Category Archives: Travel

Zero to Sixty

Back when I was 12 years old I spent an unusual amount of time reading about cars that I was too young to drive.    At the end of every article in Motor Trend, there was a list of specifications that gave the raw statistics regarding the wheelbase, the overall length, the width, the curb weight and the acceleration.

How long did it take the 1967 Mercury Cougar to go from 0 to 60?  I don’t remember, because I didn’t care.

Speed was the least important detail to me – a kid who loved cars as design objects more than conveyances.  I was much more interested in the roofline, what the grill looked like and the style of the door handles  than with anything that had to do with engines.

Drag racing made no sense to me – how could you properly admire the shape of an automobile when you couldn’t see it through a cloud of burning rubber?

I think it’s fair to say I’ve never had much appreciation for the whiplash takeoff no matter how it happens.  Which is why I can’t explain  my admiration for this video from SpaceX – a crewman’s-point-of-view look at the latest test of a mission abort system that jettisons the capsule (astronauts included) at well over three hundred miles per hour, going from zero to 100 in a few short seconds.

This is exactly how I’d like to experience liftoff – by not being there. Odd that the very risk of sitting on top of a rocket is mitigated by sitting on top of even more rockets that are designed to rush you away from the first set of rockets if necessary.

And while the powerful liftoff happens predictably at zero, the neck-snapping launch abort comes out of sequence – when you’re, by definition, not quite ready.

At, say, two.

15, 14, 13, 12
into the mystery we’ll delve
14, 13, 12, 11
rockets blasting into heaven
13, 12, 11, 10
computers count and tell us when
12, 11, 10, 9
every nuance must align
11, 10, 9, 8
could abort, it’s not too late
10, 9, 8, 7
way back when, it was eleven
9, 8, 7,6
if one valve misfires or sticks
8, 7, 6, 5
we may not get out alive
7, 6, 5, 4
waiting for the engine’s roar
6, 5, 4, 3
gonna pull some extra g
5, 4, 3, 2
OOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooooaguhababammmmmmaagoooo!
4, 3, 2, 1
tower cleared and launch undone.
3, 2, 1, 0.
welcome back, already, hero.

When have you changed plans at the last minute?

Song for a Blue Sunset

Header image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M University

Like everyone else, I’ve started my pro/con list for traveling to Mars.

Cons:

  • Forced long term travel.
  • Close quarters with near strangers.
  • No breathable air.
  • Certain death.

Pros:

  • Reduced gravity.
  • No mosquitoes.
  • Blue sunsets.

That last one was verified in striking fashion by the latest photo from Curiosity Rover – an image of a cobalt disc poised over the crisp outline of a mountain range that only happens to be Martian.

It immediately hit me that the first Earthlings to set up camp there would have the opportunity to write a batch of songs about topics that have long been over-explored back home with the distinct advantage of a fresh set of unique experiences.

A blue sunset, for instance.

Then, somewhat less immediately, it hit me that I could only think of three songs that were specifically about a sunset.

  1. Sunrise, Sunset, of course. But it’s a shared billing.
  2. Canadian Sunset is obvious, but it has as many words as Mars has Canadians.
  3. Red Sails in the Sunset comes to mind but it has too much longing for home to be an effective Martian anthem.

Fortunately, the Kinks took care of everything when they did this:

And the beauty part – the song is already about a pronounced distaste for crowds and a fondness for chilly evenings in close company with a special friend – and both are Mars journey prerequisites!

Although the “special friend” is an accessory you  will have to pack or make along the way.

As far as the song is concerned, all you have to do to Martianize it is substitute “What a blue” for “Waterloo”.

Done and done. Going to Mars may not be so difficult after all!

Recall a remarkable sunset.

Sleepless Seated Sightseeing

Today’s guest post comes from Edith.

Recently I took a long trip, and was very lucky to have window seats the entire 3 days and 3 nights.

I boarded Amtrak late at night in Kansas City, MO, “slept” through most of Kansas, and woke up to a red sun rising over the prairie behind us.

NM_train9 (1)

During the first day the train went through New Mexico. I never had been to that area before, so was fascinated by the scenery: shrubby trees, hills, some mountains. Lots of browns, but other colors, too.

