Sunday, December 20, 2020

White Trash Christmas 2020

For some years now we have had an unusual Christmas yard decoration that we call “White Trash Christmas”.  It usually comprises an “iron Christmas tree” that I made,  plus a cheap plastic Santa and a bunch of plastic yard flamingoes lit up from the inside.  The flamingoes are the team of “reindeer” that pull Santa’s “sleigh”,  which is usually something like a lawnmower or a wheelbarrow. 

This year,  I could not make the light strings work for the “iron Christmas tree”,  so I just set up the flamingoes and the Santa.  I used a wheelbarrow for the “sleigh”,  complete with a trash sack representing the bag of toys.  This year,  it’s near a security light on the pole behind,  which lighting allows one to see the details.  (Usually the “iron Christmas tree” performs that lighting function.)  

If you look close,  you can see the pipe cleaner “antlers” on the flamingoes.    There are ten of these flamingo “reindeer”:  Rudolph out front,  the regular eight from the Christmas story,  and Bambi following up behind.  Left to right and front to rear,  the eight are Dasher,  Dancer,  Prancer,  Vixen,  Comet,  Cupid,  Donner,  and Blitzen.  (Yes,  I marked the names on each of them.)

I took this picture just after sundown,  right at the point the camera wanted to use its flash.  This thing is quite striking to see at night.  Enjoy. 



Friday, December 18, 2020

Q As A Threat to the US

Fair warning:  I am not a believer in the Qanon phenomenon or in any of the claims made by that community.  So if you are offended by that,  it is best you move on to something else.  

What caught my eye recently was a data analysis of Q posts that indicates Q is at least two different individuals.  If that is true,  then there is no real person who is Q,  and all the things this community believes and claims really are the egregious nonsense that I have long thought. QED.

Those claims include (among many other things):

Update 12-18-2020I forgot the claim that all the mainstream media are “fake news”,  which is also quite false.  Those changes are in blue text below. 

-------------------------------------------------  

Update 12-20-2020 For those who prefer ABC News,  I added the evaluation in red text below.

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the existence of a “deep state” that is a cabal of blood-drinking child traffickers that has taken over America, 

the claim that Trump actually won the 2020 election but was robbed of his victory by massive election fraud, 

the claim that Trump and the US military will soon lead a counter-coup to overthrow the “deep state”, 

the claim that covid-19 is a hoax (or no worse than an ordinary influenza),  and

the claim that wearing a mask to stop the spread of covid-19 is somehow unAmerican.

and the claim that all the mainstream media are “fake news”,  which they are not,  only some are.

Excerpt from the Wikipedia article about Qanon,  obtained 12-16-20 (my yellow highlighting):

QAnon[a] (/ˌkjuːəˈnɒn/) is a disproven and discredited far-right conspiracy theory[b] alleging that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US president Donald Trump, who is fighting the cabal.[2] QAnon also commonly asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as the "Storm", when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested.[3][4] No part of the conspiracy claim is based in fact.[5][6][7][8] QAnon supporters have accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking government officials of being members of the cabal.[9] They have also claimed that Trump feigned conspiracy with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the sex trafficking ring and preventing a coup d'état by Barack ObamaHillary Clinton and George Soros.[10][11]

An Orphanalytic analysis of messages is claimed to have uncovered that there are at least two authors to the website.[12]

Although preceded by similar viral conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate,[13][14] which has since become part of QAnon, the conspiracy theory began with an October 2017 post on the anonymous imageboard 4chan by "Q", who was presumably an American individual;[15] it is now more likely that "Q" has become a group of people acting under the same name.[16][17] Q claimed to be a high-level government official with Q clearance, who has access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States.[18] NBC News reported that three people took the original Q post and spread it across multiple media platforms to build an Internet following for profit. QAnon was preceded by several similar anonymous 4chan posters, such as FBIAnon, HLIAnon (High-Level Insider), CIAAnon, and WH Insider Anon.[19] Although American in origin, there is now a considerable QAnon movement outside of the United States, particularly in Europe.[20]

 

Obtained 12-16-20 from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/qanon-is-two-different-people-shows-machine-learning-analysis-from-orphanalytics-301192981.html (my yellow highlighting)

 

QAnon Is Two Different People, Shows Machine Learning Analysis from OrphAnalytics

