Saturday, July 30, 2005

The LA Times reports this morning that the US is going to pull out of 13 German bases, removing 6100 troops. But that will still leave about 50,000 troops in that country. What a quagmire Germany has been. Where's the exit strategy? We've been in Germany now for 60 years. Mission accomplished? When is World War II ever going to end?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Okay, this is really exciting. Besides the earlier announced Kuiper belt object that is about 70 per cent the size of Pluto, most likely, Cal Tech has since announced the discovery of what, by all measures (assuming that Pluto is to be classed as a planet), must now be classified as our Solar System's tenth planet, since it is larger than Pluto. This comes from, by way of Cal Tech:

Planet larger than Pluto has been discovered in the outlying regions of the solar system.

The planet was discovered using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego, Calif. The discovery was announced today by planetary scientist Dr. Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., whose research is partly funded by NASA.

The planet is a typical member of the Kuiper belt, but its sheer size in relation to the nine known planets means that it can only be classified as a planet, Brown said. Currently about 97 times further from the sun than the Earth, the planet is the farthest-known object in the solar system, and the third brightest of the Kuiper belt objects.

"It will be visible with a telescope over the next six months and is currently almost directly overhead in the early-morning eastern sky, in the constellation Cetus," said Brown, who made the discovery with colleagues Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., on January 8.

Brown, Trujillo and Rabinowitz first photographed the new planet with the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope on October 31, 2003. However, the object was so far away that its motion was not detected until they reanalyzed the data in January of this year. In the last seven months, the scientists have been studying the planet to better estimate its size and its motions.

"It's definitely bigger than Pluto," said Brown, who is a professor of planetary astronomy.

Scientists can infer the size of a solar system object by its brightness, just as one can infer the size of a faraway light bulb if one knows its wattage. The reflectance of the planet is not yet known. Scientists can not yet tell how much light from the sun is reflected away, but the amount of light the planet reflects puts a lower limit on its size.

"Even if it reflected 100 percent of the light reaching it, it would still be as big as Pluto," says Brown. "I'd say it's probably one and a half times the size of Pluto, but we're not sure yet of the final size.

"We are 100 percent confident that this is the first object bigger than Pluto ever found in the outer solar system," Brown added.

The size of the planet is limited by observations using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which has already proved its mettle in studying the heat of dim, faint, faraway objects such as the Kuiper-belt bodies. Because Spitzer is unable to detect the new planet, the overall diameter must be less than 2,000 miles, said Brown.

A name for the new planet has been proposed by the discoverers to the International Astronomical Union, and they are awaiting the decision of this body before announcing the name.

For more details, go to this at Cal Tech.

A hundred fifty new planets and counting discovered already beyond our solar system, over 600 Kuiper Belt objects, and now this! Exciting times for a space geek like me.
Another world has been discovered in our Solar System, according to a report by New Scientist

Astronomical detective work led to the stunning discovery of a large new world beyond Pluto – and hiding in plain sight. The object could be the biggest in the Kuiper belt of rocky objects that orbit the outer reaches of the solar system.

The first data made public about the object suggested the object could be up to twice the size of Pluto, but newly revealed observations indicate the object is about 70% Pluto's diameter.

The find suggests more such objects are waiting to be discovered and is likely to reignite the fierce debate about what constitutes a planet.

It looks like this object, as yet unnamed, also has a small moon. You can check out the full article here. is reporting that:

SPACE CENTER, Houston - NASA Administrator Mike Griffin said Friday he hasn’t given up on launching another shuttle this year, despite suspending flights until the agency can stop foam insulation from snapping off and threatening the spacecraft.

He said he has set up a “tiger team” to try to solve the problem as quickly as possible. “We don’t expect this to be a long drawn-out affair,” he said by telephone from Washington in a briefing with reporters in Houston.

That's good news, I think.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I watched a new show on the Sci-Fi channel tonight that I had seen advertised and thought might be interesting. It’s called Master Blaster. Apparently each week there is a contest between two teams to launch something with high powered rockets. Tonight, the teams launched a play house, with a wicked witch dummy on top and Dorothy on the inside in a re-creation of sorts of the scene from the Wizard of Oz. The requirement was to see which team could launch the house the highest, getting it to spin at least 3 times on its axis, launch the witch off the roof, and then recover the house with Dorothy safe on the ground.

Neither team succeded in launching the witch or in a safe recovery. Both teams had their parachutes fail. What determined the winner was the launch height and since one team sent their house twice as high as the other, that’s the team that won. The loosing team then had to dress up like the characters from the Wizard of Oz and dance across a field.

I found it all rather amusing. Great TV it probably is not. Next week they are supposed to launch giant lawn darts (ten feet long or so) and try to hit bull’s-eyes painted in a field.

Meanwhile, in the world of serious rocketry, NASA has decided to once again ground the shuttle fleet once Discovery returns, until they can solve the problem of stuff falling off the external tank on launch. Apparently a rather sizable chunk fell off this time, though thankfully it didn’t hit the orbiter, so all should be well for re-entry. It is of course best that they be careful and get this issue solved, though it is a disappointment that it remains a problem for them.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A beautiful launch, right on time this morning; the Discovery is safely in orbit. Way to go!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

I am really frustrated and unhappy. My ISP, who've I've been with since 1997, has been very unhelpful of late. My connection has been going down at random, with no explanation, for hours at a time. I call and call and sit on hold for a half hour or more; the tech people I talk to are very nice, but they don't make anything better, offer no explanation and simply apologize for my inconvenience. Very nice of them. So come Monday, I'm going with a different ISP since they can't seem to make me happy and really are doing nothing to try to keep me as a customer. As far as I can tell, they really don't much care. I suspect that the primary problem is with who they subcontract with: Verizon, who has a monopoly in the area. They are the only phone company here and there is no alternative. I blame all the government agencies responsible for allowing such monopolies to exist. I blame Verizon for being a horribly incompetent company. I'm a patient man. My patience is used up. May they all rot on voice mail hold forever like I've had to the last several days.

Friday, July 22, 2005

According to today:

NASA engineers believe they have isolated the fuel-gauge malfunction that stopped last week's countdown toward the shuttle Discovery's launch, and with Tropical Storm Franklin headed north, the launch team is set to begin a new countdown Saturday for a Tuesday launch.

Good news.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

According to the Space Shuttle Discovery is now scheduled for launch on Tuesday, July 26, 2005:

Editor's note: NASA has set next Tuesday, 26 July as the next launch attempt for STS-114. Launch is planned for 10:34 am EDT. No fueling test will be performed. The cause of the sensor anomaly seems to be a grounding issue.

This seems like good news.
James Doohan, who played Scotty on the original Star Trek series and in seven Star Trek movies, died early today. He was 85. I met him a couple of times when I was in graduate school at UCLA. I drove a shuttle bus to and from a private parking lot at the Burbank Airport (now the Bob Hope Airport) and he happened to park with us when I was on duty so I got to drive him to his plane. About a week later, he came back when I was on duty again. He was working on the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home at the time.

He was very nice, though grumbled a bit about being type-cast as Scotty. At the time, he drove a nice white Jaguar. He also tipped well.

Of all the famous people I got to meet while I worked there, meeting him was the highlight, since I'm a huge Star Trek fan.

Today is also the 36th anniversary of the moon landing, July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first human being on the moon. Buzz Aldrin followed him onto the surface shortly thereafter.

Google has decided to celebrate the first moon landing by offering us Google Moon, something similar to Google Earth:

Google Moon

Make sure you zoom in all the way. It's amusing.

Monday, July 18, 2005

It now appears that the earliest that the Space Shuttle Discovery can be launched is July 26. They still can't figure out what's wrong with the sensor. is reporting that:

Discovery's sensors have been acting up for months: The system flunked one tanking test in April, then passed another one in May. Then Discovery's tank was swapped in June for a newer heater-equipped tank, and the launch team had thought the problem was solved. During last week's countdown, however, one sensor started exhibiting bad readings on an intermittent basis.

Now that the tank is empty, the sensor seems to be working as expected — complicating NASA's troubleshooting efforts.

"It's difficult to find a glitch that won't stay glitched," Parsons said.

If the troubleshooters are unable to find the source of the problem, NASA managers could reconsider their rules to allow for a launch even if one of the four low-level sensors isn't working, Hale acknowledged. "We're thinking about it," he said. But for the time being, the mission management team was putting aside that scenario, pending the outcome of the upcoming tests

Isn't that the way it is with our cars? Or computers? Something goes wrong, but as soon as we call the repair person, the problem can't be found.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Another thing that annoys me and is a pet peeve is well expressed by Jeff Jarvis on his blog, discussing the London terror bombings and terrorism in general:

Yes, to call them "terrorist" gives them too much justification.

