December 24, 2003

Christmas Break

Blogging will be light for the next few days as I celebrate Christmas here with my family. I hope you all have a safe, joyous, and peaceful holiday. In addition to the excellent Virginia Postrel piece on Christmas lights that I linked to yesterday, James Lileks had a fun Bleat about a bus tour to see Christmas lights in and around his city. My part of Plano has several festive houses, but my kids tell me these are the "best lights ever" --

Warmest Wishes of the Season to all of you.

Posted by JohnL at 06:23 PM | Comments (0) |

One Step At A Time

The Rocket Man has another marathon post comparing and contrasting the development efforts behind big dumb boosters (ELVs), airplane-like reusables like Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne, and VTVL reusables like the DC-X or the RVT. ELVs, by their nature, are not amenable to incremental flight testing and development. We can all hope that the steady, incremental development of vehicles by the current crop of X-Prize competitors and the Japanese RVT program will lead to cheap access to space in the near future.

Posted by JohnL at 01:23 PM | Comments (0) |

December 23, 2003

Christmas Enlightenment

Through her blog, Virginia Postrel points to a couple of her recent articles (subscription required to access the WSJ piece) on the economic implications of Christmas lighting.

This isn't the first time she has touched on the topic of Christmas lights (visit here and here and scroll down or search for "lights").

Her Reason piece highlights elegantly how global capitalism leads not only to more affordable lights for the retail customer, but also to a specialized service industry that installs professional lighting displays for people who are not necessarily the most affluent customers. The article concludes with a nod to the real benefits of free trade and the value of aesthetics:

"We mourn the loss of manufacturing jobs - 'real jobs' - and ignore growing aesthetic professions, from installing holiday lights and landscaping lawns to giving manicures and facials, from designing brochures to crafting granite countertops. "Yet in an advanced economy, in which competition is pushing the prices of goods ever lower and their quality ever higher, enhancing the look and feel of people, places, and things will become more and more important over time. Just as surely as the horsepower of a car engine or the warmth of
a blanket, the pleasure of twinkling Christmas lights offers real value."

I don't think I could wrap this up any better than that.

Posted by JohnL at 01:47 PM | Comments (0) |

Meaning of the Libyan Turnaround

Much of the anti-war movement seems to want to paint the Bush administration as out-of-control in its willingness to use military force overseas, and some of the wackier members even characterize the overthrow of the Hussein regime in Iraq as some sort of personal vendetta ("He tried to kill my daddy!"), unrelated to the war on terrorism. But in the days after September 11, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz enunciated a clear strategy that he thought would be required to prevent a 9-11 from happening again. A strategy that extended beyond merely capturing the responsible parties and "bringing them to justice:"

"I think one has to say it's not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable, but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism."

From the perspective of previous world wars, we are only a short way into this global war on terrorism (or, in my un-PC opinion, Islamic extremism), so it is probably a little early to gauge the overall success of this strategy.

But Libya's recent turnaround provides some preliminary support for the success of the strategy. Today's Dallas Morning News has a very forceful editorial connecting the dots between the takedown of Hussein and Libya's voluntary capitulation.

"Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi may be a madman, but he's no fool.

"He saw what happened to Saddam Hussein, and doesn't want to end up being dragged out of a spider hole by American soldiers. . . .

"European Commission chief Romano Prodi is hailing this a victory for
'discrete diplomacy and engagement.' Don't you believe it.

"Libya first reached out to the West in March, as American soldiers prepared to
shock and awe Saddam Hussein into collapse. Col. Gadhafi saw that when President George W. Bush said that nations were either for us or against us in the war on terror, and would be held accountable for their actions, he meant it.

"And note well that the Libyans did not approach France or Germany for help with the Americans, but Britain, the United States' staunchest ally. Col. Gadhafi knows which nations matter in the post-9-11 world.

"This development is first and foremost a ringing vindication of the Bush terror-fighting strategy, which depends on the use of force to back up diplomatic initiatives. When dealing with thugs like Col. Gadhafi, an able military and the
political will to employ it are the most useful tools of international relations. It's amazing how clarifying a few well-placed daisy cutters can be for Middle Eastern despots, and how persuasive the tender ministrations of the U.S. armed forces are to even the most obstinate potentate.

