Monday, January 29, 2007

Anything for a weird life...

Searching a large, dark, cluttered closet for a screech owl, while a Mississippi kite perches overhead, watching, and calling-out impatiently for someone to bring it its mouse dinner.

"Do you know anyone who can get me some moles?"

"Nope. Want a shrew? I also have a beaver."

Balancing thirty-plus feet in the air on a ten-foot ladder standing in the upraised bucket-loader of a tractor, trying to insert an enraged barn owl into a nest box.

"We mounted that one a little high. Careful, now."

Just a few of the situations that confront people who have wildlife rehabilitators for friends.

Of course, those're nothing compared to the stories the rehabbers, themselves, could tell you.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Geminids and Mysteries Revisited

When you have an old house with a mail slot, rather than a mailbox, you don't have to pay any attention to your mail until the drifts begin to block access to the front door, or until someone shuts off your utilities. Hoping to head-off the latter, this evening I began one of my occasional excavations. Deposited here and there in the accumulated strata of junk mail were the dreaded bills, but also a few unexpected gems in the form of holiday cards, obsolete now, some would say, but I prefer to think of them as aged to perfection.

Significantly, one was from Margaret & David Bamberger. In it, Margaret said she'd read my blog post "Geminids and Mysteries" and "[...] when I read about your mystery critter I had to laugh because when we were camping one time a similar thing happened. After being awake for a while wondering if I should hide in the truck because I couldn't imagine what was out there, I finally figured out that a bunch of feral pigs were hanging out doing god knows what."

That's the best identification of my mystery critters suggested so far, and I'm inclined to accept it. So, now I know. Probably.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. statue on The University of Texas at Austin campus. ©2007 Chris W. Johnson.

"[I]n any movement or struggle there come times when you need some individual or some group of individuals to step forward and become the symbol of the struggle, the personification of its essence, the face, if you will, of what you are fighting for. Call it a leader, but it's not a leader in the sense of any kind of control. It's a leader in terms of inspiration and vision. It's a man or woman who doesn't see him- or herself as any larger than the movement itself.

"Martyrs, champions, men and women of all kinds throughout time have stepped forward as this kind of figure, from Jesus to Joan of Arc. Gandhi played this role in the struggle for liberation in India. John F. Kennedy became it for many Americans at the turn of the 1960s. Martin Luther King played it for a large section of the civil rights movement."

John Lewis with Michael D'Orso, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of a Movement, pg. 302.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day honors more than Dr. King, it honors all of the people of America's civil rights movement. Their struggles, sacrifices, and even deaths, did more to advance the never ending cause of cleansing and perfecting the soul of our nation than any other effort in my lifetime. To my mind, that makes this a national day of honor and remembrance of the first order; more resonant than Independence Day, more significant than the birthday of any of our presidents, or of Dr. King, himself. "Thank you all" isn't adequate, but it ought to be said, and that's a big part of what Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is about.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Donuts on a Rope

An update to the "Exotic Propulsion Aircraft" page on the Federation of American Scientists web site that was recently brought to my attention provides a new photograph of a "donuts on a rope" contrail, shot on November 10, 2006. These contrails are interpreted by many people as evidence of secret, high-speed aircraft utilizing Pulse Detonation Wave Engines (PDWE). The "donuts" in the contrails are thought to correspond to the individual detonations that propel the craft.

Donuts on a rope contrail. ©2006 Chris W. Johnson
Donuts on a rope contrail closeup. ©2006 Chris W. Johnson
Donuts on a rope contrail. ©2006 Chris W. Johnson
Donuts on a rope contrail closeup. ©2006 Chris W. Johnson
Origin of contrail. ©2006 Chris W. Johnson

I would dearly love to believe that the origin of these contrails is a secret aircraft, because I'm fascinated by such things, because I've been waiting to see such a contrail ever since I first read about them in the May 11, 1992, issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine ("New Evidence Bolsters Reports of Secret, High-Speed Aircraft", page 62), and, most particularly, because I observed and photographed two "donuts on a rope" contrails on June 26, 2006.

The photos shown here are of the second contrail, which was the more clearly defined of the two. They were shot from windows on the 25th floor of The University of Texas at Austin Tower using a Canon Digital Rebel camera set at ISO 200 and equipped with a Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 image-stabilized lens. The contrails proceeded from east to west. These photos were taken between 8:01 and 8:03 PM CDT.

The final photo, taken at 8:03 PM, shows the origin of the contrail as it neared the western horizon. In order to maximize contrast, the photo's dynamic range has been expanded to its useful limits, a yellow filter applied, and it has been converted from color to monochrome. Unfortunately, there isn't enough detail to identify the aircraft. However, given the specificity of the time and place, FAA flight logs should make an identification possible. (If someone does make that identification, I hope they'll leave a comment with the details.)

For myself, I do not believe PDWE-powered aircraft were responsible for either of the contrails I observed. First, it seems unlikely to me that a secret aircraft would be flown over a large city in broad daylight, especially twice in one afternoon. Second, I heard no remarkable sounds before, or during, my observation of these contrails. Third, and most significantly, the photograph of the origin of the contrail shows that the contrail begins as two separate trails, each one presumably from the jet engines on either side of a commercial airliner. I can only speculate that atmospheric conditions, combined with the air turbulence produced by the aircraft, conspired to merge the two trails into one, and to disturb it at regular intervals, perhaps as a wake vortex periodically intersected the trail.

Of course, I'd much prefer to believe that I'd recorded evidence of a secret aircraft, due to my long-standing fascination with such things (and what photographer wouldn't like to have taken an "important" photograph?), but I believe the evidence points to a prosaic origin in these two cases, and ultimately leaves me in doubt as to the significance of any of the "donuts on a rope" observations.

Disappointing, but interesting, nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Blue Origin Revealed

Jeff Bezos' team at Blue Origin has been extremely secretive about the rocket they've been developing (until now), but it was pretty clear that it was going to be a vertical take-off, vertical landing (VTVL) vehicle, and probably a lot like the Delta Clipper Experimental (DC-X) vehicle that BMDO and NASA flew years back. Well, Blue Origin has finally shown the world what they've been working on, and, yes, the Delta Clipper concept is reborn, and flying, right here in Texas.


(If you folks ever need panoramic, or stereo, photos of your setup, just say the word. :-)

Memory Lane

Here's a video of the first flight of DC-X on August 18th, 1993, and a photograph, courtesy of Susan Karasoff, from the DC-X rollout on April 3, 1993.

Delta Clipper Experimental (DC-X) rollout, April 3, 1993. ©1993 Susan Karasoff.