Philosophy instructor, recreational writer, humorless vegetarian.
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okay okay, I'm allowed to change the images once every twenty years. but that's IT

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February 1st, 2023next

February 1st, 2023: Twenty years! I started this comic on February 1st 2003 and now it's February 1st 2023! WHAT EVEN IS GOING ON??

Honestly though, this is incredible, and I'm so grateful for everyone who reads my work. I've said this to friends before, but I'll say it publicly now too: if you ever want to mess with me, going back to February 1st 2003 and preventing me from putting this comic up would absolutely rewrite my entire life. Writing Dinosaur Comics has led to so many amazing things - not just meeting readers, not just seeing plush versions of T-Rex go up to the edge of space or to Antarctica (both places I would love to go but am highly unlikely to, but hey, if I can't go at least real-life instantiations of fictional dinosaurs I made up can make the trip!), but all sorts of incredible work too. I mean, heck, you can trace a direct line between me sending an upload command to my FTP client in 2003 and everything I've done since, and if you told me back then that "hey, the Dinosaur Comics guy is going to write Star Trek comics and adopt Vonnegut into comics too and write bestselling (and non-fiction!) guides to both time travel and taking over the world and, oh, let's say be the new writer for the Fantastic Four AND MORE" I would've said "What?! I would like to be the Dinosaur Comics guy, thank you so much."

I was talking to Chris "Achewood" Onstad the other day - fitting, since his was the only webcomic I knew of when I started mine - and we talked a bit about our relationships to our work. There are those who hate to be known as "the x guy", because we're all so much more complex than a single piece of work. True! All true. But we agreed we love when people call us "The x Guy" because so much of who we are IS in our work, and we don't need a single thing to represent us. It's all us! And we're happy you like it.

To celebrate 20 years I thought, okay, maybe I'll change the pictures just this once. I fired up a virtual machine running Windows XP which ITSELF was tweaking its settings to run Windows 95, which ITSELF was running the Windows 3.1 software I first used in the last few days of January to make myself a comics layout, and started playing around. (Incidentally, the comic's still laid out in MS Paint, but the version that came with XP - they fixed a font-rendering thing in the newer versions that would make my comics look different, so HERE WE ARE.) After 20 years I'm allowed to change the images BRIEFLY. And only once!!

The world of online comics is very different from how it was when I started - there's been a huge shift towards social media - functioning effectively as an aggregator - and a huge shift away from people actually visiting websites. But I love websites, and I think they give us the healthiest, most free version of the web, and I hope 20 years from now the only way to connect with other people won't be through a corporate or algorithmically-mediated platform. I don't know if Dinosaur Comics will be around 20 years from now (I'm 40 now! I'm not invincible anymore! I don't know if I'LL be around 20 years from now!) but I hope the answer to "will Dinosaur Comics be around in 20 years and will Ryan be around too?" is "yes" to both. (And if the answer is "yes" to the former but not the latter, I am EXTREMELY CURIOUS to know how that was made to happen.)

I asked you all ideas for the 20th anniversary, and got some great suggestions - and the one I loved the most was to provide ONE MORE CLUE to the Qwantzle. Way back in 2010 I posted a comic with an encoded secret message in it, and I really thought it would get solved quickly, despite its complexity. It didn't. So I increased the prize bounty and offered more clues over the next few weeks, and people like Ell built neat tools to help solve it but still nobody got the answer. And while I am THRILLED to have something I can take to my grave (and/or put instructions in my will to publish the answer to, the jury's still out on which is the more baller move) I agreed that a fun way to celebrate 20 years was to offer one more clue to this decade-old puzzle.

SO! Solve what T-Rex is saying in the final panel of this comic and you'll win ANY FIVE THINGS you want from my store (the prize used to be 2 shirts and a giant T-Rex plush, but those are sold out now!). You can see the existing hints here, and the new hint is....

The final letter is "w".

That's it, I hope this helps, and if it doesn't hit me up in 20 years and I'll see what I can do!!

– Ryan

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3 days ago
The pictures changed!

