Friday, September 17, 2021

CONTEXT: Sir Clive Sinclair, 1940–2021, R.I.P.

Among the many amazing innovations of this prolific inventor, who dedicated most of his work to bringing high technology to everybody at a price they could afford, was the breakthrough 1974 Sinclair Scientific calculator, the first single chip scientific calculator, which offered, in addition to the four arithmetic operators, sine, cosine, tangent, arcsine, arccos, arctan, log, and exponentiation. Through cleverness and hackery which rose to epic levels of heroism, this was squeezed into a read-only memory which held just three hundred and twenty instructions. How did they do it? See Ken Shirriff's brilliant reverse engineering of the Sinclair Scientific design and programming. The calculator was sold in the U.S. in kit form for just US$99.95 and assembled for US$139.95, a fraction of the price of scientific calculators from Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments.

Clive Sinclair went on to design the ZX80 home computer, introduced in 1980 as a £79.95 kit or £99.95 assembled, which was an immediate hit. It, and its successors, were the introduction to computing for a generation of British and European programmers, and its successors were marketed in the U.S. by Timex Sinclair.

In his later years, Sinclair said that he did not use the Internet, as having “technical or mechanical things around me” distracted from the process of invention.

Posted at 13:45 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Non-Fungible Tokens as Luxury Goods in the Metaverse

This is a long article, but well worth your time and attention. Although somewhere between 95% and 100% of the current mania for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) (NFT market value tripled in 2020 to more than US$250 million and exceeded US$2 billion in the first quarter of 2021) is almost certainly scams and a bubble fueled by unprecedented creation of central bank funny money, there may actually be the kernel of something real there which merits investigation.

Luxury goods have been a part of human civilisation almost since its inception, and in their modern incarnation, brands, are worth billions and fiercely defended by their owners. Simply affixing a brand name to something as generic as a t-shirt can multiply its market value by a large factor, with customers willing to pay a premium to identify themselves with the prestige of the brand and demonstrate their willingness and ability to waste money to display their own prestige. As human interaction moves increasingly from in-person contact with a small number of people in a locality to virtual venues on a global scale, is it not reasonable to expect this phenomenon to persist in the new medium and perhaps become even more prevalent as the size of the audience increases? Consider how much some value the Twitter “blue check mark” (which has no value and means nothing other than the approbation of the collectivist slavers who run that place), fear its revocation for bad-think, and hold their tongue rather than imperil it.

The article concludes:

Flexing is integral to the human experience. We don’t question the value of physical meatspace items used to project social standing. We understand and value fashion, paintings, jewelry etc. We all don costumes at work that illustrate which professional community we belong to. What is an investment banker without his Hermes tie or her pair of red-soled Louboutins? The costume is part of the self-worth.

Just because robots take all of our meatspace jobs doesn’t mean that humans stop being humans in the metaverse. Social signaling will take new forms powered by blockchain enabled NFT “worthless” objects. Those who recognise the similarities and are early to the creation of a new market for digital Flex goods will reap astronomical returns. Those content to pooh pooh this new worthless form of social signal can continue to walk down a street, into a shop, and purchase a $500 white t-shirt from some well-marketed fashion house. Choose your Flex Good appropriately.

Scalable Flexing is a tech person’s dream. The ability to appear wealthy and cool is not limited to physical proximity, but the entire addressable market of your avatar.

In the news, the Inspration4 private space mission is “carrying” an NFT into Earth orbit. At this writing, 13,520 have been sold.

Posted at 12:11 Permalink

CONTEXT: Sputnik 1—Satellite, Scare, and Space Race

Posted at 11:35 Permalink

CONTINUITY: KIC 8462852 (Boyajian's Star) Continues to Mystify

I'm not saying it's aliens…but what the heck is going on? The continued and possibly periodic dimming episodes and secular decline in brightness of of KIC 8462852, an otherwise unremarkable F-type main-sequence star located around 1470 light years from the Sun in the constellation of Cygnus, continues to bat away every proposed natural theory of origin. Might we be watching stellar lifting in progress?

Posted at 11:08 Permalink

Thursday, September 16, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: A Bolt from the Blunderers

Posted at 15:55 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: U.S. Federal Reserve Flexible Consumer Price Index Remains in Record Territory

U.S. Federal Reserve flexible consumer price index, August 2021

Ever since December 1967, the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta has published a monthly report called the “Sticky-Price Consumer Price Index (CPI)”. The complete time series may be consulted at the St. Louis Federal Reserve's FRED site as data set COREFLEXCPIM159SFRBATL. This index is composed of a weighted basket of goods whose prices have, historically, changed relatively rapidly, and excludes the core items of food and energy. It has, over time, given a snapshot of “sticker price” inflation as perceived by the general populace.

