August 10, 2005
It seems that, particularly recently, a few of my favorite musicians are bubbling THIS FAR (holds wingtips reeeeal close together) under the surface.
First, it was Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music headlining the Berlin stage of Live 8... and the crowd diggin' it with a big ol' spoon (even if I thought it was a lackluster set).
Now it's my dream teamup of Todd Rundgren and Joe Jackson. Why didn't anybody TELL me they'd been touring together? And they were even on Conan O'Brien, too. Run, don't walk, to Joe's website for a few videos.
Joe Jackson is still my favorite musician, Todd Rundgren is in my top five, so something like this is close to an eargasm... and hearing them do my favorite 'Beatles-related' (i.e., by the Beatles, or one of the four's solo careers, including Wings and The Travelling Wilburys) songs caused me to geek like I hadn't done in an awful long time...
...how long? Would you believe alllll the way back to 1994 or so, when I heard Nine Inch Nails/Trent Reznor cover "Dead Souls" on the soundtrack of The Crow?
Now if only Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson would do something together...
August 09, 2005
Who would have thought that a sock puppet could have a greater range of emotions than Katie Holmes?
Now comes NASA's "Night of the Long Knives."
August 08, 2005
Steven DenBeste is one of the best writers out there. His USS Clueless was one of the few multiple-times-daily reads I had, until he stopped blogging (Fortunately, he's shifted to writing about Anime, with the occasional foray into other topics). Agree with him or not, he always made you think on USS Clueless, and his eye for anime is excellent (even despite disliking Azumanga Daioh).
Recently, though, he's had two posts taking swipes at the Space Shuttle. While I agree that the Shuttle's sun is setting, he believes that the program should have been shut down right after the Columbia Disaster, noting that there have been two fatal flights out of 113: "A 2% failure rate is unacceptably high. It's time to end it."
A 2% failure rate is unacceptably high for airliners. A 2% failure rate is unacceptably high for ships. A 2% failure rate is unacceptably high for cars, plates, rubber ducks, and washing machines.
For manned space missions though, 2 in 113 is actually a little better than the past track records, believe it or not.
Consider: Mercury had 6 manned flights. Gemini had 10, and Apollo had 11. No fatalities, right? A perfect record.
Except for what was retroactively called Apollo 1, the Apollo systems test that resulted in the deaths of three astronauts, caused by an atmosphere of (amazingly) pure oxygen in the capsule, and a spark. It's fair to include this in the Apollo record, I suggest.
Adding one to Apollo's record gives it 12, Gemini 10, Mercury 6, for a total of 27. One fatal mission of 27 gives a rough percentage of 4%, twice as bad as the Shuttle. Throw in the Apollo 13 miracle, where a lot of sweat and luck got the crew back alive, and the number jumps to nigh on 8%.
Yet nobody called for an end to the missions on grounds of safety... Apollo was killed for bugetary reasons. I suggest that two fatal shuttle accidents in four times as many missions is, historically, a good rate. Only that they have been spectacular disasters and widely televised is different.
If you throw in Soviet manned space flight, the Space Shuttle's numbers get even better. I'll refer the reader to this Wikipedia article for details.
In his second post, he criticises NASA for sending 7 astronauts on what he calls a "garbage flight.": "Why risk that many people to operate a space-going garbage truck? If the damned thing had to fly at all, prudence would dictate that it carry the minimum crew capable of performing the mission."
To quote NASA's website, the mission objectives for this flight were to: "test and evaluate new safety procedures and conduct assembly and maintenance tasks on the (International Space) Station. A late addition to the timeline tasked the crew with first ever on-orbit repair of the Shuttle heat shield."
The Shuttle is vital to the continued existence of the ISS, as only it can carry the parts and such to perform maintainance to the station, as well as being able to carry broken parts back to be repaired and reused. If the Shuttle program was killed, the ISS would be written off. This would result in future exploration of space being limited to unmanned missions until the distant future, since the ISS will be used to stage manned flights out of (eventually).
Lets look at the crew assignment for this flight. You have the mission commander, a pilot, and two spacewalkers (for repairs to the ISS. They were also there for repairs to the shuttle, if needed). That's four of the seven right there. Throw in a Manipulator Arm Operator, an expert in that task, to support the spacewalks, and you're up to five crew as your minimum. The other two are expert extras, master redundancies (though, obviously, they're sharing duties with the others). Considering what was being done on this mission, seven crew doesn't seem excessive at all.
As far as DenBeste's gripe that the Shuttle is 'only' returning with 5000 pounds of trash, it's a little more complicated than that. I suggest James Oberg's views on the matter, found here.
But if you're looking for reasons to trash the Shuttle program, there are plenty of better ones than these listed above.
Clouds over the landing site in Florida, they'll give it another go on Tuesday.
I'll be venting spleen at Stephen Den Beste's criticism of this mission (at Chizumatic, look for 20050805) later tonight.
