Dec 032017

An updated version of a post from a few years ago with obsolete formatting, with added editorial bloviation!

Point of note: 1963 is 54 years ago. With all the advances in the last half century, America still relies on the Minuteman. Since the Minuteman was developed, we also developed the Midgetman and Peacekeeper ICBMs… and got rid of them.

Note as well that the five year development time for the original Minuteman is  year and a half longer than the time since I originally posted another version of this old Minuteman video. And in that three and a half years, the United States does not seem to have developed a new ICBM, while in that time the North Koreans and Iranians *have.* The Russians have tested updated versions of the “Satan” ICBM (the RS-28 Sarmat), which carries 10+ warheads; the Minuteman III currently mouldering in American silos were designed for a whopping 3 warheads, but now carry a grand total of *one* warhead due to treaty restrictions.


Also of historic note: when the Minuteman was developed, a lot of components that, were they to be developed today, would be digital were then analog. The safe-and-arm for the solid rocket motors was essentially a heavy chunk of clockwork. The S&A simply served the purpose of making sure than an accidental electrical or mechanical discharge somewhere, if it inadvertently set off the ordnance lines leading to the motor igniter, would not actually get to the igniter. They are simple mechanical blocks that prevent the signal from getting through unless they are properly activated.

The Minuteman S&A’s worked well enough. So, when Thiokol was developing the solid rocket boosters for the Shuttle, they used the Minuteman S&As. And since once something is designed and fielded at NASA it almost never changes, the 1963-vintage S&As stayed with the RSRMs throughout the lifespan of the Shuttle. Last I knew, they were also in use on the five-segment boosters to be used on the “next generation” Space Launch System.” So *if* the SLS gets built (doubtful) and flies for decades (doubtful), the relatively ancient Minuteman S&As will probably fly with them throughout the SLS’s lifespan. If SLS flies in 2020 and lasts 20 years, the Minuteman S&A will have an 80 year operational life. Of course, by the time the SLS is retired, the Minuteman ICBM itself might still be in service.

 Posted by at 3:45 pm
Dec 032017

Controversial Utah artist’s new painting pays tribute to ‘contemporary abolitionists,’ but critics call it exploitative and culturally clueless

The artist in question, Jon McNaughton, is a politically conservative Mormon who incorporates both political conservatism and Mormonism into his art. Many of his paintings are pretty blunt statements of politics and/or faith, blunt to the point of being propaganda with all the subtleties of a 90-page “speech” in an Ayn Rand novel. Still, he is a reasonably skilled painter and illustrator, and boy howdy does he get some people riled up.

This latest illustration deals with abolitionists rescuing people from slavery. What’s got people annoyed is that the abolitionists in question in this painting are, first and foremost, Operation Underground Railroad founder Tim Ballard and his wife, who have the audacity to be white people trying to rescue brown people from the sex slave trade. *Apparently,* Operation Underground Railroad actually employs people like mercenaries to actually rescue actual  slaves from actual slavery. If this is in fact accurate… I can’t see why anybody but a slaver would have a problem with this. But OF COURSE people have a problem with the “optics” of a white guy rescuing a brown kid, because reasons. Seriously. Read the article. People are miffed.

Additionally, the painting includes talk show bloviator Glenn Beck, sure to annoy the bejeebers out of the progs.

I don’t have a lot of use for a lot of McNaughtons art, as it tends to be heavily religious and, distressingly, rather theocratic. A number pf his paintings push the notion that America was founded as a Christian theocracy and that’s what we should get back to, which is a point of view I gotta say I can’t quite get behind. But, hey, it’s his art and more power to him. It’s worth pointing out that his way of expressing his ideology in art is to apply paint he bought to a canvas he bought… as opposed to the Progressive approach to art which is generally to apply spray paint to someone else’s property, or to apply flame to books, bricks to storefront windows, hammers to statues, bike locks to foreheads, force to free speech.

