Dreamchaser And Stratolaunch

I didn’t mention this earlier in the week, but SNC is teaming with StratoLaunch to get a subscale version into orbit. If it’s 75% scale, I figure that’s about 40% of the current interior volume, which lines up with their claim of being able to carry two or three passengers (the full-scale system is designed for seven). The big advantage of such a system would be single-orbit rendezvous, and runway landing, so if it happens, there’d certainly be a market niche for it.

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.

USB Devices

I hadn’t realized they’re more than just memory:

“People look at these things and see them as nothing more than storage devices,” says Caudill. “They don’t realize there’s a reprogrammable computer in their hands.”

In an earlier interview with WIRED ahead of his Black Hat talk, Berlin-based Nohl had said that he wouldn’t release the exploit code he’d developed because he considered the BadUSB vulnerability practically unpatchable. (He did, however, offer a proof-of-concept for Android devices.) To prevent USB devices’ firmware from being rewritten, their security architecture would need to be fundamentally redesigned, he argued, so that no code could be changed on the device without the unforgeable signature of the manufacturer. But he warned that even if that code-signing measure were put in place today, it could take 10 years or more to iron out the USB standard’s bugs and pull existing vulnerable devices out of circulation. “It’s unfixable for the most part,” Nohl said at the time. “But before even starting this arms race, USB sticks have to attempt security.”

Caudill says that by publishing their code, he and Wilson are hoping to start that security process. But even they hesitate to release every possible attack against USB devices. They’re working on another exploit that would invisibly inject malware into files as they are copied from a USB device to a computer. By hiding another USB-infecting function in that malware, Caudill says it would be possible to quickly spread the malicious code from any USB stick that’s connected to a PC and back to any new USB plugged into the infected computer. That two-way infection trick could potentially enable a USB-carried malware epidemic. Caudill considers that attack so dangerous that even he and Wilson are still debating whether to release it.

Great.

Steyn Versus Mann

Norms of behavior.

People on twitter ask things like “How is Mann’s calling Curry a serial climate misinformer as bad or worse as Steyn referring to Mann’s fraudulent hockey stick?” Well the issue is the different norms of behavior between scientists and political commentators. In the climate wars, there is not a level mudslinging playing field for scientists and political commentators.

When I have criticized Mann, I have criticized his involvement in Hiding the Decline, and also his violations of the norms of what I regard as appropriate behavior by scientists. This is far different than what Mann has been doing in #1-#5 above. 5 years ago, defending Michael Mann against his attackers was regarded by many scientists as defending climate science. At this point, I am not seeing many climate scientists standing up for Michael Mann, owing to his violations of the norms, unless they are extreme partisans.

Related: Mann is an Island.

Note also that Steve McIntyre has found more hockey-stick problems.

Declaring War On ISIS

Thoughts on presidential powers from Richard Epstein.

I’ve been thinking about a long post on whether or not we’ve entered a post-Westphalia era. A lot of the confusion we’ve had over the past thirteen years has arisen from the fact that we’ve never had a formal declaration of war. If ISIS is a state (in the Westphalian sense), it is one that has certainly declared war on us, and a great deal of clarity would form if we were to reciprocate. It would end all this nonsense of treating Islamic terrorism as a criminal matter. They are no different from the Nazis, and their goals are in fact more vile and ambitious. As Netenyahu said yesterday, the Nazis believed in a master race, and they believe in a master religion.

Martine Rothblatt

As Glenn notes, I’m old enough to have known her decades ago when she was Martin. I saw her for the first time since the sex change a year ago at the New Space conference in San Jose. Anyway, a fascinating profile of her.

[Update a few minutes later]

D’oh! Now it makes sense. Gabriel Rothblatt is Martin’s/Martine’s son. He’s running for Bill Posey’s seat in Florida (at the Cape) on a space platform, and he was at this year’s conference. Unfortunately, he’s a Democrat.

Presidential Pronoun Problems

Ron Fournier’s take on Obama’s Sixty Minutes interview:

And then there’s this.

Academic Writing

Why does it stink?