An algorithm-based stylometric approach provides new evidence to identify the authors of QAnon conspiracy theories


NEWS PROVIDED BY

OrphAnalytics 

Dec 15, 2020, 08:38 ET

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Dec. 15, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- QAnon has spread conspiracy theories to an unprecedentedly large audience. Its thousands of online messages have popularized narratives such as the existence of a child-trafficking deep state. Recently, it inspired a series of violent attacks and was listed as a terrorist threat by the FBI. The Swiss company OrphAnalytics just published an analysis of all messages posted by Q. Its patented technology aims at identifying authors of written documents. It has found two individual signals within the corpus of Q messages. Its new study contributes to revealing the origins and the persons behind one of the most impactful conspiracy theories in recent times.


Two authors are behind QAnon messages, shows machine learning analysis from Swiss company Orphanalytics.

"Our results very strongly suggest the existence of two different authors behind Q," says Claude Alain Roten, OrphAnalytics' CEO and co-founder. "Moreover, these distinct signatures clearly correspond to separate periods in time and different online forums."

A former geneticist trained at Harvard and the University of Lausanne, Roten has derived his text analysis approach from computational genomics. While conventional stylometry relies on the interpretation of words, content, or syntax, OrphAnalytics technology is entirely based on algorithmic analyses. It compares frequencies of character patterns to bring out individual signatures, regardless of the text meaning. Experts at the company have provided compelling pieces of evidence in several legal affairs in Europe and are collaborating with the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Lausanne.

OrphAnalytics analysts have skimmed through the entire corpus of Q posts known as "Q drops". They cleaned the 4952 messages from any content deprived of individual syntax: lists, greetings, quotes from personalities, and messages shorter than 50 characters. Then, they fed the resulting elements to their software.

The analysis shows that the first period of Q messages clearly bears a distinct individual signature from the rest. These seminal messages appear on the 4chan web forum, from October 28th to December 1st, 2017. After that, another author takes over QAnon on another forum, named 8chan. The signal difference is strong enough to leave very little doubt on this author's swap.

The second and longest period — from Dec.1 2017 to Nov. 13, 2020 — shows a single signature with a slight evolution over time. While it is not impossible that a few other persons have mixed their voices in these +4700 messages, the signal is overall very consistent and points to a single author, says Roten.

"The next step is to contribute putting a name on QAnon by comparing these signatures to those of the usual suspects," says Roten. "To do that, we gather and cure written material from these persons to compare it with Q messages." Recent investigations point to a handful of potential authors behind Q messages, most notably the owner of 8chan forum Jim Watkins. "Tracing back the history of QAnon is important. It could help to understand how and why a baseless and outlandish theory, initially destined to a few isolated hackers, ended up having such a broad social and political impact."

 Contact

Claude-Alain Roten, OrphAnalytics CEO
261291@email4pr.com
Switzerland: +41 79 785 25 33
USA: +1 857 200 0729

SOURCE OrphAnalytics

My Own Opinions As Of 12-16-20:

I’m pretty sure the posters (plural!) who claim to be Q have been spreading disinformation merely for profit off the internet.  They have been doing this without regard for the damage it does to America.  If that is not a crime,  it should be!  So also should be illegal the actions of those who enabled this travesty by not policing their services for dangerous content.  They,  too,  have profited off this damage.

According to most Q interpretations that I can find,  the “Storm” is a military counter-coup against the “deep state” cabal,  leading to a military dictatorship under the excuse of martial law,  complete with treason/sedition trials and the related executions.  In most of these,  Mr. Trump leads this counter-coup.

Favoring an autocratic system that kills off its opponents is a hallmark feature of both the original Nazi party in 1930’s Germany,  and of neo-Nazi groups in the US and Europe today.  That similarity of goal in fact explains the neo-Nazi presence at protests and other events where Q followers are present. 

That Nazi stuff is a creed that I cannot,  and will not,  abide!  I do in fact agree with the FBI’s recent assessment that Q followers,  and many related far-right groups sharing these views,  constitute a domestic terrorist threat to the US. 

Followers of these far-right extremist beliefs have already killed more people,  and done more property damage,  than any sort of leftist/”Antifa” adherents.  That said,  there is no one,  single organization we can call “Antifa”,  despite what is claimed by most of the far-right groups.  The FBI confirms this.

