Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
DEAL: For $25 - Add A Second Phone Number To Your Smartphone for life! Use promo code SLASHDOT25. Also, Slashdot's Facebook page has a chat bot now. Message it for stories and more. Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 Internet speed test! ×

Journal Journal: NASA Scientist Says, "Let's Get Our Sh*t Together Already!" 5

A scientist and project manager at NASA had a really good piece in today's New York Times. I have a few comments but I'll leave them for after the article.

Here it is.

NASA Goes Deep

Published: February 20, 2007
The New York Times

Boulder, Colo.

After years of spending our nation's space budget building an orbiting space station of questionable utility, serviced by an operationally expensive space shuttle of unsafe design, NASA has set a new direction for the future of human spaceflight. Once again, we have our sights on the Moon ... and beyond. We are finally, bodily, going to make our way into space, this time to stay.

It is an opinion long and widely held within the space-exploration community that the Nixon administration's termination of the program that built the Saturn V Moon rocket was a gargantuan mistake.

One of the biggest challenges in exploring space is propulsion -- that is, getting from point A to B efficiently, safely and quickly. And when the cargo is human, the challenges are even greater. One of our crowning technological achievements during the 1960s was the Apollo program and, in particular, the development of the Saturn V rocket. The Saturn V was the largest, most powerful vehicle the United States had ever built. It had a launching capacity more than five times greater, a developmental cost 25 percent lower and a build-and-operate cost less than half of that of today's space shuttle.

In those early days, the possibilities for human space travel were intoxicating. Back then, NASA plans called for an aggressive integrated human flight program that would expand on the developments of Apollo: the establishment of a 50-person lunar base, a 100-person Earth-orbiting space station and human landfall on Mars, all by the mid-1980s. Those plans also included a 50-person semi-permanent Martian base by the end of the 20th century. Instead, we went nowhere.

Why? Because, largely for political reasons, we renounced the Moon, abandoned Apollo and the Saturn V and retreated to low Earth orbit, where we've spent the last 25 years going around in circles.

The cost to the nation of this misstep was enormous. For starters, we lost an investment, adjusted for inflation to 2007 dollars, of $160 billion. That was the cost to get to, land on, walk on, drive on and otherwise explore the Moon. (Of that amount, $29 billion, in inflation-adjusted dollars, was the approximate cost of the Saturn V.)

What's more, the production facilities for the Saturn V and the other lunar exploration components, like the command and lunar modules, were all closed. At that point, we lost both the technological means for human deep space exploration and the collective knowledge of tens of thousands of engineers and scientists trained in human spaceflight.

Equally troubling is what we put in place of Apollo. The $38 billion developmental cost of the shuttle has gotten us nowhere in the solar system fast. And the International Space Station could have been built with only half a dozen Saturn V launchings instead of the more than two dozen shuttle trips that will be required to finish it. The bottom line: a colossal misuse of funds and a disheartening lack of progress and loss of time.

The termination of the Saturn V program also had a stifling effect on the robotic exploration of other planets. In essence, we lost the ability to deliver larger, and in some cases faster, payloads elsewhere in the solar system.

Take, as an example, the 5,600-kilogram Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997 and is now in orbit around Saturn. Its launching was timed so that after spending two years looping around the inner solar system to pick up speed, it could rendezvous with massive Jupiter for an additional boost that would send it to Saturn. All told, its flight time took seven years.

Had the Saturn V, modified with an appropriate fourth upper stage, been used to launch Cassini directly to Jupiter first, its flight time to Saturn could have been cut by more than half. In space, as on Earth, time is money, and the money saved could have been spent elsewhere.

Alternatively, for the same flight time, a vehicle of greater launching capacity can deliver a heavier payload. Take as an example the 480-kilogram New Horizons spacecraft, launched over a year ago to fly by Pluto in 2015 and eventually to explore the Kuiper Belt of icy debris that lies beyond it. Had it been launched on a modified Saturn V rocket, New Horizons could have carried a payload that was 15 times heavier and far more scientifically capable.

In the end, instead of having a ubiquitous presence throughout the solar system, humans haven't set foot on the Moon in 35 years, and even our robotic explorations in that time have been throttled because we deliberately reduced our access to deep space.

Today, however, NASA is again looking up and out. Vigorous efforts are under way to complete the space station in order to fulfill international commitments that would be unwise to violate. When that is done, the plan is to retire the space shuttle in 2010 in favor of a new program to return to the Moon, with a party of humans, by 2020. A mainstay of this program is the Ares launching system, capable of sending 65 metric tons to the Moon -- exceeding the capacity of the Saturn V by more than 40 percent.

The official plans call not for flag-planting and grab-a-few-rocks-and-go but, by 2025, a solar-powered, human-tended, continuously inhabited research outpost rising from either the north or south pole of the Moon, where sunlight is persistent and water ice may be present. Sustainability, made possible in part by the use of lunar resources, is one goal. Another is on-site preparations for a push to the next outpost, Mars.

