April 19, 2008


Apparently, this "fragile" planet we live on is a tad more resilient than folks like to admit.

The healthy condition of the coral at Bikini today was proof of the atoll's resilience and ability to bounce back from massive disturbances if the reef was left undisturbed and there were healthy nearby reefs to source the recovery.'' But Ms Richards said the research also revealed a disturbingly high level of loss of coral species from the atoll. "Compared with a famous study made before the atomic tests were carried out, the team established that 42 species were missing compared to the early 1950s. "At least 28 of these species losses appear to be genuine local extinctions probably due to the 23 bombs that were exploded there from 1946-58, or the resulting radioactivity, increased nutrient levels and smothering from fine sediments.''

I'm not surprised. I've maintained for years that mankind's biggest contribution to the universe was our ego. If we all disappeared today, nobody would even know we'd existed in a few tens of thousands of years. Mother Earth would simply continue on, and gradually absorb our minor cosmetic modifications. We may even manage to alter her evolution slightly, but to think that we're more than a self-important experiment in a global-sized petri dish is pure hubris.

We do need to be aware of and take care of our environment, but it's more because of the "all our eggs are in one basket" situation the human race is still in. Mankind isn't a visitor here, we are part of Earth. As much as the atmosphere and the oceans and the various ecosystems, we are an integral part of her.

Thanks to Wizbang for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 08:45 AM | Comments (1)

March 21, 2008

There's Old, and then there's *OLD*

In the White Mountains of California you'll find the oldest living things on planet Earth. Bristlecone Pine trees have survived there for thousands of years, including "Methuselah", which is over 4,670 years old! These trees were saplings when the pyramids in Egypt were being built. They were mature trees during the time of Christ, and they still live.

You can learn more about Bristlecone Pines by following the links here and here and there are some cool photos here.

Posted by Ted at 10:28 AM | Comments (557) | TrackBack

February 26, 2008

Correctly Titled

That is, if you're a theoretical physicist.

An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything

Here's the description:

All fields of the standard model and gravity are unified as an E8 principal bundle connection. A non-compact real form of the E8 Lie algebra has G2 and F4 subalgebras which break down to strong su(3), electroweak su(2) x u(1), gravitational so(3,1), the frame-Higgs, and three generations of fermions related by triality. The interactions and dynamics of these 1-form and Grassmann valued parts of an E8 superconnection are described by the curvature and action over a four dimensional base manifold.

You can download the paper in .pdf format. If you do, feel free to come back and explain it here in the comments.

I'm betting on 42.

Posted by Ted at 11:25 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 19, 2008

Sony Wins This Time

Toshiba has announced that it is abandoning it's HD-DVD format, which means that Blue-Ray has become the standard for hi def DVD. This comes as no surprise after most major movie studios adopted Blue-Ray as the release format of choice.

Posted by Ted at 06:06 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 28, 2007

Sweet Dreams

I swear, having a naturally curious mind can be a curse sometimes...

Spiders freak me out, as long time readers know. Today while googling around semi-randomly, I learned the following:

Jumping spiders, the largest spider family, with some 5,000 species described so far, have six to eight eyes and unusually good vision. They don't hunt with webs but sneak to within a few centimeters of their quarry and then pounce. It's "very catlike," says Nelson. The strike takes less than 0.04 second. Some of the jumpers specialize in hunting ants or even the dangerous challenge of bagging other spiders.

Notice the word in bold above: Some.

The jumping spider of East Africa doesn't have the mouthparts to get vertebrate blood directly, says Ximena J. Nelson of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. But it often catches female mosquitoes bloated with a recent blood meal.

Now, laboratory tests show that this spider (Evarcha culicivora) actually prefers the engorged mosquitoes to other prey such as midges.

Here's a clue: You and I are vertebrates. These eagle-eyed, cat-quick, eight legged paooki from hell prefer blood!!!!! Our blood!!!!! And as for that "doesn't have the mouthparts..." bit. Does it creep anyone else out that they didn't say "mouth" or "lips" or "teeth"? Spiders have "mouthparts". *shudder* And you know damn well that evolution is working to correct that little deficiency, because with mouthparts that can open our veins directly, they can eliminate the middleman and we'll have even more mosquitoes buzzing around contributing to mankind's collective anemia.

Spiders eat midges. Spiders eat midgets. It's not that far a climb up the ol' evolutionary ladder. Nature is a Mother.

Posted by Ted at 04:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 11, 2007

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

This weekend is a treat for skywatchers and amateur astronomers. The annual Perseid meteor shower should be beautiful because it arrives while a new moon is in the sky. As many as 60 meteors per hour may be visible, with larger ones leaving a streak across the night sky as they burn up in our atmosphere.

As a bonus, the planet Mars will be visible as a bright red dot in the sky to the northeast.

Unlike most astronomical events, meteor watching is done best without telescope or binoculars. Get comfortable, pick out a patch of black sky away from light pollution, and watch patiently. The closer towards dawn, the more meteors you might see. The peak number should be Sunday night into Monday morning, but they'll be visible for several nights afterwards too.

Every August at this time the Perseid shower occurs. Named for the constellation Perseus - because that's where the meteors appear to come from - their real origin is the comet Swift-Tuttle. When Earth crosses the path of the comet, debris from the comet's passing enters our atmosphere and gives us a light show.

This was cross-posted at The Dangerous and Daring Blog for Boys and Girls.

Posted by Ted at 02:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 31, 2007

Light Racers

This announcement came in the email today, from the Spaceward Foundation:

The Spaceward Foundation opened registration today for the 2007 Great Light Racer Championship.

The Light Racers Championship, a space technology competition, challenges kids, young adults and grown ups to design, build, and race beam-powered lunar rovers that could help NASA get to the ice deposits located in the permanently shadowed craters of the lunar poles.

Total prize purse this year is $10,000.

For the Light Racers, teams build and remotely control vehicles that capture a beam of light (from a spotlight) and convert that energy into power to navigate a course. There are both hard-surface road courses, for speed, and an off-road course with obstacles. There are no batteries or fuel carried, all power is supplied by the lightbeam. More details are here.

This is the same foundation that sponsors the Space Elevator Games, which is its own special brand of coolness.

Posted by Ted at 05:54 AM | Comments (1)

July 06, 2007

World's Most Expensive Calimari

There's only one of these, so far.

What appears to be a half-squid, half-octopus specimen found off Keahole Point on the Big Island remains unidentified today and could possibly be a new species, said local biologists.

The specimen was found caught in a filter in one of Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority's deep-sea water pipelines last week. The pipeline, which runs 3,000 feet deep, sucks up cold, deep-sea water for the tenants of the natural energy lab.

"When we first saw it, I was really delighted because it was new and alive," said Jan War, operations manager at NELHA. "I've never seen anything like that."

3,000 feet! Pitch black at that depth.

War, who termed the specimen "octosquid" for the way it looked, said it was about a foot long, with white suction cups, eight tentacles and an octopus head with a squidlike mantle.

The octosquid was pulled to the surface, along with three rattail fish and half a dozen satellite jellyfish, and stayed alive for three days.

Tough little sucker too, to manage three days after undergoing a pressure change such as that. Follow that link for a picture of the odd little beastie. It's a beautiful bright ruby red.

Posted by Ted at 11:08 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 27, 2007

Every Time We Think We've Got It Figured Out...

You remember what you learned about RNA, right? They're basically molecular dump trucks, running back and forth and collecting the building blocks needed to create proteins in the human body.

That may be a more apt description than we thought, because suddenly scientists are discovering that the "dump trucks" may be just a small percentage of the entire RNA "fleet".

Time to rethink what we thought we knew about DNA and evolution.

What is being proposed is the inheritance of characteristics acquired during an individual's lifetime, rather than as the result of chance mutations. This was first suggested by Jean Baptiste Lamarck, before Charles Darwin's idea of natural selection swept the board. However, even Darwin did not reject the idea that Lamarckian inheritance had some part to play, and it did not disappear as a serious idea until 20th-century genetic experiments failed to find evidence for it.

They're seeing hints pointing to that evidence now. This isn't an alternative to evolution, it's the idea that our bodies tweak the DNA that we pass along according to experiences that occur during our lifetime.

Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 11:45 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

June 17, 2007

You Learn Something Every Day

For instance:

The vervet monkey has a vivid blue scrotum which pales when the animal falls in social rank.

But knowing that is mere trivia. The inquisitive mind wants to know why?

Follow that link and be enlightened. Heh.

Posted by Ted at 08:31 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 14, 2007

What?!? No Artificial Phlegm? Believe Me, I Even Checked Google.

Did you know that they make synthetic saliva? My wife Liz recently started using it on her doctor's recommendation because one of her new medications just sucks the moisture out of her mouth.

Saliva is a vital component of such everyday processes as tasting, swallowing, speech and digestion, and its absence is what leads to dry mouth. A reduction in salivary flow can occur for a number of reasons, but medication use is a key contributor.

I love that "duh" statement above about [saliva's] absence is what leads to dry mouth. Even so, it makes sense to have developed synthetic saliva.

Of course, in our family we call it "pseudo-drool" or just "fake spit".

(mental note: brownie-flavored saliva for dopers...niche market but has potential)

Posted by Ted at 05:14 AM | Comments (2)

February 27, 2007

Cool New DooDad

Over at QandO, I learned about this nifty little add-on for us Firefox users called CoolIris. Simple to use, when you hover over a link, a small icon appears next to it, move the cursor over the icon and a preview window appears that shows what's at the other end of that link. Move your mouse away from the window and it automatically closes again. It does much more, but that's the foundation of the app. I've found it easy to get used to, fairly customizable and unobtrusive. Check it out.

Posted by Ted at 05:15 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 21, 2006

I Question The Timing

A verified virgin birth happening around this time of the year? Oy!

And a little child lizard shall lead them.

As reptiles have been known to do, a female Komodo Dragon who was lacking male companionship has self-fertilized several eggs and will be a mommy soon. This is the second zoo-kept Komodo who has done that recently, but there's an interesting twist this time. The first Komodo self-fertilized and then later managed a regular mating which resulted in offspring when a male was made available. In nature, self-fertilizing females have been unable to produce young the traditional way, it's been kind of an either/or situation.

This is the exact plot device exploited in Jurassic Park, and goes to show that Mother Nature is strange and wonderous, and she's always at her best.

Posted by Ted at 05:43 AM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

December 15, 2006

Please Be True

My uncle died much too young from diabetes. My mom lost her leg to complications from diabetes. Now Canadian researches have cured diabetes in the laboratory.

Diabetic mice became healthy virtually overnight after researchers injected a substance to counteract the effect of malfunctioning pain neurons in the pancreas.

The development of synthetic insulin was a huge breakthrough, but it pales in comparison to this. Test results from human trials are expected in a year.

Too late for Uncle Art and my mom, but incredibly exciting news nonetheless.

Thanks to Random Nuclear Strikes for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 09:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 01, 2006

Practical Science

How to Calculate Pi by Throwing Frozen Hot Dogs. Really.

Thanks to my co-worker Alan for sending me the link. He says that when he saw it, he immediately thought of me.

Posted by Ted at 05:29 AM | Comments (380) | TrackBack

October 26, 2006

It's all in the name

From Dustbury:

And if you thought HD in radio meant the same thing as HD in television, think again:
"Quite honestly, it doesn't stand for anything," said Peter Ferrera, president and CEO of the HD Digital Radio Alliance. "The concept was somewhat of a steal from HD television, where viewers know it means better quality."

There you have it. "HD" stands for "Hype, Dummy!"

Posted by Ted at 08:42 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 24, 2006

Shattered Delusions

You've all seen the "face" on Mars. You may have heard about the recent debunking, where higher resolution photographs showed that it was, indeed, a natural physical feature. You probably didn't hear about the barking mad conspiracy theorists who're convinced that NASA is satan and they want to hide the evidence of extraterrestrial life (ignoring the fact that finding ET would mean a huge expansion of space exploration funding).

So, here's a nifty 3D animation from ESA (European Space Agency) showing the "face" and what it really looks like from various angles.

Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 05:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 29, 2006

Old friends with new information

That's "old friend" as in, I've known Taz for a long time, not that Taz is old.

Looking at a new cell phone? This lady knows her stuff, and gives a thorough review of the LG Chocolate, the hottest thing on the market since the Razor's debut.

She also does a quickie comparison of several recently released cell phone models.

Posted by Ted at 08:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 21, 2006


I'm going to show just the last line of this link-filled post over at Jawa Report, about a massive supernova detected in February. Go. Read.

...had GRB 060218 happened in our galaxy, life on Earth would have ended Feb. 18.

I feel very very small and very very vulnerable.

Posted by Ted at 04:58 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 10, 2006

"Truly orgasmic", right up until the part about the teeth

I love this stuff:

Paleontologists have created detailed three-dimensional images of evolution's first multicellular creatures in their embryonic stages, some so detailed that they reveal more about the development of long-extinct creatures than scientists know about their modern counterparts

Using x-rays and computers, they're looking back through time to the beginning of complex life on Earth.

Some of the embryos exhibit hitherto unknown mechanisms of embryonic development that have since gone extinct. Others have combinations of traits that put them near the lowest branches of the animal kingdom's evolutionary tree.

"The results are truly orgasmic," said Philip C. Donoghue, a paleontologist at Bristol University in England who led the team that created the images.

Ok, he's a paleontologist, so I guess that this would float his boat.

Using the new technique, he and his colleagues have been able to create cutaways, cross-sections and, by stringing together images of embryos at different stages of development, virtual time-lapse sequences of the animals' metamorphosis.

Cartoons for the uber-brainiac.

The images show that one fossil embryo known by the scientific name Markuelia must be most closely related to a modern group of marine invertebrates known as the penis worms, based on the number of teeth it has and the way they are arranged.

Whoa. What was that again?!?!?!

...a modern group of marine invertebrates known as the penis worms, based on the number of teeth...

I've heard of snapping... uh, never mind.

Another image shows that a segmented creature known as Pseudooides had a very unusual means of assembling itself. Modern segmented animals either develop all of their segments early and then simply get bigger, or they grow by adding segments to their hind ends.

But Pseudooides added its segments in the middle, "which is really totally bizarre," Donoghue said.

And that's saying something, considering he can talk about penis worms with teeth like it's no big thang.

Posted by Ted at 04:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 28, 2006

I can see clearly now...

Seen over at Random Nuclear Strikes:

Since 2001, they’ve been screaming ["they" means enviromentalists - RJ] that President Bush is “rolling back the Clean Air Act,” and that the resulting increase in air pollution will kill people by the thousands. Instead, every category of air pollution has fallen during the Bush years, with 2003, 2004, and 2005 showing the lowest levels of harmful ozone and particulates in the air since the monitoring of air pollution began in the 1960s.

I'm not prepared to give President Bush all the credit for this, just like I'm not willing to bash President Clinton on the subject. There's inertia in something like changing the quality of our air, and I think that we all deserve credit for being more aware of pollution and taking better care of the environment in general. Little things add up, and Americans have made a lot of little eco-friendly things a normal part of our lives. Things like changing the type of freon used in air conditioners, using non-aerosol sprays, and developing cleaner cars and fuels. Yay us!

Follow that link above for more links and details.

Posted by Ted at 05:22 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

July 03, 2006

Steven Wright once said

"When I die, I'm donating my body to science fiction."

A while back I saw a television program about something that makes such perfect sense, but is so utterly revolting, that you want to retch and say 'doh!' at the same time.

There's a forensics research lab in Tennesee where they study human remains. I'm not talking about sterile anatomy and such, although some of that is done. This facility takes donated bodies and examines them as they decompose within the framework of an outdoor crime scene. In other words, they bury them in shallow graves, or cover them with leaves, or toss them into small streams, or wrap them loosely in a tarp. And leave them there. Then they watch and take notes. And by doing this under controlled conditions, law enforcement can better determine the facts when partially or wholly decomposed bodies are discovered.

Fascinating stuff, but not for the squeamish. The website is user-friendly, meaning it doesn't look like a documentary of "The Making of 'Jason the SlasherCamp Chainsaw Cannibal'". It's all rather polite actually. Positively mature.

Posted by Ted at 08:12 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 01, 2006

They would've gotten away with it if it weren't for those pesky kids

A month or so ago I crunched the screen on my trusty iPAQ. Having become rather dependent on the beastie, I let the family talk me into buying myself a new one (they ain't cheap).

I selected a very nice model with a hardcover to prevent a replay of the screen crunch and then managed to salvage 95% of the software and data on my old PDA.

But something odd was happening. The new device would completely run out of battery power overnight while just sitting on the desk. In two hours, untouched in my briefcase, it would drain up to 60% of the battery power. Problem was, it wasn't consistent, and the randomness was making me a little crazy. I could've taken it back for exchange, and at one point talked to them about just getting a new battery. But it just didn't *feel* like a battery problem. I was also hesitant to hand it over again because I'd spent quite a bit of time reloading software and setting options to make it work exactly the way I wanted it to.

