Month: July 2015

Safe Journey, Roddy.

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper, nee Roderick Toombs, has died of a heart attack at age 61.

To the degree that I’ve followed wrestling, I had a house mate who was big into it, it was after Piper’s move to acting, so I do not have much of a comment on this, but I do recall his performance in the iconic John Carpenter film They Live:

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper, the kilt wearing trash-talker who headlined the first WrestleMania and later found movie stardom, died Friday. He was 61.

The WWE confirmed the death. The wrestling organization provided no additional details.

Piper, born Roderick Toombs in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is the second WWE Hall of Famer to die this summer, following the June death of Dusty Rhodes. ………

In addition to his celebrity in the ring, Piper appeared in John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic “They Live.” In that film, he delivered the memorable line: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass — and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

If you haven’t seen They Live, do so.

It is a rather irreverent commentary on the Reagan era, and is perhaps even more relevant now.

Live in Obedient Fear, Citizen!

The Obama administration’s central strategy against strong encryption seems to be waging war on the companies that are providing and popularizing it: most notably Apple and Google.

The intimidation campaign got a boost Thursday when a blog that frequently promotes the interests of the national security establishment raised the prospect of Apple being found liable for providing material support to a terrorist.

Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of the LawFare blog, suggested that Apple could in fact face that liability if it continued to provide encryption services to a suspected terrorist. He noted that the post was in response to an idea raised by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in a hearing earlier this month.

“In the facts we considered,” wrote Wittes and his co-author, Harvard law student Zoe Bedell, “a court might — believe it or not — consider Apple as having violated the criminal prohibition against material support for terrorism.”

Our state security apparatus is truly lawless, and this is an inherent feature of these instutions.

In order to prevent them from doing this, there needs to be meaningful civilian oversight, and transparency.

Unfortunately, very few people in the civilian power structure want anything to do with meaningful oversight or transparency.

Science, Bitches

2 Words: Laser Bacon:

A team of Harvard scientists has paved the way for a deadly laser pig weapon by demonstrating that, with a little encouragement, pig fat cells can be made to lase.

According to MIT Technology Review, Seok Hyun Yun and Matjaž Humar stimulated spheres of fat inside porcine cells with an optical fibre, causing them to emit laser light.

Handily, pig cells contain “nearly perfectly spherical” fat balls, which are conducive to lasing by resonance when supplied with a suitable light source. The team has also cheated the effect by injecting oil droplets into other cells.


Since the bacon laser technique also involves the use of injecting fluorescent dye into the fat cells, the Harvard team could surely have saved themselves some work by using a glow-in-the-dark pig as a test subject. Better still, they could knock up a transgenic shark with fluorescent pig fat cells in its skin, and turn that into one almighty frikkin’ laser.

This is just so chock full of awesome.

Normally, I Avoid Super Hero Racial Casting Issues, But………

In the new Fantastic Four movie, Sue Storm (later Storm-Richards), the Invisible Girl, and Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, are being played by Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan respectively.

Ms. Mara and Mr. Jordan are both talented actors with impressive CVs, but she is white, and he is black, and Sue and Johnny Storm are brother and sister.

I went to the Wiki page, and Papa Storm is played by Reg E. Cathey, a black character actor, so I am assuming that Sue is adopted, (well, duh!) and that there will be which means that there will almost certainly be 10 minutes of back story to explain this in the film.

If not, you are going to have a lot of stupid people demanding back story anyway.

My problem is that when one reintroduces a series, this is the sort of sh%$ that you don’t need.

There is a going to be a Lot of back-storying in this film anyway (The first Thor movie was pretty much just backstory, for example, which left me unimpressed), and I think this adds thing that don’t need to be there.

As I noted in my comparison of Captain America and Thor, (link) backstory cannot take precedence over plot and character, and this choice by the director and/or producer points that they have not learned this lesson.

So I think that this points to bad cinematic decision.

And don’t get me started on the fact that Ben Grimm is not wearing pants. The Thing wears pants.

Today’s Must Read, from Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman makes an interesting observation in the case of the lion killing dentist from Minnesota, and it has nothing to do with the ethics of killing things for your personal amusement, and everything to do with the fact that “Skin in the Game” does not work to control healthcare costs:

Wonkblog has a post inspired by the dentist who paid a lot of money to shoot Cecil the lion, asking why he — and dentists in general — make so much money. Interesting stuff; I’ve never really thought about the economics of dental care.

