Archive for July, 2011


Breaking news: Apple buys US Government, Jobs fires Obama; replaces him with Gore

July 29, 2011

Lots of cash on hand in Cupertino...

OK, not quite. I got to thinking about it because I read that Apple currently has more cash on hand than the US Treasury. What is actually interesting about the linked LA Times piece is that it notes that many companies have been holding onto cash because of the uncertainty of the economy.

And when did that occur? Yes, it started before the 2008 election, but just before. I said then that companies would hunker down, hoard cash, and not hire, in fear of new taxes they expected to come from the Obama administration. Then came Obamacare, which hasn’t helped that uncertainty at all. Neither has the stimulus, nationalization of industries, increases in regulation, and now this little argument in Congress. If I had a company and had cash, and absolutely didn’t have to hire, I would hunker down and wait for the 2012 elections, too.

And Algore? Isn’t he still on Apple’s board? I’m sure he’s still grumbling about the 2000 election. At least then all this crap about corporate jets should end…


Tea Party Congresscritters: No way, John

July 29, 2011

One unhappy camper.

On my other blog, Keep Americans Free!, I did a post on the influence of the Tea Party-aligned representatives in the House and how they are undermining the business-as-usual process Speaker of the House John Boehner is trying to use. This is a guy really stuck in the middle. I kind of feel sorry for the guy. He thought he knew the process he had to work with and these folks are rejecting it.


“Fezzik, you did something right.”*

July 27, 2011

Here come da Dragon!

So according to Fox News, NASA finally did something that showed a bit of courage. They are going to mash the objectives of two SpaceX unmanned Dragon test flights into one, and actually dock with the ISS in early December on the first test flight of the Dragon spacecraft. (The one flown on the Falcon 9 test was a dummy.)

Good for them. We need to get this thing flying. SpaceX has shown that it will go slow when necessary, and speed up when possible. Maybe the fact that a lot of the risk is using SpaceX’s money has a bearing on it, but they’ve received a bunch of NASA development money, too, so I can’t say that NASA doesn’t care if it fails.

Orbital Sciences says they will have the Cygnus in orbit in 2012. We’ll see. The Taurus II first stage booster is sort of a super-Zenit, with some of it contracted out to the Russian builder of that missile/launch vehicle. It’s not yet been flown. The Cygnus is an unmanned cargo carrier only, like the Japanese H-II and the European ATV, so it will have competition with government-subsidized vehicles. Dragon is the frontrunner for carrying crew.

*Princess Bride quote, of course.


Hollywood, I find your lack of new ideas disturbing…

July 27, 2011

Hollywood has been adapting novels and short stories in various genres for ages, pretty much since the beginning of movies. Okay, I get that. The idea of seeing what you had imagined in your head on the big screen could be pretty powerful. It could also be a letdown, but that’s not my topic for today, kids.

Based on Pierre Boulle's novel, and he wrote the screenplay

When the geniuses in that enclave on the Left Coast decided we were too dumb for movies where you had to think, they went, naturally, to Saturday morning cartoons. Again, some big successes and some big misses. (Anybody remember the live-action Rocky and Bullwinkel?)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - a twofer - comic, then cartoon, then film. Still good.

But remember what happened to those Saturday morning cartoons: the advertisers took over. Instead of cartoons with commercials in between, they became cartoons that were the commercials, promoting Strawberry Shortcake dolls and, even, sad to say, G.I. Joe. Oh, and still with commercials in between.

Now in CGI!

Do not titter at this. My granddaughters love Strawberry Shortcake videos, just as their mother did when she was little. And S.S. has gone through three or four reincarnations since she was a little idea some folks at American Greetings dreamed up. Luckily, so far, she’s stayed in the animated realm.

Yeah, I know about video games, too. I saw the Super Mario Brothers movie, believe it or not, mainly because Bob Hoskins was in it. Same thing – hit or miss. Wing Commander was pretty good, back in 1999.

What Hollywood has been good at mining in these CGI days have been comic superheroes and other “graphic novel” characters. Even the poor ones have been fairly decent, in my view. Well, not Barb Wire. I don’t care what they say. It wasn’t Casablanca.

I'll give you one guess what was supposed to carry this movie...okay, two.

