Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Secret Life of a Submariner


The U.S.S. Sand Lance - a Sturgeon-class attack submarine - was commissioned in 1971 and decommissioned in 1998. The boat was 292 feet long and could dive to 1300 feet.
 
 Not many people get the opportunity to live and work inside a real submarine. I remember watching a Navy officer give a presentation at my college in 1996. I asked him about life on the submarines, and he pointed out that women weren't allowed in the program. I didn't give submarines much thought after that. (Why bother?)
  Many years later, I met George Baer, a former nuclear-trained electronics technician (reactor operator) from the Navy. He served on a Sturgeon-class attack sub (SSN-660) from January 1974 until November 1976. When I asked about his experiences aboard the impressive deep-water metal death machine, he summed it up in one word: "cramped."
    The submarine, named the U.S.S. Sand Lance, had one propeller (called the "screw" by the sailors), which was driven by a S5W nuclear reactor and two steam turbines. The screw had 7 blades, although a 5-blade screw could propel the submarine faster. The reason was simple: "The whole thing about submarines is stealth," explained Baer. A 5-blade screw cavitates more than a 7-blade screw, which would make more noise underwater. Cavitation is a phenomenon you may remember from the book or movie, The Hunt for Red October. It refers to the creation and collapse of air bubbles by the screw, which can be pretty noisy. Silence apparently trumps speed when it comes to underwater maneuvering. Submariners go to such efforts like using paper plates instead of regular plates to avoid any unwanted attention. (FYI: The Hunt for Red October is actually "very accurate" technically, according to Baer. "Scary accurate," he said.)
   Different types of submarines make different noises underwater. "It's like a fingerprint," said Baer, and it is one of the responsibilities of our military to keep records of these different, identifiable noises. There is sonar equipment located "all over" the bottom of the ocean floor, and Big Brother is listening!
   The Sand Lance's top speed was about 30 knots, or 34.5 mph if it had "a clean hull." The accumulation of barnacles and other marine life cause drag and slow the sub down if it was not regularly maintained. Submarines can also move "considerably faster submerged" than they can at the water's surface due to the reduced amount of surface tension, said Baer.  
   One of the Sand Lance's missions was to deter enemy subs away from other U.S. subs that has ballistic missile capabilities. Baer said it was referred to as "De-lousing the boomers." The boomers were the ballistic nuclear submarines. Baer's sub and a boomer would leave an area at the same time. The boomer would "go silent," and Baer's sub would "not go silent" so the Russians would follow Baer's sub instead. 
   Baer remembers a particularly alarming "cat-and-mouse chase" with a Russian Alpha-class submarine in the Mediterranean Sea. Baer's sub was cruising along 300 feet below the surface when the Russian sub was detected. Baer said he and his crewmates could tell something strange was happening when they started to maneuver to the side, and when their boat started to dive deeply. There was a CIA officer (a "spook") on board who was disguised as a first class petty officer. (He spent an awful lot of time hanging around the captain, and he was staying in the Executive Officer's state room, which sort of blew his cover, according to Baer.) The spook was advising the captain on how to maneuver during the chase, which lasted a couple of hours. At one point, the Russian sub "pinged" Baer's sub. The sonar waves used by submarines are loud enough to be heard with naked ears. But, if stealth is key when it comes to submarine etiquette, why would the Russians make such a conspicuous move? "They were pissed off because they knew we were following them," explained Baer. The Alpha-class Russian sub could out-run and out-maneuver the Sand Lance. The spook on board advised to captain to elevate back to 300 feet and "just ignore" the Russians. His advice was heeded, and the Russians eventually "got bored and left," said Baer. Attack by torpedoes was not the Americans' main concern. "Our biggest concern was collision," said Baer. The navigation officer told him later that they had "zero bearing" with the Russian sub at least three times during the chase. That meant that the subs were directly on top of each other, but at different depths. If they had both been at the same depth, collision would have been inevitable. 
    
   The sonar used by Baer's boat was actually a 50,000 watt sound wave, which would surely kill any living thing it hit at a close distance. "It would crush your bones," he said, noting that it could be the cause of harm done to large sea creatures like whales that seem to wash onshore sometimes "for no reason." 
   Baer once conducted a neat demonstration to show how much the hull shrinks when the submarine dives to its maximum depth. While they were at 300 feet, he tied a piece of string across one of the widest parts of the sub (in the machinery room.) It was taut at about four feet from the deck. After the boat dove to 1300 feet, he checked the string, and it was sagging to less than a foot from the deck. 
   "Most people don't realize when you've been on a sub for two or more weeks, your eyes adjust to short distances and you've lost your distance (vision)," said Baer. He said it takes a while for your eyes to be able to focus on things farther than 30 feet away. "Everybody wears sunglasses because you're not used to the sun - you're used to fluorescent lighting. I was flipping out," he said. 


  Baer recommends reading the book "Blind Man's Bluff" for anyone who would like to learn more about life on a submarine. As far as women serving on subs, his only comment was, "I don't know why any woman would want to be on there."






 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Nothing Says "Happy Holidays" Quite Like Beer Tasting.....