"Libya's stunning decision could prove a real intelligence coup for the United States, given that nation's role in funding international cutthroats and radical movements for decades. Additionally, the Libyan foreign minister is now saying that trade between his nation and the U.S. and Britain will improve.

"Washington and London now have a tremendous opportunity to show how no nation, no matter how outcast, is beyond rehabilitation if it will only turn from
its rogue ways. As we reward Libya for playing nice - and we should - let's not forget that what brought Col. Gadhafi around was not endless carrots offered by the European Commission, but a large stick swung hard by Mr. Bush."
(emphasis added).

I think Libya remains on probation, but I am heartened by this development.

Posted by JohnL at 12:21 PM | Comments (1) |

December 22, 2003

Ringworld Animation

One of the first major adult (non-juvenile) SF novels I read (at the age of 12, I think) was Larry Niven's Ringworld.

If you've played Halo, you've gotten to run around on a small ringworld. This Flash animation (via the Larry Niven mailing list) conveys a little bit more of the grand scale of the "real" Ringworld. Enjoy.

Posted by JohnL at 05:25 PM | Comments (0) |

December 18, 2003

SpaceShipOne Breaks Sound Barrier

Yesterday, on the centennial of the Wright Brothers' first successful powered manned flight (and landing!), this airplane system made history. But you couldn't tell from the "professional" media coverage.

Professor Hall has a good recap of the event and the [lack of competent] media coverage. In his assessment (and mine) the Washington Post did the best.

Congratulations to Burt Rutan and the teams at Scaled Composites and SpaceDev[*].

[*]Full disclosure -- I own a few hundred shares of SpaceDev stock, the first hundred of which I purchased several years ago when their core mission was to land on and claim ownership an asteroid.

Update: Here's a nice picture; wish there were a little more detail, but still breathtaking.

Update: And here's a video (via Jerry Pournelle).

Posted by JohnL at 09:41 PM | Comments (0) |

Return of the King

[Warning! Spoilers Ahead!]

I ventured out to see the 10:00 PM showing of The Return of The King last night, continuing my tradition of viewing the Lord of the Rings movies on opening night. While I'm reserving final judgment until I have seen it again in the theater and, more importantly, until I have seen the extended version on DVD, I can say that, purely as a movie, this is the best of the three.

But as an interpretation of Tolkien in letter and spirit, it ranks second behind The Fellowship of the Ring, which I think was most faithful to the source material, and well ahead of The Two Towers, which is in a distant third. I can look over the minor quibbles I have with some of Jackson's choices (like giving new footage to Pippin while deleting key aspects of Faramir's and Denethor's characters), because when Jackson gets it right, he gets it perfectly right -- The Ride of the Rohirrim, The Death of the Witch King and of King Theoden, and the entire Cracks of Doom sequence. And I can't complain about his omission of the Scouring of the Shire, which, like the Tom Bombadil chapter in the first book, would have been nice to see, but not essential to the story.

Update: What he said.

Posted by JohnL at 09:21 PM | Comments (0) |

December 17, 2003

100 Years of Flight

Many of the bloggers I follow on a daily basis have appropriate words to commemorate the monumental accomplishment of the Wright brothers. Naturally, Rand Simberg has been busy, with articles up at Tech Central Station and National Review in addition to his own blog entry.

Rocket Man Mark Oakley discusses Rand Simberg’s "Airplane Scientist" article from TCS, and posts an opinion on why we have not advanced as far in space during the 42 years since the first manned spaceflight as we did in aviation during the 42 years
after Kitty Hawk.

Tim Sandefur, who has a sweet picture of an SR-71 and a copy of one of my favorite poems, High Flight, contrasts the triumph of the free, entrepreneurial Wright Brothers with the failure of the government-funded Samuel Pierpont Langley (a point also made by Rand Simberg in his several articles above).

Since Tim got High Flight up first, I'll have to resort to quoting some poetic prose from one of my favorite books:

Throttle forward again and the airplane swings into take-off position on runway two eight. The concrete is wide and long. The painted white stripe along its center is held at one end by my nosewheel, at the invisible other end by the tough nylon webbing of the overrun barrier. A twin row of white edge lights converges in the black distance ahead, pointing the way. The throttle moves now, under my left glove, all the way forward; until the radium-caked tachometer needle covers the line marked 100 percent, until the tailpipe temperature is up by the short red arc on the dial that means 642 degrees centigrade, until each pointer on each dial of the red-soaked instrument panel agrees with what we are to do, until I say to myself, as I say every time, Here we go. I release the brakes.

