We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The progress of social programs and the debt

1960’s: Lets eliminate everything bad. We can go to the moon so why not end poverty!
“Yes, do it.”

1970’s: Well, it doesn’t look so easy. We’ll have to spend more money.
“Well, okay.”

1980’s: It is actually not working. Maybe we should spend some more slightly differently.
“Well, give it a try.”

1990’s. We’ve got so many people depending on this! We have to spend more to keep them afloat.
“Well, I don’t want to look like a terrible person, so okay.”

2000’s: The debt is growing, and the social programs are actually having negative effects, but we have to keep trying! We’re nice people! We have to DO SOMETHING!
“Well, is this really necessary… why not cut back… oh, okay, don’t look at me that way.”

2010’s: The country is in debt and things are awful! We must help those who are least able to help themselves. We have to let the world see what nice people we are!
“Well… no.”
“Oh, bog off.”

It is not just the UK…

The UK has Brexit, an event that Perry, Adriana, Brian, I and the rest of the Samizdata conspirators would have only dreamed of when this publication was founded all those years ago. To say it would have been a pipe dream back then is not far off and I am sure anyone suggesting it would happen any time soon would have been asked where they had managed to purchase such fine quality substances.

Brexit is not the end of the fun amongst the fed up electorates of the Anglosphere, it is only the prelude. The Libertarian Party in the USA will be a serious cat amongst dumb flocking birds this year. Gary Johnson is still rising in the polls. He has been at levels we have never seen before almost from the day he was nominated and has gone up from 10% to 11% and now 12%. Should he reach 15% by the end of the summer, he will be invited to the Presidential Debates. No matter what else happens, that would be enough to warm the cockles o’ me Libertarian Laissez-Faire heart.

But wait! There is more! If Gary makes it into the debates, he will almost certainly garner a substantial popular vote in the election. The American electorate, by and large, loath both Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee this year.

Now if I were smoking something really good right now, something which Gary has sworn to see legalized, I might even say that a tight three way race could make 34% the plurality in the popular (not Electoral) vote. That level for a Libertarian candidate in the USA is about as imaginable as, well… the UK voting to leave the EU. Inconceivable.

This year is going to be a lot of fun. We are turning the world upside down… and we are enjoying every second of it everywhere in the Anglosphere.

Kardeshev 1.5?

I am sure most of you have by now heard at least a garbled version of the discovery of a very unusual object in the skies, a possible alien mega-structure. I have not been following the mass media but they probably went for the spectacular in their reporting.

Well, it could be spectacular, but only if after a few years or even decades of hard science it does not turn out to be something else. Some science news outlets have compared it to the discovery of the pulsar by Jocelyn Bell. There was no known explanation at the time for something in the heavens that could generate a pulse train that was so precise you could set your time standard to it.

Still, an alien civilization is a candidate explanation, even if the only thing we can say is “We’ve got something we’ve never seen before and some of our wild ass guesses, including an alien civilization, have not yet been ruled out”. I want to make this absolutely clear before I get to the fun stuff.

Now… what if it turns out to be true and we find we have a neighbor who is building structures in space large enough to obscure up to 20% of its sun’s output for significant periods of time? That is one serious civilization, one that is well on its way to becoming a Kardeshev Type II.

But let us turn things around. If they exist, what do they know about us?

The star in question is about 1400 light years away from us. That means what we are seeing happened back in the dark ages, back in an era oft written of in books by Dr. Sean Gabb in his historical novels. Whatever we are detecting now of their technology happened that long ago. Fourteen Hundred Years of advancement beyond what we can see. One and a half millennia. Just imagine it.

Lets go further. Fourteen hundred years ago they were building structures that could block 20% of their star’s light when passing in front of it. That is not the capability of a new space faring civilization. In our terms, it is probably several millenia beyond where we are in our space capabilities, possibly even more.