Friends, lovers, co-workers, husbands and wives, bosses and landlords all came together to enjoy a night of beverage tasting at my apartment. It was a joyous evening, and a great excuse to bring people together.  I enjoyed it so much, I plan to turn this into an annual event.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Burt Rutan Retiring in 2011

Rutan's Pyramid Home in Mojave....Who will buy it?
Everyone's favorite aerospace engineer, Burt Rutan, is reportedly retiring from the field early next year.

Multiple sources have indicated that he plans to move to...Idaho. (?)

After inventing as many new aircraft as he has (nearly one per year since 1982), and after kick-starting America's commercial space industry with his revolutionary X-prize winning space flights in 2004, it's hard to imagine Burt anywhere but working hard in the California desert. 
  
    Best wishes to you, Mr. Rutan! It is a well-deserved retirement, although your presence will be missed.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Favorite Quote #7

Gertrude Stein

"I write for myself and strangers."

                       -Gertrude Stein

Friday, November 26, 2010

I Dare You to do This in Abu Dhabi...

"I have sex!"   Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall)




















Overall, I was disappointed with the movie Sex and the City 2. But I do love the series, as I own every single episode that ever came on HBO. I am just tired of watching Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) cheat on her man (whoever he happens to be at the time) and then grovel at his feet like an insipid teenager.
  There were some very entertaining scenes in this movie, however, including the wedding scene where Liza Minnelli performed Beyonce's "Put a Ring on it." I was truly amazed. Liza can still sing and swing with the best of them.
   I also laughed quite heartily at the scene featured above, where Samantha (who I never get tired of) is shopping around a marketplace in Abu Dhabi, and someone snatches her purse. Its contents spill to the ground, including a stash of gold-foiled condoms. The local men in the market stand around her, watching this very American woman pick up her belongings. (At this point in the movie, the uber-modern New Yorker with her blatant sexuality has already been arrested once for inappropriate behavior in public.) Apparently fed up with the disapproving stares and attitudes of the local men, Samantha begins yelling, "Condoms! Condoms! YES! I have sex!!" while doing pelvic thrusts at the men.
I replayed the scene at least three times, it was so funny. 
   Samantha's friends grab her quickly and they hurry off into a building with the help of some local women who save the day.

   Repressed sexuality in the Middle East is certainly one of the major cultural issues that makes for interesting discussions, (and funny movies), although I am of the opinion that Muslims are not so different from many of the religious zealots in America. My experiences working in the aerospace industry in Northern Alabama a few years ago really opened my eyes to some of the attitudes and perceptions of Americans in the South. More on this later...
   

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter 7 - Thrills and Chills!

Wayne and Dalton of Magazine, AR
Thank you, Wayne and Dalton, for standing in line at the Russellville Picwood from 2:00 pm to 6:30 pm yesterday to buy tickets for the midnight showing of the seventh Harry Potter movie. I bribed these young men to get tickets for me and a friend, and it was a fantastic event! (I realize that most modern theaters allow you to buy tickets online. The theater in Russellville, however, has not yet embraced this technology.)
There aren't many (actually, there aren't ANY) other movies I can think of that could start at midnight, and I never once wondered or cared what time it was. I am well-programed to shut down after 11:00 pm, and yet, I was riveted by this explosive movie. 
  The graphics were phenomenal. The pace was quick, and the emotions shifted from funny to creepy, to downright startling on more than one occasion.When the movie ended, I was completely oblivious that two hours had passed. Really? It was already over? 
A definite must-see for teens and adults, but this is not a movie for young children. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

A book more important than the Bible?

I am only part-way through this book, and I am writing notes in my journal from nearly every page of it. I think this may be one of the most important books I will ever read.
Sam Harris, who wrote "The End of Faith," is an eloquent, sobering author who is well educated (he has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA,) and he has the uncommon ability to communicate effectively with a large audience. The man's arguments are impressive and well-founded. 
I am considering buying everyone I know a copy of this book for Christmas. Ironic, perhaps, since Christmas is supposed to be the celebration of the birth of Christ, and this book argues that ethics does not belong in the realm of Christianity (or any other religion), but as an undeveloped branch of science. 

Yes, science.

  "Just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra," writes Harris, "we will see that there is no such thing as Christian or Muslim morality."
Harris argues that "both sides" (conservative people of faith and non-religious people who are liberal) "believe that reason is powerless to answer the most important questions in human life."  

"It should concern us that these two orientations are not equally empowering. Increasingly, secular democracies are left supine before the unreasoning zeal of old-time religion."

And I love this, too:  "...not knowing what is right - or that anything can ever be truly right - often leads secular liberals to surrender their intellectual standards and political freedoms with both hands."   

 Perhaps it does take a neuroscientist to explain this concept:
"While the argument I make in this book is bound to be controversial, it rests on a very simple premise: human well-being entirely depends on events in the world and on states of the human brain. Consequently, there must be scientific truths to be known about it." 

(Bold words and underlining were done by me. - JL)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Save a Life

By: Kylie Stewart Green*
If you walk into a patient's room, or if you see this on the monitor of a patient in an ambulance, this is called ventricular tachycardia, and it is life-threatening. Check to see if the person is awake and if they have a pulse. If they are unconscious and do not have a pulse, an immediate intervention must take place!!

