Saturday, October 30, 2010

Thoughts on a would be Moon base

I got an idea for this post this morning.   I was wondering if there's a way to quickly build a moon shelter and permanent base on the moon.  Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I started to search for what was already out there on the web.  I came across this:  a pdf file on some proposed designs of a moon base.  It has occurred to me that NASA must have plans like these out the wazoo.   So, why haven't these plans ever been implemented?

A further search brought me to this a link about Gregg Easterbrook, who is a critic of manned space flight.  It would be wrong to blame him for the plans not being implemented.  I don't want to slam Easterbrook here.  Only to point out that the criticisms are too harsh.   It has to be balanced by something.  The manned space program needs a champion, like in the early days.   These days, the critics, like Easterbrook, have the upper hand.  To offset the critics, a there must be a champion of manned space flight.

Here's the article he wrote about the shuttle in 1980 ; it is fairly critical article and its tone turns out to be wrong in most respects, but it proved him to be prophetic in predicting failure as two shuttles were lost.  With the loss of two shuttles, his point of view gained ground.  But why did the Shuttles fail?  Was it design failure, or did some other explanation account for this?  To answer this question, it would take an extensive study the reports that came out of each disaster.  Basing it solely on memory, I suspect that a change in specifications led to both disasters.  If these specs weren't changed, perhaps both Shuttles could have survived.  The Shuttle wasn't an inherently unsafe design, if that is true.  To confirm that opinion would be out of the scope of this post.

In Easterbrook's 1980 article, he mentions that a permanent moon base was considered before deciding upon the shuttle program.  He says that a base would have been useless.  But the moon base would not be useless if it can solve the launch problem.  If men and materials can be launch into space at a reasonable cost and be done relatively safely, we can open up the solar system for business.  At one sixth the gravitational field of the Earth, getting to the near Earth asteroids would entail much less energy and consequently, much reduced cost for fuel.   Having a moon base that is self sufficient in terms of life support could mean multiple missions from the moon, before having to return to Earth- giving further savings.  And mining asteroids for fuel and metal ores could defray the costs of manned space flight.  They may even be able to turn a profit.

A Moon base needs a champion.  If the critics win, it may never be done.  At least, not by the USA.  Someone else could and probably will.  If that happens, American leadership in this field will go by the wayside.  Like many other things.  Isn't it time that this trend be turned around?

Update:  So, how much M type asteroid worth?  This question is answered in Mining the Sky:

"As an example of the magnitude and economic value of space resources, we shall assay
the smallest known M asteroid and account for its market value.  That distinction
belongs to the NEA known as 3554 Amun.  Amun is only 2 kilometers in diameter, the
size of a typical open-pit mine on Earth, with a mass of ... thirty billion tons.
... the total market value of Amun ... $20.000. billion" -John S. Lewis
Mining the Sky, pp. 111-112

more info here
According to this: the feasibility of mining asteroids is close with present day technology.
Here is a site that I just found with plenty of info.  It is called

Those are late nineties numbers, as the book was written then.  Prices have gone up.
I ran the numbers and each ton of the asteroid would be worth $667 at that time.
This would not seem worth the time orthe expense to bring all back.  I suppose you
would need to pre-process the ore before you brought it back.  Platinum at todays
prices would be about fifty million per ton.  The Altair lunar lander which was to
land men on the moon was supposed to be able to handle (in unmanned versions)
up to 15 tons of cargo.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Krugman is scared

Or he wants everyone else to be.

Well, there is plenty to worry about.  I am not counting on history to repeat itself.  Just because there is a divided Congress doesn't mean happy days are here again.  On that count, I agree with Krugman.  As far as cutting anything, like Medicare, for example, there is plenty of waste, fraud and abuse in the program.  You can cut it and give better service.  You can't measure the effectiveness of government by how much money it spends.  If that were true, the Democrats wouldn't be in trouble right now.  With all their spending, we really should be having happy days here again.  And the Democrats would be looking at the landside from a different perspective.

