Sunday, November 26, 2006

The blog is impassable

Bad news: After sizing up the situation, I think I'm going to be moving at a pretty grueling pace for the next few weeks, and I'm probably going to end up with more work than I can actually carry back to my room. Consequently, I'm probably going to be, uh, gone from here for a few weeks, or at least not updating as often as I have been; I'll try not to lose my shirt in the meanwhile.

But first, here's a few links so that a really bad Oregon Trail conceit isn't the last memory y'all have of me.

SurveyUSA: Head-to-Head Presidential Pairings
I promised some people that I would try and abstain from links posts for a while, and I promised a lot more that I would have no need to talk politics for an even longer, while. Sorry, guys.

This is pretty painlessly non-partisan, though. SUSA apparently polled a few hundred thousand people, Literary Digest-style, in all 50 states asking them who they would vote for between Democrat X and Republican Y, for about a dozen candidates on either side. The results, available on a color-coded map with drop-down menus, seem a bit sketchy at times (Barack Obama never wins more than 5 states in any scenario), but they're still fun to run through. Did you know that Russ Feingold would beat Newt Gingrich but lose to Mitch Romney?

Wikipedia's Featured Article of the Day
Can I take back everything I said earlier about how vandalizing Wikipedia is stupid? (Statement only valid until tomorrow morning.

And finally, a certain something just for Hadley.

See y'all in a few days.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


A few weeks back in Di-Phi, I was the secondary negative speaker for the resolution topic "RESOLVED: The ACC should continue to expand." My speech went over fairly well: I talked about the great academic tradition of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and how bringing in Miami shot that to heck and Virginia Tech, at best, stayed the course. (Boston College is a great school, of course, but they're so far away from every other ACC institution that we might as well have let in Oxford.) It made some good points, and from the way that people voted it went over pretty well.

The more important reason that we shouldn't expand, though, has become quite clear in the last few days: the new ACC teams suck vacuum in basketball.

As of 6 PM on November 22, ACC teams are 42-4 in the 06-07 basketball season. VT, BC and Miami are a combined 5-3. The other loss is courtesy of Duke, who pulled a choke job supreme to Marquette last night at the hostile arena of Kansas City. And just how good are those three teams doing in football now, anyway? (Hint: One of them is 5-6.)

Personal beefs aside, I think it's about time to recognize that the Atlantic Coast Conference is out of its early-00s funk and ready to lay the smackdown on any peach-basket squads that come its way. It's barely, what? two weeks into the season? and ACC teams have already served up wins against Arizona, Memphis, Michigan State, Air Force, and Winthrop (twice). It's not as if we're sitting back and playing home games against Samford until Christmas. Frankly, right now I see no reason we can't pull a Big East and grab eight bids in next year's Tournament. Except we won't have the advantage of having twenty-five teams so UConn et al. can just beat up on the bottom half.

Naturally, Georgia Tech and UNC are going to go out tonight and lose, respectively, to UCLA and Gonzaga. Why do you think I'm posting this now?

Also: I made a 15-minute presentation for my sociolinguistics class that, due to time constraints, I had to go through in about 6. Since I want somebody to actually enjoy watching that thing, dangit, I encourage anybody with a vested interest in the history of Japanese writing systems to check it out here. It's Thanksgiving break; what else are you doing?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Russans: Today the DTH, tomorrow the world

No, not 'Russians'.

I picked up today's Daily Tar Heel to find, to my surprise, that my "yrar I'm an undergrad who doesn't like the new ticket policy" letter made the opinions page. (Incidentally, why does the DTH have to have one of the most atrocious methods of creating URLs of any non-financial website I've seen? Next you'll just see them putting the entire text of the article in the address bar.)

Naturally, of course, my cousin Luke had to one-up me by being the lead interview for an article on helmet research. Rock on, my man.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Not my last random space note

First, today's random link, for all my fellow East Forsyth alumni out there--University of Buffalo: Turner Battle and Daniel Gilbert Sign Professional Contracts Overseas

According to my counter, apparently both folks from NASA and the United Space Alliance (a joint aerospace venture of Boeing and Lockheed-Martin) have stopped by Amphigory! in the last week or so. Unlike a lot of my peers, I don't think either of those groups should curl themselves into a ball and shrivel up, so this is both weird and cool at the same time.

Do y'all want to comment on anything, perchance?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Not that I disagree with the sentiment...

...but didn't covers for The New Yorker used to be subtle?

While I'm on political news, it stands as a very strong testament to how much SpaceVision 2006 generally psyched me up when I didn't get immediately depressed upon getting home and reading this:

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Feingold rules out 2008 run for President

My parents read this from time to time, so I'm going to be prudent here and just say "dangit" a couple of hundred times. Russ (Sen, D-WI) is one of the last honest men in Washington, bound to serving his constituents and making sure that justice is served for our nation. He's not a rabid liberal (he voted against the assault-weapons ban and made a little bill with John McCain that you may have heard of. He's not even really a straight Democrat; he voted for John Ashcroft (first time around), John Roberts and for having impeachment hearings against Bill Clinton. He just does what's right... 'dangit'... and now he's not running in 2008.

