when are you actually in space?

A whole lot of very, very rich and famous people are going to be making their first trips into “space” in the next year or two.  There are essentially three private companies getting launches out the door:  Amazon, Tesla, and Galactic.  These aren’t their actual company names but you all know the three lunatic billionaires behind all this.  These genius businessmen / ten year old boys are going to send people up there for millions in coin per ticket.  Plus they’ll go up on their own.  Bezos is going first.

There’s also an effort to send people up to the ISS.  There are currently two competing movie companies sending Russian and American film teams up to the ISS to shoot C grade movies that’ll look like trash.  I think Tom Cruise is the American guy, because of course.  This is not a joke.  He’ll get space madness (his normal demeanor) and treat everybody around him like human garbage (also his normal demeanor) before the drunken Russian botanist puts him out the airlock.  Then Cruise will get what he always wanted, seven billion people always able to look at him for all eternity.  But seriously, Tom’s a talented fun actor.

But, what exactly is the barrier of space?  As in, when are you actually in space.  Though behind a play wall, The Economist gives a pretty good background for the accepted definition.  But apparently there really isn’t an accepted definition.  It’s between 80-100 kilometers up depending on who you ask.  BUT, this is not enough altitude to actually put you into orbit.  You get up there, see the black, feel some lack of gravity, but you end up coming straight back down to Earth like an artillery shell.

So if Bezos goes up there in his rocket, and only feels weightlessness for a few minutes, and then immediately comes back down on a parabolic trajectory is that actually space?  No.

We propose a new definition of space.  We’ll call it the Arcturus Space Definition Those Who Disagree Will Be Purged First (ASDTWDWBPF):  You have to reach orbit, and then complete a single orbit.  Then you’ve been to space.  Anything less than that, in terms of altitude or length of time in space, then you haven’t been to space.

Gagarin completed a single Earth orbit 70 years ago.  He went to space.  If you want in on the space club, you have to match Gagarin’s flight at minimum.  Otherwise, you’re a fraud and total loser.

Unrelated picture of a Bond villain who’s actually not going to get to space.  So Bond is unimpressed, ignores nonexistent space travel, takes the day off, gets blasted in a Moscow bar, toasts Gagarin, takes three Russian women back to his hotel room.

it’s a crazy cicada café

So my dog, sigh, finally broke through the knowledge tomb door and discovered should could, in fact, and did, in fact, like to eat cicadas.  She napped two of them off my brother’s deck during a happy post-covid Memorial Day barbeque.  She grabbed them before any of us could intervene.  Her pro level digestion took care of those two poor bastards just fine.  It’s just gross, and probably unhealthy if consumed in volume.

Now she walks around the apartment courtyard with her tracking radar on as she attempts to locate further cicadas to eat.  I have to watch her like a hawk.  But, per prior post, most of the cicadas in my apartment courtyard didn’t survive the first few weeks.

And now apparently the government is saying that folks with seafood allergies shouldn’t eat cicadas.  I’m not even going to try and wrap that one around my brain, how a cicada can make the body react as if it was a crab?

Also, I somehow (only somewhat) get the whole eating insects thing.  Lots of cultures do it.  Likely, in order for all humanity to eat meat / fish long term at least some insects will need to be a part of planetary diet, etc.  But, sorry, I can’t do it.  I don’t get it.  Maybe you have to be raised with it?  I sure wasn’t.

it’s a crazy cicada cavalcade

Nature is insane. If you were to submit to a book publisher a concept of a bug that emerged from the ground only every 17 years, was born, went through its life cycle, and then died in only a few weeks they wouldn’t place your bizarre work in fiction or science fiction, but fantasy.

My brother and his friend were joking about what other great mysteries lie buried beneath the Earth’s ground. Why not dragons or some other type of crazy mythical creature with a shelf life of 3,573 years underground? Who are we to say our stone age ancestors were wrong with their ideas of crazy creatures.

The cicada serenade sure does take me back. There are several broods that impact various geography throughout the globe. Their appearance can range in periodicity from 1-17 years or at least so I’ve read. 17 years ago I wasn’t even living in America so I missed this brood’s last ride.

