Monday, January 30, 2012

Newt on Space Policy

Gingrich has good and original ideas. Unfortunately, his good ideas aren't original and his original ideas aren't good.

This snarkiness is not original, but it seems apt.

Good but not original:

1) Incremental development is better than betting everything on your initial design working perfectly.

2) Space Exploration can cost less with greater use of private enterprise.

3) A permanent base on the Lunar surface is a reasonable and achievable goal.

Original but not good:

1) Lincoln was grandiose.

2) The Wright brothers were grandiose.

3) "We had enormous breakthroughs in aviation in the 20s and 30s at very little cost to the government"

4) We build fewer new airplane designs than during the WWII era because of "how slow and cumbersome and bureaucratic we’ve become." As opposed to because a state of the art airplane today is enormously more capable, sophisticated and challenging to design than one was in 1940.

5) The Apollo program is one we should emulate today, because it achieved ambitious goals on a tight deadline. (It did so being willing to waste anything but time, building an enormous new Federal bureaucracy. It did so by so ruthlessly subordinated the program to the national prestige goal of getting a man to the moon on schedule that the wonderful hardware was unsustainable for other purposes and was abandoned)

6) Orbital manufacturing will be commercially viable by 2020.

7) We can afford to develop an enormously challenging "continuous propulsion system in space capable of getting to Mars in a remarkably short time" by 2020, at the same time as we build a permanent base on the moon.

8) Prizes are an awesome idea of broad application. Private enterprises will often be willing to spend billions of dollars of their own money to win a government prize worth a fraction of their investment.

The man flits from idea to idea like a gigantic over-caffeinated hummingbird, sipping briefly to decide if the idea is sufficiently bold and grandiose.

I think he's very right on good idea #2. However, that one is going to very difficult to get through Congress, who have the final say on if it gets funded. Does he have the temperament and focus to get that one passed if elected? Or will he be off to the next bold idea, good or otherwise? He has so many, and so many are wrong.

Gingrich Boldly Urges NASA to Do Stuff It Is Already Doing

...the Atlas 5 ought to be interchangeable, and ought to be as usable for NASA projects as it is for Air Force projects.

said Gingrich on January 25 in Florida, presenting it is one of his bold ideas for NASA. NASA has been using Atlas V as a launcher since 2005, for payloads like Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, New Horizons, Juno and Mars Science Laboratory.

It seems a strange thing for a self-described space enthusiast not to know.

Also, he gets the story of the Langley Aerodrome wrong on several counts.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Intermediate Plan for Manned Spaceflight Beyond Low Earth Orbit

Start with the mission. First beyond LEO crewed flight is around the moon, the second is to L2. Better yet, the first manned mission goes to to L2: we haven't been there yet and the potential scientific return much greater.

But at L2 we should plan to do work that's worth sending humans, so before that we send a simple man-tended Farside Station. It might be based on an ATV and Node 4. It would have more robust shielding than a capsule could carry and allow longer stays, and have more capable communications. It could have racks for lab animals, testing the effectiveness of the shielding and providing data on the affect of radiation beyond the Van Allen belts.

It would allow the testing of systems essential for long duration manned flight to deep space objects like asteroids and the Martian moons or surface, but still allow relatively quick return in the case of emergencies.

Once the station was in place, the first of a campaign of landers would go to the lunar farside. They would be able to land rovers and return samples to Farside Station.

At the station, crews would teleoperate rovers on the surface, collect samples sent from the Lunar surface and lab animals for return to earth.

A simple Centaur based cryogenic depot would either be attached or fly in formation, providing operational data for that environment. The landers might be reusable single stage vehicles that carried rovers down and samples up and refueled at the depot.

This mission would be less challenging than a manned Lunar landing or even a Plymouth Rock mission to the easiest NEOs, but still provide significant scientific value. I could get enthusiastic about this mission, certainly more so than a Lunar flyby.

Several expeditions could follow the first. International partners could participate by offering redundant logistic and crewed transport support in exchange for their own use of Farside Station without being in the critical path of the project. Additional equipment could be landed on the surface: Power storage or one or more radioisotope thermoelectric generators to enhance the effectiveness of the landed hardware, a drill for deep sampling, and perhaps prototype equipment to process the regolith for oxygen or buried water ice and a robonaut for more dextrous servicing.

