In the Footsteps (Part 10) December 7, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff, Science.
Tags: Art & Science, Books, In the Footsteps, Museums & Archives, Music, Nuclear Weapons
Late on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we overpacked our suitcases and headed out on the highway. Five hours later, we had checked into our Las Vegas hotel and were in search of the food you can find at the wee hours in the city that really does never sleep. On Monday, we made our now-annual visit to the Atomic Testing Museum on Flamingo Road.
We’ve written about this museum before HERE. This time, the museum boasted a special exhibit called “Building Atomic Vegas” that fits perfectly with our ongoing series “In the Footsteps.” This week, we’ll walk you through some of the highlights of that exhibit by sharing some of our photos.
The exhibit “Building Atomic Vegas” runs through January 5, 2012. For the video of the press preview for this exhibit, click HERE. If you’re in Las Vegas this Friday, December 9, check out the lecture on “Salvador Dali and Nuclear Art.”
Measurement and Scale March 16, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff, Science.
Tags: Earthquakes, Math, Nuclear Weapons, Physics
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On March 11, 2011, just off the east coast of Japan, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred. When we talk about an earthquake having magnitude, we attempt to understand its seismic energy. That number is a notch on the Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS), which, in the 1970s, replaced the colloquial Richter scale that had held sway since the 1930s. Since 1990, just one other quake of greater size than last week’s Japan quake has been recorded. (For more info on earthquakes, see the U.S. Geological Survey.)
Because of the subsequent events unfolding at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, we made an unexpected connection between the Richter scale and the nuclear age. The Wikipedia entry table for Richter Magnitude examples includes a few atomic and thermonuclear weapons tests, most uncomfortably assigning the fifty-megaton Tsar Bomba—or Big Ivan—with a magnitude of 8.35 on the Richter scale. In our post entitled “Measuring the Unthinkable” (December 8, 2010), we claimed that the measurement of fifty megatons was relatively meaningless, that we couldn’t really comprehend the explosion that was Tsar Bomba. But now, in the wake of Japan’s seismic event, we are trying to do just that. We want to understand what 9.0 means.
Last week, before the earthquake hit Japan, we were already thinking about scale because we watched the documentary film Powers of Ten (see video below and more here). The opening scene is of a man and a woman indulging in a leisurely, early fall picnic close to the shore of Lake Michigan. The film is narrated by MIT physicist and Manhattan Project veteran Phillip Morrison. (As an aside, Morrison was also the dissertation director for Chapman University’s Dean of Schmid College, Menas Kafatos.) Morrison tells us what is important in this scene: we are viewing a one-meter square image from a distance of one meter. His next statement provides the plotline for the entire documentary: “Now, every ten seconds, we will look from ten times farther away and our field of view will be ten times wider.”
With every new vantage in Powers of Ten, Morrison offers a physically meaningful context. When the field of view is a hundred meters, he tells us that this is the distance a man can run in ten seconds. Ten thousand meters become the distance that a supersonic aircraft can travel in ten seconds, and so on. Every ten seconds, we are ten times further away. After reaching 1024, the journey stops and returns to where it began. Then, the camera travels inward. As we pan back to the starting point, every ten seconds, the perspective travels ninety percent of the remaining distance. The perspective continues moving beyond the starting point, ultimately reaching what Morrison terms the “limit of our understanding” at 10-16 meters, deep in the subatomic structure of matter.
What Powers of Ten so effectively communicates are the concepts of logarithms (in this case, logarithms of base 10) and orders of magnitude (each power of ten is equivalent to an order of magnitude). By providing rough visual cues tied to our understanding of our bodies (at one meter, about half of the man is in the frame), things that our bodies can do (a man running a hundred meters), and things our bodies can see happening (an airplane flying overhead), Powers of Ten makes an intuitive appeal to take us into realms not ordinarily comprehensible, like the distance between stars.
