Monday, September 26, 2011

"Google Junior" - How Long Before Google Smites this?

Ran into this site advertised on Facebook today.  It's a Google ripoff in every way: cops the classic Google look, uses Google Custom Search.  And it doesn't appear to achieve its goal of being child proof.  (Then again, I once heard that a packaging prof at Michigan State tested child proof packaging, and found that off all age groups, children were best at opening child proof packaging.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

When My Mom Was Certain Skylab Would Fall to Earth and Hit Me

My friend Don Richter pinged me today about how my mother feared that America's first space station would smite me.

My dad was a NASA engineer.  He did important work testing the Saturn V rocket, but I think the proudest part of his career was working with others on the design of Skylab, the first space station.  He got to work with astronauts, including Alan Bean, who was the 4th man on the moon.  I met Bean at a Star Trek convention (first time real astronauts met actors) and I mentioned that my dad worked with him.  Bean said “Herb Wiggins! He was one of the finest engineers I ever worked with.”

Years before, NASA announced that Skylab would decay in orbit and parts of it would hit the Earth.  My mother had become something of a fatalist, having lost her middle son to muscular dystrophy.  She somehow convinced herself that Skylab would somehow find its way to crash on me, a college student at Michigan State, as some sort of cosmic revenge for offenses unknown.

My mother was an intelligent, educated woman.  Yet she got this idea in her head that Skylab would land on me.

So Dad got someone in NASA involved in tracking the orbits of space junk to call my mother and calm her down.  I still think until the event was over she thought Skylab would smite me.  Jee, I was a pretty good kid…  She had a sense of fatalism after losing a son.  I’ve read that’s common.

The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) is now dead in space and falling in a trajectory that NASA seems unable to predict.  NASA says the odds that any debris will hit a person on Earth are 1 in 3200, and the odds that it might hit any specific human are in the trillions.

Skylab was the size of a bus.  UARS is the same.  The size of the Earth, the amount of water compared to land mass, all are as they say - astronomical.  Yet there are mothers right now sure that satellite or its pieces will land on their children.

A footnote: one day I was going to head out to play pinball with a friend, a grad student.  I needed to go to change sheets, a weekly college ritual.  I had a poster of Skylab taped to my wall.  My friend heard Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News deliver the news that Skylab would fall soon.  When I got back to my room Rick told me Skylab was falling.  I asked him why he didn't just put it back up.  Took a while to disentangle the puzzlement.