Momentus and Kepler announce service agreement

SAN FRANCISCO – Momentus Space announced an agreement Oct. 20 with Canada’s Kepler Communications to arrange the 2021 launch of two satellites on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare flight and delivery to their desired orbital altitude in the Vigoride in-space transportation vehicle.

Kepler’s first two GEN1 satellites built in the company’s satellite manufacturing facility launched in late September on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket. GEN1 satellites are designed to link customers with Kepler’s wideband high-capacity data service and narrowband internet-of-things applications.

Under the latest agreement, Momentus plans to integrate two additional GEN1 satellites with Vigoride.

Momentus purchased rides on five SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare missions in 2020 and 2021 to showcase the ability of Vigoride to move customer satellites 300 to 1,200 kilometers beyond the drop-off point.

Kepler CEO Mina Mitry called the Soyuz launch “the start of our aggressive launch campaign,” during the Toronto-based company’s September webcast focused on the Soyuz launch.

In 2019, Kepler announced that it booked 400 kilograms of rideshare capacity with SpaceX  in order to launch an unspecified number of cubesats.

Momentus, a Santa Clara, California, startup, has signed up dozens of customers for Vigoride, which is scheduled to make its orbital debut later this year.



Live coverage: OSIRIS-REx descending toward asteroid Bennu for sampling run

Live coverage of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to collect a sample from asteroid Bennu and return it to Earth. Text updates will appear automatically below; there is no need to reload the page. Follow us on Twitter.


Clean Feed of Mission Support Area

Real-Time Simulation

AFDLOX October 20, 12:10pm

FXUS66 KLOX 201910 AFDLOX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service Los Angeles/Oxnard CA 1210 PM PDT Tue Oct 20 2020 .SYNOPSIS...20/923 AM. Very quiet weather is expected through the week with overnight through morning low clouds across the coasts and valleys. Temperatures will cool through the week and be several degrees below normal. Light rain or drizzle is possible later this week into the weekend with a much deeper marine layer, mainly coastal and valleys areas.

Brazil Signs Artemis Accords

What's It Mean?

Tierney Sneed on the Supreme Court’s alarming handling of a key Pennsylvania voting law case last night

Should government improve the quality of its software?

From a GitHub repository:

This GitHub repository is a back up of my FAERSFix scripts.

The FDA Adverse Effect Reporting System is a horrifically dysfunctional quagmire of shockingly bad data. The data is not just bad for severe epistemological reasons, it is also poorly organized and riddled with flagrant absurd errors.

These scripts smooth over the very messy process of acquiring and basic debugging of the data. At the end of the process a user can arrive at a local repository of the FAERS data that is sane enough to begin to think about some kind of sensible analysis. To understand the disastrous state of the original source data, see the source code of the scripts which is designed to be a readable self-documenting manual demonstrating how to correct this mess.

Since the FDA’s gremlins never rest, these scripts will become obsolete. If you would like to contribute updates or fixes, feel free to send me a patch or a pull request. Good luck!

I thank Chris E. for the pointer.

The post Should government improve the quality of its software? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

It’s Reflective Fjord Season

This image-stabilized video of Tomasz Furmanek kayaking through the fjords of western Norway is almost obscenely beautiful. I want to go to there. (Really dislike the music though…this would have been so much better just with the ambient noise of the boat and paddle slipping through the water. Like this video.)

Tags: Tomasz Furmanek   video

Are You Better Off Than 4 Years Ago?

Two weeks out from the election, the CDC announced today that excess deaths in the U.S. during the pandemic are bumping up against 300,000:


It’s a remarkable historic moment.

Gordon Woodcock

Keith's note: Sources report that Gordon Woodcock has died. A long time employee of Boeing, Woodcock had a hand in virtually every type of space project you can imagine over the years. Although he retired from Boeing in 1996, he never really retired and became a fixture in the space community. His career spanned many decades and he influenced a lot of people in the space industry. Details to follow. Ad Astra.

Bio, NSS

NHC Atlantic Outlook

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


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
200 PM EDT Tue Oct 20 2020

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

The National Hurricane Center is issuing advisories on Tropical
Storm Epsilon, located over the central Atlantic several
hundred miles east-southeast of Bermuda.

1. A trough of low pressure extends from the northwestern Caribbean
Sea near the northeastern portion of the Yucatan peninsula
southeastward into the southwestern Caribbean Sea. This system is
producing disorganized showers and thunderstorms well to the east
of the trough axis. Upper-level winds are expected to remain
unfavorable for significant development while the system drifts
westward over the next few days.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...near 0 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...10 percent.

Forecaster Brown

How OSIRIS-REx will snag a sample from asteroid Bennu

This diagram illustrates the major events planned during OSIRIS-REx’s descent to asteroid Bennu on Oct. 20 for a touch and go landing. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Mars rovers go through seven minutes of terror when they plunge into the Martian atmosphere at hypersonic speed. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will take a more glacial approach to its asteroid target Tuesday, and the event will be more akin to four-and-a-half hours of mild anxiety for ground teams, according to the mission’s operations manager.

The robotic explorer is set to snag a sample from asteroid Bennu, a clump of rock stretching a third of a mile (500 meters) wide located 207 million miles (334 million kilometers) from Earth. OSIRIS-REx will return the specimens to Earth in 2023 for detailed analysis in terrestrial laboratories.

The spacecraft will perform all its maneuvers Tuesday autonomously, navigating its way around Bennu’s weak gravity field using on-board algorithms that track landmarks on the asteroid and compare them to pre-loaded maps.

Read our comprehensive preview story for more details on the mission. Here is a list of the major events during the touch and go maneuver.

  • 1:50 p.m. EDT (1750 GMT): OSIRIS-REx fires thrusters to leave a “safe-home orbit” roughly 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) from asteroid Bennu. The burn will change the craft’s velocity relative to the asteroid by less than 0.2 mph, or about 8 centimeters per second.
  • 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT): OSIRIS-REx extends its robotic sampling arm — called the Touch And Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM. The arm is about 11 feet (3.35 meters) long, with a drum-shaped fixture on the end that resembles an air filter affixed to an antique automobile.
  • 5:29 p.m. EDT (2129 GMT): OSIRIS-REx turns to the attitude, or orientation, for the final descent to the asteroid.
  • 5:36 p.m. EDT (2136 GMT): OSIRIS-REx begins adjusting its two solar array wings to a “Y-wing” configuration to safely position them away from the asteroid’s surface.
  • 5:50 p.m. EDT (2150 GMT): OSIRIS-REx performs a checkpoint burn to allow the spacecraft to begin a free fall toward the asteroid.
  • 6:00 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT): OSIRIS-REx performs a matchpoint burn about 50 meters (164 feet) from the asteroid to slow its descent to a speed of about 0.2 mph (10 centimeters per second).
  • 6:11 p.m. EDT (2211 GMT): OSIRIS-REx’s natural feature tracking navigation system autonomously determines whether the spacecraft is heading to a safe area for the sampling attempt. If not, this is the last chance for the spacecraft to command an abort and back away.
  • 6:12 p.m. EDT (2212 GMT): OSIRIS-REx’s TAGSAM contacts the asteroid and discharges a bottle of compressed nitrogen gas to scour up bits of dust and rock up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) beneath Bennu’s surface. After 10 to 15 seconds, the spacecraft will fire thrusters to begin ascending from the asteroid.

During the most critical phases of the descent, the spacecraft will only send limited telemetry data back to Earth. Later Tuesday night, OSIRIS-REx will reestablish high data rate communications with ground teams, and controllers will be able to fully assess how the spacecraft performed.

The first images from the touch and go will be beamed back to Earth on Wednesday to show how the sampling system worked, and giving an early indication of whether the spacecraft gathered the expected specimens.

On Saturday, controllers are scheduled to command OSIRIS-REx into a spin maneuver to measure its moment of inertia. Engineers will compare the results to a similar maneuver before the sampling run, yielding an estimate of how much mass the spacecraft grabbed from Bennu.

“The requirement is 60 grams,” said Dante Lauretta, the mission’s principal investigator from the University of Arizona. “That’s based on the science team, where we’ve looked at all the laboratories across the world that we want to send material to, and how much material do we need to get the information about the organic chemistry, the hydrated minerals, the ages, exposures, all kinds of information about the sample. So the science needs the 60 grams.

“But TAGSAM actually was tested to pick up at least 150 grams (one-third of a pound),” Lauretta said. “And in the best case scenario where the TAGSAM filter is filled up … we might have a kilogram of sample or more.”

“The best outcome would be that we would collect a massive sample,” said Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx’s deputy principal investigator at the University of Arizona. “We say we have a requirement for 60 grams, or 2 ounces, but we have the capability of collecting up to 2 kilograms. I would love for that capsule to be completely full.”

If NASA is satisfied with the amount of material picked up by OSIRIS-REx, agency leaders could decide Oct. 30 that the mission has met its sample collection requirement. In that case, the spacecraft will continue remote sensing observations of the asteroid before beginning its return to Earth in mid-2021.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

NHC Eastern North Pacific Outlook

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


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS National Hurricane Center Miami FL
1100 AM PDT Tue Oct 20 2020

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

Tropical cyclone formation is not expected during the next 5 days.

Forecaster Brown

AFDSGX October 20, 10:00am

FXUS66 KSGX 201700 AFDSGX Area Forecast Discussion National Weather Service San Diego CA 1000 AM PDT Tue Oct 20 2020 .SYNOPSIS... Rather warm temperatures will continue through Wednesday, followed by noticeable cooling late this week as the upper ridge moves east in advance of an approaching upper trough from the northwest. There is increasing confidence that the first measurable rainfall of the season will occur this weekend from the coast to the mountains. The rainfall will be light. Once the trough exits to the east early next week, surface high pressure will build south into the Great Basin. This will lead to the likelihood of Santa Ana winds developing early next week, probably strongest Monday night through Tuesday morning, and most likely of weak to moderate intensity. Temperatures will gradually warm next week.

Phoenix Real Estate in September: Sales Up 18.5% YoY, Active Inventory Down 40% YoY

The Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service (ARMLS) reports ("Stats Report"):

1) Overall sales were at 9,305 in September, up from 8,878 in August, and up from 7,850 in September 2019. Sales were up 4.8% from August 2020 (last month), and up 18.5% from September 2019.

2) Active inventory was at 8,400, down from 13,936 in September 2019. That is down 40% year-over-year.

3) Months of supply decreased to 1.48 in September, down from 1.52 in August. This is very low.

Sales are reported at the close of escrow, so these sales were mostly signed in July and August.

Three Quick Links for Tuesday Noonish

In case you missed it the first time around, the 2nd edition of @craigmod's Kissa by Kissa book (about his 1000km walk along an ancient Japanese highway) is now available to order. []

Sixty-two Films That Shaped the Art of Documentary Filmmaking. This is from Richard Brody, so you know going in that it's not a list of the greatest hits (heavy hitters like The Thin Blue Line or Hoop Dreams aren't on here). []

A timeline map of where Covid-19 cases occurred in the US. NYC + cities at first, then the South, and more recently the Midwest/West. []


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

Where Things Stand: Kicking Up Dust Around The Debate

We’re not convinced President Trump will pull himself out of the debate on Thursday. But we’re not convinced he won’t either.

As a president who doesn’t traffic in subtleties, we’re keeping an eye on some of his preemptive efforts to delegitimize the debate before it even happens. While his campaign announced that it would be happy to participate in the back-and-forth, even with the Commission on Presidential Debates’ new rule that microphones must be muted when the opponent is speaking — a directive put in place after Trump’s repeated interruptions repeatedly derailed the first debate — Trump’s been signaling his discomfort with the affair.

For one thing, he made it clear yesterday that he thinks the entire debate commission is rigged against him personally, with his campaign arguing in a statement that the CPD was displaying “pro-Biden antics.” The accusation was apparently related to the lack of foreign policy questions on the docket? But it’s hard to say what fueled the statement entirely.

Now this morning, Trump went on “Fox and Friends” to cast further suspicion onto the CPD via his favorite conservative media megaphone, arguing that there were “a lot of funny things” going on with the non partisan group. He then jabbed at debate moderator and NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, arguing the longtime journalist “cannot be neutral at all.”

Trump loves attention enough that we’re not necessarily planning for a last-minute pull out. But he does this all the time — sets himself up to be treated unfairly and even if he’s treated fairly, he’s already created a narrative of bias, so might as well stick with it. He’s doing the same to delegitimize the election before it even takes place — a far more worrying tactic. If the entire world is biased against him, he’ll never have to face accountability.

Here’s more on other stories we’re following today:

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Tierney Sneed has published a piece outlining the short-term implications of the recent Pennsylvania voting rights win and what it means long term regarding the Supreme Court’s power and future elections.

Matt Shuham is working on an explainer that looks at the through-line connections between the armed, anti-lockdown order protests in Michigan this summer and the state’s recent attempt to ban open carry at polling places.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

Former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Michael Steele announced this morning that he will be voting for former Vice President Joe Biden instead of Trump, the head of his party. Steele, who was the head of the GOP for two years from 2009-2011, made the announcement in a NBC News op-ed on Tuesday. “Rather than seeking to build on the legacy of the Republican Party’s founders, of which Trump is surely ignorant, Trump has posited a single purpose for the GOP — the celebration of him,” Steele wrote. We’ll keep on this story of Republicans breaking with Trump.

In other election news: More than 350,000 people showed up to vote early in Florida on Monday, breaking the state’s previous record from 2016, which saw 291,000 ballots cast on opening day. Read more here.

If You Read Anything On COVID-19 Today, Read This

From Josh Kovensky this morning: Billions Are Still Needed To Distribute A COVID Vaccine, With No Relief In Sight.

Coming Up

This afternoon: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) will attend a virtual rally in Milwaukee to celebrate the first day of in-person voting in Wisconsin, followed by virtual fundraisers this evening.

3:00 p.m. ET: Trump will join a Sinclair town hall in the Rose Garden before leaving the White House at 5:30 p.m. ET with the first lady to head to Pennsylvania.

6:50 p.m. ET: Trump will speak at a campaign rally at Erie International Airport and then return to the White House just before 10 p.m. ET. 

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Biden Confirms Trump’s Devastating Attack That He’ll Listen To Scientists: ‘…Yes’ — Cristina Cabrera

What We Are Reading

Susan Collins And The Death Of The Senate — Meredith Shiner

Inside JFK’s Decisionmaking During The Cuban Missile Crisis — Martin Sherwin

Black Political Consultants Form Group To Push For Equity In Media Coverage — Sally Goldenberg

A World of Calm

Well, this is interesting. A World of Calm is a new TV series from HBO Max based on a sleep & meditation app called Calm.

A timely antidote for our modern lives, each half-hour episode takes audiences on an immersive visual journey into another world. Building on the record-breaking success of Calm’s Sleep Stories™ — bedtime stories for grown ups with over 250m listens — each relaxing tale is designed to transform how you feel. Transporting the viewer into tranquility through scientifically-engineered narratives, enchanting music and astounding footage, to naturally calm your body and soothe the mind. Each story is brought to life by a different iconic voice.

Narrators include Lucy Liu, Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, Zoe Kravitz, Keanu Reeves, and Kate Winslet. Based on the trailer (above) that hits a number of pet topics — relaxing videos, soothing sounds, nature documentaries, aerial photography, craftsmanship — I will likely be spending some time with A World of Calm soon, possibly while high?

Tags: A World of Calm   TV   video

Taking Stock

I do not think that impeachment was a mistake, as TPM Reader JR does. But as a factual matter I think he is right that there is no question that seeing all but one Republican Senator exonerate him in the face of indisputable evidence of the most egregious crimes radically emboldened Trump and made him feel he could get away with anything.

It’s been a while since I have thanked you for all fo the great coverage and analysis. TPM has been indispensable these last four years, and I am more likely to share TPM stories on FB than stories from any other source.

Two thoughts on your editorial this morning:

1. Conditioning – in those early days, lots of pressure was put on Trump through protests, tough questioning by reporters, and careful framing of news stories. I think pressure often worked to throw Trump off his game. But it was impossible to sustain the protests and for media to sustain vigilant framing. I’ve always suspected that part of the “strategy” of the Trump operation has been conditioning, constantly testing limits so that over time we accept (or at least get weary of fighting) things we fought six months earlier. The old outrage doesn’t look quite as bad as the new one. Among other things, we are being conditioned to accept a government that is not an ally, not reliable, arbitrary, even a threat to its own people at times. Trumpism, and the right writ large, will have succeeded if enough of the public is conditioned not to look to government to solve problems that cannot be solved without it, and to accept being miserably let down by the way society works and government functions as normal, unchangeable. Kind of the way Russian society functions (under czars, the USSR, and now Putin and hte oligarchs).

2. Impeachment – I came around to supporting impeachment a bit before you did. I let you and Dahlia Lithwick argue it out in my mind for a few weeks until she fully convinced me. But in retrospect, and I think we could have seen this coming, it was a mistake to bring it to a vote. The threat of impeachment, and of the impeachment investigation, was an important guardrail. Once Trump cleared the Senate vote, he and his administration (Barr among others) became more unleashed. It would probably have been better to keep the impeachment investigation hanging over their heads right through the election. Until they had the goods to change GOP votes in the Senate (or make those voting with Trump pay at the polls), they should have held off on a vote. Dems needed thicker skins to remain steadfast through all the “fishing expedition” criticisms while patiently pursuing the info they really needed through the courts, Trump resisting every step of the way. The resistance would have spoken volumes but more importantly there would have probably been some caution not to give the impeachment effort new grounds and new avenues to pursue.

As usual, just my $.02. And here’s hoping for a good, clean, and quick outcome on 11/3.


I’ve tried it a few times, and I think it will become “a thing.”  You can read about it here, though it is time someone did a more current article.  It is the best forum invented to date for mid-size, friendly, intellectual chats.  Broadly speaking imagine a Zoom call, with competing topic-named rooms, the video turned off, and better queuing and calling upon people procedures.  It doesn’t seem to induce fatigue the way Zoom calls do.  The software has a fluidity and ease of use that I hardly ever see, as usually I hate new apps that people tell me to try.

I don’t know that it will ever be “my thing,” mostly because I can read so quickly, which raises my opportunity cost of consumption.  (Though you can read with it on in the background — is it ever the case that no one in the audience is listening?  Would that even matter?)  In any case, I suspect it will take some real mind-share away from Twitter and Facebook, and now is the time for you to start learning about it.

So far it is invite-only, though I assume it will be opening up more broadly.  Furthermore, an invitation is not so difficult to get.  Arguably there is a problem with who gets invited or deplatformed, though so far this seems to bother the (non-participating) people on Twitter more than it disturbs anyone performing on Clubhouse itself.

It is much more Tiebout-like than Zoom, so someday this also may be an incredible data source on what leads to useful conversations, which are the best governance rules, and so on.

The post Clubhouse appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

CAR on California September Housing: Sales up 21% YoY, Active Listings down 48% YoY

The CAR reported: California housing market outperforms expectations, breaking record high median price for fourth straight month, C.A.R. reports
California’s home-buying season extended further into September as home sales climbed to their highest level in more than a decade, and the median home price set another high for the fourth straight month, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) said today.

Closed escrow sales of existing, single-family detached homes in California totaled a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 489,590 units in September, according to information collected by C.A.R. from more than 90 local REALTOR® associations and MLSs statewide. The statewide annualized sales figure represents what would be the total number of homes sold during 2020 if sales maintained the September pace throughout the year. It is adjusted to account for seasonal factors that typically influence home sales.

September’s sales total climbed above the 400,000 level for the third straight month since the COVID-19 crisis depressed the housing market earlier this year and was the highest sales level recorded since February 2009. September sales rose 5.2 percent from 465,400 in August and were up 21.2 percent from a year ago, when 404,030 homes were sold on an annualized basis.
For-sale properties continued to be added to the market at a pace slower than normal, and housing supply remained significantly below last year’s level. The year-over-year decline of 48.4 percent in September was the fourth consecutive month with active listings falling more than 40 percent from the prior year.
emphasis added
CR Note: Existing home sales are reported when the transaction closes, so this was mostly for contracts signed in July and August. Sales-to-date, through September, are down 3.7% compared to the same period in 2019.

BLS: September Unemployment rates down in 30 States, Higher in 8 States

From the BLS: Regional and State Employment and Unemployment Summary
Unemployment rates were lower in September in 30 states, higher in 8 states, and stable in 12 states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. All 50 states and the District had jobless rate increases from a year earlier. The national unemployment rate declined by 0.5 percentage point over the month to 7.9 percent but was 4.4 points higher than in September 2019.

Nonfarm payroll employment increased in 30 states, decreased in 3 states, and was essentially unchanged in 17 states and the District of Columbia in September 2020.
Hawaii had the highest unemployment rate in September, 15.1 percent, followed by Nevada, 12.6 percent. Nebraska had the lowest rate, 3.5 percent, followed by South Dakota, 4.1 percent, and Vermont, 4.2 percent.
Hawaii and Nevada are being impacted by the lack of tourism.

Stagnation is the real risk

The accelerated economic growth also accelerated our path along the inverted-U shape of risk. Faster growth means people are richer sooner, so they value life more sooner, so society shifts resources to safety sooner—and ultimately we will begin the decline in risk sooner. As a result, the overall probability of an existential catastrophe—the area under the risk curve—declines!

…The model also suggests a broader insight. Making people richer doesn’t improve their well-being, but it can also change what they value. In this case, people value life more as they grow richer, and valuing life more leads them to care more about reducing existential risk.

That is from a very useful essay by Leopold Aschenbrenner.  It is from the newly appeared second issue of Works in Progress, an excellent on-line journal.  And here is Samuel Hughes defending pastiche.

The post Stagnation is the real risk appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Jennifer Walshe

Sublime Chaos. The New Yorker, Oct. 26, 2020.

Today’s the big day for NASA’s mission that seeks to pluck asteroid dust

Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collecting a sample from the asteroid Bennu.

Enlarge / Artist’s conception of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collecting a sample from the asteroid Bennu. (credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

Hundreds of scientists and engineers have labored for the better part of two decades to reach this point. Now, their passenger-van-sized spacecraft is finally ready for its big moment, hovering near an asteroid about as long as the Empire State Building is tall.

Later today, this space drama will play out 333 million kilometers from Earth. NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will approach an asteroid named Bennu and extend its sampling arm. The circular head at the end of this arm will essentially bump into the asteroid for about five seconds.

During this critical juncture, the spacecraft will expel nitrogen gas onto the surface of Bennu, aiming to drive small particles on the asteroid's surface—with a width of 2cm or less—into a device akin to a catcher's mitt.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

World’s Fastest Production Car Reaches a Ludicrous 331 MPH on a Public Road

The SSC Tuatara has snatched the title of the world’s fastest production car away from its rivals by an absurd margin — and it wasn’t even going as fast as it could have.

After the satellite data from the onboard GPS system had been analyzed-the devices tracked two runs in opposite directions and calculated the average-Webb’s last dash came in at a staggering 331.15 mph. The final verified average was 316.11 miles per hour, handily beating both the Koenigsegg and the Bugatti records and cracking the metric milestone of 500 kilometers per hour just for good measure. In addition, the morning’s effort garnered records for the fastest flying mile on a public road (313.12 mph) and the highest speed achieved on a public road (331.15 mph).

How fast is that? “We were covering one and a half football fields each second.” *insert eyes-bugging-out emoji here* The cockpit video above is incredible. Just watch how smoothly and effortlessly the car accelerates right up to 331.15 mph before the driver lets off the gas — there was clearly plenty left. Indeed, the driver hadn’t even shifted into the car’s final gear.

Tags: cars   video

Losing ‘Your’ America When You’re an 87 Year-Old Senator

In Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York, one point he hammers home is the notion of losing your city. At some point, you look around and remember all the things that were, and then, it’s not really your city anymore. It still can be a great place to live and so on, but something has changed: what was the city of your present–or even your future–is now the past. So too with states and countries.

This, of course, is a post about California octogenarian senator Dianne Feinstein.

If Democrats retake the Senate, the 87 year-old senator is slated to head the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the appointment of judges, as well as civil rights legislation and statehood bills (though there are some ways, if Democrats choose, to remove statehood from her committee). Feinstein has indicated, and her long record supports this, that she will reinstate blue slips, giving Republicans de facto veto power over judicial appointments–at a time when many Democrats are calling for judicial reform by increasing the number of judges on various federal courts (including the Supreme Court). And her behavior during the recent judicial hearing could best be described as ‘gormless wet noodle’, which is to say, an exemplar of bipartisanship.

(hint: when your political opponents, after getting exactly what they want, are being nice to, it’s not because they’re your friends, but because you’re their mark).

After yesterday’s hearings, some of us dirty fucking hippies on the Twitterz didn’t like the idea of Feinstein chairing the committee anymore, and recommended she be rewarded for service with an ambassadorship or cabinet position. While Feinstein is clearly out of step, when she joined the Senate in 1992, at the age of 59, she defeated a Republican: for those keeping score at home, that’s six years away from used to be called retirement age. Her California was still a heavily Republican state and defeating Republicans was no small feat.

But a lot has changed since then. We don’t refer to states as bellwether states anymore either–now they’re ‘swing’ states. That’s not just a change in terminology for the kewl kidz, but bellwether states were indicators of how the rest of the country would vote. The old bellwethers are now swing states, but winning the swing state of Ohio doesn’t mean a Republican has a decent shot at carrying New Jersey–or California.

It’s a different America now, and if some of our elders, who won difficult elections have a hard time grasping that, it’s time to thank them for their service and move them on, so the rest of us can reach our America.

The Thing Is Upon Us

Here we are. Two weeks out from election day. All signs point to a Biden victory and a likely Democratic control of the Senate. But of course polls can be wrong and because of the electoral college two to four points of a Democratic popular vote margin is just what secures an electoral college win. Of course, the stakes are so high that no sinew of capacity or iota of effort can be spared even if a Trump defeat seems more likely than not. What is important to maintain clearly in mind is that everything has come down to this critical moment. The country has been at this four long years. We’ve seen protests, political organizing, investigations, mid-term elections, an endless series of efforts to come to grips with and battle the scourge of a lawless, damaging presidency. But this is the moment that counts, the moment for which all of these efforts and strivings must have been preparatory.

