Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Six Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Five Words

Thats my final word count for NaNoWriMo 2010. Not a terribly impressive word count - I know folks who have written ten times as much this month, and it's only one eighth of the goal, but I'm pretty proud of myself. That's the largest thing I've ever written, by over half. I'd never really written more than a few hundred words of fiction before, and yet I managed to write something the size of a decent shorty story.

Next year, I'm going to try to actually complete it. Yes, I'll have college work, but I won't have induction to plan which took up so much time, nor application essays to write.

Monday, November 29, 2010

T.F. Green Airport T station

So, I knew that T.F. Green Airport (just south of Providence, Rhode Island) was getting its own MBTA Commuter Rail station. When flying out on Friday, I managed to get a quick glimpse from the air, and it looked nearly completed.

Turns out, it opens next Monday - a week from today. Three Boston - T.F. Green trains and a couple T.F. Green - Providence shuttles in each direction per day, with more coming later when an additional station in Wickford opens next year.

This is pretty cool. If I go to college in Boston, I could take the commuter rail down to the airport to join my folks on a trip - like to another OSU game - or just for them to pick me up so I can go home.

Oh, and did I mention the skyway? Yeah, the giant glass-and-concrete skyway from the airport to the station. 1250 feet long, about 75 feet in the air, and huge. Way cool.

Ohio Trip!

An absolutely excellent weekend. I had a freaking great time in Ohio. My first time attending the OSU-Michigan rivalry game

Flights to Ohio were pretty okay, though there was turbulence and we were a tad delayed out of BWI. (It's very strange... there are no direct flights from Providence (T.F. Green) or Hartford (Bradley) to Columbus, but many two-flight combos. Intermediate airports include BWI (Baltimore), Washington - Reagan, Washington - Dulles, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and several of the New York airports. But I digress...)

We stopped to get wings - which are delicious even at 3:15 pm - then headed up to my uncle's house up north. My cousin and her husband arrived later and we played two great games of an old game called Rail Baron.

Woke up early Saturday morning, drove back to Columbus. We were a bit late, so we had a hard time finding a parking spot. Normally, we get one only a few blocks east of campus, but this time, we were right up next to the train tracks. Not too bad, though, just a longer walk.

The game was absolutely fantastic. The Buckeyes started out slow as they tend to, but then Terrell Pryor nailed a 39-yard pass up the middle and it was on. Once they took the lead early in the second quarter, they never let go. At one point, Michigan scored to make it 10-7 OSU. After Michigan kicked off, it was 17-7. Halftime score was 24-7.

OSU Marching Band lived up to their nickname as The Best Damn Band In The Land.  They did the famous Script Ohio before the game - the field show upon which all else is graded. It's just incredible. They cross lines through each other at full march speed, and start from a giant block O made from several rotating lines. For halftime, they had several classical pieces and elaborate formations; the last was an incredible Des Irae / Ode to Joy melody.

During the first half, Michigan's quarterback and running back had success running, though only one score. OSU owned the third quarter. Michigan had ten total yards; the Buckeyes had several scores, including a 98-yard run by Dan Herron (that was reduced a bit by the officials due to a BS holding penalty) and Pryor just killed the defense with his throws.

In the 4th quarter, Michigan had a long drive. They had 2nd and goal on the 1-yard line. Ohio State took over on downs on the 7 yard line. They not only prevented the score, they drove them back. The Buckeyes defense has a few holes, but when the pressure is on, they are deadly.

Final score was 37-7 Buckeyes. And the 105 thousand rejoiced. I can't wait till the Buckeyes play in January.

Afterwards, we headed out to Easton and took advantage of the all-you-can-eat ribs special at some restaurant. We ate 3 and a half racks between us. Since the game was at noon (less nastiness afterwards cause less people drink in the morning, not that there weren't some thoroughly plastered people there), it was only 5:30 by that point, so we went and saw Unstoppable. An excellent movie.

When we got in the car to go back to the hotel room, the first song the DJ put on was classic Ozzy. "Crazy Train". Oh, the irony.

Flights home were uneventful. I like Columbus - beautiful city - but it's nice to be home.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'm pretty much addicted to the internet

So, when it goes down for a couple hours, I am lost. I did get some stuff done, though. Unfortunately, I need to be off to bed. So, you get to hear all about my trip, my literary adventures, and other stuff - tomorrow!

