January 29, 2004

Fly Me to the Moon

Trust me. I'm still working on my "why we go to space" essay.

In the meantime, it looks like Transorbital will launch a mission to the moon later this year. Price: $2500 per gram. I wonder how many spots they will sell?

I like how Space.com frames this news in the context of President Bush's call for renewed government activity on the moon.

Posted by JohnL at 09:30 PM | Comments (0) |


The guys at SFSignal found Neave games, where you can find a true-to-the-original version of Asteroids, right down to the cheesy sound effects.

Neave also has ports of Space Invaders, Pac Man, and Tetris. I love modern gaming technology, and enjoy the many hours I have devoted to beating Halo on my Xbox. But it sure is fun to revisit some of these classics from the past.

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

Truth is Fiction

Growing up in the Cold War, I remember when I first grokked the irony of the communist party's propaganda rag being named "Truth." I wonder what old Trotsky would think if he were alive today to see the mouthpiece of the most murderous regime in human history turned into a sad imitation of the National Enquirer: UFOs, dragons, Noah's Ark, X-ray vision, and other apocryphal or mythical tales reported as fact.

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

January 28, 2004

. . . And Touched the Face of God

Rand Simberg remembers the Challenger and feels the passage of time. I was a senior in high school, sitting in Latin class 18 years ago when I learned of the Challenger explosion.

Rand also remembers the Columbia and Apollo 1 accidents in this article. And thanks to an article linked by Stephen Green, I now have an even more chilling mental picture of the final minutes of the Columbia astronauts' lives.

I may be a contrarian about NASA and the politics and purposes of government-funded manned exploration of outer space, but that should never be taken as disrespect for the bravery of these astronauts.

Posted by JohnL at 10:32 PM | Comments (0) |

Galadriel vs. Arwen

Tim Sandefur is crushing hard on Charlize Theron.

Playing Eomer to Sandefur's Gimli with Theron as Galadriel, I simply cannot admit she is the most beautiful woman who ever lived, as that honor is reserved for my lovely wife. But speaking of beautiful women on TV, how about the Brazilian, Alessandra Ambrosio, Victoria's Secret cover model and recent star of this off-the-wall ad for the Hummer H2?

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

"Oh No, Not Again."

Eeeww. (hat tip: Drudge).

I wonder if anyone saw a bowl of petunias drop out of the sky at the same time?

Update: Picture here.

Another Update: More pictures here.

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

Kirk v. Spock

Check out the new Priceline commercials here.

Posted by JohnL at 09:36 PM | Comments (0) |

What's In Them Thar Hills?

Looking at this picture from the Martian surface makes me hope that Opportunity will scrape away some dust and see something like this.

Some more cool sites to see what you might find in limestone beds on Earth are here and here.

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

Age of Empire

Readers of Jerry Pournelle's weblog know that he believes the USA is well on its way to becoming an empire.

One of his readers sent him a link to this article, which reviews a six-part series on BBC on the subject of American empire.

Even if there is disagreement about whether America actually is an empire, there is agreement that America doesn't want to be an empire.

Read the whole thing.

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

January 27, 2004


Thanks to a link found by Alan Brain, here's how my [old Blogspot - ed.] content would look as Fox News.

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

"People Called Romanes They Go The House"

Any article that includes a reference to a scene from a classic Monty Python movie deserves some attention.

I endured (and enjoyed, to be fair) four years of Latin at my high school. In fact, during my senior year, I won first place in Texas in Reading Comprehension at the Texas State Junior Classical League Latin convention. I have to say, however, that I never ran across pastillum botello fartum (read the article!) on one of my reading tests.

Posted by JohnL at 09:19 PM | Comments (0) |

January 26, 2004

NEO Missions

Jeff Foust has an interesting article today on the feasibility of missions to near-Earth-objects (mostly asteroids). He summarizes the justifications for studying these bodies as fear (of another dinosaur-killer), greed (for their mineral riches), and curiosity (because they're there). These objects are also fairly "inexpensive" in terms of delta-v:

While there are a number of good reasons for visiting NEOs, what makes the case for such missions -- human in particular -- so compelling is the accessibility of these bodies. The proximity of these objects and their small size sharply reduce the delta-v -- the change in velocity -- and thus the amount of propellant needed to reach them. In many cases, the total delta-v for a NEO mission is less than a mission to the Moon. At a September 2002 conference on mitigating asteroid impact hazards in Arlington, Virginia, Durda described an example of a mission to one NEO, 1991 VG. A round-trip mission lasting just 60 days would require a total delta-v of 6.1 kilometers per second, approximately the same as a one-way mission to the Moon. Extending the mission duration to 90 days decreased the delta-v to 4.9 km/sec. These factors put manned NEO missions almost entirely within the capacities and experience of human spaceflight today.

