THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 522 August 18 - 24, 2009
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August 18, 2008
Posted Sunday Night. See yesterday view. I'll get caught up after Wednesday.
1300. I have heard the Administrator of NASA and his tale of woe (we cannot invest much in technology). More later. But my major conclusion is that I need to revise and update The Strategy of Technology for the post Cold War era. It's pretty clear that far too much time has passed since it was published and a new generation seems to have grown up : one that doesn't understand high technology even though it uses it. This misunderstanding seems to be pervasive from the highest levels of government, down through the officials in charge of R&D, and down to the high school teachers.
I don't suppose one book can change the world -- although Strategy of Technology had its place in the Cold War era -- but sometimes the lack of a book can change the world.
Alas, Strategy of Technology is not going to be something I can pay my bills with. Which means that if I am going to do it I will need a lot more platinum subscribers: that was the point of the platinum subscription drive, to allow me to work on what I think is needed, not on just making money.
Mike Griffin isn't saying anything new on how or when NASA will go to the Moon, but he explicitly said that only NASA can go back to the Moon, and it will be 2 generations before any private effort can get there. If then.
Why this is not necessarily correct is one reason for revising Strategy of Technology and getting it into at least some colleges and engineering schools. Meanwhile, as Ambassador Cooper said yesterday, the anti-technology forces are gathering and the notion that if you suppress technology you can and will avoid arms races is rampant in Washington and elsewhere. The hydra has emerged again.
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We have made some progress. I hear the terms "operationally driven" design quite a lot. Griffin seems to understand that operations are where much of the money goes (which is basic to understanding a strategy of technology). There seems to be an understanding that space ships should be more like airplanes than ammunition. But fundamental understanding seems to be lacking. It is not that these people are not smart. They are very smart: but they are immersed in a culture that sees things in one way. Obviously there are exceptions: but it is also clear that there aren't enough exceptions. And Pournelle's Iron Law applies.
I did not see the discussion nor have I had a chance to read the papers. For good or ill all my energy and thoughts have been tied to technology and this conference. I'll study the matter when I get home. As a general comment, one either believes in rational debate or one does not; this sounds like an attempt to insert some rational debate into the election. Obama of course wins for flash; it will be interesting to see which if either wins on rational answers.
At the moment I am listening to a discussion of space tourism: which is to say, going out to the edge of space and coming back; the equivalent of barnstorming in the early airplane era; this in 2008. We landed on the moon (Lindbergh's flight?) when I was a young man. And now we come to barnstorming as our great hope. Mind you, I am all for anything that will bring in commercial applications and revenue to the budding private space industry; but I can't help weeping. NASA has spent enough since Apollo that we ought to be halfway to Alpha Centauri.
I am back in my room and will nap before dinner.
Ground based solar may be in trouble: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10787_3-10018380-60.html?hhTest=1&tag=nl.e703 but one expects the Greens to rally to the cause.
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on the way home
In El Paso, but there's no wireless. Won't be on until home.
I am rapidly reaching a conclusion, confirmed by a number of those in the rocket entrepreneurial community, and also several Pentagon people: if we stay outside NASA, the technology exists to build a reusable orbiter for under a billion dollars; probably far less than a billion.
This could be done by prizes, and at the moment there are two prize schemes to consider: a single prize of $1 billion, or a first and second prize of $500,000,000 for first and $250,000,000 for second. The notion of a second prize is intriguing but harder to sell. A second insures that more than one firm can raise capital to compete.
Discussion invited. But the astonishing thing is that for a billion or less (with room for profit and operations) we can actually demonstrate reusable, savable orbiters.
The X project is a billion or under. Then comes production models. I am not sure what the second orbiter will cost; on the order of a major airplane, I would presume; but operations costs ought not be a lot larger than airplanes.
I am safely at home, a bit tired, and it's time for bed.
August 20, 2008
Some Conclusions from the DC/X Reunion
I am home and exhausted. I slept in until Noon (more or less: I did get up for breakfast but went back to bed, and actually I feel like taking a nap now (2:00 PM).
I'll catch up in a day or so. It was well worth going, and my thanks to Henry Vanderbilt and Larry Niven for taking care of me on the trip and during the conference. I am not used to being handicapped; I am used to thinking of myself as the toughest guy you know, and it's both odd and difficult to let someone else carry my briefcase (with ThinkPad; it was heavy) and get my coffee and so forth. Fortunately everyone was very helpful, and I got through the conference.
