Category Archives: Uncategorized

Airport Security – A True Story

I recently had occasion to “check out” the new airport security scanning techniques while the TSA checked me out. And in the process found myself embarrassed, humiliated, threatened, and my privacy invaded.

I was traveling home from Penguicon in Troy, MI when I encountered the new “nude” scanners in the Detroit Airport. Images posted at the scanners plainly depicted the full extent of the scanners’ capabilities: Unlike the television images, which were blocked out, it turns out, to MAINTAIN TELEVISION CENSOR STANDARDS, the scanner depicts EVERYTHING – buttocks, breasts, and genitals. The only thing it does not depict is the face of the “scannee.” My alternative was an invasive, full-body pat-down. When I protested that this was a gross invasion of privacy, I was told that I “would not be flying, then.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, I had major surgery (as in removing a 25lb, 4-6L cyst from my abdomen) last August, and only a couple of months ago got the go-ahead to exercise at all, let alone fly. I have a full-abdominal incision scar that runs from my pubic bone up to only a couple of inches from my sternum. It is not pretty, and involves staple and large suture scars in addition to the incision scar. Because I could not use my abs or obliques for fully 6 months, and because the scarring is prone to forming keloids, I often wear a body wrap akin to the commercial “Spanx” products. This not only keeps the scar tissue relatively flat, it supports my back in its efforts to stabilize my torso. Had I not had this wrap, my back would have gone out months ago and I would be invalided. As it is, my back is chronically in pain.

But the wearing of this wrap also makes it difficult to keep my jeans up. My body is still changing shape as swelling, etc. decreases, and the wrap is made of slick lycra material. Belts are a necessity, but I usually wear woven cotton belts – which I did this day. Minimal bulk, minimal hardware.

So I stripped off jewelry, pocket contents, wristwatch, shoes, and cell phone, dumping them all into a tub with my carry-on. I stepped into the “nude” scanner (having been given no other choice to get home) and “assumed the position.” (Yes, the position for scanning is the same as the one assumed when being placed under arrest – spread-eagled, hands in the air.) The scan took place, I stepped out…

…And was promptly detained.

I had to take off my belt. Scanned down to skin, but they took objection to my belt. My COTTON belt. I explained that I had had surgery and needed it to keep from losing my jeans, but it didn’t matter. I was taken into a small room off the screening area, where two women in latex gloves stood and watched while I raised my shirt and removed my belt. One patted down the belt while another patted down my midsection. Finding nothing, of course.

THEN came the coup de grace.

“What’s this?” the woman patting me down asked, tugging at my wrap.

“My surgical wrap.”

“Does it come off? Is it down in your pants?”

“It comes off, but it goes down in my pants and it’s difficult to remove.”

“Let me see, please.”

I was forced to unfasten my jeans, dig the bottom of the wrap out, and raise it up, openly displaying my badly scarred abdomen TO PROVE I WAS TELLING THE TRUTH. There was no chance that such a form-fitting garment could be concealing anything, but my privacy was invaded just the same, to prove some sort of point which I couldn’t see.

Before I could get myself fully dressed again, the TSA agent who’d patted me down opened the door into the main area and walked out, calling back, “I have to go have the gloves checked. Keep her.”

Once I was covered, I was led back through the still-open door by the 2nd TSA agent into the main security screening area, where I was held – still without shoes, jewelry, cell, etc – until the first TSA agent could have her latex gloves screened for contraband chemicals.

Only when that was okayed was I allowed to complete dressing and leave for my concourse.

Never before have I been submitted to a body search DOWN TO THE SKIN by anyone who was not a doctor. And then, only with my consent. I find this to be a serious violation of my rights as an American and as a human being. As a scientist and former reserve police officer, I can say that this is not a reasonable, efficient method of security screening – and it is sliding down a steep, slippery slope toward the abrogation of our rights and freedoms.

(Also posted at the author’s home blog at

Its Alive!

Yes, the lovely quote from our mentor and role model, Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein.

