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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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It’s fail time!

For the past few years I have been using an app on my phone called Fail Blog.  It is a series of pictures that show a ‘fail’.  A fail is when something is obviously wrong.  Take this picture:

Here are a few more:

This is what is called an ‘oddly specific’ fail.  Notice the cow falling among the rocks:

I don’t understand tattoos…

A probable math fail.  Should be 22%

For every fail there is a win:

Yahoo Answers provides excellent fail fodder.  Sometimes you have to wonder if these are real.

Wildlife fail:

This is a failing at fail.  The commentary on this was keyed on the word ‘discriminating’, as if to mean that racists drink coke.  A little education can go a long way.

Teaching fail:

I know where this place is!

Personally, I would have chalked this up to a win:


It took this one:

This is a perfect fail.  Auto ads are famous for putting related ads next to stories.  In this case it’s pretty funny:Another failing at fail.  The commentary on this was ‘Grammar fail’.  Actually, it’s correct.

Stranger win!


My favorite!

This is a response win, husband fail:

Back to editing school!


How to protect your elf:

I don’t really know what to say….

Criminal stories a common fails:

I knew there was a link!


U-haul.  I don’t think so!

Oh, kids:

Perfect fail.  So perfect that I have to think it is a joke:

Failing at fail.  I am pretty sure that who ever put ‘age fail’ didn’t see the ‘month’ under the 18+:



I like this one:


But five burgers don’t stack as well as six:

I see what they mean, but still:

This is clearly a win:

Again, a little context changes this.  The ‘No Pets Allowed’ sign is probably for the patch of grass where the sign is located and it is pointing to the dog way down the way:

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.


Beware Of False Profits

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So, I work at a bank.  I have to admit, it is a nice gig.  We get every federal holiday off and the most vacation I’ve ever had.  My department doesn’t keep banker’s hours, but we don’t work a crazy schedule either.  The poor accounting department though…

We don’t have a lot of exposure to residential real estate, so we escaped the slaughter that has infected other major banks.  Almost.

In statistics there is something called survivorship bias.  The premise is that if you are measuring, say, mutual funds, and you only include those funds that didn’t shut down, you will be overstating your performance because those funds that didn’t survive aren’t around to drag down your average returns.  Or the winner’s curse, where a company tries to take over someone else and outbids everyone to the point where they win the company, but have over paid so much that they will never find value in the transaction.

I’d like to steal those two phrases and reuse them.

Survivorship bias is a bias against the banks who did things well.  If you have a bank account then you are probably familiar with:

Well, the money that is used to pay that $250,000 comes from insurance premiums paid by member banks.  As more banks fail, more money is needed to fund the insurance.  Since there are fewer banks, the surviving banks need to pay more to make up for both the increased risk and smaller pool of premiums.

In the same vein, the winners curse applies because we didn’t lose, we are cursed with higher premiums.

I wonder what the word is for people who purposely misuse existing phrases to fit their own agenda.

Another aspect of the increased government oversight of banking is that we are required to keep more capital on hand to meet expected future losses.  Basically, we are required to reserve our profits from today in anticipation of losses tomorrow.  As a result we would have posted a profit of $30 million for 2010.  Then the regulators came in, shook the magic 8-ball and read:

A quick reference to a random number generator told them that we should reserve $50 million against future losses.  All of the sudden we had to post a $20 million loss.  (Needless to say, these are our real numbers, but you get the idea.)

I admit I am being flippant about the process, but at the end of the day, it’s our accounting mumbo-jumbo against their regulatory mumbo-jumbo.  Some day, we’ll recover from all of this and get back on track.  What I  am most interested to see is the new financial crisis that results from the rules imposed from this financial crisis.  I predict that the new regulations will cause a spike derivatives, led by midgets taking a short position on Bonds, who they think he won’t be prosecuted for PEDs.   Cattle growers will then be bullish on futures, fooling the dance teachers into thinking the markets are in contango.  Naturally, this will lead the auto manufacturers to invest heavily in the ABS market, not realizing that it won’t keep the credit markets from seizing up.

I’ll bet all of my WaMu stock that this happens.  Any takers?

And so it goes.


Dirt Food

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For the past four years, my father and kids and I attend the local farmers market on Saturday morning.  I try and get most of our fresh fruits and veggies there, along with bread and flowers.  There is an olive oil vendor, Mr. Bariani, who always comes out to talk to the girls.  This past Saturday, he gave our youngest a pink rose with all the thorns taken off.

One of my hobbies is preparing (and consuming) raw food.  I buy my dill and cliantro from the Vang family.  Onions and apples from the Mendoza’s.  The flowers from a booth I don’t the name of.  Oil olive from Mr. Bariani and strawberries from a farm in Oxnard.  Just about everything I need is at the market.

Generally speaking, the food we buy at the market is purchased from the people who grow it.  Most grow within 100 miles of where we buy.  Most of the food sold at the market is what is in season at that time.  I can’t buy apples in the summer.  Asparagus is only available for two, maybe three months.  Squashes are just coming in now and the carrots are now long and skinny, instead of the winter variety, which are short and fat.

These are great lessons for the kids as well.  The earth was designed to produce certain things at certain times.

There are now two markets as well as a store that is supposed to be an indoor, full-year market.  I’ll have to check that one and see if passes the hippie test.

If you have a market around you, I encourage you to check it out.

Anyone have any good farmer stories?

And so it goes.


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.


Is There Life Outside the South?

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This past year my mother turned 67.  For her birthday, I got her an old comedy routine called ‘Is There Life Outside The South?’  by Dr. Tim Stivers.

Dr. Stivers is a podiatrist who turned to comedy at some point in his life.  He recorded this album in a club somewhere on some date for some reason.  The comedy routine was either written by him, or someone else.  Maybe both.  He was born somewhere, on some date, presumably in Kentucky.  He might be married, he might not be.  He might have kids, but maybe not.  I am fairly sure he’s still alive because his website doesn’t say he’s dead.

At this stage, I presume he had a life long love of comedy and tried it out, possible in a mid-life crisis.  He may even possibly be a practicing doctor, but I think that may be unlikely.  He has at least two albums, maybe more, but not fewer.

So why all the ambiguity?

Because there is no Wiki article.

That’s right.  You read it correctly.  There is no Wiki article.  Heck, he barely even registers on a Google search.  If it weren’t for the fact that I have heard his album, I would be challenging the fact that he even exists at all.

No Wiki article.  Yet.

While Dr. Stivers doesn’t have  a Wiki article, he does have an e-mail address.  I do believe I’m going to write a short message and ask if I can get enough information to start one.  This is my new mission in life when I am not working, fathering, training for my ride or blogging.

I’ll leave y’all with the my favorite name of a church, from the routine:

1st Baptist Evangelical Reformed Seven Day Pentecostal Tabernacle Latter Day Brotherhood of God and Christ Church. Incorporated.

And so it goes.