Saturday, December 17, 2022

Mastodon And The Fediverse

If you already have an account in the Fediverse, you might want to follow one of my accounts. I separate my interests and toots by topic: STEM fun topics computer work stuff current events politics

If you don’t yet have a Fediverse account then I recommend using the following tools while you can. 
First figure out where most of your Twitter friends hang out in the Fediverse.

First go to
Click “Authorise With Twitter”, enter your Twitter account and password if prompted and then “Authorize Debirdify to access your account”.

Follow the prompts and you’ll eventually see information including data visualization shown below.

You may have a better experience with “local” and “federated” feeds if you create account(s) on servers (instances) where most of your favorite Twitter follows are. Read the “about” page for instances that look like they might focus on some of your interests. Add “/about” to the end of the instance name to read server rules, moderation information and other information the owners/moderators are willing to share.
Take special notice if they share “Moderated servers”, donation information or location or legal jurisdiction information. It can be frustrating if the moderation team doesn’t let you know when they decide to block instances of people you interact with.

Next, add “/local/public” to the end of an instance name to review recent posts from people who are local to that instance.

If you like what you see, go back to the instance home page and request an account. Be polite, follow people who post interesting things in the local and federated timelines,. Click those stars to let the author of the post know that you “like” or “favorite” their posts. “Boost” is similar to retweet. Be patient as you get used to how things work and the unique culture of the Fediverse.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

House NASA authorization bill changes Moon Mars and Gateway priorities

Yesterday the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee introduced H.R.­­ 5666, the “National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2020” that would cause a significant shift in priorities if passed into law.

There are many proposals in this bill which are improvements over the current "plan" that NASA calls "Moon to Mars". I wanted to share some of the most interesting improvements I see. There are several changes to important deadlines.

"The Moon to Mars program shall have the interim goal of sending a crewed mission to the lunar surface by 2028 and a goal of sending a crewed mission to orbit Mars by 2033." It's much more reasonable to safely land aeronauts on the Moon by 2028 than the 2024 deadline that was announced by Mike Pence.

I think the best sentence in this bill is, "The Gateway to Mars shall not be required for the conduct of human lunar landing missions."  I'm disappointed that the Gateway is still part of the proposed plan, but this bill allows Astronauts to land on the Moon without the increased cost and risk of stopping at the Gateway along the way. 

The requirement to build a Gateway is a boondoggle. Let me briefly explain why. Let's use the SpaceX Starship as the example of a Moon and Mars direct mission. SpaceX plans for Starship to go directly to the Moon and Mars without stopping to dock with a space station along the way. 

Somehow the Aerospace industry convinced members of Congress to require that a space station called "Gateway" be assembled in orbit around the Moon and to force every mission to dock with the space station before descending to the lunar surface. Robert Zubrin has aptly nicknamed it a "tollbooth" because it adds significant cost and risk with little benefit. 

So, this bill still requires that a Gateway be built but it allows the astronauts to go direct to the Moon and reduces the chance that we will kill those astronauts by rushing to get "boots on the Moon" with an unnecessary stop at the Gateway. 

I think there is a fun loophole in the language that might allow the "Gateway" space station to be near Mars rather than in orbit around the Moon. As this bill is currently written, I would argue that it could allow the Gateway to be positioned at any number of Lagrangian points in the solar system. If the Gateway was positioned at the Sun-Mars L1 or L2 Lagrangian point then it wouldn't be as stupid as putting it in orbit around the Moon.

Let me explain the loophole. The bill says, "The Moon to Mars Program shall consist of" ... "A Gateway to Mars in cis-lunar space or at a Lagrangian point". The bill defines the term ‘‘cis-lunar space’’ as "the region of space from the Earth out to and including the region around the surface of the Moon." It does not provide any legal definition of "Lagrangian point", nor does it elaborate on any requirement about which Lagrangian point at which the Gateway must be positioned. Also, one could argue that if the Gateway had an orbit closely around the Lagrangian point that it would technically be "at" the Lagrangian point.

I think they probably intended to suggest that the Gateway could be placed at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrangian points but they that. I'm not sure if this loophole was intentional, but it could significantly increase the value of the Gateway by putting it at the Earth-Mars L1, L2, L4 or L5 points near Mars. 

It's also great to see that this bill is bipartisan. It's co-sponsored by Chairwoman Kendra Horn (D-OK) along with Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX), Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK).  Horn said, “Space should not be a partisan issue, and I am proud of the across-the-aisle teamwork which made this legislation possible. Americans should be the first to set foot on the red planet, and H.R. 5666 moves us closer to that goal by directing a steady and sustainable course of action."