There were tornadoes in Huntsville, alabama. Not to get specific, but in what I would call “easy driving range,”  people lost their lives. Luckily for me and my friends, none of them were in the body count. But, too many close calls for words. One of my co-workers lives in Arab, which had many casulaties. My boss’ neighbor had a tree take out part of their house. I only lost an apple tree. (First one I planted at this house, it really hurt to cut it down.) One of my fences needs a new top-rail from branches. I did a lot of clean up and burning of rubbish around the house. I lived on propane lights and a propane burner for several days. Oh, and lots of candles. LOTS of candles. Thanks to Nancy and William for the use of their freezer. Thanks to Carlos, Mitch, and Daryl for their help as well.

For me, it was a good week. I couldn’t work, so I put in a garden for the wife and hung out reading a lot. I have some book reviews in the near future. Also reviewed a lot of beer. I had a lot of free time.

I hope everyone is well, please contact me if you haven’t lately, it would just be nice to know everyone is ok.

Sunrise Viewing to the East

Looks like a reason to get up before the sun, besides running my kids out of bed, is to look East, where the planets will be aligned to the naked eye. Now, at this time of year, it turns out Mars isn’t very visible, and Mercury isn’t at its best. Still, with  a pair of binoculars you ought to pick out all four, brighter than any stars which can show up.  Now, this isn’t the “near mystical” alignment of planets which normally causes a big thrill in the alternative media. To see planets at dawn, they need to be ahead of us in their orbits.  Jupiter this close to the sun? It is nearly on the opposite side of the sun from us, about as far away as it can get. Venus may be around 90 degrees ahead of us, and Mars around 120. A dark Mercury? This means that it is as close to us as it can get, barely out of the Sun.

So, the alignment is only that which appears to the eye, not the scientist. But still, a good effect. I will call it a good omen and then simply assume that I can apply it (as a mystic prediction)  to the next good thing to occur. Works for the ancients. Man, I am practically a prophet. Eh?

My tarot prediction is that you should play the nine of cups on the ten of swords… maybe I shouldn’t quit my day job.

Radioactive Pigs – and Fear Mongering by the Media

In Germany, some pigs ate some cesium which had come from Chernobyl. Apparently, not in any way dangerous to the pigs. Secondly, some hunters killed some pigs. The authorities, who admit the levels aren’t dangerous, have decided that some of the pigs reach a level at which the meat must be destroyed, not eaten.

FILE --- In this Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2010 file ...

Germany’s radioactive boars a legacy of Chernobyl

The story should be, “German authorities, to prove they are bought and paid for by environment groups, decided to punish hunters with a rule that makes no sense.” They then follow this with some statements which show lack of knowledge on what 1/2 life means, among other things.

“The contamination won’t go away any time soon — with cesium’s half-life being roughly 30 years, the radioactivity will only slightly decrease in the coming years.”

Umm, what do you mean by that statement? The cesium will decrease more than 10% over the next 5 years. It is already at safe levels. Over 30 years, the problem will be 1/2 as much as today. Sounds like a long time, but really, this month we are 25 years since the accident. No real huge crisis remains.

You would have to eat several pounds of pork to double your annual dose. not a significant number. Ok, probably living on radioactive pork could get you 10% your annual dose, which could reach actual notice. Frankly, it takes close to x100 your standard annual dose to achieve a real radiation dose. SO, eating 600 lbs of radioactive pork a year – bad idea. (um, if you are already eating more than 100 lbs of pork in a year, you probably have other health issues, but the cesium wouldn’t help.)

The criminal act is the authorities deciding an arbitrarily small number for their radiation allowance.

Ahh, and they have been pinged for it. Turns out that the EU standard is 12,500 Beq/kg. 20 times as high.

The magazine “New Scientist” thought that the levels were crazy back in 1987. It effectively excluded many mushrooms and nuts grown outside of Germany. It was deemed anti-trade and removed…but only from external trade. Apparently they (who is they? some damn bureaucrat?)  decided to use the rule internally.  Why?  I expect it is simply to raise awareness about how terrible Chernobyl was, at a time when Germany is thinking of restarting its reactors.

