Archive for May, 2012

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Stupid iCal tricks

May 29, 2012

I use the Reminders app on my iPhone and iPad a lot. I wish all the functions that are available in iCal were available on the phone, but I still use it without them. I actually use it more now that Siri adds them for me.

I created a new list because I had a bunch of things to do today, and I didn’t want to hunt through the long list. Then I moved the reminders from the default “Reminders” list to the new list. (I did all this on the iPad.)

When I opened Reminders on the iPhone, the new list was there, but the regular “Reminders” list had no entries! They showed up in iCal, and on the iPad, but not on the phone.

Searches through the intertubes didn’t help much, but finally, though, I found an old Apple forum post that said…you guessed it…turn the phone off and then on again. I figured it wouldn’t work since it described behavior from a previous iOS version.

Yeah. That’s all it took. Hold the Sleep button down until the red slider appears, then turn it off, then hold the button again until it starts up.

All my Reminders were there.

One the one hand, duh; on the other, why would you have to do that? I thought all this stuff was in iCloud and synced automatically? I had all the settings correct!

Anyway, they are in there, and that makes me happier. Not delirious, but happier.

Now I’d better get to work…

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The critics are sinking my “Battleship”!

May 27, 2012

I saw “Battleship” for the second time today. My son and his fiance had not seen it, and they wanted to see it instead of “Men In Black 3”, so we went to see it again.

The Cinemark theater in Independence, Ohio, had a great screen and decent sound – the sound wasn’t as deafening as a lot of theaters I’ve been in over the last few years, but it was loud enough to give some solid impact.

I’ve read a lot on the intertubes about what a poor film this is, what a stupid premise, poor writing, poor acting, poor casting – pretty much everything but the color of the US Navy ships has been criticized.

OK, I’ll agree that it has some plot issues. You can’t think too much about the astronomy and physics involved. Only six years after sending a signal into space from a Landsat – and that series of satellites were intended to study the Earth, not “deep space” – the nasty aliens appear. (Speed-of-light issues notwithstanding.) Nobody knows if they are really interested in wiping us out or not. We know they need to take over our communications equipment on Oahu to send a message back home. (Their own communications craft somehow had collided with a satellite on its way toward earth, destroying it and scattering pieces of it all over the planet.)

A case could be made that the aliens are just trying to take this set of satellite dishes over to phone home, but otherwise don’t necessarily want to conquer or exterminate us. They really didn’t bring enough manpower to do so. Was the signal supposed to say “Y’all come”? Are they the scout team?

If you can get past that stuff, the rest of the movie is a lot of fun. It’s not the only sci-fi movie with bad science. In fact, I’d wager far more science fiction films have been made with almost no regard to the science than those with even a passing nod to physics, chemistry or biology.

The real positives in this film keep it going when thing otherwise get weak. Taylor Kitsch, a total unknown to me before this, actually does a credible job as the screwup-with-tons-of-potential who comes through in the crisis. He is not terribly likable at the beginning, but you have to admire his dedication in the face of overwhelming odds. I happen to believe we need folks like him, the ones who are willing to go all the way out there, instead of playing it safe all the time.

The addition of so many real-live military personnel is a great touch. They helped us suspend our disbelief, and do so subtly. The tributes to the veterans – both active and passive tributes – was touching. There are always those critics who find such treatment of our men and women in uniform somehow old-fashioned and treacly, but I for one really felt director Peter Berg was honest and respectful in his portrayal of the military. I’m sure there were things that were technically and procedurally incorrect in the goings-on aboard ship. None of that detracted from my enjoyment of the film.

To me, the “third act” was what made the movie work for me. I can’t talk about it without serious spoilers, so don’t go further if you don’t want to know what happens yet. I advise you to see the movie yourself first. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Some years ago my wife and I were fortunate to visit Hawaii and tour the USS Missouri. We had already toured its sister ship in Norfolk, the USS Wisconsin. These World War II era battleships are very impressive even just tied up to the dock. We were told while in Norfolk that the Wisconsin was technically on “active reserve” status  – in fact, that is why we couldn’t go inside. The interiors were kept air-conditioned and humidity-controlled, and should the need arise, the ship could be recalled to active duty, as it was for the first Gulf War.

Since that time, both ships have been turned over to museums – the Missouri to an association in Hawaii, the Wisconsin to the City of Norfolk. That’s only occurred within the last decade, though, so the state of the ships should be pretty good. The Missouri actually was laid up in drydock a couple of years ago for repairs, so she’s probably more seaworthy than she was a decade ago!

