Monday 28 February 2005

Japan's Lunar Ambitions ?

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has just launched its first booster in 15 months.
H2A Night LaunchAt one stage, the Japanese Space Program looked like it was in deep trouble. There was talk in the Diet of abandoning the booster program altogether, after the first failure of an H2A (mentioned on this blog).

The thing is, the H2A is quite an advanced booster. It uses a cryogenic Liquid Hydrogen/Liquid Oxygen fuel, with solid-fuel strap-on boosters, much as the Space Shuttle. But disposable, rather than re-usable.

I have a soft spot for the H2A - it was the booster that carried FedSat up into Low Earth Orbit, and did so absolutely flawlessly. It also carried a bus-sized multi-ton Earth Resources Technology satellite, and 2 other microsatellites - it has a respectable payload, though not in the Ariane-V or Energia class.

Now from the AFP via The Australian :
Japan's space agency, fresh from its first satellite launch since a 2003 failure, wants to put a manned station on the moon in 2025 and to set up a satellite disaster alert system.

"We will include it as one of the future goals in our new long-term vision, which we are going to submit with the government's Space Activity Commission by the end of March," said an official with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

By 2015, the space agency also wants to establish a system that would transmit disaster information via satellites to mobile telephones on Earth, he said.

"We are still compiling our long-term vision. There are many things we want to include," said the official.

He was responding to a report by the Mainichi Shimbun, which said Japan planned to develop a robot to explore the moon in five years and within 10 years the technology to let humans stay on the moon for extended periods.

In 20 years, it will start development of the space station to be built on the moon to conduct scientific research, the Mainichi said.

To realise the goal, the agency aims to develop Japan's own manned space craft, similar to the US Space Shuttle, the Mainichi said.

The official of the space agency declined to discuss details of the agency's plan, but said the Mainichi report "was not necessarily all wrong".
You must remember that Emperor Hirohito's speech announcing that Japan had surrendered used a similar phrase :
...the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage...
Which hints that it may be exactly on target in every respect. Of course, they'll be facing some competition. The AFP report continues:
The United States is planning a lunar orbiter by 2008 to be followed the next year by a landing mission. By 2015 it plans to put a person on the moon, the first since another American, Eugene Cernan, on December 11, 1972.

US President George W Bush has set the goal of a manned mission to Mars by 2020.

The European Space Agency also plans to launch an orbiter to the moon by 2008 and a second mission, a lander, in 2009 or 2010 to be followed by a human flight in 2020.

China, a longtime recipient of Japan's aid but now its growing rival, has vowed to launch an unmanned lunar exploration craft before 2007, with a goal of landing a spacecraft on the moon in 2010.

India, which often compares and contrasts its progress to that of China, has scheduled its own lunar mission for 2007 and, if successful, wants another one by 2015.

The Soviet Union in 1959 was the first country to complete a moon orbit. But cash-strapped Russia has not launched a planetary mission since 1996.

The Russians hope to launch their next unmanned mission in 2009 to land on Phobos, a moon orbiting Mars.
The dates for the US do not appear to be consistent with a realistic timeframe for the CEV (as mentioned in a previous article).

The recent launch of the Ariane-5 ECA from the European Space Agency caused me to have another look at its performance. It compares very favourably to a Saturn 1B, (though not to a Saturn V Apollo Moon Rocket). ESA thus has the lifting capability, using 3 Ariane-5 ECA's, to send up the components for a crewed lunar mission. One to carry the lander, one to carry a "kicker" booster to take the mission to the moon and back, and a command/re-entry module for the crew.

But none of the ESA gear is man-rated, and from personal experience, I can state that the ESA standards documentation (which we used for FedSat) treats man-rated gear quite differently: the additional tests and reliability requirements are immense.

So don't expect another set of footprints on the Moon this decade, and probably not the next either. After that though, there could be quite a few projects coming to fruition. Interesting times. Perhaps there will even be some co-operation, formal or informal. What do I mean by informal? Well, on FedSat, we used ESA documentation, development and telemetry standards, a NASA-supplied GPS system, and a Japanese Booster to launch a UK-designed Australian-constructed satellite (with a South-African Boom and a Canadian attitude control system). And despite this, it all worked, and continues to work today.

Sunday 27 February 2005

State of the Middle East, Summarised

Partly the same old, same old. Everything's the fault of the Jews, who this time have been going around bombing themselves. :
Syria has strongly denied accusations by Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz that it had a hand in a Tel Aviv bombing later claimed by Islamic Jihad, which killed four Israelis as well as the bomber.

"Syria has no connection with this operation and the [Damascus] office of this movement [Islamic Jihad] is closed," a foreign ministry official said, asking not to be named.

"We think that the Israeli Defence Minister's comments show that he knows the identity of the real perpetrator and that he's to be found inside Israel," the official said.

"Israel is known around the world for sabotaging any peace process."

But Mr Mofaz had been categorical in his remarks.

"We have proof directly linking Syria to this attack," Army radio quoted the Defence Minister as telling a meeting of security chiefs in Tel Aviv.
I wonder if MSM (Mainstream Media) will publish that proof? Or even mention it on page 92?

But there are some encouraging signs. :
More than one candidate will be able to stand in presidential elections in Egypt under a constitutional change proposed by President Hosni Mubarak, a step welcomed by several opposition groups.
An election with more than one candidate? What an outrageous idea. No really, anywhere except Israel and now Iraq, it really is an outrageous idea, a dangerous and destabilising one that those in power are deathly afraid of. And they're right to be.

Intelligence 18, Wisdom 3

Readers who have played any FRP (Fantasy Role Playing) games such as D&D will recognise the meaning of the title. For everyone else, it would take a long time to explain, but you should be able to get the gist of it from the article I'm referring to.

That article is one I read about in 1998, in Harper's Magazine. The Tall Tale but True of the Radioactive Boy Scout.

It's the story of an archetypical nerd, someone who pushed the bounds of nerdom where no-one had gone before, and hopefully won't again. A senior High-school student who thought it would be really neat to build a model of a breeder reactor. A working model.
David went into a serious depression after the federal authorities shut down his laboratory. Years of painstaking work had been thrown in the garbage or buried beneath the sands of Utah. Students at Chippewa Valley had taken to calling him "Radioactive Boy," and when his girlfriend, Heather, sent David Valentine's balloons at his high school, they were seized by the principal, who apparently feared they had been inflated with chemical gases David needed to continue his experiments. In a final indignity, some area scout leaders attempted (and failed) to deny David his Eagle Scout status, saying that his extracurricular merit-badge activities had endangered the community.

In the fall of 1995, Ken and Kathy demanded that David enroll in Macomb Community College. He majored in metallurgy but skipped many of his classes and spent much of the day in bed or driving in circles around their block. Finally, Ken and Kathy gave him an ultimatum: Join the armed forces or move out of the house. They called the local recruiting office, which sent a representative to their house or called nearly every day until David finally gave in. After completing boot camp last year, he was stationed on the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise aircraft carrier.

Alas, David's duties, as a lowly seaman, are of the deck-swabbing and potato-peeling variety. But long after his shipmates have gone to sleep, David stays up studying topics that interest him--currently steroids, melanin, genetic codes, antioxidants, prototype reactors, amino acids, and criminal law. And it is perhaps best that he does not work on the ship's eight reactors
Yes, I'd say so. Definitely.
...for EPA scientists worry that his previous exposure to radioactivity may have greatly cut short his life.
My worry is not so much for him, as everyone around him. The concept of "common sense" is foreign to him, as it is to many of the hyper-intelligent. His value system is different.

Keeping him as a swabbie is a dangerous waste though. A waste because his intellect could be harnessed and used for some really worthwhile purposes. And dangerous because while he's pushing round a broom (something that doesn't require much in the way of higher brain functions), he can think about genetic research, backyard reactors, and criminal law. Which of the three is the most dangerous, I don't know.

He really needs to be placed in a well-equipped lab, along with a keeper, a prosthetic source of common sense. He'd be happier, and the world more safe.

Thanks to The Stupid Shall Be Punished for reminding me of this story.

Saturday 26 February 2005

Those Magnificent Men and their Flaming Latrines

Today's Cat post. Catapult that is. Well, Trebuchet.

From the Wall Street Journal :
Mr. Kennedy has been studying and writing about ancient engines of war since his days at Sandhurst, Britain's military academy, some 30 years ago. But what spurred him to build one was, as he puts it, ``my nutter cousin'' in Northumberland, who put together a pint-sized trebuchet for a county fair. you do...
The device hurled porcelain toilets soaked in gasoline and set afire. A local paper described the event under the headline "Those Magnificent Men and Their Flaming Latrines."
What's interesting is how they figured out the mass of the projectiles. Medieval artists weren't too concerned about things like drawing relative sizes accurately, and the principles of perspective were still hundreds of years in the future.
Building a full-sized siege engine is a more daunting task. Mr. Kennedy believes that dead horses are the key.
Well, naturally.
That's because engravings usually depict the trebuchet hurling boulders, and there is no way to determine what the rocks weigh, or the counterweight necessary to fling them. But a few drawings show dead horses being loaded onto trebuchets, putrid animals being an early form of biological warfare. Since horses weigh now what they did in the 1300s, the engineering calculations followed easily.

