Archive for the ‘Steve’s Affinities’ category

Observation Log 9/9/09: ISS/Discovery overflight, with a frightening surprise

September 9, 2009

Discovery passed almost directly overhead tonight, with the ISS following 27 seconds later. Thankfully Jan was there to share it, and to witness something we’ve never seen before or probably will see again.

Just as Discovery passed straight overhead, a plume of white, faintly colorful reflections appeared right around it, and expanded for about ten seconds, dimming as it grew with the shuttle still in the middle. It was still faintly visible when it was about 1/2° across, or about the apparent size of the full moon. My immediate thought was something had gone terribly wrong. After a moment I realized we’d probably seen the Orbital Maneuvering System fire a burst of flames, during operation or perhaps testing.

I had a video camera set up to try and catch some light trails, but unfortunately it wasn’t pointed straight up. Even so, that was just stunning.

Observation Log 9/8/09: The Space Shuttle and ISS fly overhead, about 1° apart!

September 8, 2009

That was amazing. Shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station just graced our skies. The shuttle had departed the ISS a few hours ago, and was visible about a degree ahead of the station as they passed from the SW to the E. Culmination was at 31°, and even through the haze both vehicles were plainly visible without binoculars.

Wow! I only wish I could have shared that with someone.

Lance Armstrong, Miracle Man

July 7, 2009

Serve up (a little bit of) the crow: Against better judgement and past things I said, I am watching a little of the Tour de France. One of my heroes, Lance Armstrong, is back after winning a record-smashing seven straight Tours. Even though he came back to keep his fight against cancer in the spotlight, it warms my heart to see him on his bike, confident, and seemingly as strong as ever. Live Strong indeed.

Tuesday saw the nearness of the man’s greatness. On only the fourth TdF stage he’s raced in four(?) years, he missed taking the race lead, and therefore the yellow jersey, by a fraction of a second. It was so close the race organizers had to refer to the Tour rulebook and get out the calculators to figure out if Lance had indeed captured the lead.

Here’s Lance, being the better man, talking about this day when he nearly took the yellow again: Link.

Honestly, while I have deep respect for the man, and continue to be amazed by his willpower, physical ability, and depth of character in the face of a corrupted Tour organization (including a newspaper and a poor excuse for a lab, all co-owned by one of the “owners” of the race, M. Pierre Borrdry) I hold no real hope he’ll win a Tour again. I would be delighted to be surprised, however the politics behind the scenes of the Tour have shown themselves to be downright dirty beginning with the persecution of Floyd Landis, and unless Lance is practically perfect, the cynic in me fears he’ll be dragged down by the dirty backroom dealers. That’s why I never thought I’d watch another Tour again–even now, former Tour officials are treating Lance like he’s a crook and a cheater, which has never been proven–it seems impossible for anyone who isn’t on the inside of this crooked brotherhood to get a fair chance. There’s something about French jurisprudence that, at least where the Tour is concerned, violated all that Americans hold dear about being innocent until proven guilty. In France, if there’s a hint of misbehavior in their Tour, the inevitable “leak” occurs from the Tour to the French anti-doping lab to the French paper “L’Equipe,” and within 24 hours a champion can be tarred as a cheat based on the most tenuous piece of flawed evidence.

Anyway, it is a wonderful thing to see Lance Armstrong, a man blessed by genetics and hard road back from cancer, come within a second of leading the Tour de France yet again. I should never have doubted his ability and determination.

Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” TV series, now free online

June 19, 2009

This is a real treasure. Many thanks go to

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "Carl Sagan’s "Cosmos" TV series, now …", posted with vodpod

Words we love and hate

May 23, 2009

Via Boing Boing, I read an article about English words people commonly like or despise. It’s a fascinating read.

Strangely, at least to me, “moist” tops the list of unpleasant words, particularly among women. I have known women who have expressed this opinion. The author of the piece speculates that the “oi” sound is a cause; both “goiter” and “ointment” are also in the “unpleasant” list. But, what about “joy?”

This leads to another interesting point. Some words are rated based more on their sound, such as “mellifluous,” and some on their meaning, like “hate.” I have a hard time keeping those factors separate, too. Plus, some words are just fun to say, such as “serendipity,” while others are unpleasant to hear, like “like,” “whatever,” and “no.”

I enjoy playing with English, so this article sparked my interest. Naturally, the commenters added their opinions, and I soon found one of my least favorite words: “utilize.” The unpretentious verb “use” can be substituted in every instance I have yet found.

“Paradigm” seem to me another word in search of a use. “Model” works just fine, thank you. I think I have a low tolerance for speakers who try to impress or intimidate their listeners with such bombast.