If you didn’t know that, the idea of starting up a WWII battleship and getting it out of Pearl Harbor to fight in a matter of hours seems more than far-fetched. One single explanatory line of dialog would have helped make that clear. Otherwise, it’s a reach that the ship could even move! (Of course, where they found the ammunition and the powder bags is a question as well, but at least one plot hole would have been fixed.

The aliens’ behavior was not incomprehensible…but…the lack of an attempt to communicate with humans pretty much flew in the face of one of the main tropes in alien invasion movies – somehow, in almost every movie, we learn what the aliens’ motives are, for good or ill. These aliens were tough, but they didn’t leave their own behind – just like our own military elite units – and they were very single-minded and focused. Is this behavior all that much different from our SEALS or Rangers? Would they be expected to parley with local leaders, or would that be left to diplomats? Maybe all the diplomats were on the communications ship!

In fact, the red/green IDs for people and weapons in the aliens’ heads-up displays indicated that they believed in only attacking threats. If anybody was sneaky and underhanded, it was us!

So yes, there are holes and defects. Pretty much every movie has them. (Think hard about the physics of Iron Man’s flight characteristics – I dare you.) I think the premise that a popcorn movie was being made based on a game, and a game that lacks a real narrative at that, provided the fodder needed by a lot of critics who think they’re clever folk. For the really  lazy critic, sometimes it’s easy to go for the cheap shot, and if he doesn’t have to actually analyze the movie, it’s even better.

I think that’s what happened here. A lot of critics had their minds made up before the movie even came out. Unfortunately, that affects theatergoers and attendance. The presence of so many online critics makes them, as a group, far more influential than a few magazine or newspaper critics were twenty years ago, instead of the reverse.

I’m only going to mention the fact that movies that portray the US military in a positive light usually have a rocky road to go with many critics. I’m not going into that any more in this piece!

So…go see it. It’s the kind of movie that deserves the big-screen, big-sound-system treatment to be appreciated. Watching it on DVD on your 19-inch in the kitchen in six months is not going to work for this one. Make up your own mind. I think far more folks will enjoy this movie than think they might. Give it a try!

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Life Imitates Art

May 23, 2012

I just wrote a piece about how the themes in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged are being used by liberals, and particularly by the Obama campaign. It can be found at Keep Americans Free! I invite you to read it, and to read Atlas Shrugged.

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Boeing wins second stage contract for Orion

May 21, 2012

NASA announced last week that they have selected the upper stage of the Delta IV launch vehicle for the second stage of the first Orion launches. This upper stage will be lifted by the (currently non-existent) Space Launch System first stage, which is supposed to have three modified Shuttle Main Engines and either solid or liquid-fueled strap-on boosters.

The Orion, or more boringly named the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, is being built by Lockheed – Martin. Boeing builds the Delta IV upper stage with a Pratt & Whitney RL-10 engine and burns LOX and liquid hydrogen. The first flight of  Delta IV was in 2006.

I would expect that eventually Boeing will be named prime contractor for the first stage of the SLS as well. NASA institutionally believes that playing around with low-orbit launch vehicles by upstart little companies is all well and good, but when we get to the heavy-duty stuff we go with the proven big guys. Or maybe it’s when we get to spending real money?

I’m cynical, I know. And I really don’t have anything against Boeing. In fact, I’m chuckling today because the “Occupy Chicago” movement folks that were supposed to knock Boeing back on its heels today with the big demonstration actually had…a sort of little demonstration. Hundreds, not thousands.

I personally believe the demonstration today has far less to do with Boeing’s involvement in building military aircraft than it does with the fact that Boeing built a non-union plant in South Carolina, not bowing to Obama Administration pressure.

The second stage only generates about 25,000 pounds of thrust but can burn for over 1000 seconds. It’s a more powerful second stage than the one Astrium is going to build for the ATK Liberty launcher. At the moment, Boeing’s launch vehicles are the only game in town with that level of performance.

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Build the Enterprise – in 20 years, for cheap!

May 21, 2012

Build it in orbit, where it belongs…

A gentleman who calls himself “BTE Dan” has put up a very deep web site called BuildTheEnterprise.com. He envisions building a spaceship capable of reaching Mars in 90 days, within 20 years, for roughly $ 50 billion per year. That works out to a trillion dollars! (But that’s in today’s money, and I expect that $ 50 billion even ten years from now might not have the same buying power.)

