Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Microsoft Is Infamous Throughout the Universe

Or at least in low earth orbit. Listening in on NASA TV a moment ago, I heard an astronaut reporting on some troubleshooting procedures he had accomplished. When the ground controller questioned him on whether one ultimately successful procedure had gone smoothly, he replied that had in fact had to do several power-ups, and got "the blue screen of death" a couple of times. A genuine LOL moment.

I'm sure the astronauts will be able to download a patch from Microsoft.

Of course, if the shuttle were running on Mac systems, it would be three times as expensive and wouldn't be able to perform 2/3 of the experiments, but it would have really user-friendly controls and would be painted a fabulous shade of electric blue.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

It's a Good Day to Go to Space

The space shuttle Discovery launched flawlessly this morning. With the increased emphasis on diagnostic care of the orbiter, NASA mounted additional cameras on and around the vehicle, which provided the world with new images of the shuttle's ascent into space. In addition to the unique perspective of the coast of Florida shriking away as the curvature of the earth comes into view, the camera mounted to the external fuel tank also provided a great shot of the shuttle flying away from the tank after main engine cutoff.

If you're so inclined, NASA TV has nearly continuous coverage of mission control and orbiter activities.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Fire the Headline Editor

"Health Officials Puzzle Over Abortion Pill Deaths in California."

Not to be crass about it or anything, but that's precisely what the pill is supposed to bring about.

Even more tragically, of course, the story actually concerns expectant mothers who died after taking the pill.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Follow Up to a Train Crash

Some time ago I wrote about a local train crash. One of the factors that may have made the event more dangerous, and ultimately more deadly, was the fact that the cars were pushed by the engine. An inherently less stable arrangement, it also exposes the lead car to whatever danger may lie upon the tracks.

Hearings are currently ongoing in Sacramento before a special committee established by the local assemblyman to investigate rail safety. The "push-pull" practice is one of the main points of discussion. Unfinished federal studies have been cited for the proposition that the same number of injuries and deaths could have occurred due to spilled and ignited fuel. However, another federal report apparently states that safety is slightly increased when the cars are pulled by the locomotive. It does not appear that the science of the issue is resolved:

Paul J. Hedlund, a mechanical engineer and attorney who is representing Siebers, Wiley and Toby [lawsuit plaintiffs], testified that "pulling trains with locomotives is not a magic bullet.''

He said, however, that "it is hard to imagine that there would have been any deaths and injuries on Jan. 26 had the train been pulled.''

I've pushed enough of Michael's Thomas trains around to know that a pusher is simply not as stable as a puller. Physics is physics, right?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"One Small Step ..."

Apollo 11 landed 36 years ago today. You can see the landing sites of all the Apollo missions here. Be sure to zoom in all the way to see the moon surface up close.

I wish the space program entralled the world now the way it did then. (I wish anything enthralled the world now the way the lunar landings did then.) The accomplishments of NASA in the 1960s (and, truth be told, the USSR as well) are breathtaking in this post-Challenger/Columbia era. Did it make a lot of financial sense to go to the moon? Well, perhaps not. But I would like to believe that humanity did itself proud by the effort, and that many useful products and technologies resulted as well. I marvel nearly every time that I use my cell phone that I probably have nearly as much computing power in that little device as did a typical landing module. The men who climbed aboard those huge rockets were tremendously brave, and were supported by legions of extraordinarily bright people who also had the vision necessary to forge ahead to accomplish their goals.

Personally, I'm still geeky about the space program. I got up early to watch the Columbia shuttle launch for the first time in 1980. I got up very early to try to see that same Columbia fly overhead in February 2003 on the rumor that it might be visible in our area (after not seeing it, I ran inside in the pre-dawn hours to pick up the NASA TV feed on the computer, only to come to the stomach-dropping realization along with the engineers that the shuttle was gone). Making a spontaneous trip to Edwards AFB to see one of the rare California landings of the shuttle was one of the most exciting, memorable things I have ever done.

Recklessness in space exploration for the sake of swagger is not something to be desired, but NASA could stand to be a little less management driven and more goal (i.e., let's go somewhere and accomplish something) motivated. JPL seems to carry that torch now, as they have the luxury of not putting human lives at risk. The Explorer and Odyssey rovers have been a phenomenal success, but how many of us realize that those vehicles are still traipsing around on the surface of Mars, still sending back data, still uncovering answers to questions we didn't know enough to ask?

