Carrying the Fire now weightless

16 July 1969: Collins suiting up in a frame from this year’s “Apollo 11” documentary film

Mike Collins, Command Module Pilot of Apollo 11, wrote what is considered one of if not the best of the astronaut memoirs, Carrying the Fire, originally published in 1974. It’s finally been released as an ebook, so I’m rereading it in its weightless form now. If you read it after watching his recent hour-plus Aero-Astro classes at MIT here, it’s quickly obvious that he had no ghostwriter for this book – a rarity in such memoirs. It’s fully and delightfully in his own voice.

Gemini and Apollo astronauts underwent both tropical and desert survival training in case they reentered – or aborted during launch phase – away from recovery forces and ended up in entirely the wrong place; cold weather training wasn’t needed because the orbital mechanics of Gemini and Apollo flights dictated paths near the equator. Wrapping up the narrative of his Air Force tropical survival school training in Panama, he has this to say in the book:

“Somewhere along the way I picked up a couple of hundred companions, chiggers, evenly distributed from the waist down. I cannot adequately explain to the unchiggered what they are missing. My dictionary says simply that chiggers are ‘the parasitic larva of certain mites.’ It doesn’t say they are also abominable little red creatures who burrow into your skin, where they ultimately die. Uneasy in their terminal tunnels, they either jump about or dig deeper, or secrete some irritant, or something; at any rate they itch like crazy. Friends are always pleased to offer remedies. ‘Rub them with Scotch and sand. They’ll get drunk and stone each other to death.’ They merely itch worse when they (or you) have a hangover. ‘Have you tried an ice pick?’ The most popular notion (false) is that they can be suffocated, and I have heard doctors recommend covering each spot with clear nail polish. Why clear rather than blush pink (my natural color) I cannot say, but I can say with authority that it doesn’t work either, nor does the iodine-like chigger medicine sold in pharmacies. The only thing to do is wait ten days for the truculent little bastards to die or depart, leaving behind a cratered field of battle not easily forgotten by the landowner.”

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Hard drive replacement tip

One of my internal hard drives at home used for media has been logging some errors recently, and I confirmed with the free CrystalDiskInfo that its SMART records show it’s close to running out of reserved sectors that can be used to replace bad ones, likely meaning some physical degradation has been occurring lately. The yellow “Caution” that CrystalDiskInfo shows for the drive means the drive should be replaced ASAP before it inevitably starts getting unrecoverable errors – or possibly suffers a catastrophic failure – so I ordered a new 6TB drive to replace the crusty old 4TB, which was due for an upgrade anyway because it’s nearly full.

Last night, I started copying the old drive to the new with Microsoft’s RichCopy utility, which can do multiple copy threads at once and is therefore a lot faster than copying with Windows Explorer or with xcopy at the command line, but after eight hours it wasn’t even 10% done, so I abandoned that.

I then remembered what I didn’t remember last night, which is that the free Macrium Reflect that I use for backup can clone disks to same size or larger drives. I hadn’t tried it before, so I started it 20 minutes ago. Watching it in action, I see it actually takes the target drive offline and uses volume shadowing to make the clone. It’s writing 180+MB/second to the target drive instead of the 12-15MB/sec RichCopy was achieving and is already 5% complete, so instead of 80+ hours it will take about 8.

Postscript: I ended up having to use AOMEI Backupper to clone the drive (their free version allows you to clone non-system disks). Macrium Reflect kept reporting an unrecoverable read error 73% of the way through, but I had verified with chkdsk /r, which checks all sectors for bad blocks, that the only bad blocks were in unallocated sectors on the drive. Macrium’s “Intelligent sector copy” clone method, which I had selected, is supposed to copy only allocated sectors, but it was obviously trying to copy unallocated sectors, a hundred or so of which are bad on the old drive. Backupper was a little slower than Macrium (160MB/sec rather than 180+), but it didn’t try to read any unallocated sectors.

These are all free utilities:



Macrium Reflect:

AOMEI Backupper:

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Precisely so

I read this a couple weeks ago in The QI Book of Advanced Banter, a book of quotations from the “Quite Interesting” series research folks. I hadn’t thought of happiness in this way before, but it makes a lot of sense:

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

Charles Kingsley

I think he has that just about right. In fact, I know so.

In addition to all those linked targets of my enthusiasm, I can also be enthused about just the occasional comfort and luxury: Yesterday, I upgraded my 2013 Elantra to the 2019 version below that I’ll be picking up Monday evening.

