Posts Tagged ‘future’

h1

Maybe this one is THE one…

October 21, 2013

aeromobil

This pretty little thing is called the Aeromobil, and it was designed by two Slovakian gentlemen. This is supposed to be version 3.0, and the current flying version is 2.5. You can see it flying at this link.

Is it cooler-looking than the Terrafugia? Yeah. Than the next iteration the Terrafugia folks want to build, by 2020? Yeah, probably so. But not by much:

tfx v03 cityliftoff-WM

 

And this one will be an electric hybrid, and will pretty much fly itself. We’ll see how things shake out. At least the technology has progressed to a point where a “roadable aircraft” can really be built…

 

Advertisements
h1

Is the government covering up more gun running?

May 16, 2013

I must confess this possibility never crossed my mind: that Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi, where there is not a consulate (with associated security measures) but a mission, was there to conduct business related to arming those opposing the government in Syria. IN a recent interview, Senator Rand Paul raises that point. He believes that guns were being supplied by the US government to certain groups in Libya, to be shipped through Turkey and into Syria.

It makes a lot more sense, really, that there was a motivation like this for Ambassador Stevens to be in Benghazi, where he could not be adequately protected. It also makes sense that the Administration did not want anyone else there, either while the attack was going on, or in the aftermath, to possibly find clues to such plans. The FBI was charged with the investigation, but was not allowed close to the site for three weeks after the attack – plenty of time for the site to be scrubbed of all incriminating evidence.

Nowadays “political thriller” novels hold less interest to me than they once did. The actual bizarre actions of our government officials, sanctioned or not, are the stuff of such novels – except in those, someone uncovers the plot and it is brought out into the light of day.

I’m afraid we as Americans have had enough of big-G Government, and would just like to have them leave us alone, and it is very difficult to get worked up over the next stupid move made by someone in Washington. This Administration has gone so far beyond anything I ever imagined that it is impossible for me to believe any of this can be blamed on lack of communication, or sheer incompetence. I think the culture of the Administration is such that they really do believe they can do these things without concern for repercussions. Even Bill Clinton remained in office, and some people seem to look upon his years in office as some kind of Golden Age.

I’m afraid the folks who think they can do whatever they want without fear of the wrath of the American public are probably right. What can we do? We are in a representative republic, so we are separated from direct influence. The amount of time it takes to change the makeup of the legislature is too great, and the speed with which they can do damage too fast, for a “regime change” at the ballot box to be useful. Of course, it may also be that even should that be attempted, they have been in place long enough to have actually make it possible to influence national elections – I hate to use the term “rigged,” but there it is. Computer analysis tells them the very few counties in few states that tip the balance for one candidate or another. They only really have to concentrate on those areas. They don’t have to rig every precinct in every county in the US.

But I digress. Obviously the thin excuses made by Secretary Clinton have not led to calls for any action to be taken against her. No one else is supposedly at fault, and no one will be held responsible for the deaths of Americans in Libya. The Administration will weather another bumpy few weeks, but then something else will come along, and we will be waiting to hear about the next crisis.

I know this sounds pretty negative, but I don’t have a very optimistic view of my country right now. I never thought it would come to this in so many areas and so quickly. And I have absolutely no ideas on how to change it short of direct action by large groups of people – and I shudder to think what the aftermath of that would be like.

h1

Few posts over the next few weeks

February 28, 2013

Sorry, campers, I know you hang onto my every word. Family medical issues will keep me away most of the time until about May 1. I know you can hang on that long without my observations!

I really recommend that you check out Jerry Pournelle, at www.jerrypournelle.com. I think he’s the original blogger, and his commentary and that of his readers covers science, science fiction, politics, music, health care, education…a very wide range of topics. He is a very wise man and a kickass hard science fiction writer. In fact, he and Larry Niven owned most of the hard science fiction real estate for about 20 years, and both are still writing, together and separately!

See you around the intertubes. Keep your heads down.

h1

So how’s that space program coming along?

February 17, 2013

asteroids

I found it on Jerry Pournelle’s site. I don’t know where he got it. Can’t read the type on the bottom. If anyone knows who created it, I would love to know…

h1

How to improve our standings in the world’s education rankings

December 7, 2012

I recently saw a reference to yet another article decrying the state of US public education. Here, in a nutshell, is what I think:

Like with the recent presidential election, be careful what you wish for.

Huh? I’ll explain.

See, we say we want one thing, but we reward another. I taught high school for 34 years, in rural, blue-collar and then in “high achieving” suburban environments. I saw a wide range of student achievement and parental and societal expectations. What bugged the living hell out of me wasn’t the belief that if the kid didn’t get into exactly the right college, he would be a failure at life, although that pissed me off a lot. It was that there was so much focus on the environment of the school and the social life offerings there.

