Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Rocket Racing One Step Closer
Peter Diamandis - the saint-like personage responsible for both the X-Prize and the vast inflation of the hopes of space geeks everywhere - looks like he is within reach of forming an honest to God rocket racing league. Combining the best aspects of current day NASCAR racing and the golden age of aircraft racing, the Rocket Racing League’s competitors will fly modified versions of XCOR Aerospace’s EZ-Rocket design over complex three dimensional courses, combining gliding with strategically-timed rocket burns to achieve the best time.
F-16 pilots Robert â€œBobalooâ€ Rickard and Don â€œDaggerâ€ Grantham paid their $100,000 deposit to the league yesterday, to become the first of what the League hopes will be ten teams in the 2007 inaugural season. The hundred grand will go to the expected million-dollar-plus cost of their Mark-1 X-Racer. Operating costs for the rocket and the race team will easily be on the order of a million dollars a year. But hey, they’re racing rockets.
I will certainly be glued to the tv when this all comes together. And if it leads to the development of better rocket technology, well that’ll just be pure gravy.
The meaning of the word “mutant” has changed over the years.
A new low
Once, in a brighter age, I was a movie afficianado. I saw everything. I loved good movies, and I loved bad movies. The badder, the better in many cases. (Evil Dead, They Live for example.) Today they announced the Oscar nominees. I have seen 1 (one) movie nominated for major awards. That’s it. Okay, two if you count the Best Animated Film category as a major award. Ten years ago, I would have seen all but maybe one of the movies up for the big ones, and most of the movies up for the technical awards. This year, it’s the exact inverse.
The one movie I’ve seen is “Walk the Line,” the Johnny Cash biopic. And, of course, the Wallace and Grommit Curse of the Wererabbit flick. And “March of the Penguins,” nominated for best documentary. Aside from those, I saw “Batman Begins,” “War of the Worlds,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith,” which were nominated for assorted technical awards.
The real reason for this cinematic apathy is not a a decling interest on my part in movies. Or even the widely rumored decline in the quality of films produced. The reason I don’t see movies is about three feet tall and named John Christian. Three year olds don’t behave well in movie theaters. And the prospect of paying out the yin yang for a sitter just to watch a movie I may or may not like is simply inconceivable.
The only time Mrs. Buckethead and I actually go see real movies in actual movie theaters is at the big holidays, when we have family (read: free babysitters) to watch our spawn. The very limited opportunities for movie watching has had a drastic effect on how we choose which movies to watch. Generally speaking, we only watch movies that we can be sure ahead of time that we will really enjoy. And among that small group, we are likely to pick the movie that woould be the most impressive on the big screen - in order to maximise our movie experience. In other words, we’ll watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire twice before going to see something like “Syriana” or “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Not to pick on Mr. Clooney, but if he wants to see us watching his movies, he really ought to star in a big budget special effects extravaganza with lots of explosions.
As John has gotten older, his impact on our movie watching has only increased. For the first couple years of his life, we could watch more or less anything on video. He was simply unaware of what was happening on screen. This eased the process of accomodation - we were able to wean ourselves off the movie crack gradually. But after watching “Christmas Vacation” and having John ask, “Where’s the Kitty?” we realized that even that option had been closed off. And since John is a night owl like Mrs. Buckethead and myself, the only way I’ll ever watch my Sin City DVD is if I get up at five in the morning and watch it before I go to work. Which isn’t really an option at all.
Seeing as we have another spawn cooking right now (she’ll be done sometime around the end of March) it will be at least another five years before I can watch movies again. If we have another kid, that day will be pushed back to sometime after 2012. Hopefully by that time they’ll be able to beam movies directly into my nob.
Food and Money… what else you need?
The Carnival of Personal Finance #33 is now up at Fat Pich Financials, who is apparently an ardent devotee of Warren Buffett’s and Seth A. Klarman’s value investing philosophies.
The 76th Carnival of Recipes is up at Triticale, the Wheat/Rye guy. The theme is potluck, so make up a tuna hotdish and head on over. (Wait… you’re not from the Midwest? Then bring mac and cheese.)
Monday, January 30, 2006
I Love You Too, Man, Mr. President
I know it’s surely in poor taste, but this ifilm video clip from the Late Late Show allegedly showing the President deep in his (fictional) cups (which he hasn’t done in years, Mr. TIA/Carnivore/Sekrit NSA Person) made me laugh so hard some pee almost came out. My nose. Some slowed-down-type video footage is all it is, and yet here I am wiping what I hope are tears out of my eyes.
