Apr 102017

So, a United Airlines flight was overbooked, and they needed to stuff four more UA employees on the flight so they could be where they needed to be. This is an irritating and unavoidable fact of the current system. One could obviously argue that overbooking should be banned, but for now, it’s still a thing. Anyway, United offered the passengers bribes to take a later flight, but they weren’t able to get enough volunteers. So, they boarded the plane anyway and *then* decided to randomly select some poor saps to yank off the plane. Well, one guy didn’t want to go. So what did United do? They called the cops. Which, strictly speaking, is the legal course… once they told the passenger that he was no longer on that flight, and he refused to leave, he was technically trespassing. But what did the cops do? They beat him so bad he was yakking up blood and they had to take *everyone* off the plane in order to clean up the mess.

Yeah. I’m thinking what we have here is an insta-millionaire in the making. The situation is, one one level, entirely of United’s making…. *they* are the ones who overbooked the flight. And anyone who has flown in the last, oh, sixteen or so years knows it’s an excruciating nightmare; you just want to get it over with, so it’s understandable that the passenger didn’t want to get pulled off a flight he was already seated on. But we’re in an era when every other passenger will be filming anything unusual on  plane… and a passenger beaten so badly he’s literally begging for death while spewing blood all over? Yeah, that’s what’s called “bad optics.” Crack open that checkbook and start scribbling zeros.

One is left to wonder just what would have happened if other passengers had leaped to this guys defense. Now, *maybe* he was being a jackass, and initiated physical combat with the government employees who gave him a pounding. *Maybe* he had this coming. But you know… *maybe* you shouldn’t have violent thugs as minor functionaries for the Feds, and *maybe* airlines shouldn’t overbook. If it comes to a lawsuit and goes to court, and if it turns out that this was just a guy who wanted to go home (he apparently claimed he was a doctor who had patients to see), then I’d recommend this settlement: find out how much United Airlines saves annually by overbooking rather than underbooking. Then double it, and demand that. And then demand an equal amount from the law enforcement agency that did the actual thrashing.

So not only is *this* guy turned off United Airlines, so is probably everyone who was on that plane. I know I sure s hell wouldn’t want to pay money to a company who could at the drop of a hat make me a trespasser, then set goons upon me. Hell, this is why I don’t fly anymore. I’d much rather drive 1500 miles than fly it.

All that said, imagine another competing airline sees this story, and they decide to reverse course on the last couple decades in aviation trends. Instead of less legroom, they reduce the number of seats and give you more. Instead of overbooking, they intentionally underbook, then make the last empty seats available at a discount in the last few minutes. And then they run a series of TV ads showing this incident in glorious technicolor, saying “Don’t fly United, cuz this might happen. Fly with us! We’re more comfortable and hardly ever beat paying customers into bloody pulps in front of small children going on vacation.” Seems like that’d be a winning ad campaign.

 Posted by at 4:29 pm
Apr 082017

Anybody else ever notice how common headlines like this are? “He was an activist for X, and it turns out he was actually…”

He lobbied for gay rights and opposed Trump — now Seattle’s mayor is accused of sexually assaulting minors

And because why not, the world ain’t half weird enough:

It’s now illegal in Russia to share an image of Putin as a gay clown

And on the subject of Russia… if you still have a LiveJournal account, it’s time to close it out. LJ was sold to the Russians years ago and in December the servers moved to Russia; you are now subject to Russias laws regarding censorship and control over the internet. You are not allowed to post political discussions without first getting LJ’s approval (i.e. the Russian government), and if you have more than 3,000 views per day you’re supposed to register as a media outlet.

Russian-Owned LiveJournal Bans Political Talk, Adds Risk of Spying


 Posted by at 9:22 pm
Apr 072017

TRAPPIST-1’s Fatal Flaw Could Ruin Our Hopes of Finding Life There

Short form: 80 straight days of close examination of the red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 showed 42 sizable solar flare events. Solar flares on a red dwarf are generally *relatively* more spectacular than they are on a larger star like the Sun… and the planets are far, far closer. The end result is that the X-ray flash from the flares can fry the planetary surfaces and strip their atmospheres.

So the chances of Earth-like conditions just took a bit of a tumble. On the other hand, these sort of flares probably wouldn’t mean much to a Europa-like world… colder than Earth, a deep planetary ocean frozen over on the surface but with kilometers of water underneath. How such a world might exist in a system like this is a bit of a head-scratcher, though. Europa keeps its ocean liquid due to tidal forcing from orbiting Jupiter; the planets of TRAPPIST-1 orbit far further from their star, and the tidal forces would be substantially lower.

 Posted by at 11:33 am
Apr 072017

CNN keeps yapping some non-story about “blah blah blah cruise missiles blah blah blah…”

I’m sure it’s fine. Everything is fine.



