March 04, 2008

Martian Avalance!


Popular Mechanics  provides these pictures of  two massive Martian avalanches, taken from orbit.

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Birthday Trivia

Chun-Li turned 40 on Saturday!

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Wow...Oil....From Algae!!

One of the Brickmuppets crack team of science babes brings us this Jim Fraiser post on what may be a big step forward in  biofuels.

It seems that a company named Green Star Products has completed a low cost algal farm that is, in theory, suitable for quick setup nearly anywhere outside of  polar/subpolar regions.

Oil from algae produces about 50 times the yield of the best oilseed crops, and this sort of arrangement might not displace food crops to the same extent as, say ethanol from corn, which is always struck me as a dubious idea.

I'm more excited by thermal depolymerization as it doubles as waste disposal.

This however is really interesting. Note that there are considerable hurdles (read the whole post for Fraiser's thoughts on that) and I still think that without lots of cheap nuclear power to provide the heat that thermal depolymerization...and to a lesser extent algae refining...need then the future of biofuels is marginal at best.

WITH nuclear power, they could potentially produce high density, carbon neutral, liquid fuel with little disadvantages over natural petroleum....a win-win for everybody except anti-nuke hysterics and the most hardcore greens.

Note: this is a repost of a post originally made on March 15, 2007 as the original post is inexplicably not linkable.

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March 03, 2008

Oh Joy....

Tensions are escalating in northern South America as Hugo Chavez decries the killing of a murderous narco-commie terrorist.

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Tom Talton 1927-2007

My great uncle Tom died the other night.

He was born into comparative poverty, which became quite acute as the Depression hit 2 years later. He was the youngest of 6 children only 5 of whom made it to adulthood. During World war 2he served as a machinist mate in the Coast Guard, operating on patrol boats out of a bizzare twist....for a brief time on a submarine. I never got details of this oddity except that he hated it and the sub was an old World war 1 relic that had been brought out of mothballs and was in terrible shape. ( I assume it was an O or R boat). This may have been part of ASW training. I know that the Coast Guard put a few officers on subs for that reason. In any event, his stint on that vessel was brief .

After the war he worked in the family farm, built and either sold or rented out several houses and eventually became a commercial fisherman. In 1958 he took possession of the FV Tom and Jerry and ran charters...participating in every fishing tournament from 1960-2007. With my late grandfather, he was one of the first along the Moorehead NC charter boat piers to accept  African American parties in the late 1950s.

Uncle Tom was a well known fixture along the waterfront in Moorehead for a great many years.  He was recognized as an expert seaman and respected captain. He is survived by my Aunt Jerry, his sister Thelma and his three surviving brothers, two of whom are also WW2 veterans.

No few words can do justice to the tapestry of a persons life, especially one as long and complex as his. The things and the changes people his age have seen in their lifetime are almost beyond belief.

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Exam Hell

Midterm Exam Week!

Exams suck.

That is All.

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Today saw the honoring of two American heroes, one long past and one who has achieved a much deserved retirement.

Sgt Woodrow Wilson Keeble, a veteran of World War 2 and the Korean War was recommended TWICE for the Congressional Medal of Honor. The second time his entire surviving command signed a petition recommending he be awarded the honor.

It seemed the recommendation fell on deaf ears.

Keeble's postwar story was a sad one for many years. After working as a teacher he contracted Tuberculosis which precipitated several strokes resulting in his loosing the ability to speak. He then suffered the loss of his wife shortly thereafter. Sgt Keeble had to raise his children in poverty while disabled. His indomitable spirit served him well in civilian life as it had in Guadalcanal and Korea for he eventually got back on his feet, successfully raised his kids and remarried. His second wife was an impressive individual in her own right (the First Lakota woman to earn a PHD) and began the process of appealing his CMO award.

It turned out that the recommendation had not been had been lost during the war when American forces were overrun. In 1972 the convoluted process was begun to get the award reinstated, but given the byzantine mess of Army and Congressional regulations it was not until today that President Bush awarded his family with the Medal he so gallantly earned. Keeble died in 1984.

Master Sergeant Woodrow W. Keeble
United States Army


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Master Sergeant Woodrow W. Keeble distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Sangsan-ni, Korea, on October 20, 1951. On that day, Master Sergeant Keeble was an acting platoon leader for the support platoon in Company G, 19th Infantry, in the attack on Hill 765, a steep and rugged position that was well defended by the enemy. Leading the support platoon, Master Sergeant Keeble saw that the attacking elements had become pinned down on the slope by heavy enemy fire from three well-fortified and strategically placed enemy positions. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Master Sergeant Keeble dashed forward and joined the pinned-down platoon. Then, hugging the ground, Master Sergeant Keeble crawled forward alone until he was in close proximity to one of the hostile machine-gun emplacements. Ignoring the heavy fire that the crew trained on him, Master Sergeant Keeble activated a grenade and threw it with great accuracy, successfully destroying the position. Continuing his one-man assault, he moved to the second enemy position and destroyed it with another grenade. Despite the fact that the enemy troops were now directing their firepower against him and unleashing a shower of grenades in a frantic attempt to stop his advance, he moved forward against the third hostile emplacement, and skillfully neutralized the remaining enemy position. As his comrades moved forward to join him, Master Sergeant Keeble continued to direct accurate fire against nearby trenches, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. Inspired by his courage, Company G successfully moved forward and seized its important objective. The extraordinary courage, selfless service, and devotion to duty displayed that day by Master Sergeant Keeble was an inspiration to all around him and reflected great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

More here and here.

On the leatherneck side, today marks the retirement of one of only two Marines awarded the Navy Cross in Operation Desert Storm.