But once you do focus on that issue, it turns out to have an important implication — namely, that the ruling theory behind conservative notions of health reform is completely wrong.

For many years conservatives have insisted that the problem with health costs is that we don’t treat health care like an ordinary consumer good; people have insurance, which means that they don’t have “skin in the game” that gives them an incentive to watch costs. So what we need is “consumer-driven” health care, in which insurers no longer pay for routine expenses like visits to the doctor’s office, and in which everyone shops around for the best deals.


But what if even the underlying premise, that individual choice will hold down costs, is all wrong?

As it turns out, many fewer people have dental insurance than have general medical insurance; even where there is insurance, it typically leaves a lot of skin in the game. But dental costs have risen just as fast as overall health spending, and it may be that the reduced role of insurers actually raises those costs. According to the post,

In the rest of medicine, insurers have an important function in limiting costs and promoting quality. The market power of Medicare and major national insurance companies allows them to insist on better rates for their customers when they negotiate with doctors and hospitals.

“There’s been less presence from all kinds of insurance payers in the dental sector,” explained Andy Snyder, who is in charge of oral health at the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy. “Medicare does not cover routine dental services, and private dental coverage is far less common than private medical coverage. So, the dental industry has faced less of the cost containment and quality improvement pressures that the rest of the health care sector’s experienced over the last couple of decades.”

So more skin in the game is not just useless but actually counterproductive.


Finally, a White Prosecutor Indicts a Cop for Murder under the Color of Law

Warning: This is a video of a police officer shooting a man in the head without provocation

University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing has been indicted for felony murder:

A white police officer who gunned down an unarmed black man in Cincinnati, Ohio, has been indicted for murder by a grand jury, as the county prosecutor described the shooting as the “most asinine act” he had ever seen committed by a police officer.

Samuel DuBose, 43, was killed on 19 July by a single shot to the head fired by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing during a routine traffic stop, in which DuBose was pulled over for not having a front license plate.

Tensing had maintained he was “dragged” by Dubose’s vehicle after the two entered into a physical altercation and was forced to shoot, but Hamilton County prosecutor Joseph Deters said body-camera evidence completely contradicted this account.

In a frank assessment of the officer’s conduct, Deters said Tensing had “purposely killed” DuBose and that he “should never have been a police officer”.


Deters, who was visibly angered at points during the press conference, continued: “He [Tensing] wasn’t dealing with someone who was wanted for murder, OK? He was dealing with someone who didn’t have a front license plate. This is, in the vernacular, a pretty chicken-crap stop, all right? And – I could use harsher words.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” he added. “This is the most asinine act I’ve ever seen a police officer make, totally unwarranted.” Deters also said the death reflected poorly on the university police department and had advised Cincinnati police chief Jeffrey Blackwell that the force be disbanded and replaced with a new city police precinct on campus.

If the university police department, it would be a good thing, because it’s not just this guy, two of his fellow officers obstructed justice to protect him:

Police officers in Cincinnati appear to have corroborated a false account of the fatal shooting of Samuel DuBose in the immediate aftermath of the incident, a detailed analysis of body-camera video released on Wednesday shows.


A Guardian analysis of the nearly 28 minutes worth of Tensing’s body-camera footage released by the prosecutor’s office also shows the aftermath of the shooting and reveals that on three occasions, two other police officers repeat Tensing’s account that he was dragged by DuBose, and one of these officers claims to have witnessed it occurring.

Tensing repeats, multiple times throughout the footage, the claim that he was dragged by DuBose’s vehicle. But at five minutes and 44 seconds into the video, he states: “I think I’m OK. He was just dragging me.”

To which a second officer, who stands out of the frame, replies: “Yeah, I saw that.”

Tensing continues: “I thought I was going to get run over. I was trying to stop him.”

Then, at six minutes and 54 seconds into the footage, while Tensing is seemingly conversing with the same officer, he states: “He was dragging me, man.”

The officer replies, “Yeah.” To which Tensing continues: “I got my hand and my arm caught inside.” The officer then replies, “Yeah, I saw that.”