One thing has frustrated Mr. Kennedy and his partner: They haven't found any commercial value to the trebuchet.
Oh, but every home should have at least one! As Avon Lady Repellant. Or a quick method of garbage disposal. In the UK, for Home-Defense, as guns are apparently illegal. There must be a thousand uses.
Finally, there's the prospect of flinging a man into space - a living man, that it. This isn't a new idea, Mr. Kennedy points out: Trebuchets were often used to fling ambassadors and prisoners of war back over castle walls, a sure way to demoralize the opposition.

Some English sports parachutists think they can throw a man in the air *and* bring him down alive. In a series of experiments on Mr. Kennedy's machine, they've thrown several man-sized logs and two quarter-tone dead pigs into the air; one of the pigs parachuted gently back to earth, the other landed rather more forcefully.

Trouble is, an accelerometer carried inside the logs recorded a centrifugal force during the launch of as much as 20 Gs (the actual acceleration was zero to 90 miles per hour in 1.5 seconds). Scientists are divided over whether a man can stand that many Gs for more that a second or two before his blood vessels burst.
20 g over 1 second would end up as 200 metres/second, near enough. 12 km/minute or 720 km/hr. 0 to 90 mph (call it 160 km/h) in 1.5 secs? 3 gees, no more. Aerobatic aircraft routinely pull more over long periods. And US rocket sled experiments had people pulling 20 gees for several seconds with no ill effects, other than nosebleeds, red eyes, and piles (which fighter pilots also suffer from, they routinely do 5 gee and sometimes 9 or more in short, sharp manouvres).

So it's doable.

As for the Inventor of the Trebuchet?
Only one full-sized one exists today, designed and built by Mr. Kennedy, a wealthy landowner, inventor, military historian and - need it be said? - - full-blown eccentric.
Eccentric? Merely unconventional. And a man after my own heart. But I'm worried about anyone he describes as his "Nutter Cousin" though.

Meanwhile, should you wish to own your own trebuchet - and when it comes down to it, who doesn't? - just surf on over to Kits and plans for fully working models, some so small you can put them on your desktop, others capable of breaching walls of neighbourhood castles.

Or of course, you can always try out the Virtual Trebuchet I mentioned in an earlier post.

Friday 25 February 2005

Dark Matters

From the BBC via the ABC :
An international team of astronomers says it has discovered an object that appears to be a galaxy without stars.

The galaxy seems to be an astronomical case of arrested development.

Galaxies are usually vast cosmic islands of stars, with the milky way galaxy home to around 100 billion stars.

But the newly discovered galaxy, in the constellation Virgo, seems to have none.

However it does have hydrogen gas, from which stars are made, and there is enough there to make a 100 million stars.

But for some reason stars never formed and astronomers using radio telescopes have instead found a giant gas cloud.

They have also worked out that for every tonne of hydrogen in the galaxy, there is another 1,000 tonnes of so-called dark matter whose identity is one of the great puzzles of modern astronomy.
What is Dark Matter? Well although the blog The Stupid Shall Be Punished says this :
I expect A. E. Brain will have a more substantive post on this later
He's really covered it in sufficient detail, yet remained concise and pithy. I can't subtantially improve on his article, with the URLs on the theoretical background, and I recommend you go there and read the whole thing. I'll wait.

One caution : from the New Scientist :
But far from answering all the questions, VIRGOHI21 is throwing up a number of new ones. One concerns its mass. While the newly discovered galaxy is certainly dark, it may not be the dwarf that astrophysicists were hoping for.

If galaxies were made up only of ordinary matter, their speed of rotation would tear them apart. The extra mass needed to provide the gravitational pull that holds them together is generally thought to come from what is called dark matter.

When Minchin's team measured the speed of rotation of the hydrogen gas in VIRGOHI21, they found that it would have to contain about one-tenth of the dark matter of the Milky Way. But if that is so, it should also have a hundred times as much hydrogen gas as they actually detected. Far from being a dwarf, VIRGOHI21 seems to be a giant in its own right.

Merrifield says that the shortfall in the observed amount of hydrogen may mean that what Minchin and his team have seen is not a dark galaxy after all. "Their story doesn't quite hang together, and I would speculate that they have been fooled by two passing hydrogen clouds." The difference in speed as one passes the other would give the illusion of rotation, he says.

But Minchin is sticking to his guns. "There are so few known hydrogen clouds that to find two together would be extremely unlikely." He thinks they may have underestimated the mass of hydrogen in the dark galaxy. If ultraviolet light from distant quasars were ionising a large proportion of the hydrogen atoms, the gas would be rendered invisible to radio telescopes.
The numbers don't add up: either we, for some unlikely and arcane reason, aren't detecting the amount of hydrogen that's actually there, or our understanding of the whole dark matter (pardon the pun) is fundamentally wrong, or it's an improbable cosmic coincidence. It's certain that our knowledge is incomplete, but by no means certain that it's that incomplete.

Until we find evidence of quaser-UV-induced ionisation (but how would we know?), or setup a really long baseline interferometer (which would give a much higher definition picture), I think this one will remain a puzzle. Considering the distances involved, it's not exactly likely we'll be going to the immediate vicinity any time soon to have a squizz at it "up close and personal".

And by "Really" Long, I don't mean merely a VLB (Very Long Baseline) one, I mean something rather larger. More like what some people are contemplating for optical work. Something with a baseline not in kilometres, or megametres, but Astronomical Units. It's doable with today's technology - and a few billion dollars.

Make it Radio-frequency rather than optical (so data rate and hence power requirement is low), and you can use a brace of quite small birds, each with an inflatable reflective dish antenna. Put them at 1 AU distance instead of hundreds (so you can get power with even a small solar cell array), and the cost might even be in the low hundreds of millions, including launch costs. Put them only as far as Geostationary Orbit, so you can piggy-back on a ComSat heading out that way, and the cost could be less than a hundred million for a 5-year lifespan, based on my experience with FedSat. That close, and we could use GPS for really accurate 3-D positioning too, making them even cheaper. Now they'd not be as spectacular as Hubble, but possibly just as useful for Radio Astronomers, and as a project, vastly cheaper and less risky. Nowhere near as good as a 200-AU baseline array, but dramatically better than anything we could ever build on Earth.

If only Australia hadn't abandoned its space programme again, this is the type of thing that we could and should be doing. Something that might even pay its way or (Gadzooks!) make a profit from on-selling the data.

Of course an array of such birds, with antennae pointed the other way, might make very good SigInt (Signals Intelligence - Eavesdroppers) military satellites too. So we may even be able to use off-the-shelf parts, assuming some of these Dark Stars and Black Projects already exist. And if not, well, maybe the Military might be interested in subsidising a few extra birds, for their own use.

Dark matters indeed.

The Desktop Strikes Back

Bad DayThere's a classic surveillance video, called A Bad Day, showing a poor, defenceless computer being attacked by a berserk user. (Larger version available here.)

Alas, as you may have surmised, it's too good to be true. :
When Bad Day debuted, it was thought to be a candid mini-psychodrama showing the stress endured by the modern worker. It turned out to be an advertising clip for an office surveillance company.
But now there's a short online video of a similar situation, showing what would happen with today's new, vicious security measures in action.


Hat Tip : Utterly Boring

Thursday 24 February 2005

Losing Track

Go to any satellite tracking web page, and this is what you're likely to get:
Due to existing National Security Restrictions pertaining to access of and use of U.S. Government-provided information and data, all users accessing this web site must be an approved registered user to access data on this site.
Note: We sincerely regret that due to changes in federal regulations we are no longer able to publish ISS pass predictions!
NASA Spacelink :
NASA Spacelink has Moved
NASA Spacelink and other information providers across NASA are moving content into the NASA home page. The NASA home page is now the best place to find the type of content you have come to expect from Spacelink. The Spacelink team looks forward to serving you through NASA's premier Web site
But if you go to the NASA site, there's nothing on satellite tracking. Nada. Zip. Tiddly-squat. Bugger all.

Why? From CelesTrack:
As a result of legislation passed by the US Congress and signed into law on 2003 November 24 (Public Law 108-136, Section 913[PDF]), Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) has embarked on a three-year pilot program to provide space surveillance data—including NORAD two-line element sets (TLEs)—to non-US government entities (NUGE). This service was to be established "not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment" of Section 913 or by 2004 May 22 (paragraph (i)). AFSPC officials have indicated that the NASA OIG web site—which is the source of CelesTrak's data—would be operated until 2004 October 1 (less than two months from today) to allow users to get the information necessary to plan their transition to this new data service. This transition time is extremely important because Public Law 108-136 prohibits the redistribution of the data obtained from this new NUGE service "without the express approval of the Secretary" [of Defense] (paragraph (d)(2)).

