May 31, 2006

Via Email

I like this.

A win win win situation. Dig a moat the length of the Mexican border, use the dirt to raise the levies in New Orleans and put the Florida alligators into the moat. Any other problems you would like me to solve?

Hmmm... spam? While we're digging the moat and filling it with gators...

Posted by: Ted at 05:54 AM | category: Square Pegs
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May 30, 2006

Commercial Space Goes Small-Time!

And that's a very good thing.

Over at RocketForge, we see:

Masten Space Systems started taking payload orders today! $199 CanSats at an introductory price of $99! Full 1kilogram custom payloads for $250! Sign up now!

I've briefly mentioned CanSat before here and here. There are a couple of good follow-on links there, and I really recommend visiting Pratt Hobbies, where you can find plenty of useful kits to get your inner-rocket scientist jump started.

On a related note, this weekend I'll be supervising several teams of students as they assemble high power rockets to loft CanSat payloads. Altitudes will be less than 4,500 feet vs. the several tens of thousands of feet that Mastens is working towards, but the concepts are the same. Rocket science is rocket science.

Posted by: Ted at 08:58 PM | category: Space Program
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The Road To Hell Is Lined With Google Search Terminals

Remember, Google is Satan your friend.

Among the results returned for "Candy Baby Jesus":

Amazon sells a Nativity Chocolate Candy Mold set. Oops, "not available". Dang, 'cause that was just about perfect for when the Pope drops in and you want to offer him a little something sweet. I'm unclear on the etiquette here, would you nibble the savior feet first or head first? I think it would be funny to make one of these and gnaw the heads off of all the figures. Oh, and use white chocolate... hey, I just played the race card!!! Go, me!

Mapgirl, I'll save you a seat. Look for me near the boiling lake of blood.

Posted by: Ted at 07:02 PM | category: Links
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May 29, 2006


My thanks go out today to every man and woman who has ever worn the uniform.

My grandfather served in WWI.

My great uncle served in WWII. This is the citation from his Medal of Honor:


Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company M, 329th Infantry, 83d Infantry Division. Place and date: Birgel, Germany, 14 December 1944. Entered service at: Glidden, Iowa. Birth: Willey, Iowa. G.O. No.: 77, 10 September 1945. Citation: He was leader of a machinegun squad defending an approach to the village of Birgel, Germany, on 14 December 1944, when an enemy tank, supported by 20 infantrymen, counterattacked. He held his fire until the Germans were within 100 yards and then raked the foot soldiers beside the tank killing several of them. The enemy armor continued to press forward and, at the pointblank range of 30 yards, fired a high-velocity shell into the American emplacement, wounding the entire squad. Sgt. Neppel, blown 10 yards from his gun, had 1 leg severed below the knee and suffered other wounds. Despite his injuries and the danger from the onrushing tank and infantry, he dragged himself back to his position on his elbows, remounted his gun and killed the remaining enemy riflemen. Stripped of its infantry protection, the tank was forced to withdraw. By his superb courage and indomitable fighting spirit, Sgt. Neppel inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy and broke a determined counterattack.

He passed away in 1987. He was named "Handicapped Iowan of the Year" in 1970, and in 1989 the VA honored him by naming a wing of the Iowa City VA Hospital for him. A VFW post in Carroll, Iowa continues to award to scholarships each year in his name to the children of veterans.

My Dad was in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. He wasn't in-theater, and was medically retired after a devastating illness.

On my wife's side of the family, I know that Liz's Dad was a Marine, and at least two of her uncles served in Vietnam and made the Air Force their career.

Our son served a tour in the US Navy on the submarine USS Philadelphia. That boat is specially equipped to deliver special forces, and although he can't and won't say, I believe that they were directly involved in the initial stages of the Iraq invasion.

Finally, I'll include Shaun. Shaun has served two tours in Iraq with the US Army, and is the son of a friend that I served with during my Air Force days in Germany.

Thank you all.

Previous memorial posts on Rocket Jones can be found here and here.

Posted by: Ted at 12:05 PM | category: Links
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To those who snickered when I mentioned that I program in COBOL on a mainframe computer, I offer up the following:

main.frame ( 'mAn-"frAm noun): An obsolete device still used by thousands of obsolete companies and government entities, serving billions of obsolete customers and obsolete constituents, making huge obsolete profits for obsolete shareholders, and this year's obsolete models run twice as fast as last year's.

