November 27, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving

I am thankful for many things -- an intelligent, caring, and beautiful wife who is my life partner in every way; three healthy, energetic, and smart kids who challenge me to be a better role model at every turn; a rewarding and interesting legal career; good health; freedom; and this amazing Internet, just to name a few.

Go read Glenn Reynolds' and James Lileks' Thanksgiving entries (yes, I am thankful for them, too).

And I am thankful that this President is leading the war against terrorism.

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

November 25, 2003

Requiem for All Creatures Great And Small

I apologize in advance for this: I am not Lileks, who I am sure could do this subject more justice than I. I don't usually share much of my domestic circumstances here, but tonight is such a "perfect storm" of pet misfortune that I have to type a few words.

Background: my wife has asthma and is very allergic to cats; somewhat to dogs. But we are both animal lovers and want our kids to learn to be as well. Therefore, we keep a few small pets -- a hamster, fish, and a toad. Our main pet is a hamster, Perky, who just passed away after seeming to recover from a brief bout of wet tail.

I wonder now if it was actually wet tail or just old age, as she was approaching the two-year-old maximum lifespan of hamsters. You don't know sorrow until you have three kids under the age of 10 experiencing this kind of loss for the first time. This comes on the heels of my killing of my second son's two about-to-metamorphose tadpoles last week by using dechlorinated city water instead of the bottled "drinking water" we had been using. Add to that the fact that his wild toad hasn't eaten for the last two weeks, and things look pretty glum in the
Lanius household.

Oh yeah, one of my first son's neon tetra fish (which we just got a couple of days ago) is having major equiulibrium problems (swimming nose-down or upside down) and I am concerned that his days are also numbered.


Posted by JohnL at 09:58 PM | Comments (0) |

[Not the B-24] Liberator

Jeff Foust has an update to his earlier report on High Altitude Research Corporation's (HARC's) X-Prize entry, the Liberator, today. This past Saturday, HARC invited selected guests from the media and investor communities to view actual hardware (engineering test models at this point, not flight-ready articles). Jeff also provides a neat gallery of images from the event.

Posted by JohnL at 09:38 PM | Comments (0) |

Outsourcing Meme Spreads

Regular readers of Instapundit have probably noted his continuing focus on the outsourcing of "white collar" jobs (software support to India, for example) as a potential campaign issue next year (representative posts here, here, and here).

Scott Adams, who has already lampooned the outsourcing fad in Dilbert with his fictional country of "Elbonia" spreads the meme further in today's strip.

Posted by JohnL at 02:20 PM | Comments (0) |

November 22, 2003

First Biologically Self-Assembled Nanotransistor

More science fiction becomes science fact, as a team at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have built a nano-scale transistor using a DNA molecule as the "assembler."

According to this article, the team started with a long strand of DNA to use as the template for the device. They coated graphite nanotubes with antibodies that caused them to bind to the DNA strand in the desired locations. Then, the team turned the remainder of the DNA molecule into a conducting wire by adding a solution of silver ions that chemically attached themselves to the phosphate backbone of the DNA, "condensing" as silver metal after the team added aldehyde to the solution. With the addition of gold (which, according to the article, "nucleated" on the silver), the team produced functioning carbon nanotube transistors with gold and silver leads.

I am certainly not a molecular biologist, so I hope I properly summarized the technique used here. This sure seems like big stuff for small stuff.

(Via Geekpress).

Posted by JohnL at 12:34 AM | Comments (0) |

November 20, 2003

Another Optical Illusion Page

This page has more fun illusions.

And they are annotated to explain how they work. Enjoy.

Posted by JohnL at 10:31 PM | Comments (0) |

Chemistry Humor

Form Arsole to Clitorin, you'll find your funny molecule names here.

Posted by JohnL at 09:10 PM | Comments (0) |

Get to Work

You aren't being paid to believe in the power of your dreams.

(Lots of other cynical twists on the "motivational poster" genre here).

Posted by JohnL at 09:07 PM | Comments (0) |

Trinity of Trek Tunes

Lileks has completed his mp3 trilogy of the three great Star Trek:TOS characters.

First, it was Doctor Poppycock (McCoy).

Then, Captain Clanton (Kirk).

Now, Spock gets his turn in Your Agonizer Please.


