions: American Electric Power, Duke Energy, Exelon and Southern Companies.

Gaming, Insurance, Telecom

Only three other industries account for more than one of the corporations on the list: insurance (Anthem, Centene and MetLife), casinos (Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts International) and telecommunications (AT&T and Charter Communications).

The remainder consists of 14 corporations from different industries such as pharmaceuticals (Merck), tobacco (Altria), retail (Walmart), banking (BB&T, now part of Trust Financial) and miscellaneous manufacturing (3M).

The list thus includes some of the most controversial companies from many of the most controversial industries. Among the 36 are some firms that were involved in contentious mergers (e.g. AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner) and policy issues (Anthem and Centene are big players in health care). After fighting for years over federal regulation of tobacco, Altria has moved into the contested business of vaping. Walmart was embroiled in a foreign bribery investigation.

Bad Players

One thing that characterizes nearly all the companies on the list is the fact that they have been implicated in significant compliance breaches. I checked the whole list against the data in Violation Tracker and found that the 36 firms account for more than $29 billion in fines and settlements.

The biggest penalty totals belong to Occidental Petroleum ($5.4 billion), American Electric Power ($4.8 billion), Merck ($3.3 billion) and Walmart ($2 billion). There are six other companies with totals of $1 billion or more. The average penalty for the 36 companies is $844 million.

What all this suggests is that, while most companies are not making full use of Citizens United, corporations that are engaged in controversial activities and have serious compliance problems can take advantage of the ruling and employ their financial resources to try to manipulate public policy in their favor. The threat to democracy thus remains.

Phil Mattera is research director at Good Jobs First and director of the Corporate Research Project. This article first appeared in the Dirt Diggers Digest newsletter.

Featured image: Demonstration outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 23, 2012. (Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL)

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xkcd: All South Americas

Randall Munroe, “Bad Map Projection: South America.” xkcd, 17 Jan 2020.

xkcd is back with another bad map projection: in this one, it’s all South Americas. The alt-text: “The projection does a good job preserving both distance and azimuth, at the cost of really exaggerating how many South Americas there are.”

Previously: xkcd’s Time Zone Map; xkcd’s Liquid Resize Map Projection; xkcd’s United States Map.

Conference on Mechanism and Institution Design, June 2020, at Alpen-Adria-University of Klagenfurt/Celovec, Austria.

Conference on Mechanism and Institution Design 2020 (CMID20)

Starts 11 Jun 2020, 08:00
Ends 13 Jun 2020, 20:00
AAU Klagenfurt
HS C, Z.1.08, Z.1.09, N.1.43, B02.2.05, B02.2.13
Universitaetsstr. 65-67
9020 Klagenfurt
Paul Schweinzer

Paper submission is through email to

Our 2020 conference will take place on Thursday-Saturday, 11th-13th June 2020, at the Department of Economics, Alpen-Adria-University of Klagenfurt/Celovec, Austria.

The University is situated a few hundred meters from Lake Wörthersee, well-connected to both Slovenia and Italy across the Karawanken mountain range and can be easily reached from Vienna, Ljubljana, and Graz.

The confirmed keynote speakers are:

Pierpaolo Battigalli, Bocconi University
Johannes Hörner, Yale University
Benny Moldovanu, University of Bonn 

Ens. Eld Stops into a New York Coffeehouse

After participating in the skirmish over prisoners in the Westchester “neutral ground” on 18-19 Jan 1780, as I’ve been describing, Ens. George Eld of the Coldstream Guards went into New York City.

He might have expected a respite from fighting. Instead, this is what he wrote in his diary:
21st. Rode to New York. At twelve at night entering the Coffee house I was accosted by Lt. [Kenneth] Callender of the 42d. Regt., (with whom I had no acquaintance) who insolently asked me if I would drink some punch—I declined the offer, on this he observed, “ubi periculum ibi est gloria” [where there is risk of glory] & asked me if I wanted a translation—

I told him, no, but requested an explanation—

on this he drew a small sword—

I also drew mine which was a very short couteau [dagger]—

he perceived the superiority he possessed from the difference of the weapons, which seemed to stimulate his cowardice to the attack which he began by two lunges, which having parried, with all the fury & vigor I possessed I returned by cutting at him, without paying any attention to a guard—

he retreated the length of the Coffee house—I had now beat the point of his sword down & intended to have killed him, but was prevented by Capn. Peerie, who seized hold of my wrist & arrested the stroke—

I told him his interference was unmanly & ungentlemanlike as the contest was not finished—by this time some officers had taken Capn. Callenders sword from him—I declared if any person presumed to touch my sword I would run him thro’ the body.—

Capns. Peerie & Callender next morning asked my pardon.—I afterwards was informed that Capn. C.— being an uncommon good swordsman often insulted strangers in a similar manner.—

The disgrace he experienced from this contest, in some measure cured him.
I can’t identify “Capn. Peerie.” It’s possible he was another British army officer, a British naval officer, a privateer commander, or a Loyalist officer.

Adding to the uncertainty is how Ens. Eld didn’t know the other officers’ ranks—he referred to Callender as both a lieutenant and a captain, but the only officer of that surname in the 42nd Regiment was an ensign. That reflects how British army company officers didn’t wear insignia showing their rank. Fellow officers were just supposed to know.

After the war, Eld had a copy Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s book about his southern campaign rebound with extra blank pages. Eld started to write his own commentary in that volume, as well as extracts from a journal. That book came to the Boston Public Library in 1879, and Eld’s writings were published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1880 and the Boston Public Library in 1892.

SIM Hijacking

SIM hijacking -- or SIM swapping -- is an attack where a fraudster contacts your cell phone provider and convinces them to switch your account to a phone that they control. Since your smartphone often serves as a security measure or backup verification system, this allows the fraudster to take over other accounts of yours. Sometimes this involves people inside the phone companies.

Phone companies have added security measures since this attack became popular and public, but a new study (news article) shows that the measures aren't helping:

We examined the authentication procedures used by five pre-paid wireless carriers when a customer attempted to change their SIM card. These procedures are an important line of defense against attackers who seek to hijack victims' phone numbers by posing as the victim and calling the carrier to request that service be transferred to a SIM card the attacker possesses. We found that all five carriers used insecure authentication challenges that could be easily subverted by attackers.We also found that attackers generally only needed to target the most vulnerable authentication challenges, because the rest could be bypassed.

It's a classic security vs. usability trade-off. The phone companies want to provide easy customer service for their legitimate customers, and that system is what's being exploited by the SIM hijackers. Companies could make the fraud harder, but it would necessarily also make it harder for legitimate customers to modify their accounts.

The drill

A generation ago, children in classrooms in the United States prepared for natural disasters such as fires and tornadoes. Today, active-shooter drills force them to confront the grim possibility that someone – perhaps a fellow student – might open fire in their school. In this StoryCorps animation, one such drill prompts a mother and her 10-year-old son in Texas to discuss a question no child should ever have to consider – whether he would sacrifice himself to try to save his schoolmates. An affecting and troubling short, The Drill gives an aching human voice to the psychological toll of school shootings and the culture of fear they’ve created for schoolchildren and their parents in the US.

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

The meaning of Margaret Mead

Mead argued that non-Western cultures offered alternative (often better) ways to be human. Why was she so vilified for it?

By Sam Dresser

Read at Aeon

No Begging Or Pleading — It’s Senate Republicans Who Are On Trial

You’ve probably now read about Mitch McConnell’s cover-up plan for a Senate impeachment trial. It’s outrageous and Democrats should fight it tooth and nail. But this is an important moment to remember just who is on trial. President Trump is obviously guilty. The President’s trial briefs concede as much — stating baldly the none of the alleged offenses are impeachable even if proven. It’s always been Senate Republicans who are on trial.

We know what Trump did. What remains to be seen is whether Senate Republicans will back his behavior. Monday evening we got a big part of the answer.

When we say that it’s Senate Republicans who are on trial, that’s not just rhetoric or wordplay. It’s the reality and understanding it is a guide to political action.

I’ve already seen a number of statements from Senate Democrats “hoping” that “Republican moderates” will force McConnell to backtrack. This is all wrong, not least because it prospectively credits the good faith of these supposed “moderates” who are in fact operating as McConnell’s foot soldiers in shutting the trial down. In other words, this is vouching for the good faith and good intentions of senators who deserve to be driven from office in November. Start making the case against them right now. If any of them think they are unfairly accused the solution is ready at hand.

For the Democrats making these pleas it demonstrates a painful and demoralizing passivity. In no part of life should we helplessly beg for things we can have no power to effect or gain.

There are half a dozen Republican senators in competitive races. They deserve to be held to account for this abdication of duty. If a guilty defendant goes on the stand and basically shows they are guilty that is not a bad thing. Senate Republicans are on trial and here they are basically testifying against themselves. “They worked with Trump and McConnell to sabotage the trial.”

We know the trial ends in the President’s acquittal. If that is the case the best result is for his defenders and accomplices to reveal as clearly as possible their insistence on covering up for him. So yes, it’s bad. Yes, it’s a disgrace. Yes, Democrats should fight it. But mainly it’s a vindication of what Democrats have been saying for years. Don’t beg. Keep the receipts and hold these men and women to account in November. Indeed hold them to account now so it matters in November.

Startup Skylo seeks to connect millions of devices, vehicles, vessels via satellite

SAN FRANCISCO – Startup Skylo emerged from stealth mode Jan. 21 with $116 million in the bank and plans to connect devices by transferring data over existing geostationary communications satellites.

“The key challenge we wanted to address was how data was going to be moved from machines and sensors outside of the areas where traditionally connectivity has existed,” Parthsarathi “Parth” Trivedi, Skylo co-founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. “If we could lower the cost of providing ubiquitous, affordable and reliable connectivity, there would be a phenomenal number of applications.”

Skylo raised $13 million in a Series A investment round led by DCM Ventures and Innovation Endeavors with participation by Boeing HorizonX and Moore Strategic Ventures. In its latest Series B round led by SoftBank with participation by all the firm’s previous investors, Skylo raised $103 million, according to the firm’s Jan. 21 news release.

The firm developed the Skylo Hub, a compact satellite terminal to connect machines to the Skylo Network. The Hub, which includes geolocation and acceleration sensors, operates like a wireless hotspot for nearby sensors.

Skylo opted to send data over geostationary satellites because “waiting an hour or two for communications wasn’t a viable solution for more than half of the applications that we were considering,” Trivedi said. “For fleets of trucks or fleets of fishing vessels, customers needed connectivity every five to 10 minutes.”

Trivedi declined to say which geostationary satellites carry Skylo communications. The news release said Skylo developed “a proprietary method of efficiently transmitting data” which reduces satellite usage costs. Skylo plans to attract customers by offering data plans starting at $1 per month.

Skylo created its own data platform and Application Programming Interface because “we couldn’t assume that customers would already have an end-to-end solution,” Trivedi said.

Skylo has been testing its technology in devices, vehicles and vessels in emerging markets for six to nine months, Trivedi said. For example, the firm has connected Indian fishing boats with the Indian Coast Guard. Trivedi sees promising applications for the firms technology in railways, trucking, agriculture, emergency notification and financial transactions.

Skylo’s satellite technology creates an affordable way to connect more of the physical world to the internet, even in remote areas,” Yoshi Segawa, SoftBank Group International vice president, said in a statement. “Skylo’s antenna technology and use of the narrowband internet-of-things protocol is revolutionary, and we look forward to working with the company in developing new use cases.”

Skylo was founded in 2017 by Trivedi, Andrew Nuttall and Andrew Kalman, who also founded Pumpkin Inc. Skylo has offices in San Mateo, California, Bangalore, India, and Tel Aviv, Israel. The firm has about 30 employees and is growing rapidly, Trivedi said.

How economics has changed

Panel A illustrates a virtually linear rise in the fraction of papers, in both the NBER and top-five series, which make explicit reference to identification.  This fraction has risen from around 4 percent to 50 percent of papers.


Currently, over 40 percent of NBER papers and about 35 percent of top-five papers make reference to randomized controlled trials (RCTs), lab experiments, difference-in-differences, regression discontinuity, event studies, or bunching…The term Big Data suddenly sky-rockets after 2012, with a more recent uptick in the top five.

Note that about one-quarter of NBER working papers in applied micro make references to difference-in differences. And:

The importance of figures relative to tables has increased substantially over time…

And about five percent of top five papers were RCTs in 2019.  Note also that “structural models” have been on the decline in Labor Economics, but on the rise in Public Economics and Industrial Organization.

That is all from a recent paper by Janet Currie, Henrik Kleven, and Esmee Zwiers, “Technology and Big Data are Changing Economics: Mining Text to Track Methods.”

Via Ilya Novak.

The post How economics has changed appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Is there a happiness cost to being too patient?

We find that excessive patience is costly for individual well-being. This result is consistent across nine different measures of subjective well-being. Our measure of patience varies from a minimum of -1.31 to a maximum of 2.76 (this measure has standardized mean of zero and standard deviation of 1). For one of the main well-being indices, the life evaluation index, the level of patience that maximizes happiness is equal to 1.56, a numerical value similar to the one obtained using other well-being indicators.


…moving from a level of patience of 1.40 corresponding to the peak in the positive experience index to the 99thpercentile in patience reduces the positive experienced index by 1.07, equivalent to 26% of the difference in happiness between those who completed college (7.16) and those with a high school diploma (3.12).

Contrary to how the language of the authors might be interpreted, this is a correlation rather than an established relationship.

The 13 pp. paper by Paola Giuliano and Paola Sapienza is too short, but interesting nonetheless.  I also would like to see a study on how the patience of parents affects the happiness of their children and grandchildren.

The post Is there a happiness cost to being too patient? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Four short links: 21 January 2020

  1. Cytoscapean open source software platform for visualizing complex networks and integrating these with any type of attribute data.
  2. What’s Wrong with Computational Notebooks? Pain Points, Needs, and Design OpportunitiesOur findings suggest that data scientists face numerous pain points throughout the entire workflow—from setting up notebooks to deploying to production—across many notebook environments. Our data scientists report essential notebook requirements, such as supporting data exploration and visualization. The results of our study inform and inspire the design of computational notebooks.
  3. Advent of Computing — podcast of computing history.
  4. Privacy-Preserving Record Linkagetoolbox for deterministic, probabilistic, and privacy-preserving record linkage techniques.

