Confessions of a Rocket Scientist
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
  How Fast Is It REALLY Moving
I was watching one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi movies a few nights ago, "When Worlds Collide." It was made in the 1950's and was based on a novel written in the 1930's. The screenplay basically dumbed-down the already questionable science of the novel and "updated" it to fit the times. The premise is that a huge "star" called Bellus would crash into the Earth and destroy it. Fortunately for the purposes of the movie, it was accompanied by a smaller Earth-like planet called Zaira. A rocket ship would fly a small group of humans to Zaira, along with livestock, seeds, machinery, and other stuff needed to preserve the human race.

Yes, it's a really corny concept. The plot and the acting are just as corny. But it features some really cool special effects of the Space Ark blasting off and then skidding to a landing on the new planet. The Space Ark is one of those great silvery space ships that were so popular in 50's sci-fi, and was designed by one of the great sci-fi artists of that time, Chesley Bonestell.

I have seen this picture so many times that I practically have the dialog memorized. But for some reason, one of the lines stood out. The astronomer, Dr. Bronson, states, "These two bodies have moved over a milloin miles in only two weeks."

A million miles in two weeks. Pretty fast, eh? Or is it?

To satisfy my own curiosity, I decided to calculate just how fast our own planet Earth is moving.

Now the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun, and revolves about the Sun in 365.25 days, give or take a few minutes. We don't need to be too exact for this example. And to be perfectly accurate, Earth's orbit is not exactly circular but more of an ellipse. But it is close enough to a circle that we can approximate.

So how far does the Earth travel in a year? We can calculate this by multiplying the distance from the Earth to the Sun by two times pi (pi= about 3.1415926535). This equals about 585 million miles. Let's divide this by a year (365.25 days) and we get about 1.6 million miles a day.

So compare the Earth's 1.6 million miles a day to the speed of the approaching planets, a million miles in two weeks, and we see that on a cosmic scale they are really dragging their butts!

Today's cup of coffee is Colombian Supremo, smooth and strong with a medium body.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
  The Lighter Side of a Colostomy
I think I mentioned that I survived Colon Cancer. It was over 2 years ago. I was treated with radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. The surgery was the final part of my treatment.

I knew going in that a colostomy was a real possibility, so I discussed it with my surgeon before the operation. If I had to get it, I wanted it to be below my waistline if possible. It would be easier to maintain if it was below the belt.

Actually things looked good going in. I had a preliminary colonoscopy the morning of surgery, and the tumor had really shrink down to almost nothing. All indications pointed to a successful re-attachment. But this was not to be.

When I woke up in PACU, my first question was "Do I have a colostomy?" The nurse answered that I had. She then told me that I had awakened earlier (I have no memory of this) and asked the same question, but my phrasing was a bit more "colorful." (In other words, it was something like "Do I still have an asshole?")

Okay, so I have had this bag catching my poop for two years now. What's it been like? Actually, it is interesting and in some ways amusing.

I suppose I could have become horribly depressed over the whole thing. I mean, colon cancer is inherently depressing. Imagine having to crap out of your side into a plastic bag for the rest of your life. But I am definitely a survivor. I managed to get this far and by God I would keep on going. And my first line of defense would be humor.

That's right, humor. If you can laugh at a situation, it hasn't beaten you.

Of course, I am always running into crepe-hangers who expect me to be miserable and depressed over my situation. "How can you possibly be so happy?" they ask. "Don't you know that you have a colostomy?"

Like I could ever forget! But part of the fun of being a pleasent fellow is the way that going through life with a smile on your face and a song in your heart can so thoroughly piss off these misery mongers. I just love it when I can laugh off my condition and send them on their way shaking their heads in bewilderment. God, but it is a pure pleasure to screw with their feeble minds!

So here is a list of things that are really cool about having a colostomy.

First off, I never have to worry about sitting on the toilet seat at a dirty men's room. This is really a huge advantage. For some reason, public rest rooms in today's world tend to be disgusting.

I never have to excuse myself from a really long meeting to take care of "nature."

I don't have to turn over for my annual colonoscopy.

No more prostate exams! Yee-ha!

If I ever do time in prison, there's at least one thing I don't have to fear.

I'll never need Preparation H.

I can pass gas and nobody will ever know because my bag has a charcoal filter.

Of course, a colostomy is not all fun and games. A stoma is a high-maintenance item and requires special supplies and extra care. Essentially, I have a hole in my gut that leads to my intestines. It needs to be kept clean and I have to change the bag regularly. I must also be aware of the possibility of the appliance failing. This can be rather embarassing as you might expect. And I need to carry some supplies with me, just in case I need to change the pouch or the appliance comes loose. But with a few adjustments, I lead a moderately full life. The hardest part of having a colostomy was finding shoes to match the bag. {grin and duck :-) }

Incidently, I gave my stoma a nickname. I call it Stinky.

