Monday, December 22, 2003

Rocket Science just ain't what it used to be folks: where the rocket jocks of the 60's had to derive formulae and work them out on slide rules, we already have the formulae and a good chunk of knowledge; lots of great software is out there now, based on the rules they came up with and the data they delivered. And now your home computer is more powerful than all of NASA's computers put together, circa 1969.

Materials science has progressed almost as rapidly as computer science. Composite structures of today are much lighter and stronger than the simple tin walls that provided the Apollo astronauts a barrier between life and vacuum.

Most importantly, now the private sector has become involved in space in a big way, notably through the incentive offered by the X Prize. Some two dozen teams throughout the world are using incremental improvement strategies in their vehicle designs, each seeking to be the first to perform two flights to 100 km up in the same vehicle in two week's time. And some are getting close: Scaled Composites space ship 1 broke the sound barrier five days ago; the first completely-privately-funded aircraft to do so. And other companies like Armadillo Aerospace are breathing down Scaled's neck.

This is all a very good thing. As more and more companies become involved in space launches (Mojave is turning into a spaceport) more and more of the support services that these companies need become available. This brings down the total cost. A further advantage of the clustering of these spaceports (Mojave, two in Texas, and the Orlando area) is that they become a magnet for talented people interested in becoming involved in space work, much like Silicon Valley did in the 80's and 90's for computers.

With two people already having paid their way into space, and two more rumored to be going soon, all at 20 million dollars apiece, there is definitely a market for space tourism. And it isn't a market for daredevils either. These are fairly average people who just happen to have a lot of money. Bring that price down geometrically and the numbers of people willing to pay will rise exponentially, at least until demand levels out. Considering that there have only been 450 people in space over the last 46 years, compared with the millions who would want to go, tourism is an obvious growth market, with a long time before demand levels off.

But to have a viable tourist market, there must be somewhere for the tourist to go, and something for him to do when he gets there. And a sensitive microgravity laboratory is not the place to bring a bunch of tourists. You need to take them to a place in space that is designed for their needs. What is really needed for orbital tourists is a true space station, not an outpost like the ISS. Something similar to the big wheel-shaped station in 2001:a Space Odyssey would suffice; it would rotate to provide a semblance of gravity in the rim, and still have microgravity in the hub. It would be large enough that the spin would be low enough to not cause vertigo (anything less than 2 rpm is ok).

But how does one build something that big in space? First, start with the biggest part of the STS system, the space shuttle External Tank. These tanks could be taken all the way to orbit, but are not as there would be no way to control them. Rather than wasting them as has been done on the past more than 100 flights, they should be taken to orbit and kept there, eventually assembling them into a ring-shaped station (16 of these tanks could be used to make a Space Island-type station. This does not even require a shuttle launch, as two external tanks (one fueled, one "dry", containing ~50 tons of cargo and an "Aft Cargo Carrier" containing the equivalent of space shuttle main engines and a large space habitat) may be launched "belly-to-belly" in a completely unmanned mission. So only 8 such launches (or 16 if the shuttle fleet ever gets flying again)would be needed to create a Space Island. Bear in mind that one external tank by itself is more pressurizable volume than the full projected complete ISS, Mir, and Skylab, combined.

So you build this lovely space island, and competition between suborbital companies eventually yields regular orbital transport, bringing your costs down... and your competitors' costs...

But tourism by itself is not enough. It will give a big boost to the space industry, to be sure, but tourism needs to be more than just an end - it is the means to an end, at least partly. But to really get space into high gear, industry must step in. There are plenty of advantages to operating industry in space, once the cost to orbit figure has come down to a reasonable level. Unlimited free power for one: the sun, she just keeps a'burning. Raw materials available everywhere, with no indigenous populations of snail darters for the greens to get in a tizzy over. Microgravity (think: ultrapure steel). Finally, no governments up there to tie up industry in red tape.

oooo boy, i'm just getting started...

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Over at Claire Wolfe's blog, there has been some discussion on the associated forum about intellectual property, one which has been rather heated and divisive.

I contend that "intellectual property rights" are a sham. Intellectual property is not property at all, and the copyright system amounts to fraud.

This is not to say that authors, programmers, composers, and the like ought not to be paid for their creations. They should. The key is that once the agreed-upon price has been paid for that creation, then it no longer belongs to the originator; instead it now belongs to whoever bought it.

In the case of music, for example, a band first puts together a CD, then sells it to a music publisher like a record company. The record company now owns the CD. They produce thousands or hundreds of thousands of copies of that CD, put them in cases with liners, and sell them to record stores. The record stores now own the CDs. Then the individual customer buys a copy of the CD. When all the CDs are sold, they no longer belong to the artist, or to the record company, or to the record store, they belong instead to the individual customers.

"Intellectual Property" sees this differently: it contends that even after the artist has been paid, and the record company has been paid, and the record store has been paid, and the customer owns the CD, that even then the artist still deserves to be paid again should the customer convert the songs to MP3 and make a copy of that CD on his hard drive. Or that the artist should be paid if copies of the songs on that CD are shared over KaZaA or something similar.

Property that, once sold, still belongs to the person who originally owned it, cannot really be called property at all. The practice of selling the same item to many people, while still retaining ownership of that item, can only be called fraud. If I sold a Van Gough painting to one person, then sold the same painting to another person, then sold it again to a third, I could surely not expect to still retain ownership of that painting. I could expect to be charged with fraud instead.

So, suppose I am van Gough, and I sell one of my paintings. The person I sell it to can make 1 copy or 100000, it doesn't matter. He owns the painting. He can sell the copies he makes, as long as the name "van Gough" appears on them. And, he could claim that they were copies of the original; he could not claim that each was the original. None of the copies would be worth as much as the original, as they are copies. In much the same way, an autographed copy of a book is worth more than another copy of the same book.

So as long as the words are not plagarized, as long as the original composer is noted, as long as the credits remain unchanged on a film, there is nothing wrong with sharing any data that you own over the internet.

The proponents of intellectual property would have one believe that once this "property" is sold, that the ownership still remains with the originator, and that the originator must be paid a "royalty" in order to share data this way. This is obviously fraudulent.

And what about the record store, the record company, and all the support companies "affected" by this "lost sale"? Ought they not be compensated as well? Again, They should not, as they have already been paid, as has the originator of the data. Any additional payments to these groups would also be fraudulent.

Government force must be applied to enforce copyright and patent regulations. This is due to the nature of ideas; once an idea is transferred from one mind to the next, ownership of the idea by the original mind is not diminished in any way. Indeed, in some forms of idea transfer (such as teaching), the idea may even be enhanced by the transfer. And really, that is what songs and movies and all patentable and copyrightable material are: ideas. They have no mass, they have no volume, but they do take effort to create. And that effort ought to be rewarded financially, when they sell their idea or collection of ideas the first time. After that, no compensation can morally be expected.

The reason government force is needed to restrict the flow of these ideas is that the duplication costs of these ideas are miniscule compared to the original production costs. So the record companies, the artists, and those with an interest in maintaining "copyright" must use force to get fraudulent extra payment for already-paid-for services.

The lever used to apply this force is a tax on blank cassette tapes, on blank CDs, on blank DVDs, on tape recorders, on CD writers and on DVD writers. This tax is ostensibly returned to the artists who lose "revenue" due to "pirating". In reality, most of this money goes into government coffers, with some doled out to the record companies and movie companies (you know, the very people who make the blank CDs and blank cassette tapes and blank DVDs).

How they distribute the cash must be an exceedingly complex formula: How does one know what percentage of the blank CDs sold will contain a bunch of MP3s, and how many will contain movies? Which songs and which movies? And how many of those CDs will be used to copy one's own 8mm home movies? One can be certain that record companies are not distributing cash to artists not signed to their label.

These taxes are applied to every blank CD sold. This flies in the face of the 5th amendment (compels the customer to be a witness against himself. to plead guilty and pay a fine for "copyright infringement" even if one is copying self-produced material). It and other laws which hinder or prohibit the sharing of files over KaZaA violate the first amendment ("Congress shall make no law....abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press").

Clearly, data that I own, on a CD I bought, is mine, to do with what I will. This is the same for anyone else who buys a product like a book or magazine or CD or DVD or what-have-you. Whether these people choose to share this data over KaZaA, or to make a second copy for their own use, or to put their CDs into a big pile and burn them, is nobody's business but their own. They bought it, it is theirs. And if they want to share data, freedom of speech and freedom of the press guarantee that right.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Rand Simberg has a good editorial on this, the 100th anniversary of manned powered flight. Here's a sample:

"Perhaps, had they had an inkling of the events they were setting in motion, and powers they were unleashing, the brothers Wright, devout sons of a midwest Bishop, would have hesitated themselves.

