Ratburger First Anniversary, WordPress 5.0 Update

First birthday cakeRatburger.org opened to the public on December 10th, 2017, one year ago today, and the first member (non-administrator) account was registered on that day.  A year later, we have 143 members who have made 2,230 posts and 28,048 comments.  In the month of November 2017 (I cite the last full month, as partial month statistics can be misleading), the site welcomed a daily average of 1448 visits per day, with visitors viewing 9303 pages involving delivery of 24,745 files.

In the month of November, overall statistics were:

  • Visits: 43,450
  • Pages viewed: 279,101
  • Files transferred: 742,372
  • Total data transferred: 63.9 gigabytes

The site’s Access Statistics, updated daily, are available for anybody to view.

To celebrate, and mark how far we’ve come, I have just posted the never-before-published development logs for the site for December 9th and 10th, 2017 on the Updates Group, with this direct link.

WordPress 5.0

Unrelated to the anniversary (it’s just a coincidence), today Ratburger.org migrated to WordPress version 5.0, the first major update to WordPress released since the site was launched.  You may have heard some terrible things about this release, perhaps from me.  The WordPress powers that be have decided to introduce a new editor for composition of posts, which was originally called “Gutenberg”, but after user experience with it so poisoned that name, they decided to call it the “Block editor” in the version they finally released.  It is fully as bad as everything you’ve heard (shortly before the roll-out it had a user rating of 2.3 out of five stars, with 392 five star reviews and 923 one star reviews).  For details of just how awful, see Igor Ljubuncic’s post on why “WordPress Gutenberg will be the end of WordPress”.

The good news is that all of this is entirely hidden from Ratburger users, who may continue to use the “Classic Editor” in either Visual or Text (HTML/Quicktags) mode as they’ve always done.  WordPress have promised the user and developer community that the Classic Editor will continue to be available at least “through the end of 2021”, so there’s no immediate cause for concern.  If, by then, a viable alternative has not appeared, it is probable it will continue on into the foreseeable future.  If they, instead, decide to sink WordPress by forcing an unusable mess of an editor on their users, at least their competitors will have had adequate time to roll out alternatives in their products.

I have tested all of our local modifications against the WordPress 5.0 code base and found no problems.  (Other than the inclusion of the new editor, which we don’t use, the differences between 5.0 and the version 4.9.8 which we were running previously are actually not that great.)  If you encounter something that looks odd, that’s what the Bug Reports group is for.

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SpaceX CRS-16 Landing Failure

Yesterday, 2018-12-05, SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft from Cape Canaveral to deliver more than 2500 kg of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).  The Dragon spacecraft (apart from its disposable “trunk” section) was previously flown on the CRS-10 mission to the ISS in February 2017.  The Falcon 9 booster was new, on its first flight.  Here is a video of the launch, starting at 15 seconds before liftoff through deployment of the Dragon’s solar panels.

The primary mission was delivery of the Dragon to an orbit to rendezvous with the ISS, and was entirely successful.  SpaceX intended to recover the first stage booster for subsequent re-use (it is a “Block 5” model, designed to fly as many as ten times with minimal refurbishment between launches) back at the landing zone at Cape Canaveral.  This involves, after separating the second stage, flipping the first stage around, firing three engines in a boost-back burn to cancel its downrange velocity and direct it back toward the Cape, a three engine re-entry burn to reduce its velocity before it enters the dense atmosphere, and a single engine landing burn to touch down.

Everything went well with the landing through the re-entry burn.  As the first stage encountered the atmosphere, it began to roll out of control around its long axis.  The “grid fins” which extend from the first stage to provide aerodynamic control, were not observed to move as they should to counter the roll moment.  As the roll began to go all Kerbal, the feed from the first stage was cut in the SpaceX launch coverage in the video above.

In the post-launch press conference, Hans Koenigsmann, Vice President of Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX, showed a video which picks up at the moment the feed was cut and continues through the first stage’s landing off the coast of Cape Canaveral.  He describes how the safety systems deliberately target a water landing and only shift the landing point to the landing pad (or drone ship) once confident everything is working as intended.

Here is a video taken from the shore which shows the final phase of the first stage’s braking and water landing.  Note how the spin was arrested at the last instant before touchdown.

In this video, Everyday Astronaut Tim Dodd explains the first stage recovery sequence and what appears to have gone wrong, based upon tweets from Elon Musk after the landing.