The most popular answer outside the academy is the cynical one: Bad writing is a deliberate choice. Scholars in the softer fields spout obscure verbiage to hide the fact that they have nothing to say. They dress up the trivial and obvious with the trappings of scientific sophistication, hoping to bamboozle their audiences with highfalutin gobbledygook.

Though no doubt the bamboozlement theory applies to some academics some of the time, in my experience it does not ring true. I know many scholars who have nothing to hide and no need to impress. They do groundbreaking work on important subjects, reason well about clear ideas, and are honest, down-to-earth people. Still, their writing stinks.

The most popular answer inside the academy is the self-serving one: Difficult writing is unavoidable because of the abstractness and complexity of our subject matter. Every human pastime—music, cooking, sports, art—develops an argot to spare its enthusiasts from having to use a long-winded description every time they refer to a familiar concept in one another’s company. It would be tedious for a biologist to spell out the meaning of the term transcription factor every time she used it, and so we should not expect the tête-à-tête among professionals to be easily understood by amateurs.

But the insider-shorthand theory, too, doesn’t fit my experience. I suffer the daily experience of being baffled by articles in my field, my subfield, even my sub-sub-subfield. The methods section of an experimental paper explains, “Participants read assertions whose veracity was either affirmed or denied by the subsequent presentation of an assessment word.” After some detective work, I determined that it meant, “Participants read sentences, each followed by the word true or false.” The original academese was not as concise, accurate, or scientific as the plain English translation. So why did my colleague feel compelled to pile up the polysyllables?

RTWT

The Oklahoma Head Chopper

Thoughts from Mark Steyn:

Colleen Hufford was born in 1960. Life is full of grim twists and cruel vicissitudes, but in mid-20th century America it would not have occurred to anyone that one needed to worry about going to work and being beheaded by a colleague. Yet that’s what happened to Ms Hufford on Thursday: She turned up for her job at at the Vaughan Foods food processing plant in Moore, and Alton Alexander Nolen decapitated her.

Why would he do that? Well, as the initial reports were at pains to assure us, it’s nothing to do with terrorism. That’s true, in the sense that Mr Nolen is not a card-carrying member of an officially credentialed state-recognized terrorism-provider such as ISIS or al-Qaeda. It’s true in the sense that he’s not on any official US Department of Homeland Security terror watch list, because, under the geniuses running American national security, that honor is reserved for my fellow Hillsdale cruiser Steve Hayes. And, of course, it’s also true in the sense that Mr Nolen is a recent convert to Islam and, as David Cameron and Barack Obama and many others are ever more eager to emphasize, terrorism is nothing to do with Islam. Mr Nolen had the Muslim greeting “As-salamu Alaikum” – “Peace be upon you” – tattooed upon his abdomen. And he’d tried, without success, to persuade his co-workers at Vaughan Foods to convert to Islam. So he wasn’t just mildly Islamic in the nothing-to-do-with-terrorism sense, he was super-Islamic in the really-totally-no-terrorism-to-see-here sense.

…Salutin’s column was met with near universal derision, but he’s stumbling around in the vicinity of a kind of point. As I wrote all those years ago in America Alone (personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available, etc, etc), Islam is “the ultimate global gang”. In Oklahoma, Mr Nolen had a rap sheet as long as his knife. In London, Mr Salvatore was a not dissimilar type. All that’s happened in the years since I first made that observation is that ISIS has supplanted al-Qaeda as the brand leader of the sharp end of Islam, and made the gang aesthetic even more explicit. As for Mo3’s comrades, if you’re a Canuck or Aussie or Frenchman or American having fun chopping heads off in Syria and Iraq, how much more fun it would be to go “home” and chop heads off in Toronto or Sydney,Toulouse or Minneapolis. Western leaders may insist that that’s nothing to do with Islam, but, as the “reversions” of Messrs Nolen and Salvadore suggest, not all potential Muslims are willing to defer to Obama and Cameron’s doubtless extensive Islamic scholarship. In the years to come, there will be more beheading, by more “reverts”.

It’s time for a rectification of names.

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.