Monthly Archives: June 2004

Essential product

I was looking for the phone number of a local hardware store. In doing that, I came across a mention of this: Father Dom’s Duck’s Doo Compost.

Weed seed free and made entirely of recycled duck poop, cranberries, rice hulls, wood shavings, pickles and vanilla beans, Duck’s Doo Compost is surprisingly sweet smelling. You could say it’s “heaven scent”!

All the marketiing crap aside, the guy’s story — he’s a parish priest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who launched into community work after surviving lymphoma — is actually pretty neat.

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The New Space Age

A nice column from the Philadelphia Inquirer, by way of the San Jose Mercury News (registration required), on the new private space race:

The night before SpaceShipOne vaulted into history, the desert wind gusted at 60 miles an hour around the RV camp next to the runway. The dust flew, the weeds tumbled and people dreamed about flight.

For 10 bucks, you could park your Westphalia, Streamliner, Suburban or Minnie Winnie, hunker down until the desert dawn, and, once the wind fell dead at sunrise, climb on your roof and watch America’s first private space shot.

Those RV people, and the tens of thousands who joined them to watch SpaceShipOne unzip the sky, are the ones who hold the future of space flight in their hands and minds. Not the VIPs, the starlets and politicians who got the good seats in the shade. Not project designer Burt Rutan or moneybags Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and sponsor of SpaceShipOne.

The folks in the campers, tents and converted vans won’t go to space, but their kids will. And in those hands, the Gen Next of flight will look and feel very different from the first two Gens, and I, for one, am glad.

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Winds of Blog Change

OK, for reasons explained elsewhere and probably in the great scheme of things not all that very exciting or interesting to the world at large, I’m done with the Radio blogware and am continuing my online spouting activities through an outfit called Typepad. My new blog address is infospigot.typepad.com. I’ll also have infospigot.com redirect to that site.

Meantime, this site will remain online at least until I’ve figure out how to make the archived posts available elsewhere or until my Radio subscription runs out, whichever comes first.

Thanks for reading.

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Trying Something New

I think I gave Radio a fair chance. I really do. But it does not strike me as a user-friendly piece of software. (And yes, I guess I’m talking from a strictly consumerish/customer perspective here; I don’t pretend to be able to tell whether Radio is a really amazing code-writing feat or how it stacks up programming-wise against Typepad or anything else.) I was fine working with all the little hiccups in Radio — the lack of documentation to help you feel your way through issues and the absence of formal support; the software’s lack of functionality to save posts without publishing them; and biggest of all, the utterly baffling (to me) process of trying to install Radio on a new platform while maintaining the material I’ve written over the past few months. I’m under no allusion that the world will note or long remember my little scratchings. But they might prove useful to me as part of a record of days. Annoying that the software doesn’t let a simple-minded scribe such as myself keep the whole thing together online.

Enough of this.

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Me and Kate and SpaceShipOne

Just back from covering the first private manned space flight in history. It was a beautiful event, really, and a busy 38 hours spent driving down to the launch site in Mojave, California, attending a press conference on the launch of SpaceShipOne, driving to our motel 25 miles away, writing, sleeping four hours, getting up, driving to the launch site, talking to folks, watching the launch, writing, going to another press conference, writing, and driving back to Berkeley. Kate came along and acted as aide de freelancer and commiserator in chief and solutions czar(ina) during my freqent tech crises (motel DSL, nonworking cellphones, etc.).

What reading about and seeing pictures of SpaceShipOne and its carrier plane (somewhat dorkily called the White Knight) hadn’t prepared me for was how beautifully unusual they are. I likened the White Knight to a giant dragonfly; someone else said it looks like it’s an origami plane. The impression it gives is fragility, but during a post-launch fly-by it did a roaring brief climb to show that it’s a real honest-to-goodness gutsy jet plane.

The launch process is a long one: It takes the carrier plane a full hour to get to the 50,000-foot launch altitude, and the whole time the aircraft are circling the airport. The ships are both white, so what you see looks like a seagull wheeling higher and higher into the heavens. Eventually, the carrier plane leaves a gently arcing contrail in the perfectly clear blue desert sky. It’s space and technology, but there’s plenty of poetry in this launch system, too.

My stories on the flight — a successful one and a true milestone in aviation history, are on the Wired News site:

The prequel: Space Shot on a Shoestring.

And the launch story: Private Space Shot a Success.

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Anniversary: Third-Rate Burglary

It’s June 17, the thirty-second anniversary of the Watergate break-in. Man, does Nixon look good now. But I digress. To mark the occasion, a minor-league baseball club in New Hampshire called the Nashua Pride is sponsoring a giveaway: The first 1,000 fans through the gates will get Richard Nixon bobblehead dolls. And that’s not all! Anyone named Woodward or Bernstein will be admitted free, public-address announcements will be suspended for 18 and a half minutes. (This news by way of a segment on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.”

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We Regret the Error …

Well, a couple posts down, I mildly celebrated the first story in my renewed freelance writing career, about a private space launch this coming Monday. And in the first couple of hours after my story was posted on Wired News, I got a couple of very nice notes from readers. But instead of wanting to tell me what a genius I am, they wanted to point out a mistake. I reported that SpaceShipOne rode on top of its carrier plane. That’s not necessarily logical, but that’s the way it looked to me in the pictures, and I’m not an aerospace engineer, so that’s what I wrote. It turns out that the spaceship is carried below the plane, not above it. As someone once said somewhere about a situation like this, or not at all like it, “Shitfire.”

One beauty of online publishing, as opposed to the print kind, is that you can fix an error like that right away. So within about 20 minutes of sending off a correction, my original prose was changed to more accurately reflect reality.

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Filed under Space, X Prize

And Speaking of Spaceflight

BoingBoing is hosting a blog account of preparation’s for Monday’s launch of SpaceShipOne from Mojave. Two posts so far: part one and part two. Nice on-the-ground color, along with valuable advice for the mini- or maxi-horde that might descend on Mojave for the launch: “BRING LOTS OF WATER! … Our rule of thumb out here: if you’re not peeing every couple of hours, you’re not drinking enough.”

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Back In Print …

Or back online. Or back in the saddle. Or something. In any case, I’ve got a story this morning on Wired News, about the first private manned space launch:

“Something big is supposed to happen in the sky above the California desert town of Mojave early Monday. Just after dawn, a spindly white jet plane is scheduled to ascend from an airstrip with a rocket ship strapped on top. …”

Feels good to have something out there in print, or in bits, or whatever, again.

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‘Sixteenth Today It Is’

A fictional 100th anniversary: The action in “Ulysses” was set on June 16, 1904. There’s a nice editorialin The New York Times marking the occasion. It notes that while the novel has become a symbol of impossible, elitist literature — a perception sadly reflected in a human-on-the-street poll today in the San Francisco Chronicle — it’s actually anything but inaccessible:

“Its stuff is the common life of man, woman and child. You take what you can, loping over the smooth spots and pulling up short when you need to. Dedalus may indulge in Latinate fancy, and Joyce may revel in literary mimicry. But the real sound of this novel is the sound of the street a century ago: the noise of centuries of streets echoing over the stones.”

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