People are really telling Dingleface all this stuff?

Hackers gained access to “gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches” for 14 million users…

I would like to meet some of these people.

“Let me hold your wallet for a minute.”

“Oh, sure. Here you go.”

“I’ll just be taking this photo, some of the cash, and one of your cards. Okay?”

“Um…okay, I guess?”

“Yes it is. Tell me, do you hold any sort of degree?”

“No, I only went to college for a year.”

“Okay. Dating anyone right now?”

“Not at the moment, no.”

“Got it. Now, what was the last thing you bought?”

“It’s kind of embarrassing, but if you must know, it was some Immodium and some toilet bowl cleaner.”

“I see. Well, thanks! Nice to meet ya!”

Sea life in the melting Himalaya

When two continental masses happen to move on a collision course, they gradually close out the sea between them – barging over trenches, shutting them off – and when they hit they drive their leading edges together as a high and sutured welt, resulting in a new and larger continental mass. The Urals are such a welt. So is the Himalaya. The Himalaya is the crowning achievement of the vigorous Australian Plate, of which India is the northernmost extremity. India in the Oligocene, completing its long northward journey, crashed head on into Tibet, hit so hard that it not only folded and buckled the plate boundaries but also plowed in under the newly created Tibetan plateau and drove the Himalaya five and a half miles into the sky. The mountains are in some trouble. India has not stopped pushing them, and they are still going up. Their height and volume are already so great they are beginning to melt in their own self-generated radioactive heat. When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in snow over the skeletons of creatures that had lived in the warm clear ocean that India, moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as twenty thousand feet below the seafloor, the skeletal remains had formed into rock. This one fact is a treatise in itself on the movements of the surface of the earth. If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone.

So wrote John McPhee in Basin and Range, one of five books collected in his Pulitzer Prize-winning geological history of North America, Annals of the Former World (1998), whose volumes are Basin and Range (1981), In Suspect Terrain (1983), Rising from the Plains (1986), Assembling California (1993), and Crossing the Craton (1998).

Apollo 17 documentary

I happened upon an excellent 104-minute documentary from 2015 I’d never heard of before, titled “The Apollo Experience: Apollo 17” and linked below. It’s among the best single-mission Apollo documentaries I’ve seen and I figured I should mention it here because it has to be pretty darned obscure for me to not know of it.

I have the complete lunar surface videos from the mission – the boxed set pictured at the end of this post – but this documentary puts EVA highlights in context with explanatory captions and follows the mission from training to splashdown. The archival footage throughout is of the highest quality I’ve seen and quite a treat on a fifty-inch television.

The overall quality is high enough that I forgive the engine noise the producers added to some radio transmissions, along with other low-key add-ons like electronic “beep-beep” effects. They did them in a fashion subtle enough that, while I knew immediately that they were their additions, I wasn’t compelled to say “Wut?” and put on my just-ate-a-lemon face.

Timeline’s YouTube channel is worth exploring as it has hundreds of other history documentaries. Some, like this one, come from obscure satellite channels, but it appears a large percentage of their content originally aired on Channel 4 in the UK.

“So Over the Moon” – a rebuttal by Frank Borman himself

From the fact that it featured prominently in last week’s The News Quiz on BBC Radio 4, I gather that the Frank Borman segment a few weeks ago on “This American Life” titled “So Over the Moon” has gained a fair amount of traction. The conclusion of the TAL segment was that the Apollo 8 mission he commanded bored him, wasn’t enjoyable or interesting at all, and was in the end just a battle in the Cold War to him.

Based on past talks he’s given, one in particular, I begged to differ and sent this to the “This American Life” folks:

Regarding the “So Over the Moon” segment of episode 655, please relay to David Kestenbaum the link below of Frank Borman giving a talk at the National Air & Space Museum on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Apollo 8 in 1998. I think Borman actually did have at least a little fun going to the moon and it held his interest a skosh more than he let on recently. Yes, he emphasizes in his 1998 talk the race against the Soviets as the most important part – as he’s always done – but he also tells great stories and cracks jokes left and right about the Apollo 8 mission during his 73-minute talk. He’s a funny guy – the opposite in some ways of the man I heard on TAL a few weeks ago.

