October 31, 2003

Which Halloween Character Am I?

Hello, my happy friend. You have high spirits and
know how to have a good time. When your friends
go out, most likely they invite you almost all
the time. You most likely will enjoy your
Halloween. Good for you. Keep up the
experiment. You probably light people's dark
days with your smiles and laughter. Although
you're good, doesn't mean you're an angel. You
can tend to have a scary and/or other type of
side to you. As long as you have fun, do your
scares this Halloween. Have a safe and happy
one, Joyous Pumpkin.

What Halloween Figure Are You? (Fun Quiz! MANY RESULTS!)
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted by JohnL at 10:24 PM | Comments (0) |

Halloween Spirits

The sharp eyes of Dave Barry (actually, one of his readers) spot this.

Makes me think of the Great Pumpkin.

Posted by JohnL at 10:10 PM | Comments (0) |

The Crying Gameshow

Via Gene Expression.

"Miriam" is fairly convincing.

Posted by JohnL at 10:06 PM | Comments (0) |

Hal Clement, RIP

Another of the golden age hard-SF authors has passed on. (Link via Jerry Pournelle).

Hal Clement, the pen name of Harry Clement Stubbs, began writing science fiction in the 1940s. He blazed the trail of science fictional world-building that was both scientifically accurate and internally consistent in his best-known work, Mission of Gravity (1954), which was first serialized in Astounding Stories magazine (the forerunner to today's Analog).

According to editors David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (in The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF), Clement's Mission of Gravity "redefined the game of hard sf as an exercise in interrelating the sciences to achieve a created world that would plausibly withstand rigorous examination from many angles."

His was a well-lived life. He graduated from Harvard with an astronomy degree in 1943 and went into the US Army Air Corps where he piloted and copiloted B-24 Liberators for the remainder of World War II. He taught for more than 38 years. He is survived by his wife, three children, and a grandchild. Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Posted by JohnL at 09:40 PM | Comments (0) |

October 30, 2003

Some Kind of Pictures on the Sense O'clock News

Guest Volokh co-conspirator Cori Dauber deconstructs the kabuki dance of the media's disaster coverage, which she calls the "tragedy template:"

We have a cycle and a geography of tragedy in this country. On the west coast, earthquakes and fire, in the square states, more fire, floods and tornadoes for the midwest, hurricanes for the southeast, blizzards for the northeast, and horrifying transportation accidents anywhere anytime. Whatever the tragedy, the networks immediately launch into their utterly predictable, by now completely ritualized disaster protocals -- a template for the coverage of tragedy. The greater the magnitude of the disaster, the more coverage there has to be, whether extra coverage is more information, or more ritual, as if to give less air time is to be disrespectful to those suffering, who no doubt have more on their minds than watching news coverage. The anchors must fly to the scene forthwith, donning khaki, even if it means anchoring, in Peter Jennings' striking words the other night, "from the ruin's of someone else's life."

One upside to this is that the tragedy template has temporarily displaced the Tet template.

Posted by JohnL at 11:26 PM | Comments (0) |

Genetic Evidence of Evolution

Why do most reasonable scientists "believe in" evolution?

Because of molecular phylogenetics, explained in lay terms here.

Posted by JohnL at 10:39 PM | Comments (0) |

Libertarian Space Policy

My comment to this post at Transterrestrial Musings seems to have triggered this one.


Posted by JohnL at 10:27 PM | Comments (0) |

Which Greek God Am I?


?? Which Of The Greek Gods Are You ??
brought to you by Quizilla

My answers to questions 1, 4, and 5 remained constant. Trying my second choice to numbers 2 and 3 made me Morpheus.

Posted by JohnL at 10:20 PM | Comments (0) |

Matters Theological

In my first post, I alluded to being an amateur theologian. I was raised (and remain) United Methodist, and am a member of a large and vibrant congregation here in Plano. I am by nature a rationalist, and struggle regularly with the tension of reason versus faith. Although I grew up Methodist, I spent the years K-8 in Missouri Synod Lutheran Schools, learning literalist fundamentalism the Lutheran way. From there, I encountered the opposite end of the spectrum at the local Jesuit high school, where I was taught a Thomistic, rationalist, scholarly approach to theological matters.

I am now largely a deist, much like the founders of our country, but continue to find fellowship, comfort, and fulfillment in my church. My wife and I attend a self-led adult Sunday school class, in which I have taught many different lessons covering biblical history, early church history, Judaism, and current events. I have no formal theological training, just five translations of the bible, Google, and some secondary sources.

Because of my profession [lawyer], I was recently invited by my parents-in-law to teach their Sunday school class about matters of church and state. The main case study in my lesson was Roy's Rock -- a/k/a the ten commandments dispute continuing in Alabama.

In the course of my research, I discovered a couple of interesting tidbits.

First, historically, the denomination most strongly in favor of a strong separation of church and state was the Baptists! The denomination of Roy Moore. The denomination that most people in our country would associate with the "Religious Right." The denomination that wants prayer in schools, "under G-d" in the pledge, and their ten commandments in courthouses everywhere. The state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was founded by Baptist Roger Williams.

