Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Titan Saturn System Mission

There was another five year anniversary this last week -- on Christmas Eve, 2004, the Huygens lander separated from Cassini and went on to land on the surface of Titan three weeks later. This recent Cassini image shows the glint of sunlight due to specular reflection from what is almost certainly a liquid on the surface of Titan, in the Kraken Mare region in the northern hemisphere. At the temperature and pressure on Titan's surface, the liquid is a hydrocarbon compound, probably methane.

In 2009, ESA and NASA merged their outer planets exploration concepts to move forward with a cooperative exploration venture. One of these, the Titan Saturn System Mission (TSSM) was to be a next generation successor to Cassini-Huygens. The mission would comprise three spacecraft -- the first being an American orbiter whose main focus would be on Enceladus and Titan, but also able to observe Saturn, the ring system, and the other moons. Along with the orbiter, two European Titan probes would be deployed: a balloon to be placed in the atmosphere, carrying an instrument package (presumably including cameras); and a surface probe whose objective would be to splashdown onto one of the liquid methane seas, probabaly Kraken Mare.

NASA and ESA collectively decided that the Jupiter/Europa mission had higher priority, due to higher technical feasibility. However, TSSM is ranked quite high in scientific importance, and work will move forward. Based on arrival at Saturn in the late 2020's, I'll be in my seventies by the time the first data comes back.

Note -- According to the Secret Star Trek History of the World, sometime after the 1960s, likely best guess in the 2005 to 2015 timeframe, a manned deep space expedition was sent to Saturn. The mission was led by Colonel Shawn Jeffrey Christopher, son of John Christopher, who in the latter half of the 1960s was a USAF Captain assigned to Omaha Air Force base. Unfortunately, our reality appears to have diverged substantially, although one can still see events in the timestream like the TSSM proposal that reflect the other reality. TSSM is a highly ambitious mission, but it is nowhere close to the level of complexity (and expense) required for a small group of astronauts to be sent to Saturn.

A blast from the past

This story presented the best opportunity for ending the year with a bang -- Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog reminds us of the story that was lost five years ago in the wreckage of human lives and property damage that occurred when a massive tsunami struck the eastern Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004. The story from a day and a half later, on December 27, 2004, got much less coverage. A massive burst of energy was observed from a magnetar, a type of neutron star. The blast was powerful enough to knock out satellites, and had it been closer, it would have potentially been an extinction level event.

The magnetar in question was SGR 1806-20, now believed to be the most powerful magnetic object known -- strength of 10E15 gauss (compared with between 1 to 5 gauss on our own Sun). 10E15 is the number 1 followed by 15 zeroes. To put this in context, a fridge magnet has a field strength of about 100 gauss, while more exotic neodymium-based magnets can be 10 to 20 times more powerful, up to 2,000 gauss. A medical NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) imaging device will generate magnetic fields from 10,000 up to 30,000 gauss. The field surrounding this particular magnetar is a hundred billion times more powerful than the NMR machine.

I thought initially that the SGR designator was a reference to its location in the sky (which would be toward the general direction of Sagittarius or SGR), but in fact SGR is a reference to "Soft Gamma Repeater". From a much greater distance, this event would have appeared as a very high energy transient event, so it is possible that events like this can help in the explanation for Gamma Ray Bursts like GRB 090423.

Something else to lie in bed awake at night thinking about: as noted in the article abstract in the journal Nature, this object released more energy in a fifth of a second than the Sun in 250,000 years. Nature doesn't do lurid speculation, but if it had been 10 instead of 50,000 light years away, its effect for everyone on the half of the world facing it would have been equivalent to being less than 10 km away from a 12 kiloton nuclear blast. Fortunately, there are no magnetars within 10,000 light years of Earth.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Giant Buddha

Hugh has some great photos of the giant Buddha statue on Lantau Island, just north of Hong Kong.

These photos bring back some memories -- I was there with my parents in 1998. Jill was along on that trip, although she was pregnant with Corwin at the time, and I suspect many things were a hazy blur of exhaustion for her.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Winter Solstice - 2009

Today was the Winter Solstice. The sun's path on the ecliptic returned to its ascending node for the Northern Hemisphere at 12:47 ET today. The days get longer from here -- but in the meantime, we have to get through Christmas in a few more days, and also incidentally the depths of winter. Happy Solstice - and may 2010 be a brighter New Year for all of us!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Known Universe in Six Minutes

The American Museum of Natural History has updated one of my favourite movies with their presentation of The Known Universe (suggestion - use the Fullscreen button which is the second button brom the right on the Youtube playback bar):

The Known Universe movie is based on visualization of current astronomical and astrophysical data which the American Museum of Natural History maintains through the affiliated Hayden Planetarium as part of its Digital Universe Atlas.

The favourite movie that I referred to earlier is Powers of Ten, made by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1970s. For many years, the film made as a proposal (in the late 1960s) for the final Powers of Ten film was shown in the Ontario Science Centre.

The final Powers of Ten film is a short documentary, lasting under ten minutes. Narrated by Philip Morrison, it has what I think of as a cosmic part and a quantum part. The cosmic part zooms out from a height of one meter above a couple at a picnic. Every ten seconds, the scale increases by a factor of ten. At one hundred million light years, the perspective is reversed back to the starting point one meter above the couple. At that point, the scale zooms inward, until it ends up focused on the nucleus of a carbon atom in the hand of one of the picnickers. Forty orders of magnitude are covered, and in a very compact way, the movie shows the continuity of the physical world from everyday experience to both the cosmic and quantum.

Unlike Powers of Ten, The Known Universe does not stop at 100 million light years, but instead goes all the way out to the horizon of the known universe at 13.7 billion light years -- two and a fraction orders of magnitude farther out.

Those extra orders of magnitude are due to the advances in the 32 years between the two films. The work that had been done by Allan Sandage in calibrating the cosmic distance scale had allowed distances to be derived for galaxies out to 25 and 50 million light years with objects like M100 and M101 in the 70s and 80s, more tentatively for objects at greater distances. For the state of the art in 1977, 100 million light years was a pretty substantial distance.

The revolution in available data and knowledge that came with the advent of the Hubble Space Telescope, the other Great Observatories space missions, and COBE, allowed the distance scale and the Hubble Constant to be much more firmly nailed down, and this in turn made possible the truly awesome visualization that the AMNH has done.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blogging Mistakes

Michael Hyatt, who has a great blog on management and leadership, has a list of 10 Blogging Mistakes. I am clearly a poster child for almost every one of them, but especially the first one -- I don't post enough. But then, that ensures that my readers aren't bored with what I have to say...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

We Support Peter Watts

Our friend Peter Watts, a PhD marine biologist and brilliant science fiction author, lived through my worst nightmare last Tuesday. On his way home from the US, he was stopped by American border guards and thrown in jail for questioning the reason for being stopped in the first place. Journalist and author David Nickle reports on his blog as follows:
Peter, a Canadian citizen, was on his way back to Canada after helping a friend move house to Nebraska over the weekend. He was stopped at the border crossing at Port Huron, Michigan by U.S. border police for a search of his rental vehicle. When Peter got out of the car and questioned the nature of the search, the gang of border guards subjected him to a beating, restrained him and pepper sprayed him. At the end of it, local police laid a felony charge of assault against a federal officer against Peter. On Wednesday, he posted bond and walked across the border to Canada in shirtsleeves (he was released by Port Huron officials with his car and possessions locked in impound, into a winter storm that evening). He's home safe. For now. But he has to go back to Michigan to face the charge brought against him.

In Peter's own words written last Friday:
If you buy into the Many Worlds Intepretation of quantum physics, there must be a parallel universe in which I crossed the US/Canada border without incident last Tuesday. In some other dimension, I was not waved over by a cluster of border guards who swarmed my car like army ants for no apparent reason; or perhaps they did, and I simply kept my eyes downcast and refrained from asking questions.

Along some other timeline, I did not get out of the car to ask what was going on. I did not repeat that question when refused an answer and told to get back into the vehicle. In that other timeline I was not punched in the face, pepper-sprayed, shit-kicked, handcuffed, thrown wet and half-naked into a holding cell for three fucking hours, thrown into an even colder jail cell overnight, arraigned, and charged with assaulting a federal officer, all without access to legal representation (although they did try to get me to waive my Miranda rights. Twice.). Nor was I finally dumped across the border in shirtsleeves: computer seized, flash drive confiscated, even my fucking paper notepad withheld until they could find someone among their number literate enough to distinguish between handwritten notes on story ideas and, I suppose, nefarious terrorist plots. I was not left without my jacket in the face of Ontario’s first winter storm, after all buses and intercity shuttles had shut down for the night.

In some other universe I am warm and content and not looking at spending two years in jail for the crime of having been punched in the face.

But that is not this universe.

Stay tuned.

The Facebook page Against The Arrest and Beating of Peter Watts had 20 members when I found it on Friday night. By the time I clicked the JOIN button, there were 23, one being me. The numbers increased progressively over the weekend, with 1,170 members a few minutes ago -- around 4 days after the page was first created.

Jill and I are going spend the family Christmas fund on a donation to Peter's defense costs, and I encourage others to donate as well. I do this entirely selfishly: if this can happen to an articulate, personable white guy like Peter, then what are the prospects for me?

Robert Ashby raises the related question "since when did 'at least I didn’t get strip-searched and beaten' become our standard of service?". Robert's essay is a companion piece to Madeline Ashby's post on the subject on her blog.

Here is a selection of online articles which have appeared in the last week:

The definitive story appeared on David Nickle's blog with a posting about the initial incident, with a brief correction and a follow-up post providing details of how Bakka-Phoenix Books is helping to get donations to Peter.

Article on BoingBoing with a follow-up post on Making Light which makes reference to the "demonstrable mendaciousness" of the account in the Port Huron Times-Herald. Both the BoingBoing and Making Light discussion threads became politicized, with trolls appearing in force. Charles Stross, who conducted an interview with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman at the last Worldcon in Montreal, and who shared a book reading with Peter at the same convention, found it necessary to stomp a troll.

The Globe and Mail article raises interesting questions related to privacy.

Article in the Toronto Star. The spokesman for the US border crossing at Sarnia insists that Peter "assaulted" their officers. What would have happened to him had he waived his Miranda rights?

John Scalzi's Whatever blog with a post on Helping Out Peter Watts.

John McDaid appears to have the definitive summary of the news coverage.

Peter's Blog:

Not The Best of Possible Worlds on Dec 11, quoted above.

Squidgate. Update. later on Dec 11.

Happiness is a Warm Parka. And Friends I Didn’t Know I Had. from Dec 13.

Donations: As noted previously, cheques can be made out to Peter Watts, and mailed to Bakka-Phoenix Science Fiction Bookstore, 697 Queen St. West / Toronto, Ontario / M6J 1E6. Cash donations will also be accepted if you drop by the store. Electronic payments may be made to donate(at), or via this link.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

15 Useful Guides

The MakeUseOf website has an article containing links to 15 (actually 16) useful guides that provide a lot of (not necessarily obvious) information for day to day geekly living. Here is the list of guides that the article links to, with my comments:

1 – Internet Guide for the Movie Addict - includes a discussion on how to fix bad/corrupted video files. Unfortunately, nothing on how to remove Vodei encoding.

2 – Internet Guidebook for An Audiophile - this is a howto guide covering internet music, including free sites.

3 – The Incredible Free Manual for Every Mac User - Mac users probably should read this.

4 – The Underground Guide to the iPhone ditto for iPhone users.

5 – Twitter: Best Practices & Tips - some thoughts on how to best take advantage of this (relatively) new communication tool.

6 – The Ultimate Guide to your Windows Mobile Phone - for anyone whose phone runs Windows CE

7 – A Computer Geek’s Smart Productivity Guide - all about time management and productivity. See also the (unrelated) Pomodoro strategy over on the Lifehacker site.

8 – Building a Media Center for your Home - instructions on how to set up a media server for your home theatre/home audio system.

9 – The Only Easy Guide To Computer Networks - this won't teach you how to manage a Cisco-based network with hundreds of hubs, but will help you set up your home network and get it working.

10 – The Big Book of BitTorrent - how to use BitTorrent to download files. The more generic parts of the discussion should also apply to uTorrent and other Torrent apps.

11 – A Newbie’s Getting Started Guide to Linux - Linux is the future of computing, and this guide will help you get started. [Note - I am presenting the title as they appear in the original source, but my editorial instinct here really really wants to change "to Linux" to read "with Linux".]

12 – The Idiot’s Guide To Photoshop - this guide won't replace a formal course in how to use Photoshop, which is one of the most most capable (but also most complex) software packages out there. However, the guide will give you a starting point -- with the guide, and hours of practice, you too can plant a moustache on your co-worker's Christmas party photo.

13 – The Big Book of iTunes - I don't use iTunes or an iPod myself, but I will probably read this guide anyway just to get a handle on the technology.

14 – The Idiot’s Guide to Building Your Own PC - an important document if you are going to either build a new PC or if you plan on swapping out and upgrading a motherboard on an old PC.

15 – Laptop Buying Guide for 2009 - a guide to all things laptop.

(BONUS) PSP Up- and Downgrading Guide - a howto guide for PSP owners to help with getting around those pesky lockouts that prevent homebrew apps from working properly.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween 2009!

Happy Halloween -- take care tonight amidst the ghosts, ghouls, and asorted creatures of the night.

(Thanks to Mike M for finding the images, which are anime/manga fan art. The first in the series was created by Mutsuki Ai, the second through fourth are unknown)

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sputnik Day 2009

Fifty two years ago today, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite.

Fifty two years later, the Soviet Union is no more, but an international crew including Canadian and European astronauts along with Russians and Americans serve on the International Space Station. Earlier in the week, Guy Laliberte, the first Canadian space tourist, founder of the Cirque du Soleil, arrived at the ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft launched from Baikonur. Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk and the other members of Expedition 20 were on hand to greet Laliberte on his arrival.

I am waiting for the concert which Laliberte's One Drop Foundation plans later this week.

Above image: The current crew members of the ISS gathered in the Zvezda service module for a conference with family members and representatives on the ground. The crew encompass Expeditions 20, 21, and 22. From left to right, my best guess as to who's who based on their biography photos: Flight Engineer Roman Romenko, Flight Engineer Nicole Stott, Flight Engineer Frank de Winne (Expedition 21 Commander), Flight Engineer Michael Barratt, Spaceflight Participant Guy Laliberte in the foreground, Flight Engineer Robert Thirsk, Flight Engineer Maxim Suryaev, Expedition 20 Commander Gennady Padalka, Flight Engineer Jeff Williams (Expedition 22 Commander). Photo Credit: NASA TV

Monday, September 21, 2009

Holiday Greetings at the Autumnal Equinox

Today on the last full day of summer, I am taking this opportunity to say "Eid Mubarak" to Muslim friends, for whom the month of Ramadan ended on September 20 at sunset. The end of the fasting month of Ramadan is the beginning of the Eid-ul-Fitre festival, which is an important event in the Muslim calendar. I hope you all had a great day with family and friends!

For Jewish friends, this past weekend was Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgement/day of remembrance marking the beginning of a new year. So to all of you, "Shona Tova", Happy New Year, and our best wishes for 5770 to be a good year!

The actual Autumnal Equinox is late this year -- it will take place tomorrow afternoon 2009 Sep 22 at 17:18 EDT as the world (or at least the Northern Hemisphere part of it) hurtles inexorably toward the cold and dark of winter.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tesseracts Thirteen Book Launch

The Toronto book launch of Tesseracts Thirteen was held last Saturday September 12 at BakkaPhoenix Books on Queen Street. Nine of the anthology's authors, including Jill and our friend David Nickle, were on hand to do readings, greet customers, and sign books.
The authors who participated were Kelley Armstrong, Alison Baird, Suzanne Church, Michael Kelly, Jill Snider Lum, David Nickle, Andrea Schlecht, Jean-Louis Trudel, and Edo van Belkom.

During the course of the event, I took a couple of hundred photos [yes shutterbugs R us :-) ] and also successfully videotaped the reading.

Edge Publishing used many of my photos (uncredited, unfortunately, but now you know) on the sidebar of their webpage for EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing/Tesseract Books. Edge also have a blog devoted only to the Tesseracts series, called Totally Tesseracts.

Copies of Tesseracts Thirteen are available from BakkaPhoenix Books in Toronto. If you were so inclined, you could almost certainly contact BakkaPhoenix or Edge Publishing for a copy by mail order. You can also order the book from Chapters Indigo, from Amazon, or for our American friends, from Barnes and Noble.

Following are some photos from the launch event and the impromptu (but traditional) post launch gathering at the Wheat Sheaf pub at King and Bathurst.

Somewhere between forty to fifty people attended (it was hard to count numbers in the bookstore) and it wasn't clear that there was a one-to-one mapping between attendees and book sales. However, the one observation that was possible to make was that the pile of books available diminished substantially during the course of the afternoon.

For the second year in a row, our friends Warren, Ann, and their son Aaron came out to support us by buying a book. Thank you very much, and hopefully there will be more events like this!

The post launch gathering moved down the street to the Wheat Sheaf, where the talk (as you might expect) revolved around science fiction, canlit, and publishing.

As the evening progressed, a pool game started. After defeating Dave Nickle, Brett Savory went looking for other victims, and found a volunteer in Corwin.

Corwin demonstrated that he has a better grasp of applied physics than his old man, especially with regard to the consequences of elastic collisions. However, despite coaching from Dave, he too went down to defeat.

Our evening ended shortly thereafter -- apparently there is a law in Ontario that says a minor can't be in a pub after 9pm.

Our thanks to all those who came to the reading or to the gathering afterward. It was a great party, and a great launch for the book in Toronto!

Additional photos from the launch as well as photos from the gathering afterward are available on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

C3PO's No-Good Roommate

Stated last night by our friend Mark Azevedo, and reported on Facebook:

"Doesn't H1N1 sound like it should be C3PO's no-good college roommate? Hey, dude, I'm not a proto-col droid, I'm a party-call droid!!"

I am starting the ball rolling here, to make this the next internet Star Wars meme.

For Linda

I saw my cousin Linda at the family wedding gathering over the Labour Day weekend earlier this month. Other than a brief visit in July, this was the first time we had seen Linda since David's funeral.

My cousin is looking good. This is still a time of transition for her from her her life with David built over the last two decades to something new. This should be a time for those close to her to let her grieve and come to terms with her loss. Whatever Linda needs, whatever decisions she makes for her life, we'll be there to support her.

David absolutely doted on Nicole and Matt, and a day or two after an event like the wedding, there would have been an e-mail to David's peeps with lots of pictures of both of them.

But right now, it is all about Linda -- and for Linda to make the decisions to determine how she wants to move ahead with her life and those of Nicole and Matt. So, you go, girl! You have our love and support always.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cindy and Alex's Wedding

My cousin Cindy and her fiance, Alex, were married on Sunday September 6 over the Labour Day weekend. I shot over 700 images at their wedding. A selected subset of photos are posted on Facebook in this publicly available album. Over the next days/weeks, I plan on adding commentary to the individual photos in the album.

The condensed highlights of the wedding are represented by the photos posted here. The wedding was outside, so after the ceremony was over, there was a photo op in the park beside the tent where the banquet was to be held later.

Jill was sick that weekend, so it was only Corwin and I who went.

The day belonged to Cindy and Alex, and they were a beautiful and delightful couple. My cousin is talented, as well as a babe -- she made the cake and in fact, her bridesmaid and sister Bonnie told me that they had been decorating the cake up until 2am the night previously.

As is the custom in Chinese weddings, the bride went through a number of clothing changes. The final dress that Cindy wore was one that she herself had designed and made -- a clear case where career skills came in handy in personal life.

To my beautiful cousin and her new husband -- may you have a long and happy life together!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Back to Reality

I didn't blog at all in August, but that was because August was pretty event filled:

1 - Our friend Annalee arrived on the first Sunday in August. I picked her up from the airport, while Jill, Michael, Kate, and Sherry conducted a tech writing seminar in the back yard.

2 - A couple of days later, we all headed out to Anticipation, the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal. We used a rental van, and with six occupants (the three of us plus Annalee plus Michael and Lorna), luggage, and several cases of wine for the Friends of Merril/SF Canada party, the van was pretty packed. In the leadup to departure, I discovered that my driver's license had expired last year. My renewal letter had likely gotten lost in the mail, and I never noticed.

3 - After seven days sampling the delights of the Worldcon and the city of Montreal, we returned to Toronto on a Tuesday. My driver's license renewal was a priority. Annalee returned home to the US a couple of days later on Thursday Aug 13. On Friday, we packed the car, did some final household maintenance, and on Saturday morning headed off to northern Ontario, to our usual spot just south of the town of Temagami.

4 - At Lake Herridge, we had two weeks with friends -- 26 of us the first week, 16 the second. Two weeks later, rested from fresh air, sleep, swimming, starwatching and satellite spotting at night, many fine meals, and an unending array of wine and cocktails and beer, we returned refreshed and renewed. The experience was marred somewhat by Corwin getting sick a couple of days before coming home. His cold escalated to fever, nausea, and vomiting, although after two miserable nights he was on the the mend by the time we began our return trip. The drive home was not the nightmare that I expected it to be - in all, a good thing.

5 - Back home in Toronto, we ended the month of August and moved into the first week of September with unpacking, doing laundry, coping with the aftermath of the garbage strike, getting Corwin ready to start school (which happens tomorrow!), going to the Exhibition and generally getting life organized.

6 - My cousin Cindy got married yesterday. She and her fiance (now husband) Alex had announced their wedding months ago. The wedding took place on a perfect summer day, but unfortunately Jill was sick (still is) and didn't make it. I went with Corwin, and took hundreds of pictures yesterday. The downside of all those pictures is that I will have to sort them. However, the last time we had a large family gathering was for David's funeral. It was good to get together with the family on a happy occasion.

7 - And of course, there are photos from Worldcon as well as Temagami that need to sorted as well.

That was my summer -- how was your's?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Transparent Aluminum

Those of us who understand the True and Secret Star Trek History of The World also understand that transparent aluminum first appeared at a small manufacturing company in San Francisco in the early 1990s. In some (very confused) accounts, credit for the transparent aluminum process is sometimes attributed to a Professor Montgomery Scott of Edinburgh. However, no such individual with such knowledge of materials science was at the University of Edinburgh, or for that matter, in Scotland during the relevant time period.

Now, nearly twenty years later, reports that transparent aluminum was created by bombarding aluminum with a high intensity x-ray laser, causing an electron to be simultaneously knocked out of every aluminum atom in the sample, without disrupting the crystalline structure. You can think of this as the atomic equivalent of whipping a table cloth off the table so quickly and deftly that none of the place settings are affected.

According to the researchers, this is an exotic state of matter never before observed. It is as if all the aluminum atoms were suddenly changed to silicon, at least with respect to their electron properties. As you might expect, this state of matter was very unstable and fleeting.

It is possible that further work with this may provide some insight into the physics of planetary cores, stellar interiors,or nuclear fusion.

I, however, want transparent aluminum for viewports on the hull of my starship.

Battlefield photos

Time-Life have a series of photgraphic slide shows on their website for people interested in military history:

The World's Bloodiest Battles
14 Battles That Turned The Tide
World War Two - 14 Major Battles
World War Two - D-Day and Operation Overlord
In Combat: Great LIFE War Photos
World War Two - Hiroshima
World War two - Women In The Fight
World War Two - Allied Bombers and Crews
World War two - The British Spitfire

It's LIFE Magazine, so most of these photos will be America-centric. At least one of these collections include photos from Gettysburg and Antietam.

Force Projection 2

This is a follow up to the Force Projection post from March.

On April 1st the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg FFH-338 joined Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) in the Gulf of Aden, to participate in Operation ALLIED PROTECTOR to conduct counter-piracy operations.

Photo Credit - Department of National Defense - Canada

Winnipeg was there for an operational mission that was only to last a few weeks, but this grew to a two month operation (talk about scope creep!).

During Winnipeg's mission in the Gulf of Aden she conducted over 100 hails, 20 investigations of suspicious craft, 12 approach operations, 5 boardings and 8 close escorts. During boarding operations, Winnipeg encountered persons suspected of conducting piracy and ended up seizing large caches of weapons, which included AK-47’s, Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers and warheads, M-16 assault rifles, and other assorted firearms and ammunition.

While patrolling the International Recommended Transportation Corridor (IRTC), Winnipeg escorted many ships, including two specific vessels of particular significance to Canada - a supply ship for the World Food Program carrying food relief to Somalia, and a freighter with supplies for Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

On the 31st of May, after completing two months of counter-piracy and escort operations, Winnipeg departed the Gulf of Aden in a "sail past" ceremony with the SNMG1 Flagship NRP Corte Real.

