Heinlein Centennial web site
send e-mail to A Voyage To Arcturus (note: Spam Arrest is on, so a one-time-only confirmation will be requested)

[ 20051224 ]

37 Years Ago Tonight

Click on image for larger version.

William Anders:

"For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness."

Jim Lovell:

"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Frank Borman:

"And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good."

"And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth."

(Source of transcript here; last year's reminiscence here. Above photograph taken here at 8:48 AM EST on Thu 22 Dec 2005.)

Jay Manifold [9:18 PM]

[ 20051223 ]

Radiation Monitoring Without Search Warrants

Another painful controversy -- painful because almost all of the people writing about it are Type N (long post, but it does eventually explain that term), and are simply bloviating on, unencumbered by knowledge of radiochemistry; the only decent information in USNews' breathless EXCLUSIVE: Nuclear Monitoring of Muslims Done Without Search Warrants is:

To ensure accurate readings, in up to 15 percent of the cases the monitoring needed to take place on private property, sources say, such as on mosque parking lots and private driveways.


... officials familiar with the FBI/NEST program say the radiation sensors ... are only sampling the surrounding air. "This kind of program only detects particles in the air, it's non directional," says one knowledgeable official.

In combination, what this means is that the detectors were not looking for either g-rays or neutrons, which can penetrate several centimeters of steel, tens of centimeters of wood, and over 100 meters of air; had they been doing so, it would almost never be necessary for the vehicles carrying them to leave a public street, and they would have been directional, specifically aimed at targets of interest (which, to my mind, would certainly require a search warrant).

It therefore means that the detectors were looking for a and b-rays, which are much less penetrating. These would be emitted by daughter products of the radioactive material in the, er, device, or by radioactive isotopes created at a distance by emission of gammas and neutrons from it.

The need to enter driveways and parking lots is apparently a function of dispersal of radioactive particles by the wind, rather than simple attenuation by distance according to the inverse-square law.

While I appreciate the efforts of our public servants to manage this risk, I therefore wonder why it is not possible to merely place suitable detectors in the general vicinity of the properties in question and wait for them to turn something up. If a positive reading occurs -- and have plenty of redundancy so the inevitable false positives can be screened out -- get a warrant and go in. It wouldn't happen often, and the turnaround time for a warrant on a matter of this urgency shouldn't be more than a few minutes.

There are already such detectors in various public places, including NYC subway stations and on the Mall in DC. I've posted on this general topic quite a few times, so to avoid repeating myself (any further, that is), I'll just point you to the most relevant examples:

Jay Manifold [9:39 PM]

[ 20051221 ]

No Such Agency

Thoughts on the NSA flap:

  1. Read The Puzzle Palace (published in 1982), for God's sake (and read Bamford's comments in this interview while you're at it). If you've ever made an international telephone call that either originated or terminated in the United States, the NSA probably monitored it.

  2. That doesn't, of course, make the status quo automatically good, or even remotely acceptable. What economists generically call "agency risk" is rarely more obvious than in the case of this particular agency, which is almost incomprehensibly large and wealthy and has been in operation for longer than at least 80% of Americans have been alive; it's the ultimate loosening of the triple constraint, carried out by a government which is itself larger than the entire economy of all but three other nations on Earth (only China, Japan, and India have GDPs larger than the annual US Federal budget).

  3. But it does raise the obvious question of motivation. This stuff has been going on for generations. Why get upset about it now? Really: Are liberals truly interested in liberty? Some are -- I find this to be an excellent litmus test. Many others, however, simply have Bush Derangement Syndrome (an exact mirror of the Clinton Derangement Syndrome of the previous decade): if it didn't happen before 1700 UT on Saturday 20 January 2001, it wasn't a problem, because GWBush wasn't President.

  4. The challenge, then, becomes how to channel BDS into a constructive force (as opposed to wishing it would go away, which seems all too often to be the preferred strategy of my conservative acquaintances). To do so, we centrist, "purple-state" types might help everyone remember that no matter what, someone else will become President at 1700 UT on Tuesday 20 January 2009; and no matter what, yet another person will become President at 1700 UT on Friday 20 January 2017 (if not four years earlier). What power do we want those unknowable future Presidents to have?

  5. Changing the subject slightly, just to get this one out of the way: Of course it's new technology (and read the followup for a reasonably good explanation of the agency risk associated with this activity). Technology is not only notoriously exponentiating, but the exponent itself is growing. The technical capabilities available to the NSA today are, in all likelihood, nearly an order of magnitude greater than they were on 11 September 2001.

