Cuddihy's Cut

Cuddihy's Cut on the events of the day....

Monday, April 17, 2006

Oooooh I won a free play on Space Shot!

Evidently Sam read my post and already commented on it. This internet thingy is pretty fast!

I evidently got a free play by pointing out the 'finalizing . . .' bit. That's pretty neat.

Some other comments by Sam:
Our standings page is in development and should be ready by the time a player reaches the finals if not sooner.

We can only have the weather as specific as the National Weather Service Reports it. No sense in getting more granular when the NWS reports in whole degrees.

. . .

Right now, is the only way to win a trip to space for $3.50 as many as you want. No other way will have as broad a population that will be competitive in the skill.

I would definitely argue the granularity bit... Sam, you're thinking like a scientist, not a game player. If I say 50.20 and I am randomly matched up against someone who picked 50.25, I will win if the high is 50 or below. I'll lose if it's above 50 degrees.

It's not about scientific accuracy, it's about the ability to choose your proximity to the higher and lower numbers. It's about positioning.

Let me clear the air on

Just want to make it clear to anyone that finds their way to this post or the one below that on a personal level, I admire Sam Dinkin's efforts to get the rest of us to space. I admire his optimistic take on the challenges and rewards of getting spaceflight for the masses. That's one of the reasons his articles on The Space Review are usually one of my first reads of the week.

Try here.
or this one.
or this one.
or what about this classic?

Starting up a new enterprise is an enormously challenging and backbreaking endeavor. Add in vagaries like domain squatters and eclectic interests of state Attorney Generals, and it can truly be a perilous and challenging journey.

All that said, my criticisms of the gameplay of Space result from my experiences as a paying customer. In the end I can say whatever I want, but I'll put my money down to play again if I think it's worth the while of doing so. Right now I'm not there.

Trying out Space Shot

Okay, Lent's officially over, which means I get to post and surf the Internet whenever I choose.

I've been wanting to post on this topic, because it really is Space for everyone: The overall idea by Sam Dinkin is great--the best part being that it's legally accessible from all states.

So far I've tried three plays. I won once and lost twice. Here's my overall impression:

1. Domain names matter. Twice early on I tried to get to the website by typing "". Suprisingly, that takes you not to the official Space Shot website, but to a (perhaps different?) company with the message "space shot..this page under construction," with no pointers or links to the actual Space Shot website. I'm suprised that domain name wasn't also bought by Sam in an effort to ensure that everyone who tries to get to the correct website actually gets there. It'd be like not having the rights to ',' so they have to use '' instead.

2. 'Playing' it is actually not much fun. Especially when you can't try again till tomorrow. Sam Dinkin wanted to create a game where the chances of winning are the same for everyone, so that certain 'skill' players wouldn't dominate the competition and discourage beginners from trying. (See last week's article in The Space Review.) Great, that's part of the reason I was interested in trying it out. So I got the deal of 6 plays for $18 and sat down to try it out.

The first play, I picked a bunch of numbers pretty much close to the forecasted numbers. Within a few hours, I was matched up against 'Veomega.' We both picked numbers close to the forecasted highs,lows, humidities, and precipitation. I was 1/2 a degree lower than forecasted, he was 1/2 a degree higher.

Here's a confusing bit: When you pick your plays, and finalize predictions, the site says "Finalizing predictions ...", but then never lets you know that it's done. It looks like it locked up on 'Finalizing...', although if you go back to the front page, it shows the picks as actually finalized.

Then we waited...and waited.. In effect, it was a 3 day play. We picked our plays on the 8th, sat through the 9th while the weather data was collected, and couldn't actually check it out till the 10th. I certainly wasn't going to try again until I knew how the first one went.
As for the results..frustrating. Both of us were way off, the actual temperature was nearly 20 degrees higher than forecasted. Nevertheless, since I was lower than 'Veomega', he advanced and I lost.

The next time I tried it I tried a double combo 'higher' and 'lower'. I picked numbers as close to the forecasted as possible, with one higher, and the other lower, than the forecasted values. Unsuprisingly, I lost one and won the other.

So I did three plays in a week, one advancing and two losing. And to be honest, I have no real interest in continuing. Oh, I will play out my remaining hands. But I won't be paying any more money unless some changes are made.