Who the heck am I supposed to support now? Half the nation has a deep-seated hatred for Hillary Clinton, Mark Warner isn't running, John Kerry ran a terrible campaign in 2004 and I see no reason that he'll change, Barack Obama should stay in the Senate for a couple more terms and help clean up Congress, John Edwards probably wouldn't even win his home state, I can't tell Joe Biden and the other four or five Senators who'll run apart, and I still don't think Al Gore is going to run. Tom Vilsack looks nice demographically, but I have no clue about his actual political views, or even how he really speaks.


(Final political note: This sort of thing really raises my dander. Okay, now I'm done.)

Friday, November 17, 2006

I forgot that I even wrote this last Monday

I was on the flight from RDU to Charlotte with literally the entire Duke track-and-field team. Two of them sat on the same row as me, but it was way too early for me to want to start a conversation, though I considered pulling out my* copy of What The University of North Carolina Meant to Me and seeing what response I got.

So I just checked the results and, apparently, Duke choked. This was a qualifier for the NCAA National Championships, and only the women's team got a bid; the men's team lost out, and no player from either team moved on to the individual championships. I'd like to think that was, in some small way, at least partially my doing.

*Technically Di-Phi's. Whatever.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Senate Committee on Commerce willing, that is

Follow-up on last weekend: Yesterday morning, I was leaving my morphology class with a few people when talk turned to what everyone did since last Thursday's class. I started talking about how I was in Orlando having a fantastic time at SpaceVision 2006--that is, until one of the people in our group made a comment along the lines of "huh-huh, geek." I brought up the [well, I think] very salient point that it was sort of hard for a fellow linguistics major to comment on my geekiness, but the sentiment still stood.

However, in retrospect I'm actually sort of pleased about having been insulted as such. One of the things I learned last weekend is that space exploration is never going to be smaller than it is now. Never. If Bush cuts the budget for NASA by 90%, the media (and research companies) will just focus on private industry. If Scaled Composites craps out, Armadillo Aerospace or Blue Origin or Bigelow Aerospace or literally a dozen other companies will take its place. If Congress comes up with the brilliant idea to regulate suborbital flight to the point that, say, regular airlines are restricted, people will just pull up their stakes and move to China or Australia. We're not going away, folks.

And these groups aren't lacking in public opinion, from the public that matters right here, right now: the people with money. You can make jokes about Dennis Tito all that you want, but when Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, John Carmack, et al. are on your side, you're probably on a pretty darn well-off side. If the average Joe on the street, though, still looks at space and thinks "huh-huh, geek", then it clearly hasn't quite caught on yet. Which means that anyone looking to hop on the space wagon now is probably going to be getting on pretty close to the ground floor. And it's only up from here. (Aren't mixed metaphors fun?)

To paraphrase a paraphrase, I suppose: the meek may inherit the earth, but the geeks are aiming a bit higher.

Now for some quick links. 'What do I do if...'
Sometimes I wonder why the heck I still have on my RSS reader. Then articles like this one pop up and it's all worthwhile again.

Just watch it. Now.

Monday, November 13, 2006

SEDS National Conference: results

Despite what the five-dollar quotation book sitting on your shelf might say, Horace Greeley wasn't actually the person who coined the phrase, "Go west, young man". That was the doing of one John Soule, a writer for an Indiana newspaper; Greeley simply came across it, plastered it in the New York Tribune, and helped set off a revolution. This makes the fact that Greeley was the one who made a lasting impact on the world no less important.

The speakers at SpaceVision 2006, held last weekend at the University of Central Florida, were the Horace Greeleys of the future. It would be a cute metaphorical extension to talk about how they talked about life in Independence, Missouri, told winding stories about trading clothes to Indians on the Snake River, and pointed off vaguely in the direction of Oregon.

The problem with that comparison is that too many of them had already been to Oregon.

Speaking to an aerospace-engineering-rich crowd (I can say with some certainty that of the 75-odd students there, I was the only social sciences major), these men and women talked about how they were laying the foundations for human space expansion, what being in zero-gravity would be like (from personal experience, sometimes), and why both the NASA-Boeing government-industrial complex and the private efforts ofr recent years would be essential. But most importantly, it was up to us.

Some of the people kind enough to bless us with their presence/lucky enough to be in Orlando on a certain Friday evening were:

-Peter Diamandis: The keynote speaker. Dr. Diamandis is the founder of the Ansari X-Prize, the contemporary equivalent of the Orteig Prize, which offered a $10,000,000 bounty to the first viable private spacecraft. (For those of you who have been living on a rock, Burt Rutan collected back in 2004). He's moved on to offering bigger prizes for more daunting tasks, starting up an honest-to-god Rocket Racing League, and giving off-the-cuff, two-hour keynote speeches at conferences to cynical-turned-wide-eyed college students. Looks like Joel Feiner.