The first publication I ever got paid for was a story in a collection inspired by a Dinosaur Comic. 10 years ago! I can't believe there have been as many comics since that happy day as there were before it.
Saint Paul, MN, USA
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Be Mad

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11 days ago
Saint Paul, MN, USA
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Lost Media: Finding Bill Clinton’s “Boxers or Briefs” MTV Moment

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Yesterday, I saw a tweet that seemed so obviously wrong, it made me wonder if it was just clickbait.

But after digging through Google, YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, C-SPAN, and the Twitter archives myself, it seemed to be true: an iconic moment of ’90s political pop culture appeared to be completely missing from the internet.

Boxers or Briefs

If you were alive in the early ’90s, there’s a good chance you remember this moment.

During MTV’s “Choose or Lose” campaign coverage in the early ’90s, Bill Clinton promised to return to MTV if elected by the channel’s young voters. As promised, a little over a year into his first term, he appeared on MTV’s Enough is Enough on April 19, 1994, a town hall-style forum with 200 16- to 20-year-olds focused on violence in America, and particularly the 1994 crime bill being debated at the time.

Toward the end of the 90 minute broadcast, during a series of rapid-fire audience questions, 17-year-old Tisha Thompson asked a question that seemed to surprise and embarrass Clinton:

Q. Mr. President, the world’s dying to know, is it boxers or briefs? [Laughter] [Applause]

Clinton: Usually briefs. [Laughter] I can’t believe she did that.

That question got a ridiculously outsized amount of attention at the time. The Washington Post called him the “Commander In Briefs.” It was covered in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, and countless others. It was the subject of late-night talk show monologues, and Clinton himself joked about it at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner later that week.

Over the following years, the “boxers or briefs” question became the “Free Bird” of the campaign trail, posed to Newt Gingrich (“that is a very stupid question, and it’s stupid for you to ask that question”), Bernie Sanders (“briefs”), and then-candidate Barack Obama: “I don’t answer those humiliating questions. But whichever one it is, I look good in ’em!”

Nearly 30 years later, the original clip is shockingly hard to find online. Someone on Reddit linked to a version of the video on YouTube, but the account was terminated. C-SPAN has a different clip from the show, as well as a searchable transcript, but not the clip itself.

As of right now, before I publish this post, it’s extremely hard to find online — but not impossible, because I found it, and here it is.

How I Found It

Among its voluminous archives of web pages, books, and other media, the Internet Archive stores a huge number of U.S. TV news videos, clips from over 2,470,000 shows since 2009. You can search the closed captions, and view short video clips from the results.

Their search engine is a little quirky, but more than good enough to find several news talk shows who rebroadcast the clip over the last few years, typically to poke fun at Bill Clinton. I searched for the exact quoted phrases from the original interview, and found 14 clips that mentioned it from shows like Hardball with Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.

Only one of the clips included the full question and answer, and didn’t overlay any graphics on the video, from an episode of Up w/Steve Kornicki on March 15, 2014.

The Internet Archive will let you stream the short clips, but there’s no option to download the video itself, and unfortunately, it frequently won’t show the exactly the moment you’re searching for. (This is probably an issue with alignment of closed captions and source videos.)

That said, you can edit the timestamp in the video URL. Every video result page has a URL with something like “/start/2190/end/2250” in the URL. This is the start and end timestamp in seconds, which you can adjust manually. (There appears to be a three-minute limit to clip length, so if you get an error, make sure you’re not requesting longer than that.)

Once you’ve found what you like, you can download it using Chrome Dev Tools:

  1. First, start and then pause the video.
  2. In Chrome, use Option-Command-C to open the element inspector in Chrome Dev Tools.
  3. Highlight and click on the paused video.
  4. In the Chrome Dev Tools window, right-click on the <video> tag and choose Open In New Tab.
  5. The video will now be in a dedicated tab. Hit Ctrl-S (Command-S on Mac) to save the video, or select “Save Page As…” from the File menu.

After that, I just cropped the clip and uploaded it to my site, and YouTube for good measure. If you have a better quality version, please send it to me.

That’s it! The Internet Archive is an amazing and under-utilized resource, poorly indexed in Google, but absolutely filled with incredible things.