Today's cup of coffee was Colombian Supremo, a mellow, full-bodied coffee with an excellent flavor.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
No progress to report on the Space Ark. It's sitting in its box waiting for fins.

My Dear Wife and I were saddened when her cousin's wife lost her mother recently. She was 84. We are kind of close to Bob and Deena, Betty's cousins, so we paid our respects at the memorial service last weekend.

Deena is a soldier in the Salvation Army, and so was her mother. This was the first time I had attended any sort of a Salvation Army function. It was an education. You see, most of my family, including myself, were raised Catholic. Those of us who were raised Protestant came from one of the more mainstream churches, like the Lutherans. We are used to a more sedate form of worship.

First off, there was a brass quartet playing at the funeral home. Yep, it was a Salvation Army band. They actually sounded pretty good and didn't hit too many sour notes. Hearing it reminded me of Christmas in the city, when the Salvation Army plays Christmas Carols on the corner to get you to put some money in the kettle. I usually put something in when I pass a bell-ringer. The other thing it reminded me of was the Broadway musical "Guys and Dolls." I had to bite my tongue a few times when the songs from the show would play in my head. ("I got a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere..." etc.)

The other thing I was not prepared for were the spontaneous shouts of "Amen" and "Hallelujah!" from the congregation.

Like I said, I grew up Catholic, and in a Catholic service NOBODY says anything unless it's a prescribed response. Catholic ceremonies tend to be very ritualistic and well rehearsed with little spontenaity. And when the priest gives a sermon, the prescribed behavior is to sit still, listen attentively, and try not to snore too loudly when you fall asleep. If anybody started shouting "Amen!" and "Hallelujah" during the Homily he would most likely be asked to either shut up or leave.

Another interesting aspect of this has to do with the structure of the Salvation Army. I always thought that the uniforms were kind of neat, and the term "soldier" was also sort of cute, but somehow I always thought it was an honorific, sort of like "Onward Christian Soldiers." But the service was conducted by an OFFICER of the Salvation Army, a Captain no less. Here I find out that they really DO have military-style ranks in their Church. Gives you something to think about. I wonder if they have sergeants? From my own experience in the military, the language employed by most sergeants would be unsuitable for the inside of a church.

Today's cup of coffee is Chocolate Cappuccino, a nice medium blend with a hint of chocolate.
Monday, January 03, 2005
  Space Ark Update: Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

My Dear Wife and I spent a very low-key New Year’s celebration. We watched the Mummer’s Parade. If you want to know just what the Mummer’s Parade is about, click on the link. It’s a uniquely Philadelphia experience, and there is nothing like it in the world.

We also didn’t make a big deal about Christmas. Once again we didn’t get the cards out. I am going to compose our annual Holiday letter and send the cards out late, and maybe join the Procrastinators’ Club.

Progress on the Space Ark:
I am going to make three of the things before I am done, and I have started building the first one. Its basis is the Estes V-2 Kit from back in the 80’s. Here’s what it looks like:Estes V2 Kit It has the basic shape I need for the Ark. I will be modifying the fins into a more sci-fi format, with two sweeping main wings and two opposing tail fins. I hope to be able to include landing pods.

My vision of this particular Ark is more along the lines of the original Ark in the book "When Worlds Collide." The movie was based on this book from the '30s. In this book, Dr. Hendron and company built not one but two arks. They were, according to the book, atomic powered. The first Ark was capable of carrying 100 souls plus animals and provisions to re-establish humanity on Bronson Beta (which was re-named Zaira in the movie.) The second ark was larger and ferried 453 souls. So my plan now is to build BOTH arks as well as the 40-man ark from the movie.

As of right now I have the basic body assembled. I will be cutting out the fins in a week or so.

The basis of my second ark will also be a V-2 kit, this time from the late Atlantic Rockets company. Don't bother looking for them, thay don't exist any more. I bought two V-2 kits from them as well as a Bell X-1 kit, both of which currently languish in my Pile of Unbuilt Kits.

I am also building an Estes X-Ray clone. It is almost complete, with the fins and launch lug glued on and the payload assembled. Ironically, it appears in this link next to an earlier Estes V-2. I still need to seal the balsa parts and paint the model. Then I might build my 2X upscale version I am tentatively calling "Dos Equis." The pun is intended.

Today's cup of coffee was Starbuck's House Blend, a dark roast with intense flavor and aroma and one heck of a caffiene kick. One mug with breakfast and one for the road. Woo-Ha!
The continuing story of a man, his hobby, and the search for a really good cup of coffee.

"The first cup of coffee in the morning recapitulates Phylogeny." -J. Pournelle

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Location: Quakertown, Pennsylvania, United States

Two time cancer survivor, happily married, LaSalle Alumnus

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