February 29, 2012

Stats! Depressing stats, but they are easily accesible!

Nasa budgets: US spending on space travel since 1958 | Society | guardian.co.uk:

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This article is really cool. Not only is it about space, it's about NASA's declining budget! Wait, that's not cool. That's the exact opposite of cool. It is uncool, if you will. Or rather, the fact that NASA has a declining budget is uncool. What's cool about this article is that the good people over at The Guardian have nicely compiled NASA's budget data since 1958. And they have made it freely available for download in a variety of formats. I just downloaded the Excel file and made this!

This took me all of about ten minutes. It would have been less, except I have only the foggiest notion of how Excel works. Which is absolute proof that any idiot can use this data that The Guardian has so kindly supplied about NASA's budget.

Wait, you mean that British newspaper? That's cool. I wish we had cool newspapers like that, who would compile data about the government and then make it freely and easily available to any one who wants it. Is it apparent yet that I think Hans Rosling is cool?I mean jeez, I've used excel like what, once? And that was to create a 'budget' that was an awesome idea for about an hour and then I saved the document and promptly forgot about it. But lookit pretty graph! Hooray!

So you know what, hats off to The Guardian for supplying such excellent information for me!

"Can you do anything with this data?"
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February 28, 2012

Living Longer Than 40 - Thanks Science!

Living Longer Than 40 - Thanks Science!

In the movie Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldblum's character Ian Malcolm is explaining to Laura Dern's  character Ellie Satller a bit about chaos theory, and how similar events can lead to vastly different outcomes. In his example, that would be the placing a drop of water onto Dr. Sattler's hand and seeing where it rolled off too. In my case the similar events are a rather silly question.

I see this type of sentiment sometimes here and there. People express it differently to be sure, but it happens a lot. The question comes in many different flavors, each with their own nuance and character, but they all essentially boil down to one simple question "What has science done for me?/done for me lately?" What's different about this time? Nothing! Nothing that I can tell, anyway. What got me going was a comment online (yeah, you'd think I'd learn, but no) Someone said that the space program is a waste of money. I've heard it before and I'll hear it again.  So why did this one get under my skin? I blame Jeff Goldblum. 

So in response to that mentality, here's a list of stuff!

  • Flying - Thanks Science!
  • Not contracting polio - Thanks Science!
  • Cell Phones - Thanks Science!
  • The Internet - Thanks Science!
  • Connecting to the internet on my cell phone while flying and not dying of polio - Thanks Science!
  • Dr. Pepper and the containers thereof - Thanks Science!
  • Distillation - Thanks Science!
  • Plastic - Thanks Science!
  • For the numerous contributions to construction, architecture, chemical adhesive, latex paint and everything else that went into making the chair your sitting in, the house your living in, and the bridge you drive on - Thanks Science!
  • Lasik Eye Surgery - Thanks Science!
  • Surviving Surgery - Thanks Science!
  • Germ Theory and Sanitation - Thanks Science!
  • Penicillin - Thanks Science!
  • Living with diabetes - Thanks Science!
  • Surviving a heart attack - Thanks Science!
  • Pacemakers - Thanks Science!
  • Chemotherapy and those who live - Thanks Science!
  • Knowing our origins - Thanks Science!
  • R/C Cars on other planets - Thanks Science!
  • Hubble Deep Field - Thanks Science!
  • The Pale Blue Dot - Thanks Carl!
  • Comprehending the vastness of the universe, and our place within it - Thanks Science!

The next time someone asks you a question like, "What has science done for me lately?", you look them straight in the eye and ask them, "What have you done for science … ever!?"
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February 26, 2012

Cleaning Day

Today is unusual. Not that I was cleaning, you see, but what I was cleaning*. I was cleaning my junk drawer. Which is doubly bad because that's in the kitchen. You see, it's easier for me to work up the fortitude for cleaning if what is going to be cleaned is in my line of sight as a general thing. My living room stays cleaner than my bedroom. I don't use my kitchen much. Sure, the area in front of the microwave is generally clear of stuff that would prevent me from opening the door, but other than that, not much happens in the kitchen by way of cleaning.

I'm sure that you can imagine then how rare it is for me to clean out the junk drawer. I did find some cool stuff, like peel and stick hooks and a relatively fresh pack of gum, unopened. I also now realize that I'm set for awhile for AAA batteries. They are tiny, so they can come in tiny packs, and I only ever needed them in pairs, and so I bought them in small packs, and the packs would get buried in the junk in my drawer so each time I needed a new pair I would buy a whole new pack and now I have 33 batteries. Oh, 35 if you count the two AA ones I found.**

On the other hand I did find amusement in reading some of the old sets of instructions for replaced, broken or simply missing electronics and other gadgets. I especially enjoyed certain warnings and general tips, like

"Non-rechargeable batteries are not to be recharged" Really! How'd you deduce that then?

If you have rechargeable batteries then "[They] are to be removed from the product before being charged (if removable)" Golly!

In case you're wondering, "Battery insertion must be done by an adult."

"Exhausted batteries are to be removed from the product." Yes boss! (Makes sense, too. I know my work performance degrades when I'm exhausted)

This one does have a certain safety aspect to it. "The supply terminals are not to be short circuited." But really? If they mean the terminals on the battery, well, that's actually kind of hard to do by accident. Unless you habitually leave your batteries in the random bag of screws found in all junk drawers everywhere. In which case the cost of the new kitchen drawer should serve as a good lesson against such a habit.* If they mean the terminals in the battery compartment, then that's silly. It would take someone modifying the product in such a way as to void any legal responsibility by the manufacturer of the product. Like, the guy who puts new shocks on his car, but screws it up, and then sues the car company because the car only and constantly turns left. The car company is under no obligation to idiots who break their personal belongings. And any one capable enough to modify the product without screwing it up already knows not to create a short circuit anyway. So this one is totally useless.

You know, I would expect such a hefty list of warning concerning batteries to be on a pack of batteries. I only listed the funniest ones, and they didn't even make up half the list. But no. This list doesn't occur on a pack of batteries. Maybe because all the ones I could find were small. No, these warnings were in the instructions for a clock! The thing didn't even come with batteries! So why all the warning? I guess it's for protection, but I reserve the right to get amusement from it!

Plus, given my profundity of batteries and my storage method (haphazardly thrown into a drawer) it's probably a good thing I have such an extensive battery safety resource at my fingertips.

*Cleaning in general is unusual in that it's rare, but it goes in patterns and cycles, so its not unusual in that it's a strange occurrence.

**Did I mention that my remote dies today? It takes four AA batteries.

***Or the cost of a new kitchen, if you stored the batteries and screws near any flammable materials. Like may happen in a junk drawer.

February 11, 2012


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I understand that we can't keep every mission going for as long as they retain at least some function. Not everything is a Voyager or Opportunity. Some missions have simply lost so much functionality that the cost of maintaining the mission with a full up NASA staff has become economically unviable. This is bound to occur, even at the best of times.

But a loss of some functions is not a complete loss, at least not always. It would be nice to have some way of continuing what scientific or observational functions a satellite may have after being decommissioned by NASA. I think it would be awesome if there was a way, some system, that allows companies and universities to buy or use defunct satellites. Hopefully, what's going on with the GALEX* satellite will set a precedent for creating such a system.

Now, there is one sorta downside to this. In good times, when the socio-politco-economic climate is such that we can engage in science with wanton abandon (or at least in carefully reasoned fits of wanton abandon), there won't be a lot of semi-functional satellites available. But they probably wouldn't be needed anyway, so that's fine. On the other hand, in bad times there will be more, and better functioning, satellites available simply because more satellites would get the official axe.

This has possibilities...

*Totally a name from Dr. Who, or oughta be.
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February 10, 2012

Gingritch and the Moon

So it appears that someone has the idea that a space station at Lagrange point 2, on the far side of the Moon, would be a great idea. Oh yeah, sure, like having another big station, this time even further away, would in any way be different than the ISS. I mean yeah, it would make it easier to do research on the Moon. I mean, I've had tons of RC cars in my time, I'm sure NASA can knock together some stuff. But that doesn't mean it would be any easier to have people go to the surface. Of course, I guess that wouldn't be as necessary. And if anyone did need to go down there I guess it wouldn't be any more difficult than before. All we'd really need to do is build another LM. Hey, we brought the VW Bug back, why not the lem? So I mean, we'd have to build a station sure, and I guess a couple of satellites for communication, but those are cheap. If most of the exploration is robotic that would save on gas. Launching from orbit is easy. Er. Easier. Anyway. And any crewed mission to the surface wouldn't require nearly as much in the way of infrastructure, so that's not bad. And now that I think about it, the station itself wouldn't need to be as large as a surface base. Floating is awesome.

I guess I'll just let you read about it, rather than my wall of text about it.

NASA Eyes Plan for Deep-Space Outpost Near the Moon | Earth-Moon Lagrange Points & Lunar Farside | NASA & Human Spaceflight | Space.com: "Jack Burns"

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Oh and also this!

Of course, that's the Moon. Awesome as this idea is, I think it'd be even awesomer if this happened at Mars. But it's not like that would happen anytime soon. I mean, you gotta develop the technology, and then you gotta test it out. And I don't think a dry run in Earth orbit is really going to be adequate for a multi-month mission to Mars. So having a way to test out the idea first, make sure we got the whole shebang running properly before we try it at Mars may be a good thing. But where could we appropriately test such a thing? I know, the Moon!

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