The Big Think

August 22, 2005

Jerry’s Rant

Filed under: Space — jasony @ 11:14 am

Famed Science Fiction author, and all-around Smart Guy Jerry Pournelle has a fantastic rant against NASA and how to really get the human race into space.

For the record, I’ve been thinking along these lines for years. Announce a government-sponsored “X-prize” award. Make it big. Say, a billion dollars for a reusable solution to get humans into orbit cheaply (pin the price at, say $100/lb and the turnaround time to one week or so. Then sit back and watch the free market take over.

A billion dollars is too much money, you say? Well, considering how NASA just spent a cool B on a failed redesign of the shuttle external fuel tank foam, I say it’s money well spent. And the worse-case scenario is that private industry tries and fails and the money isn’t awarded… no skin off the back of taxpayers, eh? Of course, if somebody actually achieves the goal and gets humans into orbit, private industry would have achieved something that NASA and the big aerospace companies haven’t been able to do and would have done it for less than NASA spends every year on coffee and doughnuts. The X-Prize money was cheaper than the cost of ONE custom made NASA spacesuit. It just ridiculous that there aren’t more incentives like this available.

Many private companies were able to make an economic case for X-prize competition, even though the prize was a measly 10 million dollars. Just imagine what would happen if there was some real money involved. And it would cost taxpayers less than half the cost of a single stealth bomber.

Makes me crazy to see so much money and time wasted under the current NASA (jobs) program while a viable, no-risk solution just sits there unused.

LOTR MMORPG

Filed under: Games — jasony @ 10:06 am

Beautiful screen shots of the upcoming Lord of the Rings Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. Check out this one and this one.

Bob Moog

Filed under: Music — jasony @ 9:57 am

Bob Moog, legendary pioneer of electronic music, died yesterday from brain cancer at his Ashland, N.C. home. He was 71.

I spent a few semesters in college manually programming sounds on a Moog-era Arp 2600. To get a sound out of these old boxes you’d take an electrical (DC-line level) signal from one output (say, and oscillator), and use those old telephone switchboard patch cables to physically route it to an input (envelope generator, cutoff filter, whatever) somewhere on the face of the box (see the link for a picture). From there you’d continue to route the signal around until you had successfully manipulated the 60hz electrical signal into the sound that you wanted. Then you’d trigger the sound on and off via the keys on the keyboard. Very arcane and byzantine way to create noise by modern standards, but strangely satisfying to spend a few hours developing a specific order in your tangled mass of cables.

Once you had your patch cable layout you’d preserve the specific in-out and knob settings in a book somewhere. You’d refer to your book whenever you wanted to recreate a specific “patch”. This is why sounds on an electronic keyboard are still called patches today. Cool, no?

Musicians would protect the specific layout of their patches by covering the patch board or throwing in fake cables just to confuse onlookers. Hey, you had to protect your intellectual property! It’s similar to the way some Hammond B-3 organ players would cover the slider box so onlookers couldn’t see the specific layout of their sliders.

Light Cycle

Filed under: Technology — jasony @ 9:43 am

Tim has some interesting comments about the use of super-light materials in bike frames (scroll down). Thanks, Tim!

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