Initiate CPR immediately. New CPR guidelines are currently in the making. As far as I know, it is still 30 chest compressions for every two breaths. If you are in a hospital or in an ambulance, you should give O2 with an Ambu bag. CPR should only last until a defibrillator is available. A shock should be delivered at 360 joules (depending on the machine; the newer ones shock at 200 j, I think.)


Resume CPR for 2 minutes (don't stop to look at the monitor.)
Start an IV.
Give epinephrine 1 mg of 1 in 10,000 solution (this increases contractility, makes CPR more effective.)
Deliver another shock at 360 joules.
Continue CPR for 2 minutes.
Administer 40 units IV Vasopressin.

Shock again.
Resume CPR.
Deliver Amiodarone 300 mg (If patient is a chronic alcoholic, consider Magnesium sulfate instead.)
After 2 minutes of CPR, check monitor. If patient is still in ventricular tachycardia/ventricular fibrillation - 


Shock again.
 Resume CPR.
Administer Amiodarone 150 mg.
Check monitor, if no change, shock again.
Continue CPR. 
Give Epinephrine 1 mg and Lidocaine 3 mg/kg (around 100 mg if patient weighs 200 lbs.)
Check monitor, if no change-


Shock again.
Resume CPR.
Repeat Lidocaine dose 100 mg.
Check monitor, (hopefully) patient goes into Normal Sinus Rhythm.

Check pulse, if a pulse is present.
Start Lidocaine drip, 2 g in 500 cc at 1-4 mg/min.
If there is no breathing, an advanced airway should be put in place.
Check blood pressure. If BP is low, start a dopamine drip.


Transfer patient to ICU.


*This is for your reading pleasure only. This is not to be taken as medical advice. I am not responsible for anything.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

New 3D Godzilla Movie!!!!

Godzilla 2012. Image courtesy of Legendary Pictures. 



Bet you won't be dreading 2012 now. The mother of all large and terrifying lizards, Godzilla, will be returning to the big screen in 3D! The word out is that Godzilla will of course be fighting another large monster (or monsters), but don't expect to see too many human deaths. According to producer Brian Rogers, Godzilla versus something like the U.S. Army doesn't jive with the "spirit" of the traditional Godzilla character. The new movie will be a "reboot," mixing some of the old with some of the new, including a freshly designed CG-lizard.

   Bring on the monsters! 

Favorite Quote #6

Photo courtesy of the Howard Hughes Corporation.




"I'm not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I'm a billionaire."

                     -Howard Hughes

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Tesla Model S















Your Space-Age Chariot Awaits You....

   It's almost here. The sleek, fast, zero-emissions electric car that will make today's hybrids seem like...the Tin Lizzie.
   Production of the much-anticipated Tesla Model S (which stands for sedan) is scheduled to begin in 2012. It can seat five adults and two children, since the bulky combustion engine has been removed for a much slimmer, entirely electric engine. Besides the roomy interior, this car features many exciting and innovative concepts, including its appearance. While the Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced, gas/electric hybrid, (as well as the current top-selling Japanese car), it's hard to deny that it is....ugly. Tesla Motors has recognized this atrocious trend in "green" cars and has dealt with it accordingly. "People don't want to sacrifice anything, including style, to own an efficient car," states Chief Designer Franz von Holzhausen on the Tesla webpage.
   The Model S is anything but ugly, and it doesn't lag in the performance department, either. It is a purely electric car, not a hybrid, yet it can accelerate from 0 mph to 60 in 5.6 seconds. You can choose the battery pack that best suits your mileage needs: 160, 230, or 300. Swapping the battery is touted to take approximately one minute.

   The interior of the car has a 17-inch touchscreen with 3G connectivity for easy GPS navigation and browsing capabilities. There is a refundable $5,000 reservation fee to place an order for the Model S. The base price of the car is $49,000, including a $7,500 tax credit.

  The story behind Tesla Motors as a company is quite interesting and worth reading:
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/09/ff_tesla/

  The Tesla Motors website has more information about the Model S and their first all-electric car, the Roadster, at: http://www.teslamotors.com/



Tuesday, October 5, 2010

30 Years Later


















Jennifer Lewter and Jim Ledbetter, 2010.


Okay, so it is 31 years later, not 30. Who's counting? This was at my birthday party this summer. It was nice of Jim to come out and meet the gang.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Every Rose has its... Prickle












Jennifer Lewter and Jim Ledbetter, 1979.
Some things in this world are wrong. Lying feels wrong, cheating feels wrong, stealing feels wrong. Losing friends feels wrong. Not being able to see a friend in the hospital because his new wife is an evil _itch, is WRONG.

