Saturday, April 23, 2016

Space travel

"Some of this we may live to see!"

    Does the name “Harrison “Jack” Schmitt” sound familiar? I’m sad to say that, up until an hour ago, I was unaware of the name. Turns out, Schmitt was the last man to walk on the moon. 

    Up until now I thought Gene Cernan was the last moonwalker, however, Cernan was the 11th person to vacate the moon surface. Harrison Schmitt was with Cernan at the time, and was the last to climb back aboard Apollo 17’s Lunar Module. So, Schmidt has the distinction of being the last man on the moon, and, yet, I didn’t even know he ever visited the place.

    There were two other moonwalkers whose names never registered with me. Edgar Mitchell (the sixth man on the moon and now deceased) and Charles M. Duke, Jr. (10th man). Of the 12 who moon hopped, only seven are still living.

    In December of 1972 the Apollo program came to a halt. We haven’t sent anyone near the moon since. In fact, in 45 years we haven’t “seriously” considered sending humans to any other large chunk of space land. Let’s face it, there is no way on God’s green earth Congress will ever raise taxes enough to fund any planetary mission. The headlines would have to read “Terrorists in Space” before we’d try something like that. And, taxes would not be raised to pay for the mission, so we’d likely sell all of our National Parks.

    From what I’ve been reading, it appears NASA is not going to play that big of a role in future space travel. Did you read anything about SpaceX, a space travel corporation, delivering a large package to the International Space Station last week?  Another corporation, “United Launch Alliance”  paid for the delivery of the package that contained an inflatable space habitat that is to be attached to the space station.

The giant space domicile is covered in a “kevlar-like” substance and is to be tested for its practicality in a plan to commercialize space. If all goes well, there will be, in the not too distant future, some hotels and factories in space. Such a venture will take a whale of an investment. A pod of whales, even. 

This brings up the subject of banks. Banks in outer-space will likely be even harder to monitor than those in the Caymans. I don’t see how a stellar bank could fall under any regulation by the SEC. And, OSHA, the EPA the FTC, ICC, EEOC and the LMNOP would not be pestering the factory owners. It will be like a cruise ship that never docks; just motors around in International waters. Talk about an incentive for corporate relocation!

As fascinating as all of this sounds, the ideas about future space travel is pure wonderment. Astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking, has joined Russian billionaire, Yuri Milner, in constructing multiple “nanocraft,” weighing just a few grams, to travel to the nearest star system, Alpha Centaurus. Once they get there, they’ll scout the whole area out for “habitable conditions.” Maybe take some “in-focus” snapshots of extraterrestrials.    

    These nanocraft will be like itty bitty ships with tiny sails. Their propulsion will be caused by light particles provided by giant space lasers hitting their sails. The speed of light is around 670 million mph. Hawking believes the nanocraft will travel at about 100 million mph. I guess there’s some kind of dark matter drag on tiny space ships, or else they’d be going as fast as light. 

    Each ship will have a computer that weighs a gram. The computer will allow the ships to record data and send it back by way of the laser beam. From the moment the mega-laser is switched on, it will take about 100 years to send and receive info on the “Spaceshot” mission.

    The big holdup at the moment is the fact that the technology does not exist to create a one-gram computer or a big enough laser or even a single nano-craft. But, Hawking believes that, at the current rate of technological growth, the capability should be reached in a couple of years. (I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this, but Hawking is the brains of the operations, while Yuri handles the money side of things.)

    None of us will live to see the project reach fruition… unless Einstein was wrong in his theory that faster-than-light travel is impossible. If man learns to travel at warp speed, then these little “impossible to build” ships could reach Alpha Centaurus in about six years.

    To me, the most encouraging thing about all this, is not the possibility for success. It is the technology that will have been developed from the mere effort. Forget photos of aliens and casinos in space. Wise and learned people could actually use some of this technology to solve some of the problems down here.

Without question, technological advancements were the best thing to come out of the Apollo program. At this very moment, methods and instrumentation is being thought up that could bring about great change even in my screwball life. Regardless, none of it will affect the moment of “now.”

I recently ran across some words written by American novelist Jonathan Foer. He wrote: “My greatest regret was how much I believed in the future.” --  Me, I place little confidence in my thoughts of the future. But, I can’t stop wondering about it. Who can?


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Of drive-ins and refineries...

