* Posts by Greg Trocchia

61 publicly visible posts • joined 29 Oct 2008


Obama weighs into Raptor stealth superfighter fracas

Greg Trocchia

@Johan Bastiaansen

>>Are you saying the swearing in of congressmen, presidents, other politicians taking office doesn't include a line "to uphold the independence of the country" or something similar. That would surprise me.

Here is the Oath of Office the new President swears on Jan 20 (with allowances for flubs by the Chief Justice) in full:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Now one could assert that the "defend" bit gets you where you want to go, but there are some problems with this. First the President has sworn to defend the Constitution, as opposed to the physical territory of the US and most folks tend to think of defending the Constitution in other than military terms, for instance by enforcing the civil rights written into the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Then there is the bit I mentioned previously about the US having had a vestigial Army when not actually fighting Wars throughout its first century and a half. Nobody I know of thought that a violation of the Oath of Office, quite the contrary.

As far as the F-22 controversy itself, my suspicion is that either decision will probably turn out all right. Low rate production has the advantage of increased flexibility. Expanding production, provided you have enough time, should be doable if needed, whereas good luck trying to restart production for such a complex craft once it has been shut down.

On the other hand, as I pointed out, 187 aircraft (especially ones as capable as the F-22) is not exactly a militarily insignificant number nor is the F-35, which is to be built in its stead, exactly chopped liver. Another factor is that the scenarios where the US will need the capabilities of the F-22, and nothing else will do, can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand with change left over. By way of contrast, having a whole bunch of stealthy aircraft that are good at ground attack provides a capability that can be used across a broad swath of scenarios: everything from North Korea decides to restart the Korean War to fights like the current one against the Taliban and Bin Laden in "Af-Pak".

Look at it this way, whatever the decision the US will end up fielding both F-22s and F-35s, all the argument really comes down to is what is the optimal precise proportion of each. Either way, I believe, the results are likely to be acceptable.

Greg Trocchia

@Johan Bastiaansen

To answer your question: The soldier who "loses his cool" violates his enlistment oath: "...and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice" by failing to carry out lawful orders. The President's Oath of Office, OTOH, says nothing about a duty to maintain a "sharp" military. While a strong military posture may be wise, I personally believe it is, military posture is left to the judgment of the person elected President, and to those elected to Congress.

I would point out that government for the first 150 years of the US could be characterized as having an aversion to large standing armies (the Navy fared better, but support for it was hardly constant either) left over from the founders. Their thinking was that large standing armies are the tools of would-be tyrants and a danger to a free people and that having a large military force might tempt government into potentially disastrous foreign adventures (sound familiar?). The downside of such policy is that in each major war that the US has fought well into the 20th Century, it has initially arrived unprepared and ill-equipped, with the on-the-job training exacting a high toll in blood.

The point is that the proportion of guns to butter in the budget (and the absolute level of expenditure on guns) is a decision that we elect politicians to make, as is the decision of which particular "guns" to buy. To those who are hyperventilating over this question, I would suggest chilling out. Even if the US ends up building "only" 187 F-22's, that is still a considerable number (note to Henry Cobb- it is 187, do you _really_ think the first 100 won't end up back fitted to Block 35, or higher, configurations during their combat lifetime? IME doing things like that is SOP for the US Military). To provide a point of reference, the pre-Desert Storm Iraqi Air Force had a TOTAL of 550 combat aircraft (many of which were obsolescent Mig 21 or 23s or knock-offs of the same) they had fewer than 187 Mirage F1s and Mig 29s (their most modern fighters) combined.

Then too, the F-35 may not be as good a pure fighter as the F-22, but it can certainly hold its own, and perhaps more, against any other fighter in the world (if for no other reason than stealth, most air to air combats have historically been won by a fighter that is unseen by the loser until the attack is under way). This whole debate is really a repetition of the "High/Low mix" concept that we had in the previous generation of fighters, and that turned out pretty well, didn't it?

UK.gov decides best form of cyber defence is attack

Greg Trocchia

Some Thoughts on cyber defense

The first law of holes states that when you find you are in one- STOP DIGGING! To that end I have some suggestions. Priority should be given to avoiding increasing our vulnerability to attack via the net. To that end, I suggest a moratorium on developments such as "smart meters" and "the internet of things" until robust security measures can be implemented in the base architecture. If anyone knows of an example where security has successfully been backfitted atop a platform not designed to be secure, tell me, because I have yet to hear of such a thing working.

In addition to this I would recommend that we make it illegal to connect controls for critical physical infrastructure (usually via SCADA systems) to the Internet, you can't hack what you don't have access to. I would also put a time table in place for disconnecting such systems that have already been connected (though this, in truth, is really a "getting yourself out of the hole" measure as opposed to a "stop digging" one). While I consider such attacks low probability (this is not something that script kiddies will be doing for teh lulz) the potential consequences are severe enough to warrant taking action.

Another concept that, I suspect, would work well here in the States at least, is to make a company's negligence in security a cause of action for a lawsuit with triple damages. As part of this, put together a list of security best practices and make following those an absolute defense against such suits. If there is a better way to enforce adherence to good security practice, tell me about it.

I am somewhat pessimistic about the whole "good offense is a best defense" concept. One characteristic about the attacks I have seen thus far is that they lack a clear set of "fingerprints" pointing to who exactly did it. Was the Estonian DDoS attack the work of Putin and Co. or was it "patriotic" Russian hackers deciding for themselves to punish Estonia on their own, for instance. Even if one does find out who did it, it is likely to be long after the fact- not very useful for deterrence purposes.

@IndianaJ- The original source of "cyber" is not SF, but MIT's own Norbert Wiener who coined the term "cybernetics". It was from there that Gibson looked to come up with the Term cyberspace for his Sprawl universe, the setting for Neuromancer (hardly a work for "children" BTW). Besides, is not the content of a proposal far more important than the terminology used in the proposal?

Social networking big boys must bow to EU data laws

Greg Trocchia

@Nicholas Wright

I think you are missing my point, if Facebook and MySpace have all of their servers and offices outside the EU, they can tell the Article 29 Working Party "ODFO" and the EU can do ... What?... about it. It is not illegal in the US, so far as I know (IANAL), to store customer details on a server here regardless of where the customers come from- no permission needed, so if all the offices and servers are in the US that is all that matters. That is the two way street I was talking about, if it is unreasonable for Americans to expect, say, 1st Amendment rights to speech to apply outside the US, it is similarly naive for Europeans to expect EU data laws to apply extraterritorially.

Greg Trocchia

What I wonder is...

