Jun 282015

Well, this isn’t so good. It’s not the usual sort of explosion, where there’s a very sudden fireball and the vehicle turns into confetti in a split second; this disaster seems to be stretched out over a few seconds. It kinda looks like there was a fuel or oxidizer dump from up front… perhaps the second stage. Also early on in the “anomaly” you can see something drop away from the vehicle. I wonder if perhaps that’s the Dragon capsule? The disaster was good and slow… *perhaps* the abort systems got the capsule away. But I’d imagine if that was the case the booster itself would have *promptly* turned into so much tinfoil.

UPDATE: A tweet from Elon Musk says that there was an “overpressure event” in the second stage LOX tank. Cause was “counterintuitive.”

Another angle:

 Posted by at 8:51 am
Jun 272015

Remember that demonstration you must have seen at least once in high school or junior high when your chemistry teach blew a cloud of something seemingly harmless like flour through a small flame, and created a big ol’ fireball?

Like so:


Seems like not everyone got the memo on that.

More than 225 injured in explosion at Taiwan water park

Seems a big cloud of powdered dye or paint or something was blown over a crowd at a concert. Result: firey hijinks.



 Posted by at 12:48 pm
Jun 242015

Hard to tell just how serious some of these people are…

A Dinosaur Name in ‘Jurassic World’ is So ‘Racist’ That the Movie Has Come Under Fire

Specifically, the Pachycephalosaurus. There is a line in the movie describing some of them having gotten out of their enclosure: “The Pachys are out of containment.”

So, some schmoes have taken it upon themselves to get offended because some people over in Britainland hear “Pachy” as “Paki,” and see “Paki” as an offensive term for “Pakistani,” I guess in much the same way that “Brit” is an offensive term for “British.”

 Posted by at 5:08 pm
Jun 202015

Capacitance Electronic Disks are one of the great disasters in the history of video storage systems, and are pretty much unknown today.

CEDs themselves are much like traditional vinyl phonograph records, but with the grooves much, much finer. The data storage density is about two orders of magnitude greater than for a phonograph, but the mechanism is the same… extremely fine spiral grooves pressed into the platter. And like a phonograph, the data was picked up from the disk via a physical stylus. However, the way the stylus worked was completely different. A phonograph stylus rode in the groove and picked up the side-to-side and up-and-down variations in the groove, using small magnets to convert that movement into electrical signals. The CED system had smooth spiral groves but with variations in the depth; the stylus was not a needle, but more like a boat keel. As the name suggested, the capacitance electronic disks used the difference in capacitance between the bottom of the stylus and the variable depth of the groove. The platters were made from vinyl heavily loaded with carbon to make them electrically conductive. The data was analog, not digital.

The technology was first developed by RCA in the 1960’s, but due to various issues was not commercialized (as “SelectaVision” and “VideoDisc” until 1981. And that’s what doomed it… by that time videotape systems like VHS and Betamax were already on the market. The CED’s gave about an hour of video per side of the disk, meaning the average movie would require flipping the disk, and many would require multiple disks. The video quality was approximately like that available on videotape. The advantage CEDs provided was that both the disks and the players were cheaper than video tapes (the same presses that stamped out traditional vinyl records could stamp out CEDs). But this slight advantage didn’t counteract the disadvantages… dust would cause the system to skip, you couldn’t record on it, it was cumbersome to deal with, etc. The last CED movie was released in 1986. In the end RCA lost $600 million on the project.

CEDs were, apart from cost, wholly without merit at just the moment they were released. LaserDiscs, the predecessors of DVDs, were released a few years prior to CEDs, and provided not only much superior image quality, but also pointed the way towards the future. The CED was “retro” before it was released.


It’s that latter aspect that makes me wonder if we’ll see a revival of CEDs. Their very “retro” nature makes them seem like the perfect hipster video system. If someone could come up with a way to make a recordable CED they might be onto something.  It doesn’t seem like it should be too difficult… produce a blank disk with smooth grooves stamped in it, and provide the recorder with a laser powerful and precise enough to blast the variable topography into the bottom of the groove. Roughly similar to the system used in recordable CDs and DVDs, but with the added headache of vaporized carbon-loaded vinyl to deal with right next to a precise optical system.

A good page describing the system is HERE. There are a bunch of YouTube videos from back in the day, including this one. Note: this is like someone boiled down the early 1980’s into a thick slurry for  intravenous injection. Also, a “trigger warning:” Jane Fonda.