Government isn't working.  On that count, you should be at least a little bit worried.

Constellation Program

This isn't exactly news, but I'll start off this new post by mentioning it anyway.  Obama cancelled it and now it is official since early this month.  I didn't know this until I googled it and came up with the link above.  This pretty much renders most of the space stuff here pretty speculative as far as I can tell.  Unless a new launch solution is found, it is not likely that the private sector will do it.  Go to the moon, that is.  I will segue into that discussion below.

What I am getting from reading the Wikipedia article on it is that the government is betting that a better launch platform will be developed.  Perhaps that is the case, but in the meantime, there is no launch platform.  In the event that no significant improvement to the launch problem can be found, we could be left with no manned launch capability for quite some time.  There would still be unmanned capability with the current technology.

It is a bit ironic that Obama cancelled the program because of budget concerns.  This coming from an administration that passed the huge boondoggle which was called a stimulus.  If you consider the Constellation  Program as a boondoggle, then perhaps it was just one boondoggle for another.  As I have attempted to draw attention to however, the potential in space is far more than just raking leaves.  Obama may be right in betting on a better launch platform, but if he is wrong, this is a bad bet.  That is, we will lose out on the benefits of manned space exploration, as well as having to reinvent the wheel in case, for some reason, it becomes necessary to restart a manned space program.  In that scenario, the decision to cut the program in order to save money will turn out to be a failure.  It will cost more.

Wouldn't it have been better to just go to the Moon again and set up a permanent base there?  It seems pointless just to go to Mars.  If you are on the Moon permanently, you can start to do things there, instead of doing them here.  It takes a lot more to launch from Earth than from the Moon.  A permanent base on the Moon can help with the launch problem.  It costs 10,000 dollars per kg. to put a payload into Earth orbit.  A single launch to the Moon which can be leveraged into several launches from the Moon ought to help lower these costs.   Waiting for a better launch system could take a long time.  With the technology we already have, we could be building a base on the Moon now.

Update:  I didn't read this at the time, but from what I heard of Buzz Aldrin's criticisms of  former President Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, I would have agreed with Aldrin.  But now, I think a trip to Mars may be a bridge too far.  It is much more sensible to follow Bush's original plan than to go to Mars "someday".
That someday may be never.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

NFL picks

I tried doing this for real back in the eighties.  I wrote a computer program and used statistics to see if I could pick games v the spread.  It was only so-so, so I gave it up.  Based upon this guys' picks, how would I pick em, the same or different?  Let's see.

BARRY WILNER:   CHIEFS -9 v Bills, 24-14

Yeah, I think the Chiefs will cover.

BARRY WILNER:  Minnesota (plus 4) at New England  BEST BET: PATRIOTS 30-10
I agree, but not necessarily a blow out.  Pats to cover.

BARRY WILNER:  Seattle (plus 1 1/2) at Oakland  UPSET SPECIAL: SEAHAWKS, 21-20

Raiders could be turning the corner.  Raiders to cover.  I don't agree with this one.

BARRY WILNER: Pittsburgh (pick-em) at New Orleans  STEELERS, 21-20
Steelers should win this one easily.

BARRY WILNER: Washington (plus 1) at Detroit  LIONS, 17-13

I'm not a believer in the Lions.  I'll take the skins and the point.

BARRY WILNER: Houston (plus 6) at Indianapolis, Monday night  COLTS, 30-23

This could be the football equivalent of the Thrilla in Manila.   I think the Texan can beat the Colts and will beat the spread at least.  Taking the points.

BARRY WILNER: Green Bay (plus 4 1/2) at N.Y. Jets  JETS, 24-20

He's picking the Jets to win, but not to cover.  I'll say the Jets will cover.

BARRY WILNER:  Carolina (plus 3) at St. Louis  RAMS, 21-10

The Rams are another team turning the corner.  Easy win for Rams, will cover.

BARRY WILNER:  Miami (plus 1) at Cincinnati  DOLPHINS, 19-17

Dolphins are dogs in this one?!  Take the point.