Do Facebook and MySpace have enough of a physical presence in Europe for the EU to make this stick. It is one thing to declare that: "...social networking companies count as data controllers under EU law 'even when their headquarters are outside of the [European Economic Area]'", but if there isn't a (non-headquarters) physical operation within the EU, I am not sure whether there is any reason for Facebook and MySpace to pay attention to what the Article 29 Working Party says. There are some on this site who are quick to admonish Americans that US law is sovereign only within the United States. This is an opportunity for me to point out that this particular street runs 2 ways, with EU mandates only being enforceable within the EU.

Microsoft begins Security Essentials downloads

Greg Trocchia
Gates Horns

The Deal Killer

"A lot has change since, not least the recent acquisitions by Microsoft in the security marketplace that mean that Redmond has more expertise this time around. That doesn't mean that Microsoft Security Essentials will succeed, of course, just that lack of corporate resources will not be an issue for Microsoft Security Essentials."

What is the issue, to me anyway, is the "validation" and attendant WGA (which I consider malware in and of itself) that is "bundled" with MSE. So long as WGA remains part of the package, I won't even be tempted to give it a try. I will just stick with Avast for my Windows anti-virus needs, it is free too and I have been happy with it.

The silver lining here is that to the extent that MSE succeeds, it will probably do so by squeezing McAfee and Norton. Free anti-malware might be tempting to their users, whereas folks like me already have that and, did I mention, no WGA.

DHS killing satellite self-spying program

Greg Trocchia
Big Brother

Mixed emotions

As it happens, Peter King represents my district, which makes for a study in mixed emotions. Bad- this guy is speaking, in part, on my behalf, yuck. Good- I have the opportunity to extract revenge at the ballot box for things like this (I vote in each and every election). Bad- my previous opportunities to extract revenge have (thus far anyway) been without effect. Good- in this instance, anyway, Mr. King's efforts have been similarly without effect.

NASA takes stick over feet and inches

Greg Trocchia

@Wade Burchette

One of the reasons I write as many comments as I do to the Reg is to combat what I perceive as anti-American bias. In order to do this credibly, when a valid criticism comes up I have to readily admit that the US is "doin' it wrong". At the very least, if a critique is spot on then one should STFU rather than issue a lame defense. This is *definitely* one such occasion. Your defense is so lame that I would like to think it is all a put on (but hey, we all know that 'Mericans are irony challenged, right?).

I can add to what Marodi contributed by attesting that physical science classes in American universities (at least the ones I went to) have used SI exclusively for decades, and since the textbooks I used were popular ones, I can be confident that this must have been common practice at the time. A shudder goes down my spine when I think about having to have done my Physics major without good old metric units, it was hard enough without having to remember and apply all sorts of silly conversion factors. So long as you stay in SI, most of the conversion factors go away.

There was an attempt to convert the US to metric during the Carter Administration, but the forces of inertia were too strong and, IMO, Carter and company were too feckless to force the issue, unfortunately. Part of the resistance comes from the very real costs that transitioning imposes. The other part of the problem is mental inflexibility: as long as you continue to "think" in English units and convert to SI then you once again have all sorts of conversion factors that you have to worry about. Once you get to the point where you can leave things in meters or kilograms or whatever you are much better off, but getting there takes some adjusting.

@Murray Pearson: But, I might point out, 1M = 100cm, 1kg = 1000g, and seconds are the same in either system as you are well aware, not too hard to go from one to the other. And 10^7erg = 1Joule, my point being even if you have to look it up or figure it out, applying the conversion is simple to do. Now let's say I was measuring things in inches and ounces and wanted to find out the energy required for something, getting there would be considerably more of a headache I would assert.

Dinosaurs actually slimmer than we thought, say boffins

Greg Trocchia


You might be interested in a YouTube video (by another American, I might add) which addresses this topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnJX68ELbAY

Greg Trocchia

@A J Stiles

"Americans ..... they are the ones who think the Earth is 6000 years old and that dinosaurs and humans co-existed at the same time, aren't they?

Why should we believe a word they say about dinosaurs?"

It may, though it shouldn't, come as a surprise to find that in a country with over 300 million people, there is a considerable diversity of opinion. While I know that the Young Earth Creationists are definitely noisy and make good subjects for articles or other forms of journalism, there are plenty of Americans who are as appalled at their blanket rejection of scientific fact as anyone overseas. For every Ben Stein, Kent Hovind, or Casey Luskin that you can blame on America there is a P. Z. Meyers, Steven J. Gould, or Ken Miller that we can claim to our credit. (Big Hint- Americans publishing articles like "Allometric equations for predicting body mass of dinosaurs" in places like Journal of Zoology belong in the second category).

While I will agree that, to our shame, the percentage of Americans who subscribe to "Flintstones Paleontology" is way too high, still, blanket condemnation of the entire country is not called for.

Please don't eat your horse, EU asks owners

Greg Trocchia

@Sarah Bee

No need to feel sick (or to blame the Mexicans) if you are willing to trust Wikipedia on this one:

"The name burrito possibly derives from the appearance of a rolled up wheat tortilla, which vaguely resembles the ear of its namesake animal, or from bedrolls and packs that donkeys carried."

Mine is the one with the steak sandwich in the pocket.

NASA unleashes Moon-attack probe

Greg Trocchia

Just to fill you in

@ Cameron Colly

No lunar conspiracy theory fodder here, the radiation they are seeking to characterize is cosmic ray (= long duration stay problem). The Apollo missions did not last long enough for this to be a problem, but if you are thinking about doing a lunar base where astronauts will spend months outside the Van Allen belts, protection against cosmic rays becomes much more important.

@Mike Richards

They discarded the LM in the upper atmosphere (along with the service module) for Apollo 13, the Wikipedia page on Apollo 13 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_13) even has a picture of the reentry.

US spaceflight review suffers attack of the Twitters

Greg Trocchia

@AC (bunch of idiots...)

Leaving aside the ignorance of the fact that the Russians have already, in fact, "done it first" (some of their Kosmos satellites were powered by nuclear reactors, Kosmos 954 causing a bit of a diplomatic oopsie when it came down in northern Canada) trying to chide NASA to be more aggressive in developing space nuclear power is hardly idiotic. For any trip to the outer solar system, nuclear power is pretty much necessary (sun power drops off as distance from the sun squared making solar panels unwieldy and chemical power just doesn't have the needed oomph), for power needs larger than an RTG (nuclear battery) can supply, this pretty much leaves you with a reactor as the only way of supplying the energy needed.