Another valuable near term human space flight project would be a variable gravity habitat in LEO. The habitat itself could be a prototype for a lunar surface habitat berthed at one end of the structure. An expended rocket stage could serve as a counterweight at the other. A module at the axis of rotation could provide despun platforms for visiting spacecraft to dock or berth, and a platform for communications. Deployable masts would connect the modules, with suspension cables taking the primary loads when the station was rotating.

The goal would be to provide artificial gravity ranging from as high as Mars surface gravity of .38 g to Lunar gravity of .18 g, or the even lower gravity of Phobos and Deimos, simply by changing the rate of rotation.

Here is a NASA paper on the related problem of providing artificial gravity on a spacecraft bound for Mars.

The paper describes a system that produce 1 g in the habitat, which would require much longer masts and greater angular momentum for the entire system.

And that shows one example of the value of carrying out this program: we have very little information on the long term affects of environments less than 1 g and more than microgravity on the human body.

We know that the human body is pretty well adapted to Earth's gravity. This is not a supirise. Long term exposure to microgravity, on the other hand, has a lot of bad effects, and the human body takes a long time to recover from them.

We know very little about intermediate cases. For Apollo 17, the last mission, two men spent a little over three days on the Lunar surface, plus another nine days and 11 hours in microgravity. The earlier missions were shorter. That's not long term data.

While that happened the first manned asteroid mission would be prepared, more or less as described by HEFT: a deep space craft with a modest hydrogen stage for departure from L-2 and SEP for deep space delta-V, and capable of reaching more than the very easiest targets. The simple cryogenic depot at Farside Station would be sufficient to support this mission.

Alternatively, manned landers staging at Farside station could visit the infrastructure building up on the Lunar surface.

This series of missions could be launched in several ways. It could use the SLS so beloved by space state congressional representatives and MSFC, but the September 2010 HEFT report suggests that because of the enormous development costs and high fixed costs of SLS, the program would need to be stretched and slowed to meet likely budget limitations.

In that document, the first asteroid mission is delayed until 2031, and the program is still $14 billion over budget.

The launcher alone, not including ground operations and the infrastructure to launch it, consumes half the cost of the program. For a point of comparison, launch costs for NASA’s unmanned spacecraft, and for military satellites and commercial comsats rarely exceed 20% of the program cost.

The same program seems much more affordable using existing rockets and propellant depots.

Here's another compelling use for an L2 outpost: the delivery point for an Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization Mission.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Problem with Prizes

Newt Gingrich has proposed devoting 10% of NASA's budget to prizes to spur the development of space technology, using the early 20th century Orteig Prize and Schneider Trophy and the Ansari X Prize as models.

I think this will be a lot harder to make this work than he seems to think.

Those prizes, as well as the Kremer Prizes for man-powered flight, were effective because in each case the entrants saw a clear way to profit from their hardware beyond the prize itself. Winning the Orteig Prize demonstrated the reliability of long range aircraft, which had obvious commercial application. Two of the losing aircraft became or were developed into successful commercial aircraft.

The Schneider Trophy entrants were valuable test-beds for their builders. The winners of the Kremer Prizes put what they learned about lightweight and efficient airframes to develop a successful line of lightweight and efficient aircraft. The technology used to win the Ansari X prize is now being used in a larger vehicle intended to carry paying passengers on suborbital flights.

Prizes can work well when the prize gives a nudge to someone who already sees a likely or probable market for the technology needed to win.

They can also work well to motivate small teams of volunteers working in their spare time. NASA's Regolith Excavation Challenge seems like a good example of this kind of project.

When neither case applies, the prize model breaks down.

Imagine a 21st century version of the Orteig Prize. It is awarded to the first person since the Apollo program to make a round trip from Earth to the Lunar surface and back.

(We require a round trip because otherwise the easiest way to win is find a terminally ill volunteer for a one way trip)

How much do we have to offer?

