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[ 20040429 ]

A Theme To Which I Will Return

-- one of sociological speculation:

Currently tied for #31 on Blogdex is For a Conservative, Life Is Sweet in Sugar Land, Tex., in which the WaPo's David Finkel "explains" the Red State mentality.

In the article, we find Red Staters 1) reading several times as much per day as the average American 2) admiring Martin Luther King 3) demonstrating the ability to sympathetically characterize Blue Staters 4) tolerating homosexuals 5) donating to charity 6) not being monolithically evangelical Protestant 7) planting trees 8) going to Hooters 9) living in attractive, clean, safe places.

Finkel nonetheless strives to make all this sound as alien, unpleasant, and un-Blue-State-like as possible. The resulting transparent failure has me wondering if Darwinian selection isn't on the verge of simply putting the Blue States out of business.

How many more years before outmigration from the Northeast and upper Midwest renders those states politically irrelevant? How long before the West Coast implodes when its wealth-creating people depart?

What if the Red States are the future? What if the Blue States really don't have anything to offer -- not only for traditional families, but for their favored groups? What if gays and minorities and women are better off in the Red States, to say nothing of all the people who just want to be able to earn a living and actually keep most of it?

Jay Manifold [12:40 PM]

[ 20040426 ]

In Which I Field A General Relativity Question

Previously unknown reader (the best kind) Blair Hansen writes:

I recall an experiment where two clocks, initially set identically, showed
different times after one had been flown around the world in a high altitude aircraft.

Were any timing devices left on the moon in 1969, and if so, what would they indicate, relative to identical devices left at Cape Kennedy the same year?


  1. I don't think so.

  2. Turning to Remarks on General Relativity by Michael Fowler of the University of Virginia, we find:

    "Einstein suggested ... looking at characteristic spectral lines of atoms near the surfaces of very dense stars, which should be red-shifted compared with the same atoms observed on earth, and this was confirmed. This has since been observed much more accurately. An amusing consequence, since the atomic oscillations which emit the radiation are after all just accurate clocks, is that time passes at different rates at different altitudes. The US atomic standard clock, kept at 5400 feet in Boulder, gains 5 microseconds per year over an identical clock almost at sea level in the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England. Both clocks are accurate to one microsecond per year."

    So a difference in radius from the Earth's center of 2.6 × 10-4 -- and therefore (by the inverse-square law) a difference in gravitational force of (5.2 × 10-4) × 9.81 m sec-2 -- is sufficient to produce a difference in clock time elapsed of 1 part in 6.3 × 1012.

    The difference in gravity at the surface of the Moon, relative to the surface of the Earth, is around 8.2 m sec-2, or 1,600 times the difference between Boulder and Greenwich. I infer that an atomic clock on the Moon would gain 8 milliseconds per year relative to one on Earth.

    So (ignoring, among other things, the Sagnac effect of the Moon's motion in its orbit around Earth) the answer I get is that if the Apollo 11 crew had left an atomic clock on the Moon, it would have gained about 0.28 seconds relative to clocks on Earth by now.

Readers who perform rigorous calculations, unlike the one above, which hardly deserves back-of-the-envelope status, are invited to send them in. For the practical application of what might seem to be an utterly trivial and esoteric effect, see General relativity in the global positioning system, by Neil Ashby of the University of Colorado.

Jay Manifold [7:15 PM]

Shameless Plug-a-Thon

Follow the directions in this earlier post, and for a couple of hours at midday tomorrow you too can be wondering if I'll ever shut up. ;)

Jay Manifold [5:25 PM]

[ 20040425 ]

Selling JIMO (II)

(See this post from December for background.) Knight-Ridder's Robert S. Boyd has a 900-word piece, about two-thirds of which, with accompanying graphic and headlined "Radioactivity: The new space fuel?," appears on page A 6 in the dead-tree edition of today's KCStar. Annoying registration is required to read it; fortunately, the Billings Gazette offers unhampered access to the article, though not the graphic.

