Monday, December 8, 2014

Orion EFT-1 Launch

I got in my car and drove about 5 hours last Wednesday to go see a Delta IV Heavy rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. That's the biggest, fastest rocket currently available to launch things into space. It was launching the test setup of the Orion capsule. (I got to see it up close in 2011) It would go farther and faster than anything designed to hold people has gone for 45 years. I guess it's my cynical nature that makes me think we've failed for the past 45 years, not that we just accomplished something. It's the same feeling I get when my old professors retire and they just stop teaching that subject. No Dr. Payne? No Psychoacoustics class. No Dr. Braden? No more Physics of Photography. Letting knowledge, skills, and experience just go away offends my intellectual nature. If building Orion is the only way to pass on the knowledge of how to build a Gemini style heat shield then I don't think it's a waste of money even if the program gets cut later and nobody ever goes to space in a capsule like that.

Phil Plait expressed his serious misgivings about Orion and the yet-to-exist Space Launch System that would power it into space. I don't disagree with him, but if not this, what? The engineers that have experience sending things to space need to be working with new engineers, need to be sending things into space. I don't care if it is the wrong thing, an underfunded thing, a failure or a success, as long as the new engineers are learning what the older guys know so their own ideas carry us forward. It's a job for these engineers and they get hands on experience making a thing for going to space. It just went to space. They must feel good about that. They deserve it. Given a chance they are better equipped to make something better because of the experience building this thing.

In the post launch press conference a reporter from The Guardian asked Bill Gerstenmaier how much sooner they'd be ready to launch people into space (and bring them back) in Orion if they had a bigger budget. He said it's not happening in a serial fashion just because they can't afford to hire more help, it's happening that way because they need certain research to be completed as input to the next stage of the design. Scott Kelly needs to stay on the space station for a solid year, for example, before they have all the data they need to determine the proper specifications for the habitat module that ESA is going to build based on their cargo ship.

I get the impression that they are keeping their options open. They seem to be enjoying the luxury of management being actual engineers. Back in the '90s when I worked in consumer electronics we used to joke that managers thought you could get nine women pregnant and have a baby in a month. I told that to my friend the spacesuit engineer and he said he'd never heard that joke. Must be nice.

Somebody in the press conference mentioned that the heat shield is tedious to manufacture. It's a honeycomb type thing and each cell has to be filled by hand – in my mind I'm imagining West System epoxy in a syringe, I don't really know what it is. So they are trying better ways to manufacture that. The next Orion that launches into space won't be the same as this one. If you do something in a hurry you don't have the luxury of trying new things. You over-design it, see if it survives potentially destructive testing, then lock that down and work on whatever didn't pass. Since they don't pay these engineers very much the least they can do is shoot something they made into space from time to time. What else is going to motivate them to not just leave the space program to get a better paying job?

I went to the launch attempt Thursday and actual launch Friday with a friend who has a Johnson Space Center badge. He got a placard to allow him to park on the NASA causeway for the launch. I brought the folding chairs.


Thursday was interesting to see all the traffic on the road at 3 am. It didn't seem cold when we got there, but after a few hours of a damp wind I was chilled to the bone. As soon as the launch window opened at dawn they stopped the countdown because of a boat in the restricted area. By the time they got him out of the way the wind had picked up and automatic sensors stopped the countdown two more times. By then the valves on the liquid hydrogen tanks got cold and required extra cycles to close all the way. They called off the launch for the day so they could save battery power and try the next day.

Friday morning there were no boats in the restricted area. I wore an extra layer of jacket. The valves were functioning nominally and the rocket took off right on time. The sound seemed instantaneous with the "liftoff" announcement on the public address speaker. That may have been because the rockets light up several seconds before it moves, before it registers that it should be making noise. I was busy trying to shoot video and still pictures and grab a screen shot of my sound pressure level app all at the same time. I couldn't really take it all in. I envy the people I see in photos just watching. I can't do that. I have to share with all you good people!



Orion Launch from Barbara Tomlinson on Vimeo.