There is no instant rush of speed, no head forced against the headrest. I feel only a gentle push at my back. The stripe of the runway unrolls, lazily at first, beneath the nosewheel. Crackling thunder twists and blasts and tumbles behind me, and, slowly, I see the runway lights begin to blur at the side of the concrete and the airspeed needle lifts to cover 50 knots, to cover 80 knots, to cover
120 knots (go-no-go speed checks OK) and between the two white rows of blur I see the barrier waiting in the darkness at the end of the runway and the control stick tilts easily back in my right glove and the airspeed needle is covering 160 knots and the nosewheel lifts from the concrete and the main wheels follow a half-second later and there is nothing in the world but me and an airplane alive and together and the cool wind lifts us to its heart and we are one with the wind and one with the dark sky and the stars ahead and the barrier is a forgotten dwindling blur behind and the wheels swing up to tuck themselves away in my seamless aluminum skin and the airspeed is up to one nine zero and flap lever forward and airspeed two two zero and I am in my element and I am flying. I am flying.

Posted by JohnL at 01:08 PM | Comments (0) |

December 16, 2003

Clothespin Republicans

Glenn Reynolds mentions South Park Republicans again today.

I like South Park. I grok the Simpsons. I prefer the Canadian rock group Rush to the big fat idiot Rush. I've never been a big fan of Pat Boone (except for this) and do not belong or want to belong to a country club. I support gay marriage. I support the legalization of drugs. I support a woman's right to choose to have an abortion until the fetus exhibits a steady alpha-wave pattern on an EEG (the beginning of "brain life"). I am in favor of human cloning and stem cell research. I am opposed to most aspects of the PATRIOT act.

But I support very strongly the overseas war on terrorism. And I am opposed to any income taxes (one reason I live in Texas!) I would love to see the entire welfare state dismantled completely. I hope the Boomers choke on the "free" drugs they've decided to purchase with my (and my kids') money.

I should probably vote Libertarian. After all, based on the above, I am a "small-ell" libertarian. But I couldn't really be a "big-ell" Libertarian, as I prefer the Blue Man Group to blue man candidates and the other assorted nutballs that tend to run for office under the Libertarian Party banner. So how can I possibly vote? Usually, for the lesser of two evils. Which, for me, is usually the Republican candidate.

But I have to hold my nose when I do so. Thus, I propose a new term -- "clothespin" Republicans. For those of us who vote Republican, but put a clothespin on our nose when we punch the card.

What do you think?

Posted by JohnL at 10:41 PM | Comments (0) |

Obscene Waste of Police Resources

Now this makes me soooo proud to be a Texan.

Good coverage of this particular case on Instapundit, Volokh, and Freespace. And be sure to check out the comments at Hit and Run, where I first learned of this particular bust.

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

December 15, 2003

Apologies Accepted, Tim

Mr. Sandefur posts his mea culpa and concedes that there are at least two cool-looking propeller-driven planes (personally, I wouldn't use the Gee Bee as the poster child for prop planes).

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

Good Overview of Suborbital Prospects and Problems

Clark Lindsey of Hobbyspace writes about the technical hurdles faced by suborbital RLVs, and interviews a number of the players in the rocket business, including the Rocket Man (you'll have to read the article to learn his real name).

Read the whole thing.

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

Welcome, Newcomers

Geeze. Step away from the blog for a few days and return to find that Virginia Postrel has given you a mention.

Please make yourselves at home. I've only been blogging for slightly more than two months, so you can see how a blog evolves over time. This is still very much a work-in-progress.

Feel free to post comments, shoot me an email, or scan through the archives. Thanks for dropping by.

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

December 12, 2003

Up Your Shaft

Is the name of Lileks' latest Trek musical offering. (Mr. Scott is the MC).

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

December 11, 2003

De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est

Nothing with propellers can qualify as a cool looking plane? I know it's ridiculous to argue matters of taste, but allow me to enter into evidence a few more exhibits of "cool" propeller planes:

Don't get me wrong, I love jet and rocket planes, too, but I hate to see piston-engined, propeller-driven craft unjustly denigrated. (BTW, if you want to learn how to fly any of the old WWII warbirds, watch the training films here).

