Friday, April 30, 2004

John Kerry will not be president

John Kerry will not be president

He may not even get the Democrat nomination, if he continues to melt down. Actually, from what I have read in the papers and on the 'net, "meltdown" might be a good way to describe his moral standards, his idea of "right" and "wrong".

Like ketchup over french fries, Kerry's conscience seems to conform to whatever support it finds. As an ambitious young man, he sees opportunities for political advancement (and possesses the financial wherewithal) by doing a short stint in Vietnam, then flipflopping and getting up close and personal with Jane Fonda.

Look at this guy's career, his income tax return (separate from his extraordinarily wealthy wife - wasn't it the Democrats who wanted to clean up campaign financing? - as opposed to the Bushes, who file jointly), his voting record. Particularly at his voting record.

The common theme in all of it is, what can it do to get John Kerry more power? That's it. Everything else is just a means to that end. Will a vote one particular way give him a bigger bloc of votes than it will lose him? Guess which way he votes. Right, wrong, the way he voted last week, the way he would vote next week, that doesn't matter, it's all about the now and getting and keeping power.

Up here in Canada we have had our share of Prime Ministers like that. We crossed that line long ago, when Pierre Trudeau was first elected over Robert Stanfield. All style, no substance, he charmed the baby boomers with his brashness and sophistication. Before he was elected, the Canadian dollar was worth $1.05US, and our debt was negligible. Since then our per capita national debt has ballooned by almost 1500 percent and our "tax freedom day" is in late June. There is also no real long-term plan to pay off the national debt.

Note that all this occured in Canada while the military was gutted. It wasn't a guns'n'butter situation, it was butter'n'more butter. That's what style over substance buys you.

John Kerry stands for whatever is good for John Kerry at the moment, whatever will make him look good as a politician (as opposed to actually being a good politician). Whatever way the wind blows, that's the way his sails will be furled.

Of course, it may yet not come down to Bush vs. Kerry come November. If Kerry is flustered to the point of incoherence by the hardball questions from Good Morning America, how would he handle Yassir Arafat? or Putin?

If the Democrats want to have any chance at all in November, they must do two things:
1) ditch John Kerry; replace with a guy with some spine
2) stop opposing the war in Iraq; instead, oppose the Department of Homeland Security. If they won, the Dems would for the forseeable future continue with the current policy in Iraq. Opposing the war merely to appear to be in opposition to Bush just to try to get more votes only divides the country. Oppose instead the draconian abridgement of the opportunity to exercise rights in the USA due to Homeland Security; it will strike a chord with voters, as they have far more personal exposure to HS than they do with terrorists. (note the terror alert level at left, currently "Bert")

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Let's put Mars off for a while

Let's put Mars off for a while

First published nearly 20 years ago, the arguments put forth in Eric Drexler's The Case Against Mars still hold true today.

While in general I support President Bush's new vision for NASA, that support is chiefly because he has given NASA a direction at all. I don't necessarily agree with the direction, but some direction is much better than continually going around in circles.

A moon base, definitely. Rather than immediately going for Mars though, the next step must be an expansion of the toehold on the moon, developing a multi-use facility capable of much more than just being a scientific research outpost. It must also be a mining base and a tourist destination. From there it must continue to grow, adding an electromagnetic launcher for sending material from the moon to earth orbit. The raw material would then be processed in orbit into such things as space stations and solar power satellites.

From there, we still should not go to the surface of Mars. Instead our next main area of concern would be asteroids. Two types of asteroids merit consideration: the near-earth asteroids and then all the others. There are several hundred near earth asteroids already catalogued, and a mission or two to those to set up and test mining facilities etc. makes sense.

Clearly, we will not be exploring all asteroids before moving on to a target like Mars. However, a mission to Phobos and/or Deimos makes sense; as captured asteroids, operations which take place on them would be the same as operations on asteroids, and being in Mars orbit helps to save fuel for the return trip (use Mars gravity to an advantage for a "gravity boost"). It is only after completion of missions to the moons of Mars that a manned landing on Mars ought to be considered.

Following the outline above, sufficient infrastructure would exist both on earth and in earth orbit to permit a great many missions, including manned Mars missions, for a fraction of the cost of an Apollo-style flag's'n'footprints mission.

addendum, april 30th: a base at L1, the Lagrange orbit about 90% of the way to the moon, is a wise idea. Such an orbit would likely hold two or three space stations, at most, mutually orbiting each other around the L1 point. Such a base would be built concurrently with the moon base. The first station would be quite small, likely launched either all at once or in two rothree launches. It would be just big enough to assist in the construction of the moon base, operating as an orbiting fuel station and serving as a docking point for both a lunar lander and the CEV that would bring astronauts either from earth or earth orbit to L1. As the moon base grows, so would the L1 station, and eventually a second station, probably much larger and wheel-shaped, would be built to handle the increase in traffic. The first station would thus serve as a construction shack for the second.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Dwayne Day vs. China

Dwayne Day vs. China

Rand Simberg points out that Dwayne Day's article in today's Space Review makes a series of glaring errors:

"The only demonstrated payoff of human spaceflight is prestige. There is nothing that a human can do in low Earth orbit, other than the study of other humans, that a robot cannot do better."