But probably not. Like all pioneers, successful or otherwise, they were risk takers. They would have had no fear of the future that they were ushering in--after all, they had no fear even of losing their own lives, at least not enough so to hinder their progress, though they knew that others had died in similar attempts, and even been inspired by them.

They had a competitor, though--one who was risk averse, and partly because of that, he failed. It should be no surprise that he was funded by the U.S. government."

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Thursday, November 27, 2003

The Space Exploration Act of 2003 was introduced on September 10, 2003 by Rep. Nick Lampson of Texas. This Act "will call for a return to the Moon, trips to near-earth asteroids, and a manned mission to Mars within 20 years."

It must be stopped. And decisively.

This Act completely misses the point about what is wrong with NASA's manned space program. That is, it shouldn't exist. The solution is not more flags'n'footprints missions, more trillion dollar white elephants. The solution is to get NASA out of the way of private enterprise. It is NASA's very presence in manned launch markets that artificially inflates costs and stifles innovation. NASA is also saddled with having to follow through on a bad decision not for a few weeks or quarters or even years, but for generations, as in the case with the Shuttle and (soon) the ISS. A private company could not afford to make bad design decisions (like putting wings on a vertically-launched spacecraft) and stick to them for more than a few quarters before it affected their stock value.

Instead, businesses have to make good decisions or they fold. A business may have a good design and still fold, but it wouldn't be spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars on every launch of seven people.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I read a book I downloaded (quite legally I assure you) the other day, and it was really quite good, so I thought I ought ot mention it here on the blog. It is called Net Assets by Carl Bussjaeger, and it it is pretty decent read. The political situation has been only slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect, but it is easy to see that this relatively recent book is fairly close parody of the current administration. Well worth the read.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I will be adding more links to the left hand column in the next few days, and maybe rearranging things in here. Expect more links to various libertarian bogs and sites, such as the links to Bureaucrash and Simon Jester at left. Also expect more links to other space and science-related blogs like Space Daily and PERMANENT. If people other than myself start reading this thing then I'll change that hit counter too.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Normally I give lawyers a hard time, but every now and then something makes me think that maybe ol' Billy wasn't 100% right. Such as this website, which is mounting a Supreme Court challenge against Income Tax under the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 13th amemdments to the US Constitution. About damn time.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Are you an Austrian economist? Take this quiz to find out. It is 25 questions, with four choices for each: an Austrian answer, a Chicago school answer, the Keynesian-neoclassical answer, and a socialist answer, all loosely defined. These are worth 4,2,1, and 0 points respectively. I got a score of 95 out of 100, and on the ones were I answered with the Chicago or Keynesian answer, after a closer look I would change my answers to the Austrian ones there too. So, I guess I am an Austrian economist.
I have seen this around a few places now, and I thought it would fit in nicely with this blog:

A New Covenant*
by L. Neil Smith

WE, THE UNDERSIGNED Witnesses to the Lesson of History -- that no Form of political Governance may be relied upon to secure the individual Rights of Life, Liberty, or Property -- now therefore establish and provide certain fundamental Precepts measuring our Conduct toward one another, and toward others:

Individual Sovereignty

FIRST, that we shall henceforward recognize each individual to be the exclusive Proprietor of his or her own Existence and of all products of that Existence, holding no Obligation binding among Individuals excepting those to which they voluntarily and explicitly consent;

Freedom from Coercion

SECOND, that under no Circumstances shall we acknowledge any Liberty to initiate Force against another Person, and shall instead defend the inalienable Right of Individuals to resist Coercion employing whatever Means prove necessary in their Judgement;

Association and Secession

THIRD, that we shall hold inviolable those Relationships among Individuals which are totally voluntary, but conversely, any Relationship not thus mutually agreeable shall be considered empty and invalid;

Individuality of Rights

FOURTH, that we shall regard Rights to be neither collective nor additive in Character -- two individuals shall have no more Rights than one, nor shall two million nor two thousand million -- nor shall any Group possess Rights in Excess of those belonging to its individual members;

Equality of Liberty

FIFTH, that we shall maintain these Principles without Respect to any person's Race, Nationality, Gender, sexual Preference, Age, or System of Beliefs, and hold that any Entity or Association, however constituted, acting to contravene them by initiation of Force -- or Threat of same -- shall have forfeited its Right to exist;


UPON UNANIMOUS CONSENT of the Members or Inhabitants of any Association or Territory, we further stipulate that this Agreement shall supercede all existing governmental Documents or Usages then pertinent, that such Constitutions, Charters, Acts, Laws, Statutes, Regulations, or Ordinances contradictory or destructive to the Ends which it expresses shall be null and void, and that this Covenant, being the Property of its Author and Signatories, shall not be Subject to Interpretation excepting insofar as it shall please them.


_________________________________ _______________________________
signature date signature date
_________________________________ _______________________________ '
name (please print) name (please print)


736 Eastdale Drive
Fort Collins, CO 80524

PLEASE ENCLOSE TWO DOLLARS to cover processing and archiving. Add SASE for confirmation of receipt.

*Excerpted from Chapter XVII of The Gallatin Divergence by L. Neil Smith, Del Rey Books (a division of Random House), New York, 1985, as amended by unanimous consent, October, 1986.

e-mail L. Neil Smith:

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I keep seeing this over and over: the assertion that the war in Iraq was all about oil. Let's get this straight right now.

Iraq is a minor player with miniscule oil reserves. In fact, all of OPEC put together does not add up to even half of the world's total oil reserves. The fact is that the province of Alberta in Canada has 1.6 trillion barrels of oil in its tar sands - out of a worldwide total reserve of 2.6 trillion barrels - in other words, more than half of the world's oil is within 600 miles of the US border. In addition, Alberta has conventional oil deposits of 62 billion barrels, about half of Saudi Arabia's total reserves. That is just Alberta, the neighbouring provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan also have lots of oil, and there has long been offshore drilling on the East coast as well in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Oh yeah, Alberta also supplies the USA with half of its natural gas.

So, if the US was only interested in oil, they wouldn't be going halfway around the world to get it. They could roll the tanks across the Montana border and simply take all of Alberta's oil in about a day. We couldn't stop them. (Not that Albertans would put up much resistance to that, as we are more American than Canadian. Alberta is so redneck it makes Texas look like France.) And yet, they do not.

Does this make sense to anyone? An administration supposedly so oil-hungry that they will go halfway around the world to forcibly take it... but not taking over half the world's oil supply by taking over Alberta? Get it folks? It ain't about oil at all.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Sometimes I despair for libertarians. It's bad enough that they have to contend with the ever-encroaching State into their personal lives; it is even worse that in order to bring about effective large-scale long term change, they need to band together to acomplish anything.

In the so-called "democratic" countries, the power to change the system, to repeal laws that violate liberty or to lower taxes and to generally get the hell outa my way, rests with the elected representatives. Conversely, these elected representatives also have the power to write new laws, add new taxes, and encroach upon liberty at every opportunity.

So what type of person runs for office? The people who have the desire to wield that power.

A libertarian on the other hand is concerned with his own liberty. He recognizes that forcing his will upon other people is not an option that is open to him. If he expects to live free, he cannot do it by making slaves of others. So, he does not desire to wield that kind of power over other people, and a libertarian never runs for office.

Sure, there is a Libertarian Party, with candidates and slogans and policies and so forth... but once they adopted socialist methods (ie by forming the party in the first place), they ceased to be libertarians. At that point, they became socialists, indistinguishable from the Republicans and Democrats and all the other members of the kleptocracy.

So I don't see the Libertarian party as any solution. Even if a miracle occurred and they managed to get their candidate elected as President, their candidate would necessarily be a socialist seeking the power of elected office, regardless of the name of the party to which he belonged.

Is there any hope for libertarians to change the system? Yes, but not from within the system. Don't bother trying to elect representatives - it is the difference between being bought by a master or electing the master, you still have a master and you are still a slave.

Instead, simply do not comply with the master's orders. Is a bad law encroaching on your liberty? defy it. It worked with alcohol prohibition, it is working with marijuana prohibition, it worked for Gandhi. It can work for us too.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A few days ago NASA took a bit of a beating before the House Science Committee. Unfortunately, the panel of experts presenting to the committee did not go far enough. In one case, an expert testified that NASA should get even more money, arguing that Americans spend more money on pizza than they do NASA.

Well, blow me over. One would think that Americans believe they are getting something out of their money when they invest in pizza. A full stomach perhaps. And maybe, just maybe, if Americans were getting as much or more perceived benefit from NASA, then they would willingly invest that money themselves.

Of course, Americans do not willingly invest in NASA - they just pay their taxes, and their congressman spend that money for them on things like NASA. And boy, do they spend it. Fifteen billion dollars this year, and to finish the space station look to that number to climb to twenty billion dollars a year. That's a lot of pizza.