Reactors are a compact, low mass, source of power in large quantity. If you pair this with a very efficient, but power hungry, reaction motor like VASIMR (a type of engine that I am rather impressed with) and you could end up *decreasing* the radiation exposure of a crew on a Mars mission, for example. How does using a reactor _decrease_ radiation exposure, you may ask?

Simple, first you make sure there is an adequate shield between the crew and the reactor and then a powerful enough VASIMR could decrease the needed flight time from months down to weeks, which (in turn) cuts down the Cosmic Ray exposure which could otherwise be a serious radiation hazard for the crew. Space testing a reactor design is an important thing to do before we can once again venture beyond Low Earth Orbit.

Pirate Party wins seat in European Parliament

Greg Trocchia

@Eddy Ito

I have yet to see an election for national office where there are only two candidates running, maybe for local or county office, but never for Congress, Senate, and certainly not for President. Now there may be only two candidates with a chance of winning (one candidate, in some circumstances), but that doesn't matter. The purpose of voting in an election is not to guess who will win the election, it is to record your own preferences.

A protest vote for a non-major party candidate is a way of showing disaffection with the offerings of the major parties. When I have been dissatisfied with what was on offer, I happily entered such a vote, something I heartily recommend to anyone else similarly displeased. I have always been able to find a third party that I could stomach voting for (no need to vote for folks as distasteful as the BNP) and if there was ever a situation where there wasn't one... well, there is always the write-in route. If enough people start registering their disapproval of major party candidates in this fashion I am sure that this fact would not go unnoticed. The Jolly Roger because the Pirate Party sounds like one I could vote for when casting a protest vote.

US Federal Trade Commission shuts down ISP

Greg Trocchia


"You simply cannot apply reason and fairness to every situation."

Yes you can, unless that is, you *want* results that are irrational and unfair by definition.

Google Wave - interwebs idealism in real-time

Greg Trocchia

Some concerns

I stayed until the end of the video and was quite impressed by the functionality that has been put into Wave. A couple of concerns spring immediately to mind though. First, it seems to me that Wave provides a lot more ways for the wave user to commit a nasty faux pas, for instance making a snarky comment about someone and then realizing that the subject of the comment has access to the wave. E-mail, of course, had ways to do this too, the infamous "reply to all" oopsie for instance. But it seems to me that the number of ways to shoot one's self in the foot will be multiplied considerably when using wave.

The other big concern I have is along the lines that Tony Hoyle mentioned, although I am more worried about the use of Wave as a potential whole new attack surface for malware exploits than about spammers. I wonder how much though (if any) Google put into the security implications of widespread Wave usage. After all if, with benefit of hindsight, we had the opportunity to go back and redo SMTP, I would think that high on the list of things we would want to retrofit in would be functionality aimed at making spamming hard to do and easy to stop as well as making it harder to propagate malware downloads, fishing, etc. via e-mail.

Summer debut for Judge Dredd computer smart-rifle

Greg Trocchia

@AC (I repeat,it is just a toy)

As Muscleguy pointed out, the Mongols were no slouches when it came to the technology of warfare (which is what we are talking about). The Chinese may have out done them in other forms of technology, but in war making tech they did not notably outclass the Mongols.

As to the Japanese, their planes may have been somewhat superior at the outset of WW 2, but there is a difference between a slight edge and massive superiority. The American fighters of the day (the P-40 and F4F), for example, had advantages in particular areas like like durability and speed in a dive that they could and did use to counter the advantages of the Zero quite handily when used correctly (as the kill ratio of the Flying Tigers illustrates).

That is part of the point, an edge in tech is nice to have, but the kind of technical advantage I am talking about is more of a night-and-day type thing. Consider, for example, what happened to Confederate units armed with muzzle loaders faced when they encountered one of the (relatively rare) Union detachments armed with repeating rifles during the American Civil War. The reason for that rarity, BTW, is the decision by some functionary in the War Department, with a mindset similar to yours, not to officially adopt repeating rifles because they would "encourage soldiers to waste ammunition".

As to your arguments that US soldiers are poorly trained, there is nothing to refute, you just made a flat assertion with nothing to back it up. Anecdotally, I would point out that the video clips that I have seen from Iraq and Afghanistan did not show any instances of panic fire, specifically, nor much in the way of apparent inadequate training, in general.

Your whole assumption seems to be that spending on new weapon tech is done to the exclusion of money for training. With a military budget of US$651.2 billion(!), I think there's room for spending on tech like the XM 25 without shortchanging training.

Greg Trocchia

@AC (Just another toy)

I think you underrate the "force multiplier" effect of superior technology. I would speculate that this is because recent wars have tended to be 1) contests between combatants of roughly similar technological level and/or 2) Asymmetrical contests (i.e. guerilla wars), where conventional measures of military strength tend to go out the window. The most recent war to feature a significant disparity in technology was the first Gulf War- notice how lopsided the casualties were in that conflict. Indeed, in your own colonial past you can see an even clearer demonstration of the power of technology in the form of this little ditty from Hilaire Belloc:

"Whatever happens, we have got

The Maxim gun, and they have not"

As to assertions that "the US Army never learns anything", I would point out that 3 years ago it seemed that the situation in Iraq was spiraling out of control which would end with the US having to slink away as AQI took control of the country. A change in leadership, putting General Petraeus in charge of the theater, and consequent change in the way the Army fought the war allowed the Army to capitalize on the fact that the AQI types had managed to make themselves even more unwelcome than the US. That doesn't sound like an Army which refuses to learn anything to me.

Perhaps Afghanistan will be a tougher nut to crack. It is, after all, known as "The Graveyard of Empires". That said, I wouldn't be so quick to write the fight there off as unwinnable before seeing whether the aforementioned General Patraeus can turn things around there.

Boston dorm computer raid ruled illegal

Greg Trocchia

@AC 16:23

I'm fail to see how this constitutes a "win" for "Mr. Plod". Justice Botsford ruled that the search was illegal and ordered the search of the items halted and the seized property to be returned to Mr. Calixte. If "Mr. Plod" is running a worldwide campaign (which sounds a bit too paranoid to be believable), the Boston branch of that campaign has suffered a rebuff.

If they can break the law, why can't we?

Greg Trocchia

Incomplete quote

My compliments on a fine bit of commentary, and one which uses a reference to one of my favorite movies, A Man for All Seasons, to boot. Which brings me to my one (minor) quibble, you left out the final line which provides the climax to that scene, where Sir Thomas More proclaims: "Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake! ". There is a lesson in there for us all, I think.

