Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tile afternoon

Nothing but a bit of historic tile accented by modern wood in a corner of San Antonio.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"... and Robin pncuhed her ..."

An awesome dramatic reading of badly written and badly spelled fan fiction by some guy named Peter Chimaera. Performance is by Phil.


Oh, and always proof your work.

Sex in space

Do you think it could be possible? Guess what?

Apparently it's already happened! And NASA videotaped the whole thing!

"The issue of sex in space is a serious one," [French writer Pierre Kohler] says. "The experiments carried out so far relate to missions planned for married couples on the future International Space Station, the successor to Mir. Scientists need to know how far sexual relations are possible without gravity."

He cites a confidential Nasa report on a space shuttle mission in 1996. A project codenamed STS-XX was to explore sexual positions possible in a weightless atmosphere.

Twenty positions were tested by computer simulation to obtain the best 10, he says. "Two guinea pigs then tested them in real zero-gravity conditions. The results were videotaped but are considered so sensitive that even Nasa was only given a censored version."

If Kohler is to be believed, then astronauts have been sexing it up in space for some time now and have been taping it for research purposes. And, given the tight confines of spacecraft and the need for at least one other person to be present to tape the encounter, it seems that any such mission would turn out to be nothing more than a porno movie shoot under very difficult circumstances.

I just hope they picked the lead actors very well.

(Story from The Guardian; hat tip: Blogonomicon)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Trying out new rocket fuel

This sounds promising.

Rocket propellant has barely changed in the more than 50 years since the launch of the first artificial satellite Sputnik. But a new mixture of nano-aluminum powder and frozen water could make rocket launches more environmentally friendly, and even allow spacecraft to refuel at distant locations such as the moon or Mars.

The aluminum-ice propellant known as ALICE gets its kick from a chemical reaction between water and aluminum. Researchers hope that the hydrogen products of that reaction might go beyond launching rockets, and also feed hydrogen fuel cells for long duration space missions.

"In the bigger picture, we're looking at technology that can store hydrogen long term," said Steven Son, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. "Water is a nice, stable way to store hydrogen."

Both NASA and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research have shown enough interest in the concept to fund initial rocket firing tests. The research teams at Purdue and Penn State University used ALICE to successfully launch a rocket to 1,300 feet during an August flight test.

Such technology may not see action for some years to come, or at least until NASA sorts out its space exploration plans. But the recent confirmation of water sources on the moon and Mars may hint at a future where ALICE and similar rocket propellants become highly practical.

Water and metal, reacting together to power rockets. If this technology pans out, then human interplanetary -- and perhaps even interstellar -- space travel will be within reality's grasp. The trip may not be quick, but there could be plenty of refueling stations along the way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What I just finished reading yesterday

This is the third book of C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy: That Hideous Strength

Overall impression: Not a bad read at all. Not great, but enjoyable.

The tone of the book is vastly different from that of its predecessors, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Where the events of the first two books take place on Mars and Venus, respectively, everything that happens here happens on Earth. It's a classic battle between good and evil, but the evil is disguised as a vast new government entity (called the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments, or N.I.C.E. -- get it?) that threatens to take over post-WWII England with political manipulations and engineered revolutions. (On second thought, maybe a vast government entity is not such a good disguise at all.) The diabolical plots fail, of course, when Ransom and his cohorts get a little help from a revived Merlin who takes away the language from the evil ones, and England survives their machinations while the main character, Mark, discovers the love for his wife he had never before realized.

In any case, I think the writing here is much better than in the previous two books, and if you were to decide to choose just one title from the Space Trilogy to read, forsaking the others, I would suggest this one. It's a bit outlandish in parts, and overall it's fairly predictable (I don't know how much that would be true in the mid-1940s, though), but not bad if you are a Lewis fan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Relying on the Russians

This is not an encouraging development in the field of manned space exploration.

Almost six years ago, the nation embarked on a new space policy of retiring the Space Shuttle in 2010 (next year, after the International Space Station is complete) and replacing it with a new (and presumably safer) means of getting crew to and from orbit. This vehicle’s primary mission was to carry astronauts to the moon and beyond, but most people assumed that it would also be capable of replacing the Shuttle for that purpose. It wasn’t planned to be ready until 2014 and in the half decade since, the schedule has slipped years beyond that, while its budget has ballooned. So now the original “gap” during which the U.S. would be incapable of launching its own crews into orbit to change out astronauts at the space station has grown from three years to five or more.

What does this have to do with the Iranian nukes problem and the Russians?

It has always been assumed that “the gap” would be filled by Russian Soyuz flights, as it was during the previous “gap” created when the Shuttle was shut down for almost three years after the loss of Columbia. But there was always a bug in that ointment, called the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). It is a U.S. law that prohibits purchases from countries that aid those countries for which it is named in their efforts to develop missiles and nuclear weapons. By the letter of the law, Russia has always been in violation of it, realistically, but it has always maintained sufficient plausible deniability to allow Congress to grant it waivers so that NASA could continue to get Russian support for ISS, which has been difficult to maintain without it, even with the Shuttle operating. Once the Shuttle retires, it will be almost unthinkable: Russia will have the only system capable of delivering humans to orbit.

Yikes. Perhaps we shouldn't retire the shuttle right now. Or perhaps we, as a nation, need to be encouraging private investment in space travel more than we are currently doing. I think a little more competition might lead to some faster developments, and it might let us get more ships up into space sooner.

(from Rand Simberg; hat tip, Instapundit)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Top 11 Iron Maiden solos, part 2

Here is the second part of the list of my favorite Iron Maiden guitar solos. (Part 1 is here.)

"Phantom of the Opera" from Iron Maiden:

"The Prisoner" from The Number of the Beast:

"Prodigal Son" from Killers:

"Public Enema Number One" from No Prayer for the Dying:

"Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son:

"Wasted Years" from Somewhere in Time:


Top 11 Iron Maiden solos, part 1

Here is a list of my 11 favorite guitar solos from Iron Maiden songs. There are 11 because that is how many albums I own, and I thought it would be most convenient to just pick one song from each album to highlight rather than try to rank them. And I have chosen these solos for the same reason I picked out the solos for my top 10 list of favorite heavy metal solos: they have a certain "replay" quality that renders higher levels of listening pleasure in proportion to the numbers of times they are played.

The solos are in alphabetical order by song titles. Guitarists featured: Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers.

"2 Minutes to Midnight" from Powerslave:

"Die With Your Boots On" from Piece of Mind:

"The Nomad" from Brave New World:

"No More Lies" from Dance of Death:

"Out of the Shadows" from A Matter of Life and Death:

Part 2 to come later.

UPDATE: Part 2 is posted.

Friday, October 09, 2009

With a bang, but with a barely visible bang

Well, it wasn't very showy, but at least the scientists got something to work with.

Scientists said NASA's moon-smashing mission produced enough data on Friday to address questions about lunar water ice — but the crash didn't come close to meeting public expectations as a cosmic fireworks show.

"Today we kicked up some moondust, and all indications are we are going to have some really interesting results," said Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California. Ames served as the mission control center for the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, or LCROSS.


The LCROSS blast promised to show how much water ice might lie within a cold, dark crater known as Cabeus. And judging by that scientific standard, members of the LCROSS team said Friday's closely observed crash was shaping up as a smashing success. The spacecraft hit the crater in a shadowed area, just as hoped. All of LCROSS' instruments appeared to be working as expected, and observations were streaming in from a network of ground-based telescopes monitoring the impact.

But there was no big flash, as was expected and hoped for. Disappointing to the watchers, no doubt, but I guess they can't all be Tempel 1. Now that was a blast.

Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Playing basketball on the moon

In the previous post, I quoted a news story from Space.com about the crashing of a spent rocket stage onto the surface of the moon -- all for science (and a little show!), of course. Now let's take a moment to look more closely at the first sentence of that story.
Scientists are hoping for a literal slam dunk with NASA's upcoming Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS mission — an event to be observed by a coordinated network of Earth and space-based equipment. [emphasis added]
We'll look at it for just a moment. That's all. I don't want to get a reputation for being a grammar grouch.

Then again, maybe Dwayne Day was the ghostwriter for this story.

"Targeting the Moon"

Get ready!
Scientists are hoping for a literal slam dunk with NASA's upcoming Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS mission — an event to be observed by a coordinated network of Earth and space-based equipment.

LCROSS will search for water ice on the moon on Friday morning by crashing its spent upper-stage Centaur rocket into Cabeus, a permanently sunlight-shy crater within the lunar south pole region. The impact is set for 7:30 a.m. EDT (1130 GMT).

That Centaur will serve as a heavy impactor on the moon, with scientists hoping a resulting debris plume will ascend above the moon's landscape. The intent is to toss tons of debris and potentially water ice and vapor high above the lunar surface.

As part of the LCROSS mission, along with the upper stage's "bang-up" job, a Shepherding Spacecraft will follow a similar trajectory of the Centaur, flying through and studying the Centaur impact plume before it too speeds into the lunar terrain.
Let the crashing begin! I just wish I could see it happen in real-time.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Misrepresenting Texas

I realize that most people who write stories, novels, television shows, screenplays, and the like are probably not from Texas. As such, they won't be familiar with life in the Lone Star State, and they can be forgiven if they make some minor cultural errors when using Texas as a setting. But grossly misrepresenting Texas (or any other state) in a way that can be easily fact-checked by just looking at a map is a bigger transgression.

For an example, I turn to that purveyor of refined culture, Marvel Comics.

Recently I introduced my son to my old comic book collection. Since he is still young (and since many of the titles I used to read were written for mature audiences), I have been going through the collection bit by bit and reviewing some of the titles to make sure they are appropriate. When he gets older and can handle some of the adult themes he will get the rest of the collection, but there's still plenty for him to read now, and I'm getting just as much a kick out of watching him enjoy the comics as I got out of reading them myself.

Recently I got to the section of my collection that focuses on Marvel's Punisher character (largely inappropriate for my son's age, by the way), and I came across this issue, The Punisher War Journal #16. As you can see from the cover, this episode takes place in Texas.

Yes, the "Texas Checking Account Massacre." Sure to be an enduring classic.

The story takes place in the days when savings and loan institutions were tanking, and the Punisher must go after some unscrupulous characters who have been bilking regular people out of their hard-earned cash. The main offender is a high-dollar scammer named Kelleher, and the Punisher goes to Texas to punish him.

The story opens in the fictional town of Elsinor, and here is where the first geographical mistake takes place.

The story names Elsinor as a suburb of Houston. In case you are not from Texas (and in case you may be a writer who is thinking about setting a story in Texas), Houston is here:

The troubled financial institution in the Punisher story is called "South Texas Savings and Loan", as you can see in the opening panel. This is a minor quibble, but Houston is not in South Texas, which is highlighted below:

Houston is generally considered to be in East Texas, or Southeast Texas. I know it is entirely possible that a small firm can start in one area of the state and expand to other markets, but I'm not sure that's the intent of the writer here. I think the writer just assumed Houston was in South Texas and named the S&L such for the convenience of the readers (who are probably not from Texas, either).

The second geographical error takes place on the sixth page of the story, where we see the Punisher discussing his next task with his sidekick, Microchip.

They talk about going to Houston to take care of Kelleher, and the following dialogue takes place:

The Punisher: Fix me up a file -- I'll pick him up in Houston at the trial. I'll need some bugs [listening devices] ...

Microchip: You're gonna need some bug spray. The Panhandle gets mighty itchy this time of year.
Sorry, Microman. That may be a joke, but it falls flatter than the Llano Estacado because the Panhandle of Texas is a looooong way away from Houston.

How far is it? Let me give an example that big-time writers might find useful. The Panhandle is farther away from Houston than Canada is from New York City, about twice as far, in fact.

Perhaps Microchip can be forgiven. Maybe he, as a character, is really ignorant about Texas, or maybe he just likes horrible jokes. And if that was the intent of the writer, then I should cut him a little slack. But I don't think that was his intent. I think the writer is the one who doesn't know squat about Texas, and to him the Panhandle and Houston and South Texas and any other part of the state is all the same. If that's the case, then that's just sloppy writing, and it's kind of an insult to Texas itself. Really, it's not that difficult to find a map and to take a quick look at it.

But, oh well. It's not like it's the first time Texas has ever been misrepresented in popular culture. And, in all likelihood, it won't be the last.

Friday, October 02, 2009

The future is here

Ray guns!

OK, it's just a laser. But how cool is that! A laser fired from a C-130 actually burns through a truck hood! The stuff science fiction films are made of.

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Top 10 Metal Solos, Part 2

Here is the second part of my top ten heavy metal guitar solos. (Part 1 is here.)

Mötley Crüe, "Starry Eyes" from Too Fast For Love
Guitarist - Mick Mars

Ozzy Osbourne, "Mr. Crowley" from Blizzard of Ozz
Guitarist - Randy Rhoads

Queensrÿche, "Walk in the Shadows" from Rage for Order
Guitarists - Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton

Scorpions, "China White" from Blackout
Guitarist - Mathias Jabs

Steve Vai - "The Animal" from Passion and Warfare
Guitarist - Steve Vai

You may have noticed that I did not include any songs from Iron Maiden, my favorite metal band. That's not an oversight. I was going to include some solos from the Maiden guitarists, but then I realized I could probably put together a-whole-nother top ten list featuring just them. I may do that some day.

How about you? Do you have any favorite guitar solos that you find yourself listening to over and over again?

Top 10 Metal Solos, Part 1

Here is a list of guitar solos from heavy metal songs that I find particularly enjoyable to listen to. I did not compile this list with technical proficiency or musicality in mind (though many of these solos certainly possess such qualities). I simply picked ten that have a certain "replay" quality, which means I find myself replaying the solos immediately after hearing them just so I can hear them again. Over and over again.

Here are the first five of my top ten.

Black Sabbath, "Lonely is the Word" from Heaven and Hell
Guitarist - Tony Iommi

Dream Theater, "Under a Glass Moon" from Images and Words
Guitarist - John Petrucci

Judas Priest, "Freewheel Burning" from Defenders of the Faith
Guitarist - Glenn Tipton

Megadeth, "Hangar 18" from Rust in Peace
Guitarists - Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman

Metallica, Blackened from ...And Justice For All
Guitarist - Kirk Hammett

Part 2 of this list to come later. (UPDATE: Here it is.)