Tesla Announces the Cybertruck

Tesla has just announced the Cybertruck, an electric-powered utility vehicle to be available in three models priced at US$39,900 (single motor rear wheel drive), US$ 49,900 (dual motor all wheel drive), and US$ 69,900 (tri-motor all wheel drive).  The range varies between 250 miles (400 km) for the least expensive model to 500 miles (800 km) for the most expensive.  More details are available on Wikipedia.

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The Dog Is Still Not Barking

Debt bombBack on August 3rd, 2019, I posted a piece titled “The Dog that Did Not Bark” on the occasion of the U.S. congress enacting and the president signing a “budget deal” which suspended the statutory limit on the national debt until July 2021.  A few days before, the House defeated an amendment which would have renamed the bill “A bill to kick the can down the road and for other purposes”.  I remarked that neither any of the Democrat presidential hopefuls nor President Trump had mentioned the deficit or the debt in any of their “debates” or rallies.

The only Presidential candidate who was talking about these issues was South Carolina former governor and congressman Mark Sanford, who was attempting a primary challenge to Trump with the debt and deficit as central issues.  On Wednesday, November 12th, Sanford “suspended” his campaign, just 65 days after announcing.  Sanford’s statement said, “I am suspending my race for the Presidency because impeachment has made my goal of making the debt, deficit and spending issue a part of this presidential debate impossible right now. From day one, I was fully aware of how hard it would be to elevate these issues with a sitting president of my own party ignoring them. Impeachment noise has moved what was hard to herculean as nearly everything in Republican party politics is currently viewed through the prism of impeachment.”... [Read More]

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Sic Transit Glorious Monday

Transit of Mercury weather, 2019-11-11Today, Monday, November 11th, 2019, is the long-awaited transit of the planet Mercury across the disc of the Sun, the last such event before November 2032.  Now, before the transit of Venus in June 2004, I vowed that if I got good weather for that spectacle I wouldn’t complain about the weather ever again.  The weather, and the transit, were glorious, so I’m not complaining.  But I can grumble, can’t I?  Here is the weather looking out my window.  This was taken around an hour ago, and since then the ground fog has only gotten thicker.

So, it’s off to the Webcasts.  The NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is watching the transit from space, where the event starts about half an hour before it becomes visible from Earth.  Their Web site was down, presumably crushed by the dozens of people hoping to see the transit there, but it has recently come up and is showing Mercury crossing the inner solar corona (which is only visible from space), approaching the solar disc.... [Read More]

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You Can’t Un-see It…

Greta Thunberg mural in San FranciscoIn San Francisco, for whatever inscrutable San Franciscan reason, somebody has put up a giant mural of Greta the Mindless Climate Puppet on the side of a building at 420 Mason Street.  There is something distinctly odd about this picture.  Did you notice it?

She has Buzz Aldrin’s eyes!... [Read More]

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Jeff Bezos in 1997: The Origin, Concept, and Promise of Amazon.com

In June, 1997, Jeff Bezos, who still had hair, gave a brief interview during the Special Libraries conference in Seattle.  He explains why he chose books as the first product on which to concentrate, and how building something on-line which couldn’t exist in the real world (a bookstore with access to every book available anywhere) distinguished Amazon from other early E-commerce ventures and generated large amounts of free publicity and word-of-mouth referrals.

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Carmina Burana: Orff the Wall Libretto

In 1935–1936 Carl Orff composed Carmina Burana, a cantata based on 24 medieval poems in vulgar Latin, Old French, and Middle High German.  The work was first performed in Frankfurt in 1937.  It opens and closes with the Latin “O Fortuna”, a poem dating from the 13th century, which is the best known part of the composition.  Since few modern audiences are likely to understand medieval Latin, they’re likely to hear other things, for example:

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Reminder: Transit of Mercury, November 11, 2019

Transit of Mercury, 2003-05-07Next Monday, November 11th, you can watch Mercury, the innermost planet, cross the disc of the Sun.  This was the subject of Saturday Night Science for September 2019, and that article gives complete details of the event, a global map of visibility (the transit is visible, in whole or in part, from almost all of North and South America, Africa, and Europe), and recommendations for visual observation and photography of the transit.

