Thursday, February 16, 2006

Two (of many ) crises needing our help...

One of the brightest places on the internet is Yes, I have failed to support the site with much in the way of choice Brin-Verbiage, lately. I hope to change that. In any event, I want to pass on the following from co-editor Alex Steffen:

”Ed Burtynsky's photos sum up in images why we need to change the world. ... He has teamed up with Saatchi & Saatchi and composer Michael Montes to create a video slideshow of his work for us. It is truly mindblowing. See:

If you find it as powerful as we do, please consider sharing it with your friends. The video is also part of our first pledge drive. Worldchanging is a non-profit, and if you believe we do good work, we'd be honored if you'd consider making a contribution.

A real example of valuable proxy power. Worldchanging is one of the core sites espousing a confident and pragmatic modernist agenda.

And now, something just plain pathetic.

Planetary Society Presents to Congress a Better Path for NASA

"The Bush Administration's proposed 5-year budget for NASA, just submitted to Congress, is an attack on science," states the opening line of The Planetary Society's statement submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Thursday morning, February 16, 2006. Read the complete statement on the Society's website .

The Society objects to numerous cuts or cancellations of such projects as a mission to Jupiter's ice-bound moon Europa, the Terrestrial Planet Finder mission, two Mars Scout missions, and more. The Society also criticizes the proposed budget for downplaying Mars as a goal for human exploration and cutting astrobiology research 50% and science research funding generally 15% across all Earth and space science disciplines.

Funding is being redirected to the shuttle program in order to complete the International Space Station. The Planetary Society, however, states that the commitment to 16 more flights of the shuttle for this purpose is the biggest danger to implementation of the Vision for Space Exploration. The Society asks what might be cut from the NASA budget in the future if there are more delays or higher costs?

In response to this budget, The Planetary Society has urged its members and interested members of the public to show their support for space science by writing to Congress and the Administration about the cuts. In the 2 days since the campaign began, more than 1000 messages have been sent to Representative Sherwood L. Boehlert and other members of Congress and the Administration via the Society's website.

The Society statement concludes with the following:
"The Planetary Society supports space ventures. We have supported the shuttle: it has been a great technical achievement, unequalled on Earth. We have supported the International Space Station: it should be completed as a pathway for human expansion into the solar system. And, from the moment it was proposed, we have strongly supported the Vision for Space Exploration, a long overdue redirection of human space flight beyond Earth orbit.

But we cannot support a proposal that hobbles, or eventually destroys, the NASA science program. Science guides not just robots but also humans into space. Science guides the public in creating a rationale for a $16 billion space program. Science guides exploration. And we ask, and hope, that support of science will guide you as you oversee the NASA program."

Yeah, yeah. We can’t afford it. Because we’re “at war”... even though the kleptos refuse to help pay for it. (A churlishness NEVER displayed before by the American aristocracy, in time of crisis.)

All I can say is that, if Osama can keep us away from Mars, then his worldview (and Bush's) really has won.


Anonymous said...

I already threw a c-note at Worldchanging. They asked me to write something for their book, and I'm having trouble getting started, so now I have an incentive: Earning my contribution back! :-)

Sheesh. NASA. They have politically appointed public relations toads micro-managing what their employees present to the public.

They're having their budget cut.

And the president still gets credit for being pro-space because he's made a couple of speeches about Moon and Mars missions he has no intention of funding.

* * *

In both Brave New World and 1984, we learn that the future societies these novels depict both -- despite giving lip service to the value of innovation -- do all they can to squelch science and technology.

Makes you think.

Just . . . . don't think too hard, because you'll end up on an island, or in Room 101.

Tony Fisk said...

I was just going to drop in a good word for WC here, but I can see it's old news (not that *that*'s a surprise)

Stefan! What do they want you to write about?

- You want to cut costs, so you cut those programs that take the lesser part of your budget?
- You claim to support space exploration, so you cut those programs which show the greatest return on this aim?
As I said earlier: Pareto wept.

But it isn't about Pareto, is it?

Anonymous said...

So we have two Mars rovers doing GEOLOGY, STILL! Brilliant photos beamed back every day . . . far exceeding their life expectancy.

Titan beckons . . .

Europa . . .

Ah, let's just dump more money into a couple more Shuttle flights which are due to retire soon. Bah! Where's the sense?

China, India and let's not forget the ESA. At this rate, they'll be making the discoveries, not the USA. More power to them. We are getting what we voted for.

Anonymous said...

Tony asks:
Stefan! What do they want you to write about?

"City transportation." Which I have ideas for and opinions about, but no actual expertise.

