Ridiculous – Part Deux

Yesterday I wrote about an unexpected side effect of shaving my head. This morning, thirty-six hours after the initial event, it caught me off guard again, but this time I realized what it reminded me of:

Velcro GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

I also realized what the proper tool is now for “drying my hair”:

12 in. Window Squeegee without Handle

Thank you! I’ll be here all week! Tip your waitress!

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As in, “From the sublime to…”

SpaceX and NASA and Dragon and Falcon didn’t launch today because the weather pretty much sucked in Florida today. They’ll try again on Saturday. Or maybe Sunday. Or maybe some time next week since the weather forecast for Saturday or Sunday isn’t much better than it was today.

This isn’t a problem, just a frustration, especially in our society that expects instant gratification. But they’ll fly when they’re ready and when it’s safe and meets the established launch criteria. As has been pointed out, it’s much better to be on the ground wishing you were flying than flying and wishing you were on the ground.

So that’s not what I’m here to entertain you with tonight.

Last night, you see, there was some genuine hysteria. As in laughing so hard I could barely stand. Self-inflicted. Stupid.

Because when you’re in your 58th day of self-isolation, despite the fact that you have sufficient food, shelter, entertainment, and so on, SOMETIMES you just need to do something really stupid to see what happens.

First of all, it had been five weeks since this little slice of insanity. And while I wasn’t all that shaggy, especially compared to April, the places where it was bothering me were a result of me doing a half-assed job back then, so those spots that tickle and annoy me WERE shaggy.

It was time to try again.

So out to the backyard I went, doing my best to basically just go evenly all over everything, concentrating this time on the odd spots behind the ears and at the nape of the neck and places where I can’t reach well and can’t see at all. I was trying to do better than last time, to learn from my previous experience.

It didn’t totally suck. (But jeez louise, those eyebrows! Anyone have any suggestions? Aside from, you know, nuclear fire?)

But this, like last time, was with the “#1 guard” on the clippers. If you’re not aware, when you’re getting a buzz cut of some sort, with the number indicating how close you want it cut. Smaller numbers are shorter. The clippers I bought came with attachments for #1 through #8. When I would go to the SuperCuts or Fantastic Sams or Great Clips or whatever, my normal was a #2. A #1 is shorter, but I figured I would give it a try.

And I thought to myself, for reasons I can only chalk up to advancing age, diminished capacity, or being cooped up too long, “What happens if you take that guard clippy thingie off completely? Do you get cut? Does it hurt? Or does it just cut your hair really, Really, REALLY freaking short?”

It’s that last one. And while it doesn’t hurt, the buzzy feeling goes right into your skull and makes your head vibrate. It’s a weird feeling. (The first of many for last night.)

Essentially this is a “#0” cut and it leaves your hair at about 1 to 2 millimetres, tops.

Well… If you’re going to do that, and then be still finding those little spots you missed that are going to be tickling, why not just go all the way?

So I shaved it.

But that’s not what caused the hysterical laughter. Granted, every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I’m surprised all over again, but not hysterically.

No, it turns out that there’s one thing that no one has EVER mentioned about shaving your head.

First, as I expected, it’s stubbly and rough. I guess somehow I was hoping for it to be much smoother, more Uncle Fenster-like, but it’s more like fine grit sandpaper.

Secondly, I expected it to be colder than it is. That may have something to do with the temps in the 90’s here in LA right now, but inside where the A/C’s going full blast it still should feel colder than it is. It doesn’t. However, going out into the sun definitely feels hotter. I can see where I’ll have to be careful to not get sunburned, or make sure I’m wearing a hat.

Third, even being really careful, little knicks from shaving a place that’s never been shaven before hurt like a son of a gun. Doing some research online I see that sites that talk about head shaving recommend shaving it two or three times a week to maintain it – that might not be happening here. I’m sure the skin would toughen up and get used to it sooner or later, but that’s too damn much work. The reason I don’t grow my hair long is because I want to spend an absolute minimal amount of time on maintenance and care – this is even worse than long hair. No thanks!