Some like to pitch and some like to catch
Rand over there at Transterrestrial Musings has had some good stuff recently. One that caught my eye was the post I just linked, regarding the use of rotating tethers to fling payloads and passengers from Earth orbit to the moon. There’s a lot of good commentary in the, uh, comments - so read it all.
This is, I think, a very good idea. It’s practically all upside. A 100km tether would be able to fling a payload to the moon, and then use the Earth’s own magnetic field to recharge so that it can launch the next payload. Essentially, we can get one fourth of the momentum needed for a lunar round trip for absolutely nothing. Okay, for the amortized cost of building and launching the tether.
But there is more to it than that. Before learning how to make large, 100km tethers, we would need to practice on baby tethers. However, they would not be merely experimental artifacts with no practical use. Smaller tethers would serve an immediate need in allowing payloads to be shifted to higher orbits. And the skills learned in building and operating these tethers are obviously directly applicable to constructing larger ones.
Larger tethers have multiple uses. A rotovator could dip into the upper atmosphere and grab a vehicle like Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, reducing the cost to get off the earth. A tether in lunar orbit could catch incoming payloads from the Earth, or coming up from the Lunar surface. While Lunar tethers could not use magnetic fields to recharge (the Moon has a very weak magnetic field) one of the niftiest properties of a rotating tether is that it can serve as a momentum bank, like a flywheel. A ship inbound from Earth will have momentum, which is transferred to the tether when it is caught and lowered to the center. That linear momentum is stored in the spinning tether as angular momentum. Sometime later, that ship or another could use that energy to launch itself back toward the earth. Naturally, there’d be some losses. But it would mean an end to spending energy to launch each ship individually. Just do it once, and use that energy over and over. A high traffic rate between the Earth and moon would only improve matters, making it easier to balance the load.
The real advantage would lie in having a system of rotating tethers, located around the solar system. Tethers to catch relatively low-powered suborbital launch vehicles coming up from Earth and pass them up to orbit. Inter-orbit tethers to fling payloads back and forth. Larger tethers to fling ships to and from the earth, and even further afield. And practice building rotating tethers is in the end practice building space elevators.
There are some problems, most notably the issue of guidance and “catching” incoming payloads. Launching, by comparison, is easy. But like most technical problems, there will certainly be a technical solution. The only way to get to the point where that matters, though, is to go ahead and start building tethers - and given NASA’s current state, that isn’t terribly likely.
Hamas off to a rational start
Having won the Palestinian elections in a landslide, Hamas immediately put forward a sensible and forward-looking plan to establish amicable relations with Israel and bring peace to that troubled region, and prosperity to its beleaguered citizens.
The first point of its comprehensive one-point plan is so simple and profound that it is truly astounding that no one in fifty years had ever hit upon it. Israel must change its flag. I mean, sure, those two blue bars on the Israeli flag are clearly indicative of the zionists desire to create a greater Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates. We all saw it, didn’t we? We just didn’t want to say anything, embarrassed as we all were after that Holocaust thing that didn’t really happen, but which would still have been a good idea if someone had only done it.
Yeah. Change the flag. All will be well.
I think we can anticipate an endless series of well thought out and reasonable policy proposals from Hamas. Now that they’re the head of an almost state, they’ll certainly have to be more polite. Maybe instead of killing Jews, they’ll just suggest in polite diplomatic language that the situation will be greatly improved if most or all of the Jews would somehow cease living. Maybe the Iranians could help out with that.
[Wik] Loyal reader #0003, NDR, notes in the comments that claims such as these have a long history. He recommends this Daniel Pipes article, and having read it, I do as well. However, before I read it, a funny thing happened. I am so conditioned as to assume that NDR is disagreeing with me. So before actually reading the article he linked, I did a panic check on my source. The only other places linking that article were places like NewsMax. Egads! Had I unintentionally linked to the Israeli equivalent of NewsMax? I broadened my search, and discovered that the Jerusalem Post had also mentioned the incident, here. As I read, I realized that the Pipes article was referring to the long history of Arab claims. Not some sort of fantastical notion of Israelis claiming that the Arabs claimed that the flag stood for Greater Israel, or whatever it was that ran through my noggin.