This bill will also, "require at least one uncrewed and one crewed in-space test and demonstration prior to its use to carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon and a plan for testing of a Mars human lander in a suitable environment." That's going to reduce the risk that we kill astronauts.
It's also great to see that they recommend several other requirements be removed from the "Moon to Mars" program because they are not helpful to the goal of landing on Mars. Below are the important excerpts.

"Any establishment of a continuously crewed lunar outpost or research station shall not be considered an element of the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars program."

"Crewed activities on or around the surface of the Moon that do not contribute to the goal of landing humans on Mars in as sustainable manner as practical shall not be included in the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars Program."

"Lunar in-situ resource utilization shall not be considered as risk reduction for the initial crewed missions to orbit and land on Mars. Any lunar in-situ resource utilization activities and shall not be included in the Moon to Mars Program and shall be budgeted separately from the Moon to Mars Program."

Those are the significant changes I was able to find. Did you read the bill? What other interesting changes did I miss?

Friday, January 24, 2020

System Integrity Protection in Mac OS 10.15 causes Operation not permitted errors

I am still suffering many pains related to my recent transition to a new MacBook that is running the latest Mac OS 10.15 Catalina OS.

Today I wasted hours learning about "System Integrity Protection" changes in Catalina that cause unix system utilities such as cron to get "Operation not permitted" errors when they try to access certain system paths.

This is described by Apple on this web page and provides a list of paths that are restricted:
System Integrity Protection includes protection for these parts of the system:
  • /System
  • /usr
  • /bin
  • /sbin
  • /var
Apps that are pre-installed with OS X
Paths and apps that third-party apps and installers can continue to write to include:
  • /Applications
  • /Library
  • /usr/local
I learned about this because any script and all child processes that are executed by cron will get "Operation not permitted" errors until you grant them access.

Open "System Preferences" > "Security & Privacy" > "Privacy" > "Full Disk Access".
Open Finder, click "Go" > "Go to Folder...", type in the path that includes the utility in and drag the utility into the list to grant "Full Disk Access".

You have to go out of your way to add cron and each system utility and application to be granted "Full Disk Access".

See /System/Library/Sandbox/rootless.conf for a complete list of protected paths.

I understand that most Mac users aren't UNIX nerds and don't use these features. I understand that restricting access for these utilities has probably reduced the security risk from malware and cyberattacks.

However, I still have to ask why does Apple make these radical changes in every new release of Mac OS and why do they not have clear documentation about the impacts and work-arounds? There must be UNIX nerds at Apple who experience these same pains and they could make sure that documentation is updated.

I can't find any way from the command-line to make these updates or to list which applications are granted access.  I can only do it in the GUI with these exact steps.  I also can't figure out how to modify the list of paths that are guarded by System Integrity Protection.  I wish I could modify the list of paths that each utility and application are allowed to access.  Please let me know if you figure out how these things.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Zero-G Blood And The Many Horrors Of Space Surgery

In Expanse Season 3 Episode 11 "Fallen World", a medic described the risks of injury in microgravity. He said, "there is nothing you can do for the wounded in zero G except ease their pain. Without gravity, wounds can't drain. Blood pools and clots, tissue swells, any internal bleeding in a death sentence." I wondered if there were medical studies that supported this theory. Here's what I found.

Source: Vice

no astronaut has ever had a major injury or needed surgery in space. If humans ever again venture past low Earth orbit and outward toward, say, Mars, someone is going to get hurt


In space, blood can splatter even more than it usually does on Earth, unconstrained by gravity. Or it can pool into a kind of dome around a wound or incision, making it hard to see the actual trauma. (Fun fact: If you are bleeding more than 100 milliliters per minute, you are probably doomed.)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Favorite Movies and TV Series About Space

Below is a list of space themed movies and TV series that I recommend and challenge everyone to watch as many as possible.  Some are excellent and others are terrible, but all are recommended for various reasons.  These documentaries have tremendous educational value, much of this science fiction is based upon a combination of settled science, theoretical concepts, speculation and scientifically impossible events.  As I watch these, over and again, I will share notes with careful warnings about spoiler alerts that should be reviewed after your first viewing.

The next few decades will be paramount in the history of human space travel. Be entertained while educating and preparing yourself mentally for the complex scientific and ethical challenges we will experience in our lifetime.

