Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Travel


     Oh the magic of modern flight. Jet planes to whisk you away to exotic locales. Images of efficient schedules, beautiful destinations, pleasant experiences. The illusion gets shattered as soon as you encounter the security checkpoints, flight delays and crowded boarding procedures. Everyone has those precious possessions to lug onto the plane as carry-on, size rules or no. You shoehorn yourself into a seat, surrounded by strangers that you hope are friendly. It takes a while for everyone to get stuff stowed, and seated. Then, the spiel about what to do if the plane crashes in water, or on land. And a final reminder to fasten seat belts. Then the take off. A few bumps and away you go.

     Once you get to cruising altitude, you are served free soft drinks. You can pay extra for peanuts or something more substantial, or alcoholic drinks. Then, the advertisement for extra miles, or to sign up for their special card. The whole flight can seem like one long infomercial. You try and read with the overhead lamp, and find they don't work. But at least you arrive on time, safely if not very rested.

      Instead of driving for two or three days, you have flown for a few hours, and covered the same distance. Despite any minor irritations, you saved a lot of time. And you feel happy to be at your destination.

     Later, you read about the rarities. The turbulence that injured five people, some severely. Or the plane crash that killed 28. And you feel even happier at being there without mishap.

      Vacations are fun, and most of the time, the trip there and back can be part of the enjoyment. Mine was no exception. Palm Springs was exceptionally beautiful in February. Balmy temperatures, flowers everywhere, great service, friendly people. Many wonderful sights: everything from expensive cars flocking the streets to unique art shops, to a tramway up an 8,000 foot mountaintop. Lots to see and do, and I did as much as I reasonably could. I feel lucky and honored to finally make the visit there. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Change of mind

Not too often I change my mind on some environmental issue.  But in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, I have had a change of mind.   Not approving the pipeline from Canada to the US will have as bad or worse environmental consequences than building it - due to train derailments and pollution.   I do advocate for re-routing the pipeline away from sensitive areas where spillage could leak into the underground aquifers, as much as is reasonably feasible.  Overturned tank cars leaking crude can also spill into streams and rivers, etc.   And, it would be easy for Canada to sell that crude oil to someone else, like say, China, overland. 

     Let's get over our collective BS and get this pipeline approved somehow.   It will be beneficial for all of us.  Until we use 100 percent bicycles and electric cars to get around in, we will need gas.  And I would rather we buy it from our friendly neighbor to the north than from anywhere else.   Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 03, 2014

By a Rover, Darkly


The intelligent rover bumped its way across red gravel hills. Its laser flashed, computers directed forward motion, and then it stopped before the selected specimen. The Boom extended, rotated, and a sampling drill lowered. A core taken, it deposited it into a heating chamber and scanned results. Precursor elements of life were found in a dry riverbed.

The days work done, this workhorse paused, uplinked to an orbiting satellite, and sent the days results. Then it awaited instructions for the next trip out.

When it approached the next blunted hill, the laser flashed like it always did. But this “rock” awoke, and quickly swelled to engulf the entire rover.

***

“Where did it go?” asked one of the mission controllers at JPL. “One minute it was there, the next, nothing.”

“Here, let me have a look,” said his shift supervisor, hurrying over. They studied the screen.

"Try all of the alternate freq's, then repeat at one-minute intervals. Check with the deep-space network for faults. There has to be a logical explanation.” The technicians went into overdrive, checking and re-checking everything humanly possible.

The entity had been listening in on transmissions, and took little time to understand the primitive craft sent from the blue planet. The alien creature, although automatic compared to it's builders, was still sentient at a level far above anything humans could devise. It rapidly made some modifications to the rover, and set Curiosity back on its predetermined path.

“Hey, Chet! Curiosity is back!” said the controller who first noticed it missing. “Look here.”

Several other technicians crowded around, then raced back to their own stations to confirm various telemetry feeds. A muted cheer went up.

The supervisor came over and looked, and then raised his voice: “It appears we have re-acquired Curiosity. We still need to figure out what went wrong, but for the time being, it looks like we are in business. Good work, everyone.”

The international crew had few problems on the way to Mars, twenty years later. Their landing craft separated properly, and they came down in a flat area near some intriguing crevices. There would be a lot to study, and they would only have a month before departing once again. As their huge lander made a controlled descent, and got closer and closer, they began to notice discrepancies between the radar imager and the visual display.

“Hey Cap, the visual shows a flat plain. Radar is telling me there are giant boulders all over the place. What gives?”

Captain Valdez leaned over in his seat and scanned the long, narrow panel graphics. Red lights blossomed within the images. An alarm sounded.

“It's too late to abort. Take it to manual and try to find a radar-flat spot. That is an order!”

Pilot Armstrong moved fingers rapidly through 3-d images, gaining manual control from a bevy of computers. He tried to slow and hover, and barely succeeded.

“Fuel at 5%. 4%. Still large rocks on radar. 3%. Radar gone. Repeat, I've lost radar image. Visual still shows flat. I've got to try and set it down, Cap'n.”

Captain Valdez hesitated, then said, “Go ahead. Set down. Brace everyone.”

The last of the retro fuel was expended as the three-story lander set down in a field of three-meter high boulders. The landing struts caromed off of rock, and three of them bent at very unhealthy angles. The huge lander slammed down at a tilt, and finally, unceremoniously fell over on its side.

“So much for our landing on Mars. Emergency procedures, everyone. Get those suits on!” Valdez yelled.

The astronauts within went into emergency routines. But when Captain Valdez crawled out of an auxiliary hatch, he was still not prepared for the sight that greeted him. An old, beat-up bus-sized rover, extending a boom towards him. On the end of the boom were spinning blades. They made short work of his suit, and then him. The rest of the crew managed to stay alive for a day, before the rover finally found them.



              - The End.





Sunday, February 02, 2014

How did we get Older




Sat in church and listened politely,
washed clothes again, brewed coffee again.
Drove in to work again, serviced the car,
drove in again, flipped light switches
a hundred times plus, over again.

Things wore out as we wore on.
Brittle light fixtures finally broke.
Furnaces got old and broke down,
so did lawnmowers and computers.

Everything became obsolescent,
then one day we noticed our wrinkled
hands and faces sending us a message.
We have rounded the corner too.

So we watch the world change
faster and faster, thankful if we are
well enough to witness the wonders.
Anything to postpone that day of
our final reckoning.

- end