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WEEK 43 2004

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Saturday 23 October 2004

Saturday - keeping busy.

One thing I passed over, in my comments on airships the other day, was a related class of tethered lighter-than-air craft, often known as aerostats. This is essentially a balloon on the end of a long cable, tethered (usually) to a fixed ground station with the personnel, computers, power and so on often located at the ground level. They are rather effective - the U.S. used them successfully for some time in securing the southern borders against aircraft trying to run drugs. A FAS link is here, though the FAS is not entirely as dependable a source as one might wish. Many of the problems described seem to have been political, and many of the others due to a bad choice in contractors, plus a lack of simple experience with such craft.

Yahoo!  results for Aerostat and for Aerostat + DEA

My own relationship with these vehicles is negligible - when Dryden was conducting the Eclipse program some years ago one of the engineers came to me about an dynamic analysis of the cable they were thinking of using, which was a piece of aerostat tether. It was actually quite a complicated thing internally, a load bearing sheath within which were the data and power cables. It had to be both flexible and strong, and as light as possible. It turned out, however, that there were already some fairly sophisticated s/w out there for the analysis, and my services weren't really needed.

Pilots weren't too enthused about this project, and had I been given the nicknames mentioned here, I probably wouldn't be excited either.

In somewhat less amusing news than Thursday's, the Guardian has now (jokingly?) called for the assassination of our president. Talk about stepping over the line...

Friday 22 October 2004

Friday - busy day, working on the paper and some other boring engineering related stuff. In the evening I stopped by a friends house, and was dragooned into reading a couple of chapter's of Huckleberry Finn for story time. The chapters were near the end of the book, and Huck and Tom Sawyer are conspiring to free Jim. Tom has read a few too many stories, and is determined to make the escape a memorable one. Which means making Jim, who starts off fairly comfortable, absolutely miserable first, by loading up his cabin with snakes, spiders, and whatnot. The boys fail (painfully) in their attempt to gather hornets, but do succeed in collecting snakes-

(from Project Gutenberg)
And so we went for the snakes,
and grabbed a couple of dozen garters and house-snakes, and put them in a
bag, and put it in our room, and by that time it was supper-time, and a
rattling good honest day's work: and hungry?--oh, no, I reckon not! And
there warn't a blessed snake up there when we went back--we didn't half
tie the sack, and they worked out somehow, and left. But it didn't
matter much, because they was still on the premises somewheres. So we
judged we could get some of them again. No, there warn't no real
scarcity of snakes about the house for a considerable spell. You'd see
them dripping from the rafters and places every now and then; and they
generly landed in your plate, or down the back of your neck, and most of
the time where you didn't want them. Well, they was handsome and
striped, and there warn't no harm in a million of them; but that never
made no difference to Aunt Sally; she despised snakes, be the breed what
they might, and she couldn't stand them no way you could fix it; and
every time one of them flopped down on her, it didn't make no difference
what she was doing, she would just lay that work down and light out. I
never see such a woman. And you could hear her whoop to Jericho. You
couldn't get her to take a-holt of one of them with the tongs. And if
she turned over and found one in bed she would scramble out and lift a
howl that you would think the house was afire. She disturbed the old man
so that he said he could most wish there hadn't ever been no snakes
created. Why, after every last snake had been gone clear out of the
house for as much as a week Aunt Sally warn't over it yet; she warn't
near over it; when she was setting thinking about something you could
touch her on the back of her neck with a feather and she would jump right
out of her stockings. It was very curious. But Tom said all women was
just so. He said they was made that way for some reason or other.

By this time I was laughing so hard someone else had to read the next paragraph. It's funny, I've probably read that book a half dozen times and I always forget this part. The next paragraph talks about the Jim's prison cabin when Tom and Huck have finished ordering things appropriately:

We got a licking every time one of our snakes come in her way, and she
allowed these lickings warn't nothing to what she would do if we ever
loaded up the place again with them. I didn't mind the lickings, because
they didn't amount to nothing; but I minded the trouble we had to lay in
another lot. But we got them laid in, and all the other things; and you
never see a cabin as blithesome as Jim's was when they'd all swarm out
for music and go for him. Jim didn't like the spiders, and the spiders
didn't like Jim; and so they'd lay for him, and make it mighty warm for
him. And he said that between the rats and the snakes and the grindstone
there warn't no room in bed for him, skasely; and when there was, a body
couldn't sleep, it was so lively, and it was always lively, he said,
because THEY never all slept at one time, but took turn about, so when
the snakes was asleep the rats was on deck, and when the rats turned in
the snakes come on watch, so he always had one gang under him, in his
way, and t'other gang having a circus over him, and if he got up to hunt
a new place the spiders would take a chance at him as he crossed over.
He said if he ever got out this time he wouldn't ever be a prisoner
again, not for a salary.