So how many thousands of years ago did they map a lovely little life bearing world? They almost certainly have thousands of years of data on our star and planets. But their data shows no sign of civilization because their most recent data about us comes from our 600AD.

Unusual situation then. We would know there is a space faring civilization out there… and they would only know there was a life bearing world with no signs of a technological civilization here.

So… I wonder when the generation ships of the colonists will show up?

I’m just having a bit of fun. But What If?

The view from inside a government box

This article leaves me speechless. How could anyone capable of putting words together in a sentence about space hardware put forth a premise that is “not even wrong”. It is not even from the same reality most of us exist in.

Now I do not expect most of you to be current on what is going on in the aerospace business today. Unlike the person who wrote the article, it is not your job and perhaps not even something that interests you. That means the falsehoods get passed on because you are unlikely to dig. But believe me, this is a howler if it was done in ignorance and is the ‘big lie’ if done in full knowledge of what American industry is up to. Since I cannot believe anyone could write this without knowing at least a little about the topic, I have to assume it is intentional.

Why is that so? Because there have been more and better developments in hydrocarbon rocket engines in the last 15 years than in the preceding three decades. From SpaceX we have mass production of the Merlin engines. SpaceX is already the largest rocket engine manufacturer in the US and in a few years will be turning out more engines than the entire rest of aerospace on the planet. They also developed the Kestrel for their smaller rocket some years ago; and the Merlin has gone through multiple iterations, each of which is effectively a new engine in capabilities. To top it off they are already working on the largest hydrocarbon engine since the Saturn V F-1: their Raptor engine. It’s not just a paper engine either. They are rebuilding a test stand at NASA Stennis and may already be testing the giant turbopumps for it.

But wait! There’s more! Blue Origin has developed a family of hydrocarbon engines and recently tested their suborbital craft using the BE-3, the 3rd generation engine, all done in less than a decade. They are short listed to produce the even larger BE-4 for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, their replacement for the too expensive Delta and the Russian engine using Atlas V.

And that is not all. In my day job I do data acquisition on the hydrocarbon engine for the Lynx suborbital spaceship.

There are others but these are the highlights which no honest/competent journalist could have missed.

The Police State tentacles are everywhere

Yesterday a medical doctor friend told me that these days you have to show ID and sign for laboratory glassware. You may perhaps even be asked why you need it.

When I was a kid, you picked up an Edmunds Scientific or other catalog, used the money you earned mowing lawns and bought your gadgets and glassware by mail order – unless you were lucky enough to live in the same city in which case you went to their outlet and came straight home with it on the same day. No questions were asked. Lab glassware was just part of being a future scientist in a nation of free people.

Why has this changed? The Drug War. It is yet another culturally disastrous bit of police state monitoring enabled by fear mongering about meth labs. Well, to put it simply, I do not care. The people responsible for these sorts of regulation are much more socially damaging in their efforts because they undercut our liberty, our ability to act as free and autonomous citizens. It is my right to buy something ‘because I feel like it’ and to use it for ‘whatever the hell pleases me’ just because I am an American. I need no other reason.

I have no sympathy for the drug warriors. I want them unemployed. As to the people who think up these un-american regulations…

“Hangin’s too good for ’em.”

Now it can be told…

As I am now part of the core engineering team on a spaceship, I am much more limited in what I can say on certain subjects than I was as a consultant assisting on early stage projects in the previous decade. Here is a picture of our baby, the XCOR Lynx, as it sits in our hangar. My job is its ‘nervous system’, the sensor systems and onboard data collection and storage and use.

XCOR Lynx Spaceplane under construction

XCOR Lynx Spaceplane under construction

In the spirit of the Guardian…

I think it is safe to say that the first Social Justice Warrior to be spaced has already been born.

(For non-spacers, that means “tossed out of the airlock… without a space suit.”)

