Archive for June, 2011

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Absolutely gorgeous lunar module model!

June 23, 2011

Vincent Meens' completed ascent stage

In 2006 modelmaker Vincent Meens found a series of images online created by John Ottman. They were a digital re-creation of the lunar module in exquisite detail. Vincent was so impressed he decided to build a similarly detailed version in “real life.” And, four and a half years later, he did…one of the finest models of any kind I’ve ever seen. The detail has to be seen to be believed. His web site is here.

interior detail

This model is in 1/24 scale, and entirely scratchbuilt. On the web site Vincent documents the build, step by step, and that is a marvel in itself. At the end, he created a PowerPoint file that compares Ottman’s digital views with those of his physical model. Again, you will have to see the images to believe them.(Ottman died in 2009, unfortunately, and did not get to see the results of Vincent’s final work.)

This is craftsmanship at its very best. I am in awe of this man’s work. Even if you are not a fan of modelmaking or real space subjects, you should take a look at his site just to see what a person can accomplish with great dedication to his craft. This model is truly an achievement of which Vincent should be very proud!

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The power is back on!

June 22, 2011

Reddy Kilowatt, where are you now?

Honestly, it was like living in the 18th century…when the big, fast-moving storm system blew through last nigh around 8:15, it didn’t take long for our power to go out. For living in a supposedly affluent suburban area we have a lot of electric power interruptions. This one apparently involved the transformer and switching box (at least that’s what it looks like it is) a couple of hundred yards west of our house. It was difficult to see because the golf course lets that area of the fence get pretty overgrown so folks along Ogden Avenue don’t gawk at the bad plaid pants. Even going across Ogden didn’t give us much of a view except for the brilliant flashes of orange, and later white, light; accompanying smoke; and a low-pitched hum accompanying each flash. Maybe it was a high-voltage line to the transformer this time.

A couple of years ago the transformer itself was struck by lightning. That was a pretty impressive sound and light show from our bedroom window! It took three days for ComEd to replace the transformer – and this was, of course, in the middle of a very warm party of July.

Today the temps are only in the low 70s, but it’s been windy all day and we’ve had intermittent showers. According to the radio news there were about 300,000 ComEd customers left without power last night. They said it could take a couple of days for the more than 400 work crews to get everyone hooked back up. I consider us fortunate. We had winds in excess of 70 mph according to measurements made in Naperville, and we probably got over two inches of rain in a hour.

It’s not just electricity for air conditioning, lights, and refrigeration; we have a split-level house with an electrically-operated sewer lift pump. That means the usage of toilets during the no-power interval is “limited”…so we’re glad the power is back for very important reasons, not just because we missed the second half of “White Collar”!

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Things I learned on vacation…

June 20, 2011

View from our room - sweet!

We spent a few days at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas this past week. It was a gorgeous place, with the best greenery and landscaping I’ve seen since our little trip to Hawaii a few years ago, and maybe better than most of the places I saw there. Debbie did some serious research (totally unknown to me) and surprised me with my “graduation trip.” She’s the best wife in the known universe!

The whole place had this kind of attention to landscaping and great maintenance.

It was hot. Around 90 every day, which doesn’t seem like it would be too bad, but being on the beach, it was pretty humid, so if there wasn’t a breeze blowing it was pretty uncomfortable. Luckily for us, there was a breeze at least part of the time – not as much as we would have liked, at under 10 mph pretty much the whole time, but usually it was enough. Of course, it was summer, so one day we got chased off the beach because of the likelihood of lightning. Nothing close by, though.

I was surprised somewhat by the extremely wide variety of accents. I assume the majority of folks we met working at the resort were native Bahamians, but some sounded very King’s English, some almost Jamacian, and some had no accent at all, not even sounding like our local “Chicago” type of accent!

