December 31, 2003

Our Rocket

I haven't forgotten our rocket that we're building. In fact, it's sitting right beside my monitor, looking phallic and making me feel slightly inadaquate for not moving along to the next construction step. I promise we'll get to it in the next day or so. In the meantime:

Wal-Mart is having their after-holiday sales, and I noticed they have an Estes rocket starter set called the 'Stars & Stripes' for $17.00. The kids got this one for me last year for Christmas and it's one heckuva deal. The rocket is a little easier to build than the Fat Boy we're currently doing (and the Fat Boy is not at all difficult). Plus you get a couple of motors, the launch pad and rod, and the launch controller to ignite the rocket motors. All you'll need besides this starter set is some glue and AA batteries.

If you're building along, or thinking about it, now is the time to look for a pack of rocket motors. Each rocket kit will give a list of recommended motors, to start out I'd recommend 'B' motors. For the Fat Boy, get B4-4's or B6-4's if possible, they come in 3-packs and the igniters are included. Look here for an explanation of rocket motors and their designations.

Check back in the next couple of days for the next bit as we attach the fins to our rocket.

Posted by: Ted at 07:59 AM | category: Build It
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Happy New Year

Be safe tonight, and here's hoping that everyone has their dreams come true in 2004.

Posted by: Ted at 07:55 AM | category: Square Pegs
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Funniest thing I've heard all year

It's only a rumor that the Beagle 2 has failed because the electronics were done by Lucas.

If you don't understand why that is falling-down funny, you can do one of three things.

1. Ask a Brit.
2. Ask someone who owns a British car.
3. Ponder this joke:

Q: Why do the British enjoy warm beer?
A: Lucas makes refrigerators.

Posted by: Ted at 07:04 AM | category: Space Program
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Rocketing Around the Blogosphere

A quickie for y'all on the last day of the year.

Over at Classical Values, Eric posts an interesting bit about the big neighborhood bombing last month in Saudi Arabia. I really like his analysis on various issues, so if you don't read him regularly you should give it a try.

If you're wondering about Mad Cow, please Please PLEASE go read Phillip Coons, Kevin, or Wind Rider at Silent running (great articles and links here and here). Here's the money quote folks:


"[emphasis added] Nevertheless, in the United Kingdom, the current risk of acquiring vCJD from eating beef and beef products appears to be extremely small, perhaps about one case per 10 billion servings."

And that's the same United Kingdom that destroyed whole herds of potentially infected cattle. We've had one freaking case.

All right, let's lighten up a little bit. Denita (Who Tends the Fires) talks about a new computer game that she's gotten hooked on. I'm not much of a game player, but this one sounds twisted enough to be something I could get into.

Flags. Who likes flags? We fly the American flag in front of our house each and every day of the year. This Ted (of the Red variety, who goes by the name of Edward - go figure) goes one better and flies historic flags as well. And he posted this great piece about some history of the confederate flag (with context) that's got plenty of cool information and links.

He also got the Revolutionary war era Culpeper Militia flag for Christmas. Which I think is cool because I fly rockets a couple times a year in the Culpeper area.

The Flea also posts about flags, this time a link to an index of fictional flags. Ever wonder what the House Atreides flag looked like? How about various banners from LotR? This is a pretty neat link.

Wince and Nod points out an interesting article from Crichton about science and what it entails within the fabric of society. He also links to Jerry Pournelle, who often has interesting things to say.

The comic strip Pearls Before Swine. If you ignore every other link in here, you should read this one. Thanks to Nic for pointing this one out to me.

Hey, SilverBlue makes the big time! Mookie gets a mention too (says proud papa). G'Day Mate!

Rocket Man talks about Mars and the not-so-spectacular success rate we've had exploring it (by 'we' I mean all of earth, no nationalistic bias here). On second thought, we're talking about sending probes to another planet!!! Imagine the finesse needed just to get something into orbit that far away. We'll keep trying and keep getting better at it. It's what we do.

I had this great joke all set up involving any ladies reading this and a t-shirt I found online that says "I'd love a good spanking", but the danged link won't work! On to plan B...

The Commissar has a detailed map of Munuviana posted (the big - and less interesting because we're not in it - map is here). Yours truly can be found holding fast at the southern border. Ted Sputnik, I like that.

Oh yeah, stop by and say hello to a couple of new Munuvians, Civilization Calls and Semi-Intelligent Thoughts. Also, it's not brand new, but you should check out the group blog Consent of the Governed. Good stuff there.

