Saturday, January 17, 2015

Spectacular SpaceX Video of Falcon 9 Recovery Experiment

Rocket explosions are always spectacular and, provided no one is harmed, something to see if you appreciate the flash, bang, crash of it all. Therefore, I duly provide a link to a Spaceflight Now article that includes the video released by SpaceX of their attempt to propulsively land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket that successfully sent supplies to the International Space Station last week. This landing was performed on an autonomous barge in the Atlantic ocean, about 200 miles downrange from the Cape Canaveral launch site.

In fairness, you should also see a video of one of the many successful full-scale test flights that led up to this recovery experiment.

I imagine the crash video will get a lot of play, because—hey—crash! explosion! flying debris!, but probably without the proper context which is roughly this: nobody else has ever attempted to do what SpaceX attempted here: recovery of a rocket after it has flown its mission into space … and not only that, but recovery entirely intact, such that, after appropriate checkouts and repairs, it can fly again.

(As a nation, America had a great opportunity to build an even more economical and re-usable vehicle—that’s “reusable" as in airliner, not “partially salvageable” as in Space Shuttle—with the proposed Delta Clipper project, whose sub-scale prototype, referred to by the shorthand "DC-X”, is mentioned at the bottom of the Spaceflight Now article, but NASA management bungled that possibility utterly when they selected Lockheed to develop an un-prototyped and completely different design as the “follow-on” X-33 project.)

SpaceX and this rocket, the Falcon 9, have already changed the worldwide launch market by delivering large payloads to space (and optionally bringing materials back in their Dragon capsule, as they do with each of their supply flights to the International Space Station) at an excellent price (and so far their reliability has been 100%).

If SpaceX can succeed in making recoverable the Falcon 9 first stage, and later the second stage (as is their stated goal), they’ll revolutionize the launch market with their ability to profitably launch large payloads into space at an unbeatable fraction of the price charged by their competitors. That’ll be a great thing for everyone except their competitors (in the short run), and their competitors are already receiving a long-overdue and badly-needed kick in the ass, as SpaceX runs rings around them in terms of technology, the rate at which they can bring it to market, their willingness to fund more-or-less everything out of their own pocket (including very-high-risk experiments like stage recoverability), and so on. I’m reminded of the stagnant “smart” phone market prior to the (seemingly) sudden appearance of the iPhone, which changed everything. It’s good when the complacent market leaders have the rug pulled out from under them by a brilliant upstart.

While I’m sure SpaceX wants to recover the hardware from every flight, and in time they can probably manage that (or come very close), in the meantime I can’t help but be reminded of the quality control criteria for one of America’s secret weapons in WW II: the proximity fuse. It was decided that anti-aircraft shells equipped with those fuses were so effective against enemy aircraft, that it was OK if the fuses failed 50% of the time - the half that worked more than made-up for the half that didn’t. I think the same is true here: even if only 50% of the recoveries are successful, it would make a huge difference to the price point at which SpaceX could offer launches.

I’ve gone on too long, I think, but enjoy the kaboom. And here’s wishing the SpaceX folks complete success with their next attempt in two or three weeks.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Squirrels Removed, Owls Return

Screech owl cam’ viewers will be pleased to know that, although there's nothing to view yet, with the removal of the squirrels, the owls are checking out the nest box with increasing frequency. (Yeah, I'll probably graph it, but not at the moment.)

I have to hope that they won't actually begin nesting until March, as has been the case most years, because I still have to integrate a high-definition color/monochrome camera into the box, and into my homegrown owl cam’ software. The quickest way to integrate it into the box may be to build a new box using a much simpler design that I've been thinking about for a few years. The new design would solve a number of shortcomings in the current design that've become apparent over the last thirteen years, and would also add enough new interior space to accommodate the high-def camera, which, regrettably, is much larger than any other camera I've used in the nest box.

All I need in order to pull this off is sensible owls that will wait until March to nest, some monetary blood letting (as opposed to outright hemorrhaging) to complete the new audio/video setup, no nasty surprises from the new camera, a little luck with the software work, and a massive, sustained surge of energy that'll make it possible to accomplish all of that in whatever time I have. It's that last bit about the energy that worries me the most.

Interested parties may, as they see fit, wish me luck, knock on wood, and so forth.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Removing Squirrels from the Owl Box

One unpleasant chore done: I've removed three very nice fox squirrels from the owl box. It always makes me feel like a bully and a scoundrel, but if the owls are going to nest in the box, the squirrels have to go. It's likely they'll be back in about a week, but the process of making the owl box feel like a dangerous place to be a squirrel is underway. In the meantime, when the owls poke their heads in the box, they'll see that it's available and should return to nest in it again this year.

Longtime readers may recall that I thought I'd solved the squirrel-in-the-owl-box problem a few years back when I placed a dedicated squirrel box in the same tree as the owl nest box. The idea being that a squirrel, or family of squirrels, would occupy the squirrel box, and their natural territoriality would cause them to repel any other fox squirrels that wanted to move into their home tree.

That worked for two years. I think the problem this year is that the squirrel family unit living in the squirrel box has been successful enough over these years that it has exceeded the (comfortable) capacity of the squirrel box, causing various family members to seek lodging in the next best place in the tree: the owl box.

That said, the number of squirrels in the owl box on any given night this winter has varied from zero to three. So, they must have at least one other nest site, presumably the squirrel box. I hope the three I had to pick on tonight will simply move back into that box, and write-off the owl box as a promising, but ultimately failed, experiment. Regrettably, I have no cameras in the squirrel box, so I can only speculate about the goings on in there.