This last item reminded me of a science fiction story "gimmick" that I thought up about 15 years ago. As far as I know it hasn't been used in a story yet (and I haven't put it in a story yet, either!) The idea would be to use an asteroid or comet as a launching platform to the outer planets. I am too weak on orbital mechanics to work it out, but essentially the explorer craft would "lasso" an asteroid and then hitch a ride until it reached a good "jumping off" point to match
orbits with Mars, Jupiter, or some other destination. Do any of my technically-inclined readers think this idea has any merit?

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

More Cool Optical Illusions

I read about this site in the January issue of Wired. If you have a weak stomach, you may want to take some Dramamine first.

Posted by JohnL at 09:01 PM | Comments (0) |

January 23, 2004

Dream Job

Hey, another corporate lawyer who wants to be a LEGO "master builder."

This guy was written up in the Dallas Morning News a few days ago (the original article, which was syndicated, is here) and Fred Kiesche at The Eternal Golden Braid has a link to his website today. According to the DMN article, this guy is now in the pool of 30 finalists for one of the 6 master builder
positions at Legoland in San Diego.

I like the Achewood rabbit ambulance.

Posted by JohnL at 09:32 PM | Comments (0) |

January 22, 2004

Spirit in Trouble?

Martian Soil is on the story.

Major media that have picked this up include the AP (via USA Today), New York Times, CNN, and FoxNews.

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

January 21, 2004

Stormtrooper Chic

I've gotta admit. This looks like a fun project.

Found via this guy's site.

Posted by JohnL at 10:02 PM | Comments (0) |

Loonie Cinema

Both SFSignal and The Eternal Golden Braid point to this report that plans are afoot to at least script a movie adaptation of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Heinlein was a prescient writer and a lover of liberty. This work is commonly regarded as one of his most "libertarian" novels. I hope this writer really is the Heinlein fan he claims to be.

Posted by JohnL at 09:36 PM | Comments (0) |

From the Mouths of Babes. . .

Or pre-teen sons, as the case may be.

I'm working on a personal webpage right now, and one of the background graphics I am considering for the title bar is a lunar excursion module.

Tonight my 9-year old son looked at my progress and started asking questions about Apollo -- how many people landed there and when. I told him and then he asked if the Columbia had ever landed on the moon. I said no, even though there was a command module named Columbia. But no, I told him, the space shuttles can only fly in low Earth orbit.

He looked puzzled and said, "but where do they go? What planet?" Good question, son. Good question. The answer, of course, is nowhere but in circles for the last 20 years.

My son's question I think encapsulates the immediate emotional response I had to the President's speech a week ago. It's a question of goals -- where are we going? And why?

Before my rational self kicked in, I had a primal thrill that we would be going back to the moon to stay, and then to Mars. A dream I've had since I was 9 myself. And now I'm conflicted between my desire to see America lead the way in exploring and settling the solar system and my certainty that NASA cannot and will not accomplish that. And worse, that if they do, it will be a flags-and-footprints show like Apollo. Good for pictures that my son can show his kids someday, but not much else.

But that's the cranky grownup, not the idealistic child. Unfortunately, we won't really go anywhere to stay until there's a reason for cranky grownups to go. When space is just another place instead of an idealistic goal, we'll be there to stay.

Posted by JohnL at 09:01 PM | Comments (0) |

January 20, 2004

Do You Hate Unix?

There's a handbook just for you.

(I don't know enough to judge. . . I used to know some DOS, along with BASIC, Pascal, and Prolog, but those skills are long-gone).

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

Did Yoda Eat Some Funny Mushrooms?

This was in the body of some spam I got at the office today. I'm sure it was computer-generated to create a "legitimate" body text to sneak past content filters. Still, it has a certain poetic charm:

Now and then, defined by completion. When you see near abdominal, it means that toward everybody takes a runge break. Indeed, living with unidirectional make a truce with preparatory near. Most people believe that inside owing negotiate a officious with from, but they need to remember how complete about visitor. Now and then, from cook cheese houghton over. When for crabapple dies, around sweeps the floor. Most people believe that inside reach an understanding with beyond, but they need to remember how chisholm.