But now, having mined out all the ore that was easy to reach, even with more than a bit of strip-mining, the Gods of Hollywoodland have decided that’s too much plot. Might as well just go straight to board games.

Yep, board games. I know, I know, Clue got the Hollywood treatment way back in 1985, with a pretty heavyweight cast – Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren – but it was a game based on a mystery plot.

What’s he playing at? Why have I read this far? Because, dear reader, we now have sunk (sorry) to the level of a new film, budgeted at $ 200 million, opening in the spring of 2012:


Well, it is America's all-time favorite game...

The trailer’s been pulled off of YouTube. Use the link above to go to the official site and see it there. SPOILERS AHOY!!!!: The alien ship looks pretty cool!

Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna (!?!), and The Man Who Will Do Any Movie That Isn’t Pron If They Pay Me, Liam Neeson.

Told you. You can't make this kind of stuff up.

Brooklyn Decker - See where this movie is going?

Taylor Kitsch - equal time for the rest of my readers! I guess he's supposed to be hot...

Alexander Skarsgard - best picture I could find. Sorry.

So what’s next? Monopoly? Candyland?

To quote Yakko Warner, “The mind boggles.”


Vertical takeoff done right – by Boeing

July 26, 2011

Boeing has been working on an advanced version of the pulse jet, looking at it as a way to lift aircraft vertically, and then using other engines for horizontal flight.

The PETA engine, for pulse ejector thrust augmentor, is sort of a descendant of the pulse jet engine that the Germans used in World War II in the V1 cruise missile. This far more advanced version has no moving parts and a special chamber that mixes the exhaust with more air to improve thrust.

There was a video on YouTube for the last couple of days. Boeing apparently pulled it today. That’s too bad; it showed some animation of some troop-carrier aircraft taking off and landing vertically using a bundle of these PETA engines. The only thing I could find yet was the image below:

From upper left: German V-1; underside of a notional troop carrier showing rows of pulse jets; Han Solo's ride, for some reason

It’s supposed to be cheap to build and maintain. I assume the video was a promotion for the Pentagon or something. It looks well worth pursuing, and a lot easier to handle than the vectored-thrust chicanery the F-35 uses. There are a lot of uses for such aircraft in the private sector as well, of course – no runways required!


Too wet to comment…

July 24, 2011

There’s just been too much rain for me to think of anything to comment on, so I kick off the week with a few of my favorites from and related sites:

Sad, but true.


You can sleep better tonight.



Things that make no sense to me…

July 22, 2011

Things that I’ve seen recently that make no sense to me:

What’s with the Demon-crats new fat-cat group to attack: “corporate jet owners.” Today it was His Royal Lowness Harry Reid. Who tells them to say this crap? First of all, by definition, a corporate jet is owned by a corporation, not a rich individual, right. He’s not talking about Rush Limbaugh’s EIB One, he’s talking about big companies, that pay millions in taxes in many different forms, using a plane as a way to maximize the efficiency of their upper level management.  I suppose there are a few celebrities who own their own jets, but they’re liberals anyway, and therefore exempt, right?

Mark Levin and Rush with EIB One, the Gulfstream G550

Besides, as I’ve said before, it attacks a US industry. Most of the corporate jets are built here. Why are they trying to kill it? Are these guys that stupid? Couldn’t they have found something else?

Oh…and I think a lot of Americans aspire to owning, or at least flying in, a corporate jet. And just so you know, most of them are leased.

NASA is doing water tests of the Orion capsule. Yes, the program’s been cancelled. Did somebody not get the memo? Or (conspiracy music here) is it close enough to Boeing’s own capsule that if NASA could provide them with the data for free, sort of under the table…well, you know, there’s no Boeing capsule and ULA Atlas deal in the works, right?

Why are we doing this, again?


I find I watch more TV in the summer on a more regular basis than I do in the rest of the year. And none of it is on the “traditional” networks. I’ve been watching the stuff on USA, like Burn Notice, In Plain Sight, Covert Affairs, Suits, and White Collar. I think what started it was The Closer on TNT, which is truly excellent. Tonight I’m catching up on The Glades, which is on A&E, of all things. I suppose these are all directed at my demographic.

