Friday, July 29, 2005

Carolina on my mind

For reasons I do not care to explain I was driving through the Carolinas yesterday, and I saw some interesting things.

First, in North Carolina, there was a billboard for a housing development called "The Challenge." Huh? Do people really want to live in a challenging environment?

Second, in South Carolina, there was sign for a mobile home place named "Spartan Homes." Admittedly it was near Spartanburg, but still, do they not know what Spartan means? Seriously, people.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

How American am I?

You Are 82% American
You're as American as red meat and shooting ranges.
Tough and independent, you think big.
You love everything about the US, wrong or right.
And anyone who criticizes your home better not do it in front of you!

Mmmmmm. Red meat.
Mmmmmm. Shooting ranges.

Lack of Discipline

Read this Weekly Standard article talking about our societies views toward commitment. Here's a sample of some of the new marriage vows replacing "'til death do us part."

Noble: "For as long as our marriage may serve the greater good."
Poetic: "For as long as our love shall last."
Prosaic: "For as long as we continue to love each other."
Clock watchers: "Until our time together is over."

Note the vacuous nature of each of these. The article ties the idea back into our lack of commitment to prosecuting the war on terror (or, as it was recently re-named, the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism" as this Slate article explains). I've said for a long time, that most of our societies problems stems from a lack of discipline (to which I'm certainly not immune [Exhibit A: the eleventh month period in which this was not updated]).

The Plame Conspiracy Revealed

It seems that everyone, certainly on the left side of the political aisle, is having fits about the whole Valerie Plame thing. This has to be the most boring, pointless political scandal, ever. Fortunately, IMAO is here to break everything down in an easy-to-read FAQ format. Click here and be enlightened.

I would also like to encourage both of my readers to listen to the highly amusing weekly IMAO podcast.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Economist on Pain

Here is an interesting article I found on people's perception of pain. The money quote:

Many researchers are therefore concluding that genetics underpins at least some of the difference, and that females really do feel pain more than males.

In my experience a lot of women seem to think that female pain tolerance is higher than males'. That has now been scientifically disproven. Take that.

Another section that was personally interesting to me because I suffer from migraines:

The latest example of such a difference is in migraine, a condition that is three times more common in women than in men. In 2004, a group of researchers led by Michel Ferrari of Leiden University in the Netherlands reported that they had created what they believed to be the first mouse model of migraine. Since some researchers argue that migraine is associated with heightened sensitivity to pain, they sent their creation to Dr Mogil for testing. He stresses that his data are preliminary. However, he does find a lowered pain threshold in the mouse migraine model compared with healthy mice—but only in females.

Since I suffer from migraines does that mean I have a low pain threshold and feel pain like a girl? (And in this case I do mean that in the pejorative sense.) Anyway, read the whole thing, but keep in mind there will be a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo (like mu and kappa-opioid agonist).

Saturday, July 16, 2005

NASA and omelet making

To prove my own laziness, I will now give y'all an excerpt from an e-mail I sent a friend:

It seems to me that the Shuttle is a clear case of over-engineering
and the managers are being entirely too cautious. Apparently only one
fuel sensor failed, but there are four of them and only two need to
work to avoid a problem. So the design builds in this huge degree of
redundancy, which negates the consequences of a single failure but
greatly increases the chance that something will fail, and then scraps
the launch because of the almost inevitable failure. No wonder it
costs billions of dollars for a single launch. Exploration requires a
little more testicular fortitude than they are willing to expend.

That was from a couple days ago. Now in the New York Times there is an article saying that NASA might actually grow a pair and send the Shuttle off with *gasp* only three of four sensors working.

The ultimate goal is to make space travel as cheap and common-place as air travel. After being in space almost fifty years we're alot further behind than we were at a comparable point in aeronautical history. At this point in time in aeronautical history we were on the verge of the 707 and cheap, safe, ubiquitous trans-continental travel. If we were near the same track when it came to space we would regularly be sending people to Mars without a second thought. But we're not. So the big question is why?

There are several answers. First, there just wasn't the same precursors for space-travel as there was and is for air travel. Before aircraft came along people were able to travel long distancesm, it just took longer because they had to travel by train or by sea. Airplanes were an incremental advance in transportation technology. The ability to travel to different planets has never before existed, so it's a much bigger jump. We had to crawl before we could run, so to speak. We're still in the crawling stage when it comes to space. But that doesn't fully answer the why.

That brings up the second reason: which is that there is no imperative to be in space. Traveling long distances on this planet makes sense for alot of reasons. It facilitates business, it makes more interesting vacations possible, there is a clear demand for intra-planet travel. There is no such demand to go to Mars. There are no businesses on Mars. There are no people on Mars (that we know of). That makes kind of a conundrum: in order for there to be demand to go to Mars we must already have some kind of presence there to make it worth it. It's easy to imagine a day in which space travel is common-place. When we've colonized other planets there will obviously be every incentive to have the ability to travel between planets. But it's a chicken or the egg thing. Before you can have a chicken you must have an egg (unless God just creates a chicken out of mid-air, but it's not a good idea to count on that).

The last reason we're so early in our inter-planetary travel capabilities is that we're developing them with two arms and a leg tied behind our back. When aviation was beginning the state-of-the-art was advanced by people taking risks to try out new things. Now, nobody takes any risks, least of all the entrenched bureaucracy of NASA. It costs billions of dollars to send the Shuttle into space and the reason it costs so much is, at least partly, because NASA spares no expense in creating redundant and safe systems on the shuttle. Which is all well and good, except that a price is paid for any level of safety. By placing the primary emphasis on safety (and for political reasons, I might add) the advancement of our understanding is retarded. So don't hold your breath waiting for NASA to lead the way to space. A much more promising route is to let risk-taking private entrepreneurs like Burt Rutan lead the way. As the saying goes, to make an omelet you've got to break a few eggs.

I didn't re-read this post due to laziness so I apologize for any typos, though I doubt I made any.

I'm Back (maybe)

My apologies for my almost year-long absence from here. My health hasn't exactly been ideal. In fact, I am currently in the throes of a migraine, even now. But maybe pounding on a keyboard will help. Anyway, I don't what direction I'll be taking this but be assured that it will not be ambitious. Ok then, onto something with something resembling substance. Maybe.