Europe, Russia discuss 'orbital shipyard' plans

Greg Trocchia

@Dani Eder

"Your choices are a tug or booster that gets you quickly out of the radiation zone, and then heads back by aerobraking for the next trip, or the astronauts wait on the ground or in orbit until the main ship is high enough, then ride a capsule quickly out to join it."


I don't think you be able to do a pure aerobrake to get back. If you are above the Van Allen Belts you will be in such a hard vacuum that any reasonably sized aerobrake will have next to no effect on your orbit. Fortunately, since you no longer have a human crew to worry about, you can use one of those efficient-but-slow-accelerating electric drives to return to LEO. Alternatively, you could use a burn from your high-thrust drive to lower your perigee to where you _can_ make use of aerobraking for the rest of your maneuvering.

That said, I agree with the rest of your points about the usefulness of having a pace to do on orbit assembly (Von Braun was right, IMO) and about it being a good idea for any spacecraft with humans on it to spend as little time as is practical within the Van Allen Belts, for which purpose it is handy to have a reusable tug.


US prosecutor orders Craigslist 'erotic listings' shutdown

Greg Trocchia

@Hud Dunlap

The second sentence clears up what ever confusion the first sentence left:

"South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said..."

That means that McMaster is a "US prosecutor" in the sense that he is a prosecutor who lives in the US, not that he represents the US government (he represents the state of South Carolina). I think your reasoning about why this ought to be handled at the Federal level has merit, but I think is beside the point for McMaster who seems to be in search of some cheap publicity to bolster his run for Governor (as suggested by AC at 00:07). Unfortunately, a lot of Constitutionally dubious measures are proposed with such motivations.

Conservative US shock-jock to sue Wacky Jacqui

Greg Trocchia

@Member of the Savage Nation

You seem to have missed out on the humor in having someone who "preaches Border, Language and Culture" all of the sudden turn around and start whining because someone else wants to close *their* borders to *him*. Or the delicious hypocrisy of someone who has little use for civil libertarians running to his "top First Amendment attorneys" when it is *his* free speech ox that is getting gored (the additional humor in Savage's apparent lack of understanding that the First Amendment is only the law of the land within the US, not the UK, has already been mentioned).

@Mike Richards

"Can't they both lose?"

You took the words right out of my mouth.

Online ticket reseller fails in internet immunity bid

Greg Trocchia

Summary Judgment Denial != Lost Case

Disclaimer- IANAL

The refusal of a motion for Summary Judgment simply means that the case can go to trial, not that Stub Hub has lost the case. From Stub Hub's point of view, they would have been happier had their motion been accepted, if it was they would have enjoyed automatic safe harbor protection, but they can still convince a judge or jury that they are not active participants in circumventing Massachusetts' anti-touting law.

Top British boffin: Time to ditch the climate consensus

Greg Trocchia

@AC 13:44

"Consensus is not what drives discovery."

But scientific consensus is what validates discovery, you don't appear to understand this crucial part of the functioning of science. In science maverick opinions come up regularly, most of them wrong. How does one separate the ones that are wrong (e.g. phlogiston, spontaneous generation, Lamarckian inheritance) from those that aren't (e.g. plate tectonics, the existence of black holes, quantum theory)? The scientific mavericks argue their case with the other scientists in the field (who, in turn, argue back) and everyone looks for more data to bolster their case then, eventually, the preponderance of evidence will be so strong on one side or the other that a CONSENSUS will emerge on who was right.

Einstein's theory of Relativity, to use one of your examples, only became an accepted part of Physics when his prediction of the effects of the Sun's gravity on starlight was confirmed so convincingly that the Physics community came to a consensus that it was correct. As far as quantum theory goes, Einstein's contribution (for which he won his Nobel Prize) was not in the formulation of quantum, but as a contributor to the then-emerging consensus in favor of quantum theory. Specifically, Einstein pointed out that the hither-to mysterious photo electric effect could be easily explained by assuming the quantization of energy states of the electrons involved (the work function).

NASA gets cold feet on Moon base plan

Greg Trocchia

@Steve Swann

The reason that Helium 3 is of such interest is not as a shielding material, rather it is as a fuel. Deuterium/Tritium fusion (the type that researchers are trying to achieve) has a drawback, one of the products of the fusion is a neutron. Thus, a working D/T fusion reactor will put out hard neutron radiation, causing all the surrounding materials to become radioactive. The upshot of this is that while there might not be the same spent fuel problems you have with a fission reactor, there is the same problem of decommissioning. In each case years of neutron bombardment will cause the reactor innards to become a highly radioactive.

Helium 3, OTOH, can fuse in a reaction that does not produce neutrons as a fusion product. Thus, while an operating reactor using Helium 3 will put out radiation, when shut down there should be little residual radiation to deal with- unlike fission or D/T fusion plants, which remain "hot" whether operating or not. As a further bonus, instead of the neutrons you get from D/T, you get protons when using Helium 3. The reason that this is a bonus is that a moving proton constitutes a type of electrical current and it is possible use this to get electricity (a current of moving electrons) in a more direct manner than by heating water and using the resulting steam to turn a generator.

Unfortunately, as with so many things in life, there is a catch (in fact there are two big catches in this case). The first is the scarcity of Helium 3 on Earth that you have already mentioned. The second thing is that Helium 3 fusion is far more challenging to achieve than D/T fusion, which itself has been frustrating fusion researchers for decades.

Whether or not Helium 3 becomes an important part of our energy future, the Moon is a natural place to start whenever you want to build serious infrastructure beyond the Earth. The reason is the lower gravity (escape velocity requires less than 1/20 the energy needed from Earth's surface) and absence of atmosphere on the Moon combined with the proximity of the Moon. Lifting material in bulk from the Moon should inherently cost a fraction of what it does from Earth, once the set up on the Moon to do the job becomes operative. In addition, any technological advance which would lessen the cost of lifting Earth material should be equally applicable to the Moon, so this advantage should be quite robust. While space exploration may or may not involve a return to the Moon, doing space development (as distinct from said exploration) will pretty much necessitate going back there.

EFF accuses Apple of muzzling iPhone hobbyists

Greg Trocchia
Jobs Horns

@Charles Manning

Freedom of speech is, most assuredly, *not* overrated I would contend. So far as the matter at hand goes: The anti-circumvention portions of the DMCA are a particularly egregious part of a (mostly) misbegotten law. In addition to every other argument which can be brought to bear against anti-circumvention, there is the fact that enacting laws that a substantial number of people do not accept as legitimate breeds contempt for the rule of law in general, a loss all the way around.