Posted by: Ted at 06:50 AM | category: Links
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December 30, 2003

Maps of ancient places

I did a post about various maps some time ago, and today ran across the Interactive Ancient Mediterranean Project while looking for a modern map of the mediterranean region.

The project is based at the Ancient World Mapping Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"The IAM is an on-line atlas of the ancient Mediterranean world designed to serve the needs and interests of students and teachers in high school, community college and university courses in classics, ancient history, geography, archaeology and related fields."

And don't forget history nuts like myself! This page is full of links and contains a search engine. It looks to be a growing resource too, with new content being added regularly, including downloadable maps and articles about new discoveries in the region.

This is also affiliated with the Perseus Digital Library project, whose stated mission is to bring reference material related to the humanities to as wide an audience as possible.

I'm going to have some fun digging through this one.

Posted by: Ted at 07:35 AM | category: History
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Late Christmas Present

We heard from our son last night, first time since October. He called from Italy, and they're scheduled to start heading for home in the next few weeks. Still no definite word about when they'll arrive, but they're all doing ok.

He was surprised that I knew as much as I did about the USS Hartford, because they didn't know it had been reported so widely, and he filled me in on some details about what happened to cause the accident. It wasn't really an accident, it was stupidity. Like most accidents.

He also said that they weren't held over because of the Hartford, but they were out 'doing their mission'. I think in April we'll be heading up to Connecticut to see him. And get another crack at the submarine museum in Groton.

Posted by: Ted at 06:56 AM | category: Military
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The Life of a Computer Programmer

For many years I had the following framed and hanging on the wall by my desk at work. Since I almost always work one-man projects, it served to amuse the occasional user who wandered in while simultaneously explaining my somewhat eccentric work habits.


Every programmer has some experience with bodily abuse. Sooner or later, all of us do things to ourselves we wouldn't admit to Mom. Most of the time we say we're provoked by circumstances: whether it's the representative from your client's company -- a not pleasant man who looks a lot like Herman Munster, breathing heavily on your neck -- or some towering, unstoppable endorphin rush that threatens to rip your medulla out of its socket if you don't code up that monstro algorithm RIGHT NOW and forget about your wedding. We generally attribute our protracted binges to some external force.



This attitude bespeaks a hideous wrong-headedness among programmers. We seem to get some masochistic pleasure out of responding to pressure by sitting in front of our machines until our fingernails are too long to type. Our eyes get varicose veins. We run fingers through our hair until we get split ends. We drool. Why?



Because, the deluded among us would answer, we have to. Some specter is chaining us to our chairs, making strangers of our families, removing us from the throb of humanity. It's not a pretty job, we sigh nobly, but someone has to do it. This is, as my sister used to say, pompous fudge-cakes.



We do it because we like it.

I never knew where that came from, I don't even remember where I got it from. Continuing my one-man quest to convince humanity that 'Google is your friend', I managed to find the truth. And in a Paul Harvey-ish twist, it turns out that there's a 'rest of the story' too. more...

Posted by: Ted at 06:42 AM | category: Square Pegs
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December 29, 2003

Looky here

Yepper, it's time for another lame Rocket Jones contest! Once again, everyone has the chance to wax poetic in their peculiar particular fashion, and since there's no prize, everybody wins!

So go into the extended entry, put on your thinking caps, and caption the photo. Yes, I ripped the idea off from Kevin at Wizbang!, who got it from someone else, who got it from... you know how it goes. I'm not a bible-readin' man, otherwise we could be sitting here begattin' for quite awhile.

And just in case this isn't enough fun in your dreadfully hum-drum life, go help Mr. Helpful rig an online poll. Do it for the children his kid. Do it for Rock'n'Roll!

I just reread this... can you tell I only got a couple hours of sleep last night? Sorry, I get goofy when I'm tired. (Shut up Mookie, comments from the rest of the peanut gallery will be tolerated). more...

Posted by: Ted at 08:54 AM | category: Square Pegs
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The best kind of survey

Yep, the kind that's already been done and all you have to do is read the fascinating results. Plus it manages to combine two of my addictions - rockets and old crappy movies.

Courtesy of The Astounding B Monster! (an all-around fun place to visit), here's a pundit's guide to the top rocket jocks in movie history.

For an added bonus, check out this nifty look at SciFi's Coolest Conveyances. Notable is the invasion by the undersea Mu-vians, still pissed off at us dirtsiders after all this time.