This is of course an absurd set of statements. Simberg goes after the second one, citing examples like the Skylab fixit mission and two other missions that involved astronauts and the shuttles' robot Canadarms. However, he misses the point: in order to definitively state that there is nothing that a human can do in low orbit that a robot cannot, empirical evidence provided by the operation of a teleoperated robot is required, to provide a comparasin to human performance. So far the only data available is for the Canadarm on the shuttles and the Canadarm II on the ISS - in both cases, teleoperation is from a distance measured in a few meters rather than hundreds or thousands of kilometers, and astronauts are close by to jump in and assist if needed. There is no data for any other robots operating in low earth orbit, so no meaningful comparasins can be made.

The first statement quoted above is equally nonsensical. It is like saying "of what use is a baby?" - Day is referring to China's space program, and can see only national prestige as a payoff. But there are other payoffs to consider:

1) A nation that can rendezvous two or more satellites is capable of building a space station of its own. From what rumors I have read, the Shenzou modules link together in a straight line, and only a small capsule returns to earth. The remainder of the (service) modules remain in orbit, linked together. The Chinese learned something from the fiasco of the waste of space shuttle external tanks: once you put something in orbit, keep it there. By the time China launches one or two more flights, their space station will already be larger than Mir. They won't need international cooperation or competition. And for an investment so far of $2 billion, that's not bad at all. The Canadian government shrugs numbers like that off for trifles like a National Gun Registry.

2) Methodical progression dictates that nothing be wasted and that everything have dual (or more) use. By learning from others and skipping several steps, and by leaving infrastructure in orbit, the Chinese will have created a logical place to serve as a drydock/staging area for assembling missions to the moon or points beyond. They also have a logical place for an orbital fuel depot. The shenzou configuration allows China to leapfrog over everyone else in the quest to make reliable,inexpensive, regular flights to the moon.

More from Dwayne Day:
"The more money China spends on human spaceflight, the less money it has to spend on missiles pointed at the United States or Taiwan."

Again, dual uses. Technology adequate to accurately place a human in orbit is sufficient for use in military applications. Experience gained from the operation of manned rockets is adapted for use by the military. And any improvement in a manned rocket is a potential improvent in a missile.

Day goes on:
"In fact, the military aspects of the Shenzhou program demonstrate this point. The Chinese president wanted a human spacecraft for prestige purposes, but in order to get it he had to compromise with the military and allow it to be used for missions such as photoreconnaissance and signals intelligence. The military seems to have learned a lesson from the United States and Soviet Union, who discovered decades ago that humans have no military utility in space, so the taikonaut deploys the orbital module with its military payloads in orbit and then departs, leaving the other spacecraft to operate on its own.

However, this is not only a bureaucratic compromise, but a mission compromise for the military as well. Due to requirements to bring the manned capsule back to China, Shenzhou does not fly in an orbit that swings very far north or south, so the amount of territory it can photograph or snoop electronically is limited. An ideal military spacecraft would also take advantage of all the extra mass and volume that is currently devoted to keeping the human passenger alive. Linking their military space program to their human space program is simply an expensive kludge that wastes money."


I will temporarily suspend disbelief and acknowledge that Day may be correct that China's sole reason(s) for a manned space program is(are) national pride and/or international prestige. I will further presume that he is familiar with the relationship of the military to the ruling elite in China, and that a compromise with the military was necessary. However, as he points out in the next paragraph, such a compromise would compromise both objectives.

As such, one of two possibilities exist:

1) Day is incorrect about China's motives for a manned program and/or the relationship between the military and ruling elite in China.

2) The Chinese do not learn from the mistakes of others but instead repeat them.

I am disinclined to believe that the Chinese did not study the mistakes of the Russian and American space programs. They probably studied the mistakes more than the successes; mistakes are opportunites to learn. They will have surely noted the example of the Space Shuttle, the result of wildly divergent mission specifications being forced into a single vehicle.

With the shuttle, the old saying about a camel being a horse designed by committee certainly applied. Cross-range ability (required by the military) gave it wings and a tail (how much of this much-vaunted cross-range ability has been used anyhow? Has there been a single polar-orbit mission?), bureaucratic fiddling resulted in engines that needed to be recovered every flight... the list goes on and on.

The Chinese are unlikely to have made a similar gross error with Shenzou.

From there Day goes on to extol the virtues of involving the Chinese in the International Space Station, hopefully to divert their resources in what Day considers a wasteful manner merely for, again, national prestige. This ignores the fact that the Chinese already have their own space station in an orbit accessible from their own launch facilities.

The Chinese are not stupid, and I doubt that they will fall for Day's ploy.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

a little housecleaning

a little housecleaning

I've been fiddling around with the appearance of my weblog a little bit, cleaning up and organizing the links on the left and fixing some broken links to the archives, adding a few buttons (I like the sesame street characters representing terror alert levels best), and I just added a guestbook. That's the best I can do until I can get a "feedback" link attached to my blog entries. Hopefully this will all result in better organization and more functionality for my blog.

Day by Day has been a really good addition to my blog. I hope to find more such features to add to the blog soon. Also, I'm going to start producing 3D animations soon, as I have been working more and more with 3D Canvas, so I will soon add a link category of [Animations] or something like that, post it them on one of my websites, and just have all the links here in the blog.

This blog is slowly evolving into my personal home on the web. All of the links that I use often are here, and any cool or topical stuff that I happen to find is saved in my archives. I can access this from anywhere, and use it as a sort of mobile homepage.

proof of life on mars part 3

proof of life on mars part 3

My friend Chip Shults appeared on the Art Bell show last Sunday; unfortunately I can't get that up here in Calgary (that I know of) without paying a monthly fee to coasttocoastam.com (umm... you guys? ever hear of a little thing called advertising? expanded customer base = more advertising revenue, and the internet is potentially a wider audience than the current radio network). He has continued to expand his website, strengthening his argument that macroscopic life similar to life on Earth of the same era existed on Mars. Soon his scientific paper with a full methodology and summary of results will be complete; several totally different experiments may be devised to test the theory for weaknesses, but ultimately the answers will need to await the next generation of Mars landers, which would be able to look for signatures of life and life processes.

