Trip to San Francisco & Silicon Valley

Last week I was in the Silicon Valley for a work related conference. I wish I’d had my camera with me when I was walking between the San Jose convention center and my downtown hotel, because I saw something that you probably won’t see outside of Silicon Valley … a homeless man with a laptop computer. He was sitting against the theatre building on the corner of West San Carlos Street and South Market Street plugged into an exterior outlet on the side of the building. With his laptop sitting on a cardboard box, he was typing away at his keyboard. It looked like he had what could have been a USB WiFi device plugged in. There’s WiFi all around Silicon Valley … even on their Light Rail System.Another thing I saw that I don’t think you’ll see much of anywhere else but in Silicon Valley was a vending machine in my hotel lobby that sold snacks, but it also sold electronic cables, wireless headphones, and even a $200 iPod nano. I’m pretty sure you have to swipe your credit card for the iPod. Can you imagine paying 200 bucks for an iPod in a vending machine and it getting hung up like a bag of chips?! Then the next person gets two for the price of one! Only in Silicon Valley.Well, here are a couple of my photos from San Francisco. It was foggy and late in the day, so they’re not my best work.
Kurt
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The world-famous Sea Lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco

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The world-famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

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The world-famous Cable Car Trolleys in San Francisco

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The world-famous Lombard Street in San Francisco

Safety tip: Never touch fallen power lines!

The following is completely true and actually happened to me on Wed March 29, 2006. I posted the following on a private web forum that day, and thought it important enough to also share with “the masses”:

Something that I won’t forget any time soon happened in front of me on my way to work today, and I thought it would make for a valuable safety tip.

As I was approaching a stop light this morning, one of those city yard waste trucks (you know, the ones with those hydraulic booms with the bucket on the end) was moving through the intersection towards me with its boom in the “up” position. Before I could completely realize what was happening, the extended boom had knocked down some power lines (causing some scary looking fireworks up high on the streetlight pole) and had also knocked the streetlight down from it’s pole. (see attached photo taken after all the excitement was over)

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I was just arriving at the intersection when this accident happened in front of me. I started flashing my lights and honking my horn (as if the two guys in the city truck didn’t see and hear the world crashing down around them). Two bundles of lines had fallen from the power poles. One was laying on the ground in front of the city truck and the other was laying directly across the city truck’s bed. I pulled off the road and rolled down my window because the guys in the truck had opened both of their doors and I was afraid that they were going to get out of the truck. I yelled repeatedly at them from across the intersection that there were “live wires” on their truck. To my horror, both men jumped out of the truck and the driver actually grabbed the bundle that was laying across the bed of his truck and flung it off the back of the truck to the ground. I was still screaming at him that there were “live wires”.  I was kinda freaked out.  Either this guy is actually Superman, or the lines laying across the truck were not actually live (anymore). The latter was actually true. But why in the world would anyone feel the need to risk being electrocuted? I’m fairly certain that the safe thing to do if you have downed power lines on your vehicle is to stay inside and wait for help. The rubber tires on your vehicle will likely insulate you from being shocked until a breaker can be opened to insure that it is completely safe to get out of the vehicle. Edit: Turns out that the rubber tires on your vehicle actually do conduct electricity, but that’s okay, because then the electricity takes the least resistive path to ground through the tires.  Either way, it is still safer to stay inside the cab than to get out.

Kurt
P.S. Also, if you come upon an intersection that has lost power and the streetlights are not working, you are supposed to treat the intersection like a 4-way stop. People were continuously zooming through the intersection after this accident at full speed (45 mph), until the fire trucks and police arrived.

NASA is retiring the Space Shuttle

Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions, not official NASA statements!

For those readers who don’t follow NASA news closely, NASA publicly announced recently that the Space Shuttles are slated to be forced into retirement in 2010. This is due to many factors, some of which are listed below:

  • Space Shuttles and associated ground infrastructure are getting quite old and harder and harder to maintain and enhance.
  • Their design is fairly dangerous and we’ve lost two already and the chances of losing others increase with age.
  • The Space Shuttle system, although reusable, is a money pit. Due to budget cuts and design compromises in the 1970’s, the Space Shuttles have never lived up to the hopes and dreams of the engineers who conceived them. I believe that the costs per pound to orbit are worse than if we had stuck with “disposable” rockets.
  • President Bush in 2004 gave NASA a new direction. Enough of this low Earth orbit stuff. His Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) speech suggested that we build a new “crew exploration vehicle” to take us back to the moon, and to Mars, and even beyond.