Finally, a few words that I just like for no reason: jumbo, ersatz, silly, esoterica, sweet, imbue, and cheese.

Richard Garriott, astronaut & former colleague.

October 11, 2008

It was once written of Richard Garriott, (a.k.a. Lord British, creator of the “Ultima” series of role-playing games) that he was “happy to bask in the reflected glow of his father’s fame.” His dad is NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, who flew missions to SkyLab as well as early Space Shuttle missions. In about 14 hours, Richard will be flying from the Baikonur Cosmodrome into space, to arrive at the International Space Station in a few days. He’s fulfilling a lifelong dream, one I never knew we shared, and I wish him… well, I don’t have the words to express what an awe-inspiring experience a week on the ISS could be, but I hope he realizes all his desires for the trip, and that he comes home safely.

In a way, I have basked in the reflected glow of Richard’s fame. I knew and worked side-by-side with Richard for a handful of years in the mid-1980s. I co-wrote an adaptation of Steve Jackson’s “Ogre” board game for his company Origin Systems, and I had my hand in Ultima IV, Ultima V, and a rewrite of Ultima I. My office shared a wall with Richard’s (when the offices were still in NH), and I still live in the house I bought to be near Origin so long ago. For a while I was his right-hand man, always within earshot and always ready to write and refine the tools he used to create his games.

So, even though we knew each other as young men (he was in his early 20s, I in my late 20s) he had a lasting effect on the arc of my life. I always believed I had a hit game in me, if I ever had the chance to design one. Unfortunately, Origin moved to Austin, Texas, and though I probably had a job there if I wanted it, moving wasn’t an option for me. So, against my wishes, my time in the computer gaming industry came to a close. Richard hated what he called in an interview “the frozen northern wastelands,” and that was that.

I was very surprised to learn in later years that another of my Origin colleagues, back then a cocky but likable kid of 19 with a wife, a child, and a beat-up Yugo, would later find fame and wealth in his own right. John Romero and I have gotten back in touch in the last few years, and though he’s had to weather some storms in his life, he’s approachable and genuine. Who could have guessed back then that John, of all the hopeful programmers, would be Lady Luck’s next choice? Which really isn’t a fair thing to say, by the way… Luck won’t get you far without the kind of talent John has, or the hard work he has done. At 19, he had written and published more games than I had by 29, and he was just warming up.

It was bittersweet when I first learned of Richard’s impending space flight. He was news, and so it was hard to avoid for a few weeks last year. Remembering Richard was uncomfortable for the sense of loss it evoked. Still, he was quite young, and perhaps a bit spoiled and sheltered by his considerable wealth at such an early age. I like to think things would have been different had we all been older and wiser.

In the end, I have had a very full life of my own, with a wonderful daughter and grandchildren, and a rewarding career in biotechnology software. My most gratifying career accomplishment was a team effort which introduced a new cancer screening test. Over 80% of women in the US get this test annually, and internationally the numbers are growing. My “awe-inspiring experience,” though private and rightly so, is the satisfaction I feel for making a difference in women’s lives, and the lives of their families and loves ones. I have had the privilege of bringing good to the world. I don’t have $25M to spend for a week’s vacation in space, but when I look back, and look at today… well, I can’t imagine things turning out any better than they did. Thanks Richard and Robert, for all you did for me. Good journeys.

Is this the first-ever picture of an extrasolar planet?

September 19, 2008

It sure looks like it!

Link: Math humor- 36 Methods of Mathematical Proof

April 6, 2008

I found a humorous page of unorthodox methods mathematical proof, via The Presurfer Blog. Ten extra points for knowing what “Q.E.D.” is short for, and what it means, without looking it up!

This is National Dark Sky Week!

March 29, 2008

From March 29 to April 4 is the annual National Dark Sky Week. And tonight, from 8 to 9PM is Earth Hour. To take part in tonight’s event, turn off the lights and appliances you don’t need (like a PC running 24/7?) from 8 to 9PM. Outdoor lights are especially encouraged. Similarly, National Dark Sky week promotes energy saving and a better view of the beautiful universe around us for the whole week.

And it’s always a good thing do put less carbon into the atmosphere. Give it a try!

More information here.

Spectacular Space Shuttle night launch video

March 22, 2008

Space Shuttle Endeavour had cameras mounted on its solid rocket boosters when it climbed into orbit on March 11. Together they produced a beautiful video of a night launch from the spacecraft’s point of view. It’s hard to believe the shuttle is 28 miles up and moving at 3100 mph when the boosters detach—without the Earth in the background, the spacecraft appears still.