One of my childhood houses backed up against an agricultural preserve with a ton of woods. The serenade would last for weeks and there were probably millions of them back there, nostalgia. I live in the city now so I can hear them but they’re a good ways off into the suburbs where there are more trees.

So I can’t really hear them loudly, the ones that were born in the apartment courtyard all emerged and seemed to all die very quickly. The apartment groundskeepers came in and swept out all their corpses and none have emerged since so I guess in my area the journey is over for this brood as a failure. Although if that was the case, how did they get into the ground here locally 17 years ago? Not sure.

I guess that’s the attrition rate inherent in any of nature’s concepts whether it be bugs or turtles or rabbits. I wonder how many of this brood gets to fulfill their purpose and how many die out first? It’s all crazy. But also, I sure am glad my dog has decided that while she likes to sniff the cicadas, she didn’t desire to eat them.

just how bad it can get

Written by a correspondent in Delhi from The Economist:

Correspondent’s diary


India’s second wave of covid-19 feels nothing like its first


Holed up in Delhi, where friends are falling ill too fast to count


Diary


Apr 30th 2021


DELHI


WE ARE AMID an ocean of human suffering but cannot see it. Having returned abruptly to the kind of isolation we hoped we had put behind us months ago, my wife, our two little boys and I are staying put in our nice flat, in a leafy “colony” near the centre of Delhi. Our new rule is strict: we do not go outside for any reason. The past 12 months have trained us well enough for that; these routines are well-worn, for parents and children. We grown-ups however cannot stay away from our phones, and so peace of mind is a distant memory. My wife just called from downstairs. Her friend’s brother-in-law needs an oxygen concentrator or he is likely to die at home. If we find one for him (and she is already working her connections), can we scrounge enough cash to buy another, for ourselves?


The mind’s eye is filled with pictures of desperate families scrambling after oxygen cylinders, failing more often than not. All day the early-summer heat has me picturing bodies, bagged and stacked on the pavement, waiting their turn for the pyres that burn everywhere across the city. Sometimes I switch off the screen in my home office on the second floor and step onto the roof terrace to water potted plants and scan the neighbourhood below. All is quiet and green. Smoke from the crematorium down the street has disappeared into the usual haze of the season. Our small park is more leaf-blown than usual, but someone has been watering there too. A security guard at the corner is wearing his mask, but he’s been doing that for a year now, as if the past month were nothing new. In contrast to the first lockdown, the milkman is still coming and newspapers are being delivered.


Yet everything has changed, with a speed that we still cannot comprehend. My family had hunkered down much harder than most. We kept our social life in forfeit and wore masks outdoors, if not always at the playground. We had come to seem like laggards within India. Most of this country began to relax after September if not earlier, as the caseload started to drop. Just last month I started travelling again—I was road-tripping through weekly markets, sampling country liquor offered by strangers for a cute feature story, then watching a jubilant political rally fill a small town’s bazaar. Days later I was dandling my two-year-old on my lap at an airport, sharing his first iced lolly. Those were the before times. A fortnight later, back in Delhi, I find that more than half of my friends have covid-19, in their families if not in their own bodies. Acquaintances are dying faster than they can be counted. I read in the papers that the forestry department is clear-cutting parkland to feed more wood to those pyres.


The official news outlets also bring the daily statistics: 386,000 new infections today, 208,000 dead counted since the pandemic began. Between the lines, it is possible to read the disclaimers too. If only 1.7m tests are being conducted per day, what can that 386,000 really mean? Is it that 0.0004% of the country has come down with the virus since yesterday, or that nearly 23% did? That would be 314m people, nearly the whole population of America. Obviously, the true number lies between those absurd extremes, but who knows where? The statistics about death tolls are more nakedly false. It is plain that thousands are dying every day, but who, where and exactly how many we cannot know, thanks to some petty deceptions but mostly sheer confusion. I get a better sense from the piecemeal reporting in Indian websites covering, say, the smaller towns and cities of Uttar Pradesh, where none of the official line can be trusted, than from my fellow observers forced to stay in the capital.