After the launch we went to the Visitor Center and looked at Shuttle Atlantis. The space shuttle was a lovely space plane. As much as I enjoyed watching the parachutes opening exactly right on Orion it didn't make me feel the pride in the American space program a shuttle landing did. Those lovely lines, the big rockets! Beautiful space plane.
The shuttle looks kind of ratty up close.
How did Serenity get away with a hand painted logo?
There's a 7" fuel line (not shown) from the external fuel tank
going into the engines.
There's a Nature exhibit at the Visitor Center. Your basic taxidermy and silk plants and some signage that brought out my inner pedant.
Leatherneck is a slang term for a member of the Marines.
A species of sea turtle is a Leatherback.
This is why I can't have friends or a job.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

That shirt is atrocious

Today's science event is Philae attempting to land on a comet. I woke up and turned on the live stream immediately. It was a lot of old white men with cool European accents who sounded like they were reading the Acknowledgements out of the front of their book. Not my favorite kind of presentation. I turned to Twitter to see if I could glean any interesting facts about the comet or the engineering behind the landing.

I was quickly in the middle of another Sexism in Science discussion because of Dr. Matt Taylor, from North East London and a lead scientist on the mission. He chose a particularly sexist shirt this morning.

(Click photo to link to tweet to read the conversation after it.)

The consensus from Twitter scientists that cross my path is that this is a sexist shirt and he could have worn something else colorful and interesting that didn't have objectified women all over it.

But over at the Daily Mail they didn't see it as a sexist shirt at all.
Twitter users praised Dr Taylor for being ‘a proper cool scientist’ and ‘definitely not boring’ after he appeared on the European Space Agency live stream and BBC Breakfast wearing a multi-coloured shirt emblazoned with illustrations of glamorous women, which he teamed with shorts, which showed off his tattoos.
Here's a video from Nature interviewing Dr. Taylor. Skip to 1:22



The Nature reporter is grinning like a Cheshire Cat in this video. She KNOWS it's going viral because of this guy's shirt. If she was a problem solver and averse to controversy like me (instead of a person who can keep her job) she would have told him to take that top shirt off before she aimed the camera at him. He's wearing a WHOLE OTHER SHIRT underneath that. (As a scientist I must concede it could be a dickey.) Reporters and scientists are very different, as pointed out by them asking scientists all morning, "How do you feel right now?" and the scientists, every woman and man, gave the media person a withering look that says, "I don't know that! How is that a REMOTELY interesting topic? I can't be arsed to come up with an answer for that idiotic question." But they could all be arsed to put on a long sleeve shirt and a jacket before being interviewed.

Dr. Taylor has a lot of tattoos in addition to the comic book shirt. Which makes me think about my "Why I Hate Tattoos" blog from years ago.
I think people's personalities are so variable a tattoo puts too much emphasis on just one aspect of it.... 
If I'm going to a job interview I wear something that makes me look professional. If I'm going to see my dad I wear something that makes me look conservative, if I'm going to see my mom I wear something edgier.... This is because I respect them. I want to show that I get who they are and understand what they value. My personality is pretty blatant. I can't really change the fact that I'm prone to curse and correct errors of fact all the time. But I can emphasize different aspects of myself outwardly through my appearance.
Tattoos just eliminate that option. I am very uncomfortable with that. People with tattoos are THAT sure who they are and who they want to be in EVERY SITUATION? FOREVER?
Yes, apparently it would be a personal betrayal for him to wear something that respects the audience of stuffy old white guys in awesome horn rimmed glasses. His audience is apparently a different audience than what everybody imagined when they got dressed to go to an event to be streamed live all over the world. His audience is the readership of the Daily Mail.

I would love to just hate this guy and go on a rant about how offensive he is and get a few juicy paragraphs out of it, but I can't. If I worked for ESA and this guy came into the lab wearing this shirt I would not be embarrassed or uncomfortable. I can see how other people would be and I think he made a bad decision to wear it. But I can't put him down as a bad person, just a physicist with bad taste and lack of sensitivity. I know a lot of these people and I forgive them. As I said in my Tattoo blog.
Some of my favorite people have one thing they do that I don't like particularly, but I know enough other stuff about them that I respect and appreciate that I just ignore the parts of their personality that I think are silly. Like my brilliant physicist friend who is so obsessed with his own penis he made a plaster cast of it and created a hard plastic gear shift lever in its exact likeness.
A lot of people, women scientists and men, on my Twitter feed think this is an opportunity to rail against creating a hostile environment for women in science. I applaud them. But seriously, that was not my big problem with science. I can deal with objectification of women. It's the inability to get and keep a job because management despises innovation and creativity and wants yes-men and people to be quiet and take a lot of shit. This is what is holding back women in science, not soft-core porn.