Unfortunately, as of this date, AFSPC has yet to establish this service or even notify the satellite user community of the pending change in data dissemination practices. As a result, there is no information on the timeline for the transition, the process required to obtain access to the new system, the policies regarding who can obtain data, how much they can obtain, and how frequently, or even the specific system processes required for users to integrate the new data source into their existing processes. Without this information and sufficient time to notify users and allow them to implement the necessary changes, a wide variety of current satellite operations activities may be adversely impacted.
Update #10 (2005 February 11): After a week without any new data from the NASA/GSFC OIG web site, the following notice was posted there today:
The OIG web site has encountered severe technical difficulties which cannot be overcome. The OIG web site will continue to run a once per day update of TLEs. Real time updates cannot be done. Please go to the Space-Track web site for real time data. The OIG site will be permanently disabled on 3/31/05. If other problems are encountered to render the site useless, a notice will be posted to the Space-Track web site. 02/11/2005
Update #11 (2005 February 14):...The following notice was posted on the NASA OIG web site today:
As of February 10, 2005 the NASA/GSFC OIG web site experienced non-recoverable hardware and software failures. As of Monday 2/14/05 no further attempts to recover the system will be made. Please go to the Space-Track web site for TLE information. 02/14/2005
It appears there will be no new data from NASA, despite the promise of a 90-day transition period.
HobbySpace has an accurate summary.
Congress, in its collective ham-fisted oafishness, dictated after 9/11 that the government place restrictions on access to spacecraft tracking information. Apparently, this will keep terrorists from shooting down comsats with RPGs.

Such access previously has been free and easily obtained from NORAD. Various services redistributed the tracking data to astronomers, satellite tracking hobbyists, space radio enthusiasts, etc. Tracking programs such as CelesTrak, for example, can automatically update their satellite tracking elements.

Recently, however, a NASA site that provided tracking data has gone off-line, despite a promise of a 90 day transition period. Users must now go to Space-Track to obtain the data. This only requires a free registration but users are not allowed to redistribute the tracking elements. So all those web sites and tracking programs out there will no longer be able to provide current data, at least if they are US based.

See, for example, SatPasses, which provided tracking predictions as to when the ISS would pass over US cities. Now the site says:
Note: We sincerely regret that due to changes in federal regulations we are no longer able to publish ISS pass predictions!
I'm sure the ISS astronauts now feel much, much safer from terrorist assaults!
Congress once again shows that it is incapable of making sensible policies with respect to space that carefully and effectively targets the particular problem without causing devastating collateral damage to nearby legitimate activity.
So right now, thanks to ill-thought-out legislation, a replacement well behind schedule, and a catastrophic hardware and software failure of the "temporary fix", the Internet is a Trackless Waste.

Hat Tip Transterrestrial Musings

Tuesday 22 February 2005

Our Enemies, Our Allies

Nicholson CartoonNot so long ago, the Iraqi nation was at war with Australia. But the pinacle of military achievement (pace Sun Tsu*) is not to win without fighting, it's to convert an Enemy into an Ally.

As mentioned over at The Command Post and elsewhere, Australian PM John Howard has just boosted Australia's military commitment to Iraq by about 50%. Why? Well, here's one reason :
"Unless additional security could be provided to replace the Dutch, then there was a real possibility the Japanese could no longer remain there and that would be a serious blow to the coalition effort," Mr Howard said.
It's to help out a friend. No, not the USA, nor even the Iraqis (though I'll get to them later), it's to help out the Japanese, and in particular, the current interventionist Japanese Government, who have come under severe criticism at home for being far too Anti-Fascist. It's a favour to a mate. A mate who (quite un-coincidentally) happens to run a farnarckling huge trade deficit with us, just as we run an equally huge deficit with the USA. And a mate who, like us, is deeply concerned about the Mad Regime of Pyongyang, but unlike us may actually be in range of some of their Nukes.

But it goes beyond that. Again, to quote Johnny Howard :
"The Government believes that Iraq is very much at a tilting point and it's very important that the opportunity of democracy, not only in Iraq but also in other parts of the Middle East, be seized and consolidated," he said.
You Break it, you Buy it. We helped break the National Socialist Dictatorship in Iraq, just as we helped break the Theocratic Fascist regime that had dominated Japan since the early 30's, and the National Socialist Dictatorship of Germany of the same era. It therefore is our ethical responsibility to help install a new system. The Iraqis, by their magnificent performance during the election (and at considerable personal risk to themselves) have done their part, and we owe them big time to help as much as is feasible.
The circumstances have changed and it is now four-and-a-half-weeks since the Iraq election and we have to respond to those changed circumstances," he said.

"Self-evidently we would have liked the major combat to have gone differently ... [but] coalition withdrawal or defeat is unimaginable."
"It will take time and if we were to see a crumbling of coalition commitment, I think the likelihood of Iraq completing the transition to democracy would be absolutely non-existent," he said.
The point is, the attacks on the Iraqi Government, and in fact, the Iraqi populace in general, haven't abaited. It looks like the Nazis Ba'athists have decided that it if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and now see their only chance of getting even a few crumbs of the political cake is to co-operate, and become just another political party. Frankly, I think they're having themselves on. We're in no mood to accept anything other than "Unconditional surrender", and more to the point, neither are the Iraqis.

Yet the suicide bombings, the mortar attacks and so on continue. Why? Well, the opposition to the occupation of Iraq consists of 4 different and rather mutually antagonistic forces.

The first are Iraqi Nationalists of all political stripes, who quite understandably object to their country being occupied, no matter what the circumstances.

The second are the Sunni tribes, fearful of Shiite revenge for all the past oppression they've been subject to at Sunni hands, and in fear for their lives. It's not so much a religious as a tribal thing - Iraqis in general don't consider themselves primarily "Sunni" or "Shiite", they consider themselves Iraqis, much as Americans consider themselves Americans first, rather than Catholic or Protestant, Mormon or Jew.

The third group are the Ba'athists, former top dogs who are desperately trying to regain their lost power. Thoroughly entangled with the second group, but still a small subset of them.

The last are mainly foreign Jihadis, who just want to Kill the Heretics, Apostates, Unbelievers, and in general, everyone on the planet who doesn't share their eccentric beliefs, and see Iraq as being a good place to die. Or kill. It's all the same to them. It also includes the various Iranian and Syrian Spooks sent in as the first line of defence against any US-led "regime change" in their respective countries.

The first group - with the usual few fanatical exceptions - have seen that their popular support is weak, and dwindling. They don't represent the views of the Iraqi People as a whole, just a segment of them, and this became obvious at the time of the election. It's they, the true "Resistance", who are being spoken to now.

The Americans should be good at this - because a substantial minority of Americans, would be likely to do the same in their shoes**. Even that perenially clue-free zone, Michael Moore, glimpsed this truth when he said this about the Iraqi resistance
The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not "insurgents" or "terrorists" or "The Enemy." They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win!
Of course, like all of Michael Moore's work, there's a grain of truth buried in copious quantities of great, fragrant, steaming piles of bovine excrement.

The second group now have a mountain of evidence that a Bloodbath against the Sunni tribes just isn't going to happen. Despite repeated and extreme provocation, the Shiites have conducted no anti-Sunni pogroms. Not merely that, but the Moqtada Al-Sadr Bad Boys got their clocks cleaned by the US of A, and are now a spent force, militarily, morally, and at the ballot box, with only 2 representatives elected out of 270-odd in the governing council. These Sunni tribes - and at the risk of being repetitious, it's a tribal thing, rather than a religious one - are fighting simply because they don't know what else to do, they're desperate. The Shiite forebearance is lessening the sense of desperation, and therefore removing the reason to fight.

These two groups are the people that we are trying to get to participate in a peaceful manner in the new Iraqi government. Participation of the second group is essential in the long term, and everyone now knows it, the Shiites included.

As for the third group, the Ba'athists - their attacks are using the IRA/Sinn Fein technique of fighting while negotiating. The more obnoxious they are, the more concessions they can wring at the bargaining table by promising to cease fighting. This is a classic strategy, and usually works. It worked for people as disparate as the Irgun and Hagganah against the British in post-war Palestine, it worked for the IRA in Northern Ireland, for a time it even worked for Arafat and Co. But it doesn't work against people whose blood is up (as Sinn Fein is just finding out). The Kurds (for one) think that the only Good Ba'athist is a Dead Ba'athist, and the odds of National Socialist Ba'ath party ever being legalised and brought into the mainstream of Iraqi political life, even as a small splinter group, are probably even slimmer than a resurgent NSDAP getting a seat in the Bundestag in Germany.

Ain't. Gonna. Happen.

Even if the rest of the Coalition went for it, the Iraqis aren't going to stand for it. And at the election, they earned the right for their wishes to be paramount. Not "listened to" or "consulted with". To be obeyed, without demur.

The real trick is going to be to separate the Ba'athists from the Sunni Tribes. Tricky, as the leaders of one are often the leaders of the other. This again is no doubt the subject of current negotiations - how many designated scapegoats will be enough to satisfy the Kurds? Those so designated are unlikely to go quietly, the Sunni tribes may have to give up the bodies, rather than live war criminals.