Posted by JohnL at 08:23 PM | Comments (1) |

November 19, 2003

Thanks, Mate

Tim Blair demonstrates the true Australian virtue of "mateship" in this response to an idiotarian emailer who gloated about the impact of the recent loss of 17 of America's finest in Iraq on their families.

Thanks, Tim. Next time you swing through North America, be sure to make it down to Texas. I'll be glad to introduce you to some true Texan hospitality (lots of BBQ, real TexMex, grande steaks, and good local beer!)

Posted by JohnL at 11:31 PM | Comments (0) |

Comical Matters

Today's Foxtrot puts in a subtle plug for Darwinism.

I think Carl Zimmer would approve.

Foxtrot is one of my daily "must-reads," along with Get Fuzzy, Dilbert, and the Norm.

Posted by JohnL at 10:45 PM | Comments (0) |

Poetry in Motion

Scientific American has named Burt Rutan to their Scientific American 50 list in Aerospace for "design[ing] a reusable suborbital passenger spacecraft."

I only wish the award could have been for designing and flying the world's first reusable passenger spacecraft, although there may yet be time for Burt to pull that off in 2003.

Posted by JohnL at 10:30 PM | Comments (0) |

Marriage and Power Struggles

Yesterday, the GNXPers examined the sacred institution of marriage from a variety of angles. Any summary I gave couldn't do it any greater justice than their own:

Observation: only on GNXP can you get quotes on [Blow Jobs] and a symmetrized Gale-Shapley alternative in the same post...

So go read the whole thing.

Posted by JohnL at 10:12 PM | Comments (0) |

Quote of the Day

Mensa is "the society for overintelligent underachievers."

Double heh.

(I have to confess that I was actually "in" Mensa in High School, which means I passed the test and got my parents to pay for the membership fee. But I never participated in any of the special interest groups -- highly oriented towards adult activities -- and dropped out altogether when I encountered a real merit-based system in college)

(Via Anthony, in his comments to this amazing Gene Expression article on Marriage, Money, and Evolutionary Psych).

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

Astronomy Domine

For some real pictures of everything, check out this nice Hubble slide show, which takes you into the depths of the Cosmos. (Via Jerry Pournelle).

Posted by JohnL at 09:42 PM | Comments (0) |

A Picture of Everything

Via Alan Brain, you can see a picture of everything here.

Posted by JohnL at 09:37 PM | Comments (0) |

November 18, 2003

Finger Fillet

Via SFSignal, you can replay that scene from Aliens.

Posted by JohnL at 12:07 AM | Comments (0) |

November 17, 2003

Jove, Bringer of Jollity

Beautiful picture of Jupiter.

Posted by JohnL at 11:58 PM | Comments (0) |

Galileo. Figaro. Magnifico.

Ever wondered what Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody would look like in Japanese?

Wait no longer. . . (Be sure you have Asian character sets installed).

Posted by JohnL at 11:54 PM | Comments (0) |

November 14, 2003

New Troy

I added a link to Troynovant, or "New Troy," a couple of days ago, but failed to mention it here in the body of my blog when I did so.

It's a bit more literary than most blogs, with essays on books, film, and politics.

Be sure to click over and check it out.

Posted by JohnL at 12:27 AM | Comments (0) |

Professor Cheesecake

Ok, we all know that this Professor likes to post some cheesecake on his blog every now and then.

But this Professor?

Good way to get some attention. . .

Coming soon, the XXX prize.

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

November 13, 2003

No More Moore

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary voted today to remove Judge Roy Moore from office as a result of his defiance of a federal court's order to remove the graven image of the [Baptist version of the] Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the Alabama State Supreme Court building.

About da*n time. This joker has no business presiding over the highest court of any state in the Union, even Alabama. Although the order he defied was based on a 1st Amendment Establishment Clause basis, this need not be a federal issue. Judge Moore quite clearly defied the letter of the Alabama Constitution, section 3 of which reads:

[That the great, general, and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and established, we declare]: that no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a
qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles.

As I have discussed elsewhere, the very listing of the 10 Commandments on "Roy's Rock" slights both the Jewish and the Catholic/Lutheran traditions. By presenting the Southern Baptist list of the Decalogue, Judge Moore gave preference to the Southern Baptists in the building that housed the highest court in the State of Alabama. Forget the federal case, this guy thumbed his nose at the Alabama Constitution.

It will be interesting to see what Roy does next, as he clearly shows no signs of fading away into the background. He should read his bible: "a man's pride will bring him low." (Proverbs 29:23).

