Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Going Dark...

I think that this blog has just about reached the end of its life, so this will be the final post.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies is quite possibly the weirdest show on television, but I absolutely love it. It's like one of those dreams you have where every thing is slightly (or wildly) off, and you know it, and therefore you know you're dreaming, but you just kind of go with it because it is cool.

That's the best explanation I can give of how it makes me feel when I watch it. I'm sure it will be cancelled soon - it's too weird for an America that watches Kid Nation to appreciate.

P.S. I love the way that 30 Rock makes fun of reality TV programming. MILF Island? Hi-larious.

OK. I have no life.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pumpkin Patch 2007

Attended the MIT Glass Pumpkin Patch again on Saturday. Against my previous promises to only purchase one pumpkin this year (after a big splurge last year), I ended up with three. The nice thing was that this year there seemed to be a much higher ratio of affordable pumpkins (sub-$100), and the organizers (MIT GlassLab) did a much better job of policing the crazy hoarders - people who literally sleep overnight and bring shopping carts, then make a made dash into the sale area and scoop up all the small, reasonably priced pumpkins. This year a group of people must have scooped up almost 50 immediately, much to the ire of other shoppers/viewers. The head of the GlassLab had a long talk with them and many were returned to the field for others to have an opportunity.

Some choice photos from the event:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Then and Now...

My how we've grown:

The pup at 9 weeks:

And now at 9 months:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Weekend

I spent today catching up on some much-needed housework. I was up rather early, as at 10 AM a home inspector was coming to check out the place as a requirement for the new homeowners' policy I recently enrolled in. He came and went without incident, though I had been nervous that he was going to poke around the basement and find something not to someone's liking and I would be forced to shell out money I don't have to repair it or else they would drop the policy. Thankfully, none of that came to pass.

I had the front door to the house open as I was working, and around 11 AM I heard the squeal of tires outside, of brakes being laid on hard. The house is on a relatively busy road, and there has been at least one car accident that I have witnessed almost right outside the house. When I arrived at the front door, to my horror, I saw my neighbor's dog from across the street writing and yelping in pain - it had been hit pretty much dead on, and the back of it's body clearly crushed.

I ran across to my neighbors and asked if they knew the location of the emergency vet in the area. They were clearly distraught and there was much confusion, so I ran back inside and looked up the number and called them to let them know there was a dog that had been hit by a car on the way in. By the time I got back out to the road, the dog was still, clearly in shock. They gently put him into a laundry basket and took off for the emergency veterinary clinic, which thankfully isn't too far.

I'd like to say that this has a happy ending, but it doesn't. About an hour later I saw them come back, so I popped over to see what had happened. The poor animal had died on the car ride over, his injuries too severe. The worst part was that the driver who hit him didn't even stop. They kept right on going, even though the squealing of their brakes clearly indicated they had seen the dog. Whoever you are, you are a coward and criminal for leaving the scene of accident.

All of this hits rather close to home, as I have a nine-month old dog in my house. He is well behaved, and I think I have instilled a healthy respect of the road and the front yard in him (he isn't allowed near either), yet this could have easily been him. What if he had spotted a squirrel or a...something, and taken off in the direction of the road? It all happened so ridiculously quickly that there would be no time to react. In any case, the whole incident left me very shaken and upset. I made sure to give the pooch some extra hugs today.

In order to make myself feel a little better, I decided to go to the movies after I had finished the housework. Last night I was watching Tron on my AppleTV. (n.b. - I don't know which of those things makes me a bigger geek.)(Additionally, G-Fav - Tron is in reality a really bad movie...I don't know why I didn't remember this. What was with all the ginormous eyeglasses in the 80's?)

Anyway, after the movie was over, I was futzing with the AppleTV and was looking at the movie trailers when I spotted In the Shadow of the Moon. What's this, I think? Turns out it is a new Ron Howard documentary about the Apollo program told by many of the surviving Apollo astronauts. The result is a deeply personal look at the Apollo program as told through the eyes of the men who lived it. It also featured a great deal of footage from the Apollo era that has recently been released and restored by NASA.

So this is the movie I ended up seeing this afternoon, and it is breathtaking. For those that know me well, you know that I am an unabashed space enthusiast. I have been to Florida for a Space Shuttle launch, I know, work with, and am friends with a real live former astronaut. I took a bunch of aero/astro classes in grad school, and I met Buzz Aldrin once at M.I.T. You know, all basic nerd stuff. I was on the edge of my seat watching Apollo 13 even though I knew how it turned out.