The article mentions "activists' fears of a nuclear accident" and "the dismay of some opponents of nuclear projects in space or on the ground," but the KCStar version, which is truncated to less than 600 words, omits this passage:

Bruce Gagnon, the coordinator of the Global Network against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Brunswick, Maine, is concerned about the environmental consequences of an accident.

"We're told, 'Don't worry; everything is going to be safe,'" he said. "But space technology fails on occasion. We've seen enough examples, like the Russian 1996 Mars mission that fell back to Earth and spread a half-pound of plutonium around. Imagine if Columbia (the space shuttle that exploded last year) had a nuclear reactor on it."

We may infer that pictures like this (or, for that matter, this) will be employed to arouse public apprehension.

A quick graze through the GNAWNPS website reveals it to have what might politely be termed a wide-ranging agenda. Apparently, NASA is engaging in risk transfer by hiring The Keystone Center to handle PR. Bruce Gagnon is disinclined to cooperate and writes about his concerns in What kind of seed will we take from Earth?:

Reminding us of the Spanish exploration of the Americas, and the smallpox virus they carried that killed thousands of indigenous people, [Barry] DiGregorio[, founder of the International Committee Against Mars Sample Return,] warns that the Mars samples could "contain pathogenic viruses or bacteria."

We are now poised to take the bad seed of greed, environmental exploitation and war into space. Having shown such enormous disregard for our own planet Earth, the so-called "visionaries" and "explorers" are now ready to rape and pillage the heavens.

The ICAMSR website is slightly less anti-space-development; its charter says:

The ICAMSR will not attempt to stop or impede the progress of the robotic search for life in the solar system. This includes both in-situ life sciences experiments, and planetary sample return missions examined in Earth orbit.

Nonetheless, it invokes the infamous precautionary principle:

Because of the unknown nature of any toxins or pathogenic viruses/bacteria which Martian soil could contain, absolute certainty regarding the protection of Earth?s fragile biosphere must be enforced by demanding that all solar system samples be examined in space before being committed to the biosphere of the Earth.

And ICAMSR points approvingly to Astroenvironmentalism: The Case for Space Exploration As An Environmental Issue, which advocates "[p]rohibiting national, international, and private agencies from owning property in space, in the interest of avoiding military conflicts. There is a need for more people to be involved in the efforts to see that space does not become another battleground."

All this sort of thing invites derision, of course; the idea that space entrepreneurs are modern-day conquistadores, or that private property causes war, would seem safely confined to the radical left. But the pro-commercial-space culture is tiny, and there may be legitimate concerns about planetary contamination (though as I noted in that post, I think they go in the other direction). Persons wishing to further human activity in space would be well-advised to carefully consider how to influence public opinion in a benign direction.

Jay Manifold [11:17 AM]

[ 20040424 ]

Early Modern Astronomical Manuscripts (A Continuing Series)

(See this earlier post for background.) Eric Adler reports in yesterday's KCStar that Linda Hall Library has acquired its rarest and most expensive book -- by a 25-year-old mathematician acting as a stalking horse for Copernicus:

Three years before famed astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus published De revolutionibus, the revolutionary treatise stating that the sun, and not the earth, was at the center of the universe, Rheticus published Narratio prima.

In essence, the book of only 70 leaves was “a trial balloon,” said Bill Ashworth, an associate professor of science history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Locals, mark Thursday evening the 29th on your calendars: there will be an unveiling of, and lecture about, the book in the main hall of the library at 5:30 PM. By Owen Gingerich, no less. Details here.

Jay Manifold [10:03 AM]

New to the Blogroll

I don't always announce these, but I'm in a relatively conscientious mood, so a hearty welcome to Kevin Parkin's Weblog, which appears in the Science/Space category, and to I Don't Know, But ..., which has a nice antidote to the idea of a pre-Columbian spiritual utopia in the form of The Indian Ten Commandments.

Jay Manifold [10:03 AM]

[ 20040422 ]

Treetops and Terraforming

Height limit predicted for tallest trees, reports Michael Hopkin in Nature, summarizing a paper appearing elsewhere in that publication:

For California redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), the tug of gravity and the friction between the water and the vessels through which it flows mean that fluid cannot be dragged any higher than 122-130 metres [400'-426'], the researchers conclude ...

