Mythbusters and the Fake Moon Landings

August 26, 2008

On Wednesday, August 27th, Mythbusters will take on the Apollo moon landing hoax.  I think they are trying to debunk the myth that the moon landings were faked.  But I’m not sure, and they’re not saying.

Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage appeared to have a lot of fun filming the show, working with NASA, taking low-gravity flights to simulate the moon’s gravity, doing just about everything they could to reproduce the moon landing short of going to the moon.

Phil Plait (from Bad Astronomy, a great web site worth visiting if you’ve never heard of it before) was on hand to provide advice.  He wrote about the very bad Fox TV show years ago that tried to make the myth sound plausible, and went into long explanations (too long, actually) to debunk each of the myth’s claims.

Mythbusters is a fun, light-hearted program to watch; this upcoming show should be entertaining to anyone with even a passing interest in space and astronomy.

I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if the claims of fake moon landings are to be taken seriously.

RIP Dave Freeman

August 26, 2008

It is unclear from the title of this article,  Co-author of ‘100 Things to Do Before You Die’ dies at 47, whether or not Dave Freeman died at #47 of 100, or at age 47.

From the article it appears he may have done both.

Trayless Cafeterias

August 25, 2008

Colleges are going trayless.

At least at some colleges.  The Associated Press reports that West Virginia’s Glenville State College has eliminated all cafeteria trays in an attempt to conserve.  Colleges in Georgia and North Carolina, two drought-stricken states, are doing it to reduce water consumption.  Some college studies are finding that in addition to saving water and energy a side benefit is that it reduces food waste:  Students don’t/can’t stack up food while holding a plate like they can when they’re holding a tray; and maybe it’ll help fight the Freshman 15 to boot.

Cafeteria trays were very popular when I was in college, but not because they carried our food.

They were popular because they carried our asses down a small hill next to the Freshman dormitories, during the winter months when we needed a diversion from studying Differential Equations or any myriad number of engineering courses.  Those slick-bottomed trays didn’t take long to ice over the hill, which tended to make it all the more dangerous – and fun.

We learned physics (at least, acceleration and generally rapid deceleration) on cafeteria trays.

Why Kevin Gaughan is Misguided

August 21, 2008

Yesterday it was announced that FEMA got its new phone system hacked, to the tune of $12,000 dollars in long-distance calls worldwide, including Asia and the Middle East.  FEMA put out the warning about America’s vulnerability to this very threat in 2003.  It’s the same FEMA that handled the preparations for and the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the same FEMA that then housed thousands of displaced hurricane victims in formaldehyde-laced trailers.  The same FEMA that is not accountable to the American voter.

Today it was announced that the Department of Homeland Security has halted an immigration program aimed at reuniting African refugees with their families because of widespread fraud:  Only 20% of the refugees claiming to be families were related by blood.  Now, DHS doesn’t appear to take into account that most of these refugees come from areas that have been decimated by civil war, disease and starvation, and that perhaps, just perhaps, many of these so-called families comprise men and women who have taken homeless and orphaned children in as their own.  DHS can do this at will – just as they can dictate the terms of the Canadian/U.S. border crossings – because DHS is not accountable to the American voter.

The New York State Thruway Authority has been denounced by many – for years – as a lackluster, bloated haven for patronage jobs and overpaid managers.  Yet they can and do raise the Thruway tolls at will; in fact, all 640 of New York’s authorities can and do use taxpayer money as they please because they are not accountable to the New York State voter.

Okay, now to Kevin Gaughan.  He has been trying, and failing, to convince Western New York town and village governments to reduce their overall size.  The local boards vigorously responded that they are the last places that people like Gaughan should be looking to decrease the cost of government.

Gaughan is hammering the one set of governmental boards that are (generally) held accountable for their actions.  The average town councilman lives in town, goes to church there, does much of his/her business there.  He/she is visible to their constituency.

This is not true at all of government at the county, state or federal level, and absolutely not true of the New York Authorities, FEMA, DHS or most other Federal agencies.

If we are to reduce government bloat we have to do so at the highest of levels, not the lowest.  That’s where the waste is occurring; that’s where the money spigot needs to be tightened.  Because we have control over town and village governments, they are incentivized to be frugal with our taxes; or else they will be out of office.

If Kevin Gaughan put as much energy into fixing Albany or agencies at the Federal level we’d be a lot further ahead.  But what he’s doing is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

The Rescue of Mono Lake

August 19, 2008

Mono Lake

In 1982 I traveled to Mono Lake, near Yosemite National Park in California, to witness the tragedy of a national treasure being sucked dry by the demand for water elsewhere.  For 40 years the rivers that fed the lake – Lee Vining, Rush, Walker and others – had been diverted to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, and evaporation was rapidly dropping the lake levels so low that what was previously a vastly rich ecosystem was now about to collapse to dust.

Mono Lake is a basin surrounded by mountains.  It has no outlet.  Fresh water streams fill the basin and as the water evaporates it leaves behind a brackish lake that is home to an amazing variety of brine shrimp and other aquatic animals, insects and tufa towers!  Birds loved the shrimp and alkali flies.  For millenia the lake was a waypoint to thousands of migratory fowl.  In its middle was an island which provided an immensely dense breeding ground, protected by water from predators.

Then the lake levels dropped; a land bridge appeared  – and that allowed coyotes and other carnivores to help themselves to a high-protein egg feast.  [Aside:  There is an interesting story somewhere about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers trying to blow up the land bridge to save the breeding ground; it was an extraordinary failure.] By 1982 the lake level had dropped almost 40 feet from its historic levels.  I shot over a hundred photographs of what I thought was the death rattle of (what some say is) the oldest lake in North America.

But the obituary was a bit premature.  Around the same time an organized push was made to save the lake.  Through its efforts and the efforts of others the Mono Lake Committee successfully petitioned the California State Water Resources Control Board (CSWRCB) to reduce the flow diversions to a point where lake levels are now slowly climbing.  The land bridge is again under water.

Today Mono Lake is 10 feet higher than when I visited, but still 34 feet below its historic level, and has about 8 more to go to reach the targets set by the CSWRCB.  Even so, it is a step in the right direction and an inspiration to those who long to find that balance between societal demands and natural resources.  I was (un)lucky enough to capture photographs of what will hopefully be, in another generation, submerged land.

Georgia on My Mind

August 13, 2008

I haven’t cared much for politics these days and I can’t wait for November 5th.  But the Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia and the various political responses made my eyes go a-rolling.

George Bush was exactly right when he said:

“Georgia is a sovereign nation, and its territorial integrity must be respected.”

It’s unfortunate that we as a nation no longer have the moral or global standing to give that statement any teeth.

A World of Metric

August 13, 2008

Buzzfeed had an article today about all the countries in the world that haven’t embraced the metric system.  There are but three left:  Burma, Liberia and the U.S.  This is, like, embarrassing.

Actually, most engineers, scientists and technicians in our country have used the metric system for many years; even car mechanics use metric (and well as English) wrench sets for use on foreign vehicles.  Our country’s general refusal to adapt is, however, a harbinger of its eventual collapse.

Average America needs to get off its collective couch and get with it.

While we’re at it, we also need to successfully wean ourselves from the QWERTY keyboard to something more ergonomic, before we’re left with nothing but wimpy handshakes from all that carpal tunnel.