My 2015 article linked below includes a 6-minute clip I placed on YouTube of a portion of Borman’s talk plus a link to the full-length 73-minute video on C-SPAN’s site.

We all get grumpy from time to time; perhaps it just wasn’t the best time to speak with him.

What he shared of his wife Susan’s condition on TAL would beat anybody right down to the ground. They married in 1950. I can’t even imagine what he’s going through.

Hallway update

I added a new 12×36″ enlargement to my refreshed hallway gallery today, a 1:3 aspect ratio crop of a high-resolution scan of the photo of the first flight of the Wright Flyer on 17 December 1903 at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

Click for a larger version

Orville is piloting and that’s Wilbur at the wingtip. John Daniels, one of the five witnesses to the flight, took the photograph with Orville’s pre-positioned camera – so awed by what he saw that he almost forgot to squeeze the bulb to capture this image on the 5×7″ glass plate negative.

From the Flyer to the Apollo 16 Lunar Module Orion above it was a span of just sixty-eight years and four months.

The full-size first flight image from the Library of Congress can be found here – be aware that it’s 27MB.

Edited to add: The comments here include a discussion in some detail of the soon-to-be-released film “First Man” and HBO’s 12-part 1998 series “From the Earth to the Moon”.

2001, 70mm, 50 years

This week, at an IMAX theatre with 70mm film equipment, I’ll see 2001: A Space Odyssey in a theatre and in 70mm for only the second time in my life. I was a kid the first time, here:

The marquee of the RKO Boston Theatre, April 1968

I believe I’m in for a treat:

“For the first time since the original release, this 70mm print was struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative. This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. This is the unrestored film – that recreates the cinematic event that audiences experienced fifty years ago.” – Christopher Nolan

US 70mm film screenings are listed here. UK and Ireland listings here.

 

Don’t get me started

The excerpt below is from the site of Apollo 17 Lunar Module Pilot and geologist Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, and it’s the most…well, invigorating description of a jump start I’ve ever read.

This goes hand-in-hand with my article on the explosive guillotine in the Lunar Module because Schmitt describes an emergency scenario that Apollo crews planned for and practiced in which the launch sequence has failed: The guillotine has not fired, the four explosive bolts holding the two stages together have not exploded, and the ascent engine has not started. This is one of several contingency methods mission planners worked out.

Bear in mind as you read Schmitt’s explanation that this would be happening after they had tossed their Portable Life Support System backpacks out onto the lunar surface to save weight during the ascent, and after they had closed up the LM and repressurized the cabin in preparation for departure from the lunar surface.

It’s not often I find something about Apollo I’ve never heard before, and this one is boggling. I bolded the last bit of the excerpt because that’s the point when the ramifications sank in and my eyebrows shot off.

Wednesday, November 8th [1972], brought on our last full Lunar Ascent Mission Simulation involving Mission Control in Houston. Six weeks hence, we hoped we would be undertaking the real thing and departing the Moon at the conclusion of a highly successful exploration effort. This “Sim” required over three straight hours in LMS2, including the debriefing with SIMSUP (Simulation Supervisor). Failure or degradation of the primary guidance or engine ignition subsystems constituted the primary concerns addressed in Ascent Simulations. We particularly worked through several scenarios involving failure of the various software-initiated means of igniting the Ascent Engine.

Schmitt in Lunar Module Simulator 2. NASA photo ap17-KSC-72PC-539

We did not have a great deal of concern about our Challenger Lunar Module, like all the others before it, having just one Ascent Engine, because, in fact, it was at least two engines that just looked like one. Only the solid metal fuel and oxidizer injector ring and the exhaust nozzle below that ring did not have identical, that is, “redundant” components that would function even if a primary component failed. No one could imagine a failure mode for these non-electronic and solid pieces of hardware.