My major professor in undergraduate school had some really graphic photos of women in his office. I think old students sent him post cards on purpose to try to one-up each other. He had a row of them on the chalk tray of the blackboard in his office. I remember one vividly. It was from Brazil and featured a close up of a bare ass coming out of some cut-up-the-butt denim shorts with a little dusting of beach sand on the protruding cheeks. You could see the fine blonde hairs on her butt shining in the sun. It was a very good close-up. It was the sand that bothered me. I wanted to reach out and dust it off. I hate sand on my skin. But I had a brother who read Playboy in high school because my mother got him a subscription. I was trained to think there was nothing wrong with these images. I was lucky this was the preparation my mother gave me to prepare me to be a woman in science. How did she know?!

There was a straight-up centerfold on the back of my professor's office door. But if you were in there the door was open and you couldn't see it. It often had a coat hanging over it. I only ever saw it when he had to close the door to get a book from the shelf behind it. Now that I think about it, somebody really should have told him to get rid of that stuff. In fact, it's possible that when I got to know him well enough I probably told him. I recall that when I went back to visit after I graduated he had removed all that stuff.

Last weekend I went to see this professor, now retired, at his house. He clearly does not notice the things used for decoration. His house is decorated with the mid-century furniture his wife bought in the '60s, the same pink plates on stands, gilt tea set on the coffee table. Clearly he is one of these men who just doesn't notice this stuff. He only pays attention to technology. And he likes to keep old things as long as they still work. That cell phone is from the '90s. He built these speakers in 1964.

This is why I am inclined to give Dr. Taylor a pass on his sexist shirt. I have been trained to excuse men for liking pictures of objectified women. In my experience it does not stop them from being good scientists, good mentors, and very supportive of women scientists.

The people I blame for holding back women in science are not men scientists. They are managers who are holding back ALL scientists. Managers who don't let engineers innovate and manufacture new amazing things but want to just keep the same old stuff that makes known amounts of money. Women are just going to be eliminated first because if they have a strong enough personality to learn to forgive weird behavior in their fellow students and professors and stick with the program then they have a personality that men managers hate in women.

While I was writing this Philae touched down. But the anchors did not shoot. They are not sure if it's going to STAY on the surface. The live stream is still ongoing.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Table Manners: A Short Story

“God, honey, it’s disgusting!”

“What?” he said.

“My father! He sounds like a turtle chewing a hard boiled egg! There’s more couscous lodged in his wrinkles than he managed to swallow! One Labrador isn’t going to cut it. We’re going to need to get a terrier to clean the food off Dad’s shirt!” she exclaimed. 

“Oh,” Phil said. “Well, he doesn’t have to eat with us,” he problem-solved over his shoulder as he left the kitchen.

The next night at dinnertime Lois served four plates and then took one of them to the living room. Her father was sitting in his chair watching the financial news. She set up a little folding table without even waking him. Then she shook him gently by the shoulder. “Here’s your dinner, Dad. I thought you might like to eat here while you watch your show so you don’t have to get up.”

The rest of the family sat down at the kitchen table. When Junior finished his first helping he got up to take the biscuit basket out to his grandfather to see if he wanted another one. Then he sat back down and ate all the rest of the biscuits with butter and jelly.

After Lois cleared the table she went out to the living room to get her father’s tray. He had cleaned his plate. He always liked okra and tomatoes and meatloaf. And Lois had enjoyed hers more because she couldn’t hear him slurp it up. She felt very smug as she loaded the dishwasher that night.

