You Really Should Meet William Mullholland

William-Mulholland-in-1924There should be a parade for William Mullholland. We’d be in big trouble without him. He died in 1935, but he’s why Los Angeles exists as it does today.

Mullholland brought water from the Sierras, Owens Valley to be precise, to the San Fernando Valley. That’s 233 miles with no pumps! The entire system is gravity fed. He brought water to the desert!

When the Los Angeles Aqueduct opened, the city had around 300,000 people. That same aqueduct continues as a main source though L.A. proper is now at 3.9 million.

Portrait_of_William_Mulholland_with_a_surveyor's_scope_on_a_tripod,_ca.1908-1913_(CHS-14459)We are in the midst of a horrible drought. Sierra Mountain streams which feed the system are low. Yet conservation related restrictions are very gentle.

It’s getting tight, but we’re all still getting by. The level of overcapacity Mullholland built for 300,000 is crazy.

Did WM’s contemporaries understand the true magnitude of what was happening? Who could see what time and water would bring?

Mullholland put this all in place 101 years ago. He made life in this climate possible.

Cat45-mojaveMy read on Mullholland the person is: arrogant putz. Bad decisions, like declaring a dam safe 12 hours before it failed, saw him drummed from public life. He had no shortage of enemies. But this good work should be his legacy–and is.

There is a beautiful road which winds on the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s been used in hundreds of movies. Twisting curves. Breathtaking views. Expensive homes built on stilts. When I can, I try to spend a little time on Mullholland Drive.

The Surprise Photo


I went to a meeting tonight, trying to network with people who use Premiere and After Effects. Went for coffee afterwards. While waiting in line I looked at my phone and saw this photo. I have never seen it before. My sister posted it on Facebook.

That’s me, my sister Trudi and cousin Mitchell (who later became Cousin Victor when his entire family changed their names–first and last). Behind us is my mom.

As a kid you don’t see your mother’s looks. I do now. She was spectacular in this photo. A babe.

We are standing outside my grandparent’s home. They lived next door to my Aunt Anna, my grandmother’s sister. We visited them most weekends, a long drive made entirely on city streets.

Trudi’s 3 or 4. I’m around 6. Maybe 1956?

So many things come back to me. Laurelton is a neighborhood in Queens. The street was lined with tiny Cape Cods.

It was an all white working class neighborhood. It’s now an all black working class neighborhood.

We lived in an apartment. Their 2-br 1-ba with an attic seemed large to me. And they had a backyard!

This photo brings back so many memories. There are things in this picture that haven’t crossed my mind in sixty years.

We used to play ball in the street. Not everyone had a car. No family had two. Traffic was light. You could never do that today.

I remember the tree behind us and conversations with my grandfather while standing under it. He and I discussed politics during the Kennedy-Nixon campaign in 1959. He liked the fact I was worldly for my age.

It was under that tree he told me about the Nazis. He was Polish and the lone survivor from his family. They were killed during the Holocaust for being Jewish.

He told me about the concentration camps, about the showers. He wanted his memory to be deep within me. It is.

He was my biggest fan. He never saw me on TV. He would have loved that.

This photo is a big deal to me. I have cried a little while looking at it. So many years. So much time’s passed.

My experience tonight won’t happen to Stef or her generation. Photos stay with you now. Children are documented. I don’t know the occasion, but having this photo taken was a big deal. Photos were few and far between.

I will find out where Trudi found this and report back.

Don’t Watch Cable News

gupta glassesIf you want to get scared keep cable news on all day. That’s my takeaway from a couple of days of doing just that! I’ve got the eebie jeebies over Ebola, or as it’s called in the Fox house, “The Ebola.”

That two health care professionals in bunny suits got infected seems totally Michael Crichton. Plausible fiction. But it’s real.

From here it looks like health care professionals were treating it too lightly. Dr. Nancy Snyderman, allegedly on voluntary quarantine, was ratted out for driving around her home in Princeton, NJ. Her quarantine is now mandatory.

And, as Crichton would have probably fictionalized for added drama, one of the two Ebola stricken nurses took two flights on jam-packed airliners. They’re petri dishes in the sky already. This is insult to injury.

I’m not an immunologist. I’m not a doctor. Take what I say with that admission.

We should have already figured out a cure. Maybe we already have in ZMapp–if there were any available.

Ebola is a nearly perfect disease to fight with genetically engineered drugs. Some people fight it off. Their blood has the answers.

ZMapp hasn’t been run through all the tests to be approved. It works flawlessly in monkeys. Human trials must be completed. Drugs have unforeseen side effects.

Beyond that, ZMapp takes time to produce. The drug is infused in growing tobacco leaves in a process is called “pharming.” This limits mass production.

This should have been done years ago, but it’s easy to not prepare for rare events.

Pandemics can happen. The last was the flu in 1918.

It infected 500 million people across the world, including remote Pacific islands and the Arctic, and killed 50 to 100 million of them—three to five percent of the world’s population—making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. – Wikipedia

Today I worry about Ebola like I worry about a plane crash or car crash. All are possibilities, but remote.

In a week my opinion might change.

Rosetta Sounds Like A Movie Plot, But This Is Real

Where is Rosetta

Five hundred million kilometers from Earth a comet is streaking toward the Sun. No worries. Not a threat to us.

Earthlings, being curious people, thought we’d send a mission to this comet to find out what it’s made of. Theoretically, comets are a direct link to the universe just after the Big Bang.

Rosetta_mission_selfie_at_16_kmCatching a comet is no easy feat. Its speed is greatly affected by proximity to the Sun–so, constantly changing. Our comet is doing around 38,000 mph today. The instant we arrive we need to be doing exactly the same speed as the comet. Seriously, at that instant exactly.