Look at it this way: Would you have tried to understand Edgar Ray Killen, the convicted Ku Klux Klan killer in the Mississippi Burning murders? Would you have explained his cultural shame at losing the Civil War and called him an insurgent or a militant or even a terrorist? Would you have blamed his grandparents for teaching him to have no respect for black people? Or would you simply condemn his hate and his act? The answer, of course, is C. So why should it be any different when condemning the crimes of these murderers?


A suicide bomber in a fuel truck blew himself up beside a Shiite mosque on Saturday evening in a town south of Baghdad, killing at least 58 people and wounding 86, the police said.

And what separates this from the bombing of a Mississippi black church?

Murder is murder.

My thoughts exactly.
I watched the season premiers of Stargate: SG1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica last night. I enjoyed them. But it seems unlikely that any of those programs will have the impact on popular culture that Star Trek has had. As I saw asked on one Trek website, how likely is it that anyone will ever look at some new gadget and comment, "wow, that's like something out of Battlestar Galactica"? And yet people will invoke Star Trek that way, not to mention the little catch phrases, like "beam me up" that have entered the lexicon.
I have pet peeves.

One of them involves Communism. A few months ago the LA Times wrote a front page article about a retirement home for old communists; it was a glowing piece. I wrote them a nasty letter that they actually published. Today, I got the new issue of the National Geographic (August, 2005) and at the end, they did a piece on a commune called East Wind in Missouri. They wrote the following:

"We thought we were going to change the world," says Deborah, 56, one of the group of friends who left Boston in 1973 to create East Wind. Back then it was still possible to believe a socialist revolution was sweeping the globe. "The east wind is prevailing over the west wind," said Mao Zedong in 1957, when he was chairman of the People's Republic of China. His vision of socialism blowing away capitalism gave East Wind its name and helped inspire its mission...

Such things puzzle me immensely. It is unlikely they’d publish a similar article about a neo-Nazi group in Idaho, calling them say “fascists” or “old rightists,” or speak nicely about their being inspired by Hitler’s Mein Kampf while waxing nostalgic over their lost causes. Why is it that murderous thugs on the far left evoke such feelings of warmth that they can’t even call them what they are: communists? What makes dictators and those who worked for their evil and unworkable cause worthy of such fawning? It is, frankly, disgusting. Marxism is as bad as Nazism and deserving of equal opprobrium. Mao is responsible for slaughtering at least 50 million of his citizens while oppressing the rest, sending millions to slave labor camps, and depriving all of them of basic freedoms. The Soviet Union slaughtered nearly as many, oppressed a dozen other countries, and sent millions to the Gulag. And yet if people walk around in a T-shirt with a picture of Mao or Che, that's okay for a lot of people. Personally, such an idea should feel as offensive as walking around wearing a T-shirt with Hitler or Goering on it.

Friday, July 15, 2005

I am one of apparently a relatively small number of people who very much enjoyed Star Trek: Enterprise which was cancelled at the end of this, its fourth season on UPN. Well the Emmys were announced today and the show has been nominated for three, all in technical categories, specifically:

Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup For A Series, Miniseries, Movie Or A Special (Prosthetic) - Michael G. Westmore, Makeup Supervisor, and his team have been nominated in this category every year since 1991 and have won the award four times. This year their work on "United" was honoured. Enterprise will compete against Nip/Tuck, as it did last year, as well as Carnivale, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and MADtv.

Outstanding Hairstyling For A Series - Michael Moore and his team of stylists will compete against Carnivale and MADtv in this category as well, plus Alias, American Dreams and Deadwood. The two-part episode "In a Mirror, Darkly" was singled out for this nomination.

Outstanding Stunt Coordination - Vince Deadrick Jr. was selected for his management of the stunts in Augments episodes "Borderland" and "Cold Station 12". Alias was also cited in this category, along with 24, ER and The Last Ride.

Interestingly, these were the only three Emmy nominations that UPN received this year. So they have cancelled what was apparently their best quality program. Rather typical of a network, I suppose. Like the comedy Scrubs,, which received four Emmys. But of course, NBC cancelled it this year, too.