And human spaceflight is not the only enterprise to benefit. Robotic reconnaissance, which by necessity must precede the dispatch of humans, has been ongoing for nearly 50 years. In that time, all the simple things have been done. Future missions to the planets and their moons will be more ambitious than anything yet tried.

As one example, imagine what our future robotic travels around Saturn might be like. The Saturn planetary system includes Titan, a cold Mercury-sized moon with a dense, organic-laden, hazy atmosphere and a strangely Earth-like, variegated surface sculptured by winds and hydrocarbon rains. It also includes Enceladus, a moon one-tenth the size of Titan, whose jets of water vapor and fine icy particles extend thousands of miles into space and may very likely erupt from organic-rich liquid water reservoirs just below its surface -- making this satellite arguably the most promising target we have available to us for astrobiological investigation.

A scientifically comprehensive mission to this part of the solar system, using Ares and a Cassini-like trajectory to Saturn, could easily include several exploratory vehicles. One would be a Saturn orbiter far more capable than Cassini. This vehicle, in turn, would be large enough to carry and deliver a fully equipped balloon-borne scientific payload to float through the atmosphere of Titan and study its surface up close, and an Enceladus lander with equipment that could determine the moon's physical properties and ascertain whether or not pre-biotic chemistry, and perhaps life, has arisen there.

In other words, robotic exploration, and the insights that will be gained from it into the character, development and evolution of planetary bodies and even life itself, will be taken to new heights and, in turn, pave the way for the eventual arrival of humans throughout the solar system. Anyone up for an extreme excursion to the Enceladus Interplanetary Geyser Park?

All told, the subtext is invigorating and unmistakable: Humanity's future need not be confined to mere survival on our home planet. Other worlds beckon, we know how to reach them and we will once more be outward bound.

And we will not be alone. China, India and Russia, all eager to be or remain prominent players on the world stage, have independent plans to stride the lunar surface. And Australia, Canada, Japan and the member nations of the European Space Agency will be pooling their resources with us in the return to the Moon -- a circumstance that will bring the cost of the effort to any one nation within reason.

THIS won't be a space race so much as a global exodus undertaken by an international community. And peaceful cooperation among nations, as a tangible means to build strong lasting international partnerships and defuse tensions and conflicts in the future, will be a welcome result.

In hindsight, maybe the pace of progress was predictable. Humans first explored Antarctica in the early 20th century. Decades passed before we had the technology that would allow us to establish a permanent presence. History will indicate the same for our interplanetary forays. Our initial "small step for a man" on the Moon took place in 1969. A half-century later, we will be there anew, to live and work.

To reach that future will require two critical ingredients: adequate financing and a long-term cross-administration commitment that supports steady, uninterrupted progress. Our first reach for the Moon took us from President Kennedy's spoken words to the lunar surface in little over eight years under a budget profile that saw peaks in annual NASA budget of more than $30 billion in current dollars -- a shocking number by today's standards and a good measure of how important we then considered the endeavor.

While sustained budgets of that magnitude are out of the question today, what is not out of the question is our ability to pay to keep the goal front and center. We are now spending in Iraq, in a single month, $9 billion -- more than half the annual budget NASA needs to stay on course.

Forty-five years ago today, John Glenn Jr. became the first American to venture into orbit around the Earth. Just 9 years old, I knew at that moment that the future would be big and wide, and that I might go places no one had ever been before.

There could be no better way today to encourage an equally optimistic belief in the future than to embark on an odyssey that presents tremendous challenges, demands discipline and rigor, requires decades-long focus, inspires international cooperation, promotes lasting peace, improves life for all and paints a stirring vision of an expanded human presence beyond the Earth. There could be no better way to say: the future is boundless, and it belongs to us.

Carolyn Porco is a planetary scientist, the leader of the Imaging Science Team on the Cassini mission and director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations.

- end article -

Okay, first of all, let me remind y'all of our discussion of building more Saturns a few years back. Seems to me like her numbers agree with what we were thinking then. I'm bloody well tempted to buy the domain www.saturn6.org and bloody well put up a business plan and petition.

And, yes, I love the space elevator too. But I'm inpatient. And I have abolutely no trust in a solution that puts one organization in as the gatekeeper to space. I certainly want ithe elevator(s) built, but I want a nice diverse population of launchers to remain available as well.

So, waddaya think?



Journal Journal: Now I remember why I don't hang out here anymore. 12

So I've let myself get caught up in a couple of recent threads.

How depressing.

Go further down in the thread on Purdue and you'll find a few good comments but still.

I know that I'm probably the hundred thousandth person to do a JE on this, but man, I just don't enjoy being here anymore. Seems like there was a time that this place was full of experimentalists. Now it seems to be salarimen, amateurs, and (no offense) folks talking about things like sports and gaming that simply don't interest me at all.