After splashing down, the first stage completed all of its safing procedures, allowing a recovery ship to approach it and tow it back to port.  SpaceX has said it will be inspected and, if judged undamaged by the water landing, may be re-flown on a SpaceX in-house mission (but not for a paying customer).

The most likely cause of the accident is failure of the hydraulic pump that powers the grid fins.  In the present design, there is only one pump, so there is no redundancy.  This may be changed to include a second pump, so a single pump failure can be tolerated.

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Amazon.com to Customers in Switzerland: Merry Christmas and Farewell!

What should I find in my E-mail today but this, from Amazon.com.

Amazon to Swiss Customers: Farewell

After more than two decades as the preeminent source for books for Anglophone readers in Switzerland, Amazon.com have decided to celebrate Boxing Day 2018 by punching their loyal customers in the gut.  They will no longer be able to order physical books or any other non-digital product from Amazon.com, but will rather be restricted to the much more limited selection available from Amazon subsidiaries in European Union (EU) countries.

People living in Switzerland who wish to order books in languages not available from subsidiaries in the European Union, for example Japanese and Chinese, are completely out of luck.  They will no longer have access to books from any Amazon site outside the EU.

Why is this happening?  Well, as usual, when you encounter something foul, coercive, and totally irrational, it’s a good bet the wicked European Union and its crooked Customs Union is involved.  The European Union has used its economic power to coerce Switzerland into conforming its trade policies with its deeply corrupt Customs Union.  The EU styles itself as a “free trade” zone, but in fact, it is a cartel with tariff barriers surrounding it which are erected to protect constituencies with political power in Brussels.

It deeply offends the slavers in Brussels that anybody should book a profit, anywhere in the world, which is not subject to their taxation (even though imports from outside the EU are subject to tariffs, duties, and Value Added Tax).  So, by putting up barriers, they prevent Amazon.com, a U.S. company, from shipping physical products even into non-EU countries over which they can exercise their power.

If you wonder why the issue of remaining in the EU Customs Union is such a big thing in the Brexit deal, this is why.

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Islamist Egypt

At a Christmas party last night,* I met an Egyptian woman. That is, she was born in Egypt but had emigrated to the US forty years ago as a youth. She returns to Cairo frequently to visit family. Over the years she has been struck by the cultural changes: the increasing Islamification of Egypt. More women are wearing traditional Islamic dress and observing strict religious behavior. Cairo is no longer a safe city for a woman alone. She attributed these changes to the 1979 Iranian revolution, spreading Islamism throughout the region.

The pictures of graduating class at Cairo University from 1959 through 2004 tell a similar tale:

As you can see, the female graduates in 1959 and 1978 had bare arms, wore short sleeved blouses, dresses, or pants, and were both bare-faced and bare-headed. By 1995, we see a smattering of headscarves—and by 2004 we see a plurality of female university graduates in serious hijab: Tight, and draping the shoulders.

While this fits in with my image of Iran or Saudi Arabia, it’s not what comes to mind for Egypt. Presumably, it applies to all of north Africa, from Egypt to Morocco.  It’s worse than I thought.


*Yes, I know it’s weeks from Christmas.

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The Theory of Dark Suckers

10 Cents and I were discussing light bulbs on the late night phone call. And it brought to mind an old piece of text explaining why we should not call them light bulbs, but rather “dark suckers”. I have not the time to convert this old text to incorporate the newer LED type of dark suckers, but here it is in the older format.

Enjoy. Continue reading “The Theory of Dark Suckers”

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Seven Minutes of Terror

NASA Mars InSight landingNASA’s Mars InSight lander is now approaching the Red Planet and will attempt to land later today.  Here is a timeline of events during the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase if everything goes as planned (adapted from the NASA/JPL “Landing Milestones” page).  All times are in Universal Time (UTC), which you can see in the title bar at the top of the Ratburger page.

  • 19:40 UTC – Separation from the cruise stage that carried the mission to Mars
  • 19:41 UTC – Turn to orient the spacecraft properly for atmospheric entry
  • 19:47 UTC – Atmospheric entry at about 19,800 kilometres per hour, beginning the entry, descent and landing phase
  • 19:49 a.m.UTC – Peak heating of the protective heat shield reaches about 1,500 °C
  • 15 seconds later – Peak deceleration, with the intense heating causing possible temporary dropouts in radio signals
  • 19:51 UTC – Parachute deployment
  • 15 seconds later – Separation from the heat shield
  • 10 seconds later – Deployment of the lander’s three legs
  • 19:52 UTC- Activation of the radar that will sense the distance to the ground
  • 19:53 UTC – First acquisition of the radar signal
  • 20 seconds later – Separation from the back shell and parachute
  • 0.5 second later – The retrorockets, or descent engines, begin firing
  • 2.5 seconds later – Start of the “gravity turn” to get the lander into the proper orientation for landing
  • 22 seconds later – InSight begins slowing to a constant velocity (from 27 km/h to a constant 8 km/h) for its soft landing
  • 19:54 UTC – Expected touchdown on the surface of Mars
  • 20:01 UTC- “Beep” from InSight’s X-band radio directly back to Earth, indicating InSight is alive and functioning on the surface of Mars
  • No earlier than 20:04 UTC, but possibly the next day – First image from InSight on the surface of Mars