I forget where I where I found this, probably in one of the trade magazines.

Posted by: Ted at 11:20 AM | category: SciTech
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Purty Pictures

Pixy Misa pointed out this nifty Java applet that graphs your website. Check out Rocket Jones in the extended entry. more...

Posted by: Ted at 09:19 AM | category: Links
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May 28, 2006

Oops (kinda)

I should have mentioned yesterday that both Dick Stafford's Rocket Dungeon and Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge have been added to the blogroll. Of course, if I would've done that, then I wouldn't have had a post today.

Posted by: Ted at 08:10 PM | category: Links
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May 27, 2006

Since I'm in some sort of weird "posting content" mood

Over at Pratt Hobbies blog, Doug has put up a picture of himself and his son Brian. Brian was my co-timer during the Team America finals.

Meanwhile, for the true tech-geek out there, check out this mashup of Google Maps that lets you track the orbital positions of satellites as well as letting you know when and where they'll appear in your sky over the next 48 hours. Tres cool! Kudos to Dick's Rocket Dungeon for the info and pointer.

Posted by: Ted at 09:14 AM | category: Space Program
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Great Comment

You may or may not have heard about Lordi, the Finnish band that staged a huge upset to win the European version of American Idol*.

No? Over at the Ministry of Minor Perfidy, they have a bunch of pictures of this group along with plenty of background. Fun reading, even if you're not into "Arctic Death Metal bands" (and if not, why not?).

I liked this comment by the lead singer of Lordi:

"We are not Satanists. We are not devil-worshippers. This is entertainment. Underneath [the mask] thereÂ’s a boring normal guy, who walks the dogs, goes to the supermarket, watches DVDs, eats candies.

But my favorite part, which resulted in a massive choking fit caused by the ol' soda-through-the-nose effect, was when Mapgirl** wonders aloud in the comments:

Heh heh “eats candies” Candied what? Baby Jesuses?

Worth the click.

*More correctly, American Idol is our copy of Eurovision, since theirs has been held for 50 years. We are but an egg.

**Mapgirl is a long-time commenter at the Ministry (she was already there when I found them) and she has a personal finances blog. You should go say hi.

Posted by: Ted at 08:03 AM | category: Rocketry
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Seen on the road

A vehicle with one of those magnetic "support" ribbons, this one was black with purple outlines. The cause?

Support Lap Dancing

I could donate a twenty to that.

Posted by: Ted at 07:29 AM | category: Square Pegs
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May 26, 2006

Dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century

I now have a cell phone. I warned my wife that I wasn't going to automatically answer it just because it makes noise at me.

Posted by: Ted at 09:24 PM | category: Square Pegs
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It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't sit down

I took today off for an overdue extra long weekend. Even so, Liz woke me up when she left for work at 7 so I could get a few things done.

So let's see... it's just after noon, and I've:

Taken the car in for scheduled service and maintenance.
Gotten a haircut.
Bought some needed items for my new hybrid rocket motors.
Mowed the yard.
Broke the fence while mowing.
Fixed the fence.
Given both dogs a bath.

This afternoon I've got to meet Liz at the car dealership. Her vehicle has a recall against it and she scheduled an appointment to get it taken care of. While that's happening, we'll run a few other errands and then, other than laundry and cleaning the house, we should be completely done with "have to do's" for the holiday weekend. Yippeeeeeee!

Posted by: Ted at 11:18 AM | category: Square Pegs
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May 25, 2006

Quickie Movie Review - Slapshot 2

There is a secret government program whose sole purpose is to ensure that whenever one of the Baldwin brothers needs work, Hollywood with retch up another shitty movie like this one. I have no proof of this, but it's at least as plausible as the "deal with Satan" theory.

The original was full of unique and likable characters, and even the supporting cast was memorable in their brief moments in the spotlight. This time around, unique was replaced by stereotypes and odd quirks that are supposed to pass for personality.

The story makes no sense, and "important" plot points are dropped and forgotten halfway through the movie. The characters, every last one of them, is stupid and irrational. I don't mean stupid as in "that was a dumb move", I mean Forrest Gump stupid.

The Hansen brothers risked their cult hero status with this stinker, and they're fortunate that it wasn't more widely seen. Even their schtick is tired, and the camera rather obviously avoids getting too close to them or people might see that they're in their mid-40's or so.

Stick with the original, this one is lame.

