Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bonnie Scotland...

Bonnie Scotland...  From a collection of photos passed along by my card-carrying ancient-American mom...

Only in America...

Only in America...  Reader Jim M. sent this along:
Only in America ... could the rich people - who pay 86% of all income taxes - be accused of not paying their "fair share" by people who don't pay any income taxes at all.

Great gobs of groaners...

Great gobs of groaners...  Don't blame me!  Reader and friend Simon M. passed them along...
I tried to catch some fog. I mist.

When chemists die, they barium.

Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

A soldier who survived pepper spray and mustard gas is now a seasoned veteran.

I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.

How does Moses make his tea? Hebrews it.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.

The girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I'd never met herbivore.

I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I can't put it down.

I did a theatrical performance about puns. It was a play on words.

They told me I had Type A blood, but it was a Type O.

I dyslexic man walks into a bra...

PMS jokes aren't funny. Period.

Why were the Indians here first? They had reservations.

Class trip to the Coca-Cola factory. I hope there's no pop quiz.

Energizer bunny arrested: charged with battery.

I didn't like my beard. Then it grew on me.

How do you make holy water? You boil the hell out of it.

What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.

When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

What does a clock do when it's hungry? It goes back four seconds.

I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me!

Broken pencils are pointless.

Adventures with ObamaCare...

Adventures with ObamaCare...  So yesterday I sat down with a local (to Utah) health insurance agent (Sam), and went over my options.  Our timing on this is driven by both our move to Utah and the fact that my COBRA coverage (on my former employer's plan) is expiring in July.  Sam went over several available plans, all of which were both considerably less expensive and better (lower deductibles and caps) than anything I found in California.  He then advised me to create an account on the federal ObamaCare site (healthcare.gov), as that would be the simplest way for me to see all the plans available to me.

We went through the initial signup together.  It was fairly straightforward: we entered my email address, a password, and provided the answers to three security questions.  One of those questions asked for a date that was significant to me.  We chose a date and entered it as "mm/dd" (with a numeric month and day supplied instead of the letters).  Then the site told us that I'd be getting an email to validate my email address within 24 hours.  Sam told me what would happen after that, we shook hands and I left.

Later that day, I did get the validation email.  It had a link to click on to validate my email address.  I clicked, and instantly got a screen telling me that the server could not be contacted, and to try again later.  This morning I tried it again, and this time it worked.  Progress!

Then the site led me through a process to verify my identity.  This all worked fine until we got to the part where it asked me three security questions.  When I typed in the answer to the "significant date" question, an error immediately popped up telling me that my entry was invalid.  WTF?  I played around a bit with different values, and quickly found out that the "/" was causing that error.

So...

The ObamaCare site let me enter the answer initially as "mm/dd", but then when it was asking me the question again to verify my identity, it wouldn't allow the "/".  That means it is impossible for me to enter an answer that matches what I initially entered – and that means I always fail the identity verification.  And, naturally, that means I can't do anything else with my health insurance.

I've turned that problem over to Sam for resolution.  I hope he's got some trick up his sleeve, because I'm not seeing any way out of this Catch-22 situation.

My out-of-box experience with ObamaCare is bad.  I have fears that this won't end well...

So Obama flew over an Oklahoma Indian Reservation in a small private plane...

So Obama flew over an Oklahoma Indian Reservation in a small private plane...  Click to embiggen.  Via my card-carrying ancient-American mom...

Dalles Mountain Road...

Dalles Mountain Road ... is beautiful this year.  Via BPODMap...

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project...

The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project ... isn't going to stop with Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery!

Germany discovers a sense of humor...

Germany discovers a sense of humor ... and loses faith in green energy.  Delingpole...

Obviously, there are more crazy people in the world than I had thought...

Obviously, there are more crazy people in the world than I had thought...

What are you going to do about it?


What are you going to do about it?  If a leopard steals your video camera, you're just going to have to hope the leopard tires of playing with your toy...

If you're struggling...

If you're struggling ... with what to get for my birthday or Christmas present, you wouldn't go wrong with one of these.  Turn your volume down before you watch it, unless you enjoy mind-numbingly bad sound tracks...