The Hamilton County prosecutor’s office did not reply to a question from the Guardian after Deter’s press conference over whether any other officers were being investigated in relation the incident.

The officers engaged in felony conspiracy, indict them as well.

We need to go zero-tolerance/broken window on this sh%$.

F%$# Me, I Agree with Jeff Bezoa

Yes, the founder of Amazon, a company whose treatment of its workers makes Walmart look like an organic food cooperative has banned PowerPoint presentations:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is not a fan of PowerPoint presentations.
Anytime an Amazon worker has an idea to discuss, they’re asked to structure their pitch in the form of a four-to-six-page memo, which the company calls a “narrative.”

They then take their pitches to team meetings, where the first 20 minutes or so are spent reading the memo. After, the presenter fields questions from the rest of the team.


Pete Abilla, an early Amazon employee and current director of digital, content, and demand generation at HireVue, shared Bezos’ email in a recent post on his employer’s blog.


A little more to help with the reason “why.”

Well structured, narrative text is what we’re after rather than just text. If someone builds a list of bullet points in word, that would be just as bad as powerpoint.

The reason writing a 4 page memo is harder than “writing” a 20 page powerpoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s more important than what, and how things are related.

Powerpoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the innerconnectedness of ideas.

OK, I am now feeling some grudging respect for that wanker.  He absolutely nails the deep banality that is inherent in PowerPoint.

I don’t like feeling grudging respect for him.

Why Alabama is a Punch Line

Alabama is seeking to terminate the parental rights of a woman incarcerated in Lauderdale County, Alabama so has to force her to carry a child to term that she wants to abort:

Alabama officials are currently seeking to prevent a pregnant prison inmate from obtaining a legal abortion by stripping her of her parental rights, in a case where a lawyer has been appointed to represent the interests of her fetus.

An unnamed woman, who is referred to in court documents only as Jane Doe, is asking for permission to travel to Huntsville to end her pregnancy. She says she was unable to get an abortion before she was taken into custody and is now feeling desperate. “I am very distraught, and do not want to be forced to carry this pregnancy to term,” she wrote.

Jane Doe — who has to get permission from the court to be transported to the nearest clinic because prison officials consider abortion to be a non-emergency procedure — is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues that it would be “cruel and unusual punishment” for the state of Alabama to deny her constitutional right to abortion.

Now, as Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly prepares to argue against this request, he is asking the court to strip Doe of her parental rights so that she will no longer have the right to end her pregnancy. In a hearing to determine the outcome of the case, which is expected to be decided by Friday, the state court appointed an attorney — known as a “guardian ad litem” — to serve on behalf of Doe’s fetus.

“It appears to me that what the state is attempting to do is turn Jane Doe into a vessel, and control every aspect of her life, forcing her to give birth to a baby, which she has decided she does not want to do,” Randall Marshall, one of Doe’s attorneys, told the Huffington Post. “The case has certainly moved to this new dimension, but welcome to Alabama.”

Yeah, welcome to Alabama.

The kind of gleeful evil doing by the District Attorney here is of biblical proportions.  We are talking Amalek and Sodom and Gemorra here.

This ratf%$# is trying to destroy a helpless (she is pregnant and in jail) woman to inflict his warped morality.

Why doesn’t DA Connolly go to Syria and fight for ISIS, they are clearly his ideological bedfellows.

This Is so F%$#Ing Cool………

For the past week or so, there have been rumors that divers in Sweden finding a sunken Russian sub, possibly related to the contretemps late last year when the Swedes were hunting what they thought was some sort of Russian submersible.

The story of the discovery is way cooler than that:

Sweden said on Tuesday the wreck of a submarine found off its coast appeared to be a Czarist-era Russian vessel that collided with a Swedish ship about a century ago.

“We are most likely talking about the Russian submarine the Som (Catfish) which sank after a collision with a Swedish vessel in 1916 during World War I and before the Russian revolution,” the Swedish Armed Forces said.

Speculation had been swirling about the origins of the vessel after Swedish divers announced Monday that a submarine had been found about 1.5 nautical miles off the coast of central Sweden.

The announcement came nine months after a high-profile hunt for a mystery submarine in Swedish waters, suspected to be Russian, and some speculated that the divers had chanced upon a modern Russian vessel.

