SpaceX Successfully Lands First Stage on Droneship

I’ve watched that video about a dozen times by now and it’s still a little mind-blowing. SpaceX accomplished a similar landing on land back in December, but this is even more impressive to me. I’ve watched several of the barge landing attempts live and every attempt would result in something happening at the last second that caused the stage to tip over.  They would always hit their target, but they couldn’t quite seem to stick the landing. I covered the difficulties of a barge landing in my last SpaceX post, so I’ll spare you the details here. For me, all of their failed landings on the barge only made the successful landing more incredible. Finally. They got it!

SpaceX and the First Stage That Could

So what’s the big deal with what SpaceX did? Didn’t Blue Origins do this a few weeks ago? But the poor people, surely this money could go to them! etc. etc. Going to tackle all of this and more.

So for a few years now SpaceX has been working toward landing the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket so that it can be reused on the cheap. The Falcon 9 is what they’ve been using to launch satellites and run supply missions to the ISS. So basically they want to accomplish what the shuttle completely failed to do (reusable, yes, but not cheaply/safely). And if you don’t know, the first stage is the biggest, most fuel-filled part that does the heaviest lifting, because it faces the most atmospheric resistance.

Okay so years ago they did a then-historic vertical takeoff/landing with the Grasshopper, which was a much smaller rocket made only to test automated landing, get data from it, etc. It never went into orbit, it just went really high up, then landed. They did this a few times and then moved on to doing it with a Falcon 9’s first stage.

Now, the FAA wouldn’t let them do the landings on land until they’d proven it was reliable. So they created these barges that floated out in the ocean for the rocket to land on. Just think about how difficult that is, even without all the literal rocket science for making it land in a general area. The barge is shifting in all 3 dimensions, so they’re hitting a moving target. They successfully got the rocket to the barge two or three times, but never stuck a perfect landing. But this was enough for the FAA to grant them the option to land on the ground.

So then a few weeks ago, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins successfully did a suborbital launch and stuck a landing as well (on land). This effort is most comparable to what SpaceX was doing years ago with the grasshopper, but higher up, larger rocket, etc. So yes, this is worthy of note! They did one-up the Grasshopper tests, but what they did doesn’t hold a candle to last night’s accomplishment.

So last night, SpaceX launched their Falcon 9 (which was carrying 11 rockets to be put into orbit) for the first time with the option to land the first stage on land. And they stuck the landing without any issue. The rest of the rocket went on to successfully launch its satellites. How they did this was by saving some extra fuel for the landing, pretty much. Once the first stage had separated, it autonomously flipped itself so its rockets were facing the ground it was falling toward. Landing legs unfolded from the sides of the rocket, and the engines fired for a series of burns to re-position the rocket and eventually ease it into place on the landing pad. Mission accomplished!

So what does this mean? This means SpaceX can eventually start re-using the first stage of the rockets for future launches. I would assume that this first stage will be heavily studied to see what kind of damage or strain it took during the entire process. There will, of course, be an intense refurbishing effort made to future spent stages to make sure it can handle a second, or third launch. So eventually we’ll have a cheaper means of going into space. And if SpaceX can carry this success over to their larger rocket, it could help us get to Mars and beyond a little bit cheaper.

Oh and as for the complaint about how this money/effort could have gone to -insert cause of choice-? Look, I know we’ve got plenty of issues here on earth, but the people who complain like this aren’t the ones who are doing anything about it. And when you look at the budget of NASA, it’s like not even a single percent of the US military’s budget. It’s like complaining that someone who waters a plant is wasting water when you’ve got a guy across the street with several Olympic sized swimming pools full of water that he doesn’t use. Not to mention that SpaceX is a private company and complaining that its actions are wasteful for not fixing -insert cause of choice- is bullshit anyway. Do you bitch about this when Facebook rolls out a new look? When a new phone comes out? When the small restaurant across the street expands? No, of course not.

