November 25, 2010

Lockheed Martin and Boeing Trying To See Who Can Build The Best Launch Vehicle

Using Existing Rockets for Future Human Exploration - NASA Watch

Seeing as how congress wanted to push the development of a heavy lift rocket to 2011 instead of the 2015 date that Obama had put forth this past tax day, then I say give them a shot. If Lockheed can produce a HLV before Boeing can, then Lockheed is the company we should go with. If NASA can come up with a system of checks and double checks before doling out money, than NASA can minimize it's risk to an acceptable degree. This will be accomplished by NASA either giving the go ahead with as much assurance as possible that the mission will succeed, or NASA will decide that Boeing is the better option. So I say go ahead, give the home team a shot, see if they've got what it takes.


November 22, 2010

International cooperation needed for space exploration - Washington DC DC |

International cooperation needed for space exploration - Washington DC DC |
A nice short summary and analysis regarding some of Charlie Bolden's recent comments and the issues they pertain to.

This is Charlie's comments,

And this is some editorial perspective on the issues. Though not much.

It is quickly becoming obvious that not only is international cooperation necessary for future space exploration, international cooperation is quickly becoming a topic of conversation amongst the nations that are most active with their space programs. Now, this event seems to have cause barely a ripple, and yet it is part of a continuing theme which includes Obama's Space Policy from a few months ago, and the history of space relations between Russia and the U.S.. Here's a short quote from the newest Space Policy,

"The United States hereby renews its pledge of cooperation in the belief that with strengthened intern national collaboration and reinvigorated U.S. leadership, all nations and peoples—space-faring and space-benefiting——will find their horizons broadened, their knowledge enhanced, and their lives greatly improved."

One of my previous posts goes into more detail regarding the coverage and effects of Obama's new Space Policy, and another delves deeper into the history of international cooperation during the space age.

Oh, and here is the International Academy of Astronautics website, which has information regarding the recent Head Of Space Agencies Summit mentioned in the articles above.
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October 23, 2010

Practical Wisdom OR Common Sense

This man talks some serious sense. In a stirring speech, Barry Schwartz argues that over regulating can strangle a system. He does not deny that regulations are necessary, but we must choose wisely what and how we regulate. He also makes the point that over use of incentives can backfire, turning what was a moral question (What is the right thing to do here) into a personal gain question (How does doing what I'm told to do benefit me?). Incentives and regulations are necessary. But we must trust the judgement of individuals by removing the twin specters of punishment and reward. We must accept the risk that comes without prepared scripts for a given situation, and we must allow an individual to learn from their mistakes.
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September 21, 2010

Told You So

Told You So: The President addressed a live audience for CNBC this past Monday. He fielded questions from several audience members, ranging from a Wall Street banker to a middle class worker, and covering a number of topics that focused on the economy and jobs. I won't create a synopsis here because The Huffington Post has already done so. But there are two points that Obama makes which I would like to point out. First, he says the programs that were put in place to stop this recession are working as evidenced by the increasing stability of the financial system. The analogy that he uses is one of us trying to dig ourselves out of a deep hole. A few months ago he would make remarks about how we are in the bottom of a deep hole and that we must stabilize our financial sector as a first step towards digging ourselves out of this recession. Well, here we are with several reforms (though not as many as was hoped) effecting the financial sector aimed at equality and transparency. We still have work to do, he implies, but we also have accomplished much.

The second point is found in the second video. He remarks that he warned Wall Street in 2007 that we were heading towards a collapse and that Wall Street's tactics in getting money out of consumers was a big part of the impending collapse. He said that reforms had to happen right then. Those reforms did not happen, our markets did collapse, and now we are starting to see reforms. But he repeatedly stresses that we must continue these reforms until we can be sure that we won't face the same problems later on down the road.
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Republicans Prepare

Republicans Prepare: for victory after November. The GOP is expecting to win a few seats this November and are planning to use the small amount of leverage that this affords them to enforce changes to the White House's legislative agenda. A few of the plans include forcing any legislation to cite it's constitutional authority and to vote against appropriations funding for certain aspects of the already voted on and passed health care law. 

The health care laws were discussed and filibustered for months, with a lot of trading, compromising, and mud slinging. Some of those laws came to vote, and were passed. Kind of. Words on paper are great, but nothing will get accomplished without money or action. And those same laws which have already been passed must once again be put to vote: How much money will we allocate for this law? If the money allocated is nothing at all, then the program cannot proceed. If, as is most likely, a pittance is allocated for these programs, than these programs will fail (which sets up a perfect "I told you your plans would fail" moment for the republicans a few months down the road. Never mind their attempts to make them fail any way) and what's worse, the offices and personnel and taxpayer money becomes a useless and costly appendage to our government. The laws have been passed and regardless of their personal thoughts on the matter, our elected governors have sworn to uphold the laws of this nation, and have dedicated themselves to a system in which all vote and all abide by the vote. These recently passed laws are laws and therefore must be upheld until we openly and honestly discuss the need for these laws in the forum designated by the structure of our government and it has been decided that these laws are no longer necessary.