I hope humanity (and by default, it seems, the US) continues to embrace the seemingly inborn desire to explore space, risky thought it certainly will be.

"He's dead, Jim"

This is a sad day for Star Trek fans. Scotty has died.

Monday, July 18, 2005

A Note About Pictures

I like being able to post pictures, and will try to do it regularly. However, I have noticed that the text does not always line up with the pictures the way I intended. Unfortunately, I have found that the result may be dependent on the user's computer, as one of our machines at home requires a lot of bizarre spacing, whereas my work machine will display everything exactly as I suppose it should. I will post based upon the way I think the site should work (and as it displays for me on my office computer), but I will keep trying to understand the system better so that it will display correctly for everyone. If a post is garbled, I apologize. Try the permalink before giving up in dispair; that's been known to help on other systems.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Glendale Cruise Night

Saturday night was the annual Glendale Cruise Night. They shut down Brand Boulevard for eight blocks or so and line the streets with classic muscle cars, custom hot rods, and an assortment of "others." They also have equipment presentations by the police and fire departments, and an exhibit by local ranger organizations.

This Shelby Mustang, AC Cobra and '57 T-Bird are representative of much of the event. That little kid with the red hair followed me everywhere!

This picture of the Charger is in honor of Jason.


A beautiful old Chevrolet sedan.

Here are some of the few European classics to make the show. A nice Mercedes drophead and a graceful 190 cabriolet.

And then there was this gorgeous E-Type Jaguar.

Possibly the most classic of the bunch: the original Batmobile.

The kids had fun exploring fire engines and a police motorcycle.

Ricky Nelson's boys even provided some tunes!

Garage Sale Blues

We had a nice time meeting neighbors and unloading eight years of childrens' toys this weekend. It was exhausting prepping everything and setting it all out. If we hadn't written down what we sold, I wouldn't have thought we sold anything at all.

Kelly even had a chance to sell lemonaide. Who can resist buying lemonaide from a little girl from a roadside stand?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The One Commercial I Love

Radio in LA is mostly ads with intermittent music or talk, so I spend a lot of time bouncing around between stations, even on a 20 minute drive to or from work. The only time I will settle back into my seat and listen is when Bud Light's Real Men of Genius spots come on. The deep, earnest voiceover and dramatic rocker guy are pitch-perfect, and the text is brilliant. They're all good, but Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor is a favorite: "A culinary creation that baffles the human mind -- a twelve thousand calorie salad."

Another Car Peeve

I understand the impulse to park one's car in such a way as to minimize the likelihood of acquiring annoying door dings and the like. I follow that philosophy myself much of the time, especially at work where we have a large but crowded multi-level parking garage. I approach the issue analytically. For a while I parked with a large support post immediately to my right, so that my only exposed flank was the driver's side, which would only be in danger in the unlikely event that the next car carried two people. That worked until someone put a pretty obnoxious scratch in my rear deck lid, so I now park in a spot at the far end of the garage that, due to the oblique angle of the structure and arrangement of support posts, puts me about five feet away from any other cars. Perfect, and I get a little exercise from the hike.

Not so perfect are the geniuses who decide that their protection scheme will involve using the end space of a row, but parking further away from the neighboring space so that they actually park outside of their designated space. Which means that their car now slops out into a lane of traffic, and in a crowded garage, that car now chokes off the narrow turning area around the end of the row. If there is anything someone could do to increase the likelihood of acquiring a dent far worse than a mere door ding, this would be it. Brilliant. Especially you, Mr. 20-ft Long Extended Pickup with Full Size Bed.

This Year's Killer App

If you have any interest in maps, geography or world exploration, you must download Google Earth. It takes the sattelite imagery already in use for Google Maps and goes crazy with it. I'm engaged in a casual "Where in the World" contest with some people online in which someone posts a screenshot of someplace interesting in the world, with perhaps a very general hint, and the first person to guess then puts up another picture. For someone who enjoys that sort of exploration, it presents a great excuse to search the world, which Google Earth makes simple, fun and informative. After examining most of the world's south-facing shores for about an hour last night looking for one particular location, I can tell you that the world is a very big place.

I can't believe that software this cool is available for free.

Shuttle Re-Launch Update

10:34 PDT -- launch director has delayed the launch. The external fuel tanks will be drained and the crew will return to their staging area (they had just completed buckling in). A test routine was not giving the proper readings; safety being the word of the day, no chances will be taken. It is not known whether this will takes hours or days to resolve.