Screenshot of Up w/Steve Kornicki broadcast from March 15, 2014
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12 days ago
Internet Archive ftw
Saint Paul, MN, USA
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Methodology Trial

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If you think THAT'S unethical, you should see the stuff we approved via our Placebo IRB.
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16 days ago
Saint Paul, MN, USA
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16 days ago
If you think THAT'S unethical, you should see the stuff we approved via our Placebo IRB.

Dragonfly mission heads toward PDR, element fabrication from Lockheed Martin set to begin

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Dragonfly, NASA’s unique robotic exploration mission using a rotorcraft to fly a science laboratory around the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan, is continuing to march through its preliminary design steps.

Rotor design and testing for the craft as well as Preliminary Design Reviews (PDRs) from Lockheed Martin on the subsystem portions of their contracted elements for Dragonfly are all proceeding ahead of the overall mission-level PDR slated for February 2023.

The Mission

The Dragonfly mission, proposed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), was selected by NASA as the fourth New Frontiers program flight on June 27, 2019.

After arriving on Titan, Dragonfly will fly itself from exploration point to exploration point across a portion of Saturn’s moon. It will utilize vertical takeoffs and landings, a capability recently tested on an extraterrestrial world for the first time by the Ingenuity rotorcraft that rode along to Mars with the Perseverance rover in 2020.

The dual-quadcopter design of Dragonfly, seen in this artist’s render (left to right) in the arrival, landing, and operational phases of its mission on Titan. (Credit: NASA)

Dragonfly will enable an astrobiology mission to assess Titan’s microbial habitability and study its prebiotic chemistry. The mobile nature of the mission will allow sampling from numerous geologically diverse sites.

Titan is a prime target for astrobiologists due to its abundance of complex carbon-rich chemistry and the fact that liquid hydrocarbons exist on its surface. Liquid hydrocarbons hold the possibility of forming a prebiotic primordial soup – a leading theory for how life first emerged on Earth.

But to perform its mission, Dragonfly first needs to be built and then safely delivered to Titan.

Getting to Titan

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the design, fabrication, and testing of Dragonfly’s cruise stage as well as the aeroshell, backshell, and thermal protection systems. These will be utilized during the mission’s cruise and nail-biting entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phases.

The aeroshell will, in part, protect Dragonfly from the extreme conditions of interplanetary space during the planned approximately six-and-a-half-year cruise out to Titan.

One item that mission designers have to contend with at this stage of planning is the fact that the launch vehicle has not yet been selected, and the launch vehicle ultimately chosen will dictate the precise transit time from Earth to the Saturnian system.

While generalized timelines can be assessed and presented to launch companies by NASA for mission needs, the exact duration of an interplanetary cruise depends on several factors. These include the total amount of energy the launch vehicle can impart to the payload, which interplanetary window (if more than one is available) is chosen to launch within, and the exact day in that window that the launch occurs.

Regardless, it will be a long cruise, and that presents challenges over past missions that have used interplanetary aeroshell cruise stages — mainly those that have delivered rovers to Mars.

“One of the challenges to this mission is that we’re using the heat overall that’s generated by the lander’s power system to heat the whole spacecraft,” said Dave Buecher, Lockheed Martin Dragonfly program manager, in an interview with NASASpaceflight.

“From a heating and control side, that heat is pumped up from the lander, through the aeroshell, and up to the cruise stage. And there’s radiators and thermal control onboard the cruise stage to help modulate the temperature of the different elements.”

That generated heat from Dragonfly’s radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) can then be dispersed into space by the cruise stage’s radiators if it is not needed. Conversely, the radiators can be shut down if the heat needs to be retained.

Another major function of the cruise stage will be long-range communications back with Earth.

The cruise stage will be outfitted with antennas capable of talking to the Deep Space Network at the necessary bit rates when dealing with distances out to Saturn – which at minimum are 1.2 billion kilometers with a minimum signal delay time of 66.7 minutes one way.

Nonetheless, communication will be controlled by Dragonfly itself as the rotorcraft serves as the “brains” of the mission even during the cruise phase.

In addition, spin-stabilization rates, attitude, and orbital trajectories will be controlled via a series of thrusters.

This propulsion system will also allow for precise alignment with the entry corridor into Titan’s atmosphere. Like Mars lander missions from NASA, Dragonfly will perform a direct entry into Titan’s atmosphere and will not enter into orbit around the moon or Saturn beforehand.