One memory stays with me. In the very early days of the administration, during the round of public protests around the travel ban, David Kurtz said to me that he thought some of the people in our operation were still thinking that somehow the whole thing wouldn’t hold, that they weren’t quite accepting that this was going to go on for years. The early weeks were so chaotic that this wasn’t a crazy thing to think. I can’t say I was sure myself what would happen. It did seem like the whole thing was so jagged and chaotic, so much of the nascent presidency’s wrongdoing was so rapidly catching up to it that it wasn’t clear it wouldn’t all fall apart. (Remember that from day one the President’s National Security Advisor was swept up in a controversy about collusion with a foreign power that would rapidly lead to his ouster.) In parliamentary systems government can and do fall. That is not how our system works. The American presidency is in many ways a holdover of ideas and assumptions of 18th century monarchical power, not withstanding its republican revolutionary origins. If the other centers of power in the system don’t arrest his or her actions the powers of prerogative are genuinely kingly.

Some of this was being in denial about the thing itself, the election of the lawless gamer, Donald Trump. But it is also hard to quite remember the nature of that early chaos. Today Trump appears to be publicly decompensating. Yesterday he managed to attack his Attorney General as a softie who hadn’t yet arrested Joe Biden, which other appointees would have. He called Biden a “criminal”. He called one of the most buttoned-up members of the White House press corps a “criminal”. His Director of National Intelligence leapt into his role as campaign surrogate, insisting there was no Russian hacking behind the purported Hunter Biden emails. It is hard to think of a time in the last four years when Trump has appeared more unhinged, free from any restraint or driven by his consuming rages.

But there’s a difference. The sad truth is that we’ve gotten used to this – the casual law-breaking and bad acts, the aping of foreign strongman antics, the lies that come as easy as water flowing down a hill. It all seems normal now. In January 2017 it not only didn’t seem normal it seemed hard to see how it could be sustainable. Something had to give. Or at least it seemed so. And it did. We did.

In our system the President holds a bundle of executive powers that are awesome in their scope and largely unshakable without overwhelming opposition in other parts of the government. Which is to say that if his party sustains his rule he can do as he pleases, which is what has happened. Absent that counterforce it can seem unacceptable and unsustainable. But the presidency is a power unto itself and it can go on and on and in fact shape the outside world to its needs.

As soon as President Trump was elected most of the civic carnage of the last four years became inevitable. You drink poison and a series of bad outcomes become inevitable even if they take some period of time to become apparent. It’s like jumping out of a tall building. At first you’re just floating but the outcome is already inevitable.

And now the country has the chance not so much to undo the damage – the work of years or lifetimes – but to avoid making the same mistake a second time. The thing is upon us.

SpaceX teams with Microsoft for Space Development Agency contract

WASHINGTON — SpaceX earlier this month won a $149 million contract from the Defense Department’s Space Development Agency to build four satellites to detect and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief of operating officer, revealed in a pre-recorded interview released Oct. 20 that Microsoft is a subcontractor working on the SDA program with SpaceX. 

Shotwell in the video spoke with Tom Keane, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure Global, about a new agreement to use SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband to connect Azure cloud computing data centers deployed around the world.  

Keane also asked Shotwell to discuss the companies’ other partnership for the SDA contract.

“We were pleased that Microsoft was on our team,” said Shotwell. “We will be delivering to the government a number of satellites that host a capability to protect against ballistic weapons,” she added. “Microsoft will be doing quite a bit of work as a subcontractor which I think was kind of a funny twist to the relationship here.”

The SDA satellites, to be delivered by September 2022, will have a “wide field of view” overhead persistent infrared sensor capable of detecting and tracking advanced missile threats from low Earth orbit. The spacecraft will have optical crosslinks to pass data to relay satellites. 

Shotwell did not discuss what specific role Microsoft will play in the SDA program. SpaceX is vertically integrated and does not work with many subcontractors. According to an industry source, SpaceX was interested in Microsoft Azure’s orbital emulator — a digital environment that allows the user to visualize an entire satellite architecture, test satellite designs and artificial intelligence algorithms. 

The orbital emulator “conducts massive satellite constellation simulations with software and hardware in the loop,” according to a Microsoft blog post. “This allows satellite developers to evaluate and train AI algorithms and satellite networking before ever launching a single satellite.”

The SDA satellites are being designed to process data on board and re-task themselves autonomously. The Azure emulator tool allows the user to see what the satellite sees, which helps model scenarios and simulate the architecture.


SpaceX, SES to provide broadband for Microsoft’s Azure Space mobile data centers

WASHINGTON — Microsoft on Oct. 20 announced it is expanding its cloud computing services for the space industry. The company will offer mobile cloud computing data centers that can be deployed anywhere in the world and connect to SpaceX’s Starlink and SES’ O3b internet satellites.

The service is part of Microsoft’s space-focused cloud business called Azure Space. It’s aimed at private industries and government agencies that use data collected by satellites but don’t want to invest in the ground infrastructure to process and analyze the data. 

Azure Space has emerged as a direct competitor to Amazon Web Services’ space data business. SpaceX joining forces with Microsoft adds another twist to the rivalry between space billionaires Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. 

Microsoft last month rolled out Azure Orbital, a “ground-station as a service” that competes with Amazon’s AWS Ground Station. These services connect satellites directly into the cloud computing networks. Azure Orbital initially only connected with remote-sensing imaging satellites but is now being expanded to connect with communications satellites in low, medium and geosynchronous orbits. 

Azure’s mobile cloud computing unit called a “modular data center” is aimed at customers like military forces or industries such as agriculture and energy who operate in “challenging environments” where there is no infrastructure, said Tom Keane, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure Global.

SpaceX and SES will provide point-to-point connectivity. “You don’t need fiber, you basically talk to the satellites that we have in orbit, the satellites will talk to each other and get that data to the other point on Earth where it’s needed,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief of operating officer, said in a pre-recorded interview with Keane.

J.P. Hemingway, CEO of SES Networks, said the company is forging permanent ties with Microsoft Azure by building antennas for its new O3b broadband constellations near Azure cloud sites around the world. 

“I think the satellite industry needs to disrupt itself,” Hemingway said in a pre-recored interview. “We need to embrace more orchestration, more virtualization, we need to be able to have a seamless orchestration across cloud content and connectivity, and we need an ecosystem to do that within.”

Microsoft on Tuesday also announced the Azure “orbital emulator” — a digital environment for satellite developers to simulate constellation designs and test artificial intelligence algorithms. The technology was developed for U.S. government agencies and is now being offered commercially.

As it seeks to grow its business with defense and intelligence agencies, Azure in recent months has made key hires of former government officials. William Chappell, a former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency official, is now chief technology officer of Azure Global. Former deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy Stephen Kitay, and former National Geospatial Intelligence Agency official Chirag Parikh are both senior directors at Azure Space.


Surgery Grand Rounds at UCSF. "Kidneys and Controversies: Kidney Exchange Within and Across Borders" Oct 21 (7am PST)

 Tomorrow at dawn I'll give a seminar to the surgeons at UCSF, about kidney exchange, and the controversies it has overcome, and is overcoming.

Surgery Grand Rounds | Kidneys and Controversies: Kidney Exchange Within and Across Borders

Date: October 21, 2020 Time: 7:00am-8:00am Place: Webinar

Rishwain Visiting Speaker: Alvin E. Roth, PhD

Al Roth is the Craig and Susan McCaw Professor of Economics at Stanford University and the George Gund Professor Emeritus of Economics and Business Administration at Harvard University. He shared the 2012 Nobel memorial prize in Economics. His research interests are in game theory, experimental economics, and market design. In the 1990’s he directed the redesign of the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) and currently is a member of the Board of Directors. He has been involved in the design and organization of kidney exchange, which helps incompatible patient-donor pairs find life-saving compatible kidneys for transplantation. He is on the Advisory Board of the National Living Donor Assistance Center (NLDAC). His work on kidney transplantation led him to become interested in repugnant transactions, and more generally how markets, and bans on markets, gain or fail to gain social support.

The University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians.  CME Course MGR21045

UCSF designates this live activity for a maximum of 43 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

*The above credit is inclusive of credit for all Fiscal Year 2020-2021 Department of Surgery Grand Rounds.

Disclosure declaration – No one in a position to control the content of this activity has a relationship with an ACCME-defined commercial interest. Planners  Wen Shen, MD, Julie Ann Sosa, MD, MA, Lygia Stewart, MD, and Ryutaro Hirose, MD, have stated that they have no relationships to disclose. Speaker Roth has stated that he has no relevant relationships to disclose.

This activity is supported by the Department of Surgery’s Howard Naffziger Endowment Fund.

Join Webinar: 

Comments on September Housing Starts

Earlier: Housing Starts at 1.415 Million Annual Rate in September

Total housing starts in September were below expectations, and starts in July and August were revised down. The weakness in September was due to the volatile multi-family sector (apartments are under  pressure from COVID).

The housing starts report showed starts were up 1.9% in September compared to August, and starts were up 11.1% year-over-year compared to September 2019.

Single family starts were up 22% year-over-year.  Low mortgage rates and limited existing home inventory have given a boost to single family housing starts.

The first graph shows the month to month comparison for total starts between 2019 (blue) and 2020 (red).

Starts Housing 2019 and 2020Click on graph for larger image.

Starts were up 11.1% in September compared to September 2019.

Last year, in 2019, starts picked up towards the end of the year, so the comparisons were easy in the first seven months of the year..

Starts, year-to-date, are up 5.5% compared to the same period in 2019. This is below my forecast for 2020, but I didn't expect a pandemic!

I expect starts to remain solid, but the growth rate will slow.

Below is an update to the graph comparing multi-family starts and completions. Since it usually takes over a year on average to complete a multi-family project, there is a lag between multi-family starts and completions. Completions are important because that is new supply added to the market, and starts are important because that is future new supply (units under construction is also important for employment).

These graphs use a 12 month rolling total for NSA starts and completions.

Multifamily Starts and completionsThe blue line is for multifamily starts and the red line is for multifamily completions.

The rolling 12 month total for starts (blue line) increased steadily for several years following the great recession - then mostly moved sideways.  Completions (red line) had lagged behind - then completions caught up with starts- then starts picked up a little again late last year, but have fallen off the pandemic.

Single family Starts and completionsThe last graph shows single family starts and completions. It usually only takes about 6 months between starting a single family home and completion - so the lines are much closer. The blue line is for single family starts and the red line is for single family completions.

Note the relatively low level of single family starts and completions.  The "wide bottom" was what I was forecasting following the recession, and now I expect some further increases in single family starts and completions.

Kratos unveils OpenSpace platform to make ground systems more adaptable

SAN FRANCISCO — Kratos Defense & Security Solutions announced the release Oct. 20 of OpenSpace, a software platform and family of virtual products designed to help satellite ground systems adapt rapidly to changing conditions.

“We believe OpenSpace is the first dynamic software-based ground systems that will help move the satellite ground system world into the 5G-type of infrastructure,” Phil Carrai, Kratos Space, Training and Cyber division president, told SpaceNews.

Increasingly, commercial and government satellites feature flexible, software-defined payloads. Satellite ground systems, however, often remained inflexible. It can take weeks to install custom hardware and software in a ground station to communicate with a new satellite or constellation.

“On the ground side, we need to undergo the same sort of renaissance that we’ve seen in the space side to allow for new resilient, reliable ground systems,” Carrai said.

Through OpenSpace, Kratos digitizes the radio frequency spectrum at the antennas and packages RF data for transfer over internet-protocol networks.

“It starts to make the ground system look a lot like an Ethernet network, which is the first key step in the innovation,” said Greg Quiggle, Kratos vice president of product management.

The goal of OpenSpace is to help satellite and ground station operators “enhance the adaptability, resiliency, security and reliability of their ground systems,” according to Kratos’ Oct. 20 news release. “Ground functions that once took weeks to implement manually are now orchestrated as service chains with OpenSpace, making systems dramatically more responsive to real-time changes in network resources, user demand and threats.”

Kratos also released two OpenSpace virtual network functions Oct. 20 for electro-optical and remote sensing missions. Kratos released its first OpenSpace virtual network function, a wideband receiver, in August.

Kratos is working with Microsoft on Azure Orbital, a platform designed to help customers move data from satellites directly into the Azure cloud for processing and storage.

“An [Software-Defined Network]-based architecture like OpenSpace’s is critical to our ability to provide our customers with a platform that is complete, economical and easy to use,” Yves Pitsch, Microsoft principal product manager for Azure Networking, said in a statement. “Virtualized operations provide us with the flexibility and scalability we need to optimally support many different customers, missions, satellites and other specialized needs without specialized hardware.”




Housing Starts at 1.415 Million Annual Rate in September

From the Census Bureau: Permits, Starts and Completions
Housing Starts:
Privately-owned housing starts in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,415,000. This is 1.9 percent above the revised August estimate of and is 11.1 percent above the September 2019 rate of 1,274,000. Single-family housing starts in September were at a rate of 1,108,000; this is 8.5 percent above the revised August figure of 1,021,000. The September rate for units in buildings with five units or more was 295,000.

Building Permits:
Privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,553,000. This is 5.2 percent above the revised August rate of 1,476,000 and is 8.1 percent above the September 2019 rate of 1,437,000. Single-family authorizations in September were at a rate of 1,119,000; this is 7.8 percent above the revised August figure of 1,038,000. Authorizations of units in buildings with five units or more were at a rate of 390,000 in September.
emphasis added
Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsClick on graph for larger image.

The first graph shows single and multi-family housing starts for the last several years.

Multi-family starts (red, 2+ units) were down in September compared to August.   Multi-family starts were down 17% year-over-year in September.

Single-family starts (blue) increased in September, and were up 22% year-over-year.

Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsThe second graph shows total and single unit starts since 1968.

The second graph shows the huge collapse following the housing bubble, and then eventual recovery (but still historically low).

Total housing starts in September were below expectations - due to weakness in multi-family - and starts in July and August were revised down.

I'll have more later …

Taylor Looks Back on William Cooper’s Town, 22 Oct.

On Thursday, 22 October, the American Antiquarian Society is hosting an online talk by Alan Taylor about his book William Cooper’s Town.

This is the latest in a series of annual A.A.S. lectures featuring leading historians looking back on important works. And in early American history you can’t get more leading than Taylor. As for the book, it won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes, so that’s pretty important.

The event descoption says:
When the book William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic appeared in 1995, it deftly combined social history, biography, and literary analysis to explore the business and political career of James Fenimore Cooper’s father and the development of the western New York frontier region of Otsego County.

The book charts the rise and fall of the elder Cooper’s financial and political fortunes and examines how these impacted the literary ambitions and career of his son. It also describes the shifting political landscape as the nascent nation developed and then redefined ideals of republican gentility and democratic power.

In this talk, Alan Taylor will examine the genesis of this book and its impact on scholarship and society since it was first published.
Taylor is currently the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Professor of History at the University of Virginia. His other books include Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier 1760–1820 (1990), which follows Henry Knox after the war; Writing Early American History (2005); The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (2006); The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies (2010); The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia (2013); Thomas Jefferson’s Education (2019); and the ongoing series of overviews American Colonies (2001), American Revolutions (2016), and American Republics (2021).

Among his colleagues, Taylor is known for his plentiful output of books and his choice not to use social media. These things may well be related.

One aspect of William Cooper’s Town that really struck me came toward the end when Taylor argued that Cooper’s success in establishing his New York community and becoming famous for it was all a matter of lucky timing. Other men had tried to found towns in the same region before him, but the area hadn’t had the economy and infrastructure to support their settlements.

Cooper’s own scheme depended on Native removal, plenteous land titles, and a thick growth of hardwood trees to harvest for potash. With the new republic and New York growing around him, he looked like a genius. Once those resources were gone, his enterprise didn’t sustain itself. Cooper’s fortunes were falling when he died under murky circumstances, which Taylor did his best to unravel.

In other words, William Cooper’s Town takes the general shape of a biography, but in the end it undercuts a basic premise of the genre—that an individual’s character and choices are the defining force in his or her life. Maybe that’s why Taylor’s Pulitzer came in the History category while the winner of the Biography prize that year was Jack Miles’s God: A Biography.

This event is scheduled to start at 8:00 P.M. on Thursday. Register in advance.

CPHC Central North Pacific Outlook

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


Tropical Weather Outlook
NWS Central Pacific Hurricane Center Honolulu HI
200 AM HST Tue Oct 20 2020

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

No tropical cyclones are expected during the next 5 days.

Forecaster Blood

Cybersecurity Visuals

The Hewlett Foundation just announced its top five ideas in its Cybersecurity Visuals Challenge. The problem Hewlett is trying to solve is the dearth of good visuals for cybersecurity. A Google Images Search demonstrates the problem: locks, fingerprints, hands on laptops, scary looking hackers in black hoodies. Hewlett wanted to go beyond those tropes.

I really liked the idea, but find the results underwhelming. It’s a hard problem.

Hewlett press release.

Wintry Weather Across the Northern Tier of the U.S.; Fire Weather Concerns in California

JWST remains on track for October 2021 launch

Ariane 5 launch

WASHINGTON — NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope remains on schedule for a launch in a little more than a year, but the program is still dealing with some technical issues that could eat into its schedule reserve.

At an Oct. 19 meeting of NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee, Eric Smith, JWST program scientist, said the mission was making good progress after the agency decided in July to delay the launch by seven months, to the end of October 2021. That delay, NASA officials said then, was caused in part by the coronavirus pandemic, which slowed down work on the telescope at a Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California.

Earlier this month, NASA and Northrop completed the final set of environmental tests on JWST, where the integrated spacecraft was subjected to acoustic and vibration conditions like those it will experience during launch. Smith said they are now moving to a final series of deployment tests of key telescope structures, such as its sunshield, which will continue through the spring of 2021. At that point it will be packed for shipment to the launch site in French Guiana.

That work is remaining on schedule. “We used some days of schedule reserve as we went through environmental testing. The good news is that we didn’t use all of the funded schedule reserve we have for that, so we’re able to push a few of those days forward and have them for schedule reserve later on,” he said. The mission has about 75 days of schedule reserve as of September, according to a chart he showed at the meeting, roughly 10 days more than the plan for that phase of development.

JWST is still dealing with some technical issues. One ongoing one is a concern that residual air trapped in the folded sunshield could overstress it when the Ariane 5 that launches the spacecraft jettisons the payload fairing. Smith said the program has been working with Arianespace to change air vents in the fairing.

On two Ariane 5 launches with the new vents, sensors measured residual air pressures inside the fairing nearly double the rated capability of the sunshield. “There’s a little more pencil sharpening that has to be done on this issue,” he said.

That work includes work by NASA and Northrop Grumman to see if the spacecraft can tolerate the higher residual pressures measured on the launches. If not, he said some parts of the spacecraft may need to be “patched” to handle the higher pressures, work he said would be completed by December.

“It’s only a few places in the sunshield where it feels the stress above requirements,” he said. Any patching work, he estimated, would require no more than a few days of schedule margin.

A new issue is a concern raised by Northrop from work on another program that some fasteners may not have been installed with sufficient torque. Smith said the JWST team looked at more than 12,300 fasteners and determined that about 160 needed to be retorqued during deployment tests. He said it wasn’t clear what schedule impact, if any, that work would have.


The psychologist who sparked the gay rights movement

How a friendship between a straight psychology professor and her gay student busted the myth of homosexuality as an illness

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Beautiful monsters

Cancer is part of multicellular life. Now the riotous growth of crested cacti show how humans might adapt to live with it

By Athena Aktipis

Read at Aeon

For the first time, a Starship prototype roars to life with three engines

SN8 test. Static fire occurs at 2 hours, 27 minutes.

SpaceX engineers achieved another milestone early Tuesday morning when the company's Starship vehicle roared to life for the first time with multiple Raptor engines.

At 3:13am local time in South Texas, a Starship prototype dubbed SN8, or Serial Number 8, fired three Raptor engines for several seconds during a static fire test. Although there was no immediate confirmation from the company, the test at the company's Boca Chica launch site appeared to be successful.

This was an important step toward preparing SN8 for a 15km test flight later this month, or in early November. Even as one team prepared to ignite the rocket during the wee hours on Tuesday—which tested its plumbing to handle chilled liquid oxygen and methane fuels, and the recent installation of three Raptor engines—another team assembled the nose cone that will go on top of SN8 in preparation for its flight.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tuesday assorted links

1. ” We estimate that inventors’ human capital is 5–10 times more important than firm capabilities for explaining the variance in inventor output.

2. Markets in everything: breathable bacon mask edition.

3. Some Chinese discuss Black Lives Matter, and related issues.

4. New Yorker Eugene Scalia profile, just turn the negatives into positives.  If you find that stricture appalling, ask yourself a simple question: what is your plan to increase the quantity of capital invested per worker?  Is it better than his plan?

5. Male students are dropping college at much higher rates.

6. State-level data show the Phillips Curve to be flat.  And the new relevant data set for state-level inflation rates, important stuff many more papers will be written from this.

7. WaPo covers Fast Grants, and other changes in the speed of scientific advance.

The post Tuesday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

*Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton*

That is the new book by Nicholas McDowell, and it is one of my favorite non-fiction works this year.  Milton is today more relevant than he has been in a long time, excerpt:

Milton’s political development is shaped by his evolving understanding of the ways in which ‘tyranny’ — defined initially in ecclesiastical and clerical terms but which grows to encompass political organization — retards the intellectual and cultural progress of a nation.  This understanding was shaped not only by historical experience of the unprecedented political turbulence of mid-seventeenth-century Britain, but by the interaction between that experience and his intellectula life.  Milton’s period of intensive and almost entirely orthodox reading in political and religious history in the mid-1630s, the record of some of which survives in the notebook that was rediscovered in 1874, revealed to him how clerical censorship and heresy-hunting had suppressed intellectual and literary life in other countries.  Milton regarded the cultural decline of Italy under the Counter-Reformation and Inquisition from the glory days of Dante and Petrarch, two of his pre-eminent post-classical models of the poetic career, as the starkest instance of this process.  His tour of Italy in 1638-9 confirmed the lessons of his reading: that in nations where ‘this kind of inquisition tyrannizes,’ as he put it in Areopagitica, learning is brought into a ‘servil condition’ and the ‘glory ‘ of ‘wits’ is ‘dampt.’

Recommended!  Every page is enjoyable, and you can profit from this book no matter your prior knowledge of Milton may be.  A sure thing for the year end’s “best of” list.

You can pre-order here.

The post *Poet of Revolution: The Making of John Milton* appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

[Sponsor] Infolio

A no-nonsense task management and team collaboration for smaller teams, remote teams and anyone working from home. Kanban boards, table view with custom fields, calendar, collaborative visual spaces, project chats and more. Infolio is completely free to use (not just try)! Think of Infolio as something in between Trello and AirTable — simple, but not simplistic. With Infolio we wanted to create a tool that doesn’t overwhelm you with buttons and features, aimed at smaller teams of 1-10 people, who are not necessarily IT engineers.

Less is more, right?


Free Webinar Tuesday: UCI Professor Chris Schwarz 2021 Economic and Financial Forecast at 2:00 PM ET

UCI Professor Chris Schwarz and I have presented together before.  Always interesting!

He will be offering his thoughts on the economy, Tuesday, October 20th at 11:00 AM PT (2:00 PM ET).

"2021 Economic and Financial Forecast Presented by the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce and the UCI Paul Merage School of Business'

You can register here.

Tuesday: Housing Starts

• At 8:30 AM ET, Housing Starts for September. The consensus is for 1.450 million SAAR, up from 1.416 million SAAR.

• At 10:00 AM, State Employment and Unemployment (Monthly) for September 2020

The NASA CFO Nominee Hearing That May Well Be Pointless

Keith's note: Depending on the election results a week earlier this could be moot.

Apple Launches ‘Apple Music TV’ — Free Streaming Music Videos

I think Sting said it (well, sang it) best.


Blue Origin trying to convince the Air Force to continue to invest in New Glenn

WASHINGTON — The Air Force in August selected United Launch Alliance and SpaceX as its launch providers for the next five years. Blue Origin competed for the job but lost and, as a result, the Air Force plans to terminate a $500 million contract Blue Origin received in 2018 to advance the development of its New Glenn rocket.

The company is moving forward with New Glenn with the goal to debut the vehicle in 2021 and pursue commercial work, but it is trying to make the case to the Air Force that it should continue to fund the vehicle and the ground infrastructure that it would need to be certified for national security missions.  

“We’re discussing with the Air Force the path forward for certification,” Megan Mitchell, Blue Origin’s director of government and legislative affairs, told SpaceNews. 

The $500 million Launch Service Agreement contract that the Air Force awarded in October 2018 was spread over six years, and would have continued through 2024 had Blue Origin won a launch services procurement contract. The Air Force from the beginning said the LSAs would be terminated with those companies that did not win a launch services contract. 

Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman lost to ULA and SpaceX. Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Will Roper said Aug. 7 that the service planned to terminate the LSAs with Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman. He said the Air Force did not have money in its budget to continue funding those agreements.

Mitchell said she could not disclose how much of the $500 million from the LSA contract has been invested so far in New Glenn and ground infrastructure.  “But I can tell you we had begun development of national security space-unique infrastructure required to meet national security needs. We also completed the initial segment of the national security space launch certification process, the assessment phase,” she said.

If the Air Force decided to continue funding New Glenn, “they would get a third certified launch provider strengthening assured access to space for critical national security space assets,” said Mitchell.

Although the Air Force intends to work only with ULA and SpaceX for the next five years, a third provider would give the Air Force a backup in the event of an emergency,  she said. “As space becomes increasingly contested, the national security space community needs more options at their disposal, not less.”

Blue Origin said it will continue to develop New Glenn for the commercial market but wants to stay in the national security  launch game. 

“Our business case does not depend on national security. There’s a robust civil and commercial market, but the national security community is an important long-term customer for Blue Origin,” said Mitchell. 

Blue Origin is pressing the argument to the Air Force that it would be easier and cheaper to modify New Glenn early in the program. “Adding these unique requirements later when we are at full flight rate will be much more costly,” Mitchell said. 

Blue Origin has built a huge rocket factory outside the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to manufacture New Glenn boosters and is developing a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. 

The company in February opened a factory in Huntsville, Alabama, to produce engines for New Glenn and for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.


The Verge: Beats Flex Review

Chris Welch, The Verge:

But the other reason why the Flex buds are an important product is, well, Android. Instead of using Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector for charging, as many Beats headphones have since the acquisition, the Flex have a USB-C port. Beats’ Android app has already been updated to support them. These moves show that as Apple continues putting a greater emphasis on audio products — with the new HomePod mini and long-rumored premium headphones expected to launch soon — Beats is realizing it needs to stand independently from Apple’s ecosystem if the brand wants to continue its enormous success.