It was founded on the principle of religious liberty, and attracted refugees from the several colonies that had established Christian churches.

How ironic that such a high-profile member of the denomination in America originally tied so closely to religious liberty now seeks to display its version of the ten commandments in a state courthouse! That is the second tidbit I learned in preparing the lesson. Using the same source text, three different traditional listings of the ten commandments emerge. One used by Jews, one used by Roman Catholics and Lutherans, and one used by other Protestants. Guess which version Judge Roy had engraved on his rock?

Posted by JohnL at 12:11 AM | Comments (0) |

October 29, 2003

Lego Relativity

Very cool rendering of Escher's relativity here.

(Via Josh Cohen).

Posted by JohnL at 09:45 PM | Comments (0) |

October 28, 2003

Certified 50% Evil (Or Good!)

Via the numerology of the Gematriculator, this site was certified 50% Evil (or Good) as of the time of posting.

For the sake of comparison:

Instapundit: 31% Evil, 69% Good
The White House: 67% Evil, 33% Good
Freedom From Religion Foundation: 15% Evil, 85% Good

And, interestingly enough:
The Vatican: 1% Evil, 99% Good

Posted by JohnL at 11:52 PM | Comments (0) |

Shoot the Moon

On Spaceref today, Frank Sietzen tells us that President Bush may be set to call for a resumption of manned flights to the moon "to develop advanced technologies that can support U.S. astronauts working beyond Earth orbit to not only the Moon, but eventually on near-Earth asteroids and Mars." One of the author's sources tells him that the space policy review was "not driven by any crash program mentality" but focused on how a new major manned space goal could both mobilize the U.S. space industry and boost morale at NASA.

Rand Simberg offers his views here and, as usual, I find myself largely in agreement with him.

When I was much younger, Moonbase Alpha seemed to be a long way in the future. Now I note that kids who entered college in 1999 have already graduated, and still there is no prospect of a permanent settlement on the moon. I really don't think the dysfunctional bureaucracy so skilled at flying circles in LEO for the last 20 years is the right horse to bet on to get us to the moon to stay. Nor do I think my tax dollars should be used to "boost the morale" of NASA.

Sietzen's article indicates that President Bush may wait until December 17, 2003 (the centennial of the Wright Brothers' flight) to announce this bold program. How great would it be if Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne makes its maiden flight into space on that day, as has been speculated? (See, e.g., the third paragraph from the end of this article).

Even if Rutan does not upstage the President on that date, the X-Prize format may provide an example on how to break NASA's stranglehold on this market. Jerry Pournelle drafted the following model legislation in 1984:

"The Congress has determined that a permanent colony on the
Moon is in the national interest of the United States.
The Treasurer is directed to pay the sum of $10 billion (Ten Billion US
Dollars) to the first US-owned company that shall place 31 American
citizens on the Moon and maintain them there alive and in good health
for the period of three years and one day.
This payment shall be exempt from Federal taxation. No money shall be
paid under this act until the conditions set forth above are fulfilled."

I would write my congresscritters to support a law like that.

Posted by JohnL at 10:22 PM | Comments (0) |

Quite an Awful Eyeful

Via Virginia Postrel, a site devoted to awful plastic surgery.

Posted by JohnL at 09:44 PM | Comments (0) |

October 27, 2003

Another One For the Blogroll

Thanks to a pointer from Transterrestrial Musings, I discovered a new (to me) blog.

Gene Expression is a group blog with a very clean layout and presents a smorgasbord of topics and sharp commentary.

Highly recommended.

Posted by JohnL at 11:40 PM | Comments (0) |

Squirrel Tag

Here. (Via The Corner).

Posted by JohnL at 10:50 PM | Comments (0) |

October 25, 2003

This Just In . . . Mars Is Cold And Dry

That's what this article basically says.

If you drill deeper into the article, though, you realize that the presence of large deposits of olivine on the surface of Mars only indicates the lack of recent liquid water. Since Mars' atmospheric pressure is only 0.06 bars, there shouldn't be any appreciable liquid water on the surface anyway.

I am more curious about the search for subsurface water, preferably close enough to the surface that settlers can drill for water without too much effort. Certainly other reports from Mars indicate the possibility of water close to the surface, if not on it.

With NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers, the ESA's Mars Express, and the Japanese Nozomi all due to arrive next year, I am looking forward to a "flood" of new data.

Posted by JohnL at 12:11 AM | Comments (0) |

October 24, 2003

I Would Move, Too

But you have to wonder, didn't they have some kind of clue about their street name when they moved in?

Posted by JohnL at 11:53 PM | Comments (0) |

How Do You Write "Delta Clipper" in Kanji?

It looks like the Japanese continue to pursue the concept first demonstrated with the DC-X.

(Here are some photos from an earlier test of the Japanese vehicle).