Should Chip's theory be validated, he stands to win the Nobel prize. That validation could come as soon as a five years from now, with the Mars Science Laboratory.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Series Tied 1 - 1

Series Tied 1 - 1

aw dang, the Flames lost. Oh well, at least we took home ice advantage away from Detroit.

thinking about sports before the big game

thinking about sports before the big game

So here I am waiting for the Flames game to start, and the CBC is showing the world curling championships. Some thoughts:

1) Colleen Jones is pretty damn sexy. Come to think of it there are a lot of really good-looking women in curling. That Norwegian third Linn Githmark is downright gorgeous.

2) I don't watch much hockey, but this season the Flames have coalesced into a playoff-ready team. I've been watching more and more as the playoff race was underway in March, and now I am watching more and more, following the Flames on the net, and reading the sports pages. A little success and a lot of hard work go a long way.

3) Jarome Iginla entered the league in 1996, going right from Junior Hockey to the first round of the playoffs with the Flames. Those two games he played then were the last playoff games played by Calgary until this year. Iginla has been with the team the whole time, and he has really grown up with the team. He's the captain now, but that is just a formality: it has been his team for a while now. And he buys wholeheartedly into the Sutter hockey philosphy, that hard work trumps raw ability every time. The result? raw ability plus hard work. Iggy is probably the most dominant player in the game right now, and it looks good on him.

4) Calgary has a depth in goal that is the envy of the league. All three goalies were injured at various points in the season. Mikka Kiprusoff had a fantastic year, and he is standing on his head in these playoffs. Should he fall, Roman Turek is waiting and ready to go. And Jamie McClennan is ready to go. A hot goalie can bring a team the Stanley Cup, more than any other factor.

shady UN bookkeeping

shady UN bookkeeping

The UN Oil-For-Food scandal is just starting to hit the mainstream press. A really good summary of the UN's complicity with corruption can be found here.

And just think, Jean Chretien has been angling for the UN General Secretary job for years. Annan is a lightweight compared to Chretien in terms of deviousness and sheer hunger for power. The USA should seriously consider pulling out of the UN right now.

Friday, April 23, 2004

shut up and read this

shut up and read this

Sgt Hook posted a letter from Marine Mom that ought to be required reading in every Hollywood studio, every record company, every newsroom in north america. She does something you will never see a politician do: explains the war on terror and the war in iraq in plain, straightforward language. At one point she says:

"Courage is not shown by spoiled celebs who have no grasp of what reality is for the real Average Joes. Do you want to see real courage? I see real courage every day. From our sons and daughters who offer their lives for every citizen; regardless of belief, income, spirituality, sexual preference, career choice or political stance. Would any of those star "heroes" risk scuffing their pricey Italian shoes for our country? Would they give up a multimillion-dollar endorsement to ensure our freedom? Would they take a bullet for my sons? Trek through a steamy jungle to take out a sniper whose rifle is trained on me? Fight our enemies, while outnumbered and hungry in subzero temps,
and win? I think not. They are part and parcel of a group of self-absorbed
Americans who hide behind the flag rather than wrap themselves around it. There is no honor, sacrifice or bravery in what they say or do. Heroes? My heroes are my sons, their brothers and sisters in the military. I owe everything to them, nothing to celebrities, politicians, journalists, divas or playahs."


Well, there is at least one of these "star heros" who did give up a multimillion dollar contract to serve his country. Sadly, he paid the ultimate price for that decision:

"WASHINGTON (AP) - Football player Pat Tillman, who turned down a mulitmillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army, was killed in Afghanistan, officials said Friday."

my condolences to Tillman's family.

slowly cutting through the red tape

slowly cutting through the red tape

XCOR got their launch license from the FAA this morning.

Mr. Kerry, your reputation was already here

Mr. Kerry, your reputation was already here

Someone's been Google bombing. Go to Google and type the search term "Waffles".

planetary chauvinism

planetary chauvinism

The Mars debate keeps rolling along.

I don't think we should colonize Mars. This is not for some ridiculous ideal like leaving Mars in a "pristine state", it is a matter of energy.

We here on earth are at the bottom of a gravity well. Most of the energy used for space travel (and cost expended) is just to get people from the bottom of this gravity well to low earth orbit. The same holds true for Mars or the moon; in both cases, you have to fight gravity if you want to go (or ship products) anywhere else. Mars, unlike the moon, shares another disadvantage with the earth, a thick atmosphere. If Mars' atmosphere was the same composition and density as earth's, this would be an advantage. However, in its current composition and density it serves only to provide a small amount of friction and a source of erosion.

If one is determined to travel to Mars, then there are two obvious destinations of merit: Phobos and Deimos. Both the Martian moons are thought to be captured asteroids, so any research conducted on them would likely apply to many other asteroids as well. Each is tidally-locked with Mars, perpetually presenting one face to the planet, so they both would serve as good observing platforms for the planet below. They are also large enough to provide enough raw materials to begin industrial operations. Finally, a return trip is easier, as one can take advantage of the existing orbital velocity for the trip back home (escape velocity is only 41% higher than orbital velocity), using Mars as a slingshot. No reentry into Mars atmosphere needs to occur, which simplifies design - indeed, the astronauts would probably only reenter the earth's atmosphere in a Soyuz or something like it.

