X Prize: Won

A few minutes ago, SpaceShipOne made it to 368,000 feet. Think that breaks the X-15 record for highest aircraft flight. Also, its team just won $10 million. Wow.

X Prize: Takeoff

Not that anyone is reading this live, but I’m able to post this morning from the side of the runway here at Mojave thanks to a company called WanderPort that has set up a prototype mobile WiFi unit they’re calling the WanderPod. So, I’m sitting on an equipment case next to the pod, writing a post, squinting as the sun rises higher and becomes more insistent about blinding me and making the display hard to read.

That’s the story of the laptop. The story of SpaceShipOne is this: It took off all of 25 minutes ago, attached to the belly of the White Knight carrier plane. Now they’re circling high above the airport on their way up to 48,000 feet and launch.

X Prize: Back to Mojave

About to leave to go back to the desert to see tomorow’s X Prize launch attempt. It’s about 340 miles from our house in Berkeley to Mojave. The way the traffic moves on Interstate 5, though, the trip takes as little as 4 and a half hours. That’s an average of 75 mph, which explains why it’s less than a relaxing trip.

More when I get down there.

The Doleful Season

The sun’s rising later and setting earlier. The weather’s changing. and leaves are beginning to turn color and fall. Autumn poignancy abounds. And the season is over for the two baseball teams I follow the most closely and care about, when I allow myself to care about baseball (which is less and less often; I recently found myself describing my “shriveled, bitter baseball soul” in a note to a friend, and while I like the turn of phrase, I’m disturbed to find it’s an accurate description).

The Cubs lost in Chicago, and the A’s lost in Oakland. The teams are quite different in most ways: The Cubs have a big payroll and feature a collection of guys in their lineup who have put up big offensive numbers over their careers, even if they aren’t great defensively; the A’s are well known as smart bargain shoppers who are carrying a couple big contracts but mostly have had to let their big stars move on to richer pastures.

But the teams are similar in one regard: Both had very good starting pitching and very poor (or at least worse than average, not having actually looked at numbers closely) bullpens. Saturday, when both teams were knocked out of the running for the also-ran (AKA “wild card:) playoff spots in their leagues, the bullpens were up to their usual tricks: manufacturing a heartwarming celebration of a come-from-behind victory for the other side.

Well, it’s doleful, but not tragic. The Cubs were not in a postseason game during my lieftime until I was 30 years old. Now I’m 50, and it seems like they’re just hanging all over the playoffs. Let’s see: 1984 (lost to Padres in disastrous series); 1989 (lost to the Giants, who were a better team); 1998 (Braves swept them after they beat the Giants for the also-ran spot — sweet!); and 2003 (lost in second round to the Marlins thanks to lousy clutch play and a fan who decided to show the world how clueless Cubs rooters really are).

And here in the East Bay, the A’s have been phenomenally successful despite lukewarm fan support and the fact they’re compelled to play in a soulless concrete sinkhole after it was remodeled at the whim of an NFL war criminal). But the success has gone only so far: As everyone who follows the sport knows, they’ve managed to lose first-round series four years in a row (not a problem this time around). Twice that was because they couldn’t close the deal after getting a better team on the ropes (the Yankees) and twice because they couldn’t close the deal after getting inferior teams on the ropes (the Twins two years ago, the Red Sox last year).

So, not tragic. But still doleful. As others have observed many times, either in print or at the end of an evening at the bar, the thing that makes a fruitless baseball season at least a little heart-rending is what it takes to get through the season: The teams, and the people who should know better who follow them, endure a marathon, 162 games, months and months and months. You go through all that, and it didn’t get you anywhere, really, except maybe to give you a few more statistics to chew on or to wise you up once and for all that, you know, you shouldn’t let these guys fool you into thinking they can make you happy, as a human being or even as a fan. Next year, you’ll remember.

The best expression I’ve seen of the real poignancy of the End of the Season was in a Cubs souvenir booklet put out after 1984. It featured a beautiful double-truck portrait of Wrigley Field’s sweeping brick wall in deep autumn, after the vines had shed most of their leaves, and lit by a late-afternoon, low-slanting sun. As a caption, it included a passage from a San Francisco Chronicle reporter immediately after the Cubs had gone up 2-0 in their series against the Padres. I can’t quote it verbatim, but he talked about the joy and frenzy of the fans in the ballpark, who knew the Cubs needed just one more win on their trip to the West Coast to get to the World Series.

Boy, sometimes that win can be a long time in coming.

Bush in Berkeley

Interesting post by a friend who watched the debate on TV at the Berkeley campus last night. Gales of laughter greeted the most powerful man in the world:

“It was actually hard at times to hear the President’s replies to questions because the audience was laughing so hard. I don’t believe the President intended to be a comedian. But from the perspective of this audience, albeit a liberal leaning one, George Bush did not come across as presidential, nor did he succeed in sounding even as if he had serious answers to many of the questions asked.”

Of course, we laugh at this guy at our peril. He’s been laughed all the way into the White house. Hope everyone who was yukking it up is registered and will get out to vote.

Bush: The Hard Work of Love

I’ve been looking for transcripts of the debate tonight (or last night and last month, technically, because we’ve crossed over into Friday and October) because I wanted to make sure the heading on that first debate post was correct. It’s not really a surprise, but the transcripts I’m finding are “sanitized”; they clean up the speakers’ little tics and hems and haws, but also appear to clean up some of Bush’s butchered syntax and frequent subject-verb disagreement and word-slurring. Some of that can’t be rendered well in print and shouldn’t. But for the record, it seems important to represent what they really said, butchery and all, rather than offer a version that cleans up language errors that were an important part of the exchange and how it will be perceived.

I finally found video of Bush, and here’s the “commander in chiefs” line as he said it and how it appears in transcripts:

Video: “That’s not what commander in chiefs does when you’re trying to lead troops.”
Transcript: “Not what a commander in chief does when you’re trying to lead troops.”

But to be honest, Bush was so garbled in his delivery that the “that’s” at the beginning of the sentence was contracted almost to just “s.” and he may have slipped an “a” in front of the commander. But the “chiefs does” is indisputable. I feel sorry for the poor transcribers.

All that said, here was another gem that I missed during the broadcast:

Bush: You know, I think about Missy Johnson. She’s a fantastic lady I met in Charlotte, North Carolina. She and her son Brian, they came to see me. Her husband, P.J., got killed. He’d been in Afghanistan, went to Iraq.

You know, it’s hard work to try to love her as best as I can, knowing full well that the decision I made caused her loved one to be in harm’s way.

What did he mean? “It’s hard work to try to love her as best I can”?

The Score

I was wrong that Kerry would be spun out of a “win” in his joint appearance with Bush. My friend Pete — Pete Danko, whose son Niko just had his fifth birthday on Monday, though I didn’t remember until later — just sent me an email with some of the quick poll numbers that are coming out:

CNN / GALLUP
Kerry: 53
Bush: 37

CBS:
Kerry: 44
Bush: 26
Tie: 30

ABC:
Kerry: 45
Bush 36:
Tie: 17

So other people apparently were seeing the same peeved, flustered, halting, hesitant performance I did.