Gradually I started to recognize a pattern and confirmed it a week ago. For some reason, ActiveSync would fire up on its own as if it were on a timer to check email and do other tasks, and it would sit there and run like hell, accomplishing nothing while sucking the life out of the battery. I could go in and end the task, but a short while later it would be sitting there running again.

Today I found the answer. On a bulletin board was a note about a bug in Windows Mobile5 that causes the exact problems I was seeing. There was a workaround included (no patch available yet), and after implementing it (it's not terribly kludgy) I've been monitoring the battery status to see if the problem is solved. So far, so good.

Now, this isn't entirely Microsoft's fault. I gather from my reading that HP (and Dell too) both implemented Windows Mobile5 in kind of an odd way which caused this to be a problem. There are all kinds of detailed explanations out there to be found with a couple of google searches, but my mainframe mind couldn't grasp all the concepts and terminology. We're talking real geek-speak.

Anyway, tentative thanks to those folks who actually know how this crap works at the nuts-and-bolts level. Keep your fingers crossed.

Posted by Ted at 06:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 20, 2006

Meanwhile, back at the hanger

The European aviation consortium Airbus has hit some serious turbulance over its new A380 super-jumbo. Parent company EADS staked its future on the A380, to the tune of 11 billion Euros in development costs. Now major investors are bailing, causing the value of EADS stock to drop by a third in just one day.

What's the problem?

The electrical systems are described as "a shambles" and "hundreds" of problems remain unresolved. The aircraft is so overweight that the landing gear cannot safely handle the load. To compensate, weight is being trimmed wherever possible. Embarrassingly, a wing snapped off during stress testing because of the reduced thickness of the metal.

And of course, all this redesign-on-the-fly means that paying customers have to wait longer for their aircraft.

Just nine of the $300m double-decker whales will be delivered next year instead of 20 to 25, with a backlog of delays and penalty clauses cascading through the decade.

At a minimum, the blunder will cut profits by €2bn over four years, the company admitted yesterday.

But that's not the end of their troubles. Also taking a hit is their "new" mid-range A350, which is based on an older model airframe. So far they've gotten orders for less than half needed for break-even. The head of Emeriates Airlines likes the A350, but says:

"Unfortunately for Airbus, two things happened: Boeing came up with an even better plane and the price of fuel went through the roof."

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner (which I first talked about here) is higher-tech and more fuel-efficient, which has recently become a much bigger factor in purchasing decisions.

The economic impact of the super-jumbo also reaches areas you wouldn't normally consider:

The wake turbulence from the A380 may be such a threat to other aircraft on take-off and landing that the International Civil Aviation Organisation is imposing a barrier of 10 nautical miles, twice the distance for a Boeing 747.

The rule, temporary at first, changes the cost calculus for airports such as Heathrow, which depend on constant traffic flow for profit margin.

Even the German author of a book on Airbus is down on the A380:

"The A380 may have a future as a cargo freight plane."


Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer, in a post on a semi-related subject.

Posted by Ted at 11:39 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 29, 2006


To those who snickered when I mentioned that I program in COBOL on a mainframe computer, I offer up the following:

main.frame ( 'mAn-"frAm noun): An obsolete device still used by thousands of obsolete companies and government entities, serving billions of obsolete customers and obsolete constituents, making huge obsolete profits for obsolete shareholders, and this year's obsolete models run twice as fast as last year's.

I forget where I where I found this, probably in one of the trade magazines.

Posted by Ted at 11:20 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 27, 2006

Since I'm in some sort of weird "posting content" mood

Over at Pratt Hobbies blog, Doug has put up a picture of himself and his son Brian. Brian was my co-timer during the Team America finals.

Meanwhile, for the true tech-geek out there, check out this mashup of Google Maps that lets you track the orbital positions of satellites as well as letting you know when and where they'll appear in your sky over the next 48 hours. Tres cool! Kudos to Dick's Rocket Dungeon for the info and pointer.

Posted by Ted at 09:14 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 07, 2006

Not Quite What I Remember

NASA creates some wicked cool animated mission videos, and the best I've seen was a version where someone added a background soundtrack of Lenny Kravitz' Fly Away.

This version is pretty good though, set to Nine Inch Nails Sunspots. Check out NIN to Mars.

Here's another, which leaves the original NASA audio intact. It's longer too, not edited down to fit a particular song.

Posted by Ted at 07:52 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

Teledildonics? Seriously?!?!?

From a news story about future trends in sex:

A field dubbed "teledildonics" already allows people at two remote computers to manipulate electronic devices such as a vibrator at the other end for sexual purposes.

"People who use it are just blown away," [*snicker* - RJ] said Steve Rhodes, president of Sinulate Entertainment, which has sold thousands of Internet-connected sex devices over the past three years. "This is not something that just the lunatic fringe does."

"The Iraq war...was kind of a boom for our company."

Teledildonics. Rocket Jones, on the cutting edge once again.

Posted by Ted at 06:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 15, 2006

Job Openings in Exciting Times

Mark Oakley hadn't posted anything for quite a long time, which is understandable since he's busy working for one of the original X-Prize challengers. They're still in business, because being the first to do it (Rutan) doesn't necessarily count for anything more than historical recognition (is the Wright Aircraft Corporation still around?).

Anyway. TGV Rockets is hiring.

Related to that, check this out from RocketForge:

You don't steer the elephant, you just drive around him in your new car.

Go here to read the rest (it's short and to the point). Were I an engineer, I'd be begging these people to hire me.

Posted by Ted at 11:57 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 12, 2006

Pluto revisited

Not the frozen planet way out yonder, nor the Disney dog.

Project Pluto, which I talked about a couple of years ago, mostly in the context of the ramjet engine that was to be it's source of power.

For those needing a refresher, Pluto was to be a nuclear powered cruise missile, capable of Mach 3 at treetop level, dropping nuclear warheads in its wake. There were serious, ah, problems shall we say, with the concept. It was possible, but eventually people asked if it was desirable.

Thanks to Ghost of a Flea, we have a new link to a nicely detailed history of Project Pluto. Fascinating stuff.

Posted by Ted at 11:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 27, 2005

Apparently the Big Guy is a little... organizationally challenged, shall we say

When I was growing up, I had this cool poster on my bedroom wall that showed the Sun and nine planets in their orbits around her, along with the mysterious asteroid belt. All neat and orderly.

Too bad it's not quite that simple any more:

Scientists no longer are sure what a planet is and how many reside in our system.

The International Astronomical Union, a worldwide alliance of astronomers, has been struggling for about two years to agree on a definition for planets. Three proposed definitions are being studied, but a decision isn't likely until spring, according to Robert Williams, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

So Pluto, which most of us were taught as the ninth planet, may lose that status. Then again, maybe not.

"The discovery of the Kuiper Belt in the 1990s has given Pluto a place to call home, with icy brethren to call its own," said Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in an e-mail.

"The Kuiper Belt is the largest structure in the solar system," Stern said recently. "We used to think Pluto was a misfit," he added. Now Earth and the other inner planets are the oddballs.

Depending on what definition of "planet" is chosen, our solar system may have as few as eight (demoting Pluto) or as many as seventeen (!!!) planets. Astronomers have already discovered a body larger than Pluto in the Kupier Belt.

The largest and most distant of the ice dwarfs is nicknamed Xena after the television warrior princess. Discovered in 2003, it's 1,600 miles across and 20 percent bigger than Pluto is. Xena has a moon of its own, named Gabrielle after the TV Xena's sidekick.

These bodies haven't been assigned official names yet, which is why you see whimsical designations like Santa (which has a moonlet named Rudolph), Easter Bunny, Orcus, Quaoar, Ixion, Buffy and Sedna.

Even asteroids have been discovered with their own moonlets, and at least four moons in our system are geologically active.

What a wonderfully messy and chaotic neighborhood we live in.

Thanks to Chris Hall for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 12:10 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 04, 2005

One Step Closer

Remember a while back when I wrote about rocket racing?

Check this out. Rutan is involved, so you know they're serious.

Posted by Ted at 06:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 29, 2005

Like little goosestepping ants under a magnifying glass

There's this village in Austria that sits between a tall hill and an even taller mountain. The village of Rattenberg was built there in the 1300's as a defense against marauders.

Problem is, the mountain completely blocks the sunlight from November to February. The population has been dwindling in recent decades, at least partly because of the long months without direct sunlight.

The solution: 30 heliostats, essentially rotating mirrors, mounted on a hillside to grab sunshine off reflectors from the neighboring village of Kramsach.

An Austrian company is hoping to use this project as a showpiece to point to. They're going to eat the planning costs (more than a half a million $US), and the EU is going to foot half the bill (2.4 million $US).

In the Tyrol region of the Alps alone, about 60 communities suffer the same fate in winter as Rattenberg. Peskoller says about six other towns in Austria and neighboring Switzerland have expressed interest.

The technology requires pinpoint beaming, and even the most modern mirrors have slight distortions and are vulnerable to strong winds.

Peskoller says those problems can be compensated for. But it would take a mirror the size of a football field to light up all of Rattenberg, "and we cannot cover the mountain with mirrors to bathe the whole town in light," he said.

So Lichtlabor plans to create about a dozen "hot spots" - areas not much bigger than a front yard scattered through the town, where townspeople can gather and soak up rays. The mirrors would also reflect at various times of day onto building facades to show daylight slowly turning to dusk.

Interesting idea. More here (minimal registration required).

Posted by Ted at 04:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 14, 2005

So slanted that it falls over into a deep murky pit of its own stupidity

I feel like hell, which means that y'all get to listen to me rant. And boy, did I find a doozy.

Let's start with this headline:

Sea farmers struggle to save kelp from predatory urchins

Cool. I think I like sea farmers. All high-techy and stuff, feeding the hungry millions in our world. Check out this promising start to the story:

Not many farmers wear wet suits to work. But Tom Ford isn't running your average ranch. Instead of a tractor, he drives a motorboat. And rather than chase away insects and rodents, he fights off prickly sea urchins.

But something starts to smell fishy in the very next paragraph, when you find out that Tom's "farm" is all of one acre. Seems that Tom, along with other biologists in Southern California, are struggling to restore the great kelp forests to the coastal waters of Southern California.

Now, I don't have a problem with that, because kelp is an incredibly useful plant, as the story goes on to explain. It provides fish with an underwater habitat that allows them to thrive in great numbers and even when it washes up on shore it's a boon for beach critters like crabs and birds.

I bet those bastard humans have destroyed it, right?

But in the last 50 years, frequent episodes of warm-water El Nino have devastated kelp, which thrives at lower temperatures. California and Alaska are the only two places in the Northern Hemisphere where giant kelp grows.

Oops. Maybe not.

Scientists say humans also are to blame for kelp's demise because they pollute the ocean and overfish the urchins' natural predators--lobsters, sheep-head fish and sea otters.

Sorry about that. I forgot to provide a warning about the obligatory "it's all our fault" paragraph. I guess I should feel bad, because I do love to sit down to a nice sea otter steak. Sheep-head fish? Not on any menu I've ever seen.

But we're fighting back. According to the story, they've spent millions of dollars in their effort to restore the kelp beds. Results?

Only two acres of kelp were restored in Southern California from 2001 to 2004, say environmental groups that spent $2.5 million in state and federal grants.

But it's hard work. Here's how the intrepid "sea farmers" (translation: tree-huggers) fight back:

Armed with a rake and mesh satchels, he and volunteers purged the area of purple, red and white urchins--bagging 25,000 last year alone.

Got that? They artificially manipulate an ecosystem in a wholesale and arbitrary manner, because they're like, you know, protecting the environment. The paragraph after that even includes a gratuitous and totally unsubstantiated scary anecdote.

So far, we've learned that they've spent millions of dollars fighting the ecological effects caused by a cyclical change in the environment of an entire hemisphere. In three years, they've restored two acres of kelp forest, at a cost of over one million dollars per acre. They've also destroyed hundred of thousands of living creatures during that time, because they're not the "right" kind. Ok, I'm assuming that they destroyed them, because if they just collected them and then dumped them into another area, then that's two different places where they've drastically altered the ecosystem. Which way is better?

This quote just seals it:

"If you go into a kelp forest, the place is swarming with fish," said Paul Dayton, a marine ecology professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. "Take out that kelp and the fish won't go extinct, but they'll be much rarer because they don't have the habitat. ... We should protect it just on the grounds that it's for our grandchildren.

These people are supposedly scientists. Why do they righteously insist on preserving a single snapshot of the living, evolving, ever-changing world we live in?

I swear, if environmentalists had been around at the beginning of the universe, they'd have protested against God himself for destroying all the nothingness when he created the world.

Posted by Ted at 12:15 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

September 27, 2005

Earth to orbit is 90% of the effort

A successful test of space elevator hardware.

“We’re not a PowerPoint company anymore … we’re a hardware company.” -- Michael Laine, president of the LiftPort Group

In less than a month, NASA's Ames Research Center in California will host the First Annual Space Elevator Competition. Every day, the future gets closer to reality.

Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 12:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 14, 2005

Good Idea

Via Mozongo News:

Electronics Boutique will offer in store game downloads for your Series 60 or Windows Smartphone via a Bluetooth kiosk that will recognize your Bluetooth enabled cell phone and prompt you for a paid download. Free media will begin being offered in December with the paid games beginning to be offered in January . . .

Not that I'd use the service, but the idea is a natural.

Posted by Ted at 05:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2005

WiFi Digital Camera

Nikon has introduced two digital cameras with built-in WiFi capabilities, allowing you to immediately transfer your pictures to a PC or to a printer.

Posted by Ted at 07:49 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 31, 2005

Dreamer. Nothing but a dreamer.

Need a list of today's technologies that were predicted in Science Fiction?

Thanks to Owlish for the pointer.

(cue Supertramp...)

Posted by Ted at 06:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2005


For those reading the PDA version of Rocket Jones (as opposed to those us 20th Century deskbound dinosaurs), I've done some tinkering with the templates and added Eric's routine to now allow comments.

It should be easier to read, and I'd appreciate any feedback you'd care to give. Danke.

Posted by Ted at 06:09 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005


This is the revised version:

"Someone once said that there was no doubt that we would colonize the Moon and Mars. The only question was what language would be spoken: the language of science or the language of business. My money is on business. The language of business is universal, ignores national borders, and is capable of speaking all human languages."

You can go to RocketForge to see the original quote, and his reasoning behind thinking that the original is not necessarily true.

Posted by Ted at 07:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 14, 2005

I couldn't decide on a title

So here, take your pick:

  • Reason #4,367 Why I Love Mu.Nu
  • Defining a need is 75% of solving the problem
  • Zombies overrun convent after nuns run out of ammo

Michele defined the need, which was the ability to post comments to blogs when reading via a PDA. See, she reads at lunch, away from her desk, and wanted a way to provide feedback without annoying her bosses by doing it on company time.

She emailed me, and I sent an email to one much wiser than I in this kind of technical matter. She also contacted Eric, who has come up with a solution! Rob at Light&Dark also chipped in to help avoid a potential pitfall for some of us.

Michele is also going to do a kind of "RSS Feeds for Dummies" post this weekend. I'm looking forward to that.

So there you go, Mu.Nu collectively putting it's heads together to resupply those poor nuns with enough hollow-points to tire out their holy little trigger fingers.

Figuratively speaking, of course.

Posted by Ted at 07:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 12, 2005

I don't see one of these in my future

But I know quite a few people who can't wait for this keyboard designed for gamers.

Posted by Ted at 11:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 11, 2005

Microsoft is Republican, Apple is Democrat

(this rant brought to you by my findings while doing some online research)

Microsoft is big and rich and evil and gets no credit for their good charitable works, because they're not doing *enough*. Besides, they're big and rich and evil.

Apple is hip and cool and stands for the common man, because they're not Microsoft.

The iPod Shuffle has a built-in battery designed to deactivate after 144 charges. The battery is charged through the USB connector, which is also how you load songs onto the Shuffle. So if you change the songs on your Shuffle, regardless of the battery status, it counts as a recharge. And you only get 144 of them.

Apple charges sixty bucks to replace the Shuffle battery, which is 35%-65% of the entire unit price, depending on the model. If Microsoft tried crap like folks would be up in arms about what a ripoff it was and how they were taking advantage of their monopoly to jack up the little people for bigger profits. You know, like Republicans do.

Yet people bend over and let Apple stick it to 'em without complaint because you *know* that Apple is cool and hip and stands up for the regular guy. Like Democrats do.

You ignore the fact that *both* sides are screwing you over.


Update: Pixy did some investigating and it looks like the 144 charge claim is an unsubstantiated myth lie. So we're back to the status quo, i.e. Microsoft is still evil, Apple is still hip and cool (even though they've sucked up bigtime to U2. Ick.)