This is my Uncle Jim in our old front yard in Huntsville, Alabama. This picture was taken in 1979. That's me with Jim on his motorcycle, shortly after one of his cross-country drives from California. The little dog's name was Brownie, and she belonged to our neighbors across the street.
Uncle Jim isn't really my uncle, but I don't know what else to call him. He's known my parents longer than I have. They lived in the same apartment complex when my parents first got married in the 60's.
I remember visiting Jim's house in California when I was a little kid. (I was older than I was in this picture.) He had an apricot tree in his yard, and I couldn't stop eating the sweet little fruits. How did he get so lucky to have an apricot tree growing in his yard?! That is probably why California has always been a magical place to me. I was born there, two of my grandparents and Jim lived there, and California had the most wonderful flowers and fruits. Magical.
My family and I visited Jim in Arkansas many years later, when he decided to move back to his home state. He lived in Russellville, on a road near a large lake with huge, shady pine trees. I had no idea Arkansas was so pretty. I'd never been there before.
Jim told me I should come spend a summer with him and take some classes at the local college. At the time, I couldn't think of a good enough reason to do that. A few years later, that's exactly what I did. And then six years later, I returned to Jim's town to teach at that same college.
I am currently studying botany, and learning new plant things daily. I was a little amused to learn that Poison's famous rock ballad is all wrong....roses don't have thorns - they have prickles. A prickle is much smaller than a thorn, and it is made from a different part of the plant. Prickles can still hurt, of course, since they are designed to defend the plant. A thorn, however, has the potential to hurt a lot more...

Jim had a stroke last week and is currently in the hospital. He recognizes me, and can communicate well enough to ask me to come back to see him. But his new wife has opted to use her wifely powers to keep me from visiting him or talking to any of the medical staff about his progress. I saw her sitting next to him, a blond parasite with no respectable skills, like a huge Dodder plant in the flesh, colored all wrong and waiting to opportunistically wrap her creepy tendrils around my injured uncle.

I wish I had a truck-load of Roundup so I could set him free.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just another day at the Oak Tree...


The ever-suave barista, Nevin, quietly approached my table this afternoon to check on my friends and me. Our coffee was hot, the food was good, and his bubble-beard was...quite funny.
The Oak Tree Bistro has been open for a year or so, and I can't recommend it enough. The staff is always very friendly (and entertaining.) My favorite eats are the hummus, served with toasted pita wedges, the greek salad, the cobb salad, and whatever the soupe du jour happens to be. Wonderful, wonderful food!
I recommend getting the cobb salad with feta cheese instead of the blue, and having it served in a spinach wrap. The greek pizza and the buffalo chicken pizza are also very tasty.
Wade the soup-chef is constantly experimenting with new recipes, and I have really enjoyed everything he's made. Today I had the spring chicken soup, with its chunky chicken meat and little bits of peas and carrots. I only had a cup of it, so I could pick out one of the rich-looking chocolate desserts from the display case. I am hoping that the lavender and rose syrups will be re-stocked, since I have now acquired a taste for lavender iced tea and rose-flavored mochas. (Chocolate, roses and coffee, all in one drink? Can you say "Nectar of the Goddesses?")

Vive la Oak Tree!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Etiquette in Antarctica


   This is not your ordinary day job, and the Rikers are not your ordinary Arkansans!
   In 1989, David Riker (at left) decided to broaden his horizons after listening to a friend talk about his work experiences in Antarctica. Barbara, David's wife, knew nothing about David's intentions to head south. "He volunteered me," said Barbara. "He didn't even ask!"




Top Photo: David and Barbara Riker in Antarctica in 1992.

Bottom Photo: Barbara demonstrates the proper way to wear a parka.



   The Rikers traveled to McMurdo Station, an American research station on Ross Island in Antarctica. They found jobs with Antarctic Support Associates, who were contracted out to do work for the National Science Foundation. (Raytheon currently has the contract.) David was a materials foreman, and Barbara worked several different jobs during her three year stay on the icy continent.


   "There were 250 people stationed at McMurdo during the winter season," said Barbara, "and only 30 were women." Barbara celebrated her 50th birthday there, and she said she held the record for the "oldest woman" at McMurdo for a while.

   The Rikers were not allowed to share sleeping quarters, although they were married. "Living quarters were based on the job you had," explained Barbara. She spent her first year living in a large tent called a "Jamesway." There were actually ten tents set up together, and the living conditions were less than optimal. "It was awful," she said. "It was freezing." At times she would wake up with snow in her tent and black grit on her face from the volcano nearby.
David and Barbara traveled through Christchurch, New Zealand, on their way to the Antarctic. They were each issued cold weather gear at Christchurch, "which included a myriad of inner and outer cold weather garment items, including two parkas, bunny boots, etc.," said David. "We wore one parka on Sundays, and the other to work," said Barbara. A Navy Chaplain was stationed at McMurdo during the summer months, but there was no hired minister on hand to give sermons during Antarctica's winter months. So David stepped up to the pulpit to replace the recorded sermons that were left as the Chaplain's substitute.


   The Rikers were apparently well-known for their discipline and dependability. While David gave sermons on the side, "I was everyone's mama," said Barbara. She often carried around bottles of Tylenol and Exedrin to dole out to workers suffering from hangovers. Drinking alcohol, not surprisingly, was a common pass-time at the station. Barbara remembers finding a man passed out in the cold and calling to get him help. "You had to take care of each other, no matter what," she said. Two men who went out hiking one day fell into a crevasse and died. Alcohol was probably involved in that tragedy. But Barbara also remembered lighter times, when people would grill out steaks in the freezing temperature. Once she saw a couple of naked men running around the outside of the building, after they had obviously lost at a game of "strip poker." They apologized to her and David during their next meeting. "After you've been there for 8 or 9 months in Antarctica, anything is funny," she said, shaking her head.


