The Perils of Parallella

Parallella has been experiencing growing pains and there’s been some carping about delays in shipping the first rev 1 boards. After serveral weeks of silence I got an email update from the Parallella Kickstarter campaign indicating that they’ve resolved their manufacturing issues and expect to ship within a couple of weeks. Such bumps in the road are the kind of peril inherit in startup efforts.

Lyons Volunteers

Spent the last couple of Saturdays helping Lyons Volunteers with the flood recovery effort. We were fortunate to have avoided flood damage, but it will take many a long time to put their lives back to gether.

Knowledge and Power

In Knowledge and Power George Gilder looks at economics through the lens of information theory. With this point of view, economic progress becomes a learning/adaptation/exploration process. The best ways to promote progress are policies that make learning easy, good basic education, freedom to innovate, and freedom to enter business.

And the Rains Came

The Farmers Almanac forecast this Fall to be cool and wet, and it really started raining on the Colorado Front Range on September 9th. It was mostly a light, steady rain, but locally very heavy and many of those locations were in the mountains, and it kept coming. We got the flood warning siren in the early morning followed by the reverse 911 call a bit after 2 AM on the 12th, but by the time we loaded the cats into truck and headed out, all the bridges to our area were under water.

We were lucky that most homes in our neighbourhood didn’t flood and ours was high and dry. Electricity, gas, phone, serwer, water were lost one at a time and in varying order in different locations. The St Vrain River moved South of its previous course taking out sections of 2nd Avenue and McConnell Drive with it’s new bed, so we were still isolated after the rain stopped and the water began to subside. We later learned that Lyons had become a cluster of six “islands” that slowly began to be reconnected. A temporary route to our neighbourhood was established on the 14th and we self-evacuated that night in the truck.

Massive infrastructure damage to the area will take months to repair, with many repairs temporary to get through the winter. We’re staying with friends who generously offered us their home while looking for longer term temporary housing. With so many needing this from Golden to Fort Collins, rentals are scarce. Floods are possible anywhere, but you don’t expect a 500 year event. This goes to show that the disaster you get will like be one you didn’t expect.

TinkerMill

Longmont now has a MakerSpace. TinkerMill
is a going concern with a space at Twin Peaks Mall. I think this will be a
good thing for the community and have joined as a founder.

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson reviews financial market behavior and the difficulties that conventional mathematical methods have demonstrated when attempting to predict that behavior. They do poorly because they underestimate the risk of rare events, e.g. extreme events are more likely than the models predict.

The authors show how market data exhibits fractal behaviour. That is, graphs of market prices look the same at different time scales. If you chart the price of a stock on a daily, weekly, or monthly scale the patterns follow similar patterns, and you see the same thing with commodity prices. This is interesting and one to build models that realistically mimic market, though they’re not good enough to predict market behavior.

Perhaps the most useful insight in the book is that standard models assume that market volatility follows a Gaussian distribution (bell curve), but markets show more extreme events than would be the case if this were a good fit. A better model should reflect this and the Cauchy distribution could be a candidate though it appears to predict more extreme events than market data shows. Something in between the Gaussian and Cauchy seems promising and some researchers are exploring this.

NSRC 2013

The Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference provided some food for thought.  While progress is slower than we might like, things are still advancing.  NASA is still the 800 pound gorilla, but there are other funding sources.  More importantly there is enough enthusiasm to keep things moving.  I was encouraged by the Blue Origin session.  While they’re secretive and seem to be moving very cautiously, they’re making progress and I think they have staying power.  Like SpaceX, Blue does most development in-house, which may be most comfortable for them, but doesn’t do much to develop an industrial space ecosystem.  XCOR and Orbital Sciences are better in that reguard.  This conference provides good exposure to both the space transportation provider and user communities.

Antifragile

Antifragile is the culmination of the work that Nassim Nicholas Taleb started with Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. Where the earlier volumes showed how chance plays a larger role in life than it’s generally given credit for, and that rare events tent to have large impacts, Antifragile provides strategies for living and investing in a world that is less predictable than we’d like. He argues that the opposite of fragile is not robust as most would say, but antifragile.

Fragile things tend to get worse when conditions change, and robust things are relatively indifferent to change, but antifragile things tend to improve with change. To make things antifragile you should design them such that downside of random changes is smaller than the upside. In terms of investment this could be done with many small bets where each can only lose a small amount but could gain a large amount. In research a trial and error approach with small, cheap experiments may tell you more that a few large, expensive ones that rely more on theory. This interview provides a good overview of Taleb’s ideas.

Space Guard

The U.S. space sector has been dominated by NASA and the Air Force with some responsibility recently going to the FAA.  NASA in particular encompasses an unusually broad range of missions.  In a New Atlantis article, James Bennett has proposed a Coast Guard for Space to provide better balance for the space sector.  He suggests that the maritime sector, while not a perfect analog, provides a good model for restructuring the space sector.  This idea deserves additional development.

NanoRacks at Forbes

I recently came across this piece on NanoRacks at Forbes.  By providing a standardized interface for the ISS, they’re lowering the barriers to entry for research in space.  This platform should be less expensive in most cases that a custom designed one, and NanoRacks knows the ropes for getting approval to run experiments on ISS.  One of the early commercial experiments being run on NanoRacks is one by the Ardberg distillery to better understand the processes which give a scotch it’s flavor.  In addition to their agreement with NASA, they’re working on similar platforms for XCOR and Virgin Galactic.