Monthly Archives: March 2004


What's a scramjet?

A scramjet is a variant of the ramjet, a high-speed jet engine, but designed to inject fuel into a supersonic airflow. Basically, there's a “scoop” on the front of the engine that just sucks up tons of air and forces it into the scramjet “tube” — the speed alone compresses it to combustion pressures (a normal jet would have to use fans and so on). Hydrogen is injected into this high pressure zone, and when it ignites, it shoots out of the back of the engine incredibly fast.

For those of you who know what a ramjet is, it's the same thing, except the airflow is supersonic throughout the engine, rather than being temporarily decellerated — this also has the sideeffect that the engine design dictates it only works at supersonic speeds, so you have to have a booster engine to get you going that fast before you can kick on your scramjet.

I don't know how many of you watched NASA's scramjet tests this last weekend, but I've got to say that I really have a worry with them. NASA is a civilian organization. It was founded that way in order to keep war on Earth, instead of allowing it to spread into space, and ensure that space belonged to The People.

Anyway, NASA just tested a scramjet, which is an airbreathing hypersonic plane that'll hit Mach 10. Popular Science and all the other journals have got these stupid “40 minutes from Washington to Paris” super-commuter stories.

FACT: The Concorde was commercially unviable.

FACT: This plane is even more expensive and impractical than the Concorde.

FACT: All the “problems” of supersonic commercial airplanes are magnified in a hypersonic plane.

FACT: Scramjets need a rocket booster to be “kickstarted”.

FACT: This plane is not useful for getting into outer space.

FACT: This plane will not be carrying civilians.

FACT: This plane has one use only, and it's a scary one.

This plane has one purpose and one purpose only: to power new weapons systems. (And by calling it a NASA project, they get to access all sorts of other funding).

Over the past few years, rumors have been flying that the Russians have been testing scramjets attached to ballistic missiles, which would give them a weapon that could punch through the best weapons shields — and, surprise surprise, one day after America showed off its scramjet, Russia announced that its “revolutionary” new missiles could easily defeat any new American missile shield.

The arms race is back, and it's bigger than ever.

The advantage to a scramjet over traditional rockets is that, on top of being faster, scramjets breathe air, meaning they only have to carry a fraction of the fuel, making them much lighter and smaller. After the scramjet missile/bomber is launched it immediately shoots up to the upper atmosphere, skips along the border to outerspace, and then dives back into the lower atmosphere at Mach 10, delivering hundreds of guided nuclear bombs to their targets.

For some non-idiotic coverage of this project, there are good articles at Tech Central Station and The Financial Times.

Punishing the innocent

So schools in Merrilville, Indiana have banned all use of the color pink, fearing that it might be a gang color — clothing retailers have warned that because pink is “in” this season, gang members might buy it as well — Michael Berta, the school superintended points out, “There is no evidence of gang activity. But because of the growing use of the color pink we decided to be proactive. Girls and boys are supposed to avoid wearing pink.”

Thus 6,500 students have been told they can't wear it, nor can they have it in the form of accessories… Not because it's linked to a crime, but because it might be in the future in some extremely small way. What kind of a world do we live in where governments ban people from wearing a certain COLOR because some anti-social citizens like it as well?

Why can't America remember its founding credo? The less laws, the better.

It's all a part of a bigger game of systematically taking away people's rights. You think these ridiculous bans on pink, on piercings, on whatever, that eventually get thrown out by the courts, are just MISFIRES? Think again. Slowly, bit by bit, they are conditioning people to accept a state of being where rights eroding is normal. We're on the down-curve of the civil rights “trend” unless we do something to hold onto them.

Let me rewind to gun rights.

When America was founded, it was rebelling against a government (even if it was a theocracy) which controlled its people through a powerful standing army and a disarmed citizenry. Because of this, America supported militias and gun ownership in the early days, because they were wary of the tyranny of government. But then America developed large government, and with it tyranny (and South Carolina tried to take away the guns of blacks who defended themselves against the Klan, etc). Blah, blah, blah.