The Atlantis resort is a city in itself and had apparently transformed tourism in Nassau over the last 15 years. It employs somewhere between 7500 and 9000 people, depending on who you ask. The folks we met were uniformly polite, helpful and seemed genuinely to be glad we were there. Now, tourism is their lifeblood, but I’ve been a lot of places where that makes little difference to the employees, and some places where I would swear they wanted you to stay away. No so at the Atlantis whether by good training or sincerity, or both!

Our goal was to sit on the beach. Period. We didn’t do a lot else. Sometimes we went to one of the pools. The highlight of the five days there was our experience with the dolphins. They have a full-blown dolphin habitat there, and apparently hired away a senior staff person from Sea World to help them set it up and run it. Smart move; it’s very well done and. We had a great time. The dolphins are very well trained and appear well cared for. Some of them were rescued from the zoo in New Orleans after Katrina. Their habitat there had flooded and they were released into the wild. They were found and taken to the Atlantis. Since then they have been playing with the guests and having kids – “our” dolphin was a 4 year old daughter of one of the Katrina dolphins, and there was a four month old swimming around us, doing what toddlers do – being inquisitive and looking for attention. She was about 5 feet long and the cutest little thing!

Me with my 4-year-old friend!

The other big attraction at Atlantis is the ginormous set of aquaria. There are several, and they are divided by types of fish, of course. The main aquarium wraps around the Royal Towers, the big middle towers in the complex (and where we stayed). Pretty much anything you see relating to the Atlantis shows one of the inside windows to the aquarium. They are beautiful. The conceit is that the Atlantis is built on ruins of the lost city/island of Atlantis, so the aquarium has a lot of mock ruins of a pseudo-Egyptian look in it. There is also a tunnel called “The Dig” that follows around the snaking aquarium and it contains not only windows to the aquarium, but other “artifacts” from the “excavation.” Oh, and a gift shop, of course!

An artifact left by the Atlantean civilization, or something

The highlight of the main aquarium for me was a huge manta ray, with a wingspan of at least six or seven feet.

Big ol' manta ray...

There were, of course, lots of pretty little fishes, too:

Pretty, aren't they?

Some distance away is a separate aquarium, with its own tunnel system, that contains the predator fishes:

"Nice shark, pretty shark." - Londo, "Babylon 5"

Separated a bit farther away, in another set of shallow pools, were a couple of hammerhead sharks and this critter:

This one is about six feet long or more!

Yep, a sawfish! There were a couple in the predator tank, but they tended to stay on the bottom. This one was in a very shallow pool, fenced off by itself. We wondered if it was pregnant. It turns out sawfish aren’t sharks, but are actually related to rays. They bear their young alive. Maybe if they were born near the sharks they would be eaten. That didn’t keep this one from looking for a way out:

Looking for a way out?

Anyway, the place was really beautiful, and we had a great time. They had taken care of all the touches, like this sculpture:

Fountain in front of the Royal Towers

The only problem with the trip was that we used Bahamasair to travel Fort Lauderdale to Nassau and back. They take “island time” to the extreme. We arrive late to Fort Lauderdale Friday night by almost two hours for no logical reason. The plane we were to use was late in arriving at Nassau, but once we were on the plane we sat for about 45 minutes for no reason, all for a 45 minute flight. No apologies or explanations from the flight attendants, no beverages, no nothing. And they fly the oldest Boeing 737s I’ve ever seen. There may be older ones in service but if so, I’ll bet they’ve been upgraded. I know the one we flew on the way out was a dash 200, and those are older than most of the people on board! (They started building dash 200s in 1968!)

I don’t recommend them, obviously. The Nassau airport is undergoing a $400 million renovation and it’s pretty nice, but nobody wants to be in any airport for a couple of extra hours for no reason. As much as I’ve griped about Southwest, they would have been falling all over themselves apologizing for a delay like this…even United would have been better, I think!

Fort Lauderdale has been nice. We like the Marriott Harbor Beach, which has its own stretch of beach because it’s far enough south of the public beach area, and the hotel has been recently renovated. The new restaurant, Sea Level, is actually very nice without breaking the bank.