A good week

    ROOFTOP -- This evening is a perfect drive-in night. It’s cool, no mosquitoes and little breeze. The only thing missing is a drive-in theatre. D’oh! There’s always something.

    Most of my drive-in experiences were with family. If I recall, I only took one girl to the drive-in, and that was Kay. It was our second date, and we saw “Gone with the Wind” at the Pasadena Drive-In. In Pasadena we had three drive-ins from which to choose. The Red Bluff, Gulfway and The Pasadena Drive-in. 

    They’re all gone now. The last to be demolished was the Red Bluff. It lasted longer because it started showing X-rated movies. I never took Kay to the Red Bluff during that era. It was a travesty to the common decency of mankind. There was a massive beam of light from screen-left, and it was aimed at the traffic on Red Bluff Road. However, there was a narrow gap in the blaring light that provided a narrow window of opportunity for a slow-passerby to witness what was going on. That’s how I learned about the travesty. 

    Many still miss the days of the drive-in theatre. I miss them the way I miss the days of no air conditioning and acne. Yes, take me back to the time of caked-on Clearasil and attic fans that sucked in the air from refineries along the Ship Channel. The refineries just north of our house released some bad stuff at night. One morning we woke up with green walls. (I kid you not.) Fortunately, Mom was able to wipe it all off. I’d like to say we kids helped her. I’d sure like to be able to say that.

    Unfortunately, there’s still pollution today, but… Uh, I’m sorry. I can’t come up with a good “but” to attach to the statement. I’ll just leave it the hope one shows itself. Fortunately, I’m in no mood to take this article to the morose. -- Morose? That’s my word for the week. Last week’s was “cusp.”

Before you joined me, I was thinking about how good things are going for me. For one thing, the oil in Kay’s car has been changed. And -- get this -- oil changer kid didn’t come to the waiting room to show me a dirty filter that needed replacing. – “Sir, this is your cabin filter or engine air filter or power brake filter… Cars are so much better today because they’re filtered. A guy from the Czech Republic even invented filters for filters. He now owns Prague. (Yes. Pulled it right out of the air.)

The guy waiting with me in the oil change waiting room needed a filter changed. It was a long one, too. The oil-changer kid came in the door and said, “Mr. Smi—“ Smith didn’t let him finish. He didn’t even look up. He said, “Go ahead and change it. There’s always a filter needing changed, and I always tell you to change it.” I think it’s the Smiths of this world who make it hard for the rest of us to trust oil changers.

    Along with my oil change, I got $10 off a car wash. When you get the oil changed and your car washed, it’s time for the dance of joy. Add to that the fact that after yesterday’s inspection by our air conditioner man, we got a gold star, and you’ll find me near giddy… which is eleven miles north of Jasper. (I’m having an attack of lunacy. Should go away any minute.)

I don’t mean to convey the wrong message, but I love our air conditioner man. I am pretty much at the mercy of anyone who services things with moving parts. I call it “too dumb to know.” Steven Wallace knew from the moment of his first service call to my house that I’m dumb as dirt when it comes to air conditioners and most things that have moving parts. Yet, when I ask my mirror on the wall “Who is the fairest of them all?” I hear, “It’s Kay, but your air conditioner man is a close second.”

Several other happenings have made this past week a really good one for the Hayters, Kay and I bought a new lawnmower. In last week’s article we were just thinking about it, but since then it’s happened. The mower is an orange self-propelled mower. It’s made in the U.S. by a company out of Sweden called Husqvarna. It’s hard to pronouce because the Swedes have no “U” after their “Qs”. Apparently.

My Huskavarvicyah has a Honda engine. Every male I talk too seems to get turned on when I mention the word “Honda” in reference to a small engines. I get a good feeling, I’m just not impassioned. I’m fairly sure I lack just a tad of macho.

The greatest thing about the mower is the fact that it starts with only a partial tug on the cord. Kay can start it easily. And – I’m not joking here – Kay has discovered that she enjoys mowing the lawn. Things are going so well for me that I feel guilty.