Photo Credit - Department of National Defense - Canada. HMCS Winnipeg sails into the sunset on May 31, 2009, leaving the Gulf of Aden for the waters of Australia

Winnipeg is now on the next phase of her deployment, Exercise TALISMAN SABER, which will take place in late July on the east coast of Australia and which will be conducted with naval units from both the United States and Australia. Winnipeg is expected home at Esquimalt, BC in late August.

Around the same time that HMCS Winnipeg arrived in the Gulf of Aden, the Chinese Navy sent a second flotilla to the same part of the world. The destroyer Shenzhen DDG-167 and frigate Huangshan FFG-570 were sent to replace the destroyers Haikou DDG-169 and Wuhan DDG-171, which had been on station along with the supply ship Weishanhu since early January.

Since it appears that Chinese Navy combatant ship deployments average about three to four months or so, the second flotilla are going home very shortly, having been in the Gulf of Aden May, June, and July. They will be replaced by the third flotilla (also here and video here). The guided missile frigates Zhoushan FFG-529 and Xuzhou FFG-530 have enhanced stealth capabilities compared with other Chinese naval units. Between them, the two ships carry two helicopters and a Special Forces unit.

A new supply ship, Qiandaohu, will replace Weishanhu, which sailed with the first flotilla in January and has been in Somali waters for more than six months.

Since the beginning of the Chinese Navy's mission to the Gulf of Aden on December 26, 2008, eight ships and their crews have been provided with the opportunity to operate far away from Chinese home waters. They have needed to put into practice everything that they know about underway replenishment, helicopter operations, small craft boarding operations, and working with foreign civilian shipping. This kind of experience can't be taught, must exist for any blue water navy, and is vitally important for global strategic goals. I have the definite sense that without the UN resolution, the Chinese military leadership would probably have done this anyway, in order to get the operational experience.

Fried Chicken - KFC and Otherwise

I am pretty fond of fried chicken. Salt, grease, sugar (in the form of carbs in the breading) -- with 3 out of the 4 major geek food groups (only caffeine is missing) what's not to like? has a recent article on "secret" ingredients in commercial items like Coca Cola or KFC chicken. The conclusion? In this day of CSI forensic analysis, not to mention corporate liability for injuries from food allergies, there are no "secret" ingredients. In the case of KFC, the breading is 4 rather 11 ingredients -- the 4 being flour, salt, pepper, and MSG.

The Guardian's Word of Mouth blog provides a couple of recipes (and a video!) comparing the KFC experience with a couple of homemade efforts. The recipes are as follows:

American mix
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons Accent (MSG)

English mix
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp sage
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried onion flakes
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper

Mix up one of the mixes above, and combine with a cup (possibly two cups?) of flour. (For experimental follow-up - we need to try this with spelt flour, and then for those with extreme wheat intolerance, with corn starch).

Get some chicken. Marinate chicken pieces in milk overnight. (Alternative - try this with coconut milk).

Poach the chicken in the milk by bringing to a rapid boil, and then simmering on low heat for 20 minutes.

Coat each piece of chicken in the flour/herb mix. Dip each coated piece in milk again, and apply a second coat.

Deep fry each piece in a deep fryer until golden brown. (Those of us with no deep fryer as well as concerns about the hazards of deep frying will do shallow frying instead.)

The Word of Mouth article and associated video says that comparing fried chicken prepared this way with KFC chicken is like comparing a real peach to canned peaches -- they are clearly the same thing, and both are good, but the real peach (or in this case, the homemade chicken) is good in a way that is unmatched by the canned peach (KFC fast food).

We're going to try this soon and report back.

Ghost Busters (1954)

A trailer, for the little known 1954 black and white movie that inspired the Ivan Reitman remake decades later :-)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Foresight 1900 and a vision of 2100

Morlet's blog (link provided by Mike) has a post with images from circa 1900, showing life in the year 2000.

The images are wonderful. The majority of the ideas have come true, but even for the ones that have come true, their achievement was not at all in the way that they were visualized in these images.

Image Credit - Morlet's Blog - Police X-Ray Surveillance Machine

I am going by memory here, but I believe that Robert A. Heinlein, in an essay in the Expanded Universe collection, talks about how science fiction authors tend to miss the mark because they are insufficiently imaginative. Add futurists to that list - there was no such profession when Heinlein wrote that essay originally in 1950, and I don't remember whether he mentions them in his 1980 update.

Technological progress must resemble what I imagine biological evolution to be like -- a long period of relatively small adaptations for existing conditions which don't change, but then a sudden mad scramble for adaptation to a radical change in the environment. Think more or less stable conditions for a hundred million years to allow dinosaurs to evolve and adapt to almost all ecological niches, and then being blotted out by radical environmental change after the Chicxulub asteroid strike. Having seen both Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops, it might have been difficult to predict polar bears and bison.

In just the same way, in 1900, it wasn't obvious about the various revolutions caused by cheap internal combustion engines, air travel, rocket flight, space travel, computers, genetics -- the list goes on.

Here in no particular order is my short, incomplete list of problems we currently face, and possible solutions. It is no great prediction that from the year 2100, readers can look back on this list with the same sort of amusement that we in the post-2000 era look back on the predictions of 1900. As with the 1900 predictions, the flaw in these will be the unknown and unanticipated discoveries (or problems) that derail these and cause the outcome to be different.

GLOBAL WARMING - at the end of the 1800s, there was a hard limit to how big a city could get, because they were already running into the problem of how to get rid of all the horse manure that a large city would create. The analogy to our present day problem with rising carbon dioxide levels due to industrialization and transportation are obvious. How does this get fixed? Prediction - a range of technologies, including bioengineered forests (think kudzu genes implanted in sequoias) to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide. In addition, there will be technology applied to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it.

ENERGY - The industrialized world demands an enormous amount of energy. Energy needs will increase as Asia and Africa expand their consumption to levels that approach North America or Europe. Energy sources such as coal and oil release too much carbon. Nuclear reactors create dangerous waste. Space power satellites are expensive. Prediction - fusion reactors based on compression or pinch effects -- for example, the Bussard concept.

CONFLICT AND GOVERNANCE - In the shorter to medium term, this is also about creating a way to equitably share resources - something that has more often than not resulted in conflicts. Thomas Barnett's TED talk examines the way that conflicts (for example over energy and resources) could evolve, and the possible international solutions to these problems. Prediction - armed conflict won't go away, but the scope and intensity will drop as the main international players understand that war is bad for business.