It was as if the kids and parents were picking a place to go for their summer vacation, not to get an education. The appearance of the campus, the athletic teams, the other social programs for the students, all the stuff completely unrelated to the actual business of learning dominated their thinking.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised. We have been looking at education that way all the way through, K through 12 and beyond, for decades.

Schools can’t be demanding, unless it’s an Advanced Placement course. Then you can do darned near anything to a kid and the parents won’t complain, because it’s cool because it’s a college course. We had one at our school that was targeted at sophomores. Sophomores? Really? Since when are they able to handle college material? If they are, why stay in high school? Skip the crap and go get the degree.

But the degrees are watered down in a lot of fields, too, and grade inflation has made “academic rigor” practically meaningless. I laugh when I hear somebody from a regular college complain about the “for-profit colleges” that are out there. To me, they should all be for a profit and not receive any state tax money. You want a college education, you pay for it. You need loans, you get them yourself.

“But college is too expensive.” Sure it is…cut the nonsense out of it, just pare it down to the education, and you can probably reduce costs (and staff) by half. It’s completely gotten out of hand.

But that wasn’t the point of this piece. It’s why we can’t compete in the rankings with other countries.

Here’s how to fix it, if the rankings are the priority:

Shoot the horses that can’t jump. Start in, say, 6th grade, separating kids by examination into college bound and non-college bound programs. Non-college bound will prepare the “workers” our Socialist President thinks we need more of. (How Lenin of him to call us “workers.” Sheesh.) Another set of exams at 8th or 9th grade. Kids who test high in science and math don’t get to be dockworkers or taxi drivers, or investment bankers or hotel operators…they are funneled into engineering and pure sciences, or into medical profession preparation.

You see, in many countries those are the kids who are tested for the rankings – not the entire general population. Every time we include everyone in that kind of testing we shoot ourselves in the foot.

Make businesses run the colleges. For example, if you test well in 12th grade, you can go to the college run by GE, or by Apple, or by BP…their own R&D folks would teach, and you would learn what they want you to learn to actually be of use to them. Afterwards, you work for them for a number of years to pay back your education. No summer vacations starting in mid-May, no winter or spring break…you learn straight through, 8 hours a day. You could do the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in two years, tops, without “Gender studies” and garbage like that loaded in the curriculum. No football games, no fraternities.

This would also give those companies a stake in how the lower grades are handled…I can’t see how that could be worse than the way we in public education are led by the nose by the colleges today.

Sound silly? Japan has been doing this for more than 20 years, that I know of. I know because I was present for a panel discussion with Japanese educators where they laid the system out for us.

Trim the fun stuff out. No more athletic teams. No extracurricular activities. No fine arts. None of those are used in those rankings, so why bother? Do you think the Estonians who rank higher than our kids are all great violinists or soccer players? If they are, it is because their parents decided to have them do that after school on their own, not depend on the school to pay for it and teach it. There are some outstanding concert bands in Japan, for instance – but not school-sponsored, and they for sure don’t rehearse during the school day.

And yes, I know that since I am a former fine arts teacher I sound hypocritical. Remember, I am telling you how to raise our rankings, not to provide the proverbial “well-rounded education.” Obviously that has not been a priority or I would not have had a job for 34 years.

If you know of a country that matches the extent of arts and athletic and extracurricular activities we offer in most of our schools, let me know; I don’t know of one – including those who rank ahead of us.

While we’re at it, we can cut about half the social studies classes – have you looked at what kids are offered today? But American History and American Government, especially learning about that pesky Constitution, are not required. But we don’t cut the Home Ec and Industrial Tech – those are needed for the kids going into the service and technical industries. We need more auto shop, not less.

Full-time school. Sorry, fellow teachers, but the cushy part of the gig is the days off. We aren’t bankers and really it doesn’t make sense to barely see kids 180 days a year. Kids no longer work on the family farm, and that’s what determined the school schedule a hundred years ago that we still use today. Give ’em July off, even, but not Columbus Day, or Presidents’ Day, or whatever, and for God’s sake cut out all the shortened days for conferences and teacher work days and meetings. Just teach the kids. We have been reducing the actual number of hours kids learn for decades. It’s a crime, and I never saw that most of those days were worth the time spent. Most of us thought most of the stuff we did was a waste of time and effort. Often the activities were planned to make it look like the administration had us focused on something new and cutting-edge; then we went back into the classroom, closed the door, and taught like we always had because the old way still worked.

