Saturday, March 31, 2007

Unschooling Voices #8 is up

Joanne has posted this month's Unschooling Voices is up over at A Day in Our Lives.

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This month’s daddy daughter dates

I took my daughters out this week for their monthly dates with dad. Like I wrote last month, I take my daughters out for breakfast and we talked about the good things they are doing, and then we talk in general. Here is what we did, and what we talked about:

Wednesday my second daughter and I went to a local restaurant for breakfast. On the way back she asked me about the Germany invasion of France in 1940. Her older sister is taking a history class through the mail via DVDs. They are studying World War II.

In my early teens I had played a game by Avalon Hill called France 1940. It reproduced the exciting three week of the German invasion of France. I explained to my daughter that after WWI the Germans had gone back to the drawing board and completely rethought war. They realized the importance of tanks and their ability to punch a hole through and then circle around in the rear. The Allies, having won WWI, in general didn’t bother to update their approach to war. They were caught flat footed when the Germans blew past antiquated troops and doctrine.

My daughter was fascinated and asked if we could play the game. We spent a couple hours today. The rules are fairly complex. We just played a learning game. She played the Germans, and I played the allies. I helped her run down through the Netherlands and Belgium, and sweep pass much of the French army. She had a much better picture of how the Germans were able to win so decisively.

My third daughter and I went out to Denny’s on Thursday. She overheard some of the waiters talking in Spanish. She guessed correctly that it was Spanish. We talked for a minute or so about the value of knowing another language. She then told me some of the Latin words she had learned while listening to lessons her older sisters had done.

On the way home she heard Karen Carpenter singing a song. I think it was “I’m on the top of the world.” My daughter said she had just heard that song. She had been in a piano recital. My daughter asked if Karen Carpenter was still alive. I told her that Karen had had trouble with an eating disordered and died. She said that was sad.

Yesterday my oldest daughter and I went out for breakfast. She had just gotten season three of the original season of Star Trek. We talked a lot about Star Trek. What it would be like to live in that universe. She’s seen a couple of the other Star Trek series. She has also been reading a ton of the series summaries at Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki. We talked a bit about how Captain Kirk was split into Captain Picard and Lieutenant Riker in terms of the roles they filled.

I value this one-on-one time with my daughters. It is interesting what topics come up, and where the learning goes.

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Unusual searches leading to our blog - part 4

Melissa Wiley has had some fun or strange searches leading to her blog. One strange search was "mom tied in basement found by teenage boy." She is the first response for Google now, partly because she blogged about it. Someone also ended up at her blog with a search of "how long do walruses stay with their moms?" She is also the first response on Google for this search.

It has been several months since I've listed some of the strange searches which brought readers to our blog. After reading about Melissa's unusual searched, I started checking out Sitemeter again. Here are a few fun searches leading to our blog:

A reader from Indiana was searching for "cost for private karate classes" which has my post from last month on Is being a homeschooler as expensive as private school?. Last month the post was the eight listed. Now it is number seven.

A reader from New Jersey was looking for "song lyric mistakes." Janine's post on Wise man/Foolish man vs. April showers bring May flowers was number five. This sounds impressive, but there were only five hits.

Someone in Florida was searching for first anniversary gifts creative. A couple weeks ago Google had the Carnival of Homeschooling, week 53 as the number hit. Google has since changed its ranking and the carnival is now the third most likely hit.

I'm not sure what the goal was for with a search of importance of oil to education. Maybe they were looking for how much revenue was generated to fund education. Or maybe the person was looking for cooking oil in a home education class. Any ways they were taken to our post on The importance of hard work.

From Egypt came a query for cate café. Two of our posts are currently number one and two. It is interesting to see the Google search engine in Arabic. I was surprised to find the scroll bar on the left side of the window. It appears there is a business called Cate Café.

Recently someone from San Juan Puerto Rico came to our blog. They used Google Translate to read our blog in Spanish.

If you have a blog, you might enjoy checking how people end up at your blog.


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Thought for the Day on prosperity

This came in yesterday on Dan Galvin's Thought For The Day:

Prosperity depends more on wanting what you have than having what you want.
-Geoffrey F. Abert

This is a great line. One of the goals we have for our daughters is to teach them to be content with what they have. I want them to work hard and save for a rainy day. I hope they won't have greedy hearts, every grasping for more.

I couldn't find out much about Geoffrey Albert. says he was a French Philosopher Priest who lived from 1079 to 1142. They have two additional quotes:

The most important thing about goals is having one.

When you take charge of your life, there is no longer need to ask permission of other people or society at large. When you ask permission, you give someone veto power over your life.

I found another good quote attributed to Geoffrey Albert:

It often takes more courage to change one’s opinion than to stick to it. (from here)

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In the news - March 30, 2007

HAMPTON, N.H. (AP) _ Some parents are protesting the ''sex'' edition of the student newspaper at Winnacunnet High School.

Several said they were especially offended by a photograph of two women kissing under the headline, ''Why men love women who love women,'' a quiz question about anal sex, and an interview with an unnamed custodian who said he had found a vibrator in the girls' shower.

Principal Randy Zito said the Winnachronicle had crossed the line of responsible reporting and that he had dealt with the problem privately. He also said he had pulled copies of the paper that normally would have been sent to middle schools in the cooperative school district.

Well, at least they didn't send copies to the middle school.

The newspaper's faculty adviser defended the editors' decisions and said the February edition of the paper was intended to inform students, not shock people _ although they knew it would stir controversy.