When I woke the next morning we were running about 1 ½ hours late, but somehow, by 8:30, we had made up 1 ¼ hours of that. The train arrived almost on time in Los Angeles. A good thing for me since there were only 2 hours between our scheduled arrival and the departure of my next train.
Wow, the train depot at L.A. was something else! Huge! Busy! Full of people hustling and bustling around, and all of them knew where they were going; I was the only one who wandered around in circles before I figured out the gate where I was to board my next next train, the once-daily Coast Starlight.

Then I went to the waiting area – to wait, of course. But I got restless. When I noticed people coming in some side doors. I got up to investigate and found a charming courtyard. Trees. Birds singing. Benches. A fountain. Tile work. Grass. Blue Skies. Very refreshing.

The Coast Starlight was pretty full, so I had a seatmate. She spent a lot of time in the observation car. No need for me to do that – not only did I have a window seat, it was on the ocean side.

But we sat in the same spot for a long time while the train was stopped because of a gas leak somewhere near the tracks up ahead. I had a great view of a parking lot and some empty tennis courts.

Lovely.

After 4 hours, we were able to move on.

Lucky me! The train goes very close to the ocean, in spots, so I had great view after great view.
Very cool!

The problem with the train being late was we no longer had any stops where we could get out and stretch.

Uffda, my legs ached from sitting. Even after we left the coast, the scenery in northern California and Oregon was lovely, but i had trouble appreciating it.

My trip_CA17

Finally, after what seemed like an endless time of trying, never very successfully, to sleep in a train seat and wanting to do anything but sit still another hour, I arrived in Portland.

I wanted only to take a shower, sleep in a real bed, and look forward to a day with fellow baboon Steve. Still, despite all the discomfort I had endured, I felt lucky that I was able to see so many beautiful sights from the train window.

How long can you stand to sit?

Rough Landing Haiku

Space travel fans and recyclers are full of admiration for the people at Space-X, who come closer with each attempt to doing something the throw-away generation of the ’60’s didn’t even consider. They’re trying to create a rocket booster that can carry a vehicle to orbit, and then land, vertically, the same way it took off.

To allow some room for error, they built a barge that can float out in the ocean, away from population centers. Smart, but problematic, as it creates a somewhat unsteady surface.

This last time they came quite close to making it work.

I love the slow yielding to gravity at the end, as it gradually becomes clear we are not going to remain vertical.

The fall takes about 7 seconds – just long enough to read three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables.

if there is no land
just a barge in the ocean
there is no landing

falling down to earth,
a job anything can do,
gets tricky at last

hold the platform still
and I will stick the dismount
at some other time

practice makes perfect
but first some big explosions
for entertainment

Space X says next time, they’ll try to do the landing where there is actually some land.

When has practice made perfect for you?

The Audacity of Heft

Today’s post comes from Wally of Wally’s Intimida, home of the Sherpa SUV. It’s a mighty big car!

Greetings, Road Hogs!

After reading yesterday’s comments on driving, I know most of you are not actually “road hogs”, but you each could  become one if only you had the right set of wheels.

Wally here to remind you that the Sherpa from Intimida is still the world’s widest, tallest, longest and heaviest passenger car .

And that’s saying something at a time when car designers are obsessed with “lightweighting” their products.  They take steel out of a vehicle’s frame and replace it with aluminum, carbon fiber, and carbon fiber reinforced composites (CFRC’s).

By doing this, it’s possible to improve gas mileage, drive-ability and customer acceptance.

But so what?  Some things are so basic to your identity that they should never be changed, and for the Sherpa one of those key things is heft!

No, we’re not embarrassed by weight.

That’s why Intimida engineers always opt for the heaviest, densest materials available. The frame is made out of steel-reinforced steel and skyscraper-construction-grade I-beams. Our paint is made from a paste created when crushed bedrock is combined with super-strong limpet teeth by melting both ingredients in blast furnaces as hot as the sun.

The reason is simple – a car as big as a mountain doesn’t need to get good gas mileage.   Because it’s such a massive object, the Sherpa  has stronger gravity than everything around it, so people and things just naturally come to it.

But when you do start it up and decide to go somewhere, the world will take notice!  That’s because a Sherpa is designed to be impressive, meaning it leaves a permanent scar on the landscape.

That’s why so many crumbling highways are closed shortly after an Intimida Sherpa passes through.

Yes, you did that.  But you pay taxes, so get your money’s worth!