I'm really bummed to have zero responses to my biofuels JE. I was all jazzed about the responses I expected, including some hope of a convincing partial refutation. But all that I got was dead air.

Man, I just don't fit in here anymore.



Journal Journal: And *why* exactly do they call it WASTE?

Maybe I'm just dumb. Maybe I'm missing something. But I just can't understand why NASA protocol is to take considerable amounts of mass (empty packing materials, small non-working stuff like pens, feces, etc.) and drop it into the atmosphere.

I mean, hey, how much does it cost per kilo to get something into Earth orbit?

And there's no viable solution possible to take our leftovers and turn them into something useful? I simply don't believe it.

I remember back in elementary school building a solar reflector out of cardboard, aluminum foil, and Elmer's glue. It worked fine. Sure, it wasn't ideal, but my little fourth-grade hands did just fine using stuff from the kitchen (I think I used mostly cardboard from a cut up paper towel roll) to make a servicable device able to concentrate sunlight enough to burn paper.
So tell me, why can't NASA, with their billions of dollars in staff and facilities (and all their buddies at Morton Thiokol, et al), come up with a device to melt materials to vapor (plasma?), spray the vapor onto strips or sheets, thereby separating it by compounds and maybe even elements, and then, at the least, boost the stuff to a parking orbit?

I'm not even going to get into the issue of all the "junk" wandering about various earth orbits. I'll just point out that at even an assessed current value of, oh, say, a thousand dollars a kilo, there's a hell of a lot of valuable bits and glops up there waiting to be recovered. I must admit, I am curious as to what folks like Lloyds have decided about the law for space salvage. I have a sneaking suspicion that once one was recovering materials at a facility created to service the ISS and/or shuttle, a tidy additional revenue stream could be generated by having more little robots puttering about collecting the rest of the little bits wandering about unwanted near our planet. I'll even bet that insurance companies would subsidize the venture as a way to cut their current risks on insured satellites.

Now again, maybe I'm missing something obvious and would be most curious if anybody (with facts to present) could show why this is impossible. But it looks to me like we're talking about a very finite set of problems here.

1.) put matter in openable or burnable bags.

2.) transfer bags to predictable, stable, and reachable location.
This can mean storing them within the ISS and/or shuttles, storing them at the ISS/shuttle but on an external tether, or even moving them off to a stable orbit somewhere or even to someplace like L5. All that matters is that when it's time to take out the garbage/empty the toilet the resulting matter reaches a location that is safe for crew, reachable for later processing, and will not cause the matter to dissipate/burn up.

3.) Divide matter into usable materials
This problem itself subdivides and I'm not up for going into all the possible subsets or techniques. These include:
-thermal depolymerization
-melting the plastics off packing materials but saving the metals and glass
-holding organic waste aside and either stopping there or working harder to extract usable water for reuse.
-accumulating "tainted" water that cannot be used for food and using it to create a tank. Place pulverized matter into tank with anode and cathode, periodically replace anode and cathode, which themselves are processed to recover now more purified materials. Perhaps build a succesion of tanks that operate as assorted pressures, temps, voltages, etc.
-fractionating columns in solution and/or rotational devices , in either case dividing by mass
-organic and/or chemical means of separation including everything from microbes in water solution (we've got ones now that can concentrate everything from petroleum to various metals) to enzymes, to simple chemical reactions. Then harvest results.
An infinitum. But personally my favorite (just as a starting point for this type of discussion) is what I think is the most elegant. That consists, as I said above, of making a big melting device at the head of a series of magnets and/or a rotating chamber such that the resulting vapor (again, probably actually plasma, but not in all cases) will separate as if it were passing through a giant mass spectrometer. At the far end of the chamber matter will accumulate in thicker and thinner bands of divided materials, ready for harvesting and, in some cases like iron, immediate reuse.

4.) Store until we begin space-based manufacturing
Now this can be addressed easily but probably inadvisably by storing the stuff in the general neighborhood of the ISS. I think that I've made it plain that in general our space program is easily dissuaded from processes that are slow and/or gradual, not doing things that involve "and then we sit around for twenty years" if there is another answer that is far more resource hungry but faster. ("Why" is a discussion for another post. Let's just say that I'm well aware of issues of funding concerns, desire for career enhancement, etc.)
I suspect that the best bet is to, again as I've suggested elsewhere, build a fleet of tiny slow robotic tugs. Probably ion-engine driven and solar powered, such tugs could readily cycle through a libration(sp?) point (like L5) to LEO route, bringing one load after another to a truly stable location well out everybody's way and stored somewhere that we will certainly want stuff later.
For some matter (such as feces) it might even make sense to drop it (carefully) onto a chosen location on the moon, where it will wait until we want to build gardens there, giving us an instant headstart of maybe as much as thousands of pounds of starter to create soil.