Noise, like a seismic event, is measured by a logarithmic scale, using the unit of the decibel. Your refrigerator hums at about 45 decibels, and heavy traffic can reach 85 decibels, a level at which lengthy or repeated exposure can cause hearing loss. The danger is one of scale: for every ten-decibel increase—from the highest volume on an mp3 player (100 dB) to a rock concert (110 dB)—the sound is actually ten times as powerful. Energy, intensity—these are not the areas in which ordinary addition will do.
(If you eat a cookie, let’s say that’s 200 calories. If you eat a second, 200 + 200 = 400 calories. Imagine if the caloric intake of cookies worked on a logarithmic scale instead. That second cookie would be 2000 calories, and a third would be another 20,000 calories. That third cookie would be the equivalent of more than five pounds of body fat.)
Tomorrow, we’ll attend a reception for the closing of Measure for Measure, an art exhibit built, according to the accompanying booklet, on the “idea that we can organize and understand objects by incorporating a sense of their size—both in relation to ourselves and in relation to other physical quantities.” The curators—artist Lia Halloran and physicist Lisa Randall—chose the exhibit’s name to echo both William Shakespeare’s play and Tom Levenson’s book (the subtitle of which is A Musical History of Science). Lia Halloran was the person who reminded us, last week before the earthquake, of the film Powers of Ten.
One installation, by artist Meeson Pae Yang, of mirrored sculptures suspended from the ceiling tells us that the ocean isn’t what it appears to be, that 90% of its creatures are microscopic algae. Susan Sironi’s self-portraits use the size of her body parts to carve out layered illustrations in the books Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland, two classics that toy with our sense of scale. The artwork by the seven artists in this exhibit reveals how our interpretation of scale “makes us question and perceive the world in new and various ways.”
As we write this, Japan’s death toll is currently relatively low, though there are more than 10,000 estimated dead in the province of Miyagi alone. The bodies—not yet those missing—are being counted. As the weeks go by, the bodies will accumulate, the missing will be tallied, and our way of measuring death will shift. Several of the largest earthquakes since 1990 caused no deaths, in large part because the epicenters were far from populated areas. Last year’s earthquake in Haiti, though, was just a 7.0—100 times less powerful than 9.0—but it caused 222,570 fatalities, in part because Haiti is, according to Newsweek, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. Magnitude is one way to measure, fatalities another. Each way of measuring reveals different relationships to ourselves and the world around us.
As we finish this post, France’s nuclear safety authority says that the Fukuskima Daiichi catastrophe can now be categorized as a 6. The International Nuclear and Radioactive Event Scale (INES) is 1 through 7 and is another attempt at understanding the world around us. Three-mile island was a 5 (an accident with wider consequences), and Chernobyl was a 7 (a major accident). Tokyo, the metropolitan area where 13 million people reside, is less than 150 miles from the nuclear power plant in the town of Okuma, population of more than 10,000, presumably almost all of them evacuated. Clearly, we’ll be thinking about these ways of measuring for a very long time.
Astronaut Mark Kelly, our thoughts are with you January 10, 2011Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff, Space Exploration.
Tags: Music, Space Shuttle
Today, our thoughts are with the families of the twenty people killed and injured in Saturday’s shooting in Tucson. We extend our condolences to those who lost a family member or friend, and we are pulling for those whose family member or friend is facing difficult recovery.
Astronaut Mark Kelly is the husband of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head and remains in critical condition as we write this post. They were married in November 2007, and met four years before that, when they were both in China. (Click here to read the New York Times article about their nuptials.) Mark Kelly is scheduled to command the last space shuttle mission, STS-134 in April on Endeavour.
Mark Kelly’s twin brother, Scott, is an astronaut in the midst of a six-month stint on the International Space Station. Today, he participated in a national observance for the victims, saying, “As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.” (Click here to read the Washington Post story.)
In 2008, Gabrielle Giffords chose the wake-up song for the crew on her husband’s flight on Discovery. To listen to a story about Giffords, Kelly, and the band Calexico, click here.
