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6 Dead in Soaked, Crumbling California

top Angel7 April 02013, 21:18
Recently a few of us were having a conversation about the destruction caused by hurricanes, and a friend mentioned a nearby cemetery that had once been somewhat densely wooded but recently many of the trees had to be cut down due to hurricane damage. He went on to say that one of the trees had been carved into an impressive sculpture of an angel, which I thought was intriguing, so I went over one weekend to see it for myself.

There, near the entrance to the cemetery, was the carving. Tall and graceful, carved from the stump of what must have been a substantial tree, the angel has her hands clasped in prayer, with most of the cemetery behind her back, and a somewhat puzzling expression on her face. (more ...)
top In defense of the Shuttle22 July 02011, 12:22
Amos Zeeberg wrote an essay published at Discover Magazine that takes a critical view of the Space Shuttle.

It's probably obvious that I'm a big fan of the Shuttle program. And in these blinkered times, it's not really unusual to see such one-sided criticism in places that would normally be forums for reasonable discussion. But it is a bit disheartening to see people like Phil Plait, who normally strikes me as a smart and reasonable person, refer to such an article as "fair." So I feel compelled to respond to some of the less reasonable things that Amos says:

Now that Atlantis is safely on the ground and astronauts will never again face the risk of flying in a space shuttle, maybe we can at last take a clear-eyed look at this disappointing episode in our nation's history.

Well, he starts out swinging. (more ...)
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 ...)
top Why STS-133 was scrubbed9 November 02010, 20:27
We know the official reasons for the series of STS-133 launch scrubs last week. Weather, anomalous readings, and finally the hydrogen leak and subsequently noticed foam/ice issue.

Those things seem pretty familiar. On the surface, they're reasonable. Funny electrical readings - certainly a problem. A leaking hydrogen valve - certainly a problem. And we all know what foam and ice can do to an Orbiter.

What's not mentioned is why those problems occur. Sure, there will be investigations and "root cause" analysis (a ridiculous pursuit with a worthless conclusion) but I think a lot of people miss the deeper issues at hand.

The Shuttle fleet has been flying for almost 30 years. (more ...)
top JSC's biggest metaphor is engulfed in flames16 October 02010, 0:29
The Outpost tavern apparently burned down tonight.

Let me rephrase that.

The remains of the Outpost tavern, which had been balanced precariously on cinder blocks and scrap lumber for the last several months, apparently burned down tonight.

Let me rephrase further.

Another aging NASA institution died tonight.

Rest In Peace, The Outpost. Does this mean we can we get on with exploring?

Here's what I mean. The Outpost was an icon of the previous generation of NASA - test pilots, rough-and-tumble guys who blazed trails into outer space with their grit and determination. Or so the story went - when you delve deeper into the details, you find out that really it wasn't their grit at all - the Right Stuff that we all know so much about really had very little to do with humanity reaching space. (more ...)
top Photos: broken21 September 02010, 19:15
I was poking around my own web site today (it's worth doing every once in a while, I guess) and realized that I never got around to fixing the Photos section. Which is a shame, because I had lots of cool photos there. When I went from running my own web server to having the web site hosted at site5, the PHP I wrote to upload images stopped working, and I never got around to fixing it.

So there are no photos. I considered just removing that section altogether, but I have links to it from various old posts, and really I'd like to make it work again. (more ...)
top The gentleman is correct in sitting30 July 02010, 21:21
Working at NASA was a childhood dream of mine. At some level it was probably the common desire of a child growing up in the 1980s to be an astronaut, but for me I'd say it went further than that - I wanted to be a part of humanity's future; I wanted to be an explorer, an enabler, a part of the team that brought humanity up from the trenches and into a new era of enlightenment, exploration, and existence. I saw NASA as the embodiment of this notion - they achieved the impossible as a matter of routine and their mission was to explore the universe, starting at the edge of our planet and working outwards.

That was 20 years ago.

This is now.