Posted by JohnL at 11:29 PM | Comments (0) |

October 21, 2003

No Posting Tonight

I picked up the Rush in Rio DVD today and have watched the first half of disc one.

I will be watching the rest tonight, so no more posts. (Thanks to some alphabetical serendipity, I picked this DVD up today, too!)

I see that Alan K. Henderson is in the spirit of the day.

Posted by JohnL at 10:44 PM | Comments (0) |

Coherent Light. Incoherent Policy?

Developments in solid state lasers may lead to practical battlefield applications in the near future according to this article.

What are the implications of being able to shoot mortar and artillery shells out of the air? To knock ballistic missiles out of the sky before they can deliver their payloads? What about soldiers equipped with nano-surgeons
that radically improve a soldier's chances of surviving a battlefield wound? Is it a good thing for our military to become, effectively, invincible? I part ways with many fellow libertarians in my support for the overseas war on terrorism and my wholehearted agreement with Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz's proposed "cure" for terrorism outlined in his September 13, 2001 comments.

But I occasionally grow concerned about the long term health of our republic in the face of a quasi-imperial and essentially invincible military, a theme expanded upon by Jerry Pournelle here.

Of one thing I am sure: we cannot stop developing improved military technologies (and we cannot surrender our nukes voluntarily) unless we are willing to surrender sovereignty to an illiberal hegemon like China.

Posted by JohnL at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 20, 2003

Science Fiction Soundscapes

Since music and science fiction are among my strongest passions, I would be remiss if I did not point out this site. (Link via Hobbyspace).

You will find there recordings of soundtracks inspired by science fiction. I am currently listening to the nine billion names of god, based on the story by Arthur C. Clarke.

Give it a listen.

Posted by JohnL at 11:17 PM | Comments (0) |

Beanstalk Blog

Rand Simberg points to a fairly new blog on space elevators.

If you haven't run across this concept before, a space elevator is essentially a cable stretching from the equator to a counterweight/station located in the geostationary orbit above the ground station. Read this for more detail.

Arthur C. Clarke first popularized this concept in his Fountains of Paradise. Kim Stanley Robinson took the concept to Mars and graphically described its vulnerability to terrorism.

Until very recently, space elevators have been purely speculative, as no known material is strong enough to bear the cable's predicted loads. But because of advances in carbon nanotube fabrication technology, science fiction authors are no longer the only ones talking about the idea. Now scientists and researchers are starting to advance the idea that this concept is technically feasible.

Professor Hall was all over this topic when it was hot about a month ago, and provides links to more information.

Be sure to check back here periodically for further developments.

Posted by JohnL at 12:45 AM | Comments (0) |

October 19, 2003

The Oaks Are Just Too Lofty

According to this report, size matters.

Based on their analysis of four large-scale studies (three in the USA and one in the UK), Professors Timothy Judge and Daniel Cable will report in the Spring 2004 issue of Applied Psychology that each additional inch of height yields, on average, an additional $789 in earnings per year. Good news for me, at six inches above the average male height stated in the article.

Posted by JohnL at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) |

October 16, 2003

To Serve Man: Reverend Baker in Fiji

According to this article (available in pidgin here), the chief of the Nubutautau tribe in the remote Fiji mountain village Tui Navatusila has invited the descendants of the Rev. Thomas Baker to Fiji to offer them a traditional apology. The islanders, you see, ate Rev. Baker when he touched the head of the chief of the village some 136 years ago. They left nothing but his boots, one of which is on display in the Fijian museum in Suva. Reverend Baker went to Fiji as a member of the London Missionary Society, a non-denominational body founded in 1795 to spread the Christian faith throughout the world.

As far as I know, Baker's descendants have not sued the village for reparations. Instead, it seems the tribe would like to lift a curse they have been under since they roasted the Reverend. Apparently, the tribe are now Methodists. I wonder if they will invite Rev. Baker's descendants back to their village for dinner.

Posted by JohnL at 11:49 PM | Comments (0) |

Strange News

Yahoo keeps a list of odd news bits.

Speaking of odd bits, read this one.

Posted by JohnL at 11:34 PM | Comments (0) |

Rush, Not Rush

I always suffer a moment of cognitive dissonance when I hear people talking about Rush on the radio.

You see, when I grew up, Rush was almost never on the radio, (except for that summer of 1981 when they played Limelight and Tom Sawyer from this album all the time).

But now you hear about Rush on the radio all the time.

Rush is all over the news. But alas, the real news about Rush is not being widely broadcast.

My advice to Rush? Listen to Rush. Maybe Passage to Bangkok.

Oh, and Rush? Can't do the time? Don't do the crime.

Posted by JohnL at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) |

October 15, 2003

Persistent Paper

Yesterday Lileks related his encounter with an early 1990s CD version of Art Spiegelman's "Maus" done in HyperCard (an Apple hypertext program that I remember using on my old Mac Classic to organize term paper notes):

This Maus CD is something else, though. It hails from the early 90s, when CD-ROMs! promised to revolutionize the way we used computers. Thanks to computers, we would soon be experiencing . . . MULTIMEDIA! Which mean pictures and text and sound, all coming at you at once! Over six hundred megabytes of information - it staggered the mind. Why, that was 30 hard drives on a single platter! Think what you could do!