Sam Coniglio: Founder of the Space Tourism Society, a ten-year-old organization dedicated to providing feasible and stylish ideas to entrepreneurs worldwide who are interested in space tourism. Also a great photographer. Looks like Joe Hachem.

Michael Hawes: Currently NASA's "Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Development", Dr. Hawes is essentially the go-to guy for NASA policy concerning human spaceflight. Gave a pretty good speech for someone who's been in the system for 26 years. It was made better, though, by the fact that he came up directly after a guy from Boeing, who was basically in charge of the Space Shuttle and clearly had a strong attachment. Dr. Hawes had to come up with several creatively gentle ways to firmly state the Shuttles would be put out of commission and sold in the next five years. Looks sort of like a bespectacled, larger Orson Scott Card Philip Seymour Hoffman. That's who I was thinking of.

Jeff Feige: Discussed (with one Krysta Paradis) the exciting (no, really) field of space entrepreneurship and the best ways to get out there and... entreprenue. He'd probably know, having been involved with entrepreneurship through several years and a few companies, most recently Orbital Outfitters. (With the soon-to-come boom in orbital travel, there has to be someone out there who can provide the best spacesuits at non-NASA costs; OO looks to cover that field.) Surprised me by, when I confided to him at dinner my total lack of scientific credentials, saying that he was actually a history major in college. Tells an astounding variety of funny, dirty jokes and looks like Steven Berlin Johnson.

George Tyson: Creator of the Orbital Commerce Project. As you may know, Virgin Galactic (the one Richard Branson owns) is going to start sending people into low earth orbit in 2009 or so for about $200,000 a pop. Problem is that there isn't any flight school right now for pilots who go 100 miles in the air. That's where George Tyson comes in. He's gotten FAA certification and is going to start offering classes for both pilots and payload specialists (read: flight attendants) in the next year. Heck, I wouldn't mind doing that. Doesn't look like anyone in particular.

And that doesn't include the ex-President of SEDS Canada with a plan for a multi-stage rocket to Mars, the crazy local guy who showed us how to make rocket propellant from sugar and fertilizer, and heck, pretty much everybody who spoke Friday before I arrived. We won't go into that story, but I now have a very intimate knowledge of the workings of the Orlando public busing system. Still ten times better than a cab.

It's weird how I react to space exploration--as a concept. I've always had a passion for it, but I think when I stopped my aspirations of double-majoring in Astronomy (thank you, soul-crushing UNC Physics Department! Why must you be in the same department as the awesome Astronomy professors?) any pursuit of a career down those paths, and some of my fervent interest, ended as well. So I kept up with the news, joined the Virgin Galactic listserv and all that, but just treated it as a part of my life in the same way I would, say, major league baseball. But then I do something like this and it all comes welling back up again. Good grief.

And I actually did talk with people about careers involving astronomy and linguistics, which is more plausible than you might think. I made a bunch of connections, played Frisbee on top of a parking garage at 11 at night, and definitely had a better time than my Di-Phi colleagues did on their recent foray down to Georgia.

I guess I should probably join SEDS now.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Only a week off

And it's not like I did much interesting anyway. I slept for about 90 minutes Tuesday morning, went in and took my physics test using the Mitch Hedberg Examination Method*, bumbled through morphology like I normally do, went in and took my grammar test (apparently making a 105?! Luck, I swear), picked up steel sabers for the first time in fencing, and took my lab exam, which hasn't been graded yet.

Then I went out for Halloween. Not much to say there, except that it took me approximately an hour to drive from the bottom to the top of this map. And I have pictures.

But anyway, the real news for this post: apparently, Ken Jennings is a Democrat. Wonders never cease.

Now wasn't this post worth waiting eight days for?

*Thanks to the late, great standup comedian, who had this to say about time:
I don't wear a watch because I want my arms to weigh the same. So if somebody asks me what time it is, I have to tell them something that is going on. "What time is it, Mitch?" "Uh, that guy is eating a hamburger." "[Drat], I had to be somewhere..."
This can be applied to a variety of situations. "1a: For an RLC circuit with a resistance of 12 ohms and an inductance of five Henries, find the emf." "Uh... electric flux equals B x A! The area of a circle is pi r^2!"
I got a 41, later bumped up to a 49, which is probably B/B- range for that class. I swear that my graduate-level morphology class is easier than this.

[I first tried to post this at about 8:45 last night, but Blogger wouldn't let me. Then, this morning, I realized I had forgotten to explain the MHEM; I came back, added it, and now it works fine. Just what psychic properties is Google or whoever owns Blogger testing out, anyway?]