Heavy, man.

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

Why have NASA?

In looking for his comments on the DC-X, I ran across some written testimony that Jerry Pournelle presented to the House Subcommittee on Space in 1995 posing this critical question.

Of course, a cynic might answer that we have NASA in order to employ some 18,000 government employees in space centers distributed throughout many powerful congresscritters' districts.

Posted by JohnL at 09:30 PM | Comments (0) |

Rocketship Nipponjin?

As I first reported back in October 2003, the Japanese have been testing a reusable rocketship -- the RVT -- much like the DC-X for the last several years (since 1999 - here's a good background).

Today, Hobbyspace posts an interview of Prof. Yoshifumi Inatani, the head of the RVT program.

Of particular interest to this blog is the fact that Rocket Man Mark Oakley helped prepare some of the questions on vehicle design.

Read the whole thing, and then ask yourself where we might be today if the military had kept control of the DC-X (remember, as Jerry Pournelle points out, that the first thing NASA did with the DC-X was to crash it -- through incompetence rather than malice, but still. . .)

The interview has some links to pictures and video. You may also want to check out these videos of the DC-X before its untimely demise: Small (8MB) or Large (31MB).

Posted by JohnL at 09:19 PM | Comments (0) |

January 19, 2004

Instant Armor

I missed this when it came out last month. MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies is working on a material that rapidly converts from fluid to solid state when subjected to a magnetic field. How long until we have powered armor?

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

Use the Force

Outstanding student film. Nice twist at the end. Via SFSignal.

Posted by JohnL at 09:31 PM | Comments (0) |

Dancing Robots

I meant to link to this last week, when I first saw it on Geekpress.

Amazing. Kitschy. Fun. The QRIO.

Posted by JohnL at 08:57 PM | Comments (0) |

January 17, 2004

Wik. Also wik.

Robert the Llama Butcher has some kind things to say about yours truly. Thanks for the link!

I'm a native Texan, unlike Robert, but I won't hold it against him. In fact, he gets a head start on honorary Texanhood by being from New York, which in my experience ranks a close second behind Texas on the citizen-arrogance scale.

Robert, I'm sorry to say that I liked the Lord of the Rings movies, as movies. I liked them a lot more than the Star Wars movies, which were my previous favorite fantasy epic. The first movie was closest to the source material, I thought. Give it a solid "A." The third was also pretty true to the source material, right in the B to B+ range. The second. . . give it a C minus (would have been a D, but for Helm's Deep). I still can't forgive what Peter Jackson did to Faramir's character. It was completely wrong, and even worse, unnecessary (unlike the deletions of Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire, which I
thought were justified). I think overall, Peter Jackson completely grokked the hobbits and the Rohirrim; in fact, if I could see only one scene from all three movies, it would be the charge of the Rohirrim in the third movie. I can forgive his fumbling with the Numenoreans and elves --- there's just too much backstory to adequately convey their nobility and otherworldliness in a movie.

Thanks again for the link, Robert. Come back soon.

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

January 16, 2004

Vodkalanche. . . and a Friday Recipe

Ye gods! Thanks, Stephen, for the link. Hoping to keep some of the readers you've sent my way, I'll infringe on your territory a little bit. Here's what's on the menu tonight:

Roast Lamb and Vegetables

First, you want to marinate a medium boneless lamb roast (about 2 1/2 lb.) in a large freezer ziploc with the following for about 2-6 hours:

Preheat oven to 400F. Remove the roast from the bag and place it on a rack in a covered roasting pan. Save the marinade. Cut 6 cloves of garlic into halves and strip the leaves from about 4 branches of Rosemary. Cut evenly-spaced slits in the roast and then slip the garlic and rosemary into the slits. Arrange about 1 lb. of small red potatoes (unpeeled or peeled - your call) around the roast. Sprinkle all with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste. If the oven is still preheating, proceed to the next steps, otherwise put the roast in the oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Separate the oil from the marinade (use a turkey baster, or even better, one of these).

Toss the following with the separated oil and arrange in a shallow 9 x 13 baking dish (add a little more olive oil if necessary to lightly coat all vegetables):

Take the remainder of the marinade and add enough red wine to make it one cup. About this time, your timer should go off. Reduce the heat to 325F, pour the wine/marinade mixture over the roast and potatoes and cover. Set the timer for 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, slide the vegetable dish onto the rack below the roast. Now start checking the roast for doneness. 145F for Medium Rare, 160F for Medium, and 170F for ruined -- er, Well-Done.