Remember, at this point "cyberspace" was still just a really cool consensual hallucination in William Gibson's Sprawl-based science fiction dystopia.

And as Lileks points out, no one wanted to read a "fancy-shmancy" book on their computer anyway and the concept died out. But this CD was apparently well-done despite the limitations inherent in the medium:

This Maus CD has some interesting features; you can see the rough sketches of the drawings (not very helpful, since Spiegelman's finished drawings still look rather rough; we're not talking Herge here.) Best of all: excerpts of the interviews with his father, the words that formed the basis of the story. The old man sounds exactly like you think he'd sound. It's a perfect example of what might have made the format work. . . .

But it didn't work, which leads to the gem of an observation that Lileks almost always embeds somewhere in his articles:

. . . in ten years I doubt my computer will run Hypercard. And that book on the shelf will still work the moment I boot it up - er, open it to the beginning.

When I read that, I immediately recalled Glenn's interview with Neal Stephenson last week, particularly this exchange:

TCS: I understand that you did all the writing on the Baroque Cycle books by hand, using a fountain pen. Did that make a difference?

NS: Absolutely. The key difference is that it's slower. It's like when you're writing, there's a kind of buffer in your head where the next sentence sits while you're outputting the last one. As long as it's still in your head, it's easy to manipulate that next sentence, or even to reject it. Once it's out, well. . . When you're using a high-speed output method there's less of that. In my opinion, the first draft quality winds up being higher with a pen. It's easier to edit -- to scratch out a word is easier than backspacing over it. What this enables me to do is to get words down in a way that's closer to the final version. And it's more stable: no hard-drive crashes, accidentally deleted files, and so on. Paper's a really advanced technology. That was brought home to me by working on this, when I read a lot of documents from that era, which were put down on really good, acid-free paper. They're all pretty much as good as they were the day they were made 300 or 350 years ago. This is not going to be true of today's electronic media in 300 years. There's a lesson there. (Emphasis added)

There appears to be a proto-meme working its way to the surface here. I know my wife has been making similar observations for the last year or so. Important emails, ones that would have been letters in a bygone era, she now prints (not sure if the paper is acid-free, but problems related to high acid content may be overstated and the remedies prescribed for it more extreme than the problem itself).

Paper persists.

Posted by JohnL at 10:15 PM | Comments (0) |

October 14, 2003

Just Keep Trekkin' On

And what did the space policy bloggers do while China launched its first manned mission?

Debated who they would like to be in Star Trek.

Professor Hall links to a page with the Star Trekkin song by the Firm (and a brain-damaged claymation video), but neglects to link back to Lileks' brilliant Doctor Poppycock.

Who am I in the Star Trek universe? This says I'm a Harry Kim. This says I'm Picard. And finally, this one says Kirk.

Posted by JohnL at 10:53 PM | Comments (0) |

Great Leap Forward?

China has launched its first manned space mission.

Yang Liwei, a 38 year old lieutenant colonel in the People's Liberation Army was the sole passenger on the Shenzhou V, following in the steps of Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn as his country's first representative in orbit (remember, Alan Shepherd did not achieve orbit). Rand Simberg is ambivalent.

I am too, in a way. On the one hand, I am always excited to see more people in space. The child in me still envisions myself in the capsule of that rocket. I of course hope the mission goes well and that the Taikonaut (or, more appropriately, Yuhangyuan) returns safely to Earth.

I am happy for China and hope that, like the space race in the 1960s between the US and USSR, this is a peaceful way for China to assert its nationalism, as opposed to invading its neighbors. In a sense, this also creates competition, which is usually a good thing. But it is competition among socialist space programs (and I class NASA as a socialist space program), so I have mixed feelings about the long-term value of this venture. I am happy, paradoxically, that the Chinese effort appears to have quite a bit of involvement by the Chinese military because I would like to see the US military spurred to take more ownership of our governmental space efforts. (Others do too, perhaps. . .)

Long term, I am convinced that humans will only expand into orbit and beyond if it makes economic sense to the individuals doing it. The conventional wisdom has long been that space is too expensive or too hard for private efforts. Several entrepreneurs are out to prove that wisdom wrong. And their first flights are the ones I am truly excited to see.

Posted by JohnL at 10:16 PM | Comments (0) |

Nader's Golden Arch Enemy

Dynamic Virginia Postrel reports that she will be on CNN tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 9:30 EDT to debate Commercial Alert's campaign against McDonalds' sponsorship of Sesame Street. Virginia links to the offending commercial here.