It’s a middle-of-the-line, lower cost Value Edition, but it has a 7″ display with Android Auto, sunroof, pushbutton start, proximity keyless entry and trunk release, rear-view camera, blind spot and reverse cross-traffic warnings, auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, two-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, remote start and more remote control via phone app – all the latest tech, with perhaps three-quarters the features of a Tesla (the best three-quarters). For instance, the Elantra has no “Autopilot,” he typed, being careful to put it in quotes since it ain’t that at all but its name alone encourages all manner of Tesla misadventures.

I read most of the 535-page 2019 Elantra Owner’s Manual last week, admittedly just skimming the 67-page section on seat belts, child restraints, and airbags. I had a list of things to check during the test drive yesterday – for which I’ll get a US$50 Amazon gift card from Hyundai – and got positive answers to all of them.

Chief among them were two questions about Android Auto on the 7″ display to ensure I could replicate what I do currently with my pedestal-mounted Bluetooth-connected phone, its configuration shown here in 2012.

  1. Whether Google Maps on Android Auto could display surrounding roads in satellite view, with green/yellow/red traffic status, without first entering a destination. I found that it can, but every video review I had looked at only showed the Directions display with a destination.
  2. Because my current podcast app, BeyondPod, is, according to users in its support forum, unstable through Android Auto and was even banned by Google for a period of months last year when it disabled all other audio apps in Auto, I needed to find a podcast app with Android Auto support and verify that I could access my always custom playlist on the Android Auto display. Most podcast player apps, including BeyondPod, won’t pass a custom playlist to Android Auto, instead giving you access only to a list of categories and podcasts by name, which stupidly disables the ability to automatically and seamlessly listen to podcast episodes from all your feeds in the exact order you want. My testing showed DoggCatcher sensibly does pass any custom playlist(s) through to Android Auto. DoggCatcher also supports another feature I used a lot in BeyondPod: a virtual feed folder where you can copy in MP3s and M4As that aren’t actually podcasts – for instance, audio books and BBC Radio 4 programmes that don’t have a podcast feed but which can either be downloaded if a button is there or captured via its programme ID with get_iplayer. (It’s legit: BBC Radio allows audio downloads with get_iplayer regardless of your location. It’s video content that they protect well.)

The two things that surprised me during the test drive were the much-improved suspension and the fact that the 2019 model is at least 50% quieter inside than the 2013, something that’s not easy for car makers to achieve. I’ve always thought of my 2013 model as really nice, especially given its extraordinarily low price relative to similar competitors, but I think the 2019 version just might be all the way to magnificent – and the price is still low.

Start to finish, including the 45-minute test drive, trade-in inspection, brief negotiation, signing, and my round trip to the credit union to get the check for the dealer, took about five hours. The dealer gave me a good trade-in value – in fact, a fair amount more than I had anticipated, no doubt encouraged by the day-long detailing I had arranged last week for the six-year-old, 88,000 mile car, which afterward looked maybe 95% new. Yearly detailing with a final one just before trade-in can be a good investment. The best part of the deal for me is that the rebate Hyundai included will effectively pay 100% of my credit union auto loan interest.

After I pick it up, I’ll be celebrating with popcorn shrimp and catfish at a Cajun place just down the road from the dealer.

Here’s the remote app on my phone, showing the car’s status 32 miles from where it sits at the dealer until tomorrow:

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The reward of deferred gratification

Revenge is wicked, & unchristian & in every way unbecoming, & I am not the man to countenance it or show it any favor. (But it is powerful sweet, anyway.)

Mark Twain in a letter to Olivia Langdon (later his wife), 27 December 1869. She was in Buffalo, New York and he was in New Haven, Connecticut nearing the end of a forty-nine city tour of the Northeast US in which he lectured on his travels in the Sandwich (now Hawaiian) Islands

In December, I wrote of an unnamed greedy 3rd party bookseller on Amazon who apparently fraudulently cancelled my US$54 order of a Ricky Jay book when he thought he could boost the price to the sky and make a mint off it (this was the day after Jay died).

In the four months since, I’ve enjoyed seeing that seller’s obscenely inflated price for the book drop precipitously on both Amazon and AbeBooks as the book sits unsold and once again gathering dust as it probably had for some years. His highest price was over US$200, about 400% of the price I ordered it at, and in the last four months he dropped the price at least six times. I guffawed when I discovered that, last week, he dropped it back to the original $54 on both sites. (Why “he”? It’s cynical, I’ll admit, and possibly bordering on sexist, but also based on decades of experience.)

