Category Archives: Popular Culture

Baumgartner’s Skydiving Record

has been broken already. It’s inevitable that people are going to want to do this from a hundred kilometers.

[Update a while later]

Here’s the press release:

Roswell, NM – Oct. 24, 2014 – Following the record-breaking 135,908-foot space dive accomplished by Google’s Alan Eustace and the Paragon StratEx team, World View Enterprises, the commercial balloon spaceflight company, has acquired the technology from this history-making project. The acquisition will advance the company’s mission to pioneer a new frontier at the edge of space for travel and research.

“We’d like to congratulate Paragon Space Development Corporation® and its StratEx team along with Alan Eustace and all involved on their exceptional work,” said Taber MacCallum, World View’s chief technology officer, and Paragon’s founding CEO and CTO. “Without the efforts of these companies and Alan’s dedication, the project would not have been possible. World View is proud to carry the StratEx technology into the future by leveraging the incredible experience gained into a new era of space flights.”

For StratEx, Eustace was lifted to his peak altitude of 135,908 feet via high-altitude balloon, the same ballooning system that World View will employ to launch sailing-like journeys to the edge of space. While World View’s voyagers will ascend within a luxuriously engineered pressurized capsule, Eustace was kept safe from the elements in a self-contained space suit system designed with the goal of allowing manned exploration of the stratosphere above 100,000 feet. Paragon, which specializes in extreme environmental control systems, initiated the project with Eustace and worked with him to develop, build and manage the system used during the incredible space dive.

As former Paragon executives, World View founders Taber MacCallum and Jane Poynter played integral roles in the success of StratEx. MacCallum served as CEO and CTO of Paragon and played a key role in the development of the StratEx program, then transitioned to the critical role of chief safety officer, working with the team to ensure Eustace’s wellbeing. MacCallum will leverage this experience from the successful StratEx dive in his role as the chief technology officer for World View. Jane Poynter, World View’s CEO, served as the president and chairwoman of Paragon throughout the development of the StratEx program.

The patent-pending technology developed for StratEx has been acquired by World View for future space travel and research flights, adding depth to World View’s systems for launch, recovery, communications, ballooning, tracking, mission control, avionics and aerodynamics, among others.

World View will have Voyagers floating peacefully to the edge of space for a one-to-two-hour space cruise within a luxury capsule complete with bar and lavatory, which is transported by a parafoil and high-altitude balloon. Guests will enjoy 360-degree vistas of the world’s most spectacular panorama, marveling at the beauty of the Earth below, watching the sun slowly rise above the curvature of our planet suspended in a vast, black and infinite universe. They can even share the experience in real-time with loved ones thanks to in-flight Internet access.

Individuals who wish to be a pioneer in this exciting new era of space exploration can reserve their World View flight with a $5,000 deposit; the remaining $70,000 is due six months prior to their flight. Visit us to reserve.

In addition to offering breathtaking experiences for Voyagers, the capabilities being developed by World View will offer unprecedented and affordable access to the near-space environment for educators, researchers, private companies and government agencies alike.

World View has a number of strategic partners in this endeavor. Paragon Space Development Corporation® has decades of experience developing life support and space-related technologies. Paragon is leading the design and development of the World View space capsule. United Parachute Technologies, Performance Designs and MMIST, all leaders in pioneering parachute technology, are providing expertise and support for the development of the flight system’s airborne guidance unit and innovative parafoil.

About World View

Offering a gentle, comfortable, and life-changing travel experience to the edge of space for private citizens; and affordable access to a range of near-space commercialization opportunities for researchers, private companies and government agencies, World View is pioneering a new era of discovery at the edge of space. Available today for unmanned commercial opportunities with an altitude threshold of 130,000 feet, and currently taking reservations for manned flights and private tours, World View is creating unprecedented access to the near-space environment. Watch the World View experience here. For more information, visit http://www.worldviewexperience.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for real-time updates.

ABOUT PARAGON

Paragon Space Development Corporation® is a premier provider of environmental control components and systems for extreme and hazardous environments. As an industry leader in designing and manufacturing of thermal control and life support systems, Paragon provides solutions for its customer’s most challenging extreme environment protection needs in space, on Earth, in water and underground. Founded in 1993, Paragon is a small business headquartered in Tucson, Arizona. For more information on Paragon please click here.

Maybe I just hadn’t been paying attention, but this is the first that I’d heard they were planning to do this. It had nowhere near the hype that Red Bull did with Baumgartner. Of course, the latter was about branding, so it makes sense that they’d give it a lot of publicity.

The Welfare State Of West California

Moving on in our examination of Tim Draper’s six Californias, from Nuevo Colorado (aka Central California), we come to the new state of West California. It’s ironic that it’s shown as green on the map, considering that it will be born into pension and welfare poverty.