Posted by Ted at 05:23 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 23, 2005

Google is your friend (part whatever)

I was commenting on a post below and suggested a google of "RATO packs". Being the curious george sort, I went ahead and took my own advice and lo and behold, lookie what I found:

(caption from 3rd photo down on the page)

Prowler just lifting off from STO launch using RATO pack with AeroTech™ M2500 motor and Aero Pack RA98 retainer.

The M2500 of which they speak is a popular Level 3 certification motor. That's right, we hobbty rocketeers get to play with military-grade propellants, or maybe it's the military that gets to play with consumer-grade rocketry motors.

Posted by Ted at 09:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 07, 2005

I thought we already knew all the answers?

At least that's what some folks want you to believe when it comes to climate change. Some scientists have even suggested that an increase in certain clouds over the Earths' poles could be indication that the process is speeding up.

Or maybe not.

Polar mesospheric clouds - also called noctilucent clouds - form in the summer over the poles at altitudes of about 52 miles (84 kilometers), making them the highest clouds in the Earth's atmosphere. They have been monitored in recent years because they are thought to be sensitive to the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere.

That part is correct.

Researchers using satellite and ground-based instruments tracked the exhaust plume from Columbia's liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 16, 2003. The plume was roughly 650 miles long and two miles wide.

As with all shuttle launches, about 97 percent of this exhaust turns into water - a by-product of the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen fuel. The resulting 400 tons of extra water in the atmosphere has an observable effect on cloud formation.

Stevens and his colleagues observed a significant increase in polar mesospheric clouds over Antarctica in the days following the launch.

Oops, this sounds like one of those "ignore the man behind the curtain" moments. During discussions on the subject, I like to remind folks that Earth has *never* had a stable climate in its history. That always makes 'em stop, but it doesn't always make them think.

Posted by Ted at 11:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 25, 2005

Wikipedia Wars and New Tools to Use

Wikipedia is a cool concept where anyone can enter information about a subject, and thus a "people's reference" comes to life. Unfortunately (as the L.A. Times recently discovered), it also allows any nitwit with a cause to enter, delete, edit and overwrite information about any subject. This means that Joe Bigot can write an entry on the KKK and make it sound like a social club with a few naughty fringe elements who got carried away with the whole lynching thing. Likewise, Daisy Treehugger can pound out a screen on Halliburton and the price of Ozone and to the unaware, it carries the same credibility as actual fact.

I like Wikipedia a lot. I don't trust it at all, but I like it.

This morning I stumbled across this idea and ensuing project to create a tool to track the editing history of a Wikipedia entry:

I'd love to see a tool for animating Wikipedia history for a given entry or block of text (see Udell's screencast for an example). Bonus points for highlighting what changed in each version, and extra special bonus points for a way to scrub backwards and forwards through time.

Check out the link and be amazed as they've made some quick progress towards the goal. I'll have to dig a little deeper, but this sounds like just the thing to help decide if a Wikipedia subject has been hijacked for a cause or not.

Thanks to Dawn for the original link which led to the link where I saw another link to where I found this. Oh, and you get to see a video where Tom Cruise kills Oprah.

Posted by Ted at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2005

Dem Bones Be Speakin' To Me

Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in North America. It was founded in 1607 in what is now Virginia. One of the founders was Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, and there is evidence that a skeleton found outside the site of the Jamestown Fort is Gosnold's.

Archaeologists hoping to determine whether an unearthed skeleton belongs to one of the founders of the first permanent English settlement in North America began work Monday to excavate his sister's 360-year-old remains in eastern England.

A DNA match would be confirmation.

British and American researchers on Monday began work to remove a small part of Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney's skeleton from beneath the floor of All Saints Church in the English village of Shelley, 60 miles northeast of London. Scientists working with skeletal remains can only trace DNA through maternal relatives.

I didn't know that part about maternal relatives. Archeologists also believe they've located one of Gosnold's nieces and will attempt a DNA match from her remains as well.

Gosnold, though largely unrecognized historically, is considered a primary organizer and head of the expedition that led to Jamestown's founding. Capt. John Smith's role received most of the attention because Gosnold became ill and died at age 36 - three months after arriving in Virginia.

You can read the whole story here. I also did another post about Jamestown way back, there are good links there too if you're into history.

Posted by Ted at 04:23 AM | Comments (1)

June 14, 2005

Boeing vs. Airbus

I knew that Airbus had been chipping away at Boeing's longtime dominance in the world aircraft market, but I hadn't heard that Boeing has since rallied strongly and has put "Airbus on the ropes".

From Der Spiegel:

While Boeing is practically fighting off demand for its new 787, which consumes significantly less jet fuel than earlier models, Airbus's managers are seemingly ripping each other apart in internal power struggles and intrigues.

Boeing has already received firm orders and commitments for over 260 787 Dreamliners, which is made entirely of lightweight synthetic materials. It's also using the technology and experience gained to update their popular 737 aircraft. Meanwhile, Airbus concentrated solely on it's A380 superjet and a new military jet, all but ignoring its aging small-to-midsize line of passenger jets.

Despite lots of buzz about the superjumbo, Airbus faces heavy customer penalties (measured in the tens of millions of Euros) as they recently announced that first deliveries will be delayed by at least six months. In addition, Airbus was once considered the leader in the competition to supply the US military with new tanker aircraft, but congress has since passed legislation forbidding the award of contracts to companies subsidized by governments, on the theory that such subsidies allow the artificial lowering of bid prices. Airbus now has almost no chance with the contract that they believed they could win.

Airbus isn't nearing collapse or bankruptcy, they've just squandered the chance to continue to grow their share of the world airliner market.

Thanks to Transterrestrial Musings for the pointer. Read the comments there too, because they bring up some points and counter-arguments that I hadn't heard or considered before.

Posted by Ted at 04:36 AM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2005

It ain't all rockets all the time

Sometimes NASA flies balloons.

The westward flight from Esrange [Sweden - RJ] to Alaska will test NASA's new long-lasting balloon vehicle and carries a 5,940-pound telescope at an altitude of 25 miles for six to nine days.

These are huge balloons. For example, an NFL football field is 300 feet long.

The balloon is 396 feet high and 462 feet in diameter. It is made of advanced materials and uses a pumpkin-shaped design to achieve flights up to 100 days. It holds up to 1.3 million cubic yards of helium.

Some interesting stuff happening. Who knew Sweden had a space corporation?

Posted by Ted at 04:42 AM | Comments (1)

May 20, 2005

The scariest thing I've ever read

In 1815, Mount Tambora, on the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, erupted in the largest and most powerful display ever witnessed by mankind. The eruption itself and associated tidal waves killed 88,000 people.

If we reduce all the ash from Tambora to dense rock equivalents and include all ash flow tuffs that formed at the same time, we come up with about 36 cubic miles of rock. Quite a bit compared with the destructive U.S. eruptions of Mount St. Helens in 1980 that produced about 1/4 cubic mile.

Wow. Except, that's not the scary part. Geologists have been studying a geologically active region that has in the past underwent events of unimaginable power, dwarfing even Tambora. That place is called Yellowstone.

The volume of volcanic rock produced by the first Yellowstone caldera eruption was about 600 cubic miles—about 17 times more than Tambora, and 2,400 times as much as Mount St. Helen's, an almost incomprehensible figure. One more statistic: Ash from Tambora drifted downwind more than 800 miles; Yellowstone ash is found in Ventura, California to the west and the Iowa to the east.

Yellowstone was created by three separate volcanic geologic events. The last may have removed the southern portions of the Washburn mountain range.

Read that last sentence again.

Here's a simple analogy:

Imagine a bottle of carbonated water lying in the sun. Pick it up, shake it vigorously, maybe tap the cap...boom, it blows off. Instantly the pressure in the bottle drops, the dissolved carbon dioxide exsolves into bubbles and an expanding mass of bubbles and water jets into the sky. In a few seconds, the event is over. Wipe off your face and check the bottle; some of the water remains, but most of the gas is gone. This simple scenario is a scaled-down analogy of what happened 600,000 years ago in Yellowstone when the volatile-rich upper part of the magma chamber vented and erupted the Lava Creek Tuff.

And a simplified reconstruction of the real thing:

Nearer the vents, fiery clouds of dense ash, fluidized by the expanding gas, boiled over crater rims and rushed across the countryside at speeds over one hundred miles per hour, vaporizing forests, animals, birds, and streams into varicolored puffs of steam. Gaping ring fractures extended downward into the magma chamber providing conduits for continuing foaming ash flows.

More and more vapor-driven ash poured from the ring fractures, creating a crescendo of fury. As the magma chamber emptied, large sections of the foundering magma chamber roof collapsed along the ring fractures, triggering a chain reaction that produced a caldera 45 miles long and 28 miles wide.

Yellowstone is three separate but overlapping caldera, and the area is still extremely active in the geological sense. So a reoccurance isn't necessarily imminent, but at some point, it will happen.

Victims of the Mt. St. Helen's eruption were found with their lungs, sinuses and mouths full of ash. We've already seen how relatively minor that eruption was. Here's what you'll experience if you happen to be too close to the action.

Hot ash flows are fascinating. Driven by expanding gas, they are really clouds of hot glass shards and pumice plus expanding gas whose turbulence keeps everything flowing like water.

Not that you'd experience it for more than a fraction of a second. Merciful, that.

So there you have it, the scariest thing I've ever read, and I meant that literally. The full text is here: Yellowstone Calderas, and I have Transterrestrial Musings to thank for the nightmares.

Posted by Ted at 05:54 AM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2005


Vespa returns! Tres cool!

Posted by Ted at 05:57 AM | Comments (1)

May 10, 2005

Tech Savvy Needed

My wife's PC finally gave up the ghost. The message we're getting is "Operating System Not Found" at startup, so I'm guessing something on the motherboard is kaput.

Fortunately we have most of it backed up, and what isn't we can easily recreate.

This PC has a new hard drive in it, which I'd like to remove and put into my PC. It's configured as the C: drive, and what I need to know is if I need to reformat it when I install or can I just rename it (D:)? It'd be great if I could get the rest of the data off of it.

Any help?

Posted by Ted at 07:30 AM | Comments (5)

April 24, 2005

Lava Balloons

I've never heard of this phenomenom before.

Columns of white vapor streamed from the Atlantic this winter. About 8km west of an island called Terceira in the Azores, a submarine eruption was under way. Hot lava squeezed up through cracks in the ocean floor at about 500 meters below the surface of the ocean. The lava solidified into lava balloons. These gas-rich lava balloons interacted with cold seawater as they rose. This process generated steam, which emerged from the Atlantic like smoke from dozens of chimneys. The steam rose about 10 meters high. As the lava balloons reached the surface, the gas that made them buoyant escaped through cracks, and the balloons filled with water and sank.

You can keep the Sunday papers, I love to leisurely surf through the museum sites on my weekend mornings.

Here's another weird volcano I posted about some time ago.

Posted by Ted at 10:28 AM | Comments (2)

Even stars can be a little loose

Astronomers are used to seeing star clusters orbiting other galaxies. Up to now, they've always been dense little globes filled with millions of suns.

The Andromeda galaxy is one of the Milky Way’s nearest galactic neighbors.

Astronomers recently found star clusters of a type never seen before orbiting Andromeda.

More familiar to scientists are globular clusters. These collections of stars are densely packed.

The newly discovered clusters are much larger and less dense than globular clusters.

These “extended clusters” are not found in the Milky Way. Why not is still unknown.

Mankind may never know it all, but we continue to learn.

Posted by Ted at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2005

Oh great, another post-nuclear mutant nightmare to worry about

After the world blows itself up, it won't be enough to watch out for the mutants roaming the blasted landscape. Scientists have discovered a species of ant that builds group-sized traps that allow them to subdue insects many times larger than themselves.

Giant ants waiting in ambush. Sweet dreams.

Posted by Ted at 06:05 AM | Comments (1)

April 15, 2005

What to do with that old PC you've got lying around

Wanna build your very own Windows web development server? Here's a tutorial on what you need and where to get it, and it looks like all the software is free.

Posted by Ted at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2005

One track mind, apparently

Let's see, we've had unisexual lizards and modesty-protecting swimsuits, it must be time to step into the wayback machine for some ancient sex.

Archaeologist finds 'oldest porn statue'.

Over 7,000 years old, depicting a man and woman practicing the world's oldest intramural sport. They even named the male half of the statue, which is described as an 8 centimeter lower half of a man.

"This is such an interesting discovery," said Dr Sträuble, "as these figurines are not stylistic, but realistic.

8 centimeters? That ain't realistic around here, bucko.

Posted by Ted at 06:05 AM | Comments (2)

April 12, 2005

Evolution in Action

The American Museum of Natural History website has an intriguing article up about the whiptail lizard, and how they avoid a problem that occurs among most species when cross-bred in nature.

Most products of crossbreeding, such as the mule, are sterile. But the New Mexico Whiptail, as well as several other all-female species of whiptail lizard, does reproduce, and all of its offspring are female. Moreover, it reproduces by parthenogenesis -- its eggs require no fertilization, and its offspring are exact and complete genetic duplicates of the mother.

The article is short but interesting, and makes me wonder anew at the workings of Mother Nature. Here, she's obviously used natural selection to solve a common problem, by eliminating the wet spot.

Posted by Ted at 04:16 PM | Comments (2)

March 13, 2005

Looking inward

Most everyone has heard of the SETI@home project, where you can download a screensaver that uses your PC's downtime to process data collected by the big radio telescopes pointed "out there" looking for life.

There is a similar effort to utilize PC's as a massively distributed platform to study protein folding.

What are proteins and why do they "fold"? Proteins are biology's workhorses -- its "nanomachines." Before proteins can carry out their biochemical function, they remarkably assemble themselves, or "fold." The process of protein folding, while critical and fundamental to virtually all of biology, remains a mystery. Moreover, perhaps not surprisingly, when proteins do not fold correctly (i.e. "misfold"), there can be serious effects, including many well known diseases, such as Alzheimer's, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington's, and Parkinson's disease.

Check out details here, and Rich has more links and information at his place.

Posted by Ted at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2005

Life on Mars

Major thanks to Brent, who gave me the heads up to this (and has more on it too).

A pair of NASA scientists told a group of space officials at a private meeting here Sunday that they have found strong evidence that life may exist today on Mars, hidden away in caves and sustained by pockets of water.

The scientists, Carol Stoker and Larry Lemke of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, told the group that they have submitted their findings to the journal Nature for publication in May, and their paper currently is being peer reviewed.

What Stoker and Lemke have found, according to several attendees of the private meeting, is not direct proof of life on Mars, but methane signatures and other signs of possible biological activity remarkably similar to those recently discovered in caves here on Earth.

Ok, so when they say evidence, it's not direct but inferred. I'm ok with that, because it's orders of magnitude more likely than ever discovering martian lichen or higher life forms.

Go read the article, because like Mars, there's a lot more to this story than what first meets the eye.

Posted by Ted at 04:04 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2005

But will it make my go cart fly like Super Mario's?

From Dustbury, a pointer to the latest in great gadgets, IMHO.

JSC Speed has introduced something called the TurboXS DTEC, which takes one ordinary Nintendo Game Boy Advance (not included) and turns it into an actual automotive-diagnostic device. The various modules allow you to read turbo boost, exhaust temperature, intake air temperature, and RPMs; future modules will include detonation sensors and skidpad readings in g.

If you're a gearhead, then you're probably drooling. For the rest of us, we can simply admire the elegant crossover of technologies.

Posted by Ted at 11:29 AM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2005


Everyone knows that most of an iceberg lies underwater. I have no idea if this photo is on the up and up (the lighting looks 'wrong' to me), but it's cool anyways. Here's the background that was attached to the photo.

This awesome picture came from a Rig Manager for Global Marine Drilling in St. Johns, Newfoundland. They actually have to divert the paths of these ice monsters away from the rig by towing them with ships!

On this particular day, the water was calm, and the sun was almost directly overhead. This allowed a diver to get into the water and click this photo. Amazingly clear water, isn't it?

They estimated the weight at 300,000,000 tons.

(in the extended entry)


Posted by Ted at 04:07 AM | Comments (2)

February 08, 2005

NASA is a girl's best friend

According to astronomers, under certain conditions some planets may form with a thick layer of diamond under the crust.

No diamond planet exists in our solar system, but some planets orbiting other stars in the Milky Way might have enough carbon to produce a diamond layer, Princeton University astronomer Marc Kuchner said in a telephone news conference.

Since they'll be worth mere pennies on the dollar in the near future, I'd suggest that you contact Rocket Jones and ask about our diamond-buyback program. Get your best deal now, before they're all worthless.

Posted by Ted at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2005

Yes, that is a phone in my pocket, and I am happy to see you

Porn star Jenna Jameson has launched a new line of downloadable "Moan Tones" for your phone, so now when that hot call comes in, you can honestly say it can't wait.