Friday, November 26, 2010

CATO 167: Punkin Chunkin: Part 5

Here are a few pictures of Al Gloer's Darkstar Itty Bitty on an F30SS:

And some unknown rockets:

CATO 167: Punkin Chunkin: Part 4

The next flight was the SpaceShipTwo on an A10-3 mini motor. Despite the RSO's concerns, it launched straight up, with little spin.

My final flight of the day was the Scissor-Wing Transport on a C6-3. The boost was fast and straight; the glide was not great, but because of the wind it leveled out a bit and landed safely.

CATO 167: Punkin Chunkin: Part 3

After that, I decided to launch my Fliskits Nell, which I had labored over for months. I had primed it, but not given it a full paint job. Like the Great Punkin, its launch (on a C6-3) started out well:

And then it took a turn for the worse. The parachute, which I had packed too tight, failed to deploy. Instead, my beautiful rocket tailslid to a sickening "crunch".

It's broken in several pieces. I am not sure if it can be repaired.

CATO 167: Punkin Chunkin: Part 2

Shortly after the flight of Svetlana, my folks showed up, bearing cameras. My second flight of the day was my pumpkin-lofting flight, the Great Punkin on a G53-7 FJ (Black Max) motor. Simulated altitude 890 feet. The booster had a 16 chute; the punkin had a 36" by 66 chute that I made out of a garbage bag.

It started out well:

But, the giant chute did not open, and instead of soaring, my punkin plummeted to the ground. It, amazingly, survived. My revenge was swift and tasty:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

CATO 167: Punkin Chunkin: Part 1

CATO was on Sunday this month; Saturday was rather windy. And, I haven't had time to write about it till now. Pictures will come later tonight, or tomorrow.

My first flight was the Svetlana on an F35-8W - my first launch with my new 24/60 case. It simulates to 1192 feet on Openrocket, and that might be conservative. It zoomed off the pad - the 57 Newton-second (Ns) load packs a lot more punch than a 40 Ns E18 load. I drilled the nominally-8-second delay down to about 6 seconds, and it ejected just past apogee.

Since my old baffle was destroyed at NERRF, I opted to make a temporary one out of duct tape. Just a 10" long tube, made using a 29/240 case as a mandrel. I tapered one end to fit in the motor mount tube, and stuffed the other end in the nosecone. I packed the 12" chute as usual and sure enough, it deployed without being burnt. The duct tape was barely burnt. Fun fact: duct tape can take the heat of a blackpowder ejection charge.

Even with the small 12" chute, it drifted a lot. Everyone thought it was going to land in the woods... but nope, it touched down on the adjacent field. Easy to get to, and I even found someone else's nose cone on the way to get it.

Next: I have pictures!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Well, that was strange

This morning, as I'm driving to school, I get a call from mandachan. I pull over and pick it up, but the connection's bad, and all I hear is 'accident'. I get back on the road, but when I come to the first major intersection in town, there is a minivan in the middle of the intersection.

On fire.

There were flames about three feet high coming from the engine block. There was also a large white truck off to one corner, and what I think was an unmarked cop car with lights. Fortunately, at that point the cop was still letting traffic by.

As I got about half a mile away, I heard sirens and I pulled over to let two fire trucks, an ambulance, and three more cop cars by.

As it turns out, mandachan was just approaching the intersection when it happened. The minivan apparently ran a red light and struck the truck, then spun around. Fortunately, the neither driver was seriously injured, and the minivan driver got out before the flames. I'm sure it'll be all over the news tomorrow morning. Scary stuff.

NetHack Wiki

I received a very nice email today from Tjr, one of the admins of Nethack Wiki, asking me to change my links from the old site on Wikia to the new one, which is on the same servers as nethack.alt.org. Apparently Wikia was being nasty with a new default skin and putting too many intrusive ads on.

So, the links are changed and as a bonus, I might start playing Nethack again.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Getting ready for Punkin Chunkin

I made a parachute from a garbage bag today. Huge friggin' chute. 36" by 66". It'll lower a 7 oz punkin at just 4 feet per second.