When a monopolistic monolith is managed and implemented by government, a number of events are certain to occur: (1) innovation ceases (there is no competition driving innovation, and in such an organization any change is anathema) (2) bad decisions become policy and remain that way (there are no self-correction mechanisms, such as a stock value).

NASA became a government entity for one reason, and it had nothing to do with space. NASA existed for the sole purpose of beating the Russians. The only reason that NASA existed as a space organization was that the contest with the Russians was to be the first to the moon. NASA effectively died when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins returned safely to Earth. The remaining six Apollo missions were ultimately pointless. NASA has been rudderless ever since.

In the 1970s, seeking to artificially extend the gravy train, the bright lights at NASA came up with the Shuttle program. The idea was to suck as many taxpayer dollars into NASA as possible, to retain the tens of thousands of employees who otherwise would be doing productive work in the private sector.

Therefore, instead of developing one vehicle which could lift large, heavy payloads into space, and another to ferry people back and forth, NASA mated a bus with a semi trailer and added wings (because flying a spaceplane is sexy). They decided to re-use the engines on every launch, which led to enormous mantenance bills and the awkward, side-by-side configuration of the shuttle and external fuel tank. This also forced the use of Hydrogen fuel instead of kerosene, which requires the spray-on foam insulation to keep it insulated.... and we know what chunks of foam breaking off the external tank can do to the brittle carbon-carbon panels on the shuttle wings. Why does it need carbon-carbon panels? To absorb the incredible heat along the leading edge of the wing during re-entry. Why is that heat there? because the shuttle has wings. Why does it have wings? because flying a spaceplane is sexy...

So a bad decision was made in the 70's, and since there were no market forces to drive that decision into the ground, we still have the shuttles around today (grounded, but still around and the only American human-launch system). Another bad decision (and an example of stifled innovation): When the shuttles were being constructed, a decision was made to freeze the technology level. I suppose the idea was to avoid having upgrade issues. So the space shuttle fleet keeps going, each space shuttle with its five 8086 or 80286 computers, merrily chugging along. NASA needed to shop on eBay last year for 8-inch floppy disk drives for the shuttles. On all the space shuttles, there is NOT ONE compact disk connected to a computer.

Over the last thirty years, NASA's record in human spaceflight has been a flop. It is a litany of wasted assets (Skylab, the Saturn V blueprints), bad decisions perpetuated for decades, and white elephant projects (International Space Station springs to mind).

I will give credit where it is due: on the non-human spaceflight side, NASA has made considerable progress. Here, though, there is a form of competition. There are hundreds of NASA teams trying to get their bird launched, or their study done, so there is a mini-marketplace effect occurring. Some of these efforts have succeeded beyond all expectations (Pioneer, Voyager, and NEAR Shoemaker are prime examples).

So, if NASA is to continue to exist at all, it should stick the aspect of space that it does well: basic research, unmanned probes, orbital observatories, and the like. It should get out of manned spaceflight altogether.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Occasionally I feel compelled to write to editorialists about their columns, and such a situation occurred recently. Paul Jackson of the Calgary Sun was bashing the federal Liberal government (an easy target), and doing just fine, right up until he started talking about the latest efforts to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Apparently Prime Minister "Papa Jean" Chretien joked about maybe trying it himself once it was legal, over which the american Drug Czar predictably blew a gasket. Now, as stupid as antagonizing the Americans - Canada's largest trading partners - is, this is the one issue in the last ten years that the Liberals have gotten right. Well, not right, exactly, just less-wrong than before. But that's a story for another day.

There were two quotes in particular that prompted me to write. This was the first: "(The Americans) know from statistics, records and research the terrible harm and tragedies marijuana has wrought on their society. Marijuana isn't a safe drug -- repeated use causes severe psychological problems."

To which I replied:
Well sir, on this point you are off-base. No drug harms society: only the harmful actions of individual people harms society. The right to swing my fist ends at your nose; if I swing my fist and hit only myself, then I have done no harm to anyone but myself. And it is nobody's business but my own; it is certainly not the nanny-state's business.

Likewise, if I should take a drug (be it alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, caffeine, aspirin, whatever), then the only harm I cause is to myself.

Suppose for a moment that I take one of the above-mentioned drugs and cause "psychological damage" to myself. Whom have I harmed? Certainly not you nor anyone else.

If however, I should harm another person through the use of one of these drugs (say getting behind the wheel while drunk and causing an accident, or robbing someone to support some other drug addiction), then is the drug at fault? Is the drug responsible?

No. Only _I_ would be responsibile for such harmful actions. And it is for those harmful actions that I should be held liable.

The second quote: "Repeated use also leads its addicts to move on to even more dangerous drugs such as hashish, cocaine and heroin."

I replied:
What of it? Again, if I should take any of these drugs, the only harm I cause is to myself, and that is nobody's business but my own.

(Incidentally, hashish and marijuana are the same drug, tetrahydrocannabinol. Hashish is simply a more concentrated form of the drug.)

However, if I should harm another person, robbing or murdering them in my pursuit of those drugs, then I should be prosecuted for that robbery or murder.

If I should cause harm to another person in this way, then my "reasons" (excuses?) for committing the robbery or murder are irrelevant. The reasons would certainly not matter one whit to the victim of such actions.

What it boils down to is personal responsibility for one's own actions. As long as my actions harm nobody but myself, then my actions are nobody's business but my own.

By buying into the idea that a drug (rather than the person involved) is responsible for that person's actions, one abdicates personal responsibility for one's own actions. And, one excuses other's for their actions, as "the drugs made them do it".

As an example (with a much harsher drug than marijuana), let's look at Trevor Stang. Did crack cocaine bludgeon Tara McDonald to death? No, Trevor Stang did. Trevor Stang could smoke crack cocaine until he was (literally) blue in the face, and it would be nobody's business but his own. He would be harming nobody but himself. However, by killing Tara McDonald, he made it society's business.

I doubt Tara McDonald gave a damn what reasons Trevor Stang had for hitting her with a hammer. I doubt Tara's mother gives a damn what caused him to do it; his excuses are irrelevant. Only his actions counted.

Anyhow, Paul Jackson wrote me back, thanking me for reading his column and saying that I had a good point about personal responsibility, and that he was merely taking a jab at the Cretien government.

And of course I just couldn't keep my big mouth shut. So, I wrote this:


Hello Mr Jackson,

Thank you for taking time out of what must be a busy schedule to respond to my email.

I can appreciate the desire to take a swing at, and hit, the Chretien government at every opportunity. The topic is a ready source of editorial material, it directly affects the readers, and most importantly it sells newspapers and brings in advertisers.

My concern is not really about marijuana at all. My concern is the abdication of personal responsibility to the nanny-state.

This goes far beyond the issue of marijuana. I think it is the core problem which plagues this country.

Why do we have deductions for "employment insurance" from our paychecks? Because we have abdicated the responsibility to ourselves of saving for a rainy day to the federal government.

Why is the Canadian Health system in such a mess? Here, we have abdicated the responsibility to take care of our own health (and health insurance) to not one but two levels of government, federal and provincial.

How about this new trend in Canadian politics, lawmaking by the judiciary? Here, Parlaiment itself has abdicated the responsibility for writing laws, to another branch of the nanny state!

How about the scandals which have plauged each federal government (including, unfortunately, the Mulroney Tories) for the last 35 years, culminating in the current farce?

Cabinet Ministers used to be responsible for everything which occurred in their departments.

Now, with no accountability for one's own actions, anything goes: from wasting a billion dollars on a human-resources project that does not create one single private-sector job, to squandering millions of taxpayer dollars on dubious advertising contracts, to forcing one's appointees to authorize loans to the buyer of one's property.

What have been the consequences for Jane Stewart, Alfonso Gagliano, and Jean Chretien? Nothing, an ambassadorship, and nothing.

Why? Because nobody is held accountable for their own actions.

Why does the Canada Pension Plan exist? Because Canadians have abdicated the responsibility of planning for their own retirement to the Federal Government.

Why is it doomed to fail? Because it is a Ponzi scheme, which will collapse when half the baby-boomers have retired, in 2016.

The problem with this abdication of responsibility, is that there are _always_ consequences for one's own actions.

On the day the CPP goes bust, and seniors don't receive their pensions, those consequences will be dire. In the Liberal's shoes, I would want to know the personal information of every gun-owner in the country, too.

We have ignored this problem in Canada for far too long. I have only scratched the surface of the implications here.

Ed Minchau

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Got this bulk email today from Ken Gorman:

Colorado's doctors have finally exhaled and will resume the practice of medicine that was so diastrously taken from them in 1937. The medical marijuana laws enacted in this state will now find cannabis restored to it's place as the most beneficial medicinal plant known to mankind and I intend to make sure that every doctor in this state understands that there are absolutly no consequences for the reccommending of marijuana to their patients.

