Monday, July 27, 2009

Pie in the sky

Wishful thinking is not confined to those who think they can change human nature and make a perfect world. Wishful thinking is also engaged in by those who think that getting to the moon will be easy anytime soon.

The other week I was blindsided by Sam (I think it was Sam) mentioning that a new form of rocket had been invented which would make getting to the moon faster and easier. I didn't have my ducks in a row for a ready reply beyond expressing skepticism, since I hadn't read anything along those lines and something that would make getting to the moon much faster would be big news.

Anyway, today I came across this article in NewScientist about a new kind of ion engine that's being researched. I suspect it was an article about this engine research that started the meme that Sam saw about getting to the moon faster than the Apollo astronauts did.

It's an interesting article; and it actually is about a pretty large potential improvement in a type of space mission engine that is actually being used today for a scientific probe that's going to the asteroids. But, but, but. . . the ion engine being used today generates a tiny amount of thrust that is accelerating a very small space probe to a very fast velocity by pushing it for a very long time using solar power.

If you skim through the comments to the article you will find much trash but also some very well reasoned responses that point up the considerable problems associated with using this sort of engine for a Mars mission. And the article is talking about a Mars mission, which needs an engine that provides relatively low thrust for a relatively long time - an engine much like the ion engine described. A mission to the moon needs a very different kind of engine, one that provides a lot of thrust for a relatively short time.

Trying to use an ion engine needed to push a manned space mission to the moon faster than the Apollo mission would require a very large inon engine indeed, or a very large assembly of small engines. And it would not be possible to power those engines with solar power. Such a mission would need a heavy nuclear reactor for power, plus a lot of heavy shielding to protect the astronauts from the reactor's radiation.

It's child's play to shield nuclear reactors here on earth because it's no big deal to surround them with thick shields of cheap concrete or plain dirt (

The problem with putting a heavy nuclear reactor (even the little 25 megawatt Hyperion reactor weighs 20 tons) plus a long of heavy radiation shielding into a spacecraft is that it costs a lot (a very lot) to put payload into space in the first place. The space shuttle takes about 25 tons to low earth orbit at a cost of about $1.5 Billion per launch, so putting each ton of payload into orbit costs about $60 Million.

Sending men to the moon was an exciting stunt in the 1960's. And sending men to the moon, or to Mars, would still be a mere exciting stunt today. We can do the stunt at very great expense if we want to; but it's a lot more cost effective to send relatively lightweight expendable automated space probes to learn about the moon and the planets until our children or our grandchildren develop technology a lot more powerful than we have today.

As a start we need a truly cheap way to get lots of mass into orbit. Since it's very likely there will some environmental concerns expressed (hah, probably a revolution!) if anyone tries to build Ted Taylor's very potentially workable but very certainly insane Project Orion type booster, that probably means we need Arthur C. Clarke's space elevator.

Orion booster:

Space elevator:

Manned space flight beyond low Earth orbit will be nothing but a clever stunt until there is a space elevator or some other practical way of getting lots of mass into low Earth orbit. I suspect that if a space elevator is impossible that mass will be brought to Earth orbit from an asteroid by relatively cheap robots. Or else the robots will move a small asteroid to Earth orbit.

Friday, July 24, 2009

When she's right, she's right

I can well understand why many people dismiss Ann Coulter a cojone busting harpy. Even I sometimes wince at her shrillness when she gets going on TV, even as I mentally replace her outfit with a fetchingly studded leather one and imagine her with a little whip in her hand; despite the fact that I almost always agree with her main points.

But when she's right, she's very right; as she was yesterday in her column about health care.

As always she gets off some perfect gems of logic. Such as:

"All the problems with the American health care system come from government intervention, so naturally the Democrats' idea for fixing it is more government intervention. This is like trying to sober up by having another drink."

"The reason seeing a doctor is already more like going to the DMV, and less like going to the Apple "Genius Bar," is that the government decided health care was too important to be left to the free market. Yes -- the same free market that has produced such a cornucopia of inexpensive goods and services that, today, even poor people have cell phones and flat-screen TVs."

"As a result, it's easier to get your computer fixed than your health. Thanks, government!"

We already have near-universal health coverage in the form of Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' hospitals, emergency rooms and tax-deductible employer-provided health care -- all government creations."

"So now, everyone expects doctors to be free. People who pay $200 for a haircut are indignant if it costs more than a $20 co-pay to see a doctor."

"The government also "helped" us by mandating that insurance companies cover all sorts of medical services, both ordinary -- which you ought to pay for yourself -- and exotic, such as shrinks, in vitro fertilization and child-development assessments -- which no normal person would voluntarily pay to insure against."

