Thursday, January 24, 2019

A solution to the border issue


In the fall of 2007, I was sick of the 2008 Election.  At the end of December, I had an idea to show how sick I was of it.  At the time, I wrote a Weekly Story for my website.  I’d think of an idea, hammer it out, proofread it once or twice, and post it.  For the week of January 1, 2008, I wrote my first Jonathon Davies story.  Who was Jonathon Davies?  He was a just a bitter guy running a write in campaign for President.  Why was he doing that?  Because all the real candidates sucked.  He was of the opinion that politicians put party above country, and maybe, just maybe, if he showed them someone who put country first, it might shame them into actually doing their jobs. 

It was a silly idea for a story, but I ended up writing six Jonathon Davies stories.  Three of them were his “Stand on the Issues,” where he gave a common sense “solution” to an issue.  The first one I wrote was on Immigration.  (I’m sure you are all shocked to learn that immigration was an issue eleven years ago.  It’s almost as if politicians haven’t done anything to solve the problem.) Recently, I remembered the solution Jonathon Davies had for the immigration problem, and I figured I should dig it out and offer it to the politicians of today.

His solution was twofold.  First, since there is no way to deport all the people in the country illegally (I wrote a blog a couple of years ago on why that is a stupid and dangerous plan), there needs to be some path towards citizenship.  His idea was to set up some commission that would work for a year that would allow those in the country illegally to come forward and get a temporary visa, or whatever.  Then after paying a small fine and going through a background check, they would be “citizens.” I put quotes around citizens because the real penalty for them being in the country illegally would be that they wouldn’t be allowed to vote for a period of ten years.  This would only apply to the adults.  At the end of the year, the commission would disband, and anyone found in the country illegally – whether they’ve been here for two days or two decades – would be deported.

The second part would be increased border security.  Not a wall – which is just an obstacle for people to go over, under, around, or through – but people who are more flexible and can more quickly change to fit current circumstances. 

Basically, Jonathon Davies would give both parties what they wanted, which can never happen because neither party will let the other get a “win.” Which just means that in 2030, we’ll probably still be arguing about this shit.

Monday, January 21, 2019

What I’m waiting for in space


On December 13, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity flew to a definition of space.  It was a big moment in the history of civilian spaceflight, and congratulations to everyone involved.  However, while I clapped for them, the flight didn’t do much for me.  Part of it was I kind of expected such a flight ten years ago.  SpaceShipOne flew in 2004, and at the time there was talk of it being only “a few years” until the bigger version would be flying passengers into space.  And yes it is rocket science, and yes there were accidents which set everything back, but for almost the last ten years the joke was that Virgin Galactic was just “six months out” from flying.  After years of this, it’s difficult for me to get excited about Virgin Galactic.  I mean, after the December flight there was talk that it might be about a month before the next one, and they might start flying passengers in the summer.  I’ll believe it when I see it.

But it’s not just Virgin Galactic.  Five years ago I felt like we were on the cusp of the real Space Age.  Private rockets would be flying passengers to private labs and hotels and we’d be building a lunar base.  It turns out all that was six months out.

I am a fan of SpaceX, but it does seem like they bite off more than they can chew.  A couple of years ago I came up with a list of the four things I was waiting for them to do.  I wrote a blog after they did the first two – refly a booster and fly twelve times in a year – and since then they’ve done a third: fly the Falcon Heavy.  I’m still waiting for them to fly humans.  But the reason I was waiting for the Falcon Heavy is that when it was first proposed, it seemed like we would soon have a big rocket that we could start doing big things with: space stations, moon bases, etc.  Instead of the decades and tons of money to design a new big rocket, they’d just bolt three Falcon 9s together.  It seemed simple.  But, it’s rocket science.  The test flight kept being pushed back, but it finally flew last February.  It hasn’t flown since.  And this big rocket that would launch us into the real Space Age, as far as I can tell there are only like five scheduled flights in the next few years.  I have the sneaky feeling that when it was initially proposed it was seen as a workhorse that would be flying every other month or something.  But for whatever reason the development drew out and now this powerful rocket is being eclipsed by the Super Duper Falcon, or whatever they’re calling it this quarter.  And I’m sure we’re just six months from a test flight of that.

Anyway, I was thinking about all this and I came up with a list of the four things I’m now waiting for in the space industry.  While these will be milestones, instead of just being a first they will be more a sign of a matured technology.  And that’s what will truly take us into the Space Age, not just the first flight of a big rocket, but when the big rocket is flying routinely. 

Number 1: The first orbital class booster to successfully fly ten times.
The biggest hurdle to space right now is that it is expensive.  Being able to reuse a booster is a great way to reduce the cost: if it works.  As I write this in January 2019, SpaceX has flown one Falcon 9 booster three times.  That’s great, I just hope the success last.  My worry is that perhaps the stress of launching and landing might take a toll after five or six launches.  I know they’re designed to fly more often, but simulations and tests are one thing, real world experience is another.  Don’t get me wrong, if we can only fly a booster five times before it has to be retired, that’s still a remarkable achievement in reducing the cost to space.  But I think ten flights is when we can say that the concept of a reusable booster has fully been proven.  And if it flies ten times in a year, that will really be something.

Number 2: Flying passengers to space four times in as many weeks.
I have no doubt that eventually some company will fly people on suborbital flights.  Ten years ago, I could see these happening a couple times a week.  Now, I worry if there will be weeks – even months – between flights.  I’d still gladly go on one, but I think the only way to show that the technology is mature is if it’s regular.  Four flights in as many weeks, I’d say that’s regular.

As I was typing this up, I realized that these passengers don’t have to just go on suborbital hops.  If a company launches four orbital flights in as many weeks, not only will that count, it will be super amazing.

Number 3: A private company flying people to a private space station.
When I first learned of Bigelow Aerospace’s Genesis modules (tests for expandable space stations launched in 2006 and 2007) I was excited, thinking we were “a few years” away from private space stations.  I’m still waiting.  Of course, I think part of the problem is why put up a space station if there isn’t a way to get people there?  So hopefully once the private taxi services for taking astronauts to the ISS get going, they’ll also be going to private space stations.  These could be labs, hotels, brothels, I really don’t care. 

Why I think this one is really important is that I view bureaucratic bean counters as one of the biggest challenges in space right now.  The best way to overcome that, is for private companies to start making money.  Because once Company X has worked most of the bugs out of an orbital hotel, Company Y will come along with a bigger and better hotel to get more customers.  And then Company Z will be like, “Why just orbit the Earth when you can go to the moon?”

Number 4: A human presence on the moon for one year.
At first I was just going to put when the next human steps onto the moon, but it is possible a program to do that – especially if run by bureaucratic bean counters – might be cancelled.  A continued human presence on the moon for a year is a strong sign that we’re going to stay. 

If you’re curious on my thoughts of what could be done with a moon base, then check out my Kindle essay collection, “The Moon Before Mars: Why returning to the moon makes more sense than rushing off to Mars.”

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So that’s my list.  I know it’s not super exciting, but basic infrastructure will take us further than flashy publicity stunts.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Thoughts on Doctor Who Series 11


In late June of 2007, some friends of mine got married in Hawaii (she was from there, he grew up there), and a group of us went out for the wedding.  Besides being with friends, it was a chance to go to Hawaii, visit Pearl Harbor, and take notes for my novel Damocles – which I will probably never get around to writing – that is set in Hawaii.  For all the benefits, there was one major downside: I had to wait to see “The Last of the Time Lords.”

At the time there were two ways for me to watch Doctor Who.  I could watch it on – I think it was still – the Scifi Channel, but I think it aired a month or so after airing in the UK and there would be a few minutes sliced here and there to make room for the commercials.  Or I could wait six or eight hours after it aired in the UK and hunt down a bootleg version.  I opted for the uncut, bootleg version.  Like I was going to wait for doctored Doctor Who. 

But for that trip to Hawaii – where I tapped out a rhythm of four about … fifty times a day – I couldn’t pack my desktop.  I didn’t have a laptop back then, and I don’t even know if the hotel had internet for all the rooms.  There was an internet cafĂ© a couple blocks away, but I think you had to buy your time.  So I had to wait until I got back home to watch the final episode of Series 3.  And I think it was one of the first five things I did when I got home.  Of course my experience wasn’t unspoiled.  There were a couple of steps between the airport and my apartment.  One stop was at a friend’s house where I checked my email and whatnot, and some post somewhere that I tried to skip over had the reveal of who the Face of Boe was.  Still, I was super excited to see how The Doctor, Martha, and Jack defeated The Master. 

Compare that to my actions for the latest series.  I now have BBC America, but Doctor Who aired at the same time as Supergirl, and I don’t have a DVR.  I think it did reair, but at 4:00AM, which is a bit late for me.  So I’d wait a day or two – depending on my work schedule – and watch the episodes on the BBC America website.  Up to episode 8, “The Witchfinders.” I started watching it, but I think I wasn’t feeling all that well and after five minutes or so I turned it off.  And I kind of forgot about it.  It wasn’t until the day the final episode aired that I finished watching it as well as “It Takes You Away.”

And it was a couple of days before I saw “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos,” but that was due to some issue with the website.  Of course I had seen some spoilers for it, which didn’t excite me.  “Oh, this villain that I had forgotten about because I didn’t think them that special comes back?  Joy.” And I was going to write up these thoughts after the end of the season, but work and stuff got in the way, and I decided to wait until the New Year episode came out, which I found as just more of the same.  And then work and other stuff got in the way, but here they are, finally.

Now, do I think this last series of Doctor Who was as good as earlier series?  No.  But that’s not new.  I think Doctor Who peaked in the Tennant years.  But this last series did nothing to stop the trend.

One of the things that really excited me during the Series 1 was when the Doctor first notices that he’s being followed by “Bad Wolf.” I remember going online searching out lists people had made on when Bad Wolf had appeared and reading through their theories.  I don’t know if it had been mentioned in any promos or anything that the series would build up to something, but I love the idea of long story arcs.  In later series I’d spend hours thinking about what the connections were and what they were building up to.  The destinations weren’t always great, but the journeys were fun. 

So when this series came out and it was stated that they were just individual episodes without an arc, it was like them saying, “Oh, this thing which is one of the things you enjoy most about the show, we’re not doing.”

Now if the individual episodes were spectacular, I’d get over it.  But the episodes this series were just … fine.  Which isn’t a slam, because I think 90% of Doctor Who episodes are just fine.  I found the beginning of “It Takes You Away” super interesting, but it then kind of fell on its face.  Which, again, isn’t new, “The Doctor’s Daughter” for example.

So if the individual stories aren’t that great, and there’s no overall arc, perhaps the characters and acting can make up for it.  Well, no.  I think they made a mistake by having so many companions.  In “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” they had to introduce the latest Doctor, three companions, two other supporting characters, and a villain.  It was too much.  I think they would have been better off just trying to introduce the Doctor and one or two companions.  That way they’d have more time to develop this main character.

And speaking of companions, there are some issues I have.  About two-thirds of the way through “Resolution” I thought, What’s Yaz doing here?  She got a couple of people’s phone numbers.  That was basically her role.  Yes, it fits with her being a cop, but in an episode where a couple of cops are killed, you’d think there would be opportunities for drama.  Does the Doctor drop Yaz off for her shift each day, or is Yaz burning through her vacation days?  What if Yaz called in “sick” and it was her partner and substitute that were killed?  That would make her question what she was doing and if she wanted to be a companion or a cop.  That’s not the only thing they could do, but it would be something.

Something that confuses me a bit, is Ryan’s dyspraxia.  I had never heard of it, and after the first episode I assumed it was there for some reason.  But it seems like it only ever comes up if the writers remember.  To be honest, I do wonder if the actor is acting out symptoms of dyspraxia, but I’m not paying enough attention to notice.  They made a big deal of it in the first episode, but then it seemed they – and me – forgot about it.

Since I wrote about Yaz and Ryan, I should also say something about Graham.  I like Graham.  Well, I like the idea of him.  I would love to see the Doctor with just an older companion, someone with more life experiences than the youthful companions the Doctor usually has. 

Which I guess now brings me to the Doctor.  Now some will probably say that I don’t care for Series 11 because the Doctor is a woman now.  But I didn’t care that much for Series 10.  I think my biggest issue with Whittaker’s Doctor is that I don’t know how to describe her Doctor.  I don’t have a sense for her unique take on the character.  To be honest, this is usually something I do in hindsight.  For example, I wasn’t all that impressed with Smith’s Doctor and I realized it was because I was comparing him to Tennant’s.  Tennant’s Doctor could be silly, serious, frightening (what he did to the little girl in “Family of Blood” still creeps me out) and he could go back and forth at ease.  Smith, I felt, could be silly and serious, but all the attempts at frightening were cringing, in a bad way.  How much of that was because of their inherent acting abilities, the direction, the scripts, I don’t know.  I’m not saying I think Actor A is better than Actor B, I’m just saying I preferred one’s version of a character over another’s. 

Going back to Whittaker, after eleven episodes, I don’t really have a feel for her version.  Eccleston only had thirteen episodes, but I feel I know his Doctor far better.  And I think a big reason for that is that he started out with only one companion.  With fewer main characters, you can spend more time with the ones you have.

So what’s my final opinion?  I hope Series 12 is better.  Of course, I’ve been hoping that for the past two or three series.  One of these days it will have to come true.