I’ve been following the @HelicoptersofDC Twitter account for two years and change, so it was a treat to see Andrew Logan, the guy behind this aircraft-tracking project, explain how it works and how he’s dealt with obstacles ranging from uncooperative government agencies to Elon Musk.
My take on this antitrust lawsuit targeting Google’s display-ads practices: If people as politically opposed as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton all think you’re guilty, you’d better lawyer up.
The notion that DirecTV’s owners–gigantic telecom conglomerate AT&T and the private-equity firm TPG–are somehow members of the woke mob is dumb beyond belief. And yet that claim also fits right into a pattern of performative victimhood in the Trumpian part of today’s Republican Party.
Tuesday night treated me to the first space launch I’d seen in person–meaning close enough to hear it–since 2018. And unlike the previous three launches that I have been privileged to experience from that close, this one did not require a flight to Florida.
A press pass issued by Rocket Lab granted a much closer view of its “Virginia is for Launch Lovers” mission, just two miles away from a spare concrete pad next to the Atlantic. At ignition about 40 minutes after sunset, Electron lit up the shore, a brilliant beacon shooting into the sky. The sound rolled out to us about two seconds later–a steady low-frequency roar that might have been an especially loud jet engine, except jets can’t shoot anything into Earth orbit. A clear sky let me track the rocket through first-stage separation, then follow the second stage as its exhaust left a plume dozens of miles up.
If you’re reading this around the D.C. area, you should have multiple chances to experience that, as Rocket Lab plans four to six launches from Wallops this year. Things to know in advance:
• Wireless coverage can get really bad, so you should not bank on being able to Instagram launch photos.
• Don’t expect the same show you’d get at a KSC launch. At liftoff, Electron’s thrust is 43,000 pounds, while at launch Antares (with one launch left this year) is good for 864,000 pounds. In comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy have 1.7 and 5.1 million pounds of sea-level thrust sending them skyward. But while you won’t have the experience of feeling a giant rocket’s sound rush over you like an acoustic avalanche, it is still a kind of magic to see something people made leave the ground and soar into the black, all the way to space.
• If you can’t make the trip, you should still be able to see a Wallops launch from around D.C. That’s more easily done at night, when you don’t have to distinguish one contrail from everything else in the sky; you just have to spot a rocket’s red glare.
The last theoretically full work week of 2022 is upon us, after a work week that was much fuller than usual by virtue of including two trips to Virginia’s Eastern Shore over four days. You can imagine my relief.
I wrote up an Insider Intelligence forecast that sees 14 percent of Twitter’s U.S. users heading for the exits by 2024. With Elon Musk’s recent bout of vindictive account suspensions and Sunday’s announcement of a control-freakish ban on linking out to “alternative social platforms,” that number may need to be revised up.
The aviation startup that’s aspiring to restore supersonic commercial air travel finally revealed details about the engines for its planned Overture jet. For a more technical look at Boom’s news, please see this piece from Aviation Week’s Guy Norris.
The Arabic-language, U.S.-government-backed news network quizzed me briefly in a phone call Friday about new Twitter overlord Elon Musk’s recent moves to ban journalists from Twitter for telling people about third-party sources of data about the location of Musk’s jet. (Speaking of which, you can follow the whereabouts of N628TS on Mastodon at firstname.lastname@example.org.) I hope the Arabic translation gets across my outrage over this outburst of control-freakery.
I wrote up my visit Friday to Rocket Lab’s facilities on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, during which Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck shared his thoughts about what led the company to Virginia, where it’s willing to “eat dirt” in rocket design, and its ambitions for its upcoming, larger Neutron rocket. I returned to Wallops for Sunday night’s attempt (my thanks to Ars Technica’s John Timmer for offering a lift so I wouldn’t be looking at seven hours of solo driving), and as you can read in the update atop the post, the attempt was for naught.
Friday evening was supposed to treat me to the sight of an Electron rocket lighting up the sky above Wallops Island, Va. Instead, it served up a sea of brake lights at the end of a long drive home from Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
But that’s a known risk of trying to schedule a trip to see a rocket launch. The fiendishly complex machinery needed to get a launch vehicle to defy gravity’s pull and then accelerate its cargo to 17,500 miles can fail pre-launch tests, weather conditions can violate launch commit criteria, and a single boat or plane in the wrong spot will cause a range-safety violation. And those are just day-of-launch dealbreakers!
Rocket Lab’s attempt to launch Electron from the U.S. for the first time succumbed to a more mundane obstacle: NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration were still “working to close out final documentation required for launch,” per a Thursday-night tweet from Rocket Lab, which forced a delay to Dec. 18.
Alas, on Dec. 11 an unspecified issue securing clearance of nearby airspace forced a two-day slip to Dec. 15–when itself got got ruled out on the 12th because of bad forecast weather and replaced with the Dec. 16 date than then suffered the aforementioned documentation veto.