Mark Kelly has expressed gratitude for support and suggested that those who would like to help can make a donation to the Community Food Bank in Tuscon or to the Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Red Cross. Read his full statement here.
The couple appeared together at Space Vision 2009, organized by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. This gathering is the largest, student-run space conference. Giffords introduced her husband’s talk, which we repost below.
Video Research, the Manhattan Project, and Blogging about More Than One Thing at Once November 24, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Other Stuff, Writing.
Tags: Movies & TV
According to a new widget in the right sidebar, our post entitled “On This Date: August 29 & 30” is the top post here at Lofty Ambitions. That’s one of the posts we consider extras, not a regular weekly Wednesday post, nor a guest blog feature. Maybe a lot of people with a birthday on those dates search to see what happened and look at Lofty Ambitions instead of Wikipedia, or maybe we have some important keyword combination we didn’t intend. We surmise, though, that the interest is in the piece’s opening content: the Cold War began on August 29, 1949, when the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb.
Last Thanksgiving, we visited the Atomic Testing Museum—a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate with extensive archives—when we were in Las Vegas. It’s just a mile off the strip. Doug’s father, an engineer, came along. We have plans to go back; Anna has an institutional grant to do museum and archival research there. Atomic testing was a hallmark of the Cold War that began in 1949, and is visually represented by Isao Hashimoto’s multimedia artwork “1945-1998” (click here and press the play button).
Of course, as Hashimoto’s representation indicates, the testing program really began with the Trinity atomic test on July 16, 1945, and the massive Manhattan Project that led to those first three atomic weapons. Over the past week or so, we’ve refreshed our background knowledge, discovering and rediscovering narratives and details by watching documentary films.
One stop during our 2007 cross-country move was the Los Alamos Historical Museum. There, we purchased a copy of the video Remember Los Alamos: World War II. This 1993 production of the Los Alamos Historical Society depicts what life was like during the Manhattan Project. Dozens of project veterans were interviewed for the film, and the interviewees included project scientists, members of the Special Engineer Detachments (SEDs), Women’s Army Corp (WACs), homemakers, students, and local Native Americans—some of whom were living and working on the land prior to the project and at Los Alamos during the war.
The film splits its time between the activities of the very well-known personages—J. Robert Oppenheimer and Leslie Groves—and folks such as Jerry Roensch, an Army WAC who worked as a telephone operator from March 1944 until the middle of 1946. Jerri Stone Roensch’s story, also recounted in her book about her time at Los Alamos, Life Within Limits (published by the Los Alamos Historical Society in 1993 and reissued in 2002), is very typical of the second group of Manhattan Project personnel. She came to the high desert of New Mexico, fell in love with the landscape and a boy, Arno Roensch, a scientific glass blowing trumpet player, and never left.
Next up on our viewing list is an episode entitled “The Manhattan Project” from the History Channel’s Modern Marvels series. In standard History Channel style, the program attempts to wow you with a litany of facts and figures. With a project the size and scope of the Manhattan Engineer District—originally a district within the Army Corp of Engineers headquartered in Manhattan, New York—it’s relatively easy to overwhelm the viewer with details that reflect the projects Brobdingnagian reach. The Y-12 and K-25 plants at Oak Ridge are particularly apt examples of the outsized proportions of the Manhattan Project.
These two plants functioned to separate and enrich Uranium 235 from Uranium 238, Y-12 using electromagnetic calutrons and K-25 through gaseous diffusion. The Y-12 plant required miles and miles of wire for its magnetic coils. When it became obvious that wartime demands made obtaining the necessary amounts of copper impossible, 15,000 tons of silver were borrowed from the U.S. Treasury (the silver was returned after the war). The K-25 plant is the largest single factory building ever created. Shaped like a U, each arm of the plant is a half-mile long by 1,000 feet wide. The building totals over 2,000,000 square feet. Together, Y-12 and K-25 consumed fully 10% of all of the electricity produced in the U.S. during 1944.
