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Comment Re:The Chinese like pyramids, too. (Score 1) 283

I don't really agree with your last point, and that's because I lived through that era. When I was a kid in the 60s and 70s, it seems every smart kid wanted to grow up to be a scientist-astronaut or design nuclear-powered starships. There was a huge push in the schools, from elementary on up, on physics and math, with a direct eye on the "Space Age" careers of tomorrow. Maybe you will have a job on Mars....better learn calculus and quantum mechanics! Nobody every said anything about learning PL/I or how to grow bacteria in a petri dish. Take a look at your iconic geek TV shows and movies from the period. What kind of job does the generic yellowshirt on Star Trek do? Something to do with physics, you can be sure. Did you ever see a programmer or biologist glamourized in 1960s or 1970s TV or movies?

These things matter. They influence the career choices young people make, and where capital flows, and we most definitely do have a finite supply of both brilliant young people and capital.

Comment Re:The Chinese like pyramids, too. (Score 1) 283

You know, at least I only claimed to deduce the goals of the Chinese government, based on the preferences revealed by their actual policy choices over the past 20 years. I'm impressed that by contrast you claim to have direct insight into what the average Chinese individual thinks. (And in that context your request for a citation for my observation is hilariously ironic.)

Don't you find reading the minds of 1 billion people distracting? How do you sort out their feelings about their space program from whether they have to take a dump at the moment? Inquiring minds want to know.

Comment Re:Is China even behind at all? (Score 1) 283

OK. We're just going to have to disagree on that. All that you say about Constellation is true, but I haven't heard anybody who knows something about the aerospace business claim this is the result of void in technical know-how. Everybody says it's a management failure, or insane project goals from Congress, or both. Which has absolutely nothing to do with technical skill.

Going back to my Magic Johnson analogy -- it would be as if Johnson was asked to sink baskets, but then the baskets were randomly moved to differet locations, the ball was deflated at random intervals, the lights were suddenly turned out in the arena, or his manager told him the wrong time to show up to play. No surprise that under those conditions he finds it hard to hit the basket.

And if you think the issue is genuinely technical know-how -- then why is it SpaceX is achieving things faster than Constellation, and for amazing less money? Are they importing technicians from China? I think not. They're working with the exact same technical base (people and industries) as NASA. They're just managing it far better, and have a perfectly clear and logically consistent blueprint from the top. NASA doesn't. And, IMHO, that's all there is to it.

Comment Because they couldn't, perhaps. (Score 1) 283

Let's recall Hayabusa was a very complex robotic mission, and that the Japanese are phenomenal at such things. The Chinese...not so much. China specializes in heavy industry and cheap assembly. It's the Japanese that specialize in complex programming and technical perfection of expensive products. I think it's very likely Hayabusa was beyond the capabilities of the PRC, then and now.

Comment The Chinese like pyramids, too. (Score 1) 283

Your first point is well put.

I think you're wrong about the second, however. The Chinese appear to have the same general interest in space stunts that the Soviets did: to convince their own population that progress is amazing, that the future is Chinese, and that all those peculiar rumors about brutality and privation in the countryside, or crashing real estate prices on the coast, or high-speed rail roadbeds cracking because of shoddy and corrupt construction, or the wild male/female imbalance in 20-year-olds are just...the mutterings of wreckers, evil propaganda from jealous foreign devils, et cetera.

I would like to say the retreat of the United States in the 1970s from building Pyramids -- big showy Ozymandias looky look projects -- was a sign of social health, and perhaps it was. It may have been that Nixon and Reagan (ignoring the brief and futile interludes of Ford and Carter) rationally turned away from gargantua, and thereby turned loose American ingenuity, technological talent and tech-oriented capital to give us the computing revolution of the 80s and 90s. If I had to choose, I would take the Internet, Unix, and GPS-enabled smartphones over a base on the Moon supplied, at enormous cost, by an aging fleet of Saturn Vs. And it is possible that we did have to choose -- that there was only so much technological talent and capital available in 1976, and if it went into a robust rockets to the Moon program it would not have been available elsewhere.

Comment Re:Is China even behind at all? (Score 2) 283

Depends what you mean by "no longer capable." No longer capable in the sense of lacking the technical know-how? Of course not. No longer capable in the sense of not having the assembly lines actually set up this moment, not having the raw aluminum and ceramics already sitting on the loading docks, not having the techs already hired and trained in operating the special lathes and die presses? Sure.

I don't see why this is a very interesting definition, however. If you hire a programmer and say he's "not capable" of generating a nice SQL program, you probably don't mean he isn't capable of generating one instantly, on the spot -- that it would take a few hours, say, to write it and debug it. You probably mean he lacks the know-how -- he's got to read books, do a little experimentation. So saying the US isn't "capable" of landing on the Moon, should it decide to do so, seems a peculiar if not deliberately inflammatory use of the phrase. It's a little like saying Magic Johnson can't sink a basket any more, because he is presently retired, probably a little out of shape, and let us say at the moment asleep or at Disneyland with his granddaughter. I mean, yeah, technically, right at the moment, sure, but let's be serious.

Comment Forgot about inflation? (Score 1) 998

Or interest? You're spending an extra $5000 right now, and getting it back over 10 or more years (unless you drive a huge number of miles per year). If you want to make a fair comparison, you need to factor in a reasonable rate of inflation or equivalently interest. The $1 you save in gas costs in year 8 is worth significantly less than the $1 you forked out today to buy the car. (And this is even more true for the younger people that tend to be hybrid buyers, who will have steadily rising wages over the next decade or so, as their careers mature. For these people, the labor required to afford $1 in hybrid car purchase now is quite a bit more than the labor they're spared as a result of $1 in gas cost saved in year 8.)

