"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dawn of the Commercial Space Age (Updated)

Fri, 01 Jun 2012 - Updated below, with more pictures. I love pictures.
Mon, 08 Oct 2012 - Updated at end. The second mission is now underway.

Yesterday (Friday, 25 May 2012) was my 70th birthday and, as an avid believer in our future in space, consider that day's news as the best present imaginable.

A commercial space vehicle has not just taken baby steps into space, but delivered cargo to the International Space Station.

See Dragon Docks and the commercial space era begins, by Jerry Pournelle.

Wordwise, there's nothing I can add to Dr. Pournelle's post, but I'm fond of pictures.

So, I scrounged up a couple ...
SpaceX's Falcon 9 launcher lifts off carrying the Dragon capsule,
early morning 22 May 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida,
to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. 
Photo from a.scpr.org

From www.SPACE.com

I truly believe we are on the right path, and on our way.

Update - Friday, 01 Jun 2012 - It's back. Here's some more pictures.
Yesterday (Thursday, 31 May 2012), the Dragon capsule successfully returned to earth.

So, I found these to add to the post:

It was launched Tuesday AM, 22 May 2012.  On Friday, 25 May 2012 ...
Photo from redorbit.com

... here it is closing in the the ISS (International Space Station). Three days to match orbits?  Well, it can be done faster (and has), but when it's just cargo that ain't whining, "Are we there yet?", you're apt to go for a more leisurely and energy-efficient path. Also, some of that time was used for various tests in orbit.

In space ...
From news.nationalgeographic.com

... there ain't no "up" or "down". It's all relative. At the bottom of this photo is part of the ISS. Rising up from it is one of the specialized robotic manipulator arms the Canadians appear to have a lock on. It's used to grab this (or any other) spacecraft and pull it down to the docking hatch.

After docking ...
From gizmag.com

... two of the ISS astronauts went inside to check things out (later followed by others).  The protective masks and goggles are routine when entering any spacecraft that has arrived (I'm guessing because of the combination of zero gravity and possible exposure to vacuum resulting in particulate matter, from cargo and God knows what else, being suspended in the air when it is opened up. That's a pure guess on my part. I've got a lot of things on my plate right now, and haven't had a chance to research that yet.).

I had to do a double check of the diagram of the capsule, as that appeared to be a big damned door, but it really is the docking hatch that you are looking at there, with the capsule interior behind them. We've come a looong way since the Mercury capsule. :-)

On Thursday, 31 May 2012 ...
Photo from mashable,com

... after its nine-day odyssey, Dragon returns, to land in the Pacific about 500 miles west of Baja California.  The photo is supposed to be from a video provided by NASA. I say "supposed" because I'm not at all sure what I'm seeing in the background. But, they could have caught it very high up, using a very long lens - they have some dandies!

From cheapcurts.com

From parabolicarc.com

Recovered, and by now probably on its way to the Port of Los Angeles, from whence it will be sent to a processing plant SpaceX has in McGregor, Texas (between Waco and Ft. Hood), for a final inspection.

Future missions are planned to come down on land, using retro rockets to soften the landing, and (hopefully) will be able to do it with "helicopter-like" precision.

So far, so good.

Addendum - Saturday, 02 Jun 2012 - The Astronomy Picture of the Day site put up a video the day after launch.  It's a Flash video, just under two minutes, and might take awhile to load on a slow connection (like mine).  As there's a delay of five or six seconds between ignition and hearing the sound, the video was shot around a mile from the pad.

See SpaceX's Falcon 9 Launches to the Space Station .

Update, 0115 CDT, Mon, 08 Oct 2012 - The second of these missions is now underway. About six hours ago, it lifted off at Cape Canaveral, Florida at 2035 EDT (1935 CDT), Sunday, 07 Oct 2012 in what was described on NASA TV as a picture perfect launch. It is now in low Earth orbit.

Once again, so far, so good. :-)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Nibbled to death by ducks.

Supposedly, it was someone in the State Department, in the '40s or '50s, who thusly likened working there under their endless rules and protocols.

My suspicion is that the sentiment was voiced shortly after the first bureaucrats painted their edicts on the walls of caves (probably "No Painting!" signs).

I don't post as often as I would like, because sometimes the muse shacks up with someone else and all I can do is wait and hope she returns so I can inquire, "Well, did you have a good time?"

So, what's the latest duck to come waddling into my workspace, inspiring her return? ...

... a memo, from the powers that be, that we need to work on our rapport with customers, and a little form to be filled in daily with your little helpful hints.  From this copy of what I turned in, you can see I gave it exactly the respect it deserves.

I just hope it doesn't get me fired for responding that way, but sometimes I just cannot help myself.  I've been that way for a long time.

