Archive for January, 2010
The sadder news to come out of the State of the Union speech is the cutting of support for NASA’s Ares rocket program, which was set to replace the Shuttle program. This means no foreseeable plans for getting us beyond low earth orbit (think international space station).
The last manned mission to the moon took place on December 7, 1972. It’s been almost 38 years since we’ve walked on the surface of another stellar body. And now it may well be at least a decade more before something is in place to rectify this – much less blasting off.
For me this is utterly depressing. We had the technology, the training, and the will to get off this world and begin exploring another. A generation later we won’t even be moving people out of Earth’s gravity. The last Shuttle launch is this September – and that’s it. No Shuttle program and no alternative.
NASA’s budget for the past decade has ranged from 0.9 to .05% of the total Federal budget of the United States. Comparing those numbers to the amount of science and knowledge we’ve acquired from NASA’s programs is bit mind-boggling. Astronomy and NASA’s work has not only helped develop and refine tech that we use daily but it also explores fundamental questions like, “Where do we come from?” (our varied atoms originally come from supernova), and “What will happen to our planet and solar system in the epochs to come?”
On the brighter side we do have amazing unmanned missions from NASA producing reams of data that will keep people busy for years to come. We have robot spacecraft hurtling towards Pluto, rovers exploring Mars, and even the twin Voyager spacecraft launched more than 30 years ago continue to send data back about the furthest reaches of our solar system.
There are also private ventures looking to the stars, Space-X being one of the most visible and successful. Also companies like Google, which offers the X Prize, to encourage private development of spaceflight (both manned and unmanned) may fill the void in much the same way private funding did in early Earth exploration by sending boats across the globe in search of new business opportunities. Of course there is also Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic. Though it’s only aiming for low earth orbit, it’s still a start.
While all that evokes a glimmer for the future, a nice alternate route – it is still entities trying to merely reach low earth orbit with some sort of consistency. NASA did that and went well beyond… decades ago. We seem trapped by indecision (moon base or no moon base), a lack of will (people might die in those contraptions), and now more than ever a lack of funds.
Some experts think the Ares rocket program was the wrong direction to go in. Subsequently this budget cut is good news to them – it’s money not spent on something that just wasn’t going to work in the first place. Even if this is true, it does little to rectify the lack of a plan ‘B’ for NASA.
What is the goal to shoot for now? In what can we place our expectations, hopes, and dreams when it comes to space exploration? There is something so tangible and exciting about manned exploration that can never be replaced by sending a robotic spacecraft into the void or nearest orbiting object. Physically being there is more than a technological triumph, it’s a triumph of the spirit and curiosity that not only makes us what we are but drives us to do even greater things.
Given the state of things, to what do we now tilt toward?
Somehow needs more Hellboy, but fun regardless.
The Huffington Post, which is usually a den of anti-science nonsense and other magical fairy thinking, posted a fairly funny collection of misspelled tattoos.
Given this stuff is usually written out on transfer sheets and applied to said receiver of tattoo and as such both tattoo artist and receiver both get a chance to proofread means these dolts probably deserve what they got.
Check it out, it’s very amusing!
From the Letters of Note website comes this gem from awesome American author Mark Twain. The set-up
In November of 1905, an enraged Mark Twain sent this superb letter to J. H. Todd, a patent medicine salesman who had just attempted to sell bogus medicine to the author by way of a letter and leaflet delivered to his home. According to the literature Twain received, the ‘medicine’ in question – The Elixir of Life – could cure such ailments as meningitis (which had previously killed Twain’s daughter in 1896) and diphtheria (which had also killed his 19-month-old son). Twain, himself of ill-health at the time and very recently widowed after his wife suffered heart failure, was understandably furious and dictated the following letter to his secretary, which he then signed.
And Twain’s response:
Nov. 20. 1905
J. H. Todd
1212 Webster St.
San Francisco, Cal.
Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.
Adieu, adieu, adieu!
