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If Nature Abhors a Vacuum Why is It So Hard to Send Manned Ships Into Space? February 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, New Mexico, science, sense of wonder, space.

It was with real sorrow I saw that NASA is forsaking the Mars exploration. In the words of this article, Mars lost.

No, we lost. If the race is to the stars, that is. If it is to become a third-world, second-rate country then we are certainly crossing the finish line.

The conjecture is that NASA figures Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and other private companies will do it. Fine, I’d say, but there is an incredible impediment skyward for that, at least in New Mexico. The trial lawyers have spent a reported $200k lobbying to kill a bill limiting liability at Spaceport America. IOW, they want to sue the place into oblivion at the first accident.

If you are smart enough to accumulate $200,000 for the ride and smart enough to go through the release form where it states in *three* places “you may die if…” and the form must be signed at least 24 hours prior to launch to give time to think it over, then I’d say you are well on your way to understanding the danger. Everyone dies. I’d love to go up in the Virgin Galactic launch vehicle to space, and if I had to die, there’s no way I’d prefer more. But that’s just me. If I had $200k, I’d pay for the privilege of maybe dying on my way to space. Color me DD Harriman. And if I didn’t augur in, then I’d have one hell of a story to tell for the rest of my life.

Word is that Virgin Galactic is pulling back a bit because of the lawyers. VG has sunk more money into offices and the like in Las Cruces but they haven’t yet ponied up a dime to the state for use of the spaceport. It might well be they pull out and go to the Mojave site or Wisconsin or wherever. The loss to them would be negligible at this point. To space tourism in NM, it would be a crushing blow if not a fatal one.

This isn’t to say Spaceport America would close. 90% of the facility schedule would still be A-OK to go as unmanned launches are lined up and waiting to blast off. But space tourism is, excuse the expression, the boost NM needs. Thanks for trying to kill it, ambulance chasers. And thanks, NASA, for killing our entire space program.


Is That What I Really Meant? January 11, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in education, history, ideas, science, writing.
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My son forwarded a link about a project Bruce McAllister started when he was a high school student in 1963. He wrote 75 authors asking if they intentionally put symbolism into their work

The wide spectrum of authors answering fascinates me. Some were terse like Ayn Rand–but she responded. Others like Ray Bradbury were generous with their time and thoughts (what else would you expect out of a great writer like Ray?) Another revisited the question a year after the initial survey. Interesting to see how long the comments from the sf authors were.

The old saw about “write what you know” is true in the sense that a writer can’t put something into a story if it isn’t already in the brain–or the pieces that are put together to form the story. You are a prisoner of your own experience. Worse, you are in solitary confinement, only getting brief glimpses outside (and then this becomes part of your experience).

I have always said that a writer is responsible for 75% of the story. The reader brings the other 25% and this is entirely beyond the writer’s control. Those that hate a story not only don’t find their 25% engaged, things in the 75% go awry, also. But those that click, those that have their full 25% firing on all rockets, see things the writer possibly never intended–or ever could. A synergy, if you please, makes for the best books.

In a way, finding symbolism is a matter for the academics. I doubt it matters much to writers (unless they are academics and think this is necessary). Delivering a powerful story, an entertaining one, is (or ought to be) what drives a writer.

So what do you see?

Bone-eating Snot Flower December 28, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, education, history, ideas, science, writing.
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Isn’t that the greatest title, ever? I came across this as I was surfing and thought it made an eye-catching (so to speak) lead into weird news and the like. Bone-eating snot flower. Sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

This is up there with the corpse flower. See the time lapse below. No Smell-o-Vision included. Thankfully. (And no, I realize this Smell-o-Vision predates it.

A moment of silence, please. Cheetah the chimp from the Tarzan movies has died at the age of 80.

Now, in tribute please fling some feces (your own or others).

Or howabout the croc named Elvis that ate the lawn mower? Utterly crazy is the bloke who retrieved the mower (and 2 of the croc’s teeth).

Starlings show why we are susceptible to advertising.

Local news story that is outrageous. A guy in a mask and Santa hat tried to kill his brother-in-law with a crossbow. And in a separate case, a woman ran her bf through with a sword.

And still people wonder where those ideas come from.

Stepping Over the Digital Divide December 20, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, iPad, iPhone, movies, New Mexico, nostalgia, science, web & computers.
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I love this set of 5 predictions from IBM

The one that they kinda answer that I wonder about most is the biometric password. In spite of being a semi-comic movie, the scene with Wesley Snipes plucking out the warden’s eyeball in Demolition Man (1993) shows this was thought of a long time back. Problem there, of course, is maintaining the vitreous humor so the retina won’t be rippled. But how hard would it be to take a 3D picture and use that to break into biometric locks?

But the IBM prediction most fascinating to me is that within 5 years 80% of the entire world’s population will have a smartphone. The market! For my ebooks! 😎 But this would seem to me to mean that audio will be more important than ever since such a large proportion of the new users won’t be able to read.

