Category Archives: Space

Tithing

In ancient times, the Israelites, or if you prefer, the Jews, were expected to set the first ten percent of their harvest aside as an offering to God. Many of us–Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, have roots reaching back to that same practice. Of course, back then, they slaughtered animals, the priests took a portion for their services–after all, they did not farm or own herds–but the rest was burnt on the altar as a sacrifice.

Most churches today, wouldn’t know what to do if someone placed a lamb in the collection basket. Even worse, the children in the congregation would be traumatized by the idea that a cute little lamb (although they really are dirty and stupid creatures)  would be slaughtered (even though they might very well enjoy that same lamb–with mint jelly–if it were packaged on a Styrofoam tray covered with shrink wrap at the grocery store).

It’s a different world. Today, very few of us raise sheep (my friends in New Zealand excepted, of course), so that’s not what we bring as a sacrifice. So what do we offer?

  • Church goers often donate cash to their church.
  • Many people donate money or goods to various charitable organizations.
  • Some people donate time to soup kitchens or shelters for the homeless.

But their are other opportunities to contribute to the good of all, even if you can’t help out at a soup kitchen and wouldn’t know which end of a hammer to use for Habitats for Humanity.

You can donate computer time. and it’s painless.

When you are not using your computer, you can let it work for others. Calculations that once required a supercomputer are now divided up into byte-sized (sorry about the pun) chunks and sent to thousands of personal computers. Each personal computer is limited; a hundred personal computers has possibilities; a thousand personal computer is awesome.

A million personal computer working on a problem might just solve it.

If you participate, you can set your computer to work on such issues whenever you aren’t using it. There are sites working to track asteroids that threaten the earth, the cure for various diseases, the global warming issue–does it exist? What causes it, and what should we do?

There are a variety of other questions to be answered. Curious? Check out

boinc.berkeley.edu.

 

Pondering the Eclipse

solar_eclipse_nasa

Today’s eclipse – courtesy NASA

In ancient times, an eclipse was a terrifying event. It was often interpreted as God, god, or gods anger. It was a message for people to repent and change their ways.

Naturally, we’re far too sophisticated to let a predictable passing of the moon between the sun and earth concern us. We understand science and math, physics and astrophysics.

But, then again, if you look at the state of the world today, maybe it would be good to repent and change our ways.

Start Tracking the Next Generation*

spock

Leonard Nimoy as Spock (Thanks, and we miss you already)

My in-laws now live near us, so we can include them in celebrations, or just drop by to visit. Of course my wife is with them to help navigate doctors, health insurance, and the other great mysteries of life.

Our son is headed into his final year in high school; our daughter headed to her freshman year.

In the meantime, my older son and his wife, who are up in New England (it’s true- “You can’t get there from here.”) have added a second granddaughter to our favorite grandson and our first granddaughter.

Life keeps us busy. One of us is attending to parent, child, pet, neighbor or whatever, while the other is equally busy (or busier) elsewhere. It’s bad enough that we pass one another like “two ships passing in the night.” When either of us passes ourselves as we scurry from one duty to another, that’ll grab your attention.

Today I realized that I’ve been parenting for forty years. That should count for something (free perpetual VIP access for all the great bands of my youth, [Eagles. Jimmy Buffet, the Who, Jethro Tull, etc.], as well as all first class cruises, AND an ambassadorship to France, Germany, England, Japan, or Poland, at the minimum).

Alas, that’s not how it works. Instead, as time goes on, we focus even more on others rather than on ourselves.

But then Jesus, Himself, said, “The student is not greater than the master,” and He came to serve, not be served.

I’ll keep trying to follow His example, and in another forty years, maybe I’ll have figured out how to do parenting correctly.

Or, maybe not.

*with apologies to Gene Rodenberry

20 July 1969

Plaque on Apollo 11 Lunar Lander

Plaque on Apollo 11 Lunar Lander

I had just graduated from high school. Viet Nam dominated the news, especially for young men approaching their 18th birthday.

But in the midst of it all, we answered the challenge of President John F. Kennedy to make it to the moon and back within the decade of the 1960s.

Wow!

The lunar module detached from the command module and descended to the moon’s surface. Neil Armstrong prepared to land on the moon using an approach chart just like pilots would use here on earth. However, since no one had been to the moon before, the detailed chart was based on photographs and estimates. As he got closer, he realized that the intended landing site was not safe. Unlike on earth, he could not merely go around and make a second attempt – there was not enough fuel. Well trained, disciplined and determined, he coaxed every bit of lift out of the spacecraft and brought the Eagle to a safe landing.