I came to a number of conclusions, the most important of which was that $1 billion spent right would in fact develop the technology -- all engineering, no new science needed -- to build an orbital ship that would operate as airlines do. Fly, inspect, refuel, fly again. Once that ship is built, additional orbiters will cost about what big commercial airplanes cost, and operate about the way airlines do. Airlines operate at about 3 to 5 times fuel costs, with about 110 employees per airplane (half of those sell tickets). With orbital access at about the cost of a first class ticket from America to Australia, free enterprise and commerce will take care of the rest. It is probably time for me to revise A STEP FARTHER OUT to reflect all this. Much of America has forgotten just how important expansion into space can be for a developing economy.
It is also time to revise THE STRATEGY OF TECHNOLOGY. The silly argument that technology development causes arms races, and that arms control agreements can prevent arms races, is back, and apparently prevails among much of the civil service. Peace is a worth goal, and those who seek it have good intentions: but it just isn't the case that deliberately halting technology development will bring peace. We have peace in this world because of US superiority, and the recent events in Georgia demonstrate the current limits to that superiority. The old Cold War with Mutual Assured Destruction -- MAD -- complete with Viet Nam is an even better illustration.
McNamara cancelled the X projects in the name of arms control. Reagan started up technological research and expanded the military budget. Reagan's actions ended the Cold War, but we have parts of the bureaucracy and establishment slowing down military technological research and development, particularly in access to space.
DC/V looked like MARV (Maneuverable Aerodynamic Reentry Vehicle if I recall my acronyms; anyway that is what it did, and is a war-fighting rather than deterrence weapon). Never mind that DC/X has nothing to do with MARV -- it would have aided in development of that technology, and thus upset the arms race. This cost it considerable support, and when Clinton brought in his people with their proclivity to favor arms control and agreements to military superiority, that was the death knell of DC/X 2; and DC/X 2 and SSX ( see my paper on that), which will develop low cost routine access to space; and the arms control/no military actions in space group is back. Strategy of Technology was a textbook in the service academies way back when, but it's a bit out of date now. It needs to be revised and put back to work.
The good news is that we are a lot closer to space access than we were fifteen years ago -- in technology. The recent economic crises have changed that, and what is needed is a new A STEP FARTHER OUT to show that space is a great investment for the United States and the human race. I said all that in the original book -- Survival With Style is still quite current -- but the book was written 30 years ago, and that shows.
That gives me a lot of work to do in addition to what it takes to stay alive, because I doubt those projects will make enough for me to live on. So it goes.
Catching Up: I'll post a lot of interesting mail, mostly without comments; and if you sent something you think important and it doesn't appear soon, consider sending it again. I was unable to do much work while in Alamogordo; now it's time to catch up.
I got a good writeup in the Alamogordo news. See http://www.alamogordonews.com/news/ci_10208502
Meanwhile, there is interesting news on the computer front, particularly about Vista. I'll get to that for the column next week. Or I hope I will.
If you haven't bought EXILE -- AND GLORY! yet (or even if
you have) go read the review:
Everything You Need to Know About USB 3.0, Plus First Spliced Cable Photos
My Kindle was a Christmas gift from one of my sons, and I have very much liked it, as I have reported here and elsewhere. I took it to the Writers of the Future last week, where I was to talk to the writer finalists, about 40 of them. I was going to show it off; but alas, about 1/3 of the screen did not rewrite, and it was useless. Of course I left for Alamogordo the next day, so I could not take it with me, nor did I have time to get it fixed.
Today I called the Amazon customer service number 866-216-1072 and got a telephone tree, all of the choices of which had to do with book purchases and shipments; but there was a "for anything else" number and I tried that. It took a while but I got a human being, who had nothing to do with Kindle but would transfer me to the Kindle Support Line, After another wait -- probably a lot shorter than it seemed to be, of course -- I got a nive young lady named Myria, who found my Kindle account, walked me through several tests including a hard reset which did nothing to fix it, and has promised to send me a new unit along with the instructions on how to return the old one after the new one arrives. All told it took perhaps fifteen minutes. I'll let you know when the new one arrives.