In that late August post that’s holding at the top of our rankings, we talk about some other occurrences, too. Space Shuttle Discovery first took flight on August 30, 1984. That’s an important happening for us because we recently traveled to Kennedy Space Center to see Discovery’s final launch, which was delayed (see our “Countdown to the Cape Series” on October 27–November 7).
The Space Shuttle still sits on pad 39A, right where we left it. This afternoon, NASA held a press conference: they are not ready for the December 3-7 launch window. Cracks in stringers of the external fuel tank are troublesome because they are unexpected. NASA wonders whether stress was introduced in the manufacturing or transportation of the tank, only to show up later during cryo-loading of the fuel. Launch and ascent shift stress to different areas—what if cracks show up then? If one weakness got through the process, what else might have been missed? “We’re not quite there,” the representative at Johnson Space Center said. “We really need to understand our risk.”
The launch date remains up in the air. Officially, Discovery will launch no earlier than December 17, with a four-day window. “But a lot of data has to come together to support that,” another representative said. A launch that late in the year means reconfiguring the onboard computers during a “quiet” time in the mission, too, as we roll over into 2011. We’re not booking a flight to Florida in December—not yet.
October 23: Sing, Sing a Song October 23, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Other Stuff, Space Exploration.
Tags: Movies & TV, Music
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On October 23, 2001, Apple released the iPod into the world. The snazzy little device cornered the market within three years, and 220 million iPods had been sold by fall of 2009. Sales of the iPod dropped earlier this year, perhaps because folks with iPods already in one hand want a new gadget like the iPad in the other. The Center for Disease Control warns, however, that long-term exposure to high volume on MP3 devices can cause damage. For instance, if you listen to your MP3 while you mow your lawn, you could damage your hearing within 15 minutes, according to some reports. Despite declining sales and possible hearing loss for the most enthusiastic users, the iPod hasn’t dropped into mere memory. In fact, now on its ninth birthday, there’s Nano, Touch, and Shuffle in addition to the Classic iPod.
The man who wrote “Thanks for the Memory” died on this date in 1942. Ralph Rainger and 11 other passengers and crew on an American Airlines DC-3 were killed in a collision with an Air Force bomber in the skies over California. The DC-3 lost its rudder at an altitude of 9000 feet. The B-34 landed safely, and the pilot was later acquitted on manslaughter charges in a court martial. Ralph Rainger’s song was originally talked-sung by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross in the film The Big Broadcast of 1938 and became the theme song of Bob Hope, for whom Burbank renamed the airport in 2003. For a discussion of this and other film songs, see THIS Fresh Air piece.
Another Ralph Rainger song: “I Wished on the Moon”
Our Weather & Other Tidbits September 29, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff, Science.
Tags: Nobel Prize, Nuclear Weapons, Physics
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On Monday, here in Orange, California, the temperature was an ovenly 107 degrees. The heat outside was intense and palpable. It didn’t cling like the humid Julys in Illinois, but encompassed the body. The day before, some of our friends were huddled under blankets, bundled in jackets, shivering in the annual fall chill at Wrigley Field. The air blowing off Lake Michigan was a September-balmy 45 degrees or so. Unlike anywhere else we’ve lived, darkness in Southern California brings relief from the day’s heat. In the wake of that scorcher on Monday, the temperature dropped to 69 in the middle of the night.
As we reminisced about Illinois weather patterns, we realized that, as children, we both watched the handsome Flip Spiceland on WCIS, before his gig in CNN’s early decades. Talking about the weather this week, in a way we hadn’t in a very long time, reminded Doug of his 7th-grade assignment to learns the names, types, and functions of clouds. Anna, even younger than that, checked out a little book about clouds from her grade-school library and recounted her new knowledge to her father as they drove for hours in the big blue station wagon to Wisconsin. The memory lingered vividly enough that she wrote a poem about it, called “A Theory of Formation.”