I was first introduced to bureaucracy and Mickey Mouse crap passed down from on-high (from people with way too much time on their hands), while in the USAF, half a century ago!  In fact, while still in Basic Training. Would you believe that one of my drill sergeants referred to me as an "agitator"?  (He didn't seem all that displeased; I suspect we were actually in agreement where some of my bitching was concerned.)

Ok, then. What's so insane (so Dilberty) about that memo?

"... you could utilize to start the conversation with your customer."

This is a supermarket, where you are trying to move things fairly rapidly. YES!!!  You DO wish to have good relations with your customers, but most customers come here to get something and then get out, because they have other places to go, other things to do, and conversation is NOT what they came in for.  You really want to get people antsy (cashiers, managers and other customers):  get that conversation started while people line up waiting to get their business done and get out.

I'm never good at long conversations and do not try to initiate them. I AM open and friendly, and have never had a complaint about being cold and aloof. Basically, I try to use common sense.

And that is precisely the gripe I have about that (and similar) memos. That they absolutely give you no credit whatever for possessing common sense and take the attitude that they must lead you by the hand every step of the way.

It's degrading, demoralizing and an insult to your intelligence.  I suspect that is considered a sine-qua-non by the people who justify their miserable existences by conjuring up and inflicting those memos on the rest of us.

I promised the manager who hired me that he would not be getting some disgruntled guy showing up with an attitude, and I've done my level best to keep that promise, but sometimes ...

With Dilbert, Scott Adams has probably already said everything I could possibly say on this subject.

I just needed to get that out of my system.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


- "a quick raid, usually for the purpose of taking plunder."

My previous post, Treasure Island, began ...
 On Saturday night, 05 May 2012, the SYFY Channel made a foray there.

That post was prompted by the SYFY Channel showing their version of the story. While I spent a few paragraphs on it, I mostly wrote about the 22-year-old TNT Channel Charlton Heston version that I found to be far superior.

I used that word "foray" because I had heard it before and liked the sound of it. In my usual nit-picking after-the-fact analysis I often conduct on things, I later looked it up to see if it was a good choice. It was purest accident that it turned out to be perfect in that context.

Well, yet another foray appears about to occur.

Tomorrow (Friday, 18 May 2012), "Battleship" hits the big screens.  Based on the Hasbro board game (of which I know absolutely nothing; Hasbro was also responsible for "Transformers"), it sounds like the kind of put-brain-in-neutral-and-enjoy type of special effects extravaganza I will almost certainly check out.  All about the US Navy (including that Battleship) taking on hostile alien spaceships.

So, what do I find in the TV Guide for the very next evening (Saturday, 19 May 2012); on the SYFY Channel?

"American Battleship (2012) - The Crew of the USS Iowa take on a fleet of hostile alien spaceships."

I could spend weeks of research and probably never find a better example of what the SYFY Channel is apparently about.  Sure, other networks are also guilty of this, but I cannot think of any that are so blatant about it. They don't even pretend to be not ripping off other works.

They are truly unmatched for audacity.
First Update - Fri, 18 May 2012 - Saw "Battleship" .
Bottom Line:  Save your money. Dumb doesn't even begin to describe it.

I wrote this post, not as a review, but as a comment on the SCFY Channel's policy of latching on to the latest potential hit out of Hollywood in an attempt to rake in a bit for themselves by ripping it off.

Now, I'm wondering if I'll wind up enjoying their version more. That would be truly ironic. I'll know more tomorrow evening.

This will be a long night;  in a little bit, I'm going to a midnight showing, at the River Oaks theater, of a 2000 Japanese gore-fest called "Battle Royale" (sort of "The Hunger Games" on steroids). Thank God I don't have to work tomorrow. :-)

Second Update - Sat, 19 May 2012 - Up above, I seem to have committed myself to checking the SYFY Channel offering.  So, I did.
Bottom Line on That: Could have been worse.

The most damning thing about "Battleship" is that is the best thing that could be said about it.

"American Battleship" (as it's called in TV Guide; "American Warships" is its actual title) can be described as "not too bad", and is a surprise by not being from Romania or Bulgaria as so many made for SYFY Channel movies have been.

If you didn't catch it, you really haven't missed anything. Nothing left to say.

Update Tue, 05 Jun 2012 - I found this photo of the USS Iowa delivering a broadside, and the kid in me (which is the dominant part of my nature :-) reacted with "Cool!!!".
An overhead view of the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61) firing all 15 of its guns
(nine 16-inch and six 5-inch) during a 1984 target exercise near Vieques Island.  

What made me go for this one over the many other photos available was the concussive effects on the water of the gun's firing. That bowl-like depression in the water is about a city block and a half across.

In the SYFY Channel movie, the Iowa is on its last voyage, on its way to becoming a floating museum when hostile alien spaceships attack with EMP weapons that fry and make useless all the solid-state gadgetry of modern vessels.  As this antique has old fashion stuff immune to such attacks, all of a sudden it comes in pretty handy.

