January 2008


These large (usually more than 10 ft. long), oddly seminal seaweed fragments are found all over the San Mateo coast.

Tex Johnson, Boeing test pilot, rolls a 707 (link thanks to Judith)

Base Jumping with a kite suit on, gliding along a mountain (link thanks to Ace)

There was snow in the hills over Silicon Valley yesterday. Today there’s a chance of more snow and icing on route 17 (an already dicey ride). I haven’t lived here for a while, but I think this is pretty unusual..


View of the hills from Milpitas


View of the hills from Calveras Road

Flight of the naked Germans…

Space Ship Two is unveiled:

In olden days, astronauts were fit, healthy young men with years of specialist training. Now, all that is required to show the Right Stuff seems to be a large checkbook and a reliable heartbeat. If an 88-year-old can make it through “astronaut training,” then surely almost anyone can.

That is good news for Virgin Galactic, one of a number of firms proposing to take people into space at a price measured in thousands, rather than millions of dollars. On Jan. 23 the firm unveiled the vehicles it plans to use to give the world’s moderately well heeled pensioners (and anyone else with a couple of hundred grand to burn) the ride of their lives.

Cynics who were around at the time of the Apollo missions may be forgiven for thinking they have heard it all before…

… Flying into space on Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo, itself launched from a special aircraft, called White Knight Two, is both a small step and a giant leap. It is small because, like NASA’s first attempts, it is a quick, sub-orbital flight — and purists might argue that real spaceflight involves going into orbit. It is giant because no privately funded effort has come this far, nor seemed so likely to succeed.

For that success to be sustained, however, this project and its successors must bring down costs and open up new markets and different destinations. Some firms are already eyeing the moon, though that would require much more powerful rockets…

…It is famously difficult to predict the market for disruptive technologies, whether they be computers, muskets, jet engines or digital cameras. But cheap access to space, and to the other side of the Earth, is likely to be revolutionary.

For many years the question has been why taxpayers should pay to put people into space. The point of private-sector space travel is that the world will rapidly and accurately come to a conclusion about what space is for. The invisible hand may, indeed, point upwards. Then again, it may not.

If it does, however, it may also point to a revolution of a different kind. Many people date the emergence of the environmental movement to the publication of a photograph taken from Apollo 8 of the Earth rising over the lunar horizon.

When space becomes a democracy — or, at least, a plutocracy — the rich risk-takers who have seen the fragile Earth from above might form an influential cohort of environmental activists. Those cynics who look at SpaceShipTwo and think only of the greenhouse gases it is emitting may yet be in for a surprise.

I can’t afford the trip, but I did offer to be ballast on the test flight for the previous model. That offer still stands..

Or, if anyone is in the mood to hit the tipjar, I’ll take the tour and blog it… :-)

Michael Totten has another insightful report from Fallujah: The Final Mission, Part I

There’s more to the final mission than keeping the Iraqi Police solvent, however. The effort is focused on the Police Transition Teams. Their job is to train the Iraqi Police and bring them up to international standards so the locals can hold the city together after the last Americans leave.

A senior Marine officer whose name I didn’t catch grilled some of his men during a talk in the Camp Fallujah chow hall after dinner.

“Do you trust the Iraqi Police?” he said to a Marine who works on one of the teams.

“No, sir,” the Marine said without hesitation. That was the only acceptable answer. This was a test, not an inquiry.

“Why not?” the officer said.

“Because they’re not honest,” the Marine said.

“What do the Iraqi Police watch?” the officer said. “What are they looking at on a daily basis?”

“Us,” said several Marines in unison.

“They will emulate you, gents,” the officer said. “They. Will. Emulate you. Why? Because we came over here twice and kicked their ass. I do not trust the Iraqi Police today. Our job is to get them up to speed. They don’t need to be up to the standard of Americans. But they do need to be better than they are right now.”


Posting will be light this week. I’m heading out west, this time to San Francisco (and if the weather is good, Tahoe)


In the spirit of the trip, here are a few posts on one of my favorite hobbies, shooting. From TmjUtah at Three Rounds Brisk: How to Improve your offhand shooting

1. Stand easy, weak side shoulder facing the target. A line drawn across your back should point at the target. This is your starting point. Later, as you find your own natural point of aim, you may modify this.

2. Feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Some folks like their feet parallel. Others go toe in, or toe out. But the key is to not force a too wide stance. Back straight, and keep it as straight as you can when the rifle is in your shoulder. You will be moving; an exaggerated sway-back won’t help. Offhand is the weakest position because it requires more balance vice bone-to – to bone support.

3. Take a breath. Let it out…


John from Summer Patriot, Winter Soldier if you could only own one pistol, what would it be?

almost any recognizable major name in firearms make wonderful side arms, and that would include smith and wesson, colt, taurus, beretta, fn, glock, springfield armory, and ruger. among those makers a purchaser can usually depend on finding a serviceable gun that will perform its intended purpose, and will do so dependably over an extended period without being finicky or nettlesome.

it seems to me, however, that if you talk to gunsmiths, gun repair people, and gun cranks, one name stands out for making a strong, robust, dependable, serviceable, accurate and reliable arm…

..and something I should have linked to a while ago, Bill Whittle’s essay on the importance of agility: Forty Second Boyd and the Big Picture

Boyd called these Energy-Maneuverability graphs, and in the process of producing them, Boyd developed the first of his two Earth-shattering breakthroughs: E-M Theory.

Boyd realized – through years of intense and lonely study on his own time and often in direct contravention of orders – that the key to the Perfect Sword lay not in speed, or service ceiling, or rate of climb, or even turning ability. All of these were red herrings that had been chased for decades.

Boyd’s first breakthrough was that the perfect fighter plane’s key characteristic was agility.

Agility. The ability to change its energy state rapidly. To turn, or climb, or accelerate faster than its opponent. And most importantly, to keep up that high energy state in the grueling, high-G turns that rapidly bled out speed and options…

..and yes, there is a shooting range in New York City. When my daughter came to visit over the holiday season, we did the usual girl stuff – toured the cute little shops, saw an indie movie in the village and visited the West Side Range. It’s a nice, friendly place, where they’re used to novices..

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