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Notably Awesome Space Adventures

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Launch of STS-135

I am a child of the shuttle.

The final extended mission series to be launched by the United States was Apollo.  Apollo 17 launched on December 7. 1972, slightly before my time on earth began.  The final manned launched before the shuttle program was for SkyLab, which occurred shortly after my time on earth began.  The only thing I have ever really known is shuttle.

Growing up with shuttle, I never really appreciated the complexity involved in launching a space craft.  Really, I can’t say now that I fully appreciate it, other than I know it’s hard.  As with most things, if something has always been around your whole life, you tend not appreciate it as much.  In the last year, I have started to study the shuttle program and I am in awe of what it entailed and what it accomplished.  It was the most complex machine humans have ever built and had the most complicated launch profile of any space mission.  Literally millions of tasks and checks had to be performed in the final nine minutes before launch and a failure at any level would result in an aborted launch.  What is truly remarkable is that a failed launch was rare.

My favorite part of shuttle is the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs).  Here are a few facts:

  • The SSMEs burn cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen for fuel
  • The fuel pumps on the engines could drain an average size swimming pool in 25 seconds
  • The engines burn 350 gallons of fuel per second
  • The combustion chamber in the engine operates at over 6,000 degrees fahrenheit, hotter than the boiling point of iron
  • The reason the engines do not melt at that temperature is because  the cryogenic fuels are used to cool the engine before they are burned
  • The engines produce 418,000 pounds of thrust at lift-off

When I first read about the SSME combustion temperatures being hot enough to turn iron into a gas, I believe my initial reaction was something along of lines of WTF?!

Each shuttle mission was coded as STS-x (Space Transportation System, the original name of the shuttle program).  A total of 135 missions were flown, with two missions ending in the loss of the orbiter.  I have a vivid memory of the loss of both Challenger and Columbia.  It brought focus back to how dangerous it was to hurl 4.4 million pounds into space.

Now that shuttle is retired, we have gone back to the drawing board on how to replace it.  I’m eager to see how the final product preforms.

In closing, here is my favorite launch video, from STS-51c (sound on, please):

Notice how the entire launch assembly rocks back and forth when the SSMEs are ignited.  Awesome.

I also encourage you to watch the shuttle tribute that shows up in the video window during the launch.

And so it goes.

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Why have you come here?

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(note: You may need to allow pop-ups for the poll to work)

I thought I would test drive a poll that has been sitting in my drafts for that past two years.  Now, on to the show.

It is a wonderfully cool 57° this morning.  I have all the windows open and I am waiting for the milkman to show up with our weekly supply of milk and cheese.

I generally dislike talking about the weather.  It is one of the more banal topics, usually reserved for awkward moments, ice breakers or when you’ve exhausted all other possible conversations; however, this time I use it to boast.

We lived in Las Vegas for seven years.  The weather, as many know, it generally hot and dry during the summer.  Here is a snapshot as of 6:09 AM:

My first thought was that it is not really that hot in Vegas today.  I remember in July of 2002 the high was 116°.  Then it rained.  The rain did almost nothing for the temperature, but it did raise the humidity to 100%.  My dad commented that it was like he back in southeast Asia during the summer.

Here is what it is like where I am:

Aaaahhhhh…..

I will say that there are really only three things I don’t miss about Las Vegas.  The weather, the ads for strip clubs and rapid construction (though I think that has abated now).  The people, my job, the abundance of oyster bars: all very cool.

And so it goes.

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Bridgeport, CA

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For the past five years the whole family joins my in-laws up in Bridgeport, CA for the 4th of July.  Bridgeport is a very small town in the Eastern Sierra mountains and it has a population of 843 people.  On the weekend of the 4th, there are approximately 5,000 people in town.  From what I understand, this is the weekend that the businesses make all their money.

I took a few pictures that I wanted to share.  Let’s start up top ↑:

This is a picture I took on my way back into town after my morning ride.  A great ride, right up US 395.  It was about 6:00 AM so the traffic was very light.  The shoulder of road was adequate for riding, but only for about 3 miles up.  There was some road construction, so I just did the route twice.  I found the above sign amusing because to me it suggests that Bridgeport is not scenic (the poppy in the picture is the sign for a ‘Scenic Route’ in California.  Think Route 66 from Cars’).

This is a close up of the ‘end’ sign from above:

The ‘end’ belongs to the state of California.  The way our government works here, I’m not shocked.

Finally, a ticket I can get behind!

From the fireworks show.  Great show.