"This would be like requiring all car insurance to cover the cost of gasoline, oil and tire changes -- as well as professional car detailing, iPod docks, leather seats and those neon chaser lights I have all along the underbody of my chopped, lowrider '57 Chevy."

"But politicians are more interested in pleasing lobbyists for acupuncturists, midwives and marriage counselors than they are in pleasing recent college graduates who only want to insure against the possibility that they'll be hit by a truck. So politicians at both the state and federal level keep passing boatloads of insurance mandates requiring that all insurance plans cover a raft of non-emergency conditions that are expensive to treat -- but whose practitioners have high-priced lobbyists."

"As a result, a young, healthy person has a choice of buying artificially expensive health insurance that, by law, covers a smorgasbord of medical services of no interest to him ... or going uninsured. People who aren't planning on giving birth to a slew of children with restless leg syndrome in the near future forgo insurance -- and then politicians tell us we have a national emergency because some people don't have health insurance."

"The whole idea of insurance is to insure against catastrophes: You buy insurance in case your house burns down -- not so you can force other people in your plan to pay for your maid. You buy car insurance in case you're in a major accident, not so everyone in the plan shares the cost of gas."

"Just as people use vastly different amounts of gasoline, they also use vastly different amounts of medical care -- especially when an appointment with a highly trained physician costs less than a manicure."

"Insurance plans that force everyone in the plan to pay for everyone else's Viagra and anti-anxiety pills are already completely unfair to people who rarely go to the doctor. It's like being forced to share gas bills with a long-haul trucker or a restaurant bill with Michael Moore.
On the other hand, it's a great deal for any lonely hypochondriacs in the plan."

"Now the Democrats want to force us all into one gigantic national health insurance plan that will cover every real and mythical ailment that has a powerful lobby. But if you have a rare medical condition without a lobbying arm, you'll be out of luck."

"Even two decades after the collapse of liberals' beloved Soviet Union, they can't grasp that it's easier and cheaper to obtain any service provided by capitalism than any service provided under socialism."

"You don't have to conjure up fantastic visions of how health care would be delivered in this country if we bought it ourselves. Just go to a grocery store or get a manicure. Or think back to when you bought your last muffler, personal trainer, computer and every other product and service available in inexpensive abundance in this capitalist paradise."

"Third-party payer schemes are always a disaster -- less service for twice the price!
If you want good service at a good price, be sure to be the one holding the credit card. Under "universal health care," no one but government bureaucrats will be allowed to hold the credit card."

"Isn't food important? Why not "universal food coverage"? If politicians and employers had guaranteed us "free" food 50 years ago, today Democrats would be wailing about the "food crisis" in America, and you'd be on the phone with your food care provider arguing about whether or not a Reuben sandwich with fries was covered under your plan."

"Instead of making health care more like the DMV, how about we make it more like grocery stores? Give the poor and tough cases health stamps and let the rest of us buy health care -- and health insurance -- on the free market."

That was Ann. This is me again. And I find that I've quoted all of her paragraphs. Every one of them is a gem.

The woman is a national treasure, even without the fetchingly studded leather outfit I can so easily imagine on her lanky frame. . . hmmm. . . perhaps she would be even more of a national treasure without the fetchingly studded leather outfit. I'll have to ponder on that question. . .

Meanwhile, may she bust liberal cojones for a very long time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When IPods attack

It was bad enough when vultures were swooping down on walkers in England, and rabid foxes were attacking old ladies in Massachusetts, and mountain lions were dragging down bikers in California; but now even cute little IPods can't be trusted. This one tried to immolate its soccer mom mistress in Washington State.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

I especially liked the part where she said that all her kids have IPods, some of them multiple Ipods, and that they listen to them in bed. Turns out her kids might have been safer if she had been letting them take Michael Jackson to bed with them.

In related news: The government just released the results of the latest visa lottery. The visa lottery is a special federal government homeland security program that randomly admits 50,000 potential terrorists into the country each year because its a well known fact that we don't have enough potential killers already living here. Your federal government at work, building a better, safer, more prosperous, America.

"Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." - Mark Twain, a Biography

Monday, July 20, 2009

I visited Dolores M in the hospital on Sunday

Linda and I went to Matt K's graduation party on Saturday and met up with Anna M, Jackie J, Bobbie M and other. Matt K is Candy (Jacqueline) K's son. Candy is Jackie J's daughter. I wrote a bit about this a few weeks ago because the invitation to the graduation had me stumped for w while since I had never known Candy as Jacqueline and I never knew her married name.

Anyway, at the party we learned that Dolores M went into Lansdale Hospital on Tuesday or so with shortness of breath. So I visited her on Sunday morning. By now she should have been transferred to Doylestown Hospital for some tests on her heart, since her lungs don't seem to be the problem. We went to Dolores' 70th birthday party a month or so ago, so she's a bit young for that sort of problem; but then she has had a pretty hard life. Her brother Jackie J is also in not such good shape due to neuropathy in his feet. Grandmom L was quite right when she told us, "Don't get old."