Another claim is that the mainstream media are “fake news”,  all controlled by the “deep state”.  The presumption is then that only sources which make Q conspiracy claims can be trusted.  This is circular reasoning,  but that does not matter to Q believers,  nor does a total lack of presentable evidence for any of these claims.  It is easy to see the differences in editorial slant among the mainstream sources,  which in turn argues against common control by a “deep state”.  NBC News has a left-of-center outlook,  while CBS and PBS is more centrist.  I do in fact recommend PBS and CBS as the least-biased mainstream sources.

ABC News is also pretty much centrist in editorial slant,  but for my taste over-prioritizes entertainment news,  ever since being bought by Disney.  This is not a surprising outcome,  since Disney wants to entertain everybody,  left and right,  as well as centrist.  Walt Disney himself was right-of-center politically,  but the enterprise he built was deliberately centrist,  to appeal to everybody.  

Of the mainstream media,  the closest to actual “fake news” is Fox News,  long understood to be a propaganda organ for the pre-Trump Republican party and related voter communities.  While the actual Fox News reporters do a credible job of journalism with a right-of-center slant,  the talking head opinion-mongers (Hannity and the rest) have long been obvious far-right-wing propagandists with no apparent regard for fact.  That intensified dramatically when Trump first ran for the presidency,  and continued unabated , pretty much throughout his term in office. 

As for Mr. Trump,  the track record is quite clear:  he has NO real evidence of election fraud,  as evidenced by virtually all his team’s court cases having been thrown out,  specifically for lack of evidence!  Therefore,  he lost the election fair-and-square,  as verified by the many officials who oversaw and certified the results,  as well as these court judgements.  He lost both the popular vote and the electoral college vote,  and no,  there is no such thing as any valid slates of “alternate electors”!  That term is a non-sequitur,  as was “alternative facts”,  coined by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway back in 2016.

I conclude from his behavior since the election,  that Mr. Trump is not only an extreme “sore loser”,  but is also an autocrat-trying-to-take-over who failed.  What we are seeing is very much along the lines of what might have happened in 1933 Germany,  had Hindenburg lived long enough to fire Hitler from his chancellor’s job,  before he and his party had taken over all the police forces.  We were lucky,  they were not.

In 2015 when Trump first ran for the presidency,  I warned all around me that he did not really want to be president,  he instead wanted to be king.  Events have indeed borne that assessment out.

I do in fact believe that with Biden’s win,  the US has very narrowly dodged the fate of going down the road that Germany took into Naziism.  I mourn the fact that so many Americans actually want to follow Trump down that well-known path to hell.  Something like 50-75% of Trump voters seem to believe in at least some of the Q conspiracy disinformation,  especially the claim that Mr. Biden’s win is somehow illegitimate.  That’s almost one third of voting-age Americans.  And THAT is alarming indeed!

The problem with the Q conspiracy is that it is “not falsifiable” precisely because it is a belief system,  and such believers care nothing about facts refuting their beliefs.  All the failed claims and predictions (and the lists are long in the Wikipedia article) are excused by the supposed posting by Q himself (themselves?) that “disinformation is sometimes necessary”. 

For people (like me) who persist in pointing out how false this conspiracy’s claims are,  the ultimate put-down is “you are just part of the deep state”.  Such may be Barr’s “fate”,  despite his previous adherence to Trump,  because he won’t support the “election fraud” claims anymore.

There is no unified,  organized,  stealthy “deep state” cabal of blood-drinking pedophiles that controls everything.  If there were,  real whistleblowers would have surfaced long ago and warned us.  They have not:  therefore there is no all-knowing,  all-controlling,  clandestine “deep state”.  QED.

There really are two “deep states”,  but they are NOTHING like what the Q conspiracy claims!  One is a constantly-shifting set of alliances among otherwise-competing rich corporate interests,  using their wealth to get what they want at the public expense.  The other is a huge government (and commercial) set of bureaucracies of great inertia,  slowly descending further into ever-greater resistance against any useful action,  and also into greater incompetence.  Neither has ever been a secret.

Those two are bad enough to deal with.  We need no all-powerful cabal of blood-drinking pedophiles controlling everything.  We have enough to worry about without that utterly paranoid notion.   