If you timed the vegetables right, they should remain in the oven for about 10 minutes after you remove the roast, which should sit for about 10 minutes before you carve it. Slice the meat across the grain, arrange it with the potatoes and veggies, and garnish with some more Rosemary.

Gather the pan juices in a small gravy boat for au jus. Serve with the wine you used in the marinade (I'm using a 2000 South Australian Shiraz tonight).


Posted by JohnL at 05:41 PM | Comments (0) |

January 15, 2004

Make My Day

I'm not sure Tim Sandefur's guest blogger Eric Anderson has this right:

In the United States, one may only employ lethal force in the defense of life, and only when the ability, opportunity, and intent of the adversary to inflict serious bodily injury are simultaneously present. I think Texas was among the last of the states to keep legal the use of force in defending one's property, though it too has caved in to the times.

According to the Texas Penal Code, a person may use deadly force:

(1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under [the section of the code covering self-defense];

(2) if a reasonable person in the actor's situation would not have retreated; and

(3) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary: (A) to protect himself against the other's use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force; or (B) to prevent the other's imminent commission of aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.

If the person uses deadly force against a person who is in the process of breaking into the person's home, then the reasonableness standard of subsection (2) doesn't apply. See Texas Penal Code sec. 9.32. This is much like Colorado's "Make My Day" law which allows an occupant of a home to use "any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force" against an intruder when the occupant reasonably believes that the intruder "has committed a crime in the dwelling in
addition to the uninvited entry, or is committing or intends to commit a crime against a person or property in addition to the uninvited entry, and when the occupant reasonably believes that such other person might use any physical force, no matter how slight, against any occupant." See Colorado Revised Statutes sec. 18-1-704.5.

I haven't researched any other western states' laws, but at least these two states don't require much justification for a homeowner to waste an intruder. Disclaimer: Although I am an attorney and am licensed to practice law in Texas, I am not a criminal lawyer, and more importantly, I am not your lawyer. So don't do anything in reliance on this off-the-cuff assessment of these statutes.

Update: We see now why I'm not a criminal defense lawyer. . . Both commenter Michael Parker and the Curmudgeonly Clerk correct Eric and point to the more relevant "Make My Day" provisions (9.41-9.44) in the Texas Penal Code.

Posted by JohnL at 09:11 PM | Comments (1) |

January 14, 2004

Space, The Final Frontier. . .

Not much blogging tonight, as I'm reading the speech.

My immediate reaction is somewhat negative, beginning with the setting. First, the President is at NASA and is addressing NASA employees, not the American people: "This will be a great and unifying mission for NASA, and we know that you'll achieve it. I have directed Administrator O'Keefe to review all of NASA's current space flight and exploration activities and direct them toward the goals I have outlined."

I don't want to watch superhuman astronauts exploring on my nickel. I want to do exploring for myself. And what's up with this? -- "We'll invite other nations to share the challenges and opportunities of this new era of discovery. The vision I outline today is a journey, not a race, and I call on other nations to join us on this journey, in a spirit of cooperation and friendship." Just what we need. Another feel-good international boondoggle like the ISS. I am afraid that these
steps will turn outer space into an Antarctica -- another preserve for PhDs and noone else.

Rand Simberg has some preliminary thoughts on this. Check out Jerry Pournelle, too. His prize proposal, and his favoring a higher-profile military role both parallel my thoughts on federal government involvement in space.

I would actually like to see several "dreamer fithp" (read this, if you don't get the reference) on the President's commission -- Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Burt Rutan.

Most other space policy bloggers are getting in on the action:

Rocket Man.

Fred Kiesche, who should put up a tipjar on his site.

Jay Manifold, who is promising more details real soon.

Still waiting to read Chris Hall's assessment of the speech.

Coming soon: my opinion of why we need to go (prompted by Anne Applebaum's execrable spew), and some thoughts on how I think we ought to go.

Posted by JohnL at 09:54 PM | Comments (0) |

January 13, 2004

Excellent Opinion Piece on Medicare Expansion

Scott Burns, a financial affairs columnist for the Dallas Morning News, has an excellent piece today spelling out the true impact of the recent Medicare expansion. (Free registration required. Destined for the archives in the near future).

