Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Bitchin Dave's newsletter - Dec 26

 Dave’s Musings

A quick note that this will be my last newsletter of the year. I'll be back around in mid-January. Wishing you and happy and healthy new year!

In the meantime, I'd like to encourage you to start the new year off with a plan to improve on yourself. Exercise more, engage in more self care, or maybe try something new. 

We can all benefit from things like reading more (and since there are books being banned - why not see what those are about?), watching less tv, or engaging in learning something new. I've got a little science experiment I tried, which I share below.

To paraphrase Hamilton, smile more and talk less.  The smiling can surely help improve your mood. And in talking less, we can listen to other points of view. 

On the surface, the story about the beaming of a cat video from space seems kind of superfluous and maybe a little silly. (Cat videos were so 2010's!)

But as I've noted, part of the Psyche mission that was launched back in October was to develop a high powered laser to transmit large amounts of data, quickly and efficiently.

The video was a high definition recording that was received on Earth in just over a minute from 19 million miles away. It was the first proof that this technology will work for deep space travel, and will allow us to communicate with spacecraft in real time while transmitting a lot of data.

Call it an early success!

Nasa’s space laser transmission

Einstein's theory of relativity has been the defacto standard in physics for a few generations. It suggests how gravity bends spacetime. Then along comes quantum theory, which looks at spacetime differently. This bending doesn't work in the quantum model.

This problem has led some scientists to disagree about who is right, since these two of these ideas clash and could not coexist, because they account for the universe in different ways.

And, hey, arguing about scientific theories is always fun, IMHO.

But then two physicists came up with a possible explanation for how they can both be right: essentially, spacetime doesn't follow the same rules, and therefore quantum mechanics wouldn't explain it. They also proposed an experiment to test out this hypothesis.

So perhaps the argument can end - or maybe the experiment will lead to new questions.


As if they needed to worry about more, the Disney corporation finds itself in another tough spot - this time its in the form of a lawsuit from more than 9,000 women who work (or worked) for Disney and who are claiming gender bias and pay discrimination.

They are saying they were paid less than their male counterparts, were asked to fill a bigger role temporarily but were never actually considered for it permanently, were denied a promotion or title, and so on.

The suit was given class status, and probably bears some watching.

You can read more details here:

Hollywood Reporter article

In the movie Blazing Saddles, the townsfolk created a fake town to fool the bad guys. It was used with comic intent. However, the premise has been used in real life.

In World War I, France started construction of a fake Paris to fool pilots https://historyfacts.com/world-history/fact/in-wwi-france-started-to-build-a-fake-paris-to-confuse-german-bombers/

In World War II, the British and the Americans pulled off a ruse whereby they made the Germans think they were amassing forces in Southern England.

Quicksilver operation

Today, with satellites, that sort of thing isn’t possible… or is it? 

There have been a few cases where people have been motivated to alter some physical feature so the satellites don't quite see what's going on, and there have been a few others where satellite maps have been altered for "security reasons."

And there’s also an oddity that has carried forward since the early days of mapmaking: map makers sought to protect others from copying their work by creating fake towns. If it showed up on someone else's map, then they knew it was copied.

And, well, here’s a 21st century example of how that carried forward into Google maps.


Latest video

As I noted in the intro, you can try some easy experiments at home. Here's one I tested out: the Mpemba effect - does hot water freeze faster than cold water?


One Little Spark … 

This is a story about a juvenile program that's intended to break the cycle of crime that afflicts youth, particularly those that are "at risk" or which we consider minorities.

In short: giving people a purpose, and a little education goes a long way.

Students find jobs, avoid jail

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Bitchin Dave's Newsletter - December 19

 Dave’s Musings

Although I'm a big believer in spreading the love throughout the year, I know the holidays often bring out the best in all of us. I would like to encourage you to perform a random act of kindness today (or sometime this week) and then try and keep it up maybe once a week. They can be small things -- its the idea that you're doing something unsolicited that matters.

Kindness is easy to pass along. A friend once told me that she carries a box of cereal bars in her car, and whenever she sees a homeless person, she'll offer them one. I loved the idea and adopted it myself (which reminds me that I need to put some more in my car!). But that's just one thing. There are tons of ideas; here to give you some ideas: https://www.mywell.org/blog/30-ways-to-give-back

But by all means, try anything that suits you.

We can help society to be kind once again through our own simple examples.

