Tastes Like Chicken


Saturday, April 07, 2001
_Shuttle Plasma Trail



"The Space Shuttle burning a path through a Texas morning on it's way to a landing in Florida. It's called a plasma trail. Yes, it really does look like a burning line in the sky."


_They Write the Right Stuff
This software never crashes. It never needs to be re-booted. This software is bug-free. It is perfect, as perfect as human beings have achieved. Consider these stats: the last three versions of the program -- each 420,000 lines long-had just one error each. The last 11 versions of this software had a total of 17 errors. Commercial programs of equivalent complexity would have 5,000 errors.
That is proper and as it should be for the team that writes code for aerospace applications. But the world is not all about aerospace.

Admittedly they have a lot of advantages over the rest of the software world. They have a single product: one program that flies one spaceship. They understand their software intimately, and they get more familiar with it all the time. The group has one customer, a smart one. And money is not the critical constraint: the groups $35 million per year budget is a trivial slice of the NASA pie, but on a dollars-per-line basis, it makes the group among the nation's most expensive software organizations.
My MP3 player doesn't need this to make itsself a valuable part of my life. In fact, it probably wouldn't be any part of my life if this was the only way to make software. Methodical and precise has value. So does quick and dirty. These people operate in an incredibly static environment (we're talking about computers in use today based on ferrite core memory, memory where each bit is represented by individually wire wrapped magnets), and with good reason, but I do not accept that humanity would be best served by applying this model to all our computing endeavors. Not by a long shot.

Thursday, April 05, 2001
_A Meticulous End Planned for McVeigh
A detailed timeline of the plan for Timothy McVeigh's execution. Apparently he has invited his old girlfriend to be a witness.

Tuesday, April 03, 2001
_"the average American in a state with a lottery spends about $150 per year on the lottery"
These Western states introduced video gambling in the late '80s and early '90s for one reason: It is a stupendously effective way of parting citizens from their money. According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, the average American in a state with a lottery spends about $150 per year on the lottery. But in the five states with video lotteries (Delaware, West Virginia, and Rhode Island, along with South Dakota and Oregon), average per capita lottery spending is about $600 per year. In South Dakota, where lottery play is the highest in the country, the average person spends an amazing $750 per year on the state lottery.
Those numbers are flabbergasting. I just cannot imagine pissing money away like that. I just don't get gambling as entertainment. Okay, Indecent Proposal style last chance grab at averting disaster I can fathom. Continuously squandering a stream of money after it's been demonstrated that the system exists to fleece you I do not comprehend. I've been to Atlantic City and one the big casinos. One of the most boring weekends of my life. But even that made some sense to me as it was a break from my normal life, a new experience. I could see hitting Vegas for the with the same justification. But I Simply can not wrap my head around the attraction of making scratching a lottery ticket a $150/year routine.

I really don't get it.

Monday, April 02, 2001
_Forget Bernoulli's theorem



A Cessna Citation leaves a deep trough in the clouds beneath it, proof that it stays aloft by pushing air down.
An eyebrow-raising article exposing the standard explanation of the physics of airplane flight as bunk. Coming soon: friction does not cause the heat of re-entry from space.

_Skydiving from 102,000 feet: a first person account



Joe Kittinger recounts his extreme high altitude free-falls during the Cold War. Absolutely fascinating. Also maybe coming soon: Why your blood won't boil in space (at least not while you're using it).

Sunday, April 01, 2001