Home Me LinksArchive

Reality is not precise.

top All Good Things20 July 02011, 21:15
After the Space Shuttle Columbia was lost in 2003, Robert Crippen gave a moving eulogy that was as much about the Orbiter as it was about the crew. In the process, he revealed a truth that you won't learn in school: engineering isn't just about cobbling something together from a collection of pieces and clever ideas - it's art; it's creation. For many, it's creation in a profound sense: an engineer designing a spacecraft or other complex engine puts blood, sweat, tears, and a little bit of their soul into their project - their creation.

When Crippen spoke at the Columbia memorial service held at the Kennedy Space Center, he told a moving story of the final mission. (more ...)
top I can haz duct tape?30 June 02011, 18:11
I stumbled across this today while surfing the web at random. I'm still not sure if it was OK to get those photos posted on the web.
top Buckaroo Banzai26 June 02011, 10:26
Last week a co-worker loaned me a copy of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and I watched it yesterday.

If you're in the mood for a great 80s flashback movie, this is it. Buckaroo Banzai has it all: before-they-were-famous actors and crew; a group of gun-toting, hard-rocking scientists; a heroine named Penny Priddy; a wondrous technological marvel that looks vaguely like a flux capacitor; a jet-powered Ford that looks vaguely like the Space Shuttle; a choreographed musical scene at the end; serious use of the phrase "wherever you go, there you are."

Great fun if you can track it down. (more ...)
top Smart meters11 June 02011, 23:54
My local power company installed a smart electric meter at my house recently. Now, by going to https://www.smartmetertexas.com/CAP/public/ I can see my electricity usage down to 15 minute intervals. It's really neat stuff, and my usage doesn't look at all like I expected it to. This is really cool data and I think I can actually use it to lower the amount of electricity I use.

If you've got a smart meter at your house, it's totally worth checking out your usage. Even if you don't want to nerd out and start making fancy graphs and calculating trends, you can see how your house behaves while you're gone, and maybe save a few bucks on your electric bill. (more ...)
top Worshiping the wrong heroes5 May 02011, 20:43
Charles Bolden put out a statement today on the 50th anniversary of American human spaceflight. It begins (emphasis added):

May 5, 1961 was a good day. When Alan Shepard launched toward the stars that day, no American had ever done so, and the world waited on pins and needles praying for a good outcome. The flight was a great success, and on the strength of Shepard's accomplishment, NASA built the leadership role in human spaceflight that we have held ever since.

I was a teenager at the time and just sorting out the field of study I wanted to pursue. (more ...)
top Uninformed alarmism23 March 02011, 12:26
I don't normally read this blog but the safety guy at work posted a link to a post on it that really got on my nerves. So a few comments on it: (I apologize that you'll need to read the ranting of the original post for this to make sense. Update: I submitted a comment to the blog post as well; they apparently didn't feel the need to post it. Ah well.)

1) The title of the post makes it seem like there's some sinister plot by the FAA to dupe and potentially injure air travelers, which doesn't seem to be the case if you actually read the Directive.

2) If you search Google for AD 2011-04-09, the first link you get is the FAA's public posting of the Directive, on their web site. (more ...)
top The Wrong Stuff27 February 02011, 9:11
I just saw this article discussing the challenges of returning from Mars.

Returning from Mars is a large engineering problem that's independent from most (not all) aspects of getting there, and it's a good idea to start pondering the problem even though a specific mission architecture hasn't been agreed on.

What's sad is that ATK, Lockheed, and Grumman were NASA's choices. This is the root of many of NASA's problems: an inability to divorce itself from the lumbering herbivores that have grown (over the last 5 decades) to define the agency. Corporate behemoths like the ones named here (and several others) are where good ideas and creative thinkers go to die. (more ...)
top Right, the 2012 budget.15 February 02011, 20:27
Not that we've gotten a 2011 budget. So business as usual at NASA, including those whose projects got dumped at the end of last fiscal year (I hope you're still with us!).

Engineers at NASA: hang in there. Reversal of fortunes is an everyday occurrence around here; engineers and scientists who work for the government make progress long term by making sure that good ideas remain in a state of viable dormancy during periods of starvation. It works for bacterial spores, and it seems to work for us.
top We live in interesting times13 February 02011, 19:50
Consecutive posts on NASA Watch: House Appropriators Pull Out The Knives, then Just When You Thought No One At NASA Was Thinking Ahead.


There's really no shortage of smart people and great ideas at NASA. Some ideas are small in scope; they may result in better efficiency, higher reliability, or more convenience (many have much larger potential in the realm of technology spinoffs). These get lost in the depths of the shortsighted and risk-averse management structure of any given center. Bigger ideas die because big ideas require funding from congress, which is clearly not going to happen.

It would be nice to live in a world where public policy was actually set with the public's interests in mind. (more ...)
top NASA needs more idealists5 February 02011, 22:33
It's fair to say that I'm full of ideas. They aren't all good, and they aren't all original, but I like to think ahead and imagine possibilities. It's why I enjoy science fiction, and it's why I wanted to work at NASA. I always assumed that at NASA, I would be less likely to be told that my ideas were too "out there," since "out there" is NASA's business.

What I found when I got here is that "out there" is indeed a problem: NASA's business is in satisficing. It's an underfunded federal jobs program meant to keep huge government contractors in business, not the bastion of high-risk, high-yield research and development that I had envisioned.

This comes up because of a conversation I had the other day with an "old timer" civil servant (he's not that old, but he has been at NASA for much longer than me). (more ...)

Cartoon copyright 2002 Universal Syndicate. Used without permission