As kids, we liked that we could look to the skies and put names to what we saw, that we could categorize. Cumulus clouds were those heaping mounds rolling from the West. Cirrus, those high, wispy things. We could tell which might bring rain: nimbostratus pulling itself over our landscape like a gray sheet. We liked the sounds of the cloud names, how cumulonimbus could roll off our young tongues. We like these words even now.
When transplants to California like us struggle to make sense of the weather here, it is partly the lack of wide variation. The high and low temperature in a single day can be separated by 40 degrees, but a 40-degree shift from one day’s high to the next day’s high would be very unusual. In the first three weeks of September here, the high daily temperature varied from 73 to 86. During that same time in Chicago, the highs varied from 67 to 83. That looks to be just about the same. But it’s not. The Midwest temperatures are trending downward now. Still relatively new to California, we can’t sense the subtle weather trends here, so we tend to think it’s all the same, except for the exceptions like Monday’s heat wave.
The clouds—or lack of many or varied cloud formations—compound our lack of sensitivity. In late spring and early summer, there exists a marine layer phenomenon here, in which the ocean cools the air and a fog rolls inland over miles of the coast. Locals call this June gloom. We found this term hysterical when we first heard it, for this was the brightest gloom we’d ever seen. We wore sunglasses on these gloomy mornings. And the gloom burned off by lunchtime.
Technology always removes us further from our environment. If we had awakened on Russian steppes a couple of hundred years ago, we would have turned our noses in the air or watched our livestock and known what to expect from the impending weather. Anna’s grandfather would go out into his backyard, lick his finger and hold it up, and declare what the weather would be. No one took him particularly seriously, not even him. But some modern men remain obsessed by and attentive to the weather. From his kitchen window at the same time each day, Doug’s grandfather meticulously recorded the temperature and rainfall in notebooks, for years at a time. Those scratches in his notebooks marked time and seasons in one spot on Earth, an accurate record of the environment that was never used for anything more than that.
Before we wrap up this post entirely, we must note that September 29 is a day chockfull of events in the larger record. Here are a few scratches in our notebook:
- In its return to space after the Challenger disaster, the Space Shuttle Discovery launched STS-26 in 1988.
- In 2004, Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne flew the first space flight of two required to win the X Prize.
- In 1954, the convention establishing the European Organization for Nuclear Research—CERN—was signed.
- Today is Enrico Fermi’s birthday. This Nobel Laureate in Physics was born in 1901. (This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics will be named on Tuesday.)
- It’s the anniversary of W.H. Auden’s death. He died in 1973, at the age of 66. From “As I Walked Out One Evening”: “The glacier knocks in the cupboard, / The desert sighs in the bed.”
Choo-choo! September 22, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Other Stuff.
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Aviation killed the railroad car. Flying came and broke your heart. Oh-ooh. And now we meet in an abandoned station. We hearing the chugging and it seems so long ago. And you remember the whistles used to go…
But aviation hasn’t usurped passenger train travel completely. In fact, last week, Rae Armantrout, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry, took Amtrak from San Diego to Anaheim for her Tabula Poetica visit. Anaheim’s train station is nestled into the parking lot of Angel Stadium, and the trains ran on time. Rae found the rail travel far more enjoyable than driving because she spent her time reading.
In childhood, Doug had a bedroom window overlooking a small patch of Midwestern overgrowth, surrounded by homes and farmland. This space was known affectionately as The Gulley. Late at night, all manner of hue and cry issued from The Gulley. Despite parental assurances about cats, raccoons, and other small creatures, Doug remains convinced that the tree-lined area, complete with watering hole, was the actual home of Bigfoot. If Bigfoot exists, he lives in this gulley, not in the dark, old-growth woods as claimed by those in the Pacific Northwest—Doug has lived in both places, so he knows.
The nighttime sound that cuts through memory most sharply now is the powerful blare of the locomotive horn. Just north of Doug’s childhood home, a single railroad line sliced The Gulley in two. At regular intervals, laden freight trains hammered their way through town, rattling windows as a tangible reminder of their power, their heavy load. Doug’s first word was for the train; he called it frau-frau.
