May 252017

There seem to be two primary ways to tell if a forthcoming movie or TV series is going to be bad:

  1. The released materials – photos, descriptions, clips, trailers, etc. – just look or read as “bad”
  2. The people promoting the show start putting plans in place to downplay how awful it is, or to explain away a forthcoming disaster.

With Star Trek: Discovery, we’ve had a whole lot of #1. The disregard for established continuity, the jarring design elements, the apparent lack of any actual familiarity with Star Trek on the part of the people behind the show have led a *lot* or people to conclude that this STD is gonna burn.

But now they’re entering into Phase 2. Specifically… the “Ghostbusters 2016” playbook of “let’s blame the fans:”

Racist Star Trek Fans Decry Discovery‘s Diversity, Revealing They Know Nothing About Star Trek

Yeah, that’ll certainly help fix the problem. Someone doesn’t like your show? Call them a racist or a sexist. It worked *so* well for Ghostbusters 2016.



 Posted by at 11:15 am
May 252017

The first launch of the Electron launch vehicle almost made it to orbit. Launched from new Zealand, Rocket Lab’s two stage vehicle is designed to be cheap and expendable, with a projected launch price of about $5M and a payload of just a few hundred pounds. The dollars/pound cost of the vehicle is pretty bad compared to the likes of the Falcon 9,  but that’s to be expected. Economics does not scale down well with launch vehicles. But if you have a burning need to put a small payload into space in a hurry, a launch vehicle like this should be attractive.

New Zealand space launch is first from a private site



 Posted by at 6:08 am
May 232017

On the scale of planets, every known material is essentially a fluid. Build an Earth-sized cube out of diamond, and it will collapse under its own weight into a close approximation of a sphere. With that in mind, there are really only a few things that determine the shape of a planet. Structural strength? Nope. Surface tension? Nope. Magnetics? *Maybe,* if there were some insanely powerful magnetic fields involved. It basically comes down to gravity and centripetal force. Under most conditions, what you have is a blob of matter trying to condense down to a sphere, but being pulled into a slight oblate spheroid due to spin. If you jack up the rate of spin, the planet will become more and more oblate; spin it fast enough and the outer rim will reach orbital velocity and bits of the planet will start dripping off. But until that point, the planet will be basically just a flattened sphere.

A few years ago someone ran the numbers and found that if things were *just* right, you could have a toroidal (donut) planet.That would be definitely interesting, but while it doesn’t violate the laws of physics, it is vanishingly unlikely to occur naturally. Such a world would almost certainly have to be *built,* using technology and engineering far beyond us. This type of world would also need active intelligent maintenance in order to survive in the long term (and this probably means “historical long-term,” not “geological long-term”).

But another contender has stepped to the fore, the “synestia:”

The structure of terrestrial bodies: Impact heating, corotation limits, and synestias

This is a naturally occuring non-spherical world. But it is *not* an inviting place, nor one with a well defined surface. The idea is that early on in the development of solar systems, molten rocky worlds would get slammed now and again by giant impactors; hitting just right, they’d throw up a cloud of rock vapor that would form a funky shape that would persist on the order of a century. The heat of the vapor would help it maintain its shape; as the heat dissipates, the structure collapses, back down into a sphere.

 Posted by at 2:19 pm
May 232017

Evidence for a link between genetics and intelligence. This should not be terribly surprising… genetics is responsible for a *lot* about a person, from physicality to personality. But for some reason, some people get damn upset when you start discussing the idea that there is a genetic basis for intelligence. Sure, environment – from the quality of your nutrition to the quality of your parents to the quality of you schooling – plays a role. Epigenetics plays a role. But why *wouldn’t* genetics play a role? The reason why humans are smarter than chimps isn’t because we have better school lunch programs.

One obvious notion to be drawn from the recognition of a genetic basis for intelligence is that it should be possible to breed for it… or against it. And boy howdy do a whole lot of people not want to consider *that* possibility.

‘Smart genes’ account for 20% of intelligence: study

Study also concludes that the “smart genes” studied also have a role in autism.

 Posted by at 1:49 am
May 222017

If Truman hadn’t bombed the bejeebers out of Japan with the two nukes the US had, the war would have dragged on for much longer. That extended war would have included Operation Olympic, the invasion and conquest of Japan. Given how fanatical the Japanese had been in the defense of various smaller islands in the campaign leading up the the nukings, experts in the US knew that as soon as Americans set foot on Japanese turf, it would be a virtually unstoppable Holy War. The death toll would have been astounding. Less known at the time was the massare that would have happened – and had already started – in China as the  the Soviets started in on slaughtering the Japanese forces there.

So, since most people in the military didn’t know about the nukes and assumed an invasion was forthcoming, they planned for it. And part of that planning was planning for casualties. And part of planning for casualties is planning on handing out Purple Heart medals to injured servicemen. So, a bunch of those medals were made.

A bunch.

And unlike Brazilian Olympic Silver Medals, these Purple Heart medals were made to last. This fact is known because… the DoD is *still* handing them out. In other words, after Korea, Viet Nam, Leng, Grenada, Iraq (1 and 2), Afghanistan, R’lyeh and every other damned place that American forces have fought and bled over… there’s still a big box full of WWII-era Purple Hearts that the government dips into.

Today’s Purple Hearts were first made for the invasion of Japan

 Posted by at 4:20 pm