A collection of striking chemical reactions...

A collection of striking chemical reactions ... like the fantastic four color oscillating chemical reaction in the video at right...

Cool visualization of π...

Cool visualization of π... 

Trust me...

Trust me...  Watch this to the end – you'll like it!

The Obama administration leads the way...

The Obama administration leads the way ... to voodoo economics and the usual leftist dismissal of the idea that people will react to incentives.

Some day I will once again be proud of my government – but today is not that day.  And I fear that by the time that fine day arrives, the socialist wealth-redistributors will have redistributed my retirement savings to pay for their idiotic, ineffective, and expensive socialist schemes...

Cats are beautiful animals...

Cats are beautiful animals ... but they care about pleasing us (their owners) about as much as Obama cares about pleasing me – and that is very little!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wow!


Wow!  Robots sure have come a long way.  I was particularly impressed with the segment wherein Asimo fills a paper cup...

Cholesterol killer?

Cholesterol killer?  This sounds very hopeful...

California leads the way...

California leads the way ... in egregious financial shenanigans and unabashedly stupid spending by a state government overloaded with debt.  No surprise there; it's par for the course for the Democratic super-majority.  Such a waste of a beautiful and bountiful state!  This sort of socialist, central government thinking is a big part of why we're leaving California for the notably more sanely governed Utah...

Slow blogging alert...

Slow blogging alert...  I have a very busy day today, so I may not be able to do much blogging.  At right is a photo taken out our second-floor office window early this morning.  It snowed last night, but it's supposed to get to 70° today, so this should all melt off quickly...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Remodeling update...

Remodeling update...  The “tapers” are hard at work, finishing up the wallboard job.  I was amused to see that they use stilts to work on the ceiling!  As usual, click on the thumbnail to embiggen it.

The plumber is also here, working in our basement to rough in the water feed and sewer connection for a new sink.

Progress!

Reason for time's arrow discovered?

Reason for time's arrow discovered?  One of the strangest unknowns in physics (and cosmology) has been the reason why time always progresses “forward”.  It seems obvious and self-evident to our senses, but it's not at all obvious and self-evident from the mathematics that underlies our understanding of physics.  Now scientists have some evidence that quantum entanglement is the cause of the one-way nature of time.  If so, it would make time's arrow the most obvious macro-scale manifestation of quantum physics...

Common sense on climate change...

Common sense on climate change...  Steve McIntyre and Bjørn Lomborg are my two favorite writers on the subject of climate change.  The latter has a new article up that provides a sober and high-level view of the climate change debate.  Lomborg is interesting in that he doesn't really dispute most of the climate science – instead, he disputes the idea of spending huge amounts of money trying to mitigate something that's not obviously bad in the first place. 

These things worry me...

These things worry me...  The world is full of people (and the countries they govern) who are perfectly willing to use military power to expand their sphere of control and influence.  For decades now, the United States has been the only power willing to stand up to such tyrannical behavior.  Our willingness hasn't been consistent or constant, but it's been there often enough to keep anything really awful from happening.  I'm not so sure these days, unfortunately.  China and Russia are too damned eager to just how far they can push a United States led by That One...

Venture capitalists are all over marijuana opportunities ...

Venture capitalists are all over marijuana opportunities ... though generally with a wink and a nudge.  A couple of years ago, long before Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana, a VC I had a casual conversation with mentioned several investments he'd made in the sector – he didn't think legalization was coming, and didn't think it mattered to the business plans of the companies he was investing in.

Debbie and I will be in Colorado for our vacation this year.  It will be interesting to see what differences we'll see from our previous visits...

What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong?  The FDA has approved Palcohol: powdered alcohol.  Just mix with water and you've got an instant alcoholic drink.  Or add it to food for that unexpected kick...

Book: When I Fell From the Sky...

Book: When I Fell From the Sky...  By Juliane (Koepcke) Diller.  This is the book I mentioned a week or so ago, about the young girl who survived falling 10,000 feet out of an airplane into the Peruvian jungle.  I just finished it last night.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It turns out to be much more than the story of her fall and subsequent survival in the jungle – it's also a story of overcoming the misadventure, of a passion for science, and of the successful establishment of a nature preserve just a few miles from where she fell in 1971.  Highly recommended for anyone interested in science and inspiring human experience...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring in Logan, Utah...