SPACE - GROUND TO ORBIT - Rockets were all right as a first step for getting things into space, but over the long term, they are dangerous, polluting monsters. Prediction - Multistage scramject launchers will be developed, but will give way to an orbital elevator. If the elevator is based on some variation on carbon nanotube technology, several of these might be a good place to use up the carbon that needs to be removed from the atmosphere.

SPACE - SOLAR SYSTEM - The problem with the rockets that are being built is that rockets fundamentally can't lift very much into space -- most of their energy output is devoted to moving their own fuel. In order to get anywhere interesting with anything of a decent size, this constraint has to be removed. Scramjet launchers will help, so will an orbital elevator. Prediction (see also ENERGY above): A Bussard-type fusion reactor (or something similar) will turn transit times of years to weeks or months, putting the solar system out to the Kuiper Belt in range of manned exploration.

SPACE - BEYOND - There are mathematical models for how to get something to move faster than light, but no one has any idea on how to implement these concepts as buildable engineering. Prediction - by 2100, we will have a better understanding of spacetime, and will be able to create devices to allow local manipulation of gravity. Faster than light travel will remain elusive.

GENETICS - The molecular basis for life was not understood in 1900, but by 2000, the genome of human beings has been determined, as well as that of some other species. Prediction - by 2100, genetic data will be so readily available that researchers will have a much better understanding of the evolutionary heritage of the majority of creatures on this planet. Some extinct species will be recreated, although a "Jurassic Park" scenario will not be achievable. However, greater understanding of cloning technologies will enable organs and other spare parts to be grown as needed. Meat will be grown in vats rather than harvested from food animals.

NANOTECH - Very primitive nanotech devices have been created, but no one really knows yet how to do really sophisticated, sexy stuff. Prediction: the nanotech revolution will go hand in hand with developments in genetics and molecular biology. There will be something like a genetic code for self-assembling machines. These machines will become ubiquitous in the environment.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE - Even as late as the 1940s, there was a belief that computing devices would be mechanical. The computer revolution first of all needed to go electronic, and after that, took 40 years to get from the first mainframes to the internet. Having gotten to this point, it shows no sign of slowing down. If anything, the pace of development is increasing. Prediction - this one is the joker in the deck, because it affects everything else. As computers have gotten smarter over the years, we have used them as tools to allow us as individuals or groups to do more. Computer systems will continue to increase in power, and well before 2100, a computer (or computer network) will be able to match the power of a human brain. But it won't stop there - computer capabilities will continue to expand. We will share our world with AI entities who will help us to organize our data, our work, and our lives. This will affect all other human endeavours.

NEW PROBLEMS - Sure as anything, there will be unintended consequences -- stuff we didn't think of. Hopefully not fatal.

On Youth

It is probably because I am an old fat curmudgeon that this rant of Craig Ferguson is so funny.

Hubble Zooms In On Jupiter Impact

The Hubble Space Telescope, still undergoing testing after the last servicing mission back in May, was used to take a photograph of the impact site on Jupiter discovered by Anthony Wesley.

In this first science image returned from Hubble after the servicing mission, the remains of the impact in Jupiter's atmosphere are clearly visible. The blot is seen to be losing its cohesion compared with earlier photos. This smearing effect is being driven by wind in Jupiter's atmosphere.

The image was taken with the Wide Field Camera 3 on Hubble. Calibration of the camera is still in progress -- this science observation interrupted the full system checkout of Hubble that has been in progress since the shuttle Atlantis left the telescope.

Current estimates suggest that the impacting body, a comet or asteroid, was several hundred meters in diameter. The energy released was thousands of times greater than that released by the comet or asteroid that precipitated the Tunguska event in Siberia a century ago.
Image Credit above: NASA/ESA/Heidi Hammel (Space Science Institute, Boulder, CO), and the Jupiter Impact Team

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Blank Verse of Sarah Palin

Years ago -- in fact, more than a decade ago -- when Jill and I attended a particular church in North York (the same one we were married in), the minister delivered sermons that sounded great. Whenever I woke up during the service, and focused on the last sentence I heard, it was always an interesting thought, that had been delivered with confidence and no hesitation whatsoever, in a fine public speaking voice. But there was a problem -- whenever I stayed awake enough to actually listen to more than one sentence, I concluded that the sermon was a series of more or less related thoughts, but there was little or no internal coherence at all between sentences. The sermon may have been intended to evoke images, but was certainly not a logically constructed argument, not an an essay on some aspect of faith or the human condition (or both!) delivered from the pulpit. That was a lack that I felt, because there wasn't any real content there for me.

Sarah Palin is sort of like that -- except that her internal coherence gets lost between clauses within each sentence.

However, if you suppress all your left brain processing, and think of my former minister's sermons and Sarah Palin's speeches as blank verse poetry, then it totally works. Conan O'Brien earlier this week on the Tonight Show had William Shatner read Sarah Palin's farewell speech as if it were blank verse.

Even if you thought it wasn't much of a speech, you'd have to agree that it was marginally more acceptable as poetry.

UPDATE (Aug 2, 2009) - The original link to the Conan O'Brien video on Youtube has been removed. Here is a replacement, which will hopefully last longer:

HMCS Fraser

Various news sources report that Her Majesty's Canadian Ship Fraser was returned to the Royal Canadian Navy earlier this month.

Fraser -- DDH 233 -- is the last surviving ship of the St. Laurent class of destroyers. These were the first warships designed and built in Canada, and they formed the backbone of the Royal Canadian Navy during the Cold War. From the National Historic Site historical plaque aboard Fraser
Designed in 1948-1949, they influenced naval construction internationally with their smooth above-water surfaces and distinctive convex deck. They could also be sealed to protect crews against biological and radioactive threats. All seven St. Laurent-class ships were modified during the 1960s to carry helicopters and enhance their anti-submarine capability. Launched in 1953, the HMCS Fraser is the last surviving example of this innovative class of warship.

When these ships were originally designed and built, they were intended to be newer, faster, more capable versions of the River-class destroyers that the RCN used in the Battle of the Atlantic in the Second World War. Their DDE designation marked them as Destroyer Escorts - ships intended to guard a convoy or to form part of a surface battle group. In the early 1960s, they were upgraded to add the capability of launching and recovering a Sea King helicopter, which is reflected by the change from the DDE to the DDH designator. When HMCS Bonaventure, the last RCN aircraft carrier, was retired, these ships became by default the largest units in the Canadian Navy.