Then there is the fact that reverse engineering can be a fair-use exception to anti-circumvention under US law, the bone of contention being whether this applies in this specific case. Even if this were found not to be the case, it would still be a huge (and, IMO, unwarranted) assumption, to suggest that this allows muzzling of a discussion of potential methodologies that might be used for circumvention.

Although IANAL, my layman's view of US Constitutional jurisprudence is that the Supreme Court strictly scrutinizes when free speech may be curtailed. The upshot of this is to tend to limit permissible cases of free speech abridgment to when speech becomes action (or at least quasi action). For this reason, your first 2 examples would likely pass muster, by trying to induce panic or by making a threat of violence, it seems clear to me that you are acting as much or more than you are speaking, and acting in a criminal fashion to boot.

I would take exception to your third example. Mouthing pro-nazi slogans at a Holocaust memorial is beyond insulting and distasteful, evil would work as a characterization for me. That said, it is not likely to be something for which one can arrest the speaker (nor should it be, IMO). It might get the nazi ejected from the memorial if shouted loud enough to be a disturbance (or merely if heard, if the memorial is a private one, where the 1st Amendment doesn't constrain the owners of the memorial to suffer an overt nazi on their property).

This isn't just my opinion, BTW, there is a fairly famous Supreme Court case which comes very close to this: National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. To summarize, the Nazis wanted to be able to hold a march through the (predominantly Jewish, including Holocaust Survivors) neighborhood of Skokie. The Supreme Court ruled that they could not be forbidden to do so (they never did actually hold the march, although they did hold 3 rallies nearby, at their initial venue of choice).

Perhaps things are different in the UK, but here in the US, where the litigation is taking place, abridging free speech is not something the courts sign on to readily. It is my hope that this will continue to be the case.

Konami nixes Six Days in Fallujah

Greg Trocchia

@Goat Jam

Is it possible to have it more backwards? I tend to doubt it. The US tends to win set-piece battles, by traditional measures (achievement of assigned objectives, casualty ratio, and the like) even when the war itself is a lost cause, from at least the end of the Korean war. The only "exceptions" that come readily to mind are the Desert 1 fiasco (where the mission was aborted before contact with the enemy) and Lebanon (where a suicide bomber, at the time a novel tactic, blew up a Marine barracks).

In Vietnam, the US Army never had an equivalent of Dien Bien Phu. From Ia Drang, to Tet and Khe Sanh and beyond, the army would always win "victories" but the overall effect was a Pyrrhic one in that support for the war ebbed to the extent it was a lost cause. Grenada and Panama were victories but could hardly have been expected to be otherwise, given the asymmetries.

In the first Gulf War, it is hard to imagine how an army could win a more lopsided victory than the one that the US and its coalition partners (UK included) collectively won. In Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down) the Pyrrhic victory pattern returned and Army forces were badly bloodied, but gave worse than they got, and accomplished their mission, but again at a cost which convinced the political authorities to pull out of Somalia. In Afghanistan, the Taliban were easily chased from the country (perhaps deceptively easily) by the Northern Alliance and their US special forces allies.

This brings us to the subject of the story, the battle of Fallujah, where the US were able to clear the insurgent forces from the town. In this case the victory was a costly one (http://www.secinfreg.org/news/fallujah.htm) but this time does not appear to warrant quotation marks since it does not appear (for the moment) to have been in vain.

So, of the past half century (which is only about as long as the US has had a big standing Army) the US Army has won some Pyrrhic "victories", some victories where they took heavy casualties, and some walk-over victories. What's missing from this picture is any hint of them "losing all the battles", whether winning the War or losing it.

Apple shareholders get 'say on pay'

Greg Trocchia
Jobs Halo

Wrong poster boy for CEO pay restraint

The problem with a flat statement like "And CEO pay is, indeed, reaching ludicrous levels." and .. "seeing as how their average compensation totaled $10.4m", from the point of view of the shareholders is that there are some CEOs who are worth every penny of that and more (but, admittedly, way fewer than those who *think* they are worth it). I would argue on the basis of historical record, that Steve Jobs was one, something I think that even Apple-haters would have to agree.

To get from a place where Apple was visibly circling the drain and seemed headed to a future of, at best, irrelevance to its current enviable position of dominating several markets (iPod, iTunes) and being in a strong (iPhone), or at least resurgent (Macbook, iMac), position in most of the rest is an extraordinary accomplishment. Moreover, it is an accomplishment that are well worth the Gulfstream jet, all the options, not to mention the lavish $1 annual Salary that Jobs has been taking home since 1997.

If the above is not sufficiently convincing, consider the following: Apple shares fell by about ~10% upon the announcement of Jobs' medical leave of absence. Since Apple is capitalized at around $100 Billion, that alone is roughly $10 Billion worth of difference to Apple shareholders, a sum that dwarfs the total compensation paid to Jobs, directly or indirectly.

Given that this is a target rich environment for finding CEO (and their associated management teams) who have "added" negative value, in massive quantity, to the company they have been running (AIG, Washington Mutual, and Northern Rock are just a few of the instances which come to mind), it seems rather inappropriate to select one of the rare CEOs (and associated management teams) who have been demonstrably worth the money as a poster boy for CEO excess.

Spies hacked US electrical grid, says WSJ

Greg Trocchia

@Why Not

The "why not" is simple, it is better to be safe than sorry, even if it costs a bit more. Given the amount of motivation and the resources of would-be attackers (these are nation states we are talking about, and not small ones either) I would suggest that the system cannot be made secure enough. I have seen too many systems that seemed secure fall to a to a clever attack to trust that we will be able to lock down SCADA tightly enough that it is completely resistant to assault.

Then too, there is the factor that the more secure a system is, the more of a Pain in the A** it is to use. Do you really use select tough passwords for your accounts, use a different password for each account, change passwords frequently, and refrain from having a list of your passwords for all the different accounts? I would be very surprised if you could truthfully answer yes to all of these, human beings are just not mentally equipped to be able to keep track of all the required passwords without taking a shortcut somewhere despite the fact that this weakens the protection that the passwords provide.

Let me give you a concrete example from history: the Venona decrypts were made possible because generating a new one-time pad was so much effort that someone in the Soviet crypto section couldn't be bothered and reused a previously used one (this being a big crypto no-no, they are called one-time pads for a good reason). This lapse allowed western cryptanalysts to decode some of the messages to and from the spy networks in place in the US and elsewhere, revealing the extent of Soviet penetration during the years leading up to the Cold War (while the USSR was the ostensible ally of the US and UK) as well as outing particular individuals as spies.

