Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Almost There

Brian Wang has a new post up examining the possible convergence of recent technology developments.

Go add your own thoughts to my own fevered 3am ravings.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don't know about fire breathing ...

..., but can you say dragon?

As the article notes, this is not the first example of the type discovered, just the best condition of the known examples. Which lends support to the historical nature of human communication techniques, specifically that known to modern humans as the "meme". Consider ...

In the misty pre-history of pre-Roman Britain, some tribe discovers a similar example of this same type fossil, includes it with the other tribal iconography and develops a ritual to surround it (What? You don't really think shamans were somehow less likely to promote their own job security then are their modern descendants, do you?). Thus is born the legend that culminates (at least in part) with the Arthurian tales of draconic power supporting dynastic legitimacy.

All speculation on my part, of course, but not too unrealistic I fancy. Stripped of it's regalia, the underlying meme process is quite clear, I think. The principal difference being that modern communication technology accelerates the meme dispersion process while modern research infrastructure makes deconstruction of a meme a much easier/rapid and more wide-spread event.

LiveScience link via Charles Johnson.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Presidential Debate

Ya'll have a blast, but I have no intention of spending my Friday evening watching the next President of the United States compare lies with some loser from the US Senate.

While you're at it, keep your "Panic Politics" over the recent credit financial shenanigan's too. The only certainty in any of that is that the legislative result won't include any actual correction of the underlying causes. The financial market's confidence will fluctuate around investor performance; when the banks open for business on Monday next like they did on Monday last, their confidence will recover. So long as the US federal legislature can resist tinkering even further (good luck to us all with all of that :)).

The rest of us will still keep working as best we are able to continue our lives. As ever was ...

In Other News ...

Offered for your news-reading pleasure without editorial comment: Sunbathing topless not recommended for fatty and not pretty women.

Note the attempt to pass this off as some form of international standard:

Sunbathing topless is strictly forbidden in many Muslims states. The Italian beach etiquette says that “fatty, ugly and unpretty women are not allowed to appear on the beach topless.”

A heaping portion of outraged sensibilities for everyone, I see. :)

Good one, Ivan.

Via the Wall Street Journal On-Line (scroll waaay down the page) via Instapundit.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Shirley it can't be this simple, can it? With Update

If I'm reading this at all correctly (as ever, not a given), then one of these Hyperion Power Modules ought to be sufficient for virtually any reasonable SSTO application short of a Pournelle/Niven novel. If that truly proves to be the case (and we ought to have a fairly definitive answer by next spring per Prof Yang), then a robotic mission to capture and deliver an asteroidal body to Earth orbit oughtn't not be too much further into the near-term future I should think. Something small to start, on the order of a cubic mile say.

The above is my comment in initial reaction to this Brian Wang post regarding a potential EMDrive module to be tested in China later this year.

While reference is made to solar power being the energizing force, I suggest that an enclosed and stable power supply as part of any vehicle's structure (whether space or atmospheric) is much more versatile and reliable (within design parameters, of course). Getting a mission to Mars in 41 days via solar power is all well and good, but powering any subsequent surface activity post orbital insertion is going to require something a bit more substantial and less subject to external debilitation, I would think.

I've forwarded this to Rand Simberg and Jerry Pournelle for their thoughts.

Update 8/25: Not a direct response to my e-mail, but on topic nonetheless, from Jerry Pournelle's Current View for Thursday, Sept 25 entry:

For some reason there are a lot of recent reports of reactionless drives. I pay little attention to them, because if someone can build a working model, it is easy enough to demonstrate. After all it doesn't need to work very well; just a tiny bit of hanging off center in a swing is all that's needed to generate enormous excitement. If there's any thrust at all, it is easy to prove. We have had many theories of reactionless drives, the best worked out being that of Col. Wm. Davis, Ph.D.; none of these have resulted in a working model. I have neither the time nor the competence to evaluate theories, and so far no one has offered me the chance to inspect an actual working model. I'd still love to see a working spacedrive. I doubt that I ever will.

Shaw drive - not workable

Regarding the reactionless drive the Chinese are wasting their money on: ShawyerFraud.

The short version: Shaw's diagrams leave out the axial vector component of the force exerted on the slanting sides of the cone, which, added to the lesser force on the smaller end, precisely balances out the force on the larger end. There is no change in overall motion.


I have other notes claiming that the Chinese are working on reactionless drives. I doubt much will come of it, but I certainly wouldn't stop watching them just in case...