Spitzer telescope to be decommissioned after 16 years

Artist’s rendering of the Spitzer Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which has studied the universe in infrared light since its launch in August of 2003, will be decommissioned on Thursday, January 30, 2020.

The space-based observatory has been a real trooper and has operated more than 11 years beyond its original planned operational life. The spacecraft follows a heliocentric orbit and has slowly drifted away from Earth since its deployment. This increasing distance requires the instrument’s solar panels be tilted away from the Sun when its antenna is pointed toward Earth to return data. 

Spitzer is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. It is one of NASA’s four “Great Observatories,” along with the iconic Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Spitzer was one of NASA's four "Great Observatories." Image Credit: NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

Spitzer was one of NASA’s four “Great Observatories.” Image Credit: NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech

Every year, the amount of time Spitzer can communicate with Earth before having to recharge its solar panels increases, meaning it is becoming less and less efficient.

“You can have a world-class spacecraft, but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t send the data back home,” said Spitzer mission manager Joseph Hunt.

During its more than 16 years of operation, Spitzer has imaged stars at every stage of their lives and observed the universe’s most distant galaxies and colorful nebulae. It mapped the Milky Way galaxy and even discovered five of the seven exoplanets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1.

Because it senses heat rather than visible light, Spitzer is capable of seeing phenomena that would otherwise be invisible, such as certain features of the Milky Way and very distant stars.

NASA Spitzer Space Telescope in Clean Room photo credit Carleton Bailie SpaceFlight Insider

Spitzer prior to its launch in August of 2003. Photo Credit: Carleton Bailie / SpaceFlight Insider

Spitzer was initially equipped with a passive cooling system, in which coolant was used to keep its science instruments from overheating. The coolant ran out in 2009, resulting in two of the telescope’s three instruments becoming unusable.

Even with just one instrument functioning, the telescope continued to make notable discoveries during its extended mission, including followup studies of exoplanets found by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) planet hunter.

Scientists also combined Spitzer‘s exoplanet observations with those of the Hubble and Kepler telescopes.

In our own solar system, Spitzer discovered a very large ring around Saturn, which is extremely hard to see in visible light because its particles are so diffuse. Found with the telescope’s longer-wavelength infrared camera, this outer ring orbits at a 27-degree tilt to Saturn’s main ring plane and extends as far as 7.4 million miles from the planet.

During its later years, scientists operating Spitzer had to position its solar panels as far as 53 degrees away from the Sun to return data to Earth, even though the original intention was to position them no further than 30 degrees from the Sun. They also had to override mechanisms that ordinarily would have put the telescope into safe mode.

“I can genuinely say that no one involved in the mission planning thought we’d be running in 2019. But we have an incredibly robust spacecraft and an incredible team,” emphasized Spitzer project manager Lisa Storrie-Lombardi.

On Wednesday, January 22, at 1 PM EST, NASA will host a live broadcast to discuss the end of Spitzer‘s mission and celebrate its numerous accomplishments. Mission manager Joseph Hunt, former mission manager Suzanne Dodd, NASA Director of Astrophysics Paul Hertz, project scientist Mike Werner, and astrophysicist Farisa Morales will take part in the program.

The broadcast will air live on NASA’s website, NASA TV, Facebook Live, Ustream, YouTube, and Twitter.

Spitzer’s work will be continued by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scheduled for launch in 2021.

Video courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory




The post Spitzer telescope to be decommissioned after 16 years appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Instagram for Windows 95

Delightful work by Petrick Studio. I miss buttons that look like buttons and clear distinctions between app chrome and content.

A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a classic Mac OS version of the same idea.


[ridgeline] The Rigor of Process

Novelist and essayist Alexander Chee once told me that it’s hardest to write about something you think you know. This was in the context of auto-biographical novels. How you can miss the so-called soul of something — the fundamental heart of a story — by misattributing or underestimating important details you believed you had understood. To presume (or self-delude) intuition on a subject was to upend the rigor of process.

Redesign: Scales and Hierarchy

In the last post, I selected two typefaces for the website—Ivar Text as the serif and Scto Grotesk A as the sans. This time, I want to establish a type scale and talk a bit about hierarchy.

Setting the size

The first step is to set a body text size. Responsive sites usually define multiple text sizes for body at different viewports. I do this, too, but my preference is to have as few sizes as I can. I want fewer things to manage, thank you.

As I’ve previously written, once I have enough visual space in the browser window to accommodate my preferred body type size, I stay with it. My preference is to approach the extra space of larger viewports as a layout challenge, not as a process of continually increasing the body text size. I want to use the space, not just fill it.

My process of selecting body text sizes has remained consistent over the last few years:

  1. Define it for mobile. Figure out what works in a text box 320 pixels wide by working outside-in (similar to the bed in the NYC apartment metaphor). Ideally, I am looking for a type size that allows 5 or 6 words per line.
  2. Define it elsewhere. Apply the mobile choices to a 700 pixel wide text box and make adjustments to the type size, line-height, and text box width as needed—typically bumping up the text size a pixel or two to take advantage of extra space, and increasing the line-height by 5 or 10% to accommodate the longer line length. The text block should get 10 to 14 words per line. Repeat for a third body text size if necessary.
  3. Find the breakpoint Determine the right width to switch between the type sizes

A lot of this is a nudging process guided by feel. The numbers above are only an attempt to be helpful—trust the eye over numbers. If you’re looking for a short, incisive text on typesetting, I highly recommend Jost Hochuli’s Detail in Typography.

Here’s where I landed:

Selected body type sizes
Selected basic body text type sizes

I’m looking for a few different things with these text blocks:

  1. Even flow: Good feel to the text, with a gently rolling right edge to the paragraph (called a “rag”). We’ll need to slightly lower our standards on the mobile column, due to it’s narrow width and CSS’s just-okay hyphenation engine. (Okay, fine. Here’s the link you’re expecting.)
  2. Similar color: Imagine looking at each text block through squinted eyes. The black and white of the letters with the white space between lines combine into a fuzzy gray. We call this “color.” I want a similar (though not necessarily identical) color between the two blocks to maintain its feel across different viewports. The color can be adjusted by changing the type size and line-height. For instance, smaller type with more line-height creates more white space, meaning a lighter color.
  3. Mathematical rhythm to the line-height: We’re looking for numbers that relate to each other by being commonly divisible, because we’ll use that unit in the rest of our type scale. I often nudge my line-height up or down a pixel to achieve this numerical relationship. I like to work in units of 4 or 8. You can read more on 8pt grids here, though it has more of a UI-focus.

It’s worth restating the obvious: half-pixels don’t exist, and 1px goes a long way to change the feel of a text block when we are talking about type that’s 16, 17, 18 pixels in size. My experience has shown that the wrong sizes are easy to spot, and tight columns like the mobile text block leave you with one or two clear candidates as a starting point.

Once I have my type sizes selected, I need to establish the breakpoint measurement where the body text switches from the smaller type size to the larger one. I do this by finding a common column width where both type sizes feel okay, but slightly off—the small type is a smidge over-extended and the large type feels like it could use a touch more room.

For this particular example, 600px was that spot of mutual, mild discomfort:

Selected body type sizes set at equal widths to find the breakpoint
Body type sizes set at equal widths to find breakpoint

So our body text is defined. It will be 18/24 until 600px wide, then will switch to 20/28 with a max width of 700px.

Before I move on, one more thought about typographic color, because this may be the only chance I have to get this down. Every designer has their own preferences when it comes to typographic color, but there are patterns.

My observation is that digital designers prefer text blocks with lighter color—lighter typefaces with more line-height, ranging from 140–160%. Perhaps they are carrying over a typographic sensibility that is helpful in interfaces. Experienced print designers typically prefer a darker color—typefaces at heavier text weights with less line-height, ranging from 120–130%. This is one of those fascinating cultural differences, and may also be a repercussion of training—learning by mimicking digital design references versus being schooled in editorial and book typography. An argument could also be made that ties together screens as a light-based medium to lighter typographic color. There are many plausible causes.

Most running text on screens have too much line-height to my eye, especially on mobile. It’s interesting though—I think screens and online reading have created a shift towards designers applying more line-height everywhere. I see 150% line-height all the time on printed subway ads, high enough that it feels like the lines of the headline are about to float off. This may also be a consequence of design systems or assets being carried beyond their intended application: 150% line-height might make sense for some small text on a screen, but looses credibility when applied to a 180pt headline on a poster. Just another tiny context collapse exacerbated by digital technology.

Creating Hierarchy

I still haven’t defined a type scale, but before I get to that, I should talk about hierarchy. Many people think that establishing hierarchy with type means making type bigger and bolder. While this is one method (and the default provided by CSS and many word processors), it’s only one way to achieve visually structured information.

Designers have a few typographic tools at their disposal to create structure:

  1. Spacing
  2. Weight
  3. Color
  4. Size
  5. Typeface switch
  6. Accent

These tools can be used individually or in tandem. As an example, let’s take a blog post and it’s header, and apply one tool at a time to create hierarchy.

Let’s look at the content flat as a starting point. This is similar to what you see with a CSS reset. No styling—just text and line breaks. If the text can be said to have any hierarchy here, it’s determined by the order of the content:

Creating hierarchy: Flat
Creating hierarchy: Flat

As a first step, let’s add spacing to create structure in the content. This is the most fundamental aspect of design—dividing space. A designer can structure information through composition, without needing to rely on bold fonts, colors, and the like. Space becomes an opportunity to focus on grouping information and creating rhythm:

Creating hierarchy: Spacing
Creating hierarchy: Spacing

The tone of this is sitting somewhere between austere and dignified, no? Of course, I can also divide space horizontally, so instead of adding space under the heading text, I can separate our content into two columns to suggest its structure.

Creating hierarchy: Spacing (horizontal)
Creating hierarchy: Spacing (horizontal)

I can also reinforce hierarchy by using multiple tools to suggest something’s importance. Here, I’ve used space to group the heading text, then made the post title in bold to create a little more structure.

Creating hierarchy: Weight
Creating hierarchy: Weight

I can take the same approach and use color instead of weight.

An interesting observation: order matters a little less in the presence of more expressive hierarchy tools. With color, I can undermine the strict order of the content and place the less important date above the more important post title. Everything reads fine.

Creating hierarchy: Color
Creating hierarchy: Color

And yes, of course, I can make the type larger.

Creating hierarchy: Size
Creating hierarchy: Size

Or change the typeface to express significance.

Creating hierarchy: Typeface (Font swap)
Creating hierarchy: Typeface (Font swap)

It doesn’t need to be a different typeface, either. Swapping styles can also suggest importance.

Creating hierarchy: Typeface (Style swap)
Creating hierarchy: Typeface (Style swap)

I am purposefully being reserved——one doesn’t need a big, red, sans-serif headline to go along side their body text.

The goal is to create contrast that communicates significance, and contrast is always contextual.

Oh yeah—you can also add a doo-hickey by the text to make people look at it.

Creating hierarchy: Accent
Creating hierarchy: Accent

Or use a bunch of tools all at the same time. The tools can be worked in both ways, too—to increase or decrease the prevalence of content. The date is pulled back in this example by making it smaller and lighter, while my graphic accent accentuates the left-hand column, making it more important.

Creating hierarchy: Multiple methods
Creating hierarchy: Multiple methods

All of these examples are shallow, two-level hierarchies, that are kept simple to clearly show the tools we’ve got. That said, the more levels of hierarchy one is managing, the more tools a designer will need to express it. Our tools make for some interesting typographic challenges when combined with some of the constraints present in web design: how often should we use weight or swapping typefaces to establish hierarchy if we care about the website’s font payload? What’s the approach to using space to create hierarchy if we have limited real estate on a mobile screen? Do these choices collectively maintain their integrity in expressing hierarchy as we change their size and apply them in different contexts? Does the H3 still read as kind of H3-ish if there are no visible H1 or H2s? And so on.

One can only make so many things bold, only use so many colors before it looks like clown vomit, only add so-many doo-hickies. Most designs will eventually need to use to size to express hierarchy, and that’s where the typographic scale comes in.

Type Scale

I already have two values on our type scale: 18/24 and 20/28. These will act as the middle of the scale, and I will select a couple sizes smaller than body for things like captions, and a few sizes larger than body for headlines. If six or seven sizes are insufficient, take it as a signal that you’re either dealing with some gnarly shit or you’re improperly using the other hierarchy tools, like color or weight, to establish hierarchy.

I’m maintaining increments of four in my line heights, and doing the same for the larger type sizes. This keeps things proportional, and guarantees consistent and even vertical rhythm down the page. Sizes smaller than the body text size are just whatever creates visible size contrast without getting too microscopic—there aren’t too many legible sizes under 18px, so I’ll pick what feels like it can work best for my needs.

Listen: there are a bunch of methods out there for creating type scales. Some are modeled after musical scales—the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift—and, ok, sure. Whatever. I’m going to be honest here: it is some nerd stuff and I have never felt much usefulness in these mathematically rigorous scales. I appreciate math and think the golden ratio is super cool, but me and my reader and my CSS are not going to understand the finer nuances of 21.33 pixel versus 22 pixel type. The eye is more forgiving to imprecise harmony than the ear. I just want my baselines to line up and to have enough contrast between type sizes so they are distinct from one another.

I try not to have three consecutive type sizes for my smaller units, because it means that the hierarchy is muddled and the scale is clogged. For example, having 13, 14, and 15 in the scale is probably not great, but simplifying to 13, 15, and 16 will help clarify things by forcing the designer to rely on font weight, color, and so on. All that said, it is incredibly easy to clog up the smaller values in a type scale while working on things like interfaces. It’s something to keep an eye on!

Enough with all that. Here is a first draft of a type scale:

  • XS: 15/24
  • S: 16/24
  • M: 18/24 (Body text on small viewports)
  • L: 20/28 (Body text on large viewports)
  • XL: 24/28
  • XXL: 30/36

Take a peek:

Type scale: Serif
Type scale: Serif
Type scale: Sans serif
Type scale: Sans serif

This feels like a reasonable starting point for me. Onward to using this thing.

Parker: Sounds of the Solar Wind

What does the solar wind sound like? What does the solar wind sound like?