Here is a description of the entry, descent, and landing phase.

You can watch live coverage of InSight’s arrival at Mars starting at 18:30 UTC on:

Here is the Landing Day – 1 press briefing.

Two CubeSats called MarCO-A and B are shadowing InSight’s path.  They are the first CubeSats launched on an interplanetary trajectory.  If successful, they will provide a real-time communications link between the lander and Earth.  They are not, however, required for a successful landing.  If they fail, information on the landing may be delayed until it can be relayed by another spacecraft orbiting Mars.  After doing their job, the MarCO CubeSats will fly by Mars and continue to orbit the Sun for billions of years, just like Elon Musk’s roadster.  Here is a video about the MarCO mission.

Here are more details about MarCO.

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The Greatest Generation

It is said that the War World 2 generation was the greatest but I am thinking  other generations need that title.  They survived and thrived. They knew what hardships were. Nowadays people can’t  make it through their days because of  mere words. They have to hide at home and recover. Earlier generations would have called them pansies.

Americans are a mobile group. They came from somewhere. They took ships across oceans and wagons across mountains and plains. Most made it and many did not. They went through the “desert” to get to the “oasis”.  They didn’t expect “water” to be delivered to them. They dug wells are lived near rivers.

We live in a time where food comes from a supermarket but there was a time where people grew their own. They knew it didn’t come automatically or in a package. It came from hard work and sweat. They knew a cow doesn’t give milk it must be squeezed out of them.

I kid my friends that the biggest struggle most people face nowadays is, “Where is the remote?” I know there are still hard things but few of us are chopping our own heating fuel or keeping a furnace going. We are not canning things for the winter or getting to places under animal power. We have it so good that we complain because more comfort is wanted. It is not only wanted but considered a need.

I am going to give the title of Greatest Generation to the people who went out West in covered wagons. That was a hard journey. They not only went the distance but after they came they built lives.  They pioneered and settled.

Who is your Greatest Generation?

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Troll Comeuppance

I wrote a post that featured an incident of character assassination. While trying to figure out who the character assassin was I ran across a slightly humorous incident I thought I would share here.

As the clock neared 8:15 pm, she was anxiously awaiting a tweet she had no control over, set to go out from her account. Feinberg had recently lost a bet with her editor at HuffPost, Tommy Craggs, who had won free rein to write and schedule a tweet in her name—which meant that, if she hewed to her Twitter hiatus, the tweet would sit, unexplained, at the top of her feed for a week.

Feinberg, 27, has a kooky sense of humor and isn’t easily embarrassed, but what seemed like a playful wager was suddenly feeling a lot more serious. She cringed helplessly as Craggs’s message materialized online for all to see.

I want to apologize for my recent tweet, which has been deleted,”  read the cryptic note. “The joke was offensive and not at all funny — particularly in our current climate — and I deeply regret any pain I may have caused.”

Though Feinberg had done nothing wrong, she was still worried the message would bring trouble. “Right now, I’m anxious about people thinking I tweeted something super racist,” she told me, taking a swig of her beer. She sighed as a string of notifications began cascading down the screen of her phone

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Direct Democracy vs. Global Governance

Suisse: Initiative auto-déterminationAs noted in an earlier post, on Sunday, 2018-11-25 Swiss citizens will vote on the contentious issue of whether to amend the federal constitution to prohibit the removal of horns from cows and goats.  Also on the ballot will be the (French title) “Initiative pour l’autodétermination” (Self-determination Initiative).

This is also an initiative to amend the federal constitution, whose full text you can read [PDF] in French.  The relevant language, with my translation interleaved, is as follows.

Le droit est la base et la limite de l’activité de l’Etat. La Constitution fédérale est la source suprême du droit de la Confédération suisse.

The law is the basis and limit of the activity of the State.  The federal Constitution is the supreme source of the law of the Swiss Confederation.