If you go through the catalog of his art, you kinda get the impression that he was not a terribly big fan of Obama:

As I said, a lot of his art is religious, and to my eye rather disturbing. Such as this:

Fortunately, there’s this thing called “Photoshop.” Some years ago, someone improved it…

See? *THIS* is how you do ideological art. McNaughton painted what he liked. Didn’t hurt anybody or damage their stuff or deprive them of nuthin’. And someone else digitally reworked a piece of McNaughton art into a parody/homage/more accurate representation of the Chtulhu-laden future that awaits us all. The proglodyte approach, however, would be to firebomb the art gallery hosting the painting, or trying to pass laws to get it banned.




 Posted by at 10:13 am
Nov 292017

Garrison Keillor fired amid claims of ‘inappropriate behavior’; his ‘Prairie Home’ rebroadcasts end

The claim of sexual harassment here is disputed by Keillor. He doesn’t deny that something happened, but his explanation of it – the only explanation currently out there – just doesn’t sound like sexual harassment:

Keillor detailed one of the encounters to the Star Tribune, writing that he was fired because he put his hand on a woman’s bare back as he tried to console her.

He said in an email to the newspaper that he was trying to pat the woman’s back after she had told him “about her unhappiness.” Keillor wrote that the woman’s shirt was open and his hand went up about 6 inches.

On the one hand, I’m a bit confused about the geometry of the situation. Her shirt was open? I suppose there are some shirts that open from the back rather than the front… but why would such a shirt be open in  business environment? On the other hand, patting someone’s back is a common gesture. If there was indeed something going on that was consolation-worthy, a pat on the back would be *very* understandable.

Details are sparse. Perhaps there was more to it than this, but if not, it seems that companies may be getting a bit too trigger-happy when it comes to firing people based purely on accusations. If a pat on the back can get you fired, then telepresence can’t come soon enough.


 Posted by at 5:41 pm
Nov 292017

The Case for Not Being Born

Where philosopher David Benatar attempts to make the case that  life is sufficiently horrible that it make sense to end it and prevent there from being more of it.

Basically, he’s H.P. Lovecrafts worldview come to life, minus the vast, malevolent cosmic intelligences that want to wipe out all life on Earth. But nowhere did HPL ever suggest that the best approach would be to give up; the struggle might be in the end futile, but it’s better than any alternative.

The guy has a bunch of arguments that are convincing to him, and have apparently convinced a bunch of others. And while on a certain level he’s right – the worst pain is far more painful and lasts vastly longer than the best pleasure is pleasurable, for instance – on any *real* level he seems to miss the point. If humans were simple difference engines… yeah, sure, turn off the lights, shut it down. But we’re *not.* What gives people a sense of worth/meaning/whatever is irrational and intangible, not the end result of running the numbers.

I’m an engineer. A whole lot of questions can be found to have very definite right (or at least wrong) answers, discoverable through objective means by running the numbers, doing the math. In those cases, it is irrational to try to find the answer *without* doing the math. But in other areas, the answer cannot be reliably found via doing the math. And consequently, declaring the answer based on doing the math is itself irrational. For instance, right now there is a painting hanging on my wall within my field of view (as it is most of the time). I would far rather have this painting there than something by a Recognized Famous Master, despite the fact that the painting in question would probably not be considered in the same league. Why? Because that painting was made for me by a person who was very important to me. Would I like to have a Rembrandt? Sure, what the hell. I can probably get a couple bucks for it at auction. But I’m keeping the one made by my friend. The math on that doesn’t make a lick of sense… but I suspect it’s a conclusion that *most* people would draw.

Basically, what we have here is someone who ran the numbers and came up with the wrong answer. There are lots like that. You can find encyclopedias worth of carefully considered, mathematically inarguable proofs that the world is flat or that “jet fuel can’t melt steel” = “inside job,” or that the Fermi Paradox leads inexorably to the Reptilians. You just need to shrug, look at the world around you with all its pain and decay and misery and socialists and sickness and despair, look at your life with its failed careers and unfulfilled potentials, look down the line towards inevitable death at the hands of post-apocalyptic Antifa cannibals and realize that even with all that, you’d rather have lived your life than not. That painting on the wall is a reminder of that. I guess our philosopher friend just doesn’t get that. Perhaps he saw the simple conclusion that for the vast majority of people it’s better to have been than not, and he decided that he needed to complexify it. Otherwise… what’s a philosopher *for?*