Thursday 21 October  2004

Thursday - busy today, getting ready for a conference with my other authors on our paper in Reno this year. Also cleaning up a bit - probably about 100 books brought upstairs and stashed out of sight, freeing up valuable real estate on chairs, couches, side tables and floors.

Entertaining election news: some lefty rag, the Guardian, in England, decided to encourage it's readers to send mail to registered voters in Clark County, Ohio, and let the Americans know what the Brits thought of our presidential race: Operation Clark County. Who would think this to be a good idea? The feelings of voters in Clark County, Ohio, USA, in letters back, about being sent patronizing electoral advice by foreigners were about what you'd expect.

Okay, that link was jusy an American columnist having fun. The actual responses were somewhat more vulgar...

Anyway, it gets better. The Guardian had promised to keep the identity of the vast horde British senders undisclosed, to protect their privacy. Australian Tim Blair, who claims that the Guardian stole his idea, was happy to help even the playing field by publishing the email addresses for the Guardians staff, and thus starting Operation Guardian in return. Heh.

Apparently the hypocrites editorial staff at the Guardian felt that unfair, having confused "anonymous hectoring" with  "debate".

Sadly, there aren't even any "Page 3 Girls" at the Guardian to redeem it. Worthless. Now the Sun, on the other hand-

Wednesday 20 October 2004

Wednesday - rain, off and on, all day. Nice. A half moon tonight, in broken clouds.

"The moon was a ghostly galleon,
tossed upon cloudly seas."

Well, the Red Sox have done it - they're going to the world series. Of course "the curse" may still be in operation, meaner than ever, waiting until the last game to take the championship away...

Some cynical types see it all as rigged. Why else do all the championships go to seven games, with this dramatic come-from-behind in the case of Boston.

I dunno. I saw those players exploding out of the dugout after the win, and they sure didn't look bribed.

Last night there was an interesting (to me) happening at the game. The announcers mentioned that the blimp covering game six of the ALCS had to leave as it was running low on fuel. This underlines how small current blimps are. The airship Graf Zeppelin was used to cross entire oceans, and to travel around the world. It had phenomenal endurance, as did most of the Zeppelins.

In other airship news, some are being used in Iraq now. I've thought for a while that it makes a wonderful surveillance platform, ideal for keeping an eye on roads, pipelines, and cities (small towns, really, by American standards) for long periods of time. With modern optics, heat sensors, radar, GPS and all the rest they would be a force to reckon with, and a wonderful backup for the GI or Marine on the ground.

The U.S. Navy has had an on/off relationship with them for years. In the 20's and 30's of the last century the navy flirted with Zeppelin style airships, most of the efforts ending in disaster, the USS Shenandoah debacle over land and the loss of both the USS Akron and USS Macon at sea being the most famous. The slow speeds, the vulnerability to weather and to enemy action were huge negatives. But in truth, the art of heavier-than-air aircraft design, their safe operation, maintenance and crew training was in it's infancy as well - most aircraft of that time would not meet todays FAR standards. ( Reading stories of operations in airships of those days is enough to make your hair stand on end. )

The Blimp style came into it's own during WWII, and there was a boast that no convoy under the protection of an airship escort ever lost a ship.

There is still interest in the idea of military airships, but never enough to 'get them off the ground'. Today the obstacle is mostly the lack of all-weather capability, I would guess. The idea of vulnerable, but useful, platforms that never go into harms way is widespread now - the aircraft carrier packing it's massive offensive punch leaves defense to it's battle group elements; the modern AWAC's  plane has no defenses of it's own at all (though escorts are probably on patrol nearby), and so on.