Meanwhile, I encountered one of my owls one night ago, so they're around, just as one would expect. I'm also trying to have some significant upgrades in place for this season. As usual, I've left it a bit late (I was hesitant to spend the money), but I haven't yet fully proved that the new gear will behave as desired, so worst case, it'll be a moot point. Best case, I'll soon be in a flat-out race against time to integrate the new stuff. Wish me luck, and remember that the owl cam' has had to relocate to

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Silent (Unthinking, Well-Educated) Majority

“Both the allegiance and socialization processes cause the educated to believe that what America does is right. Public opinion polls show the nonthinking results. In late spring 1966, just before the United States began bombing Hanoi and Haiphong in North Vietnam, Americans split 50-50 as to whether we should bomb these targets. After the bombing began, 85 percent favored the bombing while only 15 percent opposed. The sudden shift was the result, not the cause, of the government’s decision to bomb. The same allegiance and socialization processes operated again when policy changed in the opposite direction. In 1968, war sentiment was waning; but 51 percent of Americans opposed a bombing halt, partly because the United States was still bombing North Vietnam. A month later, after President Johnson announced a bombing halt, 71 percent favored the halt. Thus, 23 percent of our citizens changed their minds within a month, mirroring the shift in government policy. This swaying of thought by policy affects attitudes on issues ranging from our space program to environmental policy and shows the so-called “silent majority” to be an unthinking majority as well. Educated people are overrepresented among these straws in the wind.” [Emphasis added. —CWJ]

Excerpt from: James W. Loewen. “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” 2nd. edition. Perseus, 2010-09-16. iBooks.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Screech Owl Cam’ Attic Views Added

I’ve added live views from the attic camera to the Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’ main page. (If you don’t see the “attic” views listed among the other views, you may need to reload the page a time or two to get a current version of the page.)

Since we’re currently waiting for the hatching of the first egg (literally any hour now, if last year’s first egg time-to-hatch period is representative) the attic view provides an additional chance of getting the first look at the hatching or hatchling, assuming Mme. Owl isn't sitting on the eggs during the entire hatching process (usually she would be, so there’s nothing to see, but the relatively high temperatures in the nest box on recent afternoons means that she doesn't have to incubate continuously, and that creates opportunities to see the eggs and, soon, the hatchlings).

I hope you find it interesting.

BTW, attic views from 12 hours ago are not currently available, because the camera software hasn’t yet accumulated 12 hours of images from the attic. Once it has done so, I’ll add that viewing option.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Return of The Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’

With my thanks to everyone who helped make it possible, I’d like to announce that Chris’ Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’ is back from the dead and has even returned to its old home.

To the best of my knowledge, the first egg has not yet hatched (I’m guessing it will tomorrow), so, while I couldn’t share two weeks of brooding, I will be able to share all four weeks of owlet raising.

Tell your friends.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Owl Cam' Situation Report

Friday morning, I spoke about the owl cam' situation with a very pleasant member of the staff of the President's Office at the The University of Texas at Austin. The person knew exactly who I was from the start of the conversation, so the owl cam' must, as they confirmed, be getting some attention in the President's Office. I asked about the status of the situation, but learned only that the matter was being discussed (or words to that effect).

I brought up the issue that, while I have no desire to cause them problems, or rush them, there's nothing I can do about the schedule on which the screech owls are operating, and I'm expecting the first egg to hatch this coming Wednesday, possibly sooner. Since that marks the beginning of the most interesting and educational phase of nesting, and the one I'm confident people look forward to the most, I asked that that time constraint be factored into their considerations. That issue was duly noted, and I offered to assist them in any way I could. It was suggested that I might hear from them that afternoon (I assumed that would be a request for further information, rather than a resolution), but that didn't happen. No gripe there; they made no promise, best laid plans and so on....

Perhaps Monday.

Regrettably, I think the folks involved in the discussion/decision have never had the opportunity to see the screech owl cam' site. Therefore, I wonder what opinions they've formed about it, and how those might be feeding into the discussion. The copies of the site in the Internet Archive would be indispensable if that were the problem, but I've seen those copies and they look terrible for reasons I have yet to nail down (missing style sheets and graphics seem to be part of the problem - but why weren't those archived along with everything else?). If they could see the site, rather than working, I suspect, in something of a vacuum, I can't help but wonder if they'd have an easier time reaching their decision. In this matter, however, I've entered the realm of speculation, since I know nothing about the nature of the decision making process that's underway.

BTW, readers who clearly have some experience with environments like mine, have asked whether the site was forced down due to central IT technical issues, excessive network use, inappropriate use of University resources, or use of University time to run the site. All good questions. The answers are, respectively: no, the site is hosted independent of our central IT resources; no, our networking team—of which I was a member for many years—watches for excessive host bandwidth utilization and may be depended upon to contact those people whose hosts approach the top of the charts, and I was not contacted; no, the screech owl cam' site conforms with all versions of our Acceptable Use Policy that I have seen (that's why, among other things, my links to books on Amazon are links uncontaminated by Amazon's profit sharing scheme, so I make no money whatsoever when someone buys one of them); and, finally, no, I don't use University time to run the site - all of the data is gathered and archived by my home computer (and other hardware there), so, in practice, I have to be at home to process it to produce the daily image galleries, write updates, perform routine maintenance, etc.

In fact, the site was forced down by a manager who promised me from day one that there would never be any problem with my continuing to host it on my office computer—something I'd already been doing for eleven years, so you may be certain I made a point of raising that issue—who watched the cam' last year, was aware that it was already running this year, and who is even taking an ongoing loan of a screech owl nest box from me. What's good for that goose is, evidently, all that matters to it in this world.