Posted by JohnL at 12:24 AM | Comments (0) |

December 09, 2003

Build Your Own Railgun

Found this in the permalinks at Spacecraft (welcome back, Professor).

Not your run-of-the-mill DIY project.

I wonder what Dave Barry would have to say about this?

Posted by JohnL at 10:36 PM | Comments (2) |


I wonder if Rocket Man has ever seen this?

If you have sat through many episodes of Pokemon, Digimon, or Yu-Gi-Oh, you should definitely grok this.

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

Ride [Well, Flight] of the Valkyrie

Tim Sandefur thinks this is the sexiest plane ever constructed.

I, personally, am torn between the X-15 and the White Knight/SpaceShipOne.

Not exactly sexy, but one of the coolest-looking planes ever has to be the Peacemaker.

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

States of Mind

Dallas resident Virginia Postrel is California Dreamin'.

Me, well, I guess I'm on a Rocky Mountain High:

Colorado is your state. If you don't already live
there, you should. Lots of tourists...just
ignore them. If you can take the cold winters,
you'll be just fine there.
What State Is Perfect For You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Of course as a native Texan, it's my duty to point out that the Republic of Texas owned a goodly part of Colorado at one time (especially some of my favorite scenery in the San Juans in the southwest corner of the state).

Posted by JohnL at 09:05 PM | Comments (0) |

December 08, 2003

What's Missing From This Picture?

No, no, no, no. . . not that picture.

This one. (Inspired by Scrappleface).

Posted by JohnL at 11:24 PM | Comments (0) |

Black Velveteen Always is Ready to Dance

Lenny Kravitz fans and old movie aficionados shouldn't have any problem recognizing the potential in this concept (WARNING -- not a family-friendly link).

Glenn Reynolds, from whom I first learned the term "robosexual," reveals another new coinage -- "prosthetute" in this TCS article about robots and unemployment. He also links to this excellent, if not a little creepy, Salon article that made him aware of Real Dolls.

Gene Expression picked up this theme today (linked article has a moderately racy picture!) reviewing the Salon article and then running with the concept (linking to sites covering all the tech needed to create a Stepford Wife). It's neat that the good SF seems to come true around us all the time, but if we get the personal communicators, world-wide-web, and nanobots, then we should also expect to get some of the tech envisioned in the B-movies.

Posted by JohnL at 10:59 PM | Comments (0) |

Horrors of Plastic Surgery Revisited

Back on October 28, I linked to a site devoted to awful plastic surgery.

Of course, the self-styled king of pop makes quite an awful appearance on the site (and see this, which is linked from there).

All this is a setup for this image of what Michael Jackson would possibly look like today, had he foregone all the surgeries (using forensic age projection from a picture of a younger, unmodified Michael).

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

Golden Braids

One of the cool things about the Internet is the discovery that out there is at least one other person as interested as I am in Legos, pictures of Mars, building models, and space. He has lots of good stuff up today, but, as usual, the Blogspot archive links are all screwy, so you'll have to find your own way.

Posted by JohnL at 10:29 PM | Comments (0) |

Like God and Robert Heinlein Intended

Lots of good stuff percolating in the blogosphere about "reusable" launch vehicles these days.

Rocket Man starts out with a 1500+ word essay asking after the whereabouts of RLVs. Read the whole thing and follow his links. It may be rocket science, but he is optimistic (like I) that a healthy suborbital RLV industry will lead to a healthy orbital RLV industry, incrementally instead of in one great leap. While he touches on the X-15 and Shuttle, He surprisingly doesn't touch on the US's aborted attempt to build a true rocketship, the Delta Clipper, as an RLV format. But others are filling the gaps, with Clark Lindsay at Hobbyspace covering the Japanese attempt to continue the concept with their RVT program (which I briefly wrote about back on October 24) If that link doesn't work, please scroll down in the archives.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Jerry Pournelle has a running commentary, including much debate about SSTOs here. He is the one from whom I cribbed the title of this post (in regards to rocketships that take off and land on their tails).