Reaching out to touch someone should probably not be attempted.

Next best thing to being there? Only if your phone is set to vibrate.

Posted by Ted at 12:29 PM | Comments (3)

Orbital Flight Simulator

Called Orbiter, and the page has all kinds of add-ons and nifty toys to download. Looks like everything is free too.

Posted by Ted at 05:07 AM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2005

Going wireless, sorta and kinda

We're using a LinkSys router/switch for our in-home network, and it's been absolutely trouble-free since we got it a couple of years ago. We've also gone to some trouble to run cat-5 cable into the upper floor of the house.

Lately we've been talking about getting a laptop and how nice it would be to have a wireless connection for it. I don't want to go completely wireless because we do some things on the net I'd rather not have go out into the ether, so what I'm looking for is a router/switch that is both wireless but has at least 2 ports to accept cat-5 cable. Anyone know of anything to fit those specs? Recommendations?

Posted by Ted at 11:26 AM | Comments (9)

January 05, 2005

PDA resource and reviews

I subscribe (free) to eMobie via my (free) Avant Go account so I can download and read up on the latest PDA tools and toys out there on the market. I highly recommend the site because it's chock full o' information and solid reviews. Once in a while though, it's nice to visit the actual site and see what's not included in the digest version.

For instance, this:

What Is BlueJacking?!

When two Bluetooth devices get within 10 metres of each other, they can be linked together wirelessly. Unlike an infrared link, Bluetooth doesn’t require a line of sight connection. Bluetooth was originally envisioned as a “wireless cable replacement,” to connect to phones, printers, and other peripherals. It has also been used to beam business cards, text files, and applications from one PDA to another. Recently, users of these devices have found a new way to use this technology, which they call “bluejacking!”

Bluejacking is where people with Bluetooth-enabled phones and PDAs send anonymous messages to those with similar phones/PDAs nearby. The purpose behind this craze is to un-nerve other Bluetooth users and have a little fun. For example, if you’re riding the underground and you see another PDA user, you might send them a comment about the clothes they are wearing, or the book they are carrying. Don’t send anything ominous or nasty—just a simple message that lets them know your there. It might lead to an interesting conversation.

It’s actually quite easy to bluejack. Open Contacts and create a new entry with the phrase “You’ve been bluejacked” or “You’re wearing a nice hat” entered in the Name field. Then go back to the Contact list view, tap and hold down on the new “contact” and select the “Send via Bluetooth” option from the drop down menu. A list of enabled hardware in the area should appear on your device. Select the device you want and send your message. As easy as that!

“Bluejacking”—sending a message to another Bluetooth-enabled device—can be easily done from Contacts.
Wild stories on the Web suggest that “bluejacking” could infect a phone or PDA with a virus or allow a “bluejacker” to steal data. But despite its name, bluejacking doesn’t hijack the device or suck off information—it simply sends a message to the bluejacked device. The recipient can ignore it, read it, respond or delete it.

Many Bluetooth developers have been testing it, but is seems to be impossible to catch a virus from “bluejacking” and no damage can occur to your phone or PDA. In reality, Bluetooth is not the easiest way to get data off a PDA or phone. Some critics say that it’s easiest steal the device rather than try and transfer data wirelessly!

For More Information about Bluejacking, please visit: www.bluejackq.com

Pardon me, my geek is showing.

Posted by Ted at 05:13 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2004

The PB&J of Science

I heard a nifty little radio spot this morning on the way to work, courtesy of Boeing and Bill Nye, the Science Guy. There's a complete transcript here (it's pretty short).

I really liked this part:

Science is a way of thinking. We explore, observe, test, and eventually know. It’s a process we want our kids to embrace. It’s the P, B, & J, the Passion, Beauty, and Joy of science that will give them the means to understand the world around them and try to make it better.

Of course, not everybody is a Bill Nye fan.

Posted by Ted at 06:10 AM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2004

Buying a telescope?

Here's some handy tips on buying one from Space.com.

They make some excellent suggestions. Our family has one, and I did some research after-the-fact (Google is your friend) and discovered that the one we bought isn't very good. The optics are actually rather good, but the overall quality makes it difficult to take full advantage of them. We've had fun with it anyway.

They do make a great suggestion though:

A good pair of binoculars makes a very good instrument for the beginning amateur sky watcher.

Other useful things for that astonomer on your gift list are star charts and books on general astronomy. Check out Amazon or any good book store. Something as simple as a notebook, sketchpad or red-filtered mini-flashlight are invaluable too. How about a thermos for coffee or hot chocolate? It gets chilly out there.

I've also pointed out simulation software, which is perfect for those too-frequent cloudy nights. If you've never tried it, you really should. The images presented by even "toy" telescopes can take your breath away, and it's a fun and educational way to spend a family evening together.

Posted by Ted at 05:36 PM | Comments (1)

November 26, 2004

Bulletproof diaphranous lingerie

Scientists in Isreal have created artificial spiderweb. Imagine anything (and everything) that contains thread or fiber, and note the improvement gained by using threads stronger than nylon or steel.

In a related (sorta) note, I once read a science fiction book where giant spiders were bred and used for construction purposes, spinning web the size of bridge cables. The very idea of riding a dump-truck sized arachnid like a mahout gave me nightmares for weeks.

Posted by Ted at 12:12 PM | Comments (0)

She Builds Seashells Down by the Seashore

Via Transterrestrial Musings:

Dr. Belcher has studied the biology of abalones and how the mollusks are able to assemble an extremely hard shell from calcium carbonate and other minerals in an ocean filled with various microbes and contaminants. The result: she and her colleagues have developed proteins that can bind to about 30 different electronic, magnetic, and optical materials, and then assemble the materials into protein structures.

In other words, a very real potential for computer chips and components assembled from materials other than silicon.

One of the most promising aspects of Dr. Belcher's discovery is that the process takes place in seawater - not the billion-dollar fabrication plants and hygienic rooms required for silicon manufacturing.

Every day we're a little bit closer to our giant fighting robot masters.

Posted by Ted at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2004

Now even more annoying! Danger added for your clicking pleasure!

Banner ads that carry virii. Jeez.

Posted by Ted at 04:32 AM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2004

Wouldn't you like to fly, in my beautiful balloon?

Two Fifth Dimension-inspired titles in two days. Wonder what that means?

Scientists using an experimental X-ray telescope suspended from a balloon have captured a unique picture of a pulsar shining in a form of light never before imaged in detail -- that is, in high-energy "hard" X-rays. The observation marks a milestone in astronomical imaging.

The difficulty in detecting X-rays is precisely what makes them so useful in medical imagery, they tend to go through things. Like mirrors and detection equipment.

Visible light -- the reds, greens and blues our eyes can detect -- is far easier to reflect and magnify, the basic function of an optical telescope. Shine a flashlight into the mirror, and the light will bounce back. A beam of X-rays would pierce through the mirror. To reflect X-ray light onto a detector, scientists need a telescope with mirrors aligned at shallow angles to the detector. The process is like skimming a stone on water.

Lofting experimental equipment by balloon is nothing new, it's a cost effective way to perform tests and diagnostics without actually sending it all the way into space (this balloon achieved an altitude of 39 kilometers). As a bonus, you can retrieve the payload after you're done testing, which is difficult to impossible from orbit.

"The beauty of balloons is that we can test these cutting-edge technologies for relatively little money. Try to imagine testing a 26-foot-long telescope any other way. We plan to fly InFOCuS several more times in the next few years."

This is all headed towards a proposed NASA mission called Constellation-X.

Constellation X, proposed for flight early next decade, would comprise several telescopes flying in unison with the combined light-collecting power needed to observe matter falling into black holes. Constellation X is a key mission in NASA's Beyond Einstein roadmap.

In other words, pure fundamental research.

I also noted this at the bottom of NASA's press release:

Note on acronym: The "u" of "InFOCuS" is actually the Greek letter "mu" (m), which denotes the prefix "micro".

Mu's in space! Who Nu?

Posted by Ted at 09:35 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Fuzzy fuzzy fuzzy

Russia is developing a new type of missile which will render the US Missile Defense Shield useless. So the reporters breathlessly claim.

Not so fast.

It's not really "new" in the sense that nobody knows what it is or might be. There are very few actual "new" types of weapons throughout history, the vast majority are variations and enhancements on already existing designs. Since this is a missile, then we already know basically how it's going to work. The devil is in the details.

Secondly, the MDS is designed to deal with today's threats, knowing that most of tomorrow's threats will just be better versions of what's already out there. Even if Russia deploys a superduper missile that the MDS can't handle, there's still a world full of existing threats that it can deal with. To claim that one new missile makes it worthless is like saying everyone should throw away their bulletproof vests because we've now got an Airborn Megawatt Laser system.

Posted by Ted at 07:32 AM | Comments (2)

November 16, 2004

Must. Resist. Snark.

Surprising Second Black Hole Found in Milky Way's Center.

Do you know how painful it is to not even mention Paris, Madonna, Anna Nicole, J-Lo or others? Ok, a small one:

Just two?

Oops, I did it again.

Posted by Ted at 02:45 PM | Comments (4)

November 10, 2004

Mach 10 ScramJet

One more step towards the day when we spend more time at the airport than actually in the air.

They call it a "scramjet," an engine so blindingly fast that it could carry an airplane from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., in about 20 minutes -- or even quicker. So fast it could put satellites in space. So fast it could drop a cruise missile on an enemy target, almost like shooting a rifle.

Mach numbers signify how many times faster than sound you're going. This flight of the X34 is expected to reach some 7,200 miles per hour, which is nearly ten times the speed of sound.

The speed of sound isn't an absolute number because it varies somewhat with temperature, humidity and other factors. Seven hundred and fifty miles per hour is a fair enough estimate.

Go read it. Cool stuff. Thanks to Kyle the Nog-Warden and Carl (who has deep nog-secrets) for pointing this one out.

Posted by Ted at 12:01 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2004

Good Buzz

A paleotologist is challenging the scope of devastation caused by the meteor impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

To do this, Kozisek took a novel approach for a paleontologist - instead of looking at what died out, she dug through the literature to find out what survived the massive extinction event.

"I made a list of all survivors and picked those with strict survival requirements," said Kozisek. She determined what those survival requirements were by calling on studies of the closest modern analogues -- which wasn't always easy for some species, she pointed out. There was, for instance, a very early primate that crawled out of the Cretaceous alive, but there is really no comparable small primate around today with which to reliably compare, she said.

On the other hand, a good number of tropical honeybees haven't changed a lot in 65 million years and a great deal is known about modern tropical honey bees' tolerances to heat and cold. What's more, amber-preserved specimens of the oldest tropical honey bee, Cretotrigona prisca, are almost indistinguishable from - and are probably the ancestors of - some modern tropical honeybees like Dactylurina, according to other studies cited by Kozisek.

I got stung by a yellow jacket this weekend. I blame the meteor, and The Eternal Golden Braid, for allowing me to redirect my anger at an inanimate object.

Posted by Ted at 05:27 AM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2004

More about the Kassam rocket

Bill S continues his excellent posts about the Palestinians home-grown weapon.

After a lot of digging, I found an excellent Kassam construction article, written by a aeronautical engineering PhD, on the website "Middle East Missile Monitor"

This article is fascinating, it bolsters the point that pretty big rockets can be built without AP [Ammonium Perchlorate, which is what hobby rocketry uses - RJ] using common steel pipe and steel stock material, along with fertilizer and sugar for the propellant.

The article states that the motors are a combination core and external burner.... with square propellant slugs constructed of 60/40 mix of potassium nitrate and sugar that slide into the steel pipe (that is one heck of a large burn area). ISP is estimated to be around 130. The motor base plate has seven steel nozzles, and is threaded into the casing before being tack welded into place. Estimated burn time is 1 second, which minimizes erosion. Warhead is a combo of urea nitrate and smuggled TNT. Fusing is a simple device based on an empty small arms cartridge filled with an explosive booster material operating against a spring-loaded nail. Article has Interesting photos of the rectangular slugs and the rear end/nozzle assembly. Since this article was written over a year ago, the total number of rockets fired has roughly doubled.

The article is "The Growing Threat of the Kassam Unguided Rockets".

If the link doesnt work, go to the web site and click on "articles".

As an aside, an article was in today's DC post [WaPo - RJ] on the Kassam, "Rockets Deliver Daily Terror to Residents of Israeli Town".

The article correctly states that these are wildly inaccurate and few have ever hit anything. There is radar alarm system for the local town that gives about a 20 second inbound warning.

Posted by Ted at 05:08 AM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2004

Comet hits Europe in 200 BC?

I'm having a problem with this.

A comet or asteroid smashed into modern-day Germany some 2,200 years ago, unleashing energy equivalent to thousands of atomic bombs, scientists revealed.

That should say 'theorized' instead of 'revealed'.
Colliding with the Earth's atmosphere at more than 43,000 kms (27,000 miles) per hour, the space rock probably broke up at an altitude of 70 kms (43 miles), they believe.

The biggest chunk smashed into the ground with a force equivalent to 106 million tonnes of TNT, or 8,500 Hiroshima bombs.

"The forest beneath the blast would have ignited suddenly, burning until the impact's blast wave shut down the conflagration," the investigators said.

"Dust may have been blown into the stratosphere, where it would have been transported around the globe easily... The region must have been devastated for decades."

Now, this is the heart of Europe we're talking about, and even though it's a couple hundred years before Christ, this area isn't unpopulated. I find it hard to believe that an event of this magnitude wouldn't live on in lore or folktales. I've never heard anything that even hints at it.

I can certainly believe that a comet or meteor hit that area, but it's their timeline that I question. Make the impact a thousand or two years earlier, and the lack of historical references makes more sense to me.

Posted by Ted at 04:44 AM | Comments (2)

October 12, 2004

Palestinian Kassam Rockets

Posted by Bill S on a rocketry mailing list I belong to:

The links below contain pretty concise short articles on the "homebrew" Palestinian terrorist Kassam rockets being fired at Israel. A search of Google using the term "Kassam" illustrates its a pretty hot topic in that country.

Bill goes on to excerpt from the first link:
".....Based on technical assistance received from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, and what Palestinian technicians and engineers learned from books and the Internet, a workable design was developed.......There have been roughly three versions of the Kassam developed so far......The “Kassam I” is 31 inches long, 2.4 inches in diameter, weighs 12 pounds, has about a pound of explosives in the warhead and has a range of about three kilometers. “Kassam II” is 71 inches long, six inches in diameter, weighs 70 pounds, has about 11-15 pounds of explosives in the warhead and has a range of about eight kilometers. “Kassam III” is over 80 inches long, 6.7 inches in diameter, weighs about 200 pounds, has 22-44 pounds of explosives in the warhead and has a range of about ten kilometers....."

I highly recommend following both of these links for more information on the rockets, the attacks, and the tactics being used to counter them. Here's more from Bill:
From the photos in the IDF page (second link), these are made out of metal, with the motor and warhead casing also being the rocket body. The unguided rockets have welded metal fins.

As Stormin Normin said in the gulf war of Iraq Scud missiles, they are "militarily insignificant". But, they do keep the population stirred up and therefore the military engaged far more than should be necessary from a truly military perspective...... as is the terrorists intent. Unfortunately the bad guys have achieved 4 kills to date out of about 400 rounds fired.

Posted by Ted at 05:44 AM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2004

I don't quite go this far...

... but I also don't have a GMail account.

Thanks to Johno at the Ministry of Minor Perfidy for the pointer to concentrated electronic paranoia.*

*Note that paranoia about something does not automatically mean that you're wrong.

Posted by Ted at 08:11 AM | Comments (0)

To be stealthy, you gotta suck

At least according to a new report released by scientists studying Dinocephalosaurus, a long-necked aquatic reptile that lived in what is now China some 230 million years ago.

"The long neck would allow it to approach prey without the whole body becoming visible," Olivier Rieppel of the Field Museum in Chicago, a co-author of the report, said in a telephone interview.

Which is good (for the Dinocephalosaurus, not the fish), but it may have done even better than that. Ever notice how when you try to catch or swat certain insects, they seem to know and escape at the last second, even if you sneak up on them? Some insects have organs that sense air pressure, like the wave of air that arrives a split second before the rolled up newspaper. Fish have that ability too, and water, being much more dense than air, telegraphs the pressure wave even more noticably (try it in a swimming pool or bathtub, you'll see what I mean). So how did Dinocephalosaurus solve that little problem?

Michael LaBarbera of the University of Chicago, a co-author of the report, said the rib-like bones along the side of the neck may also have played a role in hunting.

Those bones give the neck some stiffness, Rieppel explained. It could flex, but not like a snake.

According to LaBarbera, contraction of the creature's neck muscles could have rapidly straightened the neck and splayed the neck ribs outward.