McConnell Doing To Impeachment What He Did To Garland

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s resolution establishing the rules of the road for the impeachment trial is just out, and it’s a doozy.


Three key points:

  1. The Senate is not going to automatically enter the House evidence into the trial record. A senior Republican leadership aide concedes this is a different provision from the Clinton impeachment proceeding because “the White House was denied due process throughout the 12 weeks of partisan House proceedings.”
  2. After the period for senators’ questions, the Senate will hold an up or down vote on whether to even allow witness subpoenas. If witnesses and document subpoenas are allowed, then the two sides may make motions to issue subpoenas which will also be subject to Senate votes. So that first hurdle will be a key one.
  3. McConnell is shortening the time in which opening arguments may be given to two Senate days per side. The amount of time remains the same as the Clinton impeachment but constricted to a narrower window, forcing either long days or an abbreviated argument.

Senate Democrats are already understandably howling. Remember McConnell’s assurances to model the Trump impeachment on Clinton’s? Except where it doesn’t suit him.

Work advances on space sustainability rating

ARLINGTON, Va. — A consortium established last year to develop a rating to measure how well satellites comply with space sustainability guidelines expects to have an initial version of its rating system ready by late this year or early next year.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) announced in May 2019 it selected a group that included the European Space Agency, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin and Bryce Space and Technology to develop a “Space Sustainability Rating” system that will score satellites based on how well they ensure the long-term sustainability of space.

The rating is intended to be “a positive incentive so that satellite operators have a desire to increase their responsible behavior, not through law or economics, but through social and peer pressure,” said Danielle Wood, a professor at the MIT Media Lab, during a Jan. 15 presentation about the project at the Second International Academy of Astronautics Conference on Space Situational Awareness here.

Since the announcement of the rating system, Wood and the other members of the team have been working on both the parameters that will go into the rating and how they will be weighted. Those potential parameters, she said, include a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures, ranging from each satellite’s design to the economic viability of the satellite operator, a concern if the satellite might outlive the company that launched it.

The team is now narrowing down the parameters it plans to include. The rating, she said, will likely include the satellite’s physical parameters and its “concept of operations” for avoiding potential collisions and disposing of the satellite at the end of its life, as well as how trackable the satellite is and its operator’s compliance with international standards and processes.

Wood said European members of the team have been working on ways to model the space environment and calculate a “mission index” for a satellite that estimates the probability of a collision for that satellite given the debris environment in that orbit and its effects. That will likely be one of the factors in the final rating.

The ultimate rating, she said, will be a single number between zero and one. One challenge facing the team is how to weight the various factors, with sensitivity analyses planned to understand how changes in each factor affect the overall score. She later said she expected to have an initial version of the rating ready by late this year or early 2021, depending on the progress the team makes in the coming months and the input it gets from various public events and other meetings about the rating.

Once the rating is completed, an independent organization of some kind would be responsible for maintaining it, including calculating ratings for individual satellites. “We do think it’s important to have an organization run the rating for several reasons,” Wood said, from helping satellite operators identify factors that can improve their ratings to having a transparent rating process. The current team working on developing the rating will help maintain it initially, she said, then either transfer it to an existing organization or create a new one to administer it.

One issue that came up when the WEF announced the Space Sustainability Rating was what incentives operators would have to seek to improve their ratings or obtain one in the first place. At a panel discussion about the rating system at the Satellite 2019 conference last year, one insurer was doubtful that it could provide discounts to participants in the rating system, at least initially.

Wood said any such incentives will be handled by organizations or government agencies, not the group developing the rating system. “We want to offer a standard, and then we’d love to coordinate with any government that wanted to apply that in their own regulations,” she said.

Monday Night Futures

Schedule for Week of January 19, 2020

• No major economic releases scheduled.

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

Oil prices were up slightly over the last week with WTI futures at $58.82 per barrel and Brent at $65.20 barrel.  A year ago, WTI was at $53, and Brent was at $62 - so oil prices are up 5% to 10% year-over-year.

Here is a graph from for nationwide gasoline prices. Nationally prices are at $2.55 per gallon. A year ago prices were at $2.24 per gallon, so gasoline prices are up 31 cents per gallon year-over-year.

Giants Hire Alyssa Nakken As Assistant Coach (First Woman On An MLB Coaching Staff)

Alyssa Nakken will be an assistant coach for the San Francisco Giants in 2020, as part of manager Gabe Kapler's staff. She will be the first woman on a major league baseball coaching staff.

Nakken, 29, first worked for the Giants as an intern in 2014, editing and logging the amateur video that scouts would load into the system and inputting scouting reports into the database.

Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic:
[Nakken] will travel full-time and be in uniform for batting practice, but will not be among the seven uniformed coaches allowed to be in the dugout during games.

But Nakken will suit up and throw batting practice. She will hit fungoes. She'll be in every pregame meeting. She will assist in baserunning and outfield defense. ...

Her background stood out to Kapler, who had interviewed newly hired Yankees minor-league coach Rachel Balkovec for a role on his major-league staff and was seeking to put together a staff that embraced diversity in every aspect.
Diverse in thought, in background, in ethnicity, in socioeconomic experience. We just wanted to create as diverse a staff to the degree we were able so that we can be a reflection of the players in our clubhouse and also in our community. ...
The really important message is that experience comes in all shapes and sizes. You look at our coaching staff and the immediate reaction is that it's young and somewhat inexperienced, and traditionally, that's true. But experience is also having a perspective that is wide ranging and diverse, and that includes having taught people at many different levels and ages and many different backgrounds. A lot of our coaches have a long history of consistent and diligent coaching. ...

She's an elite athlete and can translate those skills to help our players get better. She's resourceful, a good communicator, organized and clear in her thoughts and delivery. Before this job is anything, it's teaching. She brings a well-rounded skill set that is unusual to find in a coach. And she's extremely equipped to execute initiatives. Part of coaching is managing very large projects, which she's done in the past. All of those things are important when you're developing players and developing a culture. ...

I think she's going to be a great coach. Merit and the ability to be a great coach trumps all. And I think that players are very receptive to anything and to anyone who can help them get better.

Video: Falcon 9 test-fired before fourth Starlink launch (members only)

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Looking Back at the Trump/Stephanopoulos Interview in Context

This isn’t new news. But I at least had not really put the two things together until this afternoon. Remember back last summer ABC’s George Stephanopoulos did a White House interview with President Trump. It got a lot of attention because of a number of things the President said. But the biggest was the President saying that he would in fact work with a foreign government again trying to intervene in a US election. Even Trump’s staunchest allies and toadies had a hard time defending the comment.

“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump told Stephanopoulos. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, ‘oh let’s call the FBI.’ The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressman, they all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”

Now, at the time this response was greeted with a collective ‘Holy crap! He’s saying he’d collude again for 2020!’ What is of course clear now was that this wasn’t hypothetical. He was actually doing this at that moment. You can review the timeline here. April and May were critical months. Given the nature of the exchange it is almost impossible not to think he didn’t have the Ukraine pressure campaign in mind when he answered. It’s fits that neatly with the facts in question, which we only know now.

A bit more context is needed to fully appreciate the exchange. The interview was on June 12th. The Mueller Report had been publicly released on April 18th after being filed with the Justice Department on March 22nd. So it had had some time to percolate and be digested. Mueller appeared on Capitol Hill with his fairly low energy testimony on his report six weeks later.

In fact, this part of the interview comes after a discussion of the Report, specifically Donald Trump Jr’s Trump Tower meeting and the email exchanges leading up to it. In this part of the discussion Stephanopoulos – if I can summarize – is saying basically that even though the Report didn’t find collusion shouldn’t members of your campaign have said something when emissaries of the Russian government were offering help? He points out that the current FBI Director, Christopher Wray, says that if anyone gets such an offer they should report it to the FBI. Trump says Wray is wrong and basically refuses to engage the question. So Stephanopoulos finally shifts gears and asks, okay, well if you got a similar offer in 2020 what would you do?

Here’s the full text of the exchange …

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen, I don’t, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It’s not an interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, that they come up with oppo research. Oh, let’s call the FBI. The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it, but you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Surprising. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you. Okay. Fine.

Here’s video of the exchange.

Dozens of Classic Interviews from The Dick Cavett Show

Open Culture’s Josh Jones takes us on a tour of the amazing YouTube channel for The Dick Cavett Show. The show ran from 1968 well into the 80s and Cavett was known for having on big name guests and getting them to talk about important and interesting topics, making the show a more serious older sibling to The Tonight Show. Jones says Cavett “had a way of making everyone around him comfortable enough to reveal just a little more than they might otherwise”.

The show’s YouTube channel contains dozens and dozens of interview clips, including Marlon Brando talking about rejecting his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather:

Some of the other videos feature John Lennon on why The Beatles ended, Jimi Hendrix talking about performing at Woodstock, Orson Welles recounting a dinner with Adolf Hitler, Janis Joplin’s final TV interview, Joni Mitchell, Jefferson Airplane, and David Crosby fresh off of their appearances at Woodstock, Robin Williams on depression, and Carly Simon talks about stage fright. Check out the post at Open Culture for more or cross-reference this Wikipedia list of the show’s most memorable moments with the YouTube videos.

Tags: Dick Cavett   interviews   Josh Jones   TV   video

Links 1/20/20

Links for you. Science:

Human body temperature has declined steadily over the past 160 years
How A Bad Boss Remade Himself As a Climate Hero
Beware a closing of the British mind if we abandon European endeavours
Scientists Design Bacteria-Based Living Concrete
‘What could I have done?’ The scientist who predicted the bushfire emergency four decades ago


You can’t win if you don’t show up to play (excellent)
Why Today’s Shopping Sucks
The final, inevitable collapse of the right-wing media’s Uranium One conspiracy theory: Report that probe will result in no charges shows the danger of trusting Peter Schweizer’s reporting
State Street’s dreary pedestrian conditions could get a big upgrade
Why Amsterdam’s Canal Houses Have Endured for 300 Years
I won’t prosecute adults for simple possession of marijuana. It’s only fair.
How Berlin’s Mietskaserne Tenements Became Coveted Urban Housing
Florida teachers fighting for public education: I stand with you (by Sen. Bernie Sanders)
One of the earliest references to Bernie Sanders in the New York Times
The Trump Administration’s DOJ Won’t Have the Last Word on the Equal Rights Amendment
Meet The Feminist Academics Championing Trans Rights
Debunking the “abortion regret” narrative: Data shows women feel relief, not regret
Is the media about to have a conniption fit over Bernie Sanders?
Three Neo-Nazis Arrested Over Plot To Murder Antifa Couple
Self-Driving Cars Aren’t Good At Seeing Pedestrians With Dark Skin, According To New Study
Swearing-in Bible for Space Force Officers Blessed by National Cathedral
Yes, David Brooks, there really is a class war
State again sends more to federal government than it gets (NY)
Five questions about Trump’s company in 2020

SpaceX test-fires rocket for next Starlink mission; launch date under review

Nine Merlin engines on the first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket fired for several seconds at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) Monday during a prelaunch static fire test. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Just one day after a mission from a nearby launch pad, SpaceX test-fired a Falcon 9 rocket Monday at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ahead of the company’s next flight. Faced with extreme weather this week in the ocean recovery zone for the Falcon 9’s first stage booster and payload shroud, SpaceX said it was evaluating the best opportunity to launch the Falcon 9 with 60 Starlink broadband satellites.

SpaceX is not expected to attempt to launch the mission Tuesday as previously scheduled.

SpaceX’s launch team presided over an automated countdown sequence Monday afternoon. After SpaceX filled the rocket with densified, super-chilled kerosene and liquid oxygen, the countdown culminated in ignition of the Falcon 9 rocket’s nine Merlin 1D main engines at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT).

The engines fired several seconds and built up to 1.7 million pounds of thrust while hold-down clamps ensured the Falcon 9 remained on the ground. The engines shut down as a towering cloud of exhaust and steam rose above Cape Canaveral’s Complex 40 launch pad.

In a tweet later Monday, SpaceX confirmed the completion of the static fire test, a standard milestone in all of the company’s launch campaigns. For Monday’s test-firing, the Starlink satellite payloads and the Falcon 9’s nose shroud were mated to the top of the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX has not test-fired rockets with customer payloads since an Israeli communications satellite was destroyed when a Falcon 9 exploded during a countdown for a static fire test in September 2016. But the Starlink satellites are built and owned by SpaceX, leaving that decision on Starlink missions entirely up to company managers.

The Falcon 9 was scheduled to lift off as soon as Tuesday at 11:59 a.m. EST (1659 GMT), but SpaceX said the company’s launch team is evaluating the best launch opportunity “due to extreme weather in the recovery area.”

SpaceX has dispatched ships to positions in the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Cape Canaveral for a propulsive vertical landing of the Falcon 9’s first stage booster and recovery of the rocket’s payload fairing. Fast-moving vessels fitted with giant nets will try to catch the fairing, which splits off the rocket in two halves a few minutes after launch and descends back to Earth under parachutes.

The first stages of Falcon 9 rockets are regularly reused multiple times, and SpaceX has begun retrieving fairings, and reused the nose shroud for the first time last year in a bid to reduce launch costs.

The 60 Starlink satellites slated to launch on the next Falcon 9 rocket will join 180 others delivered to orbit on three previous missions in May, November and Jan. 6.

SpaceX launched the first 60 satellites for the company’s Starlink broadband network in May 2019. This view shows the stack of 60 flat-panel spacecraft awaiting deployment in orbit from a Falcon 9 upper stage. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX is deploying the Starlink fleet, which may eventually number thousands of satellites, to beam broadband Internet signals to worldwide consumers. The company, founded and led by billionaire Elon Musk, expects to find customers in remote regions without reliable Internet service, plus airliners, ships and military forces.

Each of the Starlink satellites weighs about a quarter-ton and use krypton ion thrusters for maneuvers in orbit. The spacecraft are built at a SpaceX factory in Redmond, Washington.

SpaceX says it hopes to begin regional broadband service to Canada and the northern United States with the partially-complete Starlink constellation around the middle of this year, once it has launched 12 Starlink missions. The company says Starlink service for Internet consumers worldwide will come after 24 launches.

