Archive for January, 2011


The ISS is going to need space traffic control!

January 30, 2011

Russian Progress incoming!

So far there are three supply ships at the ISS at the same time. The Russian Progress docked yesterday, bringing a couple of tons of equipment and consumables and a ton of propellants. There is already a Progress docked that arrived in September, and two Soyuz lifeboat capsules are docked that remain there permanently for the crew.

HTV-2 being docked on the ISS

The Japanese HTV-2 automated supply craft arrived on January 27. Unlike the Progress, it had to be captured by the Canadarm and attached to the Harmony module by the crew. The Progress is controlled from the ground but executed the final 11-minute docking procedure automatically, connecting to the Pirs module. It was the 41st Progress module to supply the station in the last 11 years.

ATV compared to Apollo and Progress

The first European ATV, or automated transfer vehicle, the Jules Verne, was docked to the ISS for six months in 2008. The second, the Johannes Kepler, is to dock with the ISS within the next few weeks. The ATVs are built by EADS and have a cargo capacity of eight tons, or over two and a half times that of the Progress vehicle. They are also said to be man-capable.

Eventually the last shuttle mission will fly this spring as well. And soon, the SpaceX Dragon commercial spacecraft will be flying resupply to the ISS. Shortly after that with a bit of luck the man-rated version of the Dragon will be flying passengers to the ISS.

Rendering of the SpaceX Dragon supply ship docking to the ISS

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! Let’s make it busier up there! Now add to it the fact that NASA is talking to Bigelow Aerospace about using their inflatable habitats to increase living room on the station, and we could really have a party!

Rendering of a Bigelow Inflatable Habitat


Your cat moment for today…

January 29, 2011

Click on the image above to wake the kitteh.

Got to icanhascheezeburger for lotz of other lolcats and kittehs!


In Memoriam…

January 29, 2011

Astronaut Memorial Patch

I’m a couple of days late at this. The 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion was on January 27, and I understand that NASA now has a yearly memorial service to honor the fallen from Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia.

There is a very fine web site devoted to all the astronauts and cosmonauts who lost their lives. You can find it here. The site owner, Scott Furtaw, has links for each of the astronauts and cosmonauts, as well as other information  about honors, memorial services, and Presidential speeches. I urge you to take a look. We need to remember these people. Space flight is still dangerous, and never routine, and because the TV networks no longer televise each “space shot” we don’t even always know when itthey are taking place. We have had a continuously-occupied space station since November 2, 2000. Do you realize that? For over ten years, we have had people occupying a space station! It doesn’t look like the von Braun wheel station, or even the one in “2001,” but it’s up there and it’s working!

We just need the will to travel among the stars, friends. The rest is just engineering…

What we thought we might get...

What we have now (as of 2009)

What we may still have someday...


Illinois: New Jersey wants your companies!

January 28, 2011

Y'all come to New Joisey!

As I was driving to work this morning, I heard a radio commercial from the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. He was promoting his state as a business-friendly environment. This is not a bad thing, usually, but in this commercial he actually targeted Illinois businesses. He told them to move to his state if they were “tired of having the state government balance their budgets on the backs of the businesses.” (That may be somewhat paraphrased, sorry.)

He also guaranteed that as long as he was Governor he wouldn’t raise taxes on them. That’s a pretty bold statement, but Christie is a pretty bold guy.

The commercial aired on WLS-AM, a 50,000 watt clear-channel station, at about 6:30 AM. At that time of day a pretty fair percentage of the folks in their cars are businesspeople commuting to work. They definitely targeted their audience correctly.

According to Illinois Governor Quinn’s spokesdude, Illinois isn’t going to do anything to counter this kind of PR and go directly to the “decision makers” at individual businesses.

Governator Quinn, you be dumb. I’ve heard time and time again that the backbone of American business is small business. Are Quinn’s people going to talk to every small businessman in Illinois? Of course not. They might talk to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which is making noises about leaving the city. They won’t talk to a company owner who would find it easy to move his 50 employees – if not all the way to New Jersey, at least to Indiana, or even Wisconsin. Let’s say you’re a small business owner in in East Charleston, Illinois. It’s not that big a deal to move to Valaparaiso or Lafayette. (The college football would be better, too.)

Update January 29:

Governor Christie certainly is aggressive. He’s been proposed as a possible Presidential candidate. I’d rather see him have two terms as a successful governor as experience before running, and to actually demonstrate a track record, but he understands the basics of the relationship between government and the economy: keep taxes low and regulations to an absolute minimum. He may not be there yet, but he’s on his way…and Pat Quinn is certainly not moving in that direction!