That would have greatly increased the volume of the throat, allowing the animal to lunge forward in the water at prey. Ordinarily, lunging through water creates a pressure wave that a fish can sense, allowing it to flee. But the researchers said that by suddenly enlarging its throat Dinocephalosaurus could, in effect, suck in and swallow its own pressure wave, giving it the ability to strike without warning.

The original Big Gulp. Nature does some amazing things.

Posted by Ted at 06:01 AM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2004

No such thing as "Case Closed"

Cannibal, yes. Murderer? Maybe not. Desperate people go to extreme lengths to survive, and Alfred Packer always insisted that he only killed one man in his expedition of six, and that it was in self-defense.

Now a museum curator has used archeology and advanced forensics science to show that Packer may have been telling the truth 130 years ago.

Update: According to the first link above:

The University of Colorado at Boulder named their student cafeteria The Alfred Packer Memorial Grill, apparently as a derisive statement about the food served there.

Now I want BBQ for lunch...

Posted by Ted at 09:19 AM | Comments (2)

September 12, 2004

I feel their pain

Remember when I posted the link about these guys? A group of radio control hobbyists who built a scale B-52; 300+ pounds, 27 foot wingspan, 8 working miniature jet engines. So very impressive.

It crashed. Before, during, and after video and pictures here.

Posted by Ted at 06:14 AM | Comments (4)

September 09, 2004

Another vulnerable point of attack

Spammers + Hackers = Uh oh.

New Worm Travels by IM

Paul Roberts, IDG News Service

A new version of the worm that spread from infected Microsoft Web servers in June has been identified and is using instant messages and infected Web sites in Russia, Uruguay, and the United States to spread itself, according to one security company.

Researchers at PivX Solutions of Newport Beach, California, have intercepted new malicious code closely resembling that from widespread attacks in June attributed to a worm named "Scob" or "Download.ject." The new attacks use mass-distributed instant messages to lure Internet users to Web sites that distribute malicious code similar to Download.ject, says Thor Larholm, senior security researcher at PivX.

This wave of attacks works similarly, routing victims to Web sites with code that takes advantage of vulnerabilities in Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook. Though Microsoft has patched those vulnerabilities, the attackers are attempting to exploit unpatched systems. Two patches from 2003, MS03-025 and MS03-040M, address the flaws used by the new worm, Larholm says.

How It Slithers

First detected on June 24, the Scob attacks were attributed to a Russian hacking group known as the "HangUP team." The virus used a recently patched buffer overflow vulnerability in Microsoft's implementation of Secure Sockets Layer to compromise vulnerable Windows 2000 systems running Internet Information Server Version 5 Web servers. Companies that used IIS Version 5 and failed to apply a recent security software patch, MS04-011, were vulnerable.

The June attacks also used two vulnerabilities in Windows and Internet Explorer to silently run the malicious code distributed from the IIS servers on machines that visited the compromised sites. The malware redirected victims to Web sites controlled by the hackers, and downloaded a Trojan horse program that captured keystrokes and personal data.

The newer attacks begin with instant messages sent to people using America Online's AOL Instant Messenger or ICQ instant messaging program. The messages invite recipients to click on a link to a Web page, with pitches such as "Check out my new home page!" The messages could appear to be sent from strangers or from regular IM correspondents, or "buddies," Larholm says.
Once victims click on the link, they are taken to one of a handful of attack Web pages hosted on servers in Uruguay, Russia, and the United States. There, a Trojan horse program is downloaded.
Greedy Worms?

In addition to opening a "back door" on the victim's computer through which additional malicious programs can enter, the new attacks change the victim's Web browser home page or Outlook e-mail search page to Web sites featuring adult content, Larholm says.

PivX is still analyzing the attacks to see if malicious code is placed on victims' machines. However, many of the files used by the new worm and the way the attacks occur point to the same group that launched the Scob attacks in June, Larholm says.

"The code is different enough to be something of its own, but unique enough to be related," he says. "And as with the Scob attacks, this is all about money--in this case, driving ad revenue for specific people."

PivX has informed antivirus companies of the new malicious code, Larholm says.

Posted by Ted at 05:14 AM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2004

Any idea why?

In my research and testing (oooo, sounds official, doesn't it?) about PDA-friendly blogging*, I noticed that many sites - especially some of the 'biggies' - don't offer XML syndication. I think it comes standard with most blogging software now, which means it was intentionally removed.

I'm not an expert on this stuff, which is why I'm studying it. The main effect (I think) of not offering syndication is that aggregators can't include your site in their news-gathering functions.

So why not have it there?

*This is a hint on where my thoughts are headed with this whole line of research. I may end up writing my own aggregator if I can't find one that does what I think I want it to.

Posted by Ted at 05:18 AM | Comments (2)

August 31, 2004

Reading blogs on your PDA

In part one we saw how easy it is to create a PDA compatible version of your blog. It only takes a few minutes, and once complete you don’t have to do anything special, because it updates automatically every time you post.

In this part, I’ll go over the steps needed to download your blog (or other PDA friendly web content) into your PDA. It’s pretty easy too.

(in the extended entry)

There are several places online that offer this service, but the one I use is AvantGo, mainly because the reader came preloaded on my iPAQ. You may have to download the appropriate (and free) software to your PDA, which is simple to do, just follow their directions. The basic service is also free, although you can upgrade your account to allow more content to be downloaded. Personally, I haven’t found it to be necessary. Also, please keep in mind that I’m using an iPAQ, but most PDA’s should work in similar ways. Details may differ for you if you use a similar device. If you’re having problems, read the manual or do like I do – Google is your friend. AvantGo also has .pdf versions of their help guides online for Pocket PC’s and Palm Pilots.

Setting up an AvantGo account is easy and free. Using your PC, go to their homepage and after picking your User ID and password you select the content you want downloaded to your PDA.

There’s a huge selection of content, including many newspapers and specialty magazines and newsletters. Obviously, you don’t get the full versions, usually you get major headline stories. Each ‘subscription’ has a maximum downloadable size, and most of these count towards your limit that you must stay under with a free account. The limit on my account is 2000k. I currently subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, MSNBC news, Sporting News, USA Today and PocketPC Life. Add in the blogs Off Wing Opinion, Simon World and Flying Space Monkey Chronicles, and I’m using 1150k, so I’ve got plenty of room to spare. You can change subscriptions at any time, and you probably will do that often at first as you look around for the best mix for you.

To set it up to read blogs, AvantGo offers what they call “Personal Channels”. This is the ability to take any webpage on the net and make it downloadable. Note that if the page isn’t formatted in a PDA-friendly manner, then trying to read it after downloading will be an exercise in frustration. Stick to the dedicated PDA-style pages, there are plenty of them out there, and more coming all the time (Q&O, Minor Perfidy, and many others, are you listening?).

All right, we’re ready to create a new personal channel from the latest Munuvian to go PDA compatible – Flying Space Monkey Chronicles. After you’ve signed in, click on the My Account tab on the right hand side of the page. Below that is your account information and then a section called Account Management Tasks. In that section is a link called Create A Personal Channel, that’s the one we want. Click that.

Now you’ll see some blanks to fill in. The Title is whatever you want to call it, it’s the name that’ll show up on your PDA, and the Location is obviously the URL. Type those in, then make sure you click the VIEW button to the immediate right. This gives you an idea of what you’ll be seeing when you download.

Below that, I generally put a maximum size of 100k on blogs, which is probably way overkill because I input zero for link depth and check ‘no’ for image downloads and links. I want straight text, and if I see something later I want to follow up on, I make a note of it (hey, it’s a PDA!) and do next time I’m on my desktop PC.

The last section is Channel Refresh. For my iPAQ, I ‘synchronize’ once a day, usually in the evening. So by selecting Refresh On Every Sync, I get the latest content every evening, and read it the following day. You can set yours to update however you want, it’s pretty flexible.

Don’t forget to click the Save Channel button at the bottom of the page when you’ve got it all set up.

Then do it all over again for each channel you want to create.

Next time you synchronize your PDA, all that content will be loaded, and you can tap the AvantGo icon (or whichever service you used) to read it. And all your friends will refer to you as a technological trend-setter, and be jealous.

Posted by Ted at 06:10 AM | Comments (5)

August 30, 2004

The downside is that I'll have to post more real content

The upside is that I've found simple instructions on how to make a PDA-compatable version of your blog.

If you don't recognize the term, PDA stands for Personal Digital Assistant, and refers to that group of handheld devices like the Palm Pilot, the iPAQ Pocket PC, Blackberry and many others. Basically, they're PC's that fit into your pocket. I recently got one, and love it to death.

Why in the world would you want to do a PDA-friendly version of your blog? Well, some of us out in the world are techno-junkies (not me) and some of us just don't have time to surf to all the places we'd like to each and every day (uh, that would be me). So by downloading your blog to our PDA's every day or two, we can benefit from your wisdom and insight whenever we have a moment or two to spare.

First I'll explain the steps to make your blog PDA friendly, then in part two I'll show those who have PDA's how to get this great blog content downloaded to your wee beastie. It's all in the extended entry.

Blog steps (most of this lifted and slightly modified from ScriptyGoddess, although I saw it in other places too).

1. Go to the Templates area of MT and click "Create new index template." Give the page a name, I chose "Rocket Jones - PDA version." Then come up with a name for the output file. I chose the very creative name "pda.html." You can also use .htm, or .php if you wish. It just depends on your preference and server.

2. Be sure the checkbox "Rebuild this template automatically when rebuilding index templates" is checked.

3. Leave "Link this template to a file:" empty

4. In the "Template Body" box, enter your template code. You can simply copy and paste this into the box if you wish. But, be sure to look through the code for comments on areas you may want to customize (look for the TITLE and DIV id tags).

Sample Template (start copying here):

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN"
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html;
charset=iso-8859-1" />
<TITLE>Rocket Jones - PDA Version</TITLE>
<style type="text/css">
body {
font:11px verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
h1 {
font:bold 12px/12px verdana, arial, helvetica,
margin:0px 0px 0px 0px;
p {
font:11px verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
margin:0px 0px 0px 0px;
.Content>p {margin:0px;}
.Content>p+p {text-indent:0px;}
.tinyfont { font:8px verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif; }
.smallfont { font:9px verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif; }
.titlefont { font:14px verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif; }
a {
font-family:verdana, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
A:link { color: #09c; TEXT-DECORATION: none }
A:visited { color: #07a; TEXT-DECORATION: none }
A:active { TEXT-DECORATION: none }
A:hover {
FONT-WEIGHT: normal; FONT-STYLE: normal
#Header {
margin:50px 0px 10px 0px;
padding:17px 0px 0px 20px;
/* For IE5/Win's benefit height = [correct height] +
[top padding] + [top and bottom border widths] */
height:33px; /* 14px + 17px + 2px = 33px */
border-width:1px 0px; /* top and bottom borders: 1px;
left and right borders: 0px */
/* Here is the ugly brilliant hack that protects IE5/Win
from its own stupidity. Thanks to Tantek Celik for the
hack and to Eric Costello for publicizing it. IE5/Win
incorrectly parses the "\"}"" value, prematurely
closing the style declaration. The incorrect IE5/Win
value is above, while the correct value is below. See
http://glish.com/css/hacks.asp for details. */
voice-family: "\"}\"";
height:14px; /* the correct height */
/* I've heard this called the "be nice to Opera 5" rule.
Basically, it feeds correct length values to user agents
that exhibit the parsing error exploited above yet get
the CSS box model right and understand the CSS2
parent-child selector. ALWAYS include a "be nice to
Opera 5" rule every time you use the Tantek Celik
hack (above). */
body>#Header {height:14px;}
.Content {
margin:5px 5px 5px 5px;
.dateheader {
margin:0px 0px 0px 0px;
<DIV id=Header>Rocket Jones - PDA Version</DIV>
<div align="left">
<MTEntries lastn="15">
<div class="dateheader"><H1><$MTEntryDate format="%A, %B %e,
<DIV class="content">
<span class="titlefont"><i><$MTEntryTitle$></i>
(<$MTEntryDate format="%I:%M%p"$>)<br /></span>
<p>:: Comments left behind ::</p>
<span class="smallfont">:: <$MTCommentAuthorLink$>
<$MTCommentDate$></span><br /><br />
<HR width="75%">
<P CLASS="tinyfont" align="center">
<a href="http://www.movabletype.org">Powered by MovableType</a></P>

(end copy here)

5. Save the template.

6. Rebuild the template.

7. Go to your web site and view the results.

8. Tweak until satisifed.

9. Post a link to it on your main web site. I put mine in the sidebar.

10. Announce it. Put the word out. Let the world know that it's there so we can take advantage of it. There will be much rejoicing amongst us geekish types, because, you know, according to the Dilbert author, we're getting all the chicks and we don't have all day to be sitting at the keyboard anymore.

11. That's what he says anyways.

Ok, so that part is pretty straightforward. For those who don't want or like to tweak, the default as given above seems to be fairly standard and works well.

The next part will be for the PDA-enabled. You know it's out there, how do you get at it via your PDA?

Posted by Ted at 07:34 AM | Comments (3)

August 23, 2004

July 26, 2004

Pray that you drown before she starts singing "The Morning After"

It's a standard Hollywood special effect: the towering wall of water bearing down on the ship. Such 'rogue waves' do exist and have been documented, but until recent studies by satellites in orbit, scientists didn't realize that they're far more common than thought.

"Two large ships sink every week on average, but the cause is never studied to the same detail as an air crash," says Wolfgang Rosenthal of the GKSS Forschungszentrum GmbH research center in Germany. "It simply gets put down to bad weather."
Huh? Two a week? Wow, I never realized. Imagine the hell raised if two airliners a week crashed mid-flight.
A significant handful of these sunken ships -- about 200 over the past two decades -- are supertankers or large container ships, according to a statement explaining Rosenthal's new research.

The cause for most of the mishaps is a mystery, but so-called rogue waves as tall as 10-story buildings are believed to be the major culprit in many cases.

Now I'm wondering about the Bermuda Triangle. How often do these beasties slosh around in that little basin? You'd think that with the relatively high number of spotters and island inhabitants, that something like this would be noticed.
The data were collected by the European Space Agency's twin spacecraft ERS-1 and 2, which employ a technique called synthetic aperture radar to measure wave height.

In the three weeks of satellite data, researchers found 10 waves in various parts of the world that were more than 82 feet (25 meters) high. That added a global perspective to information collected from various oil platforms. (A radar device on the North Sea's Goma oilfield counted 466 rogue waves over 12 years.)

Yet there's never one around when you really need one. When I think of all those years of The Love Boat...

Posted by Ted at 06:11 AM | Comments (5)

June 26, 2004

100 million thousand billion centuries!

That's the estimated age of the dinosaur fossile bought at an auction in New York, according to the new owner.

More than 60 million years after the triceratops dinosaur roamed what is now Montana, its horn went to 6-year-old Eamon Rush for $550 at a Park Avenue auction.

Although the tip of Eamon's horn was rebuilt by a human hand, he was thrilled with his purchase. The Manhattan boy planned to bring home the dinosaur horn for the archaeology club he started with a classmate.

Knowlege and skill counts, but so does enthusiasm.
It was a bargain for Lot 69, offered at an estimated value of $1,500 to $2,000 by Guernsey's at its "Dinosaurs & Other Prehistoric Creatures" sale.

On Thursday afternoon, Eamon showed up on Park Avenue in a bright tie-dyed top, so when he shot up with his paddle to signal his bid, everyone noticed. And the adults held back higher bids so the 6-year-old could win.


Posted by Ted at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

Up Please

President Bush wants to return to the moon and put a man on Mars. But scientist Bradley C. Edwards has an idea that's really out of this world: an elevator that climbs 62,000 miles into space.

Edwards thinks an initial version could be operating in 15 years, a year earlier than Bush's 2020 timetable for a return to the moon. He pegs the cost at $10 billion, a pittance compared with other space endeavors.

"It's not new physics — nothing new has to be discovered, nothing new has to be invented from scratch," he says. "If there are delays in budget or delays in whatever, it could stretch, but 15 years is a realistic estimate for when we could have one up."

This is not a new concept, and no more outlandish than President Kennedy announcing to the world that America was going to the moon in the 60's. For more information, here's a FAQ page about space elevators.

Posted by Ted at 07:44 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Aye, there the beastie be!

Paleontologists have announced the discovery of a previously unknown species of whale that lived 14 million years ago in a sea that covered what is now eastern Virginia.

The whale is the oldest known member, by at least 3 million years, of a group that today includes the giant blue and fin whales, scientists said. It was several feet longer than any other whale in its time, said Alton Dooley, a museum paleontologist.

The discovery suggests that almost-modern-looking whales lived considerably further back in time than scientists realized.

Here's something neat: The Virginia Museum of Natural History named the new species Eobalaenoptera harrisoni, after Carter Harrison, a museum volunteer.

Posted by Ted at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)

This is just so far beyond cool...