Photo Credit - by Stewpendous on Flickr -- HMCS Fraser moored at Bridgewater, NS

All the ships of the St. Laurent class excluding St. Laurent herself went through the DELEX (Destroyer Lifetime Extension) program in the early 1980s. This upgrade included an electronic warfare suite that allowed these older ships constructed in the decade after World War Two to function and participate in a modern battlefield, giving them tactical datalinks to allow them to mesh with allied combatant ships and aircraft.

Throughout the 1980s, Fraser was used as a testbed to evaluate technology that would be used on the Halifax-class frigates that were then being designed. But by 1994, Fraser was retired and all the other ships of the St. Laurent class-- St. Laurent DDH 205, Saguenay DDH 206, Skeena DDH 207, Ottawa DDH 229, Margaree DDH 230, and Assiniboine DDH 234 -- were scrapped or sunk.

Originally, Fraser was intended to be either a museum, or an artificial reef -- indeed, the ship was owned by the Artificial Reef Society of Nova Scotia since the mid 1990s, until funding issues caused the ship to be returned to DND and the Navy earlier this month.

The Navy now has three options -- they could could restore Fraser (as a museum, not an operational warship), break her up and sell the remains for scrap, or turn the ship into an artificial reef.

The statement from Peter MacKay, the Defense Minister, is a typical example of political vagueness: "We remain committed to developing a longer-term solution for Fraser's future." What does this actually mean?

Worst Business Model Ever

Imagine this situation - you spend thousands of dollars to outfit your home with solar panels, as well as the necessary DC-to-AC conversion technology. You do this because over the lifetime of the solar panels and associated infrastructure, you expect to buy substantially less power from the power company. In fact, this is how you would justify the purchase of the solar panels -- if you do it right, you will make back more than the cost of the technology in savings on your electricity bill.

Well, there is a utility out there (Xcel Energy in Colorado) who proposes that their customers with solar panels on their homes be charged for the electricity that they don't use -- see links here and here and here. You might expect that there is an outcry about this.

One of Xcel's customers noted of his solar panel installation that
“Mine are generating enough to feed five or six houses around me electricity, so there's no free ride.”
A solar energy consultant pointed out
“That's less energy that Xcel Energy has to produce. That's less coal that they have to burn.”

This is one of those times where you encounter something and you just have to shake your head and wonder what the heck they were thinking? In this case, think of this as a tax on progress.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Solar Eclipse of July 22, 2009

A total solar eclipse of the Sun occurred earlier this week on Wednesday July 22. The path of totality as illustrated by the following animation (image credit NASA/A T Sinclair), touched the Earth in India, crossed through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. After leaving mainland Asia, the path crossed Japan's Ryukyu Islands and curved southeast through the Pacific Ocean where the maximum duration of totality reached 6 min 39 sec.

The Hinode satellite captured images of the eclipse from space. Hinode is a joint science mission (also known as Solar-B) mounted by JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the American NASA. The following image (photo credit NASA/JAXA) shows the moon's shadow in front of a heavily filtered view of the Sun.

Another Japanese Earth-monitoring satellite MTSAT captured what I believe has to be one of the most seriously cool space images ever -- the view of the moon's shadow on the earth from geostationary orbit 35,790 km (22,240 mi) high. The image (photo credit MTSAT/GMS via Wired Science blog) shows the shadow covering the island of Taiwan. Note that Australia is pretty clear of cloud cover -- just as one would expect from the reports of drought conditions there.

As eclipses go, this one was pretty long at nearly 7 minutes of totality. The next one having this comparable level of totality won't occur until 2132. Those of us still around will be just a bit decrepit by then :-)

Batman and Sons - Webcomic

I posted earlier about a webcomic called Batman and Sons, done by fan artist the dark cat.

He (or perhaps she) has now finished the "Rivalry" story, and it is available on the dark cat's Blogspot blog:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 - Conclusion

Clicking on individual thumbnails in each post will open up the page for reading.

Part 1, which was the only part available when I did my original post, was pretty funny, and so perhaps expectations may have been set too high for parts 2 and 3. It is hard to do "funny" consistently, but the entire story was well done and definitely worth taking the time to read. [1]

A couple of minor editorial quibbles -- I noticed that at least once, the word "manic" was used instead of the correct "maniac". These text problems didn't really detract from the story, because there weren't too many. They may have been due to the artist's understandable desire to finish the friggen thing.

My favourite bits were the ongoing gag of Dick's adolescent reaction to busty superheroines in skintight costumes (pages 4, 9, 17, 19, 35) and the reunion of the Batbaby with its mother (page 44).

My one question (which will undoubtedly cause me to lose all my comic book nerd street cred) is - who was Cassandra (page 11)?

The real reason why I like this story is the underlying warning against overcoming one's own inadequacies or solving one's own issues by passing these things down one generation and having one's son(s) bear the weight of expectation to do it properly. As the story illustrates, this not a good model of child-rearing at all.

Not a bad bit of insight from something meant to be funny and fluffy.

[1] The assumptions I make, of course, are that the prospective reader have a sense of humour and at least some affinity for and knowledge of the DC Comics universe, of which Batman and Sons in general and this story "Rivalry" specifically are a parody.

For Sale - One Lunar Rover, Cheap

On's classified ads section, the following ad appears -- "For sale one Lunar Rover $500,000.00 no offers. One careful owner low mileage buyer collects. Cash offer and I will throw in a camera."

Given the original lunar rover development, manufacturing, and shipping costs, the price of half a mil is pretty good. The camera (a vintage Hasselblad, I believe) is definitely an added bonus.

A couple of problems aside from considerations of title -- the ad doesn't make clear which of three possible rovers is being offered -- there is one at Hadley Rille, one on the Descartes Highlands, and one at Taurus-Littrow. Oh, and I suppose the biggest problem given the "buyer collects" provision -- the locations of all three rovers (and the camera) are on the moon.

Photo credit above -- NASA/Apollo 15 -- photo taken by David R. Scott or James B. Irwin at the Hadley Rille on Earth's moon.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Guess Who Started Blogging??

OK, so perhaps it isn't momentous news in the grand scheme of things, but I think it is pretty cool.

My wife the author -- and now, blogger!