The last group, mainly Al-Qaeda-by-any-other-name, well, considering their public "No Surrender!" attitude, rather a lot of their senior hierarchy have been surrendering recently. It's only the small fry that fight to the death, become suicide bombers (and sometimes assisted-suicide bombers). Although they're sometimes useful because of their intelligence value, frankly, they're an embarressment to everybody. In the war against Al Qaeda, we don't want them to surrender, nor to become friends and allies (unless they cease being what they are - see below). We just require them to die. It's their children and grandchildren that we may have a hope of salvaging.

Yemen may have the right idea. After two or three years of patient theological disputation, they have a high conversion rate from Fanatical Heretical Killer to Decent Islamic Human Being. But it's a gamble, and Westerners such as myself could be forgiven for thinking that such "redemption" is probably temporary. Personally, I'd like to see how they go with small numbers over a period of 10 years before using it more widely, but maybe I'm too cynical. It's certainly supremely ironic that such an archetypically forgiving Christian approach should be used by rather orthodox Muslims. If they can pull it off, then they will have attained the most difficult, but worthwhile goal - that of converting Liabilities into Assets, Enemies into Friends, Monsters into Human Beings, and a Sow's ear into a Silk Purse. I wish them the Best of British Luck.***

So,as John Howard said, the situation has changed. The "resistance" hasn't evaporated as completely as it has in, say Afghanistan. But it has lessened so much that Australia can realistically commit over 10% of its effective ground forces in -theatre, something it was unable to promise and guarantee to deliver before. The additional troops won't be there for some "token" or "symbolic" reason, nor to sway any election one way or another, they'll be there for purely practical reasons. They can do good, and at relatively small risk. Australia just does not have the resources to commit to significant "peacekeeping" in Iraq, as well as the Eastern Solomons, Bougainville, Timor Leste, relief operations continuing in Aceh, and all the other commitments we have. Our total armed forces, Army, Navy, and Air Force combined number less than 50,000, and we have only 8 regular battalions. But this much we can do. We can provide local security in a small number of areas, and we can provide training. All in the cause of converting a former enemy, Iraq, into a future friend.

To see how well that can work, remember who we're guarding, the nation whose engineers we'll be protecting as they go about constructing bridges and rail-lines. There are still some Australians living with personal experience of Japanese construction projects. Ones where tens of thousands of prisoners were worked to death, or beheaded at a whim. There are also people like my in-laws whose brothers, fiances, husbands or sons were taken prisoner and used as "food-on-the-hoof" by starving Japanese soldiers in New Guinea - not something that's often mentioned in history books.

These Jihadis do not have the faintest idea of the type of people they're up against, nor the nine kinds of hell the ANZACS and USMC in particular went through in the Pacific theatre. Suicide attacks and beheadings don't impress us overmuch, and compared with the Japanese in the 1940's, Al Qaeda is really second-rate.

But now the sons and duaghters, grandsons and grand-daughters of the people who screamed "Tenno Banzai!" are on our side. They're building bridges, in more ways than one, and not casually slaughtering anyone in their way. We've been here before.

Finally - and as something of an afterthought, I'm afraid, we'll be supporting our mate, the USA. We're sending in troops for our own purely selfish reasons of course, out of a sense of responsibility and for practical geopolitical considerations "in our own national interest". But we're not averse to receiving the many expressions of gratitude that have already come from people in the USA. Expressions that no doubt will come in handy one of these days, maybe the next time the US agribusiness lobby tries to do something that will hurt us. We might even have made a few new friends and allies in rural America, people who otherwise might not have seen things our way.

Sometimes you can do well while doing good.

* Sun Tsu's "Art of War" Chapter 3, Para 2 :
Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

** For example, Stephen Decatur. I myself prefer G.K.Chesterton's take on the subject.

*** UK readers will know what I mean. For others, it's traditionally said when someone is attempting something next-to or actually impossible. "I'm building a Moon Rocket in my backyard." - "And the Best of British Luck!".

Cartoon courtesy of Nicholson of "The Australian" newspaper: and used with permission

Mars on Ice

From the ABC :
A frozen sea surviving as blocks of pack ice may lie just beneath the surface of Mars, New Scientist magazine says, citing observations from Europe's Mars Express spacecraft.

Images from the high-resolution stereo camera on Mars Express show off structures called plates that look similar to ice formations near earth's poles.

These plates could indicate the first discovery of a large body of water beyond Mars' polar ice caps, the review says.

The team of researchers, led by John Murray of Britain's Open University, estimated the possible submerged ice sea to be about 800 by 900 kilometres in size and 45 metres deep on average.

The researchers say the evidence suggests that the plates are about 5 million years old.

They believe they are not just imprints left by ice that has now completely vanished.
The discovery was to be presented on Friday at the first Mars Express science conference in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

In their paper, the researchers traced a possible history for Mars's underground ice, saying it began with huge masses of ice floating in water that were later covered with volcanic ash, leaving the pack ice plates behind.

"If the reported hypothesis is true, then this would be a prime candidate landing site to search for possible extant life on Mars," said Brian Hynek, a research scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in the United States.
Damn right it would! But not merely that, water in truly significant quantities - we're talking about a frozen ocean here - would make the terraforming of the joint entirely feasible with present-day technology.

OK, it may take a thousand years or so to implement, and Mars isn't a goer in the long-term as it's too small to hold a decent atmosphere for very long (geologically speaking), but if the hypothesis is confirmed, it would be a Big Deal. Time to send a drilling robot there, I'd say. With colonists to follow within a century, if they hit paydirt.

It's early days yet, the whole thing may well be a non-starter. But the payoff is so huge that it's worth reporting on, even if the probability is low.

Get Your Twangers Out

Back in the 70's, there was a children's TV programme in the UK called "Rainbow". But sometimes the dialogue was strictly Adults Only, and it's difficult to believe they got away with it at the time.

From Woolamaloo (not to be confused with the Sydney Surburb with a similar name), comes a few megabytes of extremely unsubtle double entendre. How unsubtle? So unsubtle that I daren't give any quotes, otherwise this blog would be banned by virtually every nanny-filter on the planet - and deservedly so.

Fault-Tolerant Customers

From an article by Paul Robinson in the Risks Digest :
I had sort of a revelation this afternoon when I think I finally figured what it was that I knew was a missing piece and the explanation.

And it also came to me as to why we have such a horrible problem with software reliability. Let me ask you to take a moment and consider how you started this morning.

Most likely, you crawled out of your cave, went down to the stream to bathe in the ice-cold water, came back and pulled the wheat out of the ground,stripped the chaff, then used either a mortar and pestle or a grindstone to make flour, then pulled some yeast from the pot to mix with it to make bread, then chopped wood, then used the wood to build a fire and baked the bread, then ground peanuts in the same mortar to make peanut butter, then spread it across the bread and ate it, because by now it was lunch, no?

No, most likely you got out of a bed, got up and took a hot shower in your indoor bathroom, poured boxed cereal into a bowl or made breakfast from materials you bought in a store, then cooked it on a range, or went to a restaurant and bought something to eat, then went on to work, and probably in this entire time you did nothing more strenuous than pick up the morning paper.

Also, you did not mine the ore for your utensils or forge the steel for them, nor did you build the automobile you drove to work....
Thus starts a well-thought-out screed on software reliability, re-usable components, and the culture that has led to "fault-tolerant customers" rather than "fault-tolerant software". Alas, if only it was the fault of one particular firm: instead it's the fault of the industry as a whole.

Anyway, even non-programmers, no, make that especially non-programmers should read the whole thing.

Sunday 20 February 2005

Where's the Kaboom?

There's supposed to be an Earth-Shattering Kaboom! - Marvin the Martian.

From Sam's Archive : How To Destroy the Earth.
Marvin the MartianDestroying the Earth is harder than you may have been led to believe.

You've seen the action movies where the bad guy threatens to destroy the Earth. You've heard people on the news claiming that the next nuclear war or cutting down rainforests or persisting in releasing hideous quantities of pollution into the atmosphere threatens to end the world.


The Earth was built to last. It is a 4,550,000,000-year-old, 5,973,600,000,000,000,000,000-tonne ball of iron. It has taken more devastating asteroid hits in its lifetime than you've had hot dinners, and lo, it still orbits merrily. So my first piece of advice to you, dear would-be Earth-destroyer, is: do NOT think this will be easy.
But he provides a number of ways, anyway. Some require a bit of patience though.
Method: If by some insane chance, the expansion of the Sun into its Red Giant stage does not destroy the Earth (perhaps somebody moved the Earth out of the way in time), then there's still no need to fret. Protons, while incredibly stable, eventually decay like any other particle. Simply wait for a period of time of the order of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years, and roughly half of the constituent particles of Earth will have decayed into positrons and pions. If that's still too much like a planet for you, you could wait for another 1036 years, leaving only a quarter of the original Earth. Or wait even longer. Eventually there will be as little of Earth left as you wish.