Anna grew up the granddaughter of a retired Pullman Conductor, who still dreamed of walking the aisles of the Santa Fe Chief. Her own father took Anna and her sister to the train station in Springfield with its great mural. The goal was sometimes to meet friends or family visiting from Chicago, but mostly the idea was to smash pennies on the track, something no longer done. Once the family moved “to the country,” there was a railroad track across Route 29. Whenever a train halted the ride home, Anna’s father counted the cars. He didn’t always count the cars on every train, but if he couldn’t see the end, he counted, just to know for sure when he’d seen the longest train of his life.
Back then, in the 1970s, trains and the railroad—the area belonged to Burlington Northern—were a vital part of the economic fabric of the towns in central Midwest. At that time, Abingdon, where Doug grew up, even had a new addition—imagine that, a small Midwestern town that was actually growing in size. Trains of that era were ad hoc and random seeming in their comportment: box cars in various colors, flat cars carrying all manner of machinery and materiel, different logos (like Chessie, the sleepy cat), even a caboose or two rushing by. In Galesburg, near the rail yards, a sign still announces how many days since the last injury on the job.
After our childhoods, trains played a more prosaic role in our lives: ordinary transport. In college, Amtrak meant a quick, cheap ride to Chicago from Champaign or Galesburg. A few years ago, train runs were added between the state’s university towns and its northern hub. Chicago’s Union station is a bustling, clean place, not the dark, dingy hall it was in the 1980s.
After college, when Anna was earning her MFA at the University of Maryland and Doug was an Abstractor/Indexer at a NASA CASI near Baltimore, DC’s ubiquitous and efficient Metro system meant cheap, unfettered access to the joys of the nation’s capitol without the flop sweat induced by negotiating the spoked street system and trying to find a parking spot near Dupont Circle. The Green Line station was behind our apartment complex, the Red Line got us to our favorite museums and restaurants, and the Blue or Yellow Line whisked us all the way to National Airport. Since then, our lives have taken us to Ohio, Missouri, and Oregon and back to Illinois—and now to California. Amtrak and the city’s commuter train systems have been there to handle those trips when driving was more nuisance than aid.
Los Angeles has a strange history with the railroads and a deeply rooted attachment to the car—and to the individual and autonomy that an automobile represents. Patt Morrison, an NPR commentator, writes, in an essay in My California: “Los Angeles is a city built by centrifugal forces, and what’s in the center of a centrifuge? Not much.” She explains that Southern California’s character has been suburban from the get-go. The center never held here, as it did in Chicago or New York, whose immigrants clung together in communities. Immigrants to SoCal tended to be middle-class, with money and skills, so their destination was not a community. “You think I traveled all this way by wagon/ship/train to reach this glorious sunshine to cram myself into some dark, little flat?” We get the sense that Californians don’t much like trains, that trains in California don’t often get you where you want to go, that the railroad just isn’t the same concept here. It’s no wonder, as Southern California, in fact, may be a home—if not the home—of aviation.
We miss the train, though we can hear the whistle of the occasional Amtrak and Metrolink—there’s a station a couple of blocks from Chapman University’s campus. We should hop a train to San Diego—we’d like to visit there. We’re hoping that the plan for high-speed to Las Vegas pans out, too. At least, we’ve been to Union Station in Los Angeles, the place Anna’s grandfather paused before turning around and heading home—that deserves its own blog post here someday.
Dreaming of Jeannie September 18, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff, Space Exploration.
Tags: Movies & TV
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Roughly a month before Anna was born, I Dream of Jeannie premiered on September 18, 1965. The first thing in life that Anna ever memorized was the I Dream of Jeannie schedule from TV Guide. In fact, for each season, the show switched its day and time, and reruns started in 1971 with another schedule. Without a doubt, a woman who gets bottled up every night and calls her sweetheart Master poses a problematic role model. But what little girl in the late 1960s and early 1970s wouldn’t want a kindly gentleman astronaut for a first love—a romance with the Space Age (with real magical powers to boot)? Who doesn’t want to have some magic in her? What little boy doesn’t want to be an astronaut?
