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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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The real reason for this #NASASocial are two cometary missions coming soon. I’m interested in these because I’ll be hosting Slooh.com’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 Seal Beach itself and the fact SB sunset shots include the oil derricks in Long Beach.

Oh–hazy too.

However, there’s a nice payoff in spite of my ineptitude. I just got this email from Gena.

We were so fortunate to have you photograph us last night. We talked about it being a magical moment. We were talking about our hopes and dreams and you captured the moment. We would love it if you could send the photo our way. We are going to be grandparents this week and would love to share with our grandkids some day. Thank you! We are eternally grateful!

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I came across Gena and her husband after the Sun had set. They were on the wet sand above the high water mark just north of the Seal Beach Pier. They were alone on the beach… except for the guy with camera gear moving toward them.

If I wanted I could have started snapping away without asking. The law says you have no expectation of privacy in a public place. That’s not how I operate.

They were in a conversation. I stood three or four feet back and tried to get their attention. It took a few tries over the sound of the waves before I made contact.

I told them they would make a beautiful shot, from the rear with no identifiable faces. Would it be OK?

All I asked was for them to be still. I didn’t want to pop a flash. This would be a long exposure. I planted my tripod in the sand, got it as low as possible and hoped for the best.

I used my 8mm fisheye for the shot. It’s totally manual, even focusing.

Here’s the rest of my catch. You’ll notice no pictures of the sunset itself! I found the ’47 Packard while walking to my car.

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BTW — if there are seals at Seal Beach, I didn’t see them.

Today’s The Photo Walk

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Clicky and I are driving to Seal Beach this afternoon. It’s the annual Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk. There are over 1,000 walks scheduled with 20,000 scheduled to attend.

Volunteers around-the-world organize groups of photographers who meet and take photos nearby. We’ll start at the Red Car Museum (if you saw “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” those red cars… well, the real ones) then end at the beach for sunset.

I’ve done these before with my friend Steve. We did the New Haven and Brooklyn Bridge walks a few years back. Lots of fun.

IMAG1510[1]Overpacking has been a problem for me in the past. Today will be different. Three wider lenses, neutral density filters and a tripod–that’s it! No long impressive football sideline telephotos. It will all fit in a shoulder bag.

My goal is to experiment with very slow shutter speed. The neutral density filters will block light. It will be daytime, but based on incoming light my camera will be set as if it was dark. Shutter/aperture combinations not normally possible will be needed.

It’s an experiment. My experience with this kind of shooting is near zero. It’s a radically different way of taking pictures. Who knows if it will work when I try it?

By the way, I know no one who’ll be there today. Looking forward to it.

Five Hours Of Poker

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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.

This is a cross section of SoCal.   Every ethnicity is here.  Only English is allowed at the tables,  but you hear many languages elsewhere.  Asia is well represented in the players and staff.

pepper-steakI come here hungry.  Waiters and waitresses orbit the room.  Food comes to the table.  It’s a huge, tasty, piping hot serving.

I got pepper steak and shrimp.  It comes with a bowl of rice,  unmatched knife, fork and spoon, chopsticks and plastic plates.  I added a small salad.

Every person here comes with the hope they’ll take it down. Most hopes get dashed.

Two things about poker.  It’s the only game in the casino where you play against players,  not the house.  And it’s primarily a betting game,  not a card game.

We’re ninety minutes in and just back from a break.  Few bust out in these early rounds.  The skill is being here at 3 or 4am when the winner is paid.

There’s some chatting,  a little friendly table talk. Everyone’s cordial.

There are disputes.  Dealers make mistakes.  Players make mistakes.  Floor managers come as arbiters.   I have seen angered players forcibly ejected.

A card room is loud.  Chips click.  Players talk.  Cards shuffle.

There is constant drama as players attack and retreat,  sniping for their opponent’s stacks.

Joyce is our dealer.  Based on her accent it is not her given name.  She deals the cards from her slender fingers to nine of us.  Dealers change every half hour.

There have been a lot of all-ins recently.   That’s usually a desperation move by a short stacked player.  The field is shrinking.

I’d like to say I’m doing well, but I’m not.   No rush to move,  but I’ll be eaten by the swiftly increasing blinds if I don’t move soon.

I spoke too soon.   I won the next hand, a big pot with four others in by making a big bet.  Bluff.  I wanted my bet to represent strength I didn’t actually have.

Being behind, the risk seemed more worthwhile.  One should not bluff often.

