Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Far Away in Time and Space

It takes a little planning: design a spacecraft and attached lander which will travel 4 billion miles in space to a comet 2.5 miles across, 4.5 billlion years old, moving at 40,000 miles per hour. Plan on a 9 year trip to reach the comet from earth launch.

This is the comet orbiting the sun in a large elliptical path.  The Rosetta craft with its lander Philae reached the comet and launched the lander to the comet on November 11, 2014 by the European Space Agency at Darmstadt Germany.

Lander Philae took 7 hours to drop 14 miles to the comet surface.  The 220 pound lander weighed as much as a piece of paper due to the small gravity of the comet. Philae bounced thrice because devices which were to secure it to the surface failed to deploy.  First bounce took two hours to hit the surface again. Upon final bounce, the lander ended up in a partially shaded area which prevented solar panels from charging the battery system..  But it was able to complete about 80% of scientific tests (including finding carbon in the atmosphere) before the batteries ran down.  It may be a wait until spring before the lander is oriented such that the sun will reach the charging panels and re- invigorate Philae.  For sure when it nears our sun there should be sufficient light to recharge and continue testing and research on the comet.

These are the experiments that the lander is equipped with :

Lander Instrumentation

 First photo from the comet's surface.  One lander leg is visible sticking up since Philae landed on the other two legs in a shadowy place.  It was still able to perform experiments and relay the results to Rosetta, then a 30 minute trip to earth with the data.

 Mockup of what lander should have looked like upon landing.

Orbiting Rosetta

The equations for elliptical orbits  are fairly basic, even including the mass of the orbiting objects.  But to "slingshot" that object around earth, mars, and the sun, in order to build up the velocity necessary to reach an object 4 billion miles out in 9 years amazes me.  Bravo . . .

Monday, July 21, 2014


    Having finished reading a book given me at Christmas  (slow reader)  about Thomas Edward Lawrence and his leadership of the Arab revolt during World War I, I wondered how Iraq was formed of Mesopotamia and Syrian lands after the war. The Arabs were promised Syria from the start   --- "To Damascus" was the battle cry ---   but, as it worked out, the French got Syria and Lebanon and the British formed Iraq and took Palestine as  "protectorates".  Arab Prince Faisal ibn Hussein was installed as King of Iraq in 1921 to placate the Arabs.

    Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (1868-1926) was of English gentry (father was a steel magnate) with a degree from Oxford, explorer, mapper, archeologist, outlier of her time. Red hair, green eyes, chain smoker, she wandered the deserts of Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq) mapping and photographing ancient ruins  SOME  PHOTOS.

    She was a British spy in the Iraq area under the guise of archeologist so that the enemy Turks (Ottomans) would allow her access to the areas.*  Her maps were of great value to Lawrence and others heading into Syria and Iraq.  She traveled the deserts with Arab guides and aides, knew the Arabic language along with Farsi and German, and was respected by the Arab tribal leaders  as she moved about. She helped draw up the western and southern boundaries of Iraq (some say disregarding 2,000 years of tribal sectarian and nomadic occupation of the areas to the west), and, living in Baghdad, helped install Faisal as King. It is said that she died chaste, although I don't see how anyone could know that. Her first male interest was rejected by father and her second killed at the British disaster at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles.

    While in Baghdad, where she later lived, she established the Iraqi Museum and collected  antiquities for preservation.  She died and is buried there after, some say, too many sleeping pills in1926 at 57 years. 

Churchill, Bell, and Lawrence at the  Arab bureau in Cairo in 1921.  Much fun was had as Churchill fell off of his camel. The maps of Iraq, Palestine, and Syria were being finalized to the advantage of French and British interests.

Bell and T.E. Lawrence after the war.

*  " In a 1920 letter home, she described her method of collecting information. She and a male colleague were invited by a leading figure in Baghdad to meet merchants and caravan drivers in a coffee house. 'I do them a good turn whenever I can and they respond by coming in to see me whenever they return from Syria or Arabia and telling me what they've heard and seen. The tea party was delightful. The walls of the diwan are mellow with decades of tobacco smoke, the furniture, benches around the room and one table for us at the upper end... We talked Arab polities with great gusto for an hour and a half... I do like them so much. They are to me an endless romance. They come and go through the wilderness as if it were a high road, and they all, most politely, treat me as a colleague, because I, too, have been in Arcadia (wilderness). When they talk of tribes or sheiks or watering places, I don't need to ask who and where they are. I know; and as they talk I see again the wide Arabian horizon.' "    Ref: "Gertrude Bell and Iraq" by Barbara Furst    READ MORE

    I am reminded of a statement given by Faisal to Lawrence in the David Lean film "Lawrence of Arabia : "No Arab likes the desert. There is nothing in the desert."  (Little did he know of the oil under the desert.) The film, by the way, follows the reality of the Arab revolt and the exploits of Lawrence pretty closely.

