Monday, January 7, 2019

An alternative to a border wall

There is a lot of hoopla over Trump’s border wall.  Personally, I don’t support it.  Even if Mexico was paying for it, I’d still say it was a waste of money.  Mainly because walls just drive people to find ways to go over, under, around, or through them.  I think even during the campaign there was a point where Trump admitted that ladders could be used to get over his wall.  Hell, a couple of weeks ago I saw a video on Facebook of some Mexican politician who climbed a section of the existing wall and just sat on top of it.  A wall is just an obstacle to be overcome. 

The other night I was thinking about this, and I wondered if there was a better solution.  What I came up with was barbed wire.  Now this isn’t the kind you see keeping cows in pastures, but the kind they used in World War 1.  They used a deep, mass thicket of wire.  (Here’s a YouTube video talking about it.) Putting up a twenty yard deep tangle of barbed wire would probably be cheaper and faster than building a wall.

The way the armies got through the wire in World War 1 were prolonged artillery barrages and tanks; two things people running through the desert don’t have.  Yes, people could use wire cutters, but if you make the thing dense and wide enough, there’s no way they could get through it without being discovered by drones or regular patrols.  Also, a bomb powerful enough to put a hole in a wall large enough for a person to slip through would do nothing to a tangle of barbed wire.

Now in World War 1 the wire was often used to funnel people into spots where they could be mowed down with machine guns.  And while there are some people who would be okay with that on the border, especially if they are serious with the “invasion” language they often use, I’d say don’t make a funnel, just have a solid defense. 

So, if a tangle of barbed wire would be cheaper, faster, more resilient, and more of a deterrent, why does Trump have his heart set on a wall?

Monday, December 3, 2018

How old does a coin need to be before you collect it?

When I was in high school and college, if I ever found a coin minted in 1976 – my birth year – I would keep it.  And if I found a Wheat Penny, or any coin minted during WWII, I’d be overjoyed.  But after college, my nascent coin collecting died down.  I know my first couple of years of State Quarters went to doing laundry. 

For the last couple of years I’ve had a retail job to pay the bills.  The worst aspect of it is having to stand behind a register for hours at a time dealing with customers.  But it has allowed me to see some old coins.  Now if I see a 1976 quarter, I treat it just like a regular quarter.  And if I see a Wheat Penny, I’ll probably set it aside, but only to give it out as change to an older customer or perhaps a kid.  Someone who might get a kick out of it.  Even coins that I happen to see are from the 1940’s don’t elicit a reaction. 

What prompted this post was that last week, just after starting my shift, I saw something odd in the nickels.  At first I thought it was a foreign coin which I collect as long as they’re from someplace exotic, meaning not Canada.  The reason I thought it was foreign was because it had a big “V” on the back of it.  But when I picked it up, I could read “United States of America.” Turning it over I saw that it was a 1912 Liberty Head Nickel.  A 106 year old coin?  That’s mine.  (Don’t worry, I didn’t steal it.  I traded it for a 1997 nickel.) 

This got me wondering.  When I was in my teens and earlier twenties, was I excited by a fifty year old coin because it was “super” old?  Like, does a coin have to be more than twice your current age to be worth collecting?  Because if I found a 1934 coin – making it 84 years old, or twice my current age – it would be cool, but I don’t know if I’d go gaga over it.  But a coin from the 1920’s or earlier, yeah.  I never thought about it before, but I wonder if anyone else has come up with a similar rule of thumb.


I have two side notes from this.  The first is that I also once found a 1934 $10 “Silver Certificate.” I had one of the managers set it aside – I only had like $5 in my wallet that day – and I exchanged a modern $10 bill for it the next day.  I wanted it just for the “Silver Certificate” not because it just so happens to be twice my current age.  (Actually, I think I found it last year, so it would have been more than twice my previous age.)

Anyway, the one thing I’m wondering is, “Who is spending these old coins?” I mean, my Liberty Head Nickel might be worth a couple of bucks if I cared enough to try to sell it, but I’d never spend it as … a nickel.  I almost wonder if it’s someone who hated their dad – perhaps he spent more time with his coin collection than at their ballgames – and so after he died they’re spending them just as a giant middle finger to him.  Fortunately, I don’t have any kids.  My nieces and nephews will get to fight over – or spend – my meager collection.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Grab two ebooks for free!

This Friday marks the 49th anniversary of when humans first landed on the moon.  As someone who supports lunar exploration (last year I announced my Stephen L. Thompson Lunar Exploration Prize) I wanted to do something to mark the occasion.  Therefore, from now through Saturday, you will be able to grab my two books dealing with the moon for free.

Hopefully, in the not too distant future humans will return to the moon. We will build bases and colonies, make farms and factories, and live, love and learn. “A Cabin Under a Cloudy Sea and other stories” contains five of my short stories that are all set upon the moon. They give the tiniest glimpse of the possibilities awaiting us there.

Over the last few years a lot of people have caught Mars fever. It seems a week doesn’t go by without a report of some new group wanting to send people to Mars, or some big name in the industry talking about why we have to go to Mars, or articles talking about the glorious future humanity will have on Mars. All of this worries me. In my opinion, a Mars base is currently not sustainable because there’s no way for it to make money. A few missions may fly doing extraordinary science, but if it’s then cancelled for cost the whole Mars Project may just be seen as an expensive stunt.

Fortunately, there are other places in the solar system besides Mars. While bases on the moon and amongst the asteroids won’t be as inspirational as one on Mars, they will have opportunities for businesses to make goods and services as well as profits, meaning less chance of them being outright cancelled. This will make life better on Earth and secure a firm foothold in space for humanity. The essays in “The Moon Before Mars: Why returning to the moon makes more sense than rushing off to Mars” allow me to describe my ideas on what can be accomplished on the moon and with the asteroids, and why Mars isn’t the destiny of humanity its cheerleaders make it out to be.