   David said he never felt scared or feared for his life during his 5 years at the station. "[It was] just cold," he said. "There wasn't any crime," Barbara added. She said that Antarctica would be a perfect place for a prison because "they can't go anywhere!"


   Times were especially tough for the Russian workers at another Antarctic research station. The Russian economy had collapsed, and their workers couldn't go home. "They were stuck there," said Barbara. The U.S. and New Zealand agreed to help pay for the workers to go home if the men could find a way over to the McMurdo station. "The U.S. allowed the Russian ship carrying their research workers to dock at McMurdo, where they received fuel from the U.S.," said David. Then they sailed on to New Zealand, "where they received additional assistance." While the Russians were still docked at McMurdo, "they sold some of their personal belongings to obtain U.S. dollars," said David. "One guy sold enough stuff to feed his family for two years," said Barbara. She purchased a painting and a few other items from the men, wanting to help out.

   David was one of the few people who went running at night for exercise during the winter months. He said one of the reasons he did it was to look at the stars. "There's no air pollution down there," explained Barbara. There were also nacreous clouds that shimmered like pearls. "Pictures aren't good enough," she said. "They don't really show you what they look like."


   Barbara also seemed to enjoy watching the local wildlife. She would stand on the sea ice edge, and whales would sometimes surprise her by surfacing so close to her. "The only warning you would get is the ice moving under your feet," she said. She often watched the penguins play in the water.

   The Rikers aren't hesitant to recommend a trip to Antarctica. "If you get the opportunity to go, do it," said David. "There's a saying about people who go down there," said Barbara. "The first year, you go for the adventure. The second year, you go for the money. The third year, you go because you don't fit in anywhere else!"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Spaceship found!
















   Local WWII veteran and mechanic Frank "Al" Thomas built this metallic beauty back in the 60s. Friends of Al's in Russellville, Arkansas, say that he intended to fly it, although no one ever saw him try. It was approximately 12 feet in diameter, and at least nine feet tall. There was a seat perched in the bubble for the pilot. "Exploding electricity" was the method of propulsion.
   My friend Kevin Barber knew Al, and said he enjoyed spending time in Al's shop with him. Al passed away several years ago, and his spaceship is rumored to be on display at a museum up north.


Al Thomas in his shop. Russellville, AR.

Edited April 29, 2016

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Zenyatta Wins 18 in a Row!


   The beautiful Thoroughbred Zenyatta won her 18th race yesterday at the Del Mar race track in Southern California.

   Her story is a good one. She was purchased for a mere $60,000, and she wasn't in the best of health. Owner Jerry Moss said she had a large rash covering her body when he bought her.


   Trainer John Shirreffs, pictured here with Zenyatta, patiently nursed her back to health, and then promptly turned her into an equine superstar. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

   The undefeated Zenyatta has earned a total of $6,254,580 to date. She is six years old, and she is named for the rock album "Zenyatta Mondatta" by The Police.

   Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Dwyre wrote a great article here: http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-0808-dwyre-zenyatta-20100808,0,6960594.column

Friday, August 6, 2010

Arkansas: Where Things Crawl Out of the Center of the Earth


   I have been finding these huge mantids around the house and shed all summer. I saw one sparring with a hummingbird in the courtyard the other day.    These insects are actually large enough to kill and eat hummingbirds, as shown on this website:

http://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/site/backyardbirds/hummingbirds/mantis-hummer.aspx

Great video below!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep6vmpcUQR8&feature=related

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Future of America's Space Program

I called my Representative today and asked him to vote "no" on the bill HR 5781. The bill would approve a budget for NASA that would allow us to send astronauts up on Russian spacecraft. That inherently doesn't sound like a bad idea, considering that we are retiring the U.S. Space Shuttle this year. *sigh* (I always thought I'd fly on the Space Shuttle some day...)
One of the major problems with the bill is that it doesn't offer much support to our fledgling commercial space efforts in the U.S.
Two companies in particular have made astonishing progress in the commercial sector: Scaled Composites and SpaceX. (Scaled Composites, creator of SpaceShipOne, is now currently owned by Northrop Grumman, while SpaceX, with its impressive fleet of Falcon rockets, is still owned by Elon Musk, as far as I know.)
With respect to space flights, we have to recognize that NASA does not have the leadership, organization, or momentum that it had in the late 50's through the 70's. Something has gotten lost along the way.
I remember the incredibly dynamic presentation given by Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites, at the 2005 International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Washignton D.C. It was shortly after the historic ground-breaking flights of SpaceShipOne, the world's first privately funded spacecraft. The atmosphere at the meeting was nothing short of electric. There were thousands of people present, inspired by the accomplishments of a few hard-working people in the Mojave desert. Rutan said that new flight technology was not being developed at the rate that is has been in the past. He said that people in the aerospace industry had lost their courage, and that is why NASA was no longer flying any innovative new hardware.
It is sadly ironic that Rutan made these comments before an explosion at his company killed three of his own employees. The tragedy has not prevented Rutan from continuing his program, but it exemplified the fact that rocket fuels can be unpredictably deadly, and we still have a lot to learn about them.
I met Elon Musk the following year at the 2006 ISDC conference in Los Angeles. His confidence was undeniable. His presentation was professional and enlightening. After his talk, I thanked him personally for coming to the meeting. It was quite thrilling to meet the polite, 30-something-year-old, self-made millionaire who had started his own space company. I wanted to kiss him, or buy him dinner, but I was very aware that he was married at the time. *heavier sigh* (I also wanted to tell him that we have the same birthday - June 28 - but I wasn't sure that was the right moment...)
I have watched Elon's company garner more and more successes with time, with his most recent one being the launch of the Falcon 9. This vehicle is capable of sending seven astronauts into orbit, and has already been chosen by NASA to resupply the International Space Station when the Shuttle retires. 
I feel certain that our next leap into space is going to be largely due to the efforts made by these incredible people working in the private sector. It is critical that we support them NOW, while their momentum is still soaring.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Some Good Advice

