'Price/Performance' is the key to weapon systems, and airships probably fail that test, by orthodox military standards of the past. But we are seeing unorthodox wars now - and IED by the side of the road killing a single GI or a half dozen Iraqi policeman can easily make the evening news and be used for political purposes. 'Performance' covers a lot of ground, and the value of terrorist attacks for supporting their morale, and the detriment to our own here at home can hardly be overestimated.

Wouldn't it be great for a hummer convoy commander to have the ability to ask for - and receive - a fast forward clip of all activity along his path for the last 24 hours? Optical in the daytime, thermal at night, plus a radar scan that can penetrate bushes and a meter or so of dirt, looking for a bomb? But systems and operations like this take time to develop and practice, it's hard to say if anything can be done along these lines now that will help in Iraq. The Mark I eyeball could still make a difference I think.

Tuesday 19 October 2004
Tuesday - how about those Sox? Who woulda thunk it? It's sad when they have to line baseball stands with cops in riot gear.  That's just wrong. On the other hand, these are New Yorkers after all. Good call though, by the refs.

It's raining like crazy here, and has been for several hours. There are people worried about mudslides in the hills and mountains where the fires this summer burned off all the undergrowth this summer.

And the last few years have seen a lot of house building in canyon flood plains - it always amazes me that people build there. Why do they think it is so flat and covered with river rock?

I guess there is a video of John Edwards putting on makeup for a tv show making the rounds. Stupid. What's the big deal? Michael Moore had shots of Republicans doing the same in his "documentary" and it struck me as a stupid attack then. If you don't prepare for the camera then you generally look bad. If actors, reporters and news anchors do it, why not politicians? I don't think this sort of thing impresses anyone intelligent, of any political stripe. This is the 21st century, people are a rather media savvy bunch.

Boy, the above sounds cranky, but I'm actually in a pretty good mood. Which is odd, considering that dinner was a Turkey Broccoli Hot Pocket - and it tasted just as foul as it sounds.

I was thinking about the X-prize, and Rutan, and future X-prizes. And it occurs to me - one of the most important things is that you can now buy a safe rocket engine off the shelf. Engine design is a messy complicated process and generally occurs separately from aircraft design.

Case in point: experimental aviation. Rutan got his start designing odd, memorable experimental aircraft. Mostly these were canard type aircraft, with the "tail" in front. But he didn't design the engine! He used off the shelf Lycomings, Continentals, whatever suited and would fit. Eventually he got out of that business and into other design efforts. But the  EA community has continued to grow and today there are hundreds, if not thousands, of aircraft designs out there. And almost all of them use off the shelf engines. The Van's RV series for example, are the most popular and successful aircraft being built today, and the new RV-10 uses a O-540 Lycoming.

There are aircraft that don't use off-the-shelf, and some efforts to design new engines or to use automotive engines in a regime they really aren't suited for, and mostly these efforts have failed. Engine design is hard, and expensive.

So, if you've a yen to build suborbital space planes or hypersonic waveriders, maybe your time is near. Get a spec sheet with thrust, weight, form factor, burn time and specific impulse - and spend your time working on your airframe design! Nitrous and rubber isn't the most efficient solution, but it beats trying to design your own. Or trying to buy cryogenics from one of the big cost-is-no-object companys that has managed to survive the end of the cold war.

Sheesh. Nearly midnight and it's pouring out there.

Monday 18 October 2004

Monday - still working on testcases. Things are not going as well as I would hope. Which is why they pay me the big bucks, to fix this stuff. Hah.

Watched the Red Sox pull out another win in the 14th inning - sheesh. So they stay alive to head into another ALCS game. I actually went to a Dodger's game that went into extra innings many years ago. The group I was with decided to leave about the seventeenth, it being midweek and work waiting for us the next day...

Sunday 17 October 2004

Sunday - working away on some testcases, writing some code. Also caught a bit of the football games. Too bad about the Charger's, they really came close. We didn't get the 49er's here, but we did get the Oakland Raider's - the losers.

Picture of the Week

bowline used for the main halyard

Photo Notes: Sailing on San Francisco Bay last month we replaced the main halyard. Here is the bowline onto the main's headboard...

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