Saturday, February 27, 2021

To Infinity, and... well, how about to low earth orbit and beyond?

Space. The final frontier. These are... Ok, these are not the voyages of the starship Enterprise, but rather, the musings of someone who likes space. Personal space, sure, but also space space, the area beyond earth's atmosphere (or even technically still within earth's atmosphere, as while it stretches up to over 6,000 miles above the earth, most of it is within the first 5-9 miles above the earth, and it's difficult to establish exactly where space officially begins, but it's somewhere north of ten miles above the planet's surface).

Space is cool, and I'm not just talking lack of atomic/molecular vibration (temperature). I've always wanted to go to space, although I suppose my acid reflux might not be conducive to staying there, as lack of gravity would aggravate the condition. I say "lack of gravity," but that's not technically accurate. There's plenty of gravity in space; in fact, gravity is what keeps the space station in orbit. If there were no gravity, the space station would simply fly away from the earth, never to return. The perceived lack of gravity of a person on board the space station is actually because the person is in a perpetual state of free-fall. You've heard of the vomit comet, right? The plane that provides a low- to zero-gravity environment for short periods of time? The way that thing works is it goes really high, then arcs down for a period of time, matching its descent to the acceleration of gravity from earth, essentially allowing everything inside to "fall" toward the earth (but without wind resistance, since the cabin is sealed and the air around the occupants is also falling at the same rate). Similarly, the space station, in orbit, is really "falling" toward earth, but in such a high arc and with such speed that it will never land. This falling is what provides the perceived lack of gravity and weightlessness on board the station. If you want to read more, this article does a great job explaining it (and it's amusing, too).

Anyway, no gravity has other detrimental effects on the human body besides increasing acid reflux (because earth's gravity naturