New: Video Theatre

The Ratburger Video Theatre is now open!  You can find direct links to the Theatre page from the Activity tab in the main menu at the top of the page or from the “Meta” widget in the sidebar at the right (or bottom of the page for narrow-screen devices such as mobile phones and tablets).  The Video Theatre page provides directly-embedded videos from an eclectic collection of YouTube channels which are frequently updated, so you’ll usually see something new every day.  The initial set of channels were selected from those to which I subscribe and reflect my own interests.  Please suggest worthy channels in the comments and I’ll add them.  Channels which are only infrequently updated aren’t suitable for the Video Theatre format, nor those with material unkeeping with the tone of the site (for example, those laced with obscenities).  At present, due to how the Theatre is implemented, only videos on YouTube can be shown; I have no way to determine the most recent video for channels hosted on other sites.

The Video Theatre is updated with the latest videos from the channels listed twice a day, at 08:00 and 20:00 UTC—the date and time of the last update is shown at the bottom right of the embedded page.  I may make the updates more frequent once I’m confident I’ve navigated around the submerged crags of YouTube’s data query API quota system, which is bewilderingly opaque.

Getting a link to the most recent video posted on a YouTube channel is remarkably difficult.  Older channels have a “user name” which permits retrieving the latest video with a simple URL request, but most channels now have just a “Channel ID” which looks something like “UCYeF244yNGuFefuFKqxIAXw”.  To get a link to the latest video you have to create a Google Account, open an API Project, add the YouTube Data API, generate an access credential (API Key or [shudder] OAuth 2.0 key pair), compose a query to the googleapis.com site with all of this information, send it via HTTP, wait for the reply which is encoded in JSON format, parse the JSON into a data structure, and finally dig the nuggets of information you need to link to the actual video from the structure.  And then you have to worry about exceeding your quota for API requests, which is imposed both upon the number of requests per day and the request rate per second.  For the hideously gnarly details, see the Updates group post for 2019-03-09.

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Hayabusa2 Samples an Asteroid

Asteroid 162173 RyuguOn February 22, 2019, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) space probe Hayabusa2 (はやぶさ2) which has been exploring the small near-Earth asteroid 162173 Ryugu since its arrival on June 27, 2018, descended to the surface and collected a sample of the surface, which will be stored for eventual return to Earth. Here is a video of the descent, with material thrown up by the thrusters for collection.  The video is sped up by a factor of five.  Note the shadow of the spacecraft on the asteroid’s surface.

Ryugu is a very small asteroid, around 1 kilometre in diameter, discovered in 1999 by a search for near-Earth asteroids.  It is a rare type Cg asteroid, which combines characteristics of types C and G.  Such objects are rich in carbon compounds and very dark: its geometric albedo is between 0.044 and 0.050, reflecting around one third as much light as the Earth’s moon—Ryugu is comparable to a lump of coal.  Surface gravity on Ryugu is 0.00011 metres per second², 1/80,000th Earth’s gravity.

The video was taken by a camera called CAM-H, which was funded by a public subscription campaign.

In April 2019, Hayabusa2 will fire an explosively-formed projectile into the asteroid to sample sub-surface material.  As that is expected to be a very “dynamic” event, the spacecraft will hide on the other side of the asteroid when the projectile is fired: a free-flying camera is planned to image the impact.  The plan is to continue to investigate Ryugu until December 2019, when the spacecraft will depart to return the collected sample to Earth, landing its sample return capsule at the Woomera Test Range in Australia in December 2020.

Here is a Scott Manley video describing the mission.

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Just Published: The Case for Trump by Victor Davis Hanson

“The case for Trump” by Victor Davis HansonVictor Davis Hanson’s The Case for Trump was published today.  The book is available in hardcover, Kindle, and audio book editions.  I suppose we can now expect Hanson, whose previous book was the masterful The Second World Wars, to be redesignated from “eminent classicist and military historian” to “alt-right nativist deplorable”.

The book’s dedication is “For the ‘Deplorables’ ”.  From the preface,

Predictably as president, Trump said and did things that were also long overdue in the twilight of the seventy-three-year-old post-war order.  Or as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger remarked in July 2018 of the fiery pot Trump had stirred overseas, “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretense.”

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Saturday Night Science: Supersonic Civil Aviation


Concorde: first flight 1969-03-02
Fifty years ago today, on March 2nd, 1969, the first prototype Concorde left the ground for the first time in Toulouse, France.  Pilot André Turcat and his flight test crew of four put the new airliner through a modest set of maneuvers to test its handling and controllability, leaving the landing gear down through the entire flight (this was often the case for early test flights at the time).  After a brief flight of just 28 minutes, cut short due to deteriorating weather conditions, Concorde 001 landed normally.  On April 9th, 1969, the British-assembled Concorde 002 made its first flight from Filton, England to RAF Fairford to begin its tests.  Both aircraft would participate in an intense test and envelope expansion programme, achieving supersonic speed on October 1st, 1969, with subsequent flights testing higher speeds up to the operational cruise speed of Mach 2.02 (around 2,154 kilometres per hour [the speed of sound depends upon altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature; if a speed is defined by Mach number the air speed will vary]).   Here is a short contemporary report on the Concorde’s maiden flight.

The advent of supersonic transports (SSTs) such as the Concorde promised a new era in civil aviation.  Just as the first jet transports such as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 had almost doubled the speed of their piston-engined predecessors, the Concorde was more than twice as fast as existing jet airliners.  Concorde would reduce the flight time between London and New York or Washington from more than six hours to a little more than three hours, and would make long-haul flights far more endurable for passengers.  While supersonic airliners were expected to be expensive and fuel-thirsty, the increased speed would allow airline companies to conduct twice as many flights per day with each aircraft, which would compensate for the higher cost.  The prospects looked bright for Concorde: at the time of the first flight, 74 had been optioned by major airlines around the world, including U.S. carriers Pan Am, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Braniff, American Airlines, and TWA.  Eventually, more than 100 non-binding orders were received.

With no competitor project underway in the West, it appeared that Concorde would have the SST market segment to itself for some time.  The European aircraft industry seemed poised to reclaim the technological lead from U.S. airframers.

Concordski

Tupolev Tu-144Concorde was not the first supersonic transport to fly.  On the last day of 1968, the first Tupolev Tu-144 took flight from Zhukovsky airport near Moscow, and went on to beat Concorde to the milestones of first supersonic flight and first flight at Mach 2.  The result of a crash programme and intense campaign of industrial espionage aimed at the Concorde, the Tu-144 was superficially similar but far more crude in design and execution.  It lacked Concorde’s elegantly curved wing which meant its performance at low speeds was poor and it consequently landed substantially faster—it was the only airliner to routinely use a drag parachute when landing.  Concorde could “supercruise”—although it used its afterburners when taking off and to accelerate through Mach 1, once supersonic it cruised without afterburner.  The Tu-144, however, required the afterburner throughout the supersonic phase of flight, which resulted in terrible fuel economy and reduced its range.  The aircraft were very unreliable; in its short operational history of just 102 flights (only 55 with passengers), they experienced more than 226 failures, eighty in flight.  The cabin was so noisy that passengers could not easily converse and often had to pass written notes.  A total of 16 Tu-144s were produced, two of which crashed, including one highly embarrassing crash at the 1973 Paris Air Show.  The last commercial passenger flight was on June 1st, 1978, and the programme was cancelled by the Soviet government in 1983.  The existing aircraft were subsequently used as flying laboratories including, in the 1990s, by NASA.

Here is a documentary about the Tu-144.

U.S. SST

Boeing 2707 SSTWhen the Concorde project was announced in November 1962, pressure grew in the United States to respond in some way.  Interestingly, this pressure did not come from the aircraft manufacturers, all of which had done their own in-house studies of the technology and potential markets and concluded the opportunity for a successful product was marginal.  U.S. airlines, in particular Pan Am and its vocal CEO Juan Trippe, indicated that they would buy Concorde if no U.S. alternative were available, and the Federal Aviation Administration lobbied for government support of a U.S. SST programme.  On June 5th, 1963, U.S. president John Kennedy announced a National Supersonic Transport programme, where cab drivers and hairdressers in the U.S. would be taxed to support the development of a technology which they could not afford to use.  This is “progressive” government.

Originally, work focussed on an airliner designed for domestic routes, as it was believed it was too late to catch Concorde in the international market, but before long the project was re-scoped to build a “Concorde killer” which would be bigger (around 250 passengers to Concorde’s 120) and faster (around Mach 3—50% faster than Concorde).  This would dramatically complicate the design.  Up to around Mach 2 conventional aluminium construction can be used, but the heating at Mach 3 essentially requires titanium skin and external structure, which is much more expensive and difficult to fabricate.  Engine and inlet design become more difficult, and trying to provide both the required range and high speed and acceptable takeoff and landing speeds to operate from existing airports was an enormous challenge.

A number of U.S. aircraft manufacturers bellied up to the government money trough, but it quickly came down to a competition between Boeing, who eventually named their entry the Boeing 2707, and Lockheed, who proposed the L-2000.  The L-2000 was essentially a super Concorde—bigger, faster, but pretty much the same shape and technology.  It was considered the low-risk choice.  Boeing’s entry was—something else again.  The original 2707 had a “swing wing” like the F-111, which would extend for take-off and landing and fold back to the tail to reconfigure in flight as a delta wing for high speed operation.  It was a wide body configuration with seven-abreast seating in economy.  And it would fly at Mach 2.7, thanks to its titanium main structure.

On the first day of 1967, Boeing’s design was chosen.  Hey, it was the Sixties—go for it!  There was only one slight problem with the design: it was absolutely impossible to build.  That swing-wing, fabricated out of recalcitrant-to-machine titanium, which had to work at temperatures between −60 and 300° C, was hideously complicated and heavy, weighing more than two tonnes for the pivot assembly alone.  In the end, they couldn’t make it work, and in October, 1968 the swing-wing was abandoned in favour of a design reminiscent of Lockheed’s entry in the original competition.  All of this led to a multi-year slip in schedule and cost overruns and, in March, 1971, the U.S. congress, over the opposition of the Nixon administration, pulled the plug on the project which, with the loss of taxpayer subsidies, was immediately terminated.

Here is a documentary about the Boeing 2707 débâcle:

False Dawn

By the time Concorde was ready to enter commercial service in the mid-1970s, the economic and political environment had dramatically changed from the time of the first flight.  The Soaring Sixties had given way to the Souring Seventies, and the dramatic increase in oil prices in the aftermath of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo (crude oil prices quadrupled between October 1973 and March 1974) made airlines acutely aware of fuel costs and loath to add a plane as thirsty as Concorde to their fleet.  Further, the advent of the 747 jumbo jet had created a mass market for air travel with low ticket prices, and the market was increasingly driven by price, not speed.  The non-binding order book for Concorde just evaporated, mostly before the end of 1973, leaving only the British and French flag carriers as customers.  Only twenty Concordes were built, with just 14 entering service: seven each for BOAC/British Airways and Air France.  These carriers would continue to operate Concorde as a super-premium service (when I flew a British Airways Concorde from Washington to London in January 1991 the ticket price was 40% higher than first class on a 747) until 2003 when both airlines retired the type.  Concorde suffered only one crash in its operational history, Air France Flight 4590 in July 2000, but the aging aircraft were becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain, and Airbus, who had taken over maintenance for the fleet, announced the end of maintenance support.  Here is a cockpit view of the takeoff and landing of a Concorde flight from London to New York.

This is a view from the passenger cabin of one of the last Concorde flights in 2003.

Here is a BBC documentary about Concorde.

Roaring Twenties

As we’re now only ten months from the start of the Roaring Twenties, we might ask whether civil supersonic flight was a fantasy from a lost age of optimism where we all assumed we’d be going to the Moon on holiday or perhaps just before its time?  It has long been assumed that fuel cost, the inability to fly supersonic over land due to prohibition of sonic booms, airport noise restrictions, and environmental considerations (supersonic airliners fly higher than subsonic jets, where their emissions can contribute to ozone depletion) made a successor to Concorde infeasible.  However, slow progress has been made on all of these fronts and there are interesting things going on which may bear fruit in the coming decade.

X-59A

One of the major problems with supersonic flight is sonic boom.  An object (whether an aircraft, rifle bullet, or super-hero) travelling faster than sound creates shock waves which, if they reach the ground, produce a loud double boom like thunder but sharper and higher pitched which, in extreme cases, can rattle items on shelves or break window glass.  Here in Switzerland, the boys and their F-18 toys sometimes go supersonic and we experience the phenomenon.  You’ll notice it when it happens.  This is rare, but just imagine a hundred supersonic airliners overflying your location every day—no.  A NASA project, being built by Lockheed Martin, called the X-59A QueSST (Quiet Supersonic Transport), will explore “low boom” technology.  By carefully shaping the airframe, the idea is that the usual boom can be shaped into a “thump”, reducing the noise from the bone-shaking 109 dB of Concorde to a mild 75 dB when operating at Mach 1.42 at an altitude of 16.8 km.  If the design works as intended, the plan is to conduct overflight tests of communities in the U.S. to  measure popular perception of the noise level.  First flight is currently planned for late 2021 or early 2022.  Because of the extreme pointed nose on the plane (needed to shape the boom), the pilot has no direct view ahead.  There will be a virtual reality system to provide a synthetic view from cameras mounted on the forward fuselage.

This is a short film about the X-59A.

Independent of low-boom design, there is the phenomenon of “Mach cutoff”.  As I mentioned above, the speed of sound depends upon air pressure and temperature and, in many cases, this creates a situation where there is an altitude above which the sonic boom created by an aircraft is reflected before reaching the ground.  This is very similar to the way submarines exploit thermal gradients in the ocean to hide from sonar detection by adversaries.  We’ve now gotten good enough in monitoring atmospheric conditions, both based upon on-board instrumentation and uplink of data from meteorological instruments, that an aircraft can predict the Mach cutoff ahead of it and, when it’s sufficiently high and strong, fly supersonic over land.  In essence, the trick is that the plane is flying faster than sound at its altitude but slower than the speed of sound in the atmosphere near the surface so the boom never gets there.  It’s estimated that many cross-country flights in the U.S. could operate at Mach 1.2 above the Mach cutoff and reduce travel time by 50% with no sonic boom on the ground.  This would require regulatory approval, but since it would create no additional noise, the only reason to withhold it is inertia and Green Luddite instincts.

Boom Technology

Boom Technology: Overture SSTFounded in 2014, Boom Technology is developing a supersonic airliner called the Overture with a goal of flight at Mach 2.2 for 55 passengers with a range of 8300 km, scheduled for introduction in the middle of the 2020s.   Current work is focussed on the “XB-1 Baby Boom”, a one-third scale flying demonstrator intended to prove the technologies.  It is expected to enter flight test later this year.  The company has raised US$ 151 million in venture capital so far, including US$ 10 million from Japan Airlines.  Unlike some other supersonic ventures, they have not compromised on speed: the joke at the company is that their Wi-Fi password is “mach2.2ordie”.  They do not depend on low-boom or Mach cutoff—they claim the “business case closes” purely for supersonic over-water flight.

Here is a short video about Boom Technologies.

Aerion

Aerion AS2 supersonic business jetAerion Technologies has been working on the concept of a supersonic business jet for years.  The current concept, the Aerion AS2, is a 12 passenger business jet which will cruise at Mach 1.4 over water and exploit the Mach cutoff or Mach 0.95 cruise over land to cut an hour off a typical coast-to-coast flight in the U.S.  It is designed to meet all airport noise standards for new aircraft.  The current development schedule aims at first customer deliveries in 2026.  With three engines, it will be able to make long over-water flights without the costly and fussy ETOPS certification of airliners which many business jet operators are not willing to obtain.  In early February 2019, Boeing announced it had made a “significant investment” in Aerion and concluded an agreement to “provide engineering, manufacturing and flight test resources, as well as strategic vertical content, to bring Aerion’s AS2 supersonic business jet to market. ”

This is a stylish but not very informative video from Aerion about their plans for the product.  I’m not so sure about some of the claims for end-to-end time reductions given the need to refuel due to limited range.

Spike Aerospace

Spike S-512 business jetSpike Aerospace is developing the Spike S-512, an 18 passenger business jet designed with low boom technology and intended to operate, pending regulatory approval, at Mach 1.6 over land.  It is intended for first flight in 2025.

Their promotion seems to be all hype and style, with few details.  Here you go.

Back to the Future?

Will airline passengers fly faster than sound in the future, as I did in 1991?  Dunno.  We’ve been getting dumber, and hence less able to create and maintain advanced technologies.

Still, I am hopeful.  We’ve gotten a lot better at computer modelling transonic and supersonic fluid flows, which means we can design craft with less costly wind tunnel or flight testing.  We’re richer than we were in the 1960s, and understand that there’s a trade-off between time and money.  Maybe before the end of the Roaring Twenties they’ll be saying, “Mach 2—that’s for grandpa.  Let’s go for Mach 3!”.  Or, perhaps, they’ll be digging for grubs with blunt sticks among the wreckage of wind turbines and solar farms.  I’d put either at about equal probability.

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WordPress Version 5.1 Installed

As of 13:34 UTC today, 2019-02-25, the Ratburger.org site is running on the recently-released WordPress 5.1 update.  All of our local modifications to the core code have been integrated into the new version and tested on the “Raw” server before being installed here on the production site.  The update should be completely transparent to users, as it consists entirely of internal changes in the code intended to improve stability and fix myriad flaws and performance problems in the “block editor” which do not and will never use here.

Details of the testing procedure for 5.1 are posted the Updates Group post for 2019-02-24.  This was simultaneously a massive and trivial update of WordPress.  Almost every PHP and JavaScript file in the software was modified.  Since JavaScript and CSS style sheets were modified, if you notice something odd-looking, you might want to try clearing your browser cache (Ctrl-Shift-Delete on many browsers—be sure to clear only the cache, not cookies or browsing history) and reloading the page.  So far, I have noticed nothing in my testing which required clearing the cache, but your kilometrage may differ.

When I say the update was both massive and trivial, among the 906 files which were modified in the update (every one of which had to be reviewed for possible impact on the site), the overwhelming majority contained only changes to enforce “coding standards” which seem intended to make WordPress code not only dumb but also ugly.  In particular, some member of the band of nincompoops decided that left and right parentheses and brackets should be separated from the material they enclose by spaces, a convention used in no natural language of which I am aware nor by essentially any programming language style guide from the 1950s until Microsoft started crudding up their code this way in the 1990s.  So, when you review the changes, what you see are endless pages of stuff like:

89,90c94,96
< if (empty($attachment))
< wp_die(__('Please select a file'));
---
> if ( empty( $attachment ) ) {
> wp_die( __( 'Please select a file' ) );
> }

This, of course, creates endless clutter and potential confusion for any administrator who needs to integrate local modifications to the WordPress code into the update.  In this frenzy of “cleaning up” they did nothing about the hideously long lines of code which, even if broken at white space boundaries by a text editor, obscure the logical structure of the components of the statement.

If you notice anything that doesn’t look right, please note it in a comment.

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Big If Real: Navy Files Patent on Room-Temperature Superconductivity

A long-term technological holy grail is room-temperature superconductivity.  Normal electrical conductors have resistance, and convert part of the electrical energy that flows through them to heat, which is lost.  Superconductivity, a consequence of quantum mechanics, allows an electrical current to flow without any resistance at all, and would allow efficient transmission of electricity over long distances, more efficient motors, and magnetic levitation for devices such as high speed vehicles.

Superconductivity was discovered experimentally in 1911, but was not explained theoretically until 1957 by Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer, who shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in physics for their theory.  The early superconductors required very low temperatures to operate: on the order of the temperature of liquid helium (around 4° K).  It is very expensive to produce liquid helium and keep it liquid: while liquid nitrogen costs about as much as milk; liquid helium costs as much as Scotch whisky.

In 1986 two researchers at IBM Zürich, Georg Bednorz and K. Alex Müller, discovered that some ceramic materials became superconductive at around the temperature of liquid nitrogen (77° K).  They immediately won the Nobel prize for this discovery the next year, but to this day there is no satisfactory theory for how this high-temperature superconductivity works—it is a major unsolved problem in theoretical physics.  Milk is a lot cheaper than Scotch (you can buy as much liquid nitrogen as you wish at your local welding supply shop—just bring a thermos), and there are substantial technological applications of this phenomenon even though we haven’t a clue how or why it works.

But still, liquid nitrogen is messy to deal with.  The ideal would be a superconductor that worked at room temperature without the need for refrigeration.  That’s something you could potentially use to replace copper and aluminium wire in power lines and all kinds of electrical equipment, permitting transmission of power without loss and waste heat.  So far, this has eluded everybody who has attempted to discover it.

On 2019-02-21 a U.S Patent Application, US 2019/0058105 A1 “Piezoelectricity-Induced Room Temperature Superconductor” [PDF], was filed on behalf of the U.S. Navy which claims that by abruptly vibrating a conductor by means of pulsed power it is possible to achieve room-temperature superconductivity.  The patent application modestly notes,

The achievement of room temperature superconductivity (RTSC) represents a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology, rather than just a paradigm shift.  Hence, its military and commercial value is considerable.

There is a great deal of speculation in the patent application as to the mechanism which might cause the electron pairing that produces the superconductivity, but there is no specific claim of a mechanism.  No experimental data are presented to substantiate the claim of superconductivity.

Ratburger member and physicist Jack Sarfatti’s quick take, in an E-mail to his list of correspondents, is:

This seems consistent with my Frohlich pump proposal.
“An electromagnetic coil is circumferentially positioned around the coating such that when the coil is activated with a pulsed current, a non-linear vibration is induced, enabling room temperature superconductivity.”
The pulsed current coil is the resonant Frohlich pump.
 
The effective non-equilibrium temperature of the pulsed device is
 
T’ = T/(1 + k(pulsed current power)]
 
T is the ambient thermodynamic equilibrium temperature when the pulse is switched off.
 
Applying the pulse lowers the effective temperature to the critical temperature Tc for the onset of superconductivity (macro-quantum coherence).
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Dual Engine Failure

You’ve just taken off from an airport and bird strikes have disabled both engines on your airliner.  Sounds like a recent movie based upon a masterful piece of airmanship and fortuitous circumstances ten years ago, doesn’t it?  Here is a cockpit video of a flight crew handling a dual engine failure made in an EASA qualified Full Flight Simulator configured for a recent Boeing 737.  The simulated bird strikes occur at an altitude higher than that of the U.S. Airways Flight 1549 incident, which permitted the crew in this case to return to the airport whence they took off, although bleeding off the excess energy was dicey.

Note that they landed faster than normally and with flaps not fully extended and hence had to use maximum braking which might have created a brake fire.  The simulated fire trucks after wheels stop are particularly impressive.

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Alibaba’s Robot Warehouse

Here is a short video from Business Insider UK about Alibaba’s robotic warehouse.

Who is Alibaba?  According to Wikipedia:

With operations in over 200 countries and territories, Alibaba is the world’s largest retailer and e-commerce company, one of the largest Internet and AI companies, one of the biggest venture capital firms, and one of the biggest investment corporations in the world. The company hosts the largest B2B (Alibaba.com), C2C (Taobao), and B2C (Tmall) marketplaces in the world. Its online sales and profits surpassed all US retailers (including Walmart, Amazon and eBay) combined since 2015. It has been expanding into the media industry, with revenues rising by triple percentage points year on year.

The robots, which can lift up to 500 kg, pick up densely packed bins and bring them to human pickers who place the products in boxes for shipment to customers.  The robots are controlled over Wi-Fi.  They say that after the 60 robots were placed into service, throughput in the warehouse has been tripled and human labour reduced by 70%.

Amazon has been running a robotics challenge to try to eliminate the human pickers.  This is a video summarising the  2017 challenge in Nagoya, Japan.

Here is a video from the MIT team from the 2017 competition.

The Roaring Twenties are 314 days away.

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Monday Meals: 2019-02-18

Sneaking Duck

Sneaking duck: Ingredients

Peking duck (北京烤鸭) is a classic mainstay of Chinese cuisine. It is often a special treat on the menu of Chinese restaurants, requiring diners to order in advance for serving to multiple people. There’s a reason for this: it’s a major production to prepare and serve. The classic recipe takes three days: the first to remove the neck bones and knot the neck, paint the skin with honey and soy sauce, and hang to dry; the second to blow up the skin like a balloon to separate from the meat then blanch in boiling water; and the third to roast the whole duck in a wood-fired oven. As I recall, I’ve only had properly prepared Peking Duck once in my life, when a bunch of programmers at the place I worked in the 1970s arranged a Chinese banquet at a restaurant in Berkeley, California, but long before and after that I’ve made this recipe or variants, which I find excellent, if not authentic, and a tiny fraction of the work. You can look at this as a special treat, but making it couldn’t be easier.

Continue reading “Monday Meals: 2019-02-18”

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Richard Epstein on the Green New Deal

Richard A. Epstein is not usually very excitable, speaking, albeit quickly and at great length, in the form of a legal argument. Fair enough: he is one of the most cited legal scholars in the United States. In the most recent episode of his Hoover Institution podcast, “The Libertarian”, however, he goes into a full-on rant about the “Green New Deal”. The first part, where he discusses the bogus connection between carbon dioxide and climate, is especially valuable. It’s only twenty-six minutes and well worth your time.


Continue reading “Richard Epstein on the Green New Deal”

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The Border Bill

The “bipartisan conference” has laboured mightily and brought forth the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2019” [PDF], “Making further continuing appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal year 2019, and for other purposes”.  It is—wait for it—one thousand, one hundred and fifty-nine pages long.  As Byron York notes,  congressreptiles will have only 40 hours to try to figure out what’s in it before voting on it.

“The wall”, such as it is, is on page 33 (Sec. 230), with a total of US$ $2,370,222,000, or which US$ “1,375,000,000 is for the construction of primary pedestrian fencing, including levee pedestrian fencing, in the Rio Grande Valley Sector”.  Sec. 231, immediately following, lists specific places in which no fencing will be built.

What’s in the other 1157 pages?  Who knows?  I just scrolled to a page (110) at random and came across “to study how mangroves, kelp forests, tidal marshes, and seagrass meadows could help deacidify the oceans”.  Then on page 112,

Sec. 771. Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall submit to Congress a report describing the ways in which conservation programs administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service may be better used for the conservation of ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) and any action taken by the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service relating to the conservation of ocelots.

Dealing with the pressing problems of the nation!

Post any gems you find in the comments.

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“Green New Deal”

Alexandria Occasional-CortexRepresentative Alexandria Occasional-Cortex has been prattling on for some time about a “Green New Deal”.  Today she, along with Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, introduced a bill [PDF] (not yet assigned a number), for a House Resolution “Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”.  Accompanying the resolution is a Frequently Asked Questions [PDF] document.

These, particularly the FAQ, are hilarious.  The House Resolution is basically a statement of goals without any details about how they are to be achieved.  The FAQ goes a tiny bit deeper into the nitty gritty (or, more precisely, the fanatic fantasy) of what is intended.  At least you can’t fault it for not being ambitious.

Upgrade or replace every building in US for state-of-the-art energy efficiency.

Every.  Building.  In.  America.  In ten years.  Well, at least a sense of realism creeps in elsewhere.

We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast, but we think we can ramp up renewable manufacturing and power production, retrofit every building in America, build the smart grid, overhaul transportation and agriculture, plant lots of trees and restore our ecosystem to get to net-zero.

So we won’t be able to entirely eliminate cows and airplanes in the First Glorious Ten Year Plan.  Perhaps, comrade, in the Second.

About those airplanes:

Totally overhaul transportation by massively expanding electric vehicle manufacturing, build charging stations everywhere, build out highspeed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary, create affordable public transit available to all, with goal to replace every combustion-engine vehicle.

“Air travel stops becoming necessary.”  That’s for you, prole, not the ruling class.  And what about intercontinental travel?  A transatlantic tunnel, hurrah!

How is all of this going to be paid for?

The same way we paid for the New Deal, the 2008 bank bailout and extended quantitative easing programs. The same way we paid for World War II and all our current wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power these projects and investments and new public banks can be created to extend credit. There is also space for the government to take an equity stake in projects to get a return on investment. At the end of the day, this is an investment in our economy that should grow our wealth as a nation, so the question isn’t how will we pay for it, but what will we do with our new shared prosperity.

So, printing money.  Hey, it worked for Venezuela, didn’t it?

But after all:

• Americans love a challenge. This is our moonshot.
o When JFK said we’d go to the by the end of the decade, people said impossible.

Darned if we didn’t go the by the end of the decade!

Read the whole thing.  It’s a laugh riot.

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Experiment: Second Life Artificial Meet-Up (SLAMU)

Second Life Artificial Meet-UpShortly after the Ratburger.org site was created on 2017-12-09, we signed up for and implemented a text chat system called CometChat on 2017-12-12.  This was nothing but bother, with update after update failing to install and the last straw being when, at the end of the first year’s trial period, they wanted us to pay US$ 50/month for a shoddy service which we’d never actually used.  I deleted the hunk of junk on 2018-09-30.

Still, it would be nice to be able to host real-time events, perhaps with more interaction than is possible on our existing Audio Meet-Ups.  For this, I have been exploring using a platform many consider passé, but technologically perfectly positioned to burgeon in the Roaring Twenties, Second Life.

Second Life is a virtual world which, as of the end of 2017, had between 800,000 and 900,000 active users.  When you visit it, you’ll typically find on the order of 40,000 people logged on.  In Second Life you can visit a multitude of interesting destinations built by denizens, buy or rent land, build your own Bond villain redoubt, and create new objects which you can sell to others within the virtual world.

My ambition for Second Life and Ratburger is very modest at present: I’m thinking about using it as a chat room and place for meet-ups which don’t run up phone charges for participants.  Assuming you’ve set up your computer properly, you can chat in text or converse in voice after meeting at a location in Second Life.

Some time in the next month, I’d like to schedule an experimental Second Life Artificial Meet-Up (SLAMU) at some time chosen to accommodate the crazy quilt of time zones of our members (probably the same time as the Tuesday RAMU, but on another day).  If you’d like to participate, here’s what you’ll have to do.

Create a new account on Second Life.  Click the “Join Free” button and fill out the form.  Note that your Username cannot be changed after you join, so in the interest of privacy, do not chose a Username which discloses personal information.  Choose an avatar of your preference; you can be anybody you like—use your imagination!

Download and install a viewer on your computer.  I prefer the Firestorm Viewer, which is available for Linux, Macintosh, and legacy Windows systems.  You will need a relatively recent computer with lots of RAM and a graphical processing unit (GPU) to run this software.  The official Second Life Viewer is an alternative, but is generally behind Firestorm in features and device compatibility.

Log in to Second Life from your viewer application.  You will generally be taken to a starting point for new users such as London City, which will let you explore things you can do in the virtual world.  It will take some time to become familiar with moving around, interacting with objects, etc.  From there, you can go to myriad other places.

If you want to use voice communication, visit the Voice Echo Canyon:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Voice%20Echo%20Canyon/128/130/23

(This is a Second Life URL which will not work in your browser, but works in the Second Life destination bar.)  Try speaking (use the middle mouse button to toggle speaking off and on, or the microphone button at the bottom in Firestorm) and see if you can hear the echo.  If you don’t see a white dot above your head, audio is not enabled on your computer. If this happens and you’re on a Linux system, let me know in the comments and I’ll send you a fix which worked for me.

Visit some interesting places, such as the amazing International Spaceflight Museum:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Spaceport%20Alpha/48/78/23

and see what people have built in this virtual world.

My user name is “Fourmilab” and my humble abode (and SLAMU clubhouse until we build something more imposing) is at:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Cowell%20Farm/216/12/42

This year in cyberspace!

SLAMU: Ratburger clubhouse

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SOTU: What Trump Should Say (but Won’t)

From Dan Calabrese at the Western Journal:

I don’t know why you’re applauding. Three-quarters of you hate me and half of you admit it.

Not that I came here to make you love me – I knew that wouldn’t happen – but you know it’s funny: You all get so upset with me for what I say on Twitter, but you talk the same way when you don’t think anyone is listening. I may be crude and I may be uncouth, but putting on a show that you’re any different stopped fooling people a long time ago. That’s why the voters didn’t listen to you when you told them Hillary was presidential and I wasn’t.

But no matter. I won, she lost, I’m here, she’s not, and you’re stuck with me.

Oh. Right. I’m stuck with you too. And I guess that’s why we’re here tonight. The Constitution says I have to report to you on the State of the Union. It doesn’t say you have to listen, which is probably why Justice Ginsburg is nodding off already, but there are some things you and the American people need to know. You’re going to run over to CNN when this is over and tell them my entire speech was “outrageous” or “fear mongering” or whatever, so I’m going to make sure now that they hear it directly from me.

Read the whole thing….

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