Thursday, March 31, 2005

Robots in Spaaaaace

Robots in Spaaaaace

PBS Online has a feature on robots planned for near future space missions; the link above has streaming video, RealAudio, and a transcript of the feature. Prominent in the feature are NASA's Robonaut, Ranger, and some possibilites for future autonomous robots for Mars missions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

taking the LEAD

taking the LEAD

Mark Whittington discusses a new way for America and the world to approach development of the moon. The Lunar Exploration and Development Authority (LEAD) would be a marked departure from NASA's current way of doing business:

This would include data buys from commercial lunar missions and commercially developed lunar navigation and communication systems. The LEAD would also lease lunar infrastructure, such as habitation modules, from commercial firms. If commercial firms were not available or it was not feasible to develop resources commercially the LEAD would do it and then look at selling it off afterward.

An idea like this is essential if commercial development - indeed, any development - of the moon, Mars and beyond is to occur.

Plainly, NASA cannot simply continue operating the way that it has for the last 30 years, going 'round and 'round in circles. NASA cannot continue to act as both administration and industry. If NASA keeps on being (or creating the impression that it is) the entirety of the space industry, then we will get the same thing that we have had since the end of Apollo: stifled innovation, low-volume spacecraft production, high overhead, and little if anything in the way of actual results.

An idea like LEAD or something similar will bring the full force of the market to bear in opening up this new frontier. Of course, NASA could conceivably continue down its current path, acting as an impediment to the fledgling space industry. They could try that - however, with the emergence of commercial spaceflight nearing a reality (as evidenced by SpaceShipOne's three successful flights to suborbital space, and the subsequent involvement of Virgin Galactic), NASA runs the risk of irrelevancy.

So to new NASA administrator Mike Griffin, it is decision time: LEAD, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Terri Shiavo

Terri Shiavo

This poor woman's story has gained prominence of late, with (it seems) everyone chipping in their two cents. Most of what I have read about her from the mainstream media and various blogs is based on hearsay, with various people commenting on what they would want if they found themselves in Terri's situation - which is strange considering that most of those commenting do not know the first thing about her situation.

Until this week, I really didn't know anything about the specifics of her case either. That was, until I read the Wolfson report. This report was prepared at the behest of Florida Governer Jeb Bush by Jay Wolfson, who as of December 2003 was Terri's Guardian ad Litem.

The report is only 38 pages long, but it covers a lot of ground, and clears up some of the misinformation swirling around her case. Wolfson met all the parties involved in the case, including Terri herself, sometimes visiting her several times a day. He also reviewed some 30 thousand pages of legal documents and the clinical records over the period 1990-2003.

Most people won't bother taking a half hour to read this report, instead relying upon he-said-she-said from various "news" sources, most of whom are quoting each other rather than knowing anything about the case themselves. With that in mind, I include here some of the highlights of the GAL report:

...25 February 1990... Theresa suffered a cardiac arrest... the cause of the cardiac arrest was adduced to dramatically reduced potassium level in Theresa's body... may be linked, in theory, to her drinking 10-15 glasses of iced tea each day. While no formal proof emerged, the medical records note that the combination of aggressive weight loss, diet control and excessive hydration raised questions about Theresa suffering from Bulimia...

...Theresa spent two and a half months as an inpatient at Humana Northside Hospital, eventually emerging from her coma state, but not recovering consciousness. On 12 May 1990, following extensive testing, therapy and observation, she was discharged to the College Park skilled care and rehabilitation facility. Forty-nine days later, she was transferred again to Bayfront Hospital for additional, aggressive rehabilitation efforts...

...Theresa was not responsive to neurological and swallowing tests. She received regular and intense physical, occupational and speech therapies...

...In late Autumn of 1990, following months of therapy and testing, formal diagnoses of persistent vegetative state with no evidence of improvement, Michael took Theresa to California, where she received an experimental thalamic stimulator implant in her brain. Michael remained in California caring for Theresa during a period of several months and returned to Florida with her in January of 1991...

