Candidacy 101

David Reevely of The Ottawa Citizen wants to help you run for municipal council.

Part one: know your job.

Part two: be for something, not just against something.

It is sad how this advice applies in general terms to federal and provincial candidates.


Manned Nasa Missions

Bad Astronomer blogger Phil Plait says America Needs A New Apollo Program.

Let's look at his arguments.

Spending on manned space programs means spending here on Earth. This is the counter-artument to the "we should spend money on Earth, not on space." To wit: a space program involves hiring lots of engineers and technicians (most of whom will work here on Earth), and buying lots of raw material (most of which will be sourced here on Earth), and generating economic activity (most of which... you get the idea).

The thing is: robotic programs have the same effect. Engineers, scientists, raw materials...

Technology Spinoffs. Most of the technology spinoffs come from technology-heavy missions, and the robotic missions use more technology to accomplish things other than merely keep the human alive. The example Mr. Plait uses:
But digital cameras owe their existence to Hubble; their light-sensitive chips can trace their lineage straight back to development of the detectors that went on board Hubble's first generation of cameras.
Hubble is... a robotic mission.

Achieving the impossible:I have to quote Mr. Plait again, since he says:
But in 1969 NASA looked to this unachievable destination and made it achievable.
The flip restatement of this is: because we can. Because it is there.

The thing of it is, if we are going to spend a lot of money on something, it had better have a purpose better than "because we can". Arguments like that get some countries to invade other countries.

National Glory:
In the late 1960s, our culture and our global reputation were crumbling. But for a few shining years we were the envy of the planet. And rightly so. We went to the Moon. NASA's manned and unmanned programs have done incredible things since then, extending our knowledge of the solar system and the Universe to places we couldn't fathom just decades ago.
..or in other words: New! Shiny! We are so much cooler than everyone else, and doing this will distract the rest of the world from noticing otherwise!


The problem with large, specific-target national efforts, is that once the target has been achieved the public at large loses interest in it. The original Apollo program is exhibit A for that argument.

The goal of space exploration is to increase our knowledge of the universe. When it comes to getting useful-science-per-dollar-spent, robotic missions are better than manned missions in almost every way.

And while manned missions (can) garner more media, national, and international attention, history shows that unless you can keep coming up with visually new and interesting things to do with those missions, the tax-paying public which underwrites these expeditions will question the value of continuing them.

There is also the increased exposure to risk with manned missions. The Apollo 1 fire was bad press. Challenger grounded the shuttle fleet for almost three years; Columbia's breakup grounded the fleet for two and a half.

Now, imagine if the Mars Polar Lander had been a manned mission.

But it wasn't, and Mars robotic programs continue to this day. Since that time the program focuses have been more on reliability than the "fail faster" philosophy that contributed to some of the failures.

There is also the technology argument. New technology costs more, both to design and to operate. Take for example what I believe is the best piece of technology to ever come from the manned space program: the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME). This is an engine, capable of lifting payloads to orbit, which is re-usable. It isn't a throwaway. If we are going to run routine manned missions to space, we need a robust technology -- and a reusable engine has to be robust.

Instead, Nasa wants to go back to throw-away rockets because they are cheaper to build and fire. So they want to do expensive programs -- but they want to do them cheaply.

I am not arguing against Nasa's existence. I just think that with the current level of technology, robotic missions are a better investment, both for the returns from those missions, as well as managing the risks facing them.


Typical Government

Pass a law, but don't budget for or allocate any resources for compliance. Forget enforcement.

Budget cuts could axe tree bylaw
[...]David Barkley, Ottawa's manager of forestry services, said his department is fulfilling a commitment made to council to issue a tree-cutting permit within two weeks. But he said they need more staff because more people are calling with requests for permits.


Sleep Position

Should we sleep with our heads elevated? (Get past the "menopause" website.)

Might be worth trying.

(Link found here.)


Video: Cat in Coke Box

This video of a cat in a coke box made me smile.

That is all.


Anderson Cooper: Still Self Obsessed

Anderson Cooper Sucks
So I come home the other day and Jenn has the Oprah show on. Oprah has aparrently dropped everything on the schedule in order to be there live as New Orleans sinks further into the cesspool of history. One of the pieces she showed was done by CNN's Anderson Cooper. In this piece, Mr. Cooper trolls through the mess showing various disasters and tragedies -- however, the focus of the piece is the affect that so much tragedy and misery is having on the observing journalist.