Ah well. At least Numb3rs was renewed on CBS.
Spam in our message boards at Quartz Hill School of Theology, part two.

Today I found more posting for junk on two of our message boards. It is normally an easy matter to remove offensive posts--our message board software has a simple way of doing it. But today, as I've found on occasion, one of the postings had not only appeared as a message on the board, but it was invisible to the message board's software's message removal tool; and of course, even going in there and physically removing the particular post (posts appear as separate html files) did not make it disappear from the top page. I had to go in and restore the index file from a backup in order to finally make all traces of it vanish. I really dislike these clueless spammers.
Well, now the Space Shuttle won't be launched until sometime next week, at the earliest, according to CNN:

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- The first space shuttle launch since the 2003 Columbia disaster will not take place until late next week at the earliest, NASA spokesman Mike Rein said Friday.

NASA previously had said the shuttle Discovery could lift off as soon as Sunday, although it was unlikely.

The launch originally was scheduled for Wednesday, but it was scrubbed 2 1/2 hours before liftoff because of a faulty fuel sensor.

The space agency has until July 31 to attempt a launch or must wait until September.

"We are still looking at launching during this window," NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said.

Beutel said the delay will allow NASA "more time to work on our troubleshooting plan."

If one considers the difficulty of discovering the cause of an electrical problem in one's car, one can only imagine how hard this seemingly minor issue is likely to be.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

CNN reports:

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Florida (CNN) -- The first space shuttle launch since the Columbia disaster could come as early as Sunday but probably will be delayed until later next week, NASA announced Thursday.

Launching Sunday would involve a "really optimistic good luck scenario," said Wayne Hale, deputy shuttle program manager. He said it is more likely that there are several days of troubleshooting ahead.

So it'll be awhile yet before the Shuttle flies again.
The new pope apparently dislikes the Harry Potter books. At least being Catholic, rather than Moslem, he won't be issuing a Fatwa and calling on people to slay the infidel, unlike what happened when another British author ran afoul of some religious authorities.

Unfortunately, pronouncements of the pope, at least if issued ex cathedra, are binding on Catholics. Not that most Catholics would pay attention, any more than they pay attention to their church's teachings on birth control. But they are being inconsistent Catholics when they behave this way, since the pope and church's pronouncements are right up there as the equal of the Bible according to my understanding of Catholic theology.

The nice thing about being a Baptist, and part of the Protestant franchize that said something about sola scriptura, is that although Baptist "leaders" are no less likely to issue stupid statements and warnings (the one against Disney comes to mind as a relatively recent example of goofiness) at least ignoring them is actually consistent with good Baptist tradition which states that no one can tell you what to believe.

Personally I love the Harry Potter novels and intend to get the next one as soon as it's out on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Spam is an annoying thing. So are junk faxes. I get a bunch of both; in fact, even with my spam filter, I get about 50 (the filter takes out about 300, so it does help) every day. But what really has me riled is the message board that we've called the Aeropagas, on our website for Quartz Hill school of Theology.

Every day, I have to delete sometimes dozens of postings for viagra, pyramid schemes and even pornography. Hardly seems likely someone visiting a message board devoted to Missions or Christology would be interested in such things, but who knows? To me it seems a waste of the spammers time and effort and very ineffective marketing. I suspect these postings are machine generated and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it but delete the offensive posts. A couple of times it got so infested that a couple of the subtopics just crashed entirely and I had to restore them from backups. Ugh. Those responsible deserve a place in Dante's Inferno together with the spammers and those responsible for junk faxes. Whoever developed the packaging for DVDs, requiring removal of bunches of plastic wrap and tape should probably be interred there as well, but that's another topic...
Due to a faulty sensor in the external fuel tank, the Space Shuttle launch has been postponed until Saturday at the earliest, and probably until Monday (July 18).

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

I'm very interested in space and space related things, so the coming launch of the space shuttle, scheduled for 12:50:53 PM Pacific Time has me quite excited. After two and a half years, it's good to see them going back again. Of course, the space shuttle system is soon to be retired, apparently: by 2010 if all goes according to plan. It will then be replaced by a new system, the CEV and related launchers. A good overview of the plan can be found here.