But that quibble aside, some of the GOP's other initiatives are worth investigating, such as extending insurance pools to those with pre-existing conditions.
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August 19, 2010


I stumbled across Conservapedia, the "trustworthy" encyclopedia. There were many gems in that internet tome, but I should to like to highlight for you just one right now.

"One way to measure open-mindedness is to test for close-mindedness, and then take the converse. A subject for our measurement can be asked if he views certain proposals as impossible. By impossible I do not mean mathematically impossible, but so unlikely as to be considered absurd. Belief in impossibility is a sign of close-mindedness, because it reflects the unwillingness of the subject to be "receptive" to the possibility."

And what if that something actually is impossible or so far outside the realm of practical application as to be impossible? Wouldn't that be a good to thing to know? And an open mind does not mean instantly agreeing with a contradicting view. It is simply listening to what they have to say on the topic. That's it. That's all. Nothing about agreement. If their arguments and evidence are sound and you have no plausible objections than great. If not, than there is no reason to believe the contradicting view is accurate or correct. An open mind listens to an idea and judges it's worth. If we have ample evidence of the mathematical validity for gravity and we have observational evidence to support the relativity based theories of gravity than we have no reason to believe that anything other than relativity must be correct. And if, or as is more likely when, we find certain discrepancies between theory and observation, we can use that discrepancy to understand where we went wrong, why we went wrong and we can figure out a better description of nature. That's some of the beauty of science. We attempt to understand our world to the extent of our ability to observe it in order to predict what we will observe next. Science always accepts the possibility that it may be wrong. But science uses it's inaccuracies to become more accurate, more correct, and closer to the truth. Or, as Dara O'Brian points out, "Science knows that it doesn't know everything ... otherwise it would stop."


August 08, 2010

Free Knowledge

Free Knowledge: As a first test run, I typed the word "music" into the search bar on the Harvard Libraries website. 277,126 entries were returned. Just to narrow down the field a little, I chose to view only music scores only. All 80,909 of them. As this was still a little wide a field for me to explore on my first journey through the site, I decided to limit my search to music manuscripts published in the last ten years. Which was a little less than ten thousand. As I like orchestral works, I limited again my search terms to just orchestral works. I finally had a number small enough to work with. I had the manuscripts for 394 orchestral works of music produced in the past decade.

Let's try another word now: Physics. This returned 67,773 entries, well below those returned for music. Which was surprising, but nevertheless we shall carry on. But which subject of physics should I click on? Physics Philosophy (1,235 entries)? Gauge fields (210)? Relativity (1,096)? Music Acoustics and Physics (580)? I think I'll combine this search with one of my other, interests, History (831). I could stay here and ponder the historical evolution of the sciences that we call physics, but I won't. The point is that I could. With this tool we have access to a vast reservoir of knowledge. For free. We can study any subject that we please, all we have to do is type it into the search bar.

Free Class: Of course, not all knowledge can be offered for free. If we want someone to dedicate their life to spreading the knowledge that they have gained than we must give them the money necessary to live. So I have no problem with paying for education, because teachers deserve some recompense for their work. But on the other hand, sometimes knowledge can be given away for free. Because what is a class, ultimately, above and beyond simply acquiring information? It's actively participating in the lesson. It is in working with the teacher yourself in order to understand. However, setting up a camera during certain classes could provide an immense amount of information to those who haven't actually attended a class. Which is exactly what Michael Sandel's class Justice does. He makes freely available on the Harvard website recordings of his classes. Now, this works rather better with his class than with some of the other things I have already mentioned. Music takes actually playing an instrument in order to fully understand music theory. Physics is sp often arcane, difficult, complex, and plain old confusing that simply having a recording of other people learning about the science is often insufficient to learn the science yourself. However this class is all about philosophy, morality, and of course, justice. Which makes it the better choice to have filmed. If you have any interest in the issues that effect us today than I suggest bookmarking this page.

Quarterly Shift: There are a large number of issues that are effecting the midterm elections coming up soon, and many that effect the White House. This article from the New York Times gives a run down of some of those issues, and how President Obama is handling them. Some of these issues have occurred since Obama took office, and some are holdovers from before. According to the article, Obama has had some losses these past two years, but is finishing with a string of wins recently. This article gives a good abstract of the atmosphere going into the final quarter before midterm elections.

Americans At War: In this article from CBS News it appears that the RNC chairman Michael Steele is preparing to wage war on the democratic party. He intends these next three months to be very difficult for democrats, both in session and in the polls. Does Steele really believe that the GOP can regain the majority in the senate this November? Probably not. He knows that by winning a handful of seats his party can confidently halt any legislation proposed by the enemy, the democrats. If this happens, than the GOP will have less reason to fear if a few republicans waver in their loyalty to the GOP. But should the GOP be working to stop the democrats at every turn, or should it be working in the best interests of the nation as a whole?

Tid Bits: And finally here's a few quick links. The first comes from TechDirt and explains to some small extent the byzantine copyright laws regarding audio recordings.