  6. Keeping actual capabilities secret may be feasible for a short time, but we should seriously consider declassifying everything after as little as one year, or at most five years, as recommended by Edward Teller. (How many right-wing bloggers will commend the NYTimes for sitting on the story for a year and thereby removing most if not all of its value to our enemies?)

  7. Keeping theoretical capabilities secret will be even harder, because minimally qualified bloggers can be relied upon to open their big mouths about potentially sensitive subjects.

In general, and to return to point #4, if eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, then intermittent, partisan vigilance is a down payment on creeping authoritarianism. But perhaps this disclosure, like the Kelo decision, will upset both right and left in such a way as to evoke constructive responses. Let's all resolve to do better from now on, shall we?

UPDATE: Pejman is on it.

Jay Manifold [1:43 PM]

Saddam's Been Mirecki'd!

Saddam Says He's Been Beaten in Detention, reports Mariam Fam of the AP. Gee, those mysteriously hard-to-find rednecks in pickup trucks really get around ...

Jay Manifold [10:55 AM]

[ 20051220 ]

The War on Science

DarkSyde has an interview with Chris Mooney up over on DailyKos. RTWT.

Jay Manifold [7:05 AM]

[ 20051219 ]

Tristan da Cunha in Space?

Randy McDonald continues his speculation about space colonization by analogy with historical colonies on Earth in On Space Colonies (Part 8), which I found well worth the read in spite -- or because -- of our differing perspectives; I am a bit more on the extropian side and consider strong nanotechnology to be so imminent as to practically supercede the more distant portions of NASA's VSE, let alone what we might intuitively expect for the late 21st century.

(I identified this as a risk to the VSE in How I'd Go To Mars, a guest post over on Chicago Boyz, in which I deliberately proposed a wildly expansive, unrealistic program which is unfortunately probably no more wasteful than what NASA will actually attempt.)

But if Project Orion, or something like it, had led to the establishment of small colonies dependent on bulk technology (page down for definition), we could have seen a Tristan da Cunha in space -- a complex, comprehensive failure like those I discussed in Cascading Failures and Politics. Can such things happen anyway, even with ubiquitous nanotech? I can't think of a way, but that doesn't mean there isn't one. So ponder Randy's concluding remarks:

I would ... like to avoid the ... mental trap [of] taking the goal and making it stand in for the means. We have to start somewhere, from firm first principles.


Jay Manifold [8:23 PM]

'Tis the Season

-- for the Cavalcade of Bad Nativities. Hat tip: KC Compton of Checkered Past (mentioned here; will have its own website soon).

Jay Manifold [5:32 PM]


Starting tomorrow, graze on over to either CReSIS or PRISM for the "day-to-day adventures" of a team making measurements on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (source).

Jay Manifold [3:25 PM]

It's the 21st Century! Where's My Flying Car?

Right here:

[William] Anemaat [, president of DARcorporation, the Lawrence-based airplane design firm that sponsored the KU design team] said cars had not flown yet because “in the past there has always been a compromise made, and they built a bad plane and a bad car. But now, with new materials, technology and electronics, we think we can build a better vehicle that is a good car and a good plane.”

The company is still working on the engine design, Anemaat said, but the AirCar would be built using carbon-fiber composite, a strong, but lightweight, metal used to build Boeing aircraft. Propellers, hidden in ducts, would be powered by a gasoline-fueled engine.

Anemaat said he expected the KU AirCar to be off the ground and ready for sale in a year or two. In the beginning, it could cost as much as $200,000, about the price of a small plane, he said. But he thinks the price would come down and be more affordable before too long.

The specs imply that the KU AirCar would have a fuel capacity of ~400 lbs (~70 gal) of gasoline, and the article implies a KC-NYC range, ~1,100 mi. That works out to ~16 mpg, which is perhaps not unreasonable; this page explains how an existing light plane is capable of 19 mpg at 190 mph.

Jay Manifold [3:16 PM]

The Great Migration (II)

The monarch butterfly migration, that is ... now an AP story, headlined in the KCStar as "Rangers' firepower protects a fragile species," explains a unique habitat-protection effort:

Last season, 22 million monarchs reached the park, an 80 percent drop from the previous year, prompting the Mexican government to set up the special police force.

Aided by hidden video cameras and special radios to avoid scanners, the officers speed around in all-terrain vehicles, looking for loggers in the more than 124,000 acres. Their arsenal includes AR-15 and Galil automatic rifles, pump-action shotguns and Smith & Wesson handguns.

Jay Manifold [2:53 PM]

A Christmas Star

Reading "The silent night that warmed my soul," a reminiscence by local resident Joyce Schalker which should eventually be accessible here, we find:

It was Christmas Eve 1943 and my father was in the service .... We were sitting on our divan in front of the fireplace in our Emporia home .... "Let's walk to the midnight church service," my mother said ....

