Archives For April 2016

ubuntu 16.04 with cat

April 28, 2016


I know I’ve written how I’m pretty much into using my Apple MBP as my primary driver. Which has meant that the old Samsung R580 running Ubuntu 15.10 has been sitting, forlorn and ignored in its bag. I hate wasting anything, especially a working computer, even the R580.

So I pulled the R580 out of its bag and updated its 15.10 installation. And then, on a whim, I ran the updater a second time and got the notice to upgrade to 16.04. I figured why not? After about an hour of downloads and installs, the R580 rebooted into 16.04. And following that whim, I downloaded the Vivaldi Browser 1.1 Debian package and installed it as well. Easy peasy using dpkg.

Since before its official 1.0 release Vivaldi had become my BFF browser, surpassing every other browser I’ve used (Firefox, Chrome, Opera, IE and Edge) across all my computers. And just like on Windows 10 and Mac OS X, it’s blazing fast. And I just like the way it works. Even the Gingersnaps, especially Luke, likes it. He’s also something of an Ubuntu fan cat, which is why he’s sitting next to the R580 above.

I don’t know that I’ll dust off the R580 and start using it again like I have in the past. But for the record, I am extremely impressed that the R580 is still usable, and that Ubuntu 16.04 runs on it without any issues that I can see. Even though the R580 was purchased in 2011 with Windows 7 installed, it’s run Ubuntu as long as it’s run Windows, and run Ubuntu with a lot less drama (Ubuntu went on when Windows 7 corrupted itself). For the record this is the last version of Ubuntu Long Term Support I’ll install on the R580. I know I said that with the last LTS (14.04) and when the next Ubuntu release (14.10) came out it went on over 14.04. But I have a sneaking suspicion I’ve pushed my luck with this machine and upgraded Ubuntu as far as I reasonably aught to. It’s still usable and from my brief tour of 16.04, it’s as polished a Linux distro as you could ever want. And Vivaldi is as polished a browser as you could ever want. Especially if you want a Linux computer.

The last post got me thinking a lot about energy, especially how we use it, and as a consequence, how dependent we are upon energy. So I put together this really simple flow chart that shows four general steps used in our civilization to go from raw material to final product. This is a very broad generality, as every specific example is a variation on this. For example petroleum production combines refining and manufacturing into one step, producing products such as diesel and gasoline (among other products). For something like an automobile that uses gas or diesel fuels, it will take many refined products to manufacture a final product (the automobile), which will then consume the petroleum product (the energy) producing waste (exhaust primarily).

And therein lies a fundamental problem of going into space. Our current civilization is totally dependent upon the profligate use of energy in order to transform raw materials extracted from the Earth and transformed into items we can use. There’s even additional steps in this basic flow, logistics, which consists of transportation and the energy required to move any of this “stuff” around and storage to hold it all until it’s finally used. Whatever we do, it requires some sort of material input, mixed with energy that produces a transformation as well as waste byproducts. It’s bad enough on Earth. But in space it’s an even worse waste. Consider that the ISS uses the resupply cargo ships as garbage incinerators. After pulling the new material out of the cargo ship, all waste is put back into the emptied ship, then allowed to undock and plummet back to Earth, where it’s incinerated. All that trash literally gets dumped back to Earth, usually over a lot of heads as finely burnt ash due to re-entry.

Going into space means more than just building the ships to get us there and the habitats to live there. It means a fundamental re-think of how we live off the universe. Because the way we do it now is fundamentally unsustainable, either on Earth, and especially off.

Over a year ago (November 2014) I wrote “personal moon shot – designing a personal spaceship to leave earth.” An awful lot has occurred since then, both personally and in the space industry itself. In particular were the launch failures of the Cygnus CRS Orb-3 ISS resupply and the crash of VSS Enterprise (with loss of life) in October 2014, followed the next year by the loss of Roscomos’ Progress 59 ISS resupply mission in early May, followed by SpaceX’s CRS-7 ISS resupply mission failure in late June 2015.

Space, in other words, is very, very hard. And its failures are heightened even more so because of the string of successes that lull us into a false sense of invincibility. The companies that do this already have incredible intellectual breadth and depth as well as a vast institutional knowledge built up over years of operation. Yet let your attention to detail waver just a little and you invite disaster. Who do this? Because when you succeed at space flight and space exploration, the rewards are immense and incredibly consciousness expanding in a very good way. Even for those of us on Earth doing this vicariously.

Which makes my little ramblings about building a personal spaceship appear even more ludicrous. But you never know until you at least investigate, and I have the history of space flight to imbue me with considerable humility.

Oddly enough, it was the success of this past Friday’s SpaceX launch and Falcon 9 first stage landing that re-invigorated my investigations. I’ve been wanting to go back and get re-organized and going again, and here was the perfect event to kick things off.

I’m using OmniGrapple to do my system diagrams instead of Visio. If you look at the high-level diagram from the first post it’s all over the place with oddball arrows connecting the various systems. This time I reorganized the diagram a bit, with easier to follow symmetry, and eliminated the arrows. I also want to stress that this is high level. As I progress in this exercise those high level systems may be changed, and in particular, we will be decomposing downward over time. As for dependencies, we’ll do that later.


