Microgravity Volume Gauge

Traditional methods of gauging fluid levels in a tank include inserting a measuring stick as is done at gasoline stations around the world, using a float mechanism, measuring the distance from the tank top to the fluid surface via ultrasonics or something similar, or sensing the pressure at the bottom of the tank due to the weight of the fluid.  These methods all have two problems.  The exact shape of the tank must be known for accurate readings.  And, since they only work in a stationary tank in a gravity field, they are completely unsuited for microgravity.  Here is an alternative in the irrelevant tech spirit.

The Great Banana Conspiracy

The Great Banana Conspiracy was triggered by a technological advance.  Around 1880 the commercial production of residential kitchen iceboxes began, bringing the promise of preserving perishable foods.  The governing board of the world banana cartel immediately recognized the threat to their bottom line.  The cartel decided upon a disinformation campaign based on a kernel of truth: in a sealed container the natural plant hormones released by bananas accelerate ripening.  This effect was already used commercially to ripen bananas for market.

The word went out: “Do not put bananas in the refrigerator.  They will turn brown and go bad.”   It was passed to the grapevine, fed into the rumor mill, gossiped over back yard fences, and inserted into the interminable Senate filibusters of the time.  It was picked up by our great-grandmothers, passed to our grandmothers, who taught it to our mothers, and now we indoctrinate our own children and grandchildren.  It has resulted in 130 years of soft, sticky, and blah bananas resting in cute little mesh slings or dangling from crescent-shaped hangers on kitchen counters.

In point of fact, when fresh bananas are put into the refrigerator, they do develop a superficial light brown dusting on the surface of their skins after a few days.  Yet when you take one out, you find that the peel underneath is still crisp and the fruit inside is fresh, firm, and sweet.  (Keep green bananas at room temperature until the bodies just turn yellow and then put them in the refrigerator.)

We were also told to not put bread in the refrigerator, effectively the same misdirection.  As a practical matter, the early iceboxes were small, and what little space they had was needed for eggs, meat, and milk.  Bread was baked at home and generally eaten on the same day.  So the habit of no refrigeration became the rule.  Modern refrigerators have eliminated the space problem and store-bought bread has replaced daily baking – however, the rule has remained while modern smaller families are taking longer to finish a loaf.

The fact is that bread keeps just fine for several days in its plastic wrap in the refrigerator.  It doesn’t get moldy, it doesn’t get soggy, it doesn’t dry out, and it doesn’t become stale.  It toasts the same way, makes perfectly good sandwiches, and stays generally indistinguishable from non-refrigerated bread.  If you need a room temperature slice or two, a mere 8 or 10 seconds in the microwave takes care of that.  And since in the refrigerator the bread does not get moldy, you won’t find yourself trying to remember how many days ago you bought it.  There may be an exotic crusty French boule that’s edible only while still warm from the oven, but if your bread came from the grocery store, throw it in the fridge.


The Sound and the Fury

I just read The Sound and the Fury after putting it off for more than 50 years.  It is definitely art.  It may be great art.  Contrary to some critiques, it is not hard to follow for a modern reader accustomed to sound bites and kaleidoscopic perspective shifts.  It is entertainment in the sense that Tobacco Road, World Enough and Time, and Long Day’s Journey Into Night are entertainment.

The novel ends abruptly.  I was relieved when it was finally over, for both my sake and the characters’.

If you are plagued by overwhelming happiness, inexhaustible joie de vivre, and unbounded bliss to be living in a world of infinite possibility, this will cure you.

Magic Rub

If you want to erase pencil marks, get a MAGIC RUB® eraser — nothing else compares.  The soft composition doesn’t damage paper fibers, and its adsorbent porosity just vacuums graphite off the surface with a light rub.  MAGIC RUB® does a good job of removing pencil marks from other surfaces as well.  This non-hardening eraser wears with use, leaving a constantly clean, fresh surface.  If you’ve only experienced the standard kind of abrasive red eraser, either block or pencil tip, which leaves a rough reddish smear, you will be surprised by the the results.  There are other white erasers — vinyl, plastic, polymer — which are not the same.  MAGIC RUB® is better than gum, kneaded, white or pink pearl®, and the long cylindrical white erasers used in stick type or powered drafting erasers.  The only close equivalent I’ve ever come across is the eraser on the end of Pentel® mechanical pencils, which may be identical for all I know.