Code Blue for Mr. Ashcroft! Yet another group of pesky civilians display a little technological prowess, so it's time to warm up the black helicopters and suppress a few hobbyists in the name of Homeland Security.

Would you believe a flying radio-controlled scale model of the B-52? This incredible beastie weighs 300lbs and is powered by 8 tiny turbines.

There are photos and take-off & flyby video clips here, and golly gee, here's a link to the British manufacturer of those nifty little hobby turbine engines.

Kudos to Bill S, who pointed this out on one of my rocketry email lists.

Posted by Ted at 05:20 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2004

Satellite Radio

We have the Dish Network in our house instead of cable. Recently, they've added the Sirius Satellite Radio channels to the lineup. Their 70's channel is exactly that - everything 70's. So you hear Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, mixed in with the BeeGee's and Donna Summer, mixed in with Ted Nugent and the Doobie Brothers. I like it much better than the mix offered on the old channels, which had 70's Soul and 70's Rock and 70's Pop and...

There are 100 channels, and several of them are pretty specialized, but so far I'm giving this a thumbs up. Doesn't hurt that it's included in our basic package either.

Posted by Ted at 05:37 AM | Comments (2)

June 10, 2004

Doubling the amount of beachfront property available

Over at Transterrestrial Musings, Andrew Case talks about building cities on the oceans, and some serious plans to make seasteading a reality. This is definitely worth checking out, with plenty of interesting links to follow.

Absurd idea to start your own country, you say? You might want to tell the residents of the Principality of Sealand, I think they'd disagree.

Posted by Ted at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2004

Undersea Volcanic Eruption

Hoping to learn more about undersea volcanoes, scientists sent a camera-equipped submarine down to take a look. They got more than they bargained for, witnessing a deep-sea eruption.
Duck and cover, Ariel!
Posted by Ted at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

June 04, 2004

Gadget Review - iPAQ 1945

I asked about PDA’s back in this post, and got plenty of good advice and ideas in the comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.

I wound up getting an iPAQ Pocket PC, model 1945, and so far I love it!!! Originally developed by Compaq, now the iPAQ’s fly under the Hewlett-Packard banner (my parents both retired from HP – Yay!). This is a true PC, shrunk down to pocket size.

The 1900 series of iPAQ’s are the low-end of the line, which doesn’t mean a damn thing when you look at the features built in. The processor is as fast as the two year old PC on my desk, and there’s as much on-board RAM as my PC too. The iPAQ’s run the Windows CE operating system, which was a positive thing in my eyes. They have MSWord and Excel built in, so I don’t have to convert files to and from a proprietary format like I would have had to if I'd have gotten a Palm. It also has Internet Explorer, Outlook and PowerPoint built in. The color screen is small, but clear and bright and sharp. It's also oriented in portrait mode rather than landscape, so some programs rearrange things to make better use of the space.

Besides the PC-style software, there's a very nice Contact List function, which is like a super address book, the ability to build to-do lists - called Task Lists - including setting alarms to remind you before tasks are due. Appointments and calendars are easy to set up and use, and you can check your schedule by the day, week, or month, plus there's a built-in perpetual calendar.

And that's not all. The "notes" function reads your scribbles to jot quick notes or draw a diagram, and a simple one-button voice recorder lets you save verbal messages as .wav files.

Plus - yep, there's more! - the 1945 has built-in bluetooth wireless technology. I'm not entirely up to speed on bluetooth yet, but it's similar to WiFi and allows you to automatically connect to other bluetooth devices, like a cell phone, to access the internet, email or another PC.

A single expansion slot is available for Secure Disk media, and besides memory cards (generally costing a little less than fifty cents per MB), there are many other attachments such as true WiFi cards, digital cameras, GPS modules, etc. Some of the other nifty things available are "real" keyboards and even solar panels that will power your iPAQ if you're working outside.

Input can be done by either tapping out on a little virtual keyboard on the screen (which isn't as horrible as I thought it might be), or there is handwriting recognition software already installed. The best option, especially if you have a lot of input to do, is to type it into your desktop PC and then transfer it to the iPAQ.

The iPAQs are designed to be used with your desktop PC as a team. By hooking up the included USB cable, you can synchronize the two, which will update both PCs with the most recent versions of data from each. Battery life is supposed to be about four hours of actual use, but I haven't come close to that because at home and work I keep it plugged in to the AC converter (included), which also keeps the battery charged.

I picked up a copy of "iPAQ for Dummies", which I highly recommend. It's not all applicable for my situation, and a lot of it is stuff I'd already figured out on my own, but it's full of simple explanations and suggestions for ways to get the most out of the iPAQ.

I've discovered several resources online for downloadable programs. There's an awful lot of freeware and shareware, and even professional titles range from a few bucks up to about thirty dollars. The iPAQ has an active user community on the 'net, with forums where you can post questions and receive help quickly. An example of the freeware available are programs that allow you to turn your iPAQ into a programmable universal remote. Yes, it'll work on TV's and VCR's, but also on slide show projectors and presentation media controllers.

One of the freeware programs I've loaded onto my iPAQ is the eBook Reader from Microsoft. I've never tried eBooks before, but to my surprise I really like the implementation. The text is far more readable than I anticipated, and there are a few really good libraries of free eBooks to download, besides the popular bestsellers and such you can purchase from Amazon (among others). You can add annotations and bookmarks and attach notes, kinda like writing in the margins as you read. It's pretty neat.

So what am I reading? A lot of the free volumes are classic literature, like Shakespeare. I've read some Edgar Allen Poe, am currently enjoying Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and I have Percival Lowell's Mars on deck. In the future there will be some Sherlock Holmes, John Carter of Mars and Tarzan, and others less mysterious and adventerous. I'll find the links (they're on my home PC) and post them in the near future for anyone interested.

Two warnings about these electronic beasties. First, you'll only get out of them what you put into them. If you make it a point to use it consistantly, then it'll be more useful to you when you really need it. Which means you have to remember to have it with you. It'll take some time to get all your information entered and organized the way you want it, but it's worth the effort. This is no different than using a paper-based system like the Geodex or Dayrunner.

Second, buying the iPAQ is only the beginning of the expenses. You'll almost immediately want to buy a case for yours, to protect it. There are thin plastic overlays for the screen, to keep you from scratching it up as you tap (same as a mouse click on a PC) and write on it with the stylus. I haven't needed to yet, but they sell spare stylus in multipacks, so apparently they break or get lost easily. And of course, there are the memory cards. The cards are your 'hard drives', because everything on the iPAQ resides in memory. I expect that I'll eventually get a few memory cards, one for work-related stuff, one for personal stuff (including eBooks and rocketry files, and maybe one dedicated to music files so I can use the iPAQ like an iPod.

I didn't mention games at all, because I'm not a big computer game player. The iPAQ comes with Jawbreaker and Solitaire, and versions of Minesweeper, Tetris, and almost everything else under the sun are available for download. The screen is small but sharp and clear, so I expect game play to be acceptable.

I'm pretty level-headed when it comes to new technology, I really have to be able to justify it to myself before getting a new toy. If you have the need for one of these, I highly recommend it. If you don't have the need, you'd probably find something for it to do, because it's that versitile.

Posted by Ted at 05:51 AM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2004

PDA's and GPS

Just before I left the Air Force, the unit I was assigned to purchased Geodex systems for every officer. Geodex was similar to DayRunner or File-o-Fax and was basically a notebook full of the myriad details that you needed for life.

Alas, Geodex is no more. This truly sucks because it was one of those instances where the implementation lived up to the promise of the original concept.

Anyways, one officer I worked with didn’t want his Geodex because he already had a system that worked for him, so he gave the whole thing to me to use. I loved it and used it for several years, finally giving it up when I could no longer get the annual refills needed to keep it current.

Since then, I’ve relied on post-it notes, various lists jotted here and there and numerous notebooks and steno pads. Nothing very formal, nothing very organized, but good enough to get by with.

Obviously, I’m not one of those people who runs right out to get the latest and greatest technology. I still don’t have a cell phone, let alone a PDA. A PDA always fell under the category of ‘nice to have’ – if I ever had a few hundred dollars to spare. Being married with teenagers in the house, you can imagine how often that happens.

GPS was kind of interesting, but for me the main idea would be using it to triangulate the position of a rocket when it landed, hopefully cutting down the time spent searching for rockets that come down out of sight. The kids and I have always used the human method, where one stays back and marks a distant landmark, then uses hand signals to direct the searchers to the correct line to follow. It works better than guess-and-by-golly, but it’s far from perfect.

GPS always fell into the ‘nice to have’ category too, but my sensible (and better) half is starting to convince me that it’s time to modernize all-around (hint: when convincing me, it helps to use a bigger 2x4).

I’m feeling the need for a PDA, and Garmin makes a model – the Garmin iQue 3600 – that combines the features of a good PDA with everything I need in a GPS system. The damn thing is almost $500.00, but Liz made the point that with the amount of money I’m risking per rocket launch nowadays (motor parts, electronics, chutes, etc), that if the GPS helps me locate a rocket or two that I might otherwise lose, then it’s practically paid for itself right there. Like I said, she’s the sensible member of the team.

Still with me? Cool. This is a long, meandering way to finally get around to asking if you have a PDA or GPS, and if so, what it is and how it works for you? What do you like about it? What do you hate about it? What would you change about it?

Don’t have one? Why not? I’m curious and collecting experiences and opinions here. Thanks.

Posted by Ted at 11:33 AM | Comments (8)

May 10, 2004

Successful Aerospike Test

Here's a good explanation of what aerospike rocket motors are all about.

There are pictures here, and if you select the medium or large sizes, you can really study the detail of the aerospike design (if that sort of thing floats your boat).

The names and organizations involved are familiar to rocketeers, because this is the kind of cutting-edge experimentation that some of us get involved with. Here's the inside scoop from Chuck Rogers, one of the people involved, as posted on the Rec.Models.Rockets newsgroup (links added):

Cesaroni Technology Incorporated did a great job on the structural design and fabrication of the aerospike. The aerospike retrofits onto an O5100 motor in place of the conventional conical nozzle. BlackSky Research built the Optimal 168 rocket, and ran the launch operations for the flights.

I've seen the Cessaroni motors flown, and they are sweet. They're also commonly available to people like myself who fly the smaller rockets. BlackSky is another company that does everything from hobby rocketry to 'real' experimental rocketry. My launch rail was made by them.
The aerospike is a centered Prandtl-Meyer all-external expansion design. It delivered 97% of ideal efficiency in ground test (exceeding historical Rocketdyne data), and theoretically would deliver the same high efficiency from sea level to vacuum flight conditions.

Even the most optimized conventional nozzles are compromises for the expected range of altitudes and pressures expected. The efficiency of the aerospike means that bigger payloads can be lifted on a given thrust.
The rocket flights were to demonstrate operation of the aerospike in flight, and to measure installation effects compared to the uninstalled ground static firings. CFD was run not only for the aerospike hot gas flowfield, but for the combined rocket and aerospike plume flowfield.

This is the most highly instrumented high power/experimental rocket ever flown. In addition to highly accurate accelerometers and pitch, yaw, and roll rate sensors, the rocket used a conic nosecone with a built-in Flush Air Data System (FADS) (like a pitot tube), calibrated with CFD and cone pressure tables. This was the first inflight direct aerodynamic measurement of angle of attack on a model, high power, or experimental/amateur rocket.

Blacksky Research coordinated the development of the aerospike nozzles and solid rocket motors, provided overall project management on the contractor side, and really helped refine the whole concept of using large high power rockets for advanced flight test research. All at a low cost relative to normal government aerospace projects.

All that fun and saves Uncle Sam money too. Later on in the exchange, questions about the materials used to construct the aerospike were asked. This is why I love rocketeers, because Anthony Cessaroni himself jumped into the conversation:
Composites, ferrous and non-ferrous alloys, a little bit of graphite and a pinch of tungsten.

We also got to hear about one of the hazards of aerospikes (Chuck Rogers again):
Well, it turns out that the tungsten tip on the aerospike is REALLY SHARP. While walking around the rocket as it was mounted on the transfer cart I got "speared" by it. It put a tear in my shirt, but it didn't break the skin. It did not draw blood!

For this experiment we wanted a "pure" spike that went all the way to a sharp tip. For an "operational" aerospike there is predicted to be very little performance loss for up to a 25% reduction in the spike length.

You'd want at least some minimal truncation to avoid that VERY sharp tip.

Which was suggested by CTI, but again, for the "purity" of the experiment we wanted a sharp tip.

These are the kind of details that bring history to life. And to add a data point to our assertion that hobby rocketry leads to technology-related careers, here are two pages from a 1982 rocketry magazine written by "Crazy-Chuck" Rogers.

Posted by Ted at 05:22 AM | Comments (1)

May 09, 2004

Enough light to do the job

This redefines 'task-lighting', eh?

A U.S.-Israeli laser designed to protect northern Israel from missile attacks downed its largest rocket to date during a test over the southern New Mexico desert, the Army said Friday.

There's more coolness, you should check it out.

Posted by Ted at 07:06 PM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2004

.0001% less chance of nuclear winter

Note: my link for this has expired. Here's an alternate that still works, but it references the same dead link I had. In the meantime, here a quote from the original source:

"Thus, if the Minuteman III ICBMs have to be used in some future nuclear war, their rocket motors will not pollute the atmosphere. EPA regulations do not apply in foreign countries, so no changes are being made to reduce the harmful environmental effects of the nuclear warheads"

That's right folks, Uncle Sam's ICBM arsenal is now more environmentally friendly because their propulsion has been reworked in order to meet EPA regulations.

Update: The 'dead' link works again.

Posted by Ted at 05:07 AM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2004

Liquid Body Armor


Army scientists are working on a liquid body armor for clothing that stays flexible during normal use but can harden to stop a projectile when hit suddenly.

But like most innovation, the military application is only the beginning.

Wetzel and Wagner are optimistic the liquid body armor will be useful to local police and prison guards and perhaps it could one day protect people in automobile and airplane crashes.
Posted by Ted at 04:54 PM | Comments (6)

April 24, 2004

This reminds me, I need to mow the lawn

Buried in the jungles of Guatemala, excavations at Mayan ruins continue to surprise archeologists with unsuspected data.

A team of U.S. and Guatemalan archeologists says it has discovered important Mayan monuments covered with texts from the ceremonial ball court at the Cancuen palace in northern Guatemala.

Cancuen, one of the largest Mayan palaces found so far, was built between 765 and 790 A.D. by King Taj Chan Ahk. It is located along the banks of the Passion River, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of the Guatemalan capital.

They've been exploring those ruins for over 100 years.

Posted by Ted at 01:05 AM | Comments (1)

April 05, 2004

Like a kid on Christmas morning

A 1,000-ton barge rammed into a pier supporting an aging bridge over Florida's Apalachicola Bay last week, delighting civil engineers, who plan to ram it a dozen more times.

Depending on your job, it isn't often that you get real-life data to work with. These structural engineers are loving life right now, getting to study the effects of bridge and boat collisions. With the goal of improving national construction standards, of course. I watch NASCAR for the racing too.

When stationed in Germany as part of the US Air Force, I'd heard that the runways at Ramstein AB were going to be redone. Part of the plan was to let pilots blow hell out of things with live ordnance (great training), followed by Prime Beef teams repairing the runways afterwards (more great training). This was supposed to go on for some time as aircrews were rotated in for the chance to actually blow something up for real.

I transferred back to the States before that happened. Did it? If it did, I bet it was a great show.

Posted by Ted at 02:26 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2004

Mach 7

NASA's X-43A unmanned scramjet test vehicle made it's first successful flight today.

Back in January I posted about the ramjet powered Project Pluto, which included this link for a look at various types of ramjets and how they work.

Posted by Ted at 09:32 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2004

Tenuous Link

I have almost 20 years of experience working with the Model 204 Database Management System, aka M204. It's strengths are extreme flexibility coupled with excellent security features and blazing speed when working with massive databases. Here's a link to a recent press release about the product, and below an email I got:

Dear Model 204 User,

I wanted to draw your attention to a new press release posted on our Web site. Centrelink of Australia, one of the world's largest users of Model 204, has just signed an agreement with CCA allowing them to use Model 204 throughout their enterprise for at least the next ten years; that is at least until the year 2014. This is very exciting news not only to all of us here at CCA, but to the entire Model 204 customer base. It means that after 20 years of use at Centrelink, Model 204 continues to be the best product on the market to meet their ever-changing and ever-growing needs -- needs which are very likely similar to your own.

Centrelink originally chose Model 204 back in 1983 because it was the only product that could meet their performance and capacity requirements. Since that time their requirements have grown dramatically. What started out as a traditional database system with just a few thousand online users now services over 24,000 internal users and over 6 million customers over the Internet and Interactive Voice Response systems. They now run the fourth largest information and technology network in Australia and are still growing. With Model 204, they have been able to meet every new challenge, while integrating new technologies as they come to market.

