Sunday, July 26, 2015

SPEARHEAD furious over Hawking's "180" on alien contact

The Commander of SPEARHEAD addressed the UN Security Council on Friday in condemnation of the recent declarations of Russian tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner and Professor Stephen Hawking to fund "Breakthrough" a new $100 million initiative looking for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.

Hawking revealed his worry that any aliens advanced enough to contact earth would be “looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they could reach” in May 2010 and reported here but now seems to have done an about face at last to some extent. Hawking is still sure that “A civilisation reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria.” but insists that despite the disastrous consequences: “We are alive. We are intelligent. We must know.”

Breakthrough Listen
will provide funding explicitly for the search for extraterrestrial life, scanning the million stars closes to Earth and portions of 100 neighbouring galaxies. Breakthrough Message, will host a competition in which anyone can submit ideas for potential interplanetary messages.

Lieutenant General "Stomper" Santorno who has commanded SPEARHEAD since 2012 said the new initiative was "beyond reckless" and measures should be put into place to prevent private citizens from funding "irresponsible space-projects that could invite disaster on a global scale".

Brigadier General "Whopper" Creedon, SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Information delivered a report on his current progress with Operation: First Strike revealed in December 2011. Originally then-Colonel Creedon had outlined the threat posed by Kepler-22b, the first rocky exoplanet to meet key requirements for sustaining life and had formulated a preemptive strike against this new potential enemy.

"There is no longer an immediate perceived threat from Kepler-22b," admitted the General. "Only because of the more imminent potential threat from Kepler 452b which NASA has warned is the most Earth-like alien planet yet discovered," he added.

NASA's Kepler telescope has spotted Kepler-452b 1,400 light-years away, and is the only planet known in its solar system. Researches said it's 60% wider than Earth, which gives it a "better than even" chance of being rocky, and likely possesses a thick atmosphere, lots of water and active volcanoes. "It would feel a lot like home, from the standpoint of the sunshine that you would experience," said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

General Creedon reportedly requested $14bn in funding for Operation: First Strike II against Kepler-452b.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Go go Fightin' Joe

Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph F. "Fighting Joe" Dunford Jr. is currently fighting one of first major political battles in the upper house of the United States congress. His aim is to be confirmed by the Senate as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [CJCOS], the highest ranking military position in the U.S. Armed Forces.

During his confirmation hearings Dunford did discuss ISIS and North Korea as threats but suggested a close eye be kept on China. As for the Middle-East, he described Iran as "the most destabilising element" in the region and "clearly a malign influence."

Dunford was explicitly asked what he thought was the primary existential against the United States and the General was quick to unequivocally respond: 

 "Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security." 

Dunford told committee Chairman John McCain that as it had a large nuclear arsenal, was destabilising Ukraine and a threat to NATO nations on its borders, Russia presents a significant challenge to the U.S. and that it would be "reasonable" for the United States to provide sophisticated anti-tank and artillery assistance to the Ukrainian government in response to the situation in eastern Ukraine.

The view that Russia was the greatest threat was in fact one of Mitt Romney's claims during his presidential bid in 2012 and decried by Barack Obama as outdated, but this was obviously before the Crimea annexation. While Dunford is Obama's pick as CJCOS, senior White House officials were quick to point out that General Dunford's opinions are his own and not those of the administration.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

James Horner 1953 - 2015

James Horner [61], one of the most prolific film score composers of the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s tragically lost his life yesterday in an aircraft accident.

He was best known as the composer for two of the world's highest grossing films, Titanic and Avatar - both of which earned him Oscar nods, a win in the case of Titanic as well as it's song “My Heart Will Go On”. He would receive another 7 Oscar and three BAFTA nominations as well as winning two Golden Globes, three Saturn Awards and three Satellite Awards throughout his career.

Horner had little issue composing scores for impressive works in the field of motion pictures such as Glory and Braveheart, family favourites like Jumanji and Casper, period epics like Troy and Legends of the Fall, balls-out action movies like Commando and Red Heat, for animated movies including The Land Before Time and An American Tail, comedy such as Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Hocus Pocus, thrillers including Ransom and Patriot Games and even for comic-book heroes The Rocketeer and The Amazing Spider-Man. With over 100 scores under his belt he was one of few composers who catered for everybody and any type of movie.

In an interview in 2010, Horner said that scoring Avatar was the toughest assignment he had taken on and he needed time to get it out of his system, so he had done little of note since but he was collaborating with James Cameron in providing music for the director's Avatar sequels over the course of the next few years.

Horner was one of the first composers whose work I listened to daily. His compositions along with those of John Williams, Danny Elfman and the late Jerry Goldsmith were the four cornerstones of my musical tastes for many years. Among my favourites from Horner are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [‘82], Aliens [‘86], Willow [‘87], The Rocketeer [‘91], Braveheart [‘94], Apollo 13 [‘94], The Mask of Zorro [‘98] and Enemy at the Gates [‘00].

Horner was often mocked for lifting sequences and musical motifs - as well as almost entire segments from one of his own scores and adapting them to fit the musical scores of other movies he was assigned to. Throughout the years his audience became more accepting of this quirk and when recognised upon listening it can only bring a smile to the face of his true fans.