Whoa, I seem to have run out of time and space. Everyone climb down quickly. Some of you can still make it to the second feature at the drive-in, but only if you can find one near your house. Don’t expect Kay and me to double date with you, though. Kay didn’t even enjoy the drive-in experience we had on our second date. Couldn’t have been too bad, ‘cause she did agree to a third date. – Next time.   end

The Red Bluff Drive-in during days of decline

Monday, April 11, 2016

Bob's your uncle

Random English Speak 

    Spring is in the air and all is right in some parts of the world. Maybe a county or two over. From where I sit, all is fine, but not right. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced everything being right. Not even while being anesthetized.

    Yesterday morning, I saw my first lovebug of the season. I was sitting on the carport reading, drinking my coffee, feeling the wind gusts, occasionally blowing my nose, scratching my right arm… You know, the usual?

    Right in mid-scratch, a lone lovebug landed on my scratcher-arm. That’d be my left during a right arm itch. It was smaller than usual… the bug. Had it been mature it would’ve had a help mate. I pick up on stuff like that.

    Usually a bug has to bite me, sting me, fly up my nose or nest in my ear before I’ll get audibly demonstrative. But the sight of the first lovebug caused me to swear like a Brit. – “You cheeky tosser!” -- I’ve been relearning English by watching PBS. I don’t know what the words mean, but I like the delivery.

    So, we’ll have bug-coated windshields and caked-on side mirrors in the not too distant future. But, Bob’s your uncle. That’s all in the future. Right now, my windshield has just the normal layer of bird defecation and dirt on it.

    The part of spring I generally enjoy are the sounds; they have such potential for instilling peace and calm. This morning I was reading indoors in Kay’s “Woman Cave.” I don’t have a cave. I have a study, but the light is better for reading in Kay’s cave room. On this occasion, it was difficult to concentrate because of the noise from a distant cement truck, leaf grinder, tornado simulator… Something really loud. Loud and constant.

    Our new windows are great at blocking most outdoor noises. If you’re willing to pay every cent of your life-savings, you can get some good windows. And, they’ll install ‘em for you. For free! Which is a good thing, because, like I said, you’ve spent your last penny on ‘em. You’re centless.

    Did you know that I can wash the outside of my windows from the inside? I don’t remember how, but I know it can be done. The installer demonstrated it. The demonstration lasted as long as it takes a cat to placidly stare at a dangling piece of yarn. Not to worry, I don’t care to clean windows. It’s enough to know that the job can be done from the inside.

    Of course, that has nothing to do with the machine sound coming through the soundproof windows in the Woman Cave. It got so bad that I decided to give up on reading, and go out and help Kay start the mower. I came up with that idea right after Kay entered her domicile and said, “I’m going to mow the lawn.” Anyone familiar with Kay’s voice tones would pick up on the fact that her comment was more of a request. In essence she said, “How about getting off your bum and helping me start the sod plucker!” Kay, too, watches a lot of PBS.

    You wanna know what’s crazy? Here’s what’s crazy. Kay started the mower all by herself last time. Mowed half the yard. The mower ran perfectly. Kay and I did the dance of joy. However, this time, Kay yanked at the cord and it came out about six inches and then stopped with a “clank!”

    I eased Kay to the side and said something like, “Let me show you how it’s done.” – “Yank! Clank!” -- I got a better grip and tried again. – “Yank! Whomp, clank!” That sound is never good. Begs the question – What would make a lawnmower develop massive metal lockage when not in use for two weeks?

    Begs a second question – Do I spend from $150 to $350 to fix a five-year-old, $400 lawnmower; or do I give it to our good friend Ed? – Kay answered the question for me. -- “I’ve been after you for two years to get rid of this thing. I’m calling Ed!”

    The way I see it, for one beautiful day in March, we did not pollute the neighborhood with the noise of our lawnmower. Fortunately, tomorrow there will be some serious noise. Kay called Terry, the neighborhood yard mower person, and she’s coming over to mow and weed-eat.

Which begs a third question. – Do I invest in a $400 lawnmower that I may have to keep starting for Kay until my arm heals (very last time I’m mentioning the bum arm) or do I pay $400 to have the yard mowed and weed-ate eight times? In which case, I won’t have to store, maintain, start or even follow my self-owned mower.

    Life? It’s full of mystery and “what ifs” and “should haves.” Occasionally something is going get you completely knackered. But, always remember this -- In time, you’ll be able to say “Bob’s my uncle.”  -- Next time. 


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Gardening again!

How Kay looks when she gets her way.
“No sway, friends! I have no sway!”