Spring in Logan, Utah...  I parked in front of the tabernacle in downtown Logan, this morning, on my way to get a haircut.  This was the view (click to embiggen) as I leaned on the passenger side of my pickup...

Excellent...

Excellent...  Explaining how the world worked was not one of my dad's major skills :)  Sometimes he would explain it well (and correctly), sometimes he would get it wrong (occasionally spectacularly so), and often he'd make up a hilarious “explanation” that even as kids we knew wasn't right. 

For instance, when I asked him once why clouds were different shades of white or gray, he told me that it depended on what kind of birds were pooping on the cloud.  Pristine clouds were pure white, he said.  The really nasty gray clouds were the victims of mass Canadian geese poop attacks.  I was probably 7 or 8 at the time, and even then I wasn't buying it.  But we got a good laugh from it.

Goat, sneeze, terrified girl...

Goat, sneeze, terrified girl...  Awesome.

Smithsonian's photo contest finalists...

Smithsonian's photo contest finalists...  Here's one example (my mom will like this one!).  You can find all of them here...

Baltic Sea time bomb...

Baltic Sea time bomb...  I don't know how close this is to my Estonian friends, but it sure doesn't sound good...

Geek: one-bit computers...

Geek: one-bit computers...  This was a new one to me, and I'm a little surprised by this because I used to do a lot of work in the controls area.  I found the ideas fascinating.  Follow the links in the article I linked above for more information.  I just might have to build me one of these!

A Finnish back yard...

A Finnish back yard...  My father and I hiked through a forest that looked very much like this, but in a vastly different place: Hawaii.  Specifically, on the Awini Trail as it transits the east side of Pololu Valley on the Big Island...

Is (climate) science actually settled?

Is (climate) science actually settled?  No! says Dr. Craig Idso, in a guest post on Watts Up With That?

Not so rare after all...

Not so rare after all...  Asteroid impacts, that is.  If these articles are accurate, the Earth is being smacked upside the head by a couple of asteroids every year.  That's not quite as scary as it sounds, though.  Remember, roughly 3/4 of the earth is covered by ocean, and about 1/40 of that 1/4 that is land is covered by cities – so each asteroid has only about one chance in 160 of actually hitting a city.  That means we should expect an asteroid to smack down a city about once every 80 years.  If an asteroid landing outside a city hurt or killed anyone, well, they were just having a very unlucky day.

There are days when the idea of an asteroid taking out Washington, D.C. is an attractive one.

Most days, actually.

Maybe every day.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Every home has its quirks...

Every home has its quirks ... and Friday I found the first big one in our new home, up here in Paradise, Utah.  It's a doozy :)

I did some electrical wiring work in our TV room because of the new piece of ceiling that now covers the previously-exposed heating duct.  All of this work was simple, straightforward wiring – Romex, wire nuts, and junction boxes, nothing fancy.  The biggest part of this work was to wire up four new recessed lighting fixtures, and that all worked on the first try.  I also wired up a new utility box for our (wired) fire alarm in that room.  When I finished wiring it, I re-installed the alarm to test it before I buttoned up the work.

The test failed – there was no “juice” to the alarm.  I figured that I must have somehow blown a circuit breaker while doing the wiring, so down to the electrical panel I went.  No joy – none of the breakers had blown, nor were any of them off.  Now I noticed that all the fire alarms were without power.  Yikes!

My next thought was that maybe they were powered from the relatively new sub-panel in the basement.  Down the two flights of stairs I went, and searched the sub-panel.  No joy, again.

Then I remember that I had done some really minor work in another basement room (the big room that we're going to use as an indoor cattery), removing a bunch of duplex outlets that were poorly installed, and that we'd never use.  Maybe I accidentally disconnected the fire alarm circuit!  Down into the basement I went again, and checked that circuit.  No joy, again – it was reconnected correctly and had juice.  I noticed, however, that the lights in that room, and on the basement stairway, were no longer working.