I Dream of Jeannie was NBC’s response to ABC’s Bewitched, which had premiered the year before to great success. The first episode of I Dream of Jeannie—“The Lady in the Bottle”—was filmed in black and white, one of two NBC regular shows that weren’t yet in color. The episode opens with astronaut Tony Nelson (played by Larry Hagman) getting suited up for a mission into space, where we learn that Tony is scheduled to marry General Stone’s daughter. Shortly after liftoff, the final stage misfires, the mission is aborted, and Tony ends up on the sandy beach, where he finds a bottle. Out of the bottle emerges smoke and the Jeannie (played by Barbara Eden) we came to know, all decked out in her exotic costume carefully designed to hide her navel. She doesn’t speak English, and impulsively kisses him. His response: “I must have gone further into orbit than I thought.” Tony wishes she could speak English, so then she does. When he realizes that he could never explain a beautiful genie, Tony sets her free, but she’s in love, returns to her bottle, and wheedles her way home with him in his belongings.
Home for Jeannie and Tony is Cocoa Beach and its adjacent Cape Canaveral, home to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The first successful rocket launch from the Cape was in 1950, and the Titan missile was first tested there in 1959. All of the Mercury and Gemini missions and Apollo 7 were launched from Cape Canaveral, though the rest of Apollo and current launches occur nearby at Kennedy Space Center. Following President Kennedy’s death, Cape Canaveral had a ten-year run under the name Cape Kennedy, but Floridians didn’t like that so much and restored its original name, which dates back 400 years.
Of course, with a genie at home running around in his button-down white shirt—and apparently little else—with a genie who loves him, has a jealous streak, and has a sad story of imprisonment, it quickly becomes impossible for Tony to appear sane to his fiancée. In fact, in order to keep the magic a secret only the two of them share, Jeannie and Tony must work together over five seasons to make others—namely Dr. Bellows and fellow astronaut Roger Healey—appear to be the bumbling or neurotic ones. Forty-five years ago, that first episode ended with a kiss, a quick (but thwarted) visit to the bedroom, and Jeannie winking to the audience.
New Shower Curtain September 17, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Other Stuff.
Tags: Chemistry, Physics, Wright Brothers
Our new shower curtain featuring the Periodic Table arrived from ThinkGeek. It’s a little flimsier than we’d hoped, with no magnets at the bottom and little reinforcement around the holes for the curtain rings. But the design is great, and the colors really perk up the bathroom. We’ll get a liner to extend the life of this fancy shower curtain–and so that the full periodic table can be draped on the outside of the tub allowing us to study up on the measurement conversion listed at the bottom of the curtain.
If you’re interested in a really sturdy shower curtain (something that holds up in the washing machine) or one that doesn’t need rings, we recommend the hookless options from Arcs & Angles. We only wish they had more colorful designs (they used to).
On a more somber note, today marks the anniversary of the first powered airplane fatality. In 1908, Orville Wright crashed a Wright Flyer during a demonstration flight in Virginia for the military. Thomas Selfridge died in the accident at age 26. Orville Wright spent seven weeks in the hospital.
Currently, Southwest Airlines has the best record in U.S. passenger air travel, with more than 15 million flights since 1970 and no crash fatalities. American Airlines has had the most fatal events since 1970, with 13, but it’s also flown the most flights of any domestic carrier. The Colgan Air crash in 2009 is the most recent fatal crash in the United States (view an excerpt from the Frontline documentary here). But U.S. air travel is incredibly safe. If we don’t count the four doomed flights on September 11, 2001, fewer than one fatal crash per year has occurred in the last dozen years (for NTSB list, click here), even though almost 30,000 commercial airline flights take to the skies on any given day.