UPDATE - I added the link to Second Draft in "the Usual Suspects" section with a "Jill Lum" description, and in the "Skiffy" section with a "Michael Skeet and Jill Snider Lum" description.

Not immoral or illegal, just incredibly fattening

Divine Caroline has an article about the Ten Worst Artery Cloggers in America. At the same time, they also have an article on Ten Foods That Will Improve Your Mood.

As far as the first one, not very many of them are actually available in Canada. However, I am sure we have substitutes. The Domino’s Chicken Carbonara Pasta Bread Bowl, for example, sounds a lot like like something introduced at KFC recently -- a bowl (but not a bread bowl) with fried chicken, mashed potato, corn, gravy, and cheese -- just the thing to make up for a lipid deficiency. And I am happy to put a Double Big Mac up against a Triple Whopper with cheese.

Bad though they are, these are all best selling products because we are evolved to want sugar (in this case carbs) and fat -- and these products mainline their delivery to us like heroin from a junkie's needle.

Based on the other list, it sounds like one of the best food experiences that we could have would be to start outside on a sunny day with an edamame bean appetizer leading up to eating a lot of turkey. The accompaniments would be a lentil salad and a spinach salad, followed by a chocolate banana dessert. The sunny day would allow us the manufacture vitamin D through direct exposure to sunlight. All the other foods would max out tryptophan and folate (a vitamin B compound), and the net result would be a lot of happy people. Gotta try this...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


This was pretty funny....

Birthdays in Mauritius

My cousin Anne sent photos of the combined birthday celebration held this past Sunday the 19th for Nina (age 4 at the beginning of August) and Leo (age 2 last week).

Anne reports that she had a hard time trying to get Leo to wear his birthday shirt (he usually wears cotton tshirts) - however, as soon as he saw his cake, he was so mesmerised, he finally allowed it to be buttoned up! Leo tried to pick all the decorations and candle off of his cake - clearly a young man with an eye to the main chance. Nina was a little princess with her dress and her "grown up shoes"!

Thanks to Anne for sharing the party pictures. It is wonderful to get these by e-mail. Have I mentioned recently that I love technology??

Jupiter Impact Update

A follow-up observation with an infrared telescope on Mauna Kea confirms that the dark mark(s) discovered near Jupiter's south pole by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley were caused by an impact of a comet or asteroid. The "hole" in Jupiter's upper atmosphere is now Earth-size or larger.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Infrared Telescope Facility - This image shows the heat signature from the impact point, glowing against the cooler background.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jupiter Impact?

Around 1330 UT (0830 Eastern) yesterday (19 July 2009), an Australian amateur astronomer named Anthony Wesley noticed a previously unseen dark spot on Jupiter. Further observations by Mr. Wesley and other observers show several more spots in the vicinity, indicating that this is likely the result of a sizable asteroid or cometary impact on Jupiter.

If this was indeed a comet or asteroid impact, it would be much like Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, fragments of which which hit Jupiter in July 1994.

The Spaceguard project is still cataloguing large objects in orbits which might be in a position to hit Earth. However, no one noticed the Jupiter impactor prior to Sunday. Jupiter's larger size and greater gravity causes it to sweep up a lot of material, which is a good thing for us -- every large object swept up by Jupiter is one less to fall out of the sky without warning on us.

One Giant Leap For Mankind - 40 Years Later

Today is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing carried out by the astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the lunar module Eagle onto the Moon's Sea of Tranquility. While they took photographs, set up experimental equipment, and gathered rock and soil samples, their fellow astronaut Michael Collins orbited overhead in the command module Columbia.

Forty years later, there is an "Apollo 11" greasy spoon resturant here in Toronto at the corner of Bathurst and Dupont. This leads me to wonder whether the "Obama Cafe" on the Danforth will still be here by the middle of this century. The juxtaposition of restaurant names here in Toronto will be matched by a meeting of the actual people in Washington, where President Obama is scheduled to meet with Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins later today.

Today, there are 13 astronauts on the International Space Station -- a record setting number of people in one place in space, and incidentally, one more person than the twelve men who to this point have walked on the moon. Two of those thirteen people currently in space -- Robert Thirst and Julie Payette -- are Canadians. But there are no people in high orbit, or the moon, or interplanetary space.

Photo credit NASA - Endeavour approaches the ISS on Friday, July 17. Photo taken by an Expedition 20 astronaut during the approach phase to check for possible heat shield damage.

After 1972, the Apollo 18 spacecraft was redesignated for use on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Apollo 19 through 21, which included the setup for a rudimentary moonbase, were cancelled by the Nixon administration and never flown.

There are strong indications that the NASA Constellation program has fundamental design complexities and problems that may make it difficult or even impossible for NASA and its international partners to implement and use as the platform for the return to the moon, and beyond. Also, the Constellation vision is an enormous step backward in terms of technology concept. The decisions that are made now matter, and will affect whether or not there continues to be a viable human presence in space.

In the meantime, there has been a lot of 40th anniversary coverage over the last few days (click on individual links to open):

Apollo 11 mission recreated on web -- report and mission site

The debate about whether it was all worth it began even before the moon landings. Perhaps the major problem with space exploration to date is that there has been no true viable long term purpose. John F. Kennedy provided the lunar landing objectiveb when he stated in a speech that he elieved
"that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."

But even Kennedy did not look beyond the need in the 1960s to "beat" the Russians. Elsewhere, he is on record saying to then-NASA Administrator James Webb
"This is important for political reasons, international political reasons, and this is, whether we like it or not, an intensive race. Otherwise, we shouldn't be spending this kind of money, because I'm not that interested in space."

Buzz Aldrin's rap video, intended to make space travel sexy for a new generation.

Sadly there are conspiracy theorists who believe that the landing never happened, prompting a lot of effort to demonstrate otherwise (also here and here and here). Proving a negative is hard to do, and there are always people (see also evolution debaters and 911 conspiracy theories) who choose belief over evidence.

The mission was a success from launch to lunar module liftoff to landing because many people worked on it, including small but critical contributions from unlikely people.

NASA has been working on cleaning up the Apollo 11 television footage. Here is a sample:

Finally, here is a montage video of highlights from the entire mission -- Armstrong's first words from the moon occur around 1:02. It should also be noted that Walter Cronkite, the iconic newscaster for CBS, passed away earlier last week.

Happy Neilsday 2009...