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Branson in Space

Richard Branson  took the first ride to space today in the spaceship he dreamed up, designed and built – over decades. It’s a phenomenal achievement for a private individual, and it celebrates human ingenuity, perseverance, drive and creativity.

In the early morning, at 3:00am, Musk showed up at Branson’s house to wish him well. Branson tweeted this.

As I read  the responses, I was astonished that there were quite a few adversarial ones. I posted a few here with my own comments.

Red talks about the “age of extreme greed” presumably accusing Branson, attributing his success to greed. There is so much wrong with this tweet.

  1. Who decides what is pointless as a task to spend one’s time on. I wonder what hobbies Red has that are less pointless.
  2. Branson is a private citizen who opened a record store in England when he was a young man. He called it Virgin Records, and eventually built an airline and now a space tourism company – from scratch. I wonder what Red has accomplished in his life that we can all read about?
  3. I wonder what infrastructure systems are failing, and how fixing those is somehow Branson’s responsibility?

Then I saw Natasha’s post below:

She is worried about the destruction of the world, and questions Branson and Musk about what they contributed to the world. Well, Musk probably has made more changes to our current world than almost anyone, perhaps except Steve Jobs. He has built a car company from scratch, and forced every major automaker in the world to start producing electric vehicles. Then he started a rocket company and revolutionized how America sends humans into space,  and in the process saved billions of taxpayer funds by drastically reducing costs. Musk came to Canada with a single suitcase in the early 1990ies and one of his first jobs was shoveling out a sewer line, standing knee-deep in shit. In 1995, he arrived in California, got enrolled at Stanford and then dropped out to start a software company. I wonder what Natasha’s credentials are, what she has done to save the world, and how it compares to the records of Branson and Musk.

Hmm, private citizens can spend their money on whatever they want to spend it on. I wonder what Neo’s fantasies are and what he spends his money on that is so lofty.

Scientific innovation is not a waste of money, it’s usually a seed to greater things. These guys are not billionaires because they are greedy, or were born rich, they are billionaires because they spent their entire lives coming up with new ideas and then materializing them, and getting back up after every setback and failure (and rocket explosion) and starting over again. Musk has earned fortunes through the companies he has started and almost lost them again every time, starting the next ones. But he has persisted.

Rolf has an interesting angle. He apparently thinks that it’s Branson’s responsibility to plant 100 million trees, or build the first efficient water desalination plant.

Why have we never heard of Rolf Oehen and his revolutionary desalination plants that he has invented and built. And I might ask, how many trees has Rolf planted? Surely not 100 million.

Has he planted any trees?

Then there is Greenspaceguy! He blankly states that billionaires don’t pay income tax? Really? How does he know? Does he listen to Bernie Sanders, perhaps?

The irony is that Branson isn’t even a U.S. citizen. He’s British. I certainly don’t know what income taxes he pays, but he wouldn’t owe the U.S. government trillions.

And no, billionaires are not created by not paying taxes. I know plenty of poor people who don’t pay taxes, but they are not becoming billionaires. You become rich by building stuff that millions of people want to buy and spend their money on. Then, after you make a lot of money, you get to start paying taxes on it. The money doesn’t come from nothing. It comes from human ingenuity, perseverance, drive and creativity.

I think I need to stop right here and enjoy Branson’s “overnight success” that he has worked his entire life on.

 

The only other Brunner story I ever read was Lungfish, and here is my review.

Brunner wrote A Maze of Stars in 1991.

Somewhere, sometime in the distant future, humanity has left its birth world, Earth, and developed a starship with a mission of seeding new planets with humanity. After initial robotic missions, “the Ship” takes a load of humans and seeds about 600 planets in “the arm of stars” or just called “the Arm.”

There are about six hundred thousand stars visited by man, and sixty thousand have planets hospitable to life, six thousand have developed life and six hundred have been seeded with humanity. Only about 60 of those are fairly successful, and most of them are in some state of devolution.

The Ship is artificially intelligent and has become sentient. It’s been about 500 years since the planets were seeded, and the ship is on an endless loop, visiting the planets clandestinely and observing the outcome. The only problem is, the ship’s jumps through hyperspace, called tachyonic space in this book, result in various jumps in time in addition to space. The ship can’t control the time jumps. So it sometimes “remembers” the future of a planet it is visiting, because it has been there “before” which was far in the future.