Make teachers accountable. Not in terms of social interaction, but in knowledge of subject matter. I don’t want my granddaughters to get an education from people who teach math but got no higher than a B in algebra – and that is far too possible today. One of the reasons for the turnover in education is because smart people get out to do something real with their lives instead of putting up with the administrative BS, the snotty kids and their arrogant parents. That leaves us with, sorry to say, not the top of the heap. I’m not saying we need PhDs in physics to teach our classes – often those folks have no clue how to teach. But we do need people who know how to teach and what they are teaching.

Look, to a great degree, the effectiveness of a school has to do largely with the raw material. I taught in a district that selected for intelligence just like a Catholic high school that required entrance testing, except ours was based on housing costs. You couldn’t live in the district if you couldn’t afford a house there, and really stupid people rarely could. Or really unmotivated people. Move kids from low-achieving areas to that school and sorry, you wouldn’t get the same results. We were good but not that good. We had smart kids to work with, motivated kids with motivated parents and a history of valuing a good education. So we got results and were ranked high in the state tests. But that’s a topic for another piece another day.

That should be enough to move us up, say, 10 places. But we won’t do it, because we can all complain about the rankings, but we still want our daughters to be cheerleaders, or in drama, or our sons to play football or (heaven forbid) join the Chess Club. And then, when they graduate, we want them to “enjoy their college experience.” When or if we ever get more serious about kids getting an education than about the football team’s record, we’ll see some changes.

Oh, and one more…

Make the schools ethnically and culturally homogenous. According to an article in the UK Guardian, the top 10 countries in reading are:

South Korea
Finland
Canada
New Zealand
Japan
Australia
The Netherlands
Belgium
Norway
Estonia

Math and Science rankings were similar. Show me how any of those countries are as ethnically and/or culturally diverse as the USA. The dirty little secret is that we are trying to be everything for everybody, and to do anything else is racist by the standards of the US. I’m not saying any ethnic or cultural group is less able than another, just that cultures dictate learning styles, as well as a host of other things that help or hinder receptivity to educational processes, and we can’t do everything at once for everybody. I think some of the inner-city charter schools are doing well because they understand this and focus on particular neighborhoods and populations. They have high standards but they don’t have to take their eyes off the educational ball. We are constantly being told we have to do this and that because of culture and diversity. Either we all learn the same way and buckle down or we don’t. If we can’t get to kids one way, we don’t have time to find six others. We really don’t. But other schools can.

When I retired, the smallest department by enrollment was “Educational Services,” or what used to be called “Special Education.” It also had the largest number of faculty. Huh? But that, too, is another piece for another day.

This little piece ought to piss some folks off. But I’m telling you, if the goal is to be better at math than the kids in Finland, we have to become them. We can’t do it the way we have our schools structured now.

Well, what do you think?

h1

Travel by asteroid

November 15, 2012

David Hardy painting of an asteroid-based spaceship

For a long time scientists and science fiction writers have postulated using an asteroid as either an orbital base or a non-FTL starship. Books like Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow use spacefaring asteroid ships because it appears to be a monumental problem to lift enough material out of Earth’s gravity well to build a starship from scratch. John Ringo’s Troy Rising series uses an asteroid, melted and inflated, as a fortress to defend Earth from aliens entering through a hyperspace gate.

SPOILER AHEAD! In fact, Ringo goes farther and, using an Orion-style nuclear bomb drive, turns his fortress into a mobile battle platform, taking it through the gate and to the battle.

I just finished Dr. Travis Taylor’s new book, A New American Space Plan, and I was struck by something that I never really considered much before. Maybe we can get to Mars using current, or near-future technology. NASA is now setting its sights on a mission to a Near-Earth Asteroid. (Or it was last I looked. NASA plans change every day.) Beyond that – let’s say we want to go to Jupiter – it’s going to be orders of magnitude more difficult. When the AE-35 antenna pointing unit failed in “2001” – OK, Hal did it, but still – they happened to have the parts or whatever to fix it. They didn’t have to, but were prepared to.

So let’s say we’ve got a Discovery-class ship, three crew in suspended animation, two minding the store on the Long Trip Out. Something breaks, or the classic Dramatic Meteor Impact happens and breaks something – something that is not available on the ship. We’re basically screwed. Don’t tell me 3D printing technology will save us. It won’t build a microchip for a really, really, long time. And a whole antenna, say 20 feet in diameter? Probably not. We don’t have Ringo’s fabbers, and if we have to wait for those, we won’t go to Jupiter for a long while.

We could do it by what Robert Zubrin, author of the “Mars Direct” concepts, derisively called the “Battlestar Galactica” approach: a gigantic fleet of ships, traveling together for mutual aid and protection. But if lifting one ship’s parts out of the gravity well is hard, lifting 20 is a lot harder.