One unanswered question on this is bandwidth. The idea of going faster isn’t to improve the user experience, it’s to cram more signal into the existing frequencies. The ATT/T-Mobile failed merger was more about bandwidth than anything else. ATT wanted it, T-Mobile wanted out of the US. Likely T-Mobile will look to the Russians for a sale. The possibility of a Sprint/T-Mobile merger might happen but that’s doubtful since the Germans want out entirely. So where is ATT going to get the bandwidth to deal with growth in iPhone, iPad and other tablet devices sucking up 3G? That’s a good question.

Is it possible for a smartphone to be put on a party line? Remember the old days when you shared your phone line with 2 or 4 (or more) people? No? I do. You had to listen to the phone ring to know if it was for you or the others on the party line.

But packet switching worked to speed up data transmission. Is there something that will buy us another yr or two of keeping the frequencies flowing? Or will we end up suing each other because the EM waves are irritating our “electromagnetic allergies?” (I wish this kind of idiocy was limited to NM, but alas, it isn’t.)

Of Droids and epubs and iPads December 8, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in e-books, Free, iPad, iPhone, science.

Terri in El Paso mentioned needing an epub reader for her droid phone and one of my bookstore customers asked about the same this morning. So I checked around and came up with some possibilities. Anyone out there use any of these? I use the iPad so this hasn’t come up before (I prefer reading on my iPaddy and not the teeny phone screen.)


and of course there is Nook for Android.
Let me know what you use and how you like it (and why) and I might, just might, send you one of my epub formatted books.

Here is a great article on the 100 top apps to put on a smartphone.

And while we are on techie stuff, a while back I asked about the best way to keep the iPaddy battery hale and hearty. Gordon suggested recharging a lot and not letting it go too low. Found a notation in the online iPad info Seems there are a limited number of recharges possible, so letting it go way low and then recharging is the best scheme rather than frequent recharging from relatively high levels. It even says to let the battery go to zero once a month and recharge from scratch. Interesting (if you are a geek) it charges fastest to 80% and slower after that. I suspect the real number is 72% since this is an RMS value for about everything and after following the logarithmic curve up slows down to get that last few terajoules squeezed into the battery.

One bit of strangeness in the news is Bill Gates in China helping them plan the next generation of travelling wave nuclear power plants. But not in the US. Bill’s backing a winner and not a country whose leaders must gracefully let us go down in decline?

My iPaddy was squoze down to 1% and is recharging now. After 2 hrs it is up to 55%.

Power is low...

Ready For My UFO Ride October 23, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, gummint, history, ideas, inventions, New Mexico, science, space, UFOs.
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Living in NM it is impossible to escape the Roswell Incident. I’ve even written a couple stories explaining alien abductions and those anal probes. An entrepreneur is gearing up to offer flying saucer rides at Spaceport America.

Alas, in spite of being able to fly 75mph with a ceiling of 2000 ft, the actual ride would be like a Disneyland simulation at 10 ft and 35mph. Still, this is mighty cool and while it isn’t suborbital, the ticket price has to be less than $200k. What would you pay to buzz around in a hover craft on a preset course you couldn’t control?

An interesting development seems to be the possibility of launching small satellites from the Virgin Galactic White Knight. Only 17 pounds or so but Vanguard 1 weighed only 3 lbs and we’ve got 50 years of miniaturization behind us. So more payloads than space tourists are planned. Launch your own satellite for $200k? Beats going to the ESA (the first Soyuz will launch Thursday out of Guiana with 2 satellites, payload 3.2 tons). The downside is that Congress needs to free our commercial ventures from the onerous burdens they have spent decades putting on NASA and unless they do, commercial use & travel is going the same way as the space shuttle. While I am cautiously hopeful, bureaucrats are worse than cockroaches and as hard to exterminate. Maybe Sinnamary has room for other commercial vehicles (once intended for launching in the US)?

Here’s our answer to the greys!

Mooning October 19, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, gummint, history, ideas, inventions, science, space.
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Ken sent along an article on mining the moon (he being a mining engineer type of guy–seems odd, he deals in rare earths but the Moon has the more common stuff. Unless there is…lunite!)

The article says Naveen Jain wants to mine for platinum and titanium. Seems to me these are heavy to ship back as ore so on site smelting would be needed. Solar power could actually be useful. I’m not sure how a zone furnace would do, but I suspect well (you can look up Bill Pfann and his zone melting–circa 1951 or so–for a neat little device. I think this has been used to a small extent on the lamented space shuttle missions.) Might not even need to put the lump of Pt into a ship and bring back. Set up a rail gun and zing it back to Earth orbit where it could be picked up.

And then there is the He-3 there which might be quite useful

The prospect of turning the Moon into a giant billboard exists, too. A huge “card section” like at football games (or the Olympics opening ceremonies) could change the message according to sponsor. What would it cost to advertise worldwide, say, Coca-Cola or Tampax? It might be possible, if the array was large enough, to turn it into a drive-in movie with short videos, and who’d notice the 1.5 sec lag time?. Who needs Youtube if you have the Moon?