When I saw that even I, a soon to be befuddled college freshman, knew – I KNEW – anything was possible.

Forty-five years later, I still know it’s true.

Do you?

 

Science FICTION vs. SCIENCE Fiction

The_Martian_2014

My older son dislikes the reboot of Star Trek because of some of the liberties they take with the laws of physics. I on the other hand am happy to allow artistic license in order to have a good story.

Of course, I grew up on the notoriously under-budgeted original Star Trek, while he grew up on Star Trek Deep Space Nine. The original couldn’t afford the sets and models for a different planet each week, so they created the now ubiquitous transporter. Considering that this was in the days before the first real world moon landing, that was a leap of faith (or a tweak of physics) in its own right.

On the other hand, there are some great stories that take great care in ensuring that the science is reasonably well adhered to. I just finished The Martian by Andy Weir.

There have been marooned stories from before Robinson Crusoe to the recent movie Gravity. The trick is to tell it in a way that’s reasonably plausible. Mark Watney is part of a team of astronauts on Mars that is devastated by a dust storm. His team mates see him impaled on a metal rod and blown away, but can’t recover his body because their launch vehicle is rapidly succumbing to the same storm. Recover one dead astronaut and they’ll add the whole team to the killed in action list.

Of course, Mark didn’t die, but to survive he has to figure out certain things.

How do I get water on Mars?

How do I find some way to grow some kind of food in something?

Like a detective novel, it’s the “how does he figure this one out” factor that makes this book fun, and there are many things to be figured out.

Looking Back at Looking Forward

spockSONY DSC

When I think back to growing up in the 1960’s, many of the things we see today are really not that much of a surprise.

Thanks to Star Trek, ubiquitous computers, communicators (smartphones), and tricorders (tablets) were actually fairly predictable.

James Bond and Mission Impossible taught us to expect someone to listen in on phone calls – after all, Barney from the Impossible Mission Force always knew which wire to connect (or in the case of a bomb, which one to cut.)

It might have been a little bit of a stretch, but of all the “British Invasion” rock and roll groups, the Rolling Stones would be the ones to still be around.

On the other hand, I never would have expected that one day there would be theme songs and jingles for lawyers’ television commercials.

Star Trek Spoiler

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but for the Trekkers out there.

Remember V’ger in the first Star Trek movie?

amsat

Here’s a Cubesat – a cube shaped amateur satellite.

We’re sending lots of them up there.

Here’s a Borg spacecraft.

borg

You don’t suppose there’s any connection, do you?

Am I Back?

I’ve been having trouble writing lately because all I seem to read about is scandal, celebrity, celebrity-scandal, murder, rape, pillage and politics. Ugh!

We Geeks like to find the silver lining in any and every cloud, and it’s been pretty hard lately.

But, then I saw it.

Orbital Sciences successfully launched their Antares rocket carrying supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) from Wallops Island, VA. With the space shuttles retired, NASA had been relying on the Russians for transport and supply of the ISS. Now they’ve got two additional partners, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX.

Wow! It’s kind of like “Two Men and a Truck” at seventeen miles a second. Nothing glitzy. Nothing fancy. Just reliable delivery service like UPS or FedEx with a couple of million horsepower.

Now I have to write about the CubeSats and student experiments that the Antares carried. Then I need to write about a Geek philosopher I’ve recently read.

Stay tuned.

Harrison Ford

ford

Through his career, Harrison Ford has played a number of interesting roles including Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Bladerunner Rick Deckard. Which one is the coolest?

Bladerunner is set in an earth that everyone who can has already left. Neither we, nor Deckerd is sure whether he’s human or a replicant (android). Bet that makes it difficult to complete the census paperwork.

Han Solo at first seems totally cool. And for the record – he did shoot Gredo first. He’s got his own ship. Hangs with Chewbacca (the ultimate wingman), is a gambler and a smuggler – not to mention a self proclaimed scoundrel. Women fall for him – it’s the scoundrel thing. However, other than flying fast and fighting, he really has no other skills. No interests. Not even a hobby – other than his blaster. Okay, he’s cool but pretty one dimensional.