What the heck was going on?

I climbed back up to the second floor, where Lane and Pasquale were working hard, and decided to just sit and think for a few minutes.  It acted exactly as if a breaker was blown, or a circuit disconnected – but I couldn't find any place where that had happened!  Lane came over to commiserate, and offered to talk it over with me in the hopes of coming up with an idea.  In the course of doing that, he asked if it was possible that a GFI (ground fault interrupter) device had tripped somewhere.  I couldn't imagine that anyone would be crazy enough to put fire alarms and lighting on the same GFI circuit, but Lane said he'd seen much worse than that.  Then both of us remembered, at the same moment, seeing a GFI outlet in an unlikely place – near the floor in the big room that we're going to use as a cattery.  We went down there, and sure enough that GFI was tripped.  I pushed the little red button ... and the lights came back on in that room.  Next room over, the fire alarm's green LED was glowing brightly.  We ran back upstairs, and – all the alarms were now happily glowing green again.  Even the one I had just wired was working correctly.

So someone, sometime, had wired two duplex outlets, the track lights in the cattery room, the basement stair lights, and all 10 fire alarms in the house onto the same circuit – all “protected” by a single small GFI device.  Oh, my.  That's another thing on my long list of things that need to get fixed :)

More remodeling progress...

More remodeling progress...  Left-to-right below: a crazy little nook in our entrance hall, now enclosed to make a linen closet on the other side; our TV room's 2" floor height difference fixed with a pony wall and ramp, and exposed HVAC duct-work covered over; the one unfinished room in the house (a small storage room) now finished.

The only thing left to do on these items is to “tape” the wallboard and apply orange-peel finish, and to paint.  The “taper” (a fellow named Nemo :) visited yesterday to estimate the job; he'll do it this coming Tuesday.  The painting will be done along with the rest of the house in the last step of our remodel...

Progress – it's a good thing...

Former nook, now closet
TV room completion
Last unfinished room

Blooming in Paradise...

Blooming in Paradise...  I found this lone flower in front of our new home in Paradise, Utah.  Click the thumbnail to embiggen.  I have no idea what it is, but I see many more that will be blooming in the next week or so – they're planted all around the house.  It has no bouquet that I can detect.  If you know what it is, please leave me a comment...

Cat and ducklings...

Cat and ducklings...  A sweet story, via my lovely wife.

Awesome!

Awesome!  Lightning and ash over the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull as it erupted in 2010.  Click to embiggen.  Via APOD, of course...

Digital imaging (photo geek)...

Digital imaging (photo geek) ... more than you ever wanted to know about noise, dynamic range, and bit depth.  The article's headline implies that the discussion is specific to DSLRs, but it actually applies to any digital imaging system.

Stock photos that don't suck...

Stock photos that don't suck...  Another great web resource.

101 useful web sites...

101 useful web sites...  This is a great list!  Over half of these are sites I'd never even heard of before...
1. http://www.screenr.com – record movies of your desktop and send them straight to YouTube.

2. http://www.ctrlq.org/screenshots – for capturing screenshots of web pages on mobile and desktops.

3. http://www.goo.gl – shorten long URLs and convert URLs into QR codes.

4. http://www.unfurlr.com – find the original URL that's hiding behind a short URL.

5. http://www.qClock.com – find the local time of a city using a Google Map.

6. http://www.copypastecharacter.com – copy special characters that aren't on your keyboard.

7. http://www.icerocket.com/ – a better search engine for Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

8. http://www.lovelycharts.com – create flowcharts, network diagrams, sitemaps, etc.

9. http://www.iconfinder.com – the best place to find icons of all sizes.

10. http://www.office.com – download templates, clipart and images for your Office documents.

11. http://www.followupthen.com – the easiest way to setup email reminders.

12. http://www.jotti.org – scan any suspicious file or email attachment for viruses.

13. http://www.wolframalpha.com – gets answers directly without searching - see more wolfram tips.

14. http://www.printwhatyoulike.com – print web pages without the clutter.

15. http://www.joliprint.com – reformats news articles and blog content as a newspaper.

16. http://www.ctrlq.org/rss – a search engine for RSS feeds.