I see stuff like this and think Heinlein was righter than I ever thought he would be. Nobody in the ‘40s thought it would be a gummint project getting to the Moon. And once the gummint showed no resolve about staying there, who woulda thunk it would be private business wanting to actually use it? (I will a book for and dedicate it to anyone defacing the plaque left on the Moon–pry loose Richard Nixon’s name and leave the rest).

This Lio cartoon doesn’t have anything to do with the blog but I thought it was cute (and cautionary).


And a Bottle of Champagne October 18, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, ghost towns, gummint, ideas, New Mexico, science, space, Wild West.
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…was opened as Richard Branson rapelled down the glass front of the newly christened Spaceport America. With luck flights ought to be UUUUP there next summer.

I heard an interesting promotion on the radio the other night. Japan is sinking $10m into airline tickets to get people to Japan. Just the airfare. And the winners have to blog or twit or whatever about their experience. This is clever because it gives a lot of worldwide publicity (you can bet the Japanese tourist agency will pick up on every line and push it to an even bigger audience) and brings money into the country. You gotta eat and stay somewhere and travel around once you get into Japan. Who wouldn’t want to return with souvenirs? This looks like a great twofer– publicity and guaranteed money spent in country. Tickets are likely in the $1500 range. That much or more would be spent in country.

I wonder if something similar can’t be done in NM. Though we really have only one airport in the state (Albuquerque Sunport) it might work better than other promos. I haven’t heard how the “find Billy the Kid” hunt is coming. Or if it is. An outlaws of the American West might be an interesting promotion overseas. One denizen of Western Fictioneers said that a Japanese friend coming to Abq for the WWA conference next June wanted to find other black powder enthusiasts.

Throw in the lure of a lottery along with the plane ticket–a lottery for a trip to the edge of space. These are nickel and dime expenses for a state’s tourism budget, even NM. But, of course, money will be spent not building businesses or attracting tourists but in lining political pockets as has been done far longer than our 100 yrs as state and territory.

But the Japanese have a nifty idea. How can that be used to promote ghost towns, Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands and Spaceport America and our outlaw heritage?

(Social) Maps of Mars October 15, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in history, inventions, science, science fiction, sense of wonder.
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I missed Bubonicon 43 and what, by accounts, was a most excellent presentation by Dr Maria Lane, author of The Geographies of Mars: Seeing and Knowing the Red Planet.

Geographies of Mars: K. Maria D. Lane

She is a geographer (specializing in water rights) but wrote this book to analyze more the progression of social imagining of Mars. And she did a reprise of the talk since so many others missed it.

Schiaprelli it turns out was color blind, so the blue areas on his maps of Mars didn’t mean a lot. Certainly not that he thought there was so much ocean there. The progression of opinion was cemented by Percival Lowell and his elaborate description of how the canals changed over the seasons, water having, simply *having* to flow from the poles to the agricultural areas. Most intriguing was how Lane tied in British imperialism with the notion that the Martians had to be superior beings. Their world was dying, so they had accelerated intellect to fight the “desertism.”

And still more intriguing was how Lowell bypassed the peer reviewed journals and went straight to venues like The Atlantic and Cosmopolitan (not the same as today’s. The idea of those Martians working so diligently to save themselves from drought caught the imagination, both in Britain and the US. But the different interpretations were noteworthy. The Brits saw it as vindication for imperialism and the US for individual exceptionalism. One thing that entered my pea brain was that HG Wells, anti-imperialist, saw the War of the Worlds as an allegory of how the British Empire died from within.

All of Lowell’s maps of the canals were composites, no one ever seeing more than 3 lines at a time. By 1909 photographs and 40″ telescopes showed the lines were optical illusions or “seeing” problems.

Also in the news is the Mars endurance test is about to end, purporting to show cosmonauts could make the trip to mars.

I leave you with today’s Bizarro

Are You Listening? October 14, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in contest, history, inventions, New Mexico, science, science fiction.
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A contest! To rename the EVLA (Extended Very large Array). The role of the 27 radio dishes out on the Plains of St Augustin has expanded. Computers link the “ears” with others in Chile, there has been a huge upgrade to foptic (fiber optic) cable from wave guides and new computers somewhat better than a laptop (when I saw the VLA for the first time a lot of years ago, even then I was astounded at how primitive the tape drive storage was when I had a better hard drive in my desktop at home).

FIRST gave images at the 20cm band, mapping the skies from a year back. The EVLA has been one of those relatively inexpensive scientific projects that pumps out huge results. And, being in NM, some years ago it has spawned an sf anthology,
A Very Large Array:New Mexico SF&F

If we aren’t allowed to go to the stars, at least the EVLA lets us eavesdrop.
So, be a part of history. Give it your best shot and you might be the one renaming the VLA.