Fundamentally, what I'm saying here comes down to two things.
First of all, Americans are *terrible* at recycling and waste management in general, which sucks, but for us to extend those habits to a place where materials cost thousands of dollars a pound or more is flat out offensive. Espcially since goddammit, this is, in a very real way OUR FUCKING SPACE PRAGRAM. We have allowed them to be in charge of what is for now, pretty much the only game in town in an aspect of civilization that is incredibly important to all of us. If they want to play sloppy on their turf, well, I'll just be conceptually annoyed. But when they are sloppy at building *my* house, I don't intend to stay so blase.
Secondly, materials handling procedures, like so much else in the space program, takes a very short-term view. In other words, they say "we don't have any use for such matter, so why save it?" Well, I dispute that they cannot use any of what they now throw out (if you doubt this then check out the contents of these drop offs; I'll do a post soon with links) but even if they can't, I find it highly unlikely that reuse will be impossible for the forseeable future. Or, to get to the real point, it looks to me like we're figuring reuse and recycling out a hell of a lot faster then we're figuring cheap ways to get mass up the gravity well.
So, waddaya think?

Journal Journal: Biofuels. wtf? 1

As I recently wrote here, I've been reading like mad and I've reached a disturbing conclusion. There is going to be a crippling wave of sickness and deaths among folks connected to the development and production of biofuels.

A.) Biodiesel is being made by more and more folks who are seriously sans clue re how to work with flammables. There have been serious explosions already, most notably Pacific Biodiesel. We'll be seeing much bigger ones. After all, even beyond the biodiesel itself, methanol is a key part of the process and must be kept around in dangerous quantities.

B.) A lot of recent developments are with what's known as "biomass", which means stuff like woodchips and straw. Add to this the vastly increased exposure to switchgrass and other plants grown for fuel and then left around to dry out and release their minerals back into the soil and we're looking at mold, mildew, and pest problems on a formidible scale.

C.) Increasingly biofuels are being made through treatment of sewage and other approaches like thermal depolymerization that involve ton upon ton of waste matter. Stuff like the scraps from chicken slaughtering plants and feces from hog farms.
Can you say "hepatitis?" I knew that you could.
Look to see mass outbreaks of various diseases among workers at plants doing this sort of thing. Then watch those outbreaks spread. Somewhere in, say Kerala, an entire town will get hit. The oldest and the children will simply die.

D.) Lots of the "leftovers" from biofuel use, such as wood ash, are acid or otherwise toxic to a degree utterly unsuited to such accelerated rampups.
Look to see toxic waste scandals of all sorts.

Note, btw, that biofuel implementation is now spreading faster and faster from the affluent confines of Northern California and New England to places with far fewer controls and almost no culture of industrial safety measures. Places like, say, Malaysia.

Gonna be a casualty count bigger than that of troops in Iraq while the transition happens and the petroplutocrats are going to have a ton of fun publicizing it. Then we'll see a flurry of new regulations meant to hobble any biofuels at all not utterly under the "benevolent, watchful eye" of agribusiness companies like ConAgra and Archers-Daniel-Midland.

And then we'll see taxes to "pay for enforcement". Taxes that will be conveniently matched to rebates for politically connected processors. This, in turn, will push our biofuels back towards inefficient crops like corn and back to use of virgin source rather than post-consumer biomass.

This will be used to claim that biofuels aren't really all that effective anyway. Biofuels will be presented as a boondoggle, the new shale, and the big "newsmagazines" like Time and Newsweek will fall for it, hook, line, and pork barrel.

Fundamentally, what we're talking about here is more than just a series of unrelated toxicity issues. It's not even as simple as the set of problems that predictably pop up in any swiftly expanding business, let aloe one built around flammables.

What we're going to be seeing is a cognitive rewiring. Because, you see, Western civilization, industrialized civilization is defined in large part by our ways of handling biomass .

Ask the typical Iowa housewife to tell you what makes our "way of life" better than that of a primitive tribesman. She'll talk about flush toilets. She'll talk about refrigeration. Pasteurization. Food packaging. Our whole neat and tidy way of doing things that cleans every trace of dirt off our food before we eat it and swiftly makes it go away to some invisible and undiscussed place when we void it. Oil is pumped out of the ground far away. "Waste" is disposed of somewhere equally far away. No icky smells, no complex thought.

Want a good recent example? Google the term "biosolids". It's the new euphemism for sh*t and piss that have been mixed with other waste, had most of the water drained off, and left out to become less pungent. But if you look, you'll find that in much of the literature it has basically become the new term for "sewage". And biofuel production is all about the conversion of biomass, much of it "icky" or "dirty". We're gonna have some serious trouble dealing with this.

You heard it here first.