Movies About Space Exploration:

The Right Stuff (1983) Prime Video - This is the story of the space program from the tie when Chuck Yaeger broke to sound barrier through Project Mercury.

Project Gemini: Bridge to the Moon - Documentary about Gemini.

In the Shadow of the Moon (2007) - This is a Documentary about the Apollo astronauts who landed on the moon.

Apollo 12 (1996) - Documentary about Apollo 12 with interviews of all three crewmembers and top officials.

Apollo 13 - The story of Apollo 13 from the perspective of the astronauts and Mission Control.

Apollo 13 (1994) - Documentary about Apollo 13

13 Factors that Saved Apollo 13 - This is an amazing documentary of the disastrous Apollo 13 mission.

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo - Great
Space Station
The Wonderful: Stories from the Space Station -This documentary features stunning visuals and interviews with astronauts to build a snapshot of life on the International Space Station.

The Farthest: Voyager in Space - This 2017 documentary tells the 40 year history of the Voyager 1 and 2 probes from design and launch in 1977 to their exploration of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, until they left our solar system and are now in interstellar space. It won Best Feature Documentary at Ireland's 2018 IFTA Film and Drama Awards.

Kingdom of Saturn: Cassini's Epic Quest Prime Video - Documentary about the Cassini spacecraft.

The Martian - An astronaut fights to survive after he is stranded on Mars.

Gravity (2013) Prime Video - A routine spacewalk becomes disastrous when satellites collide and cause a cascade of collisions in low earth orbit.  Debris destroys the shuttle and space stations and astronauts struggle to survive.

Space cowboys (2000) Prime Video - Forty years after their original space mission was scrapped, a retired Air Force "space cowboy" leads a group of former astronauts on a dangerous mission.

2001: A Space Odyssey Prime Video - Director Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece about a space voyage to Jupiter with a misbehaving computer control system.  NOTE: Do some reading about a "Von Neumann Probe" as that's what I think the monoliths are.

2010: The Year We Make Contact Prime Video - An American astronaut is sent on a joint U.S.-Soviet space mission to Jupiter to find out what happened to the missing crew of the original Jupiter mission.

Galaxy Quest Prime Video - The alumni cast of a cult space TV show have to play their roles as the real thing when an alien race needs their help.

Moon (2009) Prime Video - Sam Bell is alone on the Moon, nearing the end of his 3-year-long contract with Lunar Industries, mining Earth's primary source of energy on the dark side of the moon.

Solaris (1972) (Russian with English Subtitles) Prime Video - Ground control has been receiving mysterious transmissions from the three remaining residents of the Solaris space station. A cosmonaut and psychologist are dispatched to investigate.

Solaris (2002) Prime Video - A psychologist investigates mysterious happenings aboard a space station in this remake of the Russian sci-fi classic.

Europa Report - An international crew goes on a privately funded mission to search for life in the sea under the ice on Jupiter's moon Europa.

2013 Origin Unknown (2018) Prime Video - After a deadly crash a mission commander assists an artificial intelligence system to uncover mysterious object under the surface of mars.

The Last Days on Mars - Astronauts discover fossilized evidence of life on Mars.

Love (2011) NetflixPrime Video - An astronaut spends years alone on the space station wondering what happened after loosing radio contact with Earth.

Marooned (1970) - Three astronauts are unable to reenter Earth's atmosphere.

Stranded - The crew of a lunar space station battles a shape-shifting alien life form.

Forbidden Planet (1956) Prime Video - A dutiful robot named Robby speaks 188 languages. An underground lair provides astonishing evidence of a populace a million years more advanced than Earthlings.

Lost in Space (1998) - See also the TV Series in the list below.  The Robinson family After crash-landing on an alien planet, the Robinson family fight against all odds to survive and escape, but they're surrounded by hidden dangers.go to space and struggle to survive as they find a way home.

Serenity - First watch the Firefly TV series listed below and then see Joss Whedon's movie.

Gattaca - A young man who is born naturally aspires to be an astronaut in a world where one must be genetically engineered to qualify for the space program and many other aspects of society.

Wing Commander - Two young space fighter pilots must warn Earth about an attack from an evil empire.

Starship Troopers - Warriors travel to the home world of giant bugs that spit fire, eat brains and attacked Earth.

Alien Arrival - An escaped prisoner crash-landed on a moon where she struggles to survive.

The Beyond (2018) Prime Video - Astronauts are augmented with robotics and sent through a wormhole.