Of course, NASA isn't alone anymore in flying into space; several commercial ventures are planning to get into the sub-orbital game, and ultimately orbital flights. I was pleased, last summer, to get to volunteer with the X-Prize Foundation for the launches of SpaceShip One. I was in media relations, meaning I got to tell reporters where to go. That was certainly fun.

Sites that I like to check regularly to see what's going on are:
Sky and Telescope

But of course on Wednesday, I intend to be glued to the TV, assuming the flight takes off as planned.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Christopher Hitchens, writing in the Daily Mirror on July 8 expresses the obvious, that nevertheless many seem to willfully, and puzzlingly, overlook:

We know very well what the "grievances" of the jihadists are.

The grievance of seeing unveiled women. The grievance of the existence, not of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people. The grievance of the heresy of democracy, which impedes the imposition of sharia law. The grievance of a work of fiction written by an Indian living in London. The grievance of the existence of black African Muslim farmers, who won't abandon lands in Darfur. The grievance of the existence of homosexuals. The grievance of music, and of most representational art. The grievance of the existence of Hinduism. The grievance of East Timor's liberation from Indonesian rule. All of these have been proclaimed as a licence to kill infidels or apostates, or anyone who just gets in the way.

FOR a few moments yesterday, Londoners received a taste of what life is like for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, whose Muslim faith does not protect them from slaughter at the hands of those who think they are not Muslim enough, or are the wrong Muslim.

It is a big mistake to believe this is an assault on "our" values or "our" way of life. It is, rather, an assault on all civilisation.

See here for the entire article, at least for now.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

One of the interesting things that puzzles me sometimes is how people go about reading the Bible. In Douglas Adams’ humorous novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, scientists build the computer Deep Thought and ask it “the great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” After contemplating for seven and a half million years, the computer responds, “I don’t think you’re going to like the answer.” After the scientists insist the computer say it anyway, it tells them that the answer is forty-two. Then it adds—since they aren’t happy with the answer—“I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” Most people are asking questions about the Bible that God was not trying to answer; then they wonder why they are disatisfied, or worse.

People ask science questions and history questions and insist that it be "historical accurate" or that there be "verifiable" information in it. And I think that misses the point of the Bible. Paul, in discussing the OT, pointed out that the things in it were there for our benefit, our edification; not to prove to unbelievers that the Bible is "accurate" whatever the heck that might mean. He also referred to the things in the OT as a "shadow."

When Jesus tells people that they should be willing to cut off body parts in their efforts to avoid sin, we rightly understand him to be making use of hyperbole, a literary technique. Only the psychotic would imagine he was speaking "literally." And then when he in the very next breath talks about "eternal fire" of Hell, we want to assume that's "literal?" Frankly, I suspect not. I'd opt for hyperbole there, too.

I really think most people, when they read the Bible, have taken leave of everything they know about reading. Why do we insist on "literalism" and "historical reality" for everything in the text? Why is it so hard to accept the possibility that, for instance, the book of Job is simply a drama, you know, like something written by Shakespear, designed to teach us something? I mean, really. Does anyone seriously think that the various characters in that book ACTUALLY spoke in poetry, and that the text is intended to be understood as a transcript? A deposition? Is there any part of the Bible that is to be understood that way? Really?

I think a lot of people are like the scientists facing Deep Thought. They have no idea what the question really is.

Friday, July 08, 2005

It is very early in the morning and I am having trouble sleeping. It is appropriate, I suppose, that I've been at work preparing Edward Young's 18th century poetic meditations on suffering for republication. The poem begins thus:

Tired Nature’s sweet restorer, balmy Sleep!
He, like the world, his ready visit pays
Where Fortune smiles; the wretched he forsakes:
Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,
And lights on lids unsullied with a tear.

From short (as usual) and disturb’d repose,
I wake: how happy they, who wake no more!
Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.
I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams
Tumultuous; where my wreck’d desponding thought,
From wave to wave of fancied misery,
At random drove, her helm of reason lost.
Though now restored, ‘tis only change of pain:
(A bitter change!) severer for severe:
The day too short for my distress; and night,
Even in the zenith of her dark domain,
Is sunshine to the colour of my fate.

A sad day, the events of Thursday, reminding us that we live in a time of war. Perhaps that contributes to the difficulty in sleeping. And yet, God remains faithful, and he loves us, no matter how it might look at any given moment.