Posted by: Ted at 07:12 AM | category: Cult Flicks
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Nog update

It's monday, the 29th of December, and the carton of eggnog in the refrigerator at work is now officially over a year past its expiration date.

I ain't touching it, not even to throw it out.

Posted by: Ted at 06:29 AM | category: Square Pegs
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December 28, 2003

Trix

A photograph of one of our dogs, in the extended entry. Just because. more...

Posted by: Ted at 08:05 PM | category: About Ted
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Style vs Substance

What follows are some personal thoughts about blog design. My opinions carry no weight except what you give them, and it doesn't mean anything if you agree or disagree.

If I mention someone by name, no personal insult is intended, neither is any perceived sucking up.

I've been working with computers for a long time. I've sat down and punched many a deck of the old IBM cards (do not fold, spindle, or mutilate). Most of my experience has been on the big monstrous mainframe computers, which are no longer all that big or monstrous. They just seem that way compared to the PC's of today.

People today are spoiled by PC's. They are incredibly flexible and powerful. My users can't understand why I can't change fonts in the middle of printed output from our mainframe. They can't grasp the complete and total control you've gained thanks to Apple and Microsoft. And they don't understand how little of that flexibility has migrated upwards to the big boys.

I remember the days when monitors were green letters on a black background, or amber letters on black. It was a huge day when we got monitors and software that allowed us eight whole colors! Geeks doing the happy dance, not a pretty thing to see.

But that giant leap for pocket-protector-kind also hammered home a lesson we'd all learned without realizing it. We instantly became color-crazed, highlighting and underscoring and color coding, and our screens looked like something out of an acid-trip flashback. They were so loud and garish that the information on them was lost in the background. It took us a while to figure that out.

I used to train new programmers, and one of the things I would do is give them the specs to a new screen and function to do - their first ever using color. This was actual work that would be incorporated into our systems, but never anything that we needed in a hurry. Inevitably, what came back would sear your brain and make you want to claw out your eyeballs. And I would go over the nightmare with them, showing them where color worked, and where it didn't, and what to do and what not to do.

The most important thing is the information, not the way it's presented.

That sentence above is the point I've been meandering towards. Take a look at the blogs by Rachel Lucas or Bill Whittle or Instapundit, and what you might not immediately notice is their crisp clean style. Their blog designs manage to be distinctive and attractive without getting in the way of the content. And that is what we should all be striving for.

That doesn't mean your blog design has to be sterile. Check out Candy Universe for an outstanding example of balancing an eye-catching design with easy readability. Remember, these are personal opinions, I know some folks don't like light text on a dark background. I'm talking about the whole here, not details.

On the other end of the spectrum (opinion alert!) are Madfish Willie's Cyber Saloon and Snooze Button Dreams and Tiger: Raggin' and Rantin', to name three I'm most familiar with. Each has different things that make their designs less than successful to me.

Madfish Willie takes every toy, gimcrack and script trick he can find and incorporates it into his blog design. He's a fountain of good information, but I find that the content of his site gets lost in the bells and whistles. I can't even load his blog from work (at lunchtime) because the firewall times out waiting for all the doodads to load. To me, it's too much.

Snooze Button Dreams is approaching that point as well, but seems to be more low-key about it. He knows way more about this stuff than I do, but it seems like he's constantly trying to tweak his latest script so that it works for everyone regardless of browser or version. His blog is rapidly approaching the point where it won't load in a reasonable time either.

Tiger's design is... just... too much of everything. I can't really pin down any one or two things, but there's just so much happening text-wise that it's difficult to read. Once I'd learned his format it became easier to focus on his posts, but someone visiting your blog shouldn't have to learn how to work around the design to get to the good stuff.

I still read these blogs every day, but when you're trying to entice folks to plan a return visit it just makes sense to make it as easy as possible for the visitor. Don't let the content get lost in the design of your blog.

Update: To clarify my thoughts about Snooze Button Dreams, Jim has stayed very close to a standard template with a simple design. The problems I'm having with his site (and I admit I don't understand the 'why' of it) is in the numerous scripts that he runs in the background (Java?). Check out his blogroll for instance, you click on one category to expand it. Very nifty, but it has to reload each time I access his site, and the firewall is fussing about it. My solution is to wait until I get home to check out his site, I do the same for Madfish Willie's. I really like his proposed designs, especially this one.