[hyperlink edit mine]

Blissfully displaying my ignorance, I wonder if the Shawyer drive force is at all equivalent to the electromagnetic force? If a magnet is placed within the field of a larger magnet the smaller of the two moves without any measurable change of force on the part of the smaller magnet. If you substitute a variable current to an electro-magnet for the smaller magnet, wouldn't the subsequent action be equivalent to that proposed by Shawyer? I don't know obviously, but given the limits of analogy (magnetism for gravity) this seems to fit the description of what's theoretically happening.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Noon having well and truly cracked, and being near to drowning in any case, I decided to make the commitment and get up out of bed. I've now had some coffee and a quick troll around some of the internet, and even a brief trip outdoors, and can report that I am in fact still upright and breathing on my own. As standards go, that's my personal measure for basic fitness. As long as I achieve that, how bad can things really be?

First off, a look at the most recent storm track map has Ike north of Huntsville - maybe up to Crockett (as near as I can tell) - and continuing on it's projected path in the general direction of Mt. Vernon, TX, at which point it's expected to hook right and head for Hoosierland (see this page for a map by counties of E. Texas). So, pretty much as expected there.

I've gone through a couple hurricanes before (one of them aboard the old USS Midway in 1972 - that one right through the worst effects of a major typhoon in the relatively shallow waters off the coast of some SE Asian country). My point being that I do have some personal experience with extreme weather. As Ike approaches the wind speed should increase, but as the storm continues to transit land it's overall severity should continue to decrease. It's a tough judgement call, but I'm beginning to suspect that sustained winds in the 50 to 60 mph range are the most likely possibility for us in the Tyler area. There is, of course, this brief National Hurricane Center guidance to counter any urge toward relaxation:


It's beginning to feel like an old Morton Salt ad around here.

As you can also no doubt tell, TXU has been doing a sterling job so far also. And on that note, I will post this and update later in the evening.

Update: It is now later. Looking at the most recent storm track map it seems Ike weakened even faster than anticipated which, I speculate, caused it to veer East earlier than anticipated. In the event, the storm passed to the East of Tyler rather than to the West which caused the windblown rain to quarter around the sky quite rapidly. Within the space of perhaps 45 minutes the rain went from a strong ESE direction to virtually due West. Fortunately the wind velocity dropped along with the directional change so electricity wasn't effected for more than a couple of brief occasions during the afternoon.

In any case, the storm front is well past Tyler and, at this point, I'm not at all certain Tam and Roberta X will even notice Ike's arrival in their neighborhood late tomorrow afternoon or early evening.

Vageries Of The Weather

It's always a bit hard to determine with any exactitude, but I suspect the many thousands who elected to "stand their ground" on Galveston Island would agree that Hurricane Ike has well and truly come ashore right about now.

Not that they'll have much attention to spare for such niceties of description. The storm surge and rising tide will have seen to it that they will have been doing very well indeed to still have their heads mostly above water by this point in the proceedings. See here for why and scroll down for more.

Here in Tyler (visualise basically a straight line drawn between Dallas, TX and Shreveport, LA on a map and Tyler is almost exactly halfway in-between the two along I-20), the wind is only occasionally gusting with upper winds moving bands of cloud across the moonlit night sky at a clearly visible pace. No rain as of yet. As can be seen from this NOAA storm track map, it seems the eye of the by-then probably very strong Tropical Storm Ike will pass just barely to the west of Tyler about 2PM today. Winds 65 gusting 75 with a possible six to eight inches of rain is nothing to make light of, but the speed of travel Ike is expected to develop as it progresses inland has the storm essentially clearing this portion of E. Texas by midnight or so Saturday night.

I expect electrical power will go out at some point during the morning and can only hope TXU (my electrical service provider) will be able to have it restored reasonably quickly. Their past performance here within the city limits has been quite good in this regard so chances seem good at this point. Not to worry, I have the latest offerings from Steve Stirling and Neal Stephenson to wend away the entirely-too-windy-and-rainy daylight hours with and an ample supply of battery powered reading light(s) as well.

Given the dietary restrictions my diabetes imposes upon me I've spent the last couple hours baking a week's worth of chicken and slicing it up for sandwiches. Not that I'm in even the remotest proximity to it you understand, but starvation isn't going to be a concern whatever Ike still has to offer. 3 dozen bottles of diet iced tea and several quarts of Crystal Light should keep the inside of me as well hydrated as the outside looks to get. So, I'm adequately well fed, well watered and (need I even say it?) more than adequately well armed. Presuming the entire building doesn't head for Oz (the kitties will not like that), the weekend promises to be pleasantly adventurous (you know, it's actually you involved, but the really deep shit part is still comfortably off in the distance - maybe you can see it if you squint real hard).

I hope the ladies of Roseholme Cottage will think kindly of me when Ike gives them a gentle (if still sloppily wet) kiss the following afternoon. :)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Teasing Zephyr

This one's for Mr. FM who seems easily excited of late.

His upper lip may have developed a bit of a quiver, but the rest of him seems up to his usual standard (if his recent declaration is any judge).

Self-deprecating, reserved enthusiasm's; the mark of a true Englishman, you know.