Linking SCADA systems to a publicly accessible network, and especially to the internet is, IMO, just an invitation to come pwn us. The principle is simple: you can't hack what you don't have access to. Deviating from this principle just because it may be more expensive to do things that way is fundamentally unsound (and connecting SCADA systems to the internet without even *trying* to harden them is, I think we can all agree, breathtakingly, culpably, stupid).

Microsoft killing free XP support next week

Greg Trocchia

@Ken Hagan

My take on this is that the "double downgrade" straight to XP is a contingency measure. If Windows 7 turns out not to have as easy a time running on a netbook as MS hopes, or if for some other reason Windows 7 encounters the same kind of push-back in the market that Vista has, then MS is not just conceding the only really hot market segment in the computer business these days to its competitors. If worst comes to worst they can soldier on with XP on netbooks.

If, on the other hand, Windows 7 achieves the hoped for success on netbooks and elsewhere it would not surprise me much to see the option to "downgrade" to XP being withdrawn fairly aggressively in order to push the user community back into MS's desired upgrade schedule. I hasten to add that this is just my guess, I have no inside information on the subject, but it does seem to fit the available facts.

Grav-mapping satellite fires ion engines

Greg Trocchia

@Robert Hill

First off, in the context of orbital mechanics "free-fall" does not connote losing altitude. Orbits allow you to do what Douglas Adams suggested in "Hitchhikers Guide": "The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss." When in orbit, you are constantly falling around the Earth and, hence, missing it and this is the essence of free-fall.

As for the explicit statement that the orbit is "currently decreasing at 190 meters per day". The key word in the phrase is "currently" as in before the ion engines are fired for real (as opposed to test firing) in order to do the needed station keeping. The implication is that once the engines are continually firing, they will be enough to keep the orbit from degrading any further so long as they remain operational

That said, I will agree that the phrasing in the article does not exactly help one to parse it correctly.

Boffins list sci-fi words which wormed their way into dictionary

Greg Trocchia

More terms from SF

Off the top of my head there is "cyberspace", from Gibson's Neuromancer and "flashmob" which came from Niven. You also have not just the name, but the concept of a countdown which was invented as a tension heightening method in Fritz Lang's film "Frau im Mond" and was picked up by the rocket scientists (some of the key figures in the German VfR were associated with the film, Lang hired Herman Oberth himself to build a real rocket as PR for the film, but he wasn't able to produce a flyable rocket on the needed schedule) as a useful way of sequencing the events leading up to a rocket launch.

As to the "scattergun approach" of SF, this is due to the goal of SF not being to predict THE future, but rather to posit a plausible future in which to set the story. To the extent that the elements of this future are indeed plausible, it is not surprising that some of those elements, or something very like them, come to pass. An additional feature aiding this process is that since a lot of folks who make a career in technologically related field are (again, unsurprisingly) attracted to reading/watching SF, some of the devices/concepts depicted there become inspirations for their efforts. What reading SF does is not to tell you what will happen so much as to prepare you for what might happen.

EU issues ultimatum on internet privacy

Greg Trocchia


Things are not necessarily as bad as they seem to you, the FTC does, in fact, have a good deal to say about behavioral marketing here is a link regarding their latest actions:


It is not surprising that the Reg would pay more attention to what is happening in the UK and Europe on the topic of behavioral marketing, but that does not necessarily imply things are quiescent in the US.

I would not, BTW, characterize the US as being "most directly democratic country in the world". The Swiss, for one, have a form of initiative and referendum at the national level, whereas we do not. I think a more accurate characterization of the US would be something like most institutionally mistrustful of concentration of power.

Parliamentary systems do not separate Legislative from Executive power to the same degree as in the US. This, mind you, is a structural feature which can be overcome by circumstance. If a President ends up with a supine Congress (as has happened from time to time, including recently) this check on Executive power becomes more theoretical than actual, at which point Presidential power is mainly limited by what the Supreme Court is willing to allow. The price we pay for this is that it is entirely possible for the President and Congress to be at cross purposes (as, for example, in the Gingrich-Clinton budget showdown). Fortunately (from my perspective) a Congress at loggerheads with a President is more the natural state of things than a rubber stamp Congress. It may make things harder to accomplish, but I feel that is a price worth paying.

Obama releases Dubya's secret anti-terror memos

Greg Trocchia

@David Hicks (and Mike)

While the Constitution does address the topic in the Third Amendment (which prohibits forcible quartering of troops among the public), the bit that I think you are thinking of is Federal Legislation, rather than being written into the Constitution: The Posse Comitatus Act. In 2006, at then-President Bush's urging, the Posse Comitatus Act was amended to allow for the use of the armed forces in cases of public emergency (is anyone here surprised?), but was restored to its original wording in 2007.


I will agree that the history of the US is full of cases where the government over-reacted to an emergency to the detriment of the rights both of minorities within the US, and of the citizenry as a whole. I don't need you to give me a list, I can put one together myself: in addition to the internment you brought up, there is the Sedition Act, the Palmer raids, the Vietnam-era COINTELPRO and more that I don't have room to mention.

What you fail to acknowledge is that the US *also* has a history of realizing that it has over-reacted and reversing the over-reaction. Fortunately for all of us, staying a free people does not require that a government never improperly abridge the rights of its citizens for the sake of expediency. Were that the case, I don't think there would be any free people anywhere. Rather, what keeps a people free is if, having strayed, the situation is subsequently corrected. For those of a mind to view the alteration of Posse Comitatus (see above) in this light, I would point to how little time it took to revisit the idea and revert to the original wording. I would also point out that rather than cover up our past failings, we teach them- all of the items in the list above I learned in Social Studies class in high school (except for COINTELPRO which was, alas for me, more like "current events" than "history" in my school days).

MIT boffins fashion working plasma rocket from Coke can

Greg Trocchia
Thumb Up

This is a place government could help

There is a classic catch 22 concerning new technology in space, everyone wants to have better tech available for their birds, but nobody wants to fly anything but space-proven hardware. This is understandable considering the megabucks it takes to buy a launch (it is my understanding that the rule-of-thumb in space business is that the payload tends to be about the same price tag as the ride you are using to put it in space, so the whole package is now 2*megabucks). With so much at stake, the imperative is to leave as little as possible to chance, as recent events underline:


By being willing to flight test new technology, government space programs (be they civil, as in NASA, or military, as in DARPA) can get some of the maximum bang for their buck by proving out technology that both they and everyone else can get to use. Note that this gives you the classic definition of a "public good" (non-rivaled and non-excludable) where government involvement makes the most sense. I would also note that this is not without recent precedent, from 1998 to 2001, NASA operated Deep Space 1, whose primary purpose was to prove out new technology (it was successful at this, several of the technologies it pioneered have since been used on other missions). High specific impulse drives like this are particularly important because they can give an exponential improvement in what you can get from a given amount of reaction mass. We need more of this.

