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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What Do You Do When You're Sick of the Whole World?

I watched the news yesterday morning after my sleep apnea study and it was downright depressing. Admittedly, it had been a bad night without my CPAP while they were collecting data, so I wasn't really bright-eyed and bushy-tailed while sitting in the waiting room eating my oatmeal. But in the half hour I sat there, the local media gleefully trotted out pundits and film clips aplenty to justify the rioting that's been going on in Baltimore the past few days because white people support cops and thus are abusing black people. Then they spent the last half of the newscast explaining how religious people like me were causing health problems for gay and lesbian people because of our belief that homosexual behavior is a sin. I had to leave and get out for a walk in the fresh air to try and get my sense of perspective back.

A friend posted a note on Facebook saying she was "
really disgruntled with mankind & need a reminder there's still lots of good out there."  I know how she feels. Here is my suggestion for anyone who is kind of feeling fed up with it all.  At least it's what works for me.

Look around your kitchen. Find something that doesn't work well, a pan that sticks, a can opener that's dull, knives that won't hold an edge, a mixer that is inadequate. Go out and buy a replacement - new and better. Get yourself a Kitchen-Aid with a dough hook, a set of eversharp knives or one of those $10 deluxe can openers. Get yourself a set of glass tupperware containers. I love those. The other day I found that buying a small $11 Paula Deen frying pan made me rejoice in the ingenuity of human beings. I needed a little pan that I could do an egg in without having to wrestle the big old monster stainless steel one I use for big jobs. I replaced my sticky Wok with one that the Chinese veggies slide right out of and only requires a light application of olive oil.

For guys who don't cook, look around your garage or shop. Go get yourself that tool that missing from your toolkit or replace something that doesn't work well. Get something for yourself that will make your work easier and more fun.

It's silly how happy stuff like that makes me. I can go out and buy a pair of thick warm socks in winter and walk around the house in them all day long grinning stupidly. Last week I bought myself a model sailing ship and every time I think about working on it, it makes me smile, even though book deadlines have kept me from doing anything on it yet.

Take the dog for a walk in the early morning with the sun slanting through the trees. I take a deep breath and just listen to the breeze murmering in the tops of the Douglas firs. I can feel my heart relax. I can feel my soul smiling.

Turns out it's not the big things we think we need - fancy vacations, new cars, the fanciest houses or cocktail parties with the best people. It's sharing a joke with an old friend on Facebook. It's calling your kids to find out how they're doing and to tell them you love them without any strings attached. It's the last page of that chapter you've been working on. It's plunging into a lake in the summer and swimming out a ways just to put yourself in a quiet spot, away from the shore with the arch of blue sky overhead and the cool water wrapped around you like a hug. I like paddling a canoe out on the river or a lake. It's pretty cheap to do and immensely satisfying if you know how to paddle well.

Any day I spend sitting on a porch with someone I love watching the sun go down; maybe playing my guitar with my feet propped up on the porch rail....that's a good day.

If you're sick of human beings, go to a website called Godvine. The videos there will make you smile and will at the same time make you feel a lot better about people. It's the upside of the Youtube phenomenon that we not only capture the bad things that happen, but we also capture the good side of the human race - the side that blesses, not curses; that sings; not complains; that loves, not hates.

Life is too good to let the people who are miserable drag you down with them.

© 2015 by Tom King

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wait for Me, I'm your Space Commander!

© 2015 - Space-X public domain

Space X Gets Closer, NASA Gets More Uncomfortable

Oh, so very close!!  Hitting a tiny floating barge is asking a lot of what is pretty early stage experimental tech. You can see in the video, the booster having to make last minute adjustments for wind and the position of the barge that affect the angular momentum of the rocket. If they'd had a larger land-based pad to land on, I think that one would have been a success. I still get excited about all this stuff. I have ever since I watched Alan Shepherd ride the first Mercury capsule into space. I had pictures from magazines hanging all over the place. I had records and tapes and books about Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. I bought telescopes and model rockets with my paper route money. Space-X is doing some of the most exciting stuff in commercial space exploration, while most of the others are still talking about it.  There's a reason why landing a reusable booster is so important.

The moment that Space X lands it's first booster successfully, the cost of launching rockets will drop significantly. And the cheaper it is to launch, the more likely it will be that someone of moderate means will have the opportunity to go to space, to work in space and to see us do something wonderful with rockets that doesn't involve killing each other. Also, the less likely companies launching satellites and such are to want to pay 156 million per launch when Space-X will do it for 53 million (or less if the boosters are reusable. The numbers may have changed a bit, but Space-X really is launching almost double the weight of material for less than any of its competitors including NASA. The economy of space business is about to get a pretty radical boost.

Space-X's Dragon capsules are already reusable and are delivering more supplies for less to the ISS (International Space Station for you non-geeky types). Soon their capsules will be certified to deliver up to seven astronauts at a time to the station. The Dragon spacecraft will also soon be able to land on solid ground through a combination of parachutes and braking rockets which were built into the design from the very first. The cargo version was originally designed to be convertable into a crew carrying version. How economical is that?

And Space-X launches its cargo missions at less than half the cost of NASA's own multiply-blessed-with funding United Space Alliance.  And Space-X has been using American designed and built booster engines from the start instead relying on 30 year old Russian rocket engine designs that Boeing and Lockheed (the principle owners of United Space Alliance) are currently using.

I know some folks at NASA really are uncomfortable with the speed at which Space-X is pushing forward. NASA's development and contracting process is notoriously slow and expensive. That's why the Space Shuttle launched with computers so primitive onboard, that astronauts finally resorted to carrying laptops with them.  Space-X has been so good at development, that NASA is now having to run PR campaigns for ever little "success" their own spacecraft development program has had in order to build up their image as the leader in space. 

NASA is running along behind Space-X shouting, "Wait for me, I'm your leader!"  All the while they're pouring money into a mammoth booster that's pretty much recycled Apollo technology for a mission that doesn't even exist yet.

It's little wonder two mega-corporations, Google and Fidelity just put one billion dollars into Space-X. Google wants to launch a fleet of Internet satellites to bring down the cost of the Internet. That's very smart since the real money is not in providing Internet service, but in getting more customers onto the nets to do real business. I think Fidelity just wants to make money in space (and what kid who grew up in the 60s and 70s doesn't.

Not only that, but there are satellites, orbital hotels and commercial moon bases all waiting to be built. Without NASA's iron-handed control over the contracts and launch facilities, that's likely to happen far more quickly as aerospace companies try to get out front of the pack. NASA knows it doesn't have the control it once had over access to space. With private companies being heavily funded, launches can be done from any other country that would like to get into the space Texas where Space-X is building launch facilities along the Gulf Coast with solid support from Texans. I mean what other state did you expect to make a spaceport viable.

Companies are looking at developing other amazing technologies to get us to space, like space elevators and magnetic catapults that fling satellites into space. Countries along the equator with high mountains like Ecuador could find themselves with booming economies if such launch facilities were built in their countries and would likely make very attractive offers to anyone who cared to invest there. If NASA wants to stay in the game, they have to play ball with the private companies or the space agency may find itself left behind, spending it's time playing political games and trying to make Muslims feel good about their "contributions to science". President Obama really did tell NASA chief Charles Bolton that was to be a critical part of his job when he was appointed to the position. 

Fortunately, the free-market capitalist system has the capacity and energy to overwhelm ding-batted government policies, and, in doing so, has created a new private space race that may change everything. One hopes so.

© 2015 by Tom King