NASA plans to spend $100 billion over the next 12 years to design, build, and launch the new spacecraft and rockets it needs to put humans back on the Moon by 2018.

For those who think we should only stick to robot exploration:
We already did the robots to the Moon thing. NASA calls this the “Exploration” program because the whole point is to get ourselves off the Earth and out exploring other planets. The NASA Exploration Program tagline for marketing purposes is “Moon, Mars, and Beyond!” Whenever you use a robot, your science is very limited, and your ability to cope with problems that crop up is almost non-existant. Using humans is risky and expensive, but the payoff can be enormous when successful.

For those asking why do we want or need to go back to the Moon:
One possibility is that we can extract precious oxygen from lunar regolith and/or from lunar ice. This act would help a moon base to be a little more self-sustainable and require less logistics missions. Scientists would like to set up large telescopes on the moon where there’s no atmosphere to look through like on Earth and no potential for decay of orbit and reentry, like we have with Hubble Space Telescope. There’s lots of other science that can be done on the Moon.
Once we’re comfortable living on the moon, we can raise our sights and try it out on Mars, and Beyond! Of course, the flights to the Moon planned for 2018 will be similar to Apollo … where we just go, do some science for a few days and then return. It will take a while longer to get into a position to actually set up a long term Moon base. I imagine it will take 2 or 3 times as long to build a Moon base as it is currently taking us to build our Space Station. And that’s been going on for quite some time now.

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The publicly released NASA image above shows a relative size comparison between the Saturn V rocket used for Apollo Moon missions, the Space Shuttle used today for low Earth orbit missions, the new Ares I rocket which will be used to send humans into low Earth orbit, and the new Ares V rocket which will be used to send large cargo into low Earth orbit and beyond.

By putting the humans and the cargo on two separate launch vehicles, NASA is hoping to make it much safer for the astronauts. A vehicle required to take a small crew capsule into space is much safer than a vehicle required to take a huge and heavy payload into space. Also, the Ares I vehicle is derived from today’s Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters, which have a good history after the post-Challenger improvements. Also a single inline vehicle is safer than the piggyback configuration that we used for Shuttle.

After both crew and cargo are launched into low Earth orbit, the crew capsule will attach itself to the cargo and use rockets attached to the cargo to make the trip to the Moon. The plan is very similar to the Apollo Moon missions after that. The crew capsule actually looks a lot like the one used in Apollo, only bigger. Most of the new vehicles are expendable and the only thing that will actually re-enter and land on Earth is the crew capsule, similarly to Apollo.

The Space Shuttle was a great Engineering feat. But it was just too fragile and the overall architecture design was too costly to maintain and also very dangerous for the crew. NASA has decided that it’s not going to trade safety for reusability in it’s new space system architecture. They’re playing it safer this time around. After losing two Shuttle Orbiters along with their astronaut crews, can you blame them?

Kurt

East-Central Florida waterspout photos

On Thursday July 20, 2006 the following photos were taken by some of my coworkers in and around the Kennedy Space Center in East-Central Florida. This impressive waterspout was only a mile or so from the building where I work. I only got to see the waterspout with my own eyes because when the tornado alarm went off I was in a meeting in a temporary trailer and we all had to move from the trailer to a permanent structure. We all got to see the waterspout as soon as we exited the trailer.

For those Northerners reading this: Waterspouts are tornados over water. They usually break up pretty fast when they hit land. They’re fairly whimpy tornados over water. The water helps feed them, and they can’t maintain themselves over land.

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Kurt

Stardust@Home is cool!

If you’re kinda geeky like me, and don’t mind looking through a virtual microscope for the good of science, you need to check out StardustAtHome! It’s pretty cool!

What’s in it for me?

“The discoverer of an interstellar dust particle will appear as a co-author on scientific papers by the Stardust@home collaboration announcing the discovery of the particle. The discoverer will also have the privilege of naming the particle!”

I’ve looked through my fair share of microscopes in my old failure analysis job, and this is actually quite fun for me. I would suggest that anyone who has 10 or 15 minutes to spare every day during their lunch break ought to review stardust samples too. You might just discover something “out of this world”!

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Kurt







Thanks for visiting,
Kurt & Sam Leucht
Titusville, FL
http://www.leucht.com/
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