So let’s see…maybe we can grab a Near-Earth Asteroid, bolt a bunch of stuff on it, drill it out or blow it out with nukes, and build a habitat inside. Maybe not for hundreds of people – let’s say, 50 or so. That’s a lot of lifting but not as much as the other alternatives. Ion drive, solar sail, Orion or Orion-derived nuclear pulse drive – any of them would probably work. It would just take a while to go someplace.

Look at it as if you are driving your motor home cross country and have to take your machine shop along because nobody stocks parts for your vehicle. The bigger the vehicle, and the more people, the more likely it is you can fabricate what you need. And most of the mass is nickel-iron asteroid, which is also providing a lot of radiation shielding. Instead of thinking of a trip to Jupiter as taking a few years, maybe you’ll take decades. Running a closed environmental system like that isn’t easy, but it’s easier than a lot of the alternatives. Eventually we’ll have some better drives, and we can get around the system faster.

Has anyone ever calculated how much toilet paper is needed for a five-year trip?

I don’t see this happening in the next 10 years, but it could be done a lot sooner than most every other idea I’ve heard for deep space interplanetary travel as long as we lack a superdrive. Those are based mostly on magic and good intentions right now.

Once we know how to do that, we can build bigger ones and send people to the stars. By then we should have a pretty good idea which ones have planets we could live on.

I wasn’t a fan of the NASA asteroid mission scenario until now. Now I hope we can get there. We won’t just be learning how the solar system is put together, but how to build a better spaceship.

A pity, though. I kind of like the Blake’s 7 Liberator as a spaceship design. Of course, it was built by aliens…

Blake’s 7 “Liberator” – lots cooler than flying a hunk of rock!

h1

Recent observations on our second-term ObamaWorld

November 14, 2012

The “tax the rich” mania in France is now bad enough that the world’s 5th richest man, Bernard Arnault, is applying for Belgian citizenship. He is a self-made multi-billionaire, not one who inherited his money, and he’s apparently had it with the confiscatory tax laws in his native country.

Now Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, is applying for Australian citizenship. He says it’s out of a love of the country, but maybe his accountants are telling him what’s coming up for him. (Ok, I can’t stand it…the Woz is going to Oz. There, I had to let that out!)

George Lucas sold LucasFilm to Disney before the end of this year for over $ 4 billion. you can’t tell me his accountants didn’t warn him what was coming up next year.

Companies all over the US are laying off people now, and some are brave enough to say publicly that they are reducing staff or cutting hours because of the impending impact of Obamacare.

There is no evidence the estimated $ 2 trillion in cash US companies are sitting on will be invested any time soon. They held onto it all through the last four years to keep it from being misspent by the Obama Administration. That will make job growth all the more difficult. This is not an environment in which companies want to take risk!

Meanwhile, we still practice the politics of distraction. It worked so well pre-election, why stop now? The General Petraeus affair is much more important than the administration’s mess of Benghazi, isn’t it? And the media cheerfully report it. We love the lurid details, but now we have had so many such affair revelations, how new and scandalous is it, really?

I think the media folks are really kind of pissed when they have to deal with Benghazi. Isn’t that old news? And it’s not like it was Watergate, or something big like that. (Even though no Americans died as a result of Watergate…)  John McCain’s response to a reporter today was pretty good, and very honest. Bless him.

I don’t really know what the fuss is all about, after all. We’ve already seen over the last four years that the Obama Administration can shred the Constitution, that Supreme Court justices can pull the most ridiculous reasoning out of thin air to justify a decision, and that lies made by government officials are routinely reported as truth. And the President’s Press Secretary just says, “Well, he didn’t know about that.”

Through all of this, Democrats were still re-elected, or were elected over Republicans in a number of Congressional races, and the President was re-elected. Apparently nothing that is done by this government that is unlawful or immoral really matters.

What are we to do, anyway? We can’t affect Washington. Voting for candidates is always about finding the lesser of the evils, right? It will never be better…might as well watch TV, lose ourselves in video games, and let the politicians take care of us. Thank God Apple has given us such wonderful toys with which to distract ourselves.

Even if we would rise up, they own the military. They will always be able to compel our obedience at the point of a gun. Tar and pitchforks lose out to tanks. I remember the so-called student uprising in China a couple of decades ago. It looked like there was hope…then there was none.

Do I think it could come to this? Perhaps. I fear not enough Americans care enough to give “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor” should that be what is necessary to preserve our Republic.

Good Lord, I hope it does not come to this. But I find no alternative right now. In Europe, the downward spiral has been going on for some time. But they have had us to help bail them out. What happens when we need the bailout? Will China do it?

I think that is unlikely. I hate to sound so depressing, but I have only seen evidence since the election that our leaders  either caving in or making only a feeble attempt to slow the slide somewhat.

How do we stop this?