Flying High With Orion Spacecraft

Orion Spacecraft SplashdownAs a child growing up in the 1970’s, spaceflight was a big deal. I watched the Apollo 11 moon landing while in utero with my parents a month before I was born. While the moon landings were old news by the time I got into school, the Apollo-Soyuz test flight between America and the Soviet Union, the fateful re-entry of Skylab, and the space shuttle program were future milestones. Spaceflight became routine—and home computers caught my interest—in the 1980’s. With the exception of the Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) shuttle disasters, spaceflight was no longer a big deal. With the flawless test flight of the Orion spacecraft to send astronauts to the moon and beyond, perhaps that will change.

Orion wasn’t on my mind at work until I noticed the headline tucked away on a corner of The New York Times website. (Unless something blows up and lives are lost, routine spaceflight will never capture the front page again.) I watched the NASA videos for launch and splashdown of the 4.5-hour mission.

The new spacecraft made a single Low Earth Orbit (LEO), where the space shuttles and the International Space Station travel, before the second stage rocket boosted it into a 3,600-mile high orbit to fly through the Van Allen radiation belt and simulate a 20,000 MPH atmospheric re-entry that blasts the heat shield at 4,000 F degrees. From launch to splashdown, 1,200 sensors sent back telemetry data to help engineers prepare for the next test flight.

As I read the news commentary and review the technical specs of the Delta IV heavy rocket (which normally launches satellites into orbit), I felt like the kid who reviewed the NASA pamphlets on space missions at the local library with hope and excitement. The threat of nuclear annihilation from the Cold War in the 20th century was a good motivation to get off the planet. With the threat of global warming in the 21st century, getting off the planet is still a good idea. The survival of humanity will depend on going into space.

A lot of the focus for the new manned spaceflight is from Earth orbit towards Mars and beyond. (This is where the “deep space” label gets slapped on by commentators, which in my opinion should apply only to space missions beyond the solar system.) What about Venus (second planet from the sun)? Granted, Earth’s sister world isn’t the most inviting place for a manned mission with a sulfuric acid atmosphere hot enough that lead is a liquid. But, like Mount Everest being the tallest peak on Earth, it’s there to visit and closer than Mars.

Blogger Michael J. Battaglia in Scientific American makes a good argument for a flyby visit to Venus: “A circumnavigation of Venus would test our ability to function in deep space, to enter a planet’s gravitational influence, to create robust shielding for the higher radiation at Venus’s relatively close proximity to the sun, to devise zero-g strategies for long-duration flights—all of which would bolster us for an even longer journey to Mars. Besides, for a long-duration mission, we might not want to commit our astronauts to landing on Mars only to find out that they could not walk, their musculature had so degenerated upon arrival. In contrast, the crew of a long Venus round-trip would land not on a faraway planet but back on Earth, where medical attention is readily available if needed.”

Due to ever smaller budgets, NASA will have to compromise mission objectives to get the most bangs for the buck. The next unmanned test flight for Orion to cruise around the moon will be in 2017 or 2018. With the Chinese and the Russians planning missions to the moon, a new space race might make spaceflight more exciting and less routine again.

Big Wow Comicfest 2014 – Godzilla Dances (Video)

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A Godzilla cosplayer dances to the Rock Band video game rendition of “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult at Big Wow Comicfest 2014 (May 16-17, 2014). The first time I used my new iPhone 5C for recording a video. The most obvious mistake was recording in the vertical position, which required downloading a plugin for iMovie to flip the video and add black bars to either side. I won’t be making that mistake again.

Big Wow Comicfest 2014 – Pictures

With the 60th anniversary of “Gojira” and a new film coming out on the same weekend, Godzilla was king of the monsters at Big Wow Comicfest 2014 (May 16-17, 2014).


Chef Carla Hall @ Santana Row

Chef Carla Hall @ Santana RowMy friend and I were at Santana Row last Saturday evening when we walked into Sur La Table to pick up some cooking utensils, saw a display announcing that Chef Carla Hall, current co-host of the “The Chew” and former competitor in “Top Chef” (Season Five), was having a book signing. We both thought that this event was for later this month. A sales clerk informed us that the cooking demo was taking place outside, the book signing was inside, and that Carla was running late from being in Southern California that morning.