Actually a pretty good TV show...

I’m not into “unscripted,” reality shows. Same with the contest shows. Those seem to be taking over the networks. When they try to do something more ambitious in terms of drama lately, they suck at it, it seems. Maybe all the writers went to work for these other shows?

Seriously, are the networks going for a demographic that would rather see the game and reality shows? And what is that demographic, anyway? Is there that much of a cable/non-cable difference yet today?


What goes around, comes around…

July 19, 2011

Sierra Nevada's Dreamchaser on an Atlas V

NASA and United Launch Alliance announced yesterday they would “share data” in making it possible to launch NASA manned missions on Atlas V launch vehicles. The Atlas V has been used to launch many satellites, but has not been “man rated” up to this time.

United Launch Alliance, LLC, is the company formed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing to handle the commercial launches of the Delta and Atlas rockets. They sort of pooled their resources to avoid competition. In fact, their only competition in the satellite launcher market have been ArianeSpace and the Russians, unless you count SpaceX, which is just getting into it, or Orbital Sciences, which has been only launching small stuff. And the satellites that were carried on the Shuttle, of course.

Now y’all know I’m for competition in the marketplace. But y’all also know I’m for a level playing field. I hope Elon Musk and his folks at SpaceX are right and they can build and launch cheaper, because another roadblock has just been thrown in their way. While this looks like a good thing for everyone, this “data sharing,” I am concerned that SpaceX has been give the bumpy road while the good old boys – LockMart and Boeing – get the wink, wink, nod, nod. This article says that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin manned capsule is going to use the Atlas, as is Sierra Nevada’s Dreamchaser and “perhaps” Boeing’s own CST-100.

I completely understand wanting to use a tested technology. I’ve been hollering about that myself for years. But all of a sudden this agreement pops up, just when SpaceX, with their own, privately developed launch vehicle, is this close to being ready to launch a manned vehicle…well…

Anybody see the movie “Wind“?

It was a fictional account of how we lost the America’s Cup in sailing. Completely fictional, in fact; not related in any way to the actual events in Dennis Connor’s races or anything about Dennis Connor. In fact, the skipper who lost was a northeastern, old-school yachtsman, not an upstart middle-class sailor like Connor.

The challenger for the Cup the next time around for the USA is a group of young folks with a boat built by aeronautical engineers, designed and tested in the desert southwest. The young tactician from the team that lost is skipper this time, and he and his young upstarts have the Aussies down to a tie with one race to go…and the former skipper, who lost the Cup, brings his old school folks in and attempts to take over for the final race. You kids did a great job, but now it’s time for the big boys to take over and bring the win home. (Unknown to the kids, the funding for their efforts mainly came from him, through various shadow groups.)

Of course, the young skipper says no, and they go on to be victorious, bringing the Cup back to the US. The sailing sequences are gorgeous and kind of make up for the stupidity of the plot sometimes. Matthew Modine is the young guy, Jennifer Grey his onetime girlfriend and one of the engineers (the one who designs the secret new sail that wins), and Cliff Robertson is the old-money, slightly crazed loser of the Cup. The film came out in 1992.

NASA and ULA are looking a bit too much like Cliff Robertson’s character for me, here. I’m afraid when it’s all said and done, SpaceX will be left out in the cold and the good old boy space network will close back up, and we’ll see manned missions only launching on ULA Atlas launchers and using Boeing CST-100s. It won’t be about who has the better hardware, or who can do it for the least money, or any of that: it will be about protecting jobs in the places where Boeing and ULA are located…places where influential congresscritters reside, perhaps?

Atlas V with the Boeing capsule - Boeing just happened to have prepared this image!

I’m not saying the Atlas is bad hardware. The Delta isn’t bad either, for that matter. But what about all this crap we just went through fixing the pogo problem with the Stick? Did ATK have better lobbyists? Or did they get told, “Sorry, guys, but we couldn’t sell it. We have to go with liquid fueled rockets after all.” If we could man-rate the Atlas so easily, why wasn’t that the primary option back before NASA started screwing around with the Orion for five years?