Are you confused yet? I certainly was.

A Maze of Stars has a solid and interesting premise, basically observing what happens to humanity in adverse conditions, left to its own devices. Each planet is different. The ship visits the planets undetected, and it has this amazing technology that it can project itself as a realistic human being on the planet itself and interact with the people. It can also “remote view” scenes on the planet and be an observer. Finally, it can show such remote viewings to its passengers, sort of like an immersion movie.

One interesting premise is that most of the planets are hyper-concerned about germs, diseases and viruses that might come from other planets that they have no defense against. Much of the inter-planet trade or exchange is therefore blocked by the various planets, and interaction is severely minimized.

All of this sounds very interesting, but Brunner has made it completely boring and a real slog to read. Nothing happens. The ship simply visits one planet with a weird name after another. We observe pointless vignettes of action by cardboard characters that appear in one chapter only to completely disappear in the next. There is no story, there is no plot, there is no common thread, there is no suspense. And when there is an opportunity to make it interesting, Brunner misses it. For instance, he describes weird mutations but does not “describe” them leaving the reader helpless. He mentions exotic extraterrestrial animals, but does not even attempt to describe what they actually look like. And there are no sentient aliens in this story, even among 600 seeded planets – not one intelligent alien culture that has productively interacted with humanity.

A Maze of Stars is full of interesting concepts, each worth a book of its own, but none of them explored in any detail. The printed edition of the book was 393 pages long. I read the Kindle digital version, and it seemed like two volumes of War and Peace back to back – endless. It slowed down my reading and made me thirst for novels that actually have some plot, some story that keeps turning the pages.

 

 

This is hilarious. It makes me proud of my German heritage.

To make it easier, here is the key:

  1. Germany
  2. United States
  3. Russia
  4. China
  5. United Kingdom
  6. Ireland
  7. Spain
  8. Switzerland
  9. France
  10. Belgium
  11. Turkey
  12. Poland
  13. Italy

 

It was 1995.

Hardly anyone in the world knew what email was, and had never sent or received one. The first traces of the Internet were just surfacing. Google didn’t yet exist (it was created in September of 1998). Amazon was just founded less than a year before. Big tech was Microsoft on the desktop. Apple was just about to plunge into failure after Windows 95 was released, and it looked like it was going to die. Elon Musk had just moved to California to attend Stanford University but decided instead to pursue a business career, co-founding the web software company Zip2 with his brother.

That was when Carl Sagan wrote his book The Demon-Haunted World.

He had a vision of the future more than 20 years out that is eerily accurate and reflective of what we’re experiencing now, with the dumbing down of America in full swing. Here is an excerpt:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost  the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

It is now 2021. Good morning, everyone!

Patriot

– a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.

On July 4th we see more American flags than usual, of course, and I have noticed that lately I have not reacted to seeing the flag with thoughts of patriotism, as one would expect. That’s because the flag is now often used by Trump supporters, calling themselves patriots, while flying huge flags on the backs of their trucks, at rallies or at stands where they sell Trump paraphernalia.

I am tired of reading about people, even in courts, calling themselves patriots for participating in the insurrection of January 6, 2021. I have displayed the definition of “patriot” at the top of this post.

We have a constitution, and a constitutional process. If we don’t agree with the interpretation of a law, or if we don’t agree with the outcome of an election, we can appeal to the judiciary. We can sue the various states, counties, or candidates, and if there was actual wrong-doing, we will win based on the evidence and that’s how we solve disputes in this country patriotically.

We don’t get to become vigilantes and physically and verbally attack journalists, political opponents, elected members of government or anyone else that does not agree with us. That is not patriotism, that’s assault. Its stands diametrically opposed to what is patriotism. It’s anti-patriotism.

When Clinton lost the election in 2016, and people complained, Trump supporters used to say “You lost the election, get over it and move on!” Move on the country did.

Trump lost the election in 2020 by a larger margin than Clinton lost it. It’s time to get over it and move on.

If there was wrongdoing, fraud, or anything else unconstitutional in the 2020 election, we can have recourse through the judiciary. That is the patriotic way to handle this.

It’s 1927 in Chicago. The legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is recording two songs at a music studio. While everyone waits for Ma to arrive (as she is usually late), the director and the producer are nervous. The band is trying to rehearse, but arguments arise quickly. One after the other, the band members get to tell the stories of their lives.

I didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but I felt like I was watching a play. Sure enough, it was based on a play as I read later. The dialog, the structure, all were taken from the play.

The racial tensions of the 1920s come out loud and clear, and Ma Rainey knows that she has power over “white folks” only because she is a star and “they need her.”

This movie won two Oscars, one for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling, and the other in Best Achievement in Costume Design. It was nominated for three others, including Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role and Best Achievement in Production Design. Needless to say, it is highly acclaimed.

While I appreciated the illustration of racial discrimination and the subject matter in general, I found it was a hard movie to watch and I had to work at staying engaged and interested. It didn’t do too much for me as a movie.

We put a zucchini plant into our little garden, and it’s producing like crazy. Here is the first one we broke off.

Zucchini – banana for scale

It’s huge. We don’t know if it’s ripe yet, but we’ll cut it open and find out. There are several more growing in the plant.

Then we wanted to know whether you could grow a pumpkin from a seed. So I put a single seed into a planter pot and within six days of watering it several times a day, it produced a little plant.

Pumpkin plant – banana for scale

It’s a tiny shoot with two leaves. When gets a bit bigger in another week or so, I’ll put it into the ground.

The pot on the left has onion seeds (green onions), and the one on the right is another pumpkin.

 

Bob Dylan turned 80 on May 24, 2021. I clearly remember Bob Dylan’s 40th birthday. I have been around almost as long as Dylan, I guess.

I am reading Life Magazine’s special edition for this 80th birthday. It’s a mini biography, of course with lots of photos as you expect from Life Magazine, and as I am reading about the old songs that had such an influence on my in the 1970ies, I remember Dylan and some of the other artists in my life.

One a musician, one a composer, one a writer and one a philosopher. I painted their portraits. Here they are in chronological order:

Ludwig van Beethoven – painted in 1979, 36 x 36 inches

08/79 Oil 36×36

 

Henry Miller – painted in 1979, 36 x 36 inches

06/79 Oil 36×36

 

Friedrich Nietzsche – painted in 1980, 24 x 18 inches

 5/80 Oil 24×18

Bob Dylan – painted in 2001, 28 x 22 inches

01/01 Oil 28×22

I lost track of the first three paintings early on. I have no idea if they even still exist somewhere in somebody’s attic. But the Dylan one is still with me, albeit in a stack in the garage with all the other paintings that never got framed or rated sufficiently to be taking up wall space in our house.

I painted Dylan the year he turned 60. It seems like yesterday.

Those are the four artists in my life that rated a painting.

Just recently, we went camping for a weekend. Here I am before sunset, sitting by the fire pit, ready to light the campfire.

Here I am camping with Devin some 25 years ago. At the firepit, just after sunrise. It was cold, and the coffee and hot cereal felt great.

Notice the blue chairs. We still have those very same chairs now.

Good memories.

Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize and was a Winner of the National Book Award. It’s definitely an acclaimed novel.

The story follows Cora, a slave girl in a Georgia cotton plantation. She is an outcast because her own mother ran away, thus abandoning her, leaving her “a stray.” As Cora grows up she tries to come to terms with her abandonment and she wishes she knew what happened to her mother.

Eventually another slave named Caesar, who came to the plantation from Virginia, asks her to escape with him. She accepts and follows the footsteps of her mother, off the plantation, just to be hunted by posses tasked to bring back “escaped property.” Cora’s journey from one state to the next is harrowing as she tries to stay ahead of one reckless and determined slave hunter.

In Underground Railroad the author does not just use the metaphor of what we know the Underground Railroad was, but rather he depicts it as an actual set of tunnels underground, connecting different cities and states, with concealed depots or stations maintained by station masters. I found this approach strange and unnecessary. The depictions of the antebellum American South, where the institution of slavery was one of the core structures of society, would have been enough in itself. A society where one class of humans was legally entitled to own another class of humans, to the point where they could abuse them sexually, sell off their children, split up families and work them to death without any hope of escape. Born a slave, always a slave.

The Underground Railroad brings that period of darkness in our history to the forefront, and reminds us here and now in 2021 that human rights still have a long way to go in America. We have little right to lecture other nations on human rights.