Since we had nothing better to do, my friend bought the book, “Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World,” and we stuck around for a few hours.

I’ve been a big fan of “Top Chef” since Season One premiered in 2006 because it was new, different and fun for a Reality TV series. Alas, Season One was special because the chefs were new to competitive cooking, didn’t know what to expect, and put the focus on their cooking. Season Two was horrible as the focus was on the hijinks of the contestants and cooking took a backseat. Every season thereafter was on a downhill slide where I stopped caring about the show over the years. I didn’t watch Season Ten when it aired last year.

Season Five may have been the exception to this sad state of affairs. Carla was the runner-up for that season. Out of the many winners and losers over the years, she has maintained a higher visibility than most by trading in her catering business to become a celebrity chef. Before my car died from a blown head gasket last year, I used to hear her on KGO Radio’s “Cooking With Ryan Scott” from time to time. Since I generally don’t watch TV, I’m not familiar with her work on ABC’s “The Chew.”

Carla arrived an hour late, strolling out of the store and on to the mini stage, where a cooking table with an overhead mirror and prepped food was waiting for her. Caribbean-style music blared out from the restaurant behind her. With her headset on, she introduced herself as she prepared an Italian dish called caponata with eggplants, explained the international flavor of her new cookbook, and took questions about being on “The Chew” and “Top Chef.” She was quite funny and the caponata was quite tasty.

After the cooking demo, Carla went inside the store and my friend lined up outside for the book signing. I spent my time roaming around the store, looking at items and being thankful that I’m unemployed, broke and immune from buying any kitchen gadgets. One item in particular I was looking for was a grill press. Not the BBQ kind, but the ones used in commercial kitchens. I’m using a heavy pot lid to press my hamburger patties on the stove. Alas, the store only had the BBQ kind. My friend, meanwhile, got his book signed and had a picture taken with Carla.

MacWorld Expo 2014

MacWorld Expo 2014After scoring a FREE floor pass for MacWorld/iWorld Expo 2014 from MacKeeper (thanks!), I went up to San Francisco to check things out. I’ve been to the 2006 and 2007 expos when Apple was still the centerpiece exhibitor, and the 2009 expo when exhibitors shifted away from the Mac to the iPhone (the name “iWorld” got added in 2011). Crisscrossing the North Hall floor of the Moscone Center for two hours, my impression of the post-Apple expo haven’t changed at all since 2009: “Meh…”

When Apple was still at the expo, I dropped 50+ business cards into the fish bowls and brought home two plastic bags of promotional swag (most of which ended up in the trash). This time around I dropped two business cards into fish bowls, scanned my badge for two contests, and took home several promotional fliers. On the bright side, I’m not going to get 50+ phone calls from sales people when I interrupted their sales pitch to ask if I won anything, found out that I had no interest in buying their product, and then hang up.

The seventh anniversary of the iPhone introduction at the 2007 expo came earlier this year when I still haven’t gotten an iPhone. That changed several weeks ago when I picked up an iPhone 5c at the Valley Fair Apple Store. What finally pushed me over the edge to get an iPhone was finding a solution to my job search problem: I had phone numbers on my dumb cellphone and email addresses on my MacBook from recruiters, but no easy way to put the two together into a unified contact list. The iPhone brought the two together and LinkedIn provided all the recruiter-related info.

The only thing that caught my attention at the expo was a waterproof iPhone case by Optrix inside a five-gallon fish tank. The iPhone video outputted to a big screen monitor above the fish tank to demonstrate the underwater clarity. The person demoing the product conceded that the water was cloudy (looks like dust from unwashed gravel), showing me the crystal clear video taken from underwater in a swimming pool. I would love take videos of my tropical fishes from inside the tank as they’re very camera-shy if take pictures and videos from outside the tank.

The Metreon has undergone quite a few changes since my last visit when I came up to the City to see “The Dark Knight Rises” in July 2012. Target occupies the second floor, AMC Metreon 14 on the third floor, and the fourth floor, where I saw “Titanic—The Exhibition” in 2006, remain reserved for special events. The circular food court got cut in half to three restaurants, and all the other restaurants now had street entrances for people to get food without wandering through the building. The double cheese bacon hamburger at Super Duper Burgers was incredible for lunch, and the best part of going to San Francisco.