There is a rodeo in town, so I suppose this sign at the Hays Street Cafe is apropos.  Still…

We are looking forward to next year when Bridgeport celebrates its 150th celebration of the 4th of July.

And so it goes.

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The Hogs That Ate Everything

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Dem Hogs

There are some things in life that you can count on.  Some things that you just know are going to happen.  Some things you can set your watch to.  One of those things is my father.

When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to look for one of my siblings around the house.  ‘Dad! Have you seen Biffie?’  Dad’s pat answer, his go-to response, his réponse générale was ‘He got to close to barn and the hogs ate him.’

Many nights I would lie in bed cursing myself for falling prey to that answer.  You would think that after hundreds of times, I would learn.  Lamentably, no.

One evening I, right after I made the standard blunder, I asked my father why he kept saying that.  I think he could hear the irritation in my voice.  He paused and his eyes grew distant.  Having known my father for the better part of my life, I could tell that I had triggered some basal emotion and, being predicable, I knew what to expect.  His eyes squinted slightly and when he spoke there was a catch in his voice.  He asked me to sit down next to him and he proceeded to tell me the whole story…

My father was raised in Owensboro, WA.  The three biggest exports of that little burg were tobacco, hogs and plutonium-239.  Each of these exports were produced in a separate part of the city and they only commingled as they were leaving town.  As you can imagine, the storage requirements for crops, livestock and nuclear fuel carried unique requirements, posing a daunting problem for the city’s sole engineer.  Each of these was transported from the city by rail, and in a town the size of Owensboro, there was only so much room for such a facility.  The decision was ultimately made to create a giant rotating dock where the various cargo could be unloaded in a segreated way.  I did some digging at the Benton County Hysterical Society and I was able to find a copy of the engineers original proposal:

Even to my untrained eye, there is an obvious fatal flaw in this layout.  Everyone knows that when you are organizing Hogs, Tobacco and Fuel, the order must be clockwise pattern of T-H-NF, not H-T-NF.  (Before you ask, yes, I know about the NF-T-H permutation promulgated by  Black and Merton, but I think Merton is a jackass.)

The first few years of the switching yard went smoothly.  Tobacco, Hogs and Nuclear Fuel were loaded into the trains and shipped off to the four corners of the globe.  The tobacco went to Greece, the hogs to Denmark and nuclear fuel went to an undisclosed location.  It was not until the late 50’s when the sun spot activity, seen below between the double pipes, approached it’s zenith that the magnitude of the error was made evident:

=>||

                             =>||

Following the marked crest in 1959, a breech occurred in the wall separating the hogs and plutonium-239.  The fuel was partially consumed by the hogs and they started grow to gigantic purportions.  The hogs, now even more hungry than before, could sense the organic matter behind the tobacco wall and promptly used their now-super intellegence to knock over the wall.  Frankly, I think their gigantic size had more to do with it.  How smart do you need to be to knock over a wall?  Seriously.  Anywho, we now had gigantic radioactive pigs who were eating tobacco.

It took all the effort that the Washington’s Naval Reserve (America’s 17th line of defense, right between the Cub Scouts and the League of Woman Voters) to subdue the beasts.  Look to someone else for a description of the awful slaughter.  I can never repeat what dad told me.  But I can show you a video of the destruction.  Needless to say, the hogs, fuel and tobacco where wiped out.  Or so we thought…

Now, if you have ever known a smoker, you know that when the craving hits you had better get out of the way.  Nothing is going to stop them from getting their nicotine, particularly nothing as trivial as being vaporized in an atomic blast.  The pigs somehow managed to reconstitute themselves and come back to life.  Like I said, these were smart little piggies.  The newly reanimated super turbo action pigs quickly used what was left of the rail yard and constructed a humongous fortress.  A barn actually.  To the surprise of many, the hogs made a demand of a telephone so they could communicate with an unknown party.  Two brave soles from the navy reserve stepped up to take the challenge, Nicholas Bergman and Benjamin Knack.  Since the railroad was still intact enough to a handle a hand car, Nick and Ben were sent to the scene.  This particular hand car, nicknamed ‘the paddy’ was older and it would not pump well, so Bergman and Knack had to whack it with some steel rods to get it moving.  When the day arrived, Nick and Ben loaded the phone equipment on the hand car.  There was some obvious hesitation on their part.  They were being ordered to go into a hog-infested, radioactive and nicotine laced  site.  It looked as if they would not go when their Sargent started screaming, ‘Nick! Knack!  Give the paddy a whack and get that hog a phone!’

They did.  And what happened when they got to close to the barn?  That’s right.  They delivered the phones and were on their way.