My only excuse is that it is unseasonably warm, and the air conditioning at work has only two settings: warm and hot. And it is only set to warm for three days in October. The rest of the year is mostly unbearable, especially when it is sunny outside. Today, according to the cheap thermometer I keep in my office, it is 86 degrees and no air movement whatsoever.
My brain is melting, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
No News is Good News (Global Warming Edition)
I couldn’t help but notice that the EPA’s pages on Global Warming haven’t been updated since 2000. In fact, it’s downright difficult to find a policy page or information page anywhere that gives the Bush adminstration’s position on these issues. If you read the US government’s pages, you’d come to the conclusion that little has changed in the last five years or so.
This is more “we just don’t know” bullshit. I am struck by how similar this all is to debates over smoking. For today’s youth it’s hard to believe (and even silly) that twenty years ago the health effects of smoking were very much a matter of debate. Back then it didn’t seem like smoking was good for you, but the hard-and-fast science on just how and why just never really seemed to emerge. We know now that a highly successful campaign by tobacco companies to distort the science coupled with tobacco-driven politics conspired to deprive the public of key information they should have been told, giving the industry a few more years of profitability at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives.
That’s just par-for-the-course for corporations in general. A vanishingly small number of companies will try to do the right thing, when the profitable thing is so appealing. We need regulation to protect ourselves against harmful actions conducted in self-interest by private and corporate entities; their cost and decision equations simply do not take into account the greater good. Unless forced to, they never will.
Six years have gone by and the EPA’s position on climate change is identical—we just don’t know. What’s written on those pages is very much the state of the art in GOP positioning on this issue. Proclaim as loudly as possible that there are too many unknowns to make a decision, and further study is necessary.
The climate science community has shifted from arguments about whether global warming is taking place to the clear and present danger of the tipping point, something long postulated in the literature. What they’re trying to figure out is, is warming occurring so rapidly that we are approaching a point beyond which we will be unable to repair the damage, should we decide to do so?
This Administration’s position on climate change is to do nothing and say nothing. Based on recent news reports it appears that the administration has engaged in an active policy of suppression to inhibit the release of any scientific data or conclusions that might support serious action vis-a-vis global warming. Only by suppressing official domestic science has this administration been able to delay the engagement of the public on this issue.
Ask yourself—are you comfortable with the idea of Tom Delay, Bob Ney, Jack Abramoff, Randy Cunningham, Ralph Reed (and their pay-to-play, bought and pair for ilk) setting US policy on the environment? Because they already have. Responsible, honest leadership is needed—leadership that doesn’t simply “stay the course” no matter what inconvenient facts present themselves.
I’ve described the election of Bush in 2004 as a disaster—a turning point from which devastating consequences in the future will result. In five short years he has created a financial disaster in the federal government it seems almost impossible to repair. Taxation policies have inarguably yielded great benefit for the wealthiest, but none of the promised effects have materialized—indeed, average wages are down relative to inflation. Bush has destroyed the credibility of the US in the international community with his “tough guy” policies and utter lack of candor. You can argue that you believe he’s done what needed to be done, but the rest of the world doesn’t see it that way. He has squandered the reputation of the US military, pointlessly exposing to the rest of the world precisely what the US military can and cannot do, and how long it can sustain itself. He has engendered a culture of corruption in Washington that sets new records for dysfunction.
I can’t help but think that the center and left in this country are fighting so many low-level battles that we’re simply losing sight of what’s really important. Global warming and climate change is important. We need to study the hell out of it and figure out the best path forward. Separation of powers is important. “It’s not constitutional” is the only thing standing between freedom this country’s citizens enjoy and a history replete with examples of dictatorial and executive control.
The task at hand: Discover some absolutes. Find a list of ten issues and develop simple decision points for them. Hell, find three issues just to get started.
It is sobering to realize that almost everything is one direction or another from Kansas City.
Friday, January 27, 2006
At least he wasn’t wearing Leia’s Gold Bikini
From the diseased mind of confessed Star Wars geek and Ministry Crony Phil we find the bizarre intersection of two divergent forms of obsession.
Behold, ”Stormtrooper Elvis:”
“A little less conversation, a little more action.”
Does he sing Blue Suede Shoes with that tinny little radio voice all the Stormtroopers have? Does the Empire supply him with free quaaludes and peanut butter and banana sandwiches? A costume like that would make it much more difficult to expire sitting on the throne, wouldn’t it? Yeesh.
