Monday, April 30, 2012

Adrift in the Twitter stream: What happened to the Falcon 9 test today?

As a certified and certifiable space geek, and as one who is now dabbling tentatively in the Sea of Social Media, I couldn't help but notice that Space X Corp. was set to run a "static firing test" today of its $54 million baby, the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

That's a picture of the Falcon 9 at the top of this post, taken during it successful launch into Earth orbit in June 2010 (you can find lots more pictures here.)

I don't know what a "static firing test" may entail, but I looked at the SpaceX website earlier today and saw this:

While this did not enlighten me on the nature, purpose or intent of a "static test" (I am pretty sure it's different from "static cling") it told me when and where to "tune in" on the Internet to see whatever it was there was to see.

Meanwhile, I opened up my Twitter page to keep up with anything pre-launch. (Yes, I have my own Twitter account. You could follow me -- @JackLeyhane -- only I don't know where I'm going so it would presumably be pointless to bother.)

But there was no launch -- and, now, I'm not sure if there ever was supposed to be one.

Look at this Twitter feed from @SpaceX (if I'm not using the terminology correctly, forgive the mistakes of a newbie):

The top tweet is the most recent in this screen capture, so you can see that the launch was aborted, that SpaceX was reviewing the data and might consider trying again later.

But... wait? What is this tweet further down the page (and earlier in time) from NASA Kennedy/KSC (@NASAKennedy)?
SpaceX having no issues ahead of static firing. Falcon 9 rocket is fueled, strongback is retracted. Exercise is rehearsal, no launch today.
That's slightly before a breathless tweet from SpaceX urging me to drop everything and watch the test.

I understand that 'stuff' will happen; tests will fail. Failures are inevitable in science. Bad things happen to good scientists; I get all that.

But... was there supposed to be a test or not? And, if not, why was SpaceX urging people to go watch?

Since this post was started, Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX, has tweeted that "Flight computer aborted rocket hold down firing. Anomaly addressed. Cycling systems to countdown." This makes it sound like there may be a test today after all.

But shouldn't someone tell the nice folks at the Kennedy Space Center that it wasn't just "rehearsal" and that there might yet be a launch today?

Last week filmmaker James Cameron and Google CEO Larry Page were revealed to be part of a group that's planning to mine the Asteroid Belt. This is thrilling stuff -- but my enthusiasm is necessarily dampened when it appears that the people involved in the commercial space program today can't tell a rehearsal from a malfunction.

UPDATE: Shortly after 3:15pm, SpaceX announced, via Tweet, that there'd been a successful two second burn.

Two seconds?


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Quick Takes to return -- this time as a blog

Zay N. Smith, whose Quick Takes column was one of the first casualties of the never-ending shrinkage of the Chicago Sun-Times, is coming back -- as a blogger. That's the good news reported this morning by ex-Sun-Times columnist (and now blogger extraordinaire) Robert Feder. According to Feder, Smith will resurrect Quick Takes on May 7, joining the team of bloggers on the WBEZ 91.5 Chicago Public Media site. I'm looking forward to the three posts a week Feder says that Smith is expected to post. Hopefully the Yellowstone Supervolcano will remain dormant until Smith is fully settled in the Blogosphere.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hopefully the setback in human progress is only temporary

A tweet last week by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is kind of frightening:
April 12, 1961: first human in orbit. April 12, 1981: first flight of SpaceShuttle. April 12, 2012: Snooki in 2nd trimester.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Buffett Rule isn't even the tip of the tax iceberg

Last night the Senate rejected the so-called "Buffett Rule," a bill that would tax all income over $1 million at a 30% minimum rate. (Actually, the Senate didn't vote the bill down; it voted not to bring the bill up for full debate, which amounts to the same thing, except that, by taking the procedural way out, senators could vote for or against cloture and nevertheless take a contrary position with respect to the merits of the Buffett Rule itself, should that become politically expedient.)

Warren Buffett was never confessing to being a tax cheat, of course. He merely pointed out that, because he makes his money from particular kinds of investments, he is taxed at a lower rate than his secretary, who earns a paycheck. Last week, the White House revealed that Mr. and Mrs. Obama paid taxes at a lower rate than the president's secretary, Anita Decker Breckenridge.