I did, through the convoluted maze of life, end up working at NASA. (more ...)
top Rules for Radicals30 May 02010, 0:42
Note: as noted in a previous post, this is a lightly edited copy of an e-mail that I sent to co-workers recently. The lab I work in is meant to explore advanced human interface methods for future crewed spacecraft. As it is, a great deal of my time is spent trying desperately to wring funding and other resources (such as lab space) out of our organization so that we can actually perform some of this R&D work. This message reflects my take on the process and why it's important to continue trying.

We are extremists; what we pursue is radical. (more ...)
top Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?29 May 02010, 23:50
There was some post on the internet recently about Rules for Radicals - I don't remember where exactly it was and don't really care; it was some trite thing about Thinking Outside The Box or some such nonsense. But after skimming over the article, I realized that several of the notions actually apply to what I do at work.

For those who don't know: I work with a very small group of people at Johnson Space Center researching advanced human interfaces for future crewed spacecraft. Technically we're a Constellation lab, which means that if the proposed FY2011 budget is approved, my work becomes de-funded and I'm out job hunting.

At least that's the first thing that people think when I tell them I work in a Constellation lab. (more ...)
top Oh yeah26 May 02010, 22:15
I'm in Seattle, WA for the SID 2010 conference this week. I've been pushing a human interface architecture at work (now it's "our" architecture) and a lot of features of it seem to work well using transparent and/or flexible displays.

OLED displays can be flexible, transparent, or both - seemingly perfect. Electrophoretic ink technology can be flexible; I haven't seen any transparent e-ink displays but don't see why that's not possible (in fact I expect that it is). There are quantum dot displays which are cool, but I don't think they're going to be transparent or flexible.

Anyway. So there's this display technology that's perpetually 5 years out and sure enough, at SID 2010, OLED is only really present on the 6th floor (where they're talking about what will overtake LCDs in 5 years). (more ...)
top 201225 March 02010, 16:30
Saw 2012 the other day. What a ridiculous movie. It was fun to watch the disasters unfolding, but every time someone opened their mouth, they said something stupid. Also, as a general rule, everyone's actions were always stupid (except for the "bad guy" who turned out to have practical ideas that nobody listened to). It also appeared that the fate of humanity was that most of the smart people died, while the rich, well-connected, and/or tricky survive. Could Idiocracy be the sequel to this movie?

2.5 hours I wish I could get back.
top As for work9 March 02010, 17:23
Work at NASA continues, despite all the hoopla and hand wringing. This week we have crew members coming over to the low-fidelity Orion mockup to test out some Rotational Hand Controller (RHC) prototypes. One of the prototypes is a super-expensive mockup made at Langley that's electrically functional and has the correct translation, which is kind of cool, except that the body is a very old design and not really representative of what we're planning on doing. The next one is a stereolithed model that's volumetrically equivalent to the current baseline proposal, but I've made models of all the buttons and put them on Velcro so that we can move them around and try different places (in particular there's a lot of question about where the launch abort button is going to go). (more ...)
top Alice in Wonderland9 March 02010, 17:16
Saw Alice in Wonderland last night. 3D, even. It was a gorgeous movie; the scenes of Wonderland were visually stunning (the Red Queen's castle was particularly great). Good enough to forgive some of the CG bloopers (there were a few). They also made a really good treatment of the story (The what? Who sees a movie and cares about the story?). Totally recommended.

I saw it in 3D; in general I think the 3D thing is a bit overhyped and I really don't care much about it, and in the past those things have given me a headache. In this case it worked though; at some points it seemed like they made things swoop out at the audience just because they could, but in general it was pretty smooth.

Before the movie they had a preview for the NASA Hubble servicing mission movie. (more ...)
top The sky is right there where we left it3 February 02010, 16:26
... and I'm actually kind of excited about the new direction that we're getting. There are two parts that bother me:
  1. We can't actually do anything yet. We just have to keep working on our same Constellation stuff, because Congressional fiat prevents us from doing otherwise; but nobody is really motivated to do that because everyone knows that the axe is falling. Keep working towards PDR? Yeah, right.
  2. There's a lack of milestones in the new direction. Sure, we're doing this great research and development, but for what? It would be good to have milestones and perhaps some specific destinations. Charlie Bolden addressed this, sort of, in his NASA Update today.
Overall I have good feelings about this. (more ...)
top Keeping perspective2 February 02010, 20:45
There's a lot of emotion (and some hard feelings) about the president's FY2011 budget proposal for NASA. A lot of smart, dedicated people have worked for a long time to bring the Constellation program as far as it has come, and many of those people are understandably upset that the president has called for the program to be canceled outright.