Shuttle May Return to Space

From the ABC :
NASA has set May 15 as the launch date for the first shuttle mission since the Columbia accident two years ago.

"The challenge right now is closure of an awful lot of paper. The vehicle can't launch until all the paperwork is done," Bill Readdy, NASA's associate administrator for space operations, said.

"I know that sounds a little bit trivial," he said.

"But documentation of each and every thing we do is very important."

The board that investigated the fatal 2003 Columbia accident recommended NASA make 15 changes before resuming shuttle flights.
A special panel overseeing NASA's implementation of the accident board's findings says NASA has fulfilled seven recommendations fully and one conditionally.

The outstanding items will be considered at the board's planned final meeting at the end of March.

"We have every expectation that we are going to close all of them," Mr Readdy said.

"At this point, we don't see any show stoppers."

Walter Cantrell, who co-chairs NASA's Space Flight Leadership Council with Mr Readdy, says it has set all its standards a level or two higher than the oversight board.

"Obviously we're going to comply with what [they] are looking for. We're the ones that accept the risk, and we've set the standard where we think it should be," he said.

May 15 was chosen as the launch date for Discovery and its seven member crew because of lighting conditions and thermal issues related to the shuttle's launch and docking at the International Space Station.

NASA managers also set July 12 as the date for the second shuttle mission this year.

However, in case of an emergency aboard the Discovery, Mr Readdy says a second ship could be ready to be launched on a rescue mission as early as June 14.

As part of the safety upgrades implemented after the Columbia disaster, NASA wants to be able to shelter astronauts aboard the space station if their ship is too damaged to return to Earth.

Extra supplies will be flown to the space station on February 28.
I'm in two minds about this, the devil's in the details, details I know little about.
It's certainly good that NASA is thinking a bit more about "what do we do if things go wrong?" this time. But the basic problem is that the Space Shuttle is just too darned expensive and inefficient as a reliable space transportation system. It needs mending with a new one, even assuming that all the fatal kinks have been ironed out - which is a reasonable assumption, but not a proven fact.

Meanwhile, the only crewed space vehicle in development by the US is the CEV - the Crewed Exploration Vehicle. From :
CEV-BoeingContractors are now busy at work on blueprinting CEV designs. NASA is expected to pick two prime teams later this year for preliminary CEV design and risk reduction flight test programs.

In 2008, the selected contractors will carry out unpiloted "boilerplate" CEV trial runs.

This risk reduction effort will lead NASA CEV project officials to select one contractor in 2008 to build the CEV for Spiral 1. More capable flight tests of the CEV are planned for 2011, also without crew. The first human flight of the CEV is slated for 2014.
So providing nothing whatsoever goes wrong, there's a 9-year gap that the Shuttle must fill. And at the end of the gap, the replacement's crewed section will most likely look more like a Soyuz or Apollo capsule, than a spaceplane - see below.

Shuttle vs CEV

More graphics of various concepts by Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and NASA are at Project Constellation's CEV Concept Gallery. It looks like we're going back to the ballistic-capsule method for returning crew to Earth. On the other hand, the capsule is only part of the system as a whole. The CEV is most emphatically not primarily for getting into LEO (Low Earth Orbit) and returning, unlike the Shuttle. It's an Exploration vehicle, with many mission-specific modules, designed to go to the Moon and beyond.

Sometimes Back to the Past is Back to the Future.

Saturday 19 February 2005

The Unbelievers

Seen via Normblog, the Skeptics Circle.
The Skeptics' Circle is a biweekly carnival for bloggers who apply critical thought to questionable stories. Subjects include frequently repeated urban legends, quackery, pseudoscience, misinterpreted or denied history, analyses of misleading media, and any other articles or essays that fight misinformation with facts.

Lots of Bloggy goodness here. For example, at the very First Circle, there's an article on Holocaust Denial, as well as a particularly good Medblog, The Examining Room of Dr Charles. As some of my regular readers are in the Medical Profession (you know who you are), you may find this one particularly interesting. Though some of the particles are a bit icky.

But that's (black) comedy relief. It didn't take too much following of links to find this article on another aspect of Medicine.
If you are going to help someone with a terminal illness, you have to know their goals. Do they want to - no matter what - die at home? Do they want to fight until their last breath? Are they willing to trade some of their precious time to ensure that the time they do have left is quality time (example: would they rather take chemo to slow tumor growth, be sick most every day of the rest of their life, and live for about a year - or - quit chemo, feel good for a month or so, and die within six months)? Is the patient's only goal to walk his daughter down the aisle later this year even if that means that every day between now and then is lived in pain and discomfort? You don'™t know what the patient wants until you ask the questions and listen to the answers. Yes, you probably know what you would want if it was you, but the truth is that it is not you so your opinion is no longer important. It is your patient's life, so let them decide how it should be lived and help make that happen.
I think things like this make me a little impatient with much of Idiotarian Academe. There are plenty of, for want of a better term, Adults, out there who have to think about things like this every day. It's not some hypothetical, nor an abstract problem. And it's not just people who work in Intensive Care Units, nor Hospices or Oncology wards. There would be few General Practitioners who wouldn't at some stage of their careers have had an icy hollow in the pit of their stomach when doing a routine examination of a patient for some minor complaint, and unexpectedly finding one of Nature's Lethal Little Jokes.

If I was pondering what would be the ethical, the just thing to do in a difficult situation where thousands of lives were at stake - such as the Iraq War - I'd trust an Oncology Nurse far more than any Academic, no matter how widely-read.

In some ways it's ironic the career path that I've chosen. One of the reasons I didn't enter Medicine was because I'd had a good hard think about what I'd do the first time my incompetence, exhaustion, or sheer imperfection due to being human ended up with a patient dead. Because it happens, it's almost certain to happen. People, no matter how good, make mistakes. Sometimes there's not enough evidence to be sure of a conclusion, you have to make an informed guess, and sometimes you get it wrong.

Now when that means you lose a little money on the stock market or whatever, that's too bad. But in medicine, it means that someone may die.

Anyone not prepared to take the consequences of their own failure, to shake themselves off and move on to the next case, so as to do the most good, should never take up the practice of Medicine.

As a student just leaving High School, I had a good think, and decided I'd be unable to live with myself. So I took up Physics, hoping to get into Astronomy, before Computer Science got me hooked (but that's another story).

As for Ironic? Well, there must be several thousand people whose lives directly or indirectly depend on whether the work I did, sometimes as long as 20 years ago, was good enough. So far I've been lucky. The two people whose deaths are directly attributable to work I did were enemy pilots, killed as the result of war. And I'm told there's more than a handful saved by SAR (Search And Rescue) Algorithms I came up with when I realised that there were similarities with certain well-known and solved problems in Anti-Submarine Warfare search patterns.

But compared to, say, Ambulance drivers, or even Pathology Lab technicians, I've got it easy, and count my blessings.

Computer Security - A Visual Lesson


Friday 18 February 2005

It's Been Scientifically Proven!

From MEMRI, via Cumudgeon's Corner :
The following are excerpts from an interview with Dr. Abd Al-Baset Al-Sayyed of the Egyptian National Research Center. Al-Majd TV aired this interview on January 16, 2005

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: The centrality [of Mecca] has been proven scientifically. How? When they traveled to outer space and took pictures of the earth, they saw that it is a dark, hanging sphere. The man said, "Earth is a dark hanging sphere – who hung it?"

Interviewer: Who said that?

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: [Neil] Armstrong. Armstrong was basically trying to say: Allah is the one who hung it. They discovered that Earth emits radiation, and they wrote about this on the web. They left the item there for 21 days, and then they made it disappear.

Interviewer: Why did they make it disappear?

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: There was intent there…

Interviewer: So it may be said that this suppression of information was significant.

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: It was very significant, since…the Ka'ba [in Mecca]… They said it emits radiation. This radiation is short-wave.

When they discovered this radiation, they started to zoom in, and they found that it emanates from Mecca – and, to be precise, from the Ka'ba.

Interviewer: My God!!

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: It was said…

Interviewer: Does this radiation have an effect?

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: They found that this radiation is infinite. When they reached Mars and began to take pictures, they found that the radiation continues beyond. They said that the wavelength known to us… or rather the shortness of the wavelength known to us… This radiation had a special characteristic: It is infinite, and I believe that the reason is that this radiation connects the [earthly] Ka'ba with the celestial Ka'ba.

Imagine that you are the North Pole and I am the South Pole – in the middle there's what is called the magnetic equilibrium zone. If you place a compass there, the needle won't move.

Interviewer: You mean that the pull is equal from both sides?

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: Yes, and that's why it's called zero-magnetism zone, since the magnetic force has no effect there. That's why if someone travels to Mecca or lives there, he lives longer, is healthier, and is less affected by Earth's gravity. That's why when you circle the Ka'ba, you get charged with energy.

Interviewer: Allah be praised.