Greg Trocchia

@Is the same thing as an ion engine?

It is a similar idea, but different in how the thrust is generated. In an ion engine, you are applying a potential difference to accelerate the (charged, by definition) ions. In this plasma rocket you are using a specific frequency of RF to form and then excite the plasma. The magnetic fields enclosing the plasma partially effectively becomes a magnetic rocket nozzle, with the excited plasma "wanting" to exit at high speeds.

Two advantages in this approach that I have heard mentioned are: 1) You don't need a neutralizer (to keep your rocket from acquiring net charge), because there are an equal number of electrons and singly ionized atoms emitted. And 2) There is no need to insert anything like a grid into the exhaust stream, which you need to do in ion engines to give you that potential difference. Since the grid is prone to erosion from this and is a potential failure point, either from that erosion or from something like clogging. This makes the engine more robust.

What wasn't mentioned and I am not sure why not, is that an ion engines are limited in the size of potential difference you can apply (use too much and you will just get arcing). I don't see where this limit would have a counterpart for the plasma engine (although I might be missing something there).

Spaceborne-forces planners meet with orbital joyride firms

Greg Trocchia

@John Smith

I think your title answers your question about Virgin, when last I heard Burt Rutan and his operation were the ones who were going to actually design and produce the hardware that Virgin will operate (you didn't think Branson was going to be producing the vehicles, did you?).

I think AC@ 17:54 has a good point, vid not withstanding the forces you will land, as both he and Lewis Page mention, will be light infantry and a fairly limited number of light infantry at that. That said, I do see where such a vehicle might have its place in the Special Ops world where you are trying to get in fast, hit hard, and don't need to hold territory. The question mark I would have about such use would be, "what will you do about exfiltration?"

How the Feds shook hands with an internet pedophile

Greg Trocchia

@Why not to be a vigilantee

I believe that your post is based upon a misunderstanding of the Exclusionary Rule in the US, by means of which illegally gathered material can be excluded from evidence which is to be used in a prosecution (disclaimer: IANAL and this is not legal advice, so if this discussion is of more than hypothetical importance to you get an actual lawyer to tell you what is what). If you google "Exclusionary Rule" you will find that evidence gathered by private persons who are not acting as agents of the police does not fall under the rubric of the Exclusionary Rule, so if hackers bring illegally acquired information to the police, they are allowed to use it.

That this should be so makes sense considering the purpose of the rule: to provide the police with a disincentive to "accidentally" (on purpose) violate a suspect's rights against unlawful searches and seizures. If the police know such evidence will just be excluded from trial if they do this, why would they bother. Hence, while TV dramas may make it seem that the purpose of the Exclusionary Rule is to provide an out for guilty defendants, the real purpose is to make the police actually follow the Constitution and its guarantee of rights for the accused. Excluding evidence which is not the result of misconduct on the part of the police does nothing to increase this incentive and, unsurprisingly, is not something that the Exclusionary Rule requires.

US Navy orders new electric hyper-kill railgun

Greg Trocchia

Impressive vid

But I will be far more impressed when they tell us just how they plan to keep the railgun from chewing up its rails in the first few rounds, considering that you have a mach 5+ projectile in contact with those rails, not to mention what the plasma and all that electrical energy will do. I would imagine it would make barrel erosion problems in standard cannon seem mild by comparison.

Satellite-hacking boffin sees the unseeable

Greg Trocchia

@ jake

I did the math and here are my results. According to my calculator 2^256 is ~ 1.15 * 10^77 and according to this graph ( http://tiny.cc/8cf5b ), the output of the Sun since formation is of the order of 10^45 joules, so let's call it 10^46 joules during its lifetime to be generous. By dividing the 10^46 joules by the more than 10^77 digits previously calculated, I get an "energy budget" of 8.6 *10 ^ -32 joules per digit or more than 10 orders of magnitude less than the ~kT limit on irreversible computing for erasing a single bit. So it looks to me as if AC had it right, even counting up through *each* of the 2^256 digits is a task of surpassing difficulty.

Prime Minister out-nonsensed by Conservative Wikifiddler

Greg Trocchia

My follow-on Responce

I would argue that, for any dead-tree venue for writing, the "at the time of this writing" part is implied (it is certainly something I infer) regardless of how much"timeless omniscience" there is in the tone of the writing. The possibility of being invalidated by later events/information just goes with the territory of being hard copy nor would I find it helpful to require that all writing in hard copy be hedged, tentative, and full of caveats to reflect this possibility- I don't think this would add much that I could not infer already.

Understand that I am not trying to badmouth Wikipedia, I use it all the time. I just think that hard copy reference works also have their place despite the limitations of being fixed in time. I would also point out again that the advantage of being capable of later update is one of the online world in general rather than being unique to Wikipedia per se (presumably an online version of Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, would also reflect a post-Watergate take on Nixon).

Greg Trocchia

@Chris Bidmead (Encyclopedia Brittanica)

Since the Watergate break in, which would eventually lead to the downfall of Richard Nixon, happened in June of 1972 ( read the original Washington Post account here: http://tiny.cc/V6t5d ) it is highly likely that the Richard Nixon article you cited was written prior to the burglary. Had there been a Wikipedia in 1972, it would also probably not have mentioned Watergate even after June of that year, the scandal took a long time to ramp up to the point where it threatened the Nixon presidency. I remind you that Nixon won a landslide victory November of 1972 as a quick way to verify this. A 1974 or 1975 (I am not sure what kind of lead times Britannica has) version of Encyclopedia Britannica, like our hypothetical Wikipedia of the same vintage, would likely have had a significantly different take on Nixon.

Apple animating iTunes stream machine?

Greg Trocchia

@AC (Meager?)

>>It is spelt Meagre!

It _isn't_ spelled that way if you happen to be American. I realize that the Reg is based in the UK, but the particular author of this piece, if you care to look, happens to be in San Francisco. Just because we spell words differently on the other side of the Atlantic does not mean that our preferred spelling is *wrong*, a presumption I am starting to find annoying. I am quite happy to accept that folks in the UK prefer to spell the word as "meagre" (even if it is less phonetic in that spelling) and have no desire you to compel you to change your preference, I urge you to extend us the same courtesy.

