Well, I'll be on the road for the long 4th of July weekend (I'm taking Monday off to make it a 4-day break), heading for South Carolina to reacquaint myself with my once-and-future hobby of sport rocketry, and to visit with my best buddy, who runs a small rocket kit company (Aerospace Speciality Products). We'll be attending SCIPower 2006, a 3-day event combining high-power sport rocketry and experimental rocketry (the distinction is, loosely speaking, whether you buy manufactured rocket motors or make your own). Notwithstanding the date, sport rockets are not fireworks, and this weekend will not be about wild-eyed pyros. Hobby rocketry is a well organized hobby, and launches are conducted under the rules (including strict safety codes) of two national organizations: the Tripoli Rocketry Association (which is sanctioning SCIPower) or the National Association of Rocketry.
In the last couple days, I've been seeing stories about the 50th anniversary of the interstate highways, and about how they've changed the country. Naturally, with my road trip coming up, I've been thinking about highways myself (today, I've been thinking about whether my route, which passes through Pennsylvania, will be open and dry). While all the commentary correctly praises the scope and vision of the interstate highway project, much of it bemoans the sameness of interstates and their disconnectedness from the country the pass through. This notion is not new: In 1983, author William Least Heat-Moon published Blue Highways, a paean to all the homey, intimate roads that were not interstates.
Well, I must raise my voice in dissent: It's certainly true that driving on the interstates is a different experience from poking around the back roads... but it's an experience that has its own rhythm and seductive charms. I've always loved long-distance driving (sometimes I'm surprised I didn't end up a trucker)... traveling huge distances at once, as if striding across the land in ten-league boots, and watching the landscape transmute before my very eyes. I find it exhilarating, enthralling... not at all the sterile, utilitarian pursuit the critics claim.
Then again, there's the fact that the interstate highway project is a great example of how well government can do things, big things, despite the conventional wisdom that government is inherently incompetent and inefficient. I think I have a longer riff on that subject in me, but it'll have to wait: I have a date with the open road in a little more than a day, and I have maps to read and coolers to pack, and "miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."
Unit of the Day: The Walrus and the Carpenter might have made a more scientific estimate of whether seven maids with seven mops could sweep a beach clean if they'd known about the phi unit, a logarithmic unit used to measure grain sizes for sand (and grit and gravel, as well). Starting at 0=1 millimeter grain size, each step on the phi number scale corresponds to a factor of 1/2 in grain size. Thus, 1 phi unit = 0.5 mm; 2 phi units = 0.25 mm; etc. In the opposite direction, -1 phi unit = 2 mm; -2 phi units = 4 mm; etc.