The Swedish military however quashed rumors and said the vessel was old, referring to the design of the submarine and the lettering on the outer shell seen in the pictures of the wreck taken by the divers.

The military added it did not think a full technical analysis was necessary.


Stefan Hogeborn, a diver with the Ocean X Team that made the discovery, said the mini-sub was “completely intact” with “no visible damage to the hull” and the hatches were closed.

“It is unclear how old the submarine is and how long it has been laying at the sea floor, but the Cyrillic letters on the hull indicate that it is Russian,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Ocean X Team said the vessel was around 20 meters (66 feet) long and 3.5 meters wide (11.5 feet), adding it was planning a new expedition to study the wreck more closely.

Right now, I so want to fly to Sweden and go SCUBA diving in the Baltic.

You have a submarine, history, and the marvelous preservative properties of the Baltic.

This is like the biggest military history-gasm this decade.

I am seriously getting my geek on here.

Labour is Determined to Suck the Life out of Their Party

In the UK, the political party formerly known as Labour has been spooked by the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, who is surging in the race to be the next party leader, because he is talking like he were actually a member of the Labour Party, instead of being a Tory lite like Tony Blair.

It appears that the party has taken a page out of Jeb Bush’s vote suppression playbook in 2000:

Harriet Harman, the interim Labour leader, has defended the integrity of her party’s leadership election system amid claims it has been infiltrated by hard left extremists as well as Conservatives out to discredit the process.

She said “rigorous due diligence” was being undertaken by Labour staff, and the new electoral system introduced in 2014 was less open to manipulation than its predecessor, which freely allowed opponents of Labour to vote without any checks.

She also disclosed a new email was being sent to local branches setting out how they could check whether bogus applicants were trying to join the party as registered supporters.

Labour has been hit by allegations that the party, by offering a vote to anyone paying a £3 fee, has left itself vulnerable to mass infiltration, mainly by hard leftwingers but also by Tories.

When signing up as a registered supporter – rather than joining as a party member – people must agree to the declaration: “I support the aims and values of the Labour Party, and I am not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it.” More than 20,000 new full members have joined the party since the leadership nominations closed. It is a good chance that most are genuinely enthused, and many are likely to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Let me get this straight:  People are willing to pay money to associate themselves with the Labour Party, and you are trying to suppress their votes?

What is the next dumbass policy you are going to try?  Maybe going out of your way to piss off people in the Labour strongholds in Scotland?

Oh ……… wait ……… They already did that, probably losing everything north of Hadrian’s wall for a generation.

This is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.

Eric Arthur Blair Has to Be Spinning in His Grave over This………

Eric Arthur Blair
Aka George Orwell

It appears that while the Department of Justice saw no need to call Dylan Roof, who targeted a black church with the explicit goal of keeping black people down, is not a terrorist, while animal rights activists who leg minks out of cages are terrorists:

The FBI on Friday announced the arrests in Oakland of two animal rights activists, Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane, and accused the pair of engaging in “domestic terrorism.” This comes less than a month after the FBI director said he does not consider Charleston Church murderer Dylann Roof a “terrorist.” The activists’ alleged crimes: “They released thousands of minks from farms around the country and vandalized various properties.” That’s it. Now they’re being prosecuted and explicitly vilified as “terrorists,” facing 10-year prison terms.

To call this “Orwellian” is an understatement, and I am coming from the perspective of being hostile to most of the goals of the PETA and its ilk.

These folks, are assholes, and they should be charged, but charging them with terrorism is nucking futs.

F%$# Me, I Agree with Donald Trump

On Monday, Trump fired off a tweet telling Rattner: “I think you should have gone to prison for what you did, I guess Obama saved you.”

He ended the tweet telling Rattner to watch: “I will win!”

It was unclear what activity Trump was referring to that should have landed Rattner in jail. Trump did not respond to CNNMoney’s request for comment.

In 2010, Rattner did pay $10 million in fines when he settled with the New York state attorney general for his alleged involvement in a pension fund scheme. While Rattner was never charged criminally, some others who were involved in the same scheme, such as former New York comptroller Alan Hevesi, did not.

Yes, he should have gone to jail.

Much like a stopped calendar, Donald Trump is right once a year.

Good. Now How About Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon Too?

