What Goes Up Must Come Down

December 23rd, 2015

Vertically landing rockets have been a staple in science fiction for a long time:

And in the 1960s, Wernher von Braun’s Saturn team was already intensely thinking about outfitting future versions of the Saturn V with reusable stages. Among the many concepts studied were a winged flyback version and a parachute-assisted return. Unfortunately, these ambitions never went beyond the drawing stages. While closing down the Apollo program, NASA made the fateful (and as we now know, mistaken) decision to pursue the Space Shuttle as NASA’s exclusive launch vehicle. The vehemently protesting Wernher on Braun was sidelined and “kicked up” into a senior administrative position with little real decision making power. (Disappointed and unsatisfied, he left NASA a few years later). Since then, astronauts have been confined to low Earth orbit, going essentially nowhere but in circles.

It took almost five decades for the reusable rocket concept to return and become reality, and it was neither NASA nor any other national space program, but two private companies which accomplished the first proof-of-concept.

In November 2015, Blue Origin had successfully landed an experimental test rocket at its launch site in West Texas. It plans to use the rocket again. And on December 21, 2015, California based SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket to space while returning and landing the rocket’s 1st stage to the launch site for a powered, vertical landing.  For the first time a rocket has been successfully landed during a commercial satellite launch.

The concepts used by the two companies are very different, as illustrated here:

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The end result result of the SpaceX flight is certainly stunning and resembles what science fiction described so many decades ago:

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It now remains to be seen if recovering and refurbishing an entire rocket stage and its engines is indeed cheaper than building a new one — something that hasn’t been tried on a commercial scale. But if Wernher von Braun was right (and he usually was), this should be the way to go.

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Mark Twain’s 180th Birthday

November 30th, 2015
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Mark Twain, detail of photo by Mathew Brady, February 7, 1871

Today I am celebrating the 180th birthday of one of my favorite personalities: printer, typesetter, journalist, humorist, philosopher, businessman, lecturer, world traveler, family man, passionate American, and of course, author Samuel Longhorn Clemens (M:.M:.), better known under one of his pen names, “Mark Twain”. (Clemens also wrote under the name of “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass”).

Twain had a great interest in the sciences, among them astronomy. (He was born in the year of Comet Halley’s appearance in 1835, and just as he predicted, he died in the year of the comet’s subsequent appearance of 1910). In his autobiography, he wrote:

“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’ “

Lesser known among Twain’s many other talents and pursuits is that he was also an ardent inventor and innovator — who earned (and lost) fortunes with his patents and contraptions, going from great wealth to bankruptcy and back to wealth several times in his life. Among other things, he invented a history trivia game and a self-pasting scrapbook, which earned him $50,000 in the years after 1873.

Twain was also quite a lady’s man, and one of his inventions, the “Improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments” (U.S. Patent 121992 A, Dec 19, 1871) must have made interesting dinner conversation in Victorian houses.

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Death In America

November 12th, 2015

The way many people around the world perceive it, the United States is a nation where bodies are piling up because Americans are constantly shooting each other. And of course, the reason is supposed to be a crazy lack of gun control laws. Chalk this perception up to the junk press and to the nature of the news media business. In the Internet age, the unbiased reporting of nuanced and complicated facts isn’t nearly as lucrative as tucking on heartstrings to generate clicks, shares, likes and comments on social media.

In reality, gun-related deaths in America have been declining for decades. They are now at the lowest level in three decades. And, gun deaths are not even among the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. These are, according to the official CDC data:

Heart disease: 611,105

Cancer: 584,881

Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 149,205

Accidents (unintentional injuries): 130,557

Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,978

Alzheimer’s disease: 84,767

Diabetes: 75,578

Influenza and Pneumonia: 56,979

Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 47,112

Intentional self-harm (suicide): 41,149

(Source: Deaths: Final Data for 2013, table 10)

The biggest contributing factors to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and respiratory disease are obesity and smoking, which are personal choices. It has been estimated that no less than 50% of the total U.S. health care spending is the result of smoking and obesity. Suicide, the 10th most common cause of death in the U.S., outnumbers homicide two to one.

Of course, telling people that their lifestyle sucks doesn’t generate much media revenue. But outraged reports about gun carnage, school shootings and psychopathic killers does the trick!

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Halloween 2015

October 31st, 2015

Following tradition, here’s my annual Halloween photograph. Camera: iPhone. Effects: iPhoto, Photoshop. Model: Unknown).

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(click to enlarge)

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World Press Freedom Index 2015

September 3rd, 2015



Reporters Without Borders said it had found a “worrying decline” in the freedom of the press in 2014 across the world, and that the EU had received its largest ever spread of rankings.

The World Press Freedom Index has been published ever year since 2002 by Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit organisation registered in France that defends freedom of information and has consultative status with the United Nations and UNESCO.

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Drone Video of Los Angeles

August 14th, 2015


Los Angeles from Ian Wood on Vimeo.

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Nuclear Detonations From 1945 to 1998

August 7th, 2015







Created by artist Isao Hashimoto.

