May 2007
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Month May 2007

Fire in the Sky Redux

Most of the time when launching a big rocket, like we did over the weekend at Fire in the Sky, Copyright 2007 Linda LantzyI don’t have time to get decent photos.  The entire flight often lasts less than a minute, and during the descent you’re mostly busy trying to triangulate where it’s coming down, taking bearings and trying to estimate distances, so you can narrow down the area of weeds, grass, or sagebrush you’ll be trudging through later on.

So I didn’t get any pictures of my Giant Leap Elipse coming down, under the TAC-1 parachute, but another spectator at FITS did, and here it is!  The TAC-1 chute is big, and with anything smaller than a 3 inch airframe it wouldn’t even fit into the tube, but it’s strong and did a great (and almost as  importantly, visible) job of bringing down the rocket.  The small triangle you can see in the photo is a folded hexagon of Nomex cloth, which protects the chute from the heat of motor ejection while stuffed into the body of the rocket.  Much harder to see is the long Kevlar cord which ties together the two sections of the rocket, along with the steel quick-links (like small locking carabiners) that connect all the bits together. 

NOTE:  The photograph here is (c) 2007 Linda Lantzy, and is not covered by the Creative Commons License which governs other content on this website.  See Linda’s PhotoShelter site for licensing information.

Fire in the Sky 2007

I just got home from Fire in the Sky 2007 in Mansfield, WA.  FITS is Washington Aerospace’s spring high-power rocket launch, drawing folks from all over the western U.S. for three days of launches and extreme engineering geekiness. 

My friend Bill Barnes and I both tried for, and achieved, our NAR Level 1 certifications, allowing us to build and fly rockets requiring motors with more than 62.5 grams of propellant, and giving between 160 and 640 Newton-seconds of total impulse.  I flew the PML Phobos, with a 29mm motor adapter in the 38mm motor mount, to accomodate the H128W motors we used for certification.  Both of our flights went picture-perfect with motor ejection; I used a 36" chute with central spill-hole to bring the rocket down gently but fast and straight.  I don’t have a good picture of the Phobos launch, unfortunately — the H128W took it off the pad faster than I could hit the shutter release.  But Bill and Susan might have video of both our cert flights, so that might be forthcoming when we can get it transferred.

After trudging through the sagebrush and getting woozy from too little water, too much sun, and no
food, I recovered theDsc_0010 Phobos (with spotting help from Bill – thanks!) and we completed our cert. 

At this point, since I was covered by Kent Newman’s LEUP (thanks!), I was able to fly the Giant Leap Elipse.  In order to get the CG properly positioned about 4 inches ahead of the CP (center of pressure), I had to load fishing weights (and a couple of extra AA batteries) into the nose cone.  With the 48" TAC-1 parachute, MC2 flight computer, and a 38mm I357 motor, the Elipse weighed in at 7.5 pounds or so — a heavy rocket but the I357 had plenty of punch to get it off the pad The Aerotech I357 generates a total of 342 Newton-seconds of impulse, with a peak thrust of 432.8 Newtons.  As a comparison, if you’ve used the black-powder Estes model rocket motors, the D12 delivers a total of 16.8 Newton-seconds of impulse, and 29.7N maximum thrust — so the I357 is delivers about 20x more thrust than a D12.   

The Elipse launched perfectly and the TAC-1 chute was easily visible in red and black against the clouds.  I managed a picture of the launch itself (shown here, click for a bigger version), which generated a fairly impressive smoke trail and nozzle flame.  To get a sense of scale for this picture, the Elipse is 6.5 feet tall and 3 inches in diameter.  Recovery was easy since it drifted back towards the pads.  I’m thrilled at how the weekend went, and eager to build something new for August or October. 

Greg Bear’s Quantico

I finished Greg Bear’s latest, Quantico, the other day, as a break in between stacks of material for the dissertation and before I start the second volume of Proust for our group’s July get-together. I should say, at the outset, that Bear’s publisher sent me a copy of the book for promotional purposes, so that I’d write about it here on my website. So I’m also holding up my end of the bargain.

In general, I liked the story. Greg Bear is a terrific author of hard science fiction, and anybody with his range (Slant and its predecessor are favorites of mine) deserves a read. Many of my favorite authors of speculative fiction are writing about terrorism these days, as you’d expect, and it’s always interesting to see alternative versions of how our own future might evolve. Bear’s version occurs in the very near future, after another major terrorist attack, but unlike more heavy-handed approaches to such a future, his version of the United States is palpably close to our own — but with additional crackdowns, additional surveillance, and additional hysteria. But all of these measures are very realistically haphazard, and Bear doesn’t flirt with overarching Orwellian schemes, preferring to show us the piecemeal evolution of our response to Islamic terrorism. In this way, his story seems quite realistic.

I won’t spoil the plot, because I definitely think it’s worth a read. Perhaps the biggest issue I had with the novel, however, is simply its size. Given the scope of the story he spins in Quantico, the book ought to have been a bit longer. The story feels a bit rushed, and certainly there is little time for his characters to truly develop. We get backstory but little evolution on their parts. Granted, it’s nice that not every author feels the need to deliver doorstop-sized tomes for every book, but Quantico would have benefited, I think, from a slower, more textured unfolding of its tale.