I saw a pair of articles about the OSIRIS-REx mission (where we sent a probe to take a core sample of an asteroid named Bennu and return it to Earth). These stories are not about what they recovered exactly; rather they are about a few engineering issues.

The first is about the bolts that are holding in the main part of the sample. There were 35 in total, and thus far, 33 have been removed - but the other two are (to this point) hopelessly over torqued and can't be removed. While they've been able to retrieve some small material from the probe, without removing the other bolts, the main sample can't be studied. Still, they've found some interesting things which they've reported on.

The second is about the parachute that was used to break the fall. The people who built the probe made a very human error, and mixed up the lines and connected the explosive charges incorrectly. The cord for the parachute was cut before the chute deployed, causing it to fall in an unexpected way. Thankfully, it didn't end the mission, but perhaps that contributed to the bolt issue; the impact may have slightly bent the frame.



Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab published a paper, sharing their finding that a nuclear device placed onto an asteroid could cause it to break up and thus make it harmless to the Earth. 

Wait. Didn't we see this in a movie starring Bruce Willis? Wasn't Armageddon about a team that was sent to an asteroid to blow it up using a nuclear device?

At this point, the research done here is theoretical, and they do suggest sending an unmanned device millions of miles away.

But once again, life imitates art....


When EPCOT first opened, the concept was to have a World Showcase to act as a permanent world's fair - and a "Future World" that was an innovation park as part of a community experience. The latter would showcase new technologies and evolve over time.

Only it never did evolve, and became stuck in the 1980s. It floundered for a long time, before Disney decided to update it into themed areas like Discovery, Celebration, and Nature that would reimagine the concept.

After 5 or so years, a pandemic, many stops and starts, and a ton of construction, its partially open. But as the attached article notes its underwhelming.

It could still come together later, as more opens, but its too bad Disney - 40 years later - STILL can't figure out what half of the park is, or could be.


We've all seen the stories about companies trying to restrict "the right to repair" - anything from preventing you from taking your car to a repair shop to not being able to put generic toner in your printer.

But here's the first case I've seen where a company bricked a public transit train, to prevent it from being maintained by anyone else. It happened in Poland, but I have to imagine its not the last time we'll see this sort of thing.

By the way, it was hackers to the rescue while they sorted out the long term solution.


Latest video

I don't have a new video this week. Instead, I wanted to share a clip from Neil Tyson, where he talks about getting space ships into orbit, and in particular why they roll after liftoff.


One Little Spark … 

Scientific American had a long form article about "workforce woes" at NASA. The main takeaway is that there are too few people, they are underfunded to a point, and there are an increasing number of missions.

But the underlying point (and why it fits here) is about work itself, and how its compelling and interesting and at least some of the staff take it as a way of life and ignore the work-life balance issues and the low-ish pay.

My personal aside is that it has always been this way. When I worked at NASA nearly 30 years ago, people were always asked to do more. To work longer hours, and weekends. To be deployed into the field to support shuttle missions. And all for a pay scale that was set by the government - and was definitely lower than the industry.

And as a final thought, I like to always say that you should do what you love, and what works best for your own situation in life. That's really what its all about.


Sandra Day O’Connor and her brush with John Riggins

In honor of her state funeral..,


Short. Sweet. To the point. That's the beauty Dave's iPhone.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Bitchin Dave's Newsletter - December 12

 Dave’s Musings

If you haven't been following it, there's an abortion-related case in Texas which is interesting. It doesn't matter where we each stand on the topic; this case is not about abortion per se. This is about compassion and a broader sense of our reproduction and health and safety.

In short, there is a woman whose pregnancy is in jeopardy. The fetus can not be brought to term, and her reproductive health will be damaged if she has to deliver. And, it is likely she will never be able to have children should she have to complete the pregnancy. This is the very definition of "medically necessary."

But the state has no exceptions. No caveats. Abortion is illegal. Full stop. She managed to win a few times in court, but the Texas Supreme court has rejected any claims and simply says she can't seek an abortion. As a result, she announced her intention to seek an abortion out of state.

My bigger issue is that too many people show absolutely no compassion for the situation. Not even the simple polite human kind of thing like "the law is the law and we're sorry that this happened"... no, its more about threats, some gloating, and being cruel to any and every one. Remember back when some politicians talked about "death panels?" It sure feels like we're there in a way. Doctors can't administer care because the law forbids it.