And why am I writing about this again? Because today, I received in the mail this “As New” copy of just that book from a bookseller in Malmö, Sweden who doesn’t seem to view recently-deceased authors’ books as revenue-squeezeboxes. The book cost me US$33.57, including overseas postage, and arrived in six business days with a passel of cool stamps.

On the cover is Zazel, real name Rosa Richter, the first woman to be fired from a cannon, 2 April 1877. She was fourteen at the time.

Click for a larger size

My temptation is to write to the December seller again with something along these lines:

I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that I just received an as-new copy of that Ricky Jay book for the excellent price of $34 postpaid. Sorry I haven’t kept in touch, but I’m back and eager to hear how that greedy bastard thing is working out for you.

But that seems excessive, with unhealthy, red-faced teeth-gnashing the likely result, so writing it here will suffice. I’m sometimes mean in thought but rarely in deed.

Related serendipity: The day after I got that good price on Celebrations of Curious Characters, I received an email from AbeBooks saying they found a book I put on my want list in 2002, Natalie Wood: A Biography in Photographs, whose press run in 1986 was fairly limited. I clicked, fully expecting the US$100+ price I’ve seen a dozen times in the past seventeen years, but immediately bought it when I saw the price was $16.76. It arrived on Saturday. Now that’s deferred gratification.

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Uneasiness sets in

Jeremy Hardy, Ricky Jay, and John Clarke were on my mind this week because “The News Quiz” just started a new series (the 43-minute “Extra” podcast is posted Monday nights here), I got good news about a particular book, and it’s now been two years since Clarke left us.

There are some people you wish would live a long time. When you have just a handful that you respect highly, it becomes increasingly unsettling as their numbers dwindle.

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In praise of (the) Arnold Palmer

For the last few years, and year-round, my favourite drink – other than the occasional margarita or three at the Border Cafe – has been the Arnold Palmer (the non-alcoholic version, that is). Contrary to the 1:1 iced tea to lemonade ratio places most often serve under that name, Palmer himself preferred 2:1 tea to lemonade, as do I, except that I use a freshly-squeezed lemon-limeade.

My tea of choice for a couple decades now has been Luzianne quart-size tea bags for iced tea, the brand most often served in the Southern US. I like a strong tea whose taste doesn’t water down quickly in ice, so I use five quart bags to make a gallon of tea.

I go through about a gallon-and-a-half of this mix about every five or six days, which would normally involve a rather large bowl of simple syrup; instead, I use a sucralose solution. In the past several years since its patent expired, pure sucralose powder has been widely available at far cheaper prices than, say, Splenda packets – about one sixth the price in the end. It’s not a supermarket item, though, because the pure powder is 600 times sweeter than sugar; because of this, Splenda uses dried corn syrup powder as filler, which is why you see dextrose in its ingredients. I make a solution of 4g sucralose powder to 2 oz/60 ml of water and use a lab eyedropper bottle to dispense – 3 drops for coffee, 9 for a single 12-ounce lemon-limeade, and so on. It’s even simpler for the iced tea – exactly 1/16th teaspoon of the powder is perfect for a gallon. My lemon-limeade is the juice of half a lemon and half a lime plus 10 ounces/300 ml of water.

As to citrus squeezing, this is the best tool – great for both lemons and limes. I made a half-gallon of lemon-limeade earlier today, and squeezing every last drop out of twelve lemon and lime halves with this, leisurely, took maybe five minutes total. By the way, the bad reviews of this device you might see are from people who don’t know that you put the cut face down in the juicer. Yeesh.

Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer. Dumb name, but it’s the best.

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The inadequacy of your bread article: How Tech Bros Fell in Love With Baking Bread

It appears there are some people out there buying the 52-pound (that’s weight), US$600 Modernist Bread volumes and actually using them (more on the books in the comments here). I suppose some home bakers might feel inadequate reading the details in the linked article on expensively-overproduced hobbyist bread for the braggart, but I didn’t. Mostly, the words “overthinking”, “overkill”, and “overcompensating” came to mind, and, as I finished the article, “Criminey.”

Mind-boggling though those details are, it was still sort of interesting to read.

