Apr 232017

Some more of what you don’t want to see your rocket doing.

Soviet N-1:

Titan IV:

Delta II:


Ariane V:

Years ago I worked for a self-important egotistical jackass who thought that the way to create progress in the field of aerospace engineering was to hide from failures, to disappear all evidence of such, to pretend they didn’t happen. When you have ten-pound chunks of twisted aluminum zipping past your head at a reasonable fraction of the speed of sound, it makes you sit up and take notice, and it makes you want to make that not happen again. And the *best* way to prevent future disasters is to learn from past disasters. And you don’t learn from them by trying to pretend they didn’t happen.

With rockets, failures are often quite spectacular. And few things make PR people more unhappy than spectacular failures. But PR people do not fix problems with the design or manufacture of rockets; that’s for the scientists, engineers and technicians. And they need to see the fails, and be reminded of the fails. And in areas of engineering that are leading edge… they kinda need to *revel* in the fails. Failure is where you learn.




 Posted by at 10:13 am
Apr 222017

If there was ever a demonstration of the combination of “technical genius” with “wartime desperation,” it was the Bachem Natter from late in World War II. This German design was a point defense interceptor, from a time when B-17’s, B-24’s and Lancasters freely roamed the sky, laying waste to the German infrastructure. The Natter was a rocket-powered, vertical takeoff, partially reusable manned surface-to-air missile. It was to be armed with a multitude of unguided explosive-tipped rockets in the nose, probably to be launched as a single salvo. Reportedly, someone had the bright idea that the pilot would then aim his plane at another bomber for a ramming attack, bailing out at the last second. But since bailing out meant separating the nose from just forward of the cockpit aft bulkhead, the likelihood is vanishingly low that either the pilot would survive or that the Natter would continue forward in a predictable path. The more reasonable approach would still be for the pilot to bail out, but for both the pilot and the aircraft to pop chute and land safe enough to be recovered and reused.

The Natter was launched unmanned a few times and manned once, killing the pilot. It was *kind* of a neat idea, but the execution was not so good. The Germans would have been better advised to have worked on unmanned surface to air missiles than the Natter. But for all the claims of vaunted German efficiency, the Nazi regime was astonishingly inefficient, with many redundant and non-communicative programs.

Just as well, in retrospect.

There are many photos and illustrations of the Natter out there, but I figured these diagrams might be of interest.

 Posted by at 11:49 am
Apr 202017

Now this right here is funny.

We’ve all encountered this type of smug progressive, either online, in other forms of media or, if we lived sinfully in a previous life and are now being forced to pay off karma at a vastly accelerated rate, in real life. And while the real ones are nothing if not monumentally frustrating – they are either wholly deluded, or they’re lying to you – they are readily mockable.

 Posted by at 11:28 pm
Apr 202017

Leftist violence seems to be all the rage these days (get it? get it? bah. I’m dropping comedy gold here, people). The fascists in the antifa movement, the nuts in the anarchist movement, the whackos in the “social justice” cult… they’ve been using screaming, shouting, screwing with people just trying to get to work and a whole lot of poorly focused violence. On the whole this seems stupid. heck, i’ve pointed out before “this is why Trump won.”

Well, guess what. Now there’s science.

Extreme Protest Tactics Reduce Popular Support for Social Movements

Prior work shows that extreme protest tactics – actions that are highly counter-normative, disruptive, or harmful to others, including inflammatory rhetoric, blocking traffic, and damaging property – are effective for gaining publicity. However, we find across three experiments that extreme protest tactics decreased popular support for a given cause because they reduced feelings of identification with the movement.

In short: most people are just regular folk. Most protesters in the US, however, are not regular folk; they tend towards the excitable and highly irrational. So, when Regular Folk watch Excitable Idjits acting the fool, the Regular Folk unconsciously apply a simple test: Would I do that? And, well… no. And the result is that while “extreme protest tactics” gets more press, it turns people *away* from the goal of the movement, even if people might be otherwise sympathetic.

The study tested the reactions of test subjects to edited reports about animal rights protesters, Black Lives Matter protesters and anti-Trump protesters. Small changes in the reports – such as one version has the BLM protesters chanting anti-racist slogans, another has them chanting for violence against cops – led to noticeable differences in the stances of the participants. And those participants exposed to anti-Trump extremists wound up increasing their support *for* Trump.

So, go on, kids. Scream in the streets.  Block the roads. Burn stuff what ain’t yours. Act like crazed lunatics.  Your irrational hatred only strengthens the other side.

And thus we come to the Modest Proposal phase of the post: let’s use this. Can we come up with a way to infiltrate, say, Greenpeace, and influence them to use these whacko “extreme protest tactics” against something like, say, nuclear rockets? Can we get them to be *so* over the top that the end result is a Congressional mandate for SpaceX to build and fly a plasma-core nuclear rocket within five years? Can we so tweak the “Sanctuary City” and other pro-immigration-law-violation groups that the end result is that the US winds up not dissolving it’s borders, but instead colonizes and claims the Moon?

 Posted by at 9:49 pm
Apr 182017

First up:

Inmate punches inmate who wouldn’t pray with him

Short form: “Abdullah Abdullah” was *sure* another inmate at the Lancaster county Jail would pray with him. But when the other inmate said “No, I don’t want to (expletive) pray with you, so stop asking,” Abdullah displayed the caliber of judgement and rational thinking that got him tossed into the hoosegow in the first place, and decked the other guy.

Second up:

Hate crime is suspected after a gunman kills 3 white men in downtown Fresno

One  “Kori Ali Muhammad” decided that there’s a war between whites and black, so he murdered four white guys. Oddly enough, the cops decided very quickly that this just might maybe be a hate crime. Oh, and the story includes the Phrase That Pays.