La Confédération et les cantons respectent le droit international. La Constitution fédérale est placée au dessus du droit international et prime sur celui-ci, sous réserve des règles impératives du droit international.

The Confederation and the cantons respect international law. The federal Constitution is placed above international law and overrides it, subject to the mandatory rules of international law.

La Confédération et les cantons ne contractent aucune obligation de droit international qui soit en conflit avec la Constitution fédérale.

The Confederation and the cantons shall not contract any obligation of international law that would be in conflict with the Federal Constitution.

En cas de conflit d’obligations, ils veillent à ce que les obligations de droit international soient adaptées aux dispositions constitutionnelles, au besoin en dénonçant les traités internationaux concernés.

In the case of a conflict of obligations, they shall ensure that the obligations of international law are adapted to the constitutional provisions, if necessary by denouncing the international treaties concerned.

Le Tribunal fédéral et les autres autorités sont tenus d’appliquer les lois fédérales et les traités internationaux dont l’arrêté d’approbation a été sujet ou soumis au référendum.

The federal Tribunal and other authorities are obliged to apply federal laws and international treaties whose approval decree has been subject to or submitted to referendum.

A compter de leur acceptation par le peuple et les cantons, les art. 5, al. 1 et 4, 56et 190 s’appliquent à toutes les dispositions actuelles et futures de la Constitution fédérale et à toutes les obligations de droit international actuelles et futures de la Confédération et des cantons.

From the time of their acceptance by the people and the cantons, art., al. 1 and 4, 56a and 190 will apply to all present and future provisions of the federal Constitution and all present and future international law obligations of the Confederation and the cantons.

Here is the official federal government page about the initiative (select language at top right).  The federal parliament recommends a No vote, with 129 no and 68 aye in the lower house (Conseil national) and 38 no and 6 aye in the upper house (Conseil des États).

The argument for the initiative is presented on its supporters’ Web site.

As this is a federal matter, I shall not have a vote in this (permanent residents can vote in elections at the commune and canton level [depending on the commune and canton’s rules] but only citizens can vote in federal elections), but you can probably guess where I come down on the matter. Essentially all of the political, media, and big business establishment is opposing the referendum and the way to bet is a broad-based defeat, but the Swiss electorate is unpredictable and doesn’t like to be pushed around, so you never know.

I will post the results in a comment when they become known on Sunday.

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An Expose of a “Big Lie”

Like many, I found a few shiny nuggets of value in Peterson’s evocative ramblings and dismissed the rest as meaningless bafflegarb, never stepping back to appreciate the deeper meaning and motivation in Peterson’s overall philosophic system. Fortunately, Vox Day did. What he finds there is shocking – the gyrations of an intellectual con artist tying together strands from Jungian psychology and occult “wisdom” to weave a tapestry of deception disguised as a self-help guide and intended to be a foundational text for a postmodern secular religion. Vox Day exposes Peterson’s rejection of truth and reality in favor of a gnostic gospel of “balance” – a middle way between truth and falsehood, between good and evil. This short but clear and helpful text provides an essential inoculation against some of the most dangerous and virulent intellectual fallacies of our times. Check out Jordanetics.

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The Impact of Immigration

Here is a chart of the absolute number of immigrants admitted to the United States as permanent residents for the years 1820–2017 according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2017.  (Click on these charts to expand to full resolution.)

U.S. Immigration: 1820–2017

I’m sure you’ve seen a chart like this before, which shows a series of waves of immigration punctuated by gaps due to insurrections, changes in policy, economic crises, and wars which allowed assimilation of immigrants and their offspring.

But one might argue that the impact of immigration on a society doesn’t depend so much upon the absolute numbers of immigrants as the fraction of immigrants admitted compared to the existing (presumed largely assimilated) population.

To explore this, I downloaded U.S. Census data for the U.S. population between the years 1820 and 2017 and, since these data are only available at ten year intervals, performed a linear interpolation between the decadal census data.  (It might have been better to use a power law model, but why complicate things?)  I then divided the immigration data by the extrapolated population to obtain the fraction of the existing population who were admitted as permanent resident immigrants in each year, expressed as a percentage of the population that year.

Immigration: Immigrants as a fraction of population

This is a very different picture.  There are clearly two different epochs.  In the first, between 1820 and 1930, the U.S. was “filling up the empty country” by admitting large numbers of immigrants.  Then, due to immigration restrictions in the Immigration Act of 1924 and the subsequent economic depression and war, immigration remained at low levels until 1946 when, in the immediate postwar period, it jumped.  In this view, the impact of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was not the discontinuous change some present it as (at least in terms of absolute numbers; it may have changed the composition of the immigrant population, which is not captured in these statistics).