Try it, you’ll like it.

The Cost of Speed

Traveling over 15 miles per hour takes a pair of cross trainers for $50.

Traveling over 150 miles per hour takes a Corvette for $50,000.

Traveling over 1500 miles per hour takes an F15 Eagle for $50,000,000.

Traveling over 15,000 miles per hour takes a space shuttle program at $150 billion for three operating shuttles or $50,000,000,000 each.

To go 10 times faster you have to spend 1000 times as much money.

Microgravity Induced Bone Loss

The two critical problems faced by manned deep space exploration are radiation (discussed in a later post) and microgravity induced bone loss.  NASA has been studying bone loss in astronauts for 50 years and has learned enough about the biological mechanism to develop the successful ARED exercise device and nutrition protocols for the ISS.  These work well for motivated, fit astronauts, but compliance might be problematic for the larger and varied crew of a very long duration deep space mission.  The traditional hard science fiction solution is to use spin to generate centrifugal gravity.  One question is how much spin?  When (hopefully) we have Lunar, 1/6 G, and Martian, 3/8 G, permanent bases we will be able to do comparative bone loss studies.  A rat centrifuge on the ISS could produce additional data.  It is inconvenient to spin an entire spacecraft because of issues with navigation, antenna orientation, maneuvering, and frame stress.  Spinning part of a craft creates problems with seal integrity between the sections.  The internal wheel of the 2001: A Space Odyssey spacecraft was a rather elegant solution to these problems but still represents an unlikely level of technology for the foreseeable future.  It is likely any long duration manned space mission in the next 50 years will need to deal with the problem of microgravity.

The research that resulted in the ARED and also related rat research have shown that it is the lack of resistance to movement or lack of force supporting body weight stressing the long skeletal bones, rather than lack of the internal force of gravity on the bone matrix, that causes bone density loss.

Fully aquatic mammals such as whales, dolphins, and manatees spend their entire lives in a neutral buoyancy environment, effectively weightless.  While the deep dives of whales and the hunting acrobatics of dolphins may or may not give their skeletons astronaut levels of stress, manatees are the original couch potatoes.  In any case, all are fully adapted to their environment.  While none of these animals are remotely suitable for research, it is almost certain that we have DNA samples for all of them which could be sequenced.  We also have DNA for their land based relatives – hippopotami, elephants, and hyraxes – for comparison.

As NASA’s and others’ research into microgravity induced bone loss proceeds, the signaling and metabolic pathways involved along with their associated proteins will be identified.  It would be useful to compare these proteins to the aquatic equivalents to try to identify any adaptive changes.  This might suggest new paths for the pharmaceutical research already underway in rat studies.

Looking homeward

For 13 years the Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn and its moons, sending back thousands of spectacular pictures.  Now nearing the end of its mission, it will be exploring the ring system and ultimately entering Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15th, 2017.  Once in a while when the geometry is suitable, Cassini pauses to take a picture of the Earth while moving between science targets.  These homeward looks from 900 million miles away evoke a haunting loneliness.

.454 Casull

If you are considering buying your first .454 Casull and are looking at a Ruger Super Redhawk with the older grip panels, you will probably want to get a Hogue Tamer Monogrip for it.  These make the .454 much more pleasant to shoot and are standard on new Super Redhawks.  Pleasant is relative here.  Shooting one is kind of like being in a car wreck.  There’s a loud crash, you get knocked around, and there’s pain.  It’s not so bad when you get used to it, but you should practice sighting and double action trigger control with .45 Long Colt and not shoot more than one cylinder of .454 on any given day.  One cylinder periodically is enough to adapt to the recoil, avoid flinch, and give your capillaries time to recover.  Several full power cylinders in succession will injure your hand.  Also, don’t try impact absorbing gloves made for use with impact tools.  They compress your hand to a higher density, hold in the recoil shock pressure wave, and, with a .454, sting a lot more than no glove.

White skunk

Last night my wife and I saw a white skunk in an urban residential area of Bloomington.  It walked across a street in our headlights, padded across a yard, and ducked under a garden shed.  I had never even heard of a white skunk.  This one had black on the sides of its head so it wasn’t an albino.  As it turns out there are four genera of skunks, each of which consists of several species, including some with spots or bizarre circular stripe patterns.  Who knew?