    Seems all of the chances for individual historical influence have been taken.  We are left with canoeing around the earth or walking backwards across Death Valley!  

    Where is a place where others have not trodden or seen before us?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Six-Hundred Dollar Pill


All those times I was bored
out of my mind. Holding the log
while he sawed it. Holding
the string while he measured, boards,
distances between things, or pounded
stakes into the ground for rows and rows
of lettuces and beets, which I then (bored)
weeded. Or sat in the back
of the car, or sat still in boats,
sat, sat, while at the prow, stern, wheel
he drove, steered, paddled. It
wasn't even boredom, it was looking,
looking hard and up close at the small
details. Myopia. The worn gunwales,
the intricate twill of the seat
cover. The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
of dry moss, the blackish and then the graying
bristles on the back of his neck.
Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
I would. The boring rhythm of doing
things over and over, carrying
the wood, drying
the dishes. Such minutiae. It's what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows. He pointed
such things out, and I would look
at the whorled texture of his square finger, earth under
the nail. Why do I remember it as sunnier
all the time then, although it more often
rained, and more birdsong?
I could hardly wait to get
the hell out of there to
anywhere else. Perhaps though
boredom is happier. It is for dogs or
groundhogs. Now I wouldn't be bored.
Now I would know too much.
Now I would know.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


“You live like this, sheltered, in a delicate world, and you believe you are living. Then you discover that you are not living, that you are hibernating. The symptoms of hibernating are easily detectable: first, restlessness. The second symptom (when hibernating becomes dangerous and might degenerate into death): absence of pleasure. That is all. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it. And then some shock treatment takes place, a person, a book, a song, and it awakens them and saves them from death. Some never awaken.” ___ Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1

At first it's too much, too fast: growing, studying, wondering, people,  coping, driving, working, driving, working, settling, moving,  constant adjusting to the new.

Now there are places I would like to be maybe for a few days, but I don't wish to go there.  (Be, not go -- kinda like the hot springs)
Now I have time to discover  if, in fact, the only drum solo Ringo ever did was on side 2 of Abbey Road?    And to  wonder how long the old barns will last?

And wait for the next surprise! 

Or as Wordsworth would have it: 

"Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain-winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling-place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me"

--------------- excerpt from "Tintern Abbey"


Monday, February 10, 2014

Another Duck Story

You want to keep them alive.  After all you put them there to survive if possible.  But when it comes down to stems and seeds, extreme methods are necessary.  It is a  harsh winter,  worst in my memory: snow follows cold  with wind and ice between then more cold.   My attempts to keep part of our small pond open for the ducks involved two sets of pump/motor combinations to keep water flowing at the surface  to avoid freezing.  Both failed in the extreme conditions.  The last pump froze up during a -4° F morning leaving the four ducks without open water for protection from the marauding coyotes.  The dogs know when the ice will hold their weight and it now will.   The next morning  would be the end of ducks without intervention -- the coyotes are sneaky and slinky, built high,light and leggy -- since ice was thick enough to support even my 138 puunds.

The plan was to chase the ducks out of their tiny corner of the lake onto the snowy yard where they could be caught by hand.  That plan proved unnecessary since it turned out Ginny and I could herd the little ingrates back down through the yard to the duck pen I built years ago (which they seldom used and wouldn't usually go into)  Me with a long aluminum  pole and she with a  plastic-bin cover managed to get them  herded to the pen with rest stops every 50 feet or so.  Safe and sound they went into the duckhouse strewn with straw and (we can only imagine) happy to be there -- who knows?

A dove flew in . . . . . . .

Ducks started out to be a birthday present for Ginny years ago (the local farm store sells duck and chicken chicks in the spring) with 4 of the little critters.  Little did I know the process needed to keep them going:  From dining room floor to garage cage to building a duckpen with cedar poles and plywood, extending into the pond 8 feet or so, totally enclosed since racoons like duck too as I later found out.  Eventually I managed to hatch several with an incubator I made as one of many.  Sitting back to ponder, I cannot remember the number of ducks I have killed through inexperience or injury.  Little mama, spotts, sprig, big al . .many more,  some stand out, some don't but all part of the flow of life  we must all experience.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Here and Now

Growing in the cold
temporary generation of expression
"here I am, see me!"  For  I'll be gone in a bit of time
but here now captured for your perusal
and consideration
Please be kind