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“My name is Ernest Miller Hemingway …”

June 30th, 2015

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“My name is Ernest Miller Hemingway.

I was born on July 21, 1899  My favorite authors are. Kipling, O. Henry and Steuart Edward Whit.

My favorite flower is Lady Slipper and Tiger Lily. My favorite sports are trout fishing, Hiking, shooting football and boxing.

My favorite studys are English. Zoology and Chemistry. I intend to Travel and write.”

(Ernest Hemingway, Age 9)

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Airpower

April 30th, 2015

This too, is U.S. air power. The image shows the interior of the first American military cargo plane on a relief mission to Kathmandu, Nepal, following the earthquake.

Interior of C-17 on the way to Nepal

Photographer unknown. Click to enlarge.


Aircraft fact sheet
:
Type: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Crew: 3: 2 pilots, 1 loadmaster
Payload: 170,900 lb (77,519 kg) of cargo
Length: 174 ft (53 m)
Wingspan: 169.8 ft (51.75 m)
Height: 55.1 ft (16.8 m)
Empty weight: 282,500 lb (128,100 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 585,000 lb (265,350 kg)
Powerplant: 4 × Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 turbofans, 40,440 lbf (180 kN) each
Cruise speed: Mach 0.74 (450 knots, 515 mph, 830 km/h)
Range: 2,420 nmi / 2,785 mi (4,482 km) to 5,610 nmi (10,390 km). Unlimited with aerial refueling.
Service ceiling: 45,000 ft (13,716 m)
Takeoff run at MTOW: 7,600 ft (2,316 m)
Landing distance: 3,500 ft (1,060 m)
Final assembly: Long Beach, California

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No More Water In Restaurants! California Outdoes New York City In Feelgood Law Contest

March 18th, 2015

For many years, California and New York City have been competing about who can pass the craziest feelgood nanny-state laws and regulations in America. To qualify, such laws must keep bureaucrats and politicians ostensibly busy, so it appears as though they are actually performing a valuable public service. Bold and fearless, our superhero politicians are fighting to save us from one urgent social ill or another! Bonsus points are awarded for laws that are unenforceable and inconsequential. Double bonus points if the law’s effects cannot be measured, rationally examined or fiscally accounted for in any way.

New York City was clearly in the lead with the NY SAFE Act of 2013, which among other things prohibits the possession of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. (No official word yet on how many of New York’s criminals have turned in their now illegal gun magazines). The law also required that only 7 rounds could be loaded in each 10-round magazine. (New York gets one point deducted because this provision was struck down by a federal judge in 2013. According to rumors, the court’s concern was that many of New York’s criminals would not be able to count to 7 even if they tried).

This week, I am pleased to report that California is in the lead once again!

We first pulled equal with New York by creating a law requiring porn actors to wear condoms while acting their acts. No word on how this should be enforced, but perhaps “Motion Picture Genital Inspector” will soon be an actual job title. Or maybe law enforcement agencies will need special condom enforcement squads. The future will tell.

But it gets even better! This week, California took the lead by adding a new statewide ban on glasses (or cups) of drinking water being served in restaurants – unless the customer specifically requests it. (You must say: “Waiter, may I please have a glass of tap water?” Waiter: “Certainly Sir, I’ll bring it right away” or “Sorry dude, we’re out of tap water today. How ‘bout some bottled water?”)

Yes, you read that right. Of course, we have a drought here in California. Big draught, big trouble. (But not big enough to induce the state to reexamine its crazy stance on immigration, and its equally crazy industrial agribusiness). You see, California’s industrial, export-oriented agriculture consumes 80% of the state’s water. And, the state has been adding about 1 million new residents per year without actually creating more water resources.

California is North America’s biggest producer of almonds, avocados, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, grapes, lettuce, milk, onions, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, walnuts, and dozens of other commodities. (Source: 2012 Department of Agriculture report (PDF). Only a tiny portion of this stuff could grow naturally in California’s ecosystem – and most of it is exported to other states. This means that drought stricken California is actually exporting huge amounts of water to the rest of North American, and even to Asia.

Someone calculated that for the amount of water used for the irrigation of California’s almond trees alone (they produce a cash crop mostly for export), someone like me could take a 10-minute shower each day. For 86 million years.

Relative to the overall water consumption, water imbibing in restaurants is a microscopically tiny portion. Even if totally prohibited, even if we all stopped drinking water altogether and only drank imported beer – it would make no difference whatsoever.

As a matter of fact, eating out in restaurants is a much bigger culprit, because the restaurant industry is extremely wasteful with water (and food) when compared to home kitchens. And in fact, the law might even have the opposite of the intended effect. If it induces people to order bottled water instead, then there’d be a net increase in drinking water consumption. That’s because filtering and bottling water actually wastes a lot of it. For instance, reverse osmosis, a commonly used process to produce bottled table water, wastes up to 86% of the feed water – only 14% ends up in the bottle.

Well played, California. How can you trump that, New York? Your move!

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