When I looked up, the stars were so bright I felt I could touch them, if I stood on tiptoe.

One particularly radiant star seemed to be moving with us. I imagined that it might be the same star the Wise Men followed so long ago. Could my father see it?

What did she see? Thanks to YourSky, it's possible to make a good guess. Under "Select a Nearby City," pick Topeka. Change the date and time to 1943-12-25 05:30:00 UT, and hit "Update."

Coincidentally, then as now, Mars was in Taurus and near opposition; but it would also have been only about 20° from the zenith. Saturn was nearby, also close to the zenith. Neither would have been conveniently placed for observation while walking along, bundled up, on a cold winter night.

Sirius, shining at magnitude -1.4, would have been about 30° above the horizon in the south-southeast.

But I think what she saw was Jupiter -- also near opposition, a full magnitude (2½ times) brighter than Sirius, untwinkling, only 24° above the horizon, and almost due east. Emporia's street layout is the usual Cartesian N-S-E-W grid, so she was probably walking either north and seeing Jupiter on her right, or south and seeing it on her left, a faithful sentinel seven hundred million kilometers away.

Jay Manifold [2:34 PM]

[ 20051215 ]

Rave Risk Management

(A late blogiversary celebration of sorts, in which I return to my libertarian roots.)

An article by John Bohannon in The Scientist, Just Check It!, passes along an intriguing approach to managing the public-health risks of narcotics use -- one in striking contrast to what we do in the States, which is an unsavory mix of corruption, incarceration, and neglect. But in Austria, it goes like this:

Within stumbling distance of the dance floor at massive rave parties in Vienna, drug-users can drop by a "Check It!" booth. In return for a tiny sample of their drugs, visitors receive a free and anonymous chemical analysis.

In many cases, ravers are surprised to find what they're holding. About 90% of the pills so far tested have been Ecstasy, and about 10% of these are either diluted with other drugs such as caffeine and cocaine, or contain no MDMA at all. The most serious cases so far involve the amphetamine PMA (paramethoxyamphetamine), a related compound with more intense side effects, including vomiting and soaring body temperatures that can be fatal. When that is discovered, says [social psychologist Alexander] Eggerth, "the DJ turns the music down and we make an announcement for people to avoid pills with that particular color and logo, and we bring those who have taken it immediately to the hospital."

This is done at 6-8 raves per year; attendance at raves can be as high as 10,000 people; and annual program costs range from €100,000-€500,000. A moment with a calculator establishes that the typical annual cost per rave attendee is €~9, currently $~11.

Contrast that with the costs of this, in which 90 officers participated; even if the expenditure was the equivalent of only one man-day per officer, and assuming a burden rate of $100/hr -- reasonable given the use of K-9 corps, helicopters, etc -- and entirely ignoring subsequent costs of processing, trial, and incarceration -- it works out to at least $7 per attendee just from this one incident!

I think the lesson here is that American law enforcement agencies are better at spending money (that is, at spending lots more of it, and faster) than their Austrian counterparts. Quoting the article again:

Of course, the service is also handy for dealers who want to promote their pills on the basis of externally vetted quality, a practice that can be abetted by Check It!'s uneasy truce with the Vienna police department, in which no one will be arrested for drug possession in the booth's immediate vicinity. "In only a couple of cases we've noticed people dealing in front of the booth, and we've asked them to go away," says Eggerth.

Take it away, Jane ... ("incentives for good management in the public interest are weak. In contrast, interest groups are organized by people with very strong gains to be made from governmental action.")

Jay Manifold [12:38 PM]

[ 20051210 ]

Fun with Aviation Disasters

UPDATE: Welcome, Carnival of Tomorrow readers, and thanks to Phil Bowermaster for including me -- I didn't even submit this thing! Poke around while you're here and read a few of the posts listed under "Important Stuff" in the left sidebar.

Now, while I'm at it, a bit of confirmation for my figures below: Jon Hilkevitch's ChiTrib story, Report: Jet overshot landing, sez:

Preliminary calculations, using radar information and the flight data recorder onboard the plane, show the aircraft touched down with about 4,500 feet of runway remaining.

From the time the plane landed to when it came to an abrupt, colliding stop, it traveled about 5,000 feet, the safety board said.

-- that is, a 500' overshoot; I calculated it at 470'. The NTSB's complete finding is that the plane needed another 800' of runway to account for lack of friction due to snow and ice.