The Orteig prize offered $25,000 for the first non-stop flight between new York and Paris. Several entrants spent more than that, but this was rational. If you spent, as one team did, $100,000 for a Fokker triplane, they expected to be able to get most of that back if they lost the race without crashing the plane. It was still valuable for other purposes.

Now, the 21st c. version is much harder. Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in one vehicle. A Lunar mission needs at least three: a lander to reach the lunar surface, a capsule to return to the Earth's surface, and a stage to send these from Earth orbit to the moon.

Also, if you want to use existing launchers, you need the ability to transfer propellant in Earth orbit. This requires some hardware as well, probably a tug and a propellant depot.

Avoiding this requires also developing a much bigger launcher than currently exists.

To win the prize you need to develop, approximately, four new transport systems. At best, three plus some money to modify the existing Soyuz capsule for reliable return at the higher velocities for return from Lunar orbit.

And none of them have a reliable salvage value, because Congress could decide at any time that the Moon is too expensive after all.

Now, suppose you think you can do all this for a mere $10 billion. The prize needs to be a lot bigger than that, because you need to allow for the chance that someone else will get there first, and you will get nothing.

Contruction Details of 18th Century Tents

The Tent Article

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Peculiar Love of Paleolibertarians for an Unlimited Right to Secede

Ron Paul and his fellow travelers think this would be totally awesome. I see at least three problems:

1) In 1869 in Texas vs. White, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no Constitutional right to unilateral secession.

2) As Lincoln noted in 1861, agreeing to this principle would allow a minority in the larger polity to overrule the majority whenever it had a local majority according to the local voting laws.

a) which incidentally, in the case of the antebellum South, sometimes disenfranchised the majority of human beings in the state most likely to object to being treated as property.

3) Had this principle been genrally accepted in 1861, it would have resulted in the unopposed transfer of 3.5 million human beings, held as slaves, from a country that was seriously considering restricting slavery in the immediate future to a country run by unrepresentatively elected slave owners that thought slavery was so obviously wonderful that it needed constitutional protection.

Not, I think, a net gain in liberty.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

If Newt Became President,.. could we be sure he wouldn't leave us for a younger and more attractive country?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Newt Is Still Newt

MR. GINGRICH: Every person in here knows personal pain.

Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine. (Cheers, applause.)

What's remarkable here is the complete evasion of moral agency. In his life, the Personal Tragedy Fairies came in the night and inserted Callista into his bed. For six years.
MR. GINGRICH: Now, let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested, because they would like to attack any Republican. They're attacking the governor, they're attacking me. I'm sure they'll probably get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul. I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans. (Cheers, applause.)

This appears to be false.
On Friday, ABC senior vice president Jeffrey W. Schneider said that Gingrich's account was "just not true." He said in a statement, "His daughters were interviewed for our 'Nightline' story last night and we sought interviews with Gingrich or surrogates very aggressively starting Tuesday morning. We would have been happy to interview anyone they put forward."

There are several reasons to think that ABC's version is the correct one. Newt's daughters were interviewed by ABC as well as Fox. It would have been very helpful to their father for them to present any proof they had that their stepmother's account was false, but their only evidence that her claims were false was that their father said so. Likewise any personal friend of Newt's who could vouch for the correctness of his version would have done him a lot of good by doing so. Even is we accept Newt's claim the ABC refused them, their failure to appear on Fox is the dog that didn't bark in the night.

Further, it seems very unlikely that such proof exists. You would need a third party present at the conversations his second wife alleges occurred and willing to testify to what was said, which seems profoundly improbable. And Newt would certainly know if he actually had such witnesses or not. Occam's razor says that Newt was being untruthful again, and knew it.

This brings us to this question. If it comes down to a question of he said, she said, who is the least unreliable witness? Gingrich's spokesman makes much of the plausible bitterness of his second wife, but she doesn't sound particularly bitter in the Esquire interview or her recent Washington Post interview. And Newt has his own reasons to be an unreliable witness: he clearly regards her allegations as damaging if believed to be true, and he has a history of being less than entirely truthful when this was expedient.

Also, his second wife made very similar claims in a 2010 Esquire article, and Newt did not dispute them at the time.

At best, Newt was deceptive in claiming that he had evidence to refute ABC's report that did not actually exist.