Given the clement climate and nourishing soils of northern California, this may well represent the greatest possible height for any tree in the world.

On this world, that is. Assuming the friction factor remains constant, height would vary inversely with gravitational acceleration. So in a large O'Neill-type colony spun up to, say, 0.5 g, they could be twice as tall. And someday, living in 0.38 g on a terraformed Mars, they could be 342 m (1,120') in height.

The question I've wanted answered for some time is how tall a mountain can be on Earth. Are the Himalayas the tallest range in Earth's entire history? Readers are invited to enlighten me on this topic, and I'll share the findings.

Jay Manifold [3:33 PM]

More Good Books

As noted back in January, my sometimes ambiguous writing style resulted in an implied promise to blog about, among other things, good books. A couple of examples have turned up in my recent grazing:

  1. Over on s1ngularity.net, Gabe Chouinard's Top Ten Works Of Speculative Fiction That Have Influenced Me As A Writer.

  2. And on Fresh Bilge, Seablogger Alan quotes from one of my all-time favorites, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Jay Manifold [3:31 PM]

Phytoremediation in the News

Frequent contributor Mike Daley, the idea hamster of the blogosphere, sends Money that grows on crops, an article from the Christian Science Monitor (hat tip: Orrin Judd). Mike copied a couple of smart people (Michael McNeil -- graze on over to Impearls for this great post -- and Glenn Reynolds, who thankfully hasn't scooped me) on this, too.

Anyway, all that's the setup to send you back to read Gold vs Brains (III), a post from a year and a half ago, which covers the same development. Note the double-edged sword of technology; it's a very small step from a plant that extracts gold to one that extracts uranium.

Jay Manifold [8:31 AM]

[ 20040421 ]

One Kooky Conspiracy Theory Down ...

One zillion to go, but hey, progress is progress. In this case, it's the polio-vaccine-causes-AIDS meme, popular as recently as two months ago in Nigeria, as this news story indicates.

The Scientist has the details; "Michael Worobey and colleagues report that the chimpanzees claimed to be the source of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIVcpz) that crossed over actually contain a SIVcpz unrelated to HIV-1." RTWT (600 words; 2 minutes).

Now for the little problem of convincing militantly anti-science Islamists ...

Jay Manifold [3:21 PM]

[ 20040420 ]

Stony Meteorite Explodes Above Chicago (II)

I have a follow-up post to this item from over a year ago, but given the venue, I decided to put it over on Chicago Boyz: The Great Chicago Meteor of 2003.

Jay Manifold [5:17 PM]

The Ultimate Broadcast

Well, that's what Andy Cline's calling it, and who am I to disagree? Mark your calendars: next Tuesday the 27th, 11 AM - 1 PM CDT (4 - 6 PM GMT); listen by grazing over to KGSP 90.3 FM and clicking on the LISTEN LIVE button. Our informal motto is "we make our listeners work harder," which (along with the station's Class D broadcast power) is why our audience size is in double digits.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to be on his show after he moves to SMSU in Springfield ...

Jay Manifold [2:29 PM]

[ 20040419 ]

Print Media Reaction, etc (II)

Rand Simberg kindly linked to the post below; his post has attracted several lengthy comments, and rather than add an even longer one to the list, I've decided to just put a pointer over there and post some additional thoughts here:

  1. Textual vs image-based media: Again, tracking the spread of a meme through print media alone may give a misleadingly pessimistic picture of its actual progress. For those of you with Lexis/Nexis access (I get it through my employer's intranet), including the word "transcript" in a "power search" will turn up some TV interviews and news stories. What this will not yield is the pictures themselves, but in combination with ratings data it could give some idea of public awareness of the events covered. In my earlier search, I was looking for editorials as a means of gauging opinion-leader reaction.

  2. Naturally occurring vs man-made events: Any astronomical event has the potential to focus public attention on space. These may be divided into two groups -- those known years in advance (last year's opposition of Mars, this year's transit of Venus, lunar/solar eclipses, etc), and those of a more aperiodic nature (near-Earth asteroid flybys, comets, big solar flares, etc) which are known only hours to weeks in advance.