Posted by: Ted at 05:19 AM | category: Cult Flicks
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These guys write some of the catchiest, smartest songs around.

I was thinking about Abraham Lincoln
And the enemies of truth
But I could not tell a Kennedy
From a John Wilkes Booth

The Rainmakers - "Reckoning Day"

Posted by: Ted at 04:56 AM | category: Square Pegs
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May 23, 2006

Maybe Antarctica (updated)

Creating a surface-to-idiot missile is actually quite simple*. Testing it is next to impossible because the guidance system is constantly overwhelmed with targets. more...

Posted by: Ted at 05:07 AM | category: Square Pegs
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May 21, 2006

New Tagline

Over on the sidebar. It's been a long time since that was updated.

Posted by: Ted at 11:56 AM | category: Square Pegs
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"You can never have too much shock cord"

Well folks, another rewarding weekend spent watching the future of America has come and gone. The 2006 Team America Rocketry Challenge is over, and if you're so inclined I'll tell you all about it, from my vantage point as one of the volunteers.

First, I'll kick this off with a few factoids that I thought notable:

  • 100 teams of students from 37 states and the District of Columbia made it to the finals this year.

  • Some 7,000 students entered this year's contest.

  • Unlike last year, the vast majority of these teams were first time participants in the finals.

  • Plantation High School in Florida sent *six* teams to the finals!

The weather looked dicey all week, but when Saturday dawned it was cool, the winds were calm and although the sky was completely overcast, the clouds were high enough not to impact the contest flights. As the day went on, the ugly overcast moved out, leaving us with a glorious day in the mid-70's, breezes around 10mph, and a sky half full of fluffy white clouds. Perfect rocket weather.

This year, the contest flight goal had been simplified in an important way. Instead of making two-stage flights and lofting two fresh eggs, the requirement was to design and build a single stage rocket that only had to carry a single egg. The target altitude was lowered to allow single-stage flights, although two-stagers weren't prohibited. The reason for this change was to increase the number of qualified flights. In previous years around 35% of the entered teams were able to make successful flights (even if they didn't make it to the finals). This year, the number was - I believe - closer to 70%. To compensate for the reduced technical difficulty from previous years, the design goals were expanded. Rather than going for either a set altitude or duration in the air, the teams had to go for both a target altitude of 800 feet *and* a duration of 45 seconds from first motion to the first part of the egg capsule touching down. Obviously, a broken egg was a disqualification.

Due in large part to the simplification of the mission, we saw far fewer outright failures (translation: uncontrolled debris raining down out of the sky). There was a real effort made to not disqualify flights because of nitpicky rules interpretations, and I didn't hear of any flights DQ'd for other than gross and/or obvious rules violations.

Once again, the students amused and amazed with their ingenuity. We provided a 1/4" launch rod 6 feet in length, plus a single pair of electrical clips for ignition. Teams that clustered motors had to bring their own clip whips or other method of multiple-engine ignition, and could bring their own launch pads or electrical launch systems. Several did. I saw teams who had built mini-weather stations into launch towers, ranging from simple streamers to indicate wind direction to full setups including anemometers, thermometers and barometers.

One team used a tube launcher (see here for a description of different kinds of launch methods), and several brought rails. One enterprising group of MacGyvers cobbled together a large windbreak from scrounged cardboard boxes, duct tape, string and various pieces of scrap wood (I identified a 1"x2" and a length of broomstick in there). It was hideous, but it worked and was ingenious. Farther down you'll find out what the specific benefit was.

In previous years, I'd been in charge of parking, been part of the recovery teams (long poles to get rockets down out of trees), and handled access to the flying field. All needed tasks, but none that actually let me see the contest flights except from a distance. This year, I was up close and personal. I had the honor of working as part of the timer crew, each rocket being timed by a pair of NAR members using stopwatches to time the duration portion of flight in hundredths of a second. Our lead for the day was Jim Barrowman, author of the "Barrowman equations", which are still used to calculate stability of simple rocket designs. Here's a blip from his NASA bio:

James S. Barrowman served as a project and program manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center for 22 years, managing Attached Shuttle and Space Station Payloads, the Explorers Program, and the Hubble Space Telescope Program. He was awarded NASA's Exceptional Service Medal twice, as well as a Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit. He has also been the President of the National Association of Rocketry.

I should add that he's one heckuva nice guy.