My group will take charge of locating every doctor sane enough to reccommend marijuana, lead patients through the entire process of obtaining state permits, and help them decide the issue of growing for themselves or having a state licensed caregiver provide their medicine. The task is huge but we expect to increase the number of patients to at least 5,000 by this time next year. We only have about 240 patients at the present time.

Gail Kelsey, state coordinator and licensor for this project, has been contacting police departments and other groups to educate them on this law since it's passage. She has enlisted my efforts to expand this program to reach every corner of Colorado and cover every wage/non wage bracket. We want to make sure the people that aren't able to pay will be able to obtain their medication at no cost. She will be refering the patients that need to be led through this process to my organization

I have a staff of less than ten with many volunteers that have offered their services over the last several years. This is a fantastic day for all of us that have thumbed our noses at the insanity of this war and our enthusiasm for entering into another charge against the corporate enemies of our planet will only diminish when the last ember of the last joint goes out.

If you want to be kept updated on this project or assist/participate please respond to this email. I will revise my web site to incorporate the progress of the project but a newsletter will only go out to those that request it.

Ken Gorman

Thursday, October 16, 2003

So, they did it. The Chinese launched a man into earth orbit. He launched, went around 14 times, reentered, and is safe and sound on the ground. Good for them.

In total, it cost 2.3 billion dollars. And now, we have yet another state-run space program competing against the private sector. My bet is on the private sector in the long run.

Monday, October 13, 2003

So, China is expected to become only the third nation to send a man into space, sometime later this week. I have mixed feelings about this.

First, it perpetrates the meme that "manned spaceflight is extraordinarily difficult and only national governments have the resources necessary to accomplish the feat". This ignores the fact that the computer you are using, right now, is far more complex than any of the Apollo missions - your home computer (if it is less than a few years old) is more than the total computing power that NASA had available in 1969. It also ignores the 46 years of spaceflight that have already occurred, with the reams of spaceflight data freely available on the Web.

However, I see any competition to the current Russian/American stranglehold on manned spaceflight as a Very Good Thing. Now, if only Scaled Composites and the other Xprize contenders get their acts together and start launching... oh happy day.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

I'm getting sick of hearing that the space shuttle is "still an experimental vehicle". The Columbia first flew in 1981. Columbia flew on average more than one flight per year since 1981. After three or four years, ok I can see it being classed as experimental. But the damn thing flew for 22 years, and the fleet has flown over 100 missions so far. If you built 5 experimental automobiles in 1981, and you hadn't done a significant technical upgrade, would you still consider them experimental today?

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Scaled Composites has been testing out the flight hardware for their X prize contender. Spaceship One's second flight last month, testing out the "feathered" wing mode, stall speeds, and similarity to simulation, was a success.

Other X prize teams are in the running, and other private space companies are seeking to go into orbit or beyond within a very few years. December 17, 2003 is the centennial of the first powered manned flight, and it looks like the Spaceship One team may make that deadline for the first suborbital flight.

{Spaceship One (and its lifter body, the White Knight) cost $30 million to develop (what NASA spends every twelve hours) and it will cost $80000 for a suborbital flight: 1/1000 of what it cost to send Alan Shepherd to suborbital space.}

So it looks likely that a private company will win the X prize this December. Then it (and other companies who won't be far behind) will start offering trips to suborbital space. The logical next step is for private firms to begin orbital launchs. Each of the X prize contenders is using its own unique method to get into space, and given the enormous difference in cost between Scaled Composite's method and the US government method, expect private companies to dramatically reduce the cost of launching people to orbit.

NASA is in its death throes right now. The space shuttles will be retired in 2010. Every year one space shuttle replacement program is started, and every other year a program is cancelled after having frittered away billions of dollars.

If NASA continues to go at the rate it is going, by 2010 it will have: sucked another 105 billion dollars from the US economy; at least one more shuttle accident; an extension on the shuttle program on the (by then) remaining two shuttles; three or four replacement projects that were 70% complete but scrapped; no heavy-lift shuttle replacement; no passenger delivery-and-return shuttle replacement; a still-incomplete International Space Station preparing to be mothballed; a larger budget.

At the rate private companies are going, by 2010 there will be: regularly scheduled commercial suborbital flights; regularly scheduled commercial orbital flights; a private space station; serious plans for lunar bases; a flotilla of robotic craft on their way to explore the asteroid belt.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

China bracing for First Manned Spaceflight

BEIJING - Preparations for China's first manned space flight — expected sometime later this year — are moving ahead "extremely smoothly," a top science official said Tuesday.

Science and Technology Minister Xu Guanhua didn't give a date for the launch of the manned spacecraft, called the Shenzhou V, and said additional details would be announced later by other government departments.

"According to my knowledge, all launch preparations for the Shenzhou V spacecraft have proceeded extremely smoothly," Xu said in comments to journalists reported by the government's China News Service.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

September 13, 2003
As Factory Jobs Disappear, Workers Have Few Options
Copyright 2003 The New York Times
*full story posted below my comments*

This story sounds like it was ripped right out of the pages of Atlas Shrugged, about half-way through the book. It reads somewhat like a newspaper article, but just under the surface it is a barely-concealed plea: "somebody... fix it somehow!"

Greenhouse blames inexpensive imports, low wages in China, the strong dollar, production moving overseas, NAFTA, and George W. Bush for not "somehow" saving all those lost manufacturing jobs. The only mention of unions in the piece is in passing, as it is union workers who are losing their jobs. It is astounding that Greenhouse does not connect the dots. Instead, he paints union workers as innocent victims.

I found this paragraph particularly fascinating:

Mr. Greathouse, a wiry, muscular man who went into factory work after dropping out of Kent State University, asked: "When you have C.E.O.'s who think of moving jobs offshore, what are you doing but terrorizing the people who lose their jobs? This is a form of terrorism, also. The country is getting weaker and weaker."

Well his last sentence is bang on. Note that according to this poor schlub (who at the age of 55 just bought a new $99000 house), if a CEO >>thinks<< of moving jobs offshore, then that CEO is committing an act of terrorism. This is a whole 'nuther can o'worms. How convenient, to equate one man saving his business from bankruptcy with psychopaths crashing jetliners into skyscrapers. Doesn't it make capitalism sound downright evil?

Then we have miss Alice Hall. She has worked for 15 years as part of the union, a former janitor in a steel mill which just went belly-up.

But entry-level medical jobs may pay just half the salary of her old job. On a recent afternoon, Ms. Hall sat in the steelworkers' union hall across from the rusting Republic mill with 12 other laid-off workers seething with anger — at their former employer, at greedy chief executives and at the lack of health insurance.

And now poor Alice's daughter can't take dance lessons anymore. Such grinding poverty! Imagine -- an entry level job that requires the applicant to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic, that doesn't pay as much as a union job with 15 years of experience. (Is this not backwards? Should a job that does not require even the basics of literacy _ever_ pay more than a job that does?)

So now 700 people are unemployed at the steel mill, as the company has gone bankrupt. For going bankrupt (rather than keeping the mill open "somehow"), the CEO is considered "greedy". Further, the former employees no longer have "free" health care paid for by the company.

I wonder, if the CEO had fired half of those 700 and cut the health benefits for all the rest to zero, then hired 350 people in China at 55 cents an hour, whether the steel mill would still be open. No union would ever have stood for that of course... but the point is moot now, and 700 people are out of jobs because the company is gone.

Then we have John Russo, an expert on "labor studies" who gives us these hard facts:

"If you draw a line across the top third of this state, the manufacturing part of the state, you see a lot of pain, anger and frustration," said John Russo, director of labor studies at Youngstown State University.

Wow. I can imagine how drawing a line across a state would anger and frustrate people, as it would require a great many pencils and would be very difficult to keep it straight, and pain may ensue as those drafting the line may be exposed to carpal tunnel syndrome. Why is this quote in here? why is it relevant? Well, it must be an opinion piece rather than a news article ;)

Many workers embraced protectionism, with some suggesting a law to bar the
United States from importing more goods than it exports.

*shaking my head* They just don't get it, do they? What good would yet another artificial barrier to business do? Soon Bill's AutoParts can't replace the distributor on your 94 Hyundai or 99 Tercel, because Korea and Japan hit their import limits.

Some Ohioans predict that the state could swing to the Democrats in the
election next year.

Whoopie, so the author is threatening that the left wing of the Socialist party my win the election, as the right wing of the Socialist party hasn't "somehow" made it all better; of course the Dems will make everything all better again, it'll be a New Deal for America.

He then ends with the point of view of a single CEO:
"A lot of people say why doesn't President Bush shoot the silver bullet to help manufacturing," Mr. Timken said. "There is no simple answer. We tell people if you want to look at part of the problem, look in the mirror.