Thanks to patriotroom.com for the visual image.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tempting Fate

I wonder if Gov. Palin and her family aren't pushing their luck just a bit?

Specifically, while I don't doubt young Levi Johnston's love for Bristol Palin, she is still only 17 years old. By making them both prominently part of the family's public appearances, to include the convention stage last night, both the Governor herself and Senator McCain have done all that could reasonably be expected to show acceptance of the fait accompli presented to all by Levi and Bristol. Being that Todd Palin hasn't already shown him the first half of last season's race course yet, it appears the family truly has accepted events and have determined to pursue the positive potential inherent to Bristol's pregnancy.

Being a dad myself, I'm not certain how well I'd have done presented with similar circumstance.

That all said, is anyone giving odds as to how long we will have to wait 'till some Democrat operative seeks to have young Levi prosecuted for statutory rape? Come to that, and given the opinion most of the old line Alaskan Republicans have for Gov. Palin, I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them try the same stunt.

Politics is a nasty business at the best of times. The present political climate in the US makes such a slimy tactic seem almost inevitable somehow instead of beyond the pale. It may wind up being both.

Gov. Palin strikes me as politically savvy, certainly Sen. McCain is. It seems incomprehensible that they both wouldn't have sought legal advice on this very possibility long since. Even so, the Democrat purpose is just as well served by a very public accusation and arrest of young Mr. Johnston as it is by a successful prosecution. Ultimate vindication will be politically irrelevant so long as it occurs no sooner than November 6th.

I hope my suspicions prove overly pessimistic about this. I keep returning to Saul Alinsky's lesson on means and ends though.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Restoration of Paris

Let's just see what we've got:

Paris Whitney Hilton (born February 17, 1981) is an American celebutante, television personality, actress, singer, model, and businesswoman.

She is known for her appearance on the television series The Simple Life, her several minor film roles (most notably her role in the horror film House of Wax in 2005), her 2004 tongue-in-cheek autobiography,[2] her 2006 album Paris, her work in modeling, and her appearance in a sex tape in 2003. As a result of several legal incidents, Hilton also served a widely publicized sentence in a Los Angeles County jail facility in 2007.


Hilton has worked as a model, actress, musician, and engaged in sometime business pursuits.[8] According to Forbes Magazine, she earned approximately $2 million in 2003–2004,[9] $6.5 million in 2004–2005,[10] and $7 million in 2005–2006.

While I doubt she's managed to retain even as much as 5% of all that in an investment or annuity account of any description, I don't think Miss Hilton has anything to be embarrassed about in any of that. And then, there is this justly famous bit of video.

All in all, something to work with here, I think.

Given her remarkable history of reciprocating, and occasionally betraying, the trust of others, I suspect Miss Hilton wouldn't disagree with the contention that society is comprised of an extensive network of often-contradictory trust relationships. Unlike those of us not recipient to a famous last name, she has very publicly agreed to pursue reputation into the often demeaning and shallow side-track of celebrity. I say pursue because she could have chosen to simply stay home on each occasion instead.

That said, when you grow up "knowing" that others are attracted to you (or, as you painfully learn eventually, at least to your name), then a certain amount of responsibility for what follows also lies with those who profit in some fashion from your actions and ... how shall I put this ... less well thought-out decisions? We are each of us encouraged to do things by motivating influences in our lives. One aspect of celebrity, surprisingly well illustrated on the HBO program Entourage btw, is that of the effect on the celebrity's decision-making process by those trusted with intimate access to the celebrity (a recurring theme in the 2006 film Bottoms Up also). All of whom, it should be noted, receive some form of personal gain as a result of the celebrity trust relationship.


People of reputation, on the other hand, aren't necessarily famous in their own right. Very often the work, or other accomplishment, that they have performed is what's widely noted. Many people know the names Watson and Crick for example, but virtually everybody has at least heard of DNA. How many of them associate the former with the latter, I wonder? People of celebrity, however, are largely the product of the opinions of others, whatever the value of their actual accomplishments might prove to be. And, has been infamously noted long before this, opinions are as prevalent as the fundaments they sit upon (and just as subject to social acceptability it often seems). Of relevance to Miss Hilton is that she now finds her reputation judged as an aspect of her celebrity.

In her recent response to use of her image in a McCain For President video, Paris herself shows a flawed but insightful flash of a possible mechanism to repair her public image and reputation.

I say flawed for a couple of reasons. First, because it's obvious she was unable to sufficiently physically train to meet the visual requirements her choice of wardrobe and dialog demanded. Which is not to say she's fat, because she absolutely isn't. She simply wasn't as physically fit as that particular wardrobe choice required for an on-camera appearance, that's all. She would have been better advised to appear in a stylish cocktail dress or, under appropriate (read: more expensive) lighting in a night shot, in an evening gown that displayed her legs and skin tone to advantage instead. Either choice would have worked just as well with the written dialog, and without breaking the viewer's suspension of disbelief from the "I'm also hot!" message.