    Man-made events are, of course, things like Mars landers and manned flights. In general, robotic activity in space must have some unique contextual or visual aspect to hold public attention. A probe to a previously unexplored celestial body or revealing previously unknown phenomena, or one returning striking images, has a much better chance of meeting these criteria than one which seems to be covering old ground or merely engaged in surveying/cataloging (or research so abstruse that it cannot be conveyed at the vocabulary level favored by major media). Manned flights automatically generate some human interest, but the entrepreneurial context, being new, is more captivating than a Soyuz-to-ISS crew-change flight or (usually) a Shuttle mission.

  3. There are plenty of professionals out there who know how to generate media attention. As more money is directed into commercial space activity, expect some of them to be hired and help develop a positive feedback loop of more attention, more public interest, more investor interest, more money, more media ...

  4. Us and Them: Like Transterrestrial Musings commenter Dave, I've gotten "yanked back down to Earth with a hefty thump" by my wife a few times (but some things have impressed her, like the rocket-cam shot from the launch of Mars Odyssey in April of '01). Commenter Dwayne A. Day asked me to elaborate on the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of space enthusiasts in attracting interest, so I'm going to shamelessly recycle and only slightly paraphrase something I wrote to some of the leadership of the Mars Society several years ago, and have since used in advising enthusiasts of a certain political party ...

    Most space enthusiasts, besides being drawn to scientific and technical fields, are motivated by a desire for competence, are comfortable with being alone, are logical thinkers, and make decisions quickly. A group dominated by such people has several advantages: it has a common subculture -- its members will recognize, albeit often unconsciously, familiar characteristics within one another which will tend to make them more comfortable in each others' presence; and that common subculture has a common language, resulting in greater efficiency of communication through a kind of verbal data compression.

    Unfortunately, a group dominated by a single personality type also has some disadvantages. The members' level of comfort with one another may cause them to prefer one another's company to such an extent that they shun interaction with outsiders. The removal of negative feedback loops by limiting contact with the "real world" often leads to bizarre excesses and blind spots which are immediately obvious to outsiders, reducing the group's perceived relevance.

    Characteristics of this subculture's dominant personality type correlate negatively with political skill. Introversion and linear thinking do not constitute adaptive fitness in politics, where enjoyment of interaction with large numbers of people and adeptness at emotional and non-verbal communication are rewarded.

    Furthermore, space enthusiasts often express a preference for written, non-face-to-face communication, and in discomfort with interactions considered normal by most people. Discomfort often shades into dislike for people who grew up surrounded by others with whom they had difficulty communicating or even relaxing.

Since I deliberately don't have a comment feature, readers who feel strongly enough about this topic may e-mail me directly; first-timers will have to send a one-time confirmation through Spam Arrest.

Jay Manifold [1:12 PM]

[ 20040416 ]

Print Media Reaction to SpaceShipOne and ISS Tourism

(Similar post here.) I did a LexisNexis™ search on "editorial AND Rutan" for the period 4/1/04-4/16/04 in US newspapers and got exactly five hits, three of which were identical:

  1. Scripps Howard's Dale McFeatters wrote a brief, upbeat piece concluding with: "Let's hope that Rutan or one of his competitors claims the X Prize and that the FAA license for manned space flight is only the first of many." This appeared separately in Albuquerque Tribune and the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

  2. Bob Caylor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel wrote an even shorter editorial, ending with "... it's reason to hope that space exploration in the 21st century won't be entirely dependent on government. Besides that, couldn't we all use something to cheer about this year?"

  3. An unsigned editorial in the Rocky Mountain News added: "... don't underestimate the 'wow!' factor, either. Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, is the major supporter of SpaceShipOne. It's pretty cool, when you can have anything you want, to want a spaceship."

All very positive, but only three editorial commentaries in the entire country. Looking for something to compare this with, I searched on "editorial AND Gregory AND Olsen AND space AND tourist" for 3/25/04-4/16/04 -- and got one hit, an unsigned editorial in the Columbus Dispatch headlined "Can space tourism help Russia, U.S. pay for projects?" Its answer is yes: "As long as they are driving, the Russians deserve NASA's special consideration for a plan that can cut the expenses of a trip by adding paying passengers."