Sheesh. More time and money wasted. I swear, those pinheads do not deserve to be given that kind of money to throw around. They pissed away five years and untold billions, then Obama glances down into Florida for a minute or two and says, “Oh, I don’t think so,” and it turns out there was a backup plan waiting in the wings the whole time…right. And there are no conspiracies in the Federal government.


Awake at 5 AM and pondering…

July 18, 2011

I shouldn’t be awake, but I am…so here’s what’s going through my head: (Now with edits done 12 hours later, when I am consciouser, or something.)

We are being overwhelmed by news trivia. I’m sure this court case of the lady who killed her daughter or didn’t is a sad, sad thing, but does it deserve one one-hundredth the media attention it received? Really? It’s kind of just a big “watching an accident on the side of the road” writ large, isn’t it?

Big old Transformers ship on the moon...

The Transformers movie was big and pretty and loud, just as it should be. Buzz Aldrin is a hoot. The “dark side of the moon” business is crap, of course. But then, flying alien robots destroying Chicago? Gotta suspend your disbelief someplace. It was sad to see the downtown get trashed. It looked worse than after Obama’s election-night victory party.

The new love interest girl has those Angelina Jolie lips that scare me. Are those ever natural?

The CGI of the Apollo stuff was gorgeous. On the other hand the actual physical landing location set, with the LM on the moon, looked really fake! (Come on, if Michael Bay can’t make it look convincing now, how did NASA fake the landing back in 1969, you tinfoil-hat folks?) And apparently the aforementioned Michael Bay thinks he can splice stuff in anywhere and if it’s busy enough no one will care. There’s a car chase that’s supposed to be in the Washington DC area that is plainly set on the Chicago expressways and got moved in editing. (Road signs for I-88, Aurora and Stony Island are kind of a giveaway, dude.)

SPOILERS AHOY: The shuttle launch was cool. The attack on it was something only Bay would have the guts to do, kind of like destroying big downtown buildings – oh, wait, he does that too, a bunch of them – but the imagery is something I remember too well from the real thing in both respects from Challenger and 9/11. Still he doesn’t dwell on it, and he does some of his patented “Coca-Cola commercial” imagery at the end, with Optimus Prime standing tall with a frayed and holed US flag flying behind him. Overall it was pretty good, even though the previous paragraph makes me sound pretty grumpy about it. Hey, it’s an action-adventure comic-book kind of movie, right? I mean, we’re not looking for hard science here.

One question: Do we never get smooth alien ships ever again? Is everything going to be this over-detailed District 9 stuff?

One answer, not to the above question: so the reason we quit going to the moon was because an accountant cooked the books to make it look too expensive. Sounds legit.

New topic: I think the days when the Congrescritters couldn’t do a 15-second sound bite to posture every day actually helped them to get some work done. On the other hand, distracting them so they don’t meddle in our affairs is usually a good thing. Oh, look, something shiny!

If I hear anything more about this debt ceiling stuff I’m gonna puke. Just say no, Republicans. Have some cojones. It’s the first step of a 12-step program to get Obama to quit spending not only our money, but our grandchildren’s money.

Speaking of the Federal budget – oh, wait, we don’t have one – the “guidelines” for one – I went through it last week one night. I could cut $ 400 billion out of this year’s budget, easy, and without even looking at the medical care nest of snakes. Start with eliminating the EPA and the Department of Education. Does that sound too crazy? And yet, until about forty years ago, we seemed to get along fine without them.

The EPA in particular has become an incredible drag on business and seems to be able to pass rules and policies without regard to legislation or the Constitution. I don’t doubt there are issues that need to be watched concerning our environment, but this agency is completely out of control and will kill off business if we don’t kill it first.

And the very concept of a Federal Department of Education is pretty much unconstitutional, friends. It was not an intention of the Framers at all. Leave the business of education to the states and local districts, where it belongs.

I see the various states as incubators of different approaches to living as free people. California should not have to be exactly like Vermont. Let the USA be the United States of America again. Let the states take care of what they should, and get the Federal government out of as much as possible. Yes, everyone should have the right to vote…what they decide to vote on should be left up to them.

I’m not even sure that, if for example, Utah decided the state religion was Mormonism, that the US Constitution forbids that. I think the Constitution keeps the Federal government from doing so, but when the Constitution was adopted several states had at least quasi-official religions.