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: Yes, this is a fact.
This is a scientific fact…

Interviewer: Because you are distant from…

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: Earth's magnetic fields have no effect on you in this case.

There's a study that proves that the black basalt rocks in Mecca are the oldest rocks in the world. This is the truth.

Interviewer: The oldest rocks? Yes. Has this been proved scientifically?

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: It's been scientifically proven, and the study has been published.

Interviewer: They took basalt rocks from Mecca…

Dr. 'Abd Al-Baset Sayyid: …Basalt rocks from Mecca, and investigated the places where they were formed.

In the British Museum there are three pieces of the black stone [from the Ka'ba] …and they said that this rock didn't come from our solar system.
I've already sent an e-mail about this to the Egyptian National Research Centre, and I'll update this post should I ever get a reply.

Thursday 17 February 2005

Told Ya

From The Australian :
Blog pundits claim CNN scalp
Of course, they've got it wrong : the idea wasn't to cause Eason Jordon to fall on his sword, it was to get what he said published, and let whatever consequences flow from that to happen however they may. You know, what bloggers were doing was reporting stuff. Most Journalists used to do the same, at one time, and some still do.

But at least Australian readers of this blog would have gotten the inside story, and in much greater detail, on the 8th, with analysis on the 13th. So The Australian is only a week behind. OK, 8 days, tops.

The Sentineli

This one's an article I promised back in January.

The recent massive earthquake in the Indian Ocean - now thought to have registered 9.3 on the open-ended richter scale - briefly brought a very isolated people into the limelight.

The people are the Sentineli, who voluntarily cut themselves off from the mainstream of humanity a long time ago. Most likely about 40,000 years ago, in fact.
From :
They are the quintessential Andamanese: to this day they live their primitive but comfortable and unhurried lives in complete isolation on a small island, they are hostile to all outsiders and they do not wish to change this state of affairs. Violence is the traditional way to ensure the undisturbed enjoyment of their way of life: even today, give the chance, they would kill strangers outright and they still hide from landing parties that look too strong to fight.
The island and its inhabitants have enjoyed a peculiarly charmed existence. Apart from a few brief visits during their 90-year rule, the British took very little interest in the island and for decades at a time seemed to forget its existence altogether. The Japanese were not long enough in the Andamans to meddle, especially since the island had no strategic importance. The Indians, too, took some years before noticing their forgotten island. The first official census after independence 1949 in 1951 failed to mention the Sentineli altogether.
Their charmed existence continues: the earthquake significantly enlarged their rather crowded island - it was on the landmass that rose rather than fell - and the sea turtles are coming back.

The Sentineli are Negritos - or, in somewhat un-PC terms, Pygmies. Dark skinned, curley haired, and short. Except that these people are tall pygmies. Again, from :
Even if we take the higest estimate of 500, how do they manage without all sorts of inbreeeding problems? And manage they do! Observations from off-shore Indian boat throwing gift coconuts into the water for the Sentineli to pick up have revealed them to be an extremely healthy, alert, wide-awake and cheerful people. They just do not like visitors. Quite a number of children have also been observed on such occasions and their average body size seems to be so tall ("seems to" because nobody has yet been close enough to lay a measuring tape on a Sentineli or stand next to one for comparison) that "pygmy" is probably a mis-nomer in their case. They all seem extremely healthy indeed.
[A Geneticist comments] Human evolution is fascinating and nothing that you say is a simple question of medical genetics. On the other hand, it is well known that reduction in genetic diversity (for example in the Pacific) led to a reduction in immunity against certain infectious diseases, and in the increased prevalence of diseases such as diabetes. It is well known, that the Polynesians went through a very tough genetic bottleneck, possibly stricter than the Sentineli. But the numbers recovered after their initial bottleneck and they were able to settle the whole of the Pacific.
The Sentineli are particularly enigmatic. We know a bit more about the other Andamanese islanders, and they are a peculiar bunch in their own right.
Inhabitants of the Andaman Islands, a remote archipelago east of India, are direct descendants of the first modern humans to have inhabited Asia, geneticists conclude in a new study.

But the islanders lack a distinctive genetic feature found among Australian aborigines, another early group to leave Africa, suggesting they were part of a separate exodus.

The Andaman Islanders are "arguably the most enigmatic people on our planet," a team of geneticists led by Dr. Erika Hagelberg of the University of Oslo write in the journal Current Biology.

Their physical features - short stature, dark skin, peppercorn hair and large buttocks - are characteristic of African Pygmies. "They look like they belong in Africa, but here they are sitting in this island chain in the middle of the Indian Ocean," said Dr. Peter Underhill of Stanford University, a co-author of the new report.

Adding to the puzzle is that their language, according to Joseph Greenberg, who, before his death in 2001, classified the world's languages, belongs to a family that includes those of Tasmania, Papua New Guinea and Melanesia.
Examination of DNA also reveals an interesting (pre)History :
Genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA, a genetic element passed down only through women, shows that the Onge and Jarawa people belong to a lineage, known as M, that is common throughout Asia, the geneticists say. This establishes them as Asians, not Africans, among whom a different mitochondrial lineage, called L, is dominant.

The geneticists then looked at the Y chromosome, which is passed down only through men and often gives a more detailed picture of genetic history than the mitochondrial DNA. The Onge and Jarawa men turned out to carry a special change or mutation in the DNA of their Y chromosome that is thought to be indicative of the Paleolithic population of Asia, the hunters and gatherers who preceded the first human settlements.

The mutation, known as Marker 174, occurs among ethnic groups at the periphery of Asia who avoided being swamped by the populations that spread after the agricultural revolution that occurred about 8,000 years ago. It is found in many Japanese, in the Tibetans of the Himalayas and among isolated people of Southeast Asia, like the Hmong.

The discovery of Marker 174 among the Andamanese suggests that they too are part of this relict Paleolithic population, descended from the first modern humans to leave Africa.

Dr. Underhill, an expert on the genetic history of the Y chromosome, said the Paleolithic population of Asia might well have looked as African as the Onge and Jarawa do now, and that people with the appearance of present-day Asians might have emerged only later. It is also possible, he said, that their resemblance to African Pygmies is a human adaptation to living in forests that the two populations developed independently.

A finding of particular interest is that the Andamanese do not carry another Y chromosome signature, known as Marker RPS4Y, that is common among Australian aborigines.

This suggests that there were at least two separate emigrations of modern humans from Africa, Dr. Underhill said. Both probably left northeast Africa by boat 40,000 or 50,000 years ago and pushed slowly along the coastlines of the Arabian Peninsula and India. No archaeological record of these epic journeys has been found, perhaps because the world's oceans were 120 meters lower during the last ice age and the evidence of early human passage is under water.

One group of emigrants that acquired the Marker 174 mutation reached Southeast Asia, including the Andaman islands, and then moved inland and north to Japan, in Dr. Underhill's reconstruction. A second group, carrying the Marker RPS4Y, took a different fork in Southeast Asia, continuing south toward Australia.
Other pieces of the puzzle can be found in a previous article, and over at Dissecting Leftism (of all places).

Wednesday 16 February 2005

Yamato Sashimi

This one's an illustration of the nature of thought, and the Internet-aided human brain's (or in this case, a Human Brain's) capacity to form most unlikely linkages.

While leaving a comment over at Rocket Jones, in thanks for providing the link to the intriguing little translator described below, I got to thinking about the name "F5U".

Being a sometime military historian, this looked a lot like an obsolete US naval Fighter designation. F for fighter (as in F-4 Phantom), 5 as in "the fifth type of this particular aircraft (fighter etc) from that manufacturer", and U for Chance-Vought, an aircraft manufacturer. (This really odd system in described elsewhere in some detail.) A simplified version is still in use, and was adopted by the whole of the US Military in 1962. Before then, the US Army Air Force (and later US Air Force) used a similar version, ignoring the manufacturer. They'd got up to numbers over 100, as in "F-111" by 1962. The US Navy F-4 Phantom was (briefly) known in USAF service as the F-110, before the USAF decided to do things the Navy's way, and call it the F-4. That's why you have aircraft today called the "F-15", F-18" and so on, while in WW2 you had the "P-51 Mustang" (P for Pursuit, the old designation for Fighter). As you can see, the "F-111" designation shows the age of that particular design project : it pre-dates 1962.


I googled on "F5U" and got nothing but links to a particular type of computer chip. Then I remembered that the old US Navy designation for "Fighter" was "P" for Pursuit. And P's close enough to F, especially when trying to find the equivalent Roman Alphabet letter for the Japanese character "AR".

A Google on "P5U" got me a link to one of the quirkier aircraft ever built, the P5U "Flying Flapjack". Ah, Perfect! So I immediately wrote about that in the comment, I was sure it would be appreciated.

The initial site with data from FAS didn't include a picture. Now I knew from an old Webster's Encyclopedia Yearbook we acquired (it came with the house we first bought in Australia, formerly owned by a US Journalist), that you really have to see this aircraft to believe it.