(And yes, it is 'punkin', not pumpkin. Only punkins get launched.)

I've also got the Nell ready for launch - added the launch lugs and shock cord. The final coat of paint can wait for after its first flight.

The Great Punkin - my half-assed punkin lofter, cobbled together last year out of two mailing tubes and some scrap wood - had aquired new decoration in preparation for its second flight tomorrow. It now has a zigzag black stripe around the yellowish body. To say I am pleased would be an understatement.

Friday, November 19, 2010


It is going to be very windy tomorrow. Punkin Chunkin is delayed until Sunday. I have to wait another day before I get to launch punkins.


On the other hand, I actually have time to make a large parachute, and get my rockets ready. So it's not all bad, just frustrating.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Strange Hybrids

Dick Stafford brings information about Aluminum - carbon dioxide hybrids and hybrids with 3D printed fuel grains. I have nothing more to add.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tell Me, People, Am I Going Insane?

(Yes, I am.)

Marine Science outline yesterday (1200 words, 3 data tables)

Calc midterm #2 today - two hours of difficult math

Programs, agendas, and maps to make for National Honor Society induction, which is Monday

And, tomorrow, I will be gone for 14 consecutive hours, between school, calculus course, herding children, and senior night for marching band. The only saving grace of which is that it's senior night. So, we don't have to wear the awful marching band uniforms - we can actually wear warm clothes - and we have shenanigans planned.

And, maybe, possibly, I will have time to blog.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Central Corridor Rail Line Map

So, I've made this neat map of the proposed service, using a Google Maps template. Markers are green at current stations (with Vermonter / Northeast Regional / Acela / Shore Line East service), yellow at proposed stations (including several cities that formerly had service, which will now be restored). The three pushpins indicate where the corridor splits from other passenger services.

I calculated mileages based on matching curves to the track on the map. The exact locations of all of the yellow stations (except for Willimantic, which has a small concrete platform left over from previous Vermonter service) are approximate; they could be in an entirely different part of town from where I guessed. However, the total mileage - 122 miles - should be correct.

View Central Corridor Rail Line in a larger map

I've also created a Wikipedia page on the line. The information isn't complete because I have to use sources available to everyone, but it's pretty nice. I like the route map, pieced together from a standard set of symbols.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Template Frustrations

Something's been funny with my template today. If you see only the first part of posts on the main page, and not the whole posts, let me know.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Internal linking!

I've taught myself something new. I can now link to an arbitrary point in the middle of a page or post, rather than just the top of the post. How? With a little snippet of code that looks like this:

<span id="name"></span>

where name is the name I am assigning to the link.

I then link to it with the following modification of the standard link code:

<a href="http://amateurgeek.blogspot.com/2010/11/internal-linking.html#name">link text here</a>

When I implement that in actual html, it looks like this: link text here and it links to the span tag that I put just above the sample code. Try the link to see what I mean.

So, I can link to the middle of pages. How is that useful? Well, check out the links at the bottom of the page. Say, I want to link to my comment policy, which is halfway down the massive infopage. If I link to the page, it's hard to find. If I link directly to the section, it's real easy.

Wikipedia also uses a similar system when dividing up pages. It means you can link to any section of a page, including when doing internal links. Very convenient.

Building and Priming

Finally finished building the Nell. Well, mostly. I still need to attach the launch lugs, but I'm not sure about those - I will probably add them after painting. But I filled every single nook and cranny with a little fillet of glue, repaired the broken tube completely.

It was, amazingly, 62 degrees out, so I primed the lower half of the Nell. It was a bit windy, so I didn't get a great coat, so it's a start.

I've also been working on the Transwing. It'a already built, and a successful glider that gets 30-second flights on C6-3s. But I want to make it better. I'm repairing the wingtips - one I cut too short and barely stays under the flap that holds it down during boost, and the other has a chuck out of it from a hard landing.

I'm also sanding the wings smoother and redoing the hinge joints. Nothing major, and mostly mechanical rather than aesthetic, but they should add up to a slightly better boost and a somewhat improved glide. I want to beat 1 minute on a C6-3, then 2 minutes on a D13 at NERRF next year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Things that bug me: The Mentalist basement scenes

I like The Mentalist, I really do. The crimes aren't terribly interesting, but the interplay between the characters is entertaining, and Cho is extremely amusing.

