So it's $165 and doesn't seem to come in my size, but I still think it's pretty cool. Buy one for the engineer in your life!


Around the Tubes

-Every January the National Science Board releases its Science and Engineering Indicators. Of interest is the public attitudes section which shows the public ranks "Scientist" only second in prestige to "Firefighter", 57% and 56% respectively. Though, I feel prestige is a poor choice of words and would be more interested in seeing "respect" or "importance to society" or some such, since people could still be using prestige in a negative way. Banker, stockbroker, and real estate agent round out the bottom three, though since they have never ranked very highly I wouldn't call that a shift in attitudes.
-Bees want their coffee and cigarettes too. That is, plants that contain caffeine or nicotine seem more likely to appeal to bees. This might be a purposeful evolutionary mechanism on the part of the plants to entice the bees to pollinate them. And possibly there could be a connection to why humans like these "toxic" substances.
-Ward's Auto releases its Top Ten Engines for 2010. Germans nab four places and Americans have three with Ford fielding two and GM one. Even Toyota makes the list though I think it's too late to help their PR.
-The Army is looking for an airship to add to its arsenal. We can expect some competition and hopefully some new peeks at airships being developed for this long endurance spy ship. Lockheed Martin flew a hybrid airship in 2006 via its famous Skunk Works development team but now it looks like the Army would like to open it up to further competition. There are 51 bidders, but it's likely that only a few of those are actually promising biddable and viable solutions. I hope even the rejects will come out from behind the curtain for some public exposure as airships could still be a very real future transportation method.


One of these days, to the moon

It's hard for me to watch all the news and feedback on Obama's plan to cancel the Ares rocket. I get that these are tough times. I get that sometimes private industry does things better. I really hope whoever is in charge of building/designing the replacement launch option is very dedicated about pursuing and completing that project in a timely fashion. I already had bad feelings that with the aging Shuttle program to end this year and the Ares still in development that we'd be going too long without our own launch capabilities. But now it looks like it will be pushed back even further. True the Ares was pricey, and maybe more power than we needed right now. But whatever replaces it is going to take a whole lot of new and expensive research along with starting all over again in the design process.
Well it looks like while the US abandons its space dreams entirely to the private industry (afterall, the banking system worked out okay, right?) Europe is picking up the slack. The ESA's (European Space Agency) SMART-1 launched September 2003(see photo above, credit ESA) to orbit the Moon and look for water, get more complete chemical composition data on the moon, test new technology, and further investigate theories as to the creation of the Moon. It completed its mission when it slammed into the Moon in September 2006. At least one element Americans can get behind, I think pre-emptive military action against the Moon is a pretty good idea. We don't want the Moon people completing their nuclear program, afterall.
The SMART-1 turned in some visually appealing (and I'm sure scientifically gratifying) polar maps and impact analysis. Now the ESA is planning longterm for a lunar lander to be launched into space using, of course, the Soyuz rockets. I'm not sure relying on Putin and a post-soviet space program to keep funding everyone else's launch options is the best we can be doing here. The US, China, India and Japan are all planning orbiters and exploration of Mars and and the Moon in the next decade. But I believe this paragraph to be the most telling:
The Russian Space Agency is developing a draft programme for lunar exploration missions, including manned missions to the Moon. A first mission to the Moon is planned to be launched in 2009, with one of its tasks being the selection of the landing site on the Moon. In 2011 a lander should be launched by an Indian launch vehicle. This should be followed by another two missions to deploy a Moon range (base). After that, manned exploration of the Moon would be possible. This programme shows the willingness of Russia to be part of future exploration endeavours.
The ESA also has this great why explore section. Obama and the US space program could use some ideals in this category. I look forward to being disappointed as free-market enthusiasts defend this plan or pork-hungry senators from space program states fight against it. Seems like nobody gets the big picture here which is that this could very well spell the end of US manned spaceflight. Ask how many scientists were inspired by the Lunar landings or Apollo space program. Tally up the number of technological developments and inventions that occurred as a result of space flight. How far will the US continue to fall in science, engineering and technology as a result of these actions. My only hope is development for the new rocket doesn't become some twenty year program that gets bogged down in lack of funding and politics as we limp by on China's loaned money and Russia's loaned science.