$50 for decent-sounding wireless earbuds with W1 chips for Apple device integration, and USB-C charging and a nice-looking Android app for better outside-the-Apple-universe appeal. A product like this is exactly why Apple is keeping the Beats brand around.


Saturn and Jupiter over Italian Peaks

Saturn and Jupiter are getting closer. Saturn and Jupiter are getting closer.

After four-year journey, NASA spacecraft ready to touch an asteroid

EDITOR’S NOTE: All times are “Earth Received Time” when confirmation of events arrive on Earth. The events will occur more than 18 minutes earlier in real time on-board the spacecraft.

Artist’s concept of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaching asteroid Bennu. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Flying on autopilot more than 200 million miles from Earth, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is on track for a daring touch and go landing on an asteroid Tuesday to grab a sample for return to scientists eager to scan the specimens for clues about the history of the solar system.

The $1 billion mission’s success will come down to a handful of seconds at 6:12 p.m. EDT (2212 GMT) Tuesday, when an arm extended from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will contact the gravely surface of asteroid Bennu, release a canister of high-pressure nitrogen gas, and attempt to capture some of the asteroid’s carbon-rich soil.

“Due to the low gravity, we can’t actually land on the surface of Bennu,” said Beth Buck, OSIRIS-REx mission operations program manager at Lockheed Martin, which built and operates the spacecraft for NASA. “So we’ll only be kissing the surface with a short touch and go measured in just seconds.”

If it works, the robotic mission will depart Bennu next year and head back to Earth, where OSIRIS-REx will deploy a re-entry module to plunge into the atmosphere and parachute to a remote U.S. military test range in Utah on Sept. 24, 2023.

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer is NASA’s first round-trip mission to an asteroid. The space agency selected the mission for development in 2011, and OSIRIS-REx departed Earth on Sept. 8, 2016, with a successful launch from Cape Canaveral aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

The spacecraft swung by Earth in September 2017 for a gravity assist to bend its trajectory toward the orbit of Bennu, which completes one circuit of the sun every 1.2 years. OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in December 2018 and entered orbit around the asteroid, kicking off a nearly two-year campaign to map the asteroid with cameras, mineral-sniffing spectrometers, and a Canadian-built laser to measure its roughness.

OSIRIS-REx also searched for a suitable sampling location, and rehearsed procedures for the touch and go landing.

That culminates in the craft’s descent to Bennu Tuesday, and the goal is to gather at least 2.1 ounces, or 60 grams, of asteroid specimens for return to Earth.

“We all want to take those samples and come home,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate, in a conference call with reporters Monday.

Scientists and engineers are confident that OSIRIS-REx will execute the touch and go as expected Tuesday. But the spacecraft will be on its own during the most crucial moments of the descent.

Bennu and OSIRIS-REx are currently located some 207 million miles (334 million kilometers) from Earth. At that distance, it takes more than 18 minutes for radio signals traveling at light speed to make a one-way journey from mission control the spacecraft.

OSIRIS-REx will fly autonomously, employing complex navigation software, terrain tracking algorithms, and programmed commands to execute maneuvers to guide itself toward a zone roughly the size of a tennis court on the surface of Bennu.

Data from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft was used to create this shape model of asteroid Bennu at 75-centimeter resolution. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Shaped like a spinning top, Bennu measures around a third of a mile (500 meters) in diameter and rotates once on its axis every 4.3 hours. Named for a bird-like ancient Egyptian deity linked with the sun, creation and rebirth, Bennu follows a path around the sun that intersects Earth’s orbit, and the asteroid makes a relatively close approach to Earth once every six years.

That makes Bennu a potentially hazardous asteroid, and it poses a low threat of eventually hitting Earth. There is a 1-in-2,700 chance of Bennu impacting Earth in the late 2100s.

Bennu was discovered in 1999 by a survey with a ground-based telescope searching for near-Earth asteroids. OSIRIS-REx is the first mission to visit Bennu.

Since arriving at Bennu nearly two years ago, OSIRIS-REx has determined the asteroid is shedding material into space. The mission has also found that Bennu — known as a B-type asteroid — is covered in carbon-rich, water-bearing minerals. The organic material may contain carbon in a form often found in biology or in compounds associated with biology, scientists announced Oct. 8.

“The abundance of carbon-bearing material is a major scientific triumph for the mission,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “We are now optimistic that we will collect and return a sample with organic material — a central goal of the OSIRIS-REx mission.”

In a press release accompanying the announcement of the new scientific data earlier this month, NASA described Bennu as a “diamond-shaped pile of rubble floating in space.”

Scientists also said OSIRIS-REx’s targeted touchdown site — dubbed “Nightingale” — also harbors the signature of organic materials, the building blocks of life. The Nightingale location on Bennu’s northern hemisphere is situated inside inside a 460-foot (140-meter) crater, but the area deemed safe for the spacecraft to touch is 52 feet (16 meters) across.

The spacecraft’s solar panels extend more than 20 feet, or 6.2 meters, tip-to-tip.

“It’s kind of a tight fit,” Lauretta said earlier this year.

But scientists expect Nightingale to provide a rich return. Observations from OSIRIS-REx also indicate the material at the touch and go was only recently exposed to the harsh environment of space, meaning the mission could snag pristine samples that have been undisturbed for most of the solar system’s 4.5 billion-year history.

But Bennu offered up some surprises that forced mission managers to replan how OSIRIS-REx will navigate its way to the sampling site.

Bennu turned out to be more rugged than mission planners expected, with large boulders and a lack of expanses with smooth, fine-grained soils that would be perfect for OSIRIS-REx to try and reach during the sampling run.

After seeing Bennu up close, engineers developed upgraded navigation capabilities to help guide OSIRIS-REx the final phase of the descent to the rugged asteroid.

The spacecraft will use a capability called natural feature tracking to take a series of images with a navigation camera to autonomously identify rocks, craters and other landmarks on the asteroid’s surface, yielding data on position and relative velocity. OSIRIS-REx will autonomously will compare the imagery with a topographic map loaded into the computer before the descent.

If the spacecraft detects it is approaching a dangerous area, it can command an abort and back away from Bennu as late as when it is 16 feet, or 5 meters, from the asteroid’s surface. If all goes according to plan, the navigation algorithms will steer OSIRIS-REx to a touch and go site with an accuracy of 23 feet, or 7 meters, three times better than originally planned.

The natural feature tracking algorithms were successfully tested during a rehearsal Aug. 11 that took the spacecraft as close as 131 feet, or 40 meters, from Bennu.  The spacecraft’s cameras captured higher-resolution views of the Nightingale sampling location when OSIRIS-REx was flying directly over the site in August, allowing ground teams to update and refine the maps for the natural feature tracking capability before the real sampling attempt.

The August rehearsal followed a similar practice run April 15 that simulated OSIRIS-REx’s decent down to an altitude 213 feet, or 65 meters, before the craft backed away from Bennu.

Officials originally aimed to attempt the sample collection in August, but managers pushed back the event to October to allow more time for teams to complete preparations while contending with remote work and physical distancing requirements to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The spacecraft’s fall toward Bennu will take nearly four-and-a-half hours Tuesday. It’ll go at a much more glacial pace than the seven-minute descents of Mars rovers through the atmosphere of the Red Planet.

“I’m not thinking of this as seven minutes of terror,” Buck said. “This much more of a four-and-a-half hours of mild anxiousness. “We have practiced and rehearsed with the spacecraft … We’ve seen almost all this already and the spacecraft is performing excellently.”

Controllers will oversee the operations from a Lockheed Martin facility near Denver.

Buck said engineers were preparing a final update of navigation parameters Monday for uplink to OSIRIS-REx early Tuesday through NASA’s Deep Space Network, an array of antennas around the world designed to communicate with probes throughout the solar system.

“Then the spacecraft has what it needs for this autonomous operation,” Buck said.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will fire thrusters at around 1:50 p.m. EDT (1750 GMT)  to leave a “safe-home orbit” roughly 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) from asteroid Bennu. The burn will change the craft’s velocity relative to the asteroid by less than 0.2 mph, or about 8 centimeters per second, according to Kenneth Getzandanner, OSIRIS-REx’s flight dynamics manager at Goddard.

Bennu’s small size and weak gravity field mean OSIRIS-REx can adjust its trajectory with tiny impulses from its rocket engines.

At around 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT), OSIRIS-REx will extend its robotic sampling arm — called the Touch And Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or TAGSAM. The arm is about 11 feet (3.35 meters) long, with a drum-shaped fixture on the end that resembles an air filter affixed to an antique automobile.

The descent will be slow and methodical. Bennu’s tenuous gravity will pull on the spacecraft at just 10 micro-g, equivalent to ten one-millionths the strength of Earth’s gravity, making the approach more like rendezvous with the space station than landing on another planet.

OSIRIS-REx will turn to the attitude, or orientation, for the final descent to the asteroid at around 5:29 p.m. EDT (2129 GMT), then adjust its two solar array wings to a “Y-wing” configuration beginning at 5:36 p.m. EDT (2136 GMT) to safely position them away from the asteroid’s surface.

The spacecraft’s computer will compute exact times for the descent’s final two rocket burns based on data from the on-board navigation program tracking the locations of landmarks on Bennu’s surface. The guidance system will generate navigation solutions automatically, tweaking the subsequent burn times as needed.

A checkpoint burn at around 5:50 p.m. EDT (2150 GMT) will allow OSIRIS-REx to begin a free fall toward the asteroid.

“At that point, the checkpoint maneuver turns the spacecraft and send OSIRIS-REx down toward the surface,” Getzandanner said. “After the spacecraft crosses about 50 meters (164 feet) in altitude — about 10 minutes after checkpoint — the third and final maneuver, the matchpoint maneuver, slows the descent … and sets up the spacecraft for soft contact on Nightingale.”

The matchpoint burn is scheduled for approximately 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GMT).

OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu’s surface at a velocity of approximately 0.2 mph — 10 centimeters per second — a fraction of a normal walking pace. The spacecraft will not stay there for long, taking around 10 to 15 seconds for TAGSAM to do its job as the nozzle contacts the asteroid.

A bottle of compressed nitrogen gas will discharge during the touch and go maneuver, scouring up bits of dust and rock from up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) beneath Bennu’s surface, where material should be shielded from wild temperature swings that could damage sensitive organics.

Invented by a Lockheed Martin engineer, the TAGSAM nozzle will trap samples blown away by the pulse of nitrogen and suck them into a collector with a rush of air, similar to a reverse vacuum cleaner. A camera aimed at the collector will record how it works at one frame per second. The imagery, coupled with precise measurements of changes in the spacecraft’s mass in the coming days, will tell engineers how the device performed.

The mechanism can only handle rocks up to three-quarters of an inch — about 2 centimeters — in diameter. That’s about the size of a U.S. nickel.

Mike Moreau, the mission’s flight dynamics system manager at Goddard, compared the dynamics of the arm contacting the asteroid to bouncing on a pogo stick.

After several seconds in contact with Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will fire thrusters again to take off from the asteroid and back into orbit.

This illustration shows the relative sizes of asteroid Bennu, the Empire State Building, and the Eiffel Tower. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

During the most critical phases of the descent, the spacecraft will only send limited telemetry data back to Earth. Later Tuesday night, OSIRIS-REx will reestablish high data rate communications with ground teams, and controllers will be able to fully assess how the spacecraft performed.

The first images from the touch and go will be beamed back to Earth on Wednesday to show how the sampling system worked, and giving an early indication of whether the spacecraft gathered the expected specimens.

On Saturday, controllers are scheduled to command OSIRIS-REx into a spin maneuver to measure its moment of inertia. Engineers will compare the results to a similar maneuver before the sampling run, yielding an estimate of how much mass the spacecraft grabbed from Bennu.

“The requirement is 60 grams,” Lauretta said. “That’s based on the science team, where we’ve looked at all the laboratories across the world that we want to send material to, and how much material do we need to get the information about the organic chemistry, the hydrated minerals, the ages, exposures, all kinds of information about the sample. So the science needs the 60 grams.

“But TAGSAM actually was tested to pick up at least 150 grams (one-third of a pound),” Lauretta said. “And in the best case scenario where the TAGSAM filter is filled up … we might have a kilogram of sample or more.”

“The best outcome would be that we would collect a massive sample,” said Heather Enos, OSIRIS-REx’s deputy principal investigator at the University of Arizona. “We say we have a requirement for 60 grams, or 2 ounces, but we have the capability of collecting up to 2 kilograms. I would love for that capsule to be completely full.”

If NASA is satisfied with the amount of material picked up by OSIRIS-REx, agency leaders could decide Oct. 30 that the mission has met its sample collection requirement. In that case, the spacecraft will continue remote sensing observations of the asteroid before beginning its return to Earth in mid-2021.

Just in case OSIRIS-REx has to abort its touch and go landing — there’s about a 6% chance of a wave-off, officials said — or doesn’t get as much sample as expected, planners have reserved time for a second sampling run as soon as January.

Once they are confident the spacecraft has the asteroid samples, ground controllers will send commands for the TAGSAM arm to place the collection canister inside OSIRIS-REx’s landing capsule. Explosive bolts will sever the TAGSAM head from the craft’s robotic arm, and the capsule’s lid will close over the device for the trip home.

After OSIRIS-REx’s return carrier lands back on Earth, a recovery team will transport the craft to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where scientists will open the canister inside a pristine sample curation laboratory and begin studying its contents.

Researchers at Johnson’s astromaterials lab also analyze rocks returned from the moon by the Apollo astronauts.

Enos said scientists hope for asteroid materials that “represent Bennu’s signatures of carbon-rich and hydrated minerals. That would be amazing, and I have every reason to believe that that’s going to be in that sample.”

“In terms of the size distribution, I would hope that we have a couple of different size distributions. I would like tiny grains. I would like a couple almost at the maximum 2 centimeters that we can ingest,” Enos said Monday. “So diversity is key to be able to get the most out of the sample. That is what my money is on tomorrow.”

The team that developed and built the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft took extra measures to ensure the asteroid sample will not be contaminated by organic materials from Earth.

This image shows sample site Nightingale, OSIRIS-REx’s primary sample collection site on asteroid Bennu. The image is overlaid with a graphic of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to illustrate the scale of the site. Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Researchers will use optical and electron microscopes, super-computing labs, and synchrotron accelerators — instruments the size of a large room or a building — in their asteroid sample analysis.

Scientific equipment qualified to fly in space have to operate in extreme temperatures, an airless vacuum, and intense radiation, all while functioning on very little power.

Scientists will attempt to determine the chirality, or handedness, of amino acids and other compounds grabbed from Bennu. Molecules associated with life, such as DNA, have a distinctive orientation. In the case of DNA in organisms on Earth, the double helix always twists in a right-handed direction, and the atoms that make up amino acids in biology are almost always left-handed.

The preference for a left or right orientation among the atoms making up biological molecules makes it easier for chemicals to latch together and build more complex structures.

“Bennu is one of over a million known asteroids in our solar system, and these asteroids are relics of that earliest material that formed the planets in the solar system, and they hold the key information to unlocking how the solar system formed, and how it evolved over time,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division.

Data from OSIRIS-REx’s surveys of Bennu show many of the asteroid’s darkest boulders are weaker and more porous than expected. Scientists say most of the boulders on the asteroid are too weak to survive entry into Earth’s atmosphere, so the specimens targeted by OSIRIS-REx could offer a “missing link” because similar rocks are not well represented in meteorite collections.

“Returned samples from Bennu could help us answer some key astrobiology questions, such as how water and organic materials were delivered to Earth, and the role those key ingredients played in the early initiation of life on Earth.”

Another objective of the OSIRIS-REx mission is to characterize the forces pushing on Bennu and gradually changing its orbit. One of the forces is called the Yarkovsky effect, in which thermal emissions from an asteroid can alter its trajectory through the solar system. Solar radiation pressure is another influence on asteroid orbits.

That data will help scientists better predict when asteroids might threaten Earth.

While it is the first U.S. asteroid sample return probe, OSIRIS-REx is not the only spacecraft currently traveling the solar system on a mission to retrieve materials from an asteroid and bring them back to Earth.

Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft is on course to bring home samples from asteroid Ryugu on Dec. 6, capping a six-year expedition in space. The mission captured bits of rock from two locations on the half-mile-wide (900-meter) asteroid last year.

Like Bennu, Ryugu is an asteroid rich in carbon and organics.

NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have agreed to share Hayabusa 2 and OSIRIS-REx samples with scientists in each country.

“We have an exchange of scientists working on both missions, and of course, we’ll be exchanging portions of each other’s samples so we that we can maximize the science,” Glaze said.

“We believe (JAXA had) a very successful attempt, and they expect to bring back material, but our hope is with OSIRIS-REx, we’ll be collecting significantly more mass of samples, she said. “So between the two of them, we should have an excellent combination of samples to study.”

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

October 19 COVID-19 Test Results

The US is now mostly reporting 700 thousand to 1 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections (probably close to 1%), so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).

There were 1,079,375 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 57,148 positive tests.

Almost 13,000 Americans deaths from COVID have been reported in October. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

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

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 5.3% (red line is 7 day average).

For the status of contact tracing by state, check out

And check out COVID Exit Strategy to see how each state is doing.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayThe second graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported.

The dashed line is the July high.

Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed (the percent positive was very high - see first graph). By June, the percent positive had dropped below 5%.

Everyone needs to be vigilant or we might see record high 7-day average cases before the end of October.

Two Quick Links for Monday Afternoon

What A Summer Of COVID-19 Taught Scientists About Indoor vs. Outdoor Transmission. "If there is one thing we can definitively state, it’s that this virus is much, much less likely to spread outdoors than in." []

From the NY Times, a great profile of the inspiring Angela Davis. "As a bridge between the past and present eras of protest, Davis can explain both what went right and wrong while also helping to shape the future." []


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

I Will Vote

The “I Will Vote” website is a great resource (along with, which I’ve had linked in my election countdown up in the corner). Today is the voter registration deadline in a bunch of states, including my home state of Pennsylvania. It’s a good reminder to register now if you haven’t already, and to check your registration if you’re already in.

If you’ve never voted, this is the year to start. If you know friends and family who’ve never voted, let them know how easy it is to start.


Links 10/19/20

Links for you. Science:

How Humans Benefit From a Highway of Trails Created by African Forest Elephants
Scientists have a powerful new tool for controlling the coronavirus: Its own genetic code.
The billionaire backstory of COVID-19 testing done right
How A Science Giant Pivoted To Coronavirus Testing And Helped New England Colleges Salvage On-Campus
‘Near extinction’ of influenza in NZ as numbers drop due to lockdown


COVID-19 Testing & The Danger of a Quick Fix Narrative (important)
White House Opposes Expanded Virus Testing, Complicating Stimulus Talks
Some administration officials say testing Americans with no symptoms of the coronavirus would hurt the economy and restrict civil liberties. Democrats and some prominent experts say it would slow the virus and bolster economic growth. (Atlas is a quack)
Supreme Court Justices Are Politicians, Too. And just like Republican politicians, the conservative justices are dedicated to preserving the right’s minority rule.
Ed Lazere is Well Positioned for Election to the D.C. Council. But Will Critics Stop His Ascent?
Trump’s rage at the NBC town hall exposes an ugly truth about 2020
‘Straight to Gunshots’: How a U.S. Task Force Killed an Antifa Activist
Our Elites Were Addle-Brained Long Before Fox Came Along
Report on killing of Portland antifa shooter by federal officers suggests it was never an arrest
Poverty Is Skyrocketing and Congress Is Doing Nothing
A user on a far-right message board was promoting the NY Post Hunter Biden articles days in advance
FUNDRAISING NOTSOFUNSTRAVAGANZA DAY 3 (good post on how things yoostabee)
Proposal to hasten herd immunity to the coronavirus grabs White House attention but appalls top scientists
Amy Coney Barrett Would Not Say Whether the President Can Postpone the Election
Does Clarence Thomas Now Speak for the Majority of the Supreme Court on L.G.B.T.Q. Rights?
This Is the Week Mitch McConnell’s Senate Came Into Full View
This summer’s Black Lives Matter protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful, our research finds
Watchdog group accuses Amy Coney Barrett of “unconscionable cruelty” in teen rape case
Digging into Trump’s false claim that CDC found that 85% of people who wear masks get the coronavirus
The Town That Went Feral. When a group of libertarians set about scrapping their local government, chaos descended. And then the bears moved in.
Oracle founder donated $250,000 to Graham PAC in final days of TikTok deal. “If TikTok is saved, you can thank me,” Graham said in August

The Way I See It, a Documentary Film About Former White House Photographer Pete Souza

Pete Souza was the White House photographer for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Reflecting on his experience and the how the current President comports himself while in office, Souza published two books: Obama: An Intimate Portrait and Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents. Those books form the basis for a documentary directed by Dawn Porter on Souza and his work called The Way I See It.

Based on the New York Times #1 bestseller comes The Way I See It, an unprecedented look behind the scenes of two of the most iconic Presidents in American History, Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, as seen through the eyes of renowned photographer Pete Souza. As Official White House Photographer, Souza was an eyewitness to the unique and tremendous responsibilities of being the most powerful person on Earth. The movie reveals how Souza transforms from a respected photojournalist to a searing commentator on the issues we face as a country and a people.

I didn’t know that Trump’s presidency is not really getting recorded photographically as past presidencies have, but I’m not surprised.

The film was shown on MSNBC the other day…I don’t know if they’re rerunning it or what. It’s also out in theaters but with many of those still closed, I assume it’ll be out on streaming at some point soonish? (Update: According to the MSNBC schedule, it looks like it’s re-airing at midnight on Friday.)

Tags: Dawn Porter   movies   Pete Souza   photography   The Way I See It   trailers   video

Making Asteroid Exploration Hardware More Openly Available (Update)

Keith's note: My question to the 1:00 pm Asteroid mission media telecon: "There is a lot of talk these days from NASA about the collection and utilization of resources in the solar system - indeed, the recently signed #Artemis Accords specifically deal with this issue with regard to the Moon, Mars, Asteroids, and comets. Is the OSIRIS-Rex sample collection system open source - can other space agencies or companies use this technology? Is it being considered for use on other missions? Same question about the Lucy, Psyche and DART systems."

With regard to OSIRIS-Rex Lori Glaz said that NASA needs to check. Regarding the Psyche mission Lindy Elkins-Tanton said that it is being done via a partnership with Maxnar who was selected because they have a lot of experience over a hundred spacecraft. The hope is that the design of the mission will be available to future missions. Regarding Lucy, Hal Levison said that a lot of the hardware is proprietary to Lockheed Martin and is based on flown hardware to reduce costs. No mention was made regarding DART technology.

Keith's update: At the 3:00 pm briefing I re-asked the question of SMD AA Thomas Zurbuchen adding: "NASA is going to do something that it has never done before with applicability to many future missions and activities in space - things that have been called out in the Artemis Accords. Many of the missions you are sending out are technology demonstrators. If you are sending a thing to a world with the specific task of demonstrating a way to do something new on that world, then the results - and the way you got them - are of equal importance - and the Artemis Accords would seem to want you to make a lot of that information accessible. Is NASA going to make OSIRIS-Rex technology available in an open source fashion for other agencies - and perhaps companies - to use? I know there is a difference between scientific results and engineering performance and that there are always ITAR issues. How is the dissemination of this new technology going to evolve?"

He replied: "We have been a leader internationally in making things public. We are also making our models public. We believe in the dissemination of science since that speeds up discovery and also broadens it. We think that doing so inspires people to figure out things to do with our science in ways that we would have never thought to do. There were multiple solutions to the technology needed for this mission. In this case the arm was developed by a Lockheed Martin employee - so according to U.S. law the company owns that invention. I talked to Lockheed Martin and asked what they'd do if someone was interested in the design and they said to come on in since they are interested in spreading this technology. There are many different avenues to take regarding intellectual property (IP). IP is an important ingredient of pharmaceutical discovery. If we want to encourage the speed of discovery then we need a IP model that adapts to way that this actually works. Success for us at NASA is not just that the mission is successful. We want any company that can use the technology that we have developed to enhance business base to create more jobs around the country. In that regard I think we are consistent with the Artemis Accords."

MBA Survey: "Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Declines to 5.92%"

Note: This is as of October 11th.

From the MBA: Share of Mortgage Loans in Forbearance Declines to 5.92%
The Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) latest Forbearance and Call Volume Survey revealed that the total number of loans now in forbearance decreased by 40 basis points from 6.32% of servicers’ portfolio volume in the prior week to 5.92% as of October 11, 2020. According to MBA’s estimate, 3.0 million homeowners are in forbearance plans.
“The share of loans in forbearance declined across all loan types, primarily because of borrower forbearance plans expiring at the six-month mark. Federally backed loans under the CARES Act are eligible to be extended for up to 12 months, but borrowers must contact their servicer for an extension. Without that contact, borrowers exit forbearance, whether they are delinquent or current on their loan,” said Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. “Borrowers with federally backed mortgages should contact their servicer if they still have a hardship due to the pandemic.”

Added Fratantoni, “The steady improvement for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans highlights the improvement in some segments of the job market and broader economy. The slower decline for Ginnie Mae loans continues to show that this improvement has not been uniform, and that many are still struggling to regain their footing.”
By stage, 26.32% of total loans in forbearance are in the initial forbearance plan stage, while 72.08% are in a forbearance extension. The remaining 1.60% are forbearance re-entries.
emphasis added
MBA Forbearance Survey Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the percent of portfolio in forbearance by investor type over time.  Most of the increase was in late March and early April, and has been trending down for the last few months.

The MBA notes: "Total weekly forbearance requests as a percent of servicing portfolio volume (#) decreased relative to the prior week: from 0.11% to 0.10%."

There hasn't been a pickup in forbearance activity related to the end of the extra unemployment benefits.

No, That’s Not Funny at All

    • Lara Trump Defends the Boorish and Harmful Behavior of Her Cruel, Self-Concerned Father-in-Law

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

On a CNN Sunday politics show, 0Lara Trump, daughter-in-law of Donald Trump and a campaign official, defended the president’s attacks on Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Lara Trump said the president was just “having fun.”


Trump’s rally chanted, “Lock her up” with Whitmer now the target, despite the fact that she was the subject of a plot broken up by the FBI to kidnap and possibly kill her.

Host Jake Tapper asked whether Trump should be watching his tone, but mine was why is this “fun”? It seems to be a reflection of a leader who is cruel and so self-concerned that he can’t notice that he is inflicting harm on others.

How is it ‘fun’ to have armed domestic terrorists plotting clandestinely to kill governors?

That, of course, is the only logical explanation for why Trump can so easily turn his back on mask-wearing and physical distancing to forestall coronavirus contagion, and why he can’t see the impact of his own policies on immigration, environment, climate and economic inequality on actual Americans.

Once again, it is Trump First, not America First.

How is it “fun” to have armed domestic terrorists plotting clandestinely to kill governors?

How is it “fun” to mock women’s looks or a reporter’s physical disability or ethnicity?

How is it “fun” to call for unexplained and unspecified criminal charges against Joe and Hunter Biden over whether the son took advantage of dad’s position – as if that exact situation did not also describe the Trumps?

I’m less concerned with Lara Trump’s remarks than the sentiment clear at the rallies themselves – that someone else must pay for my discomfort – and that anything other than adoration for a regal Trump is criminal behavior.

Test Ahead

Americans are going to be tested sorely in coming weeks over election counts and the distinct move to the Right by our Supreme Court as the result of a hurried and unfair judicial nomination. Democratic principles are at stake, but so will be practical details of health care amid pandemic, jobs and whether we have any trust in government.

Trump says he is promoting hope, but he depends on the darkest tools at hand – outward racism and division and spread of disease rather than containment – in his zeal. Actual individuals don’t seem to count, unless their stories advance his real or made-up views about what he thinks Americans want.

Joe Biden’s lead in the polls clearly has been shown to be more a reflection of the possibility of removing Trump than it is in enthusiasm for him personally or perhaps even for the programs he supports. Though his insistence on realism reflects a harder path ahead, his campaign is much more hopeful than Trump’s.

Plus, Trump is no one to be talking about locking people up, since, if he loses, he looks to be facing a number of actual criminal charges.

An American Myth?

If personal attack is “fun,” maybe we just see different Americas.

Writer Robin Wright, in The New Yorker, asked last month whether America is a Myth, that our unraveling present actually reflects a history of division and tribes almost from the beginning. She argues that there never was a reason to believe that the different strains of what America is about ever really has come together.

“The foundation of our nation has deepening cracks—possibly too many to repair anytime soon, or perhaps, at all. The ideas and imagery of America face existential challenges—some with reason, some without—that no longer come only from the fringes. Rage consumes many in America. And it may only get worse after the election, and for the next four years, no matter who wins,” she says.

“Three hundred and thirty million people may identify as Americans, but they define what that means—and what rights and responsibilities are involved—in vastly different ways.”

It’s a sad commentary, but even division is no excuse for cruelty.

The post No, That’s Not Funny at All appeared first on

Lawler: Early Read on Existing Home Sales in September

From housing economist Tom Lawler:

Based on publicly-available local realtor/MLS reports released across the country through today, I project that existing home sales as estimated by the National Association of Realtors ran at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.38 million in September, up 6.3% from August’s preliminary pace and up 17.9% from last September’s seasonally adjusted pace. Unadjusted sales should show a larger YOY increase, reflecting this September’s higher business day count relative to last September’s.

Local realtor/MLS data suggest that the median US existing single-family home sales price last month was up by a steamy 13.2% from last September , partly reflecting the mix of home sales but mainly the unprecedentedly low available inventory of homes for sale (partly pandemic combined with a surge in demand for SF homes (also partly pandemic related).

On the inventory front, local relator/MLS reports, as well as reports from entities that track residential listings across the country, indicate the YOY decline in inventories last month exceeded the previous month’s sharp drop. How this will translate into the NAR’s inventory estimate, however, is unclear. As I noted last month, most publicly-available local realtor/MLS reports show inventories excluding listings with pending contracts. That is not always the case, however, for the reports send by realtors/MLS to the NAR. Given the surge in pending listings over the several months, there is a huge difference between inventory measures including pending listings and those excluding pending listings.
With significantly fewer (relative to a year ago) single-family detached homeowners listing their homes for sale (which is definitely related to the pandemic) and significantly more householders shifting preferences from urban rental/multi-unit property living to single-family detached living (also definitely pandemic-related), the net result has been a plunge in “supply” relative to “demand.” When one then factors in the sizeable decline in mortgage rates this year, it perhaps is not too surprising that single-family detached home process are rising so rapidly.

It is also not too surprising that rents in many areas of the country, and especially in large densely populated cities, have declined significantly over the past few months.

CR Note: The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is scheduled to release September existing home sales on Thursday, October 22, 2020 at 10:00 AM ET. The consensus is for 6.25 million SAAR.

What our new Chinese overlords desire for us

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is a top 10 album this week — more than four decades after its release — thanks to a viral TikTok video that’s had everyone vibing along to “Dreams.” Rumours now ranks seventh on the Billboard 200 chart, the publication announced last night, the album’s first appearance in the top 10 since 1978, a year after it debuted.

Rumours’ newfound popularity is thanks to a viral video from Nathan Apodaca, who goes by 420doggface208 on TikTok, that shows him skateboarding down a road and sipping cran-raspberry juice straight from the jug, while “Dreams” plays over top. It’s been viewed more than 60 million times since being posted at the end of September, and it’s even inspired both Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks to sign up for TikTok over the past two weeks. Fleetwood recreated the viral video himself, while Nicks posted a video of herself lacing up roller skates and singing along. They have a combined 35 million views.

Here is the full story, via Fernand Pajot.

The post What our new Chinese overlords desire for us appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Where Things Stand: Cornyn's Taking Notes

The self-preservation expectation-setting is spreading.

After. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) tore into Trump’s moral compass and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) admitted Democrats might take the White House last week, the messaging is catching on. Republicans are setting themselves up to lose the White House but to hold the Senate — and laying the groundwork for a post-Trump era, in which the GOP may or may not retain it’s current, Trumpy character.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) joined the ranks over the weekend with some lukewarm rebukes of President Trump, comparing his disagreements with the President — apparently on issues like the national deficit (shocker) and border security — to a bad marriage. 

“Maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well,” Cornyn said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump. He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between.”

He also told the local newspaper’s editorial board that he has broken with the President regularly over the last four years, but chose to keep those grievances private — until now. How Extremely Convenient.

It’s also notable that one of the areas that Cornyn is mildly expressing disagreement with Trump is on issues of spending. As we pointed out last week, we’re anticipating a rather dramatic flee to austerity from Senate Republicans if they hold the upper chamber and lose the presidential election.

Here’s more on other stories we’re following today:

What The Investigations Team Is Watching

Matt Shuham is digging through the new evidence that was surfaced over the weekend as part of the case against some far-right militia members who allegedly tried to kidnap the governor of Michigan. The photo and video evidence is extensive, to say the least.

Kate Riga is working on a rundown of what Senate races are most crucial to watch on Election Day.

What The Breaking News Team Is Watching

Sen. David Perdue’s (R-GA) bizarre and disdainful attempt to mock Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) over her … name has seemingly backfired, and not just in optics or Twitter uproar. Perdue’s Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff raised more than $1.8 million from nearly 42,000 different donors since the remarks were first made during a Trump rally in Georgia on Friday night. Perdue butchered the California senator’s name as a punch line in a move that the Biden-Harris campaign immediately called racist. “Kamala, -mala, -mala, I don’t know, whatever,” Perdue said to a crowd of cheering Trump supporters. We’re following this fall-out all day.

President Trump is reportedly again losing his patience with the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has in recent weeks repeatedly broken with the White House and Trump personally over how the administration handled the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. On Sunday, Fauci said publicly that he was “absolutely not” surprised that Trump got infected with the coronavirus, as he blatantly flouts his own administration’s guidance on mask-wearing and in-person crowd sizes. Today, there’s new reporting from CNN that Trump is telling his campaign staff that Fauci is a “disaster.” The rift has been brewing for months. We’ll stay on this.

If You Read Anything On COVID-19 Today, Read This

This headline speaks for itself: Biden Confirms Trump’s Devastating Attack That He’ll Listen To Scientists: ‘…Yes’

Coming Up

9:50 a.m. ET: Trump left the White House to head to Prescott, Arizona where he gave a campaign speech at noon. Afterwards he’ll head to Tucson International Airport for a 3:00 p.m. MST campaign speech.

This afternoon: Sen Kamala Harris (D-CA) will be in Florida today, attending a drive-in campaign rally in Orlando and a voter mobilization event in Jacksonville.

11:15 p.m. ET: Trump will arrive back at the White House.

ICYMI: What Election Issues Are Most Urgent To You?

This fall we’re collaborating with NYU’s Studio 20 journalism program on a project to identify and analyze the urgency surrounding certain election-related issues. We want to know what issues are important to you? What issues have genuine urgency in your life? Beyond identifying what other people should be concerned about, what actually matters to you or your community?

Each week we will ask members who would like to participate to answer a brief poll on issues related to the election. Our first poll came out on Saturday in The Weekender newsletter  and hundreds of TPM members responded. We want to thank all of our members who participated and remind you that we will be publishing a special newsletter with results and analysis of the poll later this week. You can sign up for the newsletter below:

If you haven’t yet had a chance to answer the poll or this is the first time you are learning about the project, it’s not too late to participate. With the help of TPM members, the working criteria for an election-related issue is something that can be addressed through public policy or governance, applies to electoral processes/procedures, and/or is a strong motivator for you to vote in the election. Though we tried to cover a broad range, the list is not exhaustive and we encourage you to add issues that you think should be included.

Yesterday’s Most Read Story

Biden Camp Says ‘Even The Best Polling Can Be Wrong’ In Call To Deepen Lead — Zoë Richards

What We Are Reading

John Bolton Predicts Trump Won’t Go Quietly If He Loses 2020 Election: ‘He Will Not Leave Graciously’ — Ken Meyer

Can History Help Us Cope With COVID-19? — Emily Hauser

Five Quick Links for Monday Noonish

Due to a scheduling issue, Lupita Nyong'o had to drop out of HBO Max's adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah and now HBO just cancelled the whole thing. :( []

The Swedish COVID-19 Response Is a Disaster. It Shouldn't Be a Model for the Rest of the World. "From early on, the Swedish government seemed to treat it as a foregone conclusion that many people would die." []

Coronavirus in Africa: Five reasons why Covid-19 has been less deadly than elsewhere. "The continent's strength lay in its tried and tested community health systems." []

Which states had the best pandemic response? "If the country as a whole had the same per capita death rate as Vermont, the nationwide death toll would be 30,000 instead of more than 215,000." []

Herd immunity without a vaccine = mass murder. "The real death toll needed to reach herd immunity could far exceed one million." []


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

DOT: Vehicle Miles Driven decreased 12.3% year-over-year in August

The Department of Transportation (DOT) reported:
Travel on all roads and streets changed by -12.3% (-35.3 billion vehicle miles) for August 2020 as compared with August 2019. Travel for the month is estimated to be 251.3 billion vehicle miles.

The seasonally adjusted vehicle miles traveled for August 2020 is 239.7 billion miles, a -11.8% (-32.2 billion vehicle miles) decline from August 2019. It also represents a 0.8% increase (2 billion vehicle miles) compared with July 2020.

Cumulative Travel for 2020 changed by -15.3% (-332.5 billion vehicle miles). The cumulative estimate for the year is 1,844.4 billion vehicle miles of travel.
emphasis added
Vehicle Miles Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the rolling 12 month total vehicle miles driven to remove the seasonal factors.

Miles driven declined during the great recession, and the rolling 12 months stayed below the previous peak for a record 85 months.

Miles driven declined sharply in March, and really collapsed in April.   

Vehicle Miles YoYThis graph shows the YoY change in vehicle miles driven.

Miles driven rebounded in May through August, but is still down 12.3% YoY (seasonally adjusted).  

Based on gasoline consumption, I expect the year-over-year decline in vehicle miles to be about the same in September as in August.

The Great Moonwalking Begins

The Great Moonwalking, long foretold, is beginning in advance of President leaving office or even losing office. We are now hearing that even some of President Trump’s most committed lickspittles and toadies were in fact anti-Trump all along, just working secretly, operating from the inside. To borrow the Catholic hierarchy’s usage, they were in pectore members of the resistance.

Last week we had Ben Sasse detailing all the President’s many transgressions in a campaign call he was sure would rapidly make it into the papers. Yesterday John Cornyn, one of the President’s most loyal Senate soldiers, announced that contrary to all appearances he has not in fact loyally supported the President at every turn. In fact he has opposed almost all of his major policy initiatives – just secretly. Cornyn cast himself as an abused wife who has only latterly realized there’s no changing Trump. “Maybe like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well.”

“I think what we found is that we’re not going to change President Trump. He is who he is. You either love him or hate him, and there’s not much in between. What I tried to do is not get into public confrontations and fights with him because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.”

“When I have had differences of opinion, which I have, (I) do that privately,” Cornyn said. “I have found that has allowed me to be much more effective, I believe, than to satisfy those who say I ought to call him out or get into a public fight with him.”

Cornyn has a clear advantage but is in a competitive race with Democrat MJ Hegar. These statements were almost certainly driven by recent polling. I doubt it was Cornyn’s own polling directly but rather Trump’s. I suspect Cornyn’s internal polls show a real chance – not a likelihood but a real chance – that Trump will be overwhelmed in Texas. In those kind of 500 year political floods everyone can get washed away.

We saw this before, albeit in the far less extreme case of President George W. Bush. Bush was on the skids with the public almost from the moment he won reelection in 2004. He faced a Democratic wave election in 2006 and a second in 2008 when he was no longer on the ballot. As soon as he was out of office Republicans who had loyally supported almost every move suddenly decided that Bush was a proponent of something called “big government conservatism” that they’re never supported or had any truck with at all. It all happened on a dime and allowed Republican partisans to rebrand themselves as freedom fighters amidst the wreckage of their own creation in 2009 and 2010.

Cornyn is right about one thing: Trumpism is all or nothing. To turn Cookie Monster’s phrase on its head: it’s not a sometimes thing. You’re for or against. No one survives trying to find a middle position. We are about to see numerous Republicans attempting to rewrite the history we have all witnessed recently with such anguish, claiming they never supported Trump and in fact were secret opponents on the inside. If Trump loses Republicans will try to push the whole disgraceful history into the memory hole. Whether they will be able to sustainedly is another question because we all remember and also because President Trump himself, still a warlord controlling a broken GOP, won’t let them.

Huge Butterfly Murals

Building-sized mural of butterflies

Building-sized mural of butterflies

Building-sized mural of butterflies

I love these building-sized murals featuring butterflies by French street artist Mantra (Instagram). From a Colossal post about the artist:

In a conversation with Colossal, Mantra said he’s harbored a lifelong fascination with entomology that stems from spending hours in French gardens and bucolic areas as a kid. “As a child, I was interested, curious, and focused on the small life forms in those places,” he says. His current practice hearkens back to those carefree hours and connects with an adolescent desire to become a naturalist. “My approach is as a scientist,” the artist says, noting that education about environmental care and issues is part of the goal.

Although Mantra considers all insects and natural life beautiful and crucial to maintaining biodiversity, the focus on butterflies revolves around his artistic ambitions because the vivid creatures allow him to experiment with color, shape, and texture. Each specimen is rendered freehand before the artist adds detail and the illusory shadows that make them appear three-dimensional. By painting various Lepidoptera species again and again, the artist is “repeating a mantra,” a detail of his practice that informs the moniker he works under.

Tags: art   Mantra

Monday assorted links

1. Beyond photogenic feminism.

2. Do women do worse on multiple choice questions? a. yes  b. no  c. maybe.  Take your pick.

3. How to charge for antibodies (WSJ).  And some not unrelated data on cost.

4. Ultranauts (NYT).

5. Arnold Kling on gossip.

6. Data on expressed willingness to trade off civil liberties for pandemic protection.

7. “Moreover, we show that neither policy nor rates of voluntary social distancing explain a meaningful share of geographic variation. The most important predictors of which [U.S.] cities were hardest hit by the pandemic are exogenous characteristics such as population and density.”  Link here.

The post Monday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Colorado Fire Update

Keith's note: As you all probably know there are a lot of space and planetary science and aerospace folks who live in Colorado. You can track the Boulder area fires here and Larimer county fires here.

America Feels Like It’s Falling Apart. Time for Some Optimism

Expanding the Court Gains Critical Ground

Immediately after I started saying that Democrats should expand the number of Justices on the Court in response to Republican court packing, I heard from a couple people telling me that the coteries around Pelosi and Biden were saying, no way. Not happening. (Interestingly, I heard a pretty different message from within the Senate caucus leadership – which is and should be the real locus of decision-making.)

But things are changing. Last week Joe Biden shifted his public statements to explicitly connecting his decision on expanding the Court to the outcome of the Barrett confirmation process. Her confirmation is of course a foregone conclusion. But clarifying the cause and effect, the order of events is critical: Democrats are reacting to and trying to repair the damage caused by Republican court-packing and corruption. If Republicans are upset by the prospect of all their hard work and corrupt acts going up in smoke with a simple majority vote they can take the opportunity to rethink their next actions.

Biden casts his posture as one of great reluctance and regret. But the critical step was casting Court expansion (which should go beyond the court to the whole federal judiciary, which simply has too few judges as well as being imbalanced) as a reasonable position which deserves and is getting active consideration as a remedy for Republican court-packing. That is really all that is required of Biden and probably the optimal position. It’s not something he would start with him anyway. Congress has to pass a bill. He just has to sign it.

Then yesterday Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said basically the same thing. Coons is exactly the kind of moderate, traditionalist who would resist such a move. With Coons it’s less ideological than temperamental and prudential. I would have put him as one of a handful who would potentially oppose it. He too is “not a fan” but also places the decision in the context of the outcome of the Barrett confirmation hearings. “If we happen to be in the fact pattern where we have a President Biden, we’ll have to look at what the right steps are to rebalance our federal judiciary,” he told Jake Tapper today before giving a flat “yes” to Tapper’s question of whether he was open to expanding the Court.

None of this is set in stone obviously. The devil’s advocate position would be that Biden and his campaign surrogates need to be ambiguous enough to keep progressive supporters on side. But the critical issue at this point is legitimizing the action as a tool to rebalance the Supreme Court and federal judiciary and, more broadly, federal politics. As the probable holder of the veto pen next year and leader of his party, Biden’s critical move would be ruling the action out.

Expanding the Court is an extreme action. It is an extreme but necessary remedy to a decade of Republican court-packing (by the most limited chronology) and norm breaking which increasingly aims to make the federal judiciary a reserve power Republicans use to make up for their inability to win majority elections. It is part of the design of our decentralized and multi-jurisdictional system that we don’t determine power simply by the results of the quasi-national elections we hold every four years or the aggregate votes for Congress every two years. But having a federal judiciary overwhelmingly appointed by one party and stocked with its ideologues when the other party generally gets the most votes is a perversion of the system – especially when those appointees increasingly embrace the corrupt vision of manufacturing novel and often facially absurd doctrines to win in the courts what their party cannot win at the ballot box.

But even beyond the critical step of rebalancing the federal judiciary and blocking efforts to make the federal judiciary a reserve power against democratic action, it is also critical to rebalance national politics itself. Having one party indifferent to norms and focused on maximizing the exercise of political power at every turn and another bound by norms, propriety and restraint is not simply a recipe for the latter party consistently losing. It also guarantees a pathological civic process which incentivizes continued wrongdoing and corruption.

Charming Local Covid-19 Social Distancing Signs

Public health safety measures don’t have to be bureaucratic, dour, and oppressive. They can even be fun. This is a sign from my local hardware store here in Vermont reminding shoppers to social distance:

Local social distance signs: keep one cow apart

Journalist Rebecca Boyle recently asked her followers to share their local Covid-19 signage and they responded with some great examples.

Local social distance signs: 1 newborn Orca whale apart

Local social distance signs: a small moose apart

Local social distance signs: I was born to walk alone

This homage to the Ministry of Silly Walks might be my favorite:

Local social distance signs: Ministry of silly walks

You can scroll through the whole thread for many more.

Tags: COVID-19   design   Rebecca Boyle   Vermont

With Starlink, SpaceX continues to push the bounds of reusing rockets

A Falcon 9 rocket launches the Starlink-13 mission on October 18.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches the Starlink-13 mission on October 18. (credit: SpaceX)

A Falcon 9 rocket ascended into the blue skies above Florida on Sunday morning, and much of the space world barely took notice.

Sure, it was fairly early on a Sunday, and many Americans were not even yet out of bed. But there's a deeper reality here: SpaceX has made launching rockets almost seem routine. The company's vice president of reliability, Hans Koenigsmann, once told me that one of his goals was to take the "magic" out of rocket launches. And the company seems to be succeeding.

SpaceX is also succeeding at reuse. Sunday morning's launch used a Falcon 9 first stage that has already flown into space five times. This is the second time SpaceX has used a first stage a total of six times, and next year it is likely to reach ten uses of its rocket. And then there is the payload fairing. For the first time, SpaceX was able use each of these fairing halves for a third time.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The AstroZeneca saga, according to one source

This seems unconfirmed, and do note some sources in the story do not believe this account, but here goes:

AstraZeneca, whose Phase 3 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial has been on hold for more than a month, did not get critical safety data to the US Food and Drug Administration until last week, according to a source familiar with the trial.

The FDA is considering whether to allow AstraZeneca to restart its trial after a participant became ill. At issue is whether the illness was a fluke, or if it may have been related to the vaccine.

The source said the root of the delay is that the participant was in the United Kingdom, and the European Medicines Agency and the FDA store data differently.

“They had to convert data from one format to another format. It’s like taking stuff off a PC and putting it onto an Apple. They had to spend a lot of hours to get what they wanted,” the source said.

On Friday, a federal official hinted there might be some word this week on the trial’s future.

Or maybe they just fooled CNN with it?

Otherwise, good thing we are kept safe from such dangerous data formats!  Would it really not be better to move to reciprocal recognition procedures?  Not to mention a unified data format, or perhaps some FDA methods to read data produced for the EU?

For the pointer I thank Jackson Stone.

The post The AstroZeneca saga, according to one source appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

NAHB: Builder Confidence Increased to 85 in October, Record High

The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported the housing market index (HMI) was at 85, up from 83 in September. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

From the NAHB: Builder Confidence Continues Record Climb
In a further show of strength for the housing sector, builder confidence in the market for newly-built single-family homes increased two points to 85 in October, further surpassing the previous all-time high of 83 recorded in September, according to the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). These are the first two months the index has ever been above 80.

The housing market continues to be a bright spot for the economy, supported by increased buyer interest in the suburbs, exurbs and small towns. Moreover, NAHB analysis published last week showed that new single-family home sales are outpacing starts by a historic margin. Bridging this gap will require either a gain in construction volume or reductions in available inventory, which is already at a historic low in terms of month’s supply.

Buyer traffic remains high and record-low interest rates are keeping demand strong as the concept of ‘home’ has taken on renewed importance for work, study and other purposes during and after the virus-induced downturn. However, it is becoming increasingly challenging to build affordable homes as shortages of lots, labor, lumber and other key building materials are lengthening construction times.
All the HMI indices posted or matched their highest readings ever in October. The HMI index gauging current sales conditions rose two points to 90, the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months increased three points to 88 and the measure charting traffic of prospective buyers held steady at 74.

Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast increased six points to 82, the Midwest increased three points to 75, the South rose three points to 82 and the West increased five points to 90.
NAHB HMI Click on graph for larger image.

This graph show the NAHB index since Jan 1985.

This was above the consensus forecast.

Housing and homebuilding have been one of the best performing sectors during the pandemic.

The State of COVID-19 in D.C.: Some Improvement, but Still Nowhere Near Good

I’m old enough to remember when D.C.’s one-week COVID-19 prevalence was below the German rollback threshold of 50 new cases per 100,000 per week (0.05% in the second column below)–all the way back on Sept. 28, which should tell you how quickly new cases can blow up:

Ward one-week prevalence one-week % pos. two-week prevalence two-week % pos.
1 0.067% 1.6% 0.142% 1.5%
2 0.026% 0.4% 0.053% 0.4%
3 0.026% 0.8% 0.047% 0.6%
4 0.077% 2.5% 0.159% 2.3%
5 0.075% 2.0% 0.190% 2.4%
6 0.043% 0.8% 0.094% 0.9%
7 0.057% 2.2% 0.126% 2.2%
8 0.043% 1.7% 0.112% 1.6%
D.C. total 0.054% 1.3% 0.119% 1.3%

The entire city, along with Wards 1, 4, 5, and 7 are above the German rollback threshold. That said, nearly every ward has a lower one-week prevalence, though Ward 4’s percent positive rate is a bit higher than one would like. Looking at the new cases from quarantined contacts, we’re not close to where we need to be–we have far too many cases that don’t have obvious links to other cases. That’s probably not a fundamental change in how the virus is spreading, but simply an inability to track and trace these cases: remember that a couple of weeks ago, the White House wasn’t cooperating–now imagine that writ large and small. I’ve said this before, but D.C. really needs to consider reallocating part of its resources to doing deep dives on a small number of cases and running them all down (sometimes, this would be a bust, but eventually, superspreading events would reveal themselves).

At this point, the only strategy appears to be hoping that American couch potato instincts kick in with the cooling weather and everyone stays home and watches TV.

As I routinely remind readers, we are four to six weeks away from returning to normal-ish, but we intentionally remain four to six weeks away from safely returning to normal-ish because we’re unwilling to do what it takes to make that happen.

Anger is still the appropriate emotion.

China’s CASIC reveals five-year plan for reusable spaceplane, commercial space projects

A Chinese commercial Kuaizhou-1A rocket lifts off from a TEL at Jiuquan.

HELSINKI — Chinese large state-owned enterprise CASIC laid out a new set of commercial space plans for the next five years at a conference Monday.

The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) outlined plans for developing launch services, satellite constellations and a reusable spaceplane at the 6th China International Commercial Aerospace Forum, which opened Oct. 19 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, in central China. 

“In the next five years CASIC will improve the capability of the commercial aerospace system, shorten the preparation time for and enhance the frequency of commercial rocket launches, and conduct further research into the reuse of launch vehicles to lower costs,” said Fu Zhimin, a chief technologist at CASIC.

Fu stated that the group plans to double the number of launches of its Kuaizhou series rockets by 2023 and lead the world in solid rocket technology by 2025.

More than 10 Kuaizhou rocket have launched so far. The most recent launch of the Kuaizhou-1A and the inaugural flight of the larger Kuaizhou-11 failed earlier this year. No updates on the status of these launchers were apparently provided.

Tengyun spaceplane

The group will also test a two-stage-to-orbit reusable spaceplane system by 2025. The Tengyun project aims to develop a reusable two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane which consists of planes for both stages. 

Demonstration and verification of the Tengyun horizontal takeoff, horizontal landing (HTHL) spacecraft is to be completed by 2025. Tengyun is understood to be unrelated to an apparent September “reusable experimental spacecraft” test launched by a Long March 2F.

Tengyun will, according to previous reports, be capable of carrying both crew and cargo to orbit. It will also be able to release satellites into orbit. Zhang Hongwen of CASIC’s third research institute said in 2018 that the research was at an early stage.

CASIC intends to preliminarily finish the construction of the Xingyun project, an 80-satellite LEO narrowband Internet of Things constellation, by 2025. The group aims to launch 12 Xingyun 2-series satellites in 2021. 

CASIC space plans

CASIC is seen as a sister company to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC), which is the main contractor for the country’s civilian and military space efforts.

The space endeavors of CASIC—a group consisting of six research main research institutes, a range of subordinate companies and units and a total of around 150,000 employees—are meanwhile seen as commercial and somewhat separate from the national space programs. 

Along with launch services, CASIC’s satellite initiatives include the Xingyun narrrowband and 156-satellite Hongyun LEO broadband constellations. The latter, similar to CASC’s Hongyan, aims to provide low-cost connectivity, especially in remote areas with limited communications infrastructure.

“Satellite Internet” was added to a list of “new infrastructures” to receive government support at a meeting in April. The move apparently helped generate investment in related companies.

National aerospace industry base opens

The CASIC-led Wuhan National Aerospace Industry Base has also officially begun operations. The rocket production park covers an area of 30 hectares and has the capacity for the assembly and testing of 20 solid-fueled rockets per year. The park is expected to reach a capacity of 50 rockets per year in the future.

The Kuaizhou-1A, operated by Expace, a commercial CASIC spin-off, consists of three solid stages and a liquid propellant upper stage. It is capable of lofting a 200-kilogram payload into a 700-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

The Kuaizhou-11 is a larger version of the Kuaizhou-1A. The rocket has a diameter of 2.2 meters, a mass at liftoff of 78 tons. It is capable of delivering 1,000 kilograms to a 700-kilometer SSO.

Four-meter-diameter Kuaizhou-21 and -31 solid rockets designed to carry up to 20,000 and 70,000 kilograms to LEO respectively are in development. Debut launches were earlier projected for the middle of the 2020s and after.

The park will also facilitate product design, component manufacturing, and assembly and testing for 100 to 200 satellites annually across the next five years, according to Fu Zhimin.

Domestic competition

Kuaizhou rockets will face competition domestically. Sister giant SOE CASC also produces its own solid rocket, the Long March 11. The rocket can launch from inland and also from a specially developed sea platform. Long March 11 rockets and Jielong rockets developed by CASC commercial spinoff China Rocket Co. Ltd. will also be produced at a new production facility on the coast of Shandong province for sea launches. 

Galactic Energy, a nominally private launch firm, is preparing to launch its own solid rocket, Ceres-1, from Jiuquan in early November. Another Beijing-based private firm, iSpace, is preparing to launch its second Hyperbola-1 solid launcher in early 2021. The same rocket made iSpace the first Chinese private firm to place a satellite in orbit in July 2019.


Seminar on John Dickinson and the Constitution, Starting 21 Oct.

Back in 2012 I made a point about the steady flow of books on Thomas Paine by comparing that output to the sparse number of books on John Dickinson.

I counted over a dozen recent books on Paine and only two on Dickinson—one published by an outfit co-founded by William F. Buckley to promote conservative politics on college campuses and one written by Jane E. Calvert, who became a professor at the University of Kentucky.

Calvert formed the John Dickinson Writings Project to produce a scholarly edition of this Founder’s output, which will ease further research and publications on his work.

That enterprise has now published the first volume of The Complete Writings and Selected Correspondence of John Dickinson, covering the man’s legal training in London and early law practice in the 1750s. The editorial staff is forging ahead on more.

This autumn Prof. Calvert is leading a three-session seminar on “John Dickinson and the Making the the U.S. Constitution, 1776-1788” through the Library Company of Philadelphia.
This seminar will consider the innovative contributions of John Dickinson to the creation of the United States Constitution through his work on the Articles of Confederation (1776), the Annapolis Convention (1786) that met to consider the shortcomings of the Articles, the ensuing Federal Convention (1787), and the debate over ratification (1788).

As the only leading figure to contribute substantially to every phase of the American Founding beginning with the Stamp Act resistance, Dickinson also played a key role during the constitutional era. This timely seminar will explore drafts, notes, and essays, along with selected secondary source readings, to understand Dickinson’s contributions to the U.S. Constitution, reflecting on both what he offered and what his colleagues rejected.
Calvert’s seminar guests will include Liz Covart of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, John Kaminski of the Study of the American Constitution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jack N. Rakove, emeritus W. R. Coe Professor of History and American studies at Stanford University.

The conversations will take place online over three Wednesday evenings, 5:30–7:00, two weeks apart: on 21 October, 4 November, and 18 November. Register here. Registrants will receive a syllabus and readings for the three sessions.

Seven High Frequency Indicators for the Economy

These indicators are mostly for travel and entertainment - some of the sectors that will recover very slowly.
----- Airlines: Transportation Security Administration -----

The TSA is providing daily travel numbers.

TSA Traveler Data Click on graph for larger image.

This data shows the seven day average of daily total traveler throughput from the TSA for 2019 (Blue) and 2020 (Red).

The dashed line is the percent of last year for the seven day average.

This data is as of Oct 18th.

The seven day average is down 64% from last year (36% of last year).

There has been a slow increase from the bottom.

----- Restaurants: OpenTable -----

The second graph shows the 7 day average of the year-over-year change in diners as tabulated by OpenTable for the US and several selected cities.

Move Box OfficeThanks to OpenTable for providing this restaurant data:

This data is updated through October 17, 2020.

This data is "a sample of restaurants on the OpenTable network across all channels: online reservations, phone reservations, and walk-ins. For year-over-year comparisons by day, we compare to the same day of the week from the same week in the previous year."

Note that this data is for "only the restaurants that have chosen to reopen in a given market". Since some restaurants have not reopened, the actual year-over-year decline is worse than shown.

Note that dining is turning in the northern states - Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York - but holding up in the southern states.

----- Movie Tickets: Box Office Mojo -----

Move Box OfficeThis data shows domestic box office for each week (red) and the maximum and minimum for the previous four years.  Data is from BoxOfficeMojo through October 15th.

Note that the data is usually noisy week-to-week and depends on when blockbusters are released.

Movie ticket sales have picked up slightly over the last couple of months, and were at $12 million last week (compared to usually around $150 million per week in the early Fall).

Some movie theaters have reopened (probably with limited seating).

----- Hotel Occupancy: STR -----

Hotel Occupancy RateThis graph shows the seasonal pattern for the hotel occupancy rate using the four week average.

The red line is for 2020, dash light blue is 2019, blue is the median, and black is for 2009 (the worst year since the Great Depression for hotels - prior to 2020).

This data is through October 10th.

Hotel occupancy is currently down 29.2% year-over-year.

Notes: Y-axis doesn't start at zero to better show the seasonal change.

So far there has been little business travel pickup that usually happens in the Fall.

----- Gasoline Supplied: Energy Information Administration -----

gasoline ConsumptionThis graph, based on weekly data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), shows gasoline supplied compared to the same week last year of .

At one point, gasoline supplied was off almost 50% YoY.

As of October 9th, gasoline supplied was off about 8.3% YoY (about 91.7% of last year).

Note: I know several people that have driven to vacation spots - or to visit family - and they usually would have flown.   So this might have boosted gasoline consumption and the expense of air travel.

----- Transit: Apple Mobility -----

This graph is from Apple mobility. From Apple: "This data is generated by counting the number of requests made to Apple Maps for directions in select countries/regions, sub-regions, and cities." This is just a general guide - people that regularly commute probably don't ask for directions.

There is also some great data on mobility from the Dallas Fed Mobility and Engagement Index. However the index is set "relative to its weekday-specific average over January–February", and is not seasonally adjusted, so we can't tell if an increase in mobility is due to recovery or just the normal increase in the Spring and Summer.

Apple Mobility DataThis data is through October 17th for the United States and several selected cities.

The graph is the running 7 day average to remove the impact of weekends.

IMPORTANT: All data is relative to January 13, 2020. This data is NOT Seasonally Adjusted. People walk and drive more when the weather is nice, so I'm just using the transit data.

According to the Apple data directions requests, public transit in the 7 day average for the US is still only about 56% of the January level. It is at 49% in Chicago, and 59% in Houston.

----- New York City Subway Usage -----

Here is some interesting data on New York subway usage (HT BR).

New York City Subway UsageThis graph is from Todd W Schneider.

This data is through Friday, October 16th.

Schneider has graphs for each borough, and links to all the data sources.

He notes: "Data updates weekly from the MTA’s public turnstile data, usually on Saturday mornings".

Censoring repugnant words by algorithm

 Some people like to say things that other people think they shouldn't say.  In the age of the internet, politeness can be (somewhat) automated, by banning certain words.  But of course, words have contexts. Here's a funny story from the Guardian:

Overzealous profanity filter bans paleontologists from talking about bones--A virtual conference was thrown into confusion when the platform hosting the event came with a pre-packaged ‘naughty word’ censor by Poppy Noor.

"Participants in a virtual paleontology session found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place last week, when a profanity filter prevented them from using certain words – such as bone, pubic, stream and, er, beaver – during an online conference.

"The US-based Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) held its annual meeting virtually this year due to the pandemic, but soon found its audience stifled when they tried to use particular words.

"Convey Services, which was was handling the conference, used a “naughty-word filter,” for the conference, outlawing a pre-selected list of words.

"“Words like ‘bone’, ‘pubic’, and ‘stream’ are frankly ridiculous to ban in a field where we regularly find pubic bones in streams,” said Brigid Christison, a master’s student in biology attending the event


"Some discovered bias in the algorithm, too. Jack Tseng, a vertebrate paleontologist from the University of Berkley pointed out that the filter had banned the common surname Wang but not Johnson – even though both are frequently used as slang words to describe a man’s genitals."


Here's Dr. Tseng's tweet:

Z. Jack Tseng, @Tseng_ZJ

"Wang" is banned but not "Johnson" (both used as slangs). This western-centric filter erasing the surname of 90+ million Chinese but not <2 million people of European descent is unexpectedly on brand for 2020,  ! My PhD advisor is X. **** by the way. "


Previous related posts:

HT: Muriel Niederle

Split-Second Phantom Images Fool Autopilots

Researchers are tricking autopilots by inserting split-second images into roadside billboards.

Researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University of the Negev … previously revealed that they could use split-second light projections on roads to successfully trick Tesla’s driver-assistance systems into automatically stopping without warning when its camera sees spoofed images of road signs or pedestrians. In new research, they’ve found they can pull off the same trick with just a few frames of a road sign injected on a billboard’s video. And they warn that if hackers hijacked an internet-connected billboard to carry out the trick, it could be used to cause traffic jams or even road accidents while leaving little evidence behind.


In this latest set of experiments, the researchers injected frames of a phantom stop sign on digital billboards, simulating what they describe as a scenario in which someone hacked into a roadside billboard to alter its video. They also upgraded to Tesla’s most recent version of Autopilot known as HW3. They found that they could again trick a Tesla or cause the same Mobileye device to give the driver mistaken alerts with just a few frames of altered video.

The researchers found that an image that appeared for 0.42 seconds would reliably trick the Tesla, while one that appeared for just an eighth of a second would fool the Mobileye device. They also experimented with finding spots in a video frame that would attract the least notice from a human eye, going so far as to develop their own algorithm for identifying key blocks of pixels in an image so that a half-second phantom road sign could be slipped into the “uninteresting” portions.

The paper:

Abstract: In this paper, we investigate “split-second phantom attacks,” a scientific gap that causes two commercial advanced driver-assistance systems (ADASs), Telsa Model X (HW 2.5 and HW 3) and Mobileye 630, to treat a depthless object that appears for a few milliseconds as a real obstacle/object. We discuss the challenge that split-second phantom attacks create for ADASs. We demonstrate how attackers can apply split-second phantom attacks remotely by embedding phantom road signs into an advertisement presented on a digital billboard which causes Tesla’s autopilot to suddenly stop the car in the middle of a road and Mobileye 630 to issue false notifications. We also demonstrate how attackers can use a projector in order to cause Tesla’s autopilot to apply the brakes in response to a phantom of a pedestrian that was projected on the road and Mobileye 630 to issue false notifications in response to a projected road sign. To counter this threat, we propose a countermeasure which can determine whether a detected object is a phantom or real using just the camera sensor. The countermeasure (GhostBusters) uses a “committee of experts” approach and combines the results obtained from four lightweight deep convolutional neural networks that assess the authenticity of an object based on the object’s light, context, surface, and depth. We demonstrate our countermeasure’s effectiveness (it obtains a TPR of 0.994 with an FPR of zero) and test its robustness to adversarial machine learning attacks.

Applied witchcraft: American communications intelligence satellites during the 1960s

Starting in the early 1960s, the National Reconnaissance Office flew a series of missions to perform what's known as communications intelligence, seeking to understand patterns of communications within the Soviet Union. Dwayne Day examines what's known about those early missions.

TAG, Bennu, you're it

On Tuesday, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will attempt to touch down on the surface of asteroid Bennu and collect samples for return to Earth. Jeff Foust reports on how this effort, already technically challenging, has turned out to be even more difficult than originally expected.

Rock-solid (Blue) Cube: Galileo and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake

Thirty-one years ago, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay Area, including a military space control center. Joseph Page II recounts how that facility still managed to remain operational to support a shuttle launch the next day.

Is the New Zealand commercial space success story a model for other countries?

New Zealand has in recent years developed a small but growing space industry in fields from Earth observation to launch. Marcal Sanmarti explores if the factors that supported that growth can be replicated in other countries.

Review: Canadarm and Collaboration

More than anything else, Canada's space program is known for its series of robotic arms for the shuttle, space station, and soon the lunar Gateway. Jeff Foust reviews a book that describes how those Canadarms also helped create and shape a human spaceflight program in the country.

How to Kill a Python Thread

I'm often asked how to kill a background thread, and the answer to this question makes a lot of people unhappy: threads cannot be killed. In this article I'm going to show you two options we have in Python to terminate threads.

Carl Sagan’s message to aliens

‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to make contact with another civilisation?’ Carl Sagan’s 1977 lecture on how to message aliens

By Aeon Video

Watch at Aeon

Hate reads

The Western canon has no shortage of fascists. But can the far-Right make ‘literature’ worthy of the name?

By Andrew Marzoni

Read at Aeon

NLCS 7: Dodgers 4, Atlanta 3

Atlanta - 110 100 000 - 3  3  0  
Dodgers - 002 001 10x - 4 10 0
When the Los Angeles Dodgers left the bases loaded in the fourth inning, they had stranded eight men, including six on second or third. Atlanta led 3-2, which meant there was a very real possibility the Dodgers would be haunted by those missed opportunities. (LA had also had at least one runner on base in each of their last 13 innings, but had scored in only two of them.)

But that was not how things turned out. While I'm sure the Dodgers would have been more than happy to have scored five or six of those eight runners, what actually transpired was pretty cool, too. Los Angeles got two solo home runs, by pinch-hitter Kiké Hernández in the sixth and Cody Bellinger in the seventh, as well as three perfect innings of relief from Julio Urías, who closed out the game.

The Dodgers clinched their third National League pennant in the last four years, coming back from 1-3 to defeat Atlanta. They are the first Dodgers team to win a seven-game series after trailing 1-3. 

The Rays and Dodgers will play in the 116th World Series, beginning Tuesday night in Arlington. It will be the first ever World Series played at a neutral site and the first since the all-St. Louis series in 1944 to be played in one ballpark (Sportsman Park, Cardinals/Browns). It will also feature the teams with the best records in their respective leagues, something that has not happened since 2013 (Red Sox and Cardinals).

Corey Seager was named NLCS MVP, setting NLCS records for home runs (5) and RBI (11). Seven of his nine hits were for extra-bases, with two doubles added to the five dongs. I wonder how many LCS or WS MVPs went 0-for-5 in Game 7?

Dustin May learned fairly late that he would be the Dodgers' Game 7 starter (about seven hours before the first pitch). Perhaps that was why his first eight pitches missed the strike zone. May walked Ronald Acuña, who stole second on the first pitch to Freddie Freeman, who also walked. Marcell Ozuna took a strike before hitting a hard grounder through the hole. Acuña beat a strong throw home and Atlanta led 1-0. May avoided further humiliation when Travis d'Arnaud hit into a double play and Ozzie Albies struck out.

Mookie Betts led off the Dodgers first with a single to left and took second on a grounder to first. But Los Angeles could not get him home. Justin Turner flied to center and Max Muncy fanned.

Dansby Swanson led off the second with a solo home run off reliever Tony Gonsolin, giving Atlanta a 2-0 lead. In the bottom half, the Dodgers threatened again, but came up empty. Two-out singles by A.J. Pollock and Joc Pederson put runners at first and third, but Chris Taylor went down swinging.

After Gonsolin had a quick five-pitch third, his teammates went back back to work with the bats. Atlanta starter Ian Anderson (3-5-2-2-2, 73) got two outs on only four pitches. He issued an eight-pitch walk to Turner and was tagged for double into the right field corner by Muncy. Will Smith grounded the first pitch into center and both runners scored, tying the game. Bellinger walked, but Pollock lined out to center.

Atlanta regained the lead almost immediately. Albies walked on a full count, stole second on Gonsolin's 1-0 pitch to Swanson, who also walked. Austin Riley fell behind 0-2, but lined a single to center that scored Albies. (No one knew it then, but that would be Atlanta's last hit of the season.)

Blake Treinen took over on the hill and threw a wild pitch on 0-2, which put men on second and third. The infield was in and Nick Markakis grounded to Turner at third. The runners had taken off on contact (with no outs?). Turner threw home to Smith, who had Swanson was in a rundown. Smith chased the runner back towards the bag and threw back to Turner, who dove and tagged Swanson on the foot before turning on his knees and throwing to Seager at third, who tagged out Riley. The 5-2-5-6 double play was the first such play in postseason history and an epic squander for Atlanta.

The bottom of the fourth was a LOB-tomy for the Dodgers. Facing Tyler Matzek, Taylor singled with one out and Betts walked. Seager smoked a line drive right at Acuña in right field. A wild pitch moved the runners up and Turner walked, loading the bases. Muncy took what looked like a questionable strike on the outside black before missing a fastball away.

Freeman was robbed of a home run by Betts in the fifth. Mookie made several outstanding catches in the series, but "I think the home run robbery [was the best], because that was actually a home run. The other ones were going to stay in the park, but I think it's more fun when they were going to go over the wall."

Both teams were quiet until Hernández led off the sixth against new reliever A.J. Minter. Hernández was ahead in the count 2-1, but Minter got a called strike, and Hernández fouled off the next three pitches (inside, low and inside, low and away) before barreling up a fastball that Minter left over the plate. Hernández lined it off the facing of the second deck in left and the game was again tied, 3-3.

Taylor followed with a double that was ripped down the left field line and into the corner. He went to third on Betts's fly to right-center. Atlanta brought its infield in and when Seager grounded to second, Albies had time to make an accurate throw home and Taylor, coming in with a head-first slide, was easily tagged out.

After Urías pitched an uneventful and clean seventh, the Dodgers faced Chris Martin who had recorded the final out of the sixth. Martin looked good, striking out Muncy and Smith, the latter on three called strikes (all sinkers). Bellinger stepped in with two outs.

Bellinger watched a strike and two balls before taking the 2-1 pitch well outside. But plate umpire James Hoye blew the call, ruling it strike two. Bellinger fouled off three pitches, two of which were also outside, but considering Hoye's unsteady eye, there was no taking chances. Martin's eighth pitch was over the plate, a bit higher than dead center. Bellinger crushed it to deep right. He knew it immediately and his reaction was extremely subdued, all things considered. 

Bellinger's celebration after crossing the plate was anything but subdued. He banged arms with Hernández and jammed his shoulder. The LA Times said he ran straight into the trainer's room. "They popped it back in so I could go out and play defense. It kind of hurt. I'm gonna maybe use my left arm. I've never dislocated that one."

Meanwhile, Urías was as calm as a goggled clam, setting down Atlanta's 2-3-4 hitters in the eighth. Manager Dave Roberts had decided it was Urías's game because I don't think Kelsey Jansen (who had pitched the ninth innings of both Games 5 and 6) warmed up at all.

Albies and Swanson, the first two Atlanta batters in the ninth, grounded to shortstop. The first play was to Seager's backhand, but he handled both chances easily. Riley swung at the first pitch and lofted it to center. Bellinger made the catch, completing the Dodgers' NLCS comeback.

Also: I'm betting Brian Snitker heard a lot of shit about his last name as a kid.

Our ears and intellects were assaulted by John Smoltz for 3:37. But Joe Buck was absent! He was off calling a football game, so Joe Davis had his seat. 

Smoltz's faults as an announcer are many, but the main detriment is: HE WILL NOT SHUT UP. His motormouth is especially bad in the first few innings of a game, when he can overpower the play-by-play man. Smoltz may calm down a bit as the game goes on, but his incessant mansplaining never lets up. He lectured everyone about what you feel before a Game 7, how you feel during a Game 7, how you manage your emotions as a Game 7 evolves, etc. etc. Approximately 99.3% of this chatter was cliched pablum.

Smoltz also likes to shorten various words. We know Ron Darling loves to talk about the "post", how many hits does he have in the "post", how has his curve been in the "post". Smoltz talked a lot about "comp", which stood for either competitor or competition. I wasn't comp sure about that, but I know it didn't stand for no dang "computer", cuz Smoltzie don't truck with analytics. His other abbreviation was "max" (usually used with "max"). Over the course of a game, the time saved by shortening words here and there (or saying a sentence with a few missing words) adds up, allowing him to cram more blather in.

Rookie Ian Anderson came into the game having pitched 15.2 scoreless innings this postseason. With one out in the second inning, that number was 17, and Smoltz imagined the Dodgers on the bench saying, "Let's give this guy an ERA." . . . Of course, Anderson already had an ERA. It was 0.00.

When Betts led off the third, Smoltz informed us: "Looks like he's about to go on a tear." Sadly, we never learned exactly what it was Smoltz spied in that particular plate appearance that prompted such an observation about Betts. Needless to say, Betts did not "go on a tear". Right then, he flied to right. Later, he walked, flied to center, and dropped a double into right-center.

During that same half-inning, Smoltz pointed out how they measure "everything" in baseball now, but what they don't or can't measure (my ears perked up: what could be outside of "everything?") is "heart beat". . . . Actually, there are super-accurate machines that can measure exactly that. Smoltz amended that to "heart" or some such, but I, being quite disappointed in his answer, had tuned out.

After Hernández tied the game in the sixth, Smoltz remarked "Some guys are just wired for October." (In 52 games over six seasons, Hernandez is a .214 postseason hitter. . . . Those wires might be a bit frayed.)

Smoltz did add a few things. One of his numerous pontifications about "Game 7" was about the intense concentration a pitcher needs to have for every single pitch thrown. It can easily make four innings seem like eight. And he criticized Taylor for his headfirst slide into an out at the plate. He didn't come out and say Taylor should have gone in standing up, but he said a runner would have more ways to move around or over the catcher if he doesn't commit to sliding head first.

The other constant topic was "narrative". When I tell you what Smoltz wanted us to understand about "narrative", it's not going to make any sense because no former player in his right mind would ever believe such a thing for even a minute. And I'm not even completely sure what he meant. He seemed to say a game has a narrative and sometimes a player will "flip the script" (an expression I fucking loathe and would pay a nice sum to never hear again) and change the narrative.

You don't have to watch very many baseball games to grasp the concept that games have no narrative at all. Anyone can impose a narrative on a game after it's over. See above for my latest effort. Announcers and sportswriters love to impose their own narratives on past events, telling us why certain things happened. They are always full of shit, of course, but that doesn't stop them from doing it (like how political pundits are 98% dead wrong, yet somehow they remain employed and respected as pundits). But that can't be what Smoltz meant, because a player can't . . . flip . . . ughhh . . . after a game is over.

But it also cannot be possible for Smoltz to think that all baseball games are semi-predetermined, and sometimes a player can upset the expected outcome. Is that it? Is that what he means? What we expect to happen in a game might not actually be what ends up happens? That's not very earth-shattering. That's common sense. That's reality. It's what has happened in damn near every single game ever played.

Smoltz pitched in 845 professional baseball games (plus spring training!) and has been an announcer for seven seasons. He's seen a shitload of games and he must know that every game can be summed up in one word: youneverknow. The rookie pitcher outshines the future Hall of Famer, the juggernaut gets routed by the basement-dweller, the scrawny infielder cranks three home runs, the reliever with pinpoint control walks in the winning run, a former player-turned-announcer has a game in which he says brilliant stuff for nine innings . . . anything can happen! Jayson Stark is beloved as a sportswriter because of the sheer joy he has for knowing and reporting the bizarre and unprecedented and the WTF?!? of baseball.

I probably should go back and listen to the part of the game where Smoltz was lecturing about "narrative" (it was the top of the fourth) but considering there's a World Series coming up and he'll be yapping through the whole fucking thing (plus Joe Buck), I have my limits. (I wonder who the international radio announcers are . . .)

Less than reviews

My Octopus Teacher, a Netflix special.  Overly sentimental for commercial reasons, and is there any film that so shoehorns a series of encounters into an overly crude narrative?  Nonetheless the footage of the octopus and her environment (yes her) is amazing and I definitely recommend this one.

Teheran, an Israeli TV show on Apple Plus.  From the writer of Fauda, it concerns Israeli agents working in Teheran, under precarious circumstances of course.  Not deep, and at times implausible in plot, but very high production values and agitated in the good sense of that term.  I am glad it is only eight episodes.

Gimme Some Truth, two-CD collection of earlier songs by John Lennon, remastered by his son Sean.  Good, classic selections, but this remaster is the greatest sonic crime I have heard in centuries, indeed millennia.  The album Plastic Ono Band, for instance, had one of the most special sounds of the LP era, somehow both spare and “wall of sound” at the same time, but now it just plods and thuds and the space surrounding it sounds empty.  How could Yoko Ono have let this one get through?  I won’t even give you the link.

Seven Samurai, by Kurosawa.  Ran is his peak achievement, then perhaps Ikiru (also one of the best movies about bureaucracy), and the much underrated late Kurosawa movies.  But this one is actually a drag,  Hollywood Westerns have improved on the plot, and the three hours of artificial face-mugging wears thin pretty quickly.

Yi Yi, 2000 Taiwanese movie directed by Edward Yang.  Rented out a theater to see this one again, Alex T. came too.  Not regretted, to say the least, one of the better movies.  But given the length and the methods of dramatic construction, I do not recommend that you watch it at home.  Just get a small (masked) group together, as indeed we did.

The post Less than reviews appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Vision 2040: The first million on Mars

As the 2020 Mars Society Convention has just finished, I’m publishing here my entry in the Mars City State Design Competition. Also available as a pdf. Congratulations to the winners team Nexus Aurora and all the other 176 competitors!

Vision 2040: The first million on Mars

Casey Handmer

Conceptual overview

Twenty pages is hardly adequate to describe the totality of any city, let alone the first city on Mars. Too much is uncertain or unknowable for me to be prescriptive. And yet, to chart our course we need some idea of a destination. The tools of science and the talents of a generation are easily equal to the task, provided only that we set out in the right direction. This design competition entry therefore places an emphasis on developing not answers but questions, as a step toward focusing our attention and, if we are lucky, sloughing off a layer of two of ignorance. Let us focus on the less intuitive aspects of Mars city design and seek useful insights. 

In these 20 pages, I present a cross section of the first city on Mars.

Technical design

What are the requirements? What functions is the city intended to perform?

It must:

  • Meet the human needs of its population.
  • Provide infrastructure for ongoing, rapid growth.
  • Achieve near self-sufficiency.

How are these functions to be executed? How can a good design serve and promote these core functions? On what questions can we base our trades?

Urban planning

Let’s lay out the city and determine what goes where. What aspects can be determined by analogy with organically-developed cities on Earth, and what has to be re-invented to meet the conditions on Mars?

Some functions ought to be collocated, such as living, food, healthcare, education, and entertainment. Some functions must be segregated, such as noisy or dangerous industrial processes. And some functions must necessarily be more remote, such as the space port, solar farms, or mines.

How these parts are laid out determines their interfaces. It is crucially important that both people and cargo are able to move efficiently throughout the city, even as population and traffic continues to increase. This requires adequate space to create wide thoroughfares, as well as dense, walkable environments that permit rapid, shirt-sleeves pedestrian movement between every area. 

Abolishing scarcity

Mars may be the second most hospitable planet in the known universe, but it is still a frozen poisonous cratered irradiated asphyxiating place that cares not if we live or die. A Mars city of any size needs to maximize productivity to increase the odds of survival. Some industrial factors, such as human labor, will always be relatively scarce. As much as possible, other key resources such as water, electrical power, living and working space, heat, and raw materials should be made abundant. Scarcity and rationing inflict enormous costs on any process, and the Mars city simply cannot afford them. 

How can we minimize avoidable scarcity and ensure that our factories exist in a comfortable buyer’s market? While aggressive recycling and waste minimization are an important part of the picture, the Mars city needs to generate ongoing surpluses of everything, even as demand continues to grow. Much of primary production is gradually being automated on Earth – on Mars, even the tooling manufacturing is routinely automated.

More generally, automation exists as an abstraction layer between human intention and actual manipulation of matter. To ensure constant increases in productivity relative to human labor inputs, automation has to continually ascend the value chain, from manufacturing robots to robot production robots.

Finally, pressurized volume is itself a valuable commodity. Inadequate supply of space in factories, farms, or living areas exacts an exponentially increasing toll. If the Mars city is to flourish in a surplus of space, the labor and material cost of generating more volume must be aggressively minimized.

What does this look like?

While I can be relatively certain about what the Mars city needs, I cannot be as certain about how to meet those needs. I offer here a partial sketch of how a Mars city might go about solving these problems but remind the reader that Vision 2040 is ultimately the product of the expertise of millions of people working for many decades.


  • The city is pressurized and climate controlled, with almost all its occupants working in an expansive shirt-sleeves environment.
  • The base unit of pressurized volume is a tensile Kevlar-reinforced ETFE membrane, similar to a high performance yacht sail, anchored to the ground at regular intervals. No domes, no excavation, no tunnels, no masonry arches, no dense rubble piles.
  • This approach maximizes usable area for given inputs of materials, labor, and energy. Known for their light weight and versatility, inflatable tensile structures have a long history and are not as exotic as they may sound. They are used for both Zodiac dinghies and inflatable mattresses. They have even been used to make a fully functional inflatable plane.
  • Steel ground anchors are installed with a pile driver. Membrane-ground interfaces are corrugated steel embedded in a trench. This approach accommodates thermal expansion, sealing, and local tensile loads without requiring major geoengineering.
  • Membrane material is transparent and can be welded/patched thermally or chemically in the field. The membrane requires a minimum of processing or finessing for installation.
  • Interior structures built to purpose, generally do not require thermal, pressure, or rain protection. Structures can also be suspended from the membrane.

Image: Rendering showing how periodic anchors transmit pressure load to the surface for effectively limitless pressurized volume at minimum cost.

Residential core

  • Crescent shaped residential core surrounding broad undeveloped, unenclosed area ensures that “wilderness” is readily visible from within the city.
  • Central residential/commercial area with walkable high density, lowrise neighborhoods. Population density comparable to Manhattan (25,000/km^2), less than Kowloon walled city (2,000,000/km^2). With a surface area of 50 square kilometers, parts of the city extend beyond the relatively close Martian horizon.
  • Functional urban design favors the use of “small multiples” where local neighbourhoods have local businesses, rather than massive centralized malls that require vehicles to access. On the other hand, functions such as the Starport would be centralized.
  • Non-intrusive infrastructure such as grid storage batteries and data centers are located in the core as well as industrial areas.

Radial industrial bays

  • Flexibly specified roughly rectangular pressurized areas radiate from the central core, each devoted primarily to specific industries. Each bay contains discrete factories and warehouses linked by a broad pressurized road, and is partitioned as necessary by bulkheads for additional isolation and atmosphere customization. 
  • Each bay is separated from the next by a broad unpressurized open space, which facilitates ready external access to all parts of the structure for, eg, maintenance or direct docking of excessively large mining vehicles.
  • Radial city design ensures all areas have room to expand as needed, while reducing congestion and travel time for nominal traffic patterns.
  • As industrial production matures, older obsolete factories are recycled and their footprint reconfigured to provide additional room for core expansion.
  • Copious pressurized space enables execution of standard, Earth-proven industrial processes at scale, with an emphasis on automation.
  • Several concentric ring roads permit travel between bays without congesting the core.
  • Some bays are devoted to primary production, including air mining, production of various gasses, liquids, and solids (glass, plastic, metal, concrete), recycling, and agriculture. 
  • Some other bays are devoted to secondary production and manufacturing. These include electronics, basic integrated circuits, electrical equipment, machinery, textiles, fabricated metal, furniture, chemicals, transport equipment, plastics, rubber, and animal products.
  • While 3D printing is essential for prototyping and specialty manufacturing, mature manufacturing will use the highest productivity methods, including traditional subtractive manufacturing. 
  • Bays are set up to permit high material flow and use rate through stockpiles, distribution via conveyor belts, automated trucks, and containerized/palletized freight.
  • If the factory is the machine that builds the machine, the industrial sector is the metafactory: The ecosystem that feeds the machine that builds the machine.

Remote sites

  • Remote sites are dedicated to mining and/or science. Mine operation is nearly fully automated.
  • Mines operate as open cut unpressurized, open cut pressurized, or subsurface in pressurized tunnels dug with automated tunnel boring machines. 
  • A thorough geological site survey has located sources of all strategic minerals. 
  • The Starport, with approach and departure clearance east and west, is located some distance to the north of the city. The Starport’s infrastructure is simple enough that it can be moved further away as the city expands.
  • Retired rockets are transported to the Rocket Park for materials recycling. 
  • Solar PV and wind turbine park. The city requires around 100 square kilometers of locally produced solar panels, an area comparable to the rest of the city. 
  • Nuclear power plants. While Vision 2040 does not depend on nuclear power, any plants would be located remotely from the city, Starport, and other major infrastructure.


Certain commodities are widely used and so “on tap”.

  • Water: Wells, reservoirs, filtration, distribution, sewer, treatment, and open space such as ponds and pools, which help with city thermal management.
  • Power: Solar, wind, storage with batteries and fuel cells, which generate electricity at the point of use with methane and oxygen.
  • Gases: Gaseous oxygen, methane, nitrogen, CO2 (below ambient pressure), partial vacuum for low pressure gas disposal and methane line jacketing. All gas and liquid lines have keyed non-congruent fittings to avoid inadvertent cross-plumbing.
  • Pipes are run at a set of different standard heights radially and circumferentially to avoid interference.
  • Telecommunications are performed with wifi/cell coverage on the front end, satellite for remote operations, and data centers for backend compute.
  • Life support systems are employed at varying scales and levels of complexity to enable scalability and systemic redundancy. For example, every isolatable space, no matter how small, has a rated life support capacity to function as an air shelter. Life support systems in smaller areas, such as rooms in dwellings or vehicles, are necessarily simpler in form. Distributed, multi-system overcapacity is essential to avoid single points of failure or unacceptable levels of centralization of control.

Image: Diagram of notional city plan, showing industrial bays radiating from the central core. All functions can be independently resized as needed with minimal disruption.

Strategy for achieving self-sufficiency

What does self-sufficiency look like for a city on Mars? A popular image of self-sufficiency provides a rugged, capable pioneer with a small plot and some animals building themselves up from nothing. While easy to articulate, a Mars city cannot bootstrap like this, because the environment is too hostile. 

Environmental hostility is a way of thinking about what will kill people and how quickly. Astronauts, oil rig divers, and mountain climbers all work in hostile environments, depending on advanced technology and rigorous procedural problem solving to stay alive.

While the Mars city encloses a large enough volume that the inhabitants can move around unencumbered by spacesuits, the system as a whole still embodies precarious advanced technology that is not capable of regenerating itself by default. Therefore, all the shiny life-supporting widgets must either last forever, be readily importable, or readily replaced. This is a tall order.

On Earth, with its habitable environment and billions of people, there are only five nation states that have achieved sufficiently advanced industry to “make everything”. They are China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the USA. A Mars city doesn’t need to make fighter jets but they need to make nearly everything that goes into one, including advanced robotics, computers, plastics, metals, composites, and tooling for advanced manufacturing.

While an early Mars base must import nearly everything, a more complete city necessarily has to make more things locally. How can we think about prioritizing local manufacturing?

Generally speaking, local production favors bulk raw materials that are both easy to make and must be provided in large quantities. Conversely, import favors complex technology that embodies large quantities of energy and labor, such as microchips. With a handful of exceptions, products with a lower cost per kilogram (as a proxy for manufacturing difficulty) and higher use rate would be made locally first. Market pricing mechanisms allow for “natural” prioritization without rigid central planning.

Local production for any given product begins with prototyping and moves into mass production and then fully automated production. It is critical that localizing production consumes proportionately less resources, in particular human labor, than they create.

Graph: Some industrial products by cost density and US per capita production. Asterisks mark products (water, methane, oxygen, CO2) with substantially different sources and usage patterns on Mars. Self-sufficiency starts at the bottom right (water, rubble) and moves towards the upper left (flash memory, morphine). Regions for Mars production, import, and export at a million people as discussed in the economics section below.

As an example, early production favors oxygen, nitrogen, water, electricity, methane, plastic feedstocks, masonry, and other bulk commodities that can be produced on Mars with only gas or liquid water feedstocks, or unprocessed dirt. These materials do not require dedicated facilities for remote ore extraction and processing.

Later production favors food (expensive in a place where arable land must be made from scratch), metals (some recycled from retired spacecraft), and a wide range of industrial chemicals.

Still later, secondary production (manufacturing) processes raw materials into discrete products beginning with mass-intensive structural parts of machines (booms, fasteners) and eventually trending into electronics and integrated circuits.

It cannot be overstated how difficult and ambitious this program is. Many nations on Earth have tried and failed to achieve this, despite higher populations and better resources. There are, however, a few considerations which could affect the overall difficulty of the enterprise.

Building for growth

As the Mars city grows, demand for products also grows. Factories are built to continually increase productivity, with design incorporating room for growth and for greater automation. There is a fundamental limit to the rate at which a human being can perform manual tasks, so over time, human workers are separated from the actual products by steadily increasing layers of automation, or robotic abstraction. In mature industries, even factory construction and machine calibration are automated or remotely operated from Earth.

Simplified and compacted industrial stack

The McMaster-Carr catalogue lists 550,000 discrete items. Beyond a certain point, provision of additional part diversity suffers diminishing returns. Mars-focused products are sourced from a simplified parts catalogue. Additionally, sub-industries that are irrelevant to Mars, such as coal steam turbines or container ship construction, need not be built.

Path dependency, lock in, and technical debt

More than a few megaprojects and industrial sectors have run into severe problems due to path dependency, lock in, and technical debt. This occurs when an early and apparently unimportant decision has unintended consequences that are both difficult to correct and difficult to live with. As an example, the internet was designed in an era when everyone on it knew everyone else, so security and attribution were afterthoughts at best. This has left our entire society with endless security issues in critical infrastructure! 

Technical debt is one of the canonical “hard problems”, since it affects every industry to some degree and there is no easy answer. That said, a degree of mindfulness when performing systems engineering may help prevent the deepest of regrets.

One concrete example is deciding what atmosphere to operate the city under. A lower pressure atmosphere reduces pressure loads in structures, as well as decompression effects when using space suits. On the other hand, it transports heat less effectively, meaning that every cooling fan and system has to be made bigger to dissipate unwanted waste heat.

Proficiency goal for one million people

A Mars city of a million people is able to produce nearly every resource it needs to survive. By mass, the cargo manifest is human immigrants, by a super-majority. That is to say, per immigrant cargo allotment has shrunk from perhaps 10 T at the outset to less than 10 kg, a reduction of a factor of 1000. By mass, more than 99.9% of products and resources used by Martians are locally sourced. 

This means that robust local surpluses exist for all gases, liquids, materials, food, water, precision machinery, vehicles, structures, bulkheads, infrastructure of all kinds, chemicals, bulk electronics parts (actuators, sensors, capacitors, circuit boards, batteries, solar panels, etc) and some local production of integrated circuits such as a generic rad hard x86 processor, FPGA, and flash memory unit. 

Imports, therefore, comprise primarily luxury goods and consumer computing devices such as tablets and mobile phones, along with a range of pharmaceuticals that have very low use rates.

Of the million people, perhaps half are devoted to tertiary services and facilitation ensuring that labor remains specialized and efficiently allocated across all sectors. Not everyone works in a factory or mine.

To put this into perspective, near autarky with a million people on Mars implies an improvement in per-capita disposition of resources equivalent to all the advances since the industrial revolution, again. No miracles are required, only a lot of hard work. Not only is this physically possible, it can be achieved from our present technological state with only steady incremental advances.

Economic design

Despite my strong temptation to design and specify a command economy, the Mars city has adapted best to a regulated open market and free enterprise. In any system beyond some small critical size, the distributed asynchronous mechanisms of capitalist buyer’s market economies scale much better than the alternatives, such as any form of centralized control or artificial pricing. 

That said, the thousands of ambitious entrepreneurs in the city face some unusual conditions which merit discussion.

Refining the success condition

The Mars city is economically successful if its economy is capable of sustaining the industrial capacity to exceed the material wants and needs of the people who live there. That is, it has achieved robust prosperity despite its relatively small size, hostile external environment, and high shipping costs from the nearest developed market.

Economic success of a human city in space is sometimes defined as achieving wild profitability for traditional Earth-based speculative investors. Without the allure of a get-rich-quick scheme, we are told, it will be impossible to fund this sort of development. I may be a member of a small minority that believes that no-one who wants to make an easy buck should look to space, whether it be mining the Moon, asteroids, or building a profitable space hotel.

This is why net profitability is a counterproductive success condition. While building a city on Mars can’t generate net wealth for all Earth-based investors, it is meaningful to ask how much progress might be made for a given investment. Indeed, nearly all space exploration, whether using rockets or telescopes, depends on either private philanthropy or government expenditure. Since von Braun’s Das Marsprojekt, even exploration missions to Mars have come with an impossibly steep price tag. Mars Direct showed how to reduce the cost by perhaps three orders of magnitude, while SpaceX’s reusable Starship architecture aims for a further improvement of the same scale. If these transportation innovations are successful, Vision 2040 could be built for a total cost measured in hundreds of billions of dollars over several decades, which is affordable enough for a global civilization in full bloom.

What are the implications of the given transport costs of $500/kg to Mars and $200/kg from Mars?

It is worthwhile to explore what assumptions underlie the competition specifications.

One passenger, their luggage and life support supplies weigh about 400kg, implying a one-way ticket cost of $200k. Once on Mars, an adult human consumes about a tonne of food, water, and air per year. If imported, this would cost $500k, but around 99.9% of this is locally produced/recycled by the time the population reaches a million people. Finally, the cost saving of someone staying on another 26 months until the next launch window is about $300k. All together, this implies that supporting workers on Mars is about ten times more expensive than is typical on Earth. That is, even with a million people on Mars their net productivity has to be at least ten times greater than one would reasonably expect on Earth. This also meshes nicely with expectations for the level of automation and self-sufficiency, since the Mars city must have an industrial stack and product manufacturing diversity more in line with a country of a hundred million people. 

Regarding self-sufficiency, a cargo import cost of $500/kg is prohibitive for commodities that cost much less than this (such as water and food) but relatively insignificant for products that cost much more. These include industrial machinery, certain chemicals, long lived radioactive isotopes, integrated circuits, and other stuff that routinely travels by air courier. Nevertheless, if a certain product can be obtained more cheaply from local manufacturers, imports necessarily diminish. Local manufacturers get, in effect, a $500/kg import duty which has to be balanced against a 10x human labor cost increase. Robotic labor on Mars is more expensive than on Earth but relatively cheaper than human labor. This means local manufacturing costs are between one and ten times more expensive than on Earth, depending on the process and material inputs. As an example, a product that requires $55/kg of labor input on Earth would cost $550 to produce on Mars. Given import costs, production on Earth or Mars is equally favored at this price. Since relatively few tangible products require that much hand labor, a Mars city of a million people makes nearly everything locally.

Let’s explore cost implications for exports. For a SpaceX Starship flying 100 T to Mars, approximately 15,000 T of propellant would be burned, costing perhaps $10m, or 20% of the overall ticket price. The rest covers overhead, including amortization of the Starship’s manufacture. A returning Starship can return about 20T of cargo for 1200T of propellant burned, requiring about 500 megawatt-days (that is, one megawatt for 500 days) of electricity to synthesize from CO2 and water. If 50% of the return ticket cost is fuel, then wholesale electricity prices on Mars are about 16c/kWh, comparable to electricity prices in California in 2010 before solar crushed everything. Today solar costs are around 2c/kWh including storage, so we find that Mars power cost increase is consistent with the 10x labor price increase. This is slightly troubling as labor scarcity would prefer to exploit electric power where available. However, for all but the most power intensive processes the electricity cost is not very important. These power intensive processes include desalination, electrolysis, aluminum smelting, sodium production, and in particular propellant production, which is why shipping stuff back to Earth remains expensive despite other advances.

The terms of the competition invite contestants to examine the potential for exports. Broadly these may be divided between physical products, which need to be physically transported, and knowledge products, which may be sent by radio or laser.

Let’s examine the trade balance. A million people on Mars each costing $500k/year implies a total GDP of $500b. If 5% of GDP ($25b) is spent on imports with an average price of $1500/kg including shipping, then the city imports 16,000T of cargo (160 Starships, in addition to perhaps triple that number carrying externally-funded migrants) per year. Since most humans on Mars stay, let’s say 500 Starships are available per year for exports, with a total capacity of 10,000 T, and costing $2b to fuel. If the city aims to earn back that $25b in exports then it needs to sell $27b of goods, implying a value density of $2700/kg. This is substantially higher than the make/buy threshold of $55/kg discussed above. This disparity rules out essentially any commodity product, as they are available more cheaply on Earth. As far as material exports go, the city needs Mars-unique branded premium goods or, potentially, rare minerals of highly unusual local abundance.

At about $50,000/kg, technically gold and platinum-group metals could qualify, if and only if their local production costs were, for some reason, far lower than on Earth, and Earth demand remains strong. For example, Earth’s annual production of gold is about 2500 T. Even if Mars could produce gold at a competitive price, it couldn’t export more than about 250 T/year without demand elasticity causing the price to fall. 

The implications of this discussion for local production, import, and export are displayed pictorially in the product graph in the previous section.

As an aside, fueling 700 Starships a year (or 1500 per launch window) would require about a gigawatt of electricity. Assuming that fuel production consumes 30% of the city’s power, the total area of solar panels is about 100 square kilometers, or 100 square meters and 3 kW per person. (This is assuming 500 W/m^2 insolation at Mars, 20% panel efficiency, 0.3 capacity factor. Roughly twice the US per-capita consumption.)

The other potential export is information. Traditional suggestions include Martian IP to be licensed on Earth. In general, however, the high relative cost of labor is a strong forcing function for all non-essential knowledge labor to be non-local. That is, for any task that doesn’t require either physical access or temporal immediacy, Martian companies would be well served to hire contractors on Earth and import (not export!) their software and databases. In the early days of the city, large dedicated teams on Earth would support individuals on Mars to optimize their productivity and tele-operate machinery. By the time the city reached a million people, this had largely given way to free enterprise. Meanwhile the falling cost of Mars labor justifies the hiring of Earth-based assistants, but not necessarily individualized teams. Another model might be distributed organizations where Earth-based engineers develop products inspired by observation and operation of facilities on Mars, then share profits as a form of ongoing R&D investment.

How does the Mars economy work?

The Mars economy is structured similarly to any country on Earth that specializes in mining and manufacturing, such as Germany, South Korea, Japan, or the US. Diverse capital markets with sophisticated risk management enable aggressive investment and expansion of critical infrastructure. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here.

Fiscal policy is streamlined to maximize the exchange of value mediated by money, with the US dollar being an obvious and safe choice. Inevitable market failures are managed through a combination of reactive taxation and direct subsidy. Policy is improved based on quantitative assessment of effectiveness, rather than ideological theorizing. A successful economic policy is mostly invisible, while unnecessary complexity increases transactional overhead and impedes the flow of value.

Much ink has been spilled speculating as to the ultimate source of funding for a Mars city. Who pays for it all? It is worth remembering that the most valuable thing migrants bring to Mars is not the paper in their wallets, but the skills in their mind, the strength in their body, and the flinty determination in their eye. Enable the economic and physical mechanisms to permit mass migration and the rest will follow.

Social/cultural/political aspects

What should Martian society be like? What is the human experience on Mars? Some visions of life on the frontier foresee abridgment of human freedom and hard, short lives. Yet throughout history economic growth and productivity has always walked hand in hand with facilitation of individual excellence for all. The single greatest asset of Vision 2040 are the people who choose to build it, and their celebration of human capability reassures us that life on Mars, while difficult in some ways, is exciting and empowering.

Social consequences of self-selective migration

A million people on Mars, and every single one surmounted substantial hurdles to be there. Like other elite self-selective communities with a high barrier to entry, Mars society is shaped by ambition, celebration of achievement, and a strong work ethic. From the Peace Corps to Everest, SEAL Team Six to Grad School, there is something different and special about existing in a community where drive and determination replace sloth and angst. The same on Mars, only more so.

Moving to Mars and building a new world isn’t for everyone. But for people who live for a challenge and love the frontier, it is the only place to be. It is the most focused concentration of passion and feverish innovation in the history of humanity. A place for doers to get stuff done unencumbered by the legacy of fifty centuries of business as usual.

Freedom of labor

Everyone who moves to Mars has both skills and the ability to develop them, but continuing development presents two unusual challenges. First, maintaining high morale and productivity in a workforce that cannot “rotate home” requires freedom to vary employment, alternate gigs, and develop new skills on the job. Second, very few jobs on Mars do not change rapidly as automation and AI steadily consume the industrial stack. Therefore, the design of the collectively lived environment must be continually iterated through open contributions to maximize learning and performance improvement. This means the normalization of hacking reality to enable technological miracles.

Any Mars city will suffer a continuing labor shortage, ensuring that employers compete to attract and retain the best workers. By removing barriers to competition in the labor market, we can ensure optimal alignment between interests and needs. 


High costs drive labor outsourcing to Earth, where air is free. Any task that doesn’t require physical proximity or real-time interaction are mostly done by professionals on Earth. Such jobs include software development, planning, remote operation of mines and other machinery, and environmental monitoring. People on Mars work closely with assistants on Earth who monitor their work environment and implement constant improvements via augmented reality interfaces or backend software improvements. Imagine waking up to find that “the fairies” have fixed the previous day’s problems!


Ensuring long term high productivity of the labor force precludes 20 hour work days, so Martians have plenty of time to engage in non-work activities. Whether art, music, sports, cooking, literature, or any of a million other things, the Martian do-ocracy enables well-motivated people to build whatever they want or need to perform their activities. As a result, the culture is explosively creative and varied, like Burning Man but a hundred times bigger. 

With readily available Kevlar-reinforced ETFE to create pressurized volumes, there’s no reason to cram everyone together. Most people live in dense walkable neighborhoods to facilitate easy access to the needs of life, but there are few practical limitations on pressurized volume. Fly a section of roof a kilometer high, plant a forest of giant redwoods, and export Martian lumber at $3000/kg. Throw a tent over a nearby mountain, keep it cool, and operate a ski slope. Pressurize a volume to 4 bar and have human-powered ornithopters fly in the low gravity, while executing a game of 3D golf. Perfect a Martian pizza recipe. Build a ranch and farm mutant dwarf buffalo. With a nearly automated industrial stack, an embarrassing surplus of nearly all material resources and an unbuilt planet, there’s no reason to think small or slow.


Science fiction city design is always a good opportunity to flog some personal hobby horse and governance is no exception. It’s always easier to identify problems from a distance than to do the dirty work of actually building peaceful consensus among us lightly-evolved apes. So instead of dictating how Martian governance functions on some untested theoretical level, I will instead interrogate the very notion of government. 

Why have one? What sort of functions does leadership perform?

While an early Mars base can exist as a self-organizing anarchic collective much like scientific research stations in Antarctica, as organizations grow their management difficulties also grow.

