All posts by Rand Simberg

What’s In A Name?

In one more riff on the space tourist theme, Jay Zilber notes:

A SPLENDID DICKENSIAN NAME: Mark Shuttleworth, 27, is set to become the second “space tourist” to fly to the station, arriving in a Russian Soyuz rocket next April.

Yes, but the really ironic thing is that he’s not allowed to go on the Shuttle.

What’s In A Name?

In one more riff on the space tourist theme, Jay Zilber notes:

A SPLENDID DICKENSIAN NAME: Mark Shuttleworth, 27, is set to become the second “space tourist” to fly to the station, arriving in a Russian Soyuz rocket next April.

Yes, but the really ironic thing is that he’s not allowed to go on the Shuttle.

New Boston Tea Party

I hadn’t been paying much attention to this because it seemed so…quixotic, and I didn’t want to get hopes up only to be dashed. But according to Dale Amon over at Samizdata, there really does seem to be a serious movement to eliminate the state income tax in Massachussetts. Even if it fails, it’s nice to at least see a serious media-grabbing political debate on the subject.

Getting Past The Giggle Factor

Recommended reading for those interested in space–a nice piece in the Washington Post today on space tourism, and its continuing progress in getting taken more seriously. Odd timing, though–the reporter is describing a conference that occurred in late June.

When Rogers first started talking in public about space tourism, his wife, Estelle, refused to come hear him speak. “I can’t stand people laughing at you,” she told him. Today, as one Federal Aviation Administration official puts it, “space tourism now passes the laugh test…”

This is important. As Arthur C. Clarke used to say when asked when some technological advance would occur, “…about five years after we stop laughing at it…”

…When Anderson talks about the future of space tourism, he points to other benefits. For example, vehicles capable of hauling sightseers into orbit could also be used for rapid, point-to-point transportation. Washington to Sydney in 45 minutes, for example. Anderson believes “space business jets” capable of flying his suborbital missions will be available in three years, an optimistic timeline, according to the people at NASA, where they put the figure at five to seven years.

Given their track record, why does or should anyone take what NASA says seriously? Not that I disagree in this particular case, but I find it irritating that reporters always feel that they have to balance anything any non-NASA person says about space with a quote (often anonymous) from “people at NASA.”

It’s particularly damaging when the most-quoted person at NASA says nonsense like the following:

Daniel S. Goldin, who recently retired as NASA administrator after nine years on the job, says that NASA’s professional space shuttle crews know there is “a 1 in 250 probability they are not coming back.” He contrasts that with a 1 in 20,000 probability flying air combat and 1 in 2 million for commercial airline passengers. “This is very serious stuff,” he says, and should be reserved for highly trained professionals. “It is not for the faint of heart. This is not Disneyland.”

Who ever claimed that it was for the “faint of heart,” Dan? This is what’s called a “straw man” argument. The level of safety is simply not an issue, and in some cases, danger actually makes the experience more appealing. As the article points out (again quoting Space Adventures’ Eric Anderson):

Anderson acknowledges that in its early days, space tourism is bound to be terrifying, uncomfortable and, yes, dangerous. But then again, so is climbing Mount Everest. Yet every year more than 100 people paying more than $50,000 each reach the summit (and, on average, three a year die trying). Tito was airsick during the two-day ride to the space station, but, once there, he reported back to Earth, “I don’t know about this adaptation that they’re talking about. I’m already adapted. I love space!” Even with the risks, proponents believe there are enough people who want space vacations to create the economies of scale needed to reduce the cost of putting stuff in orbit.

More nonsense from Dan:

Goldin ran NASA from 1992 until last month, making him its longest-serving administrator. A poor kid from the South Bronx who had 25 years with defense contractor TRW before joining NASA, Goldin managed to survive the first Bush administration, two terms of the Clinton administration and the first year of the second Bush administration by being pretty adroit. But he also doesn’t mince words. “Flying rich guys and gals in space is not space tourism,” he says.

No, Dan Goldin was never afraid to mince words, even (or especially) when he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Just one of the many reasons that his too-long tenure at NASA was disastrous. We’ll see if his replacement, Mr. Okeefe, will actually support public space travel, instead of just giving it lip service while undermining it at every opportunity.

This article is one of the better ones that I’ve seen on the subject, and given that it’s in the mainstream press, it’s a milestone.

Posting Break

No posts yesterday. We got up early to drive down to the southwest part of the island, to a little fishing village called Parguera. There’s a wall a few miles offshore that constitutes probably some of the best diving on the island itself (the very best diving is actually off shore, at the islands of Desecheo, Mona, Culebra, and Vieques, of naval bombardment/protest fame). Puerto Rico has been heavily populated for too long to have good reefs–the outflow from the mountain rivers and waste have probably decimated them, relative to their pre-Columbian (if not prehuman) condition. Thus, Puerto Rico is a good base to operate from for diving at other islands (the Virgins, Saba, Bonaire, etc.) but not for diving itself.

We went with Paradise Divers (based in Parguera) who I heartily recommend. They have just the right degree of safety consciousness (unlike most operators, they’ll actually hang a safety line from the boat with regs at forty feet) while allowing you autonomy to go explore on your own (unlike some of the German “dive nazis” over in the Dominican Republic).