Anyone who can convince himself that a hybrid makes economic sense in any but very unusual circumstances should not be allowed to manage his own 401(k) funds.

Comment Silly assumption (Score 4, Insightful) 104

It always puzzles me why folks imagine saying a given piece of tech is old is axiomatically equivalent to saying it's been mightily improved upon since then.

Has the pencil been improved on yet? How about the wheel? Are we still burning gasoline in cylinders with pistons to power cars, like we started doing in the 1880s? Do we still use propellors to make boats move? Et cetera.

I'm not suggesting it's not possible to improve the Shuttle -- but that case has to be made in detail, not tossed off with an assumption that because it was designed in the 60s and built in the 70s there must be a far better idea. After all, the biggest advances since the 70s have mostly been in stuff like electronics or avionics, and besides the fact that this doesn't do squat for things like thermal protection and reliability of very high energy rocket systems under very heavy load (the two weaknesses that killed Columbia and Challenger, respectively) the best of these advances in electronics have in many cases been retrofitted into the Shuttle anyway.

Point me to a genuine major advance in airframe materials, thermal protection systems, or rocket engine design since the 1970s and maybe this contempt might be better supported by actual evidence.

Comment overlooked option (Score 1) 402

You overlook the possibility that the net energy of the universe is zero. Some theories of physics suggest just that, because the energy due to gravity exactly cancels the energy present as mass and other forms of energy.

If the net energy of the universe is zero, then of course there is nothing to have been created -- nor is there anything that needs to persist forever.

Comment I think not (Score 1) 164

The only difficulty with this attitude is that it's only going to work for the Russian and Dance Departments. If you try it in Physics or Chemistry or Engineering, where a generic professor can be responsible for $1 to $2 million a year in no strings attached research overhead that goes straight into the university's hungry coffers, you will be quickly educated in the different levels of deference applied to cost centers (like IT) and profit centers (like research departments).

I might add that it's possible a place as prestigious in these fields as Cornell might be able to get away with it, because they think, not unreasonably, that for any professor pissed enough to start looking at moving they can find 10 eager replacements, but few universities further down the academic pecking order will be able to do the same.

Comment Kinda sorta (Score 1) 376

I think it's worth noting that this is kind of exactly the reason there was a surge of folks, as I recall, getting their ticket in the mid-80s, when 2m repeaters really took off. Quite a lot of guys used the thing as more or less a cell phone, or really car phone, since HTs were still pretty bulky. Not only to set up meetings and stuff with other hams, but also to put a call through the patch to say he'd be home late or what else was he supposed to get at the store?

I think there's room for people who at least start off thinking they'd like a "cell phone" that works even when the power and phones lines are all out from a hurricane. After all, they're doing no harm, they're paying their dues to keep the bands ours, and -- who knows? -- it's entirely possible at some point they might drift into something more technical. This is to even leave out the possibility they might get involved in some RACES or ARES work and put their skills to use for the community.

I don't think the guy should be discouraged for social reasons. Sure, he should know about the technical limitations, but otherwise, go for it and welcome.

Comment I've done it (Score 1) 376

You're quite right. I've got an FT-817, and I take it camping. I've got a slingshot and some twine, plus 120 feet of thin wire hooked up to make an inverted-L antenna. A year or so ago I was camping up moderate-high in the Sierra Nevada, in a valley where cell-phone or 2m/440 reception would be out of the question. I used my slingshot to hoist the high end of the antenna up about 35 feet and made contact with a guy in Texas on my 2.5 watts, no problem. I was working him CW, but I'm sure he would have heard me on SSB, too.

You can also buy a little solar panel for the FT-817, amusingly enough. But it's probably a better idea just to pack along some extra AAs.

For my money if you really want to guarantee emergency communication, I would get one of those tiny QRP rigs that Elecraft sells, with built-in paddles, then pack along a slingshot, twine, and a few hundred feet of wire to make a 40m inverted-L. That gives you solid regional day and night coverage at a cost of less than a pound or so. Of course, in this case you do need to learn code, but it's not like that's actually hard.

Comment Clueless nonsense (Score 1) 265

Sorry, but actual experience and history shows that you have it exactly backwards. It's people in really awful situations that tend to think long and hard about the morality of what they do -- who do the most to help each other out, do the least to exploit and brutalize each other.

The concept of dispensing with morality and taking a Look Out For Number One attitude is the luxury -- because you can only take that attitude if your life is so sheltered that you don't realize how much you really do depend on others. If you're the kind of person who assumes that just because you have a lot of pieces of green paper in your pocket, you can do anything you want, and you don't need another soul, then yes you could have this kind of amoral every man for himself attitude.

But when civilization breaks down, and you realize that all the money and social status in the world won't get you a drink of water from the rainbarrel your dirt-poor neighbor happens to have, well, then you start to realize rather well how interdependent people are. And when you start to realize that the only thing you have to gain trusted access to group resources is your word, your honor, your reliability -- well, then, you gain a new appreciation for the very practical value of social ethics.

Comment Evolution in action! (Score 1) 235

Oh come now. Think of it as natural selection, weeding out the less competent network security policies and practitioners. Those that remain will be stronger, faster, and smell better between showers.

If Google can fend off the People's Army, then your Gmail account is probably pretty proof against plain old identity thief hackers from Chicago. So this is good news!

Comment I need to know how fast the sky is falling! (Score 5, Insightful) 466

You've got to love the innumeracy of the reporter on this article:

by Wednesday, the contamination had jumped to 17,000 parts per liter.

Ah yes, parts per liter. One of those quaint old-fashioned units of concentration, I guess, like horsepower per cubit. I wish someone could remind me how we convert to a more familiar unit like grams per liter, moles per liter, parts per million.

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