BARRY WILNER:  Tampa Bay (plus 3 1/2) at Arizona  CARDINALS, 20-17

Cards to cover.   Just to disagree, I suppose.

BARRY WILNER:  San Francisco (pick-em) vs. Denver at London   BRONCOS, 27-14

Good thing this is in London.  Improves the air quality over here.  I'll take the Broncos.

BARRY WILNER:  Tennessee (plus 3 1/2) at San Diego  TITANS, 23-19

The Titans are looking good.  Take the points.

BARRY WILNER: Jacksonville (plus 7) at Dallas  COWBOYS, 20-14

Dallas won their Superbowl at Reliant.  The rest of the season can't come soon enough.  Take the points.

Hmm, that could be an idea worth pursuing

In connection with the dissatisfaction with Congress, here is a proposed solution for how to deal with the Congresscritters that are especially troublesome.

65% Favor Getting Rid of Entire Congress and Starting Over - Rasmussen Reports™

65% Favor Getting Rid of Entire Congress and Starting Over - Rasmussen Reports™

What this election will mean

I guess you can say I am in the mood to make a think piece today.  Each day is a new
day.  Yesterday, I felt in a problem solving mood.  Today, it is more of a philosophical
mood.  The nature of existence, about life.  And how it applies to current events,
such as the coming election.

I was thinking an election is like a war.  At the end of the war, there is a winner
and a loser.  Or it can be a stalemate, without a clear winner nor loser.  But a
war will have an outcome of some kind.  And from that outcome, you will have to pick
up the pieces and start anew.  Even a winner in a war will have problems to deal with.
A war can leave a lot of bad feelings, and perhaps the lust for vengeance on the
part of the loser.  Perhaps the loser doesn't accept his loss.  Or many followers of
the lost cause don't accept defeat.  In the end, the fruits of victory are short
lived.  One could ask, what gets resolved by this?  Well, the thing that gets resolved
is question of who is the boss.  The boss stays the boss as long as the boss can
win the wars.  When that stops happening, then you get a new boss.

So as this thinking as applied to the coming elections gives us what?  The old
bosses are the Democrats.  Can they hang on, or will they get knocked off by the
Republicans?  Or will there be a stalemate?  Not a clear cut decision, but a
decision that will require power sharing.  No definite boss, but a committee of
bosses.  When the dust settles, what will it all mean?

I think a stalemate means confusion.  Neither side can force a definite outcome.
Neither side is stronger than the other.  Without a definite boss, you don't have
definite leadership.  If leadership by committee is best, then this is the best
outcome.  Otherwise, it is not a good outcome.  Frankly, I don't believe in the
former.  I think you need an effective leader.  Unfortunately, I think we are
headed for a stalemate of one kind or another.  If the Republicans win big, then
they will only weaken Obama.  They can't take him out unless the Democrats get
annihilated.  That won't happen.  The Democrats are too strong.  Or the Republicans
are too weak.  But the Democrats are not strong enough to hold on to all power.
They are going to be weaker than before.  It is only a matter of degree to how
much weaker.  But this doesn't lead to a better outcome in my opinion.  Only a
complete rout will do that, and it won't happen.

The only reason the Democrats are going to get weakened is that voters are not
happy with them.  But making them weaker is not going to be much of an improvement.
Making the Republicans stronger won't make them the new boss either.  The best
they can hope for is to slow down the Democrats.  But this is not leadership.  It
is premeditated drift.  If the voters are unhappy with the Democrats then they
should drop them like a hot potato.  Why keep them on at all?

There is a school of thought that says gridlock or stalemate is good.  This is no
doubt an artifact of the Clinton years.  Neither side could impose its will during
that time, but instead, checked each other off.  But there was no clear direction
back then either.  The country drifted toward the 911 event.  This brought recession
and a real shooting war that continues today.  Not everything about the Clinton
years was good.  The economy was good, but dangers were left unheeded and flashed
into fully spectacular form with the 911 attacks.