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Nuevo Colorado

Continuing our tour of the six new Californias proposed by Tim Draper, this new state would be the only one with no Pacific coastline. Nonetheless, it has tremendous potential that is currently being hamstrung by Sacramento (or rather, the coastal voters who dominate the legislature). It would have a population of a little over four million, equivalent to Kentucky, and about a million fewer than Colorado. But as I’ll explain, its red depiction on the map below is appropriate, because it could be viewed as another Colorado in the making, except one only a couple-hour drive from the ocean.

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The Collapse Of The Obama Presidency

Don’t let this crisis go to waste:

Are the young struck by the dashed hopes of Obamacare? Give them a copy of Friedrich Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit. They can’t believe the Secret Service farce? Introduce them to James Q. Wilson on bureaucracy. They’re befuddled by the exploitation of an unfortunate incident in Ferguson? Have them read Edward C. Banfield’s The Unheavenly City (especially the chapter he titled “Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit”). Liberalism’s domestic policies aren’t working quite the way they were supposed to? Acquaint them with Irving Kristol: “I have observed over the years that the unanticipated consequences of social action are always more important, and usually less agreeable, than the intended consequences.”

Similarly, we should be running ads telling them that “We told you so.”

James Lileks

Internet copyright criminal:

YouTube had detected that I was using a 30-year old performance now owned by Sony, and thus I was VIOLATING EVERYTHING HELD SACRED or words to that effect. One had to marvel at a system that could detect such things, especially since the impression one gets from reading YouTube comments is that the service is aimed at a unique species of chimp that is making the transition from flinging its feces as a means of expressing disagreement to typing words which occasionally add up to an actual sentence.

It’s possible someone would have watched the video, and thought: Interesting piece, this Mahler thing. Even though I have heard but two minutes I believe I have grasped the totality of the work, and will refrain from seeking out the entire movement. Surely more could only add up to less. And thus Sony would be deprived of 23 cents in royalty.

Well, I didn’t own the copyright, and while I could claim Fair Use under the guise of using Mahler’s early use of his own Judaic heritage to score slo-mo goose-stepping spark plugs as means of examining the composer’s nominal acceptance of Christianity to ward off the anti-semitism of fin de siecle Vienna, ahhh, to hell with it.

And yes, before you ask, I am indeed behind on my Lileks.

Turning The Country Around

No, now is not the time:

Now, back in 2008, Barack Obama was elected president with a Democrat-controlled House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Many of us correctly knew this was like having a toddler armed with power tools. Others, though, didn’t see the danger and cooed, “Oh, look at that little guy. He’s so industrious! He’s going to get a lot done,” while the rest of us were freaking out, worried about him getting near anything valuable. And before we could yell, “No, little Barry, no!” he went right after health care with his drill, and it’s basically all ruined now.

So in 2010 we voted to take away his power tools by turning the House over to the Republicans. Obama was still a destructive little tyke who just refused to listen, but at least now it was a bit harder for him to burn the whole house down or something. In 2012, we — well, I don’t know how to stretch the analogy — had the option to exchange little Barry at the kid-trade-in emporium and get a better kid who might not be as dumb and destructive. I guess we had grown fond of the little dummy, though, and thought maybe he was finally learning. We were just being sentimental, of course. We really should have done the smart thing and sold the kid to gypsies.

And that brings us to 2014 and the option we have before us now: mittens. Now, no one is talking about giving the tyke power tools again. There’s just no conceivable scenario in which the Democrats take back the House this year — and I’m including science fiction scenarios involving advanced aliens and Doctor Who-type closed time loops — so the only real question is whether the Republicans can get a majority in the Senate. That would be like forcing little Barry to wear mittens to keep his grubby little fingers out of things. He’ll still be able to knock things over and run into furniture, but the mittens will at least somewhat limit the damage he can cause.

Now, I want to note that I don’t mean this analogy to be disrespectful to President Obama. But I think most historians will back me when I say his presidency is the equivalent of a dumb child running into tables.

Read the rest. You know you want to.

The Perils Of Being Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Thoughts from Charles Cooke:

…the nature of the apology seems to tell us exactly why he did not just own up and move on. He can’t. He’s trapped, having become responsible for the self-esteem and self-identity of millions of adoring followers. Deep down, I bet Tyson wished he could just say, “my mistake.” Instead, he had to embed his note in an avalanche of superfluous pseudo-context; to insist that the whole affair “fascinated me greatly”; to enter into peculiar digressions about the nature of evidence and of memory; and, rather than admitting that a critic was right, to propose extraneously that “the mind is surely the next mysterious universe to be plumbed.” I find this all rather sad, I must say. I like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’m sure he’s a nice, smart, interesting guy. His most ardent followers, however, are not. And, if his behavior over the past month is any indication, he’s been captured by them.

Yes. This hasn’t enhanced his reputation. Or notoriety.

