Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mars Rover better than man in space

Look up at the moon, and think that mankind has landed there, jumped around, driven several cars, and returned home a few days later. An incredible achievement.

Look up at Mars, and know that right now as I type mankind has a presence there, is driving around in two cars, performing experiments, sending back data. And we've been up there for almost four years!

The Mars Exploration Rover Missions' achievement is so complete and ongoing it blows my mind. This interview with one of the Rover "drivers" is the latest reminder of how great this project is (sorry for the ads and the best stuff is on page 2). But because there's no astronaut sitting in a tin can / Far across the world involved, I think politicians and NASA ignore it. The initial Mars Rover mission cost less than a billion dollars, compared with $130 billion to put astronauts in the International Space Station near earth to little purpose. So the manned mission bureaucracy is 100× the unmanned exploration, even though the unmanned are going further and longer for much cheaper.

I think politicians and NASA are out of touch with popular sentiment. Astronauts are so last century. Flyboys are first Gulf War. The idea of my presence being miles away while I'm sitting at the controls in a dark room is completely natural to everyone under 40. I want NASA and politicians to say "We're abandoning manned exploration to focus on landing autonomous craft on every planet in the solar system. Let commercial ventures and other countries fight for 300th person in Earth orbit and second place on the moon."

Go go Spirit and Opportunity!

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Monday, November 12, 2007

computers: Gave one, getting one OLPC

The OLPC Give one get one site went live, so I forked over my $400. According to the inspiring OLPC weekly news, mass production has started. I should get my XO in December.

The anti-fan boys who want this project to fail are so depressing, because they're busy telling other people what to do with their charitable impulses while sitting on their asses typing negative statements, doing f***-all themselves. So listen up, anti-fan boys, responding to some of of your negative points:
  • “third-world kids need food and shelter”
    True for some kids in crisis, so leave this site right now and go to CARE or the Red Cross and give them your $200. But if you weren't so patronizingly unaware, you'd realize there are hundreds of millions of children who have food and shelter but poor education and little opportunity for advancement.
  • “they should focus on seed programs/health/clean water/whatever”
    It's not a zero-sum game. Some talented computer engineers are applying their skills to developing a free and open-source learning computer. If you dicks waved your magic wand and shut this project down, their talents wouldn't magically breed super crops or cure malaria. Meanwhile, where are you applying your limited talents?
  • “kids need to learn the standard platform, i.e. Windows, so all this engineering effort is a waste”
    Go volunteer to teach MS Windows and MS Office computer skills to the poor in your area. Meanwhile, let this project deliver to grade school children a software and hardware platform optimized for learning, and we'll all see what happens. The geeked-out hardware and software efforts have already inspired the development of lots of open source courseware and learning materials.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

music: no Yes in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

CHIC were nominated, but didn't get in this year.

You can't speak of killer musicians and the so-called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without noticing that Yes aren't in it. That hostility towards progressive rock is inexcusable for something that pretends to reward excellence and achievement. For years in the 70s the members of classic Yes (Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford/Alan White) would appear in readers' polls for best vocals-bass-guitar-keyboards-drums. Even forgettable pop groups like the Bay City Rollers would name-drop Yes when asked for their favorite musicians. The conventional history is that the punk revolution showed how pointless talent was if it didn't have authentic street credentials. But I was there when "Anarchy in the UK" and "God Save the Queen" came out. People liked both kinds. The punks were hostile and dismissive towards “muso”s and musical talent, but they were hostile towards everything. If you're going to limit rock to certain attitudes, why nominate CHIC?

I played through Tales from Topographic Oceans recently. A double-album single piece of music
based on the Shastric scriptures, as found in a footnote within Paramahansa Yogananda's book Autobiography of a Yogi
is so pretentious that it satirizes itself. But there are so many themes and moods and musical figures over the 80 minutes, it's a steady delight if you ignore the over-ambitious framing. Throughout Steve Howe is a guitar god and Chris Squire unleashes the expected titanic bass solo; but Alan White's drumming is excellent, and even Rick Wakeman (who wasn't happy with the album and left the group) lends wonderful keyboards on side 2 and great shading throughout.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

music: CHIC nominated for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

I belatedly heard that CHIC were 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees. Wow, nice to see them getting respect. I loved "Everybody Dance" the moment I heard it with that killer fast bass line, and when "I Want Your Love" came out with the unique tubular bell melody and those nervous, desperate lyrics
I think of you
and I dream of you
All of the time
What am I gonna do?
I want your love, I want. Your love
I was hooked. They're the tightest group ever, yet they have a large sound from lots of musicians. It's like concentric circles: guitar and bass (Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards), then drums (Tony Thompson), then two girl singers and a guy, then two or three keyboard players, then the CHIC strings and brass.

I was shocked by the repetition of CHIC, especially after a diet of Yes records where after a phrase is repeated twice the melody or chords change. CHIC just gets into a groove and stays there, forcing you into submission. When I taped Risqué I got fed up with "My Feet Keep Dancing" so I switched the turntable to 45RPM. But compared to modern looped samples, CHIC's grooves are alive.

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