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

Starship Dimensions

Via EGB, this site allows you to drag the original Enterprise next to the airship Hindenburg to compare their relative sizes. Then, you can compare the Star Trek IV "Whale Ship" to the Death Star II. Geek out.

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

November 12, 2003

Another New SF Blog

Again via Professor Hall (whose site seems to be rapidly linking up several like-minded neo-bloggers!) I have discovered SFSignal. Click on over and scroll up and down.

Posted by JohnL at 11:14 PM | Comments (0) |

New Blog

I must have read Douglas Hofstadter's Goedel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid five times or more during my senior year of high school and first two years of college. It is definitely a classic that rewards multiple readings.

Via the inestimable Professor Hall, I am happy to discover The Eternal Golden Braid, which covers space, SF, space, Legos, more space, and more SF. My kind of blog! Check it out.

Posted by JohnL at 10:19 PM | Comments (0) |

Exceptional XCOR Effort

SpaceRef posts XCOR's press release announcing that it has cleared a major regulatory hurdle.

In a letter dated October 29, 2003, the FAA's Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) informed XCOR that its launch license application had been deemed "sufficiently complete."

This means that AST has to either issue a launch license to XCOR within 180 days or explain to Congress why it has failed to do so (see 49 USC 70105).

According to the AST's letter, this is the first sufficiently complete reusable Reusable Launch Vehicle mission license application to be received and evaluated by AST. Congratulations to XCOR!

Posted by JohnL at 10:07 PM | Comments (0) |

November 11, 2003

A More Serious Quiz

What economic school are you a member of? Take the Ludwig von Mises Institute Quiz here. I got a score of 78 out of 100. I chose the "Austrian" answer 15 times, the "Chicago" answer eight times, and the Keynesian-Neoclassical answer twice. (Scoring = 4 points per Austrian answer, 2 points per Chicago answer, 1 point per Keynesian-Neoclassical answer, and 0 points per Socialist answer).

Posted by JohnL at 10:25 PM | Comments (0) |

Being William Gibson

William Gibson
William Gibson wrote your book. Technology
terrifies and delights you.
Which Author's Fiction are You?
brought to you by QuizillaBummer (sort of). I was hoping to be Heinlein. It was my taste in beer (not booze) and women that apparently made the difference here.

Posted by JohnL at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) |

Additions to Links

I think I need to organize my links better. I've been adding to them pretty haphazardly.

One of my most recent additions is the Vodkapundit Stephen Green, an interview of whom can be found here (link via Instapundit). Read the whole thing, as they say.

I, like Green, found The Fountainhead to be a more enjoyable read than Atlas Shrugged (although I heartily recommend reading both). It's been a few years since I've read either one, but my wife is reading Atlas Shrugged with her book club, so I get to vicariously enjoy it again.

Posted by JohnL at 09:51 PM | Comments (0) |

Belated Birthday Wish

And while we are on the subject of veterans, Happy Birthday to the USMC, which celebrated its 228th birthday yesterday.

Posted by JohnL at 09:24 PM | Comments (0) |

Veterans' Day

Take a moment to remember those who served to preserve our freedoms, and if you know any veterans, thank them for their service.

Posted by JohnL at 09:18 PM | Comments (0) |

November 10, 2003

Paucity of Posting

I have been doing far more reading than writing recently, plowing my way through a 3-month backlog of Analogs, starting the Terminal Experiment, continuing to read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers out loud to my oldest son, and re-reading Gary Hudson's testimony (see November 5 entry below). Check back soon for expanded commentary. I have to confess that I am also trying again to beat Halo playing solo on the "Legendary" setting ;-) I managed to beat it on Easy, Normal, and Heroic.

My goal is to defeat it on Legendary before the sequel comes out. I am currently stalled at the gravity lift in the "Truth and Reconciliation" level. So that should also account for the lack of free ice cream around here recently.

Posted by JohnL at 09:48 PM | Comments (0) |

November 06, 2003

Fun Aviation Story

Via AMCGLTD, I found this seemingly apocryphal story about Air Force bomber pilots teaching some US Marine aviators a little bit of humility.

(Setup: sometime in the 1960s, some Marine F-4 Phantom pilots, to escape a hurricane on the Gulf Coast, are temporarily stationed inland at an Air Force base and proceed to brag about how they are flying the fastest planes in the world and generally ragging on the "low slow" bomber pilots. Hint: the "bombers" these particular Air Force pilots were flying were B-58 Hustlers).

