Week 869: I really do think we just got the Mayan date system wrong

2017firehurricane GOES R

NOAA’s GOES-R looks at a bruised continent yesterday. Smoke from fires in the west. 3 hurricanes in the east. Not shown: earthquake in Mexico. DPRK missiles.

“Questa piedra maladetta — this cursed rock”

I usually repost my MetaFilter threads over here, but I missed this one about the opening of St. Helena Airport in May 2016. Turns out that all the big spending and hand wringing was a waste of time because the real story is that the £285m airport is too windy to land on. Guess what happened next. Not until July of this year did anyone announce a scheduled flight. Only there’s no schedule.

It’s natural to go for the hubris of big failure angle. A quarter billion pounds spent and no one bothered to check the wind. How many examples of institutional clusterfucking do you need? The airport code might be HLE, but being “the world’s most useless” is permanent. Perhaps Gaia herself is messing with us – shouting “THOU SHALL NOT LAND” in a big wind sheary exhale.


originally posted 22 May 2016

The remote south Atlantic island of St. Helena has largely lived apart from the world. For decades travel to the tiny (roughly 10 x 5 miles) island and British territory of 4000 has been entirely dependent upon a monthly visit from the Royal Mail Ship – a week-long voyage from Cape Town that has kept the island on the margins of the global travel market. You have to be a very determined traveller to see where Napoleon died and have a visit with a the oldest living land animal – a 184 year old giant tortoise named Jonathan.

That is until last week when the first commerical airplane flight landed at the island’s brand new airport. After five years of construction, hundreds of millions of pounds, and 450,000 truckloads of dirt and rock, Saint Helena Airport (airport code: HLE) is open for business, but how will St. Helena (now branded “The Secret Of The South Atlantic“) adjust to the end of its isolation? Will the island’s culture itself survive?

More: (two part BBC Radio 4 series “St. Helena – Joining The Rest Of Us“)

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Air Force Week in Los Angeles

Midway through the FMDiSC meeting this morning, I got an email message saying that there was going to be a low altitude multi-plane flyby in conjuction with the opening ceremonies for Air Force Week Los Angeles. A U-2 spy plane was scheduled to participate, so I ducked out to Barnsdall Art Park to grab some pictures.

B-1

B-1

B-52

B-52

And… the U-2. I’ve never seen one of these flying before.

U-2

24 or so Flickrs per second

Going against the tide of Flickr curmedgeons, here’s some Flickr video from the QC archives:

Alkali flies on the ground at Mono Lake. They don’t bite at all, but it’s unnerving walking around them and seeing them flee and reorient as you walk around.

Some Mono Lake shoreline to go along with the flies.

A flyby of the last remaining Northrop Flying Wing prototype.

Nukes vs. Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls

A couple of worthy stories over on Airminded. The first comes from a DOE atomic bomb test in 1957 to see what would happen if a Navy airship was used to deliver a nuclear depth charge.

In short, the bomb wins:

Nuke vs. Blimp

The second story concerns the latter days of Hammer Films in the early 1970s and an unmade film with the working title Zeppelin vs Pterodactyls.

The story was along the lines of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, with a German Zeppelin being blown off-course during a bombing raid on London and winding up at a “lost continent”-type place.

The Land That Time Forgot is still essential viewing here whenever I run across it, but Zeppelin vs. Pterodactyls would have obsoleted it instantly. Hammer only got as far as commissioning up a poster to attract investors, but holy cow what a poster!

zeppelin_v_pterodactyls.jpg

Microgramma font is instant Stendhal syndrome for me.

Things going on while I was reconfiguring the server

augusta_mall.jpg

The only thing missing from the surveillance video of the SUV driver crashing through an Augusta mall is the Blues Brothers soundtrack. Bonus points to the deputy sheriff who barely keeps from laughing during his interview.


The state of air travel…

Passing through the Zurich (ZRH) airport is like being in a photo shoot for Nokia advertisements. Neutral blue-grey color scheme with a touch of red from the Swiss souvenir shops, well-dressed travelers quietly having a coffee before boarding and in true Enoian spirit there is background music but from a completely indiscernible source. Arriving back at the squalid LAX Bradley terminal after such a great experience is the real culture clash of traveling: missing ceiling panels, dirty carpeting, ambient garbage, and long lines.

