Air-launched spacecraft

Pegasus XL under L-1011 "Stargazer"

Pegasus XL under L-1011 “Stargazer”

I’ve been looking at the launch schedule, which covers public and international spacecraft launches, and noticed the December 12 launch of a Pegasus XL.

Pegasus XL is a rocket, of course, and it’s taking off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but it is doing so from the underside of a Lockheed L-1011 airplane named Stargazer. They’ve been doing this particular spacecraft model since 1990, first with other aircraft, and then with the L-1011 a few years later.

It says something about all the work going on in space that we don’t notice, partly because it was just unmanned satellites, but also because it had become more-or-less routine.

The Stargazer boost aircraft is named after the USS Stargazer, which was Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s previous ship in the Star Trek universe. No kidding. It got the name informally at first, and then it stuck. Another interesting thing about Stargazer is that the company flying it bought it used.

Update: December 15, 2016

After the initial December 12 launch attempt was scrubbed, they had a successful launch today, December 15th:

“We Pledge Allegiance”

I’ve been watching the various preview videos for season two of The Man in the High Castle. There are a number of them.

If you’ve been on safari for the last few years, this is based on the book of the same name by Philip K. Dick. Both the book and the TV series take place in an alternative 1960s America where the Allies lost WWII. And lost it badly. The U.S. was partitioned between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Here’s one of the videos via YouTube, which I believe is the opening scene of this second season:

The show is produced by Amazon and available online. The first episode of season 1 is available free. The trailer to this second season is here. From there you should see links to other clips.

In any event, this scene is interesting in another way: It shows the students of this school reciting a Nazified version of the Pledge of Allegiance. One might think they would be using a Hitler salute rather than the conventional hand over the heart. They don’t until the very end. In reality, what we think of nowadays as a Hitler salute was also called the “Bellamy salute,” after Francis Bellamy. That’s the guy who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.*

Bellamy salute, 1941

Bellamy salute, 1941

This was, in fact, how most people used to do the pledge. It only changed in 1942, for obvious reasons. Now, people find it funny that Nazis did it without realizing how common this salute had been for decades.

My guess is that the show’s producers either didn’t know this history, or decided it would be better to use the form that most people know about. There are reasons to give the audience what’s more familiar. That would make it feel more real even if it’s less.

* Francis Bellamy was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, the writer of 1888’s Looking Backward: 2000–1887.

A very special Star Trek Continues

Embracing the Winds

Embracing the Winds

I’m late but I wanted to review the latest episode of Star Trek Continues: Embracing the Winds. It’s basically about equal rights for women, a big subject in the ’60s and ’70s. Those “Winds” in the title must be the winds of progress.

(If you’re new to Star Trek Continues, you can read my first post on the topic, which has links to the episodes. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out.)

Let me say right off that I generally detest TV’s “very special episodes.” Their morality lessons always come off as patronizing, pandering and smarmy. That’s because they are. Always. Few people believe they write these things for our enjoyment. Ten percent of the time, it’s to teach viewers whatever they think we need to learn. The other ninety percent: they want to win awards from their colleagues. And all this time, those colleagues are trying to out-patronize, out-pander and out-smarm each other with their own very special episodes.

Star Trek Continues (STC) gets away with it a little bit because they’re doing it for a different purpose. They’re not really trying to teach us this lesson. (And if I’m wrong, somebody needs to drag Vic Mignogna — best Kirk since Shatner — to the asylum on Elba II.) They’re trying to do 1960s TV, while at the same time trying to explain away Starfleet’s rule (from the episode “Turnabout Intruder“) that women cannot be starship captains.

By the way, don’t blame naval tradition for this. Commanding a warship required experience on those ships, and that’s where the barrier was. This shouldn’t be a problem on Starfleet’s Enterprise, which has plenty of women.

STC blames the rule on diplomatic problems with some member planets opposing women’s rights. Although it’s a clever bit of retcon, I don’t think this works. Other species had their own ships on this show. And besides that, in real life, captains of capital ships aren’t selected by field tribunals.

The problem here is that this show is supposed to be as from the ’60s. That’s just the way they were back then. Things weren’t changing that fast.

The first Star Wars was almost ten years later: Smuggling and blockade running was still a man’s game. Remember that hangar at the rebel base, and all those ground personnel preflighting the fighters? Men. The pilots? Men. Yes, the princess did some intelligence and courier work, but she stayed at the base when the climactic battle began. Men did the fighting. I don’t even need to mention the Empire.

Same story with the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica. Its versions of Starbuck and Boomer were guys.

That Galactica did have women pilots — in one episode. They needed to learn to fly when the men were sick. I don’t remember the details, but it was probably like when Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife got sick, and Thelma Lou and Aunt Bea had to defend Mayberry from mobsters.

On the other hand, Buck Rogers did have a woman pilot around that same time as Galactica. But Wilma Deering was in the original 1928 book as well, although as a soldier, not a pilot.

Anyway, Star Trek didn’t have a problem only with women captains. I don’t remember any women in security either. That’s just the way things were.