...Despite aggressive therapies, physician and other clinical assessments consistently revealed no functional abilities, only reflexive, rather than cognitive movements, random eye opening, no communication system and little change cognitively or functionally...Periodic neurological exams, regular and aggressive physical occupational and speech therapy continued through 1994...

...Michael...had been very aggressive and attentive in his care of Theresa. His demanding concern for her well being and meticulous care by the nursing home earned him the characterization by the administrator as "a nursing home administrator's nightmare". It is notable that through more than thirteen years after Theresa's collapse, she has never had a bedsore...

...Throughout the course of the litigation, deposition and trial testimony by members of the Schindler family voiced the disturbing belief that they would keep Theresa alive at any and all costs. Nearly gruesome examples were given, eliciting agreement by family members that in the event Theresa should contract diabetes and subsequent gangrene in each of her limbs, they would agree to amputate each limb, and would then, were she to be diagnosed with heart disease, perform open heart surgery...even if Theresa had told them of her intention to have artificial nutrition withdrawn, they would not do it... 1999, following extensive bipartisan efforts, life-prolonging procedures were redefined as "any medical procedure, treatment, or intervention, including artificially provided sustenance and hydration..."... It is noteworthy that the general principle of artificial nutrition as artificial life reflected in nearly all state's laws and within the guidelines of end of life care...

...Three independent sets of swallowing tests were performed early in Theresa's medical treatment: 1991, 1992 and 1993. Each of these determined that Theresa was not able to swallow without risk of aspiration (and consequent infection).

Swallowing tests and swallowing therapy address many of the core issues in contention. If Theresa can swallow, then she can take nutrition and hydration orally, and it is argued that she would not elect to stop eating. But to orally eat and drink, Theresa must possess cognitive capacity beyond mere reflex...

...The recognized gold standard test is the modified barium swallowing test... Theresa's three previous tests were barium swallowing tests...

...A particularly disarming aspect of persons diagnosed with persistent vegetative state is that they have waking and sleeping cycles. When awake, their eyes are often open, they make noises, they appear to track movement, they respond to deep pain, and appear startled by loud noises...they can often breathe (without a respirator) and swallow (saliva). But there is no purposeful, reproducible, interactive, awareness...Theresa is in a persistent vegetative state. This evidence is compelling...

...Theresa's neurological tests and CT scans indicate objective measures of the persistent vegetative state. These data indicate that Theresa's cerebral cortex is principally liquid, having shrunken due to the severe anoxic trauma experienced thirteen years ago. The initial oxygen deprivation caused damage that could not be repaired, and the brain tissue in that area continued to devolve...

...Theresa has also far outlived any documented periods from which persons in persistent vegetative states have emerged in any functional capacity. The reasonable degree of medical certainty associated with her diagnosis and prognosis is very high...

...The GAL concludes from the medical records and consultations with medical experts that the scope and weight of the medical information within the file concerning Theresa Shiavo consists of competent, well documented information that she is in a persistent vegetative state with no likelihood of improvement, and that the neurological and speech pathology evidence in the file support the contention that she cannot take oral nutrition or hydration and cannot consciously interact with her environment...

My take on the Guardian ad Litem report is this: that Terri Shiavo died in 1990, and her corpse has been artificially sustained for fifteen years. Through the first four years, both her husband and the rest of her family refused to believe that she was gone; her husband finally accepted that fact in 1994, and her parents have yet to do so.

There are no winners in this tragic tale. I feel sorry for her parents, and doubly so for her husband, who has been vilified in the press.

Having said that, the removal of the feeding tube is cynical at best; such an action allows the courts to pretend that they are not committing euthanasia on what remains of her corpse. One would not treat a dog in her condition so inhumanely. Of course, she is beyond caring what happens to her body - however, in the interests of treating her husband and family humanely it would be better if she were injected with a lethal dose of morphine or kurare.

