Sunday, 22 September 2013

Oh, c'mon America...

NASA is running out of plutonium.

You know: that seriously lethal stuff the U.S. military have been stuffing into Weapons of Mass Destruction by the ton since the 1950's...

But NASA can also use that stuff - in a way that benefits rather than degrades, the human race.

Nuclear missiles? Hey, way to go, if killing off countless peasants in testosterone fueled chest bumps with political rivals, is the greatest thing since God reportedly drowned nearly all of humanity, in a somewhat pointless holy flood a few thousand years back...

But I digress - the mind-melting silliness of the Noah tale is a distraction.

Ahem. NASA need plutonium. Now. For a peaceful use. For exploration. For learning about our universe. For humanity's future.

Deep space exploration with existing technology cannot go on without it. There currently really are no practical alternatives - solar power just doesn't work in deep space. Plutonium gives a lot of reliable power for just a small quantity of stuff, and for a long time.

The Curiosity Rover on Mars? Runs on plutonium.

The wonderful Cassini-Huygens mission at Saturn? Plutonium.

Voyagers 1 and 2 - now leaving the solar system to go Where No Man Has Gone Before?
36 years and still counting, thanks to plutonium.

There are numerous others.

And yet the U.S. politicians endlessly fart around with cutting NASA's annual budget.

<yokel> So much money wasted on that space stuff, when we could be making bigger bombs an' deadlier drones? Dagnabbit! </yokel>

Really?

NASA was established around 1959. That 54 years ago. NASA's entire budget since then, including all the money that took us to the moon in 1969, over 54 years, is about the same as what the U.S. military spends EVERY SINGLE YEAR on - what? Killing people. Having wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Building bigger and better Weapons of Mass Destruction (you know - those things Saddam Hussein had in massive piles buried all over Iraq. Oh - wait - no he didn't - U.S. intelligence got that kinda wrong - there weren't ANY. But they got to have a good war over them, and then got to kill the pathetic dictator himself for dessert! Pity it plunged what was left of Iraq society into an endless cycle of sectarian suicide bombings, massacres and beheadings that were, for better or worse, actually under some sort of control in Saddam's otherwise corrupt regime...)

Trillions of wasted dollars, thousands of dead U.S. soldiers, tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, and still counting. Tragedy heaped on tragedy.

But back to NASA...

Transferring a mere 1% of the U.S. military budget to NASA could bring NASA back to life. 1% removed from doing FUCKING NOTHING OF USE TO ANYONE, to give to learning, exploration, cultural purpose, inspiring people and giving humankind a path towards being able to one day migrating from Earth, if or when we need to. 

But...

... it ain't gonna happen. And NASA will run out of plutonium. And deep space exploration in our lifetime will end.

After all:

'Murricans like their guns more than larnin' anyways, and besides, Jazus is gunna 'peer in tha' clouds reel soon now, and take the people (tha saved ones that is) all to Heav'n... Hallelooyah! Gawd be praised!

Space travel - Christian fundie style.

Sigh.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Waiting for liftoff

SpaceX is launching its second mission to the International Space Station in about an hour and I will certainly be watching and cheering if all goes smoothly.

This mission is important as it will develop confidence that the first successful mission was not just luck. SpaceX is the first purely non-governmental organisation launching returnable spacecraft into Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It makes a lot of sense being able to hand LEO missions to private enterprise and free up NASA to develop bolder and riskier long term goals like manned missions to Mars, or beyond...

I find it a bit depressing that this will go with barely a blip in the media.

But, no worries!

For instance, stories about the hijinks of that perennial dickhead Alan Jones will continue to run and run and run and run... It is, after all the responsibility of the media to report on the IMPORTANT things in life.

Sheesh.

UPDATE. 'Twas a perfect launch. :-) ISS here comes Dragon. Alan Jones who?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

A bridge too far

As most people will have noticed, there has been a lot of kerfuffle in recent days about a really badly made video ('Innocence of Muslims') made in the United States, that is insulting to Islam - not that that is particularly hard to do.

