Archive for April, 2011


SpaceX new video on commercial space flight

April 28, 2011

So that’s how they are going to solve the escape system! Nice that it works on lower-gravity planets, isn’t it? Elon Musk thinks big – and few folks are, these days. We need more people like him – people with vision and money!


He Is Risen!

April 24, 2011

John 11:25-26
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

And then, He went and proved it. But first, He used Lazarus, just for practice, or sort of a demonstration.

If you are one of those folks who just can’t believe, read Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Immortality. Practically no one in the world, except maybe Hawking, knows more about how the universe ticks than Frank Tipler. Now he explains the afterlife to unbelievers in a whole different way.

Or check out Paul Davies’ The Goldilocks Enigma if you want to see just how unlikely it is for our universe to be build for life to exist. Somebody had to do it. And that Somebody did something very special for us:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16.

Have a blessed Easter!


King Tut’s trumpets

April 20, 2011

Recently one of the two trumpets that were found in 1922 in King Tut’s tomb was rediscovered, in a bag of other artifacts from the Cairo Museum.

Apparently the two trumpets, one made of bronze, one of silver, were played for a radio broadcast in 1939. True to the spirit of the curse of Tut’s tomb, all kinds of things happened around them. The day of the broadcast the lights at the museum failed an hour before the broadcast. Supposedly every time they have been played, a major international incident has taken place.

The "cursed trumpets" of King Tutankhamun

This article in the BBC News details the performance and includes a sound clip of the sound of the trumpets. They didn’t play very well in tune, and it sounded as if they were very hard to control. Of course, they are really what we would call bugles today, since they lacked valves.

In the Baroque and Classical periods, before the use of valved trumpets in the orchestra, “natural” trumpets very much like these were used throughout Europe. Trumpet players became members of guilds and apprenticed to learn  to play using the higher overtones of the instrument, where more diatonic notes are available. Such playing is very demanding on the facial muscles. Since we have absolutely no idea what kind of music was played on them, we don’t know if they had to have great high chops like the clarino trumpet players of the Baroque.

Of course, maybe this was the music of the time:


Fred Thompson tells what being a “Dark Horse” candidate is like

April 20, 2011

Fred Thompson, whom I thought was by far the best candidate for President in 2008, relates in National Review what happens to a candidate the media decides to label a “dark horse.”

I still think Fred had some health problems during the campaign, or at least just before he started. He looked very, very thin. He was just on an episode of “The Good Wife” last week, playing himself (!), and he looked much healthier.

I listened to the podcast of his radio show when it was on for a couple of years, not every day, but quite often. Fred wasn’t always great radio but he was very articulate about his views. I don’t know if the ratings were too low – he was on a smaller syndicated network, opposite Rush Limbaugh – but the show lasted only two years. I wonder if he is thinking at all about running again. He’s 68. Ronald Reagan was 70 when he became President. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, especially with his younger wife, Jeri, who would be there to give him support.

We can dream…


Crazy, was I? Hmmmm?

April 19, 2011

Image from the computer model showing methane molecules forming longer hydrocarbon molecules.

Way back in July of 2008 I wrote a post about a theory that oil had been produced by volcanoes, not by the transformation of organic material like dinosaur poop, which still seems to be the current theory. I also mentioned a theory that some Russian scientists had that oil creation was part of a natural geologic process, requiring no plant or animal matter at all – the so-called “sustainable oil” hypothesis. Now there is more evidence these Russki fellers might be on the right track: scientists from several institutions did computer modeling using the Mako computer cluster at UC Berkeley and found that it’s possible to create longer hydrocarbon molecules from methane molecules, which are the simplest.

It’s interesting to note that the research was sponsored by Shell…


It’s the end of the world…

April 19, 2011

According to the last iteration of the Terminator franchise, the Sarah Connor Chronicles, today is the day Skynet is supposed to be activated. Please move to your nuclear defense bunkers calmly and quietly. No pushing!