So if a lightweight car is what you want, there are plenty of options out there.  But if you want to turn heads, collapse bridges and cause earthquakes wherever you go, there’s only one choice for you – the Sherpa from Intimida.

It’s a mighty big, profoundly heavy car!

Come see me today – my office is right in the middle of a Mountain Range of Cars!

Wally

About what are you unapologetic?  

 

 

Carnival Town

We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

We are ALL Dr. Babooner
We are ALL Dr. Babooner

I suffer from a litte-known, not-well-understood condition called Atariphobia, which is an unsupported-by-facts but nonetheless pervasive fear of invaders from space.

Consequently, I find myself constantly scanning the sky for signs of flying saucers.

In addition, I am a practicing Orsonist. As followers of the late actor/director Orson Welles, we Orsonists assume that in every case the most dramatic explanation is automatically the one that’s most likely to be true.

Rosebud!

Welles is known for the classic 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast,  which convinced too many people that Earth was under attack.  As a result, smoldering craters of every kind give me the creeps. When our family went to visit Yellowstone National Park, I stayed in the hotel room the entire time, sobbing.

In spite of these debilitating conditions, I am usually able to lead a typical life. But there’s a blog I follow where the writer often talks about how beautiful our planet looks from space, and he sometimes posts things like this video:

When I look at this, I’m terrified.

Compared to the barren, dead worlds we see elsewhere in our solar system (Mars!) and others we’re discovering throughout the galaxy, our place has a distinct ‘open for business’ look that makes me extremely uneasy.

It’s a swirly, spinning, sparkly gem set against a black background, with inexplicably vivid highlights, like the intermittent green glow of those northern lights – a feature that simply begs to be investigated.

If you were a space alien searching for a fun place to land or a bright bauble to tear apart, ours appears to be the only game in town. Why wouldn’t you come here?

I’m usually not too political, but I called my Congressman to urge her to do something. I thought maybe she could offer legislation to wrap the world in a drab,frumpy bag, dressing it down in the same way a beautiful woman de-emphasizes her best features to discourage unwanted attention.

The congressional aide I spoke with told me the Republican leadership is already doing everything it can to uglify the world through climate change denial. He used the incessant western drought as an example.

“California,” he explained, “is already looking a lot like Uranus.”

But I could hear stifled laughter on the other end of the line. I don’t think they took me very seriously.

Dr. Babooner, people are so willing to mock those who are even a little bit unconventional. How can I get them to consider the real risk posed by our planet’s obvious invade-able-ness?

Trepidatiously,
I.M. Wary

I told I.M.W. there is not much one person can do to make the world seem uninviting to outsiders. And when it comes to putting a potential crisis on the popular agenda, one must wait one’s turn. As a people, we respond to risk when the danger is imminent and our possible responses are limited.  In other words, we will only act when it is too late to act.  But as an Orsonist, I’m sure you’re already well aware that the world will accept no whine before its time.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Don’t Let The Stars Get in Your Eyes

It should be obvious by now that I’m fascinated by outer space, a place I’ve seen on TV but will probably never visit. If I did get a chance to leave the atmosphere, I would want a window seat and would spend most of my time looking back at the place I’d just come from.

From what I’ve seen on the printed page and the flat screen, all views of Earth from orbit are enthralling. Even the ones that don’t allow me to say “Hey, there’s my house!”

I don’t know how long it would take for the scenery to become ordinary or (heavens forbid!), boring. Maybe that’s not possible, but there’s a chance we’re going to find out now that a couple of guys have been sent to the International Space Station to stay for a year.

Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko will help answer a boatload of questions during their odyssey.

The one that caught my eye (literally) is this one – quoted from the BBC article linked above:

“However, there are other problems that doctors still need to study and understand. They have poor data on the effects on immune function, for example, and there is considerable concern about the damage spaceflight causes to the eyes. This is a newly recognised phenomenon, and appears to be related to the way fluid is redistributed in a weightless body.

Pressure is seen to build in the skull and on the optic nerve, and a large number of astronauts return to Earth complaining that their vision is not as good as when they went up.”

So in other words, space is beautiful, but the longer you stay, the less you’re going to see.  If diminished vision is part of the deal you have to cut to experience the stunning visuals of long-term space flight, is it worth the price?

When have you agonized over a trade-off?