And there have been riots around the world about it. Islamic fundamentalists are out there, doing what they do best, and the global death toll so far is reported as 9.

Over a really poorly made YouTube video.

I have watched some of it, and it is painful. Its sins against the crafts of acting and film-making greatly outnumber those against the long deceased prophet of Islam.

And so it came to pass that the Islamic fundie community of Sydney said: "Me too!" and collectively went off and practised their democratic right to protest.

Good for them. It is indeed their right as citizens of this country to do that.

Then I saw this sign.

Whilst I am pretty sure this is just testosterone fuelled bluster, I am not sure that the waver of this particular sentiment actually deserves to BE in this country. It crosses a line, into an area of religious insanity the vast majority of Australians would have absolutely no time for. This 'sentiment' is plain evil, and is hopefully just as abhorrent to the mainstream Islamic community here.

Hmm.

Am I overreacting?

A bit of a tidy up.

I haven't posted anything new here in several months and I feel guilty about that. It isn't as if I have a huge readership holding their collective breaths waiting for me to publish - I would be lucky if my faithful reader numbered in more than a single digit.

But as this is as close as I have ever come to maintaining a diary, I feel it is my duty to try and continue.

Looking back, I also see that my style falls into the trap of being an "angry old white guy." And for the most part I guess that is pretty true, but that particular persona is WAY too common on the 'net. Time for a new look.

Although it goes against the warts and all nature of a true diary, I have cleaned out a few of my more recent posts, and have resolved to put the "cranky self-righteous smartarse" to one side. At least, most of the time.

Another motivation to get back into my blog is that a few months back I finally did something I have consistently failed to do for decades:

I have finally learned to touch-type.

I may not be particularly fast, but I can do it, and this is a great way to practise...




Monday, 1 August 2011

The day the nanobot came Clem had himself a hoot

[This was written for ficly.com - where stories are limited to 1024 characters] 

Clem was resting on a log the day the nanobot came. It arrived in a spaceship the size of a tiny carrot. The nanobot quickly rearranged the atoms of its ship into another nanobot.

“Ain’t you the cutest little fellers!” enthused Clem, as 2 became 4.

The 4 then set about rearranging some of the atoms in Clem’s log. Soon 8 became 16.

Clem belly-laughed a treat. “You guys sure are somethin’!” he drawled as 16 became 32. Then 64.

After a little while the nanobots started on the atoms of the tree beside Clem and 2048 became 4096. Amazed in a truly simple way, Clem watched the tree dissolve into nanobots. He was still being amazed as 1048576 nanobots inevitably surrounded him and turned him into 2097152 nanobots.

Three hours later, the rest of the Earth had been efficiently converted into nanobots. This substantial cloud then morphed into little spaceships and headed back out again in search of even tastier worlds.

Bon app├ętit!

...and a bag of hammers please!

[This was written for ficly.com - where stories are limited to 1024 characters]

Peter was securely strapped to the gurney. Unable to move his body, Peter surveyed this new and exciting life experience.

To Peter’s left, ten thousand poison tipped arrows, nestled in ten thousand straining, drawn bows, all pointing ominously at his head and body. To Peter’s right two hundred primed and flickering flame throwers were trained on him with matching terrible accuracy. Above Peter’s head, ten enormous carbon steel axes, sharpened to spine chopping perfection hung from a single hair trigger.

The releases for all three of these dire contrivances connected back to a tiny green button positioned one inch in front of Peter’s nose.

Peter’s mind ratcheted up another notch to process this unexpected turn of events in his awe filled life. Peter wondered if he’d get laid today. Peter wondered what would happen if he pressed the green button.

Peter was not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

A few seconds later Peter’s life troubles were over.

Over here, over there, and over…

Oh, never mind.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Bitter End

[This was written for ficly.com - where stories are limited to 1024 characters]

When galaxies cross paths, stars rarely collide, astronomers say. But we were not warned about the collateral damage.