Journal Journal: Are you ever afraid that your geekiness will doom you? 5

So, we've all seen the article and discussion about Cap'n Crunch.I want to know, did any of you read the article and think "that could be me if I really f*ck up?" I know that I did.

Sure, we're not all unbathed, mood swing crippled, toothless old guys pursuing an unending stream of underage boys, but, AFAICT, we're not exactly socially flawless either. Now, like a lot of us, I don't believe that society should be so narrow in its range of acceptable behavior and I know that the narrowing range of acceptable ways to work was part of what drove me out of the corporate world.

But otoh, I think that many of us could be more accomodating if we chose to. I certainly know that I could. And I am well aware that there's nothing like systematic perceived rejection by society to encourage the sorts of hostile, self-indulgent behavior that so characterizes Draper. Adding that to early acclaim without concurrent structured chances to use those gifts makes for a truly toxic stew, one that gets viler the longer it brews.

So, jump on in, folks, do you ever worry that your antisocial tendencies and social cluelessness could eventually wreck you?



Journal Journal: Where Does Firefly Go From Here? 2

"Do you know what the chain of command is here? It's the chain I go get and beat you with to show you who's in ruttin' command here."

I assume that by now all of you have read that there is a Firefly-derived MMPORG in the works. There seems to be some disagreement as to whether or not Firefly will (will? can?) work in that medium.

Okay, so let's think this through. What exactly was it that created the "Firefly feel"?
- the writing, which means not only the sparkling, insouciant dialogue, but also the characters, the plot twists, and the very disciplined editing. Didn't advance the plot or characters? Out it went.

- The very good-looking but slightly odd actors. Not a single blonde cheerleader or big-chinned Hero among them. For example, the conscious decision to have Jewel Staite put on a few pounds before they started shooting.

- The Alliance, which is itself a writing challenge. They must be implacable, huge, determined, but kinda ineffectual at the end of the day and with a consistant bullying but sincere desire to "do the right thing." They are not Nazis, or the Empire from Star Wars. Many of them truly think that they are doing what's best for everybody and while this makes some of them prissy, it also makes the whole situation much creepier. So Alliance stuff, from things they say to their policies should be self-important, intolerant, and a bit insulting. But not simply Eeee-vil.

- The same goes for the "sympathetic" characters. Inara supported the alliance. Look at Jayne. We never did get the lowdown on Shepard Book; he may have been simply waiting for his moment. Even your friends may rat you out. Everybody has an agenda and you almost certainly don't know what most of it is.

- The mixed grimy/ornamented/bazaar/gleaming tech esthetic. All, mind you, mixed with ten percent Chinese and two percent other non Euro-American. Not only is this difficult to pull off, but it was used, again, in a very disciplined fashion such that each look went with a particular venue.
Miserable weather, old west clothes and setting and grimy 1930's industrial exceptions means outer world. Usually with some bits of gleaming Rollerball white and chrome in the hands of the bad guys.
Beautiful, elegant, but usually just a bit sterile, cluttered and harried means inner worlds. Kinda New Age fantasy tech as run for ten years by Edwardian Brits.
Funky, exposed rivets and cramped, with improvised bits of decoration and Cuisinart/Mac Plus looking appliances means the good guys, whether we're talking Firefly or the brothel, which exchanges rivets for wood beams.
The same complexity and specifity goes for clothes, music, and lighting and each, except for Alliance spaces like the hospital, requires a subtle touch.

- The shooting esthetic. Lens flare, the camera "having trouble" following the subject, the subject moving off camera, and, best of all, the lighting. I am so bloody sick of aren't-I-clever, M.Night Shymalan, massively unnatural lighting and palates. It's cute the first time but enough is enough people! And Firefly has consistantly given this trend a miss. Does this matter for other media? I think that it does. It speaks a naturalistic approach that applies to everything from ASCII on up.
The same goes for movement. Actors were given a positively sacriligious option on Firefly. Don't worry too much about hitting the mark - we'll have the camera follow you. This changed their body language, where they would sit down, lean against a wall, and so on. Again, naturalistic.

- The ages of the characters. Liberation from the world of twenty-three-year-olds. Characters are old, young, and in between. Most of the protaganists have seen some hard wear in their time, to the point that the few comparative exceptions, Dr. Tam and Kaylee, seem odd. Like NYPD Blue or so much of British television, it's a hard world out there and you're seeing it in the company of folks experienced enough to know it and act accordingly.
Many shows have taken this excuse to become enervated, passive. That wasn't done here. Anybody who doubts that the captain was willing and ready to kill Jayne as they talked across the cargo door wasn't paying attention.

There are some other issues about the Firefly universe that deserve some attention. Joss Whedon modeled much of his world on the south and west after the Civil War. If this holds true, then there is probably at least one sizable and possibly growing secret organization of veterans, romantics, and others, earnestly squirelling away arms and talking about how it was only because of flukes that they lost and next time, AND THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME, they assure you, they'll win. There are probably also browncoat enclaves w-a-y out there. Someday it would be nice to see one. If there had been more episodes, I would like to think that Joss would have shown us such people and chances are that they would come across as wrong-headed.