My own experiences of flying into Midway have always been a bit alarming. It's one of the few airports where I don't enjoy looking out the window shortly before touchdown. As this map of MDW shows, it's completely surrounded by built-up area and directly bordered by four wide, busy streets. Simple application of the Pythagorean Theorem demonstrates that the longest possible runway on its single square mile of area is √2 miles long, that is, 7,467' (2,276 m).

Actual runway length is nearly a thousand feet less, 6,500'. Now, grazing over to Midway accident spotlights short runways, we find (quoting from the dead-tree edition of today's KCStar, which has a longer version of the story): "The plane hit the fence 32 seconds after it touched down. The jet's ground speed was 152 mph as it landed. It hit the fence about [sic] 46 mph, [NTSB member Ellen Engleman] Conners said."

Here's what I wanted to see in that story, and didn't: how much more runway did SWA 1248 need? (152 mph - 46 mph)/32 sec = 3.3 mph/sec, 3.3 mph = 4.8 fps, 46 mph/3.3 mph/sec = 14 sec, and ½ × 4.8 ft/sec² × (14 sec)² = 470'.

The recommended 1,000' buffer zone would satisfy this (with a safety factor of 2), but there clearly isn't room at Midway. Quoting further from the story:

Safety experts say such airports can guard against accidents by instead using beds of crushable concrete that can slow an aircraft if it slides off the end of a runway.

The concrete beds - called Engineered Material Arresting Systems - are in place at the end of 18 runways at 14 airports. They have stopped dangerous overruns three times since May 1999 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

So how long are those? And how fast do they stop a plane? The story doesn't say. Well, I figure things like this are why Al Gore invented the Internet, so a moment of Googling finds this list of installations, which can be as long as 400' (JFK) but are typically closer to half of that. The working criterion appears to be aircraft speed of 70 knots (81 mph; 119 fps), which assuming reduction to zero in 200' works out to a deceleration of 1.1 g.

Startling for the passengers -- that's the same as 0-60 mph acceleration in just over 2½ seconds -- but a lot better than crashing.

Jay Manifold [8:51 AM]

[ 20051206 ]


I'm hoping this doesn't turn out to be a hoax.

Jay Manifold [12:23 PM]

[ 20051205 ]

How to Classify Alien Life?

-- asks Stephen Pincock of The Scientist, in Lifeus alienus:

Broadly speaking, [Peter] Ward [of the University of Washington]'s idea is to expand the tree of life upwards, adding a level of classification above the current highest level, domain. This next level he calls dominions – the dominion "terroan" would include life of Earthly origins; another he calls "ribosa" would include life based on RNA. Further dominions, he suggests, could be formed to cover life that might have a different base altogether.

Higher up again, beyond the level of domain, he proposes a classification that includes different "trees of life" themselves, called arborea.

Ward is a co-author of Rare Earth, which I discussed at length in Long Distance Voyager, and glancingly in Assigned Blogging: How Advanced Can Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations Be? (see point 5). His new book is Life as We Do Not Know It.

Jay Manifold [12:34 PM]

[ 20051204 ]

Grim Vindication

In Genocide By The Numbers, I predicted that "the final death toll of the former Iraqi regime by execution alone will reach into seven figures." Now Rand Simberg passes along a report of just that.

Jay Manifold [8:45 AM]

[ 20051202 ]


That would be #63 ("It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year").

Jay Manifold [4:06 PM]

The Matter With Kansas (XII) - I Want A Job Writing Headlines

(Previous post in series here; related recent post here.)

KU Pulls Intelligent Design Course, blares the front-page, above-the-fold headline in today's dead-tree edition of the KCStar. Er, except that they didn't: "Administrators said the course would be taught in future semesters, though it was uncertain when or who would teach it."

That's in the 21st paragraph out of 37. Can I get a job writing headlines? I think I could be more truthful than that, even on a really bad day.

God put me on this Earth to uncover irony. Next: both sides will claim they're being persecuted.

Jay Manifold [4:06 PM]

[ 20051201 ]


Graze on over to A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula for some serious fun. The full-resolution images are 3864 × 3864; I note that this works out to about 2½ billion kilometers per pixel, nearly the diameter of the orbit of Saturn, and represents a resolution of one part in 25 million of distance (6,500 LY), that is, 0.04 microradians or 8 milliarcseconds. Which in turn is the equivalent of reading an eyechart for 20/20 vision at a distance of 20 miles.

Lots more on M1 here, and a finderchart is here, but it helps to know where z Tauri is first, so here's a map. All this is above and to the right of Orion -- for Northern Hemisphere observers, that is!

While M1 is technically a binocular object at magnitude +8.4, my experience is that a telescope is needed -- the bigger the better, and the darker skies the better.

Jay Manifold [4:38 PM]