    Although it goes against everything I stand for, I once again find myself involved in the preparing and maintaining of another of Kay’s gardens. For the past two planting seasons, I’ve managed to keep our homestead gardenless. That means less work and less expenditures. But, this year Kay turned on me.  

    She’s not even crafty anymore. Instead of trying to trick me into agreement on some hairbrain notion of hers, she just up and tells me what she’s going to do. The woman has gone rogue.

    One morning last week I was headed out the door to take out the garbage. Kay said, “Hey that box on the carport contains edging for a raised garden bed.” -- Just like that. She paid $30 for an eight by four-foot raised garden border without asking me.

We have an understanding that we can each spend upwards of $60 without consulting the other. She can buy shoes or jewelry without telling me. I can purchase a $60 tool or toy without consulting her. But, it’s understood that we each need permission before we can spend any amount of money on a project that requires involvement for the both of us. Stuff like that leads to chaos.

No matter. Unbeknownst to me, a $30 unassembled garden bed ended up on the carport. (Cool word “unbeknownst.”) Blindsided I was. -- “Oh, we’re going to need to buy some top soil. I figure it will take about 24 cubic feet,” she said. -- Cubic feet? Kay doesn’t do math. I have no idea how many times I’ve had to tell her what nine times six is or eight times seven. She’s no good with multiplying, yet, she somehow figured out cubic feet. I can only assume it’s due to the resent onslaught of bad juju.

A girl at Home Depot loaded the bags of top soil for me. I wore my arm sling as way of indicating I had a bad wing. Had I not done that she would’ve judged me as just another lazy old man. She probably sees a lot of us. I mean “them.” She sees them. -- I tipped her well. She seemed surprised. See what I mean about prejudging?

When I got home, Kay helped me unload the top soil. She took none of my suggestions about where to locate the garden. -- “No, we’re going to put it on the southeast corner of the front yard.” -- To her credit she dug out the plot pretty much by herself. I helped put the bedding border together, and helped her haul each bag of topsoil. When we finished, she said we could go get the tomato plants the next day.

So, it’s a tomato garden. I recommended okra, but I was not thinking rationally. We bought four varieties of tomatoes. The types that I recommended were all wrong. Every one of ‘em. I might as well have been handing her a pots of okra. – “No, that one grows too big. That one matures too early. That one too late…” It’s like she’s pulling this nonsense out of her… place where she stores her nonsense.  

Kay did agree to buy one tomato plant in a hanging basket. I don’t know what kind it was, but that buddy already had over 50 tiny tomatoes on it. I'm not joking. It was covered with ‘em. I told Kay that I’d hang it in the backyard by the kitchen window, so we could keep an eye on it. When we got home, she hung it in the front yard so we could check on it as we walked to the mailbox.

You know what’s happening, don’t you? I’ve traced it all back to my arm injury. (And, this will be the last time I bring up the subject. I know you thought last week’s article was the last time, but I was mistaken.) Ever since the doctor cautioned me not to push, pull or lift anything heavy, Kay has been taking on more of the manly chores around here. 

Last week, she mowed most of the yard. She even started the lawnmower by herself. I gave her a quick lesson on what to do, and she yanked that cord, picked herself up off the ground and yanked it one more time. That one did the trick. The girl was in a zone.

She’s been doing most of the driving, some of the vacuuming and occasionally works the TV remote. She folds the sheets, too. I hate to fold sheets. Fitted sheets should be disposable, you ask me.

And, as you have gathered, Kay is making at least 90 percent of the decisions around this place. How long will that last? Who knows? At some point, I will have to put my foot down. – “Okay, darling, from now on I’m driving this team of mules.” or “Sweetpea, there’s a new sheriff in town, and he’s not you.”

More likely, it will go something like – “Uh, darling, would you go back to tricking me into doing what you want? I know it sounds ridiculous, but I need to believe that my opinion holds sway. As of now, I have no sway. I’m swayless. Now, I’m going to forget about the $164 you spent on your small tomato garden. What I want is to reclaim my manhood. It got tossed with my sway.”

Kay will likely say something like, “Well, why didn’t you say something? Tell you what, I’m going to go shopping this evening to get you a new T-shirt. Maybe two. Might pick me up a pair shoes while I’m at it. Okay?” – That’s more like it.

$20 plant with a billion tomatoes on it.