Let me interject and say that when I was 12, one of my brother's best friends had his head blown off while he and his brother were playing with their father's moose hunting rifle. I've had other friends die from guns, as well as farm accidents and other things. Life is dangerous, and I don't have a problem with that. Some people die earlier than I'd like, but trying to pretend that the world is risk-free is not the solution. Kids should learn to play with fire safely and responsibly and with respect… not fear it blindly!

Anyway, take “safe storage” laws where you have to keep your guns locked up and unloaded — with those our friend would still have his skull (not that kids can't find keys). You know what, if you're going to do that, keep your guns at the range. There's no reason to have guns at home if you just have them locked up. My feeling is that guns should be out and accessible, otherwise they're not useful tools.

I'm sure many of you know the story of the Carpenter family… Five kids (four girls, and a 7 year old boy), two parents, and all trained in gun handling and safety. Their home had loaded guns in accessible locations and all of the kids knew how to defend themselves (the older ones anyway). However, laws were changed, and because the Carpenters were law-abiding people, they unloaded their guns and started storing them in locked cabinets that the kids couldn't get at.

One morning, after the father had left for work and the mother had stepped out for a minute, something terrible happened. The kids were waiting for their grandmother to come to take them to school, but they heard what sounded like furniture moving, and then the phone rang and someone answered it… Jessica, the oldest daughter, went downstairs to see if their grandmother had arrived, but instead saw that the patio doors had been blockaded with furniture and all the shades had been drawn. She then noticed the meth-head with the pitchfork.

Jessica ran upstairs and locked herself in her room, and tried to call for help but the phone lines had been cut. She heard a scream from her sisters, but jumped out the window to run for help. In the meantime, the intruder broke into her sisters room and started stabbing. All the exits to the house had been blocked other than the windows. Two more girls managed to escape through the windows, but the other two had already been murdered by the time the police had aerated the body of Jonathan Bruce with a hail of 13 bullets.

Three Americans dead — two murdered because the government treated normal people like criminals instead of citizens. Do not tolerate laws that punish good people for the actions of bad people. To put it another way, do not allow the government to take away your rights because you are afraid of what other people might do with their rights. Are you a slave? Is freedom too much for you? Do you need to be protected against yourself? Are you a caged animal that needs a zookeeper? Or are you a human?

On the subject of water

I was thinking about redwoods, and how these giant 2,000-year old trees manage to live in an environment with only 1/3 the annual rainfall required to sustain them. Not only that, but as time has gone by, rainfall has not increased at all, but every generation of redwoods have gotten taller and taller and millinia pass.

The reason they are able to survive without rainfall is because of what happens at night — fog. A low cloud cover drops over the forest canopy at night, and the tallest trees are just inside the clouds. Water from the air condenses all over their needles, which then absorb it, as well as drenching the forest floor below them. These trees literally harvest water from the air and keep those around them alive.

So I've been drawing these giant condensation structures… I've got a few porus clay ideas, where an immensely spindley “harvester” is jacked up into the sky at night, and then brought down into a condensor nest to extract the water during the day… I was also thinking about these tall, cactus-like structures covered in “hair” made of copper half-tubes, so at night water would pool and run down the centre. It's just so 21 balloons

Other than that, I see Bush admitted to telling his intel people to find a link between Iraq and al Qaeda (more), the US has scrapped its idea for democracy in Iraq and will “assign” a dictator instead (more), and they're shutting down the free press in Iraq (more). While the White House tries to slander Clarke, he calls for his own terrorism testimony to be made public (more), while Rice refuses to talk in public or under oath (more). That must feel like quite the burning ship right now…

Exciting… potentially

Not just life on Mars, but current, breathing life on Mars?

Almost forgot

We just did a little tattooing yesterday; deciding how and where to cap my shoulder. This all is still very incomplete so I don't like posting pictures of it (the small eyes aren't filled, the interior designs like the big eye are ancient and need to be re-hit, and so on), but here's where we're at with it.

When that's done I want to go over my collar again to get it really solid and then do my neck… I have been thinking a lot about a turtleneck-style full neck design (ie. front and back, up to the top of the throat). I have some sketches of it on my desk, maybe I'll superimpose it on some photos later and see how I like it… always best to do some good mockups with stuff like that!