Now, I'm not saying that these are all good or all bad. But they are all deviations from the big media s.f. norm. OTOH, to me they all seem like they'ld be right at home in a game of Traveller. Now, personally, there are a few things that I think are more than ripe for change.

First of all, what the hell happened to the rest of Asia? Some more bits of Indian-derived culture would be long overdue. Serve up some curry there, dudes; add a few words of Hindi slang. And also where are all the Asian actors? Let's see some more Asian faces. Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, whatever. I know that Joss' premise is that America and China made it and everybody else didn't but he's sure willing enough to turn to Indian culture for clothes to give the impression that Indian influences are out there. So let's see some in less surreptitious ways.

And we still have an awful lot of questions, don't we? I'm delighted that the Reavers have been explained but there are plenty more big ol' enigmas. What is it like in those floating cities that the Alliance uses to project force? Look again at the first episode. That thing isn't the size of an aircraft carrier - it's the size of an apartment complex.
How did the Companions come to be? How elite is their status? We can be damned sure that they played a significanr part in the war and oh my, there must be some stories to tell about that.
How did Shepard Book really choose Serenity? I'ld lay odds that there was lot more going on than he ever said about why he was there.

So, what now? The Dark Horse comics are finished for now. The mini-eps of River cracking up are done. If the folks at Fox or Universal wanted the show to do well, then they at least could be shooting an occasional additional mini-ep. A snippet of video now and again for Youtube distribution and eventual high-res release. Failing that, animated episodes would be great. I would love to see fan-produced content get done.I wish that I had the time to properly help the folks at Into The Black.
And someday, not too far away, the rights will start to revert to Joss Whedon.

Well, I guess that we simply don't know what that will mean, do we? Thoughts?



Journal Journal: Revolution in Mexico 1

Looks to me like we've got a full-on revolt going on in Oaxaca. And a shadow national government being created, complete with consulates and bureaus. Anybody but me wondering why the U.S. media seems to be burying a possible revolution on our borders on page 47?

Now, first of all, as a guy who's got a hell of a lot of ties to Oregon, this is pretty important to me given the large and growing population of Mexicans, disproportionately from Oaxaca, living in Oregon. A population, I might add, that is becoming increasingly politicized as this year's protests in far away places like Pioneer Courthouse Square make amply evident.

And, as some of you may know, I've got some family ties to all of this. When I discuss this with my mother, her primary reference point is her most recent trip to Oaxaca and the political protests that she was part of then, earlier this year.

This may seem far away to many of y'all but this is a major nation undergoing some serious fracturing. Frankly, if I lived in Mexico, where tortillas are controlled by a monopoly, as is phone service and much of the media to a degree far more extreme than in the states, well, I'ld be kinda pissed myself.

Disorder seems to be going around. Planning a Pacific island vacation? Looked at the news in Fiji or Tonga this week? Howsabout those rich hippie destinations, Nepal and Butan? People are getting fed up and I wouldn't want to be in, say, Khatmandu these days unless my purpose in going was political. Lots of folks are losing patience, in part, oddly enough, because better living conditions and more open media are enabling them to look beyond their next plate of food.

Anybody feel like giving odds on what the next outbreak will be?


User Journal

Journal Journal: My Canon 8

Somebody over here asked "what's in your canon?" So I did a brief answer. I decided to copy it to here as well but here I'll little by little edit and improve it. For now it's just print.

Abbey, Edward - Monkeywrench Gang, various essays
Austen, Jane - all of it.
Cherryh, C.J. - Union-Alliance books, including Chanur & Cyteen serieses
Bester, Alfred - The Stars My Destination
Delany, Samuel - Dahlgren, Triton
Edjhill, Rosemary - the Bast mysteries
Fowles, John - The French Lieutenant's Woman
Fraser, James - The Golden Bough
Garson, Barbara - her books on industrial organization
Hardy, Thomas - Return of the Native
Heinlein, Robert - Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
Mccrumb, Sharon - Bimbos/Zombies books
McLoughlin, John C. - Helix and the sword
O'Neill, Gerard K. - everything, but High Frontier is a good start
Poquelin, Jean-Baptiste better known as Molière - Tartuffe & The Misanthrope
Pratchett, Terry - Night Watch, Montstrous Regiment, and just about all fiction since 1990.
Richmond, Walt & Leigh - Gallagher's Glacier
Shilts, Randy - Conduct Unbecoming
Smith, Cordwainer - all of it, including propaganda manuals
Sloane, Eric - all of it, though his stuff on colonial woodworkers is a great place to start
Shakespeare, William - As You Like It, Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, Merchant of Venice
Stephenson, Neal - Snow Crash & Diamond Age
Stone, Merlin - When God Was A Woman
Sweetman, John - American Naval History
Wharton, Edith - House of Mirth
Zapf, Hermann - any of his late books of type and collected layouts

All for now.