The bad feelings aren't about people losing their jobs. I'm sure that's a concern for many, but there's something else, something much deeper. Engineering isn't just the practice of cobbling something together from a collection of pieces and ideas - it's a creative endeavor, an art, and just like other artists and artisans, engineers put a lot of time, effort, and energy into their creations. (more ...)
top Right29 January 02010, 12:06
Well I moved a year ago and kinda fell down on the job in terms of keeping this stuff up. Yes, it's been over a year since I posted last. Why even bother? I dunno. Might as well! Anyway, it was an ... interesting ... year, and I just never managed to get to this stuff. But I'm kinda back and the site is kinda back and maybe I'll start posting here again. I transferred some of my old posts from the old server to the new service but not all of them. Still no photos, but that will be fixed eventually. (more ...)
top Why space is important27 November 02007, 15:54
It was discouraging to hear Barack Obama's recent comments on the space program. When asked about his plan to cut funding on the Constellation program in order to pay for proposed education initiatives, USA Today quoted him as saying "We're not going to have the engineers and the scientists to continue space exploration if we don't have kids who are able to read, write and compute." That attitude is discouraging because the space program can have such a positive impact on our nation, including its educational system, if given the chance.

NASA's missions after Apollo would have been useful, if relatively uninspiring, had they been integrated into a long-term goal of exploration. (more ...)
top Things I miss about Atlanta15 September 02007, 15:00
So I've lived in Houston for a couple of months now, and am finally starting to find my way around. While I still don't think of Houston as home, I definitely feel somewhat settled in (when Clio and my furniture get here, the illusion will be mostly complete).

But there are a few things that Atlanta really did better than Houston:
  • Your Dekalb Farmers Market. I really miss that place. I don't know if it's technically a "farmers market," but it's clean, it's convenient, and it has a huge selection of food - in particular produce, meat, beer and wine, and the range of international foods. (more ...)
top The experts on the ground8 September 02007, 21:06
If anybody watches NASA TV (anybody?), particularly ISS Mission Coverage (*crickets*), there was a bit about scheduled TVIS maintenance. TVIS is something I work on at NASA/ESCG, and Friday I sat on console at the MER to help out with the maintenance tasks. So when the commentator talks about "the experts on the ground," that's me! Who knew?
top Incidentally30 June 02007, 13:09
Those of you who know me know that I've been on a quest of sorts, for at least a few years. The quest is for knowledge, but a specific bit of knowledge. I'll recap:

We've all heard the phrase "it's not rocket science." Somebody says that when they're describing an intellectual task that is far from challenging. For example, one might say "He can't even make microwave popcorn? It's not rocket science or anything."

That's fine for most people, who (presumably) view rocket science as something far beyond their mental capacity. (There's a variation on this, "it's not brain surgery." I'm going to ignore that for now but perhaps I'll come back to it later.) But what about a rocket scientist? (more ...)
top Good grief22 May 02007, 11:20

So I wake up this morning and smell smoke ... again. It was bad enough in downtown Atlanta that it slowed down traffic. The weather forecast for today says "Patchy Smoke." What is this, California?
top Chemists don't paint their own houses10 May 02007, 10:06
My proof of this: latex-based paint. It looks great on paper: cleanup is easy, the paint is easy to apply, the dried product is water-resistant, and it doesn't smell bad like oil-based paints. What's not to like? I'll tell you what. My house hasn't been painted in 5 years, and doors still stick to their door frames. I nearly need a crowbar to open the closet doors (I just leave one of them open all the time), because the paint on the door sticks to the paint on the frame. Also, latex paint won't stick to any other kind of paint, except on really porous surfaces like drywall. (more ...)
top Advice for young engineers22 April 02007, 21:18
If you are an electrical engineer who went to college because you enjoy electrical engineering, there are many boring, soul-sucking career paths that you may find trying to pull you in. There are many reasons for someone to be a technician, to spend their days dealing with the mind-numbing tedium of Windows network troubleshooting, PLC ladder logic, and packaging machinery. To be sure, those jobs are important and someone has to do them. Some may even find them interesting.