At worst, he was willing to imply that his second wife was a despicable and tawdry liar because she made claims about his behavior that were true, less odious than what he has already admitted, but politically inconvenient for him.

His daughters have made the argument that his behavior in 1999 happened in the distant past, and should be be given little weight today.

In response I ask why he's still bragging about the things he did in 1994.

And further, if what he did in 1999 is now irrelevant, why is he so annoyed that anyone would mention his behavior at the time?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Organization of a Gentry Household: Alice de Bryene

Alice de Bryene was the widow of a knight banneret, with an income that, including in-kind consumption of food produced by her manors, was about 400 pounds a year. From the early 15th century to her death her home was the manor of Acton in East Anglia, where she had several other manors. She also had another group of manors, about as numerous, in the West Country.

General Officers

The Lady: Alice herself was active in the administration of the household. She seems to have made many of the purchases for her wardrobe account herself: cloth, clothing, furs, spices, wax, wine and salt, as well as her servants’ wages. She seems to have kept accounts, “the papers of the lady” of this spending. In a larger household this would be the duty of a clerk of the wardrobe, clerk of the household, or treasurer. In Alice’s household, there were a limited number of wardrobe outlays to account for: wages quarterly, liveries twice a year, and purchases of spices, wax and wine a few times a year. She also directed her receivers to make these and other purchases and payments on her behalf out of cash they had collected for her.

She also gave alms and oblations, either personally or by directing her receivers, steward or bailiffs to make payments in money or frequently in kind.

Receiver. Responsible for the collection of revenues from outside her home manor, as well as making payments as directed above.

Steward. Accountable for the purchase, production and consumption of victuals and other consumable goods. For example, although Alice’s record accounted for the initial purchase of the wax, the steward recorded the wax “of the lady’s providing” as an expense, as well as wicks, the fees of the candlemaker, and the consumption of the candles. Tallow candles were both purchased made up and made from purchased tallow, which did not involve the wardrobe. While Alice purchased cloth for liveries, the steward accounted for linen for aprons. He also accounted for the production of bread and ale from grain, and their consumption within the household. He was often a clergyman.

Bailiff of the manor: responsible for the agricultural production of the home manor, including the upkeep of farm equipment.

At least two men served as auditors and to supervise her manorial courts, although this was probably not a full time job. She also employed several rent collectors.

Those of her other manors which she did not rent to tenants would have had their own bailiff and steward, and she had another receiver responsible for her West Country estates.

While Fastolf’s steward and receiver were ranked as gentlemen, his bailiff was ranked as a yeoman.

Yeomen and Clerics of Offices

Large households were divided into many departments. Alice’s household must have been simpler. Based on her accounts, the organization of the slightly smaller servant body of the priory to be founded under John Fastolf’s will, and Fastolf’s own larger household, the departments consisted of:

Chapel, under a chaplain of gentle rank. Alice had an unusually large number of chaplains: as many as four at one point, plus at least two chapel clerks. The men described as chaplains may have served other functions as well: two of her stewards were clerics. A single clerk ranked as a groom to assist the chaplain would have been more typical for a household of this size.

Chamber, under a chamberlain of yeoman rank, assisted by a servant ranked as a groom. Alice had a chamberlain and cameraria or chambermaid named Agnes whose duties included feeding the manor poultry. Henry of Derby’s chamberlain’s duties included accounting for gifts, and regardis which were bonuses and gratuities.

Kitchen, under a cook of yeoman rank assisted by a groom. This would be two departments in a larger household.

Bakehouse and Brewhouse, under a yeoman baker assisted by a groom.

Buttery and Pantry, under a yeoman butler, unassisted.

Stables, with a single groom.

