Monthly Archives: February 2008

the tale of Apache Beard: a bold beginning

apache beard day 5And the hair, it came forth as though carried on a wave. And the chin was covered, and the cheeks, and the bits just under the ears, and the neck almost down to the chest. But alas, the upper lip stayed bereft, as least as far as anyone might tell. And the prophet spake again thusly:

On the whole, you should expect to start seeing telling results within a week, and some sort of “beard” thing within two. And no, there is no way to speed this up. Don’t go buying products advertising otherwise.

And the family rejoiced, and the friends were sore afraid.

why i’m voting for Obama

Obama posterNext week Tuesday is going to be a pretty big day for voting. Not the most important day, of course, but to me it officially inaugurates the choosing-a-president season. And for the first time since I started voting, my favorite candidate is still on the ballot with a real chance of winning.

I won’t tell you who to vote for. (Assuming you get to vote in a primary at all. Sorry, Deana!) There are plenty of ways to make up your own mind, but just in case it sheds some light, here’s why I’m voting for Barack Obama:

  1. He’ll get us out of Iraq, and do it honorably. I don’t need to reiterate just how much of a mess our invasion of Iraq has been. Barack’s not a military guy, but I think we need be a lot less militaristic. Getting out of Iraq without completely destroying the country is going to take some hard work and honest evaluation, which brings me to:
  2. If there was a Big Nerd Party, he’d be the chairman. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This country needs a Big Nerd in charge, someone who’ll take a real interest in solving problems and making things work. Someone who uses reason and judgment to make decisions instead of polls or influence or random pronouncements by deities. Our last Big Nerd in high office was Al Gore, and I think he deserves a lot of the credit for the 90s boom years. Barack talks like a smoothie, but he has a podcast for cryin’ out loud. Nerd!
  3. He’ll restore the world’s faith in us. The dollar sucks, our foreign policy is a nightmare, and we’re being led by a guy who can’t pronounce “nuclear.” Credibility in the world’s eyes will be difficult to regain, but electing someone who’s thoughtful, competent, and a stirring speaker will go a long way. I’d personally like to stop having to apologize for our leaders.

So that’s me. What do you think?

Explorer beat Sputnik?

A model of Explorer 1, held by JPL

It’s the fiftieth anniversary, give or take, of Sputnik and Explorer I. While the Russians might have beaten the U.S. into space, the U.S. apparently came in first place for science. Or at least according to this op-ed from the L.A. Times:

Fifty years ago tomorrow, the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit. Its success may seem to be a footnote in space history, a second-place finish to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik. After all, wasn’t it Sputnik, launched four months earlier, that represented the real scientific breakthrough and sent Americans cowering in fear at the shiny Russian ball orbiting overhead?

Not exactly. Sputnik, a “hey look at me” feat of engineering, did not throw the nation’s scientists into a panic or prompt a mad scramble to match the Soviet demonstration of power. Instead, President Eisenhower, while prodding his team for results, kept an established national space program focused on the deliberate pursuit of scientific progress, and as a result, it was the runner-up that scored a more important breakthrough for pure research.

Conceived by James Van Allen of the University of Iowa and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, Explorer 1 carried with it instruments to detect radiation in near space and to send data back to Earth. This mission was an extension of a vast global project — called the International Geophysical Year — that involved thousands of scientists and technicians from almost every country.

Sputnik merely orbited Earth; Explorer made the first physical discovery in space, identifying the regions of high and low radioactivity now known as the Van Allen belts. These radioactive realms offered clues for understanding atmospheric phenomena such as the aurora borealis and the way radio waves behave over long distances. The belts also suggested that space might contain unusual and unimagined hazards.

Most interesting is the point made at the end of the article about how the U.S. space program is accomplishing more for science by supporting projects such as Hubble and leaving the peopled-mission fun to the private sector.