The Titan - Much of the Earth is uninhabitable due to overpopulation, climate change and nuclear fallout. Scientists perform genetic engineering experiments on volunteers from the military in an attempt to evolve the human race for life on Titan.

The Cloverfield Paradox - A multinational crew test a particle accelerator with hopes of solving an energy crisis but the experiment goes terribly wrong.

Exploding Sun - An experimental space shuttle is hit by a solar flare during its maiden voyage and hurtles toward the sun.

Infini - An elite search and rescue team investigate a biological outbreak on an off-world mining-facility.

Cargo Space is Cold (2012) Prime Video - (Deutsch with English Subtitles)

Orbiter 9 (Spanish with English subtitles) - A young girl spent all her life in a space pod after her birth and is traveling from Earth to a distant planet.

Battle for Terra - This is an animation about the peaceful aliens on a planet that face destruction by the surviving humans who want to settle there.

Dark Space - Six young friends go on a leisure spacecraft and try to survive after crash-landing on an alien planet.

The Search For Life: The Drake Equation - This is a good documentary about the Frank Drake's equation and how is is used in our search for life on other worlds.

Lifepod (1993) - This is a futuristic retelling of Hitchcock's classic thriller in which nine passengers escape a luxury space liner that is destroyed.

Solis (2018) - An asteroid mining engineer wakes up in an escape pod that is hurtling toward the Sun.

Incoming - Not very good? I didn't finish it.

Predator and Alien movies - See IMDB for recommended viewing chronological order. Viewing in order of release date jumps around in time and seems very disjointed.

Alien: Covenant (2017) IMDB, Prime Video -

Movies About Topics That Might Be Of Interest If You Like Space Exploration:
This is intended as a section for movies that get an honorable mention from me because they seem related to space but there are very few or no scenes about space.

Starman (1984) - Prime Video Jeff Bridges stars as an alien from a distant planet who accepts the invitation found on the gold record installed on the Voyager 2 space probe and visits Earth.

TV Series About Space Exploration:

Space Race - This BBC documentary miniseries covers the space race from the end of World War II until the Moon Landing.  I strongly suggest this series for exposure to some of the lessor known and more uncomfortable parts of history such as Wernher von Braun's complicity in war crimes.

MARS (2016) - National Geographic channel created this amazing mix of documentary and sci-fi about the first to explore, colonize and mine Mars.

Disasters in Space Prime Video - Documentary about how NASA dealt with many disasters

BattleStar Galactica: The Mini-Series (2003) - This is a reboot of the original series from the 70s.

Battlestar Galactica (2004) - Watch the Mini-Series First, then this series and finally Caprica.

Caprica (2011) - This is a prequel to the Battlestar Galactica reboot series.

Star Trek: Enterprise - This series is a prequel to the original Star Trek series and movies from the 1960s.  The Enterprise pre-dates the United Federation of Planets

Star Trek: Discovery - This series comes chronologically after Enterprise and before the original series.

Star Trek: The Original Series - 

Star Trek: The Next Generation

The 100 - Post-apocalyptic life on space stations and return to Earth

Lost in Space (2018)  See also the 1998 movie in the list above.  Human survival on Earth is at risk and the Robinson family are among the few who pass tests and are selected to make a new life for themselves in a better world.

Extant (2014) Astronaut Molly Woods (Halle Berry) tries to reconnect with her husband, John (Goran Visnjic), and son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) , after returning home to earth after a 13-month solo mission in outer space. The series integrates memories from missions throughout her career and shared experiences with other astronauts and scientists. Astronaut Harmon Kryger (Brad Beyer), doctor Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim) 

Ascension - This series follows a secret century-long mission that launches in 1963 to colonize a new world.

Farscape - An astronaut accidentally passes through a wormhole and spends the series with alien fugitives on a sentient spaceship.

Firefly - This cult series follows the eclectic crew of a small ship called the Serenity.

Babylon 5 - A giant spaceship serves as a sort of UN in space where ambassadors from many alien races meet and work out their differences.

The New Frontier - Each episode covers a Space Exploration topic.

Dark Matter - The crew of a ship awakens with no memories, suspect each other and have to slowly get to now each other and build trust.  They learn about evil corporations that rule the galaxy as they visit many space stations and worlds.

Terra Nova - Refugees from Earth land and settle on a mysterious planet.

Outcasts - Refugees from a nuclear devastated Earth settle on a planet

Earth 2 - Explorers establish an outpost on a planet where they face hostile natives.

