Confessions of a Rocket Scientist
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I had a toothache over the weekend. One really big honkin' toothache.
A toothache that hurt so bad I felt like my head would explode, and
if it did at least the pain would be over.
It was so bad I was thinking of ways to pull it out by myself. I
wondered if dynamite might work. I thought about opening up one of my
rocket motors and using the black powder to blast the tooth.
When you hurt that bad you don't think straight. All of these ideas
made perfect sense to me.
I lived through the night and managed to pull myself together
sufficiently to call a dentist. One couldn't see me until tomorrow.
Another one could see me right away if I could get over to his office.
That's where I went.
The dentist's name is Dr. Hans Liou. He was pretty intelligent, asked
me a few questions, checked the x-ray his technician had taken, and
dived right in to give me a root canal. He managed to give me a shot
to numb the area. Once it was numb I felt better than I had in days.
The root canal took less than an hour. I didn't feel any pain during
the procedure, and there is suprisingly little pain today. I'll be
getting the second phase of the treatment next week and will be
preparing for the eventual crown. RIght now I'm just glad it stopped

Wednesday, August 17, 2005
  Spamming My Blog: Is Nothing Sacred?

I found a comment for my earlier post about my X-Ray clone. It was an
ad for some health care stock scheme.
Yep, it was spam.
Have these people no sense of decency?
But if you think about it, this is the way that things have been going
for a long time. Advertising cretins really believe that they can
invade our privacy at any time of their choosing, by any means they
might access, and get righteously indignant if we criticise them for
Think about the ways that advertising is seeking to invade every
aspect of your life.
I'm old enough to remember when FM radio did not have any commercials.
Hard to believe, isn't it? The broadcast stations made money by
selling access to the subcarrier frequency on their main signal. This
is a second signal that piggy-backs on the primary signal.
You need a special device called a discriminator to listen to it.
This is how Muzak and other subscription-type services are
Well subcarrier signals are still being sold, but FM stations do
indeed play ads on their main carrier. The promise of commercial-free
radio was a hollow one. It makes me wonder just how long this new
commercial-free satellite radio is going to last.
But this only illustrates the mindset of the advertising industry.
They will invade our privacy in any way they can find. Junk mail is
one example. I get a lot more ads in the mail than I get actual
communication, and most of it is unsolicited. I have to go through
the stuff and throw it out. Marketers are taking advantage of postal
regulations that were originally designed to encourage distribution of
newspapers and magazines. It's paid for by our taxes.
Just the other day I was driving and my cell phone rang. Being a
conscientious driver I immediately pulled over to take the call. You
guessed it, it was a telemarketer. He didn't care that he was using
up the airtime I had paid for and had interrupted my drive. All he
cared about was trying to sell me something I did not want.
And we all get spam in our e-mail. The spam spinners keep getting
clever about circumventing spam filters. It clogs our inboxes and
wastes our bandwidth.
And now they have the gall to spam my blog!
It is my fervent wish that, wherever these unscrupulous, ill-mannered
blackguards may exist, in every endeavor they might undertake, that
they themselves are treated with the same disdain and lack of common
courtesy as they exhibit.