Serendipity Weekend September 15, 2010Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Aviation, Other Stuff.
Tags: Airshows, Movies & TV, Museums & Archives, Nuclear Weapons, Serendipity
When we decided to do Lofty Ambitions, one area of our lives we planned to explore was what it meant for us to grow up—to be children and become young adults—during the Cold War. As twelve-year-olds, the locus of our fears, because it was the locus of the nation’s fears, was the Soviet Union. By the time we came along, the confrontation had become familiar, and Ruskie bogeymen and the nuclear threat populated our favorite television shows. In The Six-Million-Dollar Man’s first season, conspirators try to stop Oscar Goldman from negotiating with the Soviets and Steve Austin visits an island with a cosmonaut. In The Bionic Woman, scientists try to force nations to live in peace by threatening to destroy the world if any nuclear weapon is exploded. We didn’t necessarily plan to touch upon this area of our lives this week.
But the two of us have always placed great value on the role of serendipity in our lives. How else might we explain that a single grandfather can be the seed for each of our very different novel manuscripts? One of these serendipitous moments occurred again for us just a couple of weeks ago. On the same day that Wings, a 1966 Russian film, showed up in our Netflix queue, two of Doug’s colleagues—Stacy Russo and Brett Fisher—gave him the same article about aviation museums. The film depicts a woman whose life found its greatest meaning during her harrowing days as a World War II fighter pilot. The article, clipped from the most recent issue of Westways, reviewed several of the nation’s best aviation museums, including Planes of Fame. That’s a museum in nearby Chino Hills that we’ve meant to visit—and that weekend’s program featured lectures on World War II Russian aircraft.
It’s not as if we didn’t have other pressing tasks that weekend, but serendipity isn’t something with which to trifle. Planes of Fame hosted a panel lecture and then a demonstration of the Yakovlev fighter—the Yak-3, to be precise. Small, sleek, and powerful, the Yak-3 makes it clear why flying such a plane during the campaign on the Eastern Front could be the peak of Nadezhda Petrukhina’s life in Wings. The flying scenes don’t convey whether she flew the Yak-3, but that’s where serendipity points us when we watch that film the night before our visit to the aviation museum.
At the beginning of Wings, Petrukhina is measured for civilian clothes, a suit that is really a new uniform. The middle of the film is muddled by a love story—it’s set in Russia during World War II, so you know where this is going. Her lover’s fighter is wounded. As she instinctively circles her own plane around his in their last moments together, she watches her lover’s fighter auger into a forest. By the end of the film, we know where a friendly visit to the local aerodrome is going too: back into the air.
The airspace above us in Chino was a hive of activity: two general aviation pilots practiced formation flying, assorted Pipers and Cessnas and a lone Bellanca took to the air, and several commercial jets bound for LAX passed overhead. All the while, the Yak-3 roared through gentle arcs, its every moment aloft a tense battle between too much power and barely enough wing surface. It didn’t so much fly as prowl, as if waiting for one of the lesser aircraft to get out of line.
One point the day’s speakers—Edward Maloney, Frank Mormillo, and Charles Isaacs—made shades the way we now view those flying scenes in Wings and the flight of the Yak-3 over Southern California. For the Russians, the air war on the Eastern Front was a numbers game. Estimates vary, but place Russian aircraft losses at 36,000 planes to German losses of 4,000, a 9-to-1 ratio. And yet, this wasn’t out of step with the Russian mindset, which might be crystallized as the attitude, If we have a single aircraft flying home at the end and they don’t, we win.
As the question-and-answer session was winding down at Planes of Fame, several men pointed out that what made an American aircraft most appealing to Russian aviators in World War II was the radio. If relative equals in speed or maneuverability meet, a plane with a radio is better than a plane without one. Serendipity isn’t everything, then. Planning, practice, and communication—negotiating as you go—must be part of the mix. Fortunate discoveries and happenstance connections don’t amount to very much if you can’t respond to them, if you can’t share them.