X-36 pictures

The other day when I was trying to track down an old friend from my previous job, I ended up on a Beach Volleyball photography site. Because that’s what I used to do in my old job: pro beach volleyball. Yep. I was quite the pro beach volleyballer back in the day. You can probably find me in these action shots.


Actually, I worked with a guy who later went on to be a professional photographer of professional beach volleyballers. My real previous job was at NASA where I worked on a plane called the X-36. In the airplane business, you can spend years working on an airplane that never gets built. The good news is that they actually built and flew the X-36. Sadly for me this happened six years after I left the job. You can see from this picture that it was just a little guy, a 1/3 scale unmanned technology demonstrator. Because it was so small, it was often roughed up by the meaner planes at Edwards Air Force Base. Here it is being menaced by a gang led by the SR-71. That SR-71 thinks he’s so great.

Lots of other good pictures here.

But those are all the official NASA pictures. When did the X-36 take up beach volleyball? Here is a shot taken by VolleyShots photographer John Geldermann at the Induction Ceremony for the X-36 into the USAF Air Museum in Dayton, Ohio (July 2003). And those are the people I used to work with long, long ago.

Managing the tide of delicious information

When I was in grad school I asked a mathematician friend of mine how the real math insiders stay current. It was just inconceivable to me that they would sit at home and plow through giant stacks of the latest journals. He told me the secret: it was all done with preprints and word-of-mouth recommendations from a small network of trusted friends. Nobody read anything that hadn’t already been vetted by a buddy.

That’s all well and good, but how do you find those high-quality recommendations? That’s exactly the problem that web technologies can solve, first with blogs and feed readers, and more recently with Twitter.

I am an avid feed reader. I spend a significant chunk of time every day with Google Reader. It’s my preferred way to kill time. It’s hard to believe this now, but there was a time when the big problem with surfing the net was “where do you start?” Now if you’re not finding really interesting stuff within minutes of sitting down at the computer, you’re just not trying.

In fact, as everyone now knows, the problem is just the opposite. Too much informational richness all the time. Sturgeon’s Law says ninety percent of everything is crud. The Feedreader’s Corollary is that you never have to see any of it… unless that’s your idea of a good time. You can eat quality information 24 hours a day. Sometimes I worry that there must be some kind of psychic gout that corresponds to the ills of gluttony on rich food.

By way of managing with this embarrassment of riches, it has become popular to write about how you cope. Recently my friend Dan forwarded a useful note on how to manage inbound information: Feed Reader Down, Reading Up. The author, Connie Reece, describes how she has run up against the curve of diminishing returns with feeds. Now she relies more on Twitter and a tightly bound community of like-minded people. She also likes to use Instapaper, a nifty little application that was news to me.

I still like reading my feeds, but I’m trying out Instapaper and Twitter. Here’s my Twitter page. I’ve heard it said that Twitter is an acquired taste. It’s taken me some time to come around, but it’s starting to win me over.

Sight-seeing on Mars

Yowza! Check out this panoramic landscape from Mars.


It’s from a place called Hebes Chasma. What you’re looking at is a plateau in the middle of a canyon 8000 meters deep. That is to say, this thing would make a dandy bathtub for Mount Everest (8848 m). Mind you, that mountain could use a good scrubbing, what with all the tramping and the digging and all those filthy climbers.

It’s too bad we don’t have Google Maps to show us the neighborhood on Mars. Oh, I almost forgot that we live in the future! Of course we have automatic mechanical Mars Maps!

The ESA site that describes these pictures is also worth a visit. I really like living in the future.

(via Riding with Robots)

Swiss spaghetti harvest

Happy April First!

From tingilinde I found this gem: a genuine BBC documentary on the Swiss spaghetti harvest of 1957. At first I thought it was a newly minted faux-old spoof. But, my God! you just can’t fake that BBC voice over. What a pro! Fortunately, there was an attached link to the Museum of Hoaxes that described in great detail the story of the Swiss spaghetti harvest. In it, we learn that the commanding voice belongs to one Richard Dimbleby (that name! that voice!).

Since 1955 Panorama had been anchored by Richard Dimbleby, whose authoritative, commanding presence had made him one of the most revered public figures in Britain. If Dimbleby said it, people trusted that it was true. As one of his colleagues at Panorama put it, “He had enough gravitas to float an aircraft carrier.” Which is one of the reasons why the spaghetti harvest hoax fooled so many viewers. His participation lent the hoax an air of unimpeachable authority.

“Many of you will have seen the vast plantations of spaghetti in the Po valley.” Lovely! I can only guess that global warming might be good news for the spaghetti crop. I hear they’ve got fettuccine growing as far north as Smolensk.