I don't know what it is about the notion of space travel that appeals to me so much. I don't think of myself as an explorer by nature, and I also don't think of myself as particularly courageous or fearless or thrill-seeking. I really think it is the engineering and passion that drove and does drive the people who work on these types of projects. The notion that every piece of equipment was designed and tested and integrated by human hands, and that it has to work, perfectly, every time, or there is a very real possibility that people will die and billions of dollars in equipment will be lost.

I admire that passion and that almost-fanatical devotion to a cause, to something larger than oneself. The knowledge that you are contributing to a great undertaking, something that pushes the boundaries of the human experience, and makes much of the petty squabbling seem, well, so petty.

In any case, as G-Fav is often captivated by the visual and aesthetic qualities of art and film, I find that I am very often drawn to the auditory components...I've often thought that my life would be better if it had a soundtrack. This film is no different. The composer, Phillip Sheppard, manages to create a score that wonderfully captures the notion of a grand endeavour, of a time and place in our history when a multitude of forces came together just perfectly and allowed us as a people to transcend what we are.

Nothing captures this more beautifully that the liftoff of the Saturn V. At once elegant and clumsy, graceful and yet brutally powerful, the Saturn V represented (and some still believe represents) the pinnacle of human rocket design. 7.5 million pounds of thrust, with millions of interconnected parts that all must work perfectly, or else people die. Sheppard sets the breathtaking visual of the Saturn V launch against this beautiful score that I think brillantly captures the beauty and building momentum of a launch, as well as the hopes, dreams, and sweat of the generation that made it happen. Watching this scene in the film left me in tears. If you are an engineer, see this film - it is inspiring.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Getting there is the easy part...

I read a fascinating article tonight on some of the challenges associated with a crewed Mars mission. I've read several books and articles on all of the standard problems that people think of when they think about sending humans to Mars: Launch weight restrictions, fuel restrictions, transit time, resource usage on-flight and on-mission, but it turns out that a lot of people have taken for granted one of the most obvious hurdles: actually landing on Mars.

Turns out that because the density of Mars' atmosphere is so low (1/100 that of Earth), landing large payloads, like you would need to land humans on the surface, is a very difficult proposition. Basically, the atmosphere is not dense enough to create enough drag on a large spacecraft to slow it sufficiently to use traditional landing techniques (parachutes, space shuttle-style lifting bodies) before you are a crater. Techniques that have been used to land on Mars previously, like deceleration thrusters (Viking) or airbags (Sojourner, MER) are either not powerful enough or expose the spacecraft to unacceptably high G-forces (10-20 G) that would kill human occupants. On the flip side, the Apollo-style lunar lander would also not be useful because in that case, Mars has too much atmosphere for a straight thruster-only descent - you would create very dangerous and unpredictable forces due to the interaction of the rocket plume with the atmosphere - something you didn't have on the airless moon.

So, there is this huge gap in knowledge that they are trying to figure out. How do you slow a 100 metric ton spacecraft from 7-10 km/s to under Mach 1 without killing everyone in the process? Turns out that might be the hardest thing about getting people on Mars.

Link to the article.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Is this what being an adult is?


Sigh. Does everyone else worry *all the time*? I am beginning to wonder whether or not I am just have a personality that is inclined to worry, or if it is some fundamental aspect of the human condition. I worry about being a fraud at my profession, I worry about not working hard enough to get tenure, I worry when I am away from work that I should be working harder, I worry when I am at work that life is too short and I am focused on the wrong things. I worry about having enough money to pay all the bills, I worry about various and mundane things about my personal life that I have varying degrees of control over...

In short, I seem to worry alot, and it seems to be taking a lot out of me. I try to stop and smell the roses, but then worry that I stopped too long. I always have this underlying feeling that I should be doing something. I find it very hard to just "turn off" and relax, because when I do, the worry kicks in and I feel like I am somehow wasting important time that I could be reading another article or cleaning the bathroom...

When does this happen to people? I don't remember being like this when I was younger. Maybe I was and I just don't realize it. Maybe I have absolutely unrealistic expectations of how life is supposed to be, but if this is it, it kind of sucks, and I'd like a refund, a do-over, or a personality adjustment.

Anyway, nothing to see here. We now return you to your regularly scheduled surfing.

/end rant