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Eddie S. Ray, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Commanding Officer, Company B, First Light Armored Infantry Battalion, Task Force Shepherd, FIRST Marine Division, in the Emirate of Kuwait on 25 February 1991. During the early morning hours of G+1 of Operation Desert Storm, an Iraqi mechanized division counter-attacked elements of the FIRST Marine Division in the vicinity west of the flame and smoke engulfed Burgan Oil Fields in Southeastern Kuwait. As dense black smoke shrouded the battlefield, an Iraqi mechanized brigade engaged the FIRST Marine Division Forward Command Post security forces. During the ensuing intense ten hour battle, Captain Ray repeatedly maneuvered his Light Armored Vehicle Company in harm's way, skillfully integrating his Light Armored Infantry weapons, reinforcing TOW's, and AH-1W Attack Helicopters to decisively defeat main Iraqi counter-attacks. Leading from the front and constantly exposed to large volumes of enemy fire, Captain Ray led swift, violent attacks directly into the face of the vastly larger enemy force. These attacks shocked the enemy, destroyed 50 enemy Armored Personnel Carriers, and resulted in the capture of over 250 Iraqi soldiers. Operating perilously close to the attacking enemy, Captain Ray's courage, composure under fire, and aggressive war fighting spirit were instrumental in the defeat of a major enemy effort and the successful defense of the Division Forward Command Post. By his outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty, Captain Ray reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Colonel Ray has been heavily engaged in the current war in Iraq and now enters into a well deserved retirement.

Thank You Colonel!

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March 02, 2008

Actually it IS Rocket Science...Even the Atomic Pogo Stick

One of the Brickmuppet's  crack team of science babes would seem to be all dressed up with nowhere to go, but in fact is trying out her new threads around 4 years in advance... in anticipation of this rather speculative story from Flight Global panning out.

It seems that the next step in the Virgin Galactic/ Scaled Composites spacecraft evolution is thought to be a  point to point hypersonic trans- atmospheric vehicle for super-quick intercontinental passenger service!

Although SS3 has also been referred to by Whitehorn as an orbital vehicle, and a SpaceShip Four as a possible name for a two-stage micro satellite launching rocket, at the New York SS2 and its carrier aircraft White Knight II unveil Whitehorn told me that SS3 would actually be a point-to-point vehicle travelling outside the atmosphere.

Such a point-to-point vehicle could be a stepping stone to solving the technical challenges for a manned orbital vehicle but for now, Whitehorn, tells me, he expects work to begin on SS3 soon after Virgin Galactic's commercial operations are underway.

Interesting if true and it certainly makes sense. This sort of 2 or 2.5 stage point to point rocket liner has been proposed since the before the beginning of the space age and some serious consideration was given to it in the mid to late '50s in the case of the civilian version of the BOMI vehicle. This is both logical and potentially useful IMHO, it has rather lower stresses and heating issues than a full orbital vehicle and it has more destinations (the whole freaking world). It would provide an insanely fast passenger service.

Somewhat related is this Chairforce Engineer post (via Rand Simberg) on what the real Space Race is all about.

[ quote ]Imagine for a second that you're a Congress-critter. You can't get past the giggle-factor associated with landing a man on the moon, but you don't want to look like the Luddite who kept American astronauts grounded. So you've got to pick a system for sending your astronauts to the space station. Do you pick the privately-developed system which carries more astronauts, costs less to operate, and gets America back into orbit faster? Or do you keep shoveling money at the government-run program? The only thing NASA has going for itself right now, aside from the fading lunar dream, is the political implications of laying off the thousands of people whose jobs rely on NASA's manned spaceflight program.

Brickmuppet Blog has mentioned this before. I firmly believe there is a place for government in space exploration but it needs to work with rather than against the private sector...

Which brings us to Bob Bigelow whose Bigelow Aerospace has finalized a deal with LockMart for 50 (!!) launches for stations, their crews and supplies over the next 5 years. These are incredible numbers and it is an indication of how serious and advanced heir plans are. w00t1!   (Via Colony Worlds)

One of the more elegant solutions for interplanetary travel is the solar sail, which uses the pressure of sunlight to move it about the solar system. In THEORY they can attain tremendous velocities. With a very close pass to the sun speeds of up to 4% the speed of light are possible (that'd get you to Alpha Centauri in a Century and Pluto in 4 years) of course this requires unobtanium...I mean you'd need to be able to make sheets of carbon nanotubes and thats just science fictiony silly talk....oh wait....


Over at Centauri Dreams is this fascinating post on efforts to find extrasolar the Alpha Centauri system, the closest stars really similar to our own sun. 17 pages of exposition by the scientists involved are here.

Sails and peering through telescopes aren't actually rocket science, so to get us back on track here is George Dyson giving a talk about the most awe inspiring actual rocket ever seriously considered. Every bodies favorite Atomic Pogo stick....project Orion.

...And here is a 3 and a half minute BBC video on the same subject.

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March 01, 2008

On Depleted Uranium

Doctor Buzzo has lunch.....

DU may not be terribly dangerous but it does seem to be a troll attractant.

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Medea Benjamin, one of the organizers of the code pink protests in Berkeley, knows who to call when she's threatened.

Send in the Marines!!

This tale of hypocritical harridanry comes to us via Chaotic Synaptic Activity who also brings us this inspiring tale from the other end of the ethics scale .

After completing two tours in Iraq, Sgt. Wayne Leyde won $1 million from a scratch-and-win lotto ticket on Tuesday.....

Leyde couldn't believe it when he scratched a winning ticket, but he still plans to return to Iraq.

"It was a commitment I made about three months ago. I'm going to stick to it," Leyde said about his decision.


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YES! I Want Bees in My Epiglottis!


More on this basket of win here and here.

Its available in the US here.

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