SpaceX plans to build out an initial block of 1,584 Starlink satellites in orbit 341 miles (550 kilometers) above Earth. But the company could launch many more if there’s sufficient market demand, and SpaceX has regulatory authority from the Federal Communications Commission to operate as many as 12,000 broadband satellite at different altitudes in low Earth orbit.

Starlink missions are expected to make up the majority of SpaceX’s launches this year. The company says it could launch more than 20 Starlink missions in 2020, plus Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy flights for NASA, the U.S. military and commercial customers.

The upcoming Starlink mission will mark SpaceX’s third launch of the year, following a previous Starlink launch on a Falcon 9 rocket Jan. 6, and another Falcon 9 flight Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center to test the launch escape system on SpaceX’s human-rated Crew Dragon capsule.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Rocket Lab to launch small satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office

WASHINGTON — Small satellite launch services provider Rocket Lab announced Jan. 20 that its Electron vehicle’s first mission of 2020 will be for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Named “Birds of a Feather” (NROL-151) the mission is scheduled to lift off from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. The launch window opens on Jan. 31.

Rocket Lab said in this mission it will attempt a guided re-entry of Electron’s first stage. But the stage will not be recovered after splashdown.

This is the NRO’s first launch awarded under a program the agency started in 2018 to use commercial providers to launch small satellites. The program is called Rapid Acquisition of a Small Rocket (RASR).

The NRO develops and launches the United States’ intelligence satellites. The RASR program was created to take advantage of emerging services offered by commercial small launch providers as the U.S. government seeks to deploy proliferated constellations in low Earth orbit.

Rocket Lab’s senior vice president Lars Hoffman said in a statement that the Electron vehicle can meet the U.S. government’s need for “frequent, rapidly acquired launch opportunities.” Access to the Electron rocket “puts the NRO in complete control over their own launch schedule and orbital requirements,” Hoffman said.

Rocket Lab has been launching missions to orbit since January 2018. The company said the Electron launch vehicle has to date delivered 47 satellites to orbit.

Iceye releases dark vessel detection product

SAN FRANCISCO – Radar satellite operator Iceye released a product Jan. 20 to detect dark vessels, ships at sea that are not identifying themselves with Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders.

Iceye combines observations from its constellation of three synthetic aperture radar satellites with other data sources to provide customers with radar satellite images of vessels that are not broadcasting their identification, position and course with AIS transponders. The technology is designed to help government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and commercial customers curb drug and human trafficking, find illegal fishing vessels and enforce rules against illegal transshipment of goods, Finland-based Iceye said in a Jan. 20 news release.

Dark vessel detection is a popular application for radar satellites which gather data day, night and in all weather conditions, Pekka Laurila, Iceye co-founder and chief strategy officer told SpaceNews. With three satellites in orbit, Iceye offers customers the ability to frequently revisit areas of interest. In addition, the company has developed machine learning algorithms to speed up dark vessel detection, he added.

Not all vessels that have turned off their AIS transponders are conducting illegal activity. There are more mundane reasons. A vessel’s AIS transponder might not be working.

“The intent of a dark vessel detection product is to reduce the search space for customers,” Laurila said. “They can focus on a few targets versus a very large number.”

In 2020, Iceye plans to more than double the size of is constellation, Laurila said. Then, the company will be able to respond more quickly to customers seeking imagery of specific targets and customers seeking frequent imagery updates, he added.

Iceye provides SAR imagery with a range of resolution and swath sizes, including SAR imagery with a resolution of less than one meter.

Boda Boda Madness

Boda Boda Madness

Boda Boda Madness

Ugandan-Kenyan fashion designer Bobbin Case and Dutch artist Jan Hoek have collaborated on a project called Boda Boda Madness. Inspired by the elaborate decorations used by some boda boda (motorbike taxi) drivers in Nairobi to attract customers, Case designed costumes to go with each bike’s decorations and Hoek photographed the results. After the fact, the coordinated outfits proved good for business:

The nice thing is that because of their new outfits their income went up, so they really kept on using their costumes.

Hoek also did a project called Scooters Will Never Die, in which he worked with a group of Africa refugees in Amsterdam to customize scooters to their riders’ specifications.

Boda Boda Madness

(via colossal)

Tags: art   Bobbin Case   fashion   Jan Hoek   Kenya   photography   taxis

Credentialism run amok

The share of job vacancies requiring a bachelor’s degree increased by more than 60 percent between 2007 and 2019, with faster growth in professional occupations and high-wage cities.

That is from a new NBER paper by Peter Q. Blair and David J. Deming, noting that the authors instead emphasize upskilling in the jobs themselves.

The post Credentialism run amok appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

How Modern iPhone Encryption Works

Great explanation from Jack Nicas, in his column for The New York Times:

Tools like those from Cellebrite and Grayshift don’t actually break iPhones’ encryption; they guess the password. To do so, they exploit flaws in the software, like Checkm8, to remove the limit of 10 password attempts. (After about 10 failed attempts, an iPhone erases its data.) The tools then use a so-called brute-force attack, which automatically tries thousands of passcodes until one works.

That approach means the wild card in the Pensacola case is the length of the suspect’s passcode. If it’s six numbers — the default on iPhones — authorities almost certainly can break it. If it’s longer, it might be impossible.

A four-number passcode, the previous default length, would take on average about seven minutes to guess. If it’s six digits, it would take on average about 11 hours. Eight digits: 46 days. Ten digits: 12.5 years.

If the passcode uses both numbers and letters, there are far more possible passcodes — and thus cracking it takes much longer. A six-character alphanumeric passcode would take on average 72 years to guess.

It takes 80 milliseconds for an iPhone to compute each guess. While that may seem small, consider that software can theoretically try thousands of passcodes a second. With the delay, it can try only about 12 a second.

The basic thing to understand is that there are effectively two systems on a modern iPhone: (1) the iPhone itself, running iOS; and (2) the Secure Enclave. iOS can be hacked. That’s how these tools remove the 10-passcode-guesses-and-you’re-out limit. But it’s the Secure Enclave that evaluates a passcode and controls encryption, and the 80 millisecond processing time for passcode evaluation isn’t an artificial limit that could be set to 0 by hackers. It’s a hardware limitation, not software.

So, if you’re worried about any of this, the answer is simple: use an alphanumeric passphrase to unlock your iOS device, not a 6-digit numeric passcode.


Watch a live view of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 (members only)

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Astronomers find an oddball asteroid entirely inside the orbit of Venus

The Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory in California.

Enlarge / The Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory in California. (credit: Caltech Optical Observatories)

Astronomers have found nearly 1 million asteroids in our Solar System, with the vast majority located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

It is far rarer to find asteroids with orbits closer to the Sun, and especially inside the orbit of Earth, due to Jupiter's gravitational influence. There are only about 20 known asteroids with orbits entirely inside that of Earth's. They are called Atira asteroids.

Many of these Atira asteroids have orbits that are substantially tilted away from the plane of the Solar System, suggesting past encounters with Mercury or Venus.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Why The New York Times Show Gave Me The Willies

I know that I am not the only person who felt uneasy about the spectacle that took place last night on television as The New York Times’ editors sat around a table deciding who us peons should support for the Democratic nomination for president. Let me try to explain why I felt uneasy.

In a democracy, we need to rely in some cases on expert opinion. Not recognizing that is one of the gravest faults of the Trump administration. If I want to know whether chemical X is a carcinogen, I want to hear from scientists, not industry lobbyists. But political democracy is based partly on the idea that when it comes to deciding who to support for high office, no one is an expert.

And there’s another assumption about political democracy. A range of great minds, from James Madison to Karl Marx to James Buchanan, have recognized that whom we support for high office has a lot to do with our experiences: where we live, whom we hang out with, what kind of jobs we have, whether we went to college or not, what our race, sex, religion, and ethnicity are. That has become even more evident in the last few decades, and particularly in the 2016 presidential election.

The New York Times’ spectacle ran afoul of both these assumptions. It assumed some kind of super-expertise on politics among the editors there. One editor explained the purpose of the spectacle as “educating” the public. (I think it was as much about marketing The New York Times’ brand.) And the spectacle assumed that the editors sitting there were dispassionate observers of our politics.

I only know one of the editors personally, so I may be dead wrong, but I would bet that few of them are industrial workers, few live in small or mid-sized towns in the Midwest or South, few went to junior colleges, few hang around with people who voted for Donald Trump, or even Republicans, few go to emergency rooms for their health care, few have had low-wage jobs where they have competed with recent immigrants, few worry that their own jobs will be exported to Mexico or China. Do I need to go on?

I think there would be one acceptable format for such a spectacle. That would be if it were billed as a deliberation among well-heeled, highly-educated residents of the Eastern seaboard who work in the upper reaches of the knowledge industry. They might also have invited a few doctors, lawyers, and professors from the city to join the deliberations. In that case, the recommendations, while reflecting a fairly narrow slice of the population, would have had a similar interest to that of the average focus group, and could have been billed on television in the spirit of one of those reality shows.

The other possibility would have been to follow custom and have made their recommendations when the New York primary comes along with recommendations for local and state jobs. The New York Times is still a New York newspaper, and is probably staffed mostly by New Yorkers. In that case, the recommendation would have seemed more appropriate. And newspapers do readers a service in making recommendations for things like transit boards that few people pay attention to. But as it is, I kept thinking as I watched the last fifteen minutes or so (I was busy with football before that) of what Bill Buckley once quipped, “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard University faculty.” Substitute “The New York Times’ editors” for the “Harvard University faculty” and you’ve got my sentiments.

Monday assorted links

The post Monday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

World Map Projection, But All South Americas

I bet you never noticed that South America can kind of approximate most of the world’s other continents pretty well. XKCD’s Randall Munroe did and made a bad map projection of it.

World Map Projection with all South Americas

This is only slightly worse than the Mercator projection tbh.

Tags: maps   Randall Munroe   remix

Photos: Crew Dragon returns to port after in-flight abort test

The Crew Dragon spacecraft arrives at Port Canaveral on Jan. 19, 2020, after SpaceX’s in-flight abort test. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Loaded onto a SpaceX recovery ship, the Crew Dragon capsule that performed a successful in-flight abort test Sunday over Florida’s Space Coast pulled into Port Canaveral hours later after being retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean.

The 13-foot-diameter (4-meter) crew capsule splashed down under four main parachutes in the Atlantic Ocean roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) east of the Kennedy Space Center around nine minutes after liftoff on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, which occurred at 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT) Sunday.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon recovery vessel, named “Go Searcher,” hoisted the capsule out of the Atlantic and secured it on a fixture for the trip back to Port Canaveral.

The vessel arrived at the port shortly before 7 p.m. EST Sunday (0000 GMT Monday), around less than nine hours after launch and splashdown. Go Searcher carried the capsule to the U.S. Navy’s Trident Turning Basin for offloading.

A short time later, a second recovery vessel arrived at Port Canaveral carrying the Dragon’s intact trunk, which jettisoned as part of the in-flight abort test and fell to the sea. On an orbital mission, the trunk burns up during re-entry and is not recovered.

Go Searcher is equipped with a helipad, a medical facility for astronauts and a sling to raise Crew Dragon capsules from the ocean. After a normal splashdown on a crew mission just off Florida’s Space Coast,, the capsule will be raised onto the ship’s deck and the astronauts will be helped out of the spacecraft and moved to the on-board medical facility for exams on the way back to Port Canaveral.

Read our full story on the Crew Dragon abort test for details on the mission.

Additional imagery of the Crew Dragon’s arrival at Port Canaveral is posted below.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft arrives at Port Canaveral on Jan. 19, 2020, after SpaceX’s in-flight abort test. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

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The NY Times Endorsement and the Hilariousness of Elite Mediocrities

So the NY Times has finally released its Democratic primary endorsement and…it’s good news for John McCain! Actually, they decided to go halfsies and endorse Klobuchar as a ‘pragmatist’ (KLOBUCHARGE!) and Warren as passionate. I was hoping they would be more courageous and go halfsies on Gabbard and Williamson (we make the funny!).

There is a serious point to be made about the endorsement–and keep in mind I like Warren, so I’m not angered by the endorsement, I’m genuinely amused, in a ‘look at those fucking morons’ kind of way. But before we get to the serious observation, it’s really amazing how an editorial board filled with people possessing elite educations can be so mediocre (or perhaps it’s entirely predictable?):

  1. The endorsement completely ignores the fundamental differences between the two candidates, when that’s the whole fucking point of an endorsement.
  2. The editorial board confuses centrism with ‘pragmatism’, and assumes complicated, partial policies are easier to pass and administer than more transformative ones, when transformative policies, especially in the U.S. governance and political context, are more pragmatic.
  3. Maybe now Klobuchar can pass build up some momentum and pass… Yang.
  4. The NY Times is concerned that Klobuchar treats staffers like garbage, but not enough to oppose her. Because they have learned nothing from the last three years about psychological dysfunction and fitness for office.

I could go on, but it’s sort of like picking on the slow kid, so I’ll stop.

There is an actual serious point the NY Times accidentally blundered into, even though they are unable to recognize it which is: The Democratic Party consists of two parties.

One is what used to be called liberal Democrats and is the Sanders-Warren wing of the party (I would include Sen. Sherrod Brown as a more moderate member of this wing). The other is what used to be called liberal Republicans, and is the Klobuchar-Bloomberg-Biden wing of the party. It’s worth realizing these are parties and not ‘wings’, since there is quite a bit of diversity within in each wing.

The key point, however, is that, if the Republican Party were not a cesspool of Christian white nationalist theocrats, recidivist segregationists, and batshitloonitarian Ayn Randian libertarians, what is the functional equivalent of two political parties would not have to be amalgamated into one party. Essentially, the NY Times gave an endorsement for the two different Democratic parties.

Which, to reiterate, is good news for John McCain.

Having some fun with Python

The other day on a Slack I hang out in, someone posted an amusing line of Python code:

port = "{port}:{port}".format(port=port)

If it’s not clear after the inevitable Swedish-chef-muppet impression has run through your mind, this string-formatting operation will replace the contents of port with a string containing two copies of whatever was in port, separated by a colon. So if port was "foo", now it will …

Read full entry

Clearview AI and Facial Recognition

The New York Times has a long story about Clearview AI, a small company that scrapes identified photos of people from pretty much everywhere, and then uses unstated magical AI technology to identify people in other photos.

