Wednesday, May 30, 2012

NASA's tips for revisiting lunar landing sites (someone at NASA has a sense of humour)

Last week I read a document called NASA's Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve The Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts.

Scientists at NASA wrote the 93-page tome due to interest by new organizations in visiting the moon. Some nations like China and the U.S. are planning lunar missions, but there's also private interest. For instance, the Google Lunar X Prize has 26 teams competing to get a robot to the moon by 2015, have it drive around for 500 metres (or more), and send HD imagery and video back to earth. Winning teams can qualify for $30 million dollars in prizes!

The NASA report - if you can get through all 93 pages - is fascinating. It has all kinds of recommendations for preventing damage to existing moon artifacts. For instance, lunar spacecraft should fly tangentially (aka, beside) existing lunar landing sites instead of over top of them, to avoid kicking up corrosive moon dust or spitting down unburned propellant - either of which could damage the sites and artifacts. Landing too close to a scientific site could cover LRRRs - Laser Ranging Retro-Reflectors - in moon dust. We bounce lasers off LRRRs from the earth and measure how long it takes for the laser to bounce back. This measures the distance between the earth and the moon, and also tests Einstein's Theory of Relativity. These experiments don't work with the mirrors covered in dust!

NASA says that sites of utmost historic importance (Apollo 11 and Apollo 17, the first and last manned visits of the Apollo era) shouldn't be visited at all - they are rightfully considered important milestones for humanity:

"Project Apollo in general, and the flight of Apollo 11 in particular, should be viewed as a watershed in human history and humanity. It was the first instance in human history in which emissaries from this planet visited another body in the solar system. It represented the culmination of years of effort, the significant expenditure of life and resources, and the opening of a new age in human history. The site of that first landing requires preservation; only one misstep could forever damage this priceless human treasure."

NASA says it is permissible to visit the other Apollo sites (12, 14-16). In fact, NASA helpfully supplies a 20-page appendix of items they'd like new moon visitors to study, to determine how they've changed over 40 years on the surface of the moon: thermal paint, gears and dials, bags filled with food and human waste, even the nylon on the iconic lunar American flags. NASA also suggests some experiements, if visitors are so inclined. Here's where they hide their joke (page 52):

"Item J: Push biggest possible rock over edge of crater or rille
Tracks of boulders rolling down slopes have been used to infer geotechnical properties of the surface layer. The large boulder at [lunar site] A17 was sampled because a track implied that it had been part of an outcrop much higher up on the massif. A17 is also the site of an avalanche that is thought to be the result of an (hypothetical) impact on the far side of the massif. Soils that develop on slopes may well be metastable such that avalanches could be easily triggered. Also, it would be fun to push a big rock over a cliff. It is a question whether a rover could push a rock and also observe the descent, but it is worth thinking about." (emphasis added)

Lol, awesome. It's so cool all of this lunar stuff is happening in my lifetime.

NASA Report

Monday, May 28, 2012

Spotted in Utah

Was surprised to see that this was a California plate, not a Utah plate.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Geeky-Fun Wedding Invites & Website

Robyn and I finally got our wedding invites out the door a couple weeks ago. I wanted to design the invites  do something that reflects our personalities - fun, geeky, simple. But not TOO geeky.

That meant no flowers, no cursive text, no spelling out "two thousand and twelve at four o'clock in the afternoon". It also meant no Battlestar Galactica references even if we are both fans.

In the end I used a few pixelated Microsoft Paint "jellybean" doodles of us - I've these little jellybeans for a few years now. I used a ton of whitespace and some simple fonts, and simple text on the inside. (thanks Scott Borys for the font help and other feedback!)

QR code on the back! There is a heart inside. For LOVE.

We also put together a really simple, clean site in Google Sites:

With the website we wanted to do two things: 1) eliminate the need for invite inserts about registries, directions, hotels, etc and 2) match the aesthetic of the invite so that everything feels like part of one package. I think we did a pretty good job!

Oh, we also did a good job not spending too much money on this stuff.

Total costs:
Domain name ( $14/year
Adobe InDesign (free 30-day trial to do invite layout): $0
Invitations: $94 (I sent Saskatoon Fastprint a pdf and they printed 100 invites, cut and folded them).
Picture magnets (not pictured): $70

Total cost for invites and website: $178. Not bad!

I hope Robyn posts a picture of our guestbook from Shutterfly. It's really awesome.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Airplane Seat Recline Promise

I have never reclined my seat in an airplane, and I promise that I never will!

Not even if I'm on a super-long flight, like my 5-hour flight to Iceland last May! Not even if the seat behind me is empty. I just can't bring myself to do it. 

I cannot express the rage and frustration every time that seatbelt light goes off and the seat in front of me immediately snaps back with a ker-THUNK, stealing >20% of my personal space. 

As a BIG person (6'5" - I fill a coach seat snugly but don't "overflow") I go out of my way to make other people's flights as non-miserable as possible, because I know sitting near a big person sucks. When possible, I pay the extra few bucks for exit row seating so I'm not knocking knees with my neighbour. And my elbows are always tucked in beside my armrests to avoid jabbing my neighbour in the ribs or risk starting an "armrest war".