Steampunk Palin!

January 22, 2011

What can I say? Just go to Antarctic Press and get the book. Things From Another World is already sold out. I don’t care if you are liberal or conservative, you need to see the battle between Robama and Steampunk Palin.

Also available from these fine folks:

President Evil - He's no Ash!

I'm not even sure about this one...


Book Review” “Outies,” by Dr. Jennifer Pournelle

January 21, 2011

Dr. Jennifer Pournelle

Dr. Jennifer Pournelle is an Assistant Professor in the School of the Environment at the University of South Carolina. She is a former US Army Intelligence officer and extensive experience and training in archaeology, especially in the Middle East. In addition to a bundle of scholarly articles, she has now written a science fiction novel. It’s set in the universe created by her father, Dr. Jerry Pournelle, and Larry Niven, in the landmark First Contact novel “The Mote In God’s Eye.”

A Motie Engineer

“Outies” is the term used for those humans who live on planets not yet formally admitted to the Second Empire of Man.The planet of New Utah is one such place, colonized by two Mormon splinter groups from another Empire world, and then also populated by religious groups from a variety of other places. Still, there’s a lot of open space on a planet, and the humans who have been on New Utah for only a few generations don’t all know what’s going on everywhere

The book is pretty well written, especially if it is a first novel. There are a few nagging misspellings and other editing errors that another careful reading would have cleaned out, but nothing that detracts from the story. The main characters are pretty well drawn, even though there are quite a few and at first it’s difficult to keep them straight.

I’d hate to give the story line away too much. I will tell you this – the story not only connects with “The Gripping Hand,” the sequel to “Mote,” (it takes place shortly after the events in that book), but to the events in “Mote” as well. It adds depth to the universe created by Niven and Pournelle the Elder and opens the possibility for more books to come, without this one being a cliff-hanger.

"Outies" cover illustration

The book is only available electronically. Right now it’s only available for B&N Nook and for Kindle, but you can use the Kindle version on a variety of platforms, so that shouldn’t be that much of a problem.I don’t doubt it will be available on print-on-demand eventually through Amazon as well. I’ve purchased several POD books through Amazon over the last year or so and the quality is very good. Any problems I’ve noted came from the original source document, not from the printing process.

By the way, I like the iPhone version of the Kindle app a lot better than the Nook app right now, and on the iPad I think it’s every bit as good as Apple’s iBook app, and searching for content is far easier.

If you’ve never read the other two books, I recommend you read them first, in the original order. “Mote” is not a short book, but as I said, it is considered one of the definitive First Contact novels, if not THE definitive one – even Robert A. Heinlein said so! There is an essay Niven and Pournelle wrote called “Building ‘The Mote in God’s Eye'” that can be found in Larry Niven’s short story collection “N-Space.” In it they explain how they created the Moties, and how the Motie biology dictated much of the plot of the story. They even talk about how a model kit of a fictional spaceship, the Leif Ericsson, was used as a starting point for the INS MacArthur in the book.

Chris Doll's magnificent "MacArthur" scratchbuilt model

As I said, it’s a deep and rich universe. The Second Empire of Man is a part of Jerry Niven’s future history series, which includes many of his novels describing the time leading up to the First Empire of Man. It’s all worth reading, but you don’t need to read all those to get the storyline of these books. “Mote,” “Hand,” and “Outies” work together very well to give you a very satisfying picture of a spacefaring civilization by the best hard-science fiction writing team (and now, daughter) in the business. The book, like the two before it, is very much recommended.


Why do I not post on FaceBook?

January 19, 2011

1. I don’t have pithy thoughts every day.

2. I figure nobody cares what I had for lunch.

3. I teach high school, and I don’t want to get sued.

4. FaceBook seems to follow Sturgeon’s Law. (That would be the second one.) Why should I add to it?

These are the same reasons I don’t Tweet.

If I was as clever as Frank Fleming, I’d be Tweetin’ up a storm.


They lost control of the discussion again…

January 19, 2011

Political Theater at its best

Well, Republicans, y’all missed the point again…

For the past couple of weeks the news cycles and talk shows have been obsessed with two things: the Tucson shooting, and this whole issue of mean-spirited speech. It’s actually broader than that, but my point isn’t to clarify anything about those subjects. The Tucson sheriff is apparently politically motivated and he got his 15 minutes of fame. He chose to use it poorly. The liberals pulled out their “control of speech” playbook and found ways to shoehorn it into this situation. Despite what Rahm Emmanuel says, the liberals weren’t about to let this crisis, manufactured as it was, go to waste.