Over its history, the index has mostly meandered in a random walk between 0 and 5 percent annual price change, with two large spikes in the vicinity of 10% in early 1975 and 1980–1981. That's before the index for April 2021 (reported around the middle of the following month, as always), which jumped in one month from 2.5% annualised in March to 8.2% for April. In May, it hit an all-time high since its inception in 1967 of 12%, then in June rocketed to another record of 16.7% and rose slightly to 16.76% in July. The August figures have just been published, and show a decline to 14.7%, which is still around 50% higher than at any time in the half century preceding 2021.

Now, monetary inflation doesn't act all at once or uniformly across an economy. It usually first causes rapid price appreciation in volatile financial markets which tends to feed on itself as a bubble mentality develops (check!), then some time later begins to show up in flexible prices such as tracked by the present index. Only later do “sticky” prices begin to budge, and finally the circle closes as workers demand pay increases to cope with the rising cost of living, which feeds back into cost of goods and accelerates price increases. All of this is generally accompanied by phenomena such as “labour shortages”, “supply chain disruptions”, “a tight housing market”, and other distractions cited by the perpetrators to shift blame from the actual cause, which is profligate money printing uncoupled from the supply of goods in the market.

In any case, here we have another of what what I call a “Year of the Jackpot” chart, showing something happening which has never before occurred during the lifetimes of a majority of living humans. It is not unreasonable to infer that such indicators might portend consequences which are equally outliers to conventional wisdom expectations.

Posted at 13:44 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: SpaceX Inspiration4 Launch Replay

This is a complete replay of the Inspiration4 orbital flight preparations and launch, four hours and forty minutes in length, covering the flight through orbital insertion and separation from the booster's second stage. If you want to start at the launch, skip forward to the 4:16:26 point, one minute before liftoff.

Here is Scott Manley's preview of the mission.

Posted at 13:07 Permalink

CONTEXT: The Strange Orbit of “Earth's Second Moon”

The asteroid 3753 Cruithne is in an Earth-crossing orbit (thus classified as an “Aten asteroid”) with an orbital period identical to that of Earth. Its elliptical orbit takes it as far as 1.51 astronomical units (AU) (the mean distance between the Earth and Sun) from the Sun and as close as 0.5145 AU. This means that its position traces out a closed path around the Earth and, in the Earth's reference frame, appears to orbit Earth in a D-shaped “kidney bean” orbit, although it is not gravitationally bound to the Earth and thus not a true satellite. Although subject to perturbations by other planets over the very long term, this orbit is believed to be stable for millions of years into the future.

Posted at 11:26 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Impact Observed on Jupiter

The impact occurred during a transit of Jupiter's moon Io (visible to the left of Jupiter in the photo above, along with its shadow on Jupiter's clouds), a photogenic event which a number of amateur astronomers were imaging at the time.

Posted at 11:06 Permalink

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: What Can You Get for £0.12 in Today’s Britain?

Posted at 12:17 Permalink

CONTINUITY: The UAC TurboTrain—America's Failed Attempt at High-Speed Rail

I do not use “America” as a sloppy synonym for the United States: the trains were manufactured and used both in Canada and the U.S. Here is more on the UAC TurboTrain.

Posted at 11:36 Permalink

CONTEXT: Stop Digging—You're Headed for the Indian Ocean!

Posted at 11:10 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Inspiration4 Launch

The Inspiration4 launch, the first completely privately funded and crewed orbital space mission, is scheduled for 2021-09-16 at 00:02 UTC, which is in the evening hours of Wednesday the 15th of September in Western Hemisphere time zones. As this is not a rendezvous with the space station, there is a five hour launch window should delays occur. At this writing, weather is predicted to be 80% favourable at the start the launch window. Launch opportunities are available on subsequent days in case the launch is scrubbed on the first attempt. Expected mission duration is around three days, with splashdown off the Florida coast.

Everyday Astronaut has complete details of the planned mission in the Inspiration4 Prelaunch Preview.