And because Wallops is only a three-plus hour drive away, my cost to not see a launch remains trivial compared to the airfare, hotel and car-rental expenses I racked up before I finally saw Endeavour fly–an experience that was worth every one of those tens of thousands of pennies.
So what about that Dec. 18 date? It remains theoretically doable, in part because a journalist friend of mine is already planning on driving to Wallops and back Sunday and offered a lift. But I’m going to wait to see if the rest of Saturday brings any new “Rocket Lab update” e-mails.
This coming week features my last long-haul flying for work of this year: I’m headed to Maui for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit. Qualcomm is picking up airfare and lodging for reporters and analysts at this invitation-only immersion into wireless technology; like last year, I accepted the invitation on behalf of my telecom-news client Light Reading with the advance approval of my editor there, and I’ll disclose the comped travel in every story I write from the event.
I originally had a separate interview booked with Tim Berners-Lee but opted to consolidate with one my Fast Company editor Harry McCracken had already set up Friday. He wound up doing most of the talking and therefore got to transcribe the interview and write the story. Unanticipated bonus: Seeing Harry introduce himself to Berners-Lee, express his thanks to him for inventing the Web, and have Sir Tim respond “You’re very welcome—use it any time you like.”
The other interview I did Friday at Web Summit was with 1Password CEO Jeff Shiner, which resulted in this longer piece for PCMag. This was another plane-written piece, which was not the most comfortable sort of writing in the context of the 31-in. seat pitch in the back of a TAP Air Portugal A321.
I’ve been following the progress of Rocket Lab’s plans to start launching its Electron rocket from Wallops Island, Va., for a few years, and now there’s an official launch date announced. Yes, I plan on making the trip to Virginia’s Eastern Shore for that.
Friday marked two years since we adopted our cat. Abel still ignores us when we tell him not to jump on the dining-room table but is a sweetie in most other ways. And every time I expand the online world’s inventory of cat photos by posting one of him, I feel like I am being a good citizen of the Internet.
I watched a helicopter catch and briefly hold a spent first stage of a rocket as it descended under a parachute, a first-time experience for me, and then tuned into Rocket Lab’s press conference hours later to get some quotes from Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck for this story.
I got an advance on this three-company news announcement from Google, so all the quotes in this post are from two Googlers. If you’d like to read more about this initiative, please turn your attention to Dan Goodin’s writeup at Ars Technica.
I wrote up the closing session at the Hack the Capitol event in D.C., in which former Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Administration director Chris Krebs shared his insights about the state of information-security policy.
Facebook bulk-erasing everybody’s location history will be its biggest data-minimization move since scrapping its facial-recognition database. And yet the company’s sole announcement of this move Friday was in-app prompts and e-mails for some users.
I got home from MWC Thursday afternoon and finally got a Flickr album uploaded Sunday night. I’m blaming not just jet lag and a busy schedule, but a weird bug in the Flickr Android app that strips out geotags from photos automatically backed up. My workaround for this has been to select the pictures I want to share in Google Photos, download them to my Mac, and then upload them to Flickr. I would very much like to see this bug get fixed already.
My first MWC dateline came from me covering a speech by somebody whose office sits less than five miles from my house–Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who came to Barcelona to suggest two changes in the FCC’s spectrum-policy priorities.
The day after I got back from Barcelona, I covered Russia’s latest temper tantrum over American social networks not obliging its authoritarian streak.
3/5/2022: American tech sanctions against Russia, Al Jazeera
Saturday, I joined the Arabic-language news network (overdubbed live) to talk about the trend of U.S. tech companies cutting off Russia. As I noted, the likes of Apple and Intel can afford to fire Russia as a customer–it’s not a Japan, a U.K. or even a Canada.
Not going to Las Vegas for Black Hat deprived me of some conference receptions (excluding those that got canceled on account of the resurgent pandemic) and also reminded me of a failure mode specific to virtual events. As in, a speaker’s presentation stalled out on one slide, but he didn’t realize that because he apparently didn’t check the online chat and there was no IRL audience to say “next slide!” at increasing levels of volume.
I finally opened my mouth on the audio-room app to chat about the intersections of private space-launch firms and next year’s CES with my space-nerd pal Doug Mohney. We had exactly one person show up in the audience, which I guess means we should have led off with cryptocurrency and blockchains.
Fierce asked me to fill in to write up Fox’s quarterly earnings. I found it weirdly fascinating to hear Fox execs voice total confidence in their prospects, pandemic or not–even though some of the most-watched Fox News hosts have repeatedly questioned the utility of mass vaccination against the coronavirus. (I made sure to include that angle in the story.) I hope people who have been suggesting that an ad boycott will bring Fox to its knees will read this story or one like it and be reminded of how much money this company makes from affiliate fees collected from every pay-TV subscriber, even those who never watch a second of Fox News.