Instead, the trend established after 1946 continued to rise continuously until 1989–1991 when it went all whacko.  These numbers, as a fraction of the population, haven’t been seen 1923 or since.  If you take out those crazy years, the overall trend of immigration as a fraction of the existing population continues to rise almost linearly since 1946.

As you may have observed, my essays are heavy on numbers and light on interpretation.  But I must ask, “Why?”

Why do the United States need more people?

Between the founding of the country and the closing of the frontier in 1912, the population was less than 95 million.  With a population of 142 million in 1945, the U.S. contributed mightily to the defeat of fascism in World War II.  With a population of 201 million in 1969, it landed two of its citizens on the Moon.  With a population of 252 million in 1991, it saw out the Soviet Union, ending the Cold War.  Its population is now around 323 million.  How many more does it need?  And where will it find immigrants who are better equipped to build its future than the people already within its borders?

Will the U.S. be richer, more powerful, and more influential on the world stage if, in 2050, its population is 500 million?  Will this be the case if a large fraction of that population consists of immigrants from countries with no history of self-governance or institutions of education?

You can download the raw data and chart definitions used to compose this post (radical transparency!) from this archive as a LibreOffice ODS file.

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Gender-Queer Drag Queen Says Quantum Mechanics Explains Unlimited Genders

Reporter Megan Fox found an interesting hook for discussing my recent physics publication.

“Atomic physics kind of backed off from the Newtonian assumption of an objective reality to describe how atomic physics works,” said Schantz. “Physicists were operating under the assumption that there was no such thing as cause and effect. There is a strong desire in philosophy to undercut reality. Much like Plato’s allegory of the cave, they want to say all we have is a distorted version of reality and we cannot know what is real. You can see it in physics, that it has fallen out of favor to question how we know what we know. Instead we get propagandizing.”

Check out “Gender-Queer Drag Queen Says Quantum Mechanics Explains Unlimited Genders.”

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Knowledge Base: Verse, Line Breaks, and White Space

When including poetry or other kinds of text in which line breaks are significant, you’ll want to keep WordPress from flowing the text from line to line based upon the width of the window, but instead place the line breaks yourself.  Simply pressing the “Enter” key at the end of each line, however, makes each line its own paragraph, which adds white space between the lines and looks ugly.  For example, here is one of my favourite Dorothy Parker poems formatted this way.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,

A medley of extemporania;

And love is a thing that can never go wrong;

And I am Marie of Roumania.

— Dorothy Parker

Ugly, isn’t it?  To indicate a line break without starting a new paragraph, hold down the “Shift” key while you press “Enter”.  This will result in single-spaced text within a single paragraph.  Here is the poem re-set using Shift-Enter.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporania;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.
— Dorothy Parker

Much better!  If a poem contains multiple stanzas, use Shift-Enter between lines of a stanza and the regular Enter between stanzas.

Now, how did I indent the poet’s name at the end?  This involves a somewhat sneakier bit of skulduggery.  When entering the poem, I switched to the “Text” editor tab in the composition window and entered the author’s name as:

<span style="margin-left: 6em;">— Dorothy Parker</span>

This inserts white space with a width of 6 “M” characters to the left of the text enclosed in the span.  You can use this gimmick anywhere you’d like to insert white space, for example in poems by E. E. Cummings that use eccentric spacing for effect.

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Monday Meals: 18-11-12 Bento


Bentos are Japanese lunches in a multi partitioned tray. In old days it was a wooden box. Now it is usually styrofoam or plastic. The common factor in all bentos is rice. This takes up the most space. After that you can have fish, beef, chicken, or fried varieties of the former. There are various side things that come with it. This can be vegetables, potato salad, Japanese pickles, etc.

7-Eleven sells a lot of bentos here. There is a custom to buy a deluxe bento at the Bullet Train Stations to eat on the Bullet train. These usually have local delicacies in them. There is also a type of fast food shop that sells bentos with hot rice.

There are homemade bentos too. Housewives get up early and make bentos for the family. These are put in plastic boxes. The ones for children have cartoon characters on them. Some have a lower a lower section for rice with an upper section for the side dishes. Others just have a divider to separate the rice.

To see some of the varieties please look at this page.
http://www.second-kitchen.net/products/list.php

Have any of you had bentos? If so what kinds?

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