But the saddest and also the most terrifying accounts all come via the phone, in texts or panicked voices. Everyone is ill and no one can find medical help. Stating the obvious, the American embassy mass-messages, “Access to all types of medical care is becoming severely limited in India due to the surge in Covid-19 cases” and concludes that my fellow Americans should make plans to leave the country “as soon as it is safe to do so”. Social-media feeds are an endless list of pleas on behalf of the dying. A friend from Lucknow, living in New York, writes elegant, almost daily obituaries for friends from his hometown—three of them, I can’t help noting, are my age, and at least one was, also like me, fully vaccinated.


I have a nightly ritual of phone calls to check on friends within a two-mile radius. An elderly woman has recovered, but feels distraught that her neighbours across the street both died. Another friend’s aunt is still ailing but in the meantime her husband died—I hadn’t heard he was infected. Newborn twins, their parents and their nanny are all running a fever in tandem. A WhatsApp group set up by foreign journalists to discuss visa issues has become another place to plead for help finding medical supplies. It informs me that the clinic where I found my own second dose of AstraZeneca a week ago has run out of vaccines. Only 1.8% of the country has been fully vaccinated and it is anybody’s guess how long it will take to manufacture or import the roughly 2bn doses we are left wanting.


Watching the other international correspondents fall ill and scramble to leave tends to make me want to stay behind these locked doors, with my potted plants and boisterous little kids. Appliances may be breaking down, but our groceries keep coming and the WiFi works. An NGO in Delhi counts more than 100 Indian journalists who have died of covid-19, 52 of them this month. For their bravery, I am able to read about those pyres, without having to risk seeing them for myself.


This horror is noticed abroad. Messages from faraway friends I haven’t seen in years convince me of that. They are worried for us and I am happy to reassure them that we four are fine, relieved to be talking about the situation from the bird’s-eye view of my terrace. Much easier on the nerves than ringing up the next-door neighbour to find out whether our mutual friend is still alive.


But my long-distance conversations convince me that something has been lost in the transmission. These well-read friends in Europe, America and East Asia never understood how different the past year of covid was, here in India—and so they cannot understand what it feels like now to hit the vertical wall of this so-called second wave. I struggle to convey that we have not been on a wavy ride, like Britain’s or some American states’. Look at the shape of our graphs. Our first surge was scary, but tapered away like the tail of a paper tiger. The virus had spread everywhere during 2020, no doubt, despite a brutal lockdown and other efforts at containment. Sero-positivity surveys conducted in some cities showed that majorities of large populations had been exposed to the coronavirus and developed antibodies to it. But Indian bodies resisted it, perhaps, they say, because of “cross immunity” gained unnoticed over lifetimes lived amid the barrage of everyday germs. The rickety hospitals stayed afloat too, and eventually their covid wards emptied. By the beginning of 2021 we were saying that 150,000 Indians had died. For perspective: three times as many die from tuberculosis every year. “At the beginning of this pandemic, the whole world was worried about India’s situation,” the prime minister, Narendra Modi, recalled in a triumphal mood only in February. “But today India’s fight against corona is inspiring the entire world.”


India fought a phony war and—by dumb luck—it won. Then suddenly, less than three weeks ago, our world turned upside down. Having taken credit for his country’s divine good fortune of last year, Mr Modi will want to shrug off blame for the second wave, as if it were an act of God which no preparation could have averted or even lessened. There is a lot to say about what could have been done instead. Yet without any of the government’s self-serving intentions, many of the rest of us feel convinced that a different disease has emerged since our year-long dry run began. Covid-21 I find myself calling it.


The facts one would need to build that case stay stubbornly out of reach. The available genomic analysis shows that the distinctively Indian “double mutant” variant, B.1.617, is prevalent in some parts of the country but not in Delhi, where the Kentish B.1.1.7 is like wildfire. India is woefully behind in sequencing its strains, having only announced a genomic consortium in December 2020 and then funding it only in March.


What is clear to clinicians, as opposed to the boffins, is that covid-21 is more transmissible than the kind we saw last year. A doctor friend tells another friend in her podcast that this is “much much more contagious, much much more transmissible than the wild variety of covid-19.” It used to be that just one member of a household might catch it. Now everyone does. In our extended family, in Kolkata, 13 of 15 people under one roof became infected before any showed symptoms.