Body Servants

Alice had a maid of gentle rank, and in some years two. Fastolf’s wife and sister were both served by gentlewomen. His daughter had a maid ranked as a yeoman and his receiver had his own yeoman.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Officers of the Earl of Derby's Household 1391-3

Those who accompanied him on the journeys arc indicated by the asterisk; Levnthorpe went to Calais in 1390

Thomas Herdwyk, clerk, auditor of accounts of Derby's officers and servants [He was also auditor to John of Gaunt's officers.]
Thomas de Wombewell, auditor and "supervisor terrarum domini in Anglia".
Simon Bache, clerk, treasurer of the household (sometimes called Symkyn Bache).
Robert Hatfield, esquire, controller of the household.
John Levnthorpe (Lewn- or Leunthorpe), receiver-general.
*Peter Bucton, knight, steward.
William Loveney, clerk of the great wardrobe.
*John Dyndon, valet of the wardrobe.
*Hugh de Waterton, knight, chamberlain.
*Richard de Kyngeston (or Kyngston), archdeacon of Hereford, treasurer for war.
*Robert de Waterton, esquire, master of the horse or marshal (marescallus)
*Hugh Herle, chaplain and confessor.
*(John) Derby le herald.
*William Pomfreit, clerk, chief clerk of the kitchen.
*John Payne, esquire, botiller.
*John Bounton, armourer.
*William Hauer, clerk of the lord.
Sir John, almoner.

Kyngeston, Richard, and Lucy Toulmin Smith. 1894. Expeditions to Prussia and the Holy Land made by Henry earl of Derby (afterwards King Henry IV.) in the years 1390-1 and 1392-3. Being the accounts kept by his treasurer during two years. [Westminster]: Printed for the Camden society.

This is a fascinating picture of a noble household away from home, although, of course, an unusually wealthy one: Henry was heir to the richest duchy in England and The Man Who Would Be King.

We can see the division of responsibility in accounting. The steward kept his own account of spending on victuals and other consumables, and the chamberlain tracked gifts and gratuities. The treasurer for war tracked everything else and put the big picture together.

Henry spent little out of his own hand. Sometimes he gave alms and oblations personally, but he frequently delegated that to others, particularly his chaplain. He once bought a horse personally, probably to insure he got one to his liking. He also spent money on gaming. He drew on his steward when he wanted cash for gaming, but also promiscuously on his other officers, including the clerk of the kitchen at one point.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Being a Great Nation of Immigrants is Actually Great

Chief Petty Officer USN, Jagdeep Sidhu, speaks four different languages including Urdu. As a result the crew of the dhow Al Mulahi, captured by Somali pirates, could call for help from the U.S.S Kidd and be understood in a language the pirates could not.

I am proud of my nation and immigrants like CPO Sidhu. They strengthen us. We need more men like him.

Ron Paul's Strategic Ignorance

Ron Paul on Lincoln and the Civil War:
No, I don’t think he was one of our greatest presidents. I mean, he was determined to fight a bloody civil war, which many have argued could have been avoided. For 1/100 the cost of the war, plus 600 thousand lives, enough money would have been available to buy up all the slaves and free them.

This is untrue. The market value of all the slaves in the US was about $3 billion, about the government spending on the war on both sides. Paul underestimates the cost of compensated emancipation by two orders of magnitude. Death and destruction was on top of the government spending, so on narrowly utilitarian grounds, compensated emancipation would have been a better choice. Taxing the citizens to bribe the slave owners to stop owning their fellow humans is morally troubling, however, and should be especially so for a libertarian like Paul, who makes a fetish of personal liberty, except when inconvenient to the policies he prefers.

Lincoln, in our universe, was an advocate for compensated emancipation. He signed it into law in the District of Columbia. He tried to get the slave states to accept it, but they refused.

And then there is the inconvenient truth that before Lincoln even took office slave states declared themselves independent, seized Federal property, and fired on an unarmed Federally chartered ship trying to sail to Fort Sumter.

Once Lincoln was in office, they bombarded Fort Sumter and took it by force. Even if we accept the unlimited right of states to secede for any reason that seems good to them, including preserving the right of some people to own other people, which I do not, this was at best an act of war, since Fort Sumter did not exist until the Federal government created it, on top of an artificial island the Federal Government also created by importing it in pieces from New England.

So surely we must assign some moral agency to the Confederate side in the conflict.

I take this at best at evidence that Ron Paul is extraordinarily careless in accepting false claims that support conclusions he thinks are convenient to the outcomes he prefers.

