Exploration Flight Test 1 was the first test launch for Orion*, NASA’s next deep space exploration capsule. After a day of delays from exclusion zone boat incursions and stiff fuel valves, the mission launched on December 5th aboard a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Continue reading EFT-1

Stained Glass Sunlight

Winter afternoon sun shining through stained glass windows, First Baptist DC

Since I’m in the First Baptist DC choir, the day of Christmas Candlelight Carols are an all-day event for me, from morning rehearsals and worship service to more rehearsals in the afternoon, to the Candlelight Carol service itself. During a break in rehearsals I noticed the sun shining through the famous stained glass windows and casting colorful light on the sanctuary pillars; quickly I took out my phone and snapped a photo. Seconds later a cloud had covered the sun and the light was gone.



Lola (Tagalog for “grandmother”) was actually more of a step-Lola, my paternal grandfather’s second wife after his first passed. I have vivid childhood memories of Sunday mornings in their old house, watching morning Mass on TV, and she would bring pan de sal around Communion time. We were never really very close, but she was the only grandmother I knew, and my last remaining grandparent.

Lola died early this week, peacefully, in her sleep. We’ll remember her.

Thanksgiving Weekend 2014

Spent the Thanksgiving long weekend up in New Jersey with Amy’s folks.

"Uniquely New Jersey" board game

There was turkey, of course. I also learned about how olives and celery as traditional American Thanksgiving fare. (You can see it on the plate at upper right.)

Roast turkey, Thanksgiving 2014
Thanksgiving dinner

On Saturday we ran up to New York City for a bit to see El Greco at The Frick and the Metropolitan Museum (having already seen his anniversary exhibit at the National Gallery). At the Frick we also viewed some masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery, and at the Met we lingered for a bit over ancient Assyrian reliefs from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal II.

Moody subway scene, 68th St Station
At the Frick Collection
Temple of Ashurnasirpal, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thanksgiving is over, now Christmas is coming.

First Baptist Church Westfield NJ Christmas Decor

More photos from the weekend.

Comet Landing

And now some good space news after the bad: a robotic comet landing by Philae, companion spacecraft to ESA’s comet probe Rosetta. I’m a big fan of their “Once Upon a Time” series of cartoons which do a lot to humanize the mission and make the probes more relatable to kids:

Philae bounced a few times before coming to rest on its side in a shadowed spot that blocked a lot of light from reaching its solar arrays, but the plucky little robot still managed to complete its primary science objectives, send back the first dim images taken from the surface of a comet, AND record the sound of its touchdown.

First comet panoramic

More amazing photos of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from ESA’s Rosetta probe.

SpaceShipTwo Crash

Bad time for commercial spaceflight a couple weeks ago. First there was the Antares explosion, then the SpaceShipTwo crash.

Virgin Galactic was going to be it: a pioneering commercial space tourism company offering air-launched suborbital hops into space for wealthy celebrity passengers. (Not that I’d ever have been able to afford the $250,000 ticket for a flight.) After the successful X-Prize flights of SpaceshipOne, it was supposed to be the dawning of a new age of commercial space. It hasn’t happened.

And then, disaster, as a feathering problem caused SpaceShipTwo to disintegrate early in a test flight, killing the copilot and injuring the pilot who managed to parachute to safety. Combined with the deadly Scaled Composites tank test explosion in 2007, incidents like these make me despair of safe commercial passenger spaceflight going mainstream anytime soon. Adam Rogers of Wired thinks risks like these aren’t worth a space tourism venture aimed at the wealthy. David Portree is even harsher, dismissing space tourism as a probable failure.

I want to go into space some day, and I’d like to still be hopeful about space tourism, but if Virgin Galactic is our most promising opportunity, there’s a long way to go still.

iPad mini 2

Two years after I got my wifi iPad mini in Norfolk, I’ve occasionally been running up against the limitations of its older hardware and lack of cellular data. Essentially the iPad mini is a smaller iPad 2, with the same A5 processor and only incremental upgrades from the iPad 2’s system. While that’s continued to mostly suffice for my portable computing needs — as long as I don’t open too many tabs in Safari or play Infinity Blade for too long — I’ve been wanting a little more processing power with cellular data for travel. Tethering with my iPhone has proven horribly unreliable, and I want to get prepaid cellular data on another network from my mobile phone plan to provide backup data access on a network with better coverage.

iPad 2 and iPad mini

I planned to wait and see if Apple’s next iPad mini would offer improvements over their Retina model — and was sorely disappointed when the Oct 2014 keynote introduced an iPad mini with TouchID and ApplePay, but not even a spec bump. It seems Apple would rather focus on larger devices first, treating the Mini line as an afterthought. While I do want TouchID, I don’t want it badly enough to pay over $100 extra for just that on the same hardware as last year.

Apple iPad model comparisons.

So I hit Craigslist instead, and found a seller with a lightly used 32GB Cellular Retina iPad mini 2 for $360, pretty cheap, with 2 years of Applecare still left on it. Good deal on a good device, with Verizon LTE for mobile data. One catch: the nano SIM for the prepaid mobile plan was deactivated, and Verizon makes it very difficult, even impossible, to replace the SIM in-store if you want to stay prepaid. Store rep in DC flat out told me that he’s not allowed to sell new SIMs to customers without a new device or postpaid plan, so I ended up going to a third-party mobile seller on eBay for an unactivated Verizon nano SIM. Once inserted, however, setting up prepaid was quick and straightforward.

iPad mini 2 (retina)

I’ve wrapped it in the same backshell and smart cover as the old iPad mini, and topped the screen with a cheap but clear “Gtopin” tempered glass shield. It’s mostly an incremental upgrade with a year-old device, and that’s at least another year or two that I’ll be tapping in a PIN rather than scanning a fingerprint, but I paid about half the price of a matching* brand new iPad mini 3 with Applecare, so I’m happy and this will do for now.

* Price point matching for second level storage, anyway. Somewhat annoyed at the jump from 32GB to 64GB for next step above base.

Batteries and Geniuses

It’s a bit outdated as of iOS 8, but here’s an actual Apple Store Genius’s guide to improving battery life on your iPhone or iPad. Most useful tip has been to turn off Location Services and Background App Refresh for the Facebook app, which not only slowed battery drain but actually caused the battery percentage to jump.

Of course there’s also the official Apple guide to maximizing battery performance.

And if you were interested in the life of an Apple genius at all, there’s McSweeney’s Retail Therapy: Inside the Apple Store series, and words store staff can’t say to customers.