Scott is a member of the boomer generation, but his thinking on this issue is, refreshingly, fair and clear. He calculates the bill that our current elders are presenting to my children as $43.5 trillion. He essentially restates the libertarian nugget "TANSTAAFL." At some point benefits must be decreased or taxes increased (no!) to prevent a massive default under the system.

I hope in my lifetime to see some significant extension of the human lifespan. I expect it, actually. I am ready for the future of Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire,
even its dystopian aspects.

As a consequence, I think we need to be ready to rethink our "social obligation" to our elders. Medicare and Social Security, in my mind, are unconstitutional -- they are well beyond any reasonably necessary or proper enumerated power of the federal government. But are we ready as a society to take more personal responsibility for saving, for being ready to work in our retirements, to take care of our parents and grandparents? We need to be. Fortunately, if we do see some sort of "boosterspice" in our lifetimes, we will be young and healthy enough, even at the age of 65, 70, or even 90 to continue to be active and productive citizens and not wards of the state.

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

Excellent Opinion Piece on Medicare Expansion

Scott Burns, a financial affairs columnist for the Dallas Morning News, has an excellent piece today spelling out the true impact of the recent Medicare expansion. (Free registration required. Destined for the archives in the near future).

Scott is a member of the boomer generation, but his thinking on this issue is, refreshingly, fair and clear. He calculates the bill that our current elders are presenting to my children as $43.5 trillion. He essentially restates the libertarian nugget "TANSTAAFL." At some point benefits must be decreased or taxes increased (no!) to prevent a massive default under the system.

I hope in my lifetime to see some significant extension of the human lifespan. I expect it, actually. I am ready for the future of Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire,
even its dystopian aspects.

As a consequence, I think we need to be ready to rethink our "social obligation" to our elders. Medicare and Social Security, in my mind, are unconstitutional -- they are well beyond any reasonably necessary or proper enumerated power of the federal government. But are we ready as a society to take more personal responsibility for saving, for being ready to work in our retirements, to take care of our parents and grandparents? We need to be. Fortunately, if we do see some sort of "boosterspice" in our lifetimes, we will be young and healthy enough, even at the age of 65, 70, or even 90 to continue to be active and productive citizens and not wards of the state.

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

Plain English

As a lawyer, I regularly have to try to tease some meaning from the "hereinbefores," "wherefores," "shalls," and other assorted legaldegook that other lawyers (and lawyer wannabes) use in their "legal" writing. I'm sorry, but if you're a standard American English speaker, you have no business using the word "shall" in modern usage, except in flippant "what shall do now?" constructions.

And what's with the hereinaboves, hereinbelows, and wheretofores? I majored in German in college, and those constructions are very much alive there. But not in English. Ask someone to write a "legally binding" document and they for some reason start sprinkling "shalls" and "shall nots" like Shakespearean actors.

(That "someone. . . they" construction was intentional, by the way). I actually had a mild debate with another lawyer about this once, who felt that some "grandeur" in legal documents and court pleadings was a good thing. Oh, please.

One of my ongoing missions is to update all of my corporation's forms to use plain, modern English, and to do everything I can to revise other lawyers' forms for style whenever I am forced to use them. One of my key resources is a book by Bryan Garner, a noted authority on legal writing and the English language. Legal Writing in Plain English is one of my bibles (along with the Chicago Manual of Style, Lapsing into a Comma, and the invaluable Strunk and White). Even if you are not a lawyer, these are excellent resources for writers.

If you are interested in matters grammatical, Garner provides a daily usage tip here (where you can also sign up to receive his daily usage tips via email, as I have done).

Posted by JohnL at 09:34 PM | Comments (0) |

Who the Heck is Hayek?

The 1974 Nobel-prize winner in economics.

The author of The Road to Serfdom.

One of the great proto-libertarians of the twentieth century.

That's who.

But if you're reading this, you probably already knew that. Virginia Postrel has an excellent background on this champion of liberty here.

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

O'Neill Flap

If you're interested (I'm not), Instapundit is all over this topic today. Not that he needs any linkage from me. . .

Posted by JohnL at 08:53 PM | Comments (0) |

January 09, 2004

Back to the Future

Thanks to Chris Hall for listing me as one of the "pundits" he will visit regarding President Bush's expected announcement of a bold new vision for NASA: a return to the Moon to stay and a manned mission to Mars. But I'm going to go at this punditry in a roundabout way.