It was annoying not to have the Kindle on my trip, but the Amazon warranty service seems to be well organized and have good policies. And if an Amazon official reads this, I commend Myria as both competent and pleasant and willing to speak up when I had trouble hearing her. And I suspect that while I wasn't deliberately rude, I wasn't as pleasant as I might have been, but she was constantly cheerful and police.
Regarding prizes: the problem is that with a single prize, when it is found that a competent company with financing is going for a prize, it is very difficult to raise capital for anyone else to try.
I am not sure I care: what I want is the technology; for it to happen. I agree that having a second prize will help a lot in building in industry, and if the goal is to encourage and build industries that is preferable; but what I want is the reusable airline operations spacecraft!
Discussion invited, but I am inclined toward one prize for first place.
August 21, 2008
Yesterday was not a good day, but I did take Sable for a walk at 10:30, and while I woke often I did sleep well from about 0400 to 0900. Today I am ready to do some work. I'd better be: I seem to have an enormous list of things that have to be done.
This weekend is my "official" birthday party, which seems to have grown from a small family affair to something a great deal larger with people coming from all over. Otherwise, from now to next week I have to work. One task that won't wait is the galley proofs of ESCAPE FROM HELL. Niven has done his run. Now I have to do mine. The book is extraordinarily clean, so finding typos or grammar errors is difficult: one gets to reading the book rather than proof reading...
In any event it is time to get to work. I will say I am more impressed with McCain than I have been for a while; he seems a bit more consistent. I like the fact that while he and I do not agree on the solution to the illegal alien problem, he has said that his view has been rejected by the American people, and he will accede to the will of the people: secure the borders before bringing up "comprehensive immigration reform" again. Now if he will have the same attitude toward his disastrous campaign finance laws...
Aside on campaign financing: Harold Laski a very long time ago said that wealthy people and companies would defend their interests with money and no laws could be devised that would prevent that. I have seen no evidence that he was incorrect. One can regulate somewhat, but onerous regulations invite the wealthy to hire lawyers to find new ways. My inclination is to fewer regulations and more disclosure. I'd also act to make parties a bit stronger (and able to collect money more easily). I will concede that I am no expert on this but I have spent 50 years being involved in politics and I have some experience in both raising and spending political money. What is very clear is that the present system isn't working very well. As I said, on principle I prefer less regulation and more disclosure.
And I had better get to work.
August 22, 2008
If the worst thing you can say about McCain is that he doesn't know how many houses and condominiums he and his wife own and that he doesn't pay attention to their management, then one ought to be thankful. If I had a hundred million dollars I expect I would have many properties I didn't think much about.
At least McCain has his properties, all paid for. He didn't need help from the Chicago Syndicate to get them.
It's time for me to concentrate on the galley proofs of Escape from Hell. I fell asleep over the darned things last night.
Obama apparently thinks we would all be better off if we had China's government? I must have misunderstood his speech about the Chinese infrastructure. He cannot possibly have meant what he seems to have said.
Roberta wonders if all the houses and condos McCain owns would add up to the square footage of Gore's palace?
Re: Space exploration and colonization.
What benefit to mankind has resulted from NASA's efforts that would not have been realized anyway?
I can't think of too many. I did have work because of it but I probably would have had work anyway. I think your life would have been different but full anyway.
Maybe the reason we haven't seen more moon/space travel is because there's been no great benefit for the average (IQ=100) person from what has been done.
Regards, Ephraim F. Moya
The short answer to this question is "go read A Step Farther Out". I intend to rewrite that book, but just at the moment I am involved in making a living. An even shorter answer: if the human race is to survive, then for all but a very brief part of our history, the word "ship" will mean "Space Ship." (Arthur C. Clarke)
"Ninety percent of the resources easily available to the human race are not on this Earth. We do not live on one planet. We live in a system with nine planets, 39 moons, half a million asteroids, and a large thermonuclear generator we call the Sun." From A Step Farther Out.
For a PDF copy of A Step Farther Out:
On McCain and houses, see mail.
August 23, 2008
Obama picks Biden; everyone knows including those who signed up to find our first by text message (and thereby gave the Obama campaign their cell hone numbers). And Obama is tops with 58,000 followers on Twitter, beating Leo Laporte.
Will Biden help? He has lots of experience -- he's a professional politician, 36 years in the Senate. My memory isn't what it used to be, but I do not think that Clarence Thomas will be amused. Perhaps Obama does not want anyone who finds Thomas acceptable.