At the moment, I’m on the ferry headed for the mainland given the holiday weekend. I’ve got Richard Morgan’s new one, Black Man, in tow, freshly delivered by Amazon UK. I’m a fan of his previous Kovacs novels (especially the original, Altered Carbon), so I’m expecting a richly technological noir thriller.

Open Letter to the Democrats

Dear Democratic Senators and Representatives:

Yesterday you gave in to pressure and announced a compromise on the supplemental war spending bill that gives the President no enforceable conditions on continuing the Iraq War. Instead, you are poised to vote tomorrow on a bill that contains “optional” benchmarks, which the President is free to ignore. You promise to renew the fight this summer to bring the war to an end, bring our troops home safely, and hold the President accountable. After four or more months of heavy American losses and increasingly intense civil war.

Today, much of the Democratic “base” is outraged. Perhaps we’re outraged because you failed to make this “the beginning of the end” of the war. Perhaps because you showed every appearance of caving in. Or perhaps because you thought that we’d fall for benchmarks that were optional, and we’d think that you’d actually done your jobs.

You’d better hope it’s the first possibility — that you just lost this one, fair and square. Because quite frankly, speaking as one of the “base,” and a financial supporter of Democratic candidates in the House, Senate, and for the Presidency, you’d better convince us you weren’t simply weak, or even worse, that you were trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Because you’re on probation. I don’t know how many other Democrats feel the same way, but I’m holding off writing checks for Democrats until I see who has backbone. I want to know which of you, if any, has real leadership skills.

I’m waiting to see which candidates know when losing a vote is the right thing to do, to make a point. I’m waiting to see which Democrats think that being on the winning side of a vote is more important than doing what you were elected to do. Who think that the American people aren’t paying attention, and that maybe we won’t notice the “optional” part of the benchmarks you worked so hard to pass. The first set of folks have my vote. The other two categories should start figuring out which lobbying firms still hire Democrats, because you’ll want to beat the rush and get your resume circulated.

Nobody I know expected you to end the war instantly. I didn’t expect that this vote would work miracles. I did expect, after the election last November, to see some folks step up and display leadership. Reid and Pelosi seemed to be going great guns, but of late you all seem to be going through the motions, with one, if not two, eyes firmly on the polls and your re-election prospects.

Tonight, in his Special Comment, Keith Olbermann said something potentially very prescient. The Democratic nomination for President in 2008 may very well hinge on how the Democratic candidates in the Congress vote tomorrow. Senator Clinton has always danced around questions regarding the Authorization for use of force in Iraq, and Senator Obama has been able — thus far — to safely criticize those who voted for the war, since he wasn’t around in Congress to vote at that point.

Well, tomorrow we get to see who’s learned what lessons from the last couple of years. Senator Obama, if you would lead this country, show us your leadership with your vote tomorrow. And Senator Clinton, here’s your chance to answer those critics who hound you about your AUMF vote.

As wrong as President Bush is, and has been, about this war, he’s never been afraid to be unpopular among substantial portions of this country. The Democrats need to take a page — but only this page — from his book. Do the right thing, and gain our support. Play politics as usual, and lose it.

All quiet on the northwestern front…

It’s been a quiet week online, principally because I’m heads-down on my dissertation proposal after returning from Austin. It’s going fairly well, but slow because I’m also reading a ton of academic literature I missed during the decade I was away. The archaeology portions are the toughest, actually, but it’s more idiosyncratic — it’s a matter of looking at the evidence and people’s analyses of it, and it doesn’t necessarily have a “structure” you can work out. Paradoxically, I find the literature on evolutionary theory, game theory, and the evolution of cooperation much easier to absorb in bulk, because once you figure out the underlying mathematical structure of the various models, a lot of the literature is easy to “slot in” and move through rapidly.

The weather is getting good up here, and that means more grilling on the deck and weekend guests, which I’m looking forward to. I like the contrast of the winter, with a bit more quiet time enforced by the wet, cold, grey weather, and the bright summers with plenty of visitors. I’m probably cutting back on Seattle time over the summer, to maximize my time up north while it’s so beautiful, but I’ll still be down in Seattle for short visits fairly often.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I’m headed to Fire in the Sky, the spring high-power rocket launch in Mansfield, WA, with my friend Bill Barnes and his family. You can check out the stuff I’m building for FITS here. Either this, or the smaller Public Missiles Phobos will be my Level 1 certification flight, after which I hope to launch a couple more times over the weekend if all goes well. It should be an interesting, if incredibly nerdy, weekend. But a little bit of engineering is a good thing occasionally.

Back to the proposal…

The Great Seattle Madeira Tasting

Back in January, Roy Hersh hosted a Madeira tasting here in Seattle, bringing together 15 people (including myself and friends Chuck Miller and Marc Olson) to taste some of the oldest and rarest Madeiras in our collective cellars. Peter Reutter, a Madeira expert from Germany, joined us, as did guests from Canada, Silicon Valley, and Washington, D.C.

The wines ranged from sercial to moscatel, with a smattering of terrantez in the mix, with ages ranging from the 1827 Quinto de Serrado Bual, through 1927, with an average age of 133 years old.

Our host, Roy Hersh (who runs For The Love of Port), just finished his article on the event (with pictures and tasting notes), and I recommend it highly if you’re a fan of these special and rare wines, are interested in getting into Madeira, or are just curious about what old wines such as this are like.

The Great Seattle Madeira Tasting – For The Love Of Port