Unless riding busses for years because I was too much of a weenie to get my license counts. :-)

Seriously, busses suck. They haven't changed in a hundred years. The big innovation is a door in the middle.

Airlines assign big and medium and small planes to their routes; why is there basically one size of commuter bus? How about an agile mini-bus with multiple doors . . . fares payed by RFID card.

Why not have micro bus routes all over the place, perhaps run by office parks or residential complexes? Have them feed in to main routes and to rail lines.

Well, you get the picture.

Anonymous said...

Stephan, you need to talk to a Londoner.

Airlines assign big and medium and small planes to their routes; why is there basically one size of commuter bus?

There isn't. We have street-shuttles (small, agile), bendibusses (long (double or triple length), flexible, clog up the road), double deckers (including the much missed Routemaster), coaches (more comfortable for long distance travel and with engines that are geared for motorways rather than shotr hops) and the default busses.

How about an agile mini-bus with multiple doors

A mini-bus doesn't need multiple doors as there aren't the volumes of people. (Note that a mini-bus is a converted van in Britain).

You may be thinking of something like the horrible bendibus (which wouldn't work at all without RFID/Oyster Cards and some basic honesty to make sure the fairs are payed). Although the bendibus is hardly a minibus. (Actually, I think I despise them mostly because they replaced the beloved Routemasters late last year.)

. . . fares payed by RFID card.

You mean the Oyster Card?

Why not have micro bus routes all over the place, perhaps run by office parks or residential complexes?

Economics and society...

Have them feed in to main routes and to rail lines.

You mean you don't?

Well, you get the picture.

Want a hand writing the article? :-)

Anonymous said...

And my apologies for mis-spelling your name, stefan.

Anonymous said...

While not directly relevant to the topic at hand, here is a fascinating article: click.

It's about identifying the parts of the brain responsible for complex speech. While other apes share a different part of the brain for simple speech, this part is unique to us, and fairly recent, evolutionarily.

I'd say that we are getting close to being able to do real "uplift".

Anonymous said...

Call me kooky or nutty if you will, but is there an overarching plan for the privatization of space exploration?

Consider if you will:

- NASA, whilst providing a steady stream of basic-research sciency goodness, has been on the "cutting room floor" of every congressional budget since the Carter administration.

- The Ansari X-prize has produced results, propelling the very first civilian into space.

- The Hilton Hotel chain has more ambitious plans for space colonization than any government organization currently in existence.

- The current administration is actively sabotaging NASA's image among the very people who would best support it, by appointing public relations retards rather than experts to represent it.

Hrm. Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic in assuming there's a "plan" here.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope re: NASA budget?:
“I am extremely uneasy about this budget, and I am in a quandary at this point about what to do about it,” Boehlert told Griffin. “This budget is bad for space science, worse for Earth science, perhaps worse still for aeronautics. It basically cuts or de-emphasizes every forward looking, truly futuristic program of the agency to fund operational and development programs to enable us to do what we are already doing or have done before.”


Anonymous said...

"is there an overarching plan for the privatization of space exploration?"

Well, surely you don't mean a goverment plan for privatization, that would be an oxymoron, wouldn't it?

Let the space entrepreneurs (I am one myself) follow their own plans (I will).

Personally, to toot my own horn, my plan is to use the economics of the entertainment industry to fund exploration and tourism. I plan to *give* away suborbital and parabolic flights to those who let me entertain them with space sports, space reality TV, and science fiction dramas.

--Rocky Persaud,

Anonymous said...


As I said, I have no deep expertise on this subject.

I think the ideas I rattled off are common-sensical enough that I'm not at all surprised that they were implemented somewhere! But now I'm feeling less confident about being able to bring something new to the table with this essay.

* Over Here, you do find busses of different sizes, including converted vans and stretched-out monsters with an articulated middle. But the stretch ones aren't that common (I've seen them in the Bay Area, but not in Portland), and the minis are not used for regular service. They're only used to pick up the handicapped, as far as I can tell. Not to service micro-routes. (Exception: Intel uses a small bus to shuttle employees from the local light rail stop to its local plant.)

* Fare cards are found in some cities, but they still require you to shuffle past the driver / fare collector up front.

* Thanks for the London Transport link!

Anonymous said...


The Bendibusses open in the middle. Some of them do allow you to hop on there and just touch your card to the reader. The problem with this is that it's much easier to not pay and almost impossible to *buy* a ticket that way. (And yes, there are ticket dispensing machines in places - but nothing like complete coverage yet).

As for bringing new ideas, IMO the best way to proceed is to take the best of what has been tested...

Steinn said...