I agree with her that it seems pretty innocuous. The local PBS affiliate here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area regularly runs about 5 minutes of corporate-sponsor mini-ads each half hour. Naturally, the ones in the morning are aimed at kids (and their parents!) And I speak from experience on how effective they can be. When our children were younger, we succumbed to their pleas for us to buy Juicy Juice, which was advertised before and after the PBS show, Arthur. While we had given money to PBS before, it was nice to be able to support the show we liked by supporting its sponsor. But that's nothing nefarious, just effective advertising. Run your ads when your target market is likely to watch them. Does that mean that we or our kids are mindless drones, programmed to eat and drink whatever swill our corporate masters manipulate us into buying? Absolutely not. However, Ralph Nader and his friends might disagree.

You heard that right. Commercial Alert was founded by Ralph Nader in 1998 and claims as its mission the goals of "keep[ing] the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and [preventing] it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy." I suspect this is another area where the loony left can make common cause with the knuckle-dragging right, an area touched on in the opening chapters of Postrel's The Future and Its Enemies.

Thanks, Ralph, but I don't need you defining and controlling the "proper" sphere of commercialism for me. The proper sphere is whatever sphere the consumer defines it to be. As a parent, that means I need to help my children learn how to define it. First, teach them limits. Say no. Repeat. Repeat again. Repeat again. After several repeats, teach them scepticism. Ask why. Repeat as necessary. Teach them to say no to their impulses and then to question them. As much as the kill-joy culture (and food) police would like to make us (and trial juries) believe that we are not responsible for our actions and are susceptible to corporate manipulation, we are in fact responsible. We can make choices. My choice? Buy McDonalds for lunch tomorrow. Just to stick a finger in Nader's eye.

And now, a word from our sponsor:

Sunny Day - Sweeping the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get,
How to get McDonald's to eat?

Posted by JohnL at 12:17 AM | Comments (0) |

October 13, 2003

I Hope They've Read Their Asimov

Robot go go!

Posted by JohnL at 11:21 PM | Comments (0) |

Keitai Showcase

"Keitai" is Japanese for "mobile" or "portable" and is slang for mobile electronic devices such as phones, PDAs, walkmans, etc.

If you want a hint of what our keitai will look like in 18-24 months, check out this collection of galleries. I work for a Japanese company and thus have a chance to see the current (Japanese not-for-export) versions of phones, laptops, and PDAs on a pretty regular basis. The state-of-the-art in their screen technology is breathtaking; pictures displayed on the latest Japanese laptops look like barely-dry photos printed on high-gloss paper, while on my laptop screen they look like 25-year-old prints on matte paper.

Posted by JohnL at 10:06 PM | Comments (0) |

October 12, 2003

More Good News From Dallas

Yes, Mr. Phelps, it does appear that we have a coach.

Posted by JohnL at 09:50 PM | Comments (0) |

Lileks Gets It

And that should go without saying, pretty much regardless of the topic. He sums up perfectly my feelings about science fiction thus:

If you headed to the past and wanted to find someone who could truly understand the world 50 years hence, look for the clerk who goes to the drugstore for his lunch break and reads Tales of Mars, not the guy who reads
the New York Times.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by JohnL at 09:35 PM | Comments (0) |

Good News From Dallas - Against the Odds

I would have bet against these [formerly] conjoined twins making it this far. But they appear do be doing well. Of course it is too early to predict the final outcome. What brave parents for trying to find a way to give their children a chance at a normal life.

Update: More here.

Posted by JohnL at 09:22 PM | Comments (0) |

Gone Camping

Our weekend was wide open, the kids were on Fall break, the calendar was clear of sporting and other commitments. Finding ourselves with nothing to do, we headed up to Eisenhower State Park. Situated on the southern shores of Lake Texoma within 20 minutes of the birthplace of President Eisenhower, the park is only about a one-hour drive from our home in Plano.

We spent most of our time learning how to pitch our new 10-person tent (which means, of course, that only the five members of our family can sleep in it comfortably), building the cooking fires for dinner and breakfast, and cleaning up after dinner and breakfast. Throw in a 90-minute nature walk that included skipping rocks, picking apart crawfish shells, and catching crickets, and that was it. In other words, perfect.

I know that I had much more fun skipping rocks with my kids in the fresh, 70-degree autumn air than I would have had watching my beloved Longhorns surrender for the fourth year in a row to the awful Oklahoma Sooners.

Posted by JohnL at 09:17 PM | Comments (0) |

October 10, 2003

Kalifornien Ueber Alles

I wonder if the Dead Kennedys will re-release their 1979 hit with updated lyrics.

(But how do you replace "Jerry Brown" with "Arnold Schwarzenegger" and keep the same rhyme/rhythm scheme?)

(And how do you deal with your tasteless band name when the governor is married to a Kennedy?)

Posted by JohnL at 10:05 PM | Comments (0) |


One of my favorite parts of the movie Contact was the long, slow, "zoom" scene at the beginning.

Here is a website that allows you to zoom your perspective in and out by powers of 10. Don't explore here if you have feelings of insignificance when you
contemplate the scope of the Cosmos.

Update: Reminds me of the Total Perspective Vortex.

Posted by JohnL at 09:43 PM | Comments (0) |

Wonko the Sane Would Approve

Do you like Escher? Listen to this while reading this.