Energy is one of those oh-so obvious needs, but one that’s always glossed over when talking about space flight and space craft. I’m always amused by the large and complex space craft in science fiction, especially on TV and in the movies. You see these huge artificial structures being driven across space with magical engines to faster-than-light speeds. And then there are the sybaritic living conditions on board these space craft. All of this demands vastly huge amounts of energy. Star Trek got away with powering the Enterprise with anti-matter, being deliberately vague on the details (along with those damnable dilithium crystals). So what exactly would a notional energy budget look like for a space craft built with more conventional technology? What would it involve?

  • Kinetic energy. This is the energy required to lift the total spacecraft (craft, crew, fuel, and supplies) off the surface of the Earth, allow for transfers from Earth to a destination, such as the Moon, landing on said destination, then lifting off again and returning to Earth, where whatever is left lands back on Earth. Always remember we have to deal with Newton’s First Law of Motion. Getting going is only half the problem. You have to slow down in a controlled fashion, and no, simply slamming into your destination is not an option, due to the consequences of rapid unscheduled disassembly.
  • Motive energy. This is the energy locked up in the space craft propulsive systems. I call it motive energy because it could be composed of many types propulsion systems. This is the energy used to satisfy the overall kinetic energy needs in the first bullet.
  • Operational energy. This is the energy needed to operate the space ship itself. Electricity of some form comes to mind as that’s what is needed to power all the onboard computer systems as well as the electrical control systems and life support. Without operational energy the space ship is a lifeless unresponsive hulk, and you wind up dead very quickly.
  • Thermal energy. This is a byproduct of the use of the first three bullets, as well as the thermal energy constantly coming from the Sun above the Earth’s atmosphere and bathing the spacecraft. That energy must be controlled, or else, once again, you wind up dead due to too much heat (Skylab had this issue) or too little heat (Apollo 13 had this issue). While it’s obviously important to maintain a comfortable temperature for the living passengers, complex computer systems also have their operational temperature limits. So you’re going to have to figure out how to manage heat by removing it from where it isn’t needed, to where it is, and somehow dumping the rest away from the spacecraft.

The next post will be about life support, specifically supporting humans in space. We’ll talk about daily fundamental needs and begin to look at how much is needed over time. It’s a logistical issue that the International Space Station has had to deal with on a large scale since Expedition 1 in November 2000.


April 9, 2016

On the alert for squirrels

Annie has been with us since late June of last year. She turned a year old on Valentine’s day. She’s still a long, lean dog, and she stands taller than Ruby. She’s grown into her big paws and legs, and looks more like an adult than a big puppy.

She’s still behaving like a puppy, especially her jumping. But we seem to be getting a handle on that, and it’s as much about training us, her owners, as training her to respond to our “no don’t jump” command. So we’re working on the finer points of doodle-human communications, and it’s beginning to work. I carry a bag of treats around in my pocket to reward her when she’s good, and I’m now beginning to hold off rewarding her every time.

There’s nothing wrong with Annie. She’s a good, sweet creature who wants more than anything to please us. When she jumps it’s out of enthusiasm and a love for us, not out of meanness. She just doesn’t understand. To be truthful I love the full out enthusiasm she displays. When she starts running, for example, her first move is a little leap into the year, followed by full-out running. And that energy and drive has re-invigorated Ruby. They play together for long and intense periods, and they are now truly bonded as a pair. Annie has given Ruby a second lease on life, and I’m truly grateful for that.

You walk a delicate line when you complain about a dog. You need to consider all of a dog’s aspects, not just the one that might annoy you. And when you do complain about a dog, remember that while a dog might be intelligent, it’s a doggish intelligence. You, the person, have he necessary brain processing to figure out what’s wrong and then fix it.

Annie has been a love as well as a challenge, with the love winning out overwhelmingly over the challenge. Annie makes life with her interesting and enjoyable.

brotherly love

April 9, 2016

The Florida Gingersnaps are now all of six months old. They to the vet yesterday in tow with Annie, Ruby, and Ellipse. All they needed was a weighing and a nail trim. Beau (on top) is eight pounds while Luke (on bottom) is eight-and-a-half pounds. They still stalk and chase one another around the house and they both come up to me for rubs and attention. And when they’re resting they’re more likely than not to be resting together, just like they have from the time they were born.

I’m coming up on the one year anniversary of Max’s and Lucy’s passing. I’m more attuned than ever to the cats and the dogs it seems. And I’m more sensitive to the passing of time. Every second gone is a second never to be re-experienced, so make each one count. There’ll come a time when I’ll be bidding them goodbye for the last time to balance the moment when I first laid eyes on them in Gainesville back in October. It’s only with the dogs I’ve had such a complete life arch, and Ruby is the last. Annie came to live with us when she was four months; I saw Ruby for the first time while she was still in the whelping box, a week after she was born.

And then I think of both of my girls who have truly scattered from the home. Gainesville is not that far from Orlando, but Denver, now that’s a bit of a trek. I’m pleased to report that both girls call and text on a regular basis. I know they have their own lives, but I’m always flattered when they take out time to check up on their dad.

Back to the boys… I’ve never known of a cat, let alone two like these, that are as loving as the Gingersnaps. They remind me how all of them are such little miracles of life.