Hey David

Just for perspective - the cuts in the "Universe Research and Analysis" budget at NASA will lead to an immediate cut of almost 50% in new individual grants, grants that primarily fund postdoctoral research positions for fresh PhDs. Total loss is about 15% of those positions, not counting jobs lost because of mission termination, and there are several immediate "stop work" orders sent out already.
Even with the increase over at the NSF, the space science field is looking at about 5% cuts in research positions immediately, ramping up to a net loss of about 25% of position in the next 5 years.

The off budget war in Iraq costs one postdoc per minute. Half a week of war could pay for all the postdoc and graduate student researchers in space science and astronomy for a year.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of excitement about private space travel- and a lot of hot air. I live in New Mexico, where the first private American spaceport is under construction, and while there is promise, this could be a dead letter as well.

Admittedly, there is something exciting about Virgin Galactic's plans. The spaceplane that they're building, while it can't enter orbit, is one of the most impressive aerospace designs since the Concorde. And 45,000 people have already paid the $20,000 deposit for a seat on board- that REALLY says something.

The planned "rocket league" is interesting too... a low-altitude rocket-plane racing league inspired by Star Wars "Pod Races"; while this promises to be a very dangerous sport, and while it has little to do with actual space flight, it is very cool, and could produce spaceworthy technological spinoffs (in fact, that's the whole idea).

But really, the problem I'm seeing is that none of this really gets us into space; IMHO, you aren't really in space until you can at least break into LEO, and as it stands, none of these new private craft are quite there.

But the fact that Rutan could develop and construct Space Ship One, the most advanced spaceplane ever built, for less than the production cost of a single F-35 fighter is very heartening.

Now someone just needs to put up a $100 million prize for building a reusable orbital craft, and then we're really in business...

Anonymous said...

This blog post makes an interesting point. Someday, we'll look back at this time and think . . . what the hell?

Anonymous said...

Now someone just needs to put up a $100 million prize for building a reusable orbital craft, and then we're really in business...

There is already a $50 million prize for an orbital craft -- see "America's Space Prize".

Anonymous said...


Do you think you can have a transportation system without roads or rails? The road system is incredibly expensive, might we be able to send everything by air? I could see GPS guided soft parachutes delivering packages onto your driveway or into your arms. (no trucks, no drivers, reusable packaging) Things could travel long distances on dirigibles. (solar powered? global reach) For short distances and for the trip from the ground to a dirigible the fanwing ( ) aircraft might be able to do an amazing job. The FanWing aircraft is unusual in the way it obtains lift, rather than using a propeller or a jet engine to move air past an airfoil it uses something like a paddle wheel.
This makes the FanWing slow, maneuverable, fuel efficient, and capable of very short take offs and landings (potentially VTOL). Can the future of infrastructure be wireless, roadless, and pipeless?

Anonymous said...


I come from italy, and in my city the historical center have been mostly closed to the traffic apart for resident and some people with special needs. Outside the historical center have been placed a ring of exchange parking lots, where it's possible to take mini-bus free of charge that cross all the city. Two confining cities are just starting copying this scheme as it have been quite effective in curbing traffic problems and pollution...
Also, it's in an experimental stage a sort of "taxi-bus" on order for the night, aimed to young and old people without driving license but usable by everybody, where you can with a call ask for a ride from almost any starting point to any destination. During the call you can negotiate the pick up point and the arrival one, and the relative hour... the operator will try to fit your request with the available buses optimizing other requests. The ride has the normal costs of a urban ticket, i.e. 1 euro.

Tony Fisk said...

If you want a hand with proof reading, let us know.
If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed/unworthy, here are a couple of suggestions on how to cut the piece:
1. just base it on your personal experiences and observations.
2. act as a collater of several personal experiences worldwide (eg from Francis)

Not that I'm telling you what to write...!

FWIW, Melbourne has several transport systems:
- train (large numbers over long distances)
- tram (medium numbers over medium distances)
- bus (low numbers over short/medium distances. Usually used to link train lines and fill in the gaps)
With all this, I must confess I don't use public transport much. Mainly because it doesn't go where I want to. The problem with Melbourne is that it has been designed on the assumption that everyone is going to/from Melbourne CBD.

Anonymous said...

There's been some interesting studies on how winner-takes-all prizes are not the most efficient in terms of ROI (for the prize giver).

Adding in some weak 2nd and 3rd place conditions can really make a difference.

Anonymous said...

David, how about an SF novel from you about a compentent corrupt administration? Or is that too unbelieveable?

Anonymous said...

David, how about an SF novel from you about a compentent corrupt administration? Or is that too unbelieveable?