Monthly Archives: March 2011

Psychedelic mini-bowl (toy sword vase?)

My desk is always covered with a mixed pile of in-progress tiny projects. The reason for this is that when I’m making something with Apoxie clay, which needs to be used within an hour because it hardens so qiuckly (with a full rock-hard cure in a day), I always have a bit left over and I have to choose between wasting it (and at over $10 a pound I’m not going to do that) and coming up with something immediately. The bowl was made with a mix of left overs: first I made a hard mold on a bunch of Nefarious’s dolls’ faces, and once they were hard I used those molds to make a copied face. Then I turned it into a container by blending into a tiny clay container shell, hanging it upside down to harden which gave me the organic or fabric sort of appearance. On the two final left-overs cycles I flipped it over and made tripod legs so it would stand nicely, and then squished some clay on the inside of the bowl so as to make it smooth without crevices from the folded shape.

Of course the final stage was to sand it so it wouldn’t be covered in bumps and finger prints and all that. Wrapping up the finishing I painted it (which was so much simpler because of the final smooth-out application of clay). If you want to see some more pictures, there are a bunch of others on the next page. Oh, and as expected, I spent most of the day comatose, but I still managed to achieve small successes that I’ll post another time.


Reconsidering giant ’60s Hydrogen SSTOs
(plus a mermaid and some toy teasers)

So I’ve been thinking with some excitement about this “artificial leaf” technology holy grail that seems to have been cracked. If I’m understanding it correctly, it’s a process for inexpensively splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, or to put it another way, an inexpensive way of generating hydrogen fuel. It’s not particularly difficult to convert an internal combustion engine to run on hydrogen rather than gasoline, and the great thing about doing this is that all you get for exhaust is hot water vapor (ie. steam), so it’s an essentially pollution-free power source. Of course in addition to driving cars it can generate electric power for us via fuel cells or via more traditional turbines. But since I’ve been talking about space lately, let me tie it in to that.

Back in the fifties and sixties there were a mountain of different lift vehicles with different technologies and power sources being tossed about. One of the most epic were immense SSTO (single stage to orbit) rockets — typically recoverable and reusable, rather than one-use disposible rockets like the Saturn V — of which the most epic were probably the Douglas Ithacus (1966, pictured left in a military version capable of transporting 1,200 troops — much more ambitious than Ball’s BoMi MX-2276 “atmospheric skipper” spaceplane that closely Echoed Eugene Sänger’s 1935 era Silverbird hypersonic plane for the Nazi’s Amerika Bomber program) and the General Dynamics / Convair Nexus (1962, technical drawing on the right). Each of these was a simple hydrogen rocket (which perhaps we can finally fuel “cheaply”) capable of lifting A MILLION POUNDS into low Earth Orbit. To put that into context, that means it could have lifted the entire current version of the International Space Station in a single launch and still had close to a hundred thousand pounds left over for supplies. If I remember right using current technology it took us between fifty and a hundred flights of American, European, and Russian lift vehicles to complete it.

By the way, there were nuclear rocket versions that Convair went on to develop based on the Nexus that were even more powerful, capable of taking a million pounds of cargo not just to low Earth orbit, but trans lunar injection… But let’s not be greedy, shall we? I would be quite happy just to see the more primitive — and safer and less pollution-capable — versions pictured above become real fifty years after their invention by a truly inspired generation of astro-engineers. I have to wonder whether anyone today has the initiative, even if the fuel costs dropped to negligible, to reconsider these old ideas. I sure hope so. Oh, and I should also add that water is quite common throughout the solar system (don’t believe the junk science in that horrible Battle: Los Angeles movie in which they claimed water was a rare resource unique to our planet) — Mars is covered in it, there are a multitude of asteroids and comets full of it, a pile of moons, and so on, meaning that it shouldn’t be terribly difficult once this technology matures to send automated factories in advance of human missions and permanent bases to make sure we have a large surplus of fuel waiting for us on arrival.