17. http://www.e.ggtimer.com – a simple online timer for your daily needs.

18. http://www.coralcdn.org – if a site is down due to heavy traffic, try accessing it through coral CDN.

19. http://www.random.org – pick random numbers, flip coins, and more.

20. http://www.pdfescape.com – lets you can quickly edit PDFs in the browser itself.

21. http://www.viewer.zoho.com – Preview PDFs and Presentations directly in the browser.

22. http://www.tubemogul.com – simultaneously upload videos to YouTube and other video sites.

23. http://www.dabbleboard.com – your virtual whiteboard.

24. http://www.scr.im – share you email address online without worrying about spam.

25. http://www.spypig.com – now get read receipts for your email.

26. http://www.sizeasy.com – visualize and compare the size of any product.

27. http://www.myfonts.com/WhatTheFont – quickly determine the font name from an image.

28. http://www.google.com/webfonts – a good collection of open source fonts.

29. http://www.regex.info – find data hidden in your photographs[/url] – see more EXIF tools.

30. http://www.livestream.com – broadcast events live over the web, including your desktop screen.

31. http://www.iwantmyname.com – helps you search domains across all TLDs.

32. http://www.homestyler.com – design from scratch or re-model your home in 3d.

33. http://www.join.me – share you screen with anyone over the web.

34. http://www.onlineocr.net – recognize text from scanned PDFs - see other OCR tools.

35. http://www.flightstats.com - Track flight status at airports worldwide.

36. http://www.wetransfer.com – for sharing really big files online.

37. http://www.hundredzeros.com – best-sellers on all subjects that you can download for free.

38. http://www.polishmywriting.com – check your writing for spelling or grammatical errors.

39. http://www.marker.to – easily highlight the important parts of a web page for sharing.

40. http://www.typewith.me – work on the same document with multiple people.

41. http://www.whichdateworks.com – planning an event? find a date that works for all.

42. http://www.everytimezone.com – a less confusing view of the world time zones.

43. http://www.gtmetrix.com – the perfect tool for measuring your site performance online.

44. http://www.noteflight.com – print music sheets, write your own music online (review).

45. http://www.imo.im - chat with your buddies on Skype, Facebook, Google Talk, etc. from one place.

46. http://www.translate.google.com – translate web pages, PDFs and Office documents.

47. http://www.kleki.com – create paintings and sketches with a wide variety of brushes.

48. http://www.similarsites.com – discover new sites that are similar to what you like already.

49. http://www.wordle.net – quick summarize long pieces of text with tag clouds.

50. http://www.bubbl.us – create mind-maps, brainstorm ideas in the browser.

51. http://www.kuler.adobe.com – get color ideas, also extract colors from photographs.

52. http://www.liveshare.com – share your photos in an album instantly.

53. http://www.lmgtfy.com – when your friends are too lazy to use Google on their own.

54. http://www.midomi.com – when you need to find the name of a song.

55. http://www.bing.com/images – automatically find perfectly-sized wallpapers for mobiles.

56. http://www.faxzero.com – send an online fax for free.

57. http://www.feedmyinbox.com – get RSS feeds as an email newsletter.

58. http://www.ge.tt – quickly send a file to someone, they can even preview it before downloading.

59. http://www.pipebytes.com – transfer files of any size without uploading to a third-party server.

60. http://www.tinychat.com – setup a private chat room in micro-seconds.

61. http://www.privnote.com – create text notes that will self-destruct after being read.

62. http://www.boxoh.com – track the status of any shipment on Google Maps – alternative.

63. http://www.majorgeeks.com – Download the top 1% of freeware and shareware plus news, occasional reviews and computer help.

64. http://www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com – find if your favorite website is offline or not?

65. http://www.ewhois.com – find the other websites of a person with reverse Analytics lookup.

66. http://www.whoishostingthis.com – find the web host of any website.

67. http://www.google.com/history – found something on Google but can't remember it now?

68. http://www.aviary.com/myna – an online audio editor that lets record, and remix audio clips online.

69. http://www.disposablewebpage.com – create a temporary web page that self-destruct.

