End of February tidbits

I stumbled onto a great, succinct source of relevant information on Ukraine. The Visual Capitalist. Their visual representations of many subjects are quite good.

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This weekend I’m going to a tech conference for the first time in at least two years, maybe three. The Western Winter Workshop. Indian Wells is pretty nice this time of year.

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I absolutely love the fact that a group of academics from Sweden and Penn State have done a serious mathematical analysis of the probable number of Dyson spheres in our galaxy. From the abstract:

Dyson spheres are hypothetical megastructures built by advanced extraterrestrial civilizations to harvest radiation energy from stars. Here, we combine optical data from Gaia DR2 with mid-infrared data from AllWISE to set the strongest upper limits to date on the prevalence of partial Dyson spheres within the Milky Way, based on their expected waste-heat signatures. Conservative upper limits are presented on the fraction of stars at 𝐺 ≤ 21 that may potentially host non-reflective Dyson spheres that absorb 1–90% of the bolometric luminosity of their host stars and emit thermal waste-heat in the 100–1000 K range. Based on a sample of ≈ 2.7 × 105 stars within 100 pc, we find that a fraction less than ≈ 2 × 10−5 could potentially host ∼ 300 K Dyson spheres at 90% completion. These limits become progressively weaker for less complete Dyson spheres due to increased confusion with naturally occurring sources of strong mid-infrared radiation, and also at larger distances, due to the detection limits of WISE. For the ∼ 2.9 × 108 stars within 5 kpc in our Milky Way sample, the corresponding upper limit on the fraction of stars that could potentially be ∼ 300 K Dyson spheres at 90% completion is 􏰁 8 × 10−4.

Bottom line, there could be as many as 300,000 advanced civilizations in the Milky Way that have constructed barriers around their star to harvest energy. How cool is that? And why haven’t we heard from them? My suspicion is that the speed of light is indeed a barrier (no free FTL lunch), and interstellar space is very, very large.

Mars!

I watched the entire 80-minute SpaceX update with Musk on the stage explaining things, and I came away fired up. Musk isn’t a great speaker, but his message is mind-blowing. This is really history in the making, science fiction become reality. And the guy is 100% authentic, 100% committed to his goal of getting us to Mars ASAP. You couldn’t make this shit up – the richest guy in the world building giant silver rockets that do things we never believed possible. Well, maybe Tony Stark, but Musk isn’t a comic book character – he’s a real guy building real shit in Texas and Florida and California and Nevada. And lobbing it into orbit. Maybe the best applied engineer in history. He’s talking about delivering a million tons of payload onto the surface of Mars to make sure the Martian colony is self-sustaining. Think NASA times a billion.

He plays down the interim milestone of a base on the Moon, and that’s OK, even though I’m a little obsessed about a Moon colony. I think I’ll see that in my lifespan (knock on ALL the wood), but not sure I’ll be around for the timeline for the Mars colony.

The more I listen to the guy, the more I realize he’s a complete anomaly. One in several billion. Brilliant, fearless, visionary, childish, churlish, pragmatic…and ultimately the perfect person to get us out of our gravity well jail once and for all.

I listened to the questions of the journalists attending the event, and I’m embarrassed. Most of them were about “what will you do if TX/FAA/NASA regulations get in your way and force you to delay/try again/move your operations”? They don’t get it. His only real oppositions are physics and engineering. He’s pushing the state of the art of materials science, automation, manufacturing, chemistry…all at once. The government’s rules and regulations are nuisances, but not on the critical path to his goal – getting us to Mars.

If you’re a Star Trek fan or just an aerospace geek, watch the video. And get fired up.

News other than Ukraine

Everyone else on the Internet is writing about Ukraine and Russia today. I decided to write about some other things.

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Here’s a little bit of gambling history I did not know. The man who beat the roulette wheel.

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If you like movies, I highly recommend Dennis Hartley’s Den of Cinema. Dude has a great take on films from all eras. His Top 10 lists are a lot of fun. He *does* have the occasional political post, so it’s not all fun and games.

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Yesterday’s UK loss to Arkansas was painful. We could have won, but made some bad mistakes in the final couple of minutes. Oscar Tshiebwe was amazing with 30 points and 18 rebounds, but that wasn’t enough to make up for the mistakes and some poor guard play. Only two more games in the regular season – where did the time go?

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I really enjoy reading this summary of Elon Musk’s Feb 2022 update on Starship and the Super Heavy booster. The full video with the man himself is here. I’d give a lot to see one of those launches up close. His approach to launch systems is just so practical, so anti-NASA. Starship should really launch the commercial Space Age.

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My friend Jon in NOLA had his big Mardi Gras parade last night. His spooky costume, worn while riding his Krewe‘s float (his Krewe is Endymion) through the streets, is featured in the picture below.

It’s a pretty big deal. From the MardiGrasNewOrleans website:

The Krewe of Endymion is host to Samedi Gras, the greatest block party on earth. drawing 30,000+ from Mid-City neighborhoods to help kick off Endymion. The krewe’s motto is “Throw ’til it Hurts.” They estimate that they toss more than 15 million throws along the parade route which ends with a ride through the Mercedes Benz Superdome for the Endymion Extravaganza.

I was there in person for it once, and it was surreal. Hope to do it again sometime.

Saturday fun facts

You learn something new every day. Here’s an approach for green power generation that uses high-power millimeter waves to drill (vaporize) through solid rock to tap geothermal energy 12 miles beneath Earth’s surface. Very cool idea, and I’d love to see it working. I’m not in love with the idea of thousands of 12-mile deep holes in North America’s crust, but…it beats burning dinosaurs. And there’s no doubt about the theme of the website where I found the article: Treehugger.

While doing research for my book, I find more and more weird facts about the Moon. Here are a few that most people aren’t aware of:

  • There is no “dark side of the Moon”. We call it that because the Moon is tidally locked to Earth, and the combination of its rotation and revolution allows us to only see one side from Earth. The other side, hidden from us, gets just as much sunlight as the one we see.
  • The whole tidal locking and synchronous rotation thing is really hard to get your head around. This writeup on Wikipedia is helpful.
  • A Lunar “day” is 14 of our days long. So at any point on the Moon, you’ll get 14 days of scorching +260F degree-ish sunlight followed by 14 days of frigid -280F degree-ish darkness. I don’t know why the cold is deeper than the heat.
  • The Lunar poles are likely to be relatively mild, as they get small amounts of incidental sunlight constantly. At the extreme poles you would see the Sun circling around just on the horizon – a forever sunset.
  • The Moon has taken quite a beating in its long life. The south pole is dominated by one of the largest impact craters in the solar system, The Aitken Basin, some 1600 miles across and up to 5 miles deep. Something really big blasted that hole. And it turns out we may have found the culprit, a mountain-sized metal blob deep under the Aitken Basin.

There’s a lot more to learn, and I hope I get to see the day when we return to the Moon and start exploring it in earnest.

Patriots

I find it galling that the far right political party has claimed the word “patriot” for its exclusive use. The obvious intent is to paint their ideological opponents, liberals of any type, as “not patriotic”, or traitorous. It’s a very divisive practice.

And in times of conflict or danger, what does being a patriot mean? I think it means supporting the United States’ official stance on a worldwide crisis. Support your country, support the President, be a patriot. That seems pretty obvious to me.

Given that, this little story taken from Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters From An American today is really something.

And yet, while some leading Republicans are expressing support for Ukraine and simply ignoring President Joe Biden, the same Republicans who have been most closely associated with Trump and the January 6 insurrection are trying to use Russia’s attack on Ukraine to undermine the president. Following the lead of former president Trump, who says that Putin invaded because Biden is weak, Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who took over for Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) when the House Republicans stripped her of her position as the third most powerful House Republican, tweeted that “Joe Biden is unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief. He has consistently given into [sic] Putin’s demands and shown nothing but weakness.”

This is simply an extraordinary statement for a lawmaker to issue at a time when a president is rallying the global community to stop an invasion of another democracy, but she is not alone. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) called Biden weak and corrupt; Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said that former president Trump’s “unpredictability” (!) kept Putin cautious; Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) complained that the administration “project[s] weakness.” Representatives Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ); Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Ron Johnson (R-WI); and others all are working to undermine Biden in this moment of global crisis.

Diplomat Aaron David Miller, who spent 24 years in the State Department, had his own assessment of the president. He said: “So far, Biden has done a masterful job of leading and maintaining both E.U. and NATO unity.”

From Letters From an American, Heather Cox Richardson, 2-26-22

Support your country. Support your country’s important treaties, like NATO. Support your President in a moment of crisis, even if you don’t agree with him or her on other things. That’s patriotism, unlike the foul-mouthed disinformation spewed by the likes of Stefanik, Greene, Gaetz, Jordan and the like. They’re disgusting.

Historic day

Well, it finally happened. Bombs and weapons active in Kiev (or Kyiv, whatever) today. And Kiev is way, way inside the Ukraine border. This is no longer a nibble of some territory around the edges, it’s a full-blown “…nice country you have here, we think we’ll take it” action. Predictably, the stock market is crashing and the media is going nuts.

Next big question is which western country fires the first shot in opposition. Kinda feels like an all-in situation – if you go active in combat against the Sovs, you better bring your A-game. It’s not hard to imagine US F-35s getting involved very soon. WW3 is at the bottom of this very slippery slope.

Only good news so far today is that Southwest dropped $1500 on me to take a flight 90 minutes later than the one I was on. That’s the most money I’ve made per hour in a while. Pretty good retirement gig – travel and be flexible on what flight you take.

And while waiting for my profitable flight, I did something unusual – I bought a paperback book. A real physical book, imagine that. Airports are doing a “buy the book and return it to most airports for 50% refund on your sale price, within 6 months” deal, and that looks good to me. I picked up Grisham’s “A Time for Mercy“, a 630 page tome. Apparently Grisham has gotten more verbose in his old age.

Twosday was a bitch

What a day. Exhausting. Weird.

I left Louisville this morning in a blinding rainstorm. I wanted rain and I got it. I drove with both hands clutched on the wheel all the way to Midway, half way between Frankfort and Lexington. After that it was just a drizzle and semi-slick roads.

Arriving in Ashland, I was happy to take Dad and Phyllis on their big day out, visiting CVS, PNC Bank, her beauty salon, his old-school racist barber (another story there), a CBD shop (!!) to get something different for Phyllis’ shoulder pain, and a tired old Italian place in Ironton where they enjoy eating some of the worst spaghetti ever. If that’s not love I don’t know what is.

Duty fulfilled, the real trials of the day started on the way back to Louisville that afternoon. For some unfathomable reason, authorities shut down I-64W – closed the entire highway, about 8 miles from the point where it crosses the KY River. Shut. It. Down. I spent 90 minutes making my way a few feet at a time to a little gravel road just east of the river that I knew would take me to the opposite freeway direction. I made that janky traverse, went east, vectored through Frankfort and drove the back roads to Shelbyville. On a good day I can get from Ashland to Louisville in 2.5 hours. This trip took about 4 hours. Not a tragedy, but patience-sapping. A test of resilience.

Once I got back on the freeway at Shelbyville I received the next Twosday surprise. I got word that an old friend, my best friend during the early 80s, is in Cleveland Clinic with a bad case of esophageal cancer. He’s suffering. He was my best friend in the years right after college, and I’ve never forgotten him. We only touch base once every year or two of late, but now…one of the best people I know is in a hellish state. And there’s nothing we can do for him.

I made my way on to the Galt house, poured a glass of wine and sat down to consider the perversity of the Universe, given today. I relaxed a bit, and then noticed that a large bat was flying around in our little house. Figures. Not a cute little bat, but a big Dracula-sized fucker. It flew back and forth from the kitchen to the TV room, looking for a place to roost. I jumped up, closed the doors to keep it from making its way upstairs to our vaulted-ceiling bedroom, and chased the damn thing for a while. It finally found its way out the front door into the night. It probably picked up a dog down the road.

That brings me to now. Not the day I hoped I’d have, but my Ohio friend’s illness makes all my little problems of today quite trivial. I’ll keep that in mind.

Rainy day and blues

Off to Ashland to see my Dad on a rainy day. I enjoyed listening to the rain and thunder last night, and I should get more of that fun today as I drive. Amazing how great precipitation is when you don’t get any. (Substitute almost any noun for precipitation.)