And not to leave out space, the second is a photo gallery of the recent alignment between Jupiter, Venus and the Moon. Thanks to CNN for the pictures.

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August 01, 2010

News Briefs

UK To Launch Mini-Satellites: The UK Space Agency has teamed up with British company Clyde Space to launch miniature satellites called CubeSat's. These new types of satellites are cheap and easy to produce, reducing the consequences of failed experiments. The use of this type of satellite technology will spur on innovation and creativity while also teaching the skills necessary to carry off more large scale projects.

There are a number of other companies within the UK which are gearing up for a commercial space market. EADS Astrium has fostered several relationships within the industry and within the academic community, making it one of the largest space companies in the UK. Space Systems Engineer for EADS, Dr. Ronan Wall, has said

"CubeSats provide a 'playground for innovation' by enabling us to test new technology that simply could not be tried on major risk-adverse missions. The concept also ensures that we can develop the next generation of space professionals, both in engineering and science, by giving them the ideal skill set to succeed in the industry"

Business is not the only investment the British people are making. According to SpaceRef The American Conrad Awards have recently partnered with ManSat Limited, an Isle of Man based global commercial space corporation, to bring the 2010-2011 'Spirit Of Innovation Awards' to its island. The SPOIA program is a competition that challenges students to create innovative new products that can be brought into the commercial marketplace. Hopefully the next SPOIA competition can expand into more than just two countries.

There is a growing international interest in space exploration, commercial space frontiers, and enriching our lives through science and education. America has long been a leader in a number of these fields, but we must step it up in order to enter the next stage. We will no longer be competing against other nations; we will be competing to see who can cooperate the best with other nations.

Social Experiment: Have you ever gotten sick and tired of people haranguing you and harassing you and telling you what to do all the time? Of course you have! Who hasn't? Well, probably Dan Brown. But he will have plenty of opportunity to do so over the next year. You see, Mr. Brown will not only be allowing people to see him as he does stuff, people will be telling him what to do, all the time, for one whole year. It's a project that Dan is calling Dan 3.0, and you can check it out and all of Dan's other videos at his YouTube channel.

Transparency In Political Advertising: A campaign finance bill aimed at introducing transparency into certain political ads is facing resistance from republicans in the senate. If this bill gets made into law then any organization that airs political ads independently of candidates and political parties will be forced to disclose their involvement with the ads.  In this way we can potentially see the motive behind the ad and judge it's worth accordingly.

Obama - "Nobody is saying you can't run the ads; just make sure the people know who in fact is behind financing the ads."

The largest disagreement with the bill is that companies and organizations that have large contracts with the government cannot put out political ads. This seems to fly in the face of the first amendment. Any person or organization has the right to free speech, even if they have a vested interest in the outcome of an election. At the heart of it, we all have a vested interest in the outcomes of political races, even if we're not directly receiving cash and contracts from a member of congress.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement Monday that the bill is designed to "protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all out attack on the First Amendment."

Maybe a line needs to be drawn when those producing the ads have a vested personal interest in the success of the campaign. Maybe blocking a person's right to free speech is not the best way to root out corruption. We must choose which path we take wisely.

Distraction: This is ridiculously petty and a complete distraction from the real issues at hand. The Iowa state's GOP is spraying a cloud of ink into the water to blind us. What's worse is that if this bill does pass (I'm assuming no amendments are lost, but are simply bumped up a number) than anytime an American citizen earns a Nobel Prize they will no longer be an American citizen. How are we to be the best and brightest nation if our citizens are not allowed to receive the highest recognition of their work? Why make it impossible for an American to become a Nobel Laureate? Every minute spent arguing and debating this is a waste of time. 

Small Business Bill Being Slowed By GOP: A bill that had been under consideration for three weeks has been put aside thanks to the efforts of the republican party. This bill was aimed at opening up the small business lending market with cash and tax breaks, as well as reducing the capital gains taxes on long-term investment in small business. Republicans argue that though the bill had been on the floor for three weeks, they have not yet had all their considerations voiced. They want more time to discuss the bill before it gets put to a final vote. Richard Shelby (R-Ala) compared the measure to the bank bailout (which has been somewhat underwhelming) and warned that this could lead to the types of risky loans that got us here in the first place. The GOP likely wants to ensure that this works better than the bank bailout and that it minimizes risky loans.

House Set To Debate NASA Authorization Act: And for those of you interested, here's a rundown of the various competing NASA Authorization Bills before congress right now. While all have their merits and weakness's, with this you can at least give them a side-by-side comparison.

Certain enterprising individuals urged people to tell their representatives to support the senate version, as the senate version comes closer to President Obama's stated amount of $812 million to be used for commercial space flight. 

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July 29, 2010

In Memory Of Those Who Served

I was torn about which of Tim's journal entries I should post here, 
and I finally settled on two, one of which is 
presented here and the other I posted earlier.

