Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Question: quintessential "Texas" song

Now imagine you have a friend who has never been to Texas and is planning to visit you. Before he gets to the Lone Star State, he asks you to suggest a song that will put him in the proper frame of mind so that he can properly appreciate this vast state when he gets here. What would you suggest?

Musical style doesn't matter, but the song has to be about Texas specifically.

Answer: quintessential metal song

So, if someone asked me for the ideal song to listen to as an introduction to heavy metal, I would suggest this:

"Children of the Grave" from Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, 1971

I never tire of listening to that song. The rapid crunching of Tony Iommi's left-handed guitar work is metal as its archetypal best, and the song is wonderfully adaptable to different styles. White Zombie did a cover of "Children of the Grave," as did Racer X and several other bands, but my favorite version of it -- besides the different Iommi recordings -- is that done by Brad Gillis.

Gillis had come from the band Night Ranger to tour with Ozzy Osbourne, replacing the recently deceased Randy Rhoads. Ozzy released a live album of Black Sabbath songs from that tour called Speak of the Devil, and let me tell you, Gillis smokes on that album. It's hard to believe he came from -- and then went back to -- Night Ranger. His guitar work is fabulous on those Sabbath songs, and he turns in a wonderful performance of "Children of the Grave."

I think I will listen to it again, except this time I will select Rhoads's live version.



Here's Tony Iommi:

Here's White Zombie's version:

And here's Brad Gillis:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Question: Quintessential metal song

Here's something to think about, but only if you have some interest in heavy metal music.

What is the quintessential metal song?

I realize there are many different kinds of metal music -- death metal, progressive metal, speed and thrash metal, etc. -- but what if a friend of yours came up to you and said, "You know, I have never heard any heavy metal music. What does it sound like? I don't have a lot of time right now, so just give me one song as a starting point and I will explore the genre from there."

What song would you suggest he listen to first?

I'll share my choice later.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

ISS orbit

A look at the International Space Station, as seen from the departing space shuttle.

Image courtesy of NASA. Original caption: Suspended in space and backdropped by the blackness of space and the jewel-like blue of Earth sits the International Space Station. This image of the station was taken as STS-119 performed a fly around after undocking.

Growing flowers on the moon

Someday. Perhaps someday soon.

Alan Boyle covers it.

A company that has built mini-biospheres for orbiting space stations says it's ready for the next giant leap: growing flowers on the moon.

"It's all very aggressive," Taber MacCallum, chief executive officer of Arizona-based Paragon Space Development Corp., said of his company's plan to send a miniature greenhouse to the lunar surface. "But it isn't fun if it isn't aggressive."

Paragon's "Lunar Oasis" would piggyback on a lunar lander currently being developed by Odyssey Moon to vie for a share of the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize. Details of the partnership are to be publicized Friday during a news conference at Paragon's headquarters in Tucson, Ariz.

To win the prize, Odyssey Moon would have to get its lander/rover craft on the moon's surface by the end of 2014. Paragon is working with Odyssey Moon on the lander design and its thermal control system as well as the mini-greenhouse.


The current prototype for the greenhouse is a 15-inch-high (37.5-centimeter-high) reinforced glass cylinder that's about 7 inches (18 centimeters) wide on the bottom. Seeds for a rapid-cycle type of Brassica plant - basically, mustard seeds - would be planted in Earth soil within the container.

"It's one of those 'lab-rat' plants that scientists use a lot and know very well," MacCallum explained.

The petite plants have been bred on Earth to develop yellow flowers 14 days after planting - which happens to be how long a lunar day lasts. "We're hoping to at least go to flower and set seed in the course of one lunar day," MacCallum said.

Without the mediating influence of an atmosphere, lunar surface temperatures can swing widely between day and night, from 225 degrees Fahrenheit (107 degrees Celsius) during the day to colder than 240 degrees below zero F (-153 degrees C) at night. "My guess is the plant is going to get so cold that it dies during the night," MacCallum said.

But wouldn't it be cool if the plant developed mustard seeds that started a whole new cycle of growth on the moon? If that happened, "we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves," MacCallum said.

Really, really cool. To borrow a phrase, if we can make it happen there, we can make it happen anywhere.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting out of the office

Some people like to work outside. What if your "outside" was like Richard Arnold's?

Be careful out there.

Image credit: NASA
Image here. Original caption: During the STS-119 mission's first spacewalk, astronauts Richard Arnold and Steve Swanson (out of frame) connected bolts to permanently attach the S6 truss segment to S5. The spacewalkers plugged in power and data connectors to the truss, prepared a radiator to cool it, opened boxes containing the new solar arrays and deployed the Beta Gimbal Assemblies, containing masts that support the solar arrays.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Asking for honesty

Do you think this Xkcd comic is asking a bit too much of the media?

It's also the difference between running the football ten yards to get a first down and then having to run the length of 100 entire football fields to make the next one!

It's a good distinction to make.

Most provocative headline of the day

"Space Station at Full Length, Full Power"

Now that's just bragging.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Bat Hung On For a Ride Into Space "

Perhaps becoming an actual NASA astronaut would have been easier for this creature.