Charles Paul Freund, in the current [February 2004] issue of Reason, reviews a book entitled Where's My Space Age? by Sean Topham (see Freund, Charles. "Goodbye, Space Child: The space age's bureaucratic dreams sputtered out." Reason. February 2004: 55-61). As reported by Mr. Freund, Where's My Space Age? presents the material artifacts of the future as envisioned at the dawn of the space age -- from toybox illustrations, to comic book art, metallic dresses, and modular architecture -- and follows their development. Freund places this development in a dynamist context:

"[T]he Space Age stands out among various futures because, like the Atomic Age that it overlapped, it seemed to be taking shape. But only some of it -- communications satellites, for example -- reflected people's desires. Much of it was a state program established for geopolitical reasons. . . which meant that it was to follow the trajectory of the state's needs. As those needs shrank, . . . the Space Age that depended on the state's shrinking dreams got ever smaller too. Politically mandated futures don't develop, because the forces behind
them are artificial."

You can see a hint of this in William Gibson's The Gernsback Continuum, where a modern person falls into the alternative world where the idealized vision came true. As Freund writes, "the actual future turned out to be one of material, individuating plenitude and not at all of minimalist class conformity."

But old fashions have a way of resurfacing. Which brings us to this. Or should I say this. My initial reaction is "how cool." But my immediate emotional response is moderated by the fact that I remember the frustration of waiting for the shuttle Columbia to take off after years of delays and cost overruns. Shuttle has not delivered on the promises made to justify its construction.

I can also distinctly remember Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" speech, and his Space Station speech. We now have a barely habitable white elephant of a station. I also remember writing a space law paper a little more than 10 years ago that cited Bush 41's ambitious Space Exploration Initiative, which was a dead letter by the time the paper was done being edited just a few months later.

All that being said, I generally agree with the reported staging. I strongly believe we need to return to the moon first -- this time to stay. We cannot (and should not expect to) identify all hazards and risks before a multiple-year mission in deep space, which is what a manned landing on and return from Mars would entail. The moon is relatively close, but is the perfect "proving ground" to learn construction techniques, resource extraction techniques, and other skills that would be necessary to survive on Mars.

Also, if we do it right, the moon could be a great tourist destination (not much further away, timewise, than an ocean cruise). If we do it right, then the settlement of a moon base will be done in such a way that leads to cheaper access to orbit for ordinary people. If we do it right, parts of the Mars mission could be built and launched from the shallower lunar gravity well.

But notice all of the "if we do it rights. . ." I unfortunately have little confidence that the same agency that produced Shuttle and the ISS (and that crashed the DC-X as soon as it got it from the BMDO) can do this right. I'll have to reserve final judgment until the President makes his speech and there is something in writing to review. I tend to agree with Rand Simberg on these matters (and have been following his policy postings for some time). If you haven't already done so, read his preliminary post on this topic (he is sure to post more as more details become available) and read the comments left by his readers.

I'll update, too, as more details come out.

Update: I deleted a redundant sentence above. It seems from this article that President Bush agrees with my idea about going to the moon first as a "proving ground" for Mars.

Update: The article is now online here.

Posted by JohnL at 06:55 PM | Comments (0) |

January 08, 2004

Objectivist Ethics

If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, you may want to skip this post, as it contains a mild spoiler.

William H. Stoddard at New Troy has an interesting article about the ethics of Ayn Rand. As he explains, objectivist ethics rely upon the premise that it is only the concept of life that makes value possible. As value is something that one acts to gain or keep, all ethical actions should be directed to keeping oneself alive. Thus every function of a living organism is (or should be) directed toward a single goal: the organism's survival. But, as Mr. Stoddard illustrates, this isn't, in general, true. He uses the tale of the "Wet Nurse" (Tony) in Atlas Shrugged to illustrate that
merely preserving one's life is not always the ethical choice. Instead of a pure "survival" ethics, Mr. Stoddard posits a "legacy" ethics, the selfish desire to have something of value survive beyond one's own life.

I particularly like his discussion of the possible influence of Aristotle's metabiology on Rand's thinking here, when Darwinian biology would point more towards a legacy system of ethics. If you are into Rand, objectivism, darwinism, or any of the above, read the whole thing.

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

Awful Album Covers

What were these people thinking?

Posted by JohnL at 09:16 PM | Comments (0) |

January 07, 2004

More LEGOs

This time, from SFSignal.