In fact, here's the big problem--it is actually a game of chance when you get down to it, which would argue for a fast, casino style of play. But each play takes DAYS. There's no hurrying it. So, any excitement from a win is gone by the time the next play comes. There's no hope of getting a win to salvage your pride following a disappointing loss until the next play is over--that's two days from now!

3. No Standings: This is a big mistake in my book. Part of the reason I have no interest in continuing is because I have no idea where my two losses and one wins place me. How many people are at level two? how far would I have to go before I have trouble getting a match? How close are we all total to getting someone to orbit? How many would I have to win to get my name in the neon lights? Status is an important motivator. This is stuff that should be on the front page.
There's a reason most bloggers check their TTLB ecosystem standings every day. People want to know just where they stand.

4. Top frustration with single hand gameplay: In order to reduce ties, the highs and low temperatures are forced into a 'x.25 degrees', 'x.75 degrees'. But you can play out number of inches of rainfall to the hundreth of an inch. Remember, the order of competition is highest temp-->lowest temp-->rainfall-->humidity. So you have less granularity in your initial pick to tie than you do in your tiebreaker. What kind of crap is that?

As it currently is, it feels like the pace of playing the stock market, but you lose your investment entirely if you don't gain, instead of just losing a percentage of it. So here are my top three suggested improvements for Space Shot:

1. get standings on the front page, as a minimum with the levels and names of top players, along with the numbers of players at each level.

2. get the domain name for and point it to the homepage, so everybody gets there on their first try.

3. fix the 'finalizing predictions' to update when it's done so that first-time users don't think it locked up.

Here's a suggestion for the long term, if this is intended to continue beyond the initial interest phase: allow some type of game to be played that allows instant matching and feedback. This is not a simple fix, and would radically change the way space shot is structured. But as it is now, there's no real fun to playing Space Shot. The only 'fun' comes from knowing you're closer to winning that prize to space. But that's not real fun. I get closer to buying my own trip to space for every dollar I earn too. Which means Space Shot is more like work than fun--the difference being it costs you money.

For example, one way that might be fun is a 'skill' game involving an element of luck--like an online version of 'Lemonade Stand','Monopoly,' or 'Risk'. The chance could be reduced below the threshold at which it becomes a game of chance, with the advantage that feedback would be instantaneous. Losing that way is actually kind of fun.

Anyway, I think there's ways to do this better that would be more fun. The lure of eventual spaceflight, however, is far too distant with Space Shot as it currently plays.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

comments stuff

Okay, I was having problems integrating the Blogspot and Haloscan comments. I prefer Haloscan, so that's what I'm going with, as you can see below.

Friday, April 07, 2006

attacking ATK --Updated 4/10/06

The usual suspects of Big Aerospace tomfoolery, Boeing and Lockheed, appear to have been shut out of the CEV launch market. The sole source provider, ATK, is therefore in the unusual position (for ATK as compared to BLoMart)of bearing the brunt of angry alt.spacer's tinfoil hattery.

Rand first complains about the sell:
Nice bait and switch--you have to admire ATK for their marketing, if nothing else.
Okay, that's reasonable. But then he implys EELVs could have done the job if it wasn't for human rating:
And tell me again, what was the estimate to "human rate" an EELV? And more to the point, how many very juicy first, second and third prizes for low-cost crew access to LEO could three billion dollars fund?

I won't even touch the rather laughable politics of basing a federal multi-billion dollar program on the possible success of a prize-award system.

But as for human rating an ELV, is that true?

Griffen pretty clearly stated last year that if the next manned launcher was going to pass muster, it could not have multiple cores or a side-mounted crew compartment because of the increased complexity and numerous failure modes that impact surviveablity. When I get some time I'll find the studies that backed that up.

That constraint limits EELV's options to the Delta-IV and Atlas-V single core, medium versions.
Max payload for medium Delta IV, 10.3 metric ton(t) and for Atlas-V 17 t. If you follow the (usual mantra that solids are deadly --especially the ones that have explosively destroyed a mountain like Delta's--cut that medium to a no-solids medium. Now you're at 7 t for Delta and 12 t for Atlas.

That might be enough for a CEV designed by George W. Herbert, but NASA has evidently decided it needs much...much...much more, so it would seem man rating the EELV is not the issue here--it's uprating and manrating.