Cleveland murder suspect Steve Stephens kills himself after pursuit

Couldn’t have ended better.


 Posted by at 9:03 pm
Apr 182017

Having heard that the latest North Korean missile failed “almost immediately,” I decided to go looking for the video of it. Haven’t found it (and may not, who knows), but I did find this video of a Russian Proton launch failure from a few years ago. It certain displays some odd behavior, and I gotta wonder just where the hell the range safety officer was on this. Not exactly Johnny-On-The-Spot. Ivan-On-The-Vodka, perhaps…

Some pretty spectacular close-up, slo-mo footage of this. BEHOLD as the TVC system over-corrects! MARVEL as the payload comes unglued! GASP IN AMAZEMENT as the external tanks tear loose!

I hear lots of folks laughing at the North Koreans and their launch failures. Folks, even for the Russians, who’ve launched a bajillion rockets into space, rockets can be hard. The Norks are trying to accomplish what the Soviets and the US did more than half a century ago, but they’re doing it without the benefit of a budget, full bellies or even a proper understanding of science and engineering. Now, imagine if the same budget and mission was given to a team of women and ethnic studies majors… do you think those geniuses would do even a *tenth* as well as the Norks?

Here’s a video of that failed Proton launch taken from the public viewing area, apparently a bunch of Europeans from Astrium who worked on the payload. Note that they take off running *after* the shock wave gets to them. Why? Well, one *really* good reason to get the hell out of Dodge is that the propellants used by the proton are impressively toxic. I would *assume* that nobody would be dumb enough to put visitors downwind of a Proton launch pad, but who knows…



 Posted by at 8:21 pm
Apr 152017

And the new dark age begins:

Purdue announces new head for School of Engineering Education

And who is this? Let’s check out her bio (from her previous stint at Smith College):

My scholarship currently focuses on applying liberative pedagogies in engineering education, leveraging best practices from women’s studies and ethnic studies to engage students in creating a democratic classroom that encourages all voices. In 2005 I received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation to support this work, which includes developing, implementing, and assessing curricular and pedagogical innovations based on liberative pedagogies and student input at Smith, and understanding how students at Smith conceptualize their identities as engineers. I seek as an engineering educator to be part of a paradigm shift that these pedagogies demand, repositioning concerns about diversity in science and engineering from superficial measures of equity as headcounts, to addressing justice and the genuine engagement of all students as core educational challenges.

I seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destinations, integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics and social responsibility; de-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups.

In EGR 330 (Engineering and Global Development), we critically evaluate past and current trends in appropriate and sustainable technology. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalization, capitalism and colonialism, and the role technology plays in movements that counter these forces. Gender is a key thread running through the course in examining issues of water supply and quality, food production and energy.

In EGR 205 (Science, Technology and Ethics), we consider questions such as who decides how science and engineering are done, who can participate in the scientific enterprise and what problems are legitimately addressed within these disciplines and professions. We take up racist and colonialist projects in science, as well as the role of technology, culture and economic systems in the drive toward bigger, faster, cheaper and more automated production of goods. A course theme around technology and control provides for exploration of military, information, reproductive and environmental applications. Using readings from philosophy, science and technology studies, and feminist and postcolonial science studies, we explore these topics and encounter new models of science and engineering that are responsive to ethical concerns.


A few things:

  1. “Democratic classrooms that encourage all voices:” this is utterly inappropriate in engineering. Is it because democracy is wrong? No… it’s because some *people* are wrong. In engineering there are *clear* wrong answers. There’s no “you tried” award if there’s a “your bridge collapsed under normal loading.” With a “democratic classroom” that “encourages all voices,” the students trying to get an actual education will have to share time with the fricken’ idiot who thinks that getting a shaman to bless the bridge, or building not out of steel but some sacred rubber tree, or waving magic crystals over forming stress cracks are all cromulent ideas.
  2. “uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups,” is, I suppose, fine if your interest in engineering is the *history* of engineering… but it’s utterly meaningless if your interest in engineering is, y’know, engineering. It’s been a bit of a while since I got my degree, but as memory serves, we spent approximatley zero time on describing the peronal travails of the various people who discovered or invented the little bits of science, technology and math that we used. In aeronautics we learned about Bernoulli’s Theorem… because it’s important and relevant. What did we learn about Bernoulli the man? Doodly squat. Because WHO CARES. Whether he was a asexual autistic Italian banker, or  lesbian Swiss cheesemaker makes absolutely no difference to the theorem itself. E=mc^2, after all, whether Einstein was German or Austrian or Swiss or Japanese, white or black, Jewish or Hindu.
  3. “Womens Studies/Ethnic studies/Colonialism:” you see any of that and you know you’re in for an idiot harangue from someone who cares far more about who did something than what that something actually was.

The reasoning behind this hire seems straightforward enough to suss out. STEM fields are overwhelmingly dominated by white and Asian males; females and males Of Some Other Color are under represented. And this has become a political cause among the shouting set in recent years, because STEM graduates *tend* to make pretty good incomes (present company sadly excluded) because STEM fields are, compared to libarts, actually useful to society. So, fine, bring in more women and People Of Some Non-White Color in the the STEM classrooms. The more the merrier! But where this is a screwup is that the process isn’t to convince women to do the hard work and take the math and engineering courses… they’re trying to water down STEM to where it’s palatable to the type of person who thinks that womens or ethnic studies courses are actually a good idea.

 Posted by at 3:20 pm