Security control at LAX encapsulates everything that is wrong with the State Of Things. TSA isn’t secure at all, but a grown-up version of junior high school hall monitors with guns and just enough humiliation to avoid class-action lawsuits. Several hundred people are lined up to pass through the two passport checkpoints that are open. One guy efficiently does his job, the second takes five times as long and several more watch the proceedings. No one suggests opening up another checkpoint to process more people. At the baggage claim, a TSA guy has his dog sniff at four suitcases only before taking off – ignoring everything else on the carousel. During a delay in processing baggage, a TSA staffer announces to the 40-odd people left waiting that “all baggage has been off-loaded and to see your airline’s lost luggage counter if you don’t have your bag.” It was just a delay and the remaining baggage did show up but her announcement (whether it was a deliberate lie or callous incompetence) upset a few people.

Not surprisingly, international airlines are taking their business elsewhere and in true SoCal-strength NIMBYism, the locals could care less if the $4 billion of international visitor dollars disappears.

Symbolic perhaps that a chunk of the Theme Building collapsed. At least it’s being repaired.


Think that the retail record business is several turns into it’s final death spiral? Think again.

Jose Jimenez scanned the rows of CDs, whose covers mainly pictured men dressed in cowboy hats and Western-style shirts open at the collar.

Jimenez, who is from Mexico, was in a Latin record shop in the New York City borough of Queens. He was searching for the latest from a Mexican band whose forte is accordion- and polka-based music that relates sometimes-true stories about drug trafficking and its social ills. He had recently seen the band play on a Spanish-language television show.

“You listen to the music and start to believe you’re back in your country,” the 36-year-old said, adding that the lyrics speak about what is going on in Mexico these days.

For many Latin Americans like Jimenez, the source for their music – a cultural bridge between their lives in the U.S. and their homelands – is the neighborhood Latin record shop. These stores have proliferated in New York’s immigrant neighborhoods in recent years and have survived even as the retail music industry that caters to English speakers faces grim prospects.

[via Everyday Literacies]


Asinine painter and Stepford Village Idiot, Thomas Kinkade inspires a holiday movie. No word if the movie will include Kinkade’s values such as fraud, alcoholism, and public urination.


Sedition Books in Houston burns to the ground in an apparent arson attack. Houston police blame the victims telling them “if you get too extreme like this, this is what happens” and “if you do this again somewhere else, this kind of stuff is just gonna follow you…”


Without A Park To Range succinctly sums up my mixed feelings about the Hualapa’s skywalk over the Grand Canyon and resulting criticism.

I’m a bit fed up with criticism of the Hualapa’s effort to save their lives. Most condemnation reeks of Anglo racism at worst and misplaced white paternalism at best. One comment on Kurt’s piece really got me going.

“The architects of the El Tovar and the other buildings at the South Rim kept the buildings aesthetically in line with the canyon.”

What a load of crap. The Market Plaza at the South Rim is the size of a K-Mart. Why do we need such a big store in a National Park?

“The facilities the National Park Service built at the Grand Canyon are, for the most part, necessary in order for people to visit the canyon.”

Again I need my hip waders. John Wesley Powell and early travelers didn’t need a city on the South Rim to sustain them. Nor did Clarence Dutton or John Muir or Teddy Roosevelt, who expressed his wish that it remain pristine for future generations.

Today, the Canyon is anything but pristine with houses and pay phones at Phantom Ranch, a water pipeline across the canyon, a bank, an ATM, 11 restaurants, an auto mechanic shop, Internet access, a kennel, a medical clinic, a post office, gas stations, gift shops, six lodges with almost 1000 rooms. There are 228 miles of roads and 1143 buildings. This isn’t “necessary”. It’s excessive and it’s impossible to find solitude on the South Rim.