Second, while the serious political message was well crafted and delivered, the minor disharmony between the visual and audio celebrity sub-text detracted from any possible serious response the video - not to mention Miss Hilton herself - might otherwise have garnered. It's here that her less savory public history also detracted from any possible serious response to her efforts to influence the political climate. Simply put, her celebrity served as both cause for her having made the video at all and instant nullification of her otherwise acceptable political compromise message (however tongue-in-cheek it may have been intended to be) (which is not an obvious given, based upon the merits of the message itself).

There is a strategic opportunity present in all of this, both to renovate Paris Hilton's public personae and make a hopefully-less-than-minor contribution to that aforementioned annuity fund.

One of the long-time staples of the cable TV channels was the program Connections presented by historian and author James Burke. Now, imagine a program examining the historical and current development of a concept, that further examines the future development possibilities and their impact on society, presented as part of the personal continuing education from her GED, by one Paris Hilton.

Call it Haught Thot (delivered in as snootily upper-class a British accent as can be hired).

The general theme of the program is to present Miss Hilton as a role model for the unorthodox education of the individual. Playing on the more unfortunate public aspects of her celebrity will be an ongoing programmatic theme, as will her on-camera failures to get things correct (to the extent these spontaneously happen during the course of recording an episode - think "out takes" as a deliberate part of the program narrative). She will ultimately get it right, of course, and "show her work" to the camera while doing so, upon occasion.

Such a program doesn't have to concentrate solely on technological developments, of course, but it should stick as strictly as possible to those topics that can be clearly documented and displayed in graphic fashion on both a television screen and computer monitor. Given Miss Hilton's demonstrated skill with viral video, that too should be a deliberate market for the program's content. Between these two principal targets, television (either broadcast or cable) and viral video (which offers it's own revenue potential), I believe the two objectives of this exercise can be achieved, quite possibly for a number of campaigns (aka: programming seasons).

The arrival of Gov. Sarah Palin on the US national political scene is also going to have the effect of "raising the bar" as it were when it comes to measuring the accomplishments of other (particularly female) objects of public interest, I believe. To the extent such proves to be the case, this can be turned to Miss Hilton's personal advantage by emphasising the professional responsibility and intellectual development her researching the program's content represents. Harking back to the trust issue from earlier in this treatise, she would have to be believably seen to be actually doing the intellectual heavy lifting at various points during the programing season(s).

One possibility for achieving this result would be presenting these as a version of test which she has to pass. Involving the program's contracted academic researchers working with her on camera is yet another mechanism for convincing the audience of her actual trustworthiness. There are other possibilities, of course, probably better too, but the issue of being perceived as trustworthy is extremely important, both for the program's potential success with the audience as entertainment, and it's financial success as a marketing platform for potential advertisers and sponsors.

However much in jest she may have been at the time, Miss Hilton made specific reference to her candidacy for the office of President in her video. Miss Hilton doesn't yet qualify for that office due to her tender years of course, but Gov. Palin's example makes less of a joke of Miss Hilton's brash claim than was percieved to be the case following her video's first release. If Miss Hilton is willing to fully commit to transforming her celebrity into reputation, that is.

While it seems extremely unlikely to me that Miss Hilton will ever seriously consider pursuing that or any other elective office, making the very thought of her doing so into something other than a sick joke doesn't seem at all unworthy of the effort required either. Respect has a little recognised effect of extending benefit to those not directly the cause for it's expression. Any sports fan implicitly knows this and experiences it through public association with the athlete or team in some fashion. I find something intrinsicly admirable in the idea of Paris Hilton using her celebrity to develop herself into something other than a public spectacle and embarrassment. The respect she would earn as a result would alter the status quo of American society in some small way all on it's own, and possibly in some totally unpredictable fashion through the shared benefit effect referenced earlier.

There must have been less likely sources of inspiration to self-improvement over the course of human history, I suppose.

Finally, I hope this little intellectual exercise in examining various applications of the strategic principle of individual positional advancement will prove as useful to someone else as thinking it through has proven to be for me. Paris Hilton is not the only one going through life with a GED. Learning has always been as much a product of my pursuit of my own intellectual interests as it has been the result of some other's deliberate efforts to instruct me.

I hope Miss Hilton finds her path to personal fulfillment. Maybe the famously byzantine connections of the Internet will allow this thought experiment some measure of influence in her doing so (though I personally doubt it - I can't imagine the extent of searching necessary for someone of her degree of celebrity to discover this effort via Google). I have more realistic hopes that I can find application for what I've learned from writing it a good deal closer to home than that though.

If I do, I'll have exceeded my expectations, which is good.