Darn right. The union of those 700 steel mill workers priced their jobs right out of the market and the company right out of business.


ps... In Canada, if one works in a union shop, then one is required to pay union dues, whether he wants to or not, whether he chooses to be a member of the union or not. It's the Law. If you do not wish to join the union and refuse to pay union dues, then the government simply deducts the dues from your paycheck and sends the money to the union. So you technically don't have to be a member of the union in order to pay dues. Lovely little scheme, isn't it?

CANTON, Ohio, Sept. 12 — For nearly 30 years, Jim Greathouse was part of the blue-collar elite, a tool-and-die man who sometimes earned more than $50,000 a year because his job, making the precision metal molds that factories use to shape parts, required such exacting skills.

But in June, Mr. Greathouse, 55, lost his job at the Hoover vacuum cleaner factory here, and with so many other factories laying off people, he is at a loss about what to do.

"What does it do when you take away all these jobs from people who support families, who raise families?" he asked. "Manufacturing has been the strength of this country. If we can't make anything here anymore, what does that do? The fabric of this society is falling

Mr. Greathouse has a lot of company. In three years, Ohio has lost more than 160,000 factory jobs, representing one-sixth of its total. That is but a small fraction of the 2.7 million manufacturing jobs lost nationwide in those three years, many of them because of imports.
Some economists say that even with a boom all those jobs are not likely to return.

Factory unemployment has snowballed into a huge social and political issue across the Midwest, after manufacturing in the region boomed in the 1990's. President Bush gave a speech about manufacturing losses on Labor Day in Ohio, and the Democratic presidential candidates are pressing the issue.

A wide range of figures suggests that the economy is likely to surge, but economists predict unemployment will remain almost unchanged at nearly 6 percent through the 2004 presidential election.

With its century-old stone buildings and handsome brick factories, Canton was long a booming industrial center, but the area has been hit by so many factory closings, bankruptcies and layoffs that many workers are losing hope. Many of the unemployed are reluctantly turning to less steady or lower-paying jobs like hospital aide. Some are
studying computer technology.

"I've applied for many jobs, and they politely tell me I'm too old, that they're hoping to find someone they can train and keep for a long time," said Patty Reich, who lost her job as a
metallurgical technician at the Republic Steel mill. "For someone like me who is
unemployed at age 54, we don't have too much light at the end of the tunnel."

Ask laid-off workers what is to blame for the woes, and they point to imports, low wages in China, the strong dollar, production moving overseas, President Bill Clinton for embracing the North American Free Trade Agreement and President Bush for focusing only recently on the crisis.

Robert White, a laid-off steelworker who voted for Mr. Bush three years ago, said: "He's slowly getting his eyes awakened to what's going on. The air has been going out of the balloon for a long time, and he's trying to stop it. But the air is almost out of the balloon."

In the last three years, Stark County, which includes Canton, has lost 3,500 factory jobs, more than 10 percent of the total. Two years ago in Massillon, just west of Canton, the lone rubber glove factory in the nation shut, moving production to Malaysia and India and throwing 200 people out of work. Last year, Hess Management of Austin, Tex., shut the
Danner Press printing plant, costing 325 workers their jobs, and 700 steelworkers at Republic Technologies on the east end of town lost their jobs when Republic filed for

This year, an automobile parts company laid off 150 workers, and Hoover, a division of Maytag, 200. Last week, the largest employer in the region, Timken, warned 1,300 workers at three ball-bearing plants here that their jobs were in danger unless costs were reduced.

"If you draw a line across the top third of this state, the manufacturing part of the state, you see a lot of pain, anger and frustration," said John Russo, director of labor studies at Youngstown State University.

Mr. Greathouse, a wiry, muscular man who went into factory work after dropping out of Kent State University, asked: "When you have C.E.O.'s who think of moving jobs offshore, what are you doing but terrorizing the people who lose their jobs? This is a form of terrorism,
also. The country is getting weaker and weaker."

Having just bought a three-bedroom house for $99,000, he said, he might have to consider personal bankruptcy, because he was having problems paying his mortgage and support for his former wife. He has applied to numerous tool-and-die shops with no luck, so he is thinking of returning to college, but says he first needs to speak with a vocational counselor for career advice.

Alice Hall, who worked for 15 years as a janitor in a steel mill, saw her house undergo foreclosure and has told her 16-year-old daughter that they can no longer afford the girl's dance lessons. Ms. Hall, a small, soft-spoken woma, is taking remedial mathematics and English classes to help prepare for work as a hospital aide.

"They told me go into medical," she said. "That's a field where you can always get a job."

But entry-level medical jobs may pay just half the salary of her old job. On a recent afternoon, Ms. Hall sat in the steelworkers' union hall across from the rusting Republic mill with 12 other laid-off workers seething with anger — at their former employer, at greedy chief executives and at the lack of health insurance.

"It used to be that manufacturing provided people with a decent middle-class living, but now these jobs are falling by the wayside," said Dan Yarnell, who worked at Republic for 26 years. "A lot of people are going to work at Wal-Mart. But how do you live on the $7.50 an hour Wal-Mart pays?"

Many workers embraced protectionism, with some suggesting a law to bar the United States from importing more goods than it exports.

Thomas Briatico, president of Hoover Floorcare, based in North Canton, said all of Hoover's major competitors but one were buying their vacuum cleaners from Asia and Mexico. That foreign competition, Mr. Briatico said, has forced the average retail price of cleaners to drop
10 percent in two years.

"It's put us at a little bit of a competitive disadvantage," he said. "In China, they pay their workers 55 cents an hour, and the easiest decision for me would be to go outsource in China. The tough decision is to stay here. I'm personally concerned about jobs leaving this

Some Ohioans predict that the state could swing to the Democrats in the election next year.

"This is a fairly conservative state," Professor Russo said, "and last time, it went 3 percent for Bush. But I think there will be an electoral response to all these jobs losses, and Bush gets beat here."

W. R. Timken Jr., chairman of Timken, with 5,000 workers here, is often praised for doing his utmost to keep jobs in Ohio. But he said fierce foreign competition was forcing the company to weigh the future of the three ball-bearing plants.

"The truth is unless we can do something with these plants, they won't be globally competitive," said Mr. Timken, who recently stepped down as chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Mr. Timken said his company had been hurt by the strong dollar, China's undervalued currency and the harm that imports were causing his customers. Foreign competition was so intense, he said, that the price of manufacturing goods in the United States has fallen 4 percent in the last 10 years as the price of other goods has increased 18 percent. That,
he said, has forced Timken and other manufacturers to increase productivity and reduce jobs.

"Manufacturing has been the key to innovation in the United States and has given the United States leadership in innovation," said Mr. Timken, whose great-grandfather founded the company in 1899 "If you eliminate manufacturing, which accounts for 65 percent of
private sector R & D, then innovation will decline, and you will see a nation in decline."

It will take many steps to turn around manufacturing, Mr. Timken said, adding that although tax cuts have help, he wished more of them had gone to spur investment.

"A lot of people say why doesn't President Bush shoot the silver bullet to help manufacturing," Mr. Timken said. "There is no simple answer. We tell people if you want to look at part of the problem, look in the mirror. You buy cars from Japan, shirts from Hong Kong and many imported products in Wal-Mart. American manufacturers are caught in the

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Well, here it is right from the horse's mouth: in the 1970's NASA lied to Congress about the cost of the shuttle program.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003



Do you have a hard-to-buy-a-Christmas-or-birthday-gift-for mad-scientist/evil-genius friend/lover/relative etc? Want to buy them that perfect gift, the one that says "I care about your plans for world domination"? Then check this website out.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

I always enjoy Russell Maddens's articles, and this one is particularly good.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

I have been on the Mind Uploading Research Group mailing list for a few years. They are trying to do some pretty interesting stuff with the simplest member of the animal kingdom, caenorhabditis elegans. They seek to emulate or "upload" into computers the nervous system of these tiny nematodes, which have only 302 neurons and 95 muscle cells (the whole animal has 959 cells).

By accomplishing this, the hope is that techniques learned in this study will be used with larger and more complex animals (insects, salamanders, mice, and so on); eventually the family pet could be uploaded in old age and its computer brain installed in a new robotic body.

The obvious conclusion of this whole process is the uploading of a human being. When that occurs, the result will be a human-level artificial intelligence with a lifetime of experience. Whether that intelligence is the same person, something more, something less, or something else altogether is open to debate.