Arrival at Titan

Following the cruise phase, Lockheed Martin’s aeroshell will separate from the cruise stage and protect Dragonfly and the various landing systems upon entry into Titan’s atmosphere.

While a similar aeroshell design to those of the Mars rover missions will be utilized for Dragonfly, its entry characteristics into Titan’s atmosphere will differ greatly from those of its Martian counterparts.

Per Lockheed Martin, one of the interesting elements in terms of EDL planning for Dragonfly is that Titan’s atmospheric pressure is about one-and-a-half times that of Earth’s, a stark contrast to the scant atmosphere of Mars when also compared to Earth.

A preliminary mission timeline for the cruise phase and entry operations. Final timings and trajectory are dependent on the launch vehicle selected. (Credit: NASA)

“They’re grossly different atmospheres,” related Buecher. “Also, the gravity on Titan isn’t the same as Mars; it’s about one-eighth of a g whereas Mars is about three-eighths of a g. So you have low gravity and a dense atmosphere.”

“That’s going to slow that entry body down even more” even though the “entry mechanics, the pressure poles, and some of the heating [are] actually very similar to the two because they’re so dynamic, they’re coming in so fast supersonically.”

To this end, the aeroshell’s basic design for the heating regime is very similar to what Lockheed Martin has used on past Mars missions.

“We will use PICA on the heatshield and something called super light ablator on the backshell, same that we used on the Mars 2020 and MSL missions,” noted Buecher.

However, Lockheed Martin must design the structural components of the aeroshell differently from Mars missions due to Dragonfly’s planned mass and its destination’s thicker, denser atmosphere.

“The structural loads are a little bit different, and that’s partly due to the mass of the payload, i.e. the lander that we’re bringing in, but also what our angle of attack is coming into the planet and the size of the parachutes and the constant dynamics of it going through the atmosphere,” explained Buecher.

The denser atmosphere compared to Mars allows the mission to slow down more during the aerobraking portion of entry. This means smaller parachutes are needed to effect a landing on Titan compared to the ones needed at Mars.

Smaller parachutes equal lower loads to the aeroshell during parachute deployment and descent.

However, the denser atmosphere and the mission-specific requirements to release Dragonfly – after its rotors are active – for the craft to fly itself the final few meters to Titan’s surface means the aeroshell and backshell have to perform a much longer descent compared to Mars missions.

At Mars, the EDL sequence takes roughly seven minutes from atmospheric entry to touchdown. Landing on Titan for Dragonfly will take approximately 105 minutes based on current mission plans.

“We had to think about temperature,” said Buecher. “Titan is a cryogenic moon. So some of the things we’re having to evaluate are the temperature side in a lot more criticality because we’ll hang on the parachute much longer. We’ll hang on to it about an hour and a half versus about two minutes on Mars if that.”

These factors necessitated studies into the thermal environment’s effect on different materials and elements on Lockheed Martin’s portions of the mission.

Dragonfly on the surface of Titan. (Credit: NASA; Johns Hopkins APL)

These studies will likewise feed decisions on what needs to be insulated or heated or completely changed out based on the expected thermal environments during the Titan landing.

Current Status

Heading into the mission’s overall PDR in February, Lockheed Martin has completed its subsystems PDRs for the aeroshell, backshell, and cruise stage, and has also completed an internal PDR for the EDL portion of the mission.

The PDR process ensures that early design decisions meet overall mission and safety requirements.

With those PDRs behind them, Lockheed Martin teams are moving into the detailed design phase for various structural elements that will need to be fabricated and tested.

“We received the layout molds that we’ll go and build the aeroshell with,” noted Buecher. “Those arrived back in October, and we’re pretty excited to have the first big hardware delivery because they set the stage for the size and shape of the aeroshell.”

Flight material procurements will also be in work this year, all of which leads to Lockheed Martin’s Critical Design Review later this year.

The Dragonfly mission is currently targeted to launch by June 2027 for arrival at Titan in 2034.