But these "revelations," despite all the speech-making and shouting on cable news, are really rather beside the point, as Brett Arends points out in a stimulating post on entitled, "10 Things I Hate About Tax Day." An excerpt:
The U.S. tax code is insane and out of control. It's tripled in a decade. It now runs to 3.8 million words. To put that in context, William Shakespeare only needed 900,000 words to say everything he had to say. Hamlet. Othello. The history plays. The sonnets. The whole shebang. But the IRS needs four times as many words?
Why? Why is the IRS Code such a behemoth? You need not agree with every argument or proposal that Mr. Arends makes in the linked post to realize that this is a fundamental problem -- and one not addressed simply by hiking millionaires' tax rates. Even if that's part of a reasonable solution.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Roger Clemens perjury retrial gets underway

According to this AP story posted today on, the re-trial of the case of United States v. Clemens has begun.

Clemens is on trial for allegedly lying to Congress.

Has anyone from Congress ever been put on trial for lying to the American people?

Hardly seems fair, does it?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Hey, hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it?

A Sports Illustrated update directed me to this post on a St. Louis sports website, JoeSportsFan. An Opening Day poll on CLTV allegedly yielded this result from loyal Cub fans:

Oh my.

Mind you, prospects may not be much be brighter for my White Sox... although... did you see that home run yesterday by Adam Dunn? One thing is certain: Dunn can't have an appendectomy this year. And if Rios starts hitting, and Beckham regains his form... if John Danks lives up to his contract... if Jake Peavy lives up to his reputation... if Chris Sales lives up to his promise... well, anything can happen.

The best thing the White Sox have going for them is that Sports Illustrated picks the Tigers first this year, and the Sox dead last. I recall 1984. In its season preview then Sports Illustrated picked the Sox to repeat as division winners. "Who else?" asked the magazine.

Well... as it turned out... darn near everyone.

Watch out, Detroit. Sports Illustrated has a poor record as a prophet.

Judicial candidate links for 2012 primary archived

Some of these links are already dead; more will expire soon. Some candidates, disappointed with last month's results, will save their sites and update them for future campaigns. But, for what it's worth, herewith as complete a list of candidate websites for the Cook County Circuit Court and the First District of the Illinois Appellate Court as I could assemble for the March 20, 2012 primary:

2012 Cook County Circuit Court Candidates

The only links that will remain on the first page are those of candidate who must face an opponent in November.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Let's be honest: The text here is really just an excuse to run the pictures

Over the past few years a number of reporters and editors have referred to President Obama as a "Vulcan." This May 26, 2009 editorial from the Chicago Tribune is representative:
After an interview in which President Barack Obama confronted the economy, the Middle East and a lot of other Vital Issues, a Newsweek correspondent actually elicited an important new piece of information about the president.

He's Spock. As in Star Trek's famous Vulcan with the pointy ears and the computer-like brain.
The reference, I believe, is to a May 2009 Newsweek article, "We're All Trekkies Now."

And a June 20, 2010 editorial in the San Antonio Express News recounted:
The first well-known reference to Obama as a Vulcan came in a June 2008 NPR interview with Henry Jenkins, then a professor of humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There's something in the mythology that surrounds Barack Obama that seems, to me, echoes some of our assumptions about Spock," Jenkins said. "He's someone who's been able to bridge worlds."

This fascinating commentary chugged along on impulse power until March 2009, when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd gave it warp speed. "Mr. Obama has a bit of Mr. Spock in him (and not just the funny ears)," she wrote. "He has a Vulcan-like logic and detachment."
And the Vulcan rumors did not appear only in newspapers or magazines. Silly pictures, like the one at the top of this post, started appearing on the Internet. For awhile there I would not have been surprised if a survey had shown that, just as some ridiculous number of Tea Partiers thought Mr. Obama to be a Muslim, an equivalent percentage of young men living in their parents' basements thought him an alien. Really, really alien.

But 2012 is upon us and Mr. Obama is intent on securing another four year lease at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. And, clearly, the President and his advisers believe it's time to put those troubling rumors to rest, once and for all.

Thus it was on February 29 that Mr. Obama met with Nichelle Nichols in the Oval Office and posed for this picture, now appearing everywhere on-line (this copy obtained from the Huffington Post):

How does posing with Lt. Uhura prove that the President is not a Vulcan?

Ask any Trekker: Can't you see he's smiling?