User Journal

Journal Journal: Giving In To The Latest Meme 3

1. What is your occupation?
  Publisher and consultant.

2. What color are you socks right now?

3. What are you listening to right now?
  Construction noise downstairs.

  4. What was the last thing that you ate?
  Thai ramen with veggies and fresh lime juice.

  5. Can you drive a stick shift?
  In theory, yes, but it's been a very long time since this theory was tested.

  6. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?
  Something subtle, obscure, but of value to those few who used it.

  7. Last person you spoke to on the phone?
  A friend I called from a payphone to bitch about how hard it is to sign up new bookstores for my company.

  8. Do you like the person who sent this to you?
  Haven't met him. Seems like a nice guy.

  9. How old are you today?
  39 years old.

  10. Favorite drinks?
  Coke. Lapsang souching & pu-erh tea. Sac Sac. Water. Good ginger beer. And an ever-changing favorite wine; these days it's a Muller-Thurgau.

  11. What is your favorite sport to watch?
  Sports? What are those?

  12. Have you ever dyed your hair?

  13. Pets?

  14. Favorite food?
  No one favorite.

  15. What was the last movie you watched?
  A Mighty Wind. Or, if this counts, the Battlestar Gallactica pilot.

  16. Favorite holiday?

  17. What do you do to vent anger?
  Fix things.

  18. What were your favorite toys as a kid?
  Things and places I could rebuild, most notably an abandoned streambed in NY's Central Park.

  19. What is your favorite: fall or spring?

  20. Hugs or kisses?
  Hugs. Big, brawly, "good to know ya, ya son of a bitch" hugs.

  21. Cherry or blueberry?

  22. Do you want your friends to send this back?

  23. Who is the most likely to respond?
  People with time to burn.

  24. Who is least likely to respond?
  Don't know.

  25. Living arrangements?
  Kinda in transition right now.

  26. When was the last time you cried?
  Watching the West Wing episode about neglected veterans.

  27. What is on the floor of your closet?
  Shoes, two vintage tennis rackets, some old lab equipment, some wooden hangers in a bag, some plastic hangers in a different bag.

  28. Who is the friend you have had the longest that you're sending this to?
  I'm not sending it to anybody.

  29. What did you do last night?
  Tried to sign up two more bookstores, saw a folk singer and a band at the second bookstore, looked into taking out an ad in a political magazine, worked on my overall task list, hung out on Consumating, cooked, did dishes, read more of Temp Slave.

User Journal

Journal Journal: So how's your day? 9

Just droppin' by. Got much to write about. Sometime soon I'll start that.

In short:

I'm now splitting my time between Portland and NYC. Currently in NYC and snippy about it.

My company has a product line. Two editions of the timeline professionally offset, third on the way, my DIY Manifesto, the America At War poster, and a few bumper stickers that I haven't eve picked up yet. Buying ISBNs soon, still broke but gettin' serious.

Sara and I have much going on on one project in particular. It's weird out there, folks!

Probably rebuilding both websites in the next few months. They're both kinda 1994-looking, no?

For the first time in many years I'm seeing television. Netflix is muy cool. So are boxed sets. I now have made my way through big hunks of Farscape, Babylon 5, the first season of West Wing, and assorted other oddments.

Still running around like a maniac, still overworking. But not as much as the old days. About two months back I told my apartmentmate that I would start a mini-vacation in a few days. The next day I tripped on a sidewalk crack the size of the East River, broke two bones in my hand. Life is not dull.

Meeting many cute young ladies, doing more dating then I have in a long time, but no actual serious relationship stuff in the offing.

All for now,


The Media

Journal Journal: V for Vendetta: You mean people PAY to watch this? 6


Saw the latest Wachowski bros. tip a couple days back. Bleagh! Not good. Very not good. It was like a two hour beer ad. A not very original beer ad. No content, slick colors, by-the-numbers directing. A few flashy visual tricks. Several intrusive bits of special effects business. But the thing that got me most is how reliably they didn't even really believe their own shtick.

- Everyone lives in fear in a paranoid society saturated with sensors and spies. But with one exception, every time somebody has a secret, they just yammer on like a bunch of southern Californians in group therapy. Cop trusts inspector and vice versa. Aide trusts television star and vice versa. And on and on.

- What England really needs is the return of democracy and policy from the people. But everything 'productive" in the movie is done by one lone freak, consulting no-one, teamed with no-one, advised by no-one. And his "solution" for everything is killing people. The other ninety-nine point nine nine percent of England is there to look worshipful, be fans, and bear witness to The One Strong Man's acts of greatness.