At the party Jackie reminded me that Louie Hop, the loan shark who lived two doors down from us on Penn Street, and about whom I've written before, was "differently abled," He was called Louie Hop because he had a club foot. Louie was Medio M's father, and he had three other older sons, Jackie said, which answered a question Don A (usually down in Florida) asked me about in an email a couple of weeks ago.

I liked Louie Hop because he used to walk me down to Babe's for ice cream and lemonade; but what I remember most about him is the image of his wife Florence chasing him around their car trying to shoot him until Pop got her to calm down and give him the pistol. I guess Louie could hop pretty fast with his big built up shoe, because Florence missed with all her shots from the little silver pistol. Pop used to say she wasn't really trying to hit him, just trying to give him a message. It was apparently a pretty effective message since Mom always said that Florence never "sang" anymore after the shooting incident. I imagine Louie slept with one eye open after that.

Meanwhile, I've recently been re-reading the middle volume of William Manchester's The Last Lion, his biography of Winston Churchhill. The book, a medium detailed history Churchill's years as a back bencher in Parliament during the 1930's, is oddly soothing because it reminds one of the fact that the British government in that period was even more obtuse than our current softheaded administration is. Of course, the book is also soothing because I know how the story turns out. I know that the utter disaster Baldwin and Chamberlain and their associated cabinet members did their incompetent best to make possible did not befall. World War II ended up short of utter disaster even if it did result in something like 40 or 60 million deaths. It could have ended lots worse.

Before The Last Lion I read Jack London's Martin Eden, a surprising novel. I'm too lazy to do the research; but I suspect Ayn Rand read Martin Eden pretty closely. Her plot for The Fountainhead is a near ripoff of it, although Fountainhead doesn't end quite so tragically. I'm guessing Jack London was not quite an objectivist, but he was pretty darn close, which didn't stop the lefty writer who did the introduction to the paperback edition I have from trying to present him as a socialist, of all things.

What bosch. Martin Eden flirts with socialism; but he rejects it quite forcefully; and, in fact, some of his internal philosophizing could have come right out of Ayn Rand. I suspect the book influenced Rand and may even have given her the idea for Atlas Shrugged although in the end Martin Eden shrugs with somewhat more finality than John Galt.

Oh, I forgot, in between Martin Eden and The Last Lion I took a little break and re-read John Grisham's Playing for Pizza. What a pleasant little novel. Grisham is such a natural writer. Nowhere near as good or deep a writer as Jack London, but so natural and easy on the eyes.

It's been a while since I wrote about books. Come to think of it I've re-read a half dozen Faye Kellerman novels since I last wrote about books. Faye is a lot better writer, qua writer, than her husband.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sam may be in a position to be THE guru on the economy

Sam may be in a better position to know the real state of the economy than the government's economists. This article in the Wall Street Journal says that waste disposal volume is a better measure of consumption, and therefore economic activity, than the government's statistics.

And, in other news, congress and President Obama want to have the government take over the whole health care system. They're going to recruit really competent career bureaucrats to decide what doctor you go to, and what drugs he's allowed to prescribe for you, and whether you are worthy of getting a new hip, and what drugs the pharmaceutical companies are allowed to produce and what research into drugs is permitted and how many nurses to hire for each ward of each hospitals all over the country, and how many minutes of break time those nurses get. . . and, and, and. . . everything to do with health care, including who lives and who is unworthy to live.

Perhaps President Obama and his pals will be able to find bureaucrats as smart as the government rocket scientists who taped over the original pictures of the first landing on the moon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Windmills as far as the eye can see. . . and then much farther

What with congress and President Obama trying to pass the cap and trade legislation that will add over $1,000 per year in energy cost to your household budget there is again a lot of hot air being generated about wind power.

So I got to thinking about what our everyday world would look like if powered by the wind. It would take about 1,500 big windmills to replace the power generated by the Limerick nuclear plant. When I say big windmills I mean that each of them would be about 600 feet tall, about as tall as the 60 story buildings down in Philadelphia. Those windmills would have droning rotors 400 feet in diameter; and to be efficient they would need to be spaced about a half mile apart (6 times the diameter of the rotors).

So, just to replace one large power plant, we're talking about a line of windmills 750 miles long, or else a square grid of colossal windmills almost 28 miles on a side - 750 square miles of windmills.

If the windmills were built in a single line heading south down the median strip of I-95 you could drive all the way to Florida without being more than 1,200 feet from one of them.