P5U Flying FlapjackSo I Googled again, this time for an image. And soon found one, on a Japanese site, which fitted the whole tenor of the subject rather well.

But the Japanese site looked so interesting, that I had a traipse around it. And amongst other interesting things, I found this, which can only be described as "Yamato Sashimi".

The Yamato, by the way, is infamous amongst naval military historians as being the largest battleship ever built. SF fans may know it better through the "Star Blazers" animated series, featuring a re-floated version transformed into a Space (Battle)Ship. (The series is not long on hard science, as you can guess).

It will be a long time before can make an artificial intelligence that can do something like the above. Consider the different sources if information involved, the tenuous links between them. It's as weird and as wonderful as... Yamato Sashimi.
Yamato sashimi

P5U or 75%

Two different versions of my first name, using Japanese Characters in different fonts :

Translation courtesy of JapaneseTranslater.Co.Uk

Hat Tip : Rocket Jones

My Little Golden Book about Zogg

Via Whacking Day, The Cuddly Menace.

Interestingly, the author's political views are rather different from my own, and even further away from Tex's. But true Wit - not just humour, but intellect - transcends politics.

He's also a great example of how intelligent people can differ radically over important issues.

Stark Idiocy

From Normblog :
Cook returns to the matter of WMD, and disarming Iraq, and whether Iraq was a threat, and is then asked by the interviewer, 'Would Saddam still be there?' Here is the money passage, Cook's reply to that question:
Umm... Well, that of course... the longer the period that passes... it is now some two years since the invasion... the longer, that becomes a speculative question. Anybody who has seen Saddam Hussein emerge from his hole and has seen the disordered, deranged mind that he now has, is bound to ask whether those that were actually saying at the time of the invasion that Saddam would fall in his time, would probably have been right by now.
The answer to this speculative question, which anyone with 2 neurons to fire together will immediately come up with, is No.

When teaching, I always told my students "There's no such thing as a stupid question - the only stupidity is not to ask". But here we have proof that I was over-generalising.

The question is, is Robin Cook a complete idiot thinking that he can "fool some of the people all of the time" with this outrageous whopper, or just plain Evil. Or both.

Hell, Joe Vialls has more credibility. BTW talking of the incomparable Joe, head on over to Whacking Day for Mr Vialls latest (Zionist Elite Prepares To Desert America). Tex is performing an admirable public service, reading the inimitable Mr Vialls so you don't have to. A specimen (and I use the word in its medical sense) :
The rugged and beautiful island of Tamania [sic] is a wanted war criminal's dream. Easily defended against attack, this remote redoubt offers a climate similar to New England. Recreational activities for jaded war criminals from America and Palestine include trout fishing in the many lakes and rivers, deer hunting in the mountains, and crayfish on the coast. Once properly 'persuaded' by the Jewish Mistaravim Praetorian Guardsmen, Tasmania's more attactive females [and small boys] will be happy to gratify the wide-ranging sexual perversions of the exiles.
Joe's only publishers are rampantly anti-semitic organisations like Stormfront and a few others. Few publish him more than once.

Tuesday 15 February 2005

Still a few bugs in the system

More evidence that the ISS (International Space Station) is fulfilling a vital role in testing International Co-operation in space. From SpaceDaily :
A US-built orientation engine has failed aboard the International Space Station, leaving it uncontrollable and drifting, Russian media reported Thursday.

An undisclosed source at the Russian Mission Control Center told the ITAR-TASS news agency one of the U.S. gyrodynes, which provide precise orientation for the station, stalled Wednesday because of an incorrect command from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Russian controllers urgently switched on engines of the Russian segment of the ISS to return the station to its proper position, and orientation control was restored with the use of the U.S. gyrodynes within 5 1/2 hours, the source said, although more than 30 pounds of fuel were expended during the unplanned maneuver.
Note the emphasis on nationalities. We're still a bunch of unco-ordinated factions, not an International team. And while certain antedeluvian attitudes and management practices persist - in all factions - the situation isn't going to change for the better.

Monday 14 February 2005

One of the World's Greatest Mysteries

...will be explained on February 18th.

I refer of course to the Klingon Forehead. What did happen between the 22nd and 24th centuries?

From :
Old and New KlingonThe Klingon forehead issue is a complicated one, because it has to take into account a number of factors if one is to stay true to the Star Trek universe as previously established (related feature). The simplest theories (e.g. "southern" vs. "northern" breeds) have to be thrown out because Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reprised three Klingon characters from the Original Series — Kor, Koloth and Kang — and gave them forehead ridges in "Blood Oath." Then there was "Trials and Tribble-ations," where the crew went back in time to Station K-7, looked around and said, "Those are Klingons??" They turned to bumpy-headed Worf for an explanation, and he would only say it's a long story and "We do not discuss it with outsiders."
Well said.

For the mainstream hypotheses advanced to explain this conundrum, the Jannissary, Evolutionary, Bio-Agent, Surgical, Hybrid, Cosmetic, Q-Continuum, and "Under-Resourced Creator" hypotheses, just read the article on Klingon Discrepancy theories.

These make far more sense than some of the arguments advanced in favour of "Intelligent Design", the "Elders of Zion", or that the Rathergate memos are genuine.

Hat Tip : Alan K. Henderson over at Sasha Castel

Sunday 13 February 2005

Now Don't Worry Your Pretty Little Head About Space, Missy

It seems Chauvin is alive and well and in charge of the Russian Space programme. From MSNBC :
After addressing students at Moscow International University, Professor Anatoly Grigoryev elaborated in comments reported by Russia's RIA Novosti news agency: "After all, women are fragile and delicate creatures; that is why men should lead the way to distant planets and carry women there in their strong hands."
Permission to Barf?
Grigoryev, 61, has been director of the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems in Moscow since 1988, specializing in spaceflight's medical factors. He is an academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a member of the Presidential Council on Sciences and Education, and has enormous influence on the selection and training of all Russian space travelers.
At present there are no women among the approximately 40 cosmonauts in the Russian space program. The last female cosmonaut, Nadezhda Kuzhelnaya, resigned last year after 10 years of training to become an airline pilot. On several occasions, her flight assignments aboard Soyuz space vehicles had been withdrawn and given to millionaire passengers or astronauts from the European Space Agency.
The first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, was launched into orbit in June 1963...
Tereshkova's husband, fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev, elaborated: "Nowadays we keep our women here on earth. We love our women very much; we spare them as much as possible. However, in the future, they will surely work on board space stations, but as specialists ; as doctors, as geologists, as astronomers and, of course, as stewardesses."
As stewardesses. Of course.
Less than a month into her run, Lapierre suddenly encountered serious problems. She was twice forcibly French-kissed by the Russian team commander, and soon afterwards witnessed a 10-minute-long fight between two Russians that left blood spattered on the walls.
Following the incident, Gushin blamed Lapierre. His official report, which Lapierre has seen, saud she had "ruined the mission, the atmosphere, by refusing to be kissed." She should have been taken out, he wrote, and he also insisted that the foreigners had caused the fight.
I'd love to be present at a spirited, even vigourous conversation between some of these people and someone like HakMao.

Hat Tip : Cumudgeon's Corner

That's Entertainment

As reported in a previous article, CNN's Chief News Executive, Eason Jordan, stepped on his...., um, suffered a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease recently.

Now there's this, in CNN's Entertainment section :
CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan resigned Friday, saying the controversy over his remarks about the deaths of journalists in Iraq threatened to tarnish the network he helped build.

Jordan conceded that his remarks at the January 27 World Economic Forum were "not as clear as they should have been."
So, go looking through the CNN archives for previous reporting of this "controversy", and you get... nada. Zip. Tiddly-squat. Similarly for mainstream media outlets such as the LA Times.

Jordan is no minor corporate flunky. He was Chief News Executive of the Cable News Network. So why did he resign, especially since the transcripts and video from the conference had been blocked from release? As he's a major player in the World Economic Forum Council, selected extracts of the video that would have exhonourated him could have been obtained with a single word.

The overwhelmingly likely, even inescapable conclusion is that the problem Mr Jordan faced is that his words were "as clear as they might have been". So clear that they were (as many eyewitnesses claim) completely damning. A few minutes research on Mr Jordan's history of saying things like this would cast really severe doubts as to the credibility of the excuses he offered during his resignation.

But we'll never know, as the video won't be officially released.

What we do have is the highly entertaining story of mainstream media trying to figure out a way of reporting a major media and political event without having even hinted that the causative "controversy" existed.

Now it would take a severely irrational analyst to conclude that there was some Vast Mainstream Media Conspiracy. The problem is one of culture : there is insufficient variety of opinion in the wire services (dominated by an oligopoly of Reuters, AFP, and AP), and insufficient variety of opinion in the editorial staff of major news organisations. How bad is the problem? Not incurable, these things do tend to leak out after a while, and the Internet gives worldwide access to many of the local and regional news outlets (Podunk Pikayune-Intelligencer, Wagga Advertiser, Moose Jaw Gazette etc), as well as non-Anglospheric national papers such as the Straits Times. But the problem is bad enough so that we have things like the Eason Jordan affair, Rathergate, and so on.

