NASA Coolness

There are few things in life cooler than exploring other parts of our Solar System. Along those lines, here are a couple of great links recommended by Brian Cortez:

A Dust Devil on Mars

Apollo 13, We Have a Solution—An accurate and fascinating account of the engineering and preparation that allowed Apollo 13’s crew to return safely to earth. If you have seen the film, you definitely want to read the real story.

Doug “JavaDoug” Ross contributing this link to the MSNBC Tech/Science Slide Show Archive, which contains more wonder.

Artist Lynette Cook is achieving fame via her amazing work on extrasolar planets. Be sure to look at her other work as well.

This ’n That

Just a few quick bullet items:

  • President Bush had some great lines in his speech last night. Here are my two favorites:
  • “The other party’s nomination battle is still playing out. The candidates are an interesting group with diverse opinions. They’re for tax cuts and against them. They’re for NAFTA and against NAFTA. They’re for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. They’re in favor of liberating Iraq, and opposed to it. And that’s just one senator from Massachusetts.”
  • “They now agree that the world is better off with Saddam out of power. They just didn't support removing Saddam from power. Maybe they were hoping he would lose the next Iraqi election.”
  • Last night I took Isaac and David sledding at Roby Park in Nashua. David has become quite the daredevil, which was surprising, because the last time we went sledding, he pretty much didn’t like the big slopes at all. (In fact, he used to beg to go to a nearby school for sledding that was about as thrilling as watching golf.) The slope at the park was mostly ice, so we got some great speed, and proved without a doubt that the best way to sled is to use David or Isaac’s smaller sled in front of mine, allowing me to hold onto the back of theirs and providing excellent steering.
  • Earth to the Palestinians: Want to get anything you want? Stop blowing up innocent people. One isn’t exactly going to garner sympathy by creating busload after busload of noncombatants killed by suicide bombers.
  • My team leader, Brian Cortez, gave us a milk crate full of model rockets and accessories. We will be repairing some of his old models (an X-16 looks particularly cool), and hope to have him present for its re-launch after so many years.
  • At work, I’ve been learning and working with the Jakarta Struts framework, which has been both challenging and fun. The only gripe is the number of “silent failures” that occur (a code-500 server-side error with absolutely nothing in a log file is not exactly easy to diagnose and debug).
  • The new commute is awesome. It takes me only about 45 minutes to take the kids to school and then get to the office in the morning, and I can get home in as little as 20 minutes. Even with slightly longer work hours due to the new project, family time has improved dramatically.
  • The new house, with the entire first-floor in an open layout, is also very good for family interaction and activities. I also have to thank Nichelle for her graciousness in allowing the Lego collection to stay out for days at a time.
  • Speaking of Lego, the new family room has enough room to spread out and build, and we are developing the habit of spending Saturday mornings building with Lego. It’s been great, although I’m still missing one box of miscellaneous Lego that got shuffled in the move.
  • Speaking of Lego, I have to commend them on their customer service. I e-mailed them a suggestion on improving the Lunar Lander set, by using gold visors for the astronauts (instead of the clear ones provided), and they sent me six of the gold visors for free.
  • Moving out of state costs money! (God has provided all that we need, but we have spent quite a bit on car registrations, new licenses, new insurance, new cell phone services, etc.) It seems one has to spend money to save money. (Our car insurance will drop about $125 to $150 per month. Our new cell phone plan will save us up to $100 per month. Gasoline savings will amount to about $100 per month. School tuition is cheaper. Now, if I could just get out of donating 5% of my income to the State of Massachusetts … but the law on that isn’t likely to change!
  • The Route 3 widening is a few months behind the schedule that had been listed on their FAQ until a few weeks ago. They are now promising a “substantial completion” by May of 2004, instead of February. Still, that is not very far off.
  • Lessons in Rocketeering

    [doug]This should also satisfy those of you who want pictures of our new house.(Well, not really, but there’s a picture of part of one room.)

    Phil Luchon gave “The Boys” (which includes me) an Estes complete model rocket kit for Christmas. We got permission from Pastor Miller to use the church ball field for launching (try that in Brockton!), and got two flights up on Saturday. The first photo above shows David when it was his turn to launch. John missed out until the next day due to what I thought was bad batteries, but turned out to be a dud engine. So, I bought fresh batteries, and some extra rocket engines, and we planned to have another try at it on Sunday.

    Sunday included the regular church service, a pot luck feast (dinner is too small a term for it), and an early afternoon service. We had a guest speaker, a pastor from Arkansas who is being interviewed to become principal for the Christian School. There was a lot of teasing about the weather and his accent—Pastor Miller has a great sense of humor, and both services were a lot of fun, while being spiritually fulfilling as well. Bryan Harrington may be interested to learn that his Temperature Conversion Chart got read from the pulpit.

    After the afternoon service, we went back out to launch the rocket again. After discovering that the engine, not the ignitor or batteries were to blame, John got as near flawless a launch off as we’d seen so far. Then I decided to put in a size B engine….

    The flight was spectacular. The B engine took off with enough power to send the rocket at least a couple of hundred feet into the air (we haven’t done the triganometry on any of our flights yet), leaving us cheering, “Wow!” and gazing awestruck at the power demonstrated by the rocket’s flight. (The blast was hot enough to mis-shape the steel splash plate where the engine fired.)

    Unfortunately, the chute deployed at an altitude high enough to carry the rocket about 100 feet downwind, just enough to get tangled in the top of a tree at the edge of the church property. Despite John’s bravery (see the second image above), he couldn’t get a decent grip on the branch it was on, so the nose cone and parachute are still up in the tree, until we return with some rope or a saw. Thankfully, we shook the body of the rocket (which is not weather-resistant) loose, and that is safely at home.

    That evening the church hosted a SuperBowl get-together, at which I dropped John off, while David, Isaac, and I built with Lego. (See the third photo above.) You can see that our new family room has more than enough space to spread the Lego boxes out while we build. The pinball machine and pellet stove are in the background, as are sundry other items that have yet to be unpacked. Nichelle is going to kill me when she sees which photo I’ve posted, but the fun is worth it.

    While I was at it, I put up a newer photo of Naomi, for her many fans.

    Stinkin’ Clouds!

    Last night we were all psyched up to watch the full lunar eclipse. An hour before it would have begun, the sky was relatively clear. An hour later, completely obscured. I was disappointed, but not as much as my friend Phil, who’s never seen one.


    My workday ended with a whimper—demonstrating that I was missing a piece in my understanding of the data translator portion of the stuff we’re working on.

    Then, I got an e-mail at home saying the CenterWatch project was not quite finished. Just a few revisions in the entire book, including two chapers that seem to have mismatched fonts.

    At supper time, David’s question of the day was, “Where does the sun go at night?” His answer was quite interesting, more or less along the lines of the sun goes into space at night and comes out into the sky at daytime. There was something thrown in about gravity pulling it down. I demonstrated what really happens using a flashlight and a coffee cup, then remembered I had a globe in the basement, which would be even better for demonstration.

    I got down in the basement to find 3 or more inches of water throughout, meaning that when John told me on Saturday the “thing was flooded” he meant it. (I thought we’d just had a puddle on the non-sump-pump end.)

    After wrestling with the sump pump for a few minutes (thankfully it wasn’t bolted to the floor), I discovered the float on the float switch had become detached from the shaft. Now it’s back working, but life was full of surprises today.