A sample caption from breadstagram: “Loaf from yesterday’s cut video. 80% bread flour, 20% whole wheat, 80% hydration, 2% salt, Leaven was 100% hydration, whole wheat, young (4 hours), and comprised of 10% of total *dough* weight (60g for a 600g loaf). Hand mixed via Rubaud Method for 10 minutes. Bulk for 3.5 hours, low 80s F, with coil folds at 60 minutes and 120 minutes (around 40% rise in volume).”

Yeah…no. The stress these people put on themselves doesn’t sound enjoyable. I’m glad my bread-baking remains at a relaxed level. I’d stop doing it if it seemed that much like work.

Sourdough boule in my kitchen


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The moon within five years?


Show me the money.

One guess as to what it was that cost that much

“Was it worth it all? It certainly was to me personally, which obviously makes me suspect as an objective witness to the expenditure of $24 billion of the taxpayers’ money. Besides, I frankly gave little thought to the financial end of the space program, just as I never considered what percentage of the GNP Flash Gordon might reasonably twit away exploring the caverns of Mongo.”

Michael Collins, Command Module Pilot, Apollo 11

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Transatlantic Sessions series 7?

I read a few weeks ago in a year-old interview with Jerry Douglas that a new series of Transatlantic Sessions was to be recorded in October of last year, so I’m hoping that did happen and that a new series will appear this year.

In the six BBC Scotland series to date – released irregularly in 1995, 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 – there are twenty-one hours of some of the finest music I’ve heard and seen. It’s by far the best-produced live music series of the many I’ve watched. Jerry Douglas and Aly Bain are the musical directors for all six series; their names guarantee the quality of the finished product.

All six series of Transatlantic Sessions are available on DVD, often for around US$20 a series on eBay – cheap at twice that price if you ask me. Make sure it says region 1 or 0 if you’re in the US. You won’t be able to play UK-produced region 2 discs unless you have an all-region player like me. I would avoid the PBS-released version because it’s a short compilation.

If I included all my favourites below, you’d be scrolling through to the day after tomorrow, so I’ll show just a handful. Okay, a baker’s dozen. These tunes are all from series 3, 4, and 5 – in my opinion, the best of the six series.

(Yes, it is Tyminski’s voice when Clooney sings this in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”)

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Timely bread in more ways than one

Click for a larger version

After seeing this ThermoWorks article this morning, I decided it was high time I made soda bread for the first time – the result above. This late date is slightly embarrassing since I’m of Irish extraction (100%, I think) and this is maybe the twenty-fifth or thirtieth kind of bread I’ve made.

Several years ago, I bought the pictured 3.5 quart KitchenAid Dutch oven (alas, long-discontinued) to get a better shape on the sourdough boules I bake, and figured its smaller size would probably help with this fairly wet dough as well, and it did indeed. It probably sped the baking a bit, too. When I took the lid off at 40 minutes, the central temperature was 203°F/95°C, just a couple degrees and minutes from being done.

It’s a fast and tasty bread. I’ll be making it more often than never from now on.

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Cinnamon tree just out of range

Chang’e 4 (left arrow) and its rover captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera on 8 February

The source LROC article is here. As to the title: The Chang’e lander is named after the goddess of the moon and the rover, Yutu 2, takes its name from the large jade rabbit said to accompany her. Both were mentioned as Apollo 11 orbited the moon prior to landing. From the mission transcript:

095:17:28 Capcom Ron Evans: Roger. Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.

[Chang-O is also spelled Ch’ang O and, in the more modern rendition, Chang’e. Chang’e was subsequently adopted as the name of the Chinese unmanned lunar exploration programme, the first spacecraft of which was launched in 2007. The third in the series, Chang’e 3, was the first to land which it did autonomously on 14 December 2013 in Mare Imbrium. The rabbit’s name of Yutu, stated by Evans as not reported, was given as the name of the first Chinese lunar rover, delivered to the surface by Chang’e 3 and it translates to ‘Jade Rabbit’.]

095:18:15 CMP Michael Collins: Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.


Update 2 May 2019: Much closer Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter views can now be seen in the LROC posts Above the Landing Site and Chang’e 4 Rover on the Move

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Faulty premise

I heard this interstitial while listening to “Car Talk” today:

“As soon as you wake up, you need the latest.”

Do I really? This seems presumptuous.

“And that is why ‘Up First’ is here. It is NPR’s morning news podcast.”

Yikes. That sounds like a stressful way to spend the first minutes of consciousness.

“In just ten minutes, you can start your day informed.”

Yeah…no. In just ten minutes, I can start making my second Americano.

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