That leaves Indiana Jones. Henry Jones, Jr. PhD. An educated man who steals his nickname from the family dog. You have to be fairly self-confident to do that. Has, a fling with the daughter of his archeological mentor – but she’s hot, so let’s just say he has a touch of scoundrel, but just a touch. He’s a tenured professor who prefers field work to classroom studies. At least one of his female students is smitten with him, but the guys like him too, as one of them slips him an apple. Carries a revolver rather than the ubiquitous .45 Colt automatic, but can do amazing things with a bullwhip. However, for all his strengths, he’s still afraid of snakes. His friends, like Sallah and Dr. Marcus Brody are intriguing. His professional competitors, like Belloq are equally intriguing. Add the fedora and the theme music…

Okay, you’re going to say he had me at “fedora.”

Oh, and on the infinitesimally small chance that Mr. Ford would read this – Harry, as one pilot to another, thanks for entertaining us. I look forward to seeing Ender’s Game, Paranoia, Star Wars VII and Indiana Jones 5.

There Are Always Possibilities

eart

We are defined in many ways by the time in which we grew up. I count the 1960s as the defining part of my life*.

John F Kennedy was elected President 1960. At his inauguration in 1961 as he challenged us to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country?” He took inspiration from the musical “Camelot” to work toward an ideal, even if for only, “one brief shining moment.” During his time in office when we faced the Cuban Missile Crisis my mother (and many others) expected to be facing World War III. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, which was the first major tragedy many of us young people took personally.

In 1960, Echo, an American satellite that was essentially a 100 foot Mylar balloon was designed to reflect radio signals, but its size and reflectivity made it the first man made space object visible from earth with the naked eye. The newspaper would print the times it would be visible at night, and people felt they had to go out and see it, even if only once. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin, Soviet Cosmonaut was the first man in space. The American manned space program followed, and launches from Cape Canaveral were broadcast live. At first, someone would bring a portable radio to school so the class could listen to the launches. Later, radios gave way to portable televisions. “Portable” meant a large, heavy box with a small black and white picture tube; however it had a handle bolted to the top, so therefore it was portable. In 1967 we were crushed when all three astronauts died in a fire aboard Apollo 1 less than a month before its scheduled launch date. In July, 1969, Apollo 11 fulfilled President Kennedy’s challenge of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely by the end of the decade.

Entertainment helped form me as well. Star Trek foretold of a future in which “There are always possibilities.” Variety shows abounded; Ed Sullivan made sure we met the Beatles. Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Johnny Carson all entertained us and made us smile. Ernie Kovacs and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In redefined comedy, and it hasn’t been the same since. Broadway musicals included Man of La Mancha, 1776, Hair, and of course, Camelot.

I graduated from high school in 1969. I looked forward to a world full of opportunities and a chance for me to make a difference. As if to emphasize this, the musical that my high school presented that year was Camelot. Playing in the band for the play, I saw every performance. I still love the music.

And, in case you don’t know me well, I still view the world with wonder. There are always things to enjoy, mysteries to solve and music to go with it. The glass is, in fact, half empty but that only means that it is also half full.

I still believe Mr. Spock’s comment** that there are always possibilities.

It’s a wonderful thing.

————————————————————————————-

* The joke is, “If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there.” If the truth be told, the days of sex, drugs and rock and roll may have started in the very late sixties but more aptly describe the 70s.

** For the hard-core Trekkers: Yes, I know this is like “Play it again, Sam.” In the series, Spock never actually spoke these exact words. The phrase was quoted by Captain Kirk in the second Star Trek movie, “Wrath of Khan.”

Ham Radio Kind of Day

Hams can be found anywhere. NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, Expedition 24 flight engineer, uses a ham radio system in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.  Courtesy NASA

Hams can be found anywhere.
NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, Expedition 24 flight engineer, uses a ham radio system in the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station.
Courtesy NASA

I went to the hamfest in Virginia Beach, VA today. No, it’s not a meeting about pork products – it’s an opportunity for amateur radio operators (hams) to get together and buy or sell equipment.

I like looking for “treasures” at garage sales and thrift shops, although for many, the statement “As is, no refunds” means “It’s broke and parts aren’t available.” Hamfests seem to be different. One reason is that ham radio equipment is meant to be experimented on, so repair information and parts tend to be available. Today, however, I was less inclined to buy a radio that needed repairing and more interested in tools and parts to finish up some of the projects I’ve been working on. I was successful.

After getting home, I set about on some of the to-do’s that needed attention, pausing to flip on my radio. In a matter of (literally) seconds I was engaged in a short conversation with a ham radio operator in Serbia.

I plan on adding a nap and then cooking out on the grill. That’s my kind of day.

Detroit’s Demise

I grew up in Toledo, about an hour south of Detroit, so I feel a personal twinge about the financial disaster Detroit now faces.