''The kids wrote the articles and came up with the topic,'' said adviser Carol Downer. ''They didn't go out to cause controversy, but the Winnachronicle is also not a P.R. piece for the high school. This is a place for students to express their view and talk about issues that are troubling the student body.''

The editors use the justification that ''Being in a high school, it's something I've seen and something other kids have seen in the hallways.''

If that is indeed true (which I don't doubt), why would any responsible parent send their child to that school? If you wouldn't send your child to hang out at a strip club or an X-rated movie theater, why would you send them to high school?

I've heard the argument that such things are "real life." I question that claim. I don't see provocative behavior in the halls at my husband's work place. They don't hang out in the break room swearing and discussing their sex life. The employee newsletter only discusses topics which are work related.

I've never seen my doctor, banker, gardener, grocery store checker, mechanic, or newpaper delivery person in a trashy outfit. The postman who delivers my mail has never showed up at my door with a radio blasting explicit lyrics. I've never seen my next door neighbors making out on their front lawn, nor do they brawl on the sidewalk. I'm never forced to sit in a room with people who are drunk or stoned. On occasion, I have seen this type of thing at a near by park, but, of course, it involved students from the local high school.

This story, as well as the recent teacher-student sex scandals, highlights a weakness of educating children in large institutions. The certification of teachers and advisers can not certify character and good judgment. And, let's be fair to the staff. They can not adequately compensate for parental deficiencies.

I skimmed the student paper. For lack of a better word, I found the whole thing "a downer." It was written from the perspective of a petulant child with an exagerated sense of entitlement. A picture of student life emerged that was devoid of love and purpose, but obsessed with self-gratification.

Parental complaints after the fact are too little-too late. If the responsible parents revolted and pulled their children from offending schools, maybe something would change. Even if it didn't change that school, the child would benefit from learning in a more wholesome setting, whether it be homeschool, private school, independent study program, distance learning program or charter school.

As a side note, Winnacunnet High School was in the national news in 1990, when Pamela Smart, a media services coordinator at Winnacunnet seduced 15-year old sophomore student William Flynn and convinced him to murder her husband. Smart who was convicted of first degree murder was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Flynn will be eligible for parole in 2018.

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The Saturday Review of Books

Semicolon is hosting her weekly Saturday Review of Books. She is already up to 24 book reviews. Last week she got up to 56 book reviews.

The technology which allows any blogger to add a review is pretty cool. If you haven't check out her collection of book reviews before, you ought to pop over, just to see how people can add a review.

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Book review: Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie

I tend to read books in waves. I'm a bit compulsive. I’ll go through a phase and read a bunch of books by an author or topic. About twenty years ago I came across a book by Agatha Christie. The book was fun and well written, so I read a couple dozen more.

Agatha Christie wrote 66 mystery novels. Some of her most famous characters are Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. The Wikipedia web site says that about a billion copies of her books were sold in English, and another billion were sold in 103 different languages. Those numbers are just staggering.

My oldest daughter started checking out Agatha Christie novels from the library. She says they are cool. She left a couple books in the van last week. I brought them in and started reading Partners in Crime.

Partners in Crime is a collection of short stories tied together with an overall story arc. The partners are a husband and wife team who solve mysteries. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are asked by the Secret Service to take over a detective agency in an effort to flush out a master spy. The Beresfords agree. As detectives they have several adventures. Every chapter, or couple chapters, has a single mystery. In the last chapter they capture the master spy that no one else had been able to get a handle on.

The stories take place in the early 1900’s in England. The mysteries happen at various locations and different levels of society. I figure my daughter is learning a little bit of history as she reads these stories.

They are fun. If you haven’t read an Agatha Christie book before, this is a good place to start.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

At my local high school

My oldest daughter attended the algebra club I mentioned in my last post.

The tutor, who teaches at the local high school, was late. Some students in her last class took her car keys. She eventually found them hidden behind a bookcase in the classroom.

My friend is now in the process of filling out the paper work to remove one student from the classroom. She had already decided to have this student removed before the key incident. The other students involved will be moved to sit in opposite corners of the classroom, so at least they will be less likely to get into trouble together.

My daughter enjoyed the algebra club but found a few concepts she didn't understand. Saxon teaches concepts in a different way and order than the book the school uses. I've heard some acclaim and complaints about Saxon on this issue.

I'm kind of glad that she had to struggle a bit. She can be a bit complacent at times. Because she is the oldest child, she compares her workload and level of difficulty to her younger sisters. This group was made up of girls primarily a year older than her, so I'm glad she had a chance to look up for a change.

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What have you been blogging about lately?

The next Carnival of Homeschooling will be hosted at Kris' Eclectic Homeschool. Kris has announced that the theme will be: "Spring Fling of Homeschooling."

This will be the 66th Carnival of Homeschooling. We're about two thirds of the way through the first one hundred carnivals!

Go here for details on how to send in your entry. Submissions are due Monday evening at 6:00 PM PST. Kris asks that if possible to send them in earlier.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education,

Problems at my local middle school

Last night, I went out to dinner with a group of ladies from church. Great restaurant, but that's another story.

Soon, the dinner conversation came around to a problem at a local middle school. Apparently, a teacher who had previously taught another subject was assigned to teach 8th grade algebra. He had a reputation for being a bit of an oddball, but nothing outrageous.

Early in the school year, parents began to get inklings of a problem. It wasn't until the first report card that the problems became more obvious. Every student was assigned the grade for the student next to them on the list. To fix the problem, every student was then given an A on their amended report card. While a grade mix-up is not what you call a crisis, the "A" on the report card distracted many parents from the real problem. It was half way through the year, and the class had covered very little algebra. I don't know what was going on in the class room, but it wasn't Algebra I.

The school realized the error and put a new teacher in the class room who actually had math training. Unfortunately, the new teach did not have class room management skills. The new teacher limped along for some weeks before the school and the parents realized that they still had a problem.

The school responded by placing teaching assistants in the class room and providing tutors after school. One of the "insiders" made the comment that the school is hoping to placate the parents to avoid a lawsuit. Standardized testing starts in a few weeks and the school is afraid what the results will show.

At this point, most of the parents realized they had a big problem. It is almost the end of the school year, and the 8th graders in this class have missed an entire year of algebra. These students will be starting high school next year unprepared for the course work. Many parents are worried about how this will effect their child's GPA or options for honors classes. (This is one of those times were I'm glad not to have the pressure of a high school. I just have to worry about what my child knows, not how it looks on a transcript.)

Some parents got together and began an algebra club. They've hired a private tutor who also teaches Freshman algebra at the local high school. As a side benefit, my oldest daughter has been invited to join them. She is 12 and studying from the Saxon 1/2 Algebra book. Most of the kids in the club she knows from soccer or other activities, so I think it will be fun for her. I curious to see how much my daughter understands in comparison to the 8th graders from the middle school.

I appreciate how my friends keep me informed on the latest goings on at my local schools even though I'm an "outsider." One of the reasons our homeschool works so well is because of the inside information. I'm kept informed of resources like band camp and Algebra Club. I'm also reminded of the benefits of homeschooling.

The saga continues in At my local high school.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Carnival of Education is up

The Education Wonks are hosting this week's Carnival of Education.

Again, if you haven't submitted an entry to the Carnival of Education before, consider it, the carnival gets a lot of traffic. You can send a submission by going here.

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More and more is spent on public education, with no improvement

The Goldwater Institute reports that over the last ten years the cost per student in Arizona has climbed by 29% with no improvement in test score. The 29% is adjusted for inflation. This is the real per-capita spending.

While the cost of many things, other than housing, has been dropping over the last couple decades, the cost of education, both in K-12 and at the college and University level continues to climb faster than inflation.

Every time someone cries that we need more money to "fix" education, I think of statistics like these. I've heard that stupidity is to keep doing what you have been doing, but to expect different results. It is funny that public education is suppose to teach us, but it seems like few have learned that throwing more money at public education does not improve it.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Monday, March 26, 2007

Politicians and school choice

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

"What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."

Clint Bolick makes an interesting point in his column Curious Logic. He says so many politicians are against school choice for others in the form of vouchers or a similar arrangement, but will practice it themselves by placing their children in private schools. Clint is focusing on Democrats, but I expect that many politicians from both sides of the spectrum who are against school choice have no problem sending their children to good schools.

They take our tax dollars in the form of a salary, and use our money to send their children to private schools. But they won't support vouchers which allow parents to pick schools the parents feel is best for their children.

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Reminder - submissions to the Carnival of Homeschooling are due in nine and a half hours

It will take another day or two before I'm completely back into the mode of blogging mostly about home schooling. I plan to put up a summary on the Space Access '07 conference, and I'm going to be cleaning up my Space Access '07 posts a bit.

But I really wanted to make sure to remind our readers that there will be a Carnival of Homeschooling up tomorrow at Alasandra. You have just over nine hours to get a submission in.

Entries are due this evening at 6:00 PM Pacific Standard Time.

Here are the instructions for sending in a submission.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education,

In the news

This article about a homeschool chess team caught my eye. I wonder if the homeschool team would have been excluded from the competition if they had lost more often.

Homeschool chess team not allowed to defend state title

Ray Parker
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 25, 2007 12:00 AM

The young chess players were the first such champions in Arizona.

But a team of homeschool students from the southeast Valley, called the Chevalier Noir (Black Knight) Academy, was shut out last weekend from competing, not allowed to defend its title in the Arizona Scholastic Chess Championship held in Tucson.

State chess officials allowed the homeschool students to play as teams for two years because of changing or unclear national rules on the subject, but this year, they ruled team members must come from the same school.

"The tournaments were created and designed for school teams," said Will Wharton, president of the Arizona Chess Federation board. "The problem is their connection is just chess, they're not doing any schooling together."

This was the justification of the ruling:

If homeschool students were allowed to form teams, he said, it would be like allowing sport teams to take students from any geographical area.

They are claiming that homeschoolers are stacking the deck in their favor. If they exclude the homeschool teams, it would only be fair to exclude charter school and the private school teams as well. Charter schools and private schools draw from a greater geographical area than the neighborhood public school and often have a more exclusive student population.

With the homeschool team out of the running, the chess tournament was a three way tie. One of the winners, Khalsa Montessori in Tucson, is a charter school which originated as a private school. They pull in students from neighboring schools. I'm finding it hard to see the difference between them and the homeschool team.

I looked at another Khalsa Montessori link looking for registration information. There does not seem to be any geographic limitation other than to be a resident of Arizona. I imagine most of their students live within a resonable driving radius. I imagine that is true for the homeschool team as well.

Another winner, Phoenix Country Day School, is a private school was an exclusive admission process. Students must pass admissions tests, interview and be invited to attend by the admissions commitee. They have a 40 acre campus. Again, no geographic limitation other than how far the parents are willing to drive.

The last winner, Harelson Elementary, is a public school. Their open enrollment policy states that "for pupils who are residents of the state of Arizona."

I don't think the homeschool team recruited players from out of state.

As a side note, I must say the school system functions much better in Arizona than California. With open enrollment, parents have many choices. Charter schools are managed more like private schools.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Space Access ‘07 - Saturday early evening - Rick Tumlinson

This is the last post I'll be able to put up. I need to leave to catch a plane.

Rick Tumlinson is a Co-founder of Space Frontier Foundation. Rick opened with a quote by T. E. Lawrence:

All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

He said that all of us at the conference are dangerous men, we dream with open eyes.

Rick explained that he has been in the space business for twenty years, in the non-profit side, and that finally after twenty years he realized why they call it non-profit. He recently decided to start up a business which is a holding companies. The first start up is Orbital Outfitters. They will lease space suits. There is a second business, involved in space medicine. There is a third business, he can’t mention it now. There are a couple other companies he is working on.

They entered this business with a small amount of money. They are planning to go straight to a revenue stream, hoping avoiding venture capitalists.

He moved on to public policy commentary. He said the best hope for humanity is for the US private industry to led the effort into space. He said the worse hope for humanity is US bureaucracy. He explored some of the problems with NASA issues and how NASA is killing US Space.

Rick is tired of Jerry Pournelle saying the same thing every year about we needing an effort to have something like NACA. Rick is proposing setting up a Wiki effort with a proposal he is calling the NASA reformation act. He had a list of things to fix NASA.

He would like to talk about more than business in space, he wants colonization in space. He issues a call to action.

He ended with a from Goethe:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

Rand’s report

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Panel on the New Space Investment Climate

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Space Access ‘07 - Saturday early evening - Panel on the New Space Investment Climate

The panel consisted of Stephen Fleming, Esther Dyson, and Joe Pistritto. Each briefly spoke. They feel the industry is maturing, and real investors might be willing to cut a check. Venture Capitalists would want companies to have insurance. Most VC firms are not going to invest in rocket companies.

One of the first questions VCs is what is your exit strategy? They want to make a good investment and get their money back.

Esther wrote for Forbes. Stories about common items were better received. When push your product, find a way to help customers related. Business in space is business first, and then space. Venturers are people who are interested in the business aspects.

Joe talked about various types of VCs. Some will invest for the long term and be comfortable in waiting, others are more cut throat.

Esther said if you are just a rocket science, that is fine, but you need to find a business person to partner. Joe said that CEOs are more likely to get fired.

They started taking questions from the audience:

One person in the audience said that recently more companies are doing self funding.
Joe said it is great if you can self fund. Esther said good investors are very helpful, bad investors are really, really bad.

One person asked what is the most important thing that investors can provide?
Esther said it really varies. Good investors can provide advice, wisdom about business, and how to relate to people outside the space industry. Joe said good investors can provide contacts.

Ken Davidian asked if the end game is always going IPO or being bought out?
Stephen said yes. Venture Capitalists are using other people’s money, so they need to get access to some kind of liquid assets. Joe said VCs are a more expensive way to get money, but that VCs can bring more money.

How pick out Venture Capitalists?
Stephen said it is important to do due diligence. Ask about their successes, and their failures. Most VCs are happy to share information.

When do we go to Venture Capitalists?
Esther said it is good to go before you need the money. In best case you get started about a year before you the money. You will get a much better price if you get several options, and if you can say I don’t need your money. Joe said the more you can show something real, the more likely you’ll be able to get a VC to invest in you. Stephen liked to ask how much of your personal investment is tied up in this business.

Someone mentioned an article published this week
Esther wrote the article. She was trying to do three things. She mentioned Fed Ex because it was a success. She tried to draw analogies between the computer industry and the rocket industry, how internet was started by the government and now is run by private industry.

Do you see small companies being bought up by Lockheed
Esther said “Or Disney.” Joe said that when people are being flown into space every day, then we’ll have reached the every day life. Stephen some times big companies will buy small a company for the products, and some times they’ll buy a small company for the engineering team.

Ken asked about the risk and insurance issue
Stephen said work things out ahead of time with lawyers. Prepare ahead of time for when someone dies, it is important to be sympathetic.

Ken followed up with how does that risk affect VC investing.
Esther thinks about it every day. VCs may even be waiting until after an accident.

Jerry Pournelle made the observation that the most expensive seats at NASCAR are those near where there is danger. We may be able to charge more money.

What do you look for?
Esther wants to see a good team. Stephen wants a good story, something that is easy to communicate and makes sense.

Clark's report
Rand’s report

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Leik Myrabo on Beamed energy
Next: Rick Tumlinson

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Space Access ‘07 - Saturday early evening - Leik Myrabo on Beamed energy

Leik Myrabo was the first speaker after lunch. Leik is a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His focus is using beamed energy to launch space ships. Leik showed an animation video of light beamed energy propulsion systems.

Leik says that beamed energy systems are systems which can last twenty or thirty years. In contrast chemical based rockets wear out very quickly. His vision is dozens or hundreds of orbiting solar systems.

He is looking at both laser beamed and microwave. It is all using today’s technology. This is a flight system beyond chemical, he sees it at the next generation propulsion system.

Leik is working with the Air Force to launch nano satellites, I think he said these are around a kilogram. The Air Force wants to be able do this on demand. He is doing some experiments this summer. The electricity costs for a single launch would be a couple thousand dollars. The small ships are rotating 11,000 (Pretty sure this is what he said) times a second, and getting blasted about 25 times a second.

He spoke very positively about Saturn V, and the new Ares plans. He speculated that Ares might be used to build the next space station, and that it could launch a whole new generation of space products.

The problem with the future of flight: When the price of petroleum soars beyond reach, what can we do about air flight, and space flight? He wants to develop new propulsion system, especially those which are environmentally friendly.

He is proposing putting a 500 meter in diameter facility at White Sands. He showed a small vehicle, he said it could be given a hundred gravities from beamed energy. He talked about the weight of a space system, it would take about 35 flights of Ares V to get the full system into orbit.

There was a question about how to make sure the beam systems weren’t used as a weapon. Leik said the beam satellites are soft targets. The first systems would be built on the ground, pointed up.

Clark's report

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Dave Matsen of Matsen Space
Next: Panel on the New Space Investment Climate

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Space Access ‘07 - Saturday late morning - Dave Matsen of Matsen Space

Dave Matsen of Matsen Space Systems, Inc. is the last speaker before lunch. They have been working out details, hammering out bugs. For example they know how many seconds it takes to wear something out. Building reusable vehicles is different than building one time use rockets. Their goal is to be operable and reusable.

Dave Matsen is hoping to be in the Lunar Lander Challenge this year. There is some chance they may be too busy. Some people have approached Matsen about doing R&D, but there are no public announcements at this time.

The cost to machine and engine and assemble it is in the tens of thousands of dollars. Insurance is more.

They moved to Mohave in June of last year. Mohave had been very supportive. They have four people in Mohave, and a business person in Atlanta. And a few more volunteers.

Much of what they do is to see how operable and how reusable is a design.

A bit of history: Dave gave credit to Henry Vanderbilt. Dave got seriously started after going to Space Access ‘01. He meet Jonathon Goff at Space Access ‘03. All the founders got together at Space Access ‘04, this was the first time they had all been together at the same time. In 2004 to 2005 they laid the foundation, built test facility

Future plans: First they want to finish their XA-0.1 hold-down tests, then do some XA-0.1 flight tests. They will do a lot of flight tests. It showed a picture of their XA-0.2.

They have found the geometries of their engine makes a different for some heat issues.

Their basic road map is to start with a vehicle which flies, then have something which goes suborbital, and then continue to improve.

Their initial markets are science experiments and education experiments. They have a $99 program for small experiments. They are hearing that many people are frustrated with not being able to do quick small experiments with NASA. NASA takes three to five years. Most of the high end science experiments want 400 to 500 kilometers. Matsen plans to be up their.

Clark’s report
Rand’s report

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Ken Davidian on space prizes
Next: Leik Myrabo on Beamed energy

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Space Access ‘07 - Saturday late morning - Ken Davidian on space prizes

Ken Davidian is speaking again. He is reporting on thoughts about Orbital Prizes. The main points are: 1) A bigger purse is better. 2) Several awards would get more involvement. 3) Don’t specific reusability, specify a number of flights per year. Paul Breed’s had a Prize Matrix, Ken showed the chart.

Ken talked about how Bigelow was trying to work with NASA on offering a large prize, but the negotiations broke down over some medical requirements. A NASA medical officer wanted high stringent requirements. Others felt the rules would strangle private efforts. Bigelow went off and offered his own prize.

Ken talked about his process of building a set of rules for a prize. For example he wanted to have at least three people in a rocket ship, so the same rocket ship could handle space tourists. Don’t plan to require docking with the Space Station, a bit too complicated for a basic contest.

Ken had X Prize Foundation and Paragon Space Development Corp do research into who would it take for a prize. X Prize called a bunch of people. Paragon did some bottom up numbers. X Prize said it was important to have more than one prize, felt $100 million was the lower bound for the first prize. X Prize said great if prize could be tax free, Ken says would have to talk with the Treasury Department. Paragon said would cost a company about $200 million to compete. Ken made the point that the prize is not the full business case, then the contest is structured in such a way that the same rocket would have commercial applications. X Prize and Paragon were both in the same ballpark, a total of about $300 million.

Centennial Challenge - When Ken makes presentations to NASA he talked about how prizes benefit NASA. These include new sources of innovation, leveraging of tax payers’ dollars, publicity for NASA.

Ken tries to make sure that most of the money allocated for prizes gets into the purses. Last year they only spent about $250,000 for administration. NASA does not administer the compeditions, he lists the organizes which run the organizations. They do it for zero dollars.

Ken listed some upcoming challenges this year. There is the Astronaut Glove $25K contest is 2-3 May. The Regolith Evacuation $250K is 11-12 May. The Personal Air Vehicle (space car) $250K contest is in 4-12 August. The Beam Power $500K is in October. The Tether $500K contest is in October. The Lunar Lander $2 million is also in October. Ken showed how the money is allocated from 2006 to 2011. There is risk Congress will not allocate more money.

Rand’s report
Clark’s report

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Teachers In Space, Sam Dinkin of SpaceShort and Jeff Greason of XCOR
Next: Dave Matsen of Matsen Space

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Space Access ‘07 - Saturday morning - Teachers In Space, Sam Dinkin of SpaceShort and Jeff Greason of XCOR

Bill Boland said Teachers In Space is a project of the Space Frontier Foundation. Bill had a quote from Bill Gates: “When I compare our schools to what I see when I travel abroad, I’m terrified for our workforce of tomorrow.”

As Teachers in Space travels around the US they find a great concern about education. The purpose of Teachers in Space: Recognize teachers, energize their efforts, and prime the space flight pump. They want to get legislation passed to fund teachers into space. They want a demonstration project.

Here are some of the benefits they are working towards: Role models, Magnets of excellence, recruiting and retaining, communication. The goal for national legislation would fund about 500 teachers into space each year, they are planning on one teacher from each congressional district. They have a draft in progress, but it is large. They would like input on which government agency should be the lead agency to head this up. Someone in the audience said two to consider would be the Department of Commerence and the Department of Education.

There was a discussion about the teacher selection process. It looks like it would cost about $2 million for a teacher selection process. Teachers in Space might work with Teacher of the Year.

There current plan is to start putting teachers in space around 2010.

Part of the goal is to get students exposed and informed about the future possibilities.

They all ready have five different companies who have volunteered to fly teachers into space.

Clark's report on Bill's talk

The next speaker was Sam Dinkin of SpaceShot. SpaceShot is proposing a trip around the moon. Sam showed a video of lift off, docking with the International Space Stations, out around the moon, and back. It would be a three week trip. They’ll be selling it for $100 million.

Sam says SpaceShot is a media company, not a space company. If they are bought as a media company, and they have enough players, they could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Their research has found that older adults are jaded and reluctant to play. Kids are excited, but don’t tend to have credit cards. They have repositioned their game as a free game. Teenagers have lots of time and interest.

Sam says that once there are enough flights and winners the older than 17 crowd will become more interested. He pointed out that millions of dollars are spent on online poker. Sam believes that at least 1% of those playing online poker would love to win a ride in space.

He covered some similar competitions. Virgin Volvo 2005 Giveaway had 130,000 players, but it was a one time shot. Microsoft rocket plane Vanishingpoint Game had 88,000 players, but it was also a one time shot. Texas Lottery has seven million players.

The revenue is based on the number of players, how often, the ad rate, and the number of ads play. They are getting about 60 cents per 1000 ads.

The flight around the moon will need million players.

It doesn’t cost very much to run SpaceShot. Servers cost about $500 a month. SpaceShot is early to market, no one is putting people into space, and Bigelow doesn’t have his hotel up and running.

Their business goals are to get 200,000 daily players by 2012. They are expecting to develop new games.

Sam sent me an email says: “I have produced a lesson plan teaching kids 7-12 how to play the Free Space Shot weather prediction game. It really gets them jazzed about math and science. The free trip to space doesn't hurt kids' enthusiasm. The lesson plan can be found in the ‘for parents’ section. You can find out more about Free Space Shot at my presentation at 9:20 at Space Access.”

Clark's report on Sam's talk
Rand's report

Jeff Greason of XCOR Aerospace spoke next. Jeff said they turned a profit last year! The audience loudly clapped. Jeff said the money came in faster than they had projects to spend it. They did about $3.8 million in revenue last year, and he expects they will do about the same this year. They have 34 employees. About half their money comes from government contracts. XCOR has vehicles that they want to build. They look for customers who have problems to solve that XCOR wants to solve. So they solve them for someone else and they afterwards they have learned.

This year they have three engine projects. One of them is building the engine Rocket Racer. They signed with last year, and then after a couple months they were told by Rocket Racer that they were developing faster than the other business parts of Rocket Racer. Jeff likes working with Rocket Racer, it is fun work. They are expecting to turn the rockets around in ten minutes.

The relationship with ATK has been better than Jeff expected. Jeff says it is possible to work with the big companies.

Jeff then showed a video of some work on engines. One of the engines was large, they did a test run, and the flame was a couple dozen feet. Beautiful. Then the video showed the engine for the Rocket Racer. They are expecting lots of short burns with Rocket Racers.

He is expecting when he comes back next year he is to have had his first ride.

He is going to try to have a clearer public message on their plans for the future, with out getting into details.

Jeff talked about the challenges in dealing with NASA. The people he is dealing with are sharp. They have built and fired engines. He has found that the cultural at NASA is so foreign that it hard to communicate. NASA has been surprised with the results that XCOR has been producing. One of the challenges in dealing with NASA is there are so many different groups.

Jeff said it is rough dealing with ITAR. He doesn’t plan to lead the fight to change ITAR. If someone else lead the charge, he’ll support. Like Jerry Pournelle said last night we need to give them a golden bridge, a place to go. We have to agree that it is important that the United States maintains its technological led. We have to point out that ITAR is not working, and provide an alternative. Jeff doesn’t have the alternative.

Another policy question is what do we want NASA to be. Jeff isn’t sure. He does support NACA. He says it was a good thing. NASA is no longer in the R&D business. The Air Force has their own research arm and does work in space. DARPA is also focusing on research in space. But they are not looking for dual use research. He isn’t sure what the right policy going forward is to retask NASA with the job of doing R&D. He says Congress doesn’t realize that R&D is not being doing for commercial space.

Rand's observation on Jeff's talk
Clark's observations

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Andrew Tubbiolo, Misuzu Onuki, Kevin Sagis
Next: Ken Davidian on space prizes

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Space Access ‘07 - Friday evening - Andrew Tubbiolo, Misuzu Onuki, Kevin Sagis

The evening was almost over. Space Access packs a ton of information into just three days. It is now 9:30. The last three talks are all short.

Andrew Tubbiolo reported on some machining he is doing. He got some machinist tooling from WWI and Korean War time periods. He just got a job from the Navy. He is doing this work on his own time, hoping to transition to a full time job.

Misuzu Onuki wondered what kind of clothing people will wear in sub orbital flights. They showed a video of a fashion contest in Japan. They plan to build a catalog and offer to customers.

Kevin Sagis of Paragon Labs is a small company working on launching small payloads. They are a Lunar Landing Challenge entrant. Kevin showed some pictures of their engines. Via Google I found some launches Kevin had back in 2003 and 2004.

We wrapped up about 10:50 PM.

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Jerry Pournelle on living with bureaucracy
Next: Teachers In Space, Sam Dinkin of SpaceShort and Jeff Greason of XCOR


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Space Access ‘07 - Friday evening - Jerry Pournelle on living with bureaucracy

Jerry Pournelle asked why he was here and qualified to speak. He is here because of experience - long experience and many horror stories. NASA offered a get away special. Jerry proposed putting ashes in space. NASA was surprised and upset. He was also involved with DC-X. Learned a lot from it. Jerry was involved in space suit development. He was at Boeing. Jerry was on the Citizen’s Advisory Council for incoming President Reagan.

Why is he here? To get out of Hell. His next book is about Dante's Inferno. Technically this trip is justified as preselling for his upcoming book.

He asked What Do We Want NASA To Do? Then said well that isn’t going to happen.

Jerry is here to give us a hard dose a reality.

Pournelle’s Iron Rule of Bureaucracy. In a Bureaucracy there are two types of people. Those dedicated to the mission of the organization. And those dedicated to further their power and keep the bureaucracy strong. The second group is always in control.

He asked who looks after our grandchildren? Kings, Great Aristocratic Failures, The Church, Bell labs. These are all gone. What is left? The Government. The one exception is the military. If there have been wars then the leaders have survived being in front of troops without being killed.

If we have to depend on the government, and the government always messes things up, are we doomed? We have done things with good things with government.

Jerry has been making a call to have Congress pass a law that Congress would pay $10 billion, tax free, to an organization which kept a colony on the moon for three years and a day. He has been making this call since something like 1980.

Jerry said that during the development of air NACA helped. The government built air wind tunnels. He said then McNamera canceled X programs because the United States didn’t want to have an arms race. X programs worked too well.

X Projects were typically 4 years. There was no new technologies. They would get build with present state of the art. Their purpose was to push the envelope, to see what we can do with existing technologies. John Carmack is basically doing X Projects. Jerry says there is no reason we can’t do X Projects again. Congress thinks they are romantic.

Jerry asks “What should NASA be?” It will be a bureaucracy. We have several models: NACA, NSF and BPH. Jerry says we need to figure out what type of bureaucracy we want NASA to be. If we work at cross purposes, nothing is going to happen.

He said Parkinson’s Law is true. Bureaucracy grows fairly steady, irregardless of the work they do. The big companies have a different view on bureaucracies.

He says we need to work together. He is afraid most of us are ignoring politics. If we can get public attention then Congress will pay attention. It will be more effective if we had a united message. If Congress had large projects, then the big guys would dominate. Need to have some projects.

We don’t want to fight with bureaucracy. Give them a reason to change their behavior. The secret of lobbying is the same secret of salesmanship: “I have a problem, can you help me?”

He wanted to end on some positive notes:

It looks like the Nuclear Industry expects to expand. With the current education system we are running technically qualified workers.

We can do it. In World War II we turned uneducated teenagers into qualified mechanics. We built the P-51 from drawing board to shipping the first one to Europe in 91 days.

What’s the best way?

Clearly Prizes are a superior way. Politically difficult in large amounts. Budgeting structures are not ready for authorizations without appropriations.

Jerry ends with “What Man Has Done, Man Can Aspire to.” We have done X-Prizes. We can do them again.

Clark's report on Jerry's talk.

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Tim Bendel of Frontier Astronautics
Next: Andrew Tubbiolo, Misuzu Onuki, Kevin Sagis

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Space Access ‘07 - Late Friday afternoon - Tim Bendel of Frontier Astronautics

Tim is President of Frontier Astronautics, based in a missile silo in Wyoming. Frontier Astronautics developing rocket engines and attitude control systems. I enjoyed a Denver Post article on Tim.

Tim showed pictures of two Boeing missles, both controlled by 1960s control. The second one had a problem and blew up. Control systems are important.

He had a video of a control which kept balanced even as children through nerf balls at them. They are working with Matsen Space Systems.

They have a simulator to help the pilot get a feel for flying.

They are also working with SpeedUp, the flying motorcycle company. Tim had a funny line about flying with just one engine. He said “The math was more difficult, but math doesn’t weigh anything.”

He talked briefly about ITAR. He encouraged people to work within the system. He said that freedom is a strength.

He showed two engines they have developed.

Frontier Astronautics is also willing to do engine testing. He showed their testing rack.

They have 50,000 square feet of floor space machine shop.

They have a shooting range.

Rand's report
Clark's report

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace
Next: Jerry Pournelle on living with bureaucracy

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Space Access ‘07 - Late Friday afternoon - John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace

John Carmack made money from various computer games. He is self funding Armadillo Aerospace. Armadillo is largely staffed by volunteers.

John started off by showing a video which showed the progress over the last couple years for Armadillo Aerospace. They have down over a hundred lifts. They have gone through three different types of fuel. The video was pretty cool. It showed Pixel left off the ground. A couple people in the video made the comment that as it started coming towards them they started to run away.

John says the video will be up on their web site soon.

John provided some numbers: They have been doing this for about six years. He has spent about half a million, most of the people are volunteers. John feels they are making excellence progress.

Next time they compete for X-Prize the legs will not break. They have done several serious tests, and the legs will not break. They have a new permit in place. Probably starting next month they’ll go to Oklahoma and test it out. He is pretty confident that things will work.

He said that even though it is an odd looking system it has a lot of propulsion. Because it is modularized there are some economies of scale. They will fly with two modules and with four modules. The four module system might make it to the 100 kilometer level.

John said all of their testing is full burn.

They found the permit process wasn’t all that bad. He felt that amount of time was acceptable for a small company and would be minimal for a larger company.

They have some customers. The plan is to get a launch license by the end of the year. They have insurance. They plan to launch!

John quoted someone that “Amateurs talk about ISP while professions talk about insurance.” John would go farther, professions talk about manufacturing methods.

They are not trying to make things perfect along the way, but perfect when they are done. They are expecting some failures, but figure they’ll learn from them. Cheaper to plan on failures and work towards perfection at the end.

He does expect the X-Prize this year. Last year they gave it a good shot, but weren’t extra lucky.

John said he can keep this funding rate up, until the bottom drops out of the video game market. With more funding they could increase double their development rate. He is happy with the rate they are going now. He is optimistic. He is hoping to carry someone to space next year.

If none of the things they are looking at work out, they can still continue to develop at the rate they have been doing. John expects there will be pretty of room for multi supplies of space transportation. He feels like they have a pretty clear path to orbital.

The video showed a three stage module stage. They are going to try two stage first. If it works they will go with it. Their current rocket has a mass ratio of three, the next generation should be able to reach a mass ratio of four.

John likes the module approach. He feels putting together up to 64 should be safe. If they hit some limit they can upscale to another size.

If they win the X-Prize they’ll use the money to build improved versions. They are pretty good on building process now. It almost sounds like they could assembly line building dozen of modules.

Points raised and answered during the Q&A:

Their capsule will be a basic box, good for ten minutes.

Their insurance is good all the way to space.

In general John doesn't believe in pre-selling a capability they don't have. When they have some thing which works, they'll build three vehicles, do a bunch of tests. One of the good things about these modules are they are so cheap to fly. There isn't much labor involved in building the modules. John's estimate is each module will cost about $25,000 per module. If go to large numbers of modules there are different manufacturing processes they could use.

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: Jim Muncy on PoliSpace
Next: Tim Bendel of Frontier Astronautics

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Space Access ‘07 - Late Friday afternoon - Jim Muncy on PoliSpace

Jim Muncy, founder and president of PoliSpace, started off saying that many have asked him at this conference why he was depressed. He explained that he has come from the cesspool of Washington DC.

Last year at the Space Access conference he said that if NASA was going to support Commercial Orbital Transportation Services or COTS, why fight NASA over Ares. Or, why fight about Orion? If we can get enough money out of NASA to support a few private companies, just let NASA go off and do what they want to do. Don’t fight them about heavy lift, cause we’re going to beat them to the moon. Doesn’t mean that we support Ares or Orion, just why fight them?

Jim said he was wrong. He had felt that we should be able to survive if NASA messed things up. They are going about an internal consistent approach, but a lot of the things we care about are getting hurt. He is no longer observing a truce. He will go over specifics. He says that some of the problem is clearly Congress’ fault.

NASA has an approach of let everyone try, see who wins. Congress says “Gee we don’t know what district the money would be spent in, come back next year.” In the way Congress works prizes do not make sense. The goal of Congress is to get 50% plus one vote. The ultimate goal is politics, not what is best for the country. Some times Congress does make reasonable decisions.
Jim is not a big fan of prizes, but they are a useful method. There problem with prizes are they opposed to how Congress works. NASA has stopped asking for money.

Jim said ISS will die because if they do get Ares and Orion working, they’ll spend so much money they won’t get to the moon.

Jim said there are other problems. He doesn’t feel NASA needs to rush through some gap in human space flight to get Ares and Orion up and working. We had other countries and private companies doing space travel. The current administrator made a decision for a schedule pull to push Ares and Orion for political reasons.

Jim said Washington shouldn’t fight companies merging. And as space companies are starting to work, it is wrong for Congress to provide more oversight.

Jim now that he got that out of his system he feels better.

There are several good things going on. There is good leadership at FAA AST. It has been fantastic that making regulations to allow travel in to space. FAA is now providing some money for space port infrastructure.

NASA may have needs for large planet missions and the Department of Defense may also have a need for large lift. But there is also a need for DoD to do fast movement with small, light cargo. Congress does recognize that there is a need quick response for the field. Maybe for a commander in the field we might want to launch a $15 million mission to get a view of what is over the next hill. Congress is also aware that with satellites might be vulnerable and it would be good to have small responsive satellites.

There is reason to hope. The people in this room are making a difference. Jim is not as optimistic as last year, but still feels positive overall.

First: Introduction
Overview: the agenda
Previous: FAA, legal issues and insurance
Next: John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace

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