That someone doesn't have to be you. There's also no reason to feel that you are doomed for life if you find yourself in a blind alley of a job. (more ...)
top Published!18 March 02007, 19:21
Almost! Some of you may know that while I was recovering from back surgery, I wrote a paper for IEEE Potentials Magazine that was accepted for publication. Well, now they're telling me that it's going to be published in the May/June issue. Sweet! Many of you who have heard me when I spot an empty saddle on a high horse will see the essay as familiar ground, but you've never heard me on a peer reviewed high horse, so there.
top Rampant Incompetence17 December 02006, 19:23
Most of the problems we face every day can be traced back to a single cause: rampant incompetence. People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities: driving skills, problem-solving skills, logical prowess, engineering expertise, and so on. Incompetence does more than cause the unskilled to reach erroneous conclusions or make unfortunate choices: it robs them of the ability to recognize their mistakes. The upshot of this is that the incompetent, in addition to frequently being wrong, also tend to be unshakably confident [1].

Engineers are by no means an exception, but as designers of everyday products, we have the ability to cause a great deal of misery as our incomprehensible designs are thrust upon the public.

One way to avoid this general misery is to ensure that new engineers are well-rounded and at least familiar with all of the fields that may seem tangential at best to their chosen area of study. (more ...)
top My last word on the matter13 November 02006, 23:43
Over the last few years, we've seen a growing trend - an ugly one - the increased use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) on airplanes. It's not just passengers bringing more gadgets on to planes with them, either: in 2003, Lufthansa and British Airways demonstrated a cabin 802.11b wireless system for passenger use; Qualcomm and American Airlines demonstrated an on-board mobile phone pico-cell in July 2003; recently, Boeing Connexion has been installing 802.11b wireless systems on Lufthansa airplanes. Even the FAA has been thinking about rescinding the rules requiring passengers to turn off electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

Why is this a disturbing trend? (more ...)
top My encounter with the UAE fuzz17 February 02006, 13:22
So I'm in the U.A.E. these days, and I've been meaning to make some posts on random things that have happened so far but haven't gotten around to it. But I did want to put this one up because it was kind of funny.

At road construction projects that are on highways outside of major cities, the construction crews will routinely put up sizable speed bumps to keep people at a more reasonable speed (~10 km/hr) through the construction zone. These are well marked, but still it's not the sort of thing you expect to encounter when driving 140 km/hr down the highway. (more ...)
top *sigh*21 January 02006, 20:52
top Cell phones on planes14 December 02005, 21:10
It seems that people are skeptical about the dangers of operating Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) on airplanes. I've heard the same tired argument ("but I leave my phone on all the time, nothing bad happens") several times already. Well, sometimes bad things do happen. Usually not "planes dropping out of the sky" bad, but bad nonetheless. Airplane systems (including Air Phones and the like) are subject to rigorous electromagnetic emission standards to establish and provide control of the electromagnetic characteristics and compatibility of these systems. PEDs, however, are not subject to these restrictions, and electromagnetic interference from PEDs carried on by passengers have been reported as being responsible for many anomalous events during flight. (more ...)
top No talking on the plane30 November 02005, 21:02
I stay in hotels a lot these days, and most hotels that I stay at plop a free copy of USA Today at my door every morning. So I read a lot of USA Today as well.

In today's USA Today there was an article by Kevin Maney in which he discussed the pummeling of people who carry on loud phone or VOIP conversations on airplanes. This is something I approve of, but he also made some flippant remarks about how cell phones really aren't the safety hazards that the FAA makes them out to be. I disagree on that, and wrote him an e-mail saying so. (more ...)
top Misappropriated holidays17 March 02005, 19:24
Every year on St. Patrick's day I have to wonder how a Catholic holiday can come to America and end up as an excuse for binge drinking. And more importantly, why this particular one, for several reasons.