Posted by JohnL at 10:21 PM | Comments (1) |

December 04, 2003

Blue, Blue, My Law is Blue

Growing up in Texas, I remember real blue laws, which forbade sales of anything other than basic foodstuffs on Sundays. Thank the maker those were repealed several years ago so that I can now buy batteries or paper or hardware on Sundays. But our alcohol laws continue to reflect early-twentieth-century sensibilities, and efforts to change them usually arouse quite a bit of controversy.

The city I live in, Plano, allows sales of beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores 7 days a week (you have to wait until after noon on Sundays). Still, to buy anything else (port, sake, tequila), I need to drive 20 minutes or so to a "wet" area of Dallas. Many towns around here (including many areas of Dallas proper) are completely dry. This article and this one nicely summarize the situation in Plano (free registration required to read the Dallas Morning News article).

So I could really appreciate Mike Alissi's report at Reason's Hit and Run blog about some surprising bedfellows in Connecticut who would like to keep Sundays dry there.

Here's the money 'graph:

"Bottoms up to the bizarro world of booze politics where liquor store owners team up with MADD to keep Sundays dry, and proponents of allowing retailers to serve customers whenever they want are considered enemies of free enterprise."

Read the whole thing.

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

December 03, 2003

The Other White Meat

144 individual servings of it, to be exact.

(Thanks to The Eternal Golden Braid for the link).

To be fair, some of these line items appear innocent enough (say, #103, 105, or 144) but most are just complete oinkers.

Finagle forgive me for saying so, but where is Proxmire and his golden fleece when you need him?

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

Fritter and Waste the Hours in an Offhand Way. . .

Another link (via the Volokh conspiracy) to an Internet slacker game: Mr. Piccasohead.


Posted by JohnL at 11:13 PM | Comments (0) |

A Few of My Favorite Things

If you missed it last week, Stephen Green put up a list of things he is thankful for.

I'm willing to bet that most males would concur.

Posted by JohnL at 11:09 PM | Comments (0) |

We Don't Need No Education

"When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children anyway they could. . ."

I don't always agree with the ACLU, but am awfully glad they are around when they take on a case like this one.

Be sure to read the little boy's own account of what he did "wrong." He said "bad" words?????

You don't have to be a radical gay activist to see that what the Louisiana school did to this 7-year-old was simply wrong. This, speaking as a father of three, two of whom are old enough to have brought home "problem solving sheets" that look much like this one. Feh.

Posted by JohnL at 11:04 PM | Comments (0) |

December 02, 2003

Another One for the Wish List

In commenting on one of Rand Simberg's posts, I ran across this review of this book by Stephen Ambrose covering the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad(s). I'll have to get this, as it seems somewhat relevant in the current debate over what role, if any, government should play in opening the space frontier.

My wish list has grown long over the last year or two, but I'm hoping it will be a few items shorter after Christmas.

Posted by JohnL at 11:01 PM | Comments (0) |

Nanotech Grab-Bag

Are molecular assemblers feasible? As I pointed out here, an Israeli team has reportedly used a DNA molecule to assemble a transistor.

Yesterday, Glenn Reynolds posted a wealth of links on the debate over the feasibility of nanotech molecular assemblers. I like how he works Clarke's first law
into his commentary, too: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

Lots of good stuff there, so read the whole thing, along with the linked articles.

Posted by JohnL at 10:41 PM | Comments (0) |

December 01, 2003

Back in the Saddle

Time flies when you're having fun.

And we had quite a bit over the Thanksgiving holiday. We stayed in town, enjoying dinner at my parents' house. Played football in the backyard with my sons while my daughter collected colored leaves. Ate too much, but what kind of holiday would it be without the gluttony? My Cowboys lost, but the Longhorns won. Now I find myself in the unsavory position of being an Oklahoma fan for one weekend, in the hopes that UT can secure a bid to a BCS bowl (likely the Fiesta). However, I missed the Longhorn game as I was enjoying a Friday
afternoon showing of Elf. If you haven't seen this movie yet, go see it. Guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. The entire movie is good-hearted and the last 10 minutes or so will rekindle your belief in Santa Claus in much the same way as other Holiday classics such as Miracle on 34th Street (the original) and The Polar Express.

P.S. Good news on the pet front. . . our toad still lives, although the blue neon tetra met his maker a couple of days ago (predicted here).

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