- Oh, the new England is a dirty, sad, ugly place. But somehow, except for members of the ruling regime and Our Tragic Hero, everybody who matters is attractive and charming in proportion to their effectiveness or significance. And oh, the clothes are so very pretty and tasteful.

- This is the new, tough, raw, ADULT Natalie Portman. Who, coincidentally is constantly seeking daddy figures, is first seen in a freakishly girly top, and, best yet, does her one bit of assistance to the Cause Underway in pigtails, literally dressed to attract a pedophile.

Blah, blah, fuckin' blah.

No Lexus ad was ever so incompetent at maintaining a tone.

And, ya know what? Seen as a political document, as my points above demonstrate, the real messages of this film are straight out of fascist propaganda, or, more specifically Cultural Revolution period Maoist propaganda, right down to the evil, physically disgusting, Capitalist Bosses who are also the ruling clique, opposed only by oppressed Workin' Folk who have, literally burst the chains of intellectual/capitalist oppression. The Soviets woulda loved this shit. Woulda played it all night long. Except that they, at least, would have given actual normal citizens more of a role in getting their freedom.

If I get the chance to obtain cheaply copies of this muck, I'll take 'em. So I can recycle the paper, piss on the discs, and throw them away.

Call me when somebody does a real political movie.


The Internet

Journal Journal: So when will online formats match online production? 2

So back in the day, all these folks came out with web content sites of one sort or another. Online magazines, what we now call blogs, comics, and so on. And damn near all of them built their UIs around a structure that assumed that a neatly matched unit of content, be it a journal entry, a movie review, comic strip, or item of medical advice, would be added to the system on a regular and frequent schedule, just like legacy print media.

New entry every Wednesday!
New comics monday through friday!
A new tip every week!

And, of course, it hasn't worked out like that.

The obvious reason is money. First folks thought that their little beanie baby fan site was going to make them rich. Hence the assumption of time being available to do such prolific and predictable content.
Then they thought that they wouldn't make any money at all as the equally clueless backlash hit. So most of them shut down entirely rather than "face the stress of having to do a new [content unit] every week." (How many of those letters have you read? I've read far too many.)

Now busy sites make a few bucks off print content, a few more off CafePress shwag, and some more off ads. So now they're trying AGAIN to do daily content, as if every form of entertainment or data needs to be formatted like a fucking soap opera.

And this odd, reasonless assumption warps the whole field. "Oh, I could never do a podcast, 'cause some weeks I'm just too busy." "I stopped writing in my blog because I kept missing days."


THIS ISN'T GRADE SCHOOL, FOLKS. There's no teacher behind you with a ruler to punish you if you don't "turn your work in on time". And while plenty of people will drift off if they can't get a new fix every day or week or whatever, they will come back if you offer some other means of access to what you create.

So, what is he really on about this time, you'e wondering, because surely it's not some broadly distributed sense of sympathy for content providers, let alone a concern that there's not enough being generated.

How very perceptive of you. What I'm on about, gentle (yeah, right) reader, is formatting and procedures. Why is it that the vast majority of online content, from podcasts to Homestar Runner to Sinfest, act as if all that really matters is "this [weeks/days] [item]" with some itty-bitty grudging link to some pathetically ill-sorted archive? Even the goddamned media giants like the New York Times still assume that sorting by date created is the One True Faith of content management.

Are bookstores filed by date? No, they are not. Are movie theatre listings done by date? No, they are not. Are libraries or music stores or any goddamn media outlet worth a moment's attention sorted by date? No, they are not.

They are sorted by subject. They are sorted by author. Because that's how people choose most of their frickin' content.

Do I feel like a prophet in the wilderness after having been pushing this since the early nineties? Yes, I do. And every time I have to do a search to find an article on a site (/., anybody?) that generates thousands of articles a week, I get annoyed all over again. I think that it's safe to say that XML is workable by now. Electronic, automated sorting by keyword is over thirty years old. And I damn well hope that someday the great big world out there wil begin to get a clue.

I'm out,



Journal Journal: VoIP Security, etc. 1

Nice little thred developing in Ask /. on VoIP security issues. I figure that I'll wait a few weeks for the posts to stop, drop by, and read it all properly.

Just looked today at the package that Vonage is pushing through (gag) CompUSA. No signup (+$50, get back $50), pretty looking Uniden two line system, supposed discount on rates thoough it didn't sound that great to me.

In truth, I've pretty much already decided to go with Packet 8 since Vonage's customer service ratings are teh sucking. But the phone sure looked purty. Looked physically solid, would like to know what type of speakerphone it is (full duplex?) and I've had good luck with their cordless handsets.

Of course, whatever I buy has to be something I can plug in anywhere as I plan to do muy traveling in the next year and a half.

Anybody got any thoughts?


Slashdot Top Deals

I think there's a world market for about five computers. -- attr. Thomas J. Watson (Chairman of the Board, IBM), 1943