The city street is full of people, women, men, children, wanderers. No one smiles. No child laughs. All are joyless. Without hope. Doomed.

The twin stars shine down without mercy. The Sun. Our Sun which has nurtured our species and fostered all life on our beautiful planet, over millennia. And then there is Giselle

Giselle! A tiny star of beauty from the Andromeda Galaxy which for hundreds of thousands of years has been merging with our Milky Way. We were told Giselle was not dangerous – she was not on a collision course with our Sun. They spoke the truth. What they did not mention (at first) was that Giselle would be captured into a highly elliptical orbit around our star. Our Sun. A cosmic ballet began.

That was 5,435 years ago.

And in 17 years, 42 days, 21 hours and 58 minutes Giselle will finally cross the path of, and utterly consume our Earth.

All are joyless. Without hope. Doomed…

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Just Don't Do This, OK?

[This was written for ficly.com - where stories are limited to 1024 characters]

Einstein always said that space was curved. Well, all right then. With the help of a little basic quantum physics (is there any other kind?), I built my new house into the fourth spacial dimension.

I now stand in the hallway that runs through my house, and find myself staring at my own back, fifty feet away. So I pursue, er, me. Breaking into a brisk trot I cannot catch up to me. Darn, but I run nice!
Stop! Turn around! Again! AGAIN! No matter how fast I turn, I am still staring at my own back.

I roll a ball towards me. Helpfully, I spread my legs wide, and I do the same. I can see the ball going cleanly between my legs, as a ball rolls gently through mine.

Damn it, I want to see my face!

An IDEA! Grabbing a small mirror, I lift it up and over me, so that I can see the smug face of me behind me.

There are some things that can snap one’s sanity like a twig.

In the elevated mirror I could now see an unbroken line of me’s, stretching out to infinity, all with a look of instant overwhelming terror…

* * *

Prompted by Anonymous, I'll add that this tiny story is inspired by Robert Heinlein's very fine short story 'And He Built a Crooked House'. I had made this attribution on the Ficly version, but forgot to add it here. Naughty me. ;-)


Star

[This was written for ficly.com - where stories are limited to 1024 characters] 

Major Peter Burns finished his spacewalk, and holding onto a rail, unhooked his tether.

It was so unfair – at that moment there was a flash of light as a smiling crew member took his photo through a nearby port. Surprised, Peter jerked up, and his helmet hit a strut. He recoiled, losing his grip.
To his dismay, he was now four feet from the grip and drifting away.

But he was already dead, Peter knew. Four feet was no closer now than four thousand feet, or four thousand miles and the vast sphere of the Earth waited patiently behind him.

* * *
Becky leaned on the fence. Her dad, Joe, leaned next to her and they studied the night sky. They’d seen five in the last hour and were keen for more.

A streak of light started in the west, suddenly flared and smoothly spanned the sky before guttering towards the east a few seconds later.

“Wow! That’s the best one all night!”

Becky pondered.

“Daddy? What are shooting stars made of?”

Joe smiled, happy to impart fatherly knowledge.

“Oh, rocks I guess, Honey.”

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

NUMBER OF THE BEAST

[This was written for ficly.com - where stories are limited to 1024 characters]

Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Federation starship ‘Enterprise’ materialized on the surface of the planet ‘51 Pegasi d’ and was immediately arrested.

Somewhat surprised by this, Kirk stammered, “I haven’t done anything. What is my crime?”

As luck would have it, the Ruling Council of this particular planet had just passed a law declaring that personnel transporters were a criminal technology which merely destroyed, then duplicated those who foolishly stepped into them. It had been determined that metadata in the transport waveform could be used to reveal the number of times a single individual had previously been ‘teleported.’

“Kirk-666, by order of the High Council of Federated Planet ‘51 Pegasi d’, you are hereby charged with being an accessory to six-hundred and sixty-five counts of First Degree Murder…”