(You might take a shot or two of this, first, too).

Posted by JohnL at 09:29 PM | Comments (0) |

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Lions and Tigers and Bears. Oh my.

Posted by JohnL at 12:04 AM | Comments (0) |

October 09, 2003

Commercial Space

In his usual thorough and readable style, Rand Simberg analyzes the language of HB 3245, entitled the Commercial Space Act of 2003.

If you have been following the X-Prize (and Simberg) closely, you are probably aware of the concerns about which regulatory regime would govern suborbital flights with passengers -- the fairly
mature commercial aviation regime under the FAA (complete with ruinously expensive aircraft certification) or the Commercial Space Flight administrator (formerly under the DoT, currently under the FAA, and again under DoT, if the bill passes). As Rand points out, while the bill fills gaps left open in the Commercial Space Flight Act of 1984 to specifically address the issue of carrying passengers (a/k/a "spaceflight participants") as payload, it is a bit open-ended on the compliance requirements for a vehicle operator to carry a spaceflight participant. In other words, it leaves a great deal to the discretion of the regulators.

In all, it would be an improvement over the current regime, primarily for the certainty it would bring. But I can't help wondering whether the Wright Brothers would have succeeded had they been confronted with the mass of laws and regulations we now inflict on our innovators.

Posted by JohnL at 11:45 PM | Comments (0) |

First We Kill All The Lawyers

Steven Den Beste has nightmares. So do I.

What can we do to rein in out-of-control lawyers?

I personally favor the "English" rule (discussed at length, including pros and cons, here).

One thing's certain: if bar associations (and judges) think lawyer jokes are the cause (and not just a symptom) of declining respect for the profession while ignoring the real causes, then other solutions will be imposed from outside, for better or worse.

Posted by JohnL at 12:11 AM | Comments (0) |

October 07, 2003

Functional Form

Virginia Postrel had a couple of interesting posts recently about the visual aesthetics of musical instruments.

I play pipe organ (solo) as well as Hammond Organ and electronic keyboards (in a band), so I have some direct experience with these matters. While I am an amateur organist, I did study four years with a great professor (Frank Speller) on one of the best and most beautiful instruments in North America at UT-Austin.

Pipe organs are each truly unique, and exist at an interesting intersection of music, architecture, interior design, history, and geography. There is no "standard" organ in the sense that there is a standard grand piano (88 keys) or acoustic guitar (6 strings). There has been a long-running debate going on in the pipe organ community about the aesthetics of a major new organ being built by Glatter-Goetz/Rosales going into the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney concert hall in Los Angeles. Gehry himself has described the organ facade he helped design as a "box of french fries."

In the context of the building, the organ design seems perfectly suited to its environment. But many organists have their drawers in a bunch because of the perceived lack
of "dignity." They have already passed judgment on it as an atrocity. Mind you, no one has yet even heard a note played on the instrument, which is likely to be on a par with other great modern concert hall organs (at the Meyerson, the Benaroya, etc.)

I just hope the sound of the organ is as bold as its visual design.

Posted by JohnL at 11:21 PM | Comments (0) |

New World Man

Glenn Reynolds has an interview up with Neal Stephenson today at Tech Central Station.

Glenn wrote a column last week reflecting on Stephenson's Quicksilver and the renewed interest in the 17th century, which was the hatching ground for the Enlightenment ideals that helped form our liberal, capitalist, secular society.
Many of the criticisms I have seen of Quicksilver are aimed at the multiple narrative asides into the minutiae of 17th century life. But it was exactly those kinds of asides in Cryptonomicon that really turned me on to his writing.

I thoroughly enjoyed Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash and look forward to plowing my way through Stephenson's latest.

I'll have more comments on the Enlightenment in a later post on the separation of church and state.

Posted by JohnL at 10:49 PM | Comments (0) |

Hasta La Vista, Gray

Early polling results showing a win by Ah-nold.

Posted by JohnL at 10:14 PM | Comments (0) |

October 06, 2003

The Naked Time

Interesting synchronicity between Bruce Sterling's "top ten" list I discussed below (and which Prof. Hall discussed here) and the classic Star Trek episode "The Naked Time," which I am currently viewing on DVD (#10 on Sterling's list). At the beginning of the episode, Spock and Lt. Tormolen beam down to Psi 2000, where the lieutenant idiotically removes his glove, exposing himself to the contaminant that releases everyone's inhibitions and nearly leads to the destruction of the Enterprise. Starting at 10:21 into the episode (and shortly before his death), Lt. Tormolen waxes eloquent about the futility of manned exploration of space (#6 on Sterling's list):

"What are we doing out here anyway?. . . [We] leave men and women stuck out on freezing planets to die. . . What are we doing out here in space? Good? What good? We're polluting it. . . destroying it. . . we've got no business being out here, no business. If a man was supposed to fly, he'd have wings. If he was supposed to be out in space, he wouldn't need air to breathe . . . We don't belong here. It's not ours."

