Too Much Time On His Hands

And now for something completely different — an estimate of how fast the signal of the Beacon of Gondor propagated:

After the first signal is on fire, Gandalf sees the next signal only 6 seconds later. WHAT? The guys (or gals) at the next station must have just been sitting there staring and waiting for a signal. Oh, it was probably like 40 years since the last time it was used. I guess you can do stuff like that if you don’t have youtube. But wait, the more I think about this, the more upset I get. I am ok with invisible rings, flying dragons, glowing swords and stuff. However, it is beyond the bounds of reason to expect me to believe that some guys are sitting way on the other mountain with a hair-triggered lighting mechanism. Six seconds. Seriously.

[Via Geekpress]

Grumpy Thoughts

From Lileks:

I like Grumpy. Don’t identify with him, though – I’d go with Doc, maybe.

What? You don’t see many people wearing mildly abrasive Grumpy shirts? You need to spend more time in Disneyworld, where such things are encouraged as an expression of the outer limits of Disney-sanctioned negative personality characteristics. They’re aimed, probably, at the middle-aged men who accompany their families and need something that seems aimed at their particular demographic, and they accommodate Disney agnostics and Disney adherents. Doc speaks to them both.

Aside from that, though, what do adult males have for Disney character identification? Squat and diddly, it seems. We’re not in the mood to wear a Prince on our shirt: teh ghey. Sully: too hairy and fat for some. There’s Donald, but in his T-shirt form he’s Grumpy + anxiety disorder.

There’s no Disney version of Bugs Bunny. No character with the self-possession, the amused expression – he’s laughing at you, not with you, but he’s doing you the favor of not laughing out loud – the cynical tilt of the eyebrow, the carrot-cheroot, the eyes calculating the odds and the way this caper will play out. There’s a scene in “Roger Rabbit” where they finally meet, and I remember at the time it was a moment of great pop-culture significance. Which, I suppose, it was. It was fleeting, as it should be – together they would never work, like swing played on top of ragtime, but for that one moment there was a certain pleasure in seeing them together, like Bogart shaking hands with Harold Lloyd.

Which is a roundabout way of saying the only Disney shirt I’ll wear around the Kingdoms is a Classic Mickey.

No one opines on pop culture better.

[Update a few minutes later]

And don’t miss Red Planet Mars.

The Rich

…have options:

Leaving aside the morality of abridging property rights based on income level, and the meaningless puddle this practice has melted our Constitution into, it seems reasonable to conclude there is a sweet spot on the Laffer curve: a point at which tax and regulatory burdens are low enough to encourage the most growth-oriented behavior from wealthy individuals and large corporations, but high enough to generate the income necessary to fund government without running huge deficits. The government must, in turn, live within its means. It must be small enough to survive on the funding provided by this optimum rate of taxation. Obviously, our current federal government has swollen far beyond this size, becoming a tumor that murders its host organism with increasingly frantic demands for greater nourishment.

Soak-the-rich policies are dismal failures, because they rely on controlling the behavior of people who have many options to escape. The promises of such systems depend on capturing extremely agile dollars. Those of us with fewer options, and less liquid income, always end up suffering the fallout from these failures. We live the dusty spaces left behind when billionaires decide not to follow the scripts prepared for them by Washington social engineers.

Unfortunately, the country is being run by economic ignorami. At least for another few months.

Missing The Point

Over at Popular Mechanics, Erik Sofge says that NASA misses the point with its new video game. Unfortunately, he misses the point himself, setting up the age-old and false dichotomy between humans and robots:

The game serves as an epitaph for what appears to be NASA’s lost decade. The agency failed to stay on time or on budget throughout the life of the Constellation program, its highest and most expensive priority. But while manned spaceflight foundered, unmanned exploration thrived. The modern-day equivalent of Aldrin and Armstrong are Spirit and Opportunity, robotic vehicles that survived years longer than expected on the surface of Mars. The rovers uncovered signs of water, and paved the way for the discovery of actual Martian ice by other intrepid bots.

The success of the rovers—and the increasingly tepid public response to shuttle launches or to the astonishing fact that there is a space station orbiting the planet—has called into question the relevance of astronauts. Moonbase Alpha, in its own small way, only hurts the case for humans in space. If the game featured an all-bot lunar mining facility, players would be spared the burden of gradually, tediously fixing a life-support system. Critical decisions such as whether to carry a wrench or a welder (apparently, NASA doesn’t plan on producing a moon-worthy toolbox by 2025) could be replaced with, say, a simulation of the powerful, spider-like ATHLETE robot’s perilous navigation of craters on the dark side of the moon. Instead of being given control of the array of awe-inspiring bots currently in NASA’s labs, such as the humanoid Robonaut 2, players can deploy toylike rovers whose arms and integrated welders make the astronauts piloting them even more redundant.

Apparently, he suffers from the exploration delusion. If it’s only about exploration, then yes, robots are more cost effective (though not more generally effective). But when you start to say that robots can do it better, it begs the question of what it is that they’re better at. While they can be good helpmates, they are ultimately useless for allowing humans to experience space first hand, and that’s ultimately the real market for human spaceflight, albeit not government human spaceflight. Robots can make it easier for humans to go but they don’t make them superfluous. He also has bought into the popular perception of the new policy:

Even if it was possible to build an astronaut game that’s both exciting and realistic, why bother? It will be more than a decade before humans even attempt another trip outside of Earth’s orbit. If NASA wants to inspire the next generation of astronauts and engineers, its games should focus on the real winners of the space race—the robots.

No one knows when we’ll go beyond earth orbit again, but a decade is a long time. When I see the kind of progress that SpaceX has made in seven years, I’ll be very surprised if there aren’t private trips at least around the moon, if not landing, by 2020. Of course, the new policy makes that more likely than the previous one did, and the previous policy hadn’t a prayer, or even a plan, to meet President Bush’s original VSE goals. And the notion that government ten-year plans are the key to opening up space is one that should have died with Apollo, which wasn’t at all about opening up space. I’ll also say that if robots are really the “winners of the space race,” we’re all losers.

Not Forever

I’m often annoyed by the straw-man argument/complex question (and aren’t all complex questions a form of straw man?) that opponents of life extension toss out: “Why do you want to live forever”?

It’s not about living forever — it’s about living as long as you want to live. Robin Hanson has the same problem.

I can’t say now that I won’t be tired of life in a hundred years or so, but give me a chance to find out. I do suffer from ennui occasionally as I get older, but I think that most of it comes from not feeling as physically good as I did when I was younger, and not having the financial resources to do all the things I’d like to do. Fix those problems, and I might in fact be willing to at least take a trip to Mars, if not a one-way one.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!