### Notes for the next Mars landing

In case you've been living on a rock or lost at sea for the past few days: HFS! NASA just landed a car-sized rover on the surface of Mars with an almost comical Rube-Goldberg-like sequence of events that includes an MF sky crane.

As impressed as I am by this tremendous feat of engineering (go humans!), I can't help but think of improvements for the next time around. Here's my list of requests for the next time we make the trip to Mars:
1. Only one sky crane? Psht. This time we have TWO sky cranes! The first crane erects a launch platform, which launches the second sky crane, which then delicately lowers the lander to the surface before crashing into the first crane, pushing it safely out of the way and self-destructing a safe distance away from the rover. The launch platform then erects the US flag and blares rock-n-roll music retuned to sound awesome in the thin Martian atmosphere.
2. Land a smaller mission first, which sets up cameras at the landing site to record the landing in high-definition 3D from multiple angles. Post the video to Youtube.
3. Have the rover befriend a stow-away cockroach. The rover keeps the roach alive by feeding it twinkies. While roaming the surface gathering rock samples it stumbles upon the old Spirit rover. The new rover dusts Spirit off, fixes it up, recharges it from its own batteries, and promptly falls in love. The last image received from the mission is a distant shot of Opportunity and the new rover, hand-in-robotic-hand just about to disappear over the Martian horizon. Just to the side of the frame you can barely make out Curiosity looking on longingly. Curiosity was always so painfully shy, but why didn't it at least say hello to the new rover?
4. Two words: Val Kilmer.
5. One more word: Terraforming
6. Stickers on the new rover that say "Weyland Industries."
7. Send two spacecraft simultaneously and have them race to Mars.
8. Send a tiny capsule containing a robot. The capsule unfolds, the robot climbs out, extracts materials from the Martian surface rocks, synthesizes them into new building materials that the robot uses to build a 3D printer. The design for the latest, best rover is beamed from Earth and printed in multiple copies which spread out to all points on the compass exploring the entire surface of Mars.
9. Three more words: More sky cranes!
10. And for my favorite idea: Congress actually spends more money on science than discretionary wars in the Middle East. Instead of using drones to bomb the crap out of brown people while we take their resources, how's about we go back to the Moon, set up a way station, and then send some humans to Mars. Why would we do that? Because we humans are capable of so much more than spending all of our wealth on destroying other humans. Look at what we just did. Watch that 7 Minutes of Terror movie again, and realize that we actually did that and did it perfectly. We can do even more if we put our minds to constructive endeavors rather than destructive ones. This is not just sappy sentiment. It's an empirical fact. Com'mon people, let's do better!

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### Finding Blissful Clarity by Tuning Out

It's been a minute since I've posted here. My last post was back in April, so it has actually been something like 193,000 minutes, but I like how the kids say "it's been a minute," so I'll stick with that.
As I've said before, I use this space to work out the truths in my life. Writing is a valuable way of taking the non-linear jumble of thoughts in my head and linearizing them by putting them down on the page. In short, writing helps me figure things out. However, logical thinking is not the only way of knowing the world. Another way is to recognize, listen to, and trust one's emotions. Yes, emotions are important for figuring things out.
Back in April, when I last posted here, my emotions were largely characterized by fear, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion and despair. I say largely, because this is what I was feeling on large scales; the world outside of my immediate influence. On smaller scales, where my wife, children and friends reside, I…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…