His tiny company, Clearview AI, devised a groundbreaking facial recognition app. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared. The system -- whose backbone is a database of more than three billion images that Clearview claims to have scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites -- goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants.

Federal and state law enforcement officers said that while they had only limited knowledge of how Clearview works and who is behind it, they had used its app to help solve shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder and child sexual exploitation cases.


But without public scrutiny, more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started using Clearview in the past year, according to the company, which declined to provide a list. The computer code underlying its app, analyzed by The New York Times, includes programming language to pair it with augmented-reality glasses; users would potentially be able to identify every person they saw. The tool could identify activists at a protest or an attractive stranger on the subway, revealing not just their names but where they lived, what they did and whom they knew.

And it's not just law enforcement: Clearview has also licensed the app to at least a handful of companies for security purposes.

Another article.

Live coverage: Next SpaceX launch expected no earlier than Friday

Live coverage of SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket launch from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission will launch SpaceX’s fourth batch of Starlink broadband satellites. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket was raised vertical Monday on pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Staton in preparation for launch with SpaceX’s fourth batch of Starlink broadband satellites. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

Spaceflight Now members can watch a live feed of the launch pad. Our live coverage is made possible by the support of our members and we thank them for their support.

Existing Home Sales: Lawler vs. the Consensus

The NAR is scheduled to release Existing Home Sales for December at 10:00 AM, Wednesday, Jan 22nd.

The consensus is for 5.43 million SAAR, up from 5.35 million in November. Housing economist Tom Lawler estimates the NAR will report sales of 5.40 million SAAR and that inventory will be down 11.1% year-over-year. Based on Lawler's estimate, I expect existing home sales to be close to the consensus.

Housing economist Tom Lawler has been sending me his predictions of what the NAR will report for almost 10 years.  The table below shows the consensus for each month, Lawler's predictions, and the NAR's initially reported level of sales. 

Lawler hasn't always been closer than the consensus, but usually when there has been a fairly large spread between Lawler's estimate and the "consensus", Lawler has been closer.

Last month the consensus was for sales of 5.45 million on a seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) basis. Lawler estimated the NAR would report 5.43 million, and the NAR reported 5.35 million (as usual Lawler was closer than the consensus).

NOTE: There have been times when Lawler "missed", but then he pointed out an apparent error in the NAR data - and the subsequent revision corrected that error.  As an example, see: The “Curious Case” of Existing Home Sales in the South in April

Over the last 10 years, the consensus average miss was 141 thousand, and  Lawler's average miss was 67 thousand.

Existing Home Sales, Forecasts and NAR Report
millions, seasonally adjusted annual rate basis (SAAR)
MonthConsensusLawlerNAR reported1
1NAR initially reported before revisions.

U.S., China set for spring Civil Space Dialogue on exploration, science

The third and most recent U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue, held in Beijing, Nov. 30, 2017.

HELSINKI — U.S. and Chinese officials are working towards meeting for a bilateral Civil Space Dialogue around March in the first such discussion since 2017.

“The U.S. and China were not able to schedule a Civil Space Dialogue in 2019, but are in the planning stage for the U.S. to host the Dialogue during the first half of 2020,” a State Department official told SpaceNews. 

No reason for the inability to schedule the meeting, earlier reported as to be expected in fall 2019, was offered. The U.S. and China last week agreed a ‘phase 1’ trade deal after nearly two years of trade hostilities. 

Matthew Rydin, NASA press secretary and senior communications advisor, confirmed in an email to SpaceNews that the next U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue, co-chaired for the U.S. by the State Department, is being planned in the March 2020 timeframe. 

“The State Department is developing an agenda that will include areas of mutual interest concerning civil space exploration and science.”

The U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue was established through the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in 2015, in order to enhance cooperation and transparency in the face of Congressional barriers to NASA engaging China. A first Civil Space Dialogue followed in Beijing later that year, with a second dialogue held in Washington in 2016 and a third and most recent in Beijing late 2017. 

NASA is greatly restricted from bilateral collaboration with Chinese state entities by language first inserted into an appropriations bill in 2011. Similar language remains in place and is known as the Wolf Amendment, named for its author then-U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). 

Cooperation is allowed in the case that certification is provided from the FBI that such endeavors do not pose a national security risk and if Congress has been notified of the plan.

NASA-China cooperation, NewSpace concerns

On the potential of participation of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Rydin stated that, “traditionally, NASA’s participation in this meeting has been led by the Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations or Deputy Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations. 

Rydin also confirmed that there have been no bilateral meetings between the NASA Administrator and the head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) since the IAC 2018 in Bremen, Germany.

Bridenstine met with Zhang Kejian, administrator of the CNSA, on the sidelines of IAC in October 2018 and appeared with him in a panel discussion involving heads of multiple space agencies.

During that session Zhang said China was “very open” to working with a variety of international partners on lunar exploration. 

Bridenstine noted greater sharing of data as an area of potential enhanced cooperation, in areas including science and also space situational awareness and space traffic management information.

The CNSA is not an equivalent body to NASA, but instead serves as the face of China’s space program to the outside world.

NASA and Chinese scientists collaborated in an attempt to coordinate the Chang’e-4 lunar far side landing in January 2019. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was unable to view the landing, but image the site during its next pass. 

There are also concerns on the U.S. side with regard to the nascent Chinese commercial space sector. A 2014 central government policy shift opened sections of the space industry to private capital, leading to the proliferation of launch, small satellite and other companies.

U.S. NewSpace companies have expressed concern over artificial pricing and technology transfer, according to a report from Reuters

BAE Systems to acquire Collins’ military GPS and Raytheon’s airborne tactical radios businesses

WASHINGTON — BAE Systems announced Jan. 20 it intends to buy Collins Aerospace’s military Global Positioning System for $1.9 billion and Raytheon’s Airborne Tactical Radios division for $275 million.

These two businesses are being sold in order to clear the antitrust regulatory requirements of the pending merger between Raytheon and United Technologies Corp.

“Completion of both acquisitions are subject to successful closure of the Raytheon-United Technologies merger, as well as customary regulatory approvals and conditions,” the company said Jan. 20 in a statement.

BAE Systems officials called the acquisitions “unique opportunities” to expand the company’s defense electronics, radio and GPS business.

“This strengthens our position as a leading provider of defense electronics and communications systems … as militaries around the world increasingly operate in contested environments,” Jerry DeMuro, CEO of BAE Systems, said in the company’s statement.

The proposed acquisitions would be integrated into BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems sector.

Collins’ military GPS business, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been a supplier of military GPS receivers for more than 40 years. The company designs and produces GPS receivers that are compliant with military M-Code, anti-jamming, and anti-spoofing requirements. Collins says there are more than 1.5 million devices used today on approximately 280 types of weapons systems, ground and airborne platforms.

Raytheon’s Airborne Tactical Radios, based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Largo, Florida, designs and manufactures multi-band, multi-channel anti-jam communications devices used on military airborne platforms.

The Fighting Ground “between the Enemy & the American force”

Asa Lord was born on 29 June 1760 in Saybrook, Connecticut. Around the time he turned sixteen, he signed up for a few months of military service, and he continued to do short-term stints as the war continued.

Lord was eighteen years old in April 1779 when he enlisted in a Connecticut regiment for nine months. He was sent to Horseneck or Greenwich, on Long Island Sound, “employed in guarding the lines between the Enemy & the American force & in preparing materials for entrenchments.”

In January 1780 Lord was one of the Connecticut militiamen who raided the Morrisania, New York, house of Isaac Hatfield, Jr., a lieutenant colonel in the Loyalist militia, as I’ve been describing. Decades later Lord’s pension application stated:
On the 17th day of January, About one hundred & ten of their Soldiers, volunteered to go down to Morisena & Attack a British Guard Stationed there. They put themselves under Capt. Samuel Lockwood. They started about noon of the 17th—And about one oclock the next morning, attacked the Said Guard in front of their quarters. A hot engagement ensued & they finale killed most of the British guard, took nine or ten prisoners & Started on their retreat
However, one of the Loyalist officers who had been staying with Hatfield, Maj. Thomas Huggeford (also spelled Huggerford and Hungerford), slipped away from the Connecticut men. Someone who knew him after the war described Huggeford as “a large, fleshy, middle-aged man, active and humane,” but evidently he could move with stealth and speed.

The story continues in James Rivington’s Royal Gazette:
Major Huggerford soon after effected his escape, and returning, formed a small body of Refugees, consisting of thirty-five Dragoons, and twenty-eight Infantry, under the command of Capt. [Henry] Purdy, instantly pursuing the rebels with this detachment.

The Infantry took post upon the heights, beyond East Chester, and the mounted, consisting of Cornet Hilat, Adjutant [John] Pugsley, two Serjeants, and twenty-nine privates, under the command of Lieut. [Samuel] Kipp, continued the pursuit, and came up with their rear between New-Rochelle and Mamarroneck…
Because the Loyalists in that militia all came from the same communities, they had many ties. For example, captured with Isaac Hatfield was his sister Mary’s husband, Moses Knapp. The lieutenant who led the pursuing light horsemen, Samuel Kipp, was a brother-in-law of another of Isaac Hatfield’s sisters, Abigail. And eventually Samuel Kipp married Mary Knapp, daughter of Moses and Mary—i.e., his brother’s sister-in-law’s daughter.

Despite that strong motivation to rescue their friends and relatives, the pursuers were too late to free the men whom the Americans had taken captive. Isaac Hatfield stated that he was “carried to New England; [and] remained Prisoner about 3 months.”

But others in the raiding party moved more slowly, as Gen. William Heath wrote:
The militia after conducting this enterprize with much address and gallantry imprudently loitered in their retreat, were pursued & overtaken by a party of light Horse, a number of them shockingly cut
Rivington’s newspaper reported that the Loyalists had “killed 23, and took 40 prisoners, some of whom are wounded.” Furthermore:
We are assured that the only weapon used by Major Huggerford and his determined band of Refugees, in their attack and defeat of Capt. Lockwood’s party, was the Sabre,---and had not their horses been jaded to a stand-still, every one of the enemy would have fallen into their hands.
Among the prisoners was Asa Lord, who recalled in his 1832 pension application:
Between nine & ten oclock in the morning of the 18th Jany. they were overtaken by a detachment of Queens Guards, many of the Americans killed & the Declarant & Eight others taken prisoners, carried to New York & confined in The Old Sugar House. The Declarant was confined there ten months & three days.—He was then exchanged.
Yet another view of this clash comes from George Eld, who had joined the Coldstream Guards as an ensign—the equivalent of a second lieutenant—in March 1776. A copy of his diary is owned by the Boston Public Library.

The Coldstream Guards were sent to New York in 1779. Since Eld was born in America, that was some sort of homecoming, but unfortunately we don’t seem to have any information about exactly where or when he was born.

Ens. Eld was stationed on the British lines outside New York City, and at the start of 1780 he was put in command of a light infantry company. In his diary he wrote:
The two Light Infantry Companies of the Guards with the mounted refugees were ordered out under the Command of Colo. [Francis] Hall—after a march of 25 miles fell in with their [the enemy’s] rear guard—a trifling but general contest ensued—nine rebels were killed, sixteen taken prisoners, many wounded.—The rebels now appeared to the amount of 800, when on our taking an advantageous situation they retired—

we returned 12 miles & remained the night in some log houses & returned to the lines on being joined by a detachment sent out to Cover Our retreat.
That was the end of this seesaw skirmish in the “neutral ground” of Westchester County. Because there was so much territory between the army lines, such raids meant long marches—the Connecticut lieutenant colonel Matthew Mead wrote of his men marching “30 miles out,” and Ens. Eld recorded a 25-mile march and an overnight stop on the way back. And at the end of all the fighting, both sides had seen some men killed and more taken prisoner.

TOMORROW: Ens. Eld in the city.

Recommender systems behaving badly: YouTube and Instagram

Why are readers drawn to sensationalist stories?  Why do content providers produce them?  It likely has something to do with the recommender systems that direct readers' attention to certain stories more than to others.

Time magazine has the YouTube story:

YouTube Has Been 'Actively Promoting' Videos Spreading Climate Denialism, According to New Report

"YouTube has been “actively promoting” videos containing misinformation about climate change, a report released Thursday by campaign group Avaaz claims, despite recent policy changes by the platform intended to drive users away from harmful content and conspiracy theories.
"The “up next” feature dictates what users watch for 70% of the time they spend on YouTube. The exact make-up of the YouTube algorithm that drives recommendations, designed to keep users on the platform for as long as possible, is a closely guarded secret. Experts say the algorithm appears to have learned that radical or outrageous content is more likely to engage viewers.Avaaz examined 5,537 videos retrieved by the search terms “climate change,” global warming” and “climate manipulation,” and then the videos most likely to be suggested next by YouTube’s “up next” sidebar. For each of those search terms respectively, 8%, 16% and 21% of the top 100 related videos included by YouTube in the “up-next” feature contained information that goes against the scientific consensus on climate change – such as denying climate change is taking place, or claiming that human activity is not a cause of climate change. Avaaz claims this promotion process means YouTube is helping to spread climate denialism."
"The “up next” feature dictates what users watch for 70% of the time they spend on YouTube. The exact make-up of the YouTube algorithm that drives recommendations, designed to keep users on the platform for as long as possible, is a closely guarded secret. Experts say the algorithm appears to have learned that radical or outrageous content is more likely to engage viewers.

The NY Times has the Instagram story
This Is the Guy Who’s Taking Away the Likes
"Likes are the social media currency undergirding an entire influencer economy, inspiring a million Kardashian wannabes and giving many of us regular people daily endorphin hits. But lately, Mr. Mosseri has been concerned about the unanticipated consequences of Instagram as approval arbiter.
"Mr. Mosseri knows something about dealing with dystopian tech fallout. He came to Instagram in October 2018 after years overseeing the Facebook News Feed, an unwitting engine of fake news, inflammatory rhetoric and disinformation. He wants to avoid similar pitfalls at Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

Spacewalkers complete another round of solar array battery replacements

EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) Monday.


Astronaut Jessica Meir is seen near the end of Monday’s spacewalk. Credit: NASA TV / Spaceflight Now

It took NASA more than 50 years to stage its first all-female spacewalk last October. It took three months before the second on Jan. 15 and just five days more for the third on Monday, a successful six-hour 58-minute excursion to finish installing a set of new solar array batteries aboard the International Space Station.

