Archive for May, 2011

Pit Stops

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 auto race. I followed it on TV and was astounded by the many mishaps in the pits. They were all caused by the driver taking off before the crewmen had completed their tasks. This is how races are lost. Sometimes, lives are put in jeopardy as wheels and other parts turn into projectiles, or racing fuel catches fire.

One question bugs me: why is there no “lollipop man” — like in Formula 1? This is a crew member whose sole job consists of monitoring the pit crew to make sure everyone is done. While they work, he holds a “stop” (or “brake”) sign on a long stick (the “lollipop”) in front of the driver’s eyes. Once all crew members signal “clear”, the lollipop man turns the “stop” sign to “go” and jumps out of the way as the driver guns the engine.

This would be a simple solution to an old problem. I can’t figure out why Indy 500 teams are not employing it. Overall, it seems to me that pit stops in Indy racing are by far not as sophisticated compared to what happens in Formula 1.

Watch this clip from a BBC documentary:


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Photojournalists At Work

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Somehow it seems that these guys were having more fun than their counterparts from today. I love the ties! (Seriously — I collect vintage ties from the 1930s to the 1950s).


Waiting for the shot at Lincoln Heights jail house, circa 1948. Photograph © Los Angeles Times Archive. Click to enlarge.

This pictures is from the Los Angeles Times archive. See more more from the series here.

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Ethanol Fuel: How America Should Proceed

Friday, May 20th, 2011

I have been interested in ethanol as a motor fuel for years. I came to the conclusion that much of the myth about the so-called inefficiency of ethanol as a motor fuel has been planted by the oil industry.

Technically, ethanol makes an excellent fuel — one that is superior to gasoline in many ways. Is it far less toxic, less explosive and less volatile than gasoline. It does not form sticky goo when stored for a long time. When spilled, it can simply be flushed away with water. If spilled into waterways or ground water, it will easily disperse. It is biodegradable. Ethanol does not require toxic additives to prevent “gunking”, or to increase the fuel’s octane rating (a measure for the fuel’s resistance to premature detonation).

Engines specifically designed to burn ethanol can achieve much higher compression ratios than gasoline engines. This can minimize one disadvantage of ethanol: its energetic density is less than that of gasoline, which means that an engine will burn more ethanol to achieve the same power output of a gasoline engine. However, an engine designed to burn ethanol runs a lot cleaner and cooler than a gasoline engine with the same power output.

Unfortunately, the inefficient way by which ethanol is handled in the U.S. is just plain stupid. It is the result of foul politics and lobbyism. Today, almost all ethanol is made from corn. It is true: this is not efficient. But it does not have to be that way.

Instead, three things should happen:


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Space Age Toys!

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Atomic trains! Space patrol cars! Robots, space tanks and of course — the “Luna Hovercraft”! I love this stuff. See Life Magazine’s gallery:


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Alan Shepard In Space!

Monday, May 9th, 2011

50 years ago this month, Alan Shepard became the first American to fly into space.

Although the intensely celebrated accomplishment was technically much less challenging than that of Yuri Gagarin’s earlier flight, it was the event for which America had been waiting. (Gagarin’s flight orbited the Earth, while Shepard’s capsule stayed only on a 15-minute, ballistic trajectory).

Shepard, a U.S. Navy aviator and test pilot, was one of America’s original 7 “Space Heores”. Besides Project Mercury, Shepard also flew on Gemini, and later in 1969, he commanded Apollo 14 and landed on the moon.

Shepard died from leukemia in 1998, in Pebble Beach, California.

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How Mother’s Day Killed Its Own Mother

Monday, May 9th, 2011

“It’s ‘Mother’s Day’. Not ‘Mothers Day’!”

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself.” — Anna Jarvis


Anna Jarvis (1864 – 1948) was a formidable lady. I should have liked the pleasure of meeting her. She is known for creating Mother’s Day, but she was extremely unhappy with what her idea had grown into.

Mrs. Jarvis championed Mother’s Day as a simple day to honor one’s own mother, the most special mother a person could have — not all mothers. This is why she was adament that it should always be spelled “Mother’s Day”, but certainly not “Mothers Day”.

The evolution of Mother’s Day into a commercialized celebration appalled and aggrieved Mrs. Jarvis. She launched a massive campaign against its commercial exploitation. Boycotts and vitriolic denouncements of candy and greeting card gifts were just some of the tactics used in her appeals to bring Mother’s Day back to basics. Unfortunately, she was hardly successful and ultimately died, some would say, from grief.

Brian Handwork has the story in National Geographic Magazine.

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Why the US Can Beat China: The Facts About SpaceX Costs (by Elon Musk)

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Please note: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, Mr. Musk.  (Cheaper ways to space are the subject of my most recent magazine article) — RK

Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics.

So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed.  But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.

As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them.  This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America’s commercial space industry.

Here are the facts:


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