Age of Adaline

Friday night is usually my movie night out here in the desert and there was nothing in particular I really wanted to see. After perusing the options, I settled for ‘Age of Adaline‘, the story of a woman of the 1920’s who through an accident and a process explained through a bunch of made up technological gobbledygook stopped ageing at twenty-nine.

Part of the movie was fairly good, a study in the fear of being different and the pain of watching those you love grow old while you remain the same and try to stay under the radar.

There were two things I found wrong with the movie, both of which are ignorable if you just want an unusual love story. Whomever came up with the narrated ‘scientific’ explanations should be taken out and shot. They were painfully idiotic. The script writers would have been better off if they’d just said she had a genetic mutation which did not kick in until her body was put under a life threatening stress she’d never before experienced.

And second of all… Hollywood cannot deal with the idea of people living long lives. They believe that healthy extended lives must by necessity lead to boredom and emotional problems. They nearly always fall back on a plot device that anyone who has it will yearn for a return to the Mayfly life or even immediate joyful death as in “Zardoz”. This movie is not as bad as some. It hints that the accidental process which gave her long life would be discovered in 2035, with the implication that perhaps it was then used.

What I find humorous is that very wealthy A list actors, producers and directors will be among the first in line to embrace the initially very costly technologies of life extension and anti-aging technologies, perhaps right behind the techies who are already inventing it for real in labs all over this planet. They will sing a wholly different tune when it is they who face age and death as fashion options.

Personally, I long for the day when we eliminate both of the presently unavoidable scourges of humanity: death and taxes!

Marco Rubio just struck out

As time goes on we learn more about the possible GOP candidates and which ones might be satisfactory to libertarians.

It appears that Marco Rubio is not going to be amongst that number if this report from CATO is correct.

Self defence

I am certain it comes as no surprise to Samizdata readers that States are interested in penetrating your computers and stealing private communications without bothering about the legal niceties of search warrants issued by judges whom they do not own. But some things come as a surprise to even those of us who watch such things. I had not heard of this particular attack before. Spoofing, in conjunction with other attacks to pin down the real source while the spoofer gets in, have been around awhile. Some were dependant on analysis of the generated packet sequence numbers to allow a complete hijack.

None seem as practical as the web page substitution technique discussed in this Wired article. It is somewhat technical but useful reading if you want to keep up with what the enemies of liberty and rule of law are up to. Even more importantly, the article shows there are ways of keeping the bad guys out of your computers. The method may not be as satisfying as dropping a nuke on the SOB’s, but hey, you work with what you got.

Heroes and cowards

Over a period of years we at Samizdata have noted cases of cowardice in those who are paid to rescue fellow humans in mortal danger. At least one organization maintains that level of bravery. The US Coast Guard motto is: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.” This is why I have no sympathy whatever for those who follow ‘regulations’ and hide behind them rather than do their jobs. If they did not wish to put their life on the line to save others, they should have found a different line of work.

If you want to see what real courage looks like, watch the early part of this documentary about an airline crash in DC. It was caught on camera and it shows a standard to which all rescue personnel should aspire.

Incidentally… I was working on a job in Falls Church at the time and I believe I had been across that bridge earlier the same day.


ULA is not going down without a fight

The ULA (United Launch Alliance) press conference is worth viewing if you are interested in the space industry. Their upper-stage engine design is quite interesting, partly because they are looking at the ability to store propellants in orbit for long-ish periods of time. They have now pushed the rest of the camel of orbital refuelling depots on to the national scene.

From a business perspective, they have taken pages out of SpaceX’s play book. The new rocket will be done with IR&D funds and once built it will have a published price schedule. Both are considerable breaks with the past.

A number of the big players have tried hard to down play this idea. A few years ago NASA tried to deep-six their report that showed such depots were better for deep space than the ‘program of record’. The effort failed and the report got out anyway and I have it.

I am considerably less excited by other elements of their vehicle and their time scale. They may have to do better than partial reuse by 2023 to survive in what is rapidly becoming a ferociously competitive market for cheap launch.