Today is Memorial Day, 2010. Like every Memorial Day for the past eight years, I’ll be at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery honoring the men and women who gave Their Last Full Measure of Devotion to this country, as well as those who served and were blessed to have lived beyond their service years and died in the Land of the Free. Like my father Carl P.J. Forkes and my brother Carl C. Forkes, who is interred at Fort Rosecrans.
 My favorite snipe at the Navy men in the family — and my friends who served in the Navy — They chose to serve their nation in the Navy, but I chose the military instead when I joined the Marines. D’OH!

Dear Old Dad served in World War II. He signed up for the Navy in January 1942, a little over a month after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. I don’t really know the details of how and why he decided to join the Navy, other than a desire to serve and defend his country, a sentiment shared by millions of his generation at that time.

He became an Electrician’s Mate by chance. According to the Old Man, when a crusty old chief asked for any experienced electricians to step forward, Dad did so, even though he had never had a moment of electrical training or experience.

Whether he had any experience from working on anything electrical on the family farm is questionable; most of the place didn’t get electricity until the late 1930’s at best. But, Dear Old Dad learned a trade in the Navy, while fighting and defeating the Japanese.

Pop didn’t start his Navy career in the Pacific though. First he was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Texas, a mainline battleship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Shortly thereafter he came down with some disease, the specifics of which he never explained, and was sent back to a Naval Hospital in Philadelphia. Maybe Grandma was happy; her son might be spared serving in a war zone and sent home, but that was not the case.

Towards the end of 1942 dad was sent to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to pick up his next duty, a Destroyer Escort: The U.S.S. Wyman, DE-38. Man, that must have been a bummer! From one of the biggest ships of the Navy — the pride of the Navy — to the smallest, most unglamorous ship. Service aboard the corvette may not have been glamorous, but it proved every bit as dangerous as any ship serving in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Destroyer escorts were small, with crews of less than 300. The skippers were generally commanders, or even lieutenant commanders. The job of the DE was to escort convoys and main battle groups, task forces, to and from various locations. They were submarine hunters primarily and DE-38, the Wyman, had two confirmed kills. The first was the Japanese submarine RO-48 on July 19, 1944 and the second, I-55, on July 28, 1944.

Right after sinking the first submarine, the Wyman’s whaler went to investigate the wreckage of the sunken sub and was strafed by friendly planes that thought it was a surfaced Japanese submarine. None were killed, although several men had been injured.

Afterwards, the Wyman served on escort duty, with time spent in “Taffy 38,” the task group charged with the invasion of the Philippines, and then with duty in the operations to invade Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

The war ended for Dad when the Japanese signed the instrument for surrender on September 2, 1945.

Young Carl’s story is different. He joined the Navy early in 1963 and served aboard the U.S.S. Pickaway, APA 222, from 1964-1967. Most of his time was spent taking Marines to and from the Western Pacific, with occasional stops in Hawaii, Guam and The Philippines. He saw the effects of war up close as Marines returning to San Diego from Vietnam would board the Pickaway for the arduous ride home.

Most people remember American forces getting to and from Vietnam by aircraft, but for a while, the Marines were arriving the old fashioned way: by taxi. Carl and I used to pick on each other with our inter-service rivalry and I always referred to Carl and the Navy as the Marine Corps’ taxi service.

The most memorable exercise Carl and his crewmates participated in was landing the 2/9 — 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment — on the beaches of Da Nang, South Vietnam. That was July 7, 1966.

Carl was supposed to start his Navy career as a radioman, but due to circumstances entirely in his control, he became a boatswain (pronounced “bosun”). Entirely in his control? Well, let’s just say he failed to meet the daily requirements needed to graduate “C” School.

He eventually moved from being a deck ape to the radar room, but I never lost the pleasure of calling him a boatswain’s mate!

Both my brother and dad have passed on, Dad over 30 years ago and Carl just under four years ago. His ashes are interred at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery and it is for him primarily I attend the Memorial Day Service at that cemetery every year.

We all served, and those who lived to tell the tale are every bit as important as those who gave their lives in defense of this nation. All gave some; some gave all. And for that we should all be grateful.

Semper Fi My Friends!

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July 26, 2010

Feat of History

My uncle often posts interesting articles on a wide range of different topics, usually interrelated but sometimes not. At any rate, he's an interesting read and I would recommend that any one who is reading this to read this.


Been in a Little Feat kick all weekend. Little Feat, the band, not the tootsies things at the ends of my legs. Been singing either “Time Love a Hero” or “All That You Dream” all weekend. Not bad songs to have stuck in your cranial cavity. Well, I did put on Waiting For Columbus, thee Little Feat album to buy if you’re only going to buy one.

So, while listening to that album I did sing along with “Dixie Chicken” and “Tripe Face Boogie.” People always talk about how the Grateful Dead could jam and segue from one song to another, but really, the best band at that was — and possibly still is — Little Feat. Get this album; Little Feat puts on a clinic. You can download it for under 12 bucks.

Recorded live in London, England and Washington, DC, this is the lineup that includes Bill Payne, Paul Barerre, Richie Hayward, Sam Clayton, Kenny Gradney and Lowell George.