I have a bunch of projects, all that I consider successful experiments begging me to set up an Etsy-type shop (woe is me that I am so terrible at shipping on time — I would have already done it were it not for my fear of disappointing people as their paid-for products ferment my by front door… if that far…), that are lined up for me to post about and I will do so when I have a chance, but for now let me quickly just post the mermaid that Nefarious and I made (the picture above, duh). You saw the tail already a few entries before this one with the big collection of other toys, but Nefarious insisted on making an amended body with boobs, which she sculpted, and I made the hair and painted it for her and she seems quite happy.

I will try and add some more new stuff tomorrow that I’m feeling proud of but I have the feeling I’m going to be out of commission and resting tomorrow after over-exerting a little much the past couple days.

Oh, I couldn’t resist. There’s a teaser of some of the bodies and heads for my comic child soldier toy, each a bit (or a lot) different in theme and customization… I guess I don’t mind procrastinating a bit because the one thing I like very very much about exhaustion is that I sleep beautifully, whereas if I’m more “responsible” with my sleep needs I almost always wake up during the night in pain and likely don’t get that much more sleep anyway. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t as they say.

And something I forgot to mention. When I was bringing Nefarious home from the airport on Sunday at 1AM (she missed her normal flight due to an early Easter Egg hunt) we got stopped by the RIDE program. That’s a program here where the police set up a roadblock and stop every single car and ask them if they’ve been drinking. On principle I object to this because it skips the fact that the police should have resonable cause to stop and/or search and/or question you, and that I generally do not agree with this method of finding the guilty — same goes for when my entire neighborhood was “voluntarily” DNA tested after some sicko kidnapped a kid and raped her and cut her into pieces and dumped the bodies at the beach in garbage bags. I just think it’s a slippery slope. That said, they pretty much just waved us on after a single question “have you been drinking?” and a look in the truck, but on the other side of the road there was a dude having his car impounded… so maybe it saved a life and was worth it. My gut wants me to say that one should not trade liberty for safety, but sometimes it can be hard to stick with it after you experience the right anecdote.

I won’t muddy the waters with considerations of not trusting the police one bit.

PS. I’m loving this gallery of painted buildings and wishing all cities could look like that.

Further thoughts… space militarization benefits?

I want to very very very slightly reconsider something I said in my previous entry, opining about money going to the military industrial complex over the space program. Before NASA existed, space was the purview of the military. In the US, both the Army and the Air Force had their own space programs. But then the hippy movement was on the horizon and it was decided that space should be used peacefully and thus in 1958 NASA was formed as a civilian agency and the military grudgingly mothballed their internal programs, outsourcing spy satellites and so on to NASA. With them having spent the previous ten years feverishly taking over the Nazi aerospace momentum in secret, I have to wonder if space development might be further ahead if — and perhaps I’m wishing for a deal with the devil — the militarization of space had continued.

Everybody remembers and idolizes Kennedy’s “we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard” speech that dared to put America on the moon before 1970, but in 1958 when NASA was formed, the Air Force gave up on the Lunex Project, their own much more ambitious lunar program which planned on having a permanent underground lunar base initially staffed with 21 airmen by 1968, before Apollo was even able to do their first landing. Their planning had been in secret so I’m not sure if Kennedy even knew how close America already was to beating his proposed deadline — or perhaps this is why he could confidently predict it? Additionally, the Army of course had their own programs, including their own moon base — Project Horizon — which they figured would become operational in 1966 with a smaller staff of six soldiers initially. The Air Force projected that their project would cost $7.5 billion and the Army figured theirs would cost $6 billion. NASA struggles for every dollar. The Defense Department has never had this problem and had NASA not been formed, I’m convinced we would be much farther ahead.