So I spent the day talking to students from a quarter of the teams. Each team sent one student to the timer's area to point out which part of the rocket had the egg capsule. Some designs separated into as many as three pieces under separate parachutes.

The accuracy that these students were achieving was amazing. In the first hour we'd already timed a 45.3something, and the other timer teams were seeing similar results. Obviously, the determining factor was going to be the altitudes.

Each rocket carried aloft an altimeter that used barometric pressure to determine the altitude achieved. The altimeter would sound a series of beeps that the judges listened to which gave the results in feet. Later in the day, as the wind picked up, a problem with some rocket designs appeared where the pressure of the wind across the vent hole would create a venturi effect which would reduce the air pressure inside the rocket. This would trigger the sensor, causing it to think it had already reached maximum altitude and it would start to beep an altitude, usually something like 4 feet. The design solution is to not make your vent holes too large, the practical solution was to let each team make "one last check", listening to the altimeter just before starting the countdown. There were a few rockets that had to recycle through the launch queue in order to reset their altimeters.

This year, NASA sweetened the deal for teams that placed from 11th to 25th (out of the money, so to speak). Each school or group gets an invitation for a teacher to attend a workshop on how to include aerospace subjects into the curriculum. The workshops are held in Huntsville, Alabama (home of Space Camp), and NASA is picking up transportation costs for the teachers as well. In addition, each of these teams has been automatically entered into NASA's Student Launch Initiative (SLI) program where they build a high powered rocket designed to achieve one mile in altitude. The group gets a $2500 grant to do that. Plus (yep, there's more), the teams can design and submit a scientific package that may be selected to be launched on an actual NASA research sounding rocket. If their experiment is selected, they get to travel to the launch site and see the launch.

The top ten teams may get that in addition to the prize money, but it wasn't specifically mentioned.

Each of the winning teams went up on the platform to get their trophies, meet the VIP's (including Buzz Aldrin, who still looks great) and get their photos taken. There were some 40 "partner awards" given out by the various aerospace sponsors. This year, besides the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and NASA, DoD and the Civil Air Patrol were sponsors as well.

The second place team was all girls. More about them in a bit.

The first place team was three guys, and they dedicated the day to two of the original team members who'd been killed in an auto accident not too long ago.

Afterwards, there was a BBQ for all of the students, families, guests and volunteers. I wound up sharing a table with two young ladies from the team that finished in second place. Their parents were there too, and I found out that they were from Toledo, Ohio. I'd been one of the timers for their flight, and I remembered that they were incredibly nervous. Turns out that the team had entered TARC the previous two years without making the finals, but this year they made it and won big. Their rocket was very utilitarian, well constructed and painted plain white with signatures from various people being the only decoration. This team was comprised of three seniors and a junior (who vowed to be back with a new team next year), and one of the graduating ladies already had a scholarship to MIT.

Of course, there was plenty to see besides rocket contest flights. There were lots of booths and tables set up from colleges and organizations, handing out literature and goodies like pens and keychains and pins and stickers and frisbees. The creator of the RocketCAD design and simulation software package had flown in from Germany to attend, and a company from Finland was flying a weather balloon to 750 feet with weather radiosondes located up and down the cable to measure weather conditions at various altitudes. There was a simulator of some sort (I barely got a chance to walk through the displays, and had no chance to stop and look). The Marines from Cherry Point, NC sent two AV8-B Harriers to do a flyover after the National Anthem in the morning, and a recon UAV did a flyover demo during the lunch break, circling the field and (I presume) beaming back pictures to the ground where folks could see them in real time.

Murdoc would've loved the Stryker on display, as well as a Humvee. I did get a chance to talk to the soldier there with them.
He was about a month away from retirement, but was part of the battle that toppled Baghdad. As a platoon sergeant for an artillery company, he was doing recon towards the airport (which was one of the last parts of Baghdad to fall), when his main unit became engaged by Iraqi's with small arms fire. He turned his recon unit around and hit the unsuspecting Iraqi's from behind. Kicked their ass too. I thanked him for his service.

File this next bit under "Small World". When I first joined NOVAAR, the very first person I talked to was Roger. Roger is a nice guy, and his son Doug was often out at the field as well, testing rocket glider designs.

Doug recently received his Masters degree in aerospace engineering from Virginia Tech. When I heard the school, I asked Doug if he'd known Chris Hall, a professor there and long-time resident of the Rocket Jones blogroll as the author of Spacecraft. Sure enough, Professor Hall was on Doug's panel.