Its sad really.

Why do we have to be this way? Why do politics and religion have to play into everything so that we can't even have a rational discussion on a topic? We should all be outraged and looking for a different set of answers and engaging in a rational discussion.

There was recently an announcement about interagency communication related to space weather. On the surface, its about being operationally ready for space missions, which sounds fine, but has limited potential to help with Earth-based weather. What about studying our climate and better communicating about it?

But I'll take the fact that they are setting up ways to share information. And in looking at "space weather" there are two possible things that are positive: launch operations rely in part on forecasts for upper level clouds, which is, in fact, Earth based weather. And second, knowing what the sun is doing, and better understanding its and the moon impacts would be useful. And should help us understand our planet.

Plus, knowing where all of our space debris is, and knowing more about threats from things like asteroids will be beneficial.


I read an interesting article on the demise of the dinosaurs. A group of scientists have hypothesized that it wasn't simply a meteorite that caused mass extinction.

Their thinking is that it was primarily climate change caused by a large number of volcanic eruptions; this caused the Earth to cool and the dinosaurs died off.

Now, they are testing sediments, rocks, bones, and other items to see what they can tell us about that time 200,000 years ago. They're looking for specific types of ash, and certain chemicals that would have been present in a large scale volcanic eruption.

So far, their research is encouraging but there is still more work to be done.

You can read more here:


Over the last few months or so, there has been some chatter about the potential for a hostile takeover at Disney! As these things often go, its complicated.

It involves a billionaire named Nelson Peltz who owns a large stake in Disney. He was not happy with Disney's "direction" under Bob Chapek's leadership. He was pleased that the company planned to make a change, but was troubled by them returning to Bob Iger.

He immediately sought to increase his stake in the company, and then looked to get himself onto the board of directors. When that failed, he allied himself with others who are disgruntled, and see Disney underperforming, including Ike Perlman (who at one point ran Marvel, before being ousted by Iger).

Peltz and Perlman have both publicly said that Disney has spent too much effort on woke-ness, and not paid enough attention to the bottom line.

They fought for seats again in November, which led Disney to protect against that, by filling them with other people - and then changed how seats are filled.

And that leads us to here: the pair intended to have a proxy fight early next year to oust Iger.

To counter that, Disney has announced the return of dividends (yay, in general, but as small stockholders we'll see very little), and plans to spend in order to grow in the major operational areas.

Its all crazy, but it shows just how far we've come with the company that Walt and Roy started. Its about politics and money - and not strictly about entertainment.

(Quick addition: its not that Walt wasn't political, he surely was, but it was handled differently, perhaps smarter? and those were different times).

Florida's insurance issues came to the national stage recently. It all started when the governor, at a recent campaign event talking about how great he is, attempted to explain how he "fixed" the insurance market in Florida.

He rambled and stumbled and wound up (a) saying that Florida has a huge gap in the funds available through the Citizens insurance program; and if there was a big storm, he would ask the Federal Government for a bailout, and that all Floridians would have to pay large sums to cover any shortfall. (gee, that sure sounds like its far from fixed and, rather is on the brink of disaster).

This drew the attention of the US Senate, which convened hearings to talk about how (poorly) the state is handling insurance and whether they should be considered insolvent when it comes to handling claims. This can't end well...

And (b) he inadvertently acknowledged that there is a climate crisis and more huge storms are coming.

Of course climate scientists jumped on the second point. And noted that surely even some of the biggest deniers see that there is a problem on a global scale, even if they are reticent to do anything about it. For now. I take it as a starting point. Its slightly better than nothing.

Latest video

Here's a followup to my last video about charging at home.


One Little Spark … 

Smithsonian Magazine has a good article about Thaddeus Stevens. Its a name you may never have heard, because the Jim Crowe era mostly erased his name.

Stevens was an anti-slavery force who did what he could to help us move away from slavery. He was chairman of the ways and means committee during the Civil War, and was instrumental in helping to amend the Constitution during Reconstruction. And he was always outspoken on the topic, and its related injustices.

We should take time to remember the man and his accomplishments.

Monday, December 11, 2023

That chiefs play

The formation the Chiefs used was weird. Toney (who was called offsides) has the purple arrow. And yes, he's lined up beyond the ball. 

But he's not the only issue. The center (blue) is further up than the rest of the offensive line (yellow circle) which is also an illegal formation. 