The functions of industrial development being largely devolved to subject-specific corporations, the responsibility of government is to safeguard peace and prosperity. This requires: 

  • Performing diplomacy with sovereign representatives on Earth and other bodies.
  • Regulation/legislation, with an emphasis on continual compression of the code.
  • Promoting liberty and administering justice.
  • Promotion of prosperity.
  • Provision of public goods.
  • Self-regulation and improvement.

In accordance with enlightenment views, the leadership should govern by consent and maintain accountability for actions performed in the public service.

Of the six major functions listed above, the one that varies most from typical political or corporate governance models is self regulation and improvement. As the Mars city grows the demands on governance continually change. It is highly unlikely that an optimal governance structure can be generated by induction on the first try. Instead, mechanisms and practices must be continually tweaked and updated to ensure that the government remains a nimble servant of the public’s needs. The single most important function of the government is to maintain and improve the mechanism by which it improves itself.

I do not regard myself as an expert on systems of governance but I can imagine worse places to start than a bicameral representative democracy. It has, afterall, worked in Iceland for nearly 1100 years.

Corporate governance is intentionally not prescribed. The strongest political and economic systems are syncretic, which is to say diverse and inclusive. For example, some industrial functions may be well-served by a traditional corporate governance structure, while others may function best as worker-owned cooperatives following the Mondragon model, or anything in between. 

Better than Earth?

What is the success condition? Beyond industrial autarky and meeting material needs, how does a city of a million people know they’ve “made it”? Certainly migration appeal turns steadily more mainstream, but consider instead the lived experience of Martian-born children.

There is no reason to suppose that children could not exist and have happy lives on Mars from the very earliest days, but as far as labor goes, importation is much faster and cheaper, on Mars, than making new humans from scratch. Indeed, even on Earth it is generally considered easier to hire people to perform tasks than to make them oneself. We no longer have children to ensure financial security and care in old age. Like the Mars city itself, the objective is to perform a worthy activity and minimize accompanying financial losses, rather than execute with the expectation of profit for external investors. It turns out that the set of things that make money overlaps incompletely with the set of human activities that are worthwhile. 

Thus the economic senselessness of rearing children on Mars is a microcosm of the overall economic senselessness of building the Mars city in the first place. Since we agree that a Mars city must be built despite its inevitable consumption of enormous quantities of treasure, we may sensibly ask: Why is Mars the best place to be a child?

Children are the future. A child raised today on Earth may not believe that the best of human civilization is yet to come. The old frontiers are closed, the population is rapidly aging, and many institutions are calcified around a stable consensus view of the way business is done. As beings that grow into our future, our future on Earth is not as unlimited as it once was.

A child growing up on Mars is as separated from authentic wilderness as any Earthborn city kid, but they have the benefit of being around adults who believe powerfully in the future, knowing that their world needs them and has a meaningful place for them. 

Who could take that from a child?


A nearly self-sufficient city of a million people on Mars is a stupendously ambitious project. Technically, economically, and socially it is possible, that is to say, not forbidden by the laws of physics. But building the Mars city “Vision 2040” requires more than physical possibility. It needs millions of people to make this project their life’s work. And that requires something else.

All successful large scale collaborative projects obviously had sufficient technical execution. But they also evince love and celebration of beauty. Wikipedia, Linux, the Internet, the American experiment. It is not enough to be a good idea, or to assemble some patchwork constituency who kind of like it. It has to also inspire the profoundly human response of collective nurturing.

We have come to the Vision 2040 aesthetic. Vision 2040 is both a physical place and a powerful idea. It may be perceived through the senses and through the mind. These factors reinforce harmoniously to invoke a sense of the numinous. A sense of vertigo, that humanity is collectively teetering on the brink of a significant moment, a birth of history and a death of our confinement to the planet of our origin. It is this feeling that motivates my Terraformed Mars art project, where I have made planetary scale renders of a Mars with life and water.

The power of this vision has been employed by Elon Musk in his recruitment of idealistic genius engineers at both Tesla and SpaceX, but for Vision 2040, it must go further. Moving to Mars is a significantly bigger and more permanent commitment than moving to a foreign country. Vision 2040 exerts powerful magnetism on the ambitious and idealistic. At $200,000 per ticket, the pitch has to be better than “maybe come to Mars, maybe you won’t die”. 

Beauty in form – the physical environment

Let’s imagine the process of becoming a Mars migrant. 

We have a good life on Earth among family and friends, but we remember our earliest memory of contemplating the stars on a chill fall evening. Like everyone, we’ve followed the last two decades of progress on building a Mars base. Early setbacks. Improbable victories. Now, it looks like it’s going to stick. Little by little, we realize that our vision for Mars includes us being there.

Of course, even now private migration is only just possible. Get recruited, sell everything, get a loan. We don’t remember ever having seen that much money, let alone spending it on a single thing. It’s like a briefcase stuffed with cash.

Not that the money matters, not really. Plenty to be made on the other end, or in any number of jobs back here on Earth. Beyond a certain point, additional money just buys anxiety rather than freedom. No, the real investment isn’t a distillation of personal possessions and a tearful goodbye. It’s putting our body and mind out there, adding our voice to the swelling chorus filling this splinter of humanity on the dusty Arcadia Planitia. 

The launch window approaches, a relentless schedule of tasks necessary to shut down a life at 1 AU and restart it somewhat further out. Our friend drives us to the airport, we give them our car keys as we haul a carefully weighed duffel of mostly old teeshirts into the bowels of the transport machine. Will we meet again?

The usual buffeting as the suborbital electric jet drops through the sound barrier over Brownsville. Seemingly minutes later up the elevator, across the gantry, and into the Starship through its scorched and still warm hatch. So, that’s what Earth looks like from space. Surprisingly shiny in the sun. Smooth at this scale. Then four months in deep space, about which said the less the better.

Mars, a bright star, grows to a turning disk, the city lights just visible beneath the dawn terminator. Patches of ice on the higher mountains. A few moments of tension, then mere minutes of noise and force. Landing with a bump. 

A spiral shaped vehicle access gantry locks on, a crowded corridor of faces, small spaces reflected in myopic eyes. Stepping over the threshold blinking into the day’s red light, we are refugees from Plato’s cave. 

Tented roads stretch from the Starport back towards a crescent shaped city complex, with various satellite facilities and enormous fields of solar panels. A hint of green beneath the shiny plastic in the distance. The road takes us past older landing pads and starships, now being subsumed into the growing city.

The road tent passes through a steel bulkhead and opens up into a cavernous volume filled with giant redwoods, their dark evergreen needles fluttering noiselessly as we, the newest Martians, stare.

We alight at a central plaza surrounded by four and five story structures, windows open to the mild air. We had arranged living quarters in a modern apartment. A compact and cozy place with a decent view and common facilities for eating and entertainment. It looks like it had been finished about two weeks before, and it probably had. Our shift began that afternoon, so we resolved to walk there by the least direct route. Light gravity feels like flying. On the way we grabbed a tasty snack from a venerable looking food truck emblazoned with the proud words “established in 2027”.

At work, a placard reminded us that doubling productivity in two years requires only 2.7% improvement per month, or 0.1% per day. Better get going!

Beauty in function – the power of an idea

We’ve lived on Mars for 500 days now. They’ve passed in a blur, and yet in that time the city has changed noticeably. One section is kept how it was at the beginning, and sometimes a bewhiskered old timer tells war stories about how it used to be, back when the dirt beneath our feet was exposed to the vacuum of space. 

We thought this day would be a big one. A go/nogo decision whether to return to Earth or stay at least another two years until the next launch window. Most employers offer a rotation bonus to stay, because transport is so expensive, but we didn’t give it a second thought.

We’ve only had one birthday since leaving Earth and yet that seems like a previous life. Our whole life on Earth could be fit into about two weeks here. We see tangible evidence of our progress as we wrest order and life from the chaos that has been here since the beginning of the universe.

Less evangelizing. It’s not as obvious if you’re not living it. What is happening here? A million people – more than we will ever meet, all moving to the same rhythm. The challenge is clear, it confronts us every day and taunts us. Will we establish a permanent foothold or will we slip into the void?

We monitor progress in all kinds of ways. The most concrete is the actuarial table which shows us how long it would take to run out of essential supplies in the event of supply chain degradation. Right now, we could survive 10% degradation indefinitely, and 100% degradation for seven Earth years. And that’s the best it has ever been. 

Can you imagine how it feels to be in this position? On the one hand, only two doses of bad luck from oblivion. And on the other, complete autonomy and empowerment to do whatever we can to help the situation. When I look around at the million here solving problems every day I have a tangible grasp of the inherent capability of humanity. We have the audacity to abandon the dysfunctional old ways and try something new. Experiment. Unleash creativity.

It is hard to explain but easy to see. Look around. It turns out that the frozen dead Martian soil was a fertile substrate for our dreams. That’s why four of my old Earth friends are already on their way.


All images, graphs, and data © the author unless otherwise attributed. These were originally footnotes – check the pdf for context.

For more on industrialization, check out my Mars Society 2018 talk

Domes suck:

Contrary to popular belief, lack of radiation shielding is not a showstopper. 

Inflatable plane:

Highest density human habitation ever:

For Earth-Mars internet synchronization, see Mars Colonies. F. Crossman (ed). The Mars Society, 2019. p. 163. (J. Greenblatt and A. Rao.)

Mole, A, and Frank Williams. Baseline Design for a Mars Colony. Website: p. 7, for specifics on Mars nuclear power.

Most likely obtained from a “rodwell” melted into subsurface ice. Wooster, Paul. Personal communication, 2020. See also:

For incompatible keyed interconnections, see e.g. 

For a thorough Mars city simulator focused on material cycles, see SIMOC:

Mars Colonies (ibid), 2019 p. 89. (C. Plevyak and A. Douglas).

For a great summary of ore processing chemistry, see: Mars Colonies (ibid), 2019. pp. 57-66. (J. D. Little).

Notable autarky failures include Cuba, Albania, North Korea, Cambodia, Brazil, Yugoslavia, and Romania. Most didn’t even get close, but all had agriculture, air, warmth, and more than a million people.

McMaster-Carr Catalogue:,98%25%20of%20items%20from%20stock.

Simplified industrial parts catalog suggested by Marinova, Margarita. Personal communication, 2020.

Aldrin, B. Mission to Mars. National Geographic, 2013. p. 176.

Economic difficulty of exploiting space resources:

MacDonald, Alexander. The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War. Yale University Press, 2017.

Werner von Braun’s “Mars Project”

Zubrin, R and R. Wagner. The Case for Mars. Touchstone, 1996. p. 37.

For a discussion of MarsSpec standardization, see: Mars Colonies (ibid), 2019. p. 141 (K. Nebergall). See also 

Mars working conditions:

For historical examples of exceptional innovation and speed of execution, see:

Less conventional commercial structures:

Zubrin, R. Entering Space. Putnam, 1999. p. 114.

Explored in Mars Colonies (ibid), 2019. pp. 193-194. (A. Dworzanczyk).

But why?

The power of love:


Explored in Mars Colonies (ibid), 2019. p. 423. (S. Schur). Housing built according to demand.

Zubrin, R. The Case for Space. Prometheus, 2019. p. 116.

From the AstraZeneca comments

Transverse Myletitis has a background incidence of 4/million in the US. Currently there are 2 cases reported out of 18,000 people who have already been administered the vaccine. Of those two, one was diagnosed with concurrent MS (another neurodegenerative autoimmune condition known to cause TM and whose population has a 2000% relative risk increase in developing TM depending on criteria used) and one has not had details released.

With 18,000 data points, a “1%” risk would require there to be 178 missed cases. Odds of that are astronomically low. Much more likely, if there were any real correlation (which again seems rather unlikely) we are looking at something 80+) and would STILL result in fewer deaths than waiting. If the choice were this or letting Covid become endemic with just an influenza fatality rate, this would again be the more ethical choice. Economically 1.1 million being totally disabled would be somewhere around $3 trillion, which again would be vastly cheaper than ending transmission through current social policies. In terms of raw lives lost, a 1% incidence would easily be less than letting Covid run.

People say we need more numbers, but funny enough their doom and gloom scenarios invariably involve scenarios that are necessarily imply that all the trial data to date is spurious and/or that even if true are less deadly than waiting.

And note that this argument has no justification for pausing the trial. With 2 data points, 1 of which is almost certainly spurious for the general population, the solution is to keep administering it.

Reality is that regulators and drug companies are simply not doing a cost benefit calculation that weights the currently dying at all in the US. I am hoping that the drug companies are being amoral profit seekers and are hoping to just browbeat the FDA once the Brits get things settled and the US policy scene (one way or the other) stops being about Mr. Trump.

That is from MR commentator Sure.  And also from him:

The other thing to remember is that a lot of pharma’s actual business is not as much discovery of new entities, rather they buy up rights to a lot of those and then take somebody else’s work through the years long process of approval. For big pharma much of their comparative advantage is in navigating an expensive, byzantine approval process. Take that away and they might face far more competition from smaller firms and potentially foreign firms that can manage the new landscape better.

Lastly, pharma lives in fear of the regulators while trying to suborn them. Going against them FDA bureaucrats (who are unlikely to want to de facto kill their own jobs) risks one of them grinding an axe and slow walking a blockbuster approval or fast walking a biosimilar approval. Either of those actions will easily change the net profit for a pharma firm by more than they could possibly make off a Covid vaccine.

Currently, faster has very little upside for them. They have pre-commitment so they are going to get paid even if they are slow. There are dozen odd vaccines coming down the pike and one, maybe two, will take the lion’s share of the market once the immediate crisis is over. They are mostly doing this to win goodwill and being the guy whose vaccine kills 2,000 people is bad if your competitors kill only 5. From a public health perspective, we would be better with the less safe vaccine a month sooner than the safer vaccine a month later (and ideally we would get both and swap promptly). For the pharma firms, the calculus just goes towards being as slow as the rest of pack and being ungodly thorough.

Perhaps things will improve in a few weeks’ time.

The post From the AstraZeneca comments appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Duo in the Dark

Winter nights on the Chajnantor Plateau can seem incredibly isolating — but the wonder of some of the driest, darkest skies in the world is definitely something to be shared.

This image shows two of the 66 antennas that comprise the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), in which ESO is a partner, as they work together to observe the skies in millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. These wavelengths are notoriously difficult to observe, as water vapour in the atmosphere absorbs this kind of light and prevents it from reaching the ground. To catch sight of it, telescopes must be placed at very high altitudes where the air is drier and less absorbent. For ALMA, that means an elevation of 5000 metres.

Hanging above the pair of telescopes is the constellation of Orion (The Hunter), identifiable by his distinctive star-studded belt. His shoulder is marked by the red supergiant Betelgeuse, on the right of the photo, located just under 650 light-years away from us. Betelgeuse is a prime target for observations in millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths, as is the neighbouring Orion Nebula.

Sunday Night Futures

Schedule for Week of October 18, 2020

• At 8:00 AM ET, Discussion, Fed Chair Jerome Powell, Cross-Border Payments and Digital Currencies, At the International Monetary Fund Annual Meeting - Panel on Cross-Border Payments

• At 10:00 AM, The October NAHB homebuilder survey. The consensus is for a reading of  83, unchanged from 83 in September. Any number above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

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

Oil prices were up over the last week with WTI futures at $40.97 per barrel and Brent at $43.00 barrel. A year ago, WTI was at $54, and Brent was at $60 - so WTI oil prices are down about 30% year-over-year.

Here is a graph from for nationwide gasoline prices. Nationally prices are at $2.15 per gallon. A year ago prices were at $2.66 per gallon, so gasoline prices are down $0.51 per gallon year-over-year.

10,000 Hours

I'm proud to announce that as of this year I've become a world-class expert at chewing.

A Flight over Jupiter Near the Great Red Spot

Are you willing to wait to see the largest and oldest known storm system in the Solar System? Are you willing to wait to see the largest and oldest known storm system in the Solar System?

October 18 COVID-19 Test Results

The US is now mostly reporting 700 thousand to 1 million tests per day. Based on the experience of other countries, the percent positive needs to be well under 5% to really push down new infections (probably close to 1%), so the US still needs to increase the number of tests per day significantly (or take actions to push down the number of new infections).

There were 812,261 test results reported over the last 24 hours.

There were 48,638 positive tests.

ALmost 12,500 Americans deaths from COVID have been reported in October. See the graph on US Daily Deaths here.

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

This data is from the COVID Tracking Project.

The percent positive over the last 24 hours was 6.0% (red line is 7 day average).

For the status of contact tracing by state, check out

And check out COVID Exit Strategy to see how each state is doing.

COVID-19 Positive Tests per DayThe second graph shows the 7 day average of positive tests reported.

The dashed line is the July high.

Note that there were very few tests available in March and April, and many cases were missed (the percent positive was very high - see first graph). By June, the percent positive had dropped below 5%.

Everyone needs to be vigilant or we might see record high cases before the end of October.

MLB Allowing 11,000 Fans At Each NLCS & World Series Game, Knowing It Can Easily Evade Responsibility For Any Virus Deaths (Cases Surging In Texas, Increasing In 43 Of 50 States)

Last Monday, I was looking at the box score for Game 1 of the NLCS and was confused when I saw:

Att: 10,700.

I had missed the news that MLB had decided to allow a limited number of fans into the NLCS games in Arlington, Texas. The attendance figures for the first six games:

G1: 10,700
G2: 10,624
G3: 10,664
G4: 11,044
G5: 11,119
G6: 10,772

MLB will also allow a limited number of fans to attend each World Seies game, which will aso be played in Arlington. No fans were allowed at any of the seven ALCS games in San Diego.

Texas (a state run by a Republican governor who initially (like most members of his party) denied the virus even existed (similar to how they deny the existence of science and facts)) is in Phase 3 of its reopening plan (which one virologist called "beyond stupid"), which allows open-air stadiums to admit up to 50 percent capacity. Arlington's retractable-roof stadium seats 40,300. 

MLB says it has "received the appropriate approvals". But was the go-ahead given by adults who think Jesus rode a dinosaur?

Jeff Passan, ESPN, October 12, 2020:

Fans over the age of 2 – except for those with a medical condition or disability that precludes their use – will be required to wear masks over their noses and mouths. Around 200 employees will roam the stadium to enforce compliance, said Rob Matwick, the Rangers' executive vice president of ballpark operations. While fans can remove the masks to eat or drink, those seen not wearing them will be given two warnings before being ejected from the game if caught maskless a third time. . . .

Behind the scenes, sources said, MLB owners have balked at the idea of playing to empty stadiums next season, and holding the NLCS and World Series with fans [after speaking to "health experts"] will provide the league with proof of concept to see whether it can work as a short-term fix. . . .

Following those conversations, MLB decided against requiring temperature checks for those entering the stadium . . . [There has] not been testing game-day employees for the coronavirus.

Pictures at NLCS Game 1 showed fans not keeping six feet apart and not wearing masks. Other photos show that social distancing was optional during batting practice. Were stadium employees giving warnings to these fans? We have no idea.

As Kenny Kelly of Beyond The Box Score noted (my emphasis):

These fans with masks around their chins standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers from opposite sides of the country were violating the guidelines MLB had in place for the game, but rules are only as good as the ability to enforce them. In a piece at The Athletic last week, Evan Drellich reported that the league was "still formulating its exact instructions for game day staff in the postseason." That was Monday the 5th. Tickets went on sale the next morning, so there's no doubt MLB started selling tickets before they knew [they] could stick to any sort of safety protocol.

Two days ago, the Texas Tribune reported that hospitals in some parts of the state (West Texas, the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Panhandle, and El Paso) are filling up with coronavirus patients and health officials are warning of yet another surge of new cases. On Friday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 5,870 additional cases, raising the statewide total to 815,678.

Arlington is located roughly equidistant between Dallas and Fort Worth, in Tarrant County, where the "Community Spread Level" in Tarrant County is "substantial". Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said this week, after raising the coronavirus threat level to red (the highest risk): "Unfortunately, we are currently going in the wrong direction."

One reason for the increase, according to Dr. Luis Ostrosky, a professor of infectious disease with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, is "pandemic fatigue", which had led fewer people to wear masks or practice social distancing. "They're not seeing people get sick around them, and they're just starting to be a little bit more permissive."

Which is like being told to take two weeks of medication, then noticing after four days that your condition has improved, so you stop taking the rest of the medication. Spoiler Alert: The condition will likely return.

Over the past week, the United States has averaged 56,210 new cases per day, an increase of 28% from the average two weeks earlier. Cases have been rising in 43 of the 50 states, while the president is lying on a daily basis about "rounding the turn" regarding the virus.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred highlighted his incompetence (one of the few things he does quite well), telling the Wall Street Journal that earlier in the season:

I think there was some sense that if you tested enough, the rest of the preventative measures were maybe not as important.

Kelly describes Manfred's so-called leadership: "Make a plan, don't stick to the plan, scramble to fix things when people get sick."

There are going to be new cases because of the decision to allow fans to attend . . . [there will be at least 11 (and possibly 14) games in Arlington]. New cases will invariably lead to deaths.
The reason MLB is allowing this to happen is that it will be next to impossible to prove that attending these games led to someone dying. . . . 

When fans get sick, it's going to be next to impossible to prove that they got sick at the game. [Hannah Keyser of Yahoo reports that MLB "does not have the authority to contact trace people outside the organization".] Even if someone could prove that they contracted COVID-19 at the NLCS or the World Series, they wouldn't be able to sue because of a waiver included in the ticket agreement. . . .

The World Series will be over before anyone has to go on a ventilator, and no one is going to be able to trace the sickness back to Globe Life Field anyway.

A month from now, we're not going to be able to say how many people got sick or died because they or someone they knew/passed in a grocery store went to these games. That's why MLB is holding these games. They know it's not safe, but they don't have to accept responsibility. All they have to accept are cashless payments.

This is still more evidence that Commissioner Manfred is taking his cues about how to act in this crisis from Donald Trump. It's fine to act irresponsibly, putting tens of thousands of lives at risk for illness and/or death because it will be next to impossible for you to be blamed for any tragedy, but, just to be safe, have everyone attending games/rallies sign waivers absolving you of any legal responsibility for your deliberate carelessness.

Links 10/18/20

Links for you. Science:

A multinational listeriosis outbreak and the importance of sharing genomic data
Wild Predators Are Relying More on Our Food—and Pets
Factors Influencing Risk for COVID-19 Exposure Among Young Adults Aged 18–23 Years — Winnebago County, Wisconsin, March–July 2020
Mask use does not increase risk of COVID-19 as viral social media posts claim
Superspreading Event of SARS-CoV-2 Infection at a Bar, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


The inside story of how Trump’s COVID-19 coordinator undermined the world’s top health agency
Republican Judges Are Quietly Upending Public Health Laws. A catastrophic sequence of decisions has blocked states from responding to the pandemic.
Being Homeless Is ‘The Most Horrible Feeling In The World’
Judges’ politics absolutely sway how they decide cases. I crunched the numbers
The U.S. Shouldn’t Be a ‘Sleazy Offshore Principality’
Trump’s COVID Task Force Is Now Openly Rebelling Against Him
How Republicans will try to destroy a Biden presidency
California’s 40 Million People Are Sick of Being Ignored
Inside the Fall of the CDC: How the world’s greatest public health organization was brought to its knees by a virus, the president and the capitulation of its own leaders, causing damage that could last much longer than the coronavirus.
Facing budget cuts, Metro asks riders to select the least bad options
When Covid-19 rules are flouted by ultra-Orthodox Jews, it isn’t anti-Semitism to call it out
Tech Companies Are Destroying Democracy and the Free Press
Where will all the Trump staffers go? Preparing for the worst, the GOP ponders life after Trump (lol)
After 700 Students Test Positive, a College President Resigns (rare episode of accountability)
Fancy footwork fails to disguise Trump’s continuing far-right conspiracist tango at town hall
Act now, wait for perfect evidence later, says ‘high priestess’ of U.K. COVID-19 masking campaign
America Has No Reason to Be So Powerful
Republican voter suppression efforts were banned for decades. Here’s what changed. For the past 40 years, the GOP has been barred from engaging in these kinds of “election security” campaigns.
He Married a Sociopath: Me
The Beloved Barbie Pond on Avenue Q Continues to Bring Delight in the Toughest of Times
At the NBC Town Hall, the President Demonstrated That He Is Completely Insane

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This week

2020 Morning MatterlightbloomingSkylinePPE nowFeet4AMFuture Utopia Phew


My thanks to Kandji for sponsoring last week at DF. Kandji is an Apple device management (MDM) solution built exclusively for IT teams at businesses that run on Apple platforms.

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See a product tour or request access for a demo and get access to a 14-day trial.


w/e 2020-10-18

“Sunday, Sunday here again…”

§ The best music and video I’ve heard and seen this week, or maybe any week this year, is this, Library Takeout by MicrOpaqu3 for Duke University Libraries:

Very splendid. That’s via Ryan Broderick’s Garbage Day newsletter which continues to be very excellent. If you’ve ever thought, “The internet’s so boring these days and not as weird as it used to be,” then subscribe! The internet is still very weird, just in ever different ways.

§ After trying for a while, I caught this part of the view from my home office window in a good evening light, so I now have a new cover photo / banner to use for various services’ profile pages. I have now had my vast social media staff roll out this new branding to Bandcamp, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Mastodon, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube.

Abbey Dore cover photo 2, on Flickr

§ Matt Webb blogged about finding books on his shelves and included a list of the categories into which he’s sorted his books. Having only just finished re-shelving my books I could not resist making my own list, which is here, in order of shelf space, most to least:

  1. American fiction
  2. Science Fiction
  3. Magazines
  4. Other fiction
  5. Essays, lit crit, society, etc.
  6. Comics
  7. Art and design
  8. History
  9. Play and film scripts
  10. Music
  11. Cities, urbanism, planning
  12. Samuel Pepys’ diary
  13. Acting
  14. Movies and movie-making
  15. Games and hobbies
  16. Future studies
  17. Maps
  18. Technology
  19. HardWired
  20. Languages
  21. Poetry

Plus a handful of things that don’t fit elsewhere.

I think the “Essays, lit crit, society, etc.” is my favourite kind of section, and one I will search for in any second hand bookshop. Unless the shop is specialised and/or highbrow enough to have specific sections for literary criticism, essays, and suchlike, there’ll be one or more places where these kinds of hard-to-classify but often interesting books live together.

§ When I wrote that Blogroll Keepers #6 post this week I was slightly disappointed to realise it included four email newsletters but only two blogs. That ratio makes me slightly sad for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.