Lowell George is one of those guys; if you were an aspiring musician and/or songwriter in the 1970’s, you probably liked or even emulated him. Besides forming Little Feat (with Bill Payne) in 1969, he played with Mothers of Invention. The prevalent rumor is Frank Zappa kicked George out of the band for writing the song “Willin’.” Allegedly for the drug reference in the lyrics: “And if you give me: weed, whites, and wine …”

Sounds like a quaint story now, but a rumor like that, back then, no computers, no Internets to get viral on, the hippie culture moved with stories like that. Like the myth that Frank Zappa ate shit on stage. Not too long ago someone relayed that lie to me, as if it were the truest story that was ever told. And this was a guy who hadn’t been born until 1982. Or there abouts. How the fuck would you know, 40 years after that little piece of rock’n’roll mythology began making the rounds.

Actually, I would bet Zappa loved it though; it gave him notoriety and kind of fell in with his famous poster, Phi Zappa Crappa. If a guy would have a picture taken of himself sitting on the Vertical Throne taking a dump, why wouldn’t he eat shit on stage?

Well, one reason being that shit tastes like, well, shit and Zappa was never high enough to get past that, if he were actually ever high. In his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, FZ talks about the shit-eating myth (denying it ever happened) and how he had never liked drugs, didn’t want his band members using drugs when the played, or even drinking heavily. Although, as I recall, Zappa admitted he did in fact, inhale — once.

Lowell George was a prodigious drug user. Put me to shame really. Well, maybe not. The only difference between us, I survived and Lowell George did not. He lived to the age of 34, dying of “heart failure” in Arlington, VA June 29, 1979. Heart failure … goes along with excessive weight, too much alcohol and too much of the street drugs, like heroin. The autopsy showed that George actually died from an accidental drug overdose, but people who want history to remember George kindly stick to the “heart failure” story.

Like friends and families of alcoholics who die of kidney failure or cirrhosis of the liver, no one wants to state the obvious: the person died from alcohol or drug use. Alcohol and drugs, like nicotine, kill.

When someone like Lowell George dies from a drug overdose, it makes a lot of news, affirming for those opposed to legalizing street drugs, the reason why said substances should continue to be illegal. Ignoring the fact that being illegal didn’t stop Lowell George from obtaining his drug of choice. Being illegal doesn’t stop anyone from buying or selling drugs and by any estimation, the so-called “War on Drugs” has been a dismal failure for the past 80 years.

The saddest part of Lowell George’s legacy though is that he left behind two children and in a broader world, we won’t get to hear any new music from this man, one of the greatest songwriters to emerge from the 1960’s. He also had a great voice and was a master at the slide guitar.

My one disappointment with Waiting For Columbus is that it didn’t feature enough of George playing that slide guitar. It has all the great hits, like “Time Loves a Hero,” “Dixie Chicken,” “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” “Willin’ ” and “All That You Dream.” It also has scorching versions of “Tripe Face Boogie” and “Mercenary Territory,” quite possibly my favorite Little Feat song.

 “Some kind of man, he can’t do anything wrong

 If I see him I’ll tell him you’re waiting

 “Cause I’m devoted for sure, but my days are a blur

 Well your nights turn into my mornings

 I did my time in your rodeo, fool that I am I’d do it all over again.”

Years ago, right after Little Feat reformed and recorded the album Let It Roll, I had a chance to interview keyboardist Bill Payne. Of his old band mate, Payne said George was the type of guy you loved one minute and were ready to kill the next. Sounds like an addict. Predictably unpredictable. You never know when the person you can talk to sensibly will appear or disappear.

George would be 65 had he lived and likely might still be touring, if not with Little Feat than as a solo act. That’s what he was doing when he died 31 years ago. But we’ll never know. Waiting For Columbus went platinum years ago so he might have gotten out of the music business, got into real estate and ended up like surf guitar legend, Dick Dale, who performed June 6, 2010 at the Fiesta del Sol in Solana Beach.

 Don’t know if Dick Dale is into real estate actually, but if you have money and live in California, owning real estate used to be a great way to make your money grow.

In the thousands of rock concerts I’ve seen over the years, none of them, to my knowledge, included Lowell George. Let’s face it: there are a lot of them I just don’t remember due to too much alcohol and drugs. To this day I swear there were 15 people on stage when the Grateful Dead played Red Rocks on August 14, 1979. My lovely sister Elaine insists that wasn’t the case.

I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt and John Hiatt perform “All That You Dream” several times each, seen the “new” Little Feat a couple of times, but I can never say I saw Lowell George perform.

Back in the 1980’s I took my mother to see Henry Mancini perform with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. It had been nearly two decades since Mancini had scored a hit song, but for my mother it didn’t matter. Time had stood still and then rolled backwards. She was singing “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” as if she were 30 years younger.

 “Peter Gunn” is probably the coolest song Mancini ever composed! But Mom loved the romantic tunes.

Just imagine, seeing Lowell George, despite his age, performing his best music. When Dick Dale performed last weekend, he didn’t appear to have missed a beat. But, with Lowell George, it’s not to be. The best we can do is click on YouTube or download Waiting For Columbus.