Other than that, I can see no commercial viability for a Mars colony. It is simply too far from everything else; in terms of delta vee, low earth orbit is closer to the asteroid belt than the suface of Mars is. And it is the asteroid belt which will ultimately prove to be commercially viable.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

what the...

what the...

I have noticed my hit counter rising lately. That's a relative term of course; this site usually gets two or three hits a day, usually from me. But lately, I have noticed that a few hits a day are not mine. It must have been that link to BlogsCanada. In any case, to my reader (most likely singular; i'll have to get a new site meter), howdy, welcome to my little collection of rantings and ravings.

avoiding the death spiral part 2

avoiding the death spiral part 2

I mentioned on April 17th that Ford, Kvaerner, Honda, lots of companies could be making spacecraft. However, they are not. There's a good reason for that. There is only a tiny market for space launch, and these companies cannot bring assembly-line methods to bear on small markets.

For there to be a space launch market, there has to be a reason for people to want to go to space. Having a good reason to send cargo is nice, but the market for that is limited; once you start sending people up the cargo market becomes much more robust and follows naturally.

Presently people are discouraged by the cost; not everyone has $20 million dollars lying around and can also pass the required medical etc exams currently required of astronauts. This is often cited as a catch-22; can't send people up until costs come down, can't bring down costs without high flight rates, can't have high flight rates if people aren't buying seats.

It needn't be a catch-22 though. If people perceive the value of the experience as being more than the value of the cost of the experience, then they will pay. A few have already paid the aforementioned 20 mil, and it was worth it to them.

There are other ways of approaching the problem. One is to realize that to generate passenger flights, there must be a destination. The ISS simply doesn't cut it as a high-traffic destination in space: too small, microgravity experiments, in the wrong orbit.

What is needed as part of the infrastructure for a space-based economy is a structure like the one envisioned at Space Island Group. This is a wheel-shaped space station built out of expended space shuttle external tanks. The whole thing could be built with the discarded ETs of 16 shuttle launches, or by 8 shuttle-C or shuttle-Zs (which would take their external tanks to orbit). Now that's a destination: great view, exotic locale. Have fun at 1/3 gee in the main ring or play in weightlessness at the hub.

For a destination like that, one is looking at perhaps a few hundred people in space at one time. Those people are not going to get there three at a time on a Soyuz. Instead, they would be on the equivalent of a space bus, probably a few dozen arriving at a time.

All of a sudden, the cost to orbit per seat drops dramatically. It requires a heavy-lift launcher, but that will also be needed for a moon mission anyway.

So there is a consideration for NASA: instead of following the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo route (maybe they want four astronauts this time?) they should look at something that can launch 20, 30, fifty people at once.

There is a flip side to the catch-22: once there is a dramatic drop in price, the demand rises sharply, overshooting the supply. This is where Ford and Kvaerner and Honda come into play. It is when the demand rises sharply that it becomes profitable for these companies (and others like them) to do the minor retooling necessary to produce spacecraft. Give them the desired capabilities for the CEV and the booster and the specs for the interface between the two, show that the demand is rising sharply, and then stand back. Adopt a Wal-Mart strategy when it comes to your suppliers, always seeking lower costs. Give them your specifications, then give your business to whoever can deliver.

The wheel station I linked to above would not just be a tourist resort (although it could be that too). It (or others subsequent to the first) becomes a drydock/staging area/industrial facility. This is essential to the eventual Mars mission (which will surely be assembled and perhaps mostly built in orbit), as well as to gain experience in a number of other areas: how long can a human being live at 1/3 gee before suffering ill effects? how do we process raw ore in orbit? what construction techniques can we use in orbital facilities?

The orbiting stations would be true space stations, not microgravity research outposts like Mir or the ISS. It is the space stations and the ability to transport large numbrs of people to them that will open up space industry.

I think a space station like that will become a reality, but I don't see NASA doing it. Instead I think an entrepreneur like Bezos or Rutan or Branson will build it - maybe even Paris Hilton.

space cowboys

space cowboys

OK, so I'm a little slow on the uptake, but this April 19th article on the X Prize Blog caught my attention:

X PRIZE TEAMS HOLD 2-DAY SUMMIT IN LOS ANGELES

I followed the link and noted that the original picture and article was at xprize.com but dated march 8th. sigh.

Oh well, here it is April 22nd and Armadillo Aerospace has conducted its first hover tests with excellent results. They will be flying the jet vane vehicle soon.

Brian Finney of the da Vinci project is scheduled to announce the launch date for the rocket that will take him (plus ballast representing two other people) to suborbital space very soon. He will be launching from Saskatchewan later this year.

XCOR will either receive its launch license from the FAA-AST by tomorrow or else they will be given specific reasons why not.

And the SpaceX Falcon is on track for a maiden launch in the middle of 2004.

These are interesting times to be involved in the space industry.

more partisan smokescreen

more partisan smokescreen

This whole 9/11 commission has me thinking this is it, this is the last gasp of the baby boomers. They want another Watergate, something that will allow them to paint Republicans as Evil and Democrats as Good (when in fact both are Evil).

Heck, some of the players in this 9/11 commission are even the same publicity hogs that worked on Watergate. (Hello, Mr. Ben-Veniste. Searching to recover past glory are we?)