It wasn’t always so. They used to say that, “What’s good for General Motors, is good for the country.” Supposedly GM had to keep its market share below 51% to not run afoul of monopoly laws.

Imported cars were rare.  They were exotics, like Lamborghinis, sports cars like the MG, or quirky like the VW Beetle.

How did Detroit go from being on top of the world to bankruptcy?

Two words.

Flying Cars.

The Jetsons! Hanna-Barbera

The Jetsons!
Hanna-Barbera

They’ve been promising us flying cars for years. “Thunderbirds,” the 1950’s black and white marionette space show had flying cars. The Jetsons made it practically a promise, and, if that wasn’t enough, we had the hover cars in “Back to the Future.”

So, Detroit, it’s all Hollywood’s fault.

The Dark Side

smith 1

Once again Smithsonian Magazine comes through with a thought provoking article, “Welcome to the Dark Side” by Ron Rosenbaum in the June 2013 issue. The article is about Lisa Randall, a Cosmologist – which is more or less like the mixture of a physicist and mathematician on super-steroids. Dr. Randall is a tenured professor at Harvard, and is working with things that Star Trek writers could never imagine.

smith 2

Dr.. Lisa Randall

The most interesting part of her theory is that of all the universe, we can only observe 4%. The other 96% we can’t see, measure or mathematically extrapolate. This 96% is so-called “dark matter.”

Here’s a totally unscientific question — “Could the afterlife; heaven and possibly hell be occupying the majority of the universe? Could they be in the part we cannot see?

Just a thought.

People See What They Want to See

We’ve all read about the JC Penney teapot that “looks like Hitler.”

I guess it’s no more of a stretch of the imagination than seeing the constellations of stars as people and creatures.

Then there are the people who see Jesus in a potato chip or Mary, His mother, on a piece of toast.

The ancients believed that their gods and legends were real, so they naturally expected to see evidence of them in the sky.

On the other hand, I suspect that no self-respecting (or even non self-respecting) neo-Nazi group would subliminally communicate via a teapot – especially from a main stream retailer.

Some people see the failings and shortfalls of others, and the differences that divide us. Others see potential and opportunity and how we share a common future.

Jesus saw the potential among the fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes and lepers. Others saw their low social status, their failings and their sinfulness.

What do you see?

Conspiracy du Jour

Stephen M. Katz | The Virginian-Pilot

Stephen M. Katz | The Virginian-Pilot

I am not one to jump to conclusions. For example, I don’t believe that Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa were taken by aliens or that the automakers can make a car get hundreds of miles to the gallon but refuse to employ the technology. Everyone knows that it’s Big Oil that has destroyed those secrets.

Dave Austin fans will be relieved to know that I don’t believe that pigs live in trees, and I think Rover is just a faithful puppy sitting by the doggie door.

However…

There have been odd happenings, some very close to home.

First, Old Dominion University here in Norfolk, VA has a lion as its logo and mascot. A resident in the area near Old Dominion called 911 and reported that a lion was loose in her neighborhood. Old Dominion officials checked to see if one of their lions had escaped, but all were accounted for. Come to find out, it was a dog – a labradoodle – with a weird haircut. (Virginian-Pilot Story here)

Add to that the fact that in Virginia Beach, while its owner was gone another dog managed to turn on the stove, setting fire to the house.

It just so happens that these – and other strange events have occurred right when the asteroid Apophis passed by earth. This so called “Doomsday Asteroid” may someday smash into the earth ending life as we know it, or at least becoming “Breaking News” on cable news.

Dogs impersonating other species? Dogs operating major appliances? A killer asteroid passes near earth? Coincidence? I don’t think so.

If you’re not convinced, add this fact. As I write this, the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) – a trade exhibit of the latest in gadgets is being held in Las Vegas. It’s a geek and engineer event. So?

Today ABC News ran a story today with the headline “Snooki Brings Her Style to CES”.

Gravity Wells

 

I find that there are days during which I seem to disrupt the force of gravity in my immediate vicinity. Although I could afford to lose a few pounds, I don’t believe that I approach the amount of mass to exert such force.

Nevertheless, at times I open the closet or pantry door and things spontaneously begin to fall. Cans and boxes of food drop. Tools jump off my workbench. Papers fly off my desk. I was beginning to get some type of deep emotional complex with the associated scars.

However, I am an avid reader.

Lately, I’ve been reading how astronomers and physicists have been making all kinds of exciting discoveries about black holes.

Then it hit me.

