Monthly Archives: August 2014

Sea Launch on hiatus


Sea Launch Commander (background) and Odyssey launch platform (foreground). Image courtesy Sea Launch

NYON, Switzerland, August 22, 2014 – Sea Launch announced today a series of cost-reduction measures designed to address an upcoming gap in the launch manifest of the Zenit-3SL system.  According to plan, it is expected that Sea Launch will resume and start stepping-up its launch activity during mid-2015/mid-2016 time frame.

Before Hawthorne’s SpaceX grabbed the public’s imagination, the Sea Launch system took an audacious approach to launching satellites and made it happen in a few short years. The original consortium converted an offshore oil platform into a highly automated rocket launcher staffed and monitored from a mothership. Both travel to the equator and together lob communication satellites into geostationary transfer orbit. The earth spins fastest at zero latitude giving a free extra kick to the spacecraft. Since ‘geo’ is directly above the equator, it takes less rocket fuel to get the spacecraft where it needs to be. Once there, it can keep much more of its precious onboard fuel and last longer before replacement. Sea Launch has been in operation for many years with a large number of successes and a couple of failures. Its homeport is Long Beach. Drive into the port complex and go past Port V and you can see the mothership. The platform is most easily seen from the Gerald Desmond Bridge.

Following a launch failure a couple of years ago, the holding company went into bankruptcy, reorganized, and came back as a mostly Russian entity based in Switzerland. Space is a notoriously cold business and Sea Launch currently has no customers on its manifest. While it looks for some, it has decided to scale back, lay up the marine hardware, and reduce its staff. The press release says this is common in the sea business and that future customers are expected to turn up. Let’s hope so. Seeing launch hardware that exports products to space is a nice counterpoint to all the ships bringing products into the U.S. from other lands.

A familiar road, nicely travelled – ‘Trying’ at ICT Long Beach

Mentor-protégé dramas are one answer to a set of evolutionary pressures on modern theatres.  In that vein, Joanna McClelland Glass’s ‘Trying’ at ICT Long Beach through 14 September is a handsome ride to a familiar destination.  Retired Judge Biddle of Nuremberg trial fame and Japanese Internment infamy is getting on in years, can’t handle his finances, or get off the schneid with his letters and memoirs.  This being the 1960s, the obvious answer is to hire a secretary and he’s gone through a series of them Murphy Brown-style.  In comes newlywed Sarah Schorr of Saskatoon, ready to try her hand at helping the crufty gent get his stuff together before he passes the blinking EXIT sign of life.  It’s another gorgeously set and lit ICT show (JR Bruce and Donna Ruzika) with every used book in LA piled on stage.  There’s even a working typewriter, a dictaphone, and chunks of the story are telegraphed.  Much is up to the leads to make it all pop and they come through.  Tony Abatemarco played a similar role at ICT a year ago as Mark Rothko in ‘Red.’   He’s partnered here with Paige Lindsey White whose name is heard with increasing frequency around town.  Theirs is an Ed Asner/Mary Tyler Moore chemistry starting at the interview where he grills her on her origins, marital status, and religion. It’s this spark that  informs and ultimately elevates a linear often edumacational script.  There is little doubt where we’re going but it is a nice trip.

Must be nice to be that good

I have been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an email address. I’d used email since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of email is plenty for one lifetime. — Prof. D.E. Knuth

In the current hypertasking climate, people take excessive pride in the fact of being busy. To manage all that busy-ness, they grab the latest, hottest tool and immediately start adding to the job jar because, whaddya whaddya, the latest, hottest tool lets them do it. The results, unsurprisingly, are a bunch of hypertasked, ultraorganized goobers who can’t get anything of value done and whatever does get done isn’t worth looking at.

There are a few who manage to buck the trend. Stanford’s Donald Knuth is a transdisciplinary legend. He’s one of the founders of what we now call Computer Science. He creates tools to solve ostensibly academic problems and their impact defies measurement. For all that, he stopped using email in 1990. Stopped. Long before most people had even heard of it.

Here’s his lovely essay on why.

With Folded Hands

1984 didn’t happen exactly on the year but the foundations had been laid by then. Computers were better when networked and the research labs of the world began to view the schlepping of data and email as indispensable. A few years after that, CERN and Tim Berners-Lee gave us the World Wide Web and stuff happened.

Some of the most sought-after jobs these days, at least among the tech crowd, involve creating machines and algorithms to do what humans once did. The first rule of finance is to find the cheapest source of human labor, close behind that is replacing that labor altogether. With corporations having the effective status of a person, it is unsurprising that they’d seek effective analogs of workers. In this case, the analogs are digital. At some point, the machines will get just good enough to make it a contest between them and us. Science Fiction has loved this theme but it always felt too far off in the future for the current crop to fret. CGP Grey – whoever that may be – says, “Not so fast.” The thesis is not perfect and stacked in aspects but the underlying concern is not. “Grey” does spend some time looking at the human implications of staggering unemployment and the inequalities it will deepen.

An underappreciated representation of these fears, “With Folded Hands,” appeared in 1947 and was adapted into a radio story on Dimension X. It is worth a listen.