Posted by: Ted at 12:56 PM | category: Munuvian Daily Tattler
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Ted's Diet Plan

Euphemistically, I'm big boned, hefty, cuddly, a teddy bear, healthy, a big guy, and circumferentially overachieving. I'm in shape, because round is a shape. I have the body of a god - Buddha. I'm currently on a diet. Actually, I'm on two diets, because one alone just wasn't giving me enough to eat. I'm well on my way to a career as a professional sumo wrestler. I'm thinking my sumo name would be Yomama - catchy, eh?

Realistically, I need to lose weight. I've needed to lose weight practically my entire life. Partly because I have the metabolism of a rock, and partly because I have a mostly desk-bound job and I love to eat. So it's not at all a mystery why I'm in the shape I'm in.

I'm not terribly unhealthy. My blood pressure is fine, so's my cholesterol. It doesn't kill me to climb a flight of stairs, and I don't think twice if I have to walk a mile or more to fetch a rocket.

Nobody knows more about diet and nutrition than a fat man in the military. You practically earn a degree on it as Uncle Sam counsels you and educates you. So I've seen a diet or two or twenty. Atkins is only the latest craze.

Low-fat. High-acid. Low-carb. Whatever. Here's my plan. It's called low-swallow. I'm going to quit eating so damn much. And I'm going to work up a sweat more often. Simple plan, now all I have to do is stick to it. And like anything else, now that I've announced it in my little corner of the universe, y'all can encourage me and make fun of me when I stumble. Go ahead, we're jolly you know.

Posted by: Ted at 09:27 AM | category: Seriously
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December 27, 2003

Santa's goodies

The big red round dude was good to me this Christmas. In the 'things I need' category was a new pocketwatch, since mine went kaput earlier this month. I also scored the books Seabiscuit and Footfall, some cooking goodies, and DVD's including October Sky (the only remotely rocket-related gift), John Wayne's The Cowboys, and a cool little four-pack of crappy horror movies that include such schlock classics as Psychomania, Blood Tide, Horror Express - The Enigma, and my favorite: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.

Posted by: Ted at 09:05 AM | category: Square Pegs
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December 26, 2003

The Great Random Google Junket

Welcome to yet another special edition Google Junket, this one suggested by the lovely LeeAnn of The Cheese Stands Alone. Her suggestion was simplicity itself, "flying monkeys". So that's what I did, and here's what the search engine dragged in:

Simian Fi! First up is Flying Monkeys 2003, a blogspot site.

FlyingMonkey.com has moved.

Now here we have a dataglyph of "Flying Monkey 6". I didn't dig further, so I have no idea what the heck they're talking about. Flying monkeys shouldn't be such a deep subject.

Hand carved and hand painted, these Flying Monkeys Spirit-Chasers are hung to scare the living hell out of to protect sleeping children.

Flying Monkey Arts. Primitive.

There's no place like home, especially if home included acid trips. To relive those fond times without potential felony charges, try this Flying Monkey costume from the Wizard of Oz.

Here's one for you, Flying Monkey Beer. "Even animal lovers enjoy pounding them."

Flying Monkey textiles promises to enhance your life with unique woven products.

The Webtender gives us the Flying Monkey shooter, made with Kahlua, Banana liqueur and Bailey's Irish Cream. Slam several of these and see your very own flying monkeys.

Finally, if you're bored with your doorbell, these Flying Monkey doorbell surrounds will make munchkins and witches alike think twice before interupting your moment.

All right, that's the first page. On page two I'll mention a geocaching site for Flying Monkey Mesa in Utah. There are plenty of other links left over for you to explore on your own.

Posted by: Ted at 08:28 PM | category: Google Junket
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Quarantine

Mookie brought home a nasty cold from school last week, and within days Liz caught it from her. Yesterday evening I started feeling lousy, and now I'm in the middle of it too.

She's grounded.

Posted by: Ted at 05:37 PM | category: Square Pegs
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The Beagle has landed

Early Christmas morning, the Beagle 2 spacecraft landed on the surface of Mars at the end of a 250 million mile (400 million km), six-month trek to the Red Planet. Launched with the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter on 2 June 2003, the Beagle 2 was named to commemorate Charles Darwin's five-year voyage around the world in HMS Beagle (1831-36). Its main objective is to search for signs of life -- past or present -- on the Red Planet.

Although the first attempt to use NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter to communicate with the lander three hours after touchdown was unsuccessful, scientists and engineers are still awaiting the best Christmas present possible -- the first faint signal to tell them that Beagle 2 has become only the fourth spacecraft to make a successful landing on Mars.

And what exactly was the signal they were waiting for? Well, believe it or not, it was a cell phone ring tone.