I’m not going on a rant about how we spend billions each year on stuff not nearly so awe-inspiring, or any of that. I just wanted folks to see what Dan was doing. He has a somewhat unique vision, I think: would it be more inspiring to build a spaceship that could travel throughout our solar system if we named it “Enterprise” and made it look like a TV spaceship from 50 years ago? How would you do it?

While his Enterprise is not warp-capable – he’s basing it completely on technology already in place or in development today – he may have a point. I remember the elation in the “Trek community” when the first Shuttle to be rolled out was named Enterprise. Then we found out that it would never go into space – that it was a “test article.” We watched it fly around on the back of a 747 and do some glide tests, but I know many of us felt our dream had been crushed again – held out, then snatched away by realists at NASA.

The name Enterprise has a history unique in our culture. Of course Gene named his after the aircraft carrier, the first nuclear carrier in the world. By the time “The Next Generation” rolled around, rather than trying to use a different name, it was updated but called the Enterprise-D; the continuity of the name was deemed important.

And it is; symbols mean things. I’ll be “Star Trek” inspired hundreds of thousands of young people to become scientists and engineers over the years. (I think “Star Wars” is looked at rather differently, but I’m not ready for that argument!)

And I think Dan is right: the ability to build an “Enterprise-like” spaceship is now technically within our reach. Getting to orbit is getting easier, and over the next three or four years it should get easier still. By the time components need to be put in orbit – and that’s where you build it, J.J. Abrams, not on the ground! – access to orbit will be easier and more reliable, and somewhat less expensive. Such a program might even encourage the commercial space access companies to move faster. Part of the reason they aren’t moving faster now is that the market is too small and too variable. Does any other company have a backlog of 20 missions or more, like SpaceX?

So read through Dan’s pages. I would love to think this would be the start of something really big!

 

 

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Clarifying the term “commercial space”

May 16, 2012

Paul D. Spudis, writing in the Smithsonian Air & Space blog, explains why “commercial space” firms like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences aren’t “commercial” in the strictly defined capitalist sense – at least not with their current business model. He’s not unduly harsh, although it’s evident he doesn’t like the situation. However, his feelings come from a lack of a national space policy, not from the actions of the companies themselves. (I think SpaceX would prefer to be less beholden to the Government, but in many respects, right now, it’s the only game in town. I confess that I may believe that as much because of my own hopes as because of those of Elon Musk.)

Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch carrier and SpaceX-built rocket

And I agree, Bigelow Aerospace and Virgin Galactic better fit the definition of “commercial” in the purer sense. And Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch Systems, as well. Interesting that these companies don’t seem to expect to support themselves by providing services to the US Government.

And thanks to Mark Whittington for finding the article!

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SpaceX given the go-ahead for the May 19 flight

May 15, 2012

The Gods of NASA have given SpaceX the appropriate blessing for a launch on Saturday morning, at 4:55 AM Eastern. This is the flight I had hoped to see while I was in Florida. I had to settle for an Atlas 5 launch, watching it from Orlando. Bettern’ nothin’. The launch window is about one second long, so there can’t be any holds or it won’t launch that day.

This flight, if everything works properly, will be a Very Big Deal. A commercially-developed launch vehicle will be launched and the Dragon capsule will, under ground control, fly into position with the ISS so the mechanical arm can snag it and dock it.

OK, so technically, everything ever built and launched in the US was commercially-developed, from United Launch Alliance building the Atlas 5 to Chrysler building the Saturn V back in the day. And SpaceX has received some funding from NASA, kind of as “seed money.” Think of NASA as a venture capital firm, if you will – and don’t start with me on Solyndra being the same situation – that was Crony Capitalism with a big fracking capital C. The big deal is that NASA scientists didn’t design any of this. SpaceX even designed their own rocket engines from a clean sheet of paper.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and it’s not as if the engineers at SpaceX didn’t have access to years and years of research and development that is openly available. I think they managed to snag some engineering staff that used to work at NASA. Still, the only governmental involvement has been looking over SpaceX’s shoulder and approving stuff they have the authority to approve. The Falcon 9 is launching from a government-owned launch facility, and there are a bunch of regulations that need to be followed to throw a giant metal and composite tube full of high explosives into the sky over US soil.

Anyway, I dearly hope this flight is successful. If it’s not, it doesn’t mean the end of SpaceX or of commercial space flight, no matter what the pundits say. It’s one test within a test regimen. There will be many more. But SpaceX seems pretty confident. They are combining two test flights into one to save some development time, and I expect, some money.

Even asleep, my fingers will be crossed Saturday morning!