April 2009 Archives

Unraveling

Digby today:

All day I've been seeing torture apologists all over TV frantically trying to block this particular line of inquiry. They know that it's potentially the most explosive revelation of all. If the White House ordered torture to try to get the prisoners to falsely confess to links between al Qaeda and Iraq ... well all bets are off.

I have to say that even in all my cynicism about the Cheney gang, this didn't occur to me, but now it seems obvious. They used torture techniques that were specifically designed to get false confessions after all. Is it really reasonable to believe they did that by accident?

We all sort of suspected that the misdeeds of the Bush administration would gradually come out under a new government, but I've actually been rather surprised at how quickly things seem to be unraveling for the Bush crew. While it's pretty clear that Obama really wants no part of the "looking backwards" that reestablishing the rule of law is going to entail, it would also appear that he is content to stand back and let the law reassert itself, and given the magnitude of the crimes involved that might just be enough.

I alluded to the prospect of false confessions a couple of years ago, but I have to agree that even I'm not cynical enough to have suspected that that was the point of this whole affair. Let the war crimes trials begin.

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Sunset from the Ft. Sumner airport.

Crying Air

Apropos of my previous post, Connor asks what the wind farm sounds like. There are several components, in fact. The wind, you expect of course, rustling at several tens of miles per hour over rocks and grass and whatnot. The low rhythmic pounding of the turbine blades isn't especially surprising, either, like distant waves or heavy machinery. Most remarkable, on top of all that, is the sibilant hiss from the blade tips as they rip a jagged gash through the air at an appreciable fraction of the speed of sound. It sounded something like this:

Into the wild

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barnowl.jpg
This barn owl apparently lives in the rafters of one of the capacious hangers at the airport here.

So I guess it's been about a week since my last post, and I have to say, I'd almost forgotten just how awesome the desert smells when it rains. But I found out, since as it happens, the two best ways to make it rain in a desert are to go camping in a leaky tent or to try and test a star camera. I knew about the first one from extensive first-hand experience, but the second one came as news, as the star camera gang had barely cracked the highbay doors to point the camera outside when the skies clouded over. Then it proceeded to drizzle and hail for half a week. The rest of the time, it has looked a bit like the photo below, clear but dusty.

Overall, I'd say we're making good progress in putting the experiment together. We now have a gondola -- the structure that hangs below the balloon, visible in the lab panorama from a couple of posts back -- able to hang from our gantry crane and point itself where you tell it. Although there are glitches, of course. The magnetometers (i.e. glorified compasses) in particular caused some difficulty, until we discovered that the highbay floor seems to be magnetic. Cute!

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Cholla seems to be the dominant cactus variety out on the airfield and the surrounding ranchland.

I'm not really going to go into a full narrative of our experimental progress here, though -- for that sort of coverage, you should really be reading Asad's wonderfully detailed blog.

While photography is also a major feature of his effort, we definitely have different photographic styles.

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Our major excursion into ranchland so far has been to see the wind farm up close. Up close, the turbines are even more colossal than you'd think from seeing them on the horizon ten miles away. And I cannot get over that sound.

Closing Day, Imaginary Technology

So it's a bit after midnight and at this point I'm mostly still in the lab out of solidarity with the cryostat gang. Today we set out on the final push to get the cryostat closed up, optics and detectors safely inside. By one estimate, we'd be done by 3 pm and then we'd all head to the lake or some such. Ah, optimism.

For the past couple of days I've had no flight computer to program, as two of them are sitting in an electronics crate that isn't quite reassembled yet, and a third is somewhere in transit. Fortunately (?) there are plenty of other entertaining problems to keep me occupied, most visibly including a mess of flaky networking hardware that occasionally leads to concerted cries of "Where have the intertubez gone!?" But I also stumbled into an interesting side project out of sheer frustration that nobody had done it yet -- a web-based detector visualization. Gave me a chance to finally sit down and learn the more advanced features of Javascript. I'd known for a while that, since the last time I did any real web development, it had matured into an actually useful language, and that people are happily writing applications with it these days (c.f. Google). So that was a bit of fun.

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I found this image unaccountably adorable -- on one of our windy days, in the midst of 60-ish mph gusts, this big old tumbleweed got tired of tumbling and drifted up under our makeshift picnic table to hide from the wind.
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The guts of our instrument suspended some twenty feet off the ground as we prepare to lower it into our cryostat. While it does represent an enormous number of sunk dollars and man-hours, there are actual valid scientific reasons for it to be gold-plated.
So who else knew there were whole abandoned steam locomotives bricked away in the unused tunnels beneath Brooklyn? It's a neat image, anyway, and I hope the fellow gets a change to do his excavation.

On a related note: steam octopod. The inside of that artist's head would seem to be an interesting place. Ditto PZ Myers' head, it would seem.

Speaking of technology-that-never-was ... cold fusion! Still not dead yet, again. Although the article doesn't mention the recent bubble fusion fiasco, it's an entertaining read as well as a fair overview of the state of play.

More recently, a particular piece of technology that probably won't be -- the CLOVER experiment has been defunded. While it was in some sense a competitor to my own group's EBEX project, it's heartbreaking to see so much good work go down the drain. The instrument, as I understand it, was nearly built and was just months from deployment to Chile.

And finally, while not in keeping with this post's theme, I would be remiss not to at least mention marriage equality coming to Iowa. Excellent news for Iowa, of course, but hopefully also a catalyst to get things moving elsewhere in the Midwest. It was decidedly disappointing for us Minnesotans to see a number of good measures along these lines die in committee in St. Paul this year.

P.S. I actually finished this post from the kitchen table of our rented house at 2 am or so. I got a lovely chance to cool my heels for a bit and admire the dark night sky here when, shortly after being dropped off, I discovered that Jeff still had my keys from when he had borrowed them at lunchtime. Nice of him to take a break to return them, since at the rate the closing is going, they may be there until sunrise.

Our insomniac rooster has already started crowing.

More Photos

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There is now a Minnesota House in Ft. Sumner. Asad, Jeff, and I moved out of the motel yesterday into a house just outside of town that we'll be renting for the duration. Unlike the previous houses we observed, it is clean and altogether not depressing. It has such a fully functional kitchen that we threw a housewarming dinner party right away. Unfortunately it has no internet access yet -- that will hopefully be fixed by the end of the week. Have I mentioned that the locals are ridiculously accommodating of us "NASA folks," as we're called?

By request, here's a wide-angle view of the highbay where I'm spending my days. More in-depth blogging will resume when I have a network connection from elsewhere than the lab.

highbay-march27.jpg
The Ft. Nevis highbay, framed by the gantry crane, with our partially assembled gondola in centerstage.

If you're interested in a more voluminous photostream, our postdoc Asad has been updating his Picasa galleries daily. Sadly, his camera is nicer than mine.

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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