Human interest stories are one thing. I may not like them, but the people do. Mr. Cooper's piece, though, was a human interest story... where _he_ was the "human of interest".

Navel gazing of the worst kind.

It is one thing to be affected by what is going on. That's fine. Mention it even. But to shoot and edit a 120 second piece about yourself is the ultimate in faux journalism.

I've had these thoughts in the past -- I think last year CNN celebrated September 11th by having an hour-long program telling the events of the day by having the reporters who reported on it tell the story and including how the unfolding events were affecting them.

The media's favorite subject always has been itself.
(me, Fri, 09 Sep 2005 , old blog)

I mention this because I was at a customer site, and they have this gigantic lobby with lots of chairs and a flat-screen TV. Goes well in the gigantic building they are occupying, but whatever.

This TV was on CNN, and unsurprisingly CNN was doing wall-to-wall Haiti coverage. I noticed this on my way in but didn't pay too much attention.

On my way out I stopped in the lobby to write some notes to myself. There were a couple of people having a quiet meeting on the side of the lobby away from the TV, so to give them privacy I moved away from them and wrote out my notes.

When I was done and packing up, my attention turned to the TV, and wouldn't you know it -- there was Anderson Cooper, diligently covering what a horrible effect the Haiti earthquake was having on him.

He climbs rubble. He talks to people. He stops and has a quiet moment to himself (as the cameraman simultaneously steps away to give him some privacy but zooms back in so we can feel his distress.)

I find it amazing that people watch this crap, but I guess when you have 24 hours of air time to fill, your standards for quality reportage drop somewhat.



Kenneth Gray of The Bulldog contemplates the race for the Mayor's seat, and concludes it is serious business.

My reply:
Serious business? How can you say that?

Let's review the result of the last election. The mayor was sent with a mandate to keep tax increases to zero. However, practically all of the incumbents were re-elected -- presumably the very same councilors who produced the financial mismanagement Mr. O'Brien was sent to correct.

The subtext of this result is: hold overall increases, but I want my ward to keep getting goodies. Make cuts somewhere else.

While Mr. O'Brien's mandate was clearly impossible on its face, the fact that the very same voters who sent him to city hall sabotaged their own agenda meant that the last three years were in many respects inevitable.

The problem is not the elected mayor and councillors. The problem is not the lack of quality, qualified candidates.

The problem is the voters. Those who do vote clearly vote for their own interests first, and don't have any interest in a "vision" for the city.

The voters get what they vote for. And until the voters stop trying to put themselves first at the expense of every- (or any-) one else, that isn't going to change.

So bring on the Stuntman.

Every circus needs a clown, and Mr. O'Brien isn't likely to be re-elected.


TLA Space Dangerously Oversubscribed

From Slashdot:
There are only 17,576 three letter acronyms. We've been warning people for years of the need to upgrade to TLAv6, which allows for a wider range of three letter acronyms, including punctuation and numbers as well as unicode support. But many major buzzword providers have refused to upgrade. The last unique TLAs will be depleted within 18 months in our field. Thanks to AAT (Acronym Address Translation), there are already far more TLAs than there are available spaces -- we've been using CIAR (Classless Inter-Acronym Routing) to separate namespaces based on subject matter and field, but it's only a matter of time before even that fails.

An actual Funny from slashdot. How refreshing.


4K on ServerFault

Thanks to a burst of reputation gained on some low-hanging fruit, I broke 4000 on Server Fault today.



Energy Economics

No More Power Lines?
These superconducting cables contain special materials chilled to superlow temperatures, allowing electricity to flow efficiently, with little resistance. While Harris’s “hub” would run in a loop, it would demonstrate the potential for superconducting power lines that could travel long distances and eliminate the 7 percent of electricity wasted by ugly, above-ground transmission lines.
I don't get it. They are proposing to save the 7% of energy that is lost in modern electrical transmission systems by supercooling cables? How are they going to do that for less than the 7% energy cost they are proposing to save? Because otherwise it is a net loss.