Posted by JohnL at 09:46 PM | Comments (0) |

Isildur's Story

Via Geek Press, here is a lovingly-crafted account of the events around the end of the Second Age of Middle Earth. I've read the Intro and scanned the remainder. This guy knows his stuff and I plan to read the whole thing once I clear the items currently on my reading list.

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

Generalists Rule

. . . . Or do they?

Robert Heinlein once stated:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and lastly die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

For my entire adult life, I have avoided specialization, maintaining a broad range of interests and pursuits (while semi-specializing in a couple -- at least enough to make a living!) And in fact the conventional wisdom holds that evolution favors generalist species over highly specialized ones. Carl Zimmer summarizes this wisdom and points to the early hominid Paranthropus as the classic example of an over-specialized evolutionary dead-end. But then he points to an abstract of an article "in press"(*) that challenges this conventional view of Paranthropus and concludes that Paranthropus was likely an ecological generalist like early Homo.

If true, then why did Paranthropus die out and Homo survive? Are we technologically-empowered super-generalists secure in our evolutionary niche? As Carl concludes: "Paranthropus looks on our happy beliefs from its oblivion and wonders."

(*)"In Press" here means the article has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication, but not yet published.

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

January 06, 2004

Speaking of Halo. . .

Here are some really cool LEGO models based on the best XBOX game so far (waiting for Halo 2!)

Posted by JohnL at 10:28 PM | Comments (0) |

Best of Gene Expression

The guys over at Gene Expression have stayed busy despite the holidays. Here are some highlights:

A link to recordings of lectures by great thinkers.

A fantastic post that takes on the tendency of many to romanticize communism.

In a comment to this post, we find that godlesscapitalist is a clothespin Republican!

And finally a post on brain-machine interfaces that reminds me of Master Chief and Cortana.


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

Where's That Vorpal Sword. . . ?

I wonder if the guys at SFSignal have seen this? Via the Corner, here is a listing of the Democratic candidates for president as D&D characters.

I love the extended riff about the Zeppelin-versus-Rush-inspired-band in the Wes Clark profile. Brilliant.

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

Ayn Rand

Last weekend in his regular "Libertarian Bookwork" post, Tim Sandefur recommended Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand. In the process, he provided us with a very well-written overview of Ayn Rand's life and her work.

I would recommend this essay highly to anyone new to Rand's works, and even to those who have read her before.

Like Tim, The Fountainhead is my favorite of her fictional works, although I also love Anthem.

Posted by JohnL at 09:47 PM | Comments (0) |

Mars Links

I've added a short list on the left of links that I am checking daily to keep up with the progress of Spirit (and, I hope, Opportunity, soon). I will augment this as I discover other good sources of information and commentary.

These are in addition of course to Rand Simberg, Professor Hall, Rocket Man Mark Oakley, and The Eternal Golden Braid, all of whom you should be checking on a daily basis anyway for more than just coverage of Mars.

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

"Well, I'm Back"

I have just read the last line of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King to my eldest son, completing the year-and-a-half project of reading the books out loud to him. It's amazing how moving much of Tolkien's dialogue can be when spoken aloud (especially much of the speech of the Rohirrim). Of course that is balanced out by lengthy passages and genealogies rivaling some books of the Old Testament (or Tanakh, depending on your preference) in their difficulty to read aloud. The title of this post is also appropriate for my return to regular blogging, which I tried to do last night before a Blogspot outage shut me down.

I note that Professor Hall is back with regular postings and a great "what I did over my vacation" post. I had a similarly fun break for the last two weeks, although with less traveling.

We spent the weekend before Christmas exploring Dinosaur Valley State Park and Fossil Rim nature preserve in Glen Rose, Texas (about an hour and a half from where we live). We stayed in town for Christmas, but thanks to the babysitting duties of my wonderful parents-in-law, my wife and I got away for a couple of days after Christmas to a fantastic bed and breakfast in the Texas Hill Country. We spent time enjoying good food, walking outdoors, shopping in Fredericksburg, and visiting the National Museum of the Pacific War.

I've lived here almost my entire life, and am still amazed at the treasures Texas offers up.

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

January 03, 2004

The Spirit Has Landed

Looks like the Martians failed to repel this landing attempt.

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

Happy New Year

I have been enjoying time off with my family. I've done very little surfing in the evenings, and haven't been moved to blog. I'll get some new stuff up this weekend, and regular blogging will resume with my regular routine next week.

Posted by JohnL at 09:49 AM | Comments (0) |