Friday, July 17, 2015

The Signal

An earnest effort...

A challenging and frustrating film, I offer "The Signal" five stars for effort, but three stars for execution.  At its best it evokes the brothers Strugatsky "Roadside Picnic" and Andrei Tarkovsky’s "Stalker," the film based upon it.  Much of the rest of the time this 2014 film, directed and co-written by William Eubank, is a hodgepodge of well-known tropes and discordant homages to less impressive material.

Worth the time of a serious science fiction film buff, if only for a look at the good bits.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Jean Vanier is this nontheist's sort of Christian...

For 50 years Jean Vanier has created small communities where developmentally disabled adults live in fellowship with the able bodied. This year he was awarded the Templeton Prize with which to further his work. What a wonderful, humble, compassionate, and sublimely centered person who lives his Christianity rather than preaching about it.

Not surprisingly three of my favorite podcasts have offered stories about L'Arche and its founder.  You can listen to the programs about Jean Vanier and his life's work here:

The Wisdom of Tenderness
On Being, with Krista Tippett

How To Do Ordinary Things, Parts 1 and 2
Ideas, with Paul Kennedy 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Aren't We All?

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World...

Is funny, kind, gentle, and sad.  

Of course I'm going to love most any movie staring Keira Knightly (I may be middle-aged, but I'm not dead!) but this neat little love story sneaks up on you.  It starts as a vaguely surreal and crude comedy, makes a few quasi-predictable twists and turns, throws in a surprise or two, then it ends like we only dare dream it might end.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Five Miles In, 3000 Feet Down

A walk to Indian Garden in the Grand Canyon...

Cassie and Erik plan to visit this summer and want to backpack into the Grand Canyon for a three or four days. Thought I'd better get some first hand experience. My friend Pati (who has been hiking the canyon for 20 years) and I took a hike on Bright Angel Trail down into the canyon today as far as Indian Garden and back, a ten mile round trip and a 3060 foot descent from the rim. We started about 10:00 am and got back to the trailhead about 6:00 pm. There was plenty of water and electrolytes but I should have carbo loaded more carefully. Bright Angel is one of two ways to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. The Kaibab Trail is shorter and steeper but offers no shade or water. Some folks prefer it for the descent. Bright Angel has shade and water and is recommended for the ascent, especially in the afternoon.

PS, the fudge brownie sundae at the Bright Angel Lodge Restaurant is a perfect reward for a day well spent.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Rocket Man

In which I get to hang out with some undergrad missileers...

A couple members of the Eagle Aerospace team at school asked if I'd like to come along to watch them launch one of their rockets last Sunday. How could I say no?  This student-built rocket went to 11,317 feet and reached a speed of 0.91 mach. It carried a tiny video camera which captured some neat footage. It landed just under a mile away (it's chute was too big for the weight) so it took a while to find it (even with a GPS signal).

The ABS plastic fins were made in a 3D printer. By programming the fins to be printed from corner to corner in the 10x10x10 inch printer they could be made about 14 inches long. The designer used all but 1/100th of an inch of the printer capacity. They built 0.5 degrees of cant into the fin design so the rocket would spin for gyroscopic stability. The adult rocket guys at the launch site were initially skeptical of their strength but they worked fine so the old timers went away impressed. The instrumentation also included two barometric altimeters and a GPS location transmitter. The motor was commercial unit three inches in diameter and about a foot and a half long.

There's a 48,000 foot FAA waiver for the TRAPHX Eagle Eye launch site, one of the highest in the country. ERAU is one of four universities competing to be the first student team to reach space 100km/63 miles. The next Eagle Aerospace launch will be a 100,000 foot test.

Here's the video

We had a nice morning in the desert outside Aguila, Arizona (about two hours from school). Then we drank a lot of iced tea at lunch.

Yes, I love my job...