You can guess where I stand on this. I believe we do belong in outer space. As Heinlein said, the earth is just too small and fragile a basket for humanity to keep all of its eggs in. We are one asteroid impact, one script-kiddie nanobot or custom-sequenced doomsday virus from extinction. Now, whether the "manned exploration" should continue to be done by NASA is a debatable point. I am not too happy with the way NASA ended the USAF's approach best exemplified by the X-15 of incrementally expanding the flight envelope. I think there is still a valid military role, but the "scientific" value of the whole "civilian" space enterprise has been way oversold, as Rand Simberg has so much more eloquently put it elsewhere (again and again).

But now we see private enterprise picking up where the X-15 left off. Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne follows the same principle as the X-15, except that he had to design and build his own B-52 (the stunningly beautiful White Knight) to launch it from.

We also now find out that the SF idea of a space elevator may not be so farfetched given reasonably foreseeable implementations of current materials science.

So perhaps we'll see settlement (not just "exploration") sometime in the near future.

Charming Star Trek anachronisms in this episode: At 28:18, you can see Spock using a slide rule to calculate the Enterprise's orbital trajectory. Also, check out the analog clock at 47:05.

Posted by JohnL at 11:10 PM | Comments (0) |

Only As Old As You Feel

Nice article at DefenseLINK today about WWII veteran Richard D. Beaver, age 84.

Some highlights: He had quite an interesting career in the Navy, and was one of the relatively few enlisted naval aviators to serve our country. "We were kind of a breed of our own, I guess," Beaver said. "They called us 'Silver Eagles,' and three enlisted pilots who were commissioned became admirals. So that's quite a history, which we're proud of."

Beaver exhibits the attitude that I am convinced has as much to do with longevity as diet or exercise: "I came here to the Armed Forces Retirement Home (formerly the Naval Home) in 1991 when I was 72. People are supposed to be old at that age, but I didn't feel old. I felt like I was about 40 or 50, and there are people here at 60 who look like they're 120."

As I begin to advance beyond young adulthood (I'm still only 35), I am starting to see some of my peers' mindsets beginning to harden. Some of them are really beginning to act old before their time. I hope I look and feel as good as Mr. Beavers at his age.

On a side note, the Armed Forces Information Service maintains a free mailing list and will email articles to you containing stories (like this one) that never see the light of day in ordinary mass media. Check out this link to read more about subscription information.

Posted by JohnL at 09:09 PM | Comments (0) |

Spry vs Sly

Kirk versus Picard. Who wins? You decide. (Via the Corner).

Posted by JohnL at 08:36 PM | Comments (0) |

First Link!

Thanks to Prof. Hall at Spacecraft for the plug! (And yes, this blog is brand new).

He has some kind words for NasaWatch today. I hope he found that site through my blog, as NasaWatch was one of the first sites I began to visit regularly when I initially ventured onto the Internet in 1996.

Like Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor and the now-defunct Suck.com, Keith Cowing was blogging up a storm before the term "blog" had even been invented. And he shows how it's done.

Thanks again for the linkage.

Posted by JohnL at 11:59 AM | Comments (0) |

October 05, 2003

Mexican Hat Glance

Charles Johnson links to a beautiful image of the Sombrero galaxy.

I have to admit, when I first saw it, I thought "Photoshop." (As did an unfortunate troll in the comments section, who insisted that the image was faked, even after being given the link to an original, untouched photo).

Posted by JohnL at 11:57 PM | Comments (0) |

Not-so-stirling Top Ten List

Texas science fiction author Bruce Sterling has a new article up at "http://www.technologyreview.com."

When I went through my cyberpunk phase, I was a big fan of Sterling's. I drifted away from him for several years but greatly enjoyed his Holy Fire, which examines the effects of life-extension technologies on humans in the classic hard-SF tradition.

Now he has come out with a list of technologies that "deserve to die." While I think the goal of identifying obsolete technologies that should be phased out is a noble one, I don't agree with the general thrust of this particular list. It begins with Nuclear Weapons and ends with DVDs. It also contains Manned Spaceflight (#6) and Incandescent Lighting (#4). (His views on the latter are not likely to win him any rave reviews from Virginia Postrel).

Getting rid of nuclear weapons is a pipe dream. I agree with Sterling's point that we have in fact honed our precision technology to the fine point that nuclear weapons are no longer "necessary." But the main value of nukes remains their strategic deterrent power, not their tactical utility. I think we need to preserve the legitimate threat that we can vaporize Mecca, or Pyongynag, or Tehran, (or even Moscow or Beijing) to preserve the stability of our current international system. Instead of destroying nuclear weapons, I would prefer to see a gradual swords-to-plowshares transition to their peaceful use to power Orion starships.