If all internal Ascent Engine ignition options actually failed, and many such options existed to fall back on, we also had a set of jumper cables that could be used as a next to last backup to ignite the Ascent Engine. These were called the “ED/APS Emergency Jumper Cable” and would use power from an independent Pyrotechnic Battery in the Descent Stage to open the engine’s fuel and oxidizer valves and fire the pyrotechnic cable and bolt cutters that would simultaneously separate us from the Descent Stage.

To use the second of these cables, however, one of us would need to egress Challenger in order to access a regular Descent Stage battery. Integrity checks of our suit would determine which one of us would perform this emergency EVA. If Cernan’s pressure suit did not pass its pre-egress checks sufficiently to permit egress with the jumper cables, we would change positions in the cabin, a tough task on its own. As we would have already jettisoned our Portable Life Support Systems, it would be necessary to use the OPS (Oxygen Purge System) we had retained to support the EVA that Evans would perform to retrieve film canisters from America’s Scientific Equipment Bay after leaving lunar orbit for home. The 8000 psi oxygen bottle in the OPS could provide a maximum of 30 minutes of oxygen and air-cooling once activated. There would be no water cooling, however, without a PLSS.

With the Challenger’s cabin depressurized, the winner of the integrity check contest would take one end of the pair of cables out the hatch and down the ladder and move to QUAD III where a battery could be accessed. He would then tear away the Kevlar covers and attach the color-coded pair of cables to the positive and negative terminals of a battery and then return to the cabin. At the optimum liftoff time for ascent into a rendezvous sequence with Evans, Cernan would attach the cables to two circuit breakers near his left shoulder. This action would supply instant power to the two sets of hypergolic (ignite on contact) hydrazine and nitrous oxide valves in the Ascent Engine. Once power reached these valves, they would open and lock open. With opening of these valves, a signal would go to the cable and bolt cutters. We would be instantly on our way into lunar orbit, still in an un-pressurized cabin, dragging our jumper cables behind us. Once back in lunar orbit, we could clear and seal the hatch and pressurize the cabin.

The aim of this emergency EVA was to bypass relay boxes, internal wiring, and the Explosive Devices control panel in order to get power directly from a descent stage battery.

The descent stage explosive device battery, aka the pyro battery, in question was near the front, highlighted here. This procedure bypassed that in favor of a regular descent stage battery.

In later LMs, Apollo 17’s included, five descent stage batteries were at the back of the LM, shown below in an illustration from the Lunar Module LM 10 through LM 14 Vehicle Familiarization Manual [link to PDF]. Two of the five had low voltage taps; the jumper cable would be affixed to one of those.

I’m glad they never had to do this, but it actually sounds like it would work. You might think, “Yeah, except for all the cardiac arrests and such”, but you have to remember that these guys were cool customers. Witness the fact that they practiced for this instead of climbing out of the sim and seeking the nearest bar posthaste when told of the method.

Schmitt says this method was the “next to last backup”, which makes me wonder intensely what on Earth Moon the last backup was. Spit and baling wire?

Edited 24 August 2018 to add: The entire emergency EVA procedure is detailed in Apollo Operations Handbook/Lunar Module/LM 11 and Subsequent/Volume II Operational Procedures, available on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal site. See section 5.4.25 Loss of ED Sub-system.

https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/LM11HandbookVol2.pdf

I think I found the answer to my “What’s the last backup?” question there: The other choice was to quickly get to the rover – in the case of Apollo 17, parked about 158 meters away for best liftoff camera coverage – start it up, drive it back to the LM, and hook up to one of its two batteries. Now that would really be a jump start for the ages, but I think far less preferable considering there was just 30 minutes of oxygen available in the OPS.

Cheap at half the price

This silly little Amazon Treasure Truck notice popped up on my tablet earlier tonight:

Amazon knows I live in Massachusetts, right next to one of the most prolific and sustainable lobster environments in the world, but maybe they don’t also know that, for a few weeks now, the Market Baskets around here have been selling live lobsters for US$4.99 a pound, as is their wont in the summer. Yes, you’ll have to buy about three pounds of lobsters to net a pound of meat, but that’s still only $15. And it’s fresh.