And the receiver at the top (yellow arrow) is in the backfield based on where the ball is spotted. Meaning the center in this case is the only guy on the line so he's technically an eligible receiver, which he is not. Also illegal. 

And then Taylor swifts bff is at the bottom with the green arrow. It's an illegal formation to have a player in the backfield farther out than the last receiver. 

So chiefs fans, players, and coaches can cry all they want. The play may have been genius in possibly scoring the winning TD.  But the setup was a mess. And the refs were correct. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Bitchin Dave's Newsletter - December 5

 Dave’s Musings

College football is big business. On the one side, you have the players ability to accept payments for their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), thanks to several court cases. The NCAA loathes this, because that's money and power *they* are losing in various ways, and so they are lobbying congress to help them sort this out, and help them retain power over the goings on.

And on the other side, you have the "hubbub" about the college football playoffs. For years, they let a vote decide the best team. Then, they allowed for a 4-team playoff, which has helped, but often becomes a bit of a quagmire. Last year, you had a team that probably didn't belong in the playoffs get beaten badly in the championship. This year, you had shenanigans with a team that was left out, despite never having lost, and being part of a big-time conference.

Never forget this is all about money. The NCAA let a team in to the playoff last year, and that didn't work out. So this year, they made sure that all the teams they let in are competitive AND which have fans that will buy up all the packages to see the game. For the poor team that went undefeated, the problem is that their star player got injured and they're just scraping by. That surely doesn't generate enough interest, and hits up against the competitive aspect.

There is a solution of course: expand the number of teams that play, and let it sort itself out on the field. But then, the inherent problem is that you lose out on bowl game revenue, and fewer teams wind up with a win at the end of the season.

A small company named Astrobotic won a government contract to send a lander with instrumentation to our moon.

The intent is to study the lunar surface - with much more sophistication than we could have imagined in the 1960s - in an effort to build habitats there in the future.

The mission will launch on December 24th from Kennedy Space Center aboard a ULA spacecraft, and will take about a month to touchdown. Landing is planned for January 25th.

Its exciting, and will mark 50 years since an American space craft last landed on the moon!


Clear Air Turbulence (ie, unexpected turbulence while flying) is on the rise, and there's an interesting look at what is being done in the airline industry in the attached article.

But the more significant part of this story is the WHY there is more turbulence. This has everything to do with Climate Change, and how the atmospheric conditions are different than they were in the past. And they are expected to get worse.

Call it another example of how climate change impacts our everyday lives.

Forbes Clear Air Turbulence

Henry Kissinger passed away this week. Now you may be asking yourself what Kissinger has to do with Disney.

And well, the answer lies in the planning for Epcot. Kissinger became the singular authority on international relations and diplomacy. The Disney company wanted to include him as they sold the idea of a permanent worlds fair, with countries all on equal footing in a spirit of harmony.

They invited Kissinger in to view the models, to get some opinions, and (most importantly) to ask him to act as an ambassador of sorts, when he talked with heads of state.

In short, his credibility is one of the main reasons this project moved forward as it did. The World Showcase, as it appeared in 1982, was a direct reflection on his influence.

This picture is of Kissinger being greeted by then-CEO Card Walker as he entered the Contemporary Hotel to see the models.


Here's a fun story about how Australia declared war on the Emu population, and lost.

TL;DR. In the 1930s, Emus (yes the flightless bird) migrated due to changing habitats (quick aside: its a relatable moment as we see habitats changing today as well), and were destroying crops. The government deployed "Great War" veterans to literally exterminate them with machine guns. And .... it was a bit of a disaster. The Emus spread out and found ways to thrive.


Latest video

I'm talking about charging my Tesla at 240v, and the effect on the battery.


One Little Spark … 

There's been an ongoing schism in the (formerly "united") Methodist Church over their stance on LGBTQ issues.

In short, about a year ago, the church unilaterally decided to not accept that anyone could possibly be gay and have taken a position that anyone who identifies as such is not welcome in the church. How very christian of them.

Many of the member churches objected to this stance, so they decided to leave the Methodist faith and re-form as something else. Much back and forth later (unsurprisingly much of it legal in nature and not about "the faith"), they were allowed to leave.

Then, a few weeks ago there was a formal vote on 261 churches in Georgia, bringing the total number that left the denomination to 6,225 or about 20% of all the Methodist churches - with the potential - and high likelihood - for more to come.