Thursday, July 28, 2011

So I've been ordered to Dragon*Con

Dragon ConImage via WikipediaMy wife has informed me that I am required to attend this year's Dragon*Con. I've never been, and as we're expecting our second child in December, this may be my last chance for quite a while. Thus, if anyone has any tips for a Dragon*Con n00b -- fair warning, I've been to San Diego Comic-Con, so I'm acquainted with cons at large scales -- I'd be glad to hear them. Moreover, if you're a known acquaintance attending Dragon*Con and are interesting in splitting a ride and/or hotel digs, look me up.

Also: BEST WIFE EVER.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

ReaderCon, the pros and cons

The logo used by Apple to represent PodcastingImage via WikipediaI spent all of three hours at this year's ReaderCon, the famous Boston-based literary science fiction and fantasy convention. Somehow that qualified me to expound upon the features of the event via my latest appearance on the SFSignal podcast. Not to worry, the panel discussion includes actual informed opinions from the likes of:
Give it a listen, especially if you're a lit-centric sci-fi nerd.

Per usual my rap sheet of past SF Signal podcast transgressions is available here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What 2 modern game console rivals almost collaborated on a single game system?

My Console CollectionImage by Andrew-LGP via FlickrOnce again, I posit a question in the form of Geek Trivia in not one, but tow different formats. You can learn which of the modern console-cranking triumvirate -- Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft -- almost tag-teamed the video game market in efficient text form in my latest Geek Trivia column on TechRepublic's Geekend blog.

If you want to auditorially luxuriate with the question, check out my TechTalk radio version of the tidbit, with additional content on Bitcoin, public education and other web-based minutia of interest.

Friday, July 08, 2011

I love manned spaceflight and I'm glad the space shuttle is dead

Lego Digital Designer: Space Shuttle (WIP)Image by 8BitKid via FlickrThe space shuttle is the last vestige of NASA's poltical theater era, when big, showy, hideously inefficient and unsupportable technical projects were its bread and butter. It's Nixon-era tech -- literally -- strung along for all the same government inertia keep-the-contractors-happy idiocy that's bankrupting our national treasury.

Consider, the shuttle is a reusable spacecraft that isn't actually reusable, given that the SRBs and main fuel tank are either lost or nearly 100% refitted after every launch. It's a construction platform for a spacestation that only needs a construction platform to assemble because it was badly designed by a lets-get-everyone-involved international consortium. The shuttle can retrieve cargo from orbit -- a task that no one wants or needs. And it can ferry crew and cargo to orbit simultaneously, which is actually a terrible idea as it's cheaper -- and far safer -- to send crew and cargo up separately on smaller, task-specific craft. The Progress cargo ships and modern Soyuz capsules are examples of this principle.

Like most government projects, the shuttle looks good on camera and makes for great press, but is actually a terribly impractical and inefficient solution to a complicated set of problems.

And don't get me started on how bad the ISS is at every task it's been assigned.

Human spaceflight is 50 years old. We're past the "do it just to prove we can" stage. It's time to be grownups. It's time to build space technology that solves real problems in practical ways, rather than in ways that make contractors and photographers happy. We can achieve low earth orbit really easily and keep humans in that environment for months or years. We get it. We're good at it. Time to move on.

Now, if you want LEO cheaply, that's not what the government is good at. That's the job of the private sector. Government paves the way. The market makes it profitable. It's time for profitable LEO and human orbital habitation. NASA's job is to pave the way for the next level of hard stuff, and the next level is REALLY HARD.

Where is my advanced asteroid detection and deflection system? That's a serious problem that NASA should be solving and isn't.

Where is my proof-of-concept Helium-3 extractor for the moon, which would give us a legitimate reason for going there?

Where is my methane-oxygen autofactory for Mars, which is required before we even think about sending humans in that direction?

Where is my Lagrange-point automated telescope, which would make the Hubble look like a kid's toy magnifying glass and would actually require us to deal with serious, complex at-a-distance systems maintenance -- the kind of thing space colonies will represent?

Where is my FRAKKING SPACE ELEVATOR, which would actually be a serious surface-to-orbit gamechanger?

NASA has better things to do than keeping 30-year-old tech around for nostalgic PR purposes. I, for one, am glad to see them putting away childish things and -- hopefully -- getting down to serious business.

Why does the last space shuttle flight have the smallest crew in a quarter century?

An exhaust plume surrounds the mobile launcher...Image via WikipediaI'm back in the Geek Trivia game full throttle on two fronts: TechTalk radio and TechRepublic's Geekend, asking why the final space shuttle mission will only carry four astronauts into orbit, which hasn't happened since Michael Jordan still wore Carolina blue.

Quoth the Geekend:

"Not since the maiden flight of Challenger in 1983 has a space shuttle operated with just a four-man complement. This reduced crew size can accommodate the extra payload on STS-135, but the payload isn’t the reason Atlantis is flying with the smallest crew in 28 years. That’s just a bonus."
I divulge NASA's secret in efficient text form via the Geekend, but go into more auditory detail on TechTalk. The latter podcast also includes an unrelated interview with the authors of The Techno-Human Condition (affiliate link), which is a fine primer on transhumanism. It's worth a listen above and beyond my trivial contributions.