I know there are some lobster farms in Asia – rock lobster, because other species don’t survive farming attempts – but wild-caught is what you get here. No need to farm:

I think the wholesale price is what’s represented in the chart, so you can see that Market Basket has a mighty slim profit margin when they drop lobster down to $4.99, unlike other area supermarkets that continue to price theirs at up to $9.99 a pound (pffft!).

120 million pounds of lobster is the equivalent of eighteen fully-fueled Saturn Vs. As is the case with size of Wales or Olympic swimming pool comparisons, this helps the reader not one whit, of course, but at least the writer is amused. And now craving lobster, so there’s my comeuppance.

At Market Basket, ten bucks for this much lobster, two for the tarragon; maybe ten cents for the Luzianne sweet tea

 

Wildfire topics that few talk about

I refer you to the 31 July 2018 “Built to Burn” episode of 99% Invisible, podcast and transcript here.

I think this and McPhee’s “Los Angeles Against the Mountains” are vital to the proper understanding of wildfires, especially in the western United States. You can’t build developments in guaranteed wildfire zones, take no preventative measures, even the simplest and most effective, to protect the homes – the topic of the 99PI episode – and blithely expect nothing dire will ever happen. A few embers from a fire that never actually reaches your house can easily ruin everything.

99PI will have a follow-up episode this week.

“One of the very frustrating things that I had experienced this past summer, particularly from the California fires, is the continued sense of fatalism: ‘Oh, well, there’s nothing that could be done.’ Well, no. The bottom line is that we can do something; it just doesn’t have anything to do with controlling the wildfire.”

Watching news footage from the California fires, something stands out, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time with Jack. Once you get over the shock of seeing neighbourhoods reduced to ashes and the drama of firefighters talking about how there was nothing they could do to stop the flames, your eyes shift to something else: the green trees, untouched by fire, surrounding the burnt-out homes.

From this week: Lake Keswick Estates in California; click for a larger version

From this week: Lake Redding Estates in California

 

State of mind not proportional to desk clutter

My old home office desk was feeling too samey of late, so I replaced it. The old one was all wood – well, veneered particleboard – and similar to the new one, with the same 4×3 foot footprint along with a raised monitor shelf and pull-out keyboard tray, but the new one is a better design, with 50% more desk space, 50% more bottom shelf space, 50% more room on the keyboard tray, and maybe 200% more class.

I found it via an image search for “workstation desk”, with this picture of the Cyrus desk, a metal and wood design with a heavy tempered glass desktop, on the third or fourth result page. From the look of it, I figured it would be pricey, probably between US$200 and $300, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was just $130 on Amazon, which I believe is $40 less than I paid for that boring old workstation fifteen years ago.

I assembled it in a couple hours and found it quite sturdy. I think it’s so far away from samey as to be fantastic. I said to a visiting friend the other day, “I love this desk”, not something you hear me exclaim of many inanimate objects. My printer is on a separate glass and metal stand on the bottom shelf, with paper storage underneath, and the PC, not visible at lower right, and all cables and power strips are self-contained on the desk instead of partly behind and underneath as they were before.

As an example of how much more room there is on this desk, I could fit the keyboard and trackball and not much else on the keyboard tray before. On the new one, from left to right, I have a Logitech Harmony remote horizontal charging stand, a Motorola S305 Bluetooth headset, the keyboard, a Logitech trackball, and its receiver, which formerly sat on top of the PC. I added a hook on the left corner of the desk for the backscratcher and a soft rubber five-channel cable manager on the right corner to corral all the pesky USB cables. The 8″ long metal USB 3.0 hub with 7 ports and 3 charging ports that also used to be on top of the PC is now at the rear corner of the desk instead.

The old desk was perfectly usable, so I put it outside festooned with large “FREE” signs visible from the street. It took eight days, but someone finally got themselves a good desk and, on a less magnanimous note, I didn’t have to dismantle it to put in the dumpster.