Now, having a barn full of atomic hogs who were jonesing for a smoke is not all bad.  It did provide some tourist opportunities.  The constant military presence ensured a constant stream of low ranking government officials who made token visits.  As I said, it was not too bad.  They even set up a alternative fuel plant to convert the hog waste into energy.  As Pop used to say, ‘That smells like money!’  Really, it didn’t.

Years passed away and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange, of a long desert line of traps way back in the bighorn range.  Of a little hut by the great divide with a white man stiff and still, lying there by lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill.  (I’m sorry.  I went into a Robert Service trance.  Won’t happen again.)

After four or five years of co-existing, the solution was dropped on our laps by none other than the King of Pork, Mr. Jimmy Dean.  The Dean family had been trying to figure out  a way to combine the the rich goodness of pork sausage with the rich goodness of tobacco.  Since the FDA rejected his application for tobacco flavored sausage, he turned to the town to provide them with tobacco-fed pork.  The problem was getting the hogs in a permanently deceased condition, on account’a their tendency to come back to life, don’t cha know.  The solution was to come from right under their noses…

As everyone knows, it is common to use boron to slow nuclear reactions.  They had all these power plants that had all this boron, so the logical step was to start to flood the hogs with boron.  That process started in the mid-60s and was finished by 1972.  The hogs had lost their radioactive glow and were now fit for slaughter.  Mr. Dean came in himself to stick the first hog.  It was quite a party.  As the Dean staff winnowed through the herd of hogs, they slowly approached the barn strong hold.  Step by step, they slaughtered and processed, slaughtered and processed.  Then they slaughtered and processed more.  Now they were within inches of the barn.  The doors started to creaked open, showing only a razor thin beam of light.  As the door swung ponderously, the remaining hogs started to march out in a very deliberate pace.  There they were, face to face, the hogs and butchers.

It took many years for commission to finally establish what went wrong.  The report was over 500 pages, so I’ll just boil it down for you: The butchers got to close to the barn.  The hogs, despite their reduced girth, still maintained their super-intelligence.  No one had counted on that.  The lead pig started to bark commands (well, grunt, really).  The pigs circled the hapless butchers, teeth bared with an evil vengeance in their eyes.  Revenge would be theirs today.  The butchers got too close to the barn.  With squeals of triumph, the pigs lunged forward, eager for their meal.  The butchers pull out their knives to defend themselves.  But it was too late.  The butchers had got to close too the barn.

And the hogs ate them.

My great-grandfather was one of the butchers who lost their lives that day.  At the wake, they served Mr. Dean’s tobacco fed pork sausage, which my father felt was in poor taste.  I mean literally, it tasted awful.  People died for this?  It was on that day that my father coined his phrase, more as an emotional protection than anything else.

No one ever did find out what the phones were for, or if they were even used.  I supposed we should worry.  What’s the worst that could happen…

******************************************************************************************************

My fathers shoulders dropped, signifying the end of the story.  A deep silence permeated the air.  Could this have really happened?  Why was this the first time we had heard about it.  Had the history books been wiped clean?  We all stared at my father with a mix of respect and horror.  Unsure of the veracity of the story, we all pressed him to tell us the truth.   To this day he has maintained the story.  Sure the dates, people, location and variations of plutonium changes, be the story’s core message is constant:  Don’t talk to dad when he’s been drinking.

And so it goes.

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Relational Database

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Happy Father’s Day to dads of all kinds.  Speaking of fathers…

These glasses belong to my father-in-law, Pete.  We hit the farmers market this week and I noticed Pete’s glasses.  I haven’t seen a pair of Vuarnets in probably 20 years.  A picture of my brother immediately came to mind.  This picture is of him wearing a blue and gold rugby shirt from the high school rugby team, his long blonde hair, his high school acne, his car, and his Vuarnets.  So to summarize:

  • Rugby
  • Long blonde hair
  • An aqua-blue ’65 Chevy Super Sport Impala
  • Vuarnets

What struck me was the way I remembered this picture.  It was not just a flat picture, but more of a multi-dimensional picture, a welter of imagines cascaded until what I was remembering was only related to original subject by implication.  Here is how that original list panned out:

  • Rugby
  • Blue and gold rugby shirt
  • Rugby shirts have a single piece u-neck so they won’t tear when someone grabs your shirt
  • They also have rubber buttons to protect the players eyes in case one comes off
  • Long blonde hair
  • Biffie refused to cut his hair for a long time
  • My great-grandmother had very long brown hair, much like Biffie’s
  • Acne
  • Biffie took Accutane to help with his acne
  • Accutane can result in deformed bones or cancer
  • Biffie used to give his Accutane to Brett because he also had acne
  • Brett played in a death metal band and I bought their first (only?) album
  • Accutane also causes dry lips
  • Biffie used to carry Carmex with him all the time.  We still find old containers around the house 20 years later
  • An aqua-blue ’65 Chevy Super Sport Impala
  • My mother bought this car brand new in 1965 after graduating from nurses school.
  • Pop (my grandfather) wouldn’t let her get the big motor, just a 283
  • The car had a black interior because Pop wouldn’t let her get white
  • A garbage truck backed into the car and dented the quarter panel
  • That dent let to a complete rebuild of the car
  • Vuarnets
  • Vuarnets have V inscribed on the lens
  • Biffie scratch the bottom of his frames so he could identify the glasses if they were stolen.  And they were.  I don’t know if he ever got them back…

(The format of this just didn’t turn out quite right.  It is supposed be hierarchical, but wordpress doesn’t support that bullet style to well.)

Most of that came to me with 10 seconds of seeing the glasses.  I titled this posted ‘Relational Database’ because I feel like my brain built a giant query and sent me the results.

What would be really interesting is to know how much of what I ‘remember’ never really happened…

And so it goes

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Calling All Bloggers!

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Ok, so I had fully intended to write a post inviting five people to guest blog on fermatd.  I figured the best place to start would be with the following opening:

‘It has been said that 1,000 monkeys with typewriters would eventually produce a work of Shakespeare.  Thanks to the internet, we now know that is not true.  How would you like to be a monkey?’

Pretty decent opening.  Short, funny enough for a chuckle, a common enough reference that your average person would get the context.  I had to tweak the quote a bit to make it fit my purpose.  Standard stuff.   The next step was to insert a hyperlink to a random webpage about monkeys and typewriters.

And that is when the wheels came off the bus.  I mean completely off.

If you enter ‘1000 monkeys’ into Google, the first page that come up is a wiki page titled, ‘Infinite monkey theorem – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia’.  (cue poor British accent) ‘Ello, what’s all this then?  My first thought was that this is a token page with the theorem and a few anecdotal examples.

I click.

What follows is a very thorough summary of the typing monkey theorem, followed by the statistical proofs to attempt to support or refute the idea.  Here is my favorite part of the article:

Even if the observable universe were filled with monkeys the size of atoms typing from now until the heat death of the universe, their total probability to produce a single instance of Hamlet would still be many orders of magnitude less than one in 10183,800. As Kittel and Kroemer put it, “The probability of Hamlet is therefore zero in any operational sense of an event…”, and the statement that the monkeys must eventually succeed “gives a misleading conclusion about very, very large numbers.” This is from their textbook on thermodynamics, the field whose statistical foundations motivated the first known expositions of typing monkeys.[1]

Am I going to quote the above the next time I become embroiled in an asinine problem at work?  Oh yeah.

And there you go.  I start my blog by poking fun at a ridiculous concept only to be humbled by the amount of work a group of people put into to proving that monkeys can’t write Shakespeare.  Those are some damn industrious monkeys, er, people.

And so it goes.

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1. Kittel, Charles and Herbert Kroemer (1980). Thermal Physics (2nd ed.). W. H. Freeman Company. pp. 53. ISBN 0-7167-1088-9.

Back In The Saddle Again

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This morning I took my first training ride.  About 5 miles round-trip to folks house and back.  Overall, not bad.  I topped out at 27 mph (going down hill, cranking for all I was worth).  I need to check the bike computer, but I probably averaged around 12 or 13 mph.  My goal for the SLO Lighthouse ride is 62 miles in 3.5 hours.  So I have until September 24 to shave ~two hours off.

When I was in high school I had a purple Raleigh Olympian (pictured above).  Purple became my new riding color.  The handle bars were wrapped with purple and while tape, my helmet and riding gear were purple.  Everything but my pump and shoes were purple.  When I went looking for my current bike, I posted that I gave extra points for purple.

I was convinced that because the name of the bike was ‘Olympian’, it must mean that this was the bike that was used in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.  I proudly boasted this fact to anyone who would listen.  In hindsight, I realize that it was probably not true.

I rode that bike for about six years until it finally gave up the ghost.  My parents paid the neighbors $100 for it in 1988.  I was so excited I could plotz.  I like to think that they got their $100 worth.

Now that I think about it, today was the longest ride I have had in probably 15 years.  Let’s see how I feel about it (literally) tomorrow morning.

And so it goes.

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