TV Series About Topics That Might Be Of Interest If You Like Space Exploration:

Ancient Aliens - This series discusses theories about why some believe that aliens may have visited Earth in the ancient past.  Ancient alien theories could solve many mysteries on Earth. You'll learn about the similarities in design features that have been discovered at the ruins of the Vijayanagara Empire in India, the Mayan cities in Latin America and the Pyramids in Egypt.  You'll also hear theories about some of the design features that cannot be reproduced with modern technology.

The 4400 - People disappear across multiple decades and are all returned at once.  Everybody thinks it was aliens.  Interesting topics include genetic engineering, special powers, time and/or space travel.

Continuum - A detective from the future travels to present day Vancouver in search of terrorists from the future. Interesting topics include time travel.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

You Bunch Of Idiots, Bill Requiring Encryption Backdoors Will Damage Australia's IT Industry.

Many in the Australian IT industry have signed an open letter to the Australian Labor Party condemning their recent passage of a bill that requires encryption backdoors.


Words cannot describe how angry we feel after your gutless and spineless decision to blindly support the Government's so-called "Assistance and Access Bill" (#aabill). ...

You let us down. You let the entire industry down.

You have shown us what you really are - a bunch of spineless weasels.

Every tech expert agrees that the so-called "Assistance and Access Bill" will do significant damage to Australia's IT industry.

It weakens security for everyone. We do not want to deliberately build backdoors or make our products insecure. This means everyone else's data will be vulnerable. ...

You have made it harder for international companies to hire Australian talent, or have offices in Australia filled with Australian talent. Companies such as Amazon, Apple, Atlassian, Microsoft, Slack, Zendesk and others now have to view their Australian staff and teams as "potentially compromised"This is because law enforcement can force a person to build a backdoor and they cannot tell their bosses. They might sack them and leave Australia because of the law you just passed.

You have also just made it almost impossible to export Australian tech services because no-one wants a potentially vulnerable system that might contain a backdoor. Who in their right mind will buy a product like that? ...

We are against the bill because it is a destructive and shortsighted law. In addition, most of (if not all) the services that law enforcement want to target with this law are based outside of Australia. This law is effectively useless in forcing them to build backdoors or break encryption. ...

Saturday, December 8, 2018

We Urgently Need a Legal Framework for Space Colonisation

Season 2 of National Geographic Channel's MARS TV series prominently features space colonization governance challenges and how those might complicate the exploration and exploitation of other worlds.

So, this article by Marko Kovic comes at a convenient time for those of us who are watching MARS. Kovic discusses four significant challenges that humankind will face in various stages of our settlement and occupation beyond low Earth orbit. Below are a few excerpts. 

Source: Aeon

There is no meaningful space-colonisation governance framework to speak of. As of now, in 2018, space colonisation is a veritable free-for-all.

From a conceptual, birds-eye view, however, possible space-colonisation governance problems fall into one of four general categories.

First, we need to answer a deceptively simple question: who is allowed to engage in colonisation activities? 

when one or several colonies become truly sustainable, a third question emerges: what do we do with colonies that want to secede and become independent? 

Finally, we will need an answer to the fourth question: how exactly should different independent human habitats such as Earth, Mars, Venus or others interact with one another?

In theory, the first question, regarding who is allowed to engage in space colonisation, is addressed in the Outer Space Treaty from 1967

it is more of a symbolic agreement than a detailed governance structure. It does not really solve the problem of who is allowed to engage in space colonisation.

The second challenge, the problem of governance within early colonies, is also touched upon by the Outer Space Treaty. The jurisdiction of any spacecraft and any personnel on that spacecraft, the treaty stipulates, is the jurisdiction of the spacecraft’s and/or the personnel’s country of origin.

Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, has proposed direct democracy as the governance system for a future Mars colony in which all colonists directly exert law-making power instead of appointing representatives in legislative bodies.

should early colonies move in the other direction by adopting some kind of authoritarian framework in order to simply get things done? 

Governance within early colonies should, ideally, find a middle ground between sound democratic decision making and technocratic expertise and analysis

The third challenge of colonisation governance, the problem of secession and independence, could prove to be a crucial juncture in the future of humankind. 

The fourth and quite possibly biggest governance challenge of space colonisation arises: the problem of pan- human governance. 

A good approach might be to continue using the system that we currently have, and try to expand it in order to incorporate the new layer of extraterrestrial expansion.