70. http://www.urbandictionary.com – find definitions of slangs and informal words.

71. http://www.seatguru.com – consult this site before choosing a seat for your next flight.

72. http://www.sxc.hu – download stock images absolutely free.

73. http://www.zoom.it – view very high-resolution images in your browser without scrolling.

74. http://www.scribblemaps.com – quickly create custom Google Maps online.

75. http://www.alertful.com – quickly setup email reminders for important events.

76. http://www.picmonkey.com – Picnik is offline but PicMonkey is an even better image editor.

77. http://www.formspring.me – you can ask or answer personal questions here.

78. http://www.sumopaint.com – an excellent layer-based online image editor.

79. http://www.snopes.com – find if that email offer you received is real or just another scam.

80. http://www.typingweb.com – master touch-typing with these practice sessions.

81. http://www.mailvu.com – send video emails to anyone using your web cam.

82. http://www.timerime.com – create timelines with audio, video and images.

83. http://www.stupeflix.com – make a movie out of your images, audio and video clips.

84. http://www.safeweb.norton.com – check the trust level of any website.

85. http://www.teuxdeux.com – a beautiful to-do app that looks like your paper dairy.

86. http://www.deadurl.com – you'll need this when your bookmarked web pages are deleted.

87. http://www.minutes.io – quickly capture effective notes during meetings.

88. http://www.youtube.com/leanback – Watch YouTube channels in TV mode.

89. http://www.youtube.com/disco – quickly create a video playlist of your favorite artist.

90. http://www.talltweets.com – Send tweets longer than 140 characters.

91. http://www.pancake.io – create a free and simple website using your Dropbox account.

92. http://www.builtwith.com – find the technology stack of any website.

93. http://www.woorank.com – research a website from the SEO perspective.

94. http://www.mixlr.com – broadcast live audio over the web.

95. http://www.radbox.me – bookmark online videos and watch them later (review).

96. http://www.tagmydoc.com – add QR codes to your documents and presentations (review).

97. http://www.notes.io – the easiest way to write short text notes in the browser.

98. http://www.ctrlq.org/html-mail – send rich-text mails to anyone, anonymously.

99. http://www.fiverr.com – hire people to do little things for $5.

100. http://www.otixo.com – easily manage your online files on Dropbox, Google Docs, etc.

101.http://www.ifttt.com – create a connection between all your online accounts.

Meatball police taking action...

Meatball police taking action ...  and Delingpole is not happy about it...

Honey badger escape artist...

Honey badger escape artist...

Obama's latest trick...

Obama's latest trick...  Here was Obama's dilemma: Congress overwhelmingly passed a law that called for barring an Iranian diplomat from entering the U.S. to attend his mission at the U.N.  Why?  Because this particular diplomat was one of the Iranian terrorists behind the raid on the U.S. Embassy to Iran back in 1979, and the subsequent holding of American hostages for over a year.  The problem for Obama is that he doesn't want to bar this diplomat, and Congress easily had enough votes to override his veto.

So Obama signed the bill, then immediately announced that he wouldn't enforce it.  Seriously.

I can't help but be reminded of Hugo Chavez's executive overreach on his way to overtly seizing power in Venezuela.  As the linked article also notes, the action drips with hypocrisy, as Senator Obama harshly criticized George W. Bush for doing the equivalent.

What the hell has happened to my country?

RIP, John C. Houbolt...

RIP, John C. Houbolt...  A sad item in the news this morning – John C. Houbolt, a childhood hero of mine, has died at the ripe old age of 95.  He was a NASA engineer in the early days of the agency, when the Mercury and Gemini programs were just getting underway, and when JFK committed the U.S. to putting a man on the moon and bringing him safely back to Earth.

Back in the early '60s, I was avidly following the U.S. space program.  My discovery of libraries (first in the school system, later the County library) gave me access to the closest thing in those days to the Internet.  I realize this concept will be foreign to many of my readers, but back then if you wanted up-to-date information on science and technology, you simply couldn't get it from your home.  It wasn't possible.  You had to go to a library that subscribed to the (very expensive) science and technology journals.  Fortunately for me, even the elementary school I went to had some subscriptions to such journals, including some that were written in a way that was accessible to someone quite young.