Democrats (at least the high priesthood) really don't care one way or another about what Bush could have done prior to 9/11 to prevent it from occurring. When they should be looking at "what went wrong?" and "how do we fix the problem?", they are looking at "Who is to blame?" (conveniently ignoring the fact that one of the chief architects of the intentional communications breakdown between the various national security agencies, a primary part of "what went wrong", sits on the 9/11 commission, one Jamie Gorelick).

And I don't absolve the Republicans either, they were looking for their own Watergate with Bill Clinton (who surely deserved a Watergating but curiously got off scot-free). To both groups, it is all about Power.

the effects of resolve

the effects of resolve

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) - Moammar Gadhafi on Sunday called for the abolition of Libya's three decade-old exceptional courts and other strict laws criticized by human rights groups.

It is no coincidence that Libya's sudden change (acceptance of responsibility for Lockerbie, renunciation of WMD programs, and now Gadhafi's urging of acceptance of Amnesty International's recommendations for legal reform) coincide with the US-led invasion of Iraq and arrest of Saddam Hussein. It is also no coincidence that Libya is on the forefront of this change; Gadhafi is short one daughter due to what Ronald Reagan did with a couple of Cruise missiles. Other middle eastern leaders have not had such direct experience with American firepower.

Had Bill Clinton (or for that matter George Bush Sr.) followed Reagan's lead and shot a few Cruise missiles at some of Saddam's palaces, then much of the unpleasantness of the last few years might have been avoided.

However, much of what has happened over the last few years has been brewing for decades. When Clinton, at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, shot a handful of cruise missiles at ineffectual targets (note: Bush Sr, Clinton, and Bush Jr could have each called for war on Iraq at any time; each would have been justified due to ceasefire violations) he merely accelerated the process. He gave those who choose terror as a political tool the impression that the USA was weak, innefectual, cowardly: vulnerable.

Had he gone after a palace and happened to kill Uday or Qusay.... well perhaps today it would be Iran that the USA-led coalition was invading, and Libya second in the capitulation line behind Iraq.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Lardass calls for US troop deaths

Lardass calls for US troop deaths

Michael Moore has been putting his foot in it again. In an open letter to his fans he basically wishes for the deaths of American servicemen just so he can say "I told you so" when enough have died. The entire letter is analyzed on right-thinking.com.

I have written an open letter to Moore (July 13/03) in the past. This blowhard bothers me only because so many people pay money to go see his dreck.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

avoiding the death spiral

avoiding the death spiral

Rand Simberg thinks that NASA should decide right now whether to fly the shuttles as-is or shut down the program. Dwayne Day thinks that the language used to justify the space program has become feminized. Jeff Bell thinks that any shuttle-derived vehicle concept is absurd, and that NASA ought to just go with a new vehicle altogether. Leonard David argues that it may be time to ground the shuttle fleet. And Jay Manifold says that for most of America, space isn't even a blip on the radar(April 16/04).

All of this is being driven by the Aldridge Commission, which is seeking ideas on how to implement President Bush's new direction for NASA.

To get a few people to the moon will require a way to get 100 tons of material into orbit at one time. This can either be done with a heavy-lift bosster that puts it there all at once, or by multiple smaller rockets whose payloads rendezvous in orbit.

In the 60's and 70's, NASA used the Saturn rocket to lift the command module and service module of the Apollo missions. Today however, we know how to rendevous in space automatically, and many current launch systems can launch smaller payloads into orbit.

If NASA builds some heavy-lift vehicle or shuttle-derived vehicle for the moon missions, it will have continued along the path taken over the last thirty years, a death spiral.

Such a vehicle would have a limited number of applications. If you wanted to launch say ten tons to earth orbit, you would have to wait until there was ten tons (and sufficient volume) available on a flight, or else gather nine others with similar payloads to share the flight with you.

Using several smaller craft and docking them in orbit makes more sense. Most of the technology is already available. However, if NASA selects a design, and then pays a single contractor the contract to build them, then it will again be on the death spiral.

I don't think Dwayne Day has it quite right when he talks of the "feminizing" of the space agency. It is part of a larger phenomenon, the feminizing of politics. Women entered politics (and the taxable workforce) as never before during the sixites and seventies, and it is no surprise that politicians choose words that will appeal to women as well as men, such as "exploration" rather than "conquest" or "leadership".

Instead, what has happened to NASA is a bureaucratization.

In the 1960's NASA was for all intents and purposes an army. It's soldiers were engineers and scientists and - and, well, soldiers. It was fighting a war. It's enemy was the Russian space program. It had a well-defined objective, to put men on the moon and bring them back alive. It had a well-defined deadline: December 31, 1969. They met the objective and won the war more than five months ahead of schedule - and in doing so immediately changed. The accomplishment of that goal meant an "end of major hostilities" for the army.

When an army is done its job, the soldiers get to go home (for the most part; I do realize that the US maintains bases all over the world). And in order for NASA to survive, it had to become a bureaucracy. It had no real goal anymore, so it had to make one up. The expenditures of the Apollo years had convinced the American public that space was really expensive and that nobody but a government agency could possibly afford it. And that perception is correct, nobody could afford to do anything in space the way a government agency does it except for a government agency.

So we've got these shuttles, spacecraft designed by politicians in a commitee, and escalating budgets and exorbitant launch prices ($1.2 billion for a shuttle launch under the new transparent accounting methods).

NASA needs to take a bold new look at everything it does. For one thing, it needs to undergo a process that most companies in the US did more than a decade ago: downsizing. Ground the shuttle fleet now, or use them until the ISS is complete or two more have been destroyed and save the last for a museum.