Sterling's views on manned spaceflight also reflect a strange lack of vision in an SF author. First, his argument is against a straw man: "Thanks to decades of biological research, it [is] now quite clear that flying around the solar system is bad for ones health." I'm not sure which alternate history he is looking at, because so far we haven't done any manned "flying around the solar system." In this he fails to anticipate what many SF authors and speculative engineers propose, namely, the use of centripetal/centrifugal forces to simulate gravity on extended missions. Second, and perhaps more important, Sterling seems to see space exploration as something that can be "destroyed" as though it were nothing more than a government program. But with each passing day, I am more optimistic that we will see the development of commercial, manned space travel thanks to private pioneers such as Burt Rutan and my neighbor (of sorts) John Carmack.

I'll be posting more on these items later, but some good links to explore space news and policy in general are: Rand Simberg's Transterrestrial Musings, Keith Cowing's NasaWatch and SpaceRef pages, and Professor Hall's Spacecraft blog.

Update: I should make it clear that I don't consider flying circles in LEO, or even the seven manned missions to the moon (with six landings) to be "flying around" the solar system. Heck, Kubrick's and Clarke's 1968 vision of our future in space had us arriving at Jupiter two years ago.

Posted by JohnL at 09:55 PM | Comments (0) |

Fonzie on Water Skis

It's always sad to see it happen. I was afraid last season that Alias jumped the shark when Sydney and Vaughn hooked up ("They Did It"), and even more certain once Sydney became a regular CIA agent instead of a double agent (the Alliance is destroyed).

The first couple of episodes this season have now confirmed my fears. Consider the shark jumped.

Update: My brilliant wife just pointed out the continuity error from the cliffhanger episode last season to the premier this season. Last season, the old CIA station director (the bald guy) took the call from Sydney when she woke up in Hong Kong. But he is nowhere to be seen this season, and Dixon is now the director. Remember -- in show time, there was no delay between the cliffhanger and this season.

Update: Just watched the end of tonight's episode. You've got to be kidding. The new character is Mrs. Vaughn??

***SPROING*** That was my suspension of disbelief completely and finally snapping.

Posted by JohnL at 08:40 PM | Comments (0) |

Cool Site

MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. As I click through the site, I have to remind myself that this is not a science fiction movie. Check out the team descriptions on the Research page.

I'm particularly interested in the results of Team 4's research into biomaterials and nanodevices for soldier medical technology.

Update: I find the medical applications of nanotechnology particularly amazing whenever I stop to consider that it was only at the time of my parents' birth that penicillin first became widely available.

Posted by JohnL at 08:26 PM | Comments (0) |

October 04, 2003

About the Name. . .

You might wonder about the name of this blog. Who does this guy think he is claiming to be the "best" in anything?

As should be clear from my first few posts here, music will be a recurrent theme on this blog. Born in 1968, I was blessed to come of age musically during the golden age of 80s rock. One of my favorite hard rock stations during these formative years was Q102, "Texas' Best Rock."

At about the same time, I was acquiring a taste for "hard" science fiction, and I began to work my way through Robert Heinlein's juvenile fiction. I soon graduated to Heinlein's master works such as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Stranger in a Strange Land.

As most net-geeks probably know, the word "grok" is a Martian word from Stranger in a Strange Land and means literally "to drink" and more loosely "to be at one with." Its many senses include understanding, fully comprehending, intuiting, empathizing, and so on. Following in the time-honored SF tradition of merciless punning, I put the two together.

Like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Posted by JohnL at 10:18 PM | Comments (0) |

October 03, 2003


Today would have been the 49th birthday of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

I'm not a huge fan of his, but I admire his mastery of the blues.

Plus he was a Texan, which redeems all kinds of sins.

For more on the blues, check out PBS tonight, for the Red White and Blue installment of The Blues.

Posted by JohnL at 05:52 PM | Comments (0) |

October 02, 2003

Take Off, Eh

Tired of Rush? Me too.

That's why I prefer the original Rush. Look for their new DVD in less than three weeks (October 21, to be exact).

Posted by JohnL at 10:08 PM | Comments (0) |

October 01, 2003


Who am I and why am I here?

I'm a Texan, a husband, a father, a lawyer, a musician, an SF fan, a soccer coach, a cyclist, and an amateur theologian. This is my first try at blogging, and I hope to weave the many interests I have into a cohesive narrative on life, the universe, and everything.

Posted by JohnL at 09:50 PM | Comments (0) |

Notice and Disclaimer

This site is a personal weblog and represents my opinions on whatever comes to mind. It does not represent in any way the opinions of my employer or any other of my clients.

I retain copyright in all original materials published on this blog. I love the public domain and would be happy for you to exercise your fair use rights to any of my original materials here. Copy, spread, quote, criticize. But if you do use any of my original works in any way, please do me the courtesy of giving me attribution and a link.

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This means you should not send me confidential information or ask me for advice, either through comments on the blog or via email. I reserve the right to delete any comments posted here for any reason. I can't imagine that I would ever edit someone else's comments here, but if I do, then I will indicate the editorial changes. If you send me an email, please note that I reserve the right to publish portions of it on this blog or elsewhere.

John Lanius

Posted by JohnL at 12:30 PM | Comments (2) |