This is the kind of application that would make Oracle do the 'dead bug'.

The tenuous link is that the company I work for had the original contract to optimize the Australian databases, way back in the 1980's. When I first hired on, I was hoping to be assigned to that contract.

Computer-wise, newer is not always better.

Posted by Ted at 04:26 AM | Comments (2)

March 13, 2004

Real hardware

Real Hardware. Photos and some historical background. Especially intriguing is the page about the ROTON. Alas, that company went bankrupt a while ago.

Posted by Ted at 07:10 AM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2004

Blizzard Rankings

The superstorm of 1993 was the most devastating blizzard to strike the Northeast in at least a century, according to a new system that rates the impact of East Coast winter storms.

Interesting, but rather limited. Since the 1-5 scale takes into account the population affected, it has to be derived from historical records. It's also only usable in current form for the Eastern Seaboard of the US, other regions will have to have their own custom formula developed.

I would like to see the correlation between IQ, size of the SUV, and bodyshop repair bills immediately following storms.

Northeastern winter storms rated "crippling" or higher on the new Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale.

Category 5: Extreme

1. March 12-14, 1993
2. Jan. 6-8, 1996

Category 4: Crippling

3. Feb. 15-18, 2003
4. March 11-14, 1888
5. Feb. 11-14, 1899
6. March 2-5, 1960
7. Feb. 10-12, 1983
8. Feb. 5-7, 1978
9. Feb. 2-5, 1961

So since I've moved into this area, I've experienced the top 3. Liz remembers 7 and 8, and my mother-in-law remembers 4 and 5 (just kidding!).

Posted by Ted at 06:18 AM | Comments (2)

March 09, 2004

Tiny Bubbles

Cavitation is the term for the formation and subsequent collapse of small bubbles in a liquid.

When a propeller spins in the water, the hydrodynamic forces may result in the creation of tiny bubbles. The bubbles are almost immediately crushed upon themselves which causes noise. The cavitation sounds are one method of detecting submarines on passive sonar. Great amounts of time and money are spent on refining propeller design to limit cavitation.

Cavitation can also damage propellers by pitting the metal over time. Naturally, this pitting further reduces the efficiency of the propeller while making it noisier at the same time. Scientists wondered what was actually happening during cavitation, and began to study the process in more detail.

What they discovered was that each bubble underwent an extremely violent death. As the bubbles collapsed upon themselves, the interior experienced supersonic shockwaves which reflected back from the bubble's outer surface. Happening in a fraction of a second, these shockwaves raised the interior temperature enough to rival the surface of the sun. It was these millions of microscopic sunbursts that were causing the pitting on the propellers.

The effect has also been exploited in various ways by weapons designers. One 'underwater' missile rides in it's own cocoon of cavitation bubbles, which form a barrier to the surface-drag caused by dense water, and allows the missile to 'fly' underwater at several times the speed of typical torpedos.

Now researchers are taking advantage of cavitation outside of naval affairs. According to this report regarding Bubble Fusion:

The research team used a standing ultrasonic wave to help form and then implode the cavitation bubbles of deuterated acetone vapor. The oscillating sound waves caused the bubbles to expand and then violently collapse, creating strong compression shock waves around and inside the bubbles. Moving at about the speed of sound, the internal shock waves impacted at the center of the bubbles causing very high compression and accompanying temperatures of about 100 million Kelvin.

These new data were taken with an upgraded instrumentation system that allowed data acquisition over a much longer time than was possible in the team’s previous bubble fusion experiments. According to the new data, the observed neutron emission was several orders of magnitude greater than background and had extremely high statistical accuracy. Tritium, which also is produced during the fusion reactions, was measured and the amount produced was found to be consistent with the observed neutron production rate.

Earlier test data, which were reported in Science (Vol. 295, March 2002), indicated that nuclear fusion had occurred, but these data were questioned because they were taken with less precise instrumentation.

Note that this was described as cavitation in a vapor. Most definitions I've seen specify liquid, although a vapor could be described as a low-density liquid.

Thanks to Fred for the Bubble Fusion link.

Posted by Ted at 09:41 AM | Comments (4)

Or you could wait 32 years

Five planets will be visible to the naked eye later this month. The next best chance to see this somewhat rare alignment is in 2036. Details here.

Thanks to J-Walk Blog for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 05:04 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2004

Ig Nobel Prize

Awarded annually, according to the official site:

The winners have all done things that first make people LAUGH, then make them THINK.

Some of my favorites (go to the link above for full credits and cites):

Physics, 2003 - "An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces."

This one's from Australia. Is anyone surprised? Montana residents put your hands down.

Biology, 2003 - for documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.

You really find out who your friends are.

Physics, 2002 - University of Munich, for demonstrating that beer froth obeys the mathematical Law of Exponential Decay.

More beer research, now this is something I can support.

Astrophysics, 2001 - a televangelist and staff, who for their discovery that black holes fulfill all the technical requirements to be the location of Hell.

So does Sunday morning television programming.

Peace, 2000 - The British Royal Navy, for ordering its sailors to stop using live cannon shells, and to instead just shout "Bang!"

As opposed to the more aggressive "Boom!"

Chemistry, 1999 - a detective in Japan, for his involvement with S-Check, an infidelity detection spray that wives can apply to their husbands' underwear.

The thrifty version is called superglue.

Peace, 1999 - a South African design for an automobile burglar alarm consisting of a detection circuit and a flamethrower.

I've barely scratched the surface here, go check 'em out. Science doesn't have to be boring, and stuff like this certainly makes me think... about committal papers.

Posted by Ted at 04:50 AM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004


For our wonderful new work system, I'm having to learn more than the barest smattering of SQL I know. Any advice on some good books or website resources?

Posted by Ted at 07:11 AM | Comments (3)

February 20, 2004

Now to convince my wife that they're common and vulgar

Diamonds, that is. Terribly terribly not-precious anymore if these guys are right.

Thanks to Across the Atlantic for the pointer. Can you tell who the romantic is between the two of us?

Posted by Ted at 07:18 AM | Comments (1)

Electricity is smoke

As promised, here's another bit about the mysterious workings of technology. Once again, I found this on the newsgroup Rec.Models.Rockets.

I have found most electronic devices are powered by smoke contained in small black chips.

In fact, once the smoke is released from one of these black chips, the electronic device will stop working.

Next lesson: Gravity doesn't suck.

Posted by Ted at 04:33 AM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2004

Dark Suckers

From Michael M-B on the Rec.Models.Rockets newsgroup:

What is a Dark Sucker?

Many years ago Thomas Edison was experimenting with a method to remove the darkness from a room. By applying a electric current to a wire in a vacuum, he noticed the darkness in the room had vanished. Where had the darkness gone. He noticed around the wire a area of extreme Non-Darkness. He surmised that in fact, the wire had absorbed all the darkness from the room and concentrated it about the wire. When he removed the current from the wire the darkness returned to the room. Hence the invention of the Dark sucker!

Nowdays we have many types of dark suckers. Even portable Dark Suckers called flashed darksuckers, which remove the dark from a concentrated area a short distance away.

With every brilliant theory, there are those who disagree. In the world of Dark Suckers, these heretics believe that darksuckers are in fact not sucking the dark away but emitting photons (or light). Now all of us in the scientific world know this is falacy. The easy way to prove it to these heretics is the Sun.

The Sun's gravity in fact sucks all of the dark from surrounding space. Therefore making it not dark ( very bloody not dark in fact). And the dark is sucked so violently that heat is generated in place of the removed dark. Even Einstein knew this.

So next time you walk into a dark room and turn the switch watch how fast the Dark is Sucked from the room!

Next Lesson: Electricty is smoke.

Posted by Ted at 09:26 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2004

The red one and the yellow one refused to comment

Math Secrets of M&M's Revealed.

M&M sweets pack together more densely than perfect spheres when randomly jumbled in a container, scientists say.

Redefines the term "sugar orgy", eh?

Thanks to The Group Captain at Across the Atlantic for this.

Posted by Ted at 08:23 PM | Comments (4)

February 07, 2004

Amphibious Cars

At work my friend Kyle and I were in one of those wonderful conversations that hop from subject to subject, and eventually we got to talking about amphibious cars. Kudos to Kyle for finding that link.

Apparently, the idea is making a comeback. British company Gibbs is now offering the Aquada, which will do an impressive 100mph on land and 30mph in the water.

Or you can just go the do-it-yourselfer route.

Posted by Ted at 10:25 AM | Comments (3)

February 03, 2004

Happy Birthday

Gaston Julia

Google good. Fractals pretty. Math bad.

Posted by Ted at 09:17 AM | Comments (3)

January 30, 2004

All those hours spent playing video games

Darren Rowse has a blog devoted to UAV's - Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Nifty stuff for military buffs and/or tech heads.

Posted by Ted at 07:11 AM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2004

Toys for darkness

We use these to make our rockets visible for their entire flight at night launches, but you could easily come up with some cool ideas for your own use.

First up is Glow, Inc. This company sells glow-in-the-dark paints and powders, and theirs are the best I've ever seen. Not the pale and barely-visible luminescence we're used to, these are incredibly bright and last for hours. I bought the sampler powder pack, and have been playing with various application techniques. Very cool.

If you've ever seen the Indiglo watch faces, you know that they get very bright with the touch of a button. The folks at Night Launch offer sheets of this material up to 3" wide and 16" long in multiple colors. I got one of their starter kits for Christmas last year and believe me, this is neat stuff to play with.

Both sites offer plenty of great ideas on how to use their products, as well as occasional special offers and discounts. New products are also announced periodically.

Posted by Ted at 06:36 AM | Comments (2)

January 15, 2004

It's not flying cars, but it's still pretty cool

Imagine walking into a room of your house and the sun is blaring in, so you press a button and the window becomes opaque. The news is on so you tune another window to your favorite channel, and when that's over you put some music on and the sound is perfectly balanced because your chair sits in the sweet spot between two - windows?

Coming to a home in a ritzy neighborhood near you some time in the near future.

Posted by Ted at 06:32 AM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2004

Eerie parallels

A virtual twin to our Sun has been located in the claw of the constellation Scorpio. By galactic measurement, at a mere 46 light years away, 18 Scorpii is practically a next-door neighbor.

In further news, the top story there claims that szkikka-diva Btirrny Psrrses dmennqued less than 29 sluds after vrinkking.

Posted by Ted at 01:07 PM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2004

Tactical UAV under development

Brigham Young University is testing new miniature surveillance aircraft for the Air Force. Designed for small unit tactical use, these flying scouts weigh in at about three ounces and further miniaturization is in the works.

According to one of the engineering professors involved,

"They could program it with a laptop or a PDA and give it a GPS location, or they may have a map on their laptop or PDA, and they may just select a point on the map and just say, 'Go there,' and then they will take the airplane out, throw it in the air and it would get there."

Future plans call for the ability to launch several at once and flying them in a coordinated manner for maximum coverage of an area.

A year or two ago I read about this concept, and the article likened it to a swarm of bees spreading out through city streets. I had no idea things had progressed this far. Further details (and pictures) can be found in this .pdf document from the BYU engineering department, titled "Unmanned Air Vehicle Testbed for Cooperative Control Experiments".

Posted by Ted at 07:22 AM | Comments (1)

December 23, 2003

iPod information update

I had originally asked for any and all information about iPod's here, and got lots and lots of great answers in the comments. Then Dawn stopped me dead with this link and the quicktime video viewable from that page. If this is true, then the iPod isn't necessarily such a great deal anymore. Anyone know if what they say in the video is the real deal?

Update: Once again Dawn comes through! Look here for step-by-step instructions - with pictures - on how to replace your own iPod battery. Batteries run around $60.00 from the same company. That doesn't sound like an unreasonable price.

Posted by Ted at 11:41 AM | Comments (7)

December 19, 2003

Just the facts please

Ok, iPod's and MP3 players... what's the story?

I've tried to get answers to a few basic questions, and have had no luck so far, so I'm coming to the smartest people I know - folks who read my blog.

Suppose I buy one of these beasties and spend a buck a song to fill it up with music. That's a significant chunk of change on top of the initial price.

Is there a way to back up the music? I mean, if someone steals the iPod or it gets destroyed somehow (flying monkeys), am I out the hardware and the songs I've already paid for?

How much music does it actually hold? Assuming a mythical 3 minute rock'n'roll song, about how big is it? How many of these would fit in a 64MB memory? See what I'm getting at? I mean, what good is one of these if it only stores 20 songs at a time, I might as well keep my DiscMan.

Any upgrades available and doable by the average user? Better headphones, more memory, etc?

Batteries. What do they use, how long do they last, yadda yadda yadda.

What else do I need to know? I know these are very vague questions, but that's the kind of information I need. Don't tell me it holds up to 300 songs, because I know it will only hold 1 song, but it will be very very long. Getting the straight word on this kind of stuff drives me crazy, like used-car salesmen and military recruiters, you're only going to hear the good stuff.

Posted by Ted at 12:17 PM | Comments (11)

December 17, 2003

Just in case you didn't know...

Go visit Google for a clue about what today is.

Posted by Ted at 11:32 AM | Comments (4)

December 16, 2003


While European consortium Airbus concentrates on a behemoth passenger carrier (the A380 - seating up to 800*, due in 2006), Boeing takes a different path and announced their new 7E7 Dreamliner. By using more advanced composites than metal, the new jet will be lighter and 20% more fuel efficient. Also included are passenger-friendly features such as wider aisles and seats as well as larger windows, and it will carry up to 250 people over 8,000 miles non-stop.

Even though the first planes won't fly until 2008, Boeing will begin taking orders now. They project sales of 2000-3000 aircraft over 20 years.

* According to Airbus, the baseline capacity of the A380 is 555 passengers. I assume the larger numbers are 'cattle car' seating, where everyone flies coach.

Posted by Ted at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2003

When I do stuff like this it's called goofing off

For those who have ever wondered why the sky was a lurid red in "The Scream" -- Edvard Munch's painting of modern angst -- astronomers have an answer.

Posted by Ted at 01:09 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2003

DIY Cruise Missile

I'm kind of surprised that this hasn't generated more buzz than it has. Surprised and relieved, actually.

A New Zealand man who built a cruise missile in his garage claims the New Zealand government forced him to shut down his project after coming under pressure from the United States.

Bruce Simpson says he built the missile using parts bought off the internet to show how easily it could be done.

There was some concern from the hobby rocketry community that this would reflect badly on us, especially because common sense isn’t particularly common right now within the Department of Homeland Security or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE).

So let’s set it straight right up front. A cruise missile isn’t a rocket, it’s not even really a missile, it’s an unmanned airplane. It flies like an airplane using a jet engine, and the onboard guidance system steers it to its target exactly like you steer an airplane. A cruise missile is nothing more than a faster one-shot version of the Predator or Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) now in use. The primary purpose is attack, unlike UAV’s where the first job is surveillance.

In WWII, Germany developed a ‘glide bomb’ that was forerunner to modern cruise missiles. It lacked only its own propulsion, being dropped from a carrier aircraft at high altitude and gliding to the target.

Bruce Simpson (the developer in question) has since posted to the Rec.Models.Rockets newsgroup to discuss his work. He makes this claim:

You'll note that tthe project deliberately avoided any use of rocket engines -- even for the launch process. This was done deliberately because I didn't want any fallout on the model rocket community. I was fully aware that even if I'd used a sold rocket booster for launching, there was a very real risk that the knee-jerk reaction of politicians would have been to simply ban the sale and unlicensed production of all rocket engines.

Likewise, although I could have gone out and purchased three or four turbojet engines designed for model airplane use, i deliberately avoided the same reasons.

I didn't want any fallout from this project to affect legitimate users of similar technology.

Googling his name as author on all newsgroups, I found that he’s also been actively debating his project on UK.Current-Events.Terrorism, Alt.Religion.Islam, Rec.Crafts.Metalworking, NZ.Politics, NZ.General, and Sci.Space.Tech, among others.

So what exactly did he build? There are more details here, some fairly troubling. The government of New Zealand admitted that he broke no laws, and even told him that it was ok to license his jet engine design to an Iranian aerospace company when he was approached with an offer. In his words:

However, out of curiosity I contacted relevent arm of the NZ government to ask what would be involved if someone wished to accept such a deal. I fully expected to be told that technology exports to Iran were prohibited -- particularly since the USA has classified that country as a sponsor of terrorism and has very strict bans on such technology transfers.

I was gobsmacked when the government came back to me and said there would be no problem with selling jet engine technology to Iran. I even asked again -- empahsizing that this technology had military application. They went away and came back with the same answer - it doesn't matter if it does have military application.

Once I'd picked my jaw up off the floor, I immediately contacted the NZ Secret Service (the SIS) and told them what had happened, handed over copies of the correspondence and queried that surely the government had gotten it wrong.

To my surprise, they didn't say it would be illegal either -- but they did suggest that such a transaction would not be recommended.