But, one thing about the show really bugs me. The basement scenes. There's been three or four so far where someone's been held in a basement by a kidnapper, in what I think might even be the same set. Every single time, the kidnapper has been killed or seriously wounded by a CBI agent standing at the top of the stairs. It gets old.


I mean, take last night's episode. Patrick Jane has been taken to a basement, where he's handcuffed to a pole. Then, Lisbon is taken and brought down to join him, after she gets taken*. Even though their hands are handcuffed to the thin pole, they both have a lot of freedom of movement. They manage to lure the would-be killer to the basement and convince her that Jane killed Lisbon to save her from burning. Lisbon gets the jump on the killer, and there's a whole lot of ways it could go.

Lisbon could choke her with the handcuffs (a la Malcolm Reynolds) or with her hands. Patrick Jane (the mentalist) could grab her gun , which he grabs at but obviously misses. The baddie has a cattle prod which she drops; Jayne could easily grab that and stun her, or stop her heart. Lisbon would certainly not be alone in carrying a backup weapon (many cops do, and considering all the nasty cases she works...); she could grab that, or he could. Any of those would have been an excellent way to end the episode. But no, the baddie escapes Lisbon's grasp, only to get mowed down by the cop at the top of the stairs. Deus ex machina. A total cop-out, pun intended.

* A glaring plot hole. No cop would abandon their vehicle, and their gun because a psychotic would-be killer says they'll lead them to the kidnapped man. That's just stupid. Especially if she doesn't let anyone know where she's going, or carry a second weapon.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Julian Assange for Man of the Year

I voted for Julian Assange for TIME Magazine's Man of the Year. Why? That's, unfortunately, political. But suffice to say that I believe that transparency is a vital condition for democracy, and that supporting transparency in government is usually more important than getting the government to do exactly what you want. I encourage you to go vote.

Monday, November 8, 2010


So, I'm not a fiction writer. Not even close. Tried a couple short stories, never got anywhere with em.

So, what do I do? I attempt to write a 50,000 word novel. In a month. An absolutely ridiculous task, that only about 20% who sign up accomplish. Odds are, I won't be one of them, but I'm giving it a try.

It's called NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month.

At the moment I'm up to 3063 words.

Snow delay! Wait.... what?

I wake up this morning, hit the snooze button, and idly check the weather outside before turning on my light. And...wait. It's white out there. We got about maybe half an inch of snow. But it's nice and fluffy and...nope, it's thick and slushy and icy. PITA to drive in, but we get a 90-minute delay out of it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Yep, two shows in two days. Saw Spamalot with Mandachan and my folks at the Garde Theater in New London. Absolutely hilarious.

And now I'm going to bed, because I am tired. Good night, world.

Comet Hartley 2 and EPOXI

Yes, I know this is old news. I'm a slow blogger, okay?

Anyway, chances are that two years ago, you heard of the Deep Impact mission. NASA sent up a small impactor and a larger space probe, and then smacked the impactor into comet 9P/Tempel (Tempel 1) at a combined closing speed of around 14 kilometers (9 miles) per second. The impact was the equivalent of five metric tons of dynamite, and produced a huge bright dust cloud. NASA got a huge amount of information out of the mission, huge success. And, oh yeah, they got pretty pictures too:

But wait. There's still a fully functional space probe up there, and it's got cameras and spectrometers, and plenty of fuel. It's time to science!

The University of Maryland joined in the project. They initially intend to fly it near comet 85P/Boethin, but it didn't return periodically as expected, and has probably broken up. So, they put the spacecraft on a holding pattern near Earth, and used it for other stuff. They used the telescopic cameras to scan for extrasolar planets, and the spectrometer to confirm observations of water molecules on the moon.

Then, in May, they had the craft, now titled EPOXI, fire its engines for 11.3 seconds, enough to change its velocity by around 3 inches per second. That was just enough that its July flyby of Earth, instead of continuing its holding pattern, flung it off into the black. Right into the path of comet 103/P Hartley (Hartley 2). It passed just 435 miles from the nucleus, revealing incredible sights:

Yep, it's a peanut, as was suspected from ground-based radar observations. The waist is smooth, but the two balls are rough, with craters and boulders, and a huge groove.