Of course the Marines should have just gone double-or-nothing whether the Hustler pilots could land on a pitching carrier deck in the dark.

Posted by JohnL at 11:25 PM | Comments (0) |

Miller on Mars

NRO's John Miller points out that we space geeks can expect an extra Christmas present this year: the ESA's Mars Express is scheduled to deposit the Beagle-2 lander in Mars' atmosphere on December 25.

Miller also gives a couple of favorable reviews of space-themed coffee table books. I have added Magnificent Mars to my Amazon wish list.

Posted by JohnL at 10:56 PM | Comments (0) |

More Phylogenetics

I came across science writer Carl Zimmer's excellent blog "The Loom" for the first time today. Take the time to read through his entire site.

If you enjoyed the Gene Expression article I linked to last week, you should definitely read Zimmer's October 26 entry on mapping evolutionary trees. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed the phylogeny of seven species of yeast whose genomes had been completely sequenced. Using a set of 106 genes, they were able to map the evolutionary family tree of the yeast with 100% confidence at each node. More importantly, they were able to achieve the same result by paring down the number of genes examined to 20.

It will be interesting to see how this technique can be extended to more complex organisms in the coming years.

Posted by JohnL at 10:36 PM | Comments (0) |

November 05, 2003

Mr. Hudson Goes to Washington

Gary Hudson has provided testimony to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics for the 5
November 2003 hearing on H.R. 3245 - The Commercial Space Act of 2003.

I have only just begun to review and digest this, so I reserve the right to update or post more later.

Hudson, who developed the concept of the Phoenix SSTO vehicle and who was a driving force behind the DC-X and was the CEO of Rotary Rocket, describes the regulatory policy hurdles faced by our nascent commercial launch industry:

"However, the desire to fulfill international treaty obligations and to protect public safety has led us to a cul-de-sac in the road to a hopeful future. We have stumbled in our ability to promote the space flight industry, imposing an unclear, overly bureaucratic regulatory environment that is stif[l]ing innovation,
progress and commerce. We need to rethink our approach from first principles; that is the purpose of this white paper. "

He first recaps the 20-year old debate regarding licensing of commercial space activities:

"The origin of the debate goes back two decades. At that time, private rocketeers faced a number of Federal Agencies each who claimed they were in charge. These ranged from the FAA, which had the legitimate authority under the existing law, to the Department of State, which wanted to regulate rocket launches under the absurd notion that they were "exports." The professed goal of the sponsors of the first Commercial Space Act was to put an end to this problem and provide a "one-stop-shop" for launch approvals. I supported that unreservedly. "

But I lost the battle to limit the scope of the Act. Instead, a completely new entity was created: the Office of Commercial Space Transportation, as well as a completely new concept: Federal launch licenses. At the time, some of us complained that the new entity wasn't needed, that the existing law was adequate with minor revisions, and that the new OCST would not be able to figure out what to do about piloted reusable rockets. Our concerns were brushed
aside. They have now emerged as crucial to the future survival of an industry in crisis."

He criticizes the launch license process as overly burdensome:

"AST has grown increasingly bureaucratic. Launch Licenses are now Major Federal Actions. In spite of my warnings and counsel of the past five years, we have now reached a crisis. Experimental flight-testing of suborbital passenger vehicles has begun. AST is not up to the challenge of this development."

He then recommends the sure-to-be-controversial disestablishment of the AST:

"Therefore, I recommend the disestablishment of AST, and the elimination of the need for US persons to seek launch licenses. In its place, I propose that we return to the pre-1984 law governed by Federal Aviation Regulations. This will be sufficient to protect the safety of third parties and to fulfill international obligations. Piloted rocket aircraft of a variety of types will then be regulated by the FAA under experimental type certificates. Several rocket aircraft already have been issued such certificates."

But he attempts to address the expected objections before they are made:

"The strongest objection to such an approach comes from colleagues who wish to begin offering immediate passenger rides who fear the cost of FAA certification. I understand their position, and sympathize. And I believe that a barnstorming era for space transportation is desperately needed. But we can reach that result by other forthright action.