Many of Horner's detractors were critical of his use of the works of classical music composers such as Orff, Elgar and Wagner and labelled his works as derivative - but if anything he spotlighted the works of the classical greats he admired and cherished the works of, and helped them to be discovered by successive generations. I have no doubt that in the future, composers of scores will even use Horner's own cues in the same way he did, and make it part of their work as a homage and  as they take us on a new musical journey of their making.

Thank you James Horner for over 100 gifts to us over the years and may you rest in peace.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sir Christopher Lee 1922 – 2015

He was Scaramanga - The Man With the Golden Gun, he was Saruman - Head of the White Council & Lord of Isengard, he was Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus - Sith Lord of the darkside and when one thinks of Dracula himself - it is the rumbling voice and menacing black and white visage of Christopher Lee you should think of.

A former intelligence officer for the RAF during WWII, Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ brought many silver screen characters to life in a career that spanned seven decades and was a favourite baddie of both young and old movie-goers alike. 

Lee died on Sunday 7th June from heart failure, he was 93.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Laser satellites on the way

The recent destruction of the U.S. Air Force's 20-year-old Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 13 and the resulting cloud of space debris adding to an already dangerous amount of clutter traveling at high speeds in orbit of the planet has brought to light a plan by Japanese researchers to fit a laser to the ISS.

The Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO) telescope, originally designed to detect cosmic rays, could be put to use for a more 'useful' project. The EUSO which is scheduled to be installed on Japan's module on the ISS in 2017, could help the orbiting complex detect dangerous debris. Researchers say that a powerful laser under development could then help shoot down this space garbage.

Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, an astrophysicist and chief scientist at the RIKEN (Rikagaku Kenkyūsho) Computational Astrophysics Laboratory in Wako, Japan, and his team reasoned that the EUSO's wide range of view and powerful optics could also help it detect high-speed debris near the ISS. Then a Coherent Amplification Network (CAN) laser could then blast the debris. The CAN laser consists of many small lasers working together to generate a single powerful beam and is currently under development to drive particles at high speeds in atom smashers. The laser would vaporize a thin film of matter off the surface of debris and the resulting high-speed plasma would act like a rocket plume, nudging the junk downward to eventually burn up in Earth's atmosphere.

A full-scale version of the system would be armed with a 100 kilowatt ultraviolet CAN laser that can fire 10,000 pulses per second, each lasting one-tenth of one-billionth of a second. The researchers say this system could blast debris from a range of about 60 miles (100 kilometers), and the laser would need about 17 lbs. (8 kilograms) of lithium-ion batteries.

A proof-of-concept version of the system is first intended to be deployed, consisting of a miniature version of EUSO and a prototype 10-watt ultraviolet CAN laser firing 100 pulses per second. A RIKEN spokesman noted that the mini-EUSO telescope has been accepted as a project on the ISS and could perhaps go up in 2017 or 2018, but the laser system is still a concept that has not been built.

Simulation of Earth's orbiting space junk - NASA
If the concept and full versions are successful, the researchers suggest developing a satellite devoted solely to blasting space debris. They suggest the satellite should assume an orbit that takes it over both of Earth's poles, allowing it to shoot down debris all over the planet, and be armed with a 500 kilowatt ultraviolet CAN laser that can fire 50,000 pulses per second. They estimate it could blast one piece of debris every five minutes, or 100,000 pieces of space junk each year.

"The biggest obstacle is funding," Ebisuzaki said. "There are some technical challenges, of course, but the main issue is getting funding for development and launch."

It was noted that Major General "Jäger" Brandt, SPEARHEAD Deputy Commander for Security and Surveillance and Brigadier General "Whopper" Creedon, SPEARHEAD Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Information both visited RIKEN recently, fueling online conspiracy rumours that SPEARHEAD had deliberately destroyed DMSP-13 in an effort to fast-track extra funding for the Japanese project. Neither RIKEN or SPEARHEAD have answered questions on the issue.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Dunford continues to blaze a trail to the top

Long time readers will remember the Marine General "Fighting Joe" Dunford from the past several years of posts. In June 2010 when General Amos was nominated to replace General Conway as Commandant, I expressed the opinion that Dunford, then a 3-star and CG of I MEF, may have been a better choice. He had been elevated from 1 to 3-star rank quickly [never actually holding 2-star grade] and his combat experience in Afghanistan was both exemplary and proved he wasn't just a politician but perhaps he was too young [at 55] to be elevated to the USMC's #1 spot just yet.

Dunford did however assume the Vice Commandant's position and a fourth star that October. Exactly two years later in October 2012 I blogged when he was nominated to command the ISAF which he did in February 2013 replacing General Allen and then last June when the man was nominated for Commandant, a position he assumed last October replacing General Amos.

Now only in his 7th month as Commandant, President Obama has unexpectedly nominated Dunford to replace Army General Martin Dempsey as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when his tour ends in the Autumn. I would have expected Army Chief of Staff General Raymond T. Odinero or Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear, Commander, US Pacific Command to have been tapped for the billet but it looks like they're retiring.

General Dempsey said: I've known General Dunford for almost half of his 39 years of service,... He is a phenomenal, combat-tested leader and a man of integrity, courage and humility." He's known for keeping his cool under pressure, Marine Gen. James "Mad Dog" Mattis, former CENTCOM commander said he once saw a grenade pass over Dunford's Humvee in Iraq and explode 100 yards away. "He barely glanced up and then went right back to writing his orders."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The rise to power continues...

Expect some action on this list likely before 2016.