If the first minute of this video abomination doesn’t make you laugh… then you didn’t live through the early 80’s.

If someone who had never heard of CEDs were to find one today and be tasked with decoding one, I have doubts that they would come up with the actual intended system. Instead, an optical reader would probably be used, using a laser system chopped from a CD player; or perhaps they’d risk running a physical stylus over the bottoms of the grooves. Who would think to use variable capacitance as a reading system?

And this, of course, was a technology developed within a human lifetime ago, by humans, for humans. Now imagine that an utterly alien data storage system fell into our hands. Would we be able to read it? Would we be able to read it *once,* destroying it in the process?

 Posted by at 9:00 am
Jun 132015

Today I worked on replacing some window screens. The old ones had fiberglass screen; as the cats (specifically, Fingers) proved skilled at slicing through that, I decided to replace them with aluminum screens. Without thinking of what I suppose might in retrospect have been an obvious eventuality, I worked on the screens where the cats could get at them. And unfortunately, that meant that at least two of the cats (Raedthinn and Buttons) decided that the thing to do was to gnaw upon the resulting thin-gauge aluminum “wires” shed from the screens after trimming. In Buttons’ case, I managed to catch him and grab hold of a wire that was projecting 1/4 inch from his mouth… and proved to be about four inches long. So it was nearly fully swallowed. Who knows if he or another cat might have successfully swallowed some of the wire.

Being aluminum, I wonder if any such wire could survive long in the cats stomach? The hydrochloric acid should convert the aluminum to aluminum chloride and  hydrogen; water in the stomach should react with the aluminum chloride to produce aluminum oxide and more hydrochloric acid. Since the aluminum oxide is about as inert as a substance can get, it would seem that hydrogen gas would be the only product of note.

Of course, this assumes that the wire stays in the stomach long enough to get reacted away. If it passes through… I don’t think this will have a happy result. So, I suppose I’m off to the vet in the morning to see what they say to watch out for.


 Posted by at 1:43 am
Jun 122015

‘World War 3 has begun': Mystery mushroom cloud sparks Armageddon panic as ‘nuclear’ pics go viral


If the article is to be believed (who knows anymore), photos taken over the Russian city of Tyumen caused “panic” because some people believed they were looking at a nuclear explosion mushroom cloud:


As I said… oy. It’s like people have never seen clouds before.


And through sheer random chance, I saw this cloud today. Clearly this is a mushroom cloud from a smaller nuke, I’d estimate in the 40 to 50 kiloton range. Yeah.

WP_20150612_004 WP_20150612_003

 Posted by at 10:26 pm
Jun 122015

I’ve never been a big fan of the Soviet Buran space shuttle. The Energia? Awesome heavy lifter. But the Buran itself… dumb, dumb, dumb. All it was was a terribly heavy, terribly expensive payload shroud. It would greatly reduce the payload potential of the Energia without adding anything meaningful. With the US Shuttle, at least you’re getting back the liquid rocket engines. With Buran? Meh.

Still, the Buran and its stablemates were an important part of space history. Thus, the way they have been allowed to rot is shocking.

Gentlemen… behold:

In the bedroom of the god

A sizable photo essay showing the status, as of a few days ago, of two Burans remaining in a Baikonur Cosmodrome hangar. Just… wow. And Gah.


 Posted by at 6:12 pm
Jun 092015

These vids of two women and a six-year-old incompetently fighting in a WalMart are making the rounds online today, so I figured I’d get on the bandwagon. You have a choice between being saddened by the clear awful Idiocracy on display, or laughing your posterior off. Me, I chose the latter. Especially the comments from the spectators; the cameraman suggests that someone should break them up, but that that someone should be another woman. A woman nearby agrees with him, pointing out that if he got involved he’d be opening himself up to a lawsuit.


 Posted by at 9:59 am
Jun 032015

Sure, we all want to bring back the mammoth, the saber-toothed cat, the dodo and the T-Rex. But actually accomplishing the goal of returning species that have vanished is not an easy task. Well… a group has managed to do it!

Small problem: the species is diphtheria, and the group that pulled it off is Spanish anti-vaccinators.

Six-year-old diagnosed with first case of diphtheria in Spain since 1986

The kid was not vaccinated, even though diphtheria vaccinations are free in Spain. The Spanish authorities had to search the entire world for meds to treat this… because it’s a disease that people just don’t get anymore, since the vaccination for it is so effective. The Russian ambassador flew in a supply of the meds from Moscow. So… good on the Russians here.

 Posted by at 10:05 pm