In those journals I learned about the story of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) mode that was eventually selected for the Apollo moon landings, and of John Houbolt's passionate advocacy for it.  When NASA was deciding which mode to use, the direct ascent mode was the obvious one that most people assumed is what NASA would do.  In that mode, a gigantic rocket (called Nova) would launch directly toward the moon, land on it, take off from the moon, and head directly back to Earth.  This seemed the simplest and safest route to just about everybody – except John Houbolt.  He did the math, and realized that it would be possible for a rocket less than half the size of Nova to take astronauts to the moon and back – but only if they did this crazy thing called LOR.

LOR, which is the mode used on all the Apollo lunar missions, required many more steps and complex-sounding maneuvers.  First, a Saturn V rocket would launch the Apollo spacecraft into Earth orbit.  It included a Command Module (which had the re-entry shield), a Service Module (with a rocket engine, fuel, and other supplies), and the Lunar Module (encased in an aerodynamic shroud).  Once in orbit, the shrouds around the Lunar Module were blown away with explosives, and then the combined Command Module/Service Module would pull away, turn around, and dock with the Lunar Module.  This combined spacecraft would then blast away (using the Service Module's rocket) toward the moon.  Once at the moon, they'd use the Service Module rocket again to slow the spacecraft down for injection into lunar orbit.  At that point, two of the three astronauts would crawl into the Lunar Module, undock from the Command Module, and use the Lunar Module's rockets to land on the moon.  Meanwhile, the remaining astronaut stayed in the Command Module, orbiting the moon while his two companions explored the lunar surface.  When the lunar mission was finished, the two lunar astronauts would climb back into the Lunar Module, and the top half of it would blast off back into lunar orbit, where they would rendezvous with their ride home (the Command Module).  This was always the most frightening part of those missions for me, following closely here on Earth.  If those lunar astronauts couldn't rendezvous with the Command Module, they were doomed to an awful fate, orbiting the moon forever.  That rendezvous worked every time, though.  Once the Lunar Module had redocked with the Command Module, the lunar astronauts would crawl back into the Command Module.  Then they'd undock from the Lunar Module, and light off the Service Module's rocket to blast them back toward Earth.  Once they neared Earth, the Command Module would disconnect from the Service Module, and just the Command Module would safely re-enter Earth's atmosphere and parachute down to an ocean landing.

If you manage to make it through my description of LOR above, I'm sure you'll recognize just how complex and Rube Goldberg-like LOR sounded to all the NASA engineers other than John Houbolt.  On more than one occasion, people called him crazy and much worse.  But with sheer persistence and a stubborn refusal to be silenced, John Houbolt eventually persuaded the rest of NASA that LOR was actually the only mode that had a chance of meeting JFK's goal for a man on the moon by the end of the '60s decade.  Why?  There were two main reasons.  First, NASA's engineers realized that they couldn't possibly build the gigantic Nova rocket in time.  Second, they realized that all of the maneuvers required for LOR were actually practicable in the time provided.  The challenges there were actually easier, engineering-wise, than building Nova.

John C. Houbolt's story was inspiring to me as a young man, and most especially, as a wannabe engineer.  His careful marshaling of facts and evidence to support his proposal fascinated me.  After LOR was selected, he led the engineering team that actually developed it – and that was another fascinating story to follow.  For nearly ten years, I devoured stories about he and his team as they developed the LOR systems.  On Apollo 10, the Lunar Module first flew separately in lunar orbit, and the crew successfully did the first lunar orbit rendezvous – and I remember reading about the relief and celebration in John Houbolt's team.  LOR worked!

That moment when something you imagined, designed, and built actually functions as intended – for me, that's the essence of what it means to be an engineer.  It's the kind of achievement that I find most satisfying and fun.  John C. Houbolt was the embodiment of that for me, in my youth.  His story inspired me, and I often thought of him when people told me I couldn't do something or other (which happened rather a lot :).  Though I've never met anyone else who said the same, I'd bet there are a lot of other engineers roughly my age who would.

RIP, John C. Houbolt.  That's a helluva a story you've left behind!