Marriott beach, looking south

Speaking of money, yes, prices at the Atlantis were high. Sometimes they were ridiculously high, even for resort prices. First, all transactions seemed to be in US dollars.The Bahamas, with some handwaving, has pegged the Bahamian dollar as equal to the US dollar. That seems to be a little shady to me, but with the income of US dollars in tourism (considerable) and the US dollars flowing out as they buy imports from us (also considerable), they are probably pretty locked to us, like it or not.

You can’t do much with cash at the resort, though. Most everything can be done as a room charge. That makes it easier than caring cash or credit cards around to the beach – except the beach umbrella guys don’t work for the hotel, and they do cash only! Even the restaurants and shops in the little shopping area outside of the resort are connected to the resort and will take room charges.

If you are careful and check around, you can keep from going broke at the outdoor restaurants near the pools, generally by buying the meals instead of just a sandwich. For example, a hot dog is $ 6.50. (Yeah, I know!) but the meal, with a drink and fries, is $ 7.00. The indoor restaurants are expensive, but the food is generally excellent so you don’t feel completely ripped off.

Update once we’re home: OK, I’m perplexed. American Airlines is the only one of the major airlines expected to not make a profit this year, in spite of the extortion of the bag fees. The major airlines collected over $ 3.5 billion in bag fees last year. Still American couldn’t have more than two people working at the checkin at Fort Lauderdale? Really? We had to get our own boarding passes and check in our own bags using the self-service kiosk, then stand in line for a half an hour just to give the bags to the attendant! (That was with them giving priority to those who were late for a flight leaving for Dallas in a half hour – whose fault was that? – and the first class passengers, who did not have a separate attendant, of course.)

We bit the bullet and paid the $ 25 for each of two bags going home because we didn’t want to try to squeeze them into the overhead bins. Of course, since most people don’t do that, boarding takes longer, the flight attendants nag everyone about what goes in the overhead bins and what doesn’t, everybody brings everything on board with them including small animals and chicken cages, and people in general are more pissy once the plane takes the 15 minute trip to the end of the runway. (I’m not exaggerating here. I thought we were driving to Pompano Beach. I expected to see the Goodyear Blimp, which lives at the airport there.)

The Goodyear Blimp's home, taken from the Blimp!

I won’t gripe about our delay due to a thunderstorm that passed through the area – that’s to be expected. But everything else they could do stupidly, they seemed to. For example, why by the nine billion names of God do they board the plane front to back? It only about doubles the time needed to get everyone on board. Right next to us, Jet Blue was boarding back to front, making sense to me.

I swear, American Airlines is being run by idiots. Southwest was run by smart people, then they got greedy. Now they keep telling us how cool they are, but they’re rapidly becoming no better than anyone else.

This will probably mean if I fly AA again they will lose my luggage. Oh well.

Enough of this! I have work to do! And this makes it sound like I was unhappy! Other than the flying nonsense, it was a greeeeaaaaat vacation! And my wife is the best ever!

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Perfect Molly Quinn is perfect…and now we know why…

June 12, 2011

Molly Quinn

You’ll have to follow this link…WordPress doesn’t like their embed code, or I’m doing it wrong.

Who’s Molly Quinn? You mean you don’t watch “Castle“?

You should. It’s got Nathan Fillon – you know, Mal from “Firefly“?

And if you don’t know what “Firefly” is, Joss Whedon will come and weep on your doorstep.

No, he really won’t. I hear he’s over it, now. It’s just the rest of us who aren’t.

Anyway, Molly Quinn plays Richard Castle’s teenaged daughter. Castle is played by Nathan Fillon. He’s not very grown up. She is grown up enough for both of them, and generally makes better decisions than he would (and does).

She’s just so unbelievably perfect as the teenaged daughter…and it would make you sick, but she’s so darned cute you smile anyway.

I’m glad we finally know why she’s so perfect. I feel better, now.

