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June 21, 2004

Capitalist Spacemen

Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites successfully completed the first civilian space launch, this morning in the Mojave Desert. Congratulations to Mike Melvill, the first civilian astronaut from a private space program!

Space.com has a good news story and writeup about the launch. Samizdata has a firsthand account of the event. Accolades are flowing in from such strange places as art studios.

Particularly shocking is the cost. Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) funded Scaled Composites for $20 million. This can be contrasted with Airbus's A380 development, which cost $11 billion, or Boeing's 777 cost of between $7B and $10B (source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Of course, the A380 and B777 are commercial aircraft, intended for major mass production, while SpaceShipOne is a flightworthy technology demonstrator.

What does it mean? Only good things. It shows that Rutan's group is the frontrunners for the X-prize. It demonstrates that a small group of American engineers can do something that whole nations have never been able to accomplish. It shows that spaceflight is not the sole providence of governments and militaries, but rather the technology has advanced to the point that private industries can assume the risk. It signals the beginning of the next Space Race: Not dominated by those who seek the best vantage points for their missiles, but rather those who seek to profit by opening inexpensive gateways for free people to the incredible potential of space.

June 06, 2004

Camp Pendleton Mud Run

Several of my co-workers and I decided to run in the Camp Pendleton Mud Run. The mud run is a grueling ten kilometers of hills, dust, water, and mud, on the US Marine base near San Diego. Individuals can race too, but we chose to run as team of five, and thus had to cross the finish line together. Proceeds from the race benefitted the Marine Corp and Navy.

Team "Mudder Fudders" was made up of me, Katherine Clarke, Larry Lem, Mike Reddig, and Brian Selvy. All of us work at Honeywell.

I ran the mud run twice: The first time was in 1999, with coworkers from Honeywell. That race was memorable because of the sheer amount of mud that I acquired over the race. I fell face first off a wall, into the mud, and lost my carkeys and watch in the final mudpit. (I drove over 400 miles that day, as I drove down in the morning, got a ride back to LA from a coworker, imposed upon my roommate to return me to my car, and finally returned home with my car.) I also ran the race two years ago, with my friend Stephanie Blanch (also from work). That race was somewhat hotter and sunnier, but I had learnt from my mistakes and did not loose the carkeys.

This time around, Elizabeth and I drove down the night before, and stayed at a functional hotel in Oceanside, California. This morning, we headed to the base at about 6:30am, and fortunately found the rest of the team near the registration desk. The team race began at about 9:15am or so.

I believe that I ran fairly well. There were some very challenging areas on the course, including the massive uphill from mile 1.5 to mile 3. I always seem to have difficulty with the main river crossing: It must be about 100 yards of waist-deep brackish water with a slipperly, muddy bottom. It takes strong legs to keep pushing forward and keep the feet from sucking into the muck.

Results are available online. We competed as a mixed team, and placed 24 out of 125 in that group, or 64 out of all teams. With our total time of 1:16, we were only sixteen minutes from the top mixed team. The title seems possible, with extra training and preparation.

I was curious to see how the run would be changed by the fact that many of the Marines of Camp Pendleton are deployed in Iraq. The atmosphere was festive, though, and it seemed a bit more "corporate" this year, rather than the more military-oriented races of years past. But it was a good time, and I thank our hosts, not only for the fun race, but also for the solid work on the other side of world. "No better friend, no worse enemy."

Our team, before the race. Left-to-right: Larry Lem, Katherine Clarke, Mike Reddig, Brian Selvy, Jeff Borlik. The early morning hours before the race began somewhat cool and cloudy, the sun came out as the starting gun was fired.
The teams sprinted out from the start. (All of these photos are available due to Elizabeth.)
At the final mud pit. Runners have to crawl under the flags, through thin mud that is about two feet deep. In years past, it seemed like the mud was thicker, and people emerging from the pit were unrecognizable.
Mike and I crawl out of the pit.
Teams have to link arms and cross the finish line together. The Mudder Fudders can be recognized at the center of the photo, due to Mike's pony tail and my white skin.
After the race, and showers, and a change of clothes.

San Simeon Mini-Vacation

Both Elizabeth and I had Memorial Day (May 31) as a vacation day. What better way of honoring the patriots that secured our freedom than to enjoy that freedom, with a couple of days in the sun? The drive up the central California coast was beautiful, and it was good to get out of the hustle of the big city (or would the term "wide" city be more appropriate for Los Angeles?) and into the relatively quiet countryside.

We started on Sunday morning, and returned on Monday evening. Our course was to drive up the 405 to the 101, and take that through Santa Barbara. We stopped downtown for lunch, and then took California 154 as a scenic detour (much recommended) back into the 101. At San Luis Obispo, we turned off onto the Pacific Coast Highway (the 1 freeway). This provided spectacular views up the coast, to San Simeon. In San Simeon, we stayed at the San Simeon Lodge, which was cheap, clean, and comfortable. (While not a luxury hotel by any stretch of the imagination, it more than fulfilled our expectations.)

We took the introductory tour of Heart Castle on Saturday night. We purchased our tickets on the web the day before, and that seems like a good thing to do. I've included some pictures of the castle below, because I have noticed a lot of those kinds of pictures on the net and I am not selling them, but please keep in mind that the Hearst State Historical Monument requests that they maintain some level of control over them. The docent on the tour was enthusiastic and provided interesting information. I was amazed at the opulence of Hearst's estate, and the sheer number of antiquities shoved into the space.

On Sunday, we drove a couple of miles north along the coast, to observe a major resting ground for elephant seals. This site, located at N 35°39.792´ W 121°15.436 ´, was fascinating, as there were hundreds of seals sunbathing, wrestling, and swimming. We returned back to Los Angeles via the 101 freeway, and only suffered from Memorial Day traffic near Santa Barbara.

The view of from the top of the Cold Spring Arch Bridge, from the California 154 freeway.
The Hearst Castle contains several outbuilding for guests, as well as the main building. This guest house was either Casa del Sol or Casa del Mar.
Neptune's Pool, at the Hearst Castle.
Neptune's Pool, at the Hearst Castle. I think that Elizabeth wanted to jump in.
Apparently, Neptune's Pool had been grown three times during Hearst's building, from a small wading pool to this beautiful Romanesque building.
I accidently had the flash on my camera turned on, but it captured this interesting ceiling in one of the guest houses. Every inch of every building has covered with artwork, which points to amazing attention to detail. Personally, I prefer a clean and simple look, but can appreciate the effort.
Afternoon sun in a guest bedroom, with a view of the sea.
The oldest artifact on the grounds was this Egyptian statue.
The main building of the estate. The entire estate was designed to be like a Mediterrean village, with the main building playing the role of the church.
An interesting fountain on the grounds. I wonder how much of the artwork was new for the building, and how much was imported.
The main dining room had an interesting carved-wood ceiling. While there was a lot of interesting artwork and craft in all of the pieces of the building, I am sometimes surprised by lack of certain creature comforts that I take for granted now. (This was certainly the case in some of the castles that I explored in England.) Progress (even from the 1950's) is amazingly fast.
Hearst also had an indoor pool, which had an Arabic or Moorish look to it.
The Castle, from the tour bus, as we headed back to the visitor center.
Elephant seals, playing in the water.
Seals, closer up. According to the signs, most of the large males were still out to sea, while the females were in the molting stage.
The intrepid travellers, posing with other lazy seals.

Reagan Farewell

The text of Ronald Reagan's farewell address to the nation after his presidency can be found here. May the spirit that moved him move us too.

I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.