"It is better to be doing life in the penitentiary for killing a motherf@#&er than have the motherf@#&er doing life in the penitentiary for killing you."

-advice given to my friend Cameron from "Bismark"

Monday, June 28, 2010

As June 2010 Fades to Gray...

There's at least one nice thing about getting older: the birthday cakes get better! And so do the parties. And so do your friends.
I actually have a lot to be thankful for right now. I love where I am, I love who I'm with. I have some fantastic peers, supportive friends, some great projects on the horizon. I have a lawn mower! Who knew that mowing the yard could make me so happy?
I practically live in a wildlife refuge. I keep finding critters around here that I've never seen before. (Arkansas has humongous centipedes!) I have to refill our hummingbird feeders every day because we have so many that come to our house. (I counted 12 coming to feed at one time this week.)
One of my students recently invited me to go to Mexico with her to go snorkeling with whale sharks. How could I say no to that? I've never been to Mexico and I've never been snorkling with whale sharks. (Just call me Jacqueline Cousteau.... :)

About this fabulous cake: this was made by none other than Paula Pendergrass, owner of Cakes Alive! in Dover, AR. She is a former anatomy professor who decided to delay retirement by opening her own bakery. The cake was chocolate with buttercream icing. The top layer was a plastic molded scene, featuring the characters Jack, Kate, Locke and Hurley from the popular TV show LOST. The hatch had a functional light bulb it it, which looked great when the ceiling lights were turned off. And yes, that is the smoke monster spelling out "Happy Birthday, Jennifer!" It was made from marshmellows and black icing.
Thank you, Paula!!!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Best Time Ever!


















   This was our first night on the pier, at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The students from Tech's coastal ecology course were excited to be out of Arkansas, and I was elated to be near the ocean again. (I'm the one sitting with the fishing pole.) There were two other students who liked to fish, and we spent many nights after dark on this pier, catching strange creatures that you just don't come across in the freshwater lakes and rivers of Arkansas.
   You can see Biloxi illuminated in the background. I didn't go there the night the students went to check out the casinos. We were staying awake for the all-nighter diel study that needed to be continued at 4:00 in the morning. Instead I stayed up watching the final episodes of "LOST."
We did not come across any oil in the Gulf during or trip, but we could smell it in the air when the wind blew towards us. We saw dolphins playing out in the Gulf, and some near the pier where we fished every night. I am hoping they will still be there next year.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Power Tools Inspired by Godzilla











































   Today at Lowe's, I was thrilled to see that the Hitachi line of power tools resembled something that would be used by superheroes. Look at this design (photos above.) It screams, "I'm Japanese, and I'm going to kick your ____!"
   An older gentleman was watching me handle the cordless drills, and he asked, "Are you going to buy me one of those for Father's Day?" I laughed and said, "No. I'm going to buy one for myself." I asked him if they looked Japanese to him, and he said, "Yeah, it looks like that kung fu crap."
   I talked to the sales associate, and he said that Hitachi made good drills and they had a good reputation. And, the one with the lithium batteries would last the longest.

   Watch out, world; I now have my own kung fu, Godzilla-colored cordless drill!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lord, BP, what have you done!?


















Photo by Rick Loomis /
Los Angeles Times


   As of today, (May 31, 2010), crude oil from BP's ocean well explosion has been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico for 41 days. Since the "Top Kill" plan to dump heavy mud and concrete into the well failed to stop the oil from gushing out, it seems this disaster will continue to grow in magnitude for an indefinite amount of time.