Monday, August 15, 2005
  Spiderman, Captain Marvel, and Harry Potter

I finally broke down and started reading the Harry Potter books. I know, it's a kid's book and all that, but I really don't care. I love a lot of things that most adults will dismiss out-of-hand as “kid's stuff.” For instance, I love animated cartoons. I also like comic books. I also notice that a lot of adults dismiss Tolkien as children's literature. It must be for kids, no adult cares about elves or dwarves, right?
Well it took me a while, but I finally picked up the first book and I'm hooked. I'm reading the second one right now and it is delightful. I can't wait to read them all.
To tell you the truth, the reason I started reading the books is more than a little bit unusual. I was mildly curious at the whole Harry Potter phenomenon, but I generally avoid fads whenever possible. But then something happened. Somebody wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper condemning Harry Potter as satanic, perverting little minds into rejecting God and worshiping the devil. He wanted the books removed from out local library before they did any more damage to our children.
What a stunning endorsement! I knew I had to read it for myself.
It didn't take long to finish the first book. I read it on my lunch breaks and whenever I had a free moment. It was a pleasant read, entertaining, and it moved quickly. The devil never showed up (unless you consider either Draco Malfoy or Voldemort to be Satan.)
If you haven't read the book, here is a brief introduction with no spoilers. Harry Potter is a ten year old orphan boy living with some really cruel relatives. He is treated quite badly by his aunt, his uncle, and their obnoxious son. Then one day, Harry discovers something quite unusual. He is a wizard. His parents were very powerful wizards. (I will not reveal the circumstances behind Harry being an orphan so as not to spoil it. Read the book. It's good.) And Harry is being invited to study at a prestigious school for Witches and Wizards.
This, in a nutshell, is the appeal of Harry Potter to children. Harry, who feels very helpless and alone in the world, suddenly discovers that he is really very powerful.
Kids all feel gawky and out-of-place in the world. We adults have all of the power, and we run kid's lives. From their point of view, they are at the mercy of the grown-ups and the bigger kids.
Now compare this to some other characters in a very different genre. Think about comic books. Two of the most popular comic book characters ever created were Captain Marvel and Spiderman. Their popularity as comic book characters was phenomenal. (And, incidentally, got the same sort of nasty attention from the Religious Wrong as Harry Potter has garnered.) Why is this? Simply put, they have the same sort of background.
Captain Marvel is, in reality, Billy Batson, a pre-teen orphan boy who is forced by a cruel uncle to sell newspapers. When young Billy comes to the aid of a stranger, he is rewarded by the ancient wizard Shazam. Whenever Billy speaks the name of Shazam, he is transformed into the world's mightiest mortal, Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel possesses the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the invulnerability of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. In other words, a young boy discovers that he is very powerful.
Peter Parker is also an orphan, and while the Aunt and Uncle who raise him are very loving, they are unfortunately limited in their means. Peter is not one of the popular kids. Because he is smart, he finds himself the butt of many cruel jokes. He is, like young Harry Potter, vulnerable and helpless. Then, in a strange turn of fate, Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider. He finds that he has somehow been given the proportionate strength of a spider as well as some very amazing abilities, such as the ability to cling to any surface and to spin a strong web like a spider. Another young boy finds that he is really very powerful.
These are by no means the only such examples. Think of young Jack Hawkins in Treasure Island, or Aladdin. Children can immediately relate to Harry Potter. Maybe they don't live with cruel relatives, but every kid feels helpless and vulnerable in an adult world. They would just love to find out that they are powerful.
Eventually, a child will become a self-assured adult and realize that he or she does have some measure of control over their own fate. But for now, they can imagine themselves to be a young wizard at Hogwart's, and vicariously become very powerful.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005
  The X-Ray Flies
Two milestones to report. My X-Ray clone finally flew. And I am updating this blog after how many months?
I managed to get out to the launch this sunday. It looked like it was going to rain, but the sun came out, so I took a chance and loaded up the car. I took only a few rockets with me.
The first rocket I flew was my classic X-Ray clone. Finding the clear plastic payload tube and the balsa nosecone and adapter were the hardest part. The design is fairly straightforward. I will post a picture of it as soon as I get it scanned. I have to say it got a lot of smiles on the range. The X-ray was a classic in the Estes catalogs of the 60's. It originally cost $1.75, which was a lot of money back then.
I flew the X-Ray on an A8-3 motor. It's a light rocket and I did want to get it back. It is surprising how much performance this bird gives on such a small motor. The chute ejected but never really unfolded. I used a classic Estes PK-8 chute. The plastic was a but stickier in those older chutes. I must remember to apply a little baby porder next time. But the model itself is so light that it still recovered safely.
My next bird was a Big Bertha. This particular Bertha is a veteran. I flew it at the very first PARA launch in 1990. I flew it on a C6-5. It flew high and nicely, deployed the chute, and drifted down behind a row of corn. It landed between two different rows, so I had no difficulty finding it.
My next rocket was a lot bigger, a Thoy Falcon. It's about 2.6 inches in diameter and five feet long. I flew it on an Aerotech F20-7 White Lightning motor. It just screamed up into the sky on a brilliant trail of fire and smoke. The delay time lasted a bit more than 7 seconds and caused a bit of nail biting, but the ejection charge eventually deployed the chute and it recovered safely.
That turned out to be my last flight of the day. It started raining. I had prepped a Thoy Phoenix decorated with Grateful Dead teddy bears with a Dark Star F62-7 motor, but it never got launched. Save it for next time
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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