So back off the Hualapai! I’m fed up with this racist double standard. After everything the US government has done to native peoples, how dare you smugly anticipate the financial failure of their tribe!

My prediction: the skywalk will be out of business within three years. The controversy then will be people screaming at the government on how to best dismantle it, but not before the CLUI installs a guerilla photo exhibit.


lifeonmars_fordcortina.jpg

The Ford Cortina from Life On Mars is being auctioned off for charity and if I lived in the UK I would totally bid on it. Meanwhile, I patiently await the next episode.


And finally, two lesser-known conflicts going on in the world…

1. Armani attacks Savile Row, dismissing the traditional home of menswear as “a bad English comedy.”

2. Rock & Roll versus “Shadowy Russian Business Interests” in a war to control the factory that supplies two-thirds of the world’s vacuum tubes for amplifiers.

Things I Like – August 2006 “New Blog” edition

1. John Fitch. What do you do after you’ve been a P-51 fighter pilot, competed and won the Mille Miglia, and invented the “yellow barrel” crash drums you see on freeway interchanges. Go for a class speed record at Bonneville of course. Who cares if you’re 89 and the car is a 51 year-old Mercedes?

fitchbonneville.jpg

Somewhere out there Burt Munro is grinning.

2. The Antonov An-2. The world’s largest biplane. It’s kinda homely looking, but it’s as indestructible as a DC-3. I especially like this section from the pilot’s handbook:

“If the engine quits in instrument conditions (blind flying when you can’t see the ground) or at night, the pilot should pull the control column full aft (it won’t stall) and keep the wings level. The leading-edge slats will snap out at about 40 mph (64 km/h), and when the airplane slows to a forward speed of about 25 mph [40 km/h], the airplane will sink at about a parachute descent rate until the aircraft hits the ground.”

AN-2.jpg

Additionally, that slow stall speed means that if you’re flying into a 35 mph headwind, you can travel backwards at 5 mph while under full control.

3. The 77 Water Street Biplane. A full-sized replica Sopwith Camel has been sitting on top of the building since 1969 “solely for the delight of denizens of neighboring skyscrapers.” Snoopy salutes you.

77waterstreet_biplane.jpg

4. Star Trek Inspirational posters. Obvious fun, but I laughed out loud.

trekinsp_diplomacy.jpg

5. The “Nukeables” vending machine at the Nevada Test Site. On the tour of the test site, I couldn’t help noticing the utter lack of personality anywhere on the site. Every science lab in the world has cartoons pasted on the windows, or something like the mysterious red “The End Is Near” button on the Mt. Wilson telescope. Something that indicates that there are working people there – no matter how slightly twisted their sense of humor is. There wasn’t much of anything like that at the NTS, except for this terrific vending machine in the cafeteria.

nukeables_vendmachine.jpg

Cameras were banned on the tour so I wasn’t able to get a picture of it, but these folks were able to.

Flying Flying Wing

The Flying Wing & Bond Bread
A chance to see a 60 year old UFO fly doesn’t come by that often, so the big event this weekend was a drive out to the Palm Springs Air Museum to see the original N9M flying wing prototype fly.

The old Northrop flying wings are one of the few planes I still obsess over. I still vividly remember the flying wing scene from the 1953 War Of The Worlds (and the audience in the Orange Theater cheering when L.A. City Hall gets blown up) and getting worked up over something that looked like it stepped off of the front cover of a vintage SF pulp magazine. Cue a lifetime of general obsession over retrofuture technology that was just too ahead of its time to be of any practicality. Somewhere I still have a beat-up poster of the B-49 that lasted through three years of high school dorm living.

N9MB Flying Wing Anyway, one of the few remaining flying wing third-scale prototypes was restored a few years back and makes the occasional flight demo here and there. Even after all the pictures, films, etc. I’ve seen of it, I couldn’t help but sputter out an “illbegoddamned” when it took off.

Here’s the requisite Flickr set from the day and some some short movies I took (pass 1, pass 2, pass 3)

Of course any trip to Palm Springs requires two additional things… Modernism and the Sonny Bono statue.

Palm Springs modernismSonny