Friday, August 29, 2003

This guy touches on some more of the inherent flaws of the space shuttle. And he is oh so close to seeing the light...except in the last paragraph of his article.
Well, the final report on the Columbia accident is in, and it is a rather damning review of the culture of NASA. However, it does not really get to the crux of the problem: that is, that the space program is being run by the government. All of the problems that led up to the disaster of February 1,2003 stem from that.... ie it is a SPACEcraft with WINGS fercryingoutloud. why? because the politicians in charge think that flying a spacecraft with wings is sexy. I could go on, but I won't just now, as every time I get on this topic I only succeed in pissing myself off.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Life couldn't get much better for me right now - and yet, every day, it does. I live in Calgary, which is one of the best cities in the world in which to live, if not THE best. It is so clean, and pretty, with the Rocky Mountains on the horizon, and the crystal-clear Bow River running through downtown. This is probably the only city in the world with a million or more people where one can go fly-fishing in the middle of downtown.

I love my job. I work at interalia, which is a wonderful place to work. It is wholly privately-owned and has zero debt, and no union. We manufacture circuit boards, in runs of 5 to 5000, both thru-hole and surface mount. We Also go all the way up to full enclosures, and make a multitude of systems for many customers. We inspect to IPC610-c(3) standards, and are very proud of the high-quality work that we do. The work is interesting and challenging, the environment is friendly, and the pay and benefits are good.

I ride my bicycle to work, 110 blocks each way (about 7 miles or so). I have ridden a bicycle as a commuter for the better part of 18 years, with the exception of two or three years when i owned vehicles. I am in great shape, as good as when i was in high school on the soccer team. I would be in even better shape if I didn't smoke cigarettes; the day is coming soon when I will quit.

I have a job offer in Florida, doing my dream job, starting at the end of September. I get to build robots and control systems and work with extreme-environment testing facilities. I am a mad scientist, after all.

I am happily single. I intend to stay that way for quite some time. I see no point in "find a nice girl and settle down get a job in a cubicle and have a heart attack and raise 2.1 children and 1.4 pets and buy a house with a white picket fence and mow the lawn until you retire and die of boredom". Why bother with that nonsense? I am going to live my life my way, thank you very much. I will make plenty of mistakes along the way, but they will be my mistakes and I will have earned the lessons they teach me. I like it that way.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Bet you never knew Stephen Hawking was a gangsta rappa
my open letter to michael moore

Dear Lardass

i know it has been a couple of months since the academy awards, but i just couldn't keep this back any longer. So you won some statue. Big fucking deal. A few thousand people voted for your piece of dreck over four other pieces of dreck. Have you ever run for office? huh? have you ever put your money where your mouth is? aside from daily trips to mickey dees and burger king. READ THE FUCKING CONSTITUTION PAL! George Bush is the duly-elected president. if you don't like the electoral college system, change your constitution. or move to a socialist country like canada. boohoo al gore didn't get elected even though he cheated (hanging chads? give me a break. the only way you would get hanging chad on the ballot is if someone punched dozens of them at the same time). get over it. if GWB bothers you so much, run for office yourself... or don't you have the cojones to actually FACE VOTERS?

You want to talk about a phony war? how about clinton bombing iraq for three days (i don't recall him seeking UN sanction) just to distract attention from the fact that he COMMITTED PERJURY? and that he took sexual advantage of an employee - an offense for which any other CEO would lose their job? huh? smart guy? Face it dude, a majority of people see through you like a plate-glass window. only a miniscule percentage of people in the USA have ever seen "roger and me" or "bowling for columbine" -- and there is a reason for that. i leave the reason as an exercize for the student.

whew. i feel much better now

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

number crunching

number crunching

Mathematica is an amazing tool. It is so much more than a number cruncher; it is also a remarkably flexible programming language. It is easy to learn to program in Mathematica, (particularly if you have had experience in C, though that is not necessary), as the on-line help window is very detailed and full of tips. Once you get the hang of programming in Mathematica, programs naturally evolve an object-oriented nature. The built-in visualization (and many other ) tools allow for easy visualization of any data selected, usually with just a single short line of code.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

The Failure of NASA: And A Way Out

by Philip K. Chapman
Sunnyvale - May 30, 2003
I was in Mission Control when Neil Armstrong announced that the Eagle had landed. The applause was unexpectedly muted as we were all overwhelmed by the significance of the moment. Nobody had any doubt that Tranquility Base was the first step in an expansion into space that would drive human progress for centuries to come.
We had of course all seen the 1968 Kubrick/Clarke movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the facilities depicted there seemed entirely reasonable. In our lifetimes, we expected to see hotels in orbit, translunar shuttles operated by commercial airlines, and settlements on the Moon. Only the alien monolith was questionable.

None of this has happened.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Age of Empires II is FAR TOO ADDICTIVE. it should carry a label: WARNING: THIS GAME IS THE VIDEO EQUIVALENT OF CRACK COCAINE. Such a label could also be applied to SimCity, Civilization, Tetris, and a host of other games

Sunday, May 11, 2003

not too much has been going on lately. well, that's not entirely true... i could tell you, but then i'd have to kill you

Monday, May 05, 2003

This wonderful essay was written by Don Parrish, an engineer who has worked all
over the world, including Japan and Saudi Arabia.

I would like to offer the following set of facts for your consideration
concerning the war on terrorism:

"Although the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center -- which
almost toppled it -- occurred in 1993, most Americans didn't realize that we
were in a war until 9/11/01. Some people still don't realize it.

Here are the key headlines 19 months after the attacks on 9/11/01:
1. Taliban regime destroyed and Afghanistan liberated
2. Saddam regime destroyed and Iraq liberated
3. No terrorist attacks inside the United States

This is a very impressive set of results. Momentum is finally on our
side in the war on terrorism.

Let's think about the 9/11 attacks: 19 terrorists funded with $1M or $2M
using 4 "borrowed" airplanes caused almost $100 billion in damage and 3,000
deaths. Terrorists armed with WMD could cause damage at least 10 times that:
$1 Trillion and 50,000 deaths. I shudder to think about the consequences of
an attack of that scale. The success of the war in Iraq has reduced the
odds of such an attack.

The war in Iraq has also been tremendously educational. Here are just
some examples:
1. The utter failure of the over hyped UN is now obvious to millions of
people. In 2003, it's absurd to see that at the UN, Libya is heading up the
Human Rights committee and Iraq (I'm not making this up) is heading up the
Disarmament committee.

2. The easy accommodation of the French government and large parts of
the French public to every form of evil in the last 100 years was on display
again for all to see. Never underestimate the perfidy of the French.

3. Not one person at the Academy awards had anything to say against
brutal dictators living or dead. Not a single one.

4. Turkey, our long term ally, didn't take the $30 billion the US
Government offered for their help. The next day their stock market dropped
14%. Their currency continues to plunge. And their help wasn't needed.

Nice savings.

5. Australia supported the US government, but Canada with its French
influence didn't.

6. Tony Blair is a statesman. Its so rare to see a politician tell
people a) what he really believes and b) what they don't what to hear.

7. Russia reverted to type and even sent some military advisors to help

8. Germany couldn't seem to conceptualize that dictatorship was bad for
everyone and one of its ministers compared Bush to Hitler. This was
disgusting and foolish. There is no American who can be compared to Hitler.
The same German company which built Hitler's bunkers built Saddam's.

9. China didn't do anything to help and was busy trying to hid the
growing SARS plague.

10. All 10 of the former communist countries (New Europe) slated to join
the European Union next year supported the United States. These people know
what it is like to live under dictatorship. Every single one supported the
US government.

11. All of the professional critics were wrong. For example, they
worried that the oil fields would be torched, that Israel would be attacked,
that Baghdad would be fought street to street, that there weren't enough US
troops, that Turkey would enter Iraq, that terrorists would attack inside
the US, that chemical weapons would be used on our troops (more on this
below), etc.

12. The superb professionalism of the American Military was obvious from
Donald Rumsfeld to the generals down to the private first class soldiers. I
was deeply impressed how the privates deftly answered leading (i.e.,trap)
questions posed by reporters.

13. Of course, American technology was magnificient and very cost
effective. The direct costs, so far, is $20 billion for the war in Iraq
with the request to Congress for $62 billion.

14. One of the other keys to our success, was the amount of intelligence
that we received from Jordanians, the 10,000 Iraqi exiles in the US, and
everyday Iraqis talking to our troops. Surprise, surprise the Iraqis really
did hate Saddam and Arabs did help the US Government.

15. The demonstrations against the war were larger in Europe than in the
Arab world. Showing that the old anti-capitalist left is alive and well.
Old Europe, hooked on socialism, has unemployment rates above 10%. They are
resentful of any American success.

16. The Arabs on the street were shocked to see that the largest, most
powerful Arab army lead by a dictator firmly convinced of Arab racial
superiority was destroyed in 3 weeks by the US government. The Arabs were
also shocked to see that Al-Jazeera had lied to them. This has been an
extreme educational moment for them. In a weird way, this shock reminded me
of the shock we got in October of 1957 when Sputnik was launched.

