Brittle Skillet

Sparks of passion and items of interest.

Posts Tagged ‘Technology

Lunacy or Luna See? Virgin Galactic Mothership Takes Off

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Are you a speed junky? How would you like to travel three times the speed of sound? If Richard Branson’s vision for Virgin Galactic succeeds, you can realistically add it to your list of 100 things to do before you die.

Since 2005, Virgin Galactic has been selling tickets for a true space ride at approximately US$200,000.00 each. The venture’s longer-term intention is to reduce the price of a ticket as quickly as possible, to a price as low as possible, ultimately making space travel available to all.

Why is Virgin the company to bring this experience down to earth? According to the Virgin Galactic website, it’s a natural win given “Virgin’s vast experience in aviation, adventure, luxury travel and cutting-edge design combined with unique technology.”

Historically, Branson and his Virgin ventures have joined the ranks of environmental causes in a significant way with the likes of the Virgin Earth Challenge and the Virgin Green Fund. Appearing as big proponents of alternative energy and highly fuel-efficient aircraft and trains, what is their real agenda?

In Branson’s own words: “Virgin Galactic is investing in a space access system that is radically different from what’s gone before and many times more environmentally friendly. This, and the future technology that it inspires, will allow man to continue to reap space related environmental benefits without making an unacceptable contribution to the environmental problem.”

One can hope he’s going to be true to his words. In particular, how do you reconcile the amount of spent fuel hurled into the atmosphere so my neighbor can have a look around in space just for fun? You might argue that this is not so different from the cross-country summer vacation trek that many families take each year. However, the amount of fuel spent on one space flight makes the fuel needed for the family excursion look like a mere splash.

Perhaps you should get your memorial or logo etched on the Moon sooner rather than later. It seems that there will, after all, be orbiters able to view your lunar thumbprint within the next few years. Of course, it may well be the same folks orbiting as buying the etchings. In my mind, they’ll be the only ones affording either caper.

Who knows? Perhaps there’s a company selling the naming rights to a future space hotel too. Just imagine: the T-Mobile Hotel Intergalactic next to the Microsoft Spacewalk Conference Center.

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.


Written by Julie Pierce

August 5, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Phone and Crash: Driving While Distracted

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Updated Aug 27, 2009
Updated Aug 25, 2009
Updated Aug 13, 2009

I have a simple request for every human on our planet: no driving while distracted.

Is it really necessary to be talking on the phone or texting at the very same time you drive from here to there? If you must talk right now, if the conversation cannot wait till your vehicle has come to a complete stop (for the duration of the conversation), then pull over.

This is a matter of life and death. It’s as significant as drinking and driving. The severity of the situation is eloquently explained and supported in William Saletan’s article Driving While Interrogated on He includes quoted information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a never-released draft of proposed policy.

I realize it’s easier to suggest pulling over for a phone call than it is in actual practice — there isn’t always a safe and convenient place to pull over. But that’s only one of the suggestions that Saletan makes in his article. In fact, he provides four reasonably conceived solutions that could be effective with enforcement. Well, that’s my opinion. He’s not so sure himself.

Here in Seattle, we do have a not-so-effective hands-free law, which states that you must be using a hands-free technology when phoning while driving. The irritatingly amusing thing is that no one seems to have gotten the memo. It’s illegal to drive and hold the phone simultaneously, Seattlelites! Of course, the law makes talking into a handset while driving a secondary misdemeanor so you can’t be pulled over specifically for that.

Regardless of whether Slaten’s got the answers or not, we must think about the choices we make while driving. It’s not just how our choices have an impact on our immediate world — me, my passengers, and my vehicle — but everyone else on the road too. As with anything that takes our brain away from the task of driving, we are in a state of consciousness that endangers all the other citizens of the road, including the undecided squirrels and misguided armadillos.

Maureen Dowd, distinguished op-ed columnist for the New York Times, is with me and Saletan on this one! How about you?

Added Aug 13, 2009:
More coverage on driving while distracted from the Washington Post brings home the point even further. The fact that many states have laws against talking and texting while driving, and all of these laws are executable only as secondary offenses illustrates the lame jab at the situation taken by lawmakers. There is virtually no way to enforce these laws. And although the American public pays lip service to being irritated by drivers acting irresponsibly in this way, which one of us is driving without talking or texting all of the time?

View the quiz from the Washington Post, and then return here to share your thoughts about talking and texting while driving and related laws.

Added Aug 25, 2009:
A PSA presented in the U.K. leaves no doubts about the dangers. The link in the previous sentence takes you to an article about the PSA, in which you’ll find a link to the PSA itself. Be ware, the PSA is very graphic and disturbing, achieving the desired effect. Perhaps we need a strong message of the same ilk for our public here in the U.S. Without it, are we getting the message?

Added Aug 27, 2009:
John Cook of TechFlash shares another poll from PEMCO about texting while driving and considers whether it should be a primary offense.

Graphic by Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 23, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Lunar Gaffiti: Your Logo or Domain Name on the Moon

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Unbelievable! No, I take that back. Of course this is happening. Of course there are people willing to spend a minimum of $46,000 to put their logo, domain name, or memorial on the surface of the moon. What?

AngecySpy from alerted me to this baffling phenomenon. There are (at least) two things wrong with this prospect. The first is that this is astro-pollution, as far as I can tell. And the second is the waste: time, money, and effect. Perhaps that totals four things wrong with the undertaking.

The technology that does the deed is referred to as “Shadow Shaping” and it makes ridges in the lunar surface using robots. The environmental pollution seems potentially enormous, no?

Inventory of waste: the material to make the robots (eventually they will become scrap), the rockets of some sort to get the robots up there (more eventual scrap), and the fuel involved in transport. Add to that the wasted time (clearly my opinion) involved in the creation and execution of said project. These engineers could be making something less polluting, perhaps even pollution reducing.

I don’t know about you, but my group of friends and family does not include anyone with $46,000 available for moon etching — as far as I’m aware. And finally, what effect of value do the representative ridges achieve? How will anyone see the ridges for them to create an effect, unless of course the viewer is doing a little sightseeing while space traveling?

Maybe I’m missing something, but moon etching strikes me as a ridiculously wasteful, self-aggrandizing exercise for folks with more money than sense. This opportunity is being brought to us by a company called Moon Publicity. So the natural question is, who (or what) is receiving the publicized message? Creepy.

© Julie Pierce and Brittle Skillet, 2009-2011.

Written by Julie Pierce

July 21, 2009 at 7:18 pm