Floating in the station’s Quest airlock compartment, Jessica Meir and Christina Koch switched their spacesuits to battery power at 6:35 a.m. EST to officially kick off their third spacewalk together, the 226th devoted to station assembly and maintenance.

Once outside, the astronauts quickly made their way to the outermost set of solar arrays on the left, or port, side of the station’s power truss. Over the next five-and-a-half hours or so, they completed work started during spacewalks last year to install new lithium-ion batteries, replacing less powerful nickel-hydrogen units.

The astronauts had no problems completing the work. The only departure from the timeline came near the end of the spacewalk when the hand controller of Koch’s emergency jet pack unexpectedly worked its way out of its housing.

Meir was able to restow the controller, but then ran into problems folding up a foot restraint. After a bit of troubleshooting, she managed to get it put away. Flight controllers then opted to forego a minor get-ahead task and the astronauts headed back to the airlock, repressurizing at 1:33 p.m. to close out the excursion.

After thanking flight controllers for their help preparing and executing the battery upgrade spacewalks, Meir took a moment to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr. Day from orbit.

“This has really been an amazing experience,” she said from the airlock. “Today is also Martin Luther King Day, a personal hero to both me and Christina. (I offer his) wise words for this moment: ‘We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.’ When one has the spectacular view that we had today, looking down on our one common home, planet Earth, his words resonate loudly.”

Added Koch: “We often say how much we owe to those that paved the way, and that doesn’t just mean in space flight. It also means those who work for civil rights and inclusion and who know how important it is. That’s why it’s so meaningful for us today to be out here on the day we honor Martin Luther King Jr., who paved the way not only for us, but for so many that have a dream.”

NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir work with their spacesuits Jan. 13 in the Quest airlock on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Koch, wrapping up a record 328-day stay aboard the station, has now walked in space six times, logging a total of 42 hours and 15 minutes outside the lab complex since arriving in orbit last March. Meir’s mark stands at 21 hours and 44 minutes through three outings, all with Koch.

NASA is in the process of replacing 48 older-generation nickel-hydrogen batteries in the station’s solar power system with 24 more powerful lithium-ion units, along with circuit-completing “adapter plates” to fill in for batteries that were removed but not replaced.

During spacewalks in 2017 and 2018, astronauts replaced half the NiH2 power packs with 12 Li-ion units. During two spacewalks last October, Koch and Drew Morgan installed three of the left outboard array’s six lithium-ion batteries.

Shortly thereafter, however, engineers discovered one of three battery charge controllers in that circuit had failed, sidelining one of the new batteries. Koch and Meir then staged the first all-female spacewalk last Oct. 18, removing the failed controller and installing a replacement.

Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to walk in space during an outing with a male cosmonaut in 1984, followed later that year by NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan, who joined astronaut David Leestma for a spacewalk during a shuttle mission.

“I think we do recognize it is a historical achievement, it does carry a lot of weight to other people,” Meir said of the first all-female spacewalk. “It really does mean a great deal to share this experience together and hopefully, it does inspire and educate those that will follow us.”

With the battery charge controller in place, Koch and Meir pressed ahead with the battery replacement work Jan. 15, removing four older nickel-hydrogen batteries and installing two new lithium-ion units and one adapter plate.

During Monday’s spacewalk, the women removed the two remaining nickel-hydrogen batteries and installed the final lithium-ion battery needed by the station’s left-side outboard set of solar arrays.

When the completion of Monday’s spacewalk, station astronauts have now replaced 36 of the lab’s original 48 nickel-hydrogen power packs with 18 more powerful lithium-ion units. The batteries are housed in electronics assemblies at the base of the left and right inboard arrays and the left-side outboard array.

A final set of lithium-ion batteries will be installed in the right-side outboard set of arrays later this year.

NASA now plans to press ahead with yet another spacewalk Jan. 25, this one with Morgan and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, to complete cooling system repairs of a $2 billion cosmic ray detector. The repairs were carried out during three spacewalks last November and December, but a fourth outing is needed to verify the system is leak free and to re-install insulation.

Mary-Jane Rubenstein: multiverses, pantheism and ecology

‘We're not so much abandoning the idea of the gods, we're just trying to pull them all the way into the Universe.’

From the possibility of infinite universes to the prospect of panpsychism, puzzles have arisen in physics that can take science to some very counterintuitive places. According to Mary-Jane Rubenstein, assistant professor of religion and feminist, gender and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, new theories and breakthroughs at the forefront of cosmology need not – and moreover, should not – elbow out theology from the conversation about our place in the cosmos. Instead, as she argues in this wide-ranging interview recorded at the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival from the Institute of Arts and Ideas in 2019, science should encourage us to build more durable myths and theologies to suit our times.

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Vive la révolution!

Must radical political change generate uncontainable violence? The French Revolution is both a cautionary and inspiring tale

By Jeremy Popkin

Read at Aeon

It’s complicated – why some grief takes much longer to heal

It’s a tragic fact of life that most of us will experience the loss of a loved one. Approximately 50 to 55 million people die worldwide each year, and it is estimated that each death leaves an average of five bereaved individuals. The experience of loss usually causes a range of psychosocial reac...

By Marie Lundorff

Read at Aeon

Panchromatic astronomy on a budget

At the end of this month, NASA will decomission the Spitzer Space Telescope, the second of the original four Great Observatories to go dark. Jeff Foust reports on what astronomers think NASA should do to continue the promise of the Great Observatories to enable space-based observations over a wide range of wavelengths.

A national treasure turns 90

Today is the 90th birthday of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Eric Hedman reflects on Aldrin's influence on his own life.

All these moments will be lost...

Seventeen years ago this month, Columbia lifted off on its final, ill-fated flight. Dwayne Day explains how a fictional story may stir up very real feelings about the mission.

Review: Final Frontier: India and Space Security

One of India's biggest space achievements last year was a military one: the successful test of an anti-satellite weapon. Jeff Foust reviews a book that examines India's changing views of space security.

At Least 12 Teams Have Been Accused (By Players Or Anonymous Leaks) Of Cheating; MLB Really Does Not Want To Investigate All Of Them And Hopes You Forget All About It

With a new week starting today, I figured I might as well dump a bunch of stuff related to the sign-stealing scandal since I had no time to craft it into anything coherent.

Former pitcher Jack McDowell (1993 AL Cy Young winner) alleged during a radio interview on Friday that Tony LaRussa created an illegal sign-stealing operation at Comiskey Park in the late 1980s. LaRussa managed the White Sox from 1979 to 1986.

McDowell said LaRussa had a camera installed that could zoom in on opposing catchers' signs. A light in an outfield Gatorade sign, controlled from the manager's office, let batters know what pitches were coming.
"I'm going to whistle-blow this thing now, because I'm getting tired of this crap. ... [La Russa] was also the head of the first team ... with people doing steroids. Yet he's still in the game making half a million. No one's gonna go after that. ... This stuff's getting old, where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook. ... Everybody who's been around the game knows all this stuff.
La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

McDowell said illegal sign-stealing has been going on for decades, but everyone in the game has collectively decided to ignore the issue, just as they did regarding steroids.

Logan Morrison agrees. In a now-deleted Instagram post, the veteran first baseman described the Commissioner's report as "FAKE news" and said the Astros were cheating in 2014:
Hello fans. Just wanted to take some time to educate everyone on this sign stealing 'scandal' we have going on. This is all something I have witnessed or heard. So many teams are doing this. Exactly how many… I'm not sure.

The Manfred report that came out is straight FAKE news. This started in Houston well before [Alex] Cora got there. I was playing in Seattle in 2014 and every time we went into Houston you would hear this banging. No one put two and two together. Seattle fans may remember we came with in a game of going to the playoffs. Felix should have won a CY young that year. But couldn't get pasted [sic] the 5th in Houston.

I know from first hand accounts that the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros and Red Sox have used film to pick signs. Just want you guys to know the truth. I personally think it's a tool in a tool belt to pick signs, but if we are going to be punishing people for it. Don't half ass it.
Bonus LoMo: In 2017, Morrison (with 24 home runs) did not receive an invitation to the Home run derby, but Gary Sanchez (who had 13) did. "I remember when I had 14 home runs. That was a month and a half ago." In 2018, Morrison called Yankees fans "stupid" for being upset with his comments. You can't fix stupid, you know?"

Ken Rosenthal comments re his interview with Altuve after Altuve hit the home run that won the pennant for Houston:
All those asking if I "knew something" when I asked Altuve about refusing to allow teammates to rip off his jersey . . . hardly. In my rush to get onto the field, I did not even see Altuve cross home plate. Producer suggested question in my ear as I conducted the interview.
In the noise and nuttiness of the moment, Rosenthal did not follow-up after Altuve gave the extremely strange answer that his wife would be mad if his teammates ripped his jersey.

Rosenthal's latest article on this issue includes this knee-slapper: "Not one Astros player told MLB investigators he understood he was committing a violation, a source said."

More Rosenthal:
•  If players who use performance-enhancing drugs are disciplined for cheating, why not players who participated in the Astros' scheme? ...

•  [W]hy shouldn't players cheat if they are impervious to punishment?

The Astros' hitters not only escaped penalty, but also presumably benefited from their wrongdoing as well, producing better numbers, landing bigger contracts.

Yet MLB has answers — valid answers — to each question. ...

As Manfred wrote in his decision, "assessing discipline for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical."

Difficult because while virtually every player had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, Manfred could not determine with certainty which players did what. Impractical because of the large number of players involved, and because 12 of the position players are now with other clubs while four no longer are active.
Claiming that disciplining obvious cheaters would be "impractical" if there are a lot of offenders is nonsense. Can Rosenthal really be suggesting (or agreeing with the statement) that there exists a tipping-point of cheating, after which MLB can only throw up its hands and let everyone do whatever they want? Is that truly a "valid" response? If teams have a lot of vacant roster spots, there are plenty of players in the minors to fill them.

Rumors about the Astros had proliferated since 2017. Yahoo Sports wrote a column about the trash can in 2018. The Yankees raised complaints in 2019, after they had hired Beltrán as an advisor. Alex Bregman told The Athletic in October that from the front office Beltrán "helped out the Yankees this year a lot. Like a lot a lot."

JJ Cooper, Executive Editor, Baseball America, Twitter (@jjcoop36), January 16, 2020:
The wearables rumors have been floating around for months. It is not clear how much MLB investigated them.
On Sunday (yesterday), Jose Altuve called reports that was wearing a buzzer during games "ridiculous. MLB did their investigation and they didn't find anything."
Believe me, at the end of the year everything will be fine. We are going to be in the World Series again, people don't believe it. We will. We made it last year. We were one game away [from] winning it all. ... You don't want anybody to call you [a cheater] like that. But like I said I have two options, one just cry and one go out there and play the game, and help my team. You know which one I'm going to do.
Alex Bregman was asked if Houston's players wore buzzers. He said "No." and called the claims "stupid".
The commissioner and league came out with the report and the Astros did what they did. ... I have no thoughts on it.
Orioles pitcher Josh Rogers saw Bregman's comment and tweeted: "Just plead the 5th bud. Cause your guilty."

Zach Kram, The Ringer, January 13, 2020:
Nine Key Takeaways From MLB's Houston Astros Sign-Stealing Punishment

1. The "Banging Scheme," as Manfred's report terms it, evolved over time

2. That scheme extended through the postseason

3. Manfred had effectively given the Astros a chance to avoid detection and punishment, and they didn't take it

4. Take note: Banging is preferable to other forms of communication

5. It’s unclear whether the scheme actually worked

6. Astros players were at least somewhat concerned about getting caught … so they grew more secretive instead of stopping

7. Hinch attacked a TV, twice

8. The same qualities that helped propel the Astros to victory were the basis for their undoing

9. This saga isn't over—Alex Cora's punishment is coming, and it will be severe
Some amusing snips from Kram:
"[T]hey eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication."

"Here's a wacky parenthetical from the report: 'Witnesses explained that they initially experimented with communicating sign information by clapping, whistling, or yelling, but that they eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication.' Someone needs to uncover everything about the meeting in which this determination took place. Did the Astros run scientific tests? Did they control for confounding variables? The people demand answers."

From MLB's Report: Hinch "believed that the conduct was both wrong and distracting. Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement." Kram: "Could he have used his words to tell his players to stop? Maybe! ... Instead, he chose to take his frustration out on the monitors themselves. This is why clear and healthy communication is important."
Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer, January 13, 2020:
All signs suggest that MLB would have been happy not to stir up this sign-stealing story. MLB knew that the Red Sox used technology to steal signs in 2017, and Jeff Passan reported in 2018, per anonymous MLB players, that the Astros had passed signs via trash can. MLB subsequently upped its preventative measures in response to sign-stealing rumors swirling around the sport.

Yet not until Fiers went on record in The Athletic's initial report did MLB grudgingly launch an investigation. Even then, Manfred stated, "I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time," which was far-fetched at the time, considering that The Athletic's report cited a source who described the practice as "pervasive."

And not until The Athletic linked the 2018 Red Sox to sign stealing did MLB acknowledge that publicly. Tom Verducci reported that when Manfred called Red Sox owner John Henry to inform him of the investigation, Manfred said, "I've got no choice here," which doesn't make it sound as if Manfred was eager to follow the sign-stealing trail.

For consistency's sake, though, MLB will have to follow that trail if it leads anywhere else. It's quite likely that the Astros and Red Sox weren't the only two teams engaging in at least low-level forms of illegal sign stealing; every team has a video room and must have been tempted to use it improperly. On Monday, MLB player Logan Morrison suggested that the Dodgers and Yankees have also "used film to pick signs." In 2018, members of the Brewers suggested that the Dodgers were stealing signs. In November, BBWAA member Jeff Jones reported that multiple players had told him that the Brewers and Rangers have stolen signs electronically, and Yu Darvish fueled further speculation about the Brewers.