[Wik] You can see the entire parade of hopeless wannabes, with entirely free bonus snarky commentary starting here
I was inspired to jot off most of the following in response to a comment over at Murdoc’s place. It didn’t have awhole lot to do with Murdoc’s post, but the issue had been bouncing slowly through my skulljelly.
Hamas won, decisively, an election in Palestine. A lot of people have gotten their panties in a twist over it. This is perhaps to be expected, and really, we ought to rename our chattering classes the “panty-twisting classes.” But it was also to be expected in the sense that after forty years of ardent radicalization of the Palestinians on the part of Yassir Arafat, that once a Fatah leader attempted to move even a little toward moderation someone one else would step in as the “real terrorist party” and quickly win the admiration of the people. It didn’t help that aside from a new reputation for fecklessness in attacking the Jews, Fatah had a long standing reputation for bumbling, corruption, venality and treachery.
Hamas is of course a perfect fit for the “Real Terrorist Party,” seeing as they are in fact real terrorists. The Palestinians know that Hamas will quite literally stop at nothing to kill Jews. And the Palestinians have been trained from birth to salivate at the sound of exploding Jews. Action, reaction.
There is a tendency in the West to fetishize elections. Many of us believe that in some magical way, receiving the lustration of a democratic election somehow makes the winner righteous, or at least sanctioned by a higher authority. That someone expresses the will of the people, and is annointed by the sacred oil of electoral victory is held to be an important thing. That this is beside the point should be too obvious to have to point out, but many very bad people have embodied the will of their people, and have used that mandate to wreak great evil on their neighbors or even the people whose will they embody.
Elections are an effect, not a cause of Democracy. Holding elections does not mystically transmute a grabastic collection of nihilistic refugees into a democratic nation requiring the respect and due deference of the civilized world. Even if it is an honest, rigorous and fair election.
As NDR pointed out in the comments to Johno’s recent post, there is a long tradition of demagogues and worse exploiting the weaknesses of a democratic state. The Greeks invented democracy, and were therefore the first to allow it to devolve into tyrrany. The only defense against that is an educated and morally courageous citizenry - a citizenry that (at least for the most part) votes for what is right, not for what is expedient. Or worse, follows the dictates of base emotions at the instigation of the evil.
I don’t know if Godwin’s Law applies in this case, but Hitler won an election, too. Which is not to say that Hamas is like Hitler. Although it is. The thing is, “The People” in all its profound glory and unlimited sovereignty, can be profoundly and tragically wrong. As the Palestinians are today. We can understand why this came to pass - and I think that’s fairly clear - but that doesn’t mean that we have to accept the outcome. A leadership committed to genocide and hatred is not legitimate even if they come to power in a way that we ourselves use. It is not the form of the election that makes us what we are. (Or the British, Germans, Japanese, Indians, or whoever.) We have elections because we are free people living in a moderately just soceity.
The Soviets used to have elections to put a veneer of legitimacy on their tyranny. Elections in Palestine is just the means by which Hamas takes over the reins of power from an insufficiently violent and hateful Hamas. The Palestinians have not, I think, ever exhibited any of the qualities necessary for a real democracy to succeed. Electing Hamas shows that they value Hatred and Fear more than anything else.
You take the high road… I’ll take the low road.
There’s an old joke I used to hear in the music bidness, one you’d pull out when bitching about artist managers, A&R, (especially) booking agents, concert promoters, radio promo guys, anyone really.
And since it’s Friday, my inbound commute this morning took 135 very cold and standy minutes, and I’m feeling petty, I whip it out once again for your… enjoyment...? That’s not the word I want.
Q: Is it possible to get pregnant via anal intercourse?
A: Of course! Where do you think lobbyists come from!?
[Wik] Be sure to watch Ed Helms’ piece on searching for the taint in Washington on the Daily Show. It’s a real… shocker.
We’re Getting The Band Back Together!
According to the Washington Post, notorious burnout, drug casualty, and musical genius Sylvester Stewart might be rejoining the great original lineup of The Family Stone to perform at this year’s Grammys.
I’ll believe it when I see it, but I will damn well sure be watching!!
A New Democracy Blooms
I don’t have much to add to all the professional and amateur punditry surrounding Hamas’ win in this week’s elections in Palestine, except to say that George Bush was right, and I was wrong. Democracy is the future of Middle East!
It’s a pity, though, that “democracy” and “freedom, liberty, and Enlightenment values” don’t mean the same thing like Bush’s cabal seem to wish they did.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
While hummingbirds can’t walk, they can break dance.