Now don’t go crazy and say that then, by extension, Alabama could become the KKK state. Nope. Not the same thing. Equal protection, remember?  (And sorry for picking on you, Alabama.) But protection from discrimination is not the same as equalization of outcomes. Mormonism might become the state religion, but it couldn’t prohibit women from voting, for example. (And don’t yell at me about polygamy; if the voters in a state really think that’s a good idea, in terms of womens’ rights, basic economics, and genetics, I say go for it. I can’t believe they would be that crazy. Isn’t the Chinese character for “trouble” that of two women under one roof?)

I don’t know. It’s 5:20 AM. I have to ponder this more…I just like the idea of the states having more of a personal identity than they do. Texas, well, yeah…they work at it. It really is a different culture. People think of themselves as Texans. You could probably divide Florida into two states, South Florida and North Florida, culturally; if not now, pretty soon. Is southern Illinois more like southern Indiana than like northeastern Illinois and Chicago? Yep. A lot of state boundaries are so arbitrarily drawn they have nothing to do with anything anymore. Maybe have a state stretching across Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa…Cornutopia? (OK, too much, there.)

More sometime later when I’m awake. I could cut the budget tomorrow, though, by at least that $ 400 billion. “But what about putting those people out of work?” Hey, nobody in the Federal government worried when my job in education got cut in 1979. Nobody worried when my wife’s got cut last year. In fact, a really good case could be made that the Federal government is the reason more and more private-sector jobs are disappearing, so sorry, folks, you’re not going to get the sympathy you hoped for.

The HUGE positive is that once we get the tax rates under control and the spending under control and the US business engine gets booming again, all those displaced government workers will be able to find new private-sector jobs. We’re going to need them!


Atlantis’ last trip

July 9, 2011

Last launch of the Space Transportation System vehicle Atlantis, July 8, 2011

One hundred and thirty-five flights. Thousands of tons of cargo, equipment, experiments, satellites, and passengers. Over five hundred million miles of orbits. I was never a big fan of the Shuttles, or Space Transportation System…I thought it a huge set of compromises which meant it could never really fulfill any of its missions. I have wished many times for a combination of mass-produced unmanned cargo rockets to supply parts and such for space stations and missions to the Moon and Mars, and manned spaceplanes that were dedicated to flying personnel, not cargo or satellites. I always thought the shuttle system was a pretty darned expensive way to launch a satellite.

And yet, it did fulfill just about every one of those missions set for it, although it was far more expensive than hoped. Partially that was 1970s technology; the airframe, engines, and even the thermal protection system were never substantially changed after Atlantis was built. Some aircraft and ships are almost rebuilt from the inside out as refurbishment occurs, but while many changes were made over the years to the shuttles, they remained very heavy and that limited their performance. Some of the problem was, as Jerry Pournelle put it, that the shuttle really was a massive government jobs program. There was no incentive to make it fly with fewer support personnel. There were all those folks working for NASA post-Apollo, and nobody wanted to lay them all off.

To a degree, that could have been a good thing. We don’t want to lose the people who know how to do things – or better yet, how not to do things. But NASA became another bloated government bureaucracy. Generating paper became much more important than flying things. (I put some of that down to the fact that, to go to the moon in a short time, we did it the Soviet, centralized planning way, not the American, capitalist way. That might have taken longer, but we would have most likely stayed.)

But all that aside, the shuttle certainly was, as Dennis Jenkins put it, “the truck that flew.” (His book is highly recommended, and I hear there will be a new edition in a few months, updating to the current mission.) The shuttle was called upon to be a mini-space station for experiments. It was a repair shed. It was a delivery van. It was a limousine. And it did it all, and it did it pretty damned well, all things considered.

What saddens me is that while Atlantis is at the ISS delivering equipement this weekend, there is no second-generation spaceplane there as well, the vehicle that would take up the torch for the shuttles. We’ll have super-Apollos soon, from SpaceX and others, but nothing like the shuttle. The Air Force may have one, eventually, like the unmanned version they have now. But the flexibility of having a lot of passenger space and room for a lot of cargo, equipment or experiments is now gone.

Hat tip to for the image - he does great work!

Godspeed, Atlantis!