This letter should be copied and sent to Boots and other companies selling and promoting Homeopathy – same shit, different century.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield is lauded as a father of the anti-vaccination movement. This movement promotes a dangerous mentality that undermines modern medicine and not only puts millions at an unnecessary risk but already has a rising body count attached to its name.
As reported on the BBC News, after two years of review the General Medical Council in the UK has come to a conclusion:
he had acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in doing his research.
So what actions did he undertake that called into question his research?
The verdict, read out by panel chairman Dr Surendra Kumar, criticised Dr Wakefield for the invasive tests, such as spinal taps, that were carried out on children and which were found to be against their best clinical interests.
The panel said Dr Wakefield, who was working at London’s Royal Free Hospital as a gastroenterologist at the time, did not have the ethical approval or relevant qualifications for such tests.
The GMC also took exception with the way he gathered blood samples. Dr Wakefield paid children £5 for the samples at his son’s birthday party.
Dr Kumar said he had acted with “callous disregard for the distress and pain the children might suffer”.
He also said Dr Wakefield should have disclosed the fact that he had been paid to advise solicitors acting for parents who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR.
Two of Dr Wakefield’s former colleagues at the Royal Free were also ruled to have broken guidelines.
Professor John Walker-Smith and Professor Simon Murch both helped Dr Wakefield carry out the research.
The result of Dr. Wakefield’s fraudulent research have been a marked rise in cases of measles since 2005 – well over a five-fold increase. While his research was proven to be bunk years ago, it continues to be lauded by anti-vaxx groups to spread their message and build mistrust in the community at large that vaccines are the cause of a range of childhood ills including Autism.
I’d almost want to say ant-vaxxer’s cornerstone has again been yanked out, but they have no solid house to begin with. None of their claims have any scientific backing, it’s all misplaced passion and who can yell the loudest (or shrillest). That rarely slows them down in cases like this as the goal posts will be adjusted and facts will be ignored. After all, blame has to rest somewhere for their kid’s conditions, so why not make a conspiracy out of it?
If you’ve forgotten, ACTA is the fantastic secret treaty where corporations attempt to get you banned from the internet if they suspect you might be pirating their intellectual property. Some people are rightly upset at this and have been working to get it out in the public.
The most laudable man behind blowing the cover and exposing this crap for what it is, Michael Geist, has just put up part three of his continuing look at ACTA and tries to explain from where all the secrecy stems and why.
To sum it up:
The inescapable conclusion is that the ACTA approach is hardly standard. Rather, it represents a major shift toward greater secrecy in the negotiation of international treaties on intellectual property in an obvious attempt to avoid public participation and scrutiny.
And how. I mean who would think the public would be upset by being banned from the internet for mere suspicion by the RIAA or MPAA. That nice new fancy Apple iPad would be mostly worthless without an internet connection.
Hell, we are waging a battle of words with other countries (China) over internet policies and the next version of the military industrial complex will be squarely focused on said internet.
The internet is the future of information and social exchange – too fucking right there needs to be some public participation and scrutiny on a global treaty where corporate greed is allowed to cut you off from what is fast becoming a basic utility with no due process and no review.
I think everyone owes Geist a beer or two for continuing to keep this matter out in the limelight where it belongs.
AT 1:00pm EST Apple reveals its latest and greatest. Leo Laporte over at his Twit.tv will have non stop coverage starting around 8:30am and lasting through the afternoon and live blogging from the likes of engadget, gizmodo, and the mac news network among others.
I am an unabashed lover of Apple products. I’ve been using them for 15 years. What I own works amazingly well (desktops, laptops, ipods, iphones). I’ve never had one blow up on me or fail (some have fallen apart after a decade of steady use).
I’ve used PCs for about 25 years. I haven’t owned one that I didn’t have to reformat and reinstall Windows at least once a year, sometimes thrice. Still the best gaming platform, but a pain in the ass nonetheless.
Two great tools, but the PC will always pale in the shadow of the excitement that an Apple product release generates.
As such, bring it on!