Fourth, since I don’t really see it unless I pass a mirror, it just feels weird to my hand every time I touch it without thinking. Remember, sandpaper.

But I knew those things in general and while the specific details and sensations are no, they’re not completely unexpected. And none of them cause hysteria.

No, what caught me completely off guard and caused hysteria was the fact that it’s like freakin’ Super Velcro.

When I was getting out of the shower after cleaning up and I start to rub the towel across my head, it stuck. A full 20-G emergency stop. And I was howling.

Normally, even with short hair, there’s a decent coefficient of friction. (There’s a reason that shampoo uses “silky” as a selling point.) Rubbing your hand or worse, a cloth across your hair will generally be easy because the towel or cloth will glide across the hair smoothly.

With sandpaper-grade stubble and a big fluffy towel, it’s completely different and completely unexpected.

When I finally calmed down enough to finish drying off and I went to put on a T-shirt – same thing! Pulling it over my head was like dragging the shirt backwards through a paper shredder. And the hysteria resumed.

And then I tried to put on a sweatshirt, and it was even worse. That fluffy, warm interior lining of the sweatshirt practically glued itself to my head. Plus, it’s hard to pull it loose and pull it over my head when I’m laughing again.

There was a concern that when I lay down on my pillow and then sat up, the pillow might stick. It turns out not to be the case because the force there is normal to the surface of the pillow case, but when I try to simply turn my head while my stubbly scalp was in contact with the pillow – scrrraaaaaaaappppeeeeee!

So there you have it. You’ve heard it from me. If you ever shave your head, not only will it feel funny, look funny, get sunburned, take a lot of maintenance, leave you with little painful knicks all over, but you will have the equivalent of high-grade hooks all over your scalp and every piece of cloth out there will look like a sea of hooks.

I can’t judge if you’ll look good or bad like that, but you’ll be prepared. You can still laugh when you see yourself in the mirror. And that may make you hysterical as well.


Filed under Health, Paul, Photography

Go Dragon!

Tomorrow could be a very big and important day for those of us who want to leave the planet behind for a while someday.

If the weather and the launch gods cooperate, tomorrow a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will launch into orbit on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying two NASA astronauts to the ISS. It will be the first crewed launch on a US vehicle from US soil in almost nine years, since the last Space Shuttle launch in July 2011. It will also be the first time ever that humans launch onboard a commercial rocket and spacecraft, not one built by a government.

I will spare you my opinion of those in our government who allowed that nine year gap. (Figuring it out shouldn’t be rocket science. Don’t skimp on the obscenities.)

Tomorrow we’ll be celebrating, and anticipating, and hoping to revel in what will be only the fifth maiden flight of a crewed US spacecraft. Mercury. Gemini. Apollo. Shuttle. And now Dragon.

Or possibly waiting for the weather to clear so we can try again on Saturday. We’ll fly when it’s safe and we’re ready.

There isn’t any NASA Social at Kennedy this weekend, for obvious reasons. The Florida beaches are open and there will no doubt be thousands of people there to watch. I hope that it’s not hundreds of thousands to turn this into a superspreader event on the ground. If you’re there, I envy you, but I want you to be safe.

There is however a virtual NASA Social.

I’ve been to five in person. I’ve touched a DSKY (Apollo 16 CSM computer) that actually went to the moon. I’ve held a torque wrench that actually has flown on multiple missions including the final Hubble repair mission. I’ve been at the “center of the universe” in the JPL control center. I’ve seen the LEM trainer that Neil Armstrong flew. I’ve been on SOFIA, the 747 with a honkin’ huge telescope built in. I’ve met astronauts, scientists, pilots, engineers, and the folks who have built and landed robots on Mars.

Tomorrow (or Saturday, or Sunday…) is going to be fun and special, even if I can’t be there in person. One of these days I will be.