Next Week & Friday Funnies

Next week I’ll be attending a conference in Orlando Florida. (Yeah, Fields of Green has a location for em…. stuff I can’t talk about here.) Damn shame, really, as conferences are where I get all my best material. I have TONS of material from HEART conferences…but I can’t share it on the internet. Heck, the FBI speech last year would have been a week of posts. Hilarious.

Ok, so my highlights this year are … wearing a kilt to the Mickey Mouse club, and buying hats with ears. I’m looking for a million dollars, so if you see it laying around, just give me a hint. I’ll also visit some Trimaran friends and drink too much.

I have invited Stephanie Osborn to blog here. She wrote “Burnout” and other novels. Of the two of us, I’m the cute one, she’s the famous one. *heh* Ok, she probably wins both categories.

Call me if you are in Mouse Land, or email me, or whatever. I’ll try to post occasionally.

Something for fun: Read XKCD

Fairy Tales


What is Up?

Hey Folks, Just want to clue in why my posting is worse than usual.

1) Just finished with Gulf Wars. Gulf Wars is a huge SCA event, lots of fighting, lots of playing around in armor, medieval clothing, etc. I am spending my evenings doing laundry and healing.

2) I have a huge presentation in Orlando next week for the HEART conference. This is a weapons-level radiation effects conference, so lots of stuff to work on. Very important to my budget that I don’t screw this up. (So I have stayed busy at work.)

3) I just got a writing request from a guy doing a Gamma World setting. He wants an SCA society in the South East, people, places, etc. Its running 30 – 40 years in the future, so few of us are in on it, but who would be, what kind of world would it be? very interesting future-fiction writing. I may think some out loud on here sometimes. (If you want to give me some ideas, feel free to post them here or email me.)

I good friend of mine, Edward Foust, took a million pictures. He has them on facebook, but they are his and I don’t want to steal his *heh* fire. I could get into the armor, the fighting, the pagentry. But hanging out at night, with a beer, around the campfire. This was one of my favorite parts. Carlos, Vlad, and Edward (the photographer) don’t show up in this photo. But basically this is our nightly firepit. Very nice. I don’t think you can actually recognize anyone from this photo… unless you already know what we are wearing and who smokes cigars. I wish I could invite everyone who reads this out to Gulf Wars (ok, Pepper, you were there.) I’ll invite you back to the firepit when your knee is a bit less swolen. I’ll try to remember to post a picture of my own someday.

Fairing Failure at NASA

The satellite in this picture is at the top of the rocket. Inside the cone shaped piece at the end. The rest of the can – with Taurus printed on the side – is the secondary booster. SO, the big candle, with NASA printed on the side, kicks the end can to about 400 miles up. Now, it is pretty much out of the atmosphere before it hits 100 miles. (Heck, it is pretty much out of atmosphere at 10 miles, but when you are moving around 7 kilometers per second, even a wisp of air is about like a brick wall.) So the can on top of the candle keeps the fairing on until it is out of the atmosphere. Then it pops the top and loses a few hundred pounds.
Drawing of Payload Fairing
Now, this picture is a different satellite all together, but the big fairing is about half the total weight at the end of the stick.

SO, instead of pushing 1100 lbs to the top of the hill, it had to push more than a ton.

When you plan out a launch like this, you measure out fuel with a teaspoon, you don’t keep an extra 100 gallons on board in case of a fairing problem. Some kid just didn’t get the memo of when the fairing was supposed to blow. Explosive bolts are just about foolproof. The only other things that usually happen is that somebody forgot to arm them, or somebody programmed in the wrong separation time.
(Oh, they didn’t “forget” to arm them, they just didn;’t go through all 10 steps correctly. It only takes a single screw up to have the fairing fail to detach.) Wrong separation time is the real killer.