August 05, 2005
The Russian Navy (and before them, the Soviet Navy) has had a long and exciting history with their sub force, with a relatively large number of sunken submarines. You may remember a movie that came out a few years back called "K-19: The Widowmaker" starring Harrison Ford. That was based on the real-life Soviet K-19, which had an astonishing THREE incidents that involved loss of life amongst her crew, two of which involving her nuclear reactor.
I don't remember the movie mentioning the K-19's real nickname amongst the Soviet submarine community: HIROSHIMA. That'll give you some idea of what that sub's luck was like.
There were many others as well; the Yankee-class SSBN that sank in the Pacific Ocean (that the CIA eventually recovered part of using Howard Hughes' Glomar Explorer), another sub grounding on the rocks off the coast of Norway, and the infamous Kursk tragedy of a few years ago.
US, British, Japanese, and Russian rescue equipment are on the way to the scene. Hopefully, one of them'll get to the sub before air runs out for the seven souls on board.
The ocean is a dangerous place, at least as dangerous as outer space, yet tragedies such as this aren't as "exciting" as a Shuttle disaster. More commonplace, I suppose; more sailors, more submarines, fewer cameras. Yet the pressure of 600 feet of water will kill you just as dead (possibly deader, if possible) as vacuum will.
Good luck, guys.
Russian Sub Back Up Again!
The Brits were first on the scene with a Remotely Operated Vehicle, and they managed to use it to cut the cables the minisub was caught on. All seven crew were fine, if probably a little creeped out.
Bravo and well done!
August 04, 2005
I threw my vote for that rotting carcass known as Dragonball...
August 02, 2005
More to follow...
Obviously this is big in a number of ways. First and foremost, Rubens leaving Ferrari is giant... the man many believe is the 2nd best driver in F1 (behind Mitchell, or Kimi, or Alonso) is now a free agent. Of course, one would think that Ferrari cut him loose for a specific reason, namely that he's signed with another team for next year already. BAR-Honda is the org that's been bandied about recently in relation to Rubino, and after hunting the net high and low, I've found no reason to think otherwise.
Secondly, Massa going to Ferrari is a huge step up for the young Brazilian. Sauber is going to be a team in disarray next year, what with the flip to BMW as a factory team (yes, I know BMW is throwing it's full weight behind the team, and yes, I know that most of the Sauber people are staying with the team. Doesn't matter; drop a new head coach into a football team, and there's going to be friction), and Ferrari is... well, they're FERRARI. Like 'em or hate 'em, they're the 200 pound rottweiler straining at the end of a VERY rusty chain, and it's just a matter of time before that weak link snaps. Massa has driven for Ferrari before, having been their tester in 2001, so he knows the team culture. All of F1 UPDATE's little jokes about him being as dull as untoasted toast aside, Massa is a good-to-very good driver, if young. Stick him in a good car, or at least a better car, and he's a star in the making.
Third, assuming that Barrichello HAS signed with them, this puts BAR-Honda in the position of having to pick from, potentially, FOUR talented drivers for 2006... but having to wait until the end of the season to know just whom they CAN choose from! Lets assume for the moment that Rubens isn't signed, but both sides want the other... I think that's a fair assessment, no? Okay, then as things stand, they only have two drivers under contract for next year: the talented rookie Ant Davidson (who drove for Sato in... Malaysia, was it? Either Malaysia or Bahrain... it was a dreadfully hot day, and Sato had a case of the ick.), and F1 UPDATE's Actively Driving Hero, Takuma "Banzai" Sato. Rubens is up in the air. And nobody is farther up in the air (or up their own fundament, for that matter) than Jensen Button. Pretty decent list to select from, eh?
Which brings us to Williams, the next team to be affected by Felipe going to Ferrari. Assuming that Barrichello DOES go to BAR-Honda, and Sir Frank holds fast to his ultimatum ("You're MINE, Button."), Williams has three drivers for two seats: Button, Mark Webber, and Nick Heidfeld. Which brings us to the NEXT team to be affected, and brings us full circle...
Sauber. They just lost Felipe Massa, and they'll be in a transitional season (to say the least!) with new German overlords. Nick Heidfeld drove for Sauber from 2001-2003, is talented, and.. he's German himself. A pair of drivers like Heidfeld and Villeneuve (like him or not, he's experienced) would be perfect for a one-year "cutting of teeth" season for the new team.
Certainly there are other things that could shake out, of course. Jensen might somehow stay with BAR. Sato might sign with BMW (not holding my breath... he's either driving for BAR or he's not in F1 next year, I predict). Renault might boot Fisichella and make a run at Barrichello themselves... the possibilities are endless.
But I think this is a pretty fair estimation of how things'll shake out:
Ferrari: Schumacher, Massa
BAR-Honda: Barrichello, Sato
Williams: Button, Webber
BMW/Sauber: Heidfeld, Villeneuve.
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