None of that smoke has turned into fire, but it's probably risky for any MLB fan base to proclaim its team pure or complain too loudly about losing to known sign stealers. That said, Manfred will have to be poked pretty hard for the league to acknowledge that the scandal extends beyond Boston and Houston.
Scott Miller, Bleacher Report, October 2, 2019:
Sign stealing and sign relaying always has been a part of the game, but digital theft gained entry as an unintended consequence of instant replay expansion in 2014, several MLB sources agree, and has spread as rapidly as a computer virus ever since. ...

"The paranoia is off the charts," Astros ace Justin Verlander says. "You saw that last year with us. People thought we were doing something. We were trying to make sure the Indians weren't doing anything. That was just us being paranoid."

Predictably, nobody in the game is willing to publicly finger those who were cheating or those whom they believe might be cheating. But given assurances of anonymity, several league sources indicate the Astros, Dodgers, Red Sox, New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks have been especially adept with technological surveillance. One source mentions the Cubs and Washington Nationals dabble a bit "but not as much as others." Another source says the Indians, while still another notes the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers once were suspected as well. ...

"I think it's unfair to say we've been the face of any of this, the Astros," Houston manager AJ Hinch says. "It was very public for us. We admitted our mistakes of trying to make sure that other teams were not breaking the rules, and in turn we were the ones that had the unfortunate incident in Cleveland and then in Boston. ... I think it's unfair to think that we are the only team that has been curious about everybody else's actions. ... I think it's been largely cleaned up over the year." ...

[For the 2019 season,] the league enacted a series of rules ...

"It's been a great thing," Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black says. "[Digital thievery] was prevalent, and now it's not." ...

Asked whether he saw things during the '17 World Series that made him suspicious, Dodgers manager Roberts pauses for several seconds before finally allowing, "I think the Astros did everything they possibly could to give themselves the best chance for success." ...

Though the Rockies' season is finished, they were a playoff team in 2017 and 2018 and quickly realized—or, at least, suspected—how many clubs were stealing signs.

"The preparation for us was learning how to switch the signs in the middle of an at-bat, the middle of an inning and doing it a lot," Wolters says. "I would say, like this year, we've had at least 10 or 15 different sign sets each inning. Then we would switch our cards each inning. You go through a whole game, you go through 50 or 60 different sign sets."

That math adds up to more than 100 different signs in a given game. And, Wolters says, the Rockies are constantly throwing them away and making new ones. ...

Players and managers alike give MLB high marks for the steps taken this year to combat digital thievery, with most saying they think it is receding following its 2017 peak. ...

"Look at the talent in this clubhouse, and you tell me," Correa says in defending the Astros. "We're great hitters all the way around. We work hard every day, and the fact that people try to take that credit away from us is disrespect to our abilities. This year is 2019, and you've got five, six guys with a .900 OPS on the team. We've got MLB officials in the video room and everywhere, and we have the best numbers of our career as a team. So what are you going to say?"
Michael Baumann, The Ringer, January 14, 2020:
Electronic sign stealing is the cause célèbre of the day, but it's penny-ante shit compared to other behaviors that stem from the same societal disease that views rules, norms, and human beings as obstacles to be navigated around or run over on the way to the goal.

It is from this toxic stem that electronic sign stealing sprouted, as well as other even more insidious fruits: suspicious leaguewide spending freezes, service-time manipulation, improprieties surrounding the recruitment of amateur free agents, PEDs, starvation wages for minor leaguers, and a litany of other sins that are far more odious to fans and deleterious to the soul than sniffing out an upcoming breaking ball.

This is the disease, and MLB is treating one symptom. There's no profit in finding a cure.
Michael Baumann, The Ringer, November 13, 2019:
Astros owner Jim Crane made his billions running a logistics company that's settled discrimination lawsuits and war profiteering charges. And for as much of a beating as Luhnow's current employer is taking in the press, at least the Astros haven't inspired a New York Times headline that said they "Helped Raise the Stature of Authoritarian Governments," like Luhnow's former employer did.

That history forms a base layer that invites observers to make connections among sign stealing, Taubman, the club's mass layoffs in its scouting department, a string of ham-fisted and hostile PR actions against reporters, and the shenanigans the club played with 2014 no. 1 pick Brady Aiken, among a litany of other offenses ranging from the penny-ante to the truly stomach-turning.

In a vacuum, this sign-stealing scandal is bad. The Astros might have influenced a championship by breaking the rules and ought to suffer the prescribed punishment for doing so. (Even if their execution was more folly than a mustache-twirling, real-world evil plot.) But in context, it's the latest car in a freight train of misbehavior.
Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports:
[W]here does baseball go from here with all of this?

Before we answer that, we have to answer a threshold question: is baseball more interested in stopping future illegal sign-stealing or is it more concerned with simply putting out P.R. fires like the Astros and Red Sox stories have become?

That's not a rhetorical question born of cynicism. As you'll recall, when the Houston allegations first hit, MLB — after an initial, apparently mistaken bit of honesty in which it said it did not plan to limit its investigation to the Astros — said that it would only be investigating Houston and had no reason to look beyond them. They're not idiots. They know it was bigger than Houston. They just wanted to contain the fire that was currently burning. Once the allegations regarding the Red Sox came out, however, that position became untenable for Major League Baseball and they went wider. But only to Boston, it seems. They don't seem to be following up on those seven or eight teams Verducci mentions. I am pretty confident that they're going to blast Alex Cora with 100,000 megatons of Manfredian Justice and then declare the matter closed. At least until the next time.

If we've learned anything in the Rob Manfred Era we've learned that when there is a relatively simple and straightforward solution, baseball will take a more complicated one.
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated had a long interview with Rob Manfred "on the occasion of the upcoming fifth-year anniversary of his commissionership":
Paranoia about sign-stealing and the misuse of technology has grown so wild that some news reports suggested the Astros may have relayed signs with the use of a buzzer embedded in bandages on the skin. ...

"I will tell you this: we found no Band-Aid buzzer issues," Manfred told SI. "There's a lot of paranoia out there." ...

This is the story of how the temptation of technology ensnared baseball ...

On January 16, 2014, MLB announced the approval of an expanded, challenge-based replay system. ...

The unintended consequence of getting calls right on the field gave players easy access to real-time video. Many replay monitors, on the premise of expediency, soon moved from the clubhouse to positions closer to the dugout, as the Astros did at Minute Maid Park.

By 2017, teams had figured out that access to live video provided a competitive advantage. ...

Now that Manfred has swung his hammer, he has to decide on how to assure a corrupt-free game in a high-tech world. The answer is either more technology or less technology, and he's not sure which path is correct. ...

"Longer term, for example, the idea of having a technology solution that eliminates some guy putting fingers above his cup might be a better answer." ...

On the other hand, why not eliminate as much technology as possible? If cameras and monitors are causing such subterfuge, why not turn them off as soon as the first pitch is thrown? Video rooms are locked. The only monitor available to a team is the replay one with the MLB security official standing next to it.

"That's the first path," Manfred said. ...

Asked if more protocols will be in place for Opening Day, he replied, "Absolutely."

Two of baseball's past three World Series champions created advantages with the misuse of technology. One investigation concluded Monday and another is underway. ...

"Whenever you have an allegation that the outcome of a game was altered by a rules violation," Manfred said, "that falls into the category where fans believe the competition has been affected, and it's an integrity issue. The integrity of the competition."
Whenever you have an allegation that the outcome of a game was altered by a rules violation ... it's an integrity issue.

And yet Manfred does not believe that statement is true when it comes to umpires violating the rules by altering the strike zone, whether through an inability to track pitches, a desire to have the game end sooner, deference to a veteran at the plate or on the mound, a bias against a certain player, perhaps a rookie or someone who has argued with the umpire in the past, or good old incompetence. Those violations, which change the outcome of games every single day, are okay with the Commissioner.

A song parody, sung to the tune of an odious piece of garbage:
Brand Name (SoSH):

A.J. Hinch, crossed the line, Luhnow gone, heavy fine
Draft picks lost, rings are not, owner sad for getting caught
Crane denied part in team's making up the clanging scheme
Taubman censured in the text, Cora, Beltran might be next
We didn't blame Mike Fiers
Can was always banging, since the curveball's hanging
We didn't blame Mike Fiers
No, we didn't hush it, but our barrels crushed it!
We didn't blame Mike Fiers...

U.S. military fact of the day

In 2016, Politico reported that the total number of trombone, trumpet, keyboard and other instrument players [in the U.S. military] stands at about 6,500.

That’s a lot of Souza marches, but the State Department fields a bigger squad of diplomats. There are 8,106 Foreign Service officers, according to a State Department report. (The State Department has about another 5,700 people to support the diplomats, but they don’t do direct diplomatic work.) Still, there are a good 1,600 more diplomats than musicians.

Here is further information.  Here is another relevant source.  Via Andrew Goldman.

The post U.S. military fact of the day appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

The vicious cycle of disrespect and cynicism

We tested how cynicism emerges and what maintains it. Cynicism is the tendency to believe that people are morally bankrupt and behave treacherously to maximize self-interest. Drawing on literatures on norms of respectful treatment, we proposed that being the target of disrespect gives rise to cynical views, which predisposes people to further disrespect. The end result is a vicious cycle: cynicism and disrespect fuel one another. Study 1’s nationally representative survey showed that disrespect and cynicism are positively related to each other in 28 of 29 countries studied, and that cynicism’s associations with disrespect were independent of (and stronger than) associations with lacking social support. Study 2 used a nationally representative longitudinal dataset, spanning 4 years. In line with the vicious cycle hypothesis, feeling disrespected and holding cynical views gave rise to each other over time. Five preregistered experiments (including 2 in the online supplemental materials) provided causal evidence. Study 3 showed that bringing to mind previous experiences of being disrespected heightened cynical beliefs subsequently. Studies 4 and 5 showed that to the extent that people endorsed cynical beliefs, others were inclined to treat them disrespectfully. Study 6’s weeklong daily diary study replicated the vicious cycle pattern. Everyday experiences of disrespect elevated cynical beliefs and vice versa. Moreover, cynical individuals tended to treat others with disrespect, which in turn predicted more disrespectful treatment by others. In short, experiencing disrespect gives rise to cynicism and cynicism elicits disrespect from others, thereby reinforcing the worldview that caused these negative reactions in the first place.

That is from a new paper by Olga Stavrova, Daniel Ehlebracht, and Kathleen D. Vohs.  Perhaps this is further microfoundations for the hypotheses of Martin Gurri?

Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The post The vicious cycle of disrespect and cynicism appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

What would it be like to work on Mars?

“[People and robots] wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

Part of my series on common misconceptions in space journalism.

In both science fiction and fact-based journalism there are a bewildering variety of future visions for human existence in space. Indeed, a primary function of science fiction is to examine the human condition by juxtaposing our evolutionary legacy with hypothetical future technology. For example, Kim Stanley Robinson used Mars as a rich palette to explore alternative sociopolitical structures in his epic Mars trilogy.

My purpose here isn’t to knit pick or grade authors, but to add some perspective to contemporary media narratives. Because no-one, including me, has ever lived on Mars, no-one really knows what it might be like. Some narratives hold that humans on Mars will be challenged only by the magnitude of their riches and entertainment as they partake in fully automated luxury space communism. Others hold that humans will have to lurk in underground caverns, tending to potato plants and trying to remember what warmth feels like. Still others foresee a future of indentured servitude, 50 years of hard labor under the lash of Elon’s socialist workers’ paradise…

While my previous sentence was facetious, there are solid arguments both for and against space cities being inherently prone to human freedom. On one hand, a hostile environment and dependence on external supplies seems to vest incredible power in the centralized authority that controls the life support system. On the other, the available labor pool is likely to be overwhelmingly highly motivated, highly educated technical people upon whose continuing good will the success of the enterprise will rest.

I personally believe that the level of productivity required could not be obtained under duress, as ideology is a much more effective motivator than fear of punishment. Nevertheless, it is clear that to serve SpaceX’s vision of a self-sustaining civilization on Mars, there will have to be an extraordinary amount of labor both human and robotic. This blog is my attempt to understand how this system will form, allocate work, scale, and mature.

While I have previously explored aspects of this question in speeches, blogs, and books, here I will bring the reader up to date with my latest thoughts while remaining focused on the human experience.

One common misconception to clear up first are the dangers of reasoning by analogy. The most accessible metaphor for self-sufficiency is the rugged individual pioneer pushing the frontier with marginal agriculture, 40 acres, and a donkey. Numerous popular works on Mars settlement, including by Robert Zubrin, Buzz Aldrin, and Andy Weir, play to this metaphor with varying levels of seriousness. They appeal to our resourceful instincts and feel very concrete.

Unfortunately, living on Mars will be nothing like camping or building an old fashioned ranch, as Andy Weir ultimately makes clear in his novel “The Martian”. The character Mark Watney is every bit a rugged resourceful type, and yet just surviving an extra year on the surface is a difficult and realistic challenge. If one takes this situation to its logical conclusion – an attempt at indefinite survival – the result is inescapable. Death by systems failure.

So if pioneering agriculture is a bad analogy, are there better ones? I think there are. The key difference is that growing plants somewhere that plants already grow is not that difficult. Mars’ surface is a frozen poisonous irradiated cratered hellscape. It is as hostile to human life as any of the places on Earth not yet overrun by humans.

What are those places? Mountains about 5500 m (18,000 feet). Deeper than 10 m in the ocean. The open ocean. Antarctica. The atmosphere above 40,000 feet. Volcanic areas. Very steep cliffs. What do all these places have in common? They are places that humans rapidly die without both advanced technology and technical skills, usually embodied by the following of checklists. Like the astronaut, the SCUBA diver and mountain climber both share an appreciation for procedural risk reduction and reliance on specialist gear to keep them alive. Importantly, this specialist gear is highly non-trivial to make from scratch.

Let us develop these analogies further. Let’s buy a retired aircraft carrier and cruise to Antarctica, where we will tie it to the ice a respectful distance from any penguin rookeries. Putting on our logistics hats, the challenge is to select a crew and any relevant machinery, strand them on this carrier, and keep them alive for as long as possible.

Let’s employ some physics-based reasoning to understand how this may play out. Assuming we work out how to keep the living areas heated, to grow crops on the deck during summer under greenhouses, and to keep all the mechanisms running with copious spare parts and a nice machine shop, what will limit the duration of this experiment? How can the system break down in a way that no carrier crew, no matter how motivated and skilled, can prevent? Ultimately the hull will rust and deteriorate and the carrier will sink. The hull can’t be repaired without a supply chain for steel, and there is no source of iron on the Antarctic ice.