To get to Comet 67P/CG “Rosetta” will travel over 6,500,000,000 kilometers. That’s on purpose. By swinging through the Earth’s gravitational field a few times engineers were able to stretch precious fuel.

Rosetta is now orbiting Comet 67P/CG at around 10 miles, a little higher than commercial jets fly.

Getting to the comet wasn’t enough. How about we land on it? It’s the 21st Century equivalent of climbing from your horse onto an out-of-control stagecoach!

Rosetta_OSIRIS_NAC_comet_67P_20140803_1The comet is weirdly shaped, moving and spinning. It’s sublimating ice, so we see gas jets spewing out. More than likely the comet’s path from moment-to-moment is irregular. There is nearly zero gravity to prevent a landing spacecraft from just bouncing right off.

November 12 a small instrument package will be jettisoned from Rosetta. Rockets pushing toward the surface will hold it in place as harpoons try to get a grip. “Philae” will set up shop for scientific experiments and transmit results to Rosetta which will relay it back to Earth.

I have no doubt this will work.

What NASA and the European Space Agency have done here is nothing short of incredible. It’s much more than most people imagine can be done today. I wish this kind of engineering heft was also available for some of the Earth’s seemingly insurmountable problems.

Nerd Day At NASA

I spent the day in La Canada Flintridge. That’s where NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory lives. NASA is very regimented with specific missions for each of its facilities. JPL is unmanned exploration.

Mars rovers? Check.

Saturn orbiter? Of course.

Mission to a comet with a small payload actually landing on it? Hell yeah.

If there was an Engineering Olympics, I’d put my money on JPL. They can make complex systems work, even after a rocket launch and flight through the cold vacuum of space.

Did I mention they’re landing on a comet? And they’re doing it without Bruce Willis!

I was invited along with about 40 other enthusiasts with social media reach.

It was not a boy-a-thon. That’s what I expected. Probably 60/40 male/female.



We started at Mission Control. I’ve become jaded. I didn’t jump out of my skin as I walked in, but it’s that kind of place. One guy was sitting at a desk with so many computer monitors, they were dovetailed behind one another. He was supervising Cassini, in orbit around Saturn. That’s a one-person-job.

On the wall huge monitors showed which earth stations, 13 on three continents, were in use. I took note of Voyager 2 being heard by one of the biggest dishes. As I type it’s 37 years old. It’s so far away that even at the speed of light it takes 29 hours 20 minutes to find out if a command you sent was received.

It was like a scene out of a well done scifi movie, except it’s real! It was a day at the office for the crew staring at their screens. They run spaceships for a living. They don’t analyze the data. They make sure it’s flowing.


JPL uses liquid nitrogen. Who cares why? It looks cool.




We went to a lab where experiments are ongoing for new types of rocket engines. We were briefed on Ion engines (like Stars Wars, except real) and shown a Hall Effect Engine through viewports into a vacuum chamber. Thrust from engines like these are the future of space. The promise is less fuel mass and more speed potential–both critical for interplanetary work.



IMG_6778Next up Mars Rovers. They’ve got to test them somewhere. JPL’s got the sandbox. It has been used.

Who knew aluminum tires wore out so quickly?



The SMAP Mission is launching in January. The spacecraft goes to the pad at Vandenberg AFB, Wednesday. This is the actual spacecraft that will fly.



The real reason for this #NASASocial are two cometary missions coming soon. I’m interested in these because I’ll be hosting’s coverage. There was a two hour presentation with lots of the scientific and engineering players.

First up, Comet Siding Springs is a few days away from a close approach to Mars. There are a handful of observer satellites orbiting Mars. Spacecraft have been reprogrammed to record the event. Depending on what happens this could be a big deal, but no one was promising.

You haven’t heard much about the comet yet because it hasn’t been visible in North America.

Second is Rosetta, now orbiting weirdly shaped Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at an altitude of about 10 miles. As cool as that is, there’s more.

On November 12 Rosetta will send a lander to the comet’s surface! This mothership has been in space for more than 10 years, including a few where it was in an induced digital deep sleep, just for this moment.

I asked a mission scientist how they’d stick a package on a comet? With little gravity wouldn’t it just bounce off into space? Yes! So its coming with thrusters to push it tight to the surface where it will deploy harpoon like anchors.

We were brought to NASA to be impressed. It worked.

Shooting At Seal Beach

As mentioned yesterday, Saturday was the annual Worldwide Photo Walk. I signed up to walk in Seal Beach. Nice people. Lackluster setting. I was very disappointed in what I brought home. Part of it was my self imposed lens limit. Part had to do with experimenting with neutral density filters. Part had to do with […]

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Today’s The Photo Walk

My goal is to experiment with very slow shutter speed, the exact opposite of the way I usually shoot. The neutral density filters will block light. It will be daytime, but my camera will only have as much light as it gets at night. The shutter will have to stay open longer. That changes everything.

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Five Hours Of Poker

I am writing tonight from the poker table.   There are poker casinos in Los Angeles County.  This one is in Hawaiian Gardens. I’m in a tournament.  For a fixed price I get tournament chips.  One by one the players are wiped out.  The last 10% get paid.  Winning can be lucrative with around 200 entries. […]

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I’m Putting My Local Newspaper On Deathwatch

I was thrilled, thinking the Register’s owners had found a way to resurrect print.

Then the sky fell in.

The Los Angeles Register didn’t last a year. The OC Register is selling their headquarters building in Santa Ana and laying off staff. And now they’re having trouble delivering the paper.

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In Case You Missed The Eclipse

Last night’s webcast of the total lunar eclipse was a success. Over 426,000 viewed during our webcast with 70,000 watching at one point. I’ve been told we’re now over 700,000 views as people catch up on what they missed while asleep. We had Twitter messages from around-the-world, which was pretty cool. The whole eclipse […]

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