I must be generating my own singularity – my very own, personal black hole.

It explains a lot.

The only problem is that now I’ve discovered this, everyone is going to want their own black holes.

Then I won’t be special any more.

It’s easier to pick things up off the floor and put them back on the shelf when you believe it’s because you’re special.

Oh, well.

EsrevinU

My life is fairly typical. I go to work. I come home.

On weekends I putter around the house.

A ten minute repair job can take me an hour because I spend at least 50 minutes looking for my tools.

I’ve gotten to the point that I freely buy one more pair of pliers, one more screwdriver, or whatever. My friends tell me how their kids borrow their tools and eventually they find a rusted mass of metal that is vaguely pliers shape out in the yard.

Not me.

My tools just disappear for long periods of time then magically re-appear.

Go figure.

uni

Flashlights are even worse. I think my son uses them to find his cat, who likes to play hide-and-seek with him by hiding under my bed. In any case, flashlight after flashlight disappears.

One day my wife suggested that there was a parallel universe and between myself and my alternative counterpart, we had to share things. She indicated it made sense because socks followed the same pattern. They’d disappear in the drier. Weeks later they’d show up. Of course I thought she was crazy.

I stopped at Wally-World and bought a handful of additional flashlights. One by one they began to disappear. I told my wife I was going to use my label maker and mark them with “This is Dad’s flashlight! Do not touch under penalty of death!”

They all disappeared.

This morning there was a flashlight on my nightstand. The side was marked with a label that said, “!htaed fo yltanep rednu hcuot ton oD !thgilhsalf s’daD si sihT”

I thought about it all day.

When I got home, I opened a bottle of wine and brought 2 glasses into the family room. I poured a glass for my wife and said, “Please, tell me about this parallel universe idea of yours.”

A Sunnier Outlook

December 21st, the Winter Solstice is behind us, that means that every day we have a little more daylight.

NASA Photo

NASA Photo

As we head toward the cold, wintry months of January, February and early March, it’s reassuring that every day is just a little brighter. It makes the cold easier to tolerate.

Life is kind of like that. When we face the coldest times, there’s always something to remind us that it is getting better.

Preparing for Frankenstorm

All eyes around here are on Hurricane Sandy – the weatherguessers are calling this the “Possible Perfect Storm!” But to quote a meteorologist I know, “In what other job can you be wrong 70% of the time and be seen as fantastic?”

A storm or two ago one of the reporters for a national weather channel was out at Virginia Beach acting like he was heroically braving the elements. It was windy, but nothing deadly, so some of the local teenagers got behind him and waved. It ruined the illusion, so his response was something like “Don’t these people realize the danger they’re in?”

Weather people are adrenaline junkies. Remember the movie “Twister”? (One of my favorites, by the way.) The real weather chasers are pretty much like that.

If you live up north and haven’t experienced a hurricane, think blizzard – lots of moisture and lots of wind. You get enough warning to stock up on the essentials and then sit inside and watch it happen.

We did get up early this morning and clean up all the miscellaneous in the yard so that nothing will become airborne and break a window. With wind and rain that can be messy.

So now we wait.

Oh, and I can cross “Clean up the yard” off my general purpose list of things to do.

Good Bye, Neil Armstrong

Like many other bloggers, I’m just going to offer my thoughts on the passing of Neil Armstrong.

The picture everybody has seen over the past few days.

I like to call it, “A man happy at work.”

He hated to be called a hero – he was humble.

He flew the X-15, a rocket plane dropped from flying bomber. I remember having a Scholastic Book Service book about the X-15 in grade school. The X-15 was the coolest thing in the world until the Mercury program came along.

He was a Naval Aviator, but after three years and the rank of ensign, he moved to NACA, the predecessor to NASA.

He flew in the Gemini program with David Scott. They performed the first space docking with another spacecraft, an Agena test vehicle. This was a critical capability that would be used as part of the Apollo spacecraft on its way to the moon. He was the first American civilian in orbit.

NASA had prepared charts of the moon – laid out in a manner similar to the charts pilots use on earth for the approach to an airport. Neil was supposed to “fly the pattern” with Eagle but there was an obstruction in the way, so he had to alter the approach. It was some impressive flying and almost used up all his fuel. Nobody noticed because they were so focused on the destination. He didn’t seem to mind.

Years later with computerized enhancement, it was decided that in fact he probably did say, “One small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind.” (We ham radio operators understand signal drop out – we call it “QSB”.)

Neil, I’m sure you’ll make your final journey as successfully as your others. Godspeed.