Discovery! Atmosphere Spotted on Nearly Earth-Size Exoplanet in First

The planet Gliese 1132 b is “only” 39 light years away, has a radius of 1.4 Earth and a mass of 1.6 Earths (surface gravity should be about  82% of Earths). Sounds great, right? Small problem: it’s real close to its red dwarf star. Orbits once every 1.6 days and gets 19 times the solar radiation as Earth, so it’s less a clone of Earth than a clone of Venus. But it seems to actually be a steamy Venus as astronomers detected water vapor and methane in the atmosphere. So… maybe the old ideas about Venus being a swamp planet loaded with dinosaurs and such might be kinda right… just off by 39 lightyears.

 Posted by at 4:13 am
Apr 042017

World’s First Skyscraper Designed To Hang Suspended From An Asteroid

What? No. Just… no.

Sigh. OK, here’s the short form: park an asteroid in Earth orbit, start unreeling a tether from it towards Earth. OK, fine so far… standard Space elevator stuff. But keep building it down until the bottom of the tether is in the atmosphere… and then hang a skyscraper from it.

Errrrmmmm… no.

For starters: materials science. The best stuff we can envision, graphene, *might* be just capable of making a tether that can support its own weight when hung from geostationary. With luck, we could get an elevator car to run up and down on it. But you know what weighs more than an elevator car? An entire friggen’ building.

Second: since the skyscraper is suspended from the cable above the ground, it’s free to wave about in the breeze. But that’s small taters, since the asteroid is not in a standard geostationary orbit, fixed over one spot over the equator. instead it’s on a 24-hour orbit, but highly inclined. Thus at one point in the day it’ll go as far north as New York City, and of course 12 hours later it’ll be just as far south of the equator. But you know what that means? it’s not just sedately wandering, it’s tear-assing across the sky like a jetliner. i can’t be bothered to figure out how fast it’ll be going when it crosses the equator, which is when it’ll be at its fastest, but I suspect it’ll be pushing Mach 1, And buildings kinda suck at that. It hangs down low enough that you have to design it so it doesn’t hit the terrain, so that means it’s a fantastic obstacle for jetliners. I further suspect that a cable 50,000 kilometers long won’t just stay pointed straight down, but might sway just a tad.



So, is this a serious proposal? It can’t possibly be. It’s a Neat Idea, safely sci-fi; a way for the design firm behind it to get some press. And press they got, unskeptical slobbery press akin to what Solar Roadways and Self Filling Water Bottles and Barack Obama got. I’ve got no problem with the designers… they label it as “speculative” and should take that to Hollywood and make some scratch. But the press needs to be smacked around some. At least some outlets bothered to contact someone who could tell ’em some debunkery.

One other notable flaw in the concept: the idea seem to be to build the major sections of the skyscraper *as* actual terrestrial skyscrapers, reaching kilometers into the sky. Then, they are attached to the bottom of the tether and hauled up. this may sound good… but it ain’t. The skyscrapers during construction would be, like every other tall building, under considerable *compression.* But when you grab ’em by the top floors and lift them up into the sky, they’re no longer in compression, but tension. These are essentially contradictory environments. Concrete is great from compressive loads; it sucks for tension. Graphene cables are great for tension; they’re no use at all in compression. These building would need to be built to handle *both,* and that’s the sort of requirement that makes engineers who are also trying to save weight – because, you know, they’re suspending this thing from 50,000 kilometers of bleeding-edge string – throw their hands up in disgust and decide to take up growing pot for a living.

 Posted by at 10:50 pm
Apr 022017

Along with companies issuing fake press releases, sometimes they do *really* jerky things. For example… last night Adult Swim sprung Rick & Morty Season 3 on the world without notice, live streaming it once on their website. *Of* *course* some folks managed to record it and have posted it to YouTube, but I imagine the lawyertrons will get the copies yanked before too long. Here’s one (download it while ya can):


 Posted by at 9:57 am
Mar 292017

NASA Spends 72 Cents of Every SLS Dollar On Overhead Costs, Says Report

Yikes. Assuming  the SLS flies on schedule, $43 billion will have been spent on it, the Ares I and the Orion capsule. Of course, if it *doesn’t* fly on schedule, or gets cancelled, $43 billion will have still been spent on it. That’s about half the cost of the *entire* Apollo program, without having actually landed a man on the moon… or even funded the development of an actual lunar lander.

Of the $19 billion so far spent directly on SLS, only $7 billion (“only,” he said, chuckling sadly, imagining what he could do with a tenth of that) has gone to the companies that are actually making stuff.

Whether you like the idea of HLLVs in general, or like the SLS in particular, the costs and inefficiencies involved are really kinda obscene. And in the age of SpaceX and Falcon 9… kinda indefensible.


 Posted by at 12:07 am
Mar 282017

I’m not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination. I still haven’t gotten around to “Halo”… the first one. The only video games I really spent much time with now won’t play on my PC because, yay, Windows 7 and above don’t like old 32-bit programs.

So, I’m not a player of the “Mass Effect” games, and I’m not involved in gamer culture. Still, I’ve heard some complaints about the latest “Mass Effect” game. Knowing just how picky nerds can be, I didn’t pay much attention to these complaints. And then I watched this and laughed my keister off. “Cringey” doesn’t begin to cover it.


 Posted by at 4:26 pm