My cousin’s family had a tragedy a couple of days ago; his mother-in-law died of a heart attack at age 70. My heart goes out to them – all I could think to do was drop off a card and a big pan of Lotsa Pasta lasagna. Nothing says “we care” like a hot meal.

And…it looks like Dear Leader Putin has carved off a nice piece of the Ukraine and some idiot journalists are trying to decide if that qualifies as “an invasion”. I wonder if they’d be parsing words if Mexico occupied Texas with weapons and moved the border. A meaningful side effect of Russia’s move is that the US stock market is going to take another dump today. I won’t dare to look at my equity accounts for quite a while after this.

Just noticed it’s an auspicious date today, 2/22/22. Popular media has a name for this: Twosday. So Happy Twosday.

If you like the blues, this is worth a listen. Buffalo Nichols. Distant relative, perhaps.

The Dude Abides

Yesterday was a beautiful day, but I felt like crap so I stayed in and rested most of the day. Some combination of travel fatigue and extra spicy Thai food Saturday evening caught up with me.

Today I feel much better but I wake up to news that the Russia invasion of Ukraine is imminent. I sure hope not, though stopping the expansion of Russia does seem to be something both US political parties can agree on.

While resting yesterday I watched a lot of Homeland season 6, and wow, I had forgotten how much of that show mirrored recent reality. It was aired in 2017, meaning it was written in 2016. It featured an ultra-aggressive right-wing popular media voice, attacking a Presidential candidate by attacking her child, secretive bot-powered social media disinformation factories and a sharp fracturing of the American electorate. Sound familiar? Either those writers were genius-level prescient or they manufactured the scripts in real time as these same events happened in real-world 2016. And 2020, in fact.

But fortunately for all of us here in 2022, we have future leaders getting ready to take power in our troubled world (below).

The Dude Abides

Cold War part deux

From Heather Cox Richardson today:

President Joe Biden addressed the nation to update us on the threat of Russia’s launching another invasion of Ukraine. He emphasized that we and our allies stand behind Ukraine and pledge to continue diplomatic efforts to prevent a war, and yet will deliver “massive costs on Russia should it choose further conflict.” He urged Russia “to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table.”

Political scientist and journalist David Rothkopf tweeted that Biden is speaking as the leader of the free world. “It has been a long time since a U.S. president filled that role. His remarks were concise and pointed…and underscored Western resolve. But the headline: He is convinced [that] Putin has decided… to invade.”

I really don’t want us to go to war with Russia. I grew up during the Cold War, where nuclear destruction if/when the US and Russia started lobbing bombs at each other was the existential threat every child learned about. People built bomb shelters and stockpiled iodine (for radiation exposure). I remember being taught to get under my desk in the case of an attack (it was called “duck and cover” – yeah, that sounds effective). For years I had nightmares about nuclear attacks, and in college I took four semesters of Russian language because I thought I might work for the CIA. Then Russia failed/fractured economically, the Berlin Wall came down and Communism was no longer a threat. Until Putin.

Russia under an autocrat/oligarch like Putin isn’t quite the threat that Russia under the Communist Party was. Putin has a a self-interest that Party leaders didn’t have, and that self-interest can be used as leverage in negotiations. I hope that Putin’s self-interest and business sense outweighs his ego and need for a warm water port.

Friday in the Big L

630pm, and watching the sunshine-washed golf from Socal while it’s below freezing here in Louisville – but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I got to spend nine solid hours with the grandsons today and it was fabulous. Just what I needed. They’re both such great kids (no grandparent ever said that, right?) who return the love you show them in lots of ways. Great day.

We started the day with some carryout from the new breakfast hot spot in Louisville, Big Bad Breakfast or BBB. It was packed (see below). Big place, nice remodeling, and every seat filled. Their takeout service was excellent and the meals were first class. My grits bowl and biscuit egg sandwich were perfect. Yet another nice stop on the foodie tour of Louisville.

Packed house at BBB on Barrett Ave

Tomorrow I get to watch a KY game here in the state, hopefully with a cousin or two. We play Alabama and we need a big win after the debacle in TN. Right now it feels like we’re at a crossroads. Come back from the TN loss and we can have a great year. Lose the momentum and let the TN loss leak into 1-2 more games, and this season loses its fragile magic. High hopes for tomorrow.