If somebody got the timing wrong, then the rocket was just going to wait a few more minutes before it popped the fairing. Unfortunately, by then the big stick was out of gas. Ok, so imagine everything works fine till 100 miles. Then it is supposed to blow the fairing and it has enough fuel to get to 400 miles. Well, it doesn’t blow the fairing, so it needs twice as much energy to reach the same height. Now, technically, if it had a nice circular orbit, it could still be hanging around at 300 miles. Unfortunately, it was highly elliptical, so the orbit was 300 miles high on one look, and  hit the atmosphere somewhere over the South Pacific. Dead satellite.

The US does pretty good launching satellites, but we have a failure every year or so. Nothing to get too alarmed at. I guess if I was going to get alarmed, it would be at a waste of budget piece of global warming hunting satellite. If it worked, it wouldn’t be doing much for science. Oh well, NASA’s priorities are frankly crazy. What can I say?

Robot Videos

As you may have guessed, I am a member of IEEE. They do a magazine, Spectrum, which often covers geeks out over robotics. Occasionally (ok, most of the time) they are misled by shiny gadgets. As an example, they went to the Detroit Car show this year and gushed over how popular the electric cars were. (popular to them and the media, I guess) When the general public got to the car show, they avoided the electrics and crowded the newest Ram Monstrosity. (and yes, I want one too.)

Ok, so most of the current crop of robotic innovations may never see a store, but this is part of the “designing a robot that actually works” game. A lot of robots are pretty, but can’t actually do anything. Now they are working on making robots able to interact properly with humans.  For example, a robot can swing around fast enough to take off your head. If it were carrying a sharp object, well, it would be dangerous. So some scientists got to work on collision detection .

Those aren’t terribly impressive, but they do get the point across. Now lets look at how fast a robot with a knife can stop. Yes, a human decides that he should play with the robot to test it.

Long Term Projects

Flashy science gets the big bucks. Alarmist science gets the big bucks. But what does long term research reveal?

1) While Global Warming is the “Hot” new science, I still remember the Ozone Hole. Apparently they believe that we will be able to measure some change in the Ozone hole in 10 years. Should be “back to normal” in 50 years or so.  I am not convinced by any of the science done for Ozone and CFC research. It hasn’t made any verifiable claims, period. When you set the verifiable claims 20 – 30 or even 50 years in the future, you can guarantee that no one is going to be busting YOUR bubble with anything like negative results.

Whether or not it was good science. The political purpose of the CFC science was to ban air-conditioning, which many people believed was an un-necessary evil. They banned air conditioning … we developed new chemicals to get air conditioning, so they are working on banning those as Global Warming chemicals. 

2. Richard Lindzen – Climate Scientist from MIT, has a nice take down of global warming. Purely based on the evidence gathered by climate scientists. They simply refute their own hypothesis. They don’t report their failure to measure AGW, they just go on making things up. (Modeling) Come on, I can make a computer model tell me anything. Don’t try to pretend that your model “shows” you anything.

image for Giant crustaceans terrorize Dover seaport.

3. Researchers discover Giant Crayfish  – This is the true end of the world, giant crayfish eat everything, cutting down trees, cattle, humans. Nearly immune to bullets… oh, not quite that big. I grew up with these fellows in Tennessee, I played in the creek with lobster sized crayfish… apparently scientists haven’t really checked out the bio-diversity of the local population. A lot sexier to travel to Thailand to investigate crayfish than to examine the ones in Tennessee. BAH!

(Hinds cave, apparently at the Hind-end of Texas, where some scientist examines what come out of the hind of … ok, so we are going down hill.)

4. Apparently early Indians ate dogs  –  Which just proves we are all descended from Koreans.  Seriously though, for a second. Who tells their friends that their job is digging through 9,000 year old poop? Um, no.
He probably tells them he works at the lunch counter, uses a shovel, digs ditches.  I would leave poop out of the job description entirely.

5. And lastly, when the US can’t get $5 to build a spaceship. Europe was tricked into buying a satellite system from France. Way over budget, does EXACTLY what your Magellan does, but costs more.  (And doesn’ t work yet.) But its French, so 5.4 billion dollars spent on a duplicate GPS system. wow. Gotta love those Europeans priorities.

Ok, snarky is done for today. I’ll play nice tomorrow.