You’ll need optical assistance (binoculars, a modest telescope, or a telephoto camera lens) equipped with a safe, full-aperture solar filter, in order to see the tiny disc of Mercury (just ten arc-seconds) crossing the Sun.  If you’re interested in observing and haven’t yet secured and checked out the required gear, now’s the time to opt for overnight shipping—there’s just a few days left.... [Read More]

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“Does anybody know how to land this plane?”

Garmin Autoland systemWhen flying in small, single-engine aircraft, passengers have two persistent worries: what happens if the engine quits, and who’s going to land the thing if the pilot keels over?  Modern aircraft engines, especially turboprops and turbofans, rarely fail (the ubiquitous Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6  had, as of 2016, an in-flight shutdown rate of one per 651,126 hours, which means that if you were to fly in a single-engine plane powered by one 24 hours a day, 365/66 days a year, you’d only experience an in-flight engine failure, on average, once every seventy-four years).  Besides, most engine failures would occur in cruise, when there’s plenty of altitude and velocity to glide to a sufficiently open and flat area that the plane can be landed, if not totally intact, entirely walkable-away-from by those onboard.

As improbable as it may seem, incapacitation of the single pilot may actually be the more probable circumstance.  Garmin, developers of a wide variety of GPS units and avionics, have just announced the latest update to their G3000 integrated avionics suite for light aircraft, which incorporates “Autoland” technology.  When the avionics detect that the pilot has become unresponsive or a passenger presses the (flip-up guard protected) “Emergency Autoland” button, the system takes control of the plane, identifies a landing strip sufficiently long and within range, contacts air traffic control, navigates to the landing strip, avoiding terrain, lands autonomously and shuts down the engine on the runway.  Here is a demonstration of the system.... [Read More]

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Saturday Night Science: Sunburst and Luminary

“Sunburst and Luminary: An Apollo Memoir” by Don EylesIn 1966, the author graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He had no immediate job prospects or career plans. He thought he might be interested in computer programming due to a love of solving puzzles, but he had never programmed a computer. When asked, in one of numerous job interviews, how he would go about writing a program to alphabetise a list of names, he admitted he had no idea. One day, walking home from yet another interview, he passed an unimpressive brick building with a sign identifying it as the “MIT Instrumentation Laboratory”. He’d heard a little about the place and, on a lark, walked in and asked if they were hiring. The receptionist handed him a long application form, which he filled out, and was then immediately sent to interview with a personnel officer. Eyles was amazed when the personnel man seemed bent on persuading him to come to work at the Lab. After reference checking, he was offered a choice of two jobs: one in the “analysis group” (whatever that was), and another on the team developing computer software for landing the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) on the Moon. That sounded interesting, and the job had another benefit attractive to a 21 year old just graduating from university: it came with deferment from the military draft, which was going into high gear as U.S. involvement in Vietnam deepened.

Near the start of the Apollo project, MIT’s Instrumentation Laboratory, led by the legendary “Doc” Charles Stark Draper, won a sole source contract to design and program the guidance system for the Apollo spacecraft, which came to be known as the “Apollo Primary Guidance, Navigation, and Control System” (PGNCS, pronounced “pings”). Draper and his laboratory had pioneered inertial guidance systems for aircraft, guided missiles, and submarines, and had in-depth expertise in all aspects of the challenging problem of enabling the Apollo spacecraft to navigate from the Earth to the Moon, land on the Moon, and return to the Earth without any assistance from ground-based assets. In a normal mission, it was expected that ground-based tracking and computers would assist those on board the spacecraft, but in the interest of reliability and redundancy it was required that completely autonomous navigation would permit accomplishing the mission.... [Read More]

