The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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April 2012



Great shot of the underside of a Saturn V (S-IC first-stage) rocket. For a sense of perspective, I once stood next to one of these laid out horizontally at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville… I estimated that I could not only easily stand inside the rim of one of the nozzles, but jump with my arms outstretched and not come close to touching the other edge of the rim.


There are a few songs in WITTENBERG which Dr. Faustus sings, and I’ve given him the direction to make it as fantastically awful as possible. I want the audience cringing at the memory of every epic-fail kareoke moment they have experienced.

This truly painful version of “O Holy Night” is what I gave him as an example. Listen all the way through… if you can.

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Toward More Bird-Like Flight: Thinking Outside the Box”

A great TEDxNASA talk by someone I’m proud to call my friend and colleague. Al’s talk speaks for itself, so I won’t bother summarizing it here. However, I will add that the ideas in this talk have led to one of the most innovative and exciting things going on at NASA Dryden right now, and I’m not even sure its an official project.

A team of engineers, designers, and machinists, as well as some incoming students from the NASA Aeronautics Academy, are actually going to be building and flying two Horten wing gliders as research-instrumented RPVs here in the high desert. The PDR was yesterday, and what I saw was a design that is smart, lean, and suitable for rapid prototyping.

Al’s approach to project management is Antoine de St. Exupery’s quote personified:

Quand tu veux construire un bateau, ne commence pas par rassembler du bois, couper des planches et distribuer du travail, mais reveille au sein des hommes le desir de la mer grande et large.

(If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.)

It works. Everyone in that room is inspired; rather than needing to be pushed to work, most have to be pulled back from going too crazy. Decisions are enabled at the lowest level that makes sense, and ideas emerge and mesh at the front lines. This is no small matter either… applying these ideas to wing and propulsion design lead to massive practical fuel savings for the whole aviation industry, and Dryden might be the first to push this envelope and grab some flight data. 

At a time when NASA is being criticized for being a lumbering bureaucracy well past it’s prime, it’s so refreshing to see that grassroots and groundbreaking projects can organically form and even thrive at Dryden when the right people are given enough free rein.

You can read Al Bowers’ own perspective on his blog post for Dryden.

Steelhead salmon with lemon, dill, cayenne, rosemary, sage, and a ton of garlic… garnished with tomatoes and baby portabellas. 

This short clip (filtered with a click to look like a Ye Olde Tyme Sylente Filme) actually captures the personality of my friend Mathew pretty accurately. I mean, it doesn’t even need sound.

I ran into Matt today in the parking lot of the Von’s on 40th W, coming out of my dentist appointment. We immediately decided to catch up over some Mexican food. I think it’s great how some friendships just sort of pick up wherever they left off. In no time we were quoting nerdy movies, discussing life and the universe, and speculating on various harebrained schemes. Good times.

Dick Clark is dead

Link: Dick Clark is dead

Initiation of Apocalypse: there can be no New Year without Dick Clark, whose death after living for what seems like an entire Mayan Long Count, creates year-turnover singularity. 

Here’s to an icon whose passing truly does mark the end of an era.

I am a Dominican, hyphen, American. As a fiction writer, I find that the most exciting things happen in the realm of that hyphen — the place where two worlds collide or blend together.

Julia Alvarez

Review of “The Sparrow”

The SparrowThe Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and LOVED it. The style is very interesting… it starts from both ends of a 50 year ish story and works towards the middle (climax) with alternating perspectives. From the description of the book, one might be tempted to think that it is a “Christian” book… after a few pages in, this is what I was expecting. I continued only due to the strong recommendation from a fellow sci-fi geek whose tastes overlap with mine often.

The themes are surprisingly accessible, as long as one is even mildly spiritually inclined even in a vague way. It is really more about how our understanding of the human condition and faith in general could and would change upon contact with another sentient species. The construct of the Jesuit worldview is used as as convenient vehicle for this theme, and adds a very interesting perspective that I normally would not consider.

The science is on the hard end (near term accessible technology and propulsion for example). The culture of the new Jana’ata and the Runi species is laid out with decent rigor, though not with a whole lot of depth or backstory (not necessarily a bad thing, just noting it).

Thumbs way up, a very thought-provoking read and well-written too.

He was always working or laughing or studying, and his intensity and humor made him seem ageless. She knew something of his life, having worked with him, and recognized him as one of her own kind: an eternal beginner, starting over and over in a new place in new circumstances, with new languages, new people, a new commission. They had this in common: the continual rushed confrontation with change, the feeling of being hothoused, forced to bloom early, the exhausting exhilaration of doing the unreasonable not just adequately but well and with grace.

View all my reviews

Somebody is sooo going to mine asteroids…

An impending press release from some new “billionaire-backed space company” has me on edge for the next phase of space colonization and expansion. I doubt they will be going for it as a separate launch company though… maybe. Better bet: SpaceX is cracking their knuckles at the prospect of a new customer for their Falcon 9 Heavy

This adds to a pile of pre-existing excitement regarding asteroids for me. I am not only bouncing to see what gets discovered as NASA’s Dawn mission explores Vesta and (soon) Ceres, but I also recently read Marie Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, in which the protagonists travel to Alpha Centauri via a hollowed-out asteroid. 

AND I am actually poking around with the layout for a potential novel involving asteroid mining and transport. Whew.