That said, a lunar base is of dubious military value. Even other projects that were planned, for example hypersonic space planes and military space stations — mature programs that had been started in Germany in the 1930s absorbed via Operation Paperclip — capable of rapidly deploying troops anywhere in the world, would have questionable cost-benefit value in my opinion. But I think you could say the same of the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and incredible cruise missiles and ICBMs and other advanced delivery systems… Military technology is to a large extent a peacock’s game I think, so all a population that’s beholden to the military industrial complex like we have been this past century and in this one still, can do is hope for collateral scientific and technological benefits. Yes, a deal with the devil it would be, but I have trouble convincing myself that we wouldn’t be much farther ahead today if we’d built up a militarized space industry rather than a crippled civilian program that ended up getting almost completely scrapped as the money went into the Vietnam war and other military projects which have taken us nowhere…

Other than that, I had a nice evening. In order to give myself some more physical capability I took both my afternoon and night painkillers (this is permitted!) after getting Nefarious at school and we went on a long walk through the forest and then went down to the lake where we found a cast-off life preserver and added it to the playground. And I wonder about these structures built out of sticks and driftwood that dot the beach and the park forests… who builds them and what are they for? They can’t be shelters so I assume they are some sort of hobo art projects built to pass the time, but I’m not sure.

PS. That is me, not the hobo who built it. I know it’s hard to tell these days.

Grow or Die? I think we should Grow!

Let me begin with a song.

I recently watched the documentary “The Mars Underground“, in which one of my heroes Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society describes the dreams that he — and much of the world — had in the sixties when the Soviets and the Americans were making giant strides in the Space Race before they decided it would somehow make more sense to have an arms race instead. He recalls,

“I grew up during the sixties when it was Mercury, it was Gemini, it was Apollo… every month NASA was doing something more impressive than in the month before. We were going to be on the moon by 1970, Mars by 1980, Saturn by 1990, Alphar Centauri by the year 2000! We were moving OUT and I wanted to be part of that.”

I was born in 1973 and the first books I remember reading were about astronomy and although I am nearly too young for them I grew up on the same dreams. Things like Project Daedalus, a mission to another star, seemed real to me. Of course, the first part — the moon — was achieved, but after that, like I said, Nixon decided that war was a better investment (even though in retrospect every dollar invested in the space program has returned many times over, arguably more so than nearly any other government program) and killed NASA’s future in favor of the war in Vietnam and the general policy of never ending war. Investment in destruction rather than construction. Investment in destroying the future rather than expanding it. Unbelievably disappointing and sad on every level… But it seems like it’s easier to convince voters with the propaganda of fear than with futuristic dreams.

I also recently read Krafft Ehricke’s Extraterrestrial Imperative — “extraterrestrial” in the sense of missions to other planets, not as in aliens. Kafft Ehricke was one of the group of Peenemünde Nazi scientists that came over to America after WWII, along with Werner Von Braun who spearheaded NASA and got America to the Moon so quickly (although had WWII turned out differently it may have happened even sooner but under a different flag — but don’t think that I’m promoting that flag, because Hitler as well saw the V-2 rocket as a weapons delivery system rather than a vehicle to the future, launching over a thousand of them with that purpose). Von Braun was already working on a Mars program in Nazi Germany and published its technical specifications not long after coming to America (translated into English as The Mars Project in the early fifties). Anyway, in a paper titled “Solar Transportation”, presented in 1966 via North America Aviation (the folks behind the X-15 rocket plane, the Saturn V rocket, and the Space Shuttle among many other successes — a real company with real products, not some pie-in-the-sky think tank) assumes — with an emphasis that these are “sensible and likely” assumptions that do not fall prey to the “common tendency to be over-optimistic” — a vibrant future for humanity, including:

“March 1984 through October 1986: One-way mission to Mars, involving 529 days stay time, with a second mission leaving March 1985 (via Venus) for pick-up of the first mission crew. … Extensive manned surface landing capability is carried along by the one-way mission crew.

End of 80′s (1988/89): Landing capability on Venus and establishment of a solar physics laboratory on Mercury.

… 1990′s:

* Regular transfers between Earth and Mars or Mercury, respectively, in support of surface installations.
* Exploration of Jupiter and Saturn and their moons.
* Manned missions to asteroids and comets.
* Beginning of utilization of raw material resources, if profitable, on asteroids and some planets of the inner solar system.