Its “immune-escape” mutations are formidable. Being vaccinated, I am sensitive to the stories of inoculated people falling ill—which could not be more common, in my social circles—and even dying. The vaccines are saving lives, no doubt. Deaths among the fully vaccinated are rare; I hear of them only among friends of friends of friends, like the poor 25-year-old lab technician in a hospital whose best friend teaches German to a pal of mine over Zoom.
Which brings us to the fact that this time young people and even children are developing symptoms, including an erstwhile quarantine-playmate of our four-year-old. Younger adults are becoming severely ill, as they did not last year. Finally, those people who have had the disease twice, a plentiful category thanks to that “immune-escape” feature, say that the reinfection feels different. The fever comes quicker and they are more prone to developing pneumonia.
Dumb, divine luck with covid-19, and now the bad luck of covid-21, as if it were retribution. That is the way it feels to those of us who find ourselves without access to reliable aggregations of information, but awash in personal anecdotes. I suspect that someday biomedical research may prove that the two kinds of luck were connected, but we will have to wait years for that.


For now there is much outrage. Maybe Mr Modi’s government will pay a price for its blunders and complacency. I suspect that this is mostly expressed as a wishful diversion, in tragic pursuit of a silver lining. That would be a way for my part of Delhi, those who have the privilege of sitting at home and contemplating escape, to take a break from our primary occupations: fear and sorrow.

soon, Mars will be your holiday destination

So the new Mars rover (there are so many now it’s hard to keep track of which is which) brought a helicopter with it. Or more accurately, a little drone that weighs four pounds and is probably so brittle your three year old could break it whilst holding a candy cane.

Mars’ atmosphere is so thin the two twin blade props on the thing had to spin at an insane rotation rate to attain the necessary lift. You can see the NASA video here:

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Succeeds in Historic First Flight | NASA

Pretty cool. That’s no kidding a human creation in flight on another planet.

Essentially this is a test bed for future airborne drones which could be used to explore Mars far more effectively than a ground based rover crawling around at 1.73 kph.

But I’m insane, so all of this is minor scraps for me. What I REALLY want to know is:

1) When will the NASA airborne drones be armed with guided missiles and chain guns?

2) In keeping with Humanity’s desire to destroy everything including ourselves, when will these armed drones be used to exterminate all remaining life on Mars?

3) After extinction, when will Mars be available as your pristine holiday destination?

These are important things to consider. Too harsh? Wrong. After all, Mars started it. We’ll make sure Earth finishes it.

meet your future master

Nature’s awesome, I get a kick out of it when I’m not enslaved by a square screen that masters my life via my jobs. One of my jobs called me last night a 3:17 am. It was my boss, he had a hanky over the receiver at an inner city pay phone so he sounded like a drunk Vader, he screamed profanity at me for 39 seconds, then said in a normal voice, “See you tomorrow. We know you won’t quit.”, and then hung up. This is a pretty routine occurrence, so I just drifted back to sleep until the alarm woke me.

I often wonder why I don’t watch more nature television. It’s probably because I don’t have cable or a streaming service subscription. But I was at my Ma’s a few months ago and stumbled on an hour long program on Japan’s southern islands narrated by the Downton Abbey beauty and I was enthralled.

Anyways, it must have been a quasi religious experience if you were the first person to document [insert any new animal, fish or plant here]. I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of stuff in the rainforest we’ve yet to find, but it’ll be some new fern or insect or whatever. This is cool, and important, but not quite the same. Nobody’s ever going to find a brand new hippo sized creature on Earth. We’ll have to wait until we colonize other planets to find such new things, and then get on with destroying their biome too.

This one’s neat, it’s the “smallest reptile on Earth“. “The male Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon, has a body of just 13.5mm.” He lives in Madagascar.

Just get a load of this surly little asshole. Look at him, it’s too good. He’s so, utterly, uninterested in mankind. His face just screams a whispered, “Fuck you.” Before he very slowly, lazily walks away to eat more mites.

By the year 2090, when humanity is done mutilating itself by some means, this little guy will be all that’s left. The radiation from the bombs or the impact of the end game pandemic will transform him from the smallest reptile into a godzilla sized monster. He’ll be the size of the building, but still a surly asshole. He’ll stare down at the last human alive, he’ll be smoking a cigarette, and wryly say in his booming but quiet voice, “Our turn now. Bye.”