Why You’re Too Dumb To Vote

Five reasons:

Miss Dunham, reflecting celebrity culture at large, makes a fetish of voting, and it is easy to see why: Voting is the most shallow gesture of citizenship there is, the issuance of a demand — a statement that “this is how the world should be,” as Miss Dunham puts it — imposing nothing in the way of reciprocal responsibility. Power without responsibility — Stanley Baldwin would not have been surprised that Miss Dunham and likeminded celebrities think of voting in terms of their sex lives. Miss Dunham, in an earlier endorsement of Barack Obama, compared voting in the presidential election to losing one’s virginity — you want it to be someone special. Understood that way, voting is nothing other than a reiteration of the original infantile demand: “I Want!”

As a procedure for sorting out complex policy issues, voting is of distinctly limited value: If you wanted to know whether the compressive strength of a particular material were sufficient to support a bridge over Interstate 20, you would not go about solving that problem by bundling that question with 10,000 other equally precise and complex but largely unrelated questions, presenting the bundle of questions to the least-informed few million people you could identify, and then proceeding with whatever solution 50 percent +1 of them preferred. That would be a bad way to build a bridge — a homicidal way, in fact — and though it is a necessary instrument of accountability in a democratic republic, voting properly plays a very limited role. For instance, we have a Bill of Rights, which could with equal accuracy be called the List of Stuff You Idiots Can’t Be Trusted To Vote On. A majority of Americans don’t like free speech? Too bad, Harry Reid.

But for Miss Dunham et al., this isn’t a question of citizenship — it’s a therapeutic matter. Voting, she promises, will offer “a sense of accomplishment,” knowledge that one has done the right thing, even “joy.” But checking a box is the most trivial accomplishment imaginable; having done so is no guarantee that one has done the right thing, inasmuch as voters routinely make bad decisions for evil reasons; and one suspects that Miss Dunham means something different and less by “joy” than did, say, Beethoven or Walt Whitman. “I wore fishnets and a little black dress to vote,” she writes, “then walked around with a spring in my slinky step. It lasted for days. I can summon it when I’m blue. It’s more effective than exercise or ecstasy or cheesecake.” And that of course is the highest purpose of our ancient constitutional order: to provide adult children with pleasures exceeding those of cheesecake or empathogenic phenethylamines.

It is very depressing.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

…and the science of smug condescension:

Here we see, in action, the signature scientific style of the Neil deGrasse Tyson era. Present a scientific theory in crudely oversimplified form, omitting any uncertainties or counter-arguments. Pass off complex claims as if they are obvious “basic physics.” Then dismiss any skepticism as the resentment of the primitive, ignorant, unscienced masses against their enlightened betters.

Or, you know, file law suits against critics.

It’s not a very good way to get valid scientific results—nor, for that matter, to promote the scientific method. But it’s what we get when we substitute, in place of respect for the actual methodology of science, an attitude of superior posing and smug condescension.

I’d like to say that I was disappointed with the Cosmos reboot, but honestly, I wasn’t that big a fan of the original. But I’d love to buy Tyson for what I think he’s worth, and sell him for what he does.

[Afternoon update]

Some more thoughts:

It seems to me that Neal deGrasse Tyson is a scientist. Heck, I don’t actually know, because I don’t read technical astronomy papers, but I assume he’s published something somewhere, actually done some science in his life. But that doesn’t appear to be his current day job. His current job, near as I can tell, is carnival barker. He’s a salesman, or an advertiser. That’s not science. Inspiring others to want to learn more may be laudable, but it’s not science. Making crap up isn’t science, either, but I’ll let the serial stalkers at the Federalist worry about that.

But here’s a misconception that I’ve discussed before:

Thing is, I’m no scientist. So while I would like to call myself a Science-ist – that is, one who believes in the nature of science and the good results it can produce – I certainly can’t pretend I am a scientist, which is one who does science. Stuff like collecting data, analyzing it, proposing hypotheses, testing hypotheses. You know, stuff that scientists do. Not just looking at cool pictures of galaxies and pretending that makes me smart. (Um, NSFW language at that link)

No. Science isn’t a profession, it’s a way of thinking about the world, and learning about it. Everyone does it, to some degree or another, every day. Check a door knob to see if it’s unlocked? You just did an experiment.

People who believe in “science” as some kind of special realm that “scientists” live in, and that “science” reveals “truth” (as many global warm mongers do, even though they don’t understand the science or, often, even basic math) are members of a religion, that is in fact properly called scienceism. I believe in science as the best means to learn about the natural world, and as the basis for engineering and creating technology, but I don’t worship scientists, and I don’t delude myself that scientific results are “truth.”

Anyway, finally, note this comment:

you make an ass out of neal tyson when it’s pointed out that he has not, in fact, published A SINGLE PIECE of academic work since having talked some committee into accepting the dissertation it took him 11 years (and an expulsion!) to co-author.

no, seriously. if you don’t believe me, you can put his name into the search bar at arxiv.org, where practicing physicists post our preprints:

“Search gave no matches

No matches were found for your search: all:(neal AND tyson)

Please try again.”

In the next comment, he notes that there is in fact one post-doc paper, but it appears that he’s just participating because the actual authors wanted a bigger name on it.