10:38 PDT -- a low level (cutoff) external fuel tank sensor is the culprit. (transcription summary of NASA TV commentators:) The ECO measures the amount of hydrogen remaining in the tank; when triggered, it helps the systems ramp down the engines as they approach the end of remaining fuel. There are four such sensors; two must work. With an anomolous reading from one sensor, the flight bosses are using "conservative engineering." There probably will be no launch today.

11:10 PDT -- the crew motorhome is travelling back to the Vehicle Assembly Building right now. A press conference will occur no earlier than 1:30 PDT; no estimate will be made as to the duration of the delay until they have finished their troubleshooting of the troubled ECO sensor, which has just gotten underway.

3:00 PDT -- the earliest new launch date will be Saturday, July 16.

5:12 PDT -- the culprit is apparently a guage that showed an erroneous "full" reading when it was sent test data that should have resulted in an "empty" reading. The other three ECO devices registered properly. This is akin to the gas guage on a car always reading full (although the Shuttle has four of them). The ultimate problem is not that the Shuttle will run out of fuel, since there is no Chervron station to pull into, but that the engines would not properly shutdown as they approach the end of their fuel supply, which could lead to a catestrophic failure of an engine (i.e., kaboom). So, reload for Saturday.

Incidentally, here is a picture of the launch site (the pad in use this time is in the upper right of the image; the Vehicle Assembly Building is the complex in the lower left of the picture):

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Having a Bad Day?

Not as bad as this little guy, trying to navigate the mean streets of Antarctica:

To Thine Own Self Be True

If you can get past the fact that the guy is, well, dead, this sounds like a pretty fun idea:

The Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home erected a small stage in a viewing room, and arranged furniture on it much as it was in Smith's home on game day Sundays.

Smith's body was on the recliner, his feet crossed and a remote in his hand. He wore black and gold silk pajamas, slippers and a robe. A pack of cigarettes and a beer were at his side, while a high-definition TV played a continuous loop of Steelers highlights.

"I couldn't stop crying after looking at the Steeler blanket in his lap," said his sister, MaryAnn Nails, 58. "He loved football and nobody did [anything] until the game went off. It was just like he was at home."

He was cold and unresponsive?

Monday, July 04, 2005

New Orleans 2005

As promised, here are some scenes from my trip to New Orleans:

Bourbon Street, 6 pm, shortly after we arrived in town on Friday evening.

Bourbon Street, 11 pm. The shakiness of the image is
not due to any impairment on my part!

Why we were there: college buddy Marc's wedding at this charming old Methodist Church.

Inside the church.

The reception was held at a big park on the northern end of town, in the Old Casino building on a little bayou. The catering staff provided us with a seemingly endless supply of tasty finger food: crawfish this and spicy that.

The crew. Chris is a professor now, so we have to cut him some slack on the bow tie. It's part of the uniform or something.

Some of New Orleans' famous mausoleums.

More cemetary.

Two views of the Superdome.

The lobby of our hotel, the Iberville Suites. One block away from Bourbon Street and Canal Street, adjacent to and affiliated with the Ritz Carlton, we could not have asked for better accomodations, especially at what worked out to be about $40 per night per person.

Bourbon Street, Sunday at noon. Only the smell remains the same.

Bourbon Street, Sunday at noon, looking the other way, one block southwest out of the French Quarter to Canal Street and beyond.

Some sights on Royal Street, Sunday at noon. Royal Street is a block and light year away from Bourbon Street. In place of bars and strip clubs are antique shops and high-end clothiers. On a day as beautiful as this, the squalor of Bourbon Street at midnight on a Saturday could not seem more distant.

The Louisiana State Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, right there in the middle of the French Quarter.

Chris and I found a great restaurant for lunch on Sunday before heading to the airport. Situated on a street corner, the outer walls accordioned to allow for very comfortable indoor/outdoor seating. We had a view of street artists and St. Louis Cathedral (built in 1724, it is the oldest continously active cathedral in the United States) at Jackson Square.

An excellent time was had by all.

Friday, July 01, 2005

To A Recent PhD Recipient I Know

Some comforting words from Jon Stewart, at the commencement address for his alma mater, William & Mary:

I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice of you, I appreciate it.

I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you.

Enjoy your doctorate in good health and prosperity, Chris. You earned it!