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After-retirement job for me? Gingrich needs campaign staff!

June 9, 2011

Apparently a whole bunch of Newt’s campaign staff resigned en masse today. One of his chairmen went over to Tim Pawlenty’s campaign. There is thought that this is the first signal that Governor Rick Perry of Texas is going to run, and that many of these folks will be joining his campaign.

The pity of it is, I couldn’t work for Newt. He’s generally the smartest man in the room in any room he’s in – he really is; but that doesn’t mean he has the mix of attributes needed to be electable. Notice I didn’t say to be a successful President – just to be electable. Sometimes people have trouble with someone they perceive as being “too smart.” Gingrich seems to be “that guy.”

What we need for Newt is a sort of a Presidential Majordomo role, or something like that, where he can develop policy. He’s a monster at that, but he’s not necessarily the guy who can sell it.

I heard Pawlenty talk to Rush Limbaugh on the radio a couple of weeks ago, and he sounds OK, but not very exciting. Nobody in the current batch is very exciting.  Well, the unCandidate is, but who knows what she’s doing…and Michele Bachmann hasn’t declared yet.

Who will deliver us?

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The shot heard ’round the world

June 7, 2011

Oh, that Palin woman…now her minions are messing with the bastion of truth, Wikipedia.

In truth, this vexes me; I just used it last night in my previous post to defend her, and I didn’t see any untoward edits. It seemed the entry spoke for itself, and they should have left well enough alone. Ah well.

Still, the fundamental facts don’t change, friends. Revere et. al. were sent out specifically because the British troops were coming out to disarm the populace. That was the mission given to the British officers. Revere did speak to the patrol that captured him, and he did warn them that there were 500 militia who would resist. He also told them that the shots fired that they heard from a distance, were from those men, assembling in Lexington. In fact, that event and Revere’s statement prompted one of the officers to take Revere’s horse and ride off to warn the British troops. (The source in the link above makes no mention of town bells, however.) Revere may have been bluffing. For someone who had been captured, threatened twice with being shot, and already clubbed in the head, he was pretty courageous.

What I thought was interesting in reading Revere’s account was that the British soldiers seemed nearby, and all the events happened physically closer together than I had imagined. The official map of the ride is here.

I understand why people want to attack Sarah Palin. I understand it, but I don’t have to like it or agree with it. Is she the best candidate the Republican party can field in 2012? I don’t know. I’m still looking for someone better. The combination of experience, charisma and solid values is hard to come by these days, at least in anyone willing to run. We’ve had two out of three, more than once. That’s not enough. I would rather have someone with good solid values who would keep America on a path guided by the Constitution than any brilliant demagogue. Would I vote for Palin over Obama? Of course. In a primary, against Romney? Probably, with the positions he’s been espousing lately.

The fact remains that Palin’s supposed off-the-duff gaffe got more air time, and continues to, than any policy speeches Romney or any other declared Republican candidate has made. For good or ill, the media is focused on Sarah Palin, and she has the benefit and the curse of a “bully pulpit” that no other political figure, outside of the President, has. I’m not sure of her motives for the tour – maybe she is taking the national temperature about her running for President. Like Hillary in 2008, she has high positives and high negatives. Can she bring the negatives down and the positives up? Where is the golden number she feels she needs? Where is she going to get the massive amounts of money it takes to run a Presidential campaign? There are still a lot of unanswered questions. Maybe she has some of those answers, maybe she is looking for them now. This is as good a time as any to go out into “real” America and see how things look.

As I said in the last post, don’t underestimate her…either her political savvy or her understanding of the issues. She’s not the second coming of Dan Quayle. She’s not even the second coming of Joe Biden, thank God.

I’m just waiting and watching, myself. It’s the silly media folks who have their panties in a bunch. (That even hurts to type!)

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It turns out Sarah Palin is more of a historical scholar than I knew

June 6, 2011

Sarah on the Bus Tour

OK, Sarah – you schooled me on this one, and apparently a WHOLE LOT of other folks as well.