   Here are some composite satellite images from NASA:

http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/05/gulf-oil-space-35-days


   And here's a live-feed link from a remotely-operated vehicle at the the site of the well:


http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/homepage/STAGING/local_assets/bp_homepage/html/rov_stream.html

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Return from the Gulf

























My favorite place on Earth: Pier One at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
   Ahhhhh...my sunburn is gone! The laundry is washing, my cat is fed, and there are clean sheets on my bed. I am back from a week-long visit to the Gulf Coast. My school offers a summer speed-course called "Coastal Ecology" for biology majors. It is a wonderful alternative to our traditional, computer-based, heavy-into-statistics ecology course.
   The coastal class is only three weeks long, and the field portion is held at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (GCRL) in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. My school has had a partnership with the GCRL for many, many years, and we usually bring a group of 10 to 15 students down each summer.
   One of the highlights of the trip is the venture to Horn Island, a pristine wildlife sanctuary that boasts white sand and beautiful beaches. No man-made structures whatsoever. It only takes a little more than an hour to motor out to the island, then we usually spend a few hours on the island, and we troll on the way home (8 hours in the water-reflected sun - hence the sunburn.) This time, there was a snafu with our packed lunches, but the Larry-the-ever-awesome-captain ran to the store to get us fruit, drinks, and sandwich items. I asked for coffee, and Larry explained that the boat's generator was out, so he couldn't make any. Then he promptly got a cup and poured me some coffee from his own mug. I've never met anyone that nice.
   During the trip, I asked Larry if I could get a picture with him. He not only complied, but he handed me the wheel! I guided the Hermes up the channel, listening to Larry and the first mate as they told me which poles to stay between. After a few minutes, I saw a dolphin jump out of the water and I screamed, "There's a dolphin!" Larry took the wheel back so he could turn around and make the dolphin chase us. One of our students took excellent pictures of it jumping in and out of our wake.
   We caught some fairly large shrimp while we trolled on the way back from the island. One of our students cooked us a nice meal of shrimp and little red potatoes drizzled in butter and Worcestershire sauce one night.
   I spent many nights out on the large pier in front of the GCRL. I met many people visiting from other schools, and I particularly enjoyed talking with a shark researcher and some of his students from the University of New England in Maine. We sat for hours, baiting our hooks with gulf menhaden and shrimp, and catching sand seatrout and hardhead catfish. The students were here for a fish physiology course, and they needed gafftopsail catfish and the seatrout for their lab experiments.
   I had met a different shark researcher earlier at the GCRL. I was pretty excited to find out that there are new satellite tagging capabilities that transmit real-time data from sharks as they go about their daily business. Apparently, we know nothing about sharks! One shark that had been tagged was in the dark for more than 24 hours, so the researchers could tell that it had been eaten by another shark! One hammerhead that had been tagged swam down to a depth of nearly 1000 feet, and did this several times in one day. The researcher said that no one had any idea that a shark could acclimate so quickly to such a rapid change in pressure. The future of shark research is "understanding their biology," I was told. Sounds pretty exciting to me!

   After two days of fishing and seining, one student said, "every student from Tech should take this class. They'd be hooked," he said. I completely agree with him.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Star Wars Cookies


   I want these! Williams Sonoma, one of my favorite stores, has these adorable Star Wars cookie cutters for sale. They do not, however, have any Han Solo cookie cutters.
   That is truly unfortunate....I think a Han Solo cookie could cheer a girl up any day!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Grecophile


   This is a painting of Diogenes, the famous Greek who was purported to carry a lamp around in the daylight, "looking for an honest man." He shunned wealth and materialistic objects, slept in a tub in the city, and harassed Plato during his lectures. He has been described as a "Socrates gone mad."

   There are many famous quotes from Diogenes, but this one in particular hits home to me:
"The foundation of every state is the education of its youth."

Toga Toga Toga!


   I just want to say that any self-respecting science teacher should own at least one toga. I personally have two tailor-made togas in my possession, and I wear them whenever possible.
   We have an obligation to show our respect for the ancient Greeks, and we should make a concerted effort to acknowledge the contributions they made to science!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Six Billion People and Counting

   At the time of this posting, there are an estimated 6,820,920,273 people in the world. I am sad to report that most of these people do not read my blog. :)    Nonetheless, we are of the same species, we live on the same planet, and we share the same basic needs.
   I talk about exponential human population growth in my biology classes. This chart, with its distinctive J-curve, scares the mess out of me. I have seen this same growth curve with examples of other living things that experienced a similar spike in numbers, only to be abruptly knocked back down by natural controls like starvation and disease.
   What is the carrying capacity of our planet? At what point will resources become scarce enough to cause true human suffering, outbreaks of physical violence, and the inevitable population crash?
   Well, I think some of that has already started. In some parts of the world, humans have truly been suffering for a very long time. What percentage of people in the world today get enough to eat on a regular basis? Why have some countries been able to successfully manage their resources and effectively govern their people, while others have failed miserably?
   This is obviously one reason why the U.S. is preoccupied with the Middle East. We are not largely concerned about the living conditions and quality of life for the natives. We could never justify the high cost of our expensive warfare if it did not have some sort of payback for our citizens. We are fighting for our resources. We need that black gold, because without it our entire civilization would come to a grinding halt.
How would YOUR life change if you suddenly had no access to oil or fossil fuel products?
   A co-worker of mine converted his old Mercedes to run off biodiesel made from the leftover cooking oil at our university's cafeteria. He is a chemistry professor with access to an organic lab, and it only cost him "a few pennies" to collect the waste oil and clean it up enough to power his car. He bragged about driving to work free every day.
Eventually, the cafeteria people (or maybe our administration?) figured out they could sell the used oil instead of just giving it away, and so my co-worker lost his free supply of fuel. "The golden age of fossil fuels is coming to a close," he warned me. I believe him.
   I bought a new car a couple of years ago, and while I was shopping around, I contemplated buying a hybrid electric car. My friends the Hoovers asked, "Why? When you plug your car in, you're still pulling energy from the grid," they said. Electric cars are NOT solving the problem of the looming energy crisis. "We need a new technology," said Dr. Hoover.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Favorite Quote #5























"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." 