That’s the true legacy of drug abuse; we lose a bit of what makes us smile every day when our heroes die far too young.

Unfortunately most of the pictures did not translate over into the Journal, so if you wish to see this entry in all of it's intended glory, than go here.
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May 25, 2010

The Function Of Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices

Science fiction is known for having weird, far out technologies. But sometimes what was once fiction becomes reality1.  I have never been completely sure whether it's the fiction influencing the science, or whether a science fiction writer, presumably well versed in science, can see possibilities that someone immersed in science cannot.  I found both possibilities intriguing. If fiction influences reality, than that is a clear demonstration of how we Humans are capable of creating just about anything that we can imagine. It basically getting together and thinking logically about a concept until it becomes real. And that's essentially what's going on in this situation. Someone dreams up some crazy technology, maybe to resolve a plot point or maybe just because the idea is really cool. A scientist reads it, and then sets about trying to make it real. Some one imagines a concept, and someone else creates it. Or maybe a writer can see new possibilities. Sort of like thinking outside the box, or how an outsider sees more of the game kind of thing. An intelligent, thoughtful person who dedicates themselves for a time to learning about a subject can sometimes have amazing insights into the subject. Since your average person is quite capable of being thoughtful and intelligent (though they don't always realize this potential) this would be a clear demonstration of how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. A scientifically literate society which happily funds scientific research would likely give gains in both situations.  Which ultimately is the answer to the question, does science fiction influence science, or does science fiction see what science can't? It's a little bit of both.  Science fiction can feed the imagination of a scientist. That scientist then produces results. A fan of science, who possibly writes science fiction, may be able to make the subtle connections between the results, thus pointing the way to further scientific breakthrough.

Of course, some things in science fiction are more likely to generate a real world analogue. And some things in science fiction, while not having a true analogue, will have certain striking similarities. Generally the names for things in science fiction can have striking parallels in reality. Conversely, some real science can sound like fiction. I can easily imagine a writer somewhere utilizing Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices to get the hero out of a pickle.  It sounds like something straight from Star Trek, like the Heisenberg Compensator, or bio-mimetic gel, or transparent aluminum2 (Which is a direct translation from fiction to reality). Which I don't think is really all that amazing, since most of the names for things in science fiction use real world concepts. However, SQUIDS3 are completely real, and while not acting as a suitable plot device, they do serve several functions in medical and biological contexts.

I think there are a number of scientists, such as Michio Kaku, who treat science fiction as a wildly game of "Can I make that real?" There may be no real intention of creating a Batman-style grappling hook4, or a suit like Iron Man's. But to try and create something like that anyway is just plain fun.  And fun is half of science. A scientist loves to connect the dots, a scientist enjoys immensely put the pieces of a puzzle together. A scientist has fun doing their job. So science is just as much about random association as it is about logical thought. Attempting to create something from science fiction can highlight previously ignored facets of science or inspire ideas for new and innovative technologies. Working on something like force fields or light sabers, while not likely to come to fruition, can often still yield interesting and useful real world applications of science.

Incidentally, Michio Kaku wrote a book and subsequently hosted a show on the science channel call "Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible" wherein he tried to create science fiction realities such as force fields and light sabers. One episode of the show was dedicated to creating a suit like Iron Man's, though he did add one capability to this suit: Mind reading. He figures that one could use atomic magnetometers5 to passively read someone's mind.  Interestingly enough, these devices, as he points out, can also be put to use imaging someone's brain or other body part in a way that is far more compact than current imaging machinery, and would likely be cheaper than current methods.  You can see the development of this technology here6, here7, and here8.

What really gets me about this is the time frame in which the technology has had to operate in. I'm not thrown so much by the progress and duration of its development as I am by the political climate that was in place during its development. The first two papers come from 2004, and the last from 2008. With all the talk of health care last year, and with all of Obama's pre-presidential campaigning for scientific development (of which some measure has been seen during his presidency9), one would assume that this technology would have been brought up, discussed, and made generally known.  I would imagine that a strong candidate for future medical technologies, such as these atomic magnetometers,  technologies that not only makes health care cheaper but also makes certain medical treatments more accessible and spurs on new medical technologies would have been used as a poster child for the need for health care reform and scientific research. 

The medical field is currently burdened with drug and technology companies fighting for the greatest profit margin. This tends to make these companies more cautious, repressing the risk taking that could generate a new technology. This also tends to force a company to defend its profit margin by any means necessary, such as preventing other companies from developing new technology.  These companies have a vested interest in maintaining the superiority of their product.  Lobbying on behalf of these companies hampers  scientific research by forcing politicians to restrain new developments, new lines of research, new technologies. Repressing scientific research severely constrains the potential of a society. We are a culture of visionaries. We can see new possibilities, and work to achieve them.  Scientific research can have direct and profound impacts on our living conditions.