I am a little worried about a big Republican win.  But I am also a little worried
about a Democratic win.  To top it all off, I am worried about a stalemate of all
stalemates.  A stalemate of all stalemates would be a big Republican win in the House, and a
narrow win by the Democrats in the Senate.  The Democrats would lose the initiative
in Congress, but could hang onto to the more powerful long range power centers in
the Senate and White House.  Nothing new could get accomplished.  Just another
struggle for power and control going into the next election two years from now.
There would be a tendency toward drift again.  While that happened, new dangers
could arise which will not get addressed.

The only conceivable chance of a good outcome, in my opinion, would be a wholesale
repudiation of the Democrats.  It would have to be of such magnitude that they
would be unable to stop the Republicans from assuming full control of the government.
That means removing Obama and Biden and replacing them.  This sounds rather extreme
and will not happen.  But it would be for the best.  Otherwise, we have to suffer
for another two years of this.  A reversal of course must take place, the sooner
the better.  If the Democrats aren't the ticket, then send them home.  All of them.

And so the most likely outcome will be a stalemate.  Maybe most see this as the
best outcome.  I think it is not so good.  Maybe it is the worse outcome.  It comes
from confusion.  Confusion that breeds cynicism and defeatism.  It will have
corrosive and toxic effects.  This will result in a situation so bad that a change
will be demanded.  At that point, a new leadership will emerge and this time, it
will last for a long time.  But we are not at that point yet.  It may take another
two years for that.

But what about the other side?  What about the Democrats winning big?  What if they
hold onto power, only slightly weakened?  In that case, you would have to believe
that the last two years have been a good thing.  I think you would have to be
living in a bubble to believe that.  Perhaps that bubble still has to burst.  It
won't be pretty.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Grow your own food without the farm

How is that possible?  Take a look at this.

Update:  The part that got my attention was that so much could be grown in so little area.  On the basis of this, I began reading some stuff on hydroponics and aeroponics.  I suppose if I look long enough I may find something like "Hydoponics for Dummies".  Haven't gotten to that yet.  Here's a YouTube video on aeroponics.  Here's another video showing how to build your own (as opposed to buying one).

Update 2: This is funny.  People use this to grow weed.  Very funny.

Update 3: Not exactly on topic with this post, but here is how to promote your "whatever".  It could be a blog, or videos on YouTube.

Euro woes could return

Remember the trouble that the Euro was having earlier this year?  It all seemed to start in Greece and now it appears to be on the rise again.  It pretty much points in the same direction as usual.  That is the use of paper money and debt to solve financial problems.  You can't paper over problems.  You actually have to do something to solve them.

Insider's trading

Not to be confused with Insider trading which is illegal.  The bigwigs can legally buy and sell based upon their own beliefs and needs as well as anyone else.  The thing that grabs me is that the volume of the insiders trading is so high on the sell side that it may indicate a rocky road ahead for stocks.  Catch the story here (via Free Republic).

Denial is not a river in Egypt

Once again denial rears its ugly head.

"The decision to remain blind runs up and down the line, from the halls of power that shape policy toward the US’s “ally” Pakistan, down to the lowest analysts and assistant regional security officers in Islamabad, who turned away Outalha. This isn’t failure, this is systematic shortsightedness. America is in a complete state of denial."- Seth J. Frantzman, The Jerusalem Post 10/26/10

Denial is a psychological problem.  It has ingratiated itself into the highest levels of society, according to this.  If our leadership is infected with this disease, then they have to go.  They have lost the capacity to lead.  One of the findings of the 911 commission which was published in 2004 was that there was a lack of imagination.  If the lack of imagination is the tendency not to be able to think outside the box, could that be just another form of denial?  A lack of imagination is a type of mental blindness.  One afflicted in thus a manner cannot see what is there and what isn't, nor can a possible solution to problems be found.   They cannot be found if they cannot be seen.  Even the problems themselves cannot be seen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Better dig deeper

Russian bears treat graveyards as 'giant refrigerators.  Goldilocks couldn't be reached for comment.