He goes on to say:

Even more incredible -- to this day, the advice given me in respect to such exports has not been rescinded. As far as I know, I could still sell military technology to Iran and not be in breach of the law.

It wasn’t until the United States publicly stated that his project was ‘unhelpful’ that the New Zealand government put the screws to Mr. Simpson. It appears that since NZ had already stated that no laws had been broken, they needed to find some other way to end his work. They then used the tried-and-true method of tax prosecution.

After reviewing his site and reading his various posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that the man is what he claims to be, an ordinary guy with an extraordinary plan to demonstrate the difficulties that we face trying to protect ourselves from modern weapons in the hands of terrorists. Obviously not dumb, I think he may have surprised some officials by actually succeeding where they saw no chance at all. ‘Too smart for his own good’ is a phrase that comes to mind.

He leaves this website as the means of contacting him.

Posted by Ted at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2003

New Air & Space Museum Annex Opens

Located west of Washington DC near Dulles International Airport, exhibits include the Enola Gay, the Enterprise space shuttle, the Concorde, an SR-71 Blackbird, Amelia Earhart's flight suit and various rockets, missiles, satellites, fighters and jetliners.

The annex is named for Steven F. Udvar-Hazy, a Hungarian immigrant who made a fortune in aircraft leasing. Udvar-Hazy pledged $60 million for the project in 1999, which was the Smithsonian's largest-ever individual donation at the time.

The original Air and Space Museum, which will remain open, is the most visited museum in the world, averaging 9 million guests a year. Both are free, though parking at the new facility costs $12.

I can't wait!

Posted by Ted at 07:41 PM | Comments (1)

November 24, 2003

Underwater Robots

A new generation of underwater robotic vehicles are nearly ready for introduction. The earliest versions were essentially remote control torpedoes, and the last generation were little more than undersea blimps, riding the ocean currents much like their atmospheric brethren travel the skies. The newest models actually ‘soar’ underwater using batteries and pumps to change buoyancy, which in turn provides the lift to move forward. This means that there isn’t a motor in the conventional sense, they operate in a similar fashion to airborne gliders.

"There are no new principles being invoked here. The sea is a very, very harsh environment but it is a fluid. Air and water, except for their densities, are very similar creatures," said Thomas Swean, team leader for ocean engineering and marine systems at the Office of Naval Research in Arlington, Va.

Projected missions include naval patrol, industrial inspection of pipelines, tunnels and cables, environmental monitoring (scroll down or search for 'red tides') and scientific measurement and sampling. With potential cruise times measured in weeks and months and ranges out to hundreds of miles, this promising new technology could greatly extend our understanding of the oceans.

Posted by Ted at 07:36 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2003

Oooooo, pretty pictures!

Check out the magnificent archive page of Astronomy Pictures of the Day. You'll see some beautiful, amazing and historically significant photos, along with plenty of links to other pix and further information.

Folks, these archives stretch back to June of 1995!

Jen, you may recall one of my comments about the Valles Marineris canyon on Mars, and how it dwarfs our Grand Canyon. They have a great photo of it here, and mucho links to explore.


Posted by Ted at 07:10 AM | Comments (1)

November 13, 2003

The next best thing to being there

Today, we have ways of observing the skies that previous generations of astronomers couldn't even conceive of. Software and computer generated star maps have reached the point where the simulations are almost as good as actually getting outside with a telescope.

Two popular titles are Starry Night and Redshift.

Starry Night lets you plan your sky observations, pointing out selected items of interest and printing out simple maps that will let you locate them in the heavens. The price ranges from about $25 up to about $150, depending on the version you buy. I've never used it, but have heard good things about it from those who have.

Redshift is another virtual planetarium. The latest version sells for around $100. Once again, I haven't used this one, but it's been recommended to me by people I trust.

A neat feature of both of these titles is the ability to go backwards and forwards in time to view the sky, so if you missed the last eclipse because of clouds (as seen from the moon), you can catch it on screen.

This next one isn't quite the same as the other two. Celestia is a 3D Space Simulator that you have to see to believe, and best of all, it's free! There are continuing updates to the software and extra libraries to add destinations like satellites and probes. It also has a guided tour and teaching mode. I've played around with this one for a year now, and it's fun, versatile and addictive. There is a version available for the Mac too.

Posted by Ted at 08:29 AM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2003

Super-duper Nifty Cool

Not just another picture of the lunar eclipse.

Thanks to Professor Hall at Spacecraft for the pointer.

Posted by Ted at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2003

American Science and Surplus

One of the essential catalogs to have handy, because they sell things you won't find anywhere else, and they're online too. Their service is first rate, prices are reasonable, and they have a twisted sense of humor. Thanks to Tod for pointing this one out.

Posted by Ted at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)

Mountain of God

In a remote corner of Tanzania stands an astonishing mountain called Ol Doinyo Lengai, where lava fountains harden in midair then shatter like glass.

It's also been called the strangest volcano on earth.

The late photographer and renowned volcano chaser Katia Krafft was captivated by what she called the "toy volcano" because its diminutive flows are cool enough to collect with a spoon.

"It's a perfect little laboratory volcano," agrees Barry Dawson of the University of Edinburgh.

There's more about this odd little piece of our planet here and here and here, including lots of pictures. If you can get your hands on a copy of the January 2003 issue of National Geographic magazine, there is an excellent article including some spectacular photographs.

Posted by Ted at 08:41 AM | Comments (1)

November 09, 2003

Eclipse picture

This photo (in the extended entry) was taken in Hartford Connecticut by a friend. I'm posting it because the quality of his picture is much better than mine, and it looks the same as from where we watched it, several hundred miles to the south.

Susie, you'll be glad to know that we watched through the open front door, so no Mookie was frozen even though last night was our first hard freeze of the season. Yeah, I dragged her all the way to the front door. Poor kid. ;)


Posted by Ted at 09:18 AM | Comments (4)

November 08, 2003

There's a Viagra joke in here somewhere

Researchers said on Wednesday they had found erectile tissue in the tentacle of a male octopus, the first time such tissue has been seen in an invertebrate.

Octopuses, known for their intelligence and complex behavior, are shy animals. Observing their mating is difficult and often the females attack and eat the males during courtship.

In humans, that behavoir has evolved into divorce court and custody hearings.

"We haven't gotten a male octopus to perform for us, as it were, in the lab," Thompson admitted. "Maybe we should try Viagra."

I knew there'd be one! I had nothing funnier, so we'll leave it at that.

"Erectile tissue might be a way to have a large copulatory organ when it is in use," Thompson said. When not in use, it would be small and out of the way. "Running around with an erection potentially could be difficult."

This one invites the humor, but instead take a second and think about what human cultures would be like if men were perpetually erect. Would the penis have evolved into a smaller and less intrusive organ for it's own protection? What would men's clothing - and women's come to think about it - look like? How would customs and conventions have been different? There really is some interesting speculating to do over a cuppa if you leave the humor out of it. Then have another cup and go for the jokes.

Posted by Ted at 09:27 AM | Comments (1)

Lunar Eclipse Tonight

I live in Virginia, skies are forecast to be clear, and the show starts at 8:02pm. Details can be found here.

Mookie and I will be bundled up and out there with our crappy little telescope.

And here's a link to '10 Cool Lunar Eclipse Facts'.

Posted by Ted at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

October 30, 2003

Educated guessing

Flying reptiles known as pterosaurs ruled the skies duing prehistoric times. They've always been portrayed as clumsy gliding beasts, but thanks to the application of modern technology and recent finds of remarkable pterosaur fossils, this view has changed. Some scientists are now suggesting that pterosaurs were more graceful and manuverable than modern birds and bats.

What I want to know is, did they scream like the one on Jonny Quest?

Posted by Ted at 10:44 PM | Comments (2)

October 22, 2003

Ice cold vs. cool

My beloved San Jose Sharks are ice cold, but this site explaining some of the science behind hockey is pretty cool.

In (not very) related news, I'm in 6th place (out of 20 teams) in my fantasy hockey league. And no, I still have no clue what I'm doing.

Also, it looks like the Sharks have some connection to the San Jose Stealth, a brand new professional lacrosse team starting up in a fledgling western league. For those of you not from the northeast U.S., lacrosse is a wicked cool sport that's kind of a cross between hockey and soccer and rugby. It was taught to early settlers by the native indians, who almost certainly didn't have a team called the 'Stealth'. This link takes you to a virtual tour of the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame.

Posted by Ted at 08:58 AM | Comments (2)

October 17, 2003

I still play with Lego

But this guy plays a lot better than I do.

Cool pointer courtesy of Spacecraft.

Posted by Ted at 11:16 AM | Comments (2)

October 16, 2003

Balsa wood

Everyone's seen it, a piece of incredibly lightweight balsa wood, maybe at a craft store or hobby shop or perhaps in one of those hand-tossed gliders or rubberband powered planes we played with as kids.

But what do you know about it?

The small country of Ecquador on the western coast of South America is the primary source of model grade balsa in the world. The scientific name for balsa wood is ochroma lagopus. The word balsa itself is Spanish meaning raft, in reference to its excellent floatation qualities.

There is no such thing as entire forests of balsa trees. They grow singly or in very small, widely scattered groups in the jungle. For hundreds of years, balsa was actually considered a weed tree. Each tree produces thousands of seeds which are scattered by the wind. Wherever there is an opening in the jungle canopy, made either by a farmer or by another tree dying, balsa will spring up as thick as grass. A farmer is often hard put to keep his food plot clear of balsa.

Balsa trees grow very rapidly (like all pesky weeds). Six months after germination, the tree is about 1-1/2 inches in diameter and 10 - 12 feet tall. In 6 to 10 years the tree is ready for cutting, having reached a height of 60 to 90 feet tall and a diameter of 12 to 45 inches. The basla leaf is similar in shape to a grape leaf, only a lot bigger. When the tree is young, these leaves measure a much as four feet across. They become progressivly smaller as the tree grows older, until they are about 8 - 10 inches across.

Nature evidently designed the balsa tree to be a "nurse tree" which would protect the slower-growing species of trees from the scorching jungle sun during their critical early years. For instance, in an area of the jungle that has been ravaged by a tropical storm or other natural disaster, the balsa trees will quickly sprout and begin to shoot up to impressive heights in a very short time. Their fast growth, and the extra large leaves they have in their early years, provide shade to the young seedlings of the slower-growing forest giants. By the time the seedlings are established enough to take care of themselves, the balsa tree is beginning to die.

The secret to balsa wood's lightness can only be seen with a microscope. The cells are big and very thin walled, so that the ratio of solid matter to open space is as small as possible. Most woods have gobs of heavy, plastic-like cement, called lignin, holding the cells together. In balsa, lignin is at a minimum. Only about 40% of the volume of a piece of balsa is solid substance. To give a balsa tree the strength it needs to stand in the jungle, nature pumps each balsa cell full of water until they become rigid - like a car tire full of air.

Most people are surprised to hear that botanically, balsa wood is only about the third or fourth lightest wood in the world. However, all the woods which are lighter than balsa are terribly weak and unsuitable for any practical use. Balsa wood is often considered the strongest wood for its weight in the world. Pound for pound it is stronger in some respects than pine, hickory, or even oak.

(excerpted from An Introduction to Balsa Wood)

Posted by Ted at 06:55 AM | Comments (8)

October 12, 2003

Big enough to do the job

Not every rocket has to be a towering giant. The kids and I have had a lot of fun with Quest MicroMaxx rockets and motors, which are 1" long and 1/4" in diameter. Our smallest rocket is about the size of a crayon with fins, although they can get even smaller. Or how about a rocket glider that weighs in around 2 grams?

Of course, not every crayon rocket has to be tiny either.

Now these guys are building tiny motors, both rotary and rocket. They talk a little bit about why to miniaturize this much (more here). Not too shabby for Berkely boys.

Posted by Ted at 09:44 PM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2003

Unique WiFi application

In the October issue of ComputerUser there are several articles about wireless computing and WiFi (wireless fidelity). I didn't know anything about the subject, but learned a lot.

It looks like some very creative uses are being implemented for this technology, and often a niche segment of the market leads the way.

This is a perfect example, a small group of wargame enthusiasts travelling around Europe on a historic battlefield tour. From the tour website:
We have assembled a unique tour designed by a wargamer for wargamers. This is NOT an ordinary plain-jane tour with 52 people stopping at gift shops to buy porcelain souvenirs (if that is what you want, call I have hundreds of tours like that). And not a Veterans tour that spends half its time in cemeteries. We see many major battlefields, have the opportunity to play games en-route & enjoy it all without all the hassle of planning and travel details. We are limited in how many travelers we can take because our custom-redesigned motorcoach will have tables installed for wargaming while driving.

The tour coach also has an installed WiFi hotspot as well for online LAN games while travelling. There are planned stops at Agincourt, Waterloo, the Maginot Line, Ypres, Sword and Utah beaches, and more. They've got room left on the tour. I did say 'niche'.

In other WiFi news (this caught my eye this morning), parents are suing a school district that has installed a wireless network because they're afraid that the invisible computer beams are going to harm their children. Uh huh.

We haven't gone wireless with our home network. I'm not in any hurry to do so, partly because of my ignorance of the technology and lazyness about learning it. My main concern is security, it bothers me that important personal information would just be 'out there' floating around and could be intercepted and read by unintended people. Maybe that's not a problem (remember, I'm ignorant), but I remember picking up my neighbors cordless phone calls on our baby monitor back in the day.

Posted by Ted at 05:03 AM | Comments (2)

September 21, 2003

Commercial aircraft countermeasures

The Bush administration plans to spend about $100 million to develop an anti-missile system for commercial planes, more than originally discussed, reflecting concern that terrorists might try to use shoulder-fired rockets to shoot down an aircraft.

They're talking about things like Stingers and vintage Soviet SA-7's. Of course, this will be difficult and take time, which is one reason why certain members of congress are facilitating the crackdown on dangerous terrorists like Cub Scouts and others who fly hobby rockets and RC cars and planes. These politicians aren't interested in solving the problem, they're interested in appearing to be solving the problem.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has sponsored a bill to equip the 6,800 planes in the U.S. commercial fleet with some form of anti-missile device at an estimated cost of $10 billion. He said the Bush administration was still moving too slowly.

They must be taking care of us, because they're spending so much money. We're just not smart enough to appreciate it.

Posted by Ted at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2003

Diminishing Returns

In Norway, they've harnessed the power of the tides to turn an underwater 'windmill' and generate electricity. So far, so good. The only problem is, the generating plant cost $11 million and will supply the needs of 30 homes.

Doesn't seem nearly worth it now, does it?

Posted by Ted at 10:07 PM | Comments (1)

September 18, 2003

How big would the trap be?!?!?!

A rodent the size of a buffalo? Researchers say they have found fossils for a 1,545-pound giant that thrived millions of years ago in a swampy South American forest.

"Imagine a weird guinea pig, but huge, with a long tail for balancing on its hind legs and continuously growing teeth," according to scientists.

There's a book I remember reading several years ago that I got from the library, called The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution, by Dougal Dixon. Full of colorful drawings and imaginative text, the basic premise was the question 'What would the animal kingdom be like if dinosaurs hadn't died out?'. Very fun and interesting to read, especially if you read it to an inquisitive child.

Update: Daniel scooped me on this one by over two hours. That's what I get for napping this afternoon.

Posted by Ted at 05:45 PM | Comments (4)

September 17, 2003

Yahoo Messenger

I just realized that I have Yahoo Messenger loaded on my PC - I don't think I've used it in a couple of years. If you want to IM me, look for:


What else would it be, eh? The '77' is the year I graduated high school, for all you curious whippersnappers.

Anyways, it'll be on from now on if you want to talk. Entertaining hate messages, amusing trolls, and obscene messages gladly welcomed.

Posted by Ted at 02:16 AM | Comments (3)

September 14, 2003

Science for the sake of science

Here are some interesting experiments that you may have thought of, but never bothered to do.

Strawberry Pop Tarts. Incendiary devices. Why not both in one handy foil pouch?

The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project. They even post the results of their tests in haiku.

From this page: "Ordinary grapes, when properly prepared and microwaved, spark impressively in an extremely entertaining manner."
Isn’t that what life is all about?

Funny things to do with your microwave. Kids, don’t do this without parental supervision and permission. Mookie, the answer is no.

More stupid microwave games. And you thought the only fun stuff in the kitchen was in the knife drawer.

Posted by Ted at 11:06 AM | Comments (1)

August 15, 2003

Flight simulator

There's a popular radio-control flight simulator called PRE-Flight, and they've just released a simulation for download of Burt Rutan's White Knight and SpaceShipOne. You may remember that I talked about these and the quest for the XPrize.

Lots of neat simulators to play with, including the Apache attack chopper, SR-71 Blackbird, and the P51 Mustang.

Posted by Ted at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)
Site Meter