Jeff Wolfe's Weblog

Saturday, August 30, 2003

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY - It's raining again. I'm not talking about "Darn, I have to get out my umbrella again" rain, I'm talking "Near zero visibility when you drive, even with the wipers on maximum, and God help you if you have to stop" rain. It's been like this for weeks. The other day, we had flash-flooding in my neighborhood, and it took me half an hour to find a street clear enough to drive through to get home. I've lived in this neighborhood for 15 years, and that's the first time I've seen that happen. I'm ready for it to stop, already.

Friday, August 15, 2003

THE BLAME GAME - Slashdot has an item entitled Deregulation and Niagara Mohawk - Is There a Story? that asks about the role of deregulation in the recent blackout. The item contains links to articles that include the following quotes: "(The Niagara Mohawk power grid) is scheduled to request a rate hike," and "Deregulation [has] changed the laws and regulations governing the electricity industry...."

In the first case, if they have to request a rate hike from regulators, then they obviously haven't been deregulated, just differently regulated. In the second case, the quote explicitly says that the industry is still regulated--but the regulations have been "changed."

The concept of "deregulation" is a curious thing. It would seem reasonable to conclude that "deregulation" means that the regulations governing a company or industry are removed to force and allow the company or industry to compete under market rules. In practice, however, "deregulation" means no such thing. The way "deregulation" is almost always used (at implementation time, anyway) is to mean changing the way in which a company or industry is regulated. The so-called "deregulation" is usually implemented in a way that gives an immediate benefit the company involved (which is why they favor it), with at least lip service given to some form of "competition," although that competition is usually "managed" (i.e. tightly regulated). When a new regulation scheme thus implemented causes problems, then "deregulation" is blamed, with the connotation changed to mean "removing government controls," when the fact is that no such deregulation took place.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

SEA CHANGE IN SPACE - NASA today announced that they could launch the next space shuttle mission as early as March 11. By that time, human spaceflight looks to be quite a bit different than it is now. We could very well see three or four groups launching manned space missions before NASA manages to recover from its latest disaster.

There's the Russian launch of the next International Space Station crew, currently scheduled for October. But the Chinese government may also have a manned mission in October, the first ever by that country. And in a true sign of the changing state of space travel, the X Prize Foundation is saying that they expect a winner before the end of the year.

Since winning the X Prize involves the same spacecraft making two suborbital flights in two weeks, we could very well see several teams make attempts before the prize is claimed. And even after the prize is claimed, those teams which are working toward a commercially viable product will be pushing to get into space so their investments will pay off for themselves and their backers.

NASA hasn't proven very adaptable in its history, but it will have to adapt if it is to thrive in the new world of manned space travel. It's no longer even close to being the only game in town.