Obama insists on FOI

Greg Trocchia

@AC (Dear Mr. Obama - Here is my first FOI request )

>>Please tell me which part of the US constitution is it that proves the federal state as a right to charge me income tax and that I must pay it.<<

Here is the part you were asking about:


Retired army generals: Spend Trident money on the army

Greg Trocchia

@AC (US involvement/"missile numbers")

Here is where my involvement with the Navigation subsystem bears more directly: you don't need GPS to fire a missile. The boat's position sent to fire control is based on an inertial navigator. Initially this was SINS (Ships Inertial Nav System) but was later supplanted by ESGN (Electromagnetically Supported Gyro Navigator). Now error pileup in the inertial navigator would require you to do an update from an external fix source every [classified], but while this fix source *could* be GPS, it didn't *have* to be: you could head towards an area where the bottom of the ocean was well mapped and do a sonar fix or do a LORAN (LOng Range Aid to Navigation) fix (this was the area I spent the bulk of my time on). There also used to be a NAVSAT (Transit Satellite) fix source, but this was replaced by GPS.

Now it is possible that the Trident missiles use GPS for in flight corrections, but I would be surprised indeed if the missile couldn't also a celestial navigation backup, should GPS be unavailable or, if all else fails, just depend on the inertial navigator in the missile. At worst what you would be looking at would be degraded accuracy, but when you are talking strategic nuclear weapons you only need to be but so accurate.

Also, your yield numbers for the Trident missiles are way off. The standard warheads are all sub-megaton in yield, less than half a MT in fact (Google W 87 or W 88). The Wikipedia article on the UK Trident suggests that it uses warheads based on the older W 76 design, which had a still lower yield.

Greg Trocchia

@AC (Reply to JonB)

>>Actually, the US have several layers of veto on Trident, from the hardware, through the software and on upwards. For example, the system simply will not accept an independant attack plan (ie, one adopted by NATO, which means one adopted by the US) and even if such a plan could be forced into the system, the hardware can be locked by the Pentagon at any time. In practise, the system is probably always locked with a special clause to allow test firings, which it is capable of distinguishing. That's all I know about but since the source code for the software is not shared with the UK, there could be absolutely anything else in there too.<<

This doesn't sound likely to me and I wrote some of the software that went on Trident boats. Admittedly, my involvement was with the Navigation subsystem, so I have no expertise regarding the fire control system, but my experience did give me some insight into just how isolated a ballistic missile submarine on patrol is for most of the time. The reason boomers (as they were nicknamed) make for such good deterrent systems is that they are hard to find. The reason they are hard to find is that the ocean is rather opaque to most of the electromagnetic spectrum. This opacity has downsides as well as advantages, in order to communicate by radio a sub either has to get close to the surface and trail a long antenna behind it (and get lousy bandwidth) or else actually stick a mast up above the surface of the water (and chance giving away its position). Otherwise, the sub is essentially incommunicado for the balance of its patrol. This being the case, just how could the hardware "be locked by the Pentagon at any time"?.

As far as not accepting an "independant [sic] attack plan", I suspect that what you have as an "attack plan" at fire control is the coordinates of the targets (longitude, latitude, perhaps altitude and vertical deflection: longitude, latitude, and vertical deflection is the info that the nav system is responsible for providing to fire control about the point of launch, so I assume that similar info is needed about the points of impact). On what basis a computer could discern an independent attack plan from the above is beyond me.

It seems to me that you not only have a rather paranoid view of the US but a remarkably low opinion of the Royal Navy in that you think that they would be willing to spend vast sums of money on a deterrent system that is so hobbled that it is inherently incapable of performing its role (a deterrent weapon that one can't actually shoot isn't a deterrent, its a bluff).

Violet Mir:ror DIY RFID kit

Greg Trocchia

The killer app is missing

I believe that RFID tagging household items won't be compelling until you can install a network of readers which can interrogate the tag at a distance of several meters and triangulate to tell you *where* the tag is right now. That is the "killer app" for home RFID: never lose your keys again, always be able to find the remote control effortlessly, etc. Until you get that, home RFID will, IMHO, remain a solution in search of a problem.

Lords, MPs go down on to the Erotic Awards

Greg Trocchia

@Dave Harland

>>Obviously, Macaulay had insufficient experience with Americans. Our only saving grace, with respect to legislating sexual morality, is that we tend to be considerably less successful at it.

Which is why, I presume possession of "Extreme Porn" is now illegal in the UK, but not in the States. Or why Child Pornography is narrowly defined in America in the sense that actual children have to be exploited in making it (i.e. no X-rated Simpsons parodies, for example). And why non-commercial consensual conduct between adults now has broad protection in the US (courtesy of the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas), whereas the same can not be said, so far as I can tell, of the UK. There is a bluenose streak that is part of the American political scene as it is in other places (e.g. England, Scotland, Australia), that I will not deny, but there is also a fiercely libertarian impulse with which this bluenose streak must contend here and a Bill of Rights which makes it hard to prevail over that libertarian impulse in the US.

NASA inks deal for ISS plasma drive tests

Greg Trocchia

@Luther Blissett

You don't have "plasma drives" in your bathroom unless you have some REALLY unusual candles. Combustion flame != plasma as plasma requires that at least some of the electrons of the plasma constituents have been stripped away, this kind of ionization tends imply really high energy, the kind you just don't get by burning something. VASIMR uses RF to provide that energy and magnetic fields to contain the plasma, something that no physical material is up to doing.

An advantage of doing this is that you can get very high exhaust velocities. The delta V for a rocket, which is essentially a measure of how fast you can get the rocket moving before it runs out of fuel, scales linearly with exhaust velocity and with the log of the amount fuel compared to everything else on the rocket (which explains why exhaust velocity is so important, it is *much* easier to get speed from more exhaust velocity than by increasing the amount of fuel). This is why Dr. Chang Diaz can talk about 39 day trip times: with loads of delta V: you are not restricted to the easier to do, but much slower (closer to 9 months than a little over one month) Hohman transfer orbit. An additional advantage of having delta V to burn (so to speak) is that you don't have to launch during a specific, relatively narrow, window of time or wait two years for the window to recur as dictated by the math of Hohman transfer. You can tailor your trajectory according to when you want to leave instead of tailoring your launch dates to your trajectory.

An additional nice thing about VASIMR, compared to other high exhaust velocity engines (e.g. ion engines) is that you can "gear" the engine, trading some exhaust velocity for more thrust or thrust for exhaust velocity to help optimize performance for a desired mission. As you may be able to tell, I am rooting for Dr Chang Diaz to succeed, I think VASIMR is a very handy type of engine to have space qualified.