You see, friends, sometimes people interested in the history of our country DO pay attention to history and, even though it might have been a while ago, they take away the important points – not necessarily “the facts that everybody knows.”

It’s sort of like Rush Limbaugh’s telling of the story of the First Thanksgiving. The way that story has been told in schools for years and years has been fundamentally wrong, or at least skewed. But back to that later.

In this case, it was widely reported a few days ago that Sarah Palin, sort of on the fly while on her bus tour that is making the meda nuts, made a pretty confused-sounding off-the-cuff mention of Paul Revere’s ride. It was also widely reported that silly, flaky, bubbly-headed Sarah got her facts wrong again and tried to bluff her way out. I even mentioned it in my post yesterday in a sort of negative way, although in my defense I did mention a source that showed a more accurate view of history, and that she was somewhat right – maybe luckily so.

On further review I think she was right…and that while she may have sounded Sarah-flippant in the video clip, and maybe like she was tap-dancing a bit, she was correct. Pretty much all the way through, in fact.

Believe it or not, all you have to check is that bastion of accuracy, Wikipedia. The entry for Paul Revere describes the event in some detail. Sarah said Revere warned the British, and most people think of the Longfellow poem, which talks about him warning the colonists. So obviously bubble-headed Sarah was wrong again, right?

Well, first of all, Longfellow wasn’t very accurate. In fact, he was pretty darn inaccurate. His poem was far less about the beginnings of the Revolution and far more about the beginnings of the Civil War, which was when he wrote it.He was, after all, a very strong abolitionist, and wrote a lot in support of that position.

It turns out that in real life Revere was captured by the British and didn’t complete the ride. He did warn the British – he told them that they were going to be walking into a buzz saw, in essence, of Colonial militia in Lexington. He and the other captives were escorted toward Lexington by the British until they heard the sound of muskets, which Revere told them was probably the militia arriving in Lexington. They also heard the town bell ringing. Revere’s captors took his horse and rode off to warn the British troops, and turned him loose.

What about the bit about the British wanting to take the Colonists’ weapons away? She was right about that, too. The same Wikipedia entry says:

“On April 14, 1775, General Gage received instructions from Secretary of State William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth, to disarm the rebels, who were known to have hidden weapons in Concord, among other locations, and to imprison the rebellion’s leaders, especially Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Dartmouth gave Gage considerable discretion in his commands.”

This is what precipitated the “Midnight Ride.” The British troops were moving on Lexington and Concord to disarm the citizenry. That’s why Sarah Palin remembered it…it was one of the incidents that helped to precipitate the creation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution!

So, she was right. Her memory of the facts is different than the news media because they probably never studied…and frankly, her command of the facts is probably a lot better than most of us. I was certainly not aware of all of these details, either. Now I am…and I hope more people learned something about American history, and that we often don’t know the whole story of American history, through this whole incident.

I also hope they learned something else. The fact that Sarah Palin says something that sounds off-the-cuff doesn’t mean that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

The media are once again “misunderestimating” her. They did the same thing with Ronald Reagan, and with George W. Bush. (Both were two-term Presidents, you remember.) They do that at their peril, of course.

Once  the Democrats and the media  underestimated a candidate they thought was too superficial and too unintelligent to be considered a serious Presidential contender.

That was in 1980. Heh.

And the Rush Limbaugh Thanksgiving story in a nutshell: The Mayflower compact was essentially a socialist document, with all fruits of the labors of the colonists becoming part of a common store. They found quickly that this was not very successful. Those who worked harder became frustrated with the shirkers, who thought they should receive the same whether they worked as hard or not. (The primary problem with socialism.)

The next year each family got their own plot of land and could keep everything they grew, and they could trade any surplus with others. And…they had a surplus because they were motivated to create it. They prospered, began to trade their surpluses with the Indians, and paid off their debts to the London merchants who supported their colonization effort.