France, Syria, and the Refugee Problem

Today marks a week since the attacks in Paris and I’ve done a lot of thinking on them, the reaction to them, the lack of reactions to similar attacks elsewhere, etc. I’ve mostly kept quiet and haven’t really expressed an opinion outside of talking about it with my wife and all that. I usually try to avoid saying things that will invoke a negative response from people and taking a public stance on anything political is a sure-fire way to invoke such a response (no matter what the stance is!).

So to start with, let’s take a look at those French flag overlays for our Facebook profiles. They’re very easily dismissed as acts of “slacktivism” that don’t accomplish anything. I don’t know if I really agree with that though. Yes, it’s a low effort way to do something in response to the attacks, but the impact isn’t as minuscule as some people say. I was 13 when 9/11 happened and a few things really stand out to me when I think about that day and the months that followed. One of them is the ridiculous amount of global support America received. The attacks were awful, Americans were terrified and angry, and for the first (and last) time most of the world had our back. We’d see prayer services from all over, candle lightings, foreign flags going half-mast, etc. That sort of thing was comforting. It helped us grieve as a nation. And my hope is that France can look at “low effort” things like the Facebook overlays, hashtags, etc. and take comfort in them. It reminds them that the world has their back and they’re not alone.

Next is the Islamophobic response to the attacks. Look, I get it. Islam has a shitty reputation right now because of extremists who carry out those kinds of attacks. But if you’re going to hate someone, hate the extremists. Hate the people who warp and pervert the Quran into a message of hate. I’m so fucking sick of “religion of peace, my ass” type people. Like your religion’s holy text isn’t just as capable of being misinterpreted and evil acts can’t be carried out in its name. Like your religion hasn’t had those exact things happens. Aside from the level of activity of each group, I hardly see a difference between the Ku Klux Klan and ISIS and other extremist groups. The Klan carries out what it claims is the will of the Christian God. Or what about Westboro Baptist? Not nearly as physically dangerous as The Klan or ISIS, but still very dangerous in its own way. Guess what, Westboro? If “God hates fags,” you’re doing Christianity wrong. “Religion of love, my ass,” if I want to be that asshole.

As an extension of my issue with the Islamaphobia, I take a lot of issue with the response to the Syrian refugees. What I find hilarious/pathetic/sad is that the same people who demand we turn them away are the first ones to beat their American flag clad chests and rant about how America is the best country in the world (and don’t get me started on how stupid a statement that is on its own). How can you claim America is the land of the free, the land of opportunity, a melting pot, the best, or any number of other things and essentially tell thousands of people in need to go fuck themselves? The answer is fear and cowardice, which is what the extremists want. How on earth are you okay with letting them win like that? That’s exactly what they want us to do. They want us to react negatively to Muslims so they have (more) reason to hate America so that they can create more extremists. Given the dominance of Christianity in politics, it’s hard not to see the hypocrisy. Jesus would be ashamed of the governors, mayors, presidential hopefuls, etc. who promise to turn their backs on people in need. Oh, look! “Religion of love, my ass” fits here too. Yet I’m not about to condemn the entire religion because of the acts of a few ass holes.

And even if you set aside the morally wrong aspect of it all, and you look at the numbers and facts, it still doesn’t make sense. The fear is that extremists will sneak into the country via means reserved for refugees. Refugees that go through the UN’s vetting process and then through the US’s even more strict vetting process. Over the course of more than a year. And these aren’t just random people and this isn’t a “first come first serve” process. These are essentially hand-selected people who are in need of help the most (women, children, etc.). I believe it’s something like 2% of all the refugees are men of combat age. And to think that a majority of that 2% are extremists just because of their religion is ridiculous. As if there aren’t easier ways for an extremist to sneak into the country. When a million completely un-vetted people sneak into America from Mexico each year, I think it’s a safe bet that the rigorous and drawn-out vetting process for refuges is probably not the most ideal way to sneak into the country to do harm. The people who attacked France weren’t even Syrian (or refugees). They were Belgian and could freely cross into France (both EU members) as easily as I cross between Pennsylvania and Maryland every day. They had every legal right to be in France. They abused that right, obviously, but they didn’t sneak into France illegally, is the point. So why the hell is the knee-jerk reaction to screw over innocent refugees? Even France, the victim itself, has taken a stand and will continue to permit refugees. So I guess what I’m saying is that if you think we should deny people in need access to our country to get the help they need, you’re a fucking coward and you’re giving the monsters that attacked France exactly what they wanted. Mission accomplished, fearmongering media.