The picture, such as it is, is sympathetic toward entrepreneurial space activity, but awareness is minimal (see this poll to find out how space ranks in most people's concerns; short answer: it doesn't). As I noted before, the rest of the country is not very much like the blogosphere. Keep that in mind when evaluating -- or trying to influence -- public opinion. And public opinion on commercial space activity is just barely beginning to form. A positive outcome is far from inevitable.

Jay Manifold [2:04 PM]

[ 20040415 ]

Horsepersons of the Arcturcalypse

-- now include Beth Elliott, fellow traveler. Literally: she was among several hundred other guests on the Twilight Tours trip to Cabo San Lucas in July of 1991 for the solar eclipse (warning: 382 kB *.gif). The rest is history; and speaking of (future) history, Beth's novel Don't Call It Virtual, inspired by GENERATIONS and Beth's own ardent (fourth-generation!) Californian patriotism, is a delightful mixture of PC-stereotype-skewering, science-fiction futurism, and, er, alternative lifestyles. It's got something to offend nearly everyone, and I should do a full-length review of it soon.

The current edition of The Beth Zone reminds us that "[y]ou can't plan a society, you can't plan civilizations, and some people are beyond the reach of reason." From which we may infer that one's perception of the nature of order determines one's choice of risk-management strategies.

Jay Manifold [6:08 PM]

Warning on Grammar Test

(Original post here.)

Local (Raytown) reader Jeff Arnall reports: "I took the grammar test and did ok. My vanity led me to click to find out my score. When I entered their website, I got a trojan." Forewarned is forearmed.

Jay Manifold [5:56 AM]

[ 20040414 ]


You are 60% geek
You are a geek. Good for you! Considering the endless complexity of the universe, as well as whatever discipline you happen to be most interested in, you'll never be bored as long as you have a good book store, a net connection, and thousands of dollars worth of expensive equipment. Assuming you're a technical geek, you'll be able to afford it, too. If you're not a technical geek, you're geek enough to mate with a technical geek and thereby get the needed dough. Dating tip: Don't date a geek of the same persuasion as you. You'll constantly try to out-geek the other.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com

Fortunately, I don't have to worry about dating at all, thanks to She Who Must Be Obeyed, who in any case is a good geek match.

Jay Manifold [2:34 PM]

Happy 375th

-- to Christiaan Huygens, discoverer of Titan. A just-released image mosaic is the best map of Titan ever made, with a resolution of around 5°, which given Titan's diameter of 5,150 km works out to about 200 km. A "bright" area occupying much of the southern hemisphere may be a continent of ice, with most of the rest of the surface covered by lakes and seas of liquid methane, ethane, and other hydrocarbons.

Jay Manifold [2:14 PM]

[ 20040413 ]

Yet Another Regulatory Model

Having recently suggested that stadiums enforce alcohol consumption (rather than quasi-Prohibition), I now propose a regulatory model for the FCC. The proprietor of Agenda Bender, apparently inspired by The Joy of Sets, sent me Bad Language Mapping and Tolerance Levels, which he found on BoingBoing, and which you should not click on if there are very young people present or if you'd rather not have a bunch of British cuss words on screen at the moment for any other reason.

In any case, the Venn diagram and explication therein suggest that referees use common sense and adjust their tolerance levels to the context of the situation. There's a lesson here for enforcers at all levels of government on this side of the pond, one that if taken to heart would perhaps have meted out punishment for the "wardrobe malfunction" but would likely leave most radio "shock jocks" alone.

Governments that don't assume all the citizens are children ... what a concept.

Jay Manifold [5:42 PM]

[ 20040412 ]

Yikes (III)

(Previous post in series here.)

Read the Space.com article Catastrophe Calculator: Estimate Asteroid Impact Effects Online, then graze on over to the Impact Effects page itself and try your hand at anything between leveling your neighborhood and exterminating the biosphere.