Not a Geico commercial

This is a fairly decent political ad.  Hat tip Free Republic.

Why you shouldn't trust conventional wisdom

In an earlier post, I said that I don't trust conventional wisdom.  The following illustrates why.  According to conventional wisdom these days, the 9/11 attackers were extremists.  But not necessarily, according to this editorial.  They weren't bad boys, but good boys by the standards of their communities.

"The detail-rich book — which is endorsed by anti-war gadfly Seymour Hersh, no less — reveals that the 19 hijackers did not "hijack Islam," as conventional East Coast wisdom would have it. They weren't career criminals using the religion as an excuse to wantonly murder people. Nor were they misled into martyrdom by Osama bin Laden or other Svengali personalities."- from IBD editorial "Perfect Muslim Soldiers"

Conventional wisdom in this case appears to be a type of denial.

"Denial is an attempt to reject unacceptable feelings, needs, thoughts, wishes--or even a painful external reality that alters the perception of ourselves. This psychological defense mechanism protects us temporarily from:

-Knowledge (things we don’t want to know)
-Insight or awareness that threatens our self-esteem; or our mental or physical health; or our security (things we don't want to think about)
-Unacceptable feelings (things we don’t want to feel)"- from Dr. Sanity blog

The truth is a slippery word indeed.

How the election is shaping up

It looks like these guys  are in trouble.

And this guy too.
Here's a chart that predicts the outcome based upon the Gallup Likely Voter polls:

Unless something changes fast, control over the House goes to the Republicans.  The strength of the victory will be determined by the turnout.

Here's your bubble

Treasury Draws Negative Yield for First Time During TIPS Sale.   That's a headline that tells you everything you need to know.  Why would an inflation adjusted bond yield go negative?  Here's why.

"The Treasury sold $10 billion of five-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities at a negative yield for the first time at a U.S. debt auction as investors bet the Federal Reserve will be successful in sparking inflation."

Comment:  the bubble is in the US Dollar.  When the bubble bursts, (rising yields), it will be due to inflation fighting efforts at the FED.  And we aren't even in the job creating part of an expansion yet.  Not looking good.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Predictions on what will be the next big thing

I'd like to figure out how to do good predictions.  Something like a forecasting system.  Hopefully, it would work better than the weatherman's forecast.

One thing you might want to look out for is inflation.  There has been a lot of back and forth on this.  Inflation or deflation.  There are those who belong to the deflation camp.  I belong to the inflation camp.  Either way, it isn't good. One isn't any better than the other.  Either way will lead to some type of financial debacle.  Both outcomes have at its root the same cause, yet different effects depending on the response to the cause.

I think the cause of the problem is energy, or lack of energy.  Not from actual shortages, but from imposed shortages.  The imposed shortages are what's driving up the cost of energy.  This in turn is causing the government to respond with an inflationary monetary policy.  This is what we have now.  If that approach changes, we may revert to a deflationary crash.  That is, if monetary stimulus is removed, the asset bubble will pop yet again.  Prices will fall.  The end result will be bankruptcy on a national scale.  Hence, the inflationary policy which will buy some time.  But monetary policy doesn't address the energy issue.  It is treating the symptoms, not the disease.  Fooling around with monetary policy and stimulus achieves nothing on its own.

We need a growth policy.  Not a growth in government, but growth in the economy.  In order to achieve this growth, the energy problem must be solved.  Something similar happened in the seventies.  The government interfered with the markets and artificially imposed scarcity which drove prices upward.  Once Reagan removed this, the markets stabilized for twenty years.  But after twenty years, the economic growth caught up with supply.  Now growth is bumping up against the constraint of a lack of energy.  The worlds energy supply is tight.  In order to deal with this, economic growth must slow down and allow supply to catch up.  If it doesn't, higher prices are inevitable.

My impression is that not enough has been done about the energy problem.  If the economy improves, the price of oil will go up again and that will cause a big drag on the economy.  The FED may revert to an inflation fighting bias and that would mean tight money and another recession.  Or if the economy doesn't improve, the price of oil will remain somewhat lower and more tolerable level.  Either way, the energy problem is not solved and the economy can't grow.

