Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Getting Back to Normal (sort of)

I'm still in the "gravity well" of the international meeting that I organize every February, but I'm slowly climbing out of it. Everything went well last week, including the off-site entertainment day which this year was at the Disney Resort in Anaheim, California, my first trip to Disneyland in quite a few years. It was fun - I did a couple of the nostalgic space-themed rides like Space Mountain (really just a roller coaster in the dark) and Star Tours (a full motion simulator ride). But the best thing I saw was a "live" stage show demonstration featuring Honda's humanoid robot ASIMO. It walks, climbs stairs, stands on one foot, runs, and even dances. Pretty amazing. It apparently understands some voice commands, but it was hard to tell its abilities in this since the show was heavily scripted (if it wasn't heavily scripted, ASIMO is certainly ready to pass the Turing Test).

Lots of things have been happening in the space world while I've been on my blog vacation. Although there are a lot of uncertainties ahead for NASA under its new charter and budget, I agree with the general direction (even though some of it is more of a lack of direction). Nothing about space flight is anywhere near "routine," and the analogies with the early development of the aviation industry (air mail contracts leading to the early airline business) are not very exact. But if we are ever to be a space-faring civilization, government space agencies can't continue to run the whole show. Transferring the LEO business to commercial operators seems like the right thing to do.

I've got a backlog of things to write about once I get my schedule more under control, including several really good books (all read on my iPod Touch - I'm mostly reading e-books these days). One was a SF book called Eifelheim by Michael Flynn, and another was Girls Like Us by Sheila Klein, a musical and cultural biography of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon.

I also have to mention a couple of flying notes. One is the free on-line book See How It Flies by John S. Denker. I discovered this back when I was taking flying lessons in the early 2000's. Denker is a physicist and a flight instructor and this book is an incredible merging of the scientific and technical with the practical aspects of flying airplanes. I rediscovered it this past week when I was moving my files to a new PC. I have some background in physics and flying and I still love both, though I do sadly little of either these days. Denker clearly has a deep knowledge of both, and his explanations and graphics are great.

The final flying note is a video link sent by a friend, a 5 minute HD clip of the US Navy Blue Angels in action. I'm always a sucker for a great flying video. I've seen the Blues quite a few times, but this video gives some amazing perspectives on their art (that's a still frame above).

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