Next, change the way it does business with business. Instead of picking one design and awarding a single contractor (or a small group of companies) a huge amount of money, open it up to the real power of the market. Announce the specs for the lifting vehicle (say 10 or 20 or 25 tons to orbit), announce the specs for the Crew Exploration Vehicle (say 25 tons and ten people or 10 tons and three people, whatever), define the interface between the two. Then buy from whoever can meet the specs.

Multiple companies who are not already doing so could compete in the spacecraft manufacturing industry if this was the case. Ford, Kvaerner, Honda, anyone who manufactures cars or boats or airplanes. The secret is the production line.

Perhaps NASA needs to take an even bolder step: to look at access to orbit in a new way entirely. Using chemical rockets to get to orbit is thinking rooted in mid-20th century ballistics. Early 21st century thinking must include the implications of nanotechnology, particularly carbon nanotubes. NASA already commissioned a report on a space elevator, and it is worth another look in light of recent advancements in carbon nanotube production.

more proof that politicians are thieves

more proof that politicians are thieves

New Democrat Member of Parlaiment Svend Robinson stole a diamond ring from an auction:

BURNABY, B.C. (CP) - The political future for Canada's first openly gay MP was unclear Thursday as Svend Robinson admitted to pocketing an expensive piece of jewelry in a moment of "utter irrationality."

Robinson fought for composure as he told a news conference he would be taking an immediate medical leave from his duties as an MP.

Robinson said for now he's stepping down as the nominated NDP candidate in Burnaby-Douglas.

"I will be meeting in the near future with my riding executive to discuss the longer term implications of this decision should an election be called while these issues remain outstanding," he said.

The 25-year MP - who has battled for same-sex marriage, charter protection of gay rights and Palestinian autonomy - said he's waging a personal war against severe stress and emotional pain.


This little diversion while the Adscam scandel continues to unravel is but the latest in a string of outrages from this nutbar. He apologized and returned the item after the easter long weekend (he stole it on Good Friday, no less), before his news conference. Charges have not yet been laid.

I think he should be charged with theft over $5000. If not, then how can we charge the liberal MPs for their theft through the Adscam scandal? He said he was "stressed" and "lost control" - the only stress he felt was the fear of getting caught as he made the very controlled action of stealing a diamond ring: not something that is just left lying about completely unattended.

I suppose he couldn't exit politics like Pam Barrett of the Alberta NDP; her "near-death experience" excuse for getting out of Dodge was an impressive piece of political theatre, but it meant that Svend had to pick something else. I suppose he could have arranged to be wounded in an "assassination attempt", but that would have meant getting all icky.

Would Joe Homelessguy face charges if he got caught stealing a diamond ring? You bet your ass. How about Joe business-suit-wearing-conman? yup. So should Svend Robinson.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

your papers, please

your papers, please

Terry Hiibel was arrested in Nevada in May 2000, for the heinous crime of not providing his name to a police officer. You can see a video of the incident here. On March 22, 2004, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.

Some justices asked some questions that disturbed me. For example: (emphasis mine)

"QUESTION: Why isn't the -- maybe you and I
differ on -- on what the -- what the course of a
responsible citizen is. I would think the course of a
responsible citizen would be to answer the question what
you're doing here and what your name is
. And if he
doesn't answer that, I would -- I would say that that make
-- may cause the situation to rise to the level of
probable cause.
MR. DOLAN: We -- we --
QUESTION: He's hanging around a jewelry store.
It's late at night. He won't say who he is. He wouldn't
-- won't say what he's doing there. I would -- I would
drag him in.
MR. DOLAN: Well, the -- the person could be
purchasing jewelry for his paramour and -- and he does not
want his wife to know.
QUESTION: It's possible but unlikely.
(Laughter.)
QUESTION: But isn't there another answer?
QUESTION: Suppose --
QUESTION: Isn't there another answer?
QUESTION: -- suppose there is probable cause to
arrest and an arrest is made. Could the State then
require that the person answer as to his identity just so
that the officer can confirm that he's got the right
person?
MR. DOLAN: Again, I believe even in a post-
probable cause booking procedure, a person has the right
to remain silent if they view from their perspective --
and I believe this is what the test is. Rhode Island v.
Innis would -- would syggest that.
QUESTION: Now, is that a Fifth Amendment
privilege
that you're --"


From this I gather that the Supreme Court views the right to remain silent as more of a loose guideline rather than an absolute. Furthermore, it does not see the Fifth Amendment as enumerating a Right, something innate to all humans, but rather as a priveledge, something which can be revoked at the whim of the State.

"QUESTION: I mean, you're not probing the
perception, the memory, the cognition of the witness.
You're just determining an extrinsic fact."

For a person to respond to any question, he must use his memory. If I do not know my name (perhaps due to amnesia), then I could not reply. This alone affirms that a police officer would be probing the memory of the witness. And a cop should be allowed to ask a person's name. However, the right to remain silent that is specifically stated after an arrest must also apply before an arrest; as a right, it must exist at all times for all human beings.

"QUESTION: Well, in terms of the State's need to
know this information, how do you distinguish it from
requiring people to register, give their name for the
draft?
MR. DOLAN: In this case, Your Honor, the -- the
name is testimonial and incriminating because of the
dynamic of the Nevada statute in question.
QUESTION: Well, you should just plead the Fifth
Amendment, say, I -- I refuse to answer on the ground that
it might incriminate me. That -- was that -- was that
what was done here? I didn't realize you're -- you're
making a -- a Fifth Amendment incrimination claim. Is
that --
MR. DOLAN: We are, Your Honor.
QUESTION: -- is that part of your --
QUESTION: I -- I can go back for a second --
MR. DOLAN: Yes, Your Honor, we are.
QUESTION: So that -- that assumes that he was
guilty
and -- and had he not been -- had he not been
guilty of the beating, then he -- then -- then you would
acknowledge that he would have had to answer. It's only
the person who's guilty of the beating who would have a
right not to answer
."