CDC turns, now Tory reactionaries

Hey I get it, fighting covid must be really hard and stressful, but how does that equate to the CDC trying to turn back the clock to 1775?  This poster was on the subway this morning, it’s asinine.  This is probably the first time since the Stamp Act that a British royal crown has existed on an official US government document.

Better watch out fellow patriots, the CDC is out to slit your throats at night in order to restore QE2 to her rightful throne.  A new castle shall be built for her, on the grounds of the Washington Monument after it’s brutally razed by CDC funded bulldozers crewed by drunken EPL hooligans.

I won’t stand for it.  I shall fight!  To start my struggle, I shall ignore the poster’s instructions that I wash my hands.  Only Tory scum wash their hands.  How could this possibility go wrong for me?!

keep-calm-wash-hands-400x400

go get some tar and feathers

competence is the only power over the virus

It would seem virus battle tactics are the new arena of politics.  In an era where everything must be political, soon your tooth brushing method will determine how you vote.

In the meantime, the debate has centered on whether to reopen the economy and risk increased death.  Or to keep the economy closed and risk financial death.  Both these options suck.

But there’s a third way that folks seem to mostly ignore which is what I find baffling.  China’s Communist Party’s talking point is only their all powerful neck stopping model can defeat the virus.  They’re lying, started this to begin with, and are downplaying their own virus infection/death statistics.

The answer lies in South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and to a lesser extent Germany.  This is the competent category.

Into the incompetent category you can shove the US, Italy, France, Spain, Britain, and of course Communist China.  The answer to this virus is simply that government should do its job.  Instead of sucking.

Sure, there are significant privacy, social, cultural, and obedience factors that likely make introducing a South Korean virus battle methodology into the US problematic, but does that mean it shouldn’t be seriously discussed?  Instead of, you know, just keeping to the same failed talking points both sides have adopted?  The virus doesn’t care who folks voted for.  South Korea never even executed a full lockdown.

I think in the coming decades this will become a more glaring aspect of our planet.  Sure, the differences between democracy and oligarchy are stark.  But what will really set apart nations is simply those that are governed competently, and those that are not.  It will be readily apparent say by 2035, and the split begins now.

ordinary average gentlemen descends from Honey Tower to greet infected filthy masses

When he’s not writing more esoteric, baffling Xi Thought, or establishing a mini-apartheid state, or eating barrels full of honey straight from the hive, Chairman Xi must have a busy life. So it’s pretty cool of him to descend from his famous and luscious Honey Tower to confer with a few people from the degenerate masses [who were prescreened for both disease and political affiliation and had their families held hostage at knifepoint until the cameras left].

Hey, it’s already been over a month since people started dying, but in all honesty you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near these people either. Viruses are bad things, and dictators need to avoid bad things, in order to do bad things to other people. Like locking up doctors who try to stop a bad virus from happening, that’s a bad thing.

But Xi has adopted Putin’s tactic of being a Tsar/Chairman. The sins of the Empire are the fault of local officials, only. If only Xi knew what was going on, surely HE would have put a stop to it. Only through HIS benevolence is government waste and corruption even held in check. Hell, without Xi, coronavirus would be in your kitchen right now, eating your food and beating your family with a cricket bat.

So here’s to you Chairman! [breaks full bottle of baijiu over dirty peasant’s head; alcohol gets in eyes, which the face mask is completely ineffective at protecting; peasant screams in agony; fawning sycophants clap in rhythm]

Xi with mask

we dual beer carriers

We all met on a mist covered field at dawn just after a full moon.  Each participant could pick the melee weapon of their choice.  A duck (Earl) officiated the process and had right of refusal for all rules as Earl saw fit.

Standing at one end of the field of honor was E. Scott Santi, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer for ITW.  At the other end was Nancy Baker, International Sales Manager for PakTech.

Santi chose the katana.  Baker chose the gas powered chainsaw.  Earl quacked loudly, and dropped the handkerchief to begin the bout.  Who emerged victorious from this most glorious of contests?  First, some history.