May she soon rest in peace.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

more video

more video

I have continued working on my little video, and I now have 73 seconds done - about 2/3 of the total. The video is available here. The file is 5.13Mb long, about a 3 minute download on a 28.8 modem. As before, the link is only valid for one week. Enjoy.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

guarding their turf

guarding their turf

Jeff Foust reports that the fight is on to stop (perceived) center closings at various NASA field centers.

Well, NASA's official position is that there will be no center closings, only that specific facilities will be closed at a number of field centers.

My question is, why keep any of the centers at all? The don't need to be closed; they could instead be privatized. If some field center has any economic merit (ie it produces things that consumers actually want), it will remain open. The free market will see to that. If a center has no merit, then it will perish just like any other obsolete business.

These field centers are supposedly staffed by the brightest minds in the aerospace industry. They have (one assumes) state-of-the-art facilities. There is no reason why these bright lights cannot make a go of it as regular corporations. If they cannot, well, then they just aren't very bright - in which case, they have no business being in the industry in the first place.

It wasn't that long ago that the Bell telephone monopoly was broken up. Today, more people are employed in the telephone service and manufacturing industry than ever before, innovations occur on a regular basis, and service is less expensive than ever. The same thing can happen with the space industry if the NASA field centers are forced to compete on the free market rather than being part of a government-run monopoly.

Friday, March 18, 2005



My Dad defines insanity thus: Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.

According to Robert Zimmerman of SpaceDaily, that is precisely what NASA is doing with the CEV.

Monday, March 14, 2005



I worked with Carmen from about mid-September of last year up until the beginning of January. I had told her about my blog, and threatened over and over again to post her picture. (Well, maybe promised is a more accurate term). Anyhow, here is a picture of this stunningly beautiful lady; it is to my regret that I am not a better portrait photographer, as she looks even better than this in real life.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

the FEC can bite my fuzzy white ass

the FEC can bite my fuzzy white ass

A few days ago the Online Coalition sent an open letter to the FEC (further commented upon by Instapundit and Eric at Classical Values). I'm with Eric on this:

What part of "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech" don't they understand?

Of course, that is just part of the legal argument against the FEC's proposed limitation of political speech on the web. On the practical side, there isn't a damn thing the FEC can do to stop bloggers from commenting on US politics. They sure as hell can't stop me (I'm Canadian), nor Tim Blair, nor any of the other bloggers outside the USA. I'm sure they can try, but they would have as much success as a snowball in Hell. And if they can't stop bloggers outside the USA, what hope do they have of stopping bloggers in the bastion of freedom and democracy that is the USA?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

new NASA administrator

new NASA administrator

Mike Griffin has been selected by President Bush to take over as the NASA administrator. Griffin has some big shoes to fill; Sean O'Keefe was one of the better administrators. I personally think NASA is beyond saving, but if Griffin follows O'Keefe's lead in cleaning up the agency, then there is hope that not as many tax dollars will be wasted as would be the case otherwise.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

gun safety

gun safety

Claire Wolfe links to this little gem. Warning: go use the toilet before clicking the link, else you might end up pissing your pants laughing.

Sunday, March 06, 2005



Andrew Coyne hits another home run with this Simberg-esqe column, showing what would have happened to the Watergate investigation, had Nixon been able to exercise the power of a Canadian Prime Minister.

It is sickening, truly sickening, what my country has become.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

about damn time

about damn time

Cue the fanfare, I have returned. Well, at least I'm posting again. Anyhow, I have been working like a dog on this little robot video, and I now have the first minute or so done. It is available for download in DivX format from this link and also available in Windows Media 9 encoding from this link. The video shows the robot landing on the moon and about half of the deployment process. I should have the full video up in a few weeks or thereabouts.

Clicking on one of the above links brings you to the YouSendIt download page; please click on the file download link rather than the "erase from YouSendIt's servers" link so that others may download it as well. The links will only work for the next seven days.

And I know, I know, I am WAY behind on my blogging. Hey, how much could have happened in the last few months anyhow?