On Friday night Phil brought home a rotisserie chicken. Lois cut off a thigh for her father. He liked dark meat. She arranged little piles of buttered rice and field peas. She set up the TV table for him while Phil and Junior served their own plates at the table. She sat down to eat and about the time Junior got a whole chicken wing in his mouth there was a crash. Lois ran to the living room. Her father sat with a knife and fork in his hands and all his dinner was scattered on the carpet. “Oh, Daddy!” cried Lois. She moved the TV table out of his way so he could get up. A waterfall of rice and peas fell onto the carpet in front of his chair. He stepped gingerly to not crush any into the carpet. Lois picked up the plate and the chicken.

“Buddy! Here Buddy!” Lois called. The dog came and obligingly ate all the rice off the carpet, neatly licking all the butter off every pea without swallowing a single one. Lois sighed as she went for a dustpan, a bowl of sudsy water, a sponge and a roll of paper towels. When she came back to the kitchen with her bowl of dirty water and soggy paper towels her father was at Junior’s place at the kitchen table finishing a portion of peas and rice while Junior gnawed on a chicken bone in the chair with no place setting. Junior asked his dad to be excused and everybody got up. Lois sat down to finish her own dinner alone, disappointed, but determined.

The next night Lois had to improvise because the financial news doesn’t run on Saturday. She served three plates as usual, then she put some of the mashed potatoes in one of her medium sized mixing bowls. She put in a spoonful of corn, some pole beans, and topped it with a slice of pot roast torn into bite size pieces. She poured some of the pan drippings over the whole thing. She poured some cold water in a plastic cup with a screw-on lid and a straw. She stabbed a spoon in the bowl and went to the back door where Junior was lying on the floor coloring. "Get the door for me please, Junior," she said. 

Junior opened the door and Lois took the bowl and cup out to her father. He was on the back deck with Forbes magazine and his binoculars near the bird feeder. Then she went in to dinner with her husband and son. She told Junior three times to get his elbows off the table and corrected Phil when he tried to put his dirty knife back down on the placemat. It should be placed across the plate. She was getting the hang of this. Table manners would prevail.

On Sunday morning Lois went for her long weekly run while Phil made breakfast for the men. After she got back and showered and came out to the living room with her coffee she found Phil and her father reading the funny pages while Junior was building something with his Lincoln Logs. She sat down on the floor for some quality time with her son. “What are you building, Junior? Is this your house?”

“Yeah, that’s the house where we’ll live when I’m grown up,” said Junior.

“And what’s that you’re building out in the yard?” said Lois.

Junior replied matter-of-factly, “This is a trough for you and Daddy at suppertime.”

That night was Sunday Supper. Junior’s aunts and uncles brought dishes of food over and they had a big meal together. Everybody sat at the long table in the dining room, even Granddad. 

On Monday night Lois left the TV tables in their little stand in the corner of the living room. She waited for the financial news to end, then announced that dinner was ready. Everybody sat down to eat together that night, and every night after that.


Updated version of the Grimm fairy tale "The Old Man and his Grandson," 
By Barbara Tomlinson ©2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rise of the Gopher Tortoise

I have seen more new gopher holes this year than I have ever seen in my life. I don't know if they are just experiencing a real estate boom and all of a sudden they want more holes per gopher, or if there are actual new animals moving in to enjoy life near mown grass. Do they particularly like my yard and my aunt's yard because we are there mowing the lawn for them? Or did the tortoises and the people both pick the same spot for the same unrelated reason — hill tops are the best.

Today I was going to check on things at my aunt's house and take my trash to the dump when I saw a brand new large gopher hole by the chicken yard fence, not 20 feet from another burrow inside the garden under the grape arbor. Both gophers were in their holes, so it wasn't just an extra hole for the one gopher.
Foreground, brand new gopher hole, wasn't there Friday. There's another one
in the center of the photo under the grape arbor.
Here's a zoom shot of the gopher that lives under the grape arbor. View from the new hole. So close!
Of course I stopped and took a picture of it. It's how I do. Then I kept going up the driveway to take my trash to the dumpster. And I saw another new gopher hole under the blueberries. A few weeks ago I saw one just the other side of the driveway there too.