In the 1950’s one of ITW’s inventors came up with the idea of the classic plastic can holder that we all grew up with.  This used a minimal amount of plastic, performed its function well, and generally was left alone for decades.  However, nobody recycled anything back then.  So by the 1980’s and certainly the 1990’s this creation was popping up everywhere.  As the environmental movement gained steam, we’ll all remember hearing and seeing how many ducks were slain by this product.  But the product worked, and so the solution offered to humanity was not to ban the plastic holder, but to cut it up prior to throwing it away so wildlife couldn’t be snared within its death jaws.

However, in the early 1990’s (in PakTech’s case 1991) smart people saw this situation as a business opportunity.  Thus was born the solid molded form plastic can holder that you see far more often today.  This is what PakTech makes.  Its (usually black) plastic holders carry the canned beer from just about any craft beer company on the planet that doesn’t put their cans inside a paper box.  PakTech even goes through the trouble on their website to explain how their holders are not just better than the old ITW version, but also more environmentally friendly than the paper six pack box.

The examples I used in this most intense study (where I consulted three MIT engineers, a pair of preeminent environmental activists, a blue whale named Betty, and the Ethiopian immigrant who sells me most of my beer) I had an ITW can holder that held old style classic and tasty Yuengling.  This makes sense, Yuengling is older than anybody else, and isn’t looking to be flashy.  The PakTech version held a six from one of my local craft breweries who has every interest in their branding to appear more environmentally supportive than your average elder brewery.

103CE83D-FB9A-413A-9308-109A7504BAC2

But wait, hold on here.  We at TAP love to question assumptions.  Just how lethal are ITW’s original plastic holders to the planet’s poor creatures?  National Geographic does a pretty good summary.

The original numbers of the dead was supposed to number six figures each year but nobody seems to know where that number came from, as in, it was made up.  Since 1994 the EPA mandated that the ITW style holder be biodegradable.  This means it’ll biodegrade in about 700 years.  It also means it’s worthless in terms of plastic recycling ability, and it still ends up with plastic particles in the ecosystem.  The article also lists some very wacky replacement solutions to the ITW design which sound stupid and make one admire the sound business acumen of PakTech who built a realistic and useable design.

But let’s go ahead and take the article at face value.  And then multiply it ten times.  Thus we estimate that in a given year the ITW design viciously strangles one million ducks per year.  Compare this to the over ten million ducks that are shot by hunters every year.  You do the math, and determine just where the threat to wildlife really is.  I’m not against hunting, but if you’re an environmental type, where is your time better spent, beer can holders or shotgun rounds?

Our belligerent conclusions:

– It’s pretty obvious that the ITW design uses way less plastic up front, we’ll say only 5% as a rough estimate.  [katana slash across the cheek by Mr Santi]

– But the ITW design can’t really be recycled and requires the user to cut it up prior to throwing it away.  [Ms Baker powers up chainsaw]

– The PakTech design uses way, way more plastic up front and requires confidence in the user (and their local jurisdiction) to recycle it properly, otherwise it’s just a huge piece of landfill that’ll take 7,770 years to biodegrade.  [katana pierce into the belly by Mr Santi]

– But the PakTech design is completely recyclable and does not require the user to cut it up, it can be just tossed into the bin alongside the cans that held your tasty, tasty beer.  [chainsaw rips through shoulder of Mr Santi]

– Earl quacks: “Who gives a fuck?”  [Mr Santi lowers katana; Ms Baker powers down chainsaw; both are panting, exhausted, and covered in blood]

There are positives and negatives to both these products.  Both perform their function well.  Both have attributes that are meant to aid the environment.  But the key fact is, in order to complete their purpose to the end stage, it’s the end user that must complete the process.  As in, you.  If you use ITW, and you don’t cut it up at the end, you have failed.  If you use PakTech and don’t recycle properly, you have failed.

This is just fine by me.  Because instead of shouting online or protesting or whatever, it just comes down to sound, simple actions by individual humans.  Each individual can make a difference just by doing their job.  Buy ITW, or PakTech, or a paper six pack box, whatever, just do your job at the end and the cycle works.

Just try to avoid buying beer in bottles though.  Why?  Ah, more on that later.

[Earl quacks loudly]  [Earl draws firearm, a Colt 1911; proceeds to rob two injured big shot corporate suits at gunpoint; flies away]  [Earl is spotted at The Hen Pub & Grille later getting blitzed with a swan, a goose, and a komodo dragon]