If the windmills were built in a grid pattern they would cover all of Montgomery County, and there would still be about 300 square miles of windmills slopping over the edges into Chester, Berks, Delaware, Bucks, Lancaster and Philadelphia counties. The luckiest people in this area would live in the middle of a grid square, 1,700 feet in each direction from four constantly whooshing windmills, each one mounted on a tower twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty's torch. Most people would get to live much closer to a windmill. Some would get to live right under the whirling blades; but not to worry, even a major league pitcher probably wouldn't be able to throw a baseball high enough to hit the tip of a blade as it whizzed through the air overhead at 200 miles per hour.

On the plus side, I imagine there would be some really neat graffiti on the towers after a while.

whoosh. . . whoosh. . . whoosh. . . whoosh. . . whoosh

Monday, July 13, 2009

You cannot make this sort of stuff up

There is now a retail store in the Washington, DC train station that sells nothing but Obama merchandise. I wonder if they sell vegetables from the White House garden that Michele and the girls planted a couple of months ago?

Meanwhile, in other news: We went to dinner on Friday evening with Mark and Linda L and happened to run into the first night of the Blobfest, which is a cult event in commemoration of the filming of The Blob in Phoenixville. The event has gotten so popular that they now set up bleachers so spectators can watch the running of the blobbers as they flee the theater in panic at the climactic scene where the giant blob emerges through the movie screen.

Very appropriately, there was a fellow across from the theater trying to get people to sign a petition in favor of President Obama's health care plan, which is a cleverly disguised medium sized blob intended to grow to monstrous proportions and devour everything. No one was running from the Obama cultist in panic; but they should have been.

Checking further into the My Obama Store I found that it's a venture of a Jamaican fellow who calls himself Yehmon ( This fellow Yehmon is somewhat of a poet. I found one of his poems right on point ( I may print it out to give to the Obama health care cultist the next time we go to Phoenixville. Or I may bring a CO2 fire extinguisher in hopes of stopping his monstrous project the way Steve McQueen stopped The Blob.

In still other news: Here's a coincidence that may or may not be related to what President Obama, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Representative Barney Frank and their ilk are likely to do to the economy if they pass their plans into law.

On July 10th a lady in Virginia bought my copy of the Foxfire Book, and on July 11th a fellow in Oregon bought my copy of Foxfire 4; so two widely divergent people are suddenly interested in hog dressing, log cabin building, fiddle making, horse trading, berry buckets and other affairs of plain living.

Perhaps I should remove my remaining five Foxfire books from the "for sale" list on Amazon. Within 96 months when all of us peasants are living the simple life Al Gore and Prince Charles want us to live those books may become very valuable.

Meanwhile, in case you haven't noticed, Al Gore's so called global warming has provided unbelievably good weather in Collegeville so far this summer. Here it is July 13th and we still haven't needed to use our air conditioner. The very mild high seventies daytime and high fifties nightime temperatures don't quite qualify for calling this a year without a summer that the sunspot people told us was possible; but if this is the global warming Al and his fellow CO2 fanatic buddies have been harping about for the past ten years I want more of it.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I'm baaaack!

It's been a while since I posted a blog because my laptop computer has been acting funny. For some reason it won't let me log into the blogger software.

Here are a few things I've wanted to share.

1. In the You just can't win department: This fellow and his wife installed a nice environmentally friendly windmill on their property, and now the neighbors are whining and the local government made them shut the thing down because it makes a bit of noise. I did find it suspicious that the couple located the windmill 230 feet from their own house, but only 164 feet from the neighbor's house. It's also interesting that the windmill cost them 20,000 pounds but it only saved them 500 pounds a year in energy cost - so it would take forty years to pay for itself, even leaving aside the interest they could have earned on the money they used to buy it.

2. In the You can't win unless you're a government employee department: California has started to pay some of it's bills with IOUs because the state is running out of money due to a spending binge worthy of a sailor loose in Olongapo after 60 days at sea. But here's a funny thing - the state is not paying any of its hundreds of thousands of government workers and government pension benefit recipients with IOUs. The government folks get cash; all others get IOUs. You might be tempted to think that this is because the state is concerned about the government workers because they depend on their salaries to eat; but it turns out that the state is giving IOUs to a whole bunch of other folks who depend on their government check to eat. Fat cat college professors and judges get cash; the blind and the disabled get IOUs.

3. In the None of us humans can win in the long run department: It turns out that we're all doomed after these Argentinian ants consolidate their position globally. The Orkin man had better get ready for battle on a global basis.

4. In the Even if you can't win you can live in a certain style before you are eaten by ants: Sometimes a house comes on the market that has an extra nice garden or a very nicely outfitted kitchen. And then sometimes a house comes on the market that has a really special feature. The owner of this house automatically becomes a Count, and his wife becomes a Countess. The house also comes with extra thick walls that won't let in the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh sound of any nearby windmills.