I don’t think it’s that blogs are “old school” and newsletters feel like a newish fad, having grown in popularity over the past couple of years. Because, while I may sometimes be too fixated with old internet things, I enjoyed email newsletters back in the 1990s before blogs.

Maybe I (ridiculously) find newsletters slightly unseemly, as if authors choose them as a medium because they love the numbers and details they get about subscribers that they don’t get from blogs, even with web analytics. I don’t know.

I definitely feel some kind of (probably illogical and unappealing) reverse snobbery in me, as if I’m thinking, “Oh, you think you’re too good to post your thoughts on a blog do you? You have to publish a newsletter because your thoughts are so profound? Really? Why don’t you go the whole hog and start a podcast if you think you’re that great?” I don’t know where that comes from.

I can definitely see the appeal of having a newsletter. I imagine that sending out an edition feels more like “publishing” in the sense of creating a final version that’s distributed around the world, like printing a newspaper or magazine. Exciting!

On the other hand publishing a blog post can feel more like sticking up a piece of paper somewhere and hoping people happen to pass by and notice it. Especially if you’re a curmudgeonly arse (hi!) and do next to nothing to tell people about it.

I’m probably just envious.

§ This week we watched the two-part Empire Falls from 2005, knowing nothing about it. We both independently assumed it had been adapted from a stage play because the dialogue felt really artificial, in that way that plays can. Every person’s first entrance felt like they were walking onto stage, having to announce their arrival and establish their character with a few choice lines and dramatic gestures. Turns out it was adapted from a novel by the author, Richard Russo. Anyway, it was fine, although I’m not sure we’d have stuck with it if it had been much more than two episodes.

After last week watching the movie mid90s, about a new entrant to a group of young male skateboarders in Los Angeles in the 1990s, this week we watched a movie that was entirely the opposite: Skate Kitchen, about a new entrant to a group of young female skateboards in New York in the present day. As you can see, it’s impossible to imagine a more different film. I’m so funny. Anyway, it was really good and I enjoyed it a lot.

§ “Oh that Sunday sleep”

Read comments or post one

Sunday assorted links

1. Redux of my early August piece on why you should moralize less about national coronavirus performance (now ungated).

2. Jet Suit assault teams.

3. Local experimentation with the Chinese vaccine seems to be proceeding very well.

4. The progress of Africa’s largest dam, and the international relations problems it is causing.

5. Can they build a Netflix TV series around a woman chess player?  The article has other interesting features.

6. Good signs for Covid lung damage recovery (NYT).  Not the final word, but you will note I have not been pushing the “long-term damage” line here at MR.  Just as I have not been pushing the Vitamin D thing, weak theory in my view and it gets pulled out of the hat with empirical correlations for all sorts of maladies.

The post Sunday assorted links appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Trends in Educational Attainment in the U.S. Labor Force

The first graph shows the unemployment rate by four levels of education (all groups are 25 years and older) through September 2020. Note: This is an update to a post from a few years ago.

Unfortunately this data only goes back to 1992 and includes only three recessions (the stock / tech bust in 2001, and the housing bust/financial crisis, and the 2020 pandemic). Clearly education matters with regards to the unemployment rate, with the lowest rate for college graduates at 4.8% in September, and highest for those without a high school degree at 10.6% in September.

All four groups were generally trending down prior to the pandemic.   And all are trending down now.

Unemployment by Level of EducationClick on graph for larger image.

Note: This says nothing about the quality of jobs - as an example, a college graduate working at minimum wage would be considered "employed".

This brings up an interesting question: What is the composition of the labor force by educational attainment, and how has that been changing over time?

Here is some data on the U.S. labor force by educational attainment since 1992.

Labor Force by EducationCurrently, about 60 million people in the U.S. labor force have a Bachelor's degree or higher.  This is almost 42% of the labor force, up from 26.2% in 1992.

This is the only category trending up.  "Some college" has been steady (and trending down lately), and both "high school" and "less than high school" have been trending down.

Based on current trends, probably more than half the labor force will have at least a bachelor's degree at the end of this decade (2020s).

Some thoughts: Since workers with bachelor's degrees typically have a lower unemployment rate, rising educational attainment is probably a factor in pushing down the overall unemployment rate over time.

Also, I'd guess more education would mean less labor turnover, and that education is a factor in lower weekly claims (prior to the pandemic).

A more educated labor force is a positive for the future.

SpaceX launches another batch of Starlink satellites

A Falcon 9 rocket blasts off from pad 39A at 8:25 a.m. EDT (1225 GMT Sunday. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launched 60 more Starlink internet relay platforms into orbit Sunday as the company ramps up network testing in Washington state and touts a streak of nearly 300 satellites launched since June without a spacecraft failure.

Nine Merlin 1D engines fired up and powered the Falcon 9 rocket off pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:25:57 a.m. EDT (1225:57 GMT) Sunday, marking the 14th Falcon 9 mission dedicated to deploying satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network.

The kerosene-fed engines throttled up to produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust, driving the Falcon 9 rocket to the northeast from the Florida’s Space Coast. Two-and-a-half minutes later, the first stage booster shut down its engines and detached to begin descending toward SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.

The second stage’s single Merlin engine ignited to continue the mission into orbit, and the Falcon 9’s two-piece nose shroud jettisoned nearly three-and-a-half minutes into the flight.

The 15-story first stage booster nailed its landing on SpaceX’s drone ship around 400 miles (630 kilometers) northeast of Cape Canaveral. It was the sixth trip to space and back for this particular booster — designated B1051 — after its debut on an unpiloted test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in March 2019.

At the same time, the Falcon 9’s upper stage delivered the 60 Starlink internet satellites into a preliminary orbit. The upper stage engine later reignited to maneuver the payloads into a near-circular orbit 172 miles (278 kilometers) above Earth, with an inclination of 53 degrees to the equator.

The 60 flat-panel satellites separated from the rocket at 9:29 a.m. EDT (1329 GMT) to conclude SpaceX’s 70th straight successful mission. A camera on the upper stage showed the 60 satellites — each with a mass of about a quarter-ton — flying free of the Falcon 9 over the Indian Ocean.

“Great way to start off a Sunday,” said Andy Tran, a production supervisor at SpaceX who hosted the company’s launch webcast Sunday.

SpaceX said its two fairing recovery ships caught both halves of the fairing from Sunday’s launch as the clamshells came back to Earth under parachutes. The net on one of the vessels gave way as the fairing settled into orbit, but SpaceX said its ocean-going recovery team was OK.

With the satellites launched Sunday, SpaceX has placed 835 Starlink broadband relay stations into orbit, including prototypes that won’t be used for commercial service. That extends SpaceX’s lead in operating the largest fleet of satellites in orbit.

The new Starlink spacecraft, built by SpaceX in Redmond, Washington, were expected to unfurl solar panels and activate krypton ion thrusters to begin raising their altitude to roughly 341 miles (550 kilometers), where they will begin providing broadband service.

SpaceX plans to operate an initial block of around 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbits 341 miles above Earth. The company, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has regulatory approval from the Federal Communications Commission to eventually field a fleet of up to 12,000 small Starlink broadband stations operating in Ku-band, Ka-band, and V-band frequencies.

There are also preliminary plans for an even larger fleet of 30,000 additional Starlink satellites, but a network of that size has not been authorized by the FCC.

SpaceX says the Starlink network — designed for low-latency internet service — is “still in its early stages,” and engineers continue testing the system to collect latency data and speed tests. In a filing with the FCC dated Oct. 13, SpaceX said it has started beta testing of the Starlink network in multiple U.S. states, and is providing internet connectivity to previously unserved students in rural areas.

On Sept. 28, the Washington Military Department announced it was using the Starlink internet service as emergency responders and residents in Malden, Washington, recover from a wildfire that destroyed much of the town.

Earlier this month, Washington government officials said the Hoh Tribe was starting to use the Starlink service. SpaceX said it recently installed Starlink ground terminals on an administrative building and about 20 private homes on the Hoh Tribe Reservation.

“We’ve very remote,” said Melvinjohn Ashue, vice chairman of the Hoh Tribe. “The last eight years, I’ve felt like we have been paddling up river with a spoon and almost getting nowhere with getting internet to the reservation.

“It seemed like out of nowhere, SpaceX just came up and just catapulted us into the 21st century,” Ashue said Oct. 7. “Our youth are able to do education on line, participate in videos. Tele-health is no longer going to be an issue, as well as tele-mental health.”

In an FCC filing last week, SpaceX representatives wrote that the company had successfully launched and operated nearly 300 new Starlink spacecraft since June without a failure.

“SpaceX continues investing in its rapid network deployment, including launching as many as 120 satellites a month and installing extensive ground infrastructure across the country,” SpaceX told the FCC.

SpaceX appears to be on pace to launch more than 120 satellites in the month of October.

The company added 60 satellites to the Starlink network with a Falcon 9 launch Oct. 6, and put up another 60 spacecraft Sunday. A Falcon 9 rocket is tentatively scheduled for liftoff from pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:36 p.m. EDT (1636 GMT) Wednesday with another flock of Starlink satellites.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Halloween Mickey

Observed on Riggs St NW, between 18th and 19th, Dupont Circle, D.C.:

Halloween Mickey

Falcon 9 investigation ongoing as SpaceX continues Starlink launches

Falcon 9 Starlink 14 launch

WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched another set of Starlink satellites Oct. 18 as the investigation into another Falcon 9 launch abort more than two weeks ago continues.

The Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 8:25 a.m. Eastern. The rocket’s upper stage deployed the payload of 60 Starlink satellites 63 minutes after liftoff. The rocket’s first stage, making its sixth launch, landed on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean.

With this launch, SpaceX has now placed 835 Starlink satellites into orbit. However, more than 50 of those satellites have since reentered, including 45 of the 60 “v0.9” Starlink satellites launched in May 2019 and the first two “Tintin” prototypes launched in February 2018.

Starlink is currently in a private beta test of its broadband internet system, and the company has said it plans to offer a more public beta test before the end of the year. In both the launch webcast as well as recent filings with the Federal Communications Commission, the company has highlighted early users of the system, such as the emergency management department in the state of Washington, which used Starlink to provide connectivity during recent wildfires in the state, as well as the Hoh tribe in the state, which previously had no broadband access because of its remote location.

The launch is the second Starlink mission in less than two weeks as SpaceX seeks to maintain a rate of roughly two Starlink launches a month to build out the constellation. Those launches have moved ahead while another Falcon 9, carrying a GPS 3 navigation satellite for the U.S. Space Force, remains grounded after a last-second abort Oct. 2 blamed on a problem with gas generators in the rocket’s first-stage engines.

That scrub led NASA to postpone a Falcon 9 launch of the Crew-1 commercial crew mission, which had been scheduled for Oct. 31. NASA announced Oct. 10 it was postponing the launch to the first half of November while the investigation into the scrub continues.

NASA has not issued any updates on the status of the Crew-1 launch, although one NASA webpage lists a launch of no earlier than Nov. 11. “That investigation is ongoing,” Tim Dunn of NASA’s Launch Services Program said at an Oct. 16 briefing about the scheduled Nov. 10 launch of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean science satellite, which will also use a Falcon 9.

Dunn said that there has been a “tremendous amount of testing” since the GPS 3 launch scrub, including taking the Merlin engines from that rocket back to SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, test site for further study. That investigation has involved NASA and Space Force personnel working with SpaceX.

He did not elaborate, though, on the specific problem with the engines or when either the GPS 3 or Crew-1 missions might launch. “We’ve learned a lot. There’s going to be some hardware implications as we move forward, depending on the engines installed on various rockets,” he said.

However, he did not expect the engine issue to delay the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich launch. “As of today, we have a path forward that allows us to do whatever necessary rework may be required and still maintain that 10 November launch date.”


Inter-satellite laser communications improving Starlink performance, as SpaceX expands constellation

The SpaceX Falcon9 B1051 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center’s pad at LC39-A, flying for a sixth time as it carries the fourteenth batch of Starlink satellites aloft on October 18, 2020. Photo: Theresa Cross, SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX launched its fourteenth batch of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral’s LC-39A, at 8:25 a.m. EDT, October 18, 2020, flying into blue Florida skies atop a Falcon9 booster flying for its sixth time.  The return of the first stage booster mere minutes later marked the 62nd successful recovery of a Falcon9 booster, the 32nd to the deck of the ASDS droneship “Of Course I Still Love You”. This is the second Falcon9 to be successfully recovered after a sixth mission.

Today’s launch came on the heels of recent announcements that beta testing of the Starlink system is yielding positive results, with very low latency reported alongside download speeds in excess of 100 Mbps. One early stage deployment which made international news saw SpaceX swiftly deliver critical communications capabilities to the firefighters, support teams and citizens fighting to save and stabilize wildfire-ravaged communities in the northwest.

In a tweet from @waEMD, images were shared which show Starlink deployed in the field. Credit: Twitter/waEMD

During the live broadcast of September’s Starlink 11, SpaceX Senior Program Reliability Engineer Kate Tice confirmed that there had been tests conducted using two satellites which featured ‘space lasers’. “Recently as the Starlink team completed a test of two satellites …that are equipped with our inter-satellite links which we call called space lasers,” she said, “With these space lasers, the Starlink satellites were able to transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data.”

Continued testing and optimization of the inter-satellite communications through the “Space-Laser” feature will be an important component and benchmark to follow as SpaceX’s Starlink network data improves overall transfer rates, allowing latency rates to decrease and out-perform competing communications options. The company plans to mass-enable these inter-satellite links: “Once these space lasers are fully deployed, Starlink will be one of the fastest options to transmit data all over the world,” Tice stated.

SpaceX is preparing for their fifteenth Starlink launch, from SLC-40, on Wednesday, October 21st 12:36 p.m. EDT.

The post Inter-satellite laser communications improving Starlink performance, as SpaceX expands constellation appeared first on SpaceFlight Insider.

Conversations to Watch and Texts to Read

At the start of the month I participated in a couple of online conversations recorded for history.

First was the “Onesimus and Rev. Cotton Mather: Race, Religion, and the Press in Colonial America” organized by the Freedom Forum. This was part of a series titled “Religious Resolve,” and it focused on the response to smallpox in Boston in 1721. Here’s the recording.

Here are some of the texts and studies we mentioned in this discussion: 
  • John Adams’s account of being inoculated against smallpox in 1764.
  • Abigail Adams’s account of having her household inoculated in 1776.
  • Benjamin Franklin’s remarks on his son not being inoculated, in 1736 and decades later.
  • Kathryn Koo’s article “Strangers in the House of God: Cotton Mather, Onesimus, and an Experiment in Christian Slaveholding” (P.D.F. download).
  • Lorenzo J. Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England, 1620-1776 (1942).
  • William D. Pierson, Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (1988).
  • Daniel R. Mandell, Behind the Frontier: Indians in Eighteenth-Century Eastern Massachusetts (1996).
  • Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (2002).
  • Alex Goldfeld, The North End, A Brief History of Boston's Oldest Neighborhood (2009).
  • C. S. Manegold, Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North (2009).
  • Stephen Coss, The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics (2009).
  • Jared Hardesty, Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston (2016).

The second recording comes from the Dr. Joseph Warren Historical Society, founded by Christian DiSpigna and Randy Flood. They’ve been posting a series of video interviews with authors and invited me to be a guest host for a conversation with Serena Zabin about her new book The Boston Massacre: A Family History. That recording is here.

In addition to Zabin’s new book, we talked about some older texts, and here’s what I remember:
  • Hiller B. Zobel, The Boston Massacre (1970).
  • The Legal Papers of John Adams, edited by L. Kinvin Wroth and Zobel (1965), readable here.
  • A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, Boston’s official report on the event, readable here.
  • My articles on Pvt. John Moies of the 14th Regiment, starting here.

Breast milk and the marketing of breast milk substitutes during the pandemic


Here's an article in the Lancet:

Marketing of breastmilk substitutes during the COVID-19 pandemic by Christoffer van Tulleken, Charlotte Wright, Amy Brown, David McCoy, and Anthony Costello, October 08, 2020DOI:

"It is of concern that the US$70 billion infant formula industry has been actively exploiting concerns about COVID-19 to increase sales, in violation of the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code)1 and national law in many countries.

"Globally, infants who are not exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed.2 Lockdown measures have diminished household income, and the UN World Food Programme estimates that by the end of 2020, 265 million people may be facing food insecurity,3,  4 making breastfeeding even more important. Public bodies that are independent of industry influence, including WHO5,  6 and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,7 have unanimously asserted that no evidence exists to suggest breastfeeding increases the risk of infants contracting COVID-19, and that skin-to-skin contact remains essential for newborn health and maternal health.

"By contrast, large manufacturers of breastmilk substitutes have inappropriately positioned themselves as sources of public health expertise, and suggested various unnecessary hygiene measures, the use of expressed breastmilk, and the separation of mothers from their babies. Such recommendations undermine breastfeeding and thus increase the risk of infant death. Baby Milk Action and the International Baby Food Action Network8 have documented numerous infringements of both the Code and laws associated with COVID-19."

And yet the American trial remains suspended

Those nasty, reckless Brits:

The NHS is preparing to introduce a coronavirus vaccine soon after Christmas. Trials have shown it will cut infections and save lives, Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, has privately revealed.

He told MPs last week that stage three trials of the vaccine created at Oxford University and being manufactured by AstraZeneca mean a mass rollout is on the horizon as early as December. Thousands of NHS staff are to undergo training to administer a vaccine before the end of the year.

The government changed the law this weekend to expand the number of health professionals able to inoculate the public. The regulations will enable pharmacists, dentists, midwives and paramedics to administer jabs.

C’mon U.S. public health authorities, let’s get on this one and demand a resumption of the suspended AstraZeneca trial.  You are advocates of science, right?  You don’t actually want to make Donald Trump correct, do you?  (Maybe that one will work.)

You don’t have to make it the vaccine, as the Brits seem to be doing, you just have to resume the trial, as the even more reckless Japanese did weeks ago.  How about it?

Here is the article from Times of London (gated, but a cheap and worthwhile subscription for foreigners), via Linda Yueh.

The post And yet the American trial remains suspended appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

New Granola Shotgun Location

Granola Shotgun has moved to a new host platform. If I did this correctly (BIG if…) it can now be found via SquareSpace. The domain name remains the same. This may take a week or two to fully kick in so hang in there with me. I’d like to think of this move as a clean slate. A fresh start. A new adventure. I hope you’ll join me.

Solve for the China equilibrium

Chinese government officials are warning their American counterparts they may detain U.S. nationals in China in response to the Justice Department’s prosecution of Chinese military-affiliated scholars, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Chinese officials have issued the warnings to U.S. government representatives repeatedly and through multiple channels, the people said, including through the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The Chinese message, the people said, has been blunt: The U.S. should drop prosecutions of the Chinese scholars in American courts, or Americans in China might find themselves in violation of Chinese law.

Here is more from the WSJ.  Three to four years ago I used to explain to friends and family that I needed to visit China as much as possible very quickly, because soon enough my opportunities would be over.  And it seems that now — even without the Covid factor — we have reached that point.

The post Solve for the China equilibrium appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

ALCS 7: Rays 4, Astros 2

Astros - 000 000 020 - 2  7  0
Rays - 210 001 00x - 4 6 0

The 2004 Red Sox stand alone as the only major league team to win a seven-game series after losing the first three games. All remains as it should be in this tiny corner of the universe.

The 2020 Houston Astros found out on Saturday night that coming back from 0-3 is not so easy. The Astros (who finished the regular season 29-31) were not as great a team as the 2004 Red Sox and the Rays were nowhere near as choke-y as the 2004 Yankees.

Tampa Bay starter Charlie Morton pitched 5.2 scoreless innings (5.2-2-0-1-6, 66), Randy Arozarena continued his torrid hitting with a two-run, opposite-field home run in the first inning, his seventh dong in this postseason, and Mike Zunino added a solo shot in the second and a sac fly in the sixth.

Arozarena was named the ALCS Most Valuable Player, the first rookie position player to win an LCS MVP. He hit .321 average, with four home runs boosting a 1.152 OPS.

Pete Fairbanks nailed down the win for the Rays, but he had a rough start to his night. He came into the game with his team up 4-0, but with Astros on first and third and two outs. He walked his first batter on four pitches (and ball 2 was a wild pitch) and gave up a two-run single to Carlos Correa. He ended the threat by striking out Alex Bregman on a 100-mph fastball up and away.

Fairbanks fanned Kyle Tucker to start the ninth. On 0-2, he fired a fastball (99) up, out of the zone, for ball one, followed with a slider (89) in the dirt that was fouled off, and then went back upstairs with heat (99) and Tucker swung under it. Yuri Gurriel lined a 2-1 pitch to right for a single, and Houston brought the potential tying run to the plate. (One benefit of no crowd: We were spared the sight of fans "praying".)

Josh Reddick (who I learned is the all-time leader in "winner-take-all games played", with nine) got ahead in the count 2-1, but took a strike down the middle and fouled off another pitch before going down swinging, on more Fairbanks gas.

Aledmys Diaz (who had pinch-hit in the eighth, walked and scored) did not produce any drama. He lofted the first pitch to right. Manuel Margot came in a little bit, made the catch, and the celebration began. It was the second pennant for the Rays, who also grabbed the flag in 2008 (though the Red Sox nearly came back from 1-3 in that series).

Morton was the undisputed star of the night. (He was the anti-Kevin Brown.) After giving up a hit with two outs in the first, he retired 14 straight batters before going to his first three-ball count on his 18th batter and walking him. Before the walk, Morton had had only three two-ball counts. He threw 30 pitches in three innings, the same number Lance McCullers (3.2-4-3-1-7, 75) threw in the first inning alone. Morton's pitch count after five innings was 49, one fewer than McCullers' first two innings of work.

Also: McCullers is the first pitcher in postseason history to have two games with 7+ strikeouts and 2 home runs allowed (Games 2 and 7). I doubt that will go on his resume.

Dan Martin, Post:

OK, Yankees fans, here's the good news: the Astros aren't going back to the World Series.

The bad news?

The Yankees' newest rivals, the Rays, are headed there instead — and the Yankees remain the only team to have blown a three-game series lead in the playoffs. . . .

Houston was just the second team to have forced a Game 7 after dropping the first three games of a playoff series, joining the 2004 Red Sox. Unlike Boston, though, the Astros couldn't finish the job.

TBS's broadcast was not atrocious (neither Joe Buck not John Smoltz was involved), but it was marred by Ron Darling's excessive earnestness (which lacked the goofiness that Tim McCarver brought to his overheated observations) and some odd interjections from Brian Anderson, the play-by-play guy.

First, we learned that one of the Astros' "keys to victory" was: "Stars need to shine".  . . . Interesting. In the bottom of the first, Darling told us that plate umpire Lance Barksdale is known to have a wider, "pitcher's" strike zone. Wider than what, you might ask? The rule book, I guess. Darling offered no evidence he found the fact of Barksdale's expanding of the strike zone unusual, unethical, or incompetent. However, considering how few times I yelled at the screen, Barksdale seemed to call a decent game, with his zone favouring no one.

In the bottom of the second, Anderson expressed excessive praise for Rays catcher Mike Zunino. He said Zunino had been "doing damage" in the series (with a .250 average and no walks). He had hit a home run in Game 2, which Anderson described as "long" before also telling us it was estimated at 353 feet. (So it actually barely cleared the wall?) Darling and second analyist Jeff Francoeur poked fun at Anderson for thinking a 353-foot homer was hit a "long" ways, but Anderson doubled down, referring to the "long" dong again a few seconds later. (Then Zunino ended an eight-pitch at-bat by blasting a truly long home run, 430 feet, into the second deck in left. Anderson gushed that Zunino was "in the nitro zone". If you say so . . .)

When Morton was pulled and Nick Anderson came in from the bullpen, Announcer Anderson referred to him as "the closer for the starter", which is a dumb expression I have never heard before. Anderson retired his one batter for an inning-ending out, so does he (as the CFTS) get a save for that? Also, when Morton was shown on the bench, the on-screen graphic said he allowed one hit. He had been pulled after giving up his second hit.

At various times, TBS put tweets from other players on the screen. This was wholly unnecessary as the only insight they provided was that major league players are no more pithy than the average fan. Comments like "This is the moment" or a tweet with a player's name and a bicep emoji can only piss off the viewer, thus providing negative value to a broadcast.

2020 is only the third season in which the LCS in both leagues have gone the full seven games. Of course, the ALCS was expanded to seven games fairly recently (in 1985), so this has been possible for only 35 years (omitting 1994). Three out of 35 seasons (2003, 2004, 2020) still seems like very low number.

Go, Dodgers!

Is concentration eroding labor’s share of national income?

Here is a new piece from Joe Kennedy, here are his summary points:

Despite the persistent claims that increased market power has hurt workers, the scholarly evidence is weak, while the macroeconomic data is strong and clear in showing that this is not the principal cause.

Labor’s share of income has declined slightly over the past two decades, but not principally because capital’s share of income has increased.

Most of the decline is offset by an increase in rental income—what renters pay and what the imputed rent homeowners pay for their house. This increase is due to restricted housing markets, not growing employer power in product or labor markets.

Antitrust policy is not causing the drop in labor share, so changing it is not the solution. For issues such as employer collusion over wages or excessive use of noncompete agreements, antitrust authorities already have power to act.

Stringent antitrust policy would do little to raise the labor share of income, but it could very well reduce investment and productivity growth. The better way to help workers is with pro-growth, pro-innovation policies that boost productivity.

This probable untruth received a big boost about three years ago, in part through mood affiliation.  Perhaps other data will yet rescue it, but for now I am watching to see how long it will take to die away.  Ten years perhaps?

The post Is concentration eroding labor’s share of national income? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

Announcing Jupiter Release 0.5.1

I’ve prepared a minor release - 0.5.1 - which contains a lot of goodies for recurring tasks. This version introduces:

  • Recurring tasks can have active intervals. Only during this interval will inbox tasks be generated. This can be open ended of course.
  • Inbox tasks from recurring tasks now have the year included in the name.
  • Reporting on habits also shows a “completion ratio” broken down by sub-periods.
  • Inbox tasks now have an actionable date. They’ll be visible to work on one week before this. Recurring tasks have been updated to allow generation of such fields too.
  • Fix a timezone issue with recurring tasks generation.
  • Fix an issue with smart list syncing which caused every smart list to contain every smart list item.

As always checkout the installation instructions to find out how to get hold of the latest version.

UGC 1810: Wildly Interacting Galaxy from Hubble

What's happening to this spiral galaxy? What's happening to this spiral galaxy?