The trouble with the Q conspiracy claims is not just the dangerously flawed politics,  it is also the dangerous disinformation about the current pandemic.  With events so clearly spiraling out of control,  the conspiracy still gets its followers to believe the disease is no worse than an ordinary influenza,  that some dubious or even lethal things might be “treatments” for it,  and that public health measures like mask-wearing are somehow anti-individual liberty.  It has even become an ally of the “anti-vax” movement.  All of that is VERY dangerous to public health,  and leads to egregiously-irresponsible disease-spreading behavior,  as we have already seen at Trumpist Republican rallies and events.

The Toughest Opinions of Them All:

Using public office to promote a belief that American election results are somehow illegitimate strikes directly at the foundations of American representative democracy (the very definition of a republic).  This is basically making disinformation war against the United States.  It is doing our enemy Putin’s job for him!  Mr. Trump is not the only public official guilty of this.  But nearly all of those who are guilty of it,  are Trumpist Republicans.

While no weapons other than lies are involved,  it really is warfare against the US.  The Constitution defines one kind of treason as “making war against the US”.  It does not specifically mention disinformation warfare.  But if we choose to include it,  then spreading the damaging false claims of this Q conspiracy is a kind of treason,  or something very close to it!  

And in my own opinion,  not acting to oppose this conspiracy is something very,  very unpatriotic!

Note that I do oppose it.  Vehemently!  That should be quite clear.



Update 1-2-2021:  Closely-related articles include "Beware of Leader Cults" dated 13 February 2020,  and "Observations About the Mainstream Media,  And Much More",  dated 1 January 2021.  


Update 1-10-2021:  there is also "It Ain't Over Yet!" posted 1-10-2021.

Update 1-17-2021:  add "Sometimes You Simply Must Do What Is Right"  published 1-17-2021. 


Update 2-21-21:

The Qanon "fearless leader" cult around Donald Trump seems to be breaking up and morphing into something else.  How much a threat it will continue to present,  remains to be seen.  Bear in mind that there really were a lot of people involved with this cult,  at one level or another.  They were clearly the majority of Republican voters at the polls,  and apparently a majority of Republican members in both houses of Congress.  

Cult members seem to be realigning into 3 different categories.  First,  there are those who now realize the whole thing was a lie.  They are crushed emotionally,  and will need understanding to rejoin the rest of us.  It will take time for them to shed the false beliefs they held so strongly.  

Second,  there are those who are being recruited by the other far-right extremist and white supremacist groups,  such as the Proud Boys,  the Nazis,  and many others.  Those who join up will add to the right-wing extremist domestic terror threat.  And a serious threat that is,  as we all saw on January 6th at the Capitol building. 

There are those who remain convinced to believe in the shifting Qanon narrative that Trump will stage some sort of a great comeback,  and still overthrow the "deep state".  I do not know how many fall into this category,  but their numbers are smaller,  and they will be able to elect far fewer of their cult to Congress.  And that's a good thing,  although time is required for that effect to take place.  We are stuck with the ones already in Congress for a few years yet. 

It ain't over until it's over.  And the right-wing domestic terror threat is actually getting worse. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Spacex Test Flight Results in Explosion

 So,  Spacex’s SN-8 “Starship” prototype exploded at landing.  The news reports seem to be focusing on that explosion,  which was not at all unexpected,  even by Spacex,  based on their remarks before this test.  I suggest that we look instead at what they accomplished on this test,  before we render any judgement.

The flight was supposed to demonstrate controlled 3 engine-or-fewer flight to an altitude.  Few outfits have ever actually done that.  Intentionally or not,  Spacex’s SN-8 did that rather well,  shutting down to 2,  then 1,  engines on the way up!  See Figure 1 for the launch,  and Figure 2 for the ascent.  All figures are at the end of this article. 

Note that all three engines are required for launch,  and only a fraction of the intended full propellant load (some 1200 metric tons) can be loaded.  Each sea level Raptor engine is rated for a max thrust force of 2 MN,  meaning total liftoff thrust is 6 MN.  Assuming an unloaded dry-tanks mass is 120 metric tons,  there is zero payload,  and we have some 412 tons of propellant,  the total liftoff mass is some 532 metric tons,  for a weight force of about 5.2 MN.  That puts the liftoff thrust/weight at 1.15,  which is about the minimum for decent ascent kinematics.  At only 492 tons of propellant,  the vehicle just sits on the launch pad,  unable to rise at all,  because weight is greater than thrust.