The seat-recline is the ultimate slap in the face to the person behind you, and it is never appropriate to recline your seat:
  • On ANY short-haul flight (less than two hours);
  • ANY time you are not sleeping on a long-haul flight;
  • ANY time you are a small child;
  • ANY time there is a big person behind you;
  • ANY time you recline, only to lean forward and stick your nose in a book (why!?!)

Small people and other would-be recliners: imagine, spatially, experiencing an airplane as a big person. Your knees touch the seat ahead of you no matter how straight you sit. You can't cross your legs or shift around. Your elbows have no lateral room - they stay tightly locked at your sides. Then to top it off, a seat reclines and puts a headrest in between your face and your meal tray. Oh, and the metal from your meal tray also slams into your knees. 

I want all you seat-recliners out there to think about something the next time you fly. There's a fair chance the person behind you will both hate you for reclining your seat, and be too polite to say anything about it. If you let your children recline their seats, well, you're a monster. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Secret Service and Yellow Tracking Dots in Printers

I was happy to receive an email today from freelance journalist Theo Karantsalis. Since 2010, he's been trying to get the US Government to fess up about which printer manufacturers they are in cahoots with.

Readers of my blog may recall an effort I made a few years ago to get Lexmark, the printer company, to fess up to using the tracking dot technology. It eventually worked - they admitted it.

Theo's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request has revealed the other side of the story: the US Secret Service sent him an official list of ten manufacturers that have "fulfilled or agreed to fulfill document identification requests submitted by the Secret Service... using machine identification code technology".

The manufacturers are:

  • Canon
  • Brother
  • Casio
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Konica
  • Minolta
  • Mita
  • Ricoh
  • Sharp
  • Xerox
In other words, these manufacturers have helped (or have agreed to help, in the future) the US Government identify individuals through the near-invisible secret dot pattern that their colour printers print on every page. Lexmark didn't make the list, even though they have the dot technology enabled. 

For those of you keeping track: the government AND the manufacturers have finally fessed up: "yes, this tracking dot technology is a real thing and we use it". So it's not a secret anymore, right? Well... maybe with all the digital privacy issues these days, paper privacy issues don't get precedence. If we can't communicate privately on paper, how can we expect to communicate privately online? 

Brahm's Yellow Dots cross-post

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rising Service Costs at Eurotrend Cars in Saskatoon

I just swallowed a $1,000 service bill on my smart car - replacing a mirror, changing brake fluid, "annual service", and a software upgrade on the "sprintshift module" to fix a shifting issue. It was serviced at  Eurotrend Fine Cars in Saskatoon - that's the VWAG company that sells Mercedes cars and smart cars and as far as I know, the only place in Saskatoon that services smart cars.

Word of warning if you're buying a smart car or a Mercedes - the service costs are constantly rising. I just dug through my old service receipts and this is what I found for the per-hour servicing fee:

Spring 2008 $92
Winter 2008 $110
Spring 2009 $125
Spring 2010 $125
Fall 2010 $140
Spring 2012 $140

Given how quickly rates were raised though 2008-2010 I am surprised I was not paying $200/hour for this service in 2012.

I'm not complaining about the quality of the service (or anything else - overall I like working with Eurotrend) so much as the arbitrary servicing costs. I mean, a rate increase of 152% over three years would be alarming in ANY industry.

This is just another reason that I am a complete car cynic/pessimist. Cars eat up an absurdly high percentage of our annual incomes for the privilege of being able to drive around. Is it worth it? I really don't know. I loved being a pedestrian in Montreal and using the Metro system, but Saskatoon's public transit isn't as good.

I spend $100/month on insurance/plates, another $100 on gas (low for most Canadians I'm sure), then throw in a few hundred dollars for service and repairs - that's upwards of $3,000/year on my car. People who lease or finance spend much more. I'd sure love to take all of that money and just go on a fun vacation instead.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Soccer ID Win

Two ID cards running!

Awww yeah.

(Do I look like a creeper in the second one?)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Complaining Like A Pro

On Sunday Robyn and I returned from a whirlwind road trip where we visted Las Vegas (briefly), the Hoover Dam, Zion and Bryce Canyons in Utah, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

We rented from Avis (a Dodge Avenger, if you must know) and once we pulled out onto the highway, I was not impressed to discover that the windwhield washer fluid tank was bone-dry. This was especially annoying after being nickel-and-dimed on second driver fees, insurance fees, and all the other hidden fees in a car rental in 'Murka. After complaining aloud to Robyn for an hour, I bought a jug of washer fluid for $4 and shut up about it.

When we returned the car, the agent asked us how it went. I told him (in about these words) that "the rental was fine but I was totally unimpressed to find the washer fluid tank completely empty". I told him I spent four bucks on fluid and topped it off myself. He said "let me see what I can do" and when he came back he offered us a $25 credit against our rental.

You know what? I was totally content. I complained politely instead of making a fuss, and he made up for the small hassle in a respectable way. I also appreciated the fact that our first point of contact was able to issue that credit - we didn't have to talk to a manager, or a manager's manager.

Thanks Avis - I appreciated the hassle-free problem resolution! I'd definitely rent from you again, but I'll be checking my fluid levels before leaving the lot.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Awesome Beers

I tried these excellent beers when I was down in the states with Robyn last week. Maybe... MAYBE I only bought them because they had awesome names/bottles.

More posts to come soon! The olde bloge has been dormant for a few weeks but I have some content ideas knocking around in my head.