This is a bit of a downer, but ultimately any Mars city will either need total ongoing replacement of its constituent parts, or the ability to make them locally, and in abundance. Abundance is the key point. It’s not difficult to imagine a small Mars base with a few hundred skilled engineers and technicians and a bunch of machines, essentially able to make anything given enough time. While impressive, that’s not so different to the aircraft carrier example. What is needed is not only a prototyping ability, but a full manufacturing capacity. The ability to build new things much faster than the old ones break down and wear out.

When we think of people doing jobs on Mars, it is less the careful, time consuming repair of some fancy widget, than the incremental improvement in manufacturing rate for hundreds of new widgets. It is simply an inefficient waste of labor to perform meticulous bespoke surgery on machinery. There is too much to do, and human time is too valuable.

How valuable? It is important to remember that while transport increases the cost of having things on Mars, this increase is different for humans and robots. Let’s say that SpaceX can launch cargo to Mars for $5000/kg. A human and their stuff could get a ride for a million dollars. A 200 kg robot would cost the same to deliver, and in almost all cases, the transport cost would exceed the sticker cost of the device. If the robot in question is a generic industrial CNC machine, then the cost of delivering it to Mars increases its cost by about a factor of 10. But the cost of keeping a human alive on Mars also includes all the cargo they need to be delivered over time, the life support and living space that needs to be provided, and the cost of the supporting operations team on Earth. To pick a round number, let’s say the cost of labor on Mars is 100 times higher than on Earth, or 10 times higher relatively than a robotic CNC machine. A highly qualified engineer’s salary + overhead in Los Angeles, 2020 might cost $250,000/year. On Mars, relocation and logistics costs would inflate that to $25m/year, per person.

This is why, I think, concerns over indentured servitude are overwrought. Salary is a tiny fraction of this cost, so immediately we can see that, to the extent that salary is motivating, it’s unlikely to cost the managers of the project much in the grand scheme of things. More generally, the overhead cost is a way of accounting how many other salaries are needed to support the labor of the person on the (Martian) ground.

How does this change the work environment? Consider the work environment of humans with similar levels of overhead. This could range from oil rig specialists to heads of state. The aim is to extract the maximum value of labor over a long period of time. This means optimizing efficiency, ergonomics, and scheduling. For technicians, it means having the right tools and parts where they’re needed, as well as LEGO-style parts that integrate with a minimum of fuss. For software engineers, it means working remotely back on Earth, where the air is free. Overall, it means responsive management and emphasized productivity incentives. It also means the ability to switch between different tasks as skill demand and interest shifts.

A perfectly executed workers paradise is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for self-sufficiency. Even if the Mars city was full of healthy, well-trained technicians all swinging wrenches at optimal efficiency, the city would still be unable to avoid systems failure. Mars is simply too hostile an environment for a city of any size to survive while relying only on human labor. There is way too much to do.

The industrial revolution is a big deal because, for the first time, the mechanical output of a civilization was no longer limited by how much food the human and domestic animal population could digest and convert, rather inefficiently, to motion. Instead, machines powered by burning coal, oil, and more recently solar electricity, can perform mechanical labor. This is a big deal – just compare the process of agriculture before and after tractors were invented. The total mechanical output of developed nations has grown by about a factor of 50 since the industrial revolution. That is, of the total mechanical power produced, only 2% of it is derived from human muscles, so our industry performs 50 times more work than humans could alone.

We may have to improve this force multiplier by another factor of 50 to achieve self sufficiency on Mars with fewer than a million people. What could this look like? Humans operating tractors and bulldozers than are 50 times bigger? To an extent, yes, but not all production requires a really big digger. Instead, it needs additional layers of abstraction between human labor and production.

The best historical example of this that I’m aware of occurs in software engineering. Since the invention of computers, programming languages have become more powerful through the use of abstraction. Coders using Python don’t (usually) need to worry about hardware-specific CPU instructions, memory management, or specifics of matrix inversion. Instead, they have compilers and interpreters that, combined with hundreds of thousands of user-generated libraries containing condensed human thought ready to be recycled to solve the next problem, allow the coder to quickly get to the point. This is what the robot revolution looks like. A single programmer can solve a problem in exponentially less time than ever before.

Hundreds of skilled technicians pushing parts on lathes and mills is the assembly code of manufacturing. It’s better than filing chunks of rock by hand, just as assembly was better than buildings full of human computers with slide rules. And to some extent, the first humans on Mars will be performing construction and assembly by hand. To stay on the trajectory of population vs self-sufficiency, however, human hands will need to rapidly retreat up the process chain. What does the C of manufacturing look like? The C++? The Python? What do factories look like when labor is really expensive? To some extent we can answer that by comparing factories making identical competing products in low wage and high wage countries. Higher labor cost means fewer humans, higher productivity, newer machinery, and a lot of industrial automation. When we build factories on Mars, we are building factories of the future.

Let’s jump back to Mars. There’s a big city, SpaceX Starships are landing thousands of tons of cargo and new people every two years. The city is expanding rapidly using the latest technology and is climbing the ladder of self sufficiency. How does this work on a day to day basis? More people doesn’t automatically lead to better specialization and process efficiency.

Let’s say that every two years, a new arrival of cargo and people doubles the population of the city. In order to scale productivity at the same rate, essentially all the new arrivals need to be employed building a new industrial capability, while the existing Martians need to double, during the preceding two years, the productivity of their industries to meet demand from the new arrivals. Achieving this scaling in lockstep over three or four orders of magnitude is a preposterously understated challenge.

At first, workers might directly assemble machinery. Then build an automated assembly line. Then double the production rate on that line. Then automate production of lines. Then automate procurement of parts and disposition of products. By the end state, a handful of old-timers will be perched atop a pyramid of abstracted labor, having automated their own labor all the way up from the ground level. Robot-constructed robots will autonomously mine ore, produce billets of thousands of grades of industrial metals, and oversee their use to produce the millions of different products that fill out the McMaster-Carr and Amazon catalogs.

At first, a small Mars city will be preoccupied with production of living spaces and mass-heavy bulk materials, such as fuel, oxygen, water, concrete, steel. As the city grows, the make/buy trade will favor the local production (vs import) of steadily more complex, relatively low weight products, including plastics, food, textiles, electrical machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and eventually integrated circuits and baby humans, both of which are extremely labor intensive and relatively easy to import.

By the time the city has reached its winning condition, so much time and technology will have passed that it is even more difficult for anyone to predict what human labor conditions might be like by then. Extrapolation suggests that transport costs to Mars will fall, even as local production improves. Economic forcing will also cause travel times to fall. Where once high costs might justify only specialist migration and one-way trips, automated production of Starships and carbon-neutral fuel production may open the solar system to anyone who can spare a week’s salary.

As for Mars, a century of terraforming efforts combined with exponentially increasing industrial capacity will bring forth the initial promise of the industrial revolution, a post-scarcity cornucopia on a greening world with limitless frontiers.

Four short links: 20 January 2020

  1. AR Contact LensThe path ahead is not a short one; contact lenses are considered medical devices and therefore need US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. But the Mojo Lens has been designated as an FDA Breakthrough Device, which will speed things up a little. And clinical studies have begun.
  2. BucklespringThis project emulates the sound of my old faithful IBM Model-M space saver bucklespring keyboard while typing on my notebook, mainly for the purpose of annoying the hell out of my coworkers.
  3. Orange Badge (Tim Bray) — At some point, it’s going to be a real problem being management in a sector that’s widely feared and distrusted. But we in the tech tribe haven’t really internalized much about this yet. This. Silicon Valley failed to die a hero, so has lived long enough to see itself become the villain.
  4. Great ExpectationsPipeline tests are applied to data (instead of code) and at batch time (instead of compile or deploy time). Pipeline tests are like unit tests for datasets: they help you guard against upstream data changes and monitor data quality. Software developers have long known that automated testing is essential for managing complex codebases. Great Expectations brings the same discipline, confidence, and acceleration to data science and engineering teams.

Caught “Pink-Handed”

The Milky Way contains many regions of starbirth — areas where new stars are springing to life within collapsing clumps of gas and dust. One such region, named Gum 26, is shown here as imaged by the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

Gum 26 is located roughly 20,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sails). It is something known as an HII region or  emission nebula, where the intense ultraviolet radiation streaming from newly-formed stars ionises the surrounding hydrogen gas, causing it to emit a faint pinkish glow. By catching new stars “pink-handed” in this manner, astronomers can learn more about the conditions under which stars arise, and study how they influence their cosmic environment. 

This image was created as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes, for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. All data collected may also be suitable for scientific purposes, and are made available to astronomers through ESO’s science archive.

NASA considering extended Crew Dragon test flight to ISS

Behnken and Hurley

WASHINGTON — NASA will decide in the coming weeks whether to extend a crewed SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station, a move that could help alleviate a crew time crunch on the station.

A successful in-flight abort test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft Jan. 19 makes it increasingly likely that that the spacecraft will be ready for a crewed test flight, known as Demo-2, this spring. At a post-test news conference, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said it was “probable” that the flight will take place in the second quarter of this year.

On the Demo-2 flight, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will fly on the Crew Dragon to the ISS. That was originally designed as a short-term mission, on the order of a couple weeks, but NASA is leaving the door open to extending that mission by an unspecified amount.

“Do we want that first crew to be a short duration or do we want it to be a longer duration?” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at the briefing immediately after Musk offered his estimate of when the mission would be ready to fly. If NASA decided to extend the Demo-2 mission, he said, the astronauts would need additional training for ISS operations, which would push back the launch.

The current plan, he said later, is to keep Demo-2 a short-duration mission. But extending the mission, he said, would ensure NASA can get “the maximum amount of capability” out of the station. “We’ll be able to maintain a larger presence of astronauts on the space station for longer periods of time.”

There are currently six people on the station, but with scheduled crew rotations and a previously planned reduction in Soyuz flights, there will only be three people — NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin — on the station starting in April. That will limit the time available for research and also restrict any spacewalks to urgent repairs.

Bridenstine specifically mentioned spacewalks in his comments at the press conference. “It’s always better to have more crew on board for those activities than less,” he said. “We want to make sure we give us the best chance of success.”

A decision on extending Demo-2, Bridenstine said, would come in the near future. “Those are decisions we’re going to be making in the coming weeks,” he said.

NASA previously exercised an option to extend the crewed flight test for the other commercial crew vehicle in development, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. The agency said last April that Crew Flight Test mission, with NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann and Boeing commercial astronaut Chris Ferguson on board, would be extended for up to six months. The exact flight duration, NASA said then, would be decided at a later date, but all three astronauts have been performing training for ISS operations alongside that for the Starliner test flight itself.

NASA didn’t originally consider an extension of SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission for technical reasons. “When we made this agreement with Boeing at that time, the vehicle that SpaceX was going to fly for Demo-2 was not really capable of doing it,” Kirk Shireman, NASA ISS program manager, said at an October briefing.

However, the destruction of the Crew Dragon spacecraft that flew the Demo-1 uncrewed mission in March 2019 during preparations for the in-flight abort test forced SpaceX to instead use the Crew Dragon being built for Demo-2 for the abort test. The Demo-2 mission, in turn, will use a Crew Dragon spacecraft originally constructed for the first post-certification, or operational, ISS mission.

“That changed the game,” Shireman said then about extending Demo-2. “That’s why it’s much more in the discussion than it was before.”

Kathy Lueders, NASA commercial crew program manager, said at the post-test briefing that the agency had been working with SpaceX over the last six to seven months so that the Demo-2 spacecraft could support an extended mission. “You always need to have options when you’re dealing with these types of missions,” she said.

Musk said the company would be ready if NASA decided to extend Demo-2. “From a SpaceX standpoint, we will make sure we’re ready to serve whatever needs NASA may have, so that whatever decision is made, we can support either,” he said.

How to Please Elise

How to Please Elise

Christoph Niemann with a clever take on the Beethoven composition for piano, Für Elise. He’s offering it as a letterpress print — but supplies are low so order quick if you want one.

And according to Niemann, the chart has been factchecked and is accurate.

Tags: Christoph Niemann   design   infoviz   Ludwig van Beethoven   music

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Quadrantid Meteors through Orion

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J.D. Martinez Is Confident Investigators Will Not Find Much Evidence Against 2018 Red Sox

Most Red Sox players and coaches attending the annual Winter Weekend did not talk directly about the on-going MLB investigation into whether the 2018 Red Sox were guilty of illegally stealing signs.

J.D. Martinez did. The Athletic, WEEI, and reported his comments:
I'm excited for the investigation to be over with just so that they can see that there was nothing going on here. [A reporter asked: That's what they'll find?] I believe so, yes. ...

I was in there [the video room], so I saw straight up. Everyone seems to forget that in 2016 and 2017, this was a really good team. They won 93 games those two years and then we just got better. Like I said, I'm excited for it. Really not allowed to comment on it, but we'll see what happens.
Rafael Devers also had a fairly direct answer. When asked if the team had done anything wrong, he said: "No. I don't think so."

I want to think Martinez would not have bothered to say anything if it wasn't true. We will know for sure in a couple of weeks.

Rob Bradford writes:
While Martinez's comments were on-the-record, out in front of cameras and microphones, multiple sources involved in the 2018 championship run have been echoing the same tone as the designated hitter/outfielder behind the scenes, suggesting that the Red Sox are innocent. ...

One major league source said there is currently a belief that MLB's findings are trending to be released sometime in the first week of February.
Other comments:

Christian Vazquez:
I don't want to talk about what happened. ... [I]t's tough to make comments on that. I know our manager got fired, but it's tough to answer those questions.
Jackie Bradley:
[W]e'll find out when you all find out. Your guess is as good as mine.
Nathan Eovaldi:
I feel like it's going to pass and everything is going to be fine.
Ron Roenicke (bench coach):
[T]o have an allegation made that deters from that feeling of what we accomplished, it's hard. Your friends hear that. Your family hears that. And they question, like everybody else has. So to do something that good, and then have it maybe tarnished some, it's tough.
Carlos Febles (third base coach):
It's an ongoing investigation. We're not allowed to comment about that at this point.