Neither party is addressing this issue adequately.  The arguments are about fiscal and monetary policy.  It needs to be about energy.  How to produce it and how to conserve it.  It is not an either or proposition.  More needs to be produced, less needs to be consumed.  Only then can supply and demand be brought into balance and economic growth can take place.

So my prediction is a continuation of inflation because it buys time.  A deflationary bust is a nonstarter.

Science Experiment

Actually, not so much an experiment, but a question.  The question occurred to me as I was perusing the subject of antimatter.  In particular, the use of antimatter for rocket propulsion.  This search didn't yield much in the way of answers, but it did yield one question.  The question was this: What would happen if an electron collide with a proton?  The link provided was an answer to the question somebody else had a couple years ago.  So, I'm not the only one who came up with that one.  The best answer, derived from the link, was that energy was formed.  But this energy is vaguely specified in the answer, so I am not completely satisfied by it.  Energy in the form of photons?  How much?  Is it usable for some purpose?  In particular, can it be harnessed to produce something useful?

Actually, the question literally asks what happens when electrons and protons collide.  But since a positron is the antimatter equivalent of an electron, one wonders what the outcome would be.  The positron question is the second part of the question, now I see.  The ask a scientist source didn't refer to the antimatter part of the question.

I was wondering because positrons can be formed in substantial number ( at least it is substantial compared to  the formation of positively charged ions of antimatter ).  What if you could use this fact in order to produce something useful?  That is, produce positrons that would in turn produce something useful, like gobs and gobs of energy.

I found out that the collision of an electron and positron makes gamma ray photons.  Gamma rays might be usable, but it wouldn't be easy nor practical for space propulsion.  If the collision of a proton and positron formed photons and neutrinos only, could this be used for something?  Neutrinos aren't useful.  The can pass through the Earth and not be noticed.  They are like ghost particles.  Photons are light particles, but in what wavelength and so forth?

Further searching yielded this pdf file.  Not exactly an answer, but it did appear to confirm what I thought.  The electric charges were attracting in some way.  The pdf file appears to be about separating the particles.  Evidently, they don't annihilate each other.  ( I think)

Who's voting?

It's getting close to election day now and I was thinking about how different the national mood is this year from that of 2008. Change was the catch phrase of the winners in '08 and interestingly enough it still is. Dissatisfaction with the incumbent is not unusual after 8 years as president. In fact the second terms of modern presidents are generally less focused and less successful. But, this is not a presidential election,it's only been 2 years not 2 terms. Still it could be considered a referendum on Barack Obama. The Democrats have rammed through legislation for the past two years with bi-lateral agreement neither wanted nor sought, riding roughshod over the conservatives.The Republican base is really pissed off now, and turnout within the party should be high. Turnout for midterm elections is historically 10 - 15 % less than presidential elections and since 63% of eligible voters voted in '08, that means less than half of eligible voters will show up to vote this year. Where are the other half on the political scale of conservative versus liberal?If they showed up to vote who would they vote for? If even half of the half voted it could be monumental. Hell Australia typically has a turnout of over 90% It boggles the mind. The Tea Party has injected the Republican Party with energy and determination. If that movement is made up of the non-voters from past elections, Democrats are toast.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Back to the gold question.  Is this a sign of inflation?  Let's take a look at Reuter's CRB Commodity Index.

Notice how the index spiked after 9/11.  Even if inflation doesn't show up in the official government statistics, there can be little doubt of the inflation in commodities.  Why does this not translate in higher prices as reflected by the consumer price index?  Is the CPI wrong?

The CRB index here doesn't reflect the price of finished goods, nor of certain other items that are included in the CPI.   How is the CPI calculated?  Given how much commodity prices have been rising, should the CPI be trusted as accurate and meaningful?

The charts here tell a different story on inflation and unemployment.  Should you believe these or what the government tells you?