It's the fifth comet to be visited by a spacecraft; the next flyby will be when the Stardust spacecraft (which collected samples from comet Wild 2 in 2006) visits Tempel 1 in 2011.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Trans-Siberian Orchestra!

Wow. Just wow. That was amazing... probably the best show of my life, better even than the Eagles.

I went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra with my sister. It was just pure epic from the start. For the second song - "Beethoven" off of Beethoven's Last Night - two of the guitarists and the electric violinist descended from the ceiling on platforms. And, except for two minute-long interruptions to introduce the entire band, including the singers and the local string section, and to answer questions about their next album, they kept on rocking for two hours and forty minutes.

And they rocked hard. It was incredible beyond words. The reprise of "Joy to the World" that they ended with was awesome.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Corrections about the Central Corridor Rail Line

Things I forgot in my previous post about the Central Corridor Rail Line (which are now fixed):

The proposed service will run to Brattleboro, not White River Junction. There is already service between the two stations and there will be even after the Vermonter is realigned, so there's no sense running new trains on a line that's already served.

Second, there will be a station at Stafford Springs, between Storrs and the CT / MA border, and a station at Miller Falls in Massachusetts north of Amherst.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How to rotate your screen

It works for some Windows computers...

To the right: [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [→]

To the left: [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [←]

Upside down: [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [↓]

And, to return it right-side up: [Ctrl] + [Alt] + [↑]

It's apparently useful for some things, like unusual-mounted computer screens. But it just seems like ripe for pranks.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Central Corridor Rail Line

A week ago, I went to a meeting for a really cool project, called the Central Corridor Rail Line. It's a somewhat ambitious plan to extend passenger service from New London, Connecticut to Brattleboro, Vermont.

Currently, the vast majority of the route is owned by the New England Central Railroad. About half the route is currently used by Amtrak's Vermonter service, but that will change as it shifts to a westward alignment. The new alignment will shave 30 minutes off that trip by eliminating section of track that requires the train to back up, but will abandon the station at Amherst.

The plan is to upgrade the tracks along the entire route to allow medium-speed passenger service, with speeds up to 80 mph being an eventual goal. NECR is highly supportive of this upgrades; it is currently engaged in a $70 million upgrade of its Vermont tracks and bridges - which includes part of the planned route - to allow them to carry 286,000 lb boxcars, a significant upgrade over their current 263,000 lb cars.

The line would serve over a dozen colleges, with something like 60,000 students, including part of the Knowledge Corridor. Planned stops include:

New London (Conn College, UConn Avery Point, Coast Guard Academy, Mitchell College)
Norwich (Three Rivers)
Willimantic (Eastern Connecticut State University)
Storrs / Mansfield (Uconn)
Stafford Springs
Palmer [intersection with Boston / Springfield corridor]
Amherst (UMass Amherst, Amherst, Hampshire)
Miller Falls

And the really cool part? It's not going to take a lot of expensive trainsets to run. They have a viable plan to purchase 34 refurbished Rail Diesel Cars. Vintage stainless-steel cars, with all-new interiors, controls, and propulsion. They can run as fast as the line will allow, stop on a dime to serve local stations, and be joined into multiple-unit trains to serve larger demands.

I'll have more on the project soon, and there will hopefully soon be an official website. There's already been quite a lot of press. These aren't a bunch of wackos, but people who can get stuff done: directors from NECR; local, state, and university officials, and other important persons from all over New England.

(Edited 11/5/10 to fix a few small factual errors)

Me vs. the Email Server: Round One

So, I'm taking a calculus class at Conn College, which is pretty cool. And, in theory, I have a Conn email account, that autoforwards to my primary account. But, I didn't get a recent email from my professor, which worried me.

So, I tried to log onto my Conn, it wouldn't accept my password. I called the tech support, and the very helpful person who answered the phone found that my password was expired and changed it for me.

So I try to log in, and I need to change the provided password to one of my own. I fill in the form... and the server barfs up an HTTP 500 error (internal error) and a page of javascript. Try again, same result.

I call tech support again, and apparently I've been doing everything right, there's just a problem with the server.