This will be the first crewed orbital launch not bound for the International Space Station since Space Shuttle STS-125 in May 2009, which performed the final repair mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The Crew Dragon spacecraft, C207-2, was previously flown on the NASA Crew-1 mission in November 2020, and Falcon 9 booster B1062 is making its third flight. The Crew Dragon has been modified by removing the docking adaptor, replacing it with a bubble cupola which will provide panoramic views of the Earth and sky.

Here is a pre-flight question and answer session with the crew the day before launch.

Posted at 10:34 Permalink

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

CONTINUITY: Nike-Hercules—When U.S. Cities were Ringed with Nuclear-Tipped Missiles

When I was a kid, my parents took me on a week-end tour of a local Nike-Ajax site, probably in 1958 or 1959. They showed you everything, except inside the circular berm where they did hazardous propellant maintenance operations. (Nike-Ajax used toxic hypergolic liquid propellants in its second stage.) Afterward, the site was converted to the nuclear-tipped Nike-Hercules, and no tours were offered.

At the peak, there were 265 Nike-Ajax sites in the U.S. The longer range Nike-Hercules covered a larger area, and was deployed in only 130 locations, with the excess Nike-Ajax sites decommissioned.

Posted at 12:49 Permalink

CONTEXT: CONTINUITY: Tour of the International Space Station Kibō Module

This tour, presented in 360° immersive video (hold down your mouse button within the image and move the pointer to pan and tilt your viewpoint), is conducted by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet. The audio is in French, with English subtitles. The Kibō (きぼう) or Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) was launched to the International Space Station by three space shuttle missions in 2008 and 2009, and is the largest single module of the space station. It includes a pressurised laboratory section and an external pallet with an airlock for moving payloads back and forth to the laboratory, with a robot arm to manipulate them. There is also an “attic”, which provides much-needed storage space on the crowded station.

Posted at 12:04 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Vacuum Tube Computer Part 17: Arithmetic/Logic Unit

Finally, all of the previously design, built, and tested pieces of the computer begin to come together at its heart: the unit which performs the arithmetic or logic operation designated by an instruction. This is simpler than you might imagine, as it consists mostly of selecting a result among multiple logic inputs that compute the results of the various functions, all of which have been previously constructed.

Posted at 11:32 Permalink

CONTINUITY: On the Road with Tesla “Full Self Driving” Beta 10

Here is another report, driving in San Francisco and deliberately putting the car into difficult situations.

Two things amaze me about this deployment of “full self driving” on the litigious streets of Safetyland. First, that paying customers are so forgiving of a product which, after ten releases, still does not remotely do what it is claimed to—drive autonomously without a vigilant human driver ready to take over an in instant when it “disengages” or is about to turn into oncoming traffic. Second, that Tesla, a public company with PricewaterhouseCoopers as its auditors, is not required to qualify its financial statements with risk factors due to liability from mass deployment of a flawed product with such potential risk to life, limb, and third-party property damage, and that its directors seem fine with the situation. (Here are the declared risk factors from Tesla's most recent Form 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.)

Posted at 11:00 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: SpaceX Starlink Group 2-1 Mission

I have cued the video to start one minute before launch: scroll back if you wish to watch from earlier in the countdown. This was the tenth successful launch and landing for Falcon 9 first stage booster B1049, the oldest booster currently in service, having made its first flight on 2018-09-10. This booster joins B1051, which achieved the milestone of ten flights on 2021-05-09, meeting the original design goal of ten flights per booster. Elon Musk has said that SpaceX will continue to inspect and re-fly boosters, building experience in long-term re-use. I suspect that “fleet leaders” with the greatest number of flights will be reserved for in-house Starlink missions, where a loss due to unanticipated aging issues would not impact an external customer.

Posted at 10:32 Permalink

Monday, September 13, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: SpaceX Starlink Group 2-1 Launch

Launch is scheduled for 03:55 UTC on 2021-09-14 (note that this is in the evening of the 13th in Western Hemisphere time zones) from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. These Starlink satellites are equipped with laser inter-satellite links, which reduces the need for ground stations in remote areas. If successful, this will be the 100th consecutive Falcon 9 mission, the 125th Falcon 9 launch, and the 70th re-flight of a first stage booster. Both the first stage and both of the fairing halves have previously flown.

Posted at 19:55 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Astrophysical Journal Publishes “If Loud Aliens Explain Human Earliness, Quiet Aliens Are Also Rare”

Read the full paper on ArXiV.

Posted at 14:09 Permalink