If all 6 installed Raptors in the final flight design were sea level Raptors,  so that 6 engines could be run for liftoff,  then the max liftoff thrust would be 12 MN.    120 tons inert plus 100 tons payload plus 1200 tons propellant is 1420 metric tons liftoff mass,  for a weight of 13.9 MN.  It cannot liftoff because weight exceeds thrust.  At zero payload and full propellant,  the weight is still 12.9 MN,  exceeding thrust.  If you start off-loading propellant in order to take off,  then you won't have enough propellant to reach orbit.  Some commentators have referred to the possible use of Starship as a single stage to orbit vehicle,  but this is simply infeasible.  

SN-8 did not have all the propellant tankage installed,  nor did it have anything to represent the cargo hold or manned spaces.  The fuel header tank was located in the nose of the empty shell to make the weight and balance work out.  But SN-8 was equipped with the right external shape and wings and canards.  That was a large part of the point of this flight test. 

This SN-8 test flight was supposed to demonstrate aerodynamic control into a stable "belly-flop" descent with the tail wings and the canard fins.  It did exactly that!  No other outfit has ever done that!  None at all!  Did you notice the variable rake angle of the canards and wings during the descent?  That reflects active control,  real-time.  It was very successful. See Figure 3.

The flight was supposed to demonstrate engine relight and thrust vector control to achieve tail-first vertical attitude for landing.  It looks to me like they did it,  or at least mostly.  No other outfit has ever done that,  either!  I was a tad concerned by the off-vertical attitude angle in the terminal descent toward touchdown.  But all-in-all,  it looked like this goal was achieved.  See Figure 4. 

The flight was supposed to demonstrate touchdown at essentially zero speed in a vertical attitude,  so that the landing legs would only be stressed within limits,  and that stress would be fairly evenly distributed among the legs.  This is where the test failed:  SN-8 was still moving on the order of 80 mph downward at impact,  and it was around 5-10 degrees off vertical.

Touchdown weight should have been under 130-140 metric tons,  so that 1 engine could balance vehicle weight at 60-65% thrust,  and two should handle it at 30-33% thrust,  they being advertised as throttleable between 20 and 100% of rated thrust.  Double those figures for a net one-gee deceleration to touchdown,  triple them for net two gees.  But,  they didn't get it slowed! 

There is the Musk tweet saying the header tank pressure was low upon touchdown.  A loss of propellant tank pressure might explain low engine thrust capability,  in turn failing to control descent speed.  There is also the odd green flame color and smoky plume right before touchdown.  There is even perhaps a hint of excess plume smoke during the thrust vector out of the belly-flop.  Clearly something went wrong.

I'm not at all sure where the off-angle attitude at touchdown derives from.  But that off-angle attitude literally crumples the landing leg that strikes first.  That is the risk,  and it is very serious!

All-in-all,  I think the attitude angle error would have toppled and destroyed this particular test vehicle,  regardless of whether the velocity error was zero or not.  But the big nonzero velocity error simply guaranteed an explosion.

Of the two,  the attitude may actually be the more serious problem to resolve.  Although,  the early Falcon booster recovery failures were remarkable more for velocity error than attitude angle error.  Either way,  Spacex has a lot of work to do to resolve this.

Net score:  3 of 4 overall goals demonstrated successfully in the very first test of this type!  That is a 75% success!  I'd say that's really,  really good!  So,  I agree with Elon Musk congratulating his team,  despite the explosion on landing.

Remember,  this is very early in a test effort that is going to require lots of flights,  and which will likely produce some more spectacular explosions. 

Such is the nature of rocket vehicle test flight work.  Take it from me,  I know.  Long ago,  I used to do this same sort of thing.


Figure 1 – Launch of SN-8


Figure 2 – Ascent


Figure 3 – “Belly-Flop”


Figure 4 – Vectoring to Tail-First


Figure 5 – Odd Flame and Plume Just Prior to Touchdown


Figure 6 – Explosion at Touchdown



Thursday, December 3, 2020

Blinker Fluid

The illustration speaks for itself.  This ranks right up there with the “metric crescent wrench” and the “metric screwdriver”.  Enjoy.