First, a bit on St. Patrick: Irish? Nope. He was actually born in Scotland, and lived most of his life in Britain or France. But that's a minor point, especially given the fact that the Irish tend to hold him in high regard.

Fine. That one I can overlook, but there are better reasons to choose a different saint if you're looking to cut loose and have a bit of fun:
top Trench: 1, C-130: 022 January 02005, 15:54
Normally, when construction work is being done on an airport runway, there are several safety precautions that are taken. In addition to safe work practices, a large "X" is placed at the end of the runway under construction (sometimes the "X" is lighted), and the airport issues a NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) to inform any pilots that might be landing at that airport that the runway is not in service.


In mid December, a C-23 Sherpa flew into a US operated airfield in Iraq during the day and the pilot saw, much to his surprise, that there was active airport construction and a trench was being dug across his runway (no NOTAM had been issued, and there was no runway marker). (more ...)
top Food for thought22 November 02004, 23:46
This would normally be another rant, but it's late and I'm tired so it's going to be short.

Anyway. I was just reading about the Soviet Space Battlestation Skif, which was the Soviet Union's response to Reagan's Star Wars program. What's interesting about it isn't the concept of space-based warfare so much as the method that was to be used to put it in to orbit: the Energia booster rocket, the same vehicle used on the Buran space shuttle.

Why is it interesting? Because that's what the Space Transport System is supposed to be (as I understand it) - a booster platform to loft things in to space. (more ...)
top Skydive!20 November 02004, 20:01
Well, I went skydiving today with two co-workers. Skydiving is one of those things that I always sort of assumed I would never do (I mean why would somebody jump out of a perfectly good airplane?).

It was actually pretty fun. There's a lot of waiting involved, and you have to sign several pages of "if you fall and break your leg, don't come running to us with legal documents." After that, you wait around a while. There was a short instructional video, narrated by some guy with a comically long beard, that was about 50% "why you shouldn't sue us" and about 50% "hey, come jump out of this airplane using our patented and totally safe harness; don't worry about any of that other stuff I just said."

We did tandem jumps, which was nice for the first time because instead of having parachutes strapped to our backs, we had trained professionals strapped to our backs (the trained professionals had parachutes on their backs). (more ...)
top So what the heck is it, already?22 June 02004 16:13
Since I'm posting stuff, I'm going to ask this again, because I still haven't gotten an answer.

It's a question I have. Actually, it's turned into sort of a quest. Here it goes:

I'm sure you've heard the phrase "it's not rocket science." Or maybe you heard the variation "It's not brain surgery." It's what you say when you're referring to something that isn't insurmountably difficult (and presumably rocket science and/or brain surgery are insurmountably difficult).

Fine. But what does a rocket scientist say when he's referring to something that isn't insurmountably difficult? Presumably he/she won't say "it's not rocket science," since (for all we know) the thing in question may in fact be rocket science. (more ...)
top Appropriation vs Authorization22 June 02004 16:02
This was in the FAA VOICE newsletter a while back; I just stumbled across it looking for something else but I thought it was pretty neat. The question is, what's the deal with "authorization" and "appropriation" in congress? You hear a lot (at least around budget time) about appropriation bills and whatnot, but I (and apparently others) never really understood what that meant.

Well, Deandra Brooks (from the FAA's Office of Government and Industry Affairs) offered the best explanation that I've ever seen:

"In congress, you have the Budget Committee, authorizing committees, and an appropriations committee. While much of their work is intertwined, they all do something a little different. (more ...)
top Whoa ...15 May 02004 16:09
I found this flier in the hallway of the apartment the other day: whoa
"Dang, there's just not enough time in the day to bath myself. I wish there was some stranger who could do it for me."