The question is - what else are we missing? Not political stuff so much as other things of importance that we should be informed about, but which the monoculture of Mainstream Media editorial opinion means we never see?

Brain Shutdown as a Defence vs Rabies

Exactly 5 people are known to have survived a case of Rabies, having received innoculation after infection but before major symptoms appear. Until late last year, exactly none had survived after major symptoms appeared.

But the University of Wisconsin used an experimental technique, and the gamble paid off. From the New York Times of November 2004 :
A Wisconsin teenager is the first human ever to survive rabies without vaccination, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday, after she received a desperate and novel type of therapy.

Last month, doctors at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, put the critically ill girl into a drug-induced coma and gave her antiviral drugs, although it is not clear which, if any, of the four medicines contributed to her surprising recovery.
And from JSOnline of Nov 24 2004 :
Using an innovative approach, a team of eight specialists at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa intentionally placed Giese into a coma within an hour after her diagnosis on Oct. 19.

The goal was to protect her brain while the virus ran its course through her body, said Rodney E. Willoughby, the pediatric infectious disease physician who headed the care team.

Within three days, Giese was on a four-drug cocktail - two anti-virals that helped salvage her brain and two anesthetics. She was never given a rabies vaccine because it is considered ineffective once clinical symptoms develop.

"It was an informed gamble," Willoughby said. "We had an idea of what we wanted to do, but no one had done this in an animal model, so, yes, we jumped out of thin air."
The Rabies virus replicates inside the Central Nervous System, and does so so quickly that the body's immune system doesn't have time to mount an effective counter-offensive. By dramatically slowing down the metabolism of the brain, viral replication was reduced, giving the immune system the adequate time. The question was though, how bad would the damage from Rabies be, and would it be temporary (as theorised), or permanent?

Now there's good news and bad news. The damage is quite extensive, but indeed, it appears to be temporary.

From the Children's Health and Hospital System News of Decemeber 31, 2004 :
Although the effects of the illness - which attacks the nervous system - and the protective coma still are evident, tests conducted within the past few weeks leave Dr. Rodney Willoughby optimistic for a nearly full recovery with continued therapy.

"Medically, Jeanna is sound," Willoughby said. "On her MRI scans, there is slight evidence of her past rabies, as well as evidence for ongoing repair of her brain two months later. The MRI findings are mild enough to not be clinically important. We expect Jeanna will continue to refine her speech and coordination through therapy. She has had some extra movements that are subsiding. She's lost a lot of weight, muscle mass and flexibility that she needs to regain. We truly won't know whether her recovery is full until she shows us where her progress stops -- there's no limit currently. Intellectually, she can certainly go to back to high school and pick up where she left off."
And more recently, from ABC (the US one) news of Jauary 14 :
Thanks to that treatment, Jeanna made history by becoming the first person to ever survive rabies without receiving the vaccine. And last week, she continued rewriting the record books, going home a month before her doctors believed she could.

Her body is recovering, and her brain is now undergoing what doctors describe as a "rebirth," as it begins to rewire itself. Nerves are reconnecting to muscles and organs, including her heart.

As part of her rehabilitation, the teen is learning to use her arms and legs again and undergoing speech therapy to speak and swallow. Although she still has a long way to go, doctors continue to be amazed by her progress.
. Finally, from WBAY on February 8th :
Now, just four months after she was diagnosed with advanced rabies, Jeanna Giese is back to school.

Doctors tell us Jeanna's return to St. Mary's Springs High School in Fond du Lac is much earlier than expected.
She's still not able to play Basketball yet - the amount of brainpower required for such co-ordination is surprisingly high, compared with "higher brain functions" like composing a symphony, designing a computer network, or engaging in politics. But considering the really extensive damage, including problems with the brainstem leading to heart irregularities, such a recovery is remarkable. Yet another clue as to how much we don't understand about the mechanics of thinking.

But a teenage girl is now back at high school, with an undamaged personality and healing body, rather than being yet another medical statistic. And that makes this Brain post a rather happier one than others.

Saturday 12 February 2005

Durian DNA

Has anyone checked to make sure that the Durian really originated on this planet?

Carmel recently bought me one ($1.99 a kilo), knowing of my taste for them. And it was one of the very best I've ever tried. I don't know exactly which variety it was - Thai, yellow rather than white meat, with large seeds, and ripe before it split (so real Durian connoisseurs should be able to place it). Heavy on the garlic flavour.

The taste is indescribable. Imagine a kilo of Egg Custard, add a tablespoon of pineapple juice, add 1/4 of a cooked apple, half a pureed peach, a single strawberry, a tablespoon of butterscotch, a little each of almond and vanilla essences, then several cloves of garlic. An incredibly complex flavour that defies analysis.

When Carmel bought it, there was no detectable aroma (and she wondered why I gave her warning about the smell). Within 12 hours though, it started to hit peak ripeness, an so started to make its presence felt.

Durian banned hereThe Smell of Durian is legendary. Most hotels, airlines and so on in Southe East Asia ban the carrying of Durian anywhere near them. When just opened, the smell is puzzling, but not unpleasant. Within 30 minutes or so though, some chemical change occurs, and the atmosphere around it starts to smell something like over-ripe cheese, something like an open sewer, something like smelly socks, and in my opinion, most like a hamster that several weeks ago Went Where All Good Hamsters Go. Though up close, the Durian still smells puzzling, rather than nauseating.

Back to the smell again - from Durian Palace :
Meanwhile in the West, durians have gained a notorious reputation for their unfamiliar and strong aroma, largely as a result of Western travel writers and horticultural writers delighting in using snide phrases like "unbearable stench," "rotten onions with limburger cheese and low-tide seaweed," "French custard passed through a sewer pipe," or "like sitting on the toilet eating your favorite ice cream."
It's not helped by the fact that if you have a spoonfull of Durian, you'll still taste it many hours later. Oh yes, and chemicals in it interfere with your heat regulation mechanism, you get hot flushes, as if from a bowl of 5-alarm chilli.

Which brings me to the point : the Durian is the closest thing we have to an Unearthly Fruit. It tastes as if it really should have been grown on a planet circling Epsilon Eridani, or possibly 61 Cygni.

Friday 11 February 2005

Blue Moon

From The Australian :
True Colour of SaturnThe first true colour image of Saturn reveals that the ringed planet is not the silver orb visible from Earth but a deep shade of blue.

Instead, the image - released yesterday by the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado - shows that Saturn's northern hemisphere is a soft azure, striped by the shadows of the planet's rings.

The blue hue is a moody backdrop for Saturn's icy moon Mimas.

"It's pretty cool, and it also happens to be a neat picture," commented Chris Tinney, a Sydney-based astronomer with the Anglo-Australian Observatory.
The good Astronomer's poetic imagery may not exactly up to the standard of Shakespeare... but nonetheless I agree, because his satellite imagery certainly is.

Thursday 10 February 2005

Do Not Meddle in the Affairs of Wizards...

...for they are subtle and quick to anger.

So said J.R.R.Tolkein.

With that in mind, have a look at what a Vanity Press called PublishAmerica said :
...As a rule of thumb, the quality bar for sci-fi and fantasy is a lot lower than for all other fiction. Therefore, beware of published authors who are self-crowned writing experts. When they tell you what to do and not to do in getting your book published, always first ask them what genre they write. If it's sci-fi or fantasy, run. They have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home.
How delightfully... condescending.

Now have a look at an article on Wikipedia. About a book called Atlanta Nights :
Atlanta Nights was a collaborative novel written by a group of around 40 authors organized by James D. Macdonald, mostly science fiction and fantasy authors, under the pseudonym Travis Tea. The novel was deliberately made to be as awful as possible, as in the case of its spiritual predecessor Naked Came the Stranger (the working title of Atlanta Nights was Naked Came the Badfic), and was submitted to the alleged vanity publisher PublishAmerica as a hoax in response to comments posted by PublishAmerica on its website
PublishAmerica claimed to be more selective in choosing what works to publish, so Atlanta Nights was submitted to test their standards. The book was officially accepted for publication on December 7, 2004, but the hoax was revealed on January 23, 2005, before the book went to press. PublishAmerica retracted its acceptance the next day.

The authors subsequently published the book through print on demand publisher (ISBN 1-4116-2298-7), with all proceeds designated to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Emergency Medical Fund.

Among the distinctive flaws of Atlanta Nights are a duplicate chapter written by two different authors from the same segment of outline, a missing chapter, and a chapter "written" by a program that generated random text based on patterns found in the previous chapters.
How bad is it? Just read the reviews from the Travis Tea website. Unlike Tim Blair, I cannot bring myself to type in a sample. Or should I say, "specimen". From a dingo. One with infected kidneys.

An extract (as in "extract of diseased dingo kidney") of Chapter 1, the foetid thing in its glorious entirety, and software to read it, are all available free.

If you download it, then (quite justifiably) complain that you were robbed at that price, don't blame me.