 Posted by at 1:26 am
Nov 292017

Seems they’re stepping up their game:

North Korea missile launch: The most important things to know

The most recent missile reached an altitude of about 4,475 kilometers. Experts believe that this missile has the range to reach *all* of the United States. However, the warhead, which the Norks of course are claiming was super heavy, might have been light; it might have even been another stage. Still, even if they were only chucking a soccer ball at Florida, it’s an impressive achievement for a nation full of intestinal worms.

I would be utterly unsurprised if the missile is not even remotely accurate… they shoot it at Washington, D.C. and it hits Ohio. However, it would be a much less challenging mission to deposit a single warhead a few hundred kilometers above the central US in order to set off an EMP. If they were successful in pulling that off, the death toll would be horrendous. Estimates I’ve seen go up to a death toll of up to 90% of the American population due to the subsequent collapse of the power and transport infrastructure; famine would quickly follow, but not as quickly as major cities like Chicago and New York eating themselves. However, an EMP that takes outt the US civilian power grid would do close to diddly squat to the US military… so for a few days at leas thte US military would lash out and turn North Korea into ruined wasteland. it’s a safe bet that the moment the Norks launch that EMP weapons, they’ll launch an attack on South Korea. So the death toll in North Korea would be close to total; the death toll in South Korea could be millions. And the Japanese might get in on it.

And of course once the US has been shut down, it will be clear to everybody else that Team America World Cop is out of business. Russia will invade all its neighbors. China and India and Pakistan will probably go at it. The Arab world will go after Israel. The death toll could be in the billions, and civilization could come to an effective end.

With that possibility, the math on launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike on North Korea starts looking better.

 Posted by at 12:45 am
Nov 272017

Every now and then someone produces a “folding firearm” designed for easier carry or concealment, or outright camouflage by making a folded weapon look like something else…a  flashlight, radio or cell phone, say. Glock produced this mechanism, which, frankly, leaves me befuddled. It’s not meaningfully smaller and it’s still very clearly a pistol, so… what benefit is added? Seems like extra cost, complexity and failure points. Perhaps some slight improvement in the ergonomics of carrying it on a belt, but… meh.

Full Concealed M3 Folding Glock

 Posted by at 3:59 pm
Nov 272017

Blog readers who’ve been around long enough have seen me yammer on and on about Babylon 5. And why not: it was a great show. But I haven’t yammered on about Game of Thrones. Why? Because I didn’t watch it. When it started on HBO, I didn’t *have* HBO. It was already 3 or 4 years along before I got HBO, and I had no desire to start in the middle. However, over the years I’d catch the occasional snippet – unsurprising given the cultural behemoth the show has become. And so over the last year or two I’ve been slowly accumulating individual seasons of GoT on Blu Ray when I’d find used copies in pawn shops and thrift stores and the like for five bucks. I finally got the first six seasons, and over the last little  while I’ve watched seasons 1 through 6 and… holy carp, that’s a good show.

There is no immediately obvious link between B5 and GoT. They both started at roughly the same time… the pilot movie for B5 aired in 1993, the first GoT book was published in  1996. But while B5 was (reasonably hard, at least for TV) science fiction, GoT is fantasy (at least until in the closing moments of the series finale, likely to be aired in 2019, it turns out the whole place is an experiment set up 12,000 years earlier by Haviland Tuf). But I suspect that without B5, there’d be no GoT on HBO.

Prior to Babylon 5, virtually every TV series, certainly every science fiction series, was episodic in nature. Apart from – maybe – the series premiere, you could watch most of the entire series in a completely random fashion and not be the slightest bit confused. B5 upended that by making the series a “novel for television,” with a beginning, middle, end and a season-long post-credit scene. Stuff *happened,* it happened for a reason, there were payoffs that were planned years in advance. Characters had arcs; some were introduced or killed off for reasons of plot rather than because the actor got bored or dead or drunk.