The lack of immediate communication wasnÂ’t totally unexpected, but the continued failure to make contact is starting to become worrisome.

"This is a bit disappointing, but it's not the end of the world," said Professor Colin Pillinger, lead scientist for the Beagle 2 project.

"We still have 14 contacts with Odyssey programmed into our computer and we also have the opportunity to communicate through Mars Express after 4 January."

There are several possible explanations for the failure of Odyssey to pick up Beagle 2's signal. Perhaps the most likely is that Beagle 2 landed off course, in an area where communication with Mars Odyssey was difficult, if not impossible. Another possibility is that the lander's antenna was not pointing in the direction of the orbiter during its brief passage over the landing site. If the onboard computer had suffered a glitch and reset Beagle 2's clock, the two spacecraft could be hailing each other at the wrong times.

The Beagle 2 lander entered the thin Martian atmosphere at 2:47 GMT Christmas day. Travelling at a speed of more than 12,500 mph (20,000 km per hour), the probe was protected from external temperatures that soared to 1,700 C by a heat shield made of cork-like material.

As friction with the thin upper atmosphere slowed its descent, onboard accelerometers were used to monitor the spacecraft's progress. At an altitude of about 4.5 miles (7.1 km), Beagle's software was to order the firing of a mortar to deploy a pilot parachute, followed one minute later by deployment of the 33 ft (10 m) diameter main parachute and separation of the heat shield.

At a few hundred metres above the surface, a radar altimeter was to trigger the inflation of three gas-filled bags. Cocooned inside this protective cushion, Beagle 2 was expected to hit the rust-red surface at a speed of about 38 mph (60 km/h). As soon as the bags made contact with the surface, the main parachute was to be released so that the lander could bounce away unhindered. Like a giant beach ball, the gas bag assembly was expected to bounce along the surface for several minutes before coming to rest at 2:54 GMT.

Finally, a system of laces holding the three gas-bags onto the lander was to be cut, allowing them to roll away and drop Beagle 2 about 3 ft (1 m) onto the surface. The whole descent sequence from the top of the atmosphere to impact was to take less than seven minutes.

Beagle 2 was targeted to land within an ellipse, 30 km long and 5 km wide, on Isidis Planitia, a large lowland basin near the Martian equator. However, the exact location of the landing site depended on factors such as the angle of descent and wind speed.

The landing site was chosen for its low elevation, since a greater depth of atmosphere would assist the parachute in braking the lander's descent. Its equatorial location also means that temperatures are warmer, minimising the amount of insulation (and hence mass) needed to protect the lander from the cold Martian night. The relatively flat site was also thought to be neither too dusty nor too rocky to threaten a safe landing (but rocky enough to be interesting for the experiments).

For further details on Mars Express and Beagle 2 see the following websites, check out these websites:

Beagle 2 lander homepage
Mars Express overview
Christmas on Mars: be there with ESA
PPARC News Updates
ESA's Mars page
Europe goes to Mars

Posted by: Ted at 01:08 AM | category: Space Program
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December 25, 2003

Jingle... uh...

Merry Christmas or your holiday of choice. Here's hoping you have a great day, a wonderful New Year, and a prosperous 2004 to us all!

You've seen the BK guy ("ding, fries are done"), the Eat'nPark Christmas tree commercial, and by now you've seen "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" (the Champagne Room remix). Here's a tacky and tasteless holiday carol in flash format that might be new to you.

Or maybe you're dreaming of a White Trash Christmas...

Posted by: Ted at 10:18 AM | category: Square Pegs
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December 24, 2003

FYI

I just wanted everyone to know that I took the time to compile an extensive list of online friends that I wanted to send e-cards to for the holidays. Then, like most guys, I gave the list to my wife to take care of for me and forgot all about it.

So did she, so if you didn't get a card from us, blame her.

Posted by: Ted at 10:42 AM | category: Square Pegs
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Toss a little prayer in for all these guys too

Don't forget all the military folks in your prayers, because you don't need someone shooting at you to make it a dangerous job. Last month the submarine USS Hartford had an accident while conducting training off the coast of Italy. Nobody was hurt, and the boat returned to the US under her own power. Damage turned out to be more extensive than initially thought.

I prattle on now and then about the Navy submarine fleet because it interests me, and because my son is serving on the Hartford's sister ship USS Philadelphia, also somewhere in the Mediteranian at this time.

Thanks to Phillip for this pointer.

Posted by: Ted at 10:15 AM | category: Military
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