I don't know what is in his heart, but his position is exactly the one I would take if I was a libertarian that was cynically pandering to southern Paleoconservatives in hopes they would join my coalition.

Achieving this level of ignorance doesn't come naturally. It requires Paul to stuff his fingers in his ears every time he encounters an inconvenient truth, and shout LALALALA until it goes away. Congenial false claims, conversely, are seized on with joy, clutched to his breast and nurtured with unquestioning love.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Harald by David Friedman

Harald is fantasy novel by David Friedman. The title character is from the Vales, a society very loosely modeled on saga-era Iceland. Harald speaks very, very tersely. Here's a sample:
"Dawn to noon, say a six hour ride. What holds that close?"

I wrote this about it in the rec.arts.sf.composition Usenet group in 2005:

"Free land, the Vales. No king, no subjects. Not even for sentences."

Possibly Harald is influenced by the Valish institution of wordgild.
Having long ago decided that most conversation imposes a negative
externality on the listener, they charge a per-word fee to listen to
what you have to say, a custom that encourages brevity. Harald's
contemporary, the famous farmer Bored Njal, was known for his
willingness to listen patiently to his neighbors' problems, and ended
up owning most of the district.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Another Look at Steven Pinker's Data

Quodlibeta casts doubts on some supposed facts cited by Steven Pinker, with good reason. My own suspicion is that the claim that the Crusades murdered a million people is probably grossly inflated and based on a naive acceptance of the figures mentioned by contemporary chroniclers.

The Crusaders perpetrated a century of genocides that murdered a million people, equivalent as a proportion of the world’s population at the time to the Nazi holocaust.

One of the first things you must learn about history that the large numbers in medieval and ancient chronicles rarely correspond to the literal truth. "100,000 men" doesn't mean that the chronicler actually had access to an actual count: it just means that it was a very large army. And almost always, the large numbers are inflated.

Since there were nine numbered Crusades in just under 200 years, a million deaths would require over 100,000 murders per Crusade.

This is profoundly unlikely.

Even if we assume that half the dead were civilians, this requires the average Crusade to consist of an army of 40,000 strong fighting to the death and an opposing army of the same size suffering 25% dead.

But our best evidence is that the armies were much smaller and less willing to die.

And the Crusades stretched over seven generations, so the denominator is seven generations of lives, not one.

Also, although there were atrocities, I do not think the Crusades were as a whole genocidal in intent.

I can't shake the impression that Pinker doesn't like religion much, and is at best careless in his examination of evidence that supports his bias.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The Propertarian Problem

For the extreme libertarian, ethics are simple. Here’s an excerpt from The Philosophy of Liberty, by Ken Schoolland:

“A product of your life and liberty is your property. Property is the fruit of your labor, the product of your time, energy, and talents. It is that part of nature that you turn to valuable use. And it is the property of others that is given to you by voluntary exchange and mutual consent.”

But in the real world, we immediately run into complications. Schoolland seems to be following Murray Rothbard’s Ethics of Liberty.

The most important complication is that the product of your time, energy and talents doesn't depend on those inputs alone. It also depends on the society in which you function, the public goods allocated to you by law and custom, and the share of nature likewise assigned you as a private good by the society in which you live.

For example, as an individual adult US citizen of median time, energy and talents you might expect an annual individual income of something above $28,000. Cast away on Robinson Crusoe's desert island, the same time, energy and talents might earn you the equivalent of $500 a year in goats and cocoanuts.

Which is why the number of people that want to live in the United States is much greater than the number the current citizens allow.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

When Intellectual Property is Theft

Will Wilkinson nails it.

On a related note, what would be entering the public domain today if pre-1976 copyright law was still in effect?

Extreme Coursing

The rocket propelled rabbit of Joanes or Giovanni de Fontana, ca. 1420. Extreme coursing is best observed from the blockhouse.

This is the same fertile mind that proposed a pyrotechnic mitre and crosier.

For some reason, people think I'm pulling their leg when I tell them about this stuff.

Why Double Entry Bookeeping Matters

The Athenians accused the ten treasurers of the Delian League of embezzlement. Each in turn was tried, found guilty and executed until only one was left. At that point the missing money was found to be an accounting error.