In response to his knowingly shipping Salmonella tainted peanut butter, prosecutors are asking for a life sentence for former president and CEO of Peanut Corporation of America:

Stewart Parnell–the former Peanut Corporation of America owner that was convicted last year for knowingly shipping Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter from his Georgia plant–may be sentenced to life in prison if prosecutors have their way. The U.S. Probation Office concluded that the scope of Parnell’s crimes–including conspiracy, obstruction of justice and wire fraud– “results in a life sentence Guidelines range.”

After a two month trial, Parnell was found guilty of knowingly shipping the contaminated products to food processors across the U.S. This is reportedly the first federal felony conviction of its kind in relation to food safety, making it an unprecedented case.

In 2008 and 2009, the peanut butter outbreak spread throughout 46 states, ultimately leading the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to announce one of the largest food recalls in U.S. history. Nine people died and more than 700 fell ill. Parnell nor any co-defendants were ever charged in relation to any consumer illnesses or deaths resulting from the tainted peanut butter.


Parnell–age 61–is scheduled to be sentenced on September 21 by a federal judge in Albany, GA. Although prosecutors are recommending a life sentence, the judge is free to impose a lighter sentence.

A 17 to 21 year sentence was recommended for brother Michael Parnell. Mary Wilkerson–the plant quality control manager–may get 8 to 10 years in prison based on prosecutors’ recommendation.

Here is a suggestion for the judge: Imagine that Mr. Parnell is a black man caught dealing crack, and that he had 3 priors, all of them non-violent drug offenses.

 That should be good for about 60 years.

Or, perhaps you could imagine that he is a black man accused of selling loose cigarettes in New York City. 

That carries the death penalty these days.

An Outbreak of Sanity. Now Get the Drivers Some Anti-Psychotic Drugs………

Boston has dropped their Olympic bid:

Deep skepticism here about whether taxpayers would be stuck footing the bill for the Olympics has doomed Boston’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Games and raised questions about whether any other major American city might be willing to take on the risk.

The United States Olympic Committee said Monday that it was withdrawing Boston as its proposed bid city because resistance among residents was too great to overcome in the short time that remained before the committee had to formally propose a bid city by Sept. 15.

“We have not been able to get a majority of the citizens of Boston to support hosting the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Scott Blackmun, the chief executive of the U.S.O.C., said in a statement as he raised the white flag. “Therefore, the U.S.O.C. does not think that the level of support enjoyed by Boston’s bid would allow it to prevail over great bids from Paris, Rome, Hamburg, Budapest or Toronto.”

Here is the sticking point:

Voters told pollsters that they were most concerned about having to pay for cost overruns. But they were also dismayed by what they considered as Boston 2024’s lack of transparency and the sense that a small cabal of business leaders who stood to profit seemed to be running the show in secrecy. And they questioned whether much-need improvements in transportation, housing and education would get done if the city were so focused on the Olympics.

Mr. Wallechinsky, the historian, said that the U.S.O.C. should “take a good hard look at themselves” and conduct an investigation into “how they could have picked Boston in the first place.” He said one of the worst moments came when the U.S.O.C. watched as Boston 2024 said that its bid, which was not initially disclosed to the public, called for no public financing; the U.S.O.C. knew that was not true, he said, as the public found out later after news outlets obtained the bid.

So, they lied to the people of Boston, and the USOC wanted Boston to guarantee to cover the costs of any f%$#-ups that the looters, “Small cabal of business leaders who stood to profit,” managed to extract from the process.

They are now looking at LA, but the last time that LA hosted, they ignored the bling, and reused existing facilities, and that eliminates the possibilities for graft that drive the International Olympic Committee since Juan Antonio Samaranch (An actual card-carrying fascist, he served in the Franco regime in Spain) took over the presidency of the organization in 1980.

The 2024 Olympics will not be in the US.  Most likely, it will be in a totalitarian state, since the financially ruinous exercises in narcissistic self-aggrandizement seems to built into the DNA of that form of government.

My guess is that the 2024 Olympics will be held in Pyongyang. (Just kidding, but my last joke in this vein was Arisia)

Just When I Thought That My Outrage Meter Could Handle It………

I discover that a former cop tried to conduct a Minstrel Show to fundraise for the cops indicted in the death of Freddie Gray:

A Glen Burnie venue on Wednesday abruptly canceled a planned fundraiser for the six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray after the scheduled entertainment — a former Baltimore officer singing in blackface — drew sharp criticism.