I have read and reviewed a couple of other books about slavery, and for your quick references they are listed here:

Book Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – by Harriet Jakobs | Norbert Haupt

Book Review: Uncle Tom’s Cabin – by Harriet Beecher Stowe | Norbert Haupt

 

Tatsuo Horiuchi wanted to paint after he retired, but he didn’t want to spend money on supplies, and he didn’t want to buy a painting program. So he used what he already had: Microsoft Excel.

After using Excel for three decades myself, I didn’t know you could possibly use it to paint. I am amazed about the level of creativity and ingenuity this artist exhibits.

Fern (Frances McDormand) is woman in her sixties. She spent her entire life with her husband, who was happy working in a sheetrock factory in northern Nevada. She was never able to realize her own dreams, because she was accommodating her – dreamless – husband. Then he died abruptly. When the sheetrock factory, pretty much the only employer in town, closed, the town died. Even the zip code was retired (true story).

Fern abandoned her house and life, and moved into her van, cruising the American west, including Nevada, Nebraska, South Dakota, California and Arizona.

This movie is carried by McDormand’s acting. Nothing happens. There are countless shots of desert with the sun setting in the distance among the stark mountain ranges that characterize the west. Fern keeps standing around, and walking around, in one encampment after another, with really nothing else going on. We are witnessing a nomad and we can’t really tell if she is happy.

McDormand won an Oscar for this performance. When she received it, she issued a howl, and many people didn’t know why. It turns out it was a tribute to the film’s sound mixer Michael Wolf Snyder who had passed only about a month earlier.

Another bit of trivia is that with Nomadland, McDormand now has more lead actress Oscars than Meryl Streep. Pretty impressive.

Nomadland is a boring movie, a depressing movie, where nothing really happens, but it makes you think about your own life nevertheless.

 

The iPhone 6 came out in September of 2014. I bought the iPhone 6 Plus on April 23, 2015. It was the top of the line on the market then and I paid $500 including tax. I bought the largest version since I wanted to be able to do all my Kindle reading on the phone, so I didn’t need another device.

I was successful with that, and the iPhone 6 has been a rock-solid companion for me ever since. It was sleek and thin in design.

About a year-and-a-half ago the battery started failing, so I went to a local shop, and for less than $50, I had a new battery installed. It was like new.

I use my phone for calls, texts, emails and, most importantly, reading books. Everything worked fine.

Then one day, my work required that I use the phone for two-factor-authentication (2FA), which means I have to use it to log into my computer. The app for 2FA could not be installed on the version of iOS on my phone. So – I was left with no choice but abandon my perfectly-working phone just so I can get a new one that supports that 2FA app.  Of course, all my workmates had been laughing at me for using a five-year-old phone, but I couldn’t help it, it worked fine, and it did everything I needed to do with it.

I bought the iPhone 12 Pro Max. With tax, it set me back $1220.-. Pretty expensive for something I don’t really need or want, but have to have.

When I got it, I noticed that Apple had let the design go. My old phone was thin and sleek and weighed only six ounces. The new one was about the same size, but a bit thicker, with an edge around it, rather than curved edges easy on the hands. And it weighs eight ounces, which is noticeably more when you hold it in your hand a lot when reading books.

The 12’s claim to fame is the new camera system, which uses a concept called Lidar to take pictures. Supposedly it can capture spatial information better and make pictures more three-dimensional. Not something I need but I get.

However, I noticed one thing that I could not believe at first: When you lay it down flat, the camera lenses stick out, and it does not rest properly. See the quick video I shot:

Steve Jobs, who chastised engineers for sloppy work inside computers – things users never saw – would never have accepted a product with a major design flaw like this. I call it a design flaw, because I want a phone that I can lay down flat on a table without it rocking.

I bought a case for it, which cures the rocking problem, but it makes it even heavier and bulkier. Steve Jobs used to sneer at cases. He asked why you would cover up something as beautiful as an iPhone with a case?

My iPhone 12 Pro Max works fine. I am enjoying battery life that lasts me four days of use, and I can run my 2FA app. I can read. I paid $1220 for what I would call a poorly designed product, so poor that I am motivated to write a blog post about it.

 

This cactus has been with us for decades. It loves to live in its small pot. Most the time it’s scraggly, green, and sometimes the leaves die off.

It does not bloom very often, but when it does, it’s spectacular. The blossoms in their glory only last about a day or so. Make sure to click on the image and enlarge, so you can see it in all its splendor.


There are some beasts in the Anza Borrego desert.

No, this is not photoshopped. This is a real photograph of me this afternoon.

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