I often think Star Trek’s status on the vanguard of civil rights is overblown, but I’ll give Roddenberry some credit here. As seen in the pilot (“The Cage”), the first officer was originally going to be a woman. As the story goes, he had to back down when the studios balked. That would have changed everything. Since executive officers are generally in line to become ship captains, it would have followed that the rule wouldn’t have existed anymore. The writers would have had to come up with another motive for the crazy lady in “Turnabout Intruder.”

As for the episode itself, it was fun after the very special groaning. Not their best, but always better than the latest movie. Look for Erin Gray as Commodore Gray. She played Wilma Deering in the ’70s version of Buck Rogers. This was her second appearance on STC.

The rest of the performances are also top notch. In particular, watching Chris Doohan as Mr. Scott is a treat for any real fan of the original series. This is an “amateur” production in the same sense as the Japanese government calling its military the “Japan Self-Defense Forces.” The label understates their true power. In other words, they’re professionals, and it shows.

This episode is also available on YouTube:

(Okay, I made up the Andy Griffith episode.)

Working to undo a stupid idea

I signed a petition via OldNFO J.L. Curtis:

Restore the Traditional Navy Rating Specialty Titles Disestablished on 9/29/2016

For 241 Years Navy personnel have been identified by their Job specialty, known as a “Rating”. The oldest rates such as Boatswain Mates, and Gunners Mate predate the founding of this country. Being known by your job title was a sense of pride. A sign of accomplishment. The Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations just senselessly erased this tradition. One only has to visit Navy social media pages to see the disgust and outrage of current and former personnel. One by one current leadership continues to erode the very things that set the Navy apart from the other services. Mr. President, I and the others signing this petition request you use your authority to restore to our Sailors what they have earned.

Basically, a Petty Officer Third Class would normally have been referred to as Gunners Mate Third Class (or whatever their rating happened to be). Now they would just be Petty Officer Third Class. Tradition is a big deal in the Navy. You’d think they’d understand this.

Stars and Stripes mentions the petition and indicates that the brass is not thinking of changing their minds.

Interesting fact: Navy ID cards only give the rank, e.g. PO1 (for Petty Officer First Class), and not the rating. The reason for this is that the Geneva Conventions require that you present your ID card to the enemy upon capture, and you’re not supposed to tell them what your job is.

EpiPen alternatives

Found this on Baen’s Bar message board (registration required), attributed to a former drug rep contact:

If you need an Epipen but can’t afford it, there ARE alternatives. Have Doc write an Rx for Adrenaclick but sign Substitution Allowed and have the pharmacy order this generic of it from Lineage Therapeutics. I saw where Costco can get it and patient pays $10. Spread this if you want to share with patients who may need this.

I sold Epipen a LONG time ago when King Pharma owned it and Dey marketed it. I am passionate about food allergies & therefore realize people need to know about this option.

Also- the FDA isn’t in cahoots with Mylan. There have been other competitors on the market (Twinject, Auvi-Q) they just failed for one reason or another.

More info at and

I know almost nothing about the subject, other than it’s in the news that the price had skyrocketed. The links were in the original message.

Stop What You’re Doing and Update Your iPhone Right Now

I’d do this if I had an iPhone:

Stop What You’re Doing and Update Your iPhone Right Now:

A serious security breach was discovered on Apple’s iOS this week that could leave your iPhone vulnerable to a remote jailbreak. Thursday afternoon Apple issued an urgent iPhone and iPad software update (iOS 9.3.5) that includes a patch for the vulnerability. If you haven’t already done so, you should install the new version immediately.

Block phones today, block spy-drones tomorrow

Via Glenn Reynolds / Instapundit:

A pub owner in East Sussex, England, installed a Faraday cage to block his customers from using their phones. He hopes it will get them away from their mobile devices and talking to one another again.

It’s a pretty ingenious (but controversial) move that involves installing metal mesh in the walls and ceiling of the bar to essentially filter out electromagnetic signals before they enter the building.

This effect was first discovered back in 1836 by physicist Michael Faraday, and it works in a similar way to noise-cancelling headphones, which block out noise by emitting the opposite wavelengths of sound.

So, when electromagnetic radiation – such as a phone signal – hits the outside of a Faraday cage, it causes electrons in the metal to move and create an electromagnetic field that exactly opposes and cancels out that wavelength of radiation.

Gene Hackman’s character, Brill, in the movie Enemy of the State had his workshop inside a Faraday cage. The next time you see the movie, note the wire mesh.

Technicians repairing secure communications equipment (“scramblers,” although we never called them that) have to work inside a Faraday cage to prevent signals from escaping that might reveal how the device works. They call it “the vault.”

But what gets me is, we’re all going to need them soon.

It’s just a matter of time before drones become tiny enough to invade your home. Intelligence agencies are very likely using insect-size drones right now. It won’t be too many years before the really tiny ones are cheap enough for hobbyists, and then curious kids. A home Faraday cage may not be a bad thing.

Axanar: Star Trek Fan Film Fights On

ReasonTV has a story on the kerfuffle over Axanar: The $1 Million Star Trek Fan Film CBS Wants to Stop:

It’s a bit long at over 11 minutes, but it includes something on the history of Trek fan films — going back to the 1970s. This is worth watching just for that.

I’m not a lawyer (sometimes a caveat; sometimes a badge of honor), but I don’t think they have a chance if it gets to court. They need to fight it out in the streets of public opinion.