Friday, August 31, 2012

"I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president, anyway."

Thus Clint Eastwood, talking to an empty chair.

Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, Madison, both Adams, Jackson......

And a few others.

Just saying.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Android Romance

Android Romance by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

This was inspired by a sensationalist article that ran in the Philadelphia Daily News in the 1930s about the contemporary lesbian dating scene, which luridly described lesbians cruising for "synthetic love".

I worked at the paper for a time, and the Art Director had a copy of the article pinned to the wall of her office.

That's the kind of phrase that drills into your brain, screaming for release.

So I had to draw Android Romance, because nobody understands synthetic love better than androids, particularly dieselpunk Art Deco androids.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Curiosity Descent at 25 FPS

Taken from 4 frames per second to 25 with interpolated frames. Splendid!

Here is a side by side comparison of the interpolated video and the original.

More on how it was done here.

Phase Sword

Phase Sword by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Another Star Saga illustration.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Renaissance of Amateurs

The most recent Curiosity videos were a forceful reminder of how much we benefit from people doing things for the love of it. This, this and this were all apparently produced by individuals on their own time with no obvious hope of monetary gain.

Amateurs can do great things: Mendel, Darwin, and William and John Herschel were amateurs, whose primary income was not from the work we remember them for.

In the richer world of the 21st century, more people can do more in their spare time for the love of it.

Curiosity Rover Entry, Descent and Landing Reconstruction with Synchronized Simulation

By Ross Melville
This is my take on the Curiosity MSL timeline for landing on Mars. The MARDI (Mars Descent Imager) captured color video at 3.88fps from time of heat-shield separation to many minutes after landing. Many of the post landing full resolution video frames had not been sent to Earth at the time I uploaded this video. The major goal of this project was to be as accurate as possible. The simulation has been painstakingly slowed down and sped up, synchronizing it to the timeline. All other footage is 100% real-time playback or still frames. Another goal was to show how much is going on behind the wonderful descent imager video.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Jael, Sisera and Tent Pegs

In the Book of Judges, Jael drives a tent stake into the temple of the Canaanite general Sisera. It would seem that that medieval depictions of this scene would be a good source for what a medieval tent stake looked like.

Alas, no. The Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible available to all but the most erudite medieval Christians renders the item in question as a "nail of the tent" and Jael is almost always shown in medieval and renaissance art holding a large iron nail.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Curiosity Shot First

Curiosity's Do List:

1) Land safely.
2) Phone home
3) Start looking around
4) Zap a rock with a laser, because I come in peace for all mankind, but I have a laser, and I'm not afraid to use it, so fear my mad laser skillz, and also SCIENCE!
5) Finish looking around
6) Move
(To be continued)

Chekhov's Laser in practice: "If in the first act you have put a one ton robot equipped with a laser on the surface of Mars, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."

Those Warm Blooded Dinosaurs

Those Warm Blooded Dinosaurs by ~WillMcLean on deviantART

Saturday, August 18, 2012

More on Medieval Breast Control

Medieval Silkworks has a nice collection of written sources on the subject, including a quote from the Roman de la Rose. Here is the original French and my own translation.
Et s'elle a trop grosses mamelles,
Prengne couvrechief ou touailles,
Dont sur le pis se face estraindre,
Et tout autour ses cottes ceindre;
Puis atachier, couldre et nouer,
Lors se peut bien aller jouer.

And if her breasts are too big,
Let her take a kerchief or cloth
To bind them against her chest
And wrap it all around her ribs,
And then to fasten it, stitch it up and tie it,
Then she may well go to her sport.

The Humans Behind the Robot

Look at their faces: intent professionalism, growing confidence, and then joy, pride and relief.

The Wall of Gale Crater, Through the Martian Haze

Haze, and valleys believed to have been carved by water in this NASA image are reminiscent of a desert on Earth, but under a redder, dusty sky. The white balanced image of the same scene shows something closer to how the scene would look under terrestrial sunlight.

Reaching Mars

Curiosity's descent camera photographed her heat shield lithobraking into the Martian surface in a cloud of dust.

This high resolution video shows the heat shield falling away, powered descent, swirling clouds of dust raised as her rockets near the surface, and look, a wheel snaps into position.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Sedimentary Rocks of Ancient Mars

Click to embiggen. That is where Curiosity is eventually bound: to poke and prod the remnants of an ancient Mars, where liquid water was once abundant.

Long ago, this was a wet world.

So like our own home, and so unlike.

More here.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Living in the Future: Curiosity

On the morning of August 6, 2012, I awoke in a tent in a campground near Slippery Rock in western Pennsylvania. I immediately checked my phone to confirm that Curiosity's cruise and descent stages had successfully completed their precisely choreographed immolation and self disassembly, like a multi-ton self-liquidating Swiss watch, and deposited Curiosity safe on its wheels on the floor of Gale Crater.

Putting a ton of robot harbinger safely on the Martian surface is an amazing thing. But then, so is getting the news on a mobile phone that fits in your pocket.

Welcome to the future, my friends: the future, where you you will spend the rest of your lives.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Scalzi on Rand

I enjoy Atlas Shrugged quite a bit, and will re-read it every couple of years when I feel in the mood. It has a propulsively potboilery pace so long as Ayn Rand’s not having one of her characters gout forth screeds in a sock-puppety fashion. Even when she does, after the first reading of the book, you can go, “oh, yeah, screed,” and then just sort of skim forward and get to the parts with the train rides and motor boats and the rough sex and the collapse of civilization as Ayn Rand imagines it, which is all good clean fun.

What he said. When you hit the screed, start skimming forward until the screed stops. The book then becomes a jolly industrialist swashbuckler.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Martian Panoramas

An interactive panorama of Curiosity's landing site. And here is our other rover, Opportunity at Greeley Haven, Dec. 21, 2011-May 8, 2012. (It's labelled as Spirit for some reason, but in fact it's Opportunity at Greeley)

Splendid machines!

Oh, and here's an annotated version of Curiosity's panorama, with thanks to Andy Finkel.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mars: Patience and Persistence

When Curiosity dove into the Martian atmosphere late in the evening of August 5, 2012, PDT, we had three different spacecraft in Mars orbit ready to support it. The oldest, Mars Odyssey, arrived in Mars orbit late in 2001. It has served as a communications relay for Spirit and Opportunity, and it will do so for Curiosity, providing a critical link to Earth during its entry, when Curiosity itself was blocked from Earth by the horizon of Mars, and thereafter as needed. This is a critical capability: a rover on the Martian surface trying to contact Earth directly is blinded by the planet at least half the time.

The Mars Express orbiter entered Mars orbit late in 2003. She will also serve as a communications relay.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was the third, in Mars orbit since 2006. She can also serve as a communications relay, but her powerful camera also scouted the landing site, photographed Curiosity as she descended beneath her parachute, and pinpointed the landing site of Curiosity and the various components that allowed her to reach the surface intact.

This flotilla of spacecraft, so important to Curiosity's effectiveness, began arriving in Mars orbit over a decade ago. Initial funding and design began long before.

Space isn't going to go away. The long game is the smart game.

Friday, August 10, 2012

It Worked!

The crazy-looking but boldly elegant skycrane design worked perfectly, neatly and precisely discarding bits of the spacecraft the moment they were no longer needed, all the way down to the Martian surface. The cruise stage and balance weights were jettisoned outside the atmosphere, then the heat shield, entry balance weights, parachute and backshell, and then finally the skycrane itself.

We can now land a one ton rover on the Martian surface, with much greater precision than ever before.

A Pennsic Privateer Song

God damn them all!
I was told that all the girls would be saucy and bold
The half-clad babes would be our dears
Now I'm broke and I'm hot and I'm all out of beer
The last of Pennsic privateers.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Pennsic Pirate Song

Oh, I have sailed the seven seas:
The broad seas and the narrow
And that is why ye see me here
Dressed up like Jack Sparrow.

Oh, in my floppy hat ye see
I wears a bonny feather,
And even though it's August I
Am dressed up in black leather!

Oh, I have sailed the seven seas:
The broad seas and the narrow
And that is why ye see me here
Dressed up like Jack Sparrow

The Rovers

Let's give three cheers for NASA, our robots are on Mars
Because we are American they look like shiny cars
They're brave and uncomplaining as they trundle here and there
They take a lot of pictures and they have no need for air
As we go forth into the void our robots lead the way
Put on your 3-d glasses and behold the Martian day!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Culture, Institutions and Good Fortune

Mitt Romney doubles down on his July 30th fundraiser speech on the awesome superiority of Israeli culture and asks:
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?

Excellent question. Unless, as James Fallows notes, we accept an absurdly broad view of culture, institutions are an independent variable. The residents of what would become East Germany woke up in 1945 with a culture virtually indistinguishable from their West German neighbors in work ethic, appreciation for education, commitment to honor and oath, family orientation, devotion to a purpose greater than themselves, and patriotism. Unfortunately, they had an an odious and stupid Marxist puppet government imposed on them by the Soviet Union, and as a result they were much less prosperous than their western cousins when Germany was reunited.

As another example, consider Chinese in Hong Kong, Singapore and Mainland China: similar culture, but very different institutions and outcomes.

Then, of course, there's the factor that Romney calls "the hand of providence" and others call random chance. It may happen that your nation will unexpectedly find itself atop valuable natural resources for reasons unrelated to your cultural virtue, or perhaps other nations will make your ethnic or religious majority and their ethnic or religious minority feel so unwelcome that you get a windfall in well educated immigrants.

Alternatively, your nation may end up with a greedy, powerful and unprincipled neighbor or neighbors that steals your assets and leaves you both poorer and exhausted by the struggle.

Like what happened to Mexico.