Another new gopher hole under the blueberries.
You can tell these are brand new because the sand is soft and all stomped on looking. As the holes get older the apron of the burrow gets kind of solid looking and smooth.

When I came back from taking the trash I decided to count the gopher holes I could see from the truck. I was wearing shorts so I didn't want to go tromping around in the briars looking for more, so these are strictly ones in direct proximity to our crude variety of civilization. Also I am terrible at counting, so I used my Logger GPS iPhone app.

Total Gopher Holes: 20
Number of holes with leaves in the entrance indicating no use in a week or so: 2
Juvenile holes, smaller than 7" across (by eye): 4
New adult holes: 3

I call this a juvenile hole. It's next to an old burn pile in the middle of the lawn,
which explains the charcoal. 
I don't know how old the juvenile holes are. I think they are all from this year. The juvenile with a hole in my yard has been there over two years. He has had a digging fit this week and has made his much deeper with lots of dark orange dirt on the apron. So these that are still light colored sand, I think they are new.

I didn't see any bitty baby holes at my aunt's house. I have 3 of those over here at my house, under 3" across, as well as 2 juveniles and 10 or more adult. Maybe I'll count them tomorrow.

Here's the plot of gopher holes done on Google Earth. I tilted the scene and rotated it to show surrounding area. Density increases the closer they get to the lawn. Some of these holes are just astonishingly close together. I've never seen them do like this before. There's 12 in under an acre if you ignore the ones up the driveway.


There were always gopher holes along the driveway at the ancestral home when I was a little girl. I don't remember any being in the yard though. And I don't remember any in the yard at my house. But we always had a dog, the big kind that would pick up a baby tortoise in his mouth and slobber all over it and worse. My aunt used to have this kind of dog too. Since she got a Beagle and keeps her tied up the gophers have proliferated.

The last week was a real scorcher too. Do gophers typically get the urge to dig when it's really hot and dry? I know their burrow at the bottom of the hole is usually at the water table so it's nice and damp. I can see digging deeper if the water table drops. But why start over from scratch?! They have excess energy so they just dig another hole just for practice? I don't know, but I'm happy to have them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Matrix Poster with Red Pill/Blue Pill Shadow Box

I have a client who is addicted to Mondo Tees posters. I frame them for him for $25 each. They're kind of hard to get. They announce the sales on Twitter and then they sell out in seconds. I saw this Matrix poster announcement and immediately bought it. But my friend was, meh, it's not one of the popular artists. But he said he'd look at it when I got it and maybe in person he'd like it better. I think it's really pretty. I like the colors, and you can look at it for a long time. I like the silver ink for the bright parts. I also thought it would lend itself to a bit of embellishment. Sure enough, I talked my friend into it.

My embellishment idea was to add a shadow box with a red pill and a blue pill under the poster. I found an image of what the ones in the movie looked like.
These are probably DayQuil and NyQuil Liquicaps
I searched online bead shops for something that looked like these. Real capsules seemed like a bad idea because of heat and humidity. I tried grinding down miniature Christmas tree ornaments to look like these. Finally I just decided to get something that would look good from a distance, match the poster, and be easy to attach to the shadow box. (Note: it is impossible to take a picture of your own hands from the angle shown above. To get this shot I clamped my phone to the counter and touched the screen with my nose.)

That'll have to do.
I settled for some wooden beads. I got them from The Bead Factory. (beadsfactory.com) The colors are Light Siam and Aqua. I got 8 of each color for $1.50. If anybody wants a pair let me know in the comments.

I cut some little spacers of that black irrigation tubing they call funny pipe. Drilled holes in the back of the shadow box, ran some heavy duty thread through there, through the tubing, through the bead, and back down through the tubing and the hole in the backing. I tied a knot around a straight pin. Then I turned the pin until it was all cinched down tight and taped it down so it wouldn't unwind. This took two hands and I couldn't get a picture.
Very hard to photograph because of this reflective glass
When I finished I went down to my friend's office and talked him into moving Sleeping Beauty into the lobby with The Black Cauldron so we could hang the Matrix in the conference room with Back to the Future 1 and 2 and The Birds. I like it!