Then you’ve got people raging about the lack of outcry over attacks in Lebanon and Nigeria. I do think there’s a lot of valid concern there. I certainly don’t hear a whole lot about attacks on the news. Maybe a quick story on it, but not nearly the level of coverage we got for France’s attacks. On the surface that seems incredibly wrong. Does the west not care about Africa? Or the middle east? Most of us probably don’t, if I’m honest. Terrorist attacks are, from my perspective, a lot more common in those regions than they are in the West. So when one happens there it’s a little like “oh that again”, whereas when it happens in a place like France, its “holy shit that never happens”. Is that right? No, that’s messed up too and probably a little ignorant on my part.

But I also think a lot of it is that we have very close ties to France as Americans and we don’t really have that with Africa (obviously). France was our first ally and continues to be one of our strongest. French culture and language is so intertwined with America and English that there’s just a much stronger bond between France and America than there is with America and Lebanon or America and Nigeria. That being said, I think we could all stand to give more of a fuck when things like that happen, regardless of the nation.

Then we’ve got the whole encryption nonsense. Calls from politicians (ones I suspect barely know how to use a computer) to force backdoors into encryption for the government. “In the name of safety” they say. Did we learn nothing after 9/11, from the Patriot Act, and the fallout from Edward Snowden’s leaks? At this point the Benjamin Franklin quote ”Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” is cliche, but it still rings true. Why are people so ready to give up freedom and privacy for the falsehoods of promised safety? The Paris attacks were coordinated over unencrypted SMS (text messaging). A backdoor to encryption would’ve done nothing. Could it potentially stop a future attack? Maybe, but I’m not willing to give up my privacy for the chance that some attack might be stopped. Not to mention that encryption with a backdoor can be exploited by potential attackers (terrorist or otherwise) themselves.

Aurebesh Font WordPress Plugin

While writing the description for my Aurebesh Translation Calculator, I thought it might be neat to make use of the font utilized on that site here. I could’ve gone into the theme’s files and enqueued the necessary files, but I knew I’d inevitably forget about it, switch themes in a few months, and lose the functionality. Plugins, however, tend to last longer on my site than themes do! So in about 10 minutes flat I put together a quick little plugin that enqueues the font file and adds a shortcode so you can type in aurebesh! [ aurebesh]Hello world[/ aurebesh] (minus the spaces in the tags) produces:

Hello world

I’m currently working on getting it added to the WordPress.org repository, but for now it can be downloaded here.

Aurebesh Translation Calculator

I received a really fun little book for my 27th birthday that claimed to teach you how to speak Wookiee. While the more obscure dialects of the language still confound me, I did become really interested in translating all of the Aurebesh in the book. For those unfamiliar, Aurebesh is essentially the Star Wars alphabet. In Star Wars shows, comics, books, etc. you can often find it scribbled all over the place. In fact, one of the edits made in the 2004 re-re-release of the original trilogy replaced several instances of the English alphabet with aurebesh. So being the dweeb that I am, I’ve always enjoyed finding a chart of the different characters and translating them around. The problem with that is that it’s a pain in the ass. “Why can’t I just translate quickly without referencing a big image?!” I thought to myself. So I threw together a quick calculator-style translator that lets you select an aurebesh character and it’ll output the english equivalent.

View Project

I also made a neat plugin that adds Aurebesh to any WordPress site!