Launch is scheduled for 16:33 EDT, 13:33 PDT. You can watch it online at a dozen different sites, starting with NASA-TV or SpaceX’s live feed.

Go Falcon! Go Dragon!

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Looking Above, Looking Below

Memorial Day weekend, the traditional unofficial kickoff for summer in the United States. What a strange and different weekend this was than what we all would have expected three months ago.

We were supposed to be in Michigan this weekend for a family wedding. That obviously didn’t happen. If we weren’t going to the wedding we could have gone to Baycon in then San Francisco area. That obviously didn’t happen.

We stayed home.

Normally, if we weren’t traveling we would have invited the kids over, and extended family, and maybe some of their friends. The BBQ grill would have been packed. There would have been a dozen or even twenty-plus people here. Lots of food, beer flowing, margaritas being mixed, wonderful conversations, hugs all around.

That obviously didn’t happen.

Down here below there was just us. In our yard. No visitors.

I chatted across the street with the neighbors to make sure their family was all safe. We chatted online with our kids to make sure they were all safe.

But here, it was just us, the birds, the lizards, the flowers.

As I was cooking, above there was a rumble as a 747 passed overhead. Atlas Air flight #715 from LAX to Inchon, climbing through 9,200 feet at 366 mph. Almost certainly a cargo flight.

We used to have a hundred flights a day climbing out of LAX and headed toward the Bay Area, Seattle, Anchorage, Japan, Korea, China. Now it’s a handful. Coming in from the west we used to have fifty or more flights a day heading in to Runway 8 at Burbank. Now it’s maybe a dozen.

The world is so different than it was three short months ago.

In states that have “opened up” there are reports and video of packed beaches, large crowds, and dirt track grandstands packed to the gills. And not a mask in sight. I hope that I’m wrong, but that’s not where the smart money is. I expect outbreaks to spike in two to three weeks all over the country. A lot of those sites (the Ozarks, for example) had cars with license plates from a dozen different states.

The virus doesn’t care. Science doesn’t care. Reality doesn’t care.

Unless we have an order of magnitude more testing, and faster results, and contract tracking, and a plan to isolate those exposed, we’re going to see packed ICUs again. We’re passing 100,000 American fatalities now. (And I will guarantee that figure is low by at least 10% given all of the governors who are being caught deliberately fiddling with the data and not counting nursing home deaths.) I’ve said it before – by election day in November, we’ll be lucky to be under 1,000,000 deaths.

But I can’t change that. Neither can you.

So we stayed home. As I hope you did.

We wore masks if we had to go out. As I hope you did.

We stayed socially distant, with extremely limited contact. As I hope you did.

I continue to do 99% of my work from home. As I hope you are able to.

We wait for someone to make available the weapons we need to fight this disaster. Testing. Medical equipment. Protective gear. A vaccine. Leadership.

In the meantime, we fight with the only weapons we have. Masks. Distance. Hand washing. Isolation. Votes.

As I hope you did.


Filed under Castle Willett, CoronaVirus, Photography

Planetary Bodies Moving On

This will be the last night that I can fit all of these objects into the 70mm “wide” angle view on the 70-300 telephoto lens.

Venus (way down in the lower right) will only be visible for a few more nights before reappearing in a couple of weeks in the morning sky.

The moon moves quite a bit from night to night, so tomorrow it will be high out of this view at sunset.

Only tiny, faint-ish Mercury, visible just to the right of the top of the cedar tree at the center of the frame, will be more or less in the same position for the next few nights, before it follows Venus toward the morning sky.

A short exposure shows the moon for the crescent it is, easily visible now, a delight to see hanging in the evening sky. Blow up the picture to see craters and details along the terminator.

A longer exposure will show how the dark part of the moon is partially visible in reflected earthshine. This has always been one of my favorite, simple things to see in the night sky.

Farewell, y’all. Without a doubt your travels and Newton’s laws of motion will bring you back together again some day soon.


Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Mercury & Venus & New Moon

Let’s up the difficulty level tonight thanks to celestial mechanics!

The last three nights I’ve been posting pictures of Venus (bright, but fading) and Mercury (dim-ish, never easy to see) as they move close to each other in the evening twilight. I’ve mentioned how it’s a race and a balancing act, trying to wait until it’s dark enough so that dim Mercury isn’t washed out in the sunset sky, while also looking and finding them early enough so they haven’t set.

Tonight the 34-hour-old new moon is moving into the picture, below Venus. Which means that it will be setting before the two planets. In addition, I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen a 34-hour-old new moon. At that point it’s close to the sun, it’s only illuminated on a razor thin line of a crescent, and as a result it’s very dim, even harder to spot in some ways than Mercury.

So, earlier, brighter sky, dimmer object, closer to the horizon – NO SWEAT! Let’s do this!

For reference, last night’s pictures were taken between 20:41 and 20:50. Sunset both nights was about 19:55. But that’s probably too late to see the moon. So this picture was taken at 20:33. Venus is visible. With the naked eye, I could not see the moon or Mercury. But I shot a quick series of pictures anyway, cautious that the moon might be already disappearing.

Then I grabbed the binoculars. Holy guacamole, Batman! Mercury’s there, a bit more distant from Venus than yesterday, higher. But the moon? Stunning. A hair-thin crescent floating just above the trees. Now that you know where to look, can you see them in this first picture? (Click on it to blow it up full sized.)

20:34, and I can just start to see both Mercury and the moon with the naked eye.

20:35 – I’ve zoomed in on the moon. Oh, and by the way, Eid Mubarak!

20:36 – getting a touch darker, contrast getting better. Now knowing where the moon is it’s easy to spot. Mercury still dim and hard to spot – it’s right about on the vertical center line of the picture, just above the level of the top of the cedar tree on the left. See it?

20:37 – the slightly larger picture. For the record, I was using the Canon Rebel XT camera with a Tamron 70-300mm zoom lens. This picture was taken at a 100mm focal length. Pictures #1, #2, and #4 were at about 130mm, and #3 (the closeup of the crescent moon) was at 300mm. Each of these pictures is the best of a bracketing set starting at about 1/2500 second and going through about 1/4 second. In this twilight, the short exposures are really dark, the long exposures are totally washed out and bright, but in between lies the promised land. There are about 12-14 pictures in each set and it takes about sixty seconds to shoot it and set up for the next set.

20:38 – will all of this fit into the frame in landscape mode? Yes, it will! Again, Mercury just higher than the top of the cedar tree, Venus about to disappear behind that big pine tree on the right, and the moon about to disappear behind those trees at the bottom.

20:39 – the best picture of the night! About to start losing objects behind trees, but it’s finally dark enough to see them all! We’re winners!

20:40 – remember when I said that last night’s range of 20:41 to 20:40 probably wouldn’t work? Good planning! Say goodnight to the moon! Ditto for Venus, Mercury, and the mosquitoes! (I don’t know what’s up with the mosquitoes. We rarely have a problem with them, but they’re out in force this year. My hands are covered with bites from the last two nights!)



Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Mercury & Venus

Mercury’s climbing (slowly-ish).

In mid-twilight (20:40 after sunset at 19:55) Venus stands out, but Mercury is just becoming visible.

It’s passed Venus now, higher and to the left.

If you want a simple demonstration of the planets moving, just show someone matching pictures from the last three nights.

Ten minutes later, it’s easier to spot Mercury. But again, it’s a race between night and the horizon. It’s just not that far away from the Sun, and never will be from our viewpoint.

Venus, on the other hand, is diving toward the morning sky like a bat out of hell. Given the surface conditions on Venus, “hell” is a perfectly good description.

But for that couple of minutes they’re still high enough to be above the trees and hills, but it’s just barely dark enough to let them shine through.

Wait a day. It will change again.

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