Go over like a lead balloon

DARPA just released its budget for 2011. They're already far into grim science fiction with their programs on Machine Intelligence, Biological Warfare Defense, Network-Centric Warfare Technology, and a whole section in Applied Research on classified programs. But they've really outdone themselves this year (h/t Archy). Wired covered this as well. Here's a snippet from the actual budget:

As others have said, success is unlikely. But I think there's still some need for pause here. I mean really; "similar to a traceable serial number on a hundgun"? Come on, guns don't kill people, zombies do. Amirite? I'm reminded of this informative brochure: How Everything Goes to Hell During a Zombie Apocalypse. Which starts off with this prescient quote:

It all starts with some a-hole scientist doing shit he shouldn't be


Coffee News

Consumer Reports finds most coffee pretty much sucks. YMMV.
Also, MedicineNet.com uses a poor choice of words when its headline says "coffee break boosts memory." What they really seem to be suggesting is:
A new study suggests that resting while awake aids in memory consolidation and improves memory recall, much like getting a good night's sleep has been shown to do.

But I guess the people who write these web articles got hung up on one quote:

"Taking a coffee break after class can actually help you retain that information you just learned," researcher Lila Davachi, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, says in a news release.

So one researcher said the word coffee and suddenly it's "Coffee's the new wonderdrug!" "Coffee's good for your brain!" The researchers studied a rest period after learning not caffeine or coffee consumption. However, the coffee industry thanks you for your patronage, especially after that damning article from Consumer Reports.


Updates: Brought to you by Muppet Science Labs

Policymakers often envision poor and minority workers filling routine jobs in high-tech industries, but not advanced positions in research or design. This is a discriminatory and historically entrenched outlook.

In the 1960s, for example, Chicago was trying to shift its dying, rust-belt economy toward computing and electronics. The city also faced spreading poverty and racial unrest. Its civic leaders sought to solve all of these problems at once by creating affordable two-year technical-college programs for disadvantaged inner-city youths - in computer repair.

The idea that urban youths might represent a new pool of potential electrical engineers and software designers, trained in four-year programs, was rarely heard.

Also, that college degree isn't worth as much as they said it was. Turns out the lifetime income gap between college educated individuals and high school only graduates is not as staggering as that $800k figure the College Board likes to throw around. Dr. Schneider from the American Institutes for Research calculated it to be more like $280k.


Zombie Defense Programs

I remember when Democrats became the majorities of Congress in 2006. I remember the intervening lame duck months as a time when my colleagues cowered around in dark corners and spouted prophecies like Nostradamus himself. Not just your usual "tax&spend" horror stories. They cried about how we'd withdraw from all wars immediately. That our defense bill would get cut down to next to nothing. That defense and aerospace industries across America would see a recession even more terrible than the post-Cold War Bush I/Clinton years.
It's not like they've all come back so I could say see I told you so. No surprise to me, but while Obama is (wisely) practicing fiscal responsibility he's decided defense will not be cut. It's going to be interesting to see where this goes. So far he's pissed off a lot of liberals, and it's not like he earned himself any points with last year's defense budget with conservatives who didn't like Secretary Gates' new lean diet for the defense industry.
But what about the problems in many of these programs? Obama tried to "kill" the Lockheed Martin F-22 program last year and pissed off a bunch of Georgians, including blue collar, unionized democrats. The F-22 costs $140-$180 million each (depending on your source) , and has a known crash record, while running 33 months behind schedule with a 62.7% cost overrun. That didn't stop congressmen from one of the many states where this Frankenstein piece of hardware is being manufactured from complaining loudly. Or trying to sneak it into last year's budget anyways. Others either genuinely believed the US needed this kind of fighter or were simply couching their local pork greed in terms of military strategy.
Now it looks like Lockheed's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is having some problems of its own; behind schedule with $16 billion in total program cost overrun. Gates has penalized Lockheed by withholding $614 million in award fees, though has stated the US Government will be paying for at least "part of" the overrun costs. Purchases will be delayed (with what choice when Lockheed can't deliver) and eventually nine planes cut from total purchase amount. Which is a pretty small number given the Air Force, Navy and Marines all plan to eventually buy 2,400 planes in total. To top it off Gates will replace the program head and replace him with a yet unnamed higher ranking General.
And what of Lockheed Martin, the defense company that can't seem to get its act together? It's stock is up +1.64 for the day as of this writing.