                                                                                         - Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's hard to be annonymous in the full moon light...





















   


   One of my closest friends believes that people are evil at their core. "Like the Earth," she said, referring to Earth's molten center.
   "The core is evil, and people just pack on layers of things (analogous to the Earth's crust), like Christianity, to hide it."
I told her I did not believe that people were inherently evil. I think we have a continuous struggle; an ongoing battle like in the story of the two wolves.
   She wasn't familiar with the old Cherokee story, so I told her how everyone's soul has two wolves; one represents all good things, like joy, hope, courage, strength, optimism, and the other represents all bad things, like greed, jealousy, selfishness, weakness, etc. The two wolves are constantly fighting, and the one that wins is "the one you feed."
She looked at me for a split-second and said, "That's stupid."
   This woman is known for her blunt honesty. "People are evil," she said. "I KNOW it."
   I know she's been hurt. But who hasn't been? I am continuously disappointed and hurt by the people in my life. The problem is, you don't always know what their intentions are. Intent is
King, I believe.
   We are going to have another blunt discussion soon, and I bought a bottle of wine in preparation for it: J. Lohr's "Wildflower," which is a very light, red wine. I first had it at the actual J. Lohr winery in San Jose, California. It is best served chilled, and it tastes like flowers. Perfect for summer!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Favorite Quote #4

"The only way they could've been more evil is if they had eaten a baby in front of me."

                                                                                     -a wonderful, anonymous friend

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Estrogen versus Tylenol; Godzilla versus King Kong

 

















"Godzilla vs. King Kong" by Tankor89

The best thing about working at a university is that you get to hang around professors. You get invited to their houses for parties, cook-outs, etc. etc. Last night I ate dinner with a geologist, a retired anatomy professor, an economist, a biologist, a seminary student, and a physical science professor. I learned that women of child-bearing age (who are still producing significant amounts of estrogen) may not find Tylenol a very effective pain killer. The estrogen somehow affects the body's ability to break down the drug, and the result is a very quick drug metabolism.
(You don't want painkillers to metabolize quickly; that means the pain comes back faster.)
I never buy Tylenol when I buy painkillers. I always get Exedrin or Motrin for my headaches and various cramping issues.
Today, walking down the hallway of the science building, our botany professor and I started talking about snakes. He claims that mammals have an innate hatred for all reptiles. "Think about it," he said. "We've been battling for 200 million years or so. If that asteroid hadn't come around, we'd be.... (out of luck.)" He was referring to the asteroid impact that has been linked to the decimation of the dinosaurs, of course. That particular impact, estimated to have happened around 65 million years ago, is why mammals were able to evolve from small, lemur-like creatures into larger, top-level predators. We are currently in the "Age of Mammals," or the Cenozoic Era, which started right after that massive, cruel, and blessed (for us, at least) asteroid hit Earth.
I always thought people hated snakes because of the Biblical implications. Little kids don't seem to be afraid of snakes unless their parents tell them to be fearful.
The botany professor disagreed with me. "No," he said, "it's innate." I thought for a minute, then yelled, "Godzilla versus King Kong!" Reptiles fighting mammals is certainly not a new concept.


When the fight begins, who do YOU want to win???

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another Thing of Beauty Destroyed
















   I'm home from the races. I spent all day at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, watching some of the most beautiful creatures that have ever graced the planet.
Today was also the day for the Arkansas Derby, which included a one million dollar purse. My horse of choice, Dublin, came in third. I won more money back than I bet. But my money is not my concern.
My concern is that I saw another horse "break down" on the race track. The jockey made quite a heroic leap, high off of the foundering horse's back, over the inner fence and into the bushes near the track. I watched that poor horse try to keep running. It may have broken both of its front legs, for all I could tell. It is an awful, sickening thing to see.
I love horses. I LOVE horses! It crossed my mind again today that maybe I should boycott horse races. I listened to what people were saying while the ambulance drove onto the race track. "Number seven broke down." "I hope that man is okay?" "How much money did I win?!"
Is this a cruel sport? Are these animals mistreated? The flow of cash into this sport is the very reason these horses are bred. They wouldn't be here if people like me didn't come to the race track to place bets, drink cold beer and eat delicious corned beef sandwiches. (I know the corned beef sounds disgusting, but it is really really good!)
I asked several employees at Oaklawn if they euthanized the injured horse. An EMT slowly shook his head yes. "The reason they do that is because a horse is so heavy, he can't stay on just three of his legs. The other legs get diseased if he takes the weight off one of them."
He didn't make me feel any better. It seems like we should be able to do more than just kill a horse when it breaks a leg.