17. The arrest of the famous terrorist Abu Abbas in Iraq is just one
more example of how involved Iraq was in international terrorism.

So what lessons should we draw at this point? Here are some:
1. The Arab street is noisy, but is unimportant in our decision making.

2. Islamic terrorists are never going to love us. There is nothing we
can do to change that. The only question is whether the terrorists are going
to respect us or not. The Arabs despise weakness. By doing what he said he
would, Bush is respected. This makes us more secure.

3. The US government has obtained a treasure trove of information in
Iraq that going to further aid in understanding the worldwide terrorist

4. Does Iraq have WMD? Absolutely yes!! Why didn't they use them?
Folks, Iraq didn't even use one of its dozens of jet fighters. There was no
organized resistance. Contrary to popular opinion, dictatorships are not
efficient. Once you destroy the command and control from the top, they are
finished, because no one below will risk taking initiative. Follow the
logic with me. We know from UN weapons inspections years ago that Iraq had
WMD -- we know the specific inventory of chemical and biological agents and
their quantities. Then Saddam thru the inspectors out. There is nothing
toshow that Saddam destroyed these weapons and there is nothing in his
psychology to suggest that he would destroy these weapons. The only
conclusion is that he kept the weapons and hid them.
No matter how much time the UN had they were never going to find WMD
because their hide and seek process was fatally flawed. The fact that the
WMD haven't been found yet is just evidence is how well Saddam and company
has hid them and how the UN would have never ever found them given more
After the US interviews enough people and analyzes the treasure trove of
data, WMD will be found in Iraq or stored in Syria. You can count on it.

5. Now the Arab elites realize that they can no long harbor and fund
terrorists with impunity. They now realize that more attacks on the US,
will put them in jeopardy. Finally, they have some skin in the game in
getting these terrorists under control. The process of defunding terrorists
has started. One example, the oil pipeline from Iraq to Syria was turned off
this week eliminating $1B of the $7.5B in the Syrian government revenue. The
Syrian government will have less money to give to Hezbollah and other
terrorists groups.

6. The US government is going to pay Iraqi civil servants in US dollars.
They make less than $20 per month. This means that the US dollar is going
to become an unofficial currency in Iraq which will put further pressure on
national socialistic Arab governments to clean up their act.

7. The key lesson is the one that we learned during the cold war and
that is constancy of purpose in defending ourselves against the evils of
communism and helping others to do so was the key to success.

8. In the past 100 years, the great tyrannies defeated because of the
leadership of the US Government were Nazism and Communism. The world is a
much better place because of that. Hundreds of millions of people are
better off because of that. There is one last one major tyranny to be
defeated and we are on a path to have representative governments worldwide.
I would love to see this happen by 2020, the 400th anniversary of the

I will conclude with one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain who
observed "that the only rational patriotism is loyalty to your country
always and to your government when it deserves it.""

Don Parrish

Saturday, May 03, 2003

antisocialist rant

antisocialist rant

how can anyone who is being honest state that they support communism or socialism? the answer: they are not being honest. they want to have the fruits of other people's labour, but do not want to have to produce anything in order to get it. they hold up the leeches of society as shining examples, but simultaneously punish those who make productive contributions, the very people whose efforts allow the leeches to survive.

but, you say, socialism does not punish the productive, it punishes the greedy. oh yes, those people who make a lot of money must be greedy, or they would simply give their money away. never mind that the reason they are successful is that they are productive. they produce things that people want.

it always amuses me when i go into politics chatrooms and get into arguments with socialists. they talk of altruism, as if that is a good thing. they speak of self-sacrifice, holding it up as a shining example. but what they fail to recognize is the pure evil of human sacrifice. if they like self sacrifice so much, then why are they still alive? why not just slit their own wrists? after all, that is a self-scrifice, won't the world be a much better place without them in it?

the hatred that socialists have of capitalism, the very system which props up socialists, which allows them to survive, is a thinly-veiled hatred of themselves.and it is a hatred of humanity.

so, all you socialists out there, do us all a favour. take your collectivist notions, your wishful thinking, and try eating that, try using it to keep a roof over your head. it cannot be done; such requires actual individual effort. take your hatred of yourselves and of humanity, and starve.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

some of the most brilliant minds in the world are gathered together on the edge

Friday, April 25, 2003

I got Kazaa for my computer a few weeks back. Its fantastic. I particularly like the divX movies out there; nice small files for the most part. Watched South Park: the movie today, Princess Bride yesterday, and in the last week Spaceballs and Monty Python's Holy Grail. its neato.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

god, i have so much work to do.

SpaceDev is developing a hybrid rocket engine for the SpaceShipOne project of Scaled Composites (Dick Rutan's company); they just did a test firing of the engine. These guys are serious contenders for the X prize.

very cool stuff.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

fooling around with power tools

fooling around with power tools

I spent some more time working on my drill press robot today. It was one of the parts of this project that I had been putting off for a while, connecting the X driveshaft to its bearing supports. This means that I enter an ugly stage: calibration. I want my X and Y axes to be perpendicular to each other, and even the slightest error anywhere along the way thus far would throw those off. It is very, very close, but I want it to be to within 1/100th of a degree if possible. Fortunately, I am working with wood in many cases, which is quite forgiving. I have eleven adjustment points, to make certain that I get X and Y tables parallel to the base, and that the X and Y axes be perpendicular to each other.

For the X table, I have a stepper motor that has 400 steps per revolution (0.9 degrees per step). Its shaft is connected to a wheel 0.6 inches in diameter, which is connected to the 1-1/2" diameter pulley by a belt. The pulley is fixed to a threaded rod, 16 threads to the inch; the shuttles have an inner 16th of an inch thread (and a 1/8th inch oter thread, which keeps it from twisting);. So, one turn of the pulley is 1/16th of an inch of linear motion. One turn of the pulley requires 2.5 turns of the motor wheel, each of which requires 400 steps from the stepper motor. Therefore, I have a resolution of 1/16000 of an inch.

The optical motion sensors consist of LEDs and phototransistors, with a slotted wheel that passes between them. This wheel is mounted on the threaded rods squeezed between the pulley wheels and the bearings. As the wheel turns, the phototransistor is alternately blocked and receiving from the LED by the tabs and gaps of the wheel. There are 24 tabs (and 24 gaps), so an edge-triggered detector sends a signal to the computer on a transition from high to low or low to high. The effect is 48 signals from the sensor circuit for every full turn of the wheel, or 768 signals per inch; roughly 20.833 motor steps per sensor pulse. Of course, the optical wheel is hand-made (with the lid of a margarine container and an exacto knife), and the tabs and gaps are not perfectly uniform, but they are close enough . At any rate, that pretty much means that the limits of accuracy are about twice the minimum resolution of the sensors, about 1/384th of an inch. That isn't too bad at all, as the holes I will be drilling for the circuit boards will be 1/64 inch diameter, and I was shooting for at least 1/256th of an inch for my accuracy rate. The accuracy may be much higher, up to about half the limits of the accuracy of the motor (say 1/8000th of an inch), but I can really only go by the data that the optical sensors give me.

I do have the advantage of repeating the count of motor steps between pulses for each tab and gap. There are only 48, after all, so I can do a simple statistical analysis of the counts, and approximate the actual position based on the present count. 10 data points for each value ought to be enough, and so within ten revolutions (10000 stepper motor pulses) I ought to have that data figured out. It will take less than 1/2 k of RAM to store the necessary data.

I better get some sleep, i have to go to work soon.

Dick Rutan unveils SpaceShipOne

and another private space initiative by Elon Musk

Saturday, April 19, 2003

I tend to run off at the mouth when I get going



I confess. I still use my Vic20 computer. It is ancient, about 20 years old -- older than most marriages. If computers were cars, then my Vic20 is a Model T (and the computer I'm writing this on is a Volkswagen Rabbit). But, like collectors of classic cars, there are collectors of classic computers out there, too -- the TRS-80, the Altair, the Model100 laptop, the Apple II, and yes, the Vic20.

The Vic is an amazing computer for its time. It was a real computer in its own right, one in which you could program whatever you wanted; but it was also a game computer, with memory-mapped I/O and special-function chips for graphics and sound. Game cartridges were simply plugged into the back, or software could be run from disk or, more often, cassette tape. Included among the cartridges available was the 16k expander cartridge, which brings my Vic up to a whopping 20k of RAM (well, 19968 bytes of program space and 1/2 k bytes for the screen).

What good is a computer with only 20 k of RAM? plenty. It was the first computer i ever owned, and it was the one that I learned to program on. Not only did I learn BASIC, I also figured out machine language (assembler). Then, when I took programming courses in FORTRAN77, Pascal, and C (and assembly languages for various microprocessors and microcontrollers), I was able to pick up concepts very easily, noting the similarities or differences to the programming of the Vic. I would sometimes write a program in Vic BASIC or assembler first, then re-write it in Pascal or C or whatever once I had the logical flow figured out and all the bugs worked out.