They just broke the table next to us.  One of their players filled a seat here.

Just lost to a player who was dealt two aces. That seems so unfair.

My stack has shrunk again.   You can’t sit still.  The stakes go up at scheduled intervals. 

Another player busts out and silently walks away.

The tournament’s been going almost three hours.  We still don’t have an official talky of how many played,  how many get paid and how much.

The guy next to me just played a hand.  First he paused the movie playing on his phone. Three players wearing earphones.

The next hand I play,  I’ll be pot committed.  In other words it won’t make sense to bet anything but everything I’ve got.

Break again.  Teeth minute pause.  Just putting off the inevitable.

One guy across the table has been drinking.  He’s getting a little talky.  Tonight I am quiet.  An observer.

His stack is larger than mine.   Maybe skill is overrated?  Maybe liquor is overrated.

He is cackling now.

Nearly two hundred players.   The top two or three will walk away with big money.   I’m looking less and less likely to be here for that.

Half the players are gone.  People are concentrating a little harder.  There’s less noise.

10:30 and I’m having a cup of coffee.  Still in, barely.

Hour five begins.  I now have too few chips to scare people away.

King King.   I’m all in with two others.

My kings get cracked!   I’m done.

Dinner was really good. I played well. No regrets.

As players are eliminated tables are consolidated until there’s a final table.

I’m Putting My Local Newspaper On Deathwatch

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We get the Orange County Register delivered every morning. Actually, that’s wrong. More on that in a minute. We’re OC Register subscribers.

I like getting a newspaper. Scanning printed pages is different than reading news on the net. There’s a different serendipity at work allowing you to stumble upon news more easily.

Some stories are days old by the time they’re on my doorstep. I can put up with that because many stories are exclusive to the Register. No one else covers OC as thoroughly. On a good day Los Angeles TV will have one, maybe two, stories from this county of three million.

Within the last year the Register has expanded to Long Beach, Riverside and (gulp) Los Angeles. 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.

Strange as it sounds the OC Register that comes to my door is delivered by the LA Times. At least it was until last week.

Reports say the Register owes the Times over $3 million.

In April 2013, OCR first missed a payment deadline under its agreement with The Times.

By February 2014, the outstanding amount past due had grown to almost $2 million and, by mid-May, the past due amount was more than $2.5 million.

In late May, OCR agreed to a payment plan with The Times whereby OCR would pay down past due amounts.

In June, OCR made one payment on the plan. Since then, it has made no further payments on the plan. – LA Times news release

This past Sunday the Register started delivering the paper themselves and the results have been comically tragic.

For the tl;dr crowd: over 30,000 calls complaining, many canceled subscriptions already, and no end in sight for the problems. Enjoy! – OCWeekly

30,000 called. Many didn’t. 30k is a big number for a paper with around 150,000 daily subscribers and double that Sunday.

We had no paper Monday, a paper yesterday and none again today. There’s nothing that will cause cancelled subscriptions faster than missing papers.

Newspapers are fighting for their lives, but the survival rate is poor. Readers are old. Subscriber counts are falling. The Internet has cleaned their clock.

In the past I’ve written about how the Register is full of news. I will miss that greatly should the paper fail. At this moment, I suspect it will.

In Case You Missed The Eclipse

Last night’s Slooh.com 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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The Indoor Snowball Fight

They come from China. It’s probably some kind of mercury/lead paint mix. Held in your hand the snowballs feel just like good packing snow, without the need for gloves.

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Stuff You See While Flying

We’re back in the OC tonight. Why is flying so exhausting? We are all bushed. The drive back from LAX was amazing! No traffic. How very un-SoCal. On the way to Milwaukee our little 737-300 taxied by an Emirates Airbus 380-800. What a behemoth. My seat was lower than its wing! The A380-800 is bigger […]

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Briefly

Our whirlwind trip to Milwaukee comes to a close tomorrow morning.  We’ll be on the only non-stop to LAX. The trip is a success.  We saw all my family!   Every one. My mom is in better shape than I anticipated.  That’s not good shape,  but it will do. Charlotte is adorable.   At three months she […]

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How I Scared All My Facebook Friends

Greetings from the suburbs north of Milwaukee.  No trip is ever 100%. Our flight was due at mke around 11:50 PM.  Budget’s rental counter closes at 12:30.  No problem we thought.   Even when our flight was slightly delayed, the scheduled arrival was 12:10. Something changed as we flew.  No one told us.  As midnight approached […]

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