Bobby Berger, 67, who was fired from the city police force in the 1980s after his off-duty performances in blackface drew the ire of the NAACP, had said he wanted to revive the act to help the families of the officers.

He said he had sold 600 tickets at $45 each to the bull roast scheduled for Nov. 1 at Michael’s Eighth Avenue, where he and several singers planned to perform as guests dined.

In his performances, Berger impersonates Al Jolson, a white entertainer from the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s best remembered for his blackface performance of “Mammy” in the film “The Jazz Singer.”

But after news of the event began spreading Wednesday, Michael’s posted a statement on its website saying the event would not be held there.

“No contract was signed with Mr. Berger,” the venue wrote. “Michael’s does not condone blackface performances of any kind. As an event venue, it has not been the practice of Michael’s Eighth Avenue to pre-approve entertainment that is planned as part of a contracted event. This policy will be carefully and thoughtfully reviewed.”

Berger’s plans drew criticism earlier in the day from the NAACP, the city police union and an attorney representing one of the officers charged in the Gray case.


Michael Davey, an attorney who works with the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, said the union was unaware of the event.

“We don’t endorse it. We do not support it, and we will accept no funds from anything involving this event,” Davey said.

The police union issued a statement Wednesday saying it has “much respect” for Berger and another retired officer organizing the event but does not condone “any performance representing the iconic racist figure that is Al Jolson” or any fundraising for the officers that does not come directly through the union.

When you have the f%$#ing police union saying that they won’t have anything to do with a fundraiser for indicted cops, you clearly have a problem with race.

The human race never ceases to amaze me.

I Need Some Pictures to Understand This

Click for big honking image slideshow

Saber Engine

Schematic of engine

Reactions Engines, the British company working on a partially air breathing cryogenic engine which would power a single stage to orbit spacecraft, Skylon, as well as a hypersonic transport, the A2.

This project has taken a major step forward with both the European Space Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) have found the basic concept sound, including a heat exchanger that cools the incoming air by hundreds of degrees in a fraction of a second without choking up without being choked with frost:

It is a well-established truism in aerospace that leaps in propulsion technology almost always precede major advances in spacecraft or aircraft design.

As the clamor for affordable access to space continues to grow, there is mounting interest in the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (Sabre) concept under development by U.K.-based Reaction Engines. This hybrid powerplant is designed to bridge the infamous power gap between air breathers and rockets, potentially enabling a vehicle to accelerate from a standing start on the runway all the way to low Earth orbit.

Such an engine could power high-speed aircraft, suborbital craft or even multi- and single-stage-to-orbit vehicles. Even more encouraging to Sabre proponents is that, while earlier attempts to harvest oxygen from the atmosphere succumbed to thermodynamic reality, the Reaction design continues to pass muster with experts in Europe and the U.S. The company’s most recent—and possibly most valuable—vote of confidence comes from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), which analyzed Sabre under a cooperative research and development agreement.

AFRL’s validation followed a detailed study of the entire concept, particularly the precooler heat exchanger technology, which allows for the practical extraction of oxygen from the air without clogging up the mechanism with frost and ice. Reaction unveiled initial details of the methanol-based frost-control system at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Hypersonics and Spaceplanes conference in Glasgow in early July.

AFRL program manager Barry Hellman says analysis “confirmed the feasibility and potential performance of the Sabre engine cycle. While development of the Sabre represents a substantial engineering challenge, the engine cycle is a very innovative approach and warrants further investigation.” As a result, Reaction Engines and AFRL plan to continue collaborating on Sabre, with potential follow-on work focusing on evaluation of various air-breathing-powered vehicle concepts and testing of specific engine components.

The AFRL study will also evaluate other potential uses for the Sabre’s heat exchanger technologies, including looking at broader defense applications. “The question to answer next is what benefit the Sabre could bring to high-speed aerospace vehicles compared to other propulsion systems,” says Hellman. “AFRL is analyzing vehicle designs based on the Sabre engine concept. We are also considering testing their heat-exchanger technology at Mach 5 flight conditions in a high-temperature wind tunnel.”