I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords:

Oops, wrong robot overlords! One minute…

Umm…no. Sorry. Still wrong. Let me try that again…

Ok, a little easier to handle, if we have to be taken over, I’ll admit, but apparently still the wrong ones. I’ll get it right this time…

Yeah, that’s the one! I know what you were expecting, though…

OK, enough of that tomfoolery. I leave you with one image that about half the population, give or take, would prefer over all of these…

Yes, if you click it you can see it full-sized. Go ahead.


Audiobook recommendation: “The Star Beast”

April 17, 2011

Anticipating a long drive this weekend, I hunted around for something new to listen to. I happened upon this version of one of Robert A. Heinlein’s “juvenile” novels, “The Star Beast.” It’s from a company called Full Cast Audio.

The book was published in 1954 and was one of Heinlein’s best-loved “juvenile” novels. I read it when I was in grade school, like many young science-fiction fans of my generation, even though many of the concepts were over my head.

The original 1954 cover.

The book holds up well, even to today. Sure, some of the language is kind of dated, and some of the concepts are kind of quaint. On the other hand, children can divorce their parents, and one of the main characters has done exactly that.

A large portion of the book has to do with behind-the-scenes goings-on at the Stellar Federation’s Department of Spatial Affairs. These scenes, and the character of Mr. Kiku, are absolutely delightful, and are made moreso by  the audiobook rendering. Mr. Kiku is the Undersecretary, the “power behind the throne,” a career bureaucrat from Kenya. He has that Oxford/Kenyan lilt to his voice and the actor, Rodney Hudson, does a brilliant job making him an endearing figure and a complex character.

While there is enough in the book about the gigantic ET Lummox and his friend John Thomas Stewart to capture and hold the attention of young people, there is a lot more for adults here. I found myself driving along I-65 to and from Indianapolis in the rain with a smile on my face. The gentleness of language is a nice change from today’s novels, and Heinlein’s deft touch at showing humanity’s foibles for what they are is at its best here. It’s a delightful book, delightfully rendered by the audiobook cast. I recommend it to science fiction fans without reservation!


Henry Rearden’s speech from his trial

April 13, 2011

I don’t know who the narrator is for these excerpts from “Atlas Shrugged,” but the creator of the videos references the Blackstone Audiobook. That one is done by Scott Brick and this is NOT Scott Brick, who  does, in my opinion, just a fair job of performing the book. This narrator does an excellent job with this excerpt. Listen carefully. While Rand is criticized often for being wordy, this speech is very clear. Segments like this are why the book took Rand most of a decade to write.



Here’s a great advertisement for “Atlas Shrugged – Part 1”

April 13, 2011

I don’t watch “Mad Men,” but apparently this is from the show.

The film comes out this weekend.


SpaceX imitates von Braun

April 12, 2011

Artist's conception of the Falcon 9 Heavy

I’ve mentioned this before, but a recent article in SpaceFlight Now talks a bit more about the timeline SpaceX has planned for launching a Falcon 9 Heavy from Vandenberg.

Yup, from Vandenberg, in California, not from Florida, or from the South Pacific, which is where they were banished to for their first Falcon 1 tests. This beast is about half the size of a Saturn V, with twice the lift capacity of the Delta 4 Heavy or the Shuttle.

Yeah. Twice the lift capacity. A monster.

How? By using the same Merlin engines that power the other Falcon launch vehicles. This is the SpaceX-designed  engine, the first new liquid-fueled engine designed in decades. The first stage is three Falcon 9 cores. Each has 9 Merlin engines, so the first stage has 27 engines firing at once! Instead of designing a mega-sized engine like the F-1 that powered the first stage of the Saturn V, SpaceX has just imitated the thoughts of Wernher von Braun – use a lot of smaller engines.

Back in the 1950s, von Braun didn’t have the technologies to build high-pressure engines that would burn LOX and liquid hydrogen. instead, in designs like the ones he did for Disney and for Collier’s Magazine, he opted for less-powerful non-cryogenic propellants, like nitric acid and hydrazine, and up to 52 engines in the first stage!

One of von Braun's proto-shuttle designs from the 1950s