It was just a stupid accident, that's all. Columbia was old; it was the first shuttle built that actually flew. The more recently built ships are lighter, sturdier, better automated. Liftoff and re-entry are times of immense stress for rockets that go through them even once, let alone twenty-eight times. Shuttles are almost totally rebuilt each time they return to Earth, but there's only so many pieces you can replace from the outside. Statistically, we were overdue.
It wasn't NASA incompetence -- ever since Challenger, NASA has had a fetish about safety, often to the despair of space enthusiasts who wish those stodgy bureaucrats would just throw out the rulebook and go for broke! It wasn't terrorism -- the idea that the same men who get on passenger planes and try to light their shoes on fire could reach out and touch a spaceship two hundred thousand feet in the air is not worth considering. It was, in the end, just an accident. That doesn't make it hurt any less, but still, just an accident.
I remember Challenger, of course. I was just a little boy at the time, and completely space-mad, watching the footage over and over again on TV. It hit me hard for a long time. Today, I'd been planning to go out and do what passes for a night on the town with me. I went anyway, and I'm glad I did. People were talking about it here and there, people were sad, but there wasn't the atmosphere of stunned tragedy we all remember after 9/11 (or Challenger, for that matter) and that is something of a comfort: we can handle this, even after all we've been through.
I do note that the flags were already at half-staff in front of Adler Planetarium early this afternoon, which was exactly right and extremely touching. I wish I'd had my camera with me.
(One thing, though. I'm trying to keep my equanamity, of course, but I do have to say that the first person to walk up to me and start explaining that this is all a government conspiracy, explaining why this means NASA needs to get out of the way and let the Holy Free Market take over, or explaining why this means we should cancel the space program and go back to the caves, is gonna get a punch in the nose. I mean it. So watch yourselves.)
Right-click and save the new The Matrix: Reloaded trailer. It's a corker.
Unearthed after over a hundred years: Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Powerpoint presentation.
Well, it's now or never, I guess, so I've finally scraped together an opinion on this alleged war it's claimed we might be fighting.
One cannot deny that the justifications waved around by the Bush administration are weak at best. Nobody slavers for the blood of America's enemies more than me, but still, in the World Terror Gang Saddam Hussein is that weaselly little hanger-on trying to make himself look cool by sucking up to the big kids. Knocking him down will make not one bit of difference to the bad guys' capabilities. (Were it in my power, those troops in Kuwait would be marching south towards Riyadh, not north towards Baghdad.) And even if Saddam is threatening to attack neighboring countries with his sinister armada of lunar death rays, well, that's their problem, surely? Our hands are a bit full right now.
But it's not like what I think is going to affect the outcome, so let's just forget about emotion and justification and instead look at the facts on the ground. A victorious war with Iraq would have several objectively positive consequences: a) a vile dictator would get put down, a rare moment of justice in a region of the world not known for it. b) an imprisoned population would have a chance at a new beginning for their country; the success of the Kurds in northern Iraq, protected by American and British air power, is a testament to that possibility. c), my favorite, with any luck it would administer a deathblow to the hopelessly corrupt world diplomatic order that has grown up around us while we slept. All good things.
Now there would of course be objectively negative consequences, too: a) People would die. Yes, but people are dying now in Saddam Hussein's torture chambers. The Afghanistan campaign demonstrated that war can save lives as well as destroy them. b) American troops would be in harm's way. Yes, but they're in harm's way now flying patrols in those God-forsaken no-fly zones. Are we going to keep muddling around in there until the end of time? c) Other countries would hate us more. Short answer: Screw 'em. Long answer: See the short answer.
So in the end it's simple. Positive consequences minus negative consequences equals a very large positive number, so I'm in favor. If it all goes horribly wrong, you can blame me. But I don't think I need to worry about that, because I'm confident that Bush will wimp out in the end. Like father, like son.
Ooooh. Airplanes. Ace Combat fans may wish to put on a bib before watching this promo for a new anime called Sentou Yousei Yukikaze.
James Lileks presents: Ten Free Hitler Stamps!
The Golden Ratio (1.618) turns up all over the place in art and nature; this article looks at the phenomenon. Unlike most examinations of the topic it actually offers scientific explanations for some of these appearances.
Insert Credit lays the smack down on Kingdom Hearts. My prejudice against this game is irrational in the most base and nerdy way (I mean, I've never actually played it, or even seen it, which is really sad) but that doesn't mean I don't revel in it anyway. As Gabe of Penny Arcade commented, Squaresoft should just stick to making the same game over and over rather than trying to branch out in new directions.
Today (well, tomorrow) is Monday, so there's a brand new page of A Miracle of Science, as usual. Like clockwork this comic is.