While AFRL acknowledges that Sabre’s original target—a single-stage-to-orbit space access vehicle dubbed Skylon—remains technically “very risky as a first application,” Hellman says: “Sabre may provide some unique advantages in more manageable two-stage-to-orbit configurations.”


The precooler chills the incoming air from more than 1,000C (1832F) to -150C in less than 1/100th of a second, before passing it through a turbo-compressor and into the rocket combustion chamber, where it is burned with subcooled liquid hydrogen fuel. For higher altitude operation and the jump to orbit, the engine switches to an onboard liquid oxygen supply and runs as a conventional closed-cycle rocket engine (AW&ST Nov. 26, 2012, p. 47).

What this means in the short term is not space travel, but it does mean that they are far more likely to get government and private sector funding.

Good folks at Av Week have a description of how Reaction Engines made this work, but I cannot make heads nor tails of it:


But after endorsement of the basic technology from the European Space Agency and, more recently, the U.S. Air Force’s Research Laboratory, the company’s synergetic air-breathing rocket engine (Sabre) concept is being taken far more seriously. Designed to power a vehicle from a standing start to Mach 5.5 in air-breathing mode, and from the edge of the atmosphere to low Earth orbit in pure rocket mode, the Sabre engine with a heat exchanger at the heart of the design is attracting widespread interest for potential application on a range of atmospheric and space vehicles.

With patents pending and negotiations with new industrial partners apparently at an advanced stage, Reaction Engines has made the surprise decision to unveil the first details of the critical technology at the core of its hybrid hypersonic propulsion system.


“It is pretty mind-bending stuff,” says Reaction Engines technical director and chief designer, Richard Varvill. Speaking at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics International Space Planes and Hypersonics conference here, he says the system counters the frost that precipitates out of the air as it becomes saturated with increasing relative humidity during the rapid cooling process. The precipitation “looks like the white feathery frost you’d see on a cold winter’s day. Unfortunately, that frost is sufficiently mechanically strong that it can bridge the gaps between the tubes and will block the matrix solid in about 3 sec. flat if you don’t do anything about it.

“So—surprise, surprise—we use an anti-freeze, and in this case it is methanol. But we use the methanol in a rather sophisticated way, with the objective of minimizing the amount you need. Also we don’t want to spray the methanol in and leave it in the air flow because we are actually cooling down the air to the point at which the methanol would freeze itself,” he says.

To do this, Reaction Engines has “borrowed a trick from the chemical process industry,” says Varvill. “We inject the methanol at one of the coldest points, and we effectively get the mix of water and methanol to flow forward in the matrix—against the direction of the airflow.” He concedes this seems counterintuitive, but explains the system generates an effective reverse flow by catching the water-methane mix and reinjecting it further upstream. “We have multiple injection and extraction points in the matrix, but the overall effect is the mix of methanol and water is actually flowing forward in the matrix against the airflow direction.”

The reasoning, he says, is that the condensate composition at the cold end of the matrix is nearly all methanol, and as it flows forward the methanol picks up the water. “At the inlet [of the matrix] it is nearly all water, so the composition is more methanol-concentrated at the cold end than it is at the warm end,” Varvill says. “That then reduces because you have extracted most of the water at the warm end, and that reduces the absolute amount of methanol you need to throw into the pre-cooler to stop it freezing.” And because the amount of liquid water reduces so does the relative humidity. “Eventually you end up with a situation where you have extracted all the water vapor as liquid from the airflow, and that leaves you essentially with dry air below 215K. The partial pressure of the water vapor at this point is so low that you can allow it to pass through the heat exchanger and it does not freeze.”


Reaction Engines decided to go public on the frost-control technology because of pending patent applications. “The trigger for patenting was the awareness that to execute this program we are going to have to involve other companies,” says Mark Thomas, the former chief engineer for technology and future programs at Rolls-Royce and now managing director at Reaction Engines. “You can’t keep trade secrets very long in that situation, so it is better to be protected formally and legally on the clever stuff.”

This is all going on while the engine is moving faster than mach 5, though it is slowed to subsonic speeds (the cooling allows the system to avoid the complexities of a scramjet, the shock cone in the inlet is the tell here).

I would really like to see an animation of this, because for the life of me I cannot see how they get coolant to flow forward against that sort of air flow.

It’s weird, but it is a good kind of weird.