On Anthony Watt's Watts Up With That? site, I found Memorial Day tribute – USS Iowa final voyage this weekend , from whence the photo came. That final voyage was the ship on its way to becoming a floating museum. So far, no mention of spaceships.

As it turns out, the photo is on topic here; neither the movie "Battleship" nor the SYFY version having any scene to hold a candle to that photo.

But even if this blog was devoted exclusively to needlepoint, I'd have found some justification for putting it here. Some photos justify themselves. 

(I guess I had a bit more to say after all. :-)

Monday, May 07, 2012

Treasure Island

On Saturday night, 05 May 2012, the SYFY Channel made a foray there.

To their credit, and true to their apparent resolution that their new name is just a meaningless bit of noise giving them license to show whatever they wish without the necessity of it having anything to do with "science-fiction", they did not introduce a device or being from another world into the story (as they actually have done in some of their previous efforts with classics).

Unless you count the casting of ...
Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver  in Treasure Island (2012) - from theartsdesk.com

... comedian Eddie Izzard as Long John Silver.

But, this is not a diss on Eddie Izzard. Indeed, he is easily the best thing in an otherwise forgettable savaging of the story, and is the only reason to check it out when it it is inevitably repeated, becomes available on Netflix, or is issued on DVD (probably within a few months).

His take on Long John is one of the best in ages, deserving to be in a far worthier movie. He adds a tremendous amount of depth and presence to a cunning and almost completely amoral character.

His problem is that, except for an appearance by Donald Sutherland as Captain Flint (this should make most of you who know the story react with, "WHAT?!!!"), he is mostly a one man band here. The rest of the cast is competent, but that's all I can really say about them. That translates pretty well as forgettable.

I have argued before and, after this, still consider the absolutely finest version of the story to be ...
(All images below are screencaps from this DVD)

Charlton Heston created perhaps the finest version ever of Treasure Island (1990) as a made-for-TV movie, and populated it with a wonderful cast (he did pretty well with his part as well, considering that Long John Silver is not an easy role, having to be tough enough to control a pirate crew and still manage to be sympathetic to a young boy).

Long available only on VHS tape, late last year if finally became available on DVD (and about damn time too.)

Considering that I described Charlton Heston as "did pretty well with his part as well, ...", you might be wondering, "In that case, what's so special about this version?"

My answer would be, "Just about everything else."

From the music soundtrack by Paddy Maloney and The Chieftains augmenting their traditional pipes and whistles with native drums and the unmistakable bass-note stuttering Whonk-wong-wonnnggg of an Australian aboriginal didgeridoo (those additions are not gimmicks, but fit perfectly with the mood the movie is trying to set at times), to the casting of major A-List players for various parts.

Such as ...
Oliver Reed as Billy Bones

and ...
Isla Blair as Mrs. Hawkins and an impossibly young Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins

along with ...
Christopher Lee as Blind Pew"SIT, right where you are!", as he confronts Billy Bones

and also ...
Pete Postlethwaite as George Merry

Those are A-List actors, some for parts that would normally be filled by lesser players. And this pays off in the result.

Of course, for Long John ...
Charlton Heston as Long John Silver

Although I praised Eddie Izzard for his interpretation of Long John, I still maintain that Charlton  was just fine in that role, just a bit less obviously so because he surrounded himself with exceptional talent. As he produced the movie, making the whole thing possible, here's another picture with him ...
Robert Putt as Job Anderson, Michael Halsey as Israel Hands,
and Chuck as, well you know.

Note that dude in the center. Israel Hands is one of the most interesting characters in the story, and Michael Halsey (I'd never heard of him before, but he's done quite a lot of work in television) absolutely owns the character.

Early in the voyage, before disappearing overboard one night, First Mate Mr. Arrow ...
... had this as his last sight.

Israel Hands was Captain Flint's chief gunner, so if you are not a friend of Israel,...
... this is not where you would wish to see him.

After Jim has had a confrontation with Hands, ...
"Oh, Jim. You didn't keep your powder dry. Didn't they learn you nothin'?"

A classic painting for a special issue of the book set up these scenes ...

Bottom line: Michael Halsey absolutely owns this role, and he alone would be ample reason to seek out and buy this DVD, but there is so much else as well. You can probably find it in bargain shelves at Best Buy, Barnes & Noble, and others.

I would so love to see this on the big screen, with an audience, perhaps as a midnight movie at the River Oaks Theater. I actually think it would do well and the audience would love it. But, I wont hold my breath waiting for a dream.

(Yes!  I really think it's that good.  Go find it, buy it, and tell me what you think.  Ok?  :-)

To an unknown viewer in Minnesota, who has lately appeared many times on my site meter (seeking "michael halsey actor") ...

I'm delighted at the interest in a post I'm quite fond of.  My email address is linked in the left column on my page. If you feel like it, I would love to hear from you.


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