Additionally, B5 introduced alien societies and political & religious systems in a way never before really explored for television. It made political intrigue interesting, even if the politicians were aliens.

And then many years later HBO made Game of Thrones, an arguably longer (8 seasons compared to 5, but with far fewer episodes per season) “novel for television” featuring political intrigue in “alien” political systems with wacky “alien” religions. B5 had Emperor Cartagia, GoT had King Joffrey; cut from the same cloth, they were both the sort of horrible king that pops up distressingly often in hereditary monarchies. They were both entertainingly evil to watch, and both entertaining to watch finally get what was coming to ’em.

And they both had twists and sudden deaths you didn’t see coming. And they both had deaths you didn’t *want* to see… “Sleeping in Light” and “The Door” can reduce fans to horrible gelatinous blobs of sadness.

A quarter century of technological advances mean that the production values in GoT make B5 look… well, kinda bad. B5 was there at the dawn of the first age of computer graphics for TV, and it shows. Where B5s visual effects were limited due to budget and technology, GoT has computers the likes of which the B5’ers could have never dreamed… and episode budgets vastly beyond what B5 was able to scrape together. GoT has scenes of a fully rendered navy attacking a fully rendered city… and that navy being assaulted by fully rendered dragons. Tens of thousands of individual elements, and it all *works.* As much as a dragon can be considered realistic, those on GoT are wholly believable. At least philosophically, GoT owes a debt to B5 for getting the ball rolling on the important use of CGI for TV visual effects.

Of course, GoT being on early 21st century HBO rather than late 20th century broadcast TV means that it can show things that B5 never could. It’s probably a safe bet that someone akin to Littlefinger had an establishment or two like his on B5… but we were *never* going to see that in all it’s NSFW jiggly glory. Interestingly: having binge watched the first 6 seasons, it seemed like the giggty-factor was high early on and has greatly faded. This makes some sense from a plot standpoint… at the beginning, the world of GoT was at relative peace and things took place in “civilized” environments. By season 6 everybody is too busy slaughtering each other for that sort of thing. Also: by this point, the show has about all the fans it’s going to. But early on, it was important to drag viewers in, kicking and screaming… and I suppose that was a good way to do it.

 Posted by at 12:23 am
Nov 242017

When you think of the sort of pet that people can be truly emotionally attached to, chances are *really* good you’ll think of either “cat” or “dog.” Any species other than those two, at least in the US, will either be far fewer in number or far less likely to be something you really bond with. A goldfish, after all, is more likely to be something more of a decoration than an entity you empathize with.

Me, I’ve had cats, dogs, ferrets. Bonded with all, mourned those who’ve died or left. I also had some Triops, some big brine shrimp sorta prehistoric monster critters; when they died, it was a disappointment, but not mournful. I’ve never had pet bunnies or sheep, but I’ve met such critters. Cute enough, but… meh. No connection. Why not? Because there was “nothing behind the eyes,” one might say. And… because bunnies and sheep are quite different from humans. They do not hunt. They have no “killer instinct.” They are… different from us.

Look at the natural world: the creatures we think of as being “smart” or ‘high up on the evolutionary ladder” tend to be vicious killers. Chimpanzees? Sure, they’re cute (-ish) when they’re young, but as adults they’re 600-pound murder machines who will rip your limbs, face and nads off. Dolphins? Sure, Flipper looks cute, but they will murder other species of dolphins apparently for fun. Orcas? OK, the alternate name of “killer whale” kinds gives it away, but they’re well known to play with their food. And their food tends to cute cute, fluffy-bunny seals.

Of course, “smart” isn’t exclusively the province of predators. Elephants are well known to be quite smart, with complex emotions. But… you tick off an elephant, and they turn into *giant* murder machines. They might not eat you, but they’ll kill you, and not purely for defense. They will attack other creatures simply because they’re ticked off.

So… being killers seems to correlate with making good pets… and with making them understandable. Of course it’s not a 100% match; go head and snuggle up with a shark if you want, won’t get you anywhere.

 Posted by at 7:04 pm