This one specific technology, or even a handful of others such as low intensity MRI scans10  or interferometric synthetic aperture microscopy11 would have lent weight and credence to both arguments, that our health care system needs reform (Our money hungry system denies the citizen of promising technology as a byproduct of that hunger) and that pure scientific research is important (As evidenced by these technologies)

Which brings us to the big questions:  Why haven't these technologies seen more government funding? Why haven't these technologies seen more media coverage?


1 John Blodgett, Continuum, "When Science Fiction Becomes Reality", University of Utah (2009)
2 Live Science Staff, Live Science, "Military: New Aluminum Windows Stop .50-Caliber Bullet" (2005)
3Wikipedia, "SQUID"
4 Gizmodo, "MIT student creates real life Batman utility belt"
5 Wikipedia, "Magnetometer"
6 I.M. Savukov, M.V. Romalis, Physical Review Letters,  "NMR Detection With An Atomic Magnetometer", Princeton (2004)
7 P.D.D. Schwindt, S. Knappe, V. Shah, L. Hollberg, J. Kitching, L. Liew, J. Moreland, Applied Physics Letters, "Chip-scale Atomic Magnetometer (2004)
8 A.S. Levitt, The Future Of Things, "Atomic Magnetometers to shrink MRI" (2008)
9 D. Vergano, USA Today, "  Scientific Climate Is Changing As Obama Takes Office" (2009)
10 E. Rotman, The Future Of Things, " First Low-Intensity MRI Scan Of A Human Brain" (2007)
11 G. Molho, The Future Of Things, "ISAM - Computed Image Revolution"

April 13, 2010

5, 12, 15. April is an important month

I've never watched a space launch live, in person. It doesn't seem likely that I ever will. I can, however, console myself with the fact that I have now seen a shuttle launch, live, on television. And it was a good one, too! All early dawn darkness lit up as if by the fires of creation, air torn asunder by the rage of the Gods, and a graceful arc, a brilliant light receding into the darkness. And after, as the sun rises, we see the remnants of it's departure. Noctilucent beauty, pastel light strewn across the face of the sky.

A: Which makes me wonder, what exactly is that gigantic rocket spewing out of it's tail pipe, and how much of it is expelled? Not that I'm saying stop launching stuff into space or anything, I mean, I can't imagine a single shuttle launch is much worse than half of Chicago for about an hour. But this issue does require some attention. I'm not even speaking of emissions laws or anything. First, we don't really know enough to set feasible goals for standards. We must first research alternative fuels in an effort to see which ones are viable, and we must research the technologies that make engines more efficient. Second, being that space exploration is of vital importance, and that there are other, more urgent emissions issue's that need to be addressed (Coal fired power plants!), and that the emissions of Shuttle launches is sparse compared to the emissions of other industries, we should not limit our launches into space based on emissions. We should work to limit those emissions, but not by limiting the number or type of launches undertaken. Before we create any specific emissions goals we first understand what goals might be feasible.
B: Ok, so I don’t really know if the sky sounded as though it were being torn asunder by holy wrath or anything. I was watching this on TV. I just can't imagine anything looking like that not sounding like that.

On the upside, President Obama is due to speak at the Kennedy Space Center on the fifteenth. As he hasn't made too many announcements or spoke too much of his plans for NASA, this should be an interesting speech. Of course, he did make one comment that caused quite a stir. And by comment, I mean the NASA F.Y. 2011 budget. But I still am uncertain on his personal ideas regarding space, apart from all the political, social, and economic factors. How does our president feel about space exploration? I have my own ideas on what should be done, but as I ain't a rocket scientist, I take my own opinion with a grain of salt. I have my predictions for what will be said, and my hopes for what might be said. Regardless of the outcome, it will be a very interesting speech by our president.

Speaking of 2011, April 12th, 2011 will be the official "Fifty Years of Human Space Exploration". You see, Yuri Gagarin made his famous flight into space on April 12th, 1961, ushering in the age of Humanity as a space faring race. I find it to be no surprise that there are celebrations around the world in honor of this historic event. I should like to celebrate Yuri's Night next year, in honor of the first Human in space and the global feeling of peace, wonder, awe and co-operation that began with his flight. I should also like to propose a celebration on July 20th, 2011, the 42nd anniversary of Apollo 11. Those two events, more than any others, encapsulate Humanities birth into the cosmos. First we proved that we could go to space. Then we proved that we could go to other worlds. Now, the only question is which worlds would we like to visit first?

To decide that, though, we must know what technologies are at our disposable. And so we must research the technology a little before we say which destination should be our next goal. We must also consider the cost and benefits of our current space programs. To research the technologies to go, and eventually actually to go to places like Mars is expensive. Maintaining a transport to low Earth orbit is also expensive. We have plenty of data regarding long term stays in space. We know how to fly in deep space. We are nearing completion of the ISS. We no longer need our government space program to maintain a low Earth transport system. The commercial sector can handle that, while NASA focuses on other, more important things. We do not need both expenses. The commercial sector will employ those who will soon be unemployed, because lets face it, if you've worked for NASA and have an excellent school career, then that is your entire resume. And soon, in the fullness of time, NASA will again engage the public in a plan to send Human Beings to a place that no one has gone before. This speech will not tell us exactly when or where we will be going. But it will layout the path that we need to take to one day go there.