Anyway, though the sea was a little choppy (2-4 foot swells), which made entry a little problematic, the conditions were good (84-degree water–no wet suit required, at least for someone who, like me, learned to dive in cool California waters), about seventy feet of visibility. Saw a lot of fish (large schools of black durgeon) and a few angels (gray, french, and rock beauties), but nothing big, other than a barracuda (though some divers on the second dive claimed to see a white-tipped shark).

On the way back, we stopped in another little seaside town named Guanica, found a little shack that had a sign saying “Pescadero.” There were some guys hanging out in the yard (fishermen?). We bought a couple langosto, supposedly right off the boat, at six bucks a pound. We didn’t know the Spanish word for “fresh,” and were unsure how to ascertain their quality. Finally, brilliantly, Patricia asked “Hoy?” (today?). The proprietress nodded eagerly and said, “Si, hoy!” Of course, she might not have been referring to the provenance of the crustaceans in question, but just agreeing with the idiot Yanquis that it was indeed today, and not yesterday or tomorrow, in that part of the island…

It should be pointed out that it’s not as good a deal as it sounds, since probably over half the weight is shell and body, but still, it’s fresh lobster dinner for two for twenty bucks. We got home, butchered and threw them on the grill, nuked a potato and made a salad (Caesar, with Spanish olive oil). A delightful post-dive repast, with a bottle of Chardonnay from South Africa. Viva globalizacion!

Now back to your regularly-scheduled posts…

Writer’s Cramp Department

At her weblog Allison Alvarez enthuses that:

Hooray! A new Mersenne prime has been discovered and it’s the largest one yet. The new number, expressed as 213,466,917-1, contains 4,053,946 digits and would take the best part of three weeks to write out longhand. Sweet!

I’m curious to see the derivation of this time estimate. How many weeks would it take to write it out longhand without making a mistake?

Writer’s Cramp Department

At her weblog Allison Alvarez enthuses that:

Hooray! A new Mersenne prime has been discovered and it’s the largest one yet. The new number, expressed as 213,466,917-1, contains 4,053,946 digits and would take the best part of three weeks to write out longhand. Sweet!

I’m curious to see the derivation of this time estimate. How many weeks would it take to write it out longhand without making a mistake?

Writer’s Cramp Department

At her weblog Allison Alvarez enthuses that:

Hooray! A new Mersenne prime has been discovered and it’s the largest one yet. The new number, expressed as 213,466,917-1, contains 4,053,946 digits and would take the best part of three weeks to write out longhand. Sweet!

I’m curious to see the derivation of this time estimate. How many weeks would it take to write it out longhand without making a mistake?

Irritating Ad Kvetch

Is it just me?

There are lots of reasons that I would never buy a Dell computer, but their ad campaign is just one more. I just don’t get the deal with this “Stephen.” Is it really effective?

I mean, maybe they figure that younger people don’t see the similarity (though I would have thought with Nick at Nite that even many Gen X and Yers would also). But to the degree that some of their market is boomers, why in the world do they think that anyone would buy a computer being promoted by Eddie Haskell?

And if people will buy a computer being hawked by Eddie Haskell, does this explain Bill Clinton’s success?

[Update]

Reader Stephen Karlson asks:

Only now have you recognized that this kid is the second coming of Eddie Haskell? That’s been common knowledge on words-l@uga.edu for a long time.

Yup. Guess I’m just “out of it” (whatever the heck “it” is…)

Will it sell computers? I don’t know. Is it any less goofy than the talking cow Gateway are using?

Less goofy? No. But given an endorsement by a cow vs Eddie Haskell, I’ll have to go with the bovine recommendation. If it can talk, it’s worthy of the benefit of the doubt, but Eddie Haskell…well…

Raw Demagoguery

Clearly, the Democrats have decided that the American people will (in that bizarre Clintonian concept) “compartmentalize” their approval of the Commander-in-Chief and their supposed concern about his domestic agenda. It’s possible they’re right, but if the particular tactic they’ve chosen to employ works, I once again weep for the intelligence and economic perspicacity of the populace.

Apparently, they’re running the phrase “Bush recession” up the flagpole to see how many salute. And their apparent rationale (I can see no other, since it’s been their main gripe with his economic policy from day one, if not day negative six months–i.e., during the campaign, as a “risky tax scheme”) is his “gargantuan (i.e., on the order of a percent of the GDP over the period) tax cut”.

Now let’s tie one intellectual hand behind our back, and ignore the fact that the recession probably started within two months of Bush being sweared in, and that the economy was in fact already slowing in the summer before the election, and that economies don’t turn on a dime, so our current condition was largely due to decisions made more than a year ago (ignoring the spike from the September attacks–surely even they aren’t going to attempt to blame Bush for that?).

Can these Democrats cite a single historical precedent for a recession being caused by a tax cut?

For extra credit, can they put forth a plausible theoretical mechanism by which this might occur?

No, I didn’t think they could…

Oh, well, at least we can be thankful that we don’t have Al Gore around any more with his mindless and oxymoronic phrase, “blowing a hole in the deficit.”