Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rocket Geek Stuff

OK, I promised I'd post about my return to model rocketry, in a contest held a week ago Sunday at my local rocket club, CATO. Well, I was waiting for the contest results to become official, but they still haven't been posted, so I'll go ahead and report what I think the results were. I competed in four competition events sanctioned by the National Association of Rocketry (NAR): Open Spot Landing, in which you try to land your rocket as close as possible to a predetermined spot in the field; 1/4A Parachute Duration, in which you try for the longest timed flight with a rocket launched on a 1/4A power motor and recovered using a parachute; 1/2A Streamer Duration, in which you try for the longest timed flight with a rocket launched on a 1/2A power motor and recovered using a streamer; and A Rocket Glider, in which you try for the longest timed flight with a rocket launched on an A power motor and recovered intact by gliding.

I competed representing my NAR team, The Tappet Brothers (yes, named after the Car Talk guys!), which consists of me and my buddy Andy Jackson, who runs his own small rocket kit company, Aerospace Speciality Products... but since we were the only team represented, we were (which is to say I was) combined into the division for individual adult competitors. Here's what I think our results were:
  • Open Spot Landing: Last I checked, I was in second place... but there were other flights after that point, so who knows. Interestingly, the target spot was marked by a life-size cutout of Austin Powers, which randomly blurted out digitized Powers-isms like "Do I make you horny, baby?" Too cool!
  • 1/4A Parachute Duration: These models are very small, and the trick is to get the parachute to open after having been jammed into such a tight space. I didn't master that trick: Both flight attempts came down with partially wadded up 'chutes. Even so, I think my total time was good enough for second place, or at least third.
  • 1/2A Streamer Duration: I had two solid flights here, and I'm pretty sure I won this event.
  • A Rocket Glider: The trick here is that what makes a rocket stable during boost is not the same as what makes a glider fly well... so the model has to change inflight to transition from stable rocket boost to good gliding flight. I used a model called the Xebec IIIA, designed by long-time competitor George Gassaway, in which an elevator tab pops up after the rocket motor burns out. I had one good flight (little over a minute) with this model, and needed only the shortest possible qualified flight on my second attempt to win the event. The second flight was great -- it disappeared out of sight after flying for over 5 minutes, and it was still up in a thermal (rising warm air), not coming down. But there was a problem: Because the second flight behaved differently in flight than the first, observers on the ground thought the motor might have been ejected from the model, which is grounds to disqualify the flight. In such cases, procedure is that contest officials request the model be returned to the judges for inspection. Since my model flew away (otherwise perfectly legal), I couldn't return it for inspection, and the flight was disqualified. I had to settle for second place.
All in all a great day. There's something really satisfying about returning to a cherished hobby after a long absence. I can't wait to go flying again!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Oh, Nooooo!!!

Say it ain't so! Today comes a Newsweek article (via about Democratic presidential candidates sucking up to evangelical Christian leaders. The very notion &mdash embodied in the accompanying photo of Barack Obama chatting with Rick Warren &mdash chills my blood.

I understand the tactical politics involved: Evangelicals are quite correctly disenchanted with the Republican frontrunners such as Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mit Romney, none of whom truly embodies evangelical values. Even the folksy Fred Thompson has a racy history, and is none to reliable (from the evangelical point of view) on abortion. So perhaps, with the right approach, Democrats can, if not win over evangelicals outright, at least persuade them to stay home in November. I get it.

But at what price is this tactical advantage gained? The alliance forged between evangelical Christians and secular conservatives since the Reagan administration is arguably what got us into the mess we're in... the mess some of us hope to at least begin reversing by sending a Democrat to the White House. However disaffected they may be with their erstwhile secular partners, it seems unlikely that evangelicals will suddenly align themselves with the public policies favored by most Democrats. Almost as an inherent consequence of their beliefs, it seems to me that evangelicals lean toward authoritarianism and away from personal liberty.

I understand that America is a religious country; I'm not suggesting it's possible (even if it were desirable) to run a completely secular political campaign. But if we must appeal to people of faith, let's appeal to those whose doctrines emphasize charity and social justice &mdash values that harmonize with those of liberals and progressives &mdash rather than people whose religious beliefs deemphasize "good works" in favor of biblical inerrancy, divine authority, and enforcement of Old Testament mores.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Noted Without Further Comment...

...because this speaks (or sings) for itself:

Update: Someone who read this post asked me if the singer was me. Would t'were I was that talented! No, that's Roy Zimmerman, whose work I've posted here before, and who I learned of through Pharyngula. I should've included a hat-tip in when I first posted this.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rainy Day Thoughts

Well, the rocket contest I mentioned in Wednesday's post, which was scheduled for today, has been postponed due to iffy weather. With luck, it will happen tomorrow instead, and I'll surely post about it... but in the meantime I'm stuck at my computer desk, with a dreary view out the window.

I guess since I'm referencing Wednesday's posting, this is probably a good time to make a bit of a disclaimer: I mentioned that I'm involved in the ongoing municipal election campaign in Vernon. Well, I want to make it clear that this is my personal blog, and is in no way connected to the campaign. I'm going to generally avoid talking about the Vernon elections here directly, but in any case I want to make it clear that whatever I do say here is strictly my own thoughts and words. You won't find campaign announcements here, or press releases, and I will never use this space to speak for the campaign or the Democratic Town Committee. (I will, however, add some links to the DTC website, Mayor Marmer's site, and any candidates' blogs to my blogroll, or the convenience of any readers who might be interested.)

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'm going to get ready for tomorrow's rocket contest!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Watch This Space

A couple days ago I got notification that someone had actually posted a comment to this months-dormant blog, and it remind me that I've been meaning to restart my postings here. Or re-restart, I should say: This isn't the first time my online wordfield has lain fallow.

I'm going to have some things to write about: After laying off model rockets for a year or two, I plan to make my return next week at a contest being held my old club, CATO. This is in preparation for going to NARAM-50 next year, the national competition that marks the half-century anniversary of model rocketry as an organized hobby.

In addition, I've gotten involved in local politics in my hometown of Vernon, CT, trying to re-elect our excellent mayor and elect a Democratic Town Council and Board of Education... which should provide me with one or two things to say.

That's all for tonight... this time 'round I'm going to try again to master the art of the frequent short posting, as opposed to waiting until I have the time (and inspiration) to write long essays.