Here, the Supreme Court has turned the Fifth Amendment upside-down, and effectively states that the exercise of the Fifth Amendment right is a de facto admission of guilt.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of this case. If the US Supreme Court rules against Hiibel, then that opens the door to the requirement for national ID cards, and police demanding to see your "papers please"... when coupled with Homeland Security and other recent assaults on freedom in America, a frightening scenario indeed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

more political farce

more political farce

Lots has been happening this week. Condoleeza Rice reminded me of Sean Connery's line in The Untouchables: "Never bring a knife to a gunfight" - that lady knew a gunfight when she saw one, and Ben-Veniste, well... sorry dude, your little switchblade is nothing compared to her .45 caliber mind.

And who the hell ever heard of this Jamie Gorelick? How did she manage to both compromise national security for nearly a decade, and then work on a commission investigating the inevitable results? And why is this being largely ignored by the news media?

Sunday, April 11, 2004

grrrrr

grrrrr

I'm out of tobacco and I don't get paid until the 15th... fair warning, any blogging I do over the next few days will likely be with a snarl.

Monday, April 05, 2004

misadventures of the recording "industry"

misadventures of the recording "industry"

Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) appeared on CBC's Cross Country Checkup yesterday, as part of a discussion of the Federal Court ruling against the Canadian Recording Industry Association last Wednesday. I'm listening to the audio feed (almost two hours long, i would advise going with the streaming version) right now. Some thoughts:

- the recording industry as a whole has missed the boat as regards filesharing. Rather than attacking the waves and fighting the advance of technology, they ought to embrace it. If they continue to fight the advance of technology, they will go the way of the buggy-whip industry.

- Any digitized file that goes onto the internet is automatically in the public domain, by definition

- pretty soon artists and their managers will realize that they can bypass the "recording industry", and the big record companies, altogether. It is already easy for an artist to make their own CDs without any assistance from record companies, and distribute it on the Net themselves. Bands already make their own websites, with links to their fanclubs; they can easily outsource what they can't do themselves, through an emerging music industry niche market

- Rex Murphy had a notable remark, when a guest quoted some old lyrics and noted that they were copyrighted material: "Sometimes it becomes so well-known it shaves off its own copyright".

- If record companies want to slow their downward slide, they must adapt. The record company spokesman noted that sales of CDs with content dropped from $1.3B in 1999 to $950M in 2003; but that sales of blank CDs had soared. This is disingenuous. Who makes the blank CDs? And how much of the increase of CD use has been regular computer users? I mean, who uses 3-1/2 inch floppies anymore? The total sales of the the entire industry have grown.

- One way to adapt: make CDs that contain MPEGs instead of audio files. Include videos with the music, and include commercials. Encourage filesharing, to spread the commercial. A simple script would download a new (or replay a saved) 10 second commercial before playing each song. The record companies morph into companies that make music videos, arrange for advertising, and package the recorded song with the video and commercial. They become content providers and sell the advertising, like television stations.

- P2P networks are evolving into a kind of super-library, particularly for old data of various types. Once something has been digitized, it is more robust; once it is digitized and shared, there will likely always be a copy of that file somewhere, as long as there is an internet. There will always be a copy of Casablanca, somewhere, because it will exist in multiple copies at any given time, and be copied onto new storage media.

- the idea that people who download a song are not paying for it is a fallacy. Everything has a cost. Bandwidth costs money. Storage space (whether hard drive space or on blank CD) costs money. Downloading time costs money. Whoever buys the CD in the first place is spending money for it. Just because distribution costs are far lower than the method chosen by record companies doesn't mean that it is free.

- this guy is complaining that the artists just want what everyone else wants, to get paid for their work.... ummm... dude... I've got news for you. You already did, as soon as you sold a CD. If you are going to make the claim that you still own that CD even after having been paid for it, and have some claim over what may be done with that CD, you are going to open yourself up to an unprecedented class-action fraud lawsuit; several billion counts, one for every record sold. You might just get copyright laws themselves thrown out. Careful....

- ok around an hour and fifteen minutes in, heeeeeere's instapundit.... quoting princess leia ("the more you tighten your fist, the more star systems will slip through your fingers") as an analogy of the music industry strategy....echoing my point above about how the record companies must adapt....pointing out that intellectual property is not the same as actual property...oooooh he said the P word (payola).... recent Harvard study showing that filesharing may help CD sales...

- Rex is now going on about the question of whether filesharing is unfair to artists, record companies etc... I am sure that the introduction of the internal combustion engine was unfair to buggy whip makers. Is it immoral, unethical? My take is, no. The files do not appear on the internet by magic: somebody buys the CD, converts it to MP3, and puts into a shared folder. Intellectual property is either property or it is not: if it is property, then when it is sold, it belongs to whoever buys it, and no longer belongs to the record company or original artist; or it is not property, and pretending to sell it is fraud. So someone bought it; if that music is property, then the record company or artist have no say to the use to which it is put after they sell it. The immoral, unethical step would be to attempt to extort (through the court system) more money than the record industry is entitled.

- cool link: Iceberg Radio

- this next guy, a new artist with his first CD, has some interesting suggestons: no limitations on songs/movies/etc on the internet if they are poor quality. Filesharing an MP3 would be OK, sharing a full digital version (maybe 10-20 times as much data) would not. That way samples or poor-quality versions would be free, but broadcast-quality would not. Intriguing.