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January 23, 2010

The End Is Near

Seen here imitating Neo
The White House now has an imminent threat: Apophis. Though the likely hood is small, it is entirely possible that this asteroid may be hitting us relatively soon. While the chances of such impact are small, the consequence is dear. While the odds are in our favor compared to what we regularly deal with, on a cosmic scale the odds are very small for us. That consideration aside, this issue has raised awareness for the need to closely monitor the skies for all such threats. The White House only now really understands that need, and is seeking a way to meet that need.
The country is not entirely stable. We are engaged in two wars far from home. We have a global energy crisis. We have an impending global food crisis. We have a global environmental crisis. Just pouring the money into NASA won't sit well with most voters, despite the relatively cheap investment needed. The WH must justify the expense somehow, and Apophis suits the purpose. Additionally, the WH sees this as an opportunity to look like the good guy, a political booster shot for the whole idea of our government. They can accomplish this by claiming they gave NASA a mandate to start this research years ago. In order to look like the good guy, though, you have to make someone the bad guy.

A zenith view of the International Space Stati...
Image via Wikipedia. And Space!
Using this situation to build prestige will hurt NASA's image. If the WH wants to achieve its goal within the time alloted, they are going to need not just the loyalty of NASA, but that the public be loyal to NASA. By attaching blame to the administration, the WH forces NASA to defend itself any way it can. The have chosen to freely admit that there was a mandate to search for Near Earth Objects. They also raise the point that though the WH did indeed order them to achieve this goal, they did not provide any funds for the job. This has thus far been a frank telling of fact, with no concern for the guilt involved. And yet NASA goes still further, and says that they never asked for funding. NASA always fess's up. They rarely make mistakes, and when they do, they admit it. From Apollo 1 until now, NASA has always been very honest. This gives most people pause. If nothing else, they figure, NASA honestly tries, and usually succeeds, in their endeavors. That can rarely be said about a politician. I think that most people would be willing to give money to NASA to accomplish the goal of cataloging all large NEO's, and developing the technology and experience to do something about it if one of those objects is heading straight for us. All that is needed is for the WH to do the same: Dispassionately lay out the facts. Then together, NASA and the WH can confidently and openly declare what needs to be done, how it will be done, and how much it will cost.

Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr
The backwards 'N' indicates their certainty
As some have said, the end is near. The end of our old ideas of nationalism. Globalization is coming. From many sources does it come. From the WWW and GPS, Google Earth, and global woes. The exploration of space is vital to the future of Humanity. But such exploration must be done as a species, not as nations. And yet it is space exploration that is helping drive globalization. From the WWII and it's subsequent cold war came the Apollo-Soyuz test project. From those two events we have the international space station. And now nature has seen fit to give us a dispassionate global threat, one that enforces cooperation. The end is indeed near. Globalization is coming.

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January 05, 2010

I Am

I am. I exist, and nothing anybody does or says can convince me that I don't exist. Because I can state my existence, then I must be aware of my existence. Being aware of my existence, I can understand how I interact with the world. Knowing how to interact with the world I can learn how the world works. Knowing how the world works, I can judge the consequences of my actions. Being able to judge the consequences of my actions, I have free will. From the moment we achieved sentience, we possessed free will.

If I have free will, then I must be able to know that I actually have free will.

I must be aware of my own existence before I can contemplate the consequences of my actions. If I do not understand the consequences of my actions, how can I really be said to be choosing? If I were told to pick a number between 1 and 1,000 I would have just as much reason to pick one number as another. There is no way to make a real decision which uses your intellect and awareness, and is therefore essentially choiceless. I do, however, understand the consequences of my actions. Not perfectly, no, but well enough. Because of this knowledge I am able to use my intellect to discover new possibilities and my reasoning to choose which path to take.

If we are at any level of the decision making, then we are at all levels of the decision making. I do not supplicate to a higher authority in the confines of my own head. I assess, I understand, I decide. If my decision is biologically and environmentally conditioned, so what? All those paradigms of our existence (i.e. I rather enjoy breathing, hard work brings about satisfaction) are the outcome of the decisions of all my ancestors. I naturally know how to do many things, like breathe. The choices of my forebears shaped me into this person. My environment is similarly the product of the choices of those that came before, as well as those alive now. Centuries of people acting, living, choosing, creating, destroying, has shaped my world. There is much to be learned from the environment I exist in. As I grow I choose which patterns of thought I want ingrained in me, ready for immediate use. It is only rarely that I need to question the pattern. But at all times I have the ability to choose: do I follow instinct? Do I do as the others have done? Or do I see a new way of being?

Everything has a price, but that doesn't prohibit action. That only deters action. Everyone can choose to do something really stupid sometimes. We have before us a plethora of possibility, and yes, our decisions are weighted. And they are considered. Our choice is our own to make. All of my decisions are mine to make, no matter if the decision is the best one, or the worst. I still made the decision.

The idea of free will is predicated on the fact that I exist.