"Current FAA rules generally prohibit revenue flying of experimental aircraft. I propose we simply change the rule. Congress can permit certain experimental aircraft defined as space vehicles to operate under a limited exemption for a period of time -- 20 years. Coincidentally this is the same period from the Wright Brothers first flight to the establishment of the first Civil Aeronautics Authority in 1926. Some have asked how we protect the passengers on these flights? HR 3245 correctly supplies the solution by defining "spaceflight participants" as someone who would give their informed consent to fly."

Burt Rutan's first instinct was also to treat the White Knight/SpaceShipOne as an experimental aircraft to avoid applying for a federal launch license. Rand Simberg was quite critical of this approach, even citing a description of Rutan as a "bull in a china shop."

Based on the above, I obviously need to give this some more thought. I also need to read through the testimony of the other witnesses. You should do the same.

More later.

Posted by JohnL at 11:25 PM | Comments (0) |


Rocket Man profiles TGV Rockets and their X-Prize entrant, the MICHELLE-B.

This is an interesting concept vehicle, and reminds me a bit of a cross between Roton and the DC-X, but with an aerobrake (think: upside down parachute) instead of rotors to slow the craft's reentry.

Rocket Man analyzes the design trade-offs, and particularly critiques the weight penalty of six separate propulsion and fuel systems for what he perceives to be the minimal added value of "graceful degradation." But he does have kind words for the aerobraking concept and the craft's planned method of powered landing after the manner of the DC-X. Rocket Man notes that he "would love to see a continuation of [the DC-X style of landing] testing with the MICHELLE-B." I'm sure he knows that the Japanese JAXA is in fact currently conducting experiments much like the DC-X in their reusable vehicle testing campaign.

TGV Rockets only has blueprints at this point, but they have a business plan and hint at funding to continue development of the MICHELLE-B even if another team wins the X-Prize.

Posted by JohnL at 10:52 PM | Comments (0) |

Letterman A Dad

David Letterman became a dad Monday night, naming the baby after David's father.

Letterman, whose show has been struggling in the ratings against Jay Leno's Tonight show, has seemed notably mellower since his brush with mortality a few years ago.

I've always preferred Letterman to Leno, in much the same way that I prefer Monty Python's Flying Circus to the Benny Hill show. I wish him and his family all the best, and look forward to his take on this new adventure.

Posted by JohnL at 09:53 PM | Comments (0) |

Big Ass Advertising

Eugene Volokh, who has forgotten more about commercial free speech than I have ever learned, cites a local government official's desire to outlaw a creative billboard that uses a donkey's hindquarters to sell large industrial fans.

The company, Big Ass Fans, took its name from its customers' spontaneous initial reactions to its up-to-24-foot diameter products. Big Ass Fans' marketing "guy" describes the marketing campaign as tasteful. I agree with Prof. Volokh that, while crude, this is certainly not obscene.

Posted by JohnL at 09:39 PM | Comments (0) |

Site Redesign

Well I finally bit the bullet and taught myself some HTML.

I drafted this site mostly from scratch in plain text (in Notepad), cutting and pasting some bits from the old Blogger template.

Please let me know if you have any comments on the new look.

Posted by JohnL at 08:43 PM | Comments (0) |

November 03, 2003

Update on SpaceShipOne

According to this article, Burt Rutan's team has been using some decidely low-tech methods to identify and fix the handling anomalies discovered during the September 23, 2003 flight test.

The Scaled Composites crew used a modified Ford pickup as a mobile wind tunnel to test the aerodynamic fixes they developed to address the stall problem. The October 17 test flight demonstrated considerable improvement.

You have to love this. Can you imagine NASA ever using a pickup truck to validate tail assembly designs "on the fly" like this?

Posted by JohnL at 10:38 PM | Comments (0) |

The Dark Side of the Moon

. . . Will be visible in North Texas this coming Saturday, 8 November 2003, with totality beginning at 7:06 PM CST and ending at 7:30 PM.

To find out when you can see the Total Lunar Eclipse in your location, check here.

When I was growing up, the few total lunar eclipses I remember took place either late at night or early in the morning. This one, by contrast, is perfectly timed to show to the kids and get them excited about something truly astronomical.

Update: This page is a good basic overview of the stages of the eclipse.

Posted by JohnL at 10:33 PM | Comments (0) |

Optical Illusions

Here is a nice collection of more than 30 optical illusions.

Posted by JohnL at 10:21 PM | Comments (0) |