- another musician, in favor of downloading. He says this is not about copyright, it is about maintaining the market share of the big record companies, cites the Courtney Love article (I just read that myself now... and realized about two paragraphs in: My God is this woman ever smart. Here's a sample:"I know my place. I'm a waiter. I'm in the service industry. I live on tips. Occasionally, I'm going to get stiffed, but that's OK. If I work hard and I'm doing good work, I believe that the people who enjoy it are going to want to come directly to me and get my music because it sounds better, since it's mastered and packaged by me personally. I'm providing an honest, real experience. Period.")

Sunday, April 04, 2004

turning dreams into datafiles

turning dreams into datafiles

I've been playing around with the freeware version of 3D Canvas by Amabilis software. I've only used it a little bit, but by following the examples and tutorial in their online help utility, I have been able to turn out some amazing results on my very first tries. 3D animation is very simple and intuitive in 3D Canvas. Even such things as animated characters are easy to put together. I have long been looking for software that could simulate my snakebots in action, along with a number of other ideas. Now I can model and animate them and make AVI or GIF files of my ideas.

Last night, I downloaded Mercator maps of the earth and the moon. With a couple of clicks, I had two spheres, and a few clicks later they were painted with the Mercator maps: instant 3D models of the earth and moon. Through a little experimentation I was able to put a few ten second movies together, of flights from the earth to the moon. I also made a simple wheel-shaped space station, and have a movie of that rotating, with the camera flying around and beyond it, and another movie of a simple spaceship taking off.

There is still a lot for me to learn (particularly about lighting), but the basics were surprisingly easy to learn. I think that in the not-too-distant future I will be able to augment my essays with animations illustrating various points. Given the tools I have right now (3D Canvas, POVRay, Mathematica, Fruityloops, Virtual Dub), I could probably make a feature-length animated movie, if I had desire and reason to do so.

"the fantastic adventures of Robot Guy..."

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Thursday, April 01, 2004

blogoversary

blogoversary

I've been doing this Blog thing for about a year now, posting sporadically. I figure now is as good a time as any to explain the name.

For about thirteen years, I have been working on a project in artificial intelligence. It involves a new self-programming language that synthesizes several common approaches to AI, and a demonstration as the operating system of three robots.

I haven't updated my drill press or snakebot websites in a while; I'll get around to it. It's not like anyone is paying me for any of this.

Heck, it's not like anyone is paying me for the blog - or reading it, for that matter. That's alright, it's a handy place for me to store links. Most of the hits have been mine, as I check the weather forecast daily.

Back to the name thing.... anyone who does read this will notice that I don't link to much stuff about robots, and spend a lot of bandwidth talking about space and politics.

As it relates to space, I think that robots ought to be an integral part of any space mission, manned or otherwise. Furthermore, I am positive that such robots will require at least a modicum of artificial intelligence, if only to handle the problems associated with time lag and communications gaps. The robots I am building are a testbench for the control system that would be used by the type of robots that would later be used in space. These are serpentine robots: shaped like a python, with bodies consisting of a train of body segments interspersed with joints, with grippers at each end. In the robots I am putting together, there are six body segments and five U-joints, each capable fo two degrees of freedom.

Such a robot, if built to handle the rigors of space environments, would be useful in gravity fields ranging from microgee (like the Canadarm) to moon or Mars gravity. It could be used either as a teleoperated remote manipulator arm or as an independent rover. The design has the advantages of modularity (enabling mass production), small packed volume (enabling multiple robots in the place of a single rover), scalability (two robots grip each other to form one longer robot), and robustness (a failed joint is an encumbrance, not a failed mission). Multiple tools could also be included in a mission, to be used by the robots as needed, and stored and recharged when not.

Viewed from the political angle, the name "robot guy" is kinda ironic: I am definitely not a robot. I did not follow the programming encoded by the public school system (beating them at their own game was fun). I veered well off the beaten path in my political education since that time. Much of my political education occurred before I left high school, a few incidents which showed me the truth behind the polite facade of Canadian politics and indeed Canadian society as well.

After high school, I was exposed to several political microcosms, both in university when I was studying physics and later at a technical college where I studied electronics engineering. Of course I did not quite fit into the parameters of the program; students who rarely attend classes are not supposed to be getting A's. One might say I have issues with conforming to the expectations of others.

So my politics tend to stray from the perspective of the norm as well. I see the Republicans and Democrats as different wings of the same party, the Boot-On-Your-Neck Party. I see the term "Libertarian Party" as an oxymoron. TANSTAAFL.

no foolin'

no foolin'

In a move that is sure to rock the Internet, a Canadian Federal Court judge has ruled that filesharing over the Internet does not constitute copyright infringement.

And no, folks, this is no April Fool's Day joke.

Kudos to internet service providers like Shaw, Interbaun, Bell Canada, Telus Communications, Rogers Cable, and Videotron for fighting for their customers' right to privacy against the Canadian Recording Industry Association. In the article linked above, Peter Bissonnette, the president of Shaw, is quoted as saying: "We have obligations to protect the privacy of our customers. We've always taken that approach."

The judge likened filesharing to a photocopier in a library full of copyrighted material; fair use. Judge Finckenstein went on to say "No evidence was presented that the alleged infringers either distributed or authorized the reproduction of sound recordings. They merely placed personal copies into their shared directories which were accessible by other computer users via a P2P service."