I remember taking a course on Pascal, and one of the labs was to write a program that would solve a 4 x 4 matrix. I of course had to make it much more challenging for myself, so I wrote one that solved for parametric equations (more variables than descriptive equations) and for solutions in the complex numbers. I was able to solve a 30x30 matrix (over a computing time of a few minutes) on the Vic20 before I solved it on the IBM. Of course, on the computers we were using in class at the time (brand new 386s), I could solve up to 100x100 in half a minute. Even so, the program to do this on the Vic was very small and easy to write compared to the Pascal version, and so I used it to test out the subroutines before translating them into Pascal.

Back when I was a college student, I didn't have a lot of money, so I had to use what I had... and what I had was the Vic. When I needed to have a program that I could use to design and produce printed circuit boards with, and the programs on the school's computers were inadequate, I turned to my Vic 20.

I started writing the PCB CAD program in BASIC, and about halfway through realized that I wasn't going to have enough memory for the data. So, I started writing a few routines in machine language -- the hard way, writing them down on paper, looking up the opcodes, converting them to decimal, copying them into a READ/DATA structure in a separate program, and then loading and writing a program that would load and run the machine language creation routines first, followed by loading and running the BASIC program. After a while, I saw that even that wasn't going to cut it; I had to write the whole program in machine language.

Now, the problem is that there were no (or very few) machine language editors out there available for the Vic20 (there still aren't). So, I had to write an editor before I could write the CAD program. And, in order to have an efficient editor, it too had to be written in machine language. So, I had to do it the hard way, writing the whole program down ( or as much as I needed for the bootstrap process), convert to decimal and copy into DATA structures. Then I ran the program that read those data strctures, and ran the resulting machine language code. This gave me the bare bones of an editor, and I used those bare bones to flesh the editor out, adding functionality as I went (including parts of a disk operating system). In all, the editor takes up about 5k of RAM. I then used that to write my CAD program, which i in turn used to create a dozen or so printed circuit board designs.

Now that I have my Rabbit, I have transferred the CAD data files to the PC, and edited them in Paint to give print-quality images. I am using those images to create transparencies that are ironed-on to double-sided copper clad board, then etching them to get my printed circuits. Then I am using the Vic to control the drill press robot (see link at left) which will drill all of the holes in my circuit boards -- which is a good thing, when one is producing over 100 boards with 200 holes each and needs the holes to within less than 1/100th of an inch... doing it by hand with a drillpress is a recipe for insanity, particularly since one wrong hole can mean the ruin of a circuit.

I'm doing other stuff with the Vic as well. I am writing all of the software for my snake robots (in 8085 assembly language, I wrote an editor for that) and for a clock/timer circuit (using the PIC microcontroller, I am learning the language and writing an editor for that as well) which I am building for a client. I am also building a few circuits; one to control the rill press robot with the Vic, another to program the PIC or EPROMs for my other projects; these will plug into the USR port on the back of the Vic through an interface module I built the other day.

I am also writing a new mid-level programming language, FUNGAL (for FUzzy logic / Neural network / Genetic Algorithm Language), and although the language will run on the computers and other circuits I designed , the editor for the language (and the source of all the data files) is the Vic 20. The FUNGAL code, ncluding the interpreter and lookup tables, will be stored on EPROMS which plug into the circuits. Those EPROMS will be programmmed in the circuit I build that plugs into the VIC 20. So, my VIC over time has basically become an integral part of my printed circuit production facility.
granola bar update: I put the whole thing back into the pot, stirred it a bit more. All of the chocolate melted, and everything mixed much nicer. When it cooled in the baking sheet, it turned out fantastic.

Friday, April 18, 2003

the beginnings of property law for space

the beginnings of property law for space

The Archimedes Institute - space law and policy research
PERMANENT: Asteroids utilization, etc.
The Full Moon Atlas : Lunar Navigator : Map of the Moon
moon data

the theater of the absurd

the theater of the absurd

So supposedly the iraqi information minister hung himself soon after the fall of Baghdad. This quote from Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, as he sipped a martini next to a pool in Syria:"I tell you the truth, the Iraqi information minister is dead"(sip)"and there are no Iraqi officials in Syria"(quote entirely made up, who knows, the guy might really have done it. But then, that would have required a grasp on reality).
I made some granola bars today. It's easy. Just make them the same way you make Rice Krispie (tm) squares, substituting granola for the rice cereal. I added coconut, walnuts, oatmeal, and chocolate chips to the granola. I used too much marshmallow, though, and its basically granola in a block of sugar now.

first of many anti-NASA rants

first of many anti-NASA rants

What exactly is NASA's purpose? If it is to explore space, then that is what they should do. If it is to send people to space and make a place for them to stay, then that is what they should do. If it is to conduct research in robotics and teleoperation, then that is what they should do.

NASA is all over the map. No business could survive the way that NASA does. And continuing to pour money into NASA (US$15B this year, US$18B next) brings us no closer to actually having people -- lots of them -- living and working in space.

All of the really difficult stuff was done 20 to 40 years ago. We know how to launch a rocket. Our home computers are each equivalent to NASA's entire mission control back in 1969. Calculating orbital mechanics is a breeze with the right software.

The international space station is a grotesque monstrosity. It takes three astronauts working full time just to keep it running, and I doubt it will ever be fully crewed. It had the potential to be a wonder of the world on the order of the Pyramids, but instead will become the greatest white elephant of all time.

Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke showed how it should be done back in 1968, with "2001: a Space Odyssey"; make a large wheel-shaped space station. Something with a 90 m radius spinning at 2 rpm would produce about 2/5 gee of centripetal acceleration (equivalent to gravity) at the rim. But, you say, that is huge! how would we get something that big up there?

Well, you don't launch it all at once; Mir and the International Space Station (aka Mir II) were both assembled in stages. Even so, that is a lot of launches... or is it? NASA has already launched enough hardware since 1982 to build 7 or 8 such stations. How?

By using the external tank. Currently, this vessel is accelerated to 99% of orbital energy, then the shuttle slows down and discards it. The shuttle then uses its on-board tanks to accelerate the rest of the way to orbit. At the time the tanks are discarded, they each contain roughly 10000 kg of Oxygen and 1000 kg of Hydrogen, which could instead be used to bring both the shuttle and the tank to orbit. The ET itself is 30000 kg of Aluminum/Lithium alloy, and the interior volume of one of them is more than the ISS and Mir put together.

An external tank structure is huge. It is actually two tanks, a cylinder 97 feet long and 28 feet in diameter for LH2, and an egg-shape 50 feet long (and 28 feet in diameter at its widest) on top for the LOX. The walls are two inches thick. They are capable of holding more than one atmosphere of pressure. 12 of them in a ring make a circle with a radius of 90 meters; four more could be placed in the hub for microgravity experiments. Simple rocket boosters would be converted to "spokes" for the wheel. There is a diagram here.

The space shuttle itself is ... well let's just say that a camel is a horse designed by committee. If you want to build a space bus, then build a damn space bus, something that can carry at least two dozen people safely to and from space. If you want to build a freight truck, then build a damn freight truck, something with a crew of two or even unmanned. Leave most of what you send up to space, up there.

What NASA did with the space shuttle was attach the front of a bus to the back of a freight truck. Then they added wings to it, because flying a spaceplane is sexy. This was all done in the name of reusability; this is a total joke. Solid rocket boosters get re-used a few times, fine. Two out of 5 orbiters have been destroyed; now the remaining three face an increased workload, more wear-and-tear. And over 100 external tanks have been wasted. Some re-usability.

Your tax dollars at work.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

International Space Station
im still figuring out this "blog" stuff

grammatically incorrect

grammatically incorrect

I hate when people say that X is "needless to say", and then go ahead and expound upon X at length. If X is "needless to say", then stop talking. Similarly, it pisses me off when someone says "Mr X. needs no introduction" - and then goes right ahead introducing Mr X. I mean, if someone really needed no introduction, then all he would have to do is walk into a room and there would be a standing ovation (hey, it happens...what would you do if Bob Hope walked into a packed restaurant... rush the guy for autographs? pretend he wasn't there? its BOB HOPE fercryinoutloud... but i digress). So don't say that "the following person needs no introduction" unless you plan to sit down and shut up. In which case you probably shouldn't have started talking in the first place. And if something is "needless to say", then just shut up.

The world would be a much quieter place if people would just shut up.

get the UN out of the USA

get the UN out of the USA

HR1146 the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003

as Dave Barry would say...

as Dave Barry would say...
i am not making this up