A small bat that was spotted blasting off with the space shuttle Sunday and clinging to the back side of Discovery's external fuel tank apparently held on throughout the launch.

NASA hoped the bat would fly away before the spacecraft's Sunday evening liftoff, but photos from the launch now show the bat holding on for dear life throughout the fiery ride.

"He did change the direction he was pointing from time to time throughout countdown but ultimately never flew away," states a NASA memo obtained by SPACE.com. "Infrared imagery shows he was alive and not frozen like many would think ... Liftoff imagery analysis confirmed that he held on until at least the vehicle cleared [the] tower before we lost sight of him."

Officials at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where Discovery launched from a seaside pad, said the bat's outlook after launch appears grim.

I would think so. He wasn't wearing a spacesuit, after all.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Shaping up the next stage in spaceflight

I don't know a whole lot about Richard Branson other than he likes virgins -- a lot -- but I do like what he's doing to advance humanity's march into space.

And he's using his own money to do it.

Here's what's being worked on now:

The skies over California's Mojave Air and Space Port are serving as the proving ground for the WhiteKnightTwo, the massive mothership being tested to air-launch commercial spaceliners on suborbital flights

A third test flight of the huge carrier craft - which looks like a giant catamaran for the sky - is deemed as "imminent", said Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic - the company put into business by U.K. adventurer and billionaire Richard Branson and his Virgin Group, created [sic]

Virgin Galactic's aim is to propel public space travel into reality.


WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) will haul the suborbital SpaceShipTwo spaceliner to a high-altitude release point. That spaceship, the first of which is nearing completion, has moved from drawings to hardware thanks to the Scaled Composites work force under the watchful eye of the firm's founder, Burt Rutan - now Chief Technology Officer and Chairman Emeritus of the company.

Roaring to life via a hybrid rocket motor, SpaceShipTwo will carry two pilots and six passengers on a suborbital trajectory, scooting the rubber-necking "rush hour" commuters to the edge of space and returning them to terra firma at $200,000 a seat.

Commercial enterprises did a lot to expand the reach of air travel. Let's see if the same can be done for space.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Englishing the Far East

Did you think English was on its way to supplanting Asian languages, at least to some extent? Victor Mair at Language Log seems to think this is happening now.

Yesterday I had the opportunity for an eye-opening talk with a man who for 20 years has been the director of a world-renowned biochemistry and physiology research institute. His job frequently takes him to key labs in China and Japan, and he always has scores of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean staff scientists and postdocs working in his own labs. Here are some of the mind-boggling things the director told me:

1. In their labs, when Chinese and Japanese scientists are engaged in discussions on research topics, they often speak in English or heavily lace their Chinese and Japanese with English.

2. Chinese and Japanese scientists regularly write to each other in English, often even on non-research topics.

3. There is an extremely strong imperative in the scientific culture of China and Japan to publish in English language journals. In China, there is even a fixed award schedule for researchers who get published in top English language journals, from very large monetary bonuses to individuals whose work makes it into the pages of Science and Nature, on down through lesser, but still substantial, rewards for work in less prestigious, specialized journals.

4. English is the de facto language of scientific culture in China and Japan.


Thirty years ago, I predicted that all of this (the rapid shift to English) would happen IF East Asian countries did not aggressively expand the applications of Romanization for their own languages. To my mind at the time, this was simply a foregone conclusion due to the archaic nature of sinographic writing and the relatively inflexible phonetic representational ability of syllabic writing in comparison with alphabetic scripts.

There's a lot more at the link. Good reading for anyone who likes to study languages.

Giving space junk a shower

What do you do when there's too much junk in orbit? One guy thinks we should hose it all down. Literally.
In the 1980s, Jim Hollopeter helped design rockets that shot into orbit. Today, some of those launchers are still cluttering up space, and he wants to wash them away with a rocket-powered water gun.


The volume of man-made space debris has grown so large that scientists say garbage now poses a bigger safety threat to the U.S. space shuttle than an accident on liftoff or landing. The International Space Station occasionally fires thrusters to dodge junk.

The problem hit home Feb. 10, when a defunct Russian military satellite smashed into an American one used for commercial communications, spewing shards across thousands of cubic miles.

The crash prompted Mr. Hollopeter to refine designs for a concept he had long toyed with: Using aging rockets loaded with water to spray orbiting junk.

His idea is that the extraterrestrial shower would gradually knock refuse down toward the atmosphere, where it would burn up, as would the launcher. The water would turn to steam.
Pretty cool idea. Just as cool as the concept of a gravity tractor.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Searching for planets

Go, Kepler!
The Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Kepler spacecraft lifted off March 6, 2009 from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch occurred at 10:49 p.m. EST, sending the agency's first planet-hunting spacecraft on a three-and-a-half-year mission to seek signs of other Earth-like planets.
I wish all the best for NASA -- and humanity -- on this mission.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Tiger morning

Nothing but a picture of a tiger going through its paces.