(Lead image: Artist’s impression of Dragonfly on Titan’s surface. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL)

The post Dragonfly mission heads toward PDR, element fabrication from Lockheed Martin set to begin appeared first on

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21 days ago
Hell yeah! A solid, concrete reason to want to live to see 2034.
Saint Paul, MN, USA
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Why a Philosopher’s Racist Email from 26 Years Ago is News Today

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Influential Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, well-known for his work on philosophical questions related to ethics, the future, and technology (existential risk, artificial intelligence, simulation), posted an apology for a blatantly racist email he sent to a listserv 26 years ago.

You can read his apology, which includes the text of the original message, here.

In the original message, which appeared in a thread concerning offensiveness, Bostrom complains that the statement “Blacks are more stupid than whites” (about which he says in the message “I like that sentence and think it is true”) would be mistakenly interpreted as racist. He then, in the same message, conveys that the reason he thinks that it would be interpreted as racist is that it would be seen as “synonynous” with using a racial slur to declare one’s hate for black people.

To put things in an understated way, one thing to conclude about this is that in 1997, Nick Bostrom did not have a good understanding of racism. Nor of good communication norms.

What about the Nick Bostrom of today? In his apology, he writes:

I completely repudiate this disgusting email from 26 years ago. It does not accurately represent my views, then or now. The invocation of a racial slur was repulsive. I immediately apologized for writing it at the time, within 24 hours; and I apologize again unreservedly today. I recoil when I read it and reject it utterly.

Philosophers especially are likely to read this as an unsatisfactory apology, as “it does not accurately represent my views” is a hedge when “it” refers to a composite statement. What Bostrom says following this, attempting to describe his current views on race and intelligence and eugenics, doesn’t help. People might conclude, again putting it in an understated way, that even the Nick Bostrom of 2023 does not have a good understading of racism or communication norms.

I don’t know Bostrom. I learned of his apology via someone forwarding me a thread on Twitter from Anders Sandberg on January 11th. But I didn’t post about it until now. Why? Part of the answer is that I thought there might be concerns about whether this should be news. Sure, that someone relatively well-known said something horrible a couple of decades ago is, as a matter of contemporary media practice, news. That fact is what prompted Bostrom to come clean about his old email, as is clear from the opening of his statement (“somebody has been digging through the archives of the Extropians listserv with a view towards finding embarrassing materials to disseminate about people”). But, unless it’s directly related to something else newsworthy now, one might ask, is this what we think news outlets should be talking about? On the one hand, it seems good that there are social forces that can influence people to confront their past mistakes. On the other hand, in the world of the internet, confronting one’s past mistakes in anything but an introspective manner puts one at risk of mass condemnation, the effects of which may be disproportionately severe.

I understand this concern. To be clear, the question is not some general one about whether people should be held accountable for bad things they’ve done in the distant past. Rather, it’s the more specific one of whether the news should direct pretty much everyone’s attention to the fact that someone said something terrible a long time ago. It would seem that it would have to have some connection to something else that is or should be getting attention now.

So what is that connection? I have seen some philosophers attempt to make connections between the views Bostrom expressed in his 1997 message and current positions he has taken or areas of philosophical work in which he has been involved. Some of this has struck me as on a par with conspiracy theorizing.

I think that the newsworthiness of this has little to do with the views of Nick Bostrom of 2023. Rather, it has to do, in part, with racism in general and specifically in philosophy. The philosophy world is still grappling with racism in various forms, with the racism of some philosophically important historical figures, with scholars taking “race science” seriously, with the underrepresentation of blacks in the discipline, and so on. That a philosopher who publicly expressed repulsively racist views, even a long time ago, was able to gain such a prominent position in philosophy tells us something about what philosophy has been like, and that seems worth our attention.

P.S. The story is now breaking into mainstream media, and is no longer confined to Twitter (on which, to remind people, very few of the total number of philosophers in the world are active); it has shown up in publications such as ViceDaily Beast (picked up by Yahoo News), and The Times.



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22 days ago
I only know of Bostrom through his publications, but I have noticed before that conversations with longtermists often have a similar frustrating/pointless feel as conversations with Andrew Sullivan-style "follow-the-science" racists 20 years ago.

I'm bummed to see this connection is literally true in Bostrom's case. A lot of his work is great for giving Intro students easy access to the mind-bending experience of good philosophy. It'll still do that, of course. But it would be nice if there were more philosophers who aren't assholes.
Saint Paul, MN, USA
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