And the particularly disappointing bit for me is that he goes on to apologize for being so pessimistic in comparison to the prevailing assumptions among his colleagues about the timeline. That is, what he’s assuming here is in conservative territory. So it’s really heartbreaking when you realize that effectively none of what his company was proposing (and assuming was set-in-stone as what today should look like) — offering as a product even, competing as one of many companies willing to build it — was achieved. Of course, we do have some pretty impressive and extremely expensive munitions that he probably never imagined, as if that makes up for it. Ehricke goes on to discuss Moon bases and Mars Bases in detail, along with manned Solar Research Stations on the North Pole of Mercury (which we’ve just now gotten the admittedly exciting, even if it falls short of these dreams, MESSENGER Probe to), a Saturn research station on Titan, and more. That said, he does warn of the specter of being diverted by militarism, yet his optimism about the value of positive goals for the future misled him into believing that we would not make the mistake of choosing war over peaceful exploration.

In the sixties there were corporations lining up to take on contracts to have humans settle throughout the solar system. It wasn’t science fiction. If slightly different politics had played out, the world — the worlds? — would be so different than they are today. It’s sad what a few wealthy lobbyists and a whole lot of fear-mongering can achieve. Anyway, the vaguely connected reason that I mention all of this is because yesterday episode three of “Pioneer One” just got released. I think I mentioned it a while back buried in a longer entry, but it’s an independent TV series about a young man that arrives on Earth from deep space in a retro Soviet capsule, and it seems like he’s the child of cosmonauts on Mars who have sent him back to Earth for some reason. I’m hugely enjoying this series and am happy to have supported the production with a small donation, and I do want to whole heartedly recommend it to speculative fiction and sci-fi fans.

Along with what I’ve mentioned above, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the Soviets had their own plans for manned Mars missions and settlement programs with intended launches in the mid seventies. Probably the main reason that they didn’t happen is the failure of the N1 rocket program (their competitor to the massive Saturn V rocket — I’ve reminisced before about how impressive those rockets were, quite literally flying apartment buildings in scale) that was needed to get all that equipment off the Earth. Watching this show has reminded me of all this again and got me daydreaming about something wonderful that takes my mind off the pain. Of course, when reality sinks in and I realize what a huge disappointment it all turned out to be, it brings the pain back to the foreground.

It is so frustrating when one adds up the fortunes that are squandered on war and militarism and imagine what a world we could create if we actually invested that money in the future. We could so easily build a society with a universal standard of living in which people are motivated to move us forward as a species, rather than fight to the death over resources that are only limited because of artificial scarcity created by class inequality designed to drive wealth to some and poverty to most.

I do hope that humanity comes to its senses soon. I do find this artificial leaf invention exciting, and there are of course always inspiring things going on, but I want to see big dreams that capture the imagination of the species… And the idea that we could seed life throughout our solar system and perhaps even our galaxy is a very big dream indeed.

DIY heads and accessories for Lego minifigs

Last week Nefarious was in the States visiting her mom (whose new boyfriend is a motocross guy so she got to play on an ATV which sounds like it was lots of fun) and of course I missed her a great deal so I made her some custom Lego minifig pieces. Following up that visit with a one-two punch, today Caitlin is off in the States visiting her mom, so I get no break from the missing of loved ones it seems. Anyway, let me share with you these Legos because I think they turned out nicely.

I made these using Apoxie Clay since it’s so much tougher than Sculpey and Fimo which I’m sure would break while being played with, and also would have been difficult to bake (Apoxie Clay air hardens) because of being mounted on the Lego bodies to ensure a perfect fit. Of course this mounting was preceded by coating the figures with lots of greasy mold-release, but even with that it was not easy to get the clay off in the morning! After it was hardened, I used a file to correct and perfect the shape and then painted them with Vallejo model paints and then sprayed them with a few coats of clear coat.

Lots more pictures (individual close-ups) continue after the break. Of course you can click on all these pictures and the one above to view them nice and big.