Plugging in the numbers for 2004 FH -- assuming it to be 30 meters in diameter, "dense rock," with an impact velocity of 18 km/sec, normal to Earth's surface (90° angle, that is), with the target area being "porous rock," and watching it from 10 km away, we get:

Energy of impact: 1.64 MT

Crater size (transient): 937 m

Crater size (final): 1,462 m

Seismic effect: 4.7 Richter scale earthquake

Air blast: 2.3 psi overpressure, 74 mph wind, 84 dB; windows shatter

The model says "[m]ost ejecta is blocked by Earth's atmosphere," but I think I'd want to be a bit farther away. That overpressure would do some nasty things, too -- better be in a windowless basement.

As Robert Roy Britt points out, tsunami height is a missing piece for water impacts. But I have no doubt that the model will be steadily upgraded. What I'd like to see is one that generates random impacts by location (three-quarters of them would be oceanic strikes), using realistic velocities, impact angles, and impactor compositions. Formulae from The Effects of Nuclear War and Arsenal could provide death tolls for medium-sized city-busters.

My favorite feature of the current model is the average-interval-between-impacts figure, which in the case of 2004 FH-like objects is just over 160 years.

Jay Manifold [4:34 PM]

A Depressing Reminder

-- that on today's anniversary, there are exactly two human beings in space. This after 43 years and the expenditure (by NASA alone) of $600 billion in current dollars (extrapolated from this graph). Dare I suggest that huge government programs aren't the way to open the Final Frontier?

Jay Manifold [12:44 PM]

Linguistics Blog

Welcome to the blogroll Tenser, said the Tensor, which I put with the science bloggers, mainly because I think the IPA is way cool. Meanwhile, let's get this out of the way:

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!

How grammatically sound are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Just don't ask me what the rules are. I may be a grammar god, but it's largely the result of forced memorization and learning from context.

Jay Manifold [12:16 PM]

[ 20040411 ]

"Live your life out loud"

The flip side of things like this is nicely illustrated by an upbeat item, recently tied for #27 on Blogdex. You Are Your References, says Seth Godin in Fast Company:

There's a bright new opportunity just sitting here, waiting for organizations and individuals to take advantage of it: Spend your future creating your past, starting right now. Live your life out loud, well aware that everything you say can (and will) be used against you (or for you). Treat every customer as though he could turn into a testimonial. Treat every vendor as if she could give you a recommendation. And then, when the time comes, the seeds you've sown will pay off.

Blogs, newsgroups, professional organizations, and all the rest are perfect for someone who wants to leave a vivid, positive trail.

Jay Manifold [10:02 AM]

Shameless Recycling of Easter Post

What I said then.

Jay Manifold [10:01 AM]

Suggested Change in Alcohol Policy at Stadiums

ArchaeoBlog points to Myths about the Olympic Games and finds: "Modern Olympic officials, citing an ancient inscription from Delphi that had been translated 'Wine cannot be taken into the stadium,' have assumed that ancient athletes abstained from strong drink, setting an example for today's competitors. It now seems the correct translation is 'Wine cannot be taken out of the stadium.'"

The present-day analogue would be a stadium with no alcohol concession or ban on bringing drink in, but a requirement that everything you bring with you be consumed. I daresay that the first few games would be rather more interesting than usual, but suspect that hangovers and frightening vehicular traffic would produce a strong tendency to moderation fairly soon. Of course, any such policy would require governments to treat citizens like adults, and since treating them like children results in bigger budgets and headcounts for bureaucracies, we won't see this happen anytime soon.

(I can hardly mention archaeology and ancient Greece without reference to Dienekes' Anthropology Blog, which always has some cool stuff, cf The historicity of the Trojan War.)

Jay Manifold [10:01 AM]

Dispatch From An Alternate Universe

The most realistic thing in this BBC story is the colored chicks, which are reminiscent of the "horse of a different color" scene in The Wizard of Oz. Everything else is obviously from some other timeline, if not someplace where the laws of nature are different: an American who uses the expression "[t]hey are quite in awe," dye "which ... does not contain chemicals," and a state whose capital is Anchorage.

Jay Manifold [10:00 AM]