Microsoft is to hire Seinfeld as spokesperson for a new add campaign to revivify Vista. This seems odd. Of course I was never a Seinfeld fan to begin with -- perhaps I watched the wrong episodes, but I found the characters on the show to be both odd and not very amusing -- but it does seem to me that Seinfeld is a little behind the times.
I keep being reminded that FrontPage is passť, and I ought to get out of the stone age for this web site. If I go over to the Mac I won't be able to use FrontPage any longer anyway.
I am not sure what is wrong with FrontPage. They keep telling me it's horrible, but it is very easy to use, I can insert photographs and illustrations easily, the spell checker works, I can cut and paste from mail -- what else do I need? I don't use many tricks to begin with, and it's mostly text without having to go far from my own server for anything so it loads fast. (The Paypal buttons take longer to load than the rest of the page!)
Moreover, it's simple. I write in FrontPage, and it looks about the same here as it does on most web browsers. I don't have to do any formatting beyond breaking up very long URL's with line feed characters (shift-return). It saves me a lot of time, and time is the one thing I don't have all that much of.
On the other hand the RSS feed, which was put together by a reader volunteer (thanks!!!) hasn't been working since I changed over to the present data file system (folders for years and quarters, and no more archiving at all) and it would be useful if I could get that to work. I suppose the site looks a bit hokey and old fashioned (Windows not Mac I guess) and might benefit from a makeover, but if the cost is weeks of my learning how to use the new system, I don't think that will happen.
Chaos Manor Reviews was designed and implemented by Managing Editor Brian Bilbrey (who is also one of the owners of my web service provider), and he formats my Word columns for publication. I don't have the foggiest notion of how to do that -- it's a bit like it was in BYTE days when I had absolutely no access or control over what was published, so I'm very used to that. I can't use that model for this page. This page has to be completely under my control, and FrontPage has been good enough for that for many years.
I am open to discussion and suggestions, but I doubt I am going to make any drastic changes.
I'm open to suggestions and discussion on this, but my inclination is not to change anything here.
There is a note in mail and my reply on the "how many houses" affair.
August 7 was my real birthday, but Alex is having the official birthday party today. As I am about to leave I am hearing Biden's speech on Fuhrerprinzip and the answering shouts of the crowd.
All we need is a Great Leader. And Biden knows the heart and mind of the great man.
August 24, 2008
Yesterday at my son Alex's home was my official 75th birthday party. It was a great party. Four of my five children were there, as were friends new and old from all over. I'll try to post some pictures another time.
I was a bit wiped out today and spent much of the day napping. I'm in good shape, just a bit tired.
Over in mail there's a link to an education article, and my fairly lengthy comments.
I have an email from Amazon that appears to be identical to the one I got when I first got a Kindle, but I don't yet have my replacement Kindle; I am pretty sure it will arrive tomorrow, and I'll be able to put all the books from the old Kindle into the new one. I've already made a Kindle folder on my computer and copied everything into it, but the folder structure is a tad bit confusing so I'll pay more attention tomorrow or when the new Kindle comes.
Peter Glaskowsky was down for my birthday. He says that the same problem -- part of the screen refusing to rewrite -- happened on his Sony reader, but Sony's warranty is less than a year, and they won't replace his; and repairs would be almost as much as a new one. I didn't catch what he said he'd do, but my advice would be to buy a Kindle. The screen on the Sony and the Kindle are identical; the controls on the Sony are different, and when I first compared them I thought the Sony we possibly easier to use, but I have used it so little since that I can't recall why. It's easy enough to get used to the Kindle, and once you do, reading with it is as easy as reading any book; in some respects I prefer the Kindle, since it stays open to the page and I can use it one-handed, reading while drinking coffee or doing something else with the other hand.
Anyway I eagerly await the arrival -- I presume tomorrow -- of my new replacement Kindle.
This is a day book. It's not all that well edited. I try to keep this up daily, but sometimes I can't. I'll keep trying. See also the weekly COMPUTING AT CHAOS MANOR column, 8,000 - 12,000 words, depending. (Older columns here.) For more on what this page is about, please go to the VIEW PAGE. If you have never read the explanatory material on that page, please do so. If you got here through a link that didn't take you to the front page of this site, click here for a better explanation of what we're trying to do here. This site is run on the "public radio" model; see below.
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