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Book Review: Always Another Dawn

“Always Another Dawn” by A. Scott Crossfield and Clay BlairThe author was born in 1921 and grew up in Southern California. He was obsessed with aviation from an early age, wangling a ride in a plane piloted by a friend of his father (an open cockpit biplane) at age six. He built and flew many model airplanes and helped build the first gasoline-powered model plane in Southern California, with a home-built engine. The enterprising lad’s paper route included a local grass field airport, and he persuaded the owner to trade him a free daily newspaper (delivery boys always received a few extra) for informal flying lessons. By the time he turned thirteen, young Scott (he never went by his first name, “Albert”) had accumulated several hours of flying time.

In the midst of the Great Depression, his father’s milk processing business failed, and he decided to sell out everything in California, buy a 120 acre run-down dairy farm in rural Washington state, and start over. Patiently, taking an engineer’s approach to the operation: recording everything, controlling costs, optimising operations, and with the entire family pitching in on the unceasing chores, the ramshackle property was built into a going concern and then a showplace.... [Read More]

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Whatever Prints your Boat

On September 19–22, 2019, in a period of 72 hours, the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center produced a complete, seaworthy boat in a single pass with the world’s largest 3D printer (additive manufacturing machine), developed by Ingersoll Machine Tools.  Here is a time lapse video of the entire construction process.

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Book Review: The Tower of the Bear

“The Tower of the Bear” by Fenton WoodThis is the third short novel/novella (145 pages) in the author’s Yankee Republic series. I described the first, Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves, as “utterly charming”, and the second, Five Million Watts, “enchanting”. In this volume, the protagonist, Philo Hergenschmidt, embarks upon a hero’s journey to locate a treasure dating from the origin of the Earth which may be the salvation of radio station 2XG and the key to accomplishing the unrealised dream of the wizard who built it, Zaros the Electromage.

Philo’s adventures take him into the frozen Arctic where he meets another Old One, to the depths of the Arctic Ocean in the fabulous submarine of the eccentric Captain Kolodziej, into the lair of a Really Old One where he almost seizes the prize he seeks, and then on an epic road trip. After the Partition of North America, the West, beyond the Mississippi, was ceded by the Republic to the various aboriginal tribes who lived there, and no Yankee dare enter this forbidden territory except to cross it on the Tyrant’s Road, which remained Yankee territory with travellers given free passage by the tribes—in theory. In fact, no white man was known to have ventured West on the Road in a century.... [Read More]

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Sympathy for the Devil

Here is Mark Zuckerberg, whose Zucker-butt was summoned for six hours in the witness chair before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee to testify about Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency.  The committee was chaired by that world-renowned authority on finance and economics, “Mad” Maxine Waters.  Here is a link to the full hearing.

During the interminable proceedings, questioning passed to intergalactic-scale economics savant, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for her five minutes in the spotlight.  It almost makes you have sympathy for Zuckerberg.... [Read More]

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Swiss Federal Elections: October 2019

Swiss flagYesterday, Switzerland elected a new lower house of the federal parliament, the Conseil National.  This has, since 1963, been composed of 200 seats, apportioned among the cantons based upon their population.  Elections are held every four years, with all seats in play.  Elections are by a curious proportional representation scheme called “panachage”, about which you can read more at the link if you haven’t filled your quota of confusion for the day.

The results were a substantial shift to the left, with the Green Party and its splinter faction the Green Liberal Party both gaining largely at the expense of conservative and centre-right parties.  Here is the makeup of the new Conseil National.... [Read More]

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Live: Brexit Debate and Vote

In its first Saturday session in 37 years, the British parliament is debating and voting on the Brexit deal proposed by Boris Johnson.  At this writing (13:20 UTC), debate is concluding on a “poison pill” amendment which would rule out the “no deal” option which many pro-Brexit supporters believe essential in subsequent dealings with the European Union.  After this is resolved, the main deal will come onto the agenda.

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