naaah ...
top Remember the Hindenburg!6 May 02004 18:25
The German dirigible Hindenburg burned and crashed in Lakehurst, NJ on May 6, 1937; 36 of the 97 passengers and crew died. But the memory of the Hindenburg lives on, not only as a trite metaphor, but also as a short example in college freshman physics textbooks.
top Chernobyl4 April 02004 18:26
Haven't heard much about it yet, but this day marks 18 years since the explosion and fire in Unit 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.
top More on TMI28 March 02004 10:04
The New York Times has an interesting article from March 29 on the incident. Among other interesting points in the article are the fact that nobody seemed to have a clear handle, even the day after the event, of what exactly went wrong. The vice president of Metropolitan Edison suggested that the accident may have begun with the failure of a valve in a pump in the cooling system, but the manufacturer of the pump (Bingham-Willamette) pointed out that such a valve failure could not have been the cause, because "we have no valve in our pump." (Herbein, the vice president of Metropolitan Edison, was probably referring to the maintenance valves in front of the emergency feedwater pumps that had been accidentally left closed after earlier maintenance). (more ...)
top Three Mile Island27 March 02004 23:26
March 28 marks the 25th anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island! In honor of the occasion, I'd like to go on for a bit about it.

If we learn anything from history, we learn the most from historic failures. History provides us with many spectacular failures, and it is imperative that we learn from them.

The nuclear power industry provides us with some very spectacular failures indeed, and I'd like to ramble for a bit on a very important one: the accident at Three Mile Island.

The near-catastrophe at Three Mile Island (hereafter TMI) started in Unit 2 of the plant on March 28, 1979 and the resulting drama gripped the nation for weeks afterward; as pregnant women and others were fleeing the area, the President of the United States toured the plant as two feeble pumps, designed for other duties, worked to keep the core of the plant from melting (one of them eventually failed).

Unit 2 at TMI had a lot of problems at the end of 1978 when it was set to be started. (more ...)
top UltraSPARC sucks13 February 02004 17:58
I have officially decided that Sun's computing platform, and in particular the UltraSPARC processor, suck. Also, there is no good OS to run on it. Solaris is one of the worst operating systems I've ever tried to use, and Linux has horrible SPARC support.

But back to the UltraSPARC, Sun's flagship pile of ass. Here's a chip that has changed minimally, architecturewise, since its introduction. To push the chip's clock speed past 1GHz (when Intel and AMD were tossing out 2GHz+ chips as fast as people would buy them), TI had to use a six-layer copper interconnect process -- the Pentium 4 and Athlon chips only use 4 layers. (more ...)
top Necessity is the mother of nothing10 February 02004 00:48
You've probably heard the saying "Necessity is the mother of invention" a few times. The phrase implies that necessity springs out of the blue, and that civilization ceases to function until whatever sudden pressing need has been satisfied. At best, the phrase is a tautology. At worst, it is an indication that the speaker of the phrase is the sort of simple-minded fool that spouts trite expressions without giving thought to reality.

If you were to step back and take stock of your surroundings right now, you would be hard pressed to find anything that you need that isn't somehow provided for. (more ...)
top Goofy weather names25 January 02004 23:56
We're under a "Freezing Drizzle Advisory."
Freezing Drizzle
top They just don't make them like they used to28 October 02003 19:55
In the past couple of years, national security has been on everyone's mind; laws have been passed, rules have been enacted, and generally life has been made more miserable so that we as a country can feel more secure. Some of the initiatives that we have seen are very visible; airport security, security at federal buildings, and legislation such as the Patriot Act have been widely discussed, and their relative merits are subject to some debate. There has also been much behind-the-scenes work, such as the Container Security Initiative (CSI), which is designed to protect the transportation of the ubiquitous and increasingly important 40-foot containers that bring us much of what we buy. (more ...)
top No shit, there I was ...21 June 02003, 00:31
So a friend of mine was on TV today -- specifically, he was a guest on the show Tech Support on People TV, which is broadcast live to whoever is watching in metro Atlanta. Since it's not everyday that most people get on TV, and there was supposedly room in the studio for 3 friends to watch, I went with two other people to watch David be on TV. Which was going to be fun.

So we get to People TV, and all I can think of is UHF, but whatever -- it was really neat to be hanging around the studio, and we were going to be sitting in the control room watching the show.

At least that was the plan until about 40 seconds (literally) before the show started, when the producer of the show asks us "are you three on camera?" We thought that he was asking us if we were going to be on the show, so we said "no" -- to which he said "Well, you are now," and started herding us through the door into the studio. (more ...)