As for the tin hat part:
Also, for any enterprising muckraising space journalists out there, this has been a juicy scandal waiting to happen, what with Scott Horowitz' recent job change, and all. Moreover, it could potentially be one that kills the Satay (or as Henry Spencer calls it, Porklauncher I).
okay, now we're implying a Darleen Dryun size contractor steering scandal--maybe an inflation of costs to improve ATK profit. At first glance, seems plausible. After all, Scott Horowitz moved directly from developing the plan at NASA to selling the plan at ATK to managing the Exploration systems that will buy the ATK booster. Fishy fishy fishy, right?

Here's the reality of that--unlike with Boeing's scandal, there is no existing system that could fulfill NASA's requirements for cheaper. (Darleen Dryun was getting the Pentagon to overpay for renting KC-737s when it would have been cheaper to buy them outright.) In fact, there's no existing system that can fulfill NASAA's requirements anyway, which is why ATK is going to be awarded a single-source contract to help with the new launcher booster with little fuss.

As for the Horowitz connection, Scott Horowitz developed the CLV plan at the JSC spaceflight office when it became apparent that OSP was not going to go anywhere(2001 timeframe), but O'Keefe refused to make any movement on a new launcher, which is why Horowitz left for ATK(in 2004). Griffin then brought Horowitz back to NASA after he became the new administrator (late 2005). In other words, Horowitz got the ATK job offer after O'Keefe had declined to pursue the idea(in 2001). It was Griffin who brought Horowitz back.
That's not steering government contracts to a specific contractor to the disadvantage of the government(as with Boeing). That's getting the contractor on board with governmental intentions.

Second of all, as I said in the comments on Rand's site,
the original estimate for the CEV mods was assuming 2 things
1. a 4 segment SRB w/ one J2S or J2X and
2. a lighter CEV.

When ESMD said the CEV had to be nearly 20 t, that mandated a 2-J2 or 1-SSME soln instead; the airstart SSME, while reasonable at first glance, was on the whole a dead-end, which is why it was dropped in favor of the more architecture-friendly J2X.

So it would seem the root cause of the problem here is the excessive weight of the CEV, not a Darleen Dryun style conflict of interest.

Rand replied in his comments that
No one said that the root cause was the appearance of the conflict of interest. Nonetheless, there is an appearance of a conflict of interest.
um, I'd say the quote above pretty clearly suggest malfeasance of some sort, not merely the appearance of it. Nor will something so thin in any way affect the politics of the CLV.

Updated 4/08/06 to add the Horowitz NASA-->ATK-->NASA timeline.
Updated 4/10/06 to correct spelling of Griffin's name and abbrev. for metric tons.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

There's no such thing as an incrementally tested space launcher

I didn't realize how hard it is to stay off the internet. I've already messed up a few times during the last work week--now here it is on the weekend, when I should be catching up, and it's not until Sunday night when I can find some time to blog around a little bit.

I admit, first of all, that I fell off the Lent non-blogging wagon on wednesday to comment on Rand's blog, on the SpaceX failure.

Blogging is all about responsiveness, so when I can't legitimately post on a subject till the weekend, I'm not sure there's much point in sounding off about it. But it's definitely a challenge not to respond to things I think are off the deep end.

Like the meme about SpaceX's chosen method that has been forwarded by quite a few members of the space blogosphere: namely, that ELVs are more prone to failure than a launcher that you can 'test incrementally.' as opposed to one you 'have to test all-up.'

I'd like to point to statistics proving this to be a fallacy, but I can't. Those statistics don't exist.

Because, of course, there never has been a working RLV space launcher built, and there won't be for a long time. I would estimate at this point that breakeven on controlled nuclear fusion is closer to implementation (hey--we're just 20 years away!) than a fully reusable launch vehicle.

So, space vehicles you can test incrementally, rather than all-up are less prone to failure? Woop dee doo. I'm sure the East Indian Tea Company had people telling them it'd be quicker to sail to India through the Northwest passage than around Cape Horn. Until somebody did it though, the smart money kept sending ships around Africa. In fact, the ships still go around Africa.

The point is that, reusable, incrementally tested vehicles run into many of the same problems that incrementally tested ones do. Sometimes worse ones. Incremental testing probably wouldn't have prevented a fuel leak. A fire that depressurized the helium system 200 feet up would still have crashed the rocket. The difference is if it had been resuable, the rocket would have been much more expensive.

The truth is that a resuable vehicle would have taken longer to test, would have cost more money to design and build, and would have been more disasterous when it crashed.

Musk probably would have gotten out of the launch business by last Thursday if that had been a $700 million dollar fully reusable Falcon 1.

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