One last item, about the title quote. While timing one flight, I remarked upon an exceptionally long shock cord (the bit that keeps the various pieces together under parachute). The student told me that their team mentor always said that "you can never have too much shock cord", and I laughed because I say that too. Their mentor was fellow club member Ivan, and he and I are both known for using the longest length of shock cord that we can fit into a rocket.

Posted by: Ted at 07:02 AM | category: Rocketry
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May 18, 2006

Team America Rocketry Challenge this weekend

The weekend we've been planning for, and that the student teams have been working towards for almost a year is upon us.

I've talked about the challenge itself, I've talked about the prizes. Here are some of the final details (from the final crew update).

The opening ceremony will include a flyover by a pair of US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier fighter jets. There will be a large number of display booths by various aerospace corporations and miltary services. The CBS Morning Show will be broadcasting live from the field, and other networks may do this also.

Remember, the winning team will also be treated to a trip to the Farnborough Air Show in England by Raytheon Corporation.

Check out this list of distinguished guests:

Dr. Buzz Aldrin, NASA Astronaut

The Honorable James Finley, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology

Dr. William Berry, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Laboratories & Basic Sciences (Acting)

Mr. John Landon, Deputy to the Assistant Secretary for C-3 ISR and IT Acquisition

The Honorable John Young, Director of Defense Research and Engineering

Ms. Patricia Grace Smith, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space, FAA

Mr. Rex Geveden, Associate Administrator, NASA

The Honorable Ronald Sega, Under Secretary of the Air Force

The Honorable Delores Etter, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition

Ms. Lynn Cline, Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Operations Mission Directorate, NASA

Ms. Angie Johnson, Assistant Associate Administrator for Education, NASA

Dr. Mark Lewis, Chief Scientist of the Air Force

Dr. Tony Tether, Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Dr. James Short, Director, Defense Laboratory Management; Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Laboratories & Basic Sciences)

Dr. James Tegnalia, Director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

Dr. Bernice Alston, Deputy Chief Education Officer, NASA

Ms. Lisa Sutherland, Staff Director, U.S. Senate Committee on Science, Commerce & Transportation

Mr. François Gayet, Secretary General of the Aerospace and Defense Industries Association of Europe

Mr. Graham Gibbs, Counsellor, Space Affairs, Canadian Space Agency, Embassy of Canada

Dr. Tony Sinden, Councillor, Defence Science & Technology, Embassy of the United Kingdom

Mr. Frederic Nordlund, Head, Washington Office, European Space Agency (ESA)

Mr. Kiwao Shibukawa, Director, Washington Office, JAXA

Mr. Andrew Flinn, Underwater Weapon Systems Liaison Officer, Embassy of the United Kingdom

Mr. Andrew Bird, Missile Defence Liaison Officer, Embassy of the United Kingdom

That list gives a good idea of just how serious the government and tech fields take this type of event. The students might not even realize it, but just by making the finals they've generated some interest.

A couple of years ago, a NASA official told the assembled students that according to projections, the first person to land on Mars is in high school right now. It might just be one of these kids.

Posted by: Ted at 01:58 PM | category: Rocketry
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Technically, this is a post

Been way too busy doing things not worth blogging about, and rather than sink to bunny blogging I've just been letting Rocket Jones idle. Except for the hockey playoffs, that is. That's been kept up to date, and now that my beloved Sharks are eliminated (streaky play to the end, rotten time to go cold), I'm looking at the remaining teams and have to say, "Go Sabres".

Maybe, if we all ask nicely, Mookie will share some of her London pictures and stories with us.

Posted by: Ted at 05:11 AM | category: Square Pegs
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May 13, 2006

Leaving well enough alone

We went to the store this evening, and I was wandering the cereal aisle and noticed a box of Captain Crunch. Yum!

Except, this wasn't the Captain I grew up with. The Captain I remember was a kindly old man, in fact, he always reminded me of another Captain, named Kangaroo. Check out this Wikipedia link for a nice picture of the "good" Captain.

Today's Captain Crunch looks like a lunatic escapee from an asylum! The heck with it. The cereal goes into a plastic container in the pantry and I threw the box away. Too creepy. Next time you're in the supermarket, check out the loon on today's box and you'll see what I mean.

Posted by: Ted at 11:03 PM | category: Square Pegs
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