My point has to do with what should have been going on instead. The Republicans in Congress just lost control of the discussion again. They should have expressed their condolences and their hopes for a swift conclusion to this whole affair with justice being served. Then they should have gone back to the people’s business and moved on.

Instead, we have this “religious event”/pep rally last Wednesday night, which sounded like an embarrassment all around – I didn’t watch it. Even if Obama did speak eloquently, it has absolutely nothing to do with his job or the nation. What about one of those multiple-car pileups on the expressway, when as many people can be killed or injured as in this situation? Would Obama be able to make some sense about how that should impact the entire country? Of course not.

“But it’s a Congresswoman, so it matters!” All attacks matter. All murders matter. Every innocent kid who is gunned down in gang crossfire in Chicago matters. But Obama doesn’t come home and eulogize them. This was a political event staged for national political purposes. It had nothing to do with helping the victims’ families through their grief, seeking justice or even the greater moral issue of identifying and treating the mentally ill.

I don’t want to sound hard-hearted and say that congressmen don’t matter. But they don’t matter more than others, dear friends, despite what the chattering classes tell you. I am saddened by all the deaths and injuries that resulted from this madman’s rampage, but even though he focused his rage on a Congresswoman doesn’t mean the judge who died protecting another person doesn’t matter as much, or the nine-year-old girl. If anything, the young girl should elicit more grief from us – she had the most life before her to life, and was a completely innocent bystander.

But as Rush Limbaugh would tell you, thinking is more important in running the country than feeling. The Democrats would lead you to think that you should feel a tremendous outpouring of grief for these people. Then, when you realize you don’t, because the 24-hour news cycle of such things bombarding you daily has burned it out of you, you will feel guilty about it – and wonder to yourself, “Does that mean I’m one of those people they are saying are so bad? The ones who don’t care, like those Republicans in Congress, or Rush, or Hannity, or Mark Levin?”

Nope, you are just a human being. It’s pretty difficult to expand our relationships past that of our family, or our tribe. People die all the time for one reason or another that seem senseless. (That’s a question for another day.) It’s really impossible for us to feel deeply about all of them any more…in fact, I’m afraid it makes it more difficult for us to feel as deeply about those close to us, unless we focus on that sometimes. (Again, another topic for another time.)

But in this case the Congressional Democrats were using this in a cold and calculating way to divert attention from the actions and momentum of the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives. They are far better at this than Republicans ever have been, and to a degree that’s good – we should be taking the “high road.” But we can’t let them take over the national agenda time and time again, with manufactured items they tell us to pay attention to. Nothing about this was something Congress needs to pay attention to right now. Not this “new tone” business, or “spirit of compromise,” or whatever the Democrats call “we’re no longer in power but you’re still going to let us have our way.”

At least they got the Obamacare repeal through the House today. It won’t pass the Senate, probably, and if it does, Obama will veto it. Mark Levin says if that happens, send it again. And then send it again. And again, until the American people are up in arms about it enough to pressure him or it’s 2012 and he’s fired.

Speaking of which, I heard Donald Trump was looking at a 2012 Presidential bid. At first I thought it was silly. My son said, “Didn’t he declare bankruptcy once?” I think it may have been more than once. Still, how does that make him worse than your average Congresscritter? Look at the deficits they are running up! At least Trump knows how to run a business!

And it would be worth it just to hear him say to Obama, “You’re fired!”



WordPress iPad App Update

January 11, 2011

I have to mention that the new version of the WordPress iPad app, which I just downloaded today, seems to work much better than the last. Embedding images is easier, but resizing them gives unpredictable results at best. Italics and bold are still not supported and I don’t know how to embed a link, but the rest is at least improved a little.

I’m using the on-screen keyboard tonight as well. I tend to hit the wrong keys occasionally because of the lack of tactile feedback, but on the other hand the autocorrection function is a useful tool, most of the time!

Update January 29, 2011:

I tried to do the Chris Christie post (above) with the iPad and when trying to type the last paragraph, the app repeatedly crashed. I don’t know if there is a word limit (if so, why?) but it’s really frustrating. It’s still not ready for prime time, folks. Sorry. I love WordPress otherwise, but I would really like an app that made it easier to work with on the iPad. The iPhone, not so much…too small. WordPress guys, please? I’d pay for it! It doesn’t have to be free!


This is what I want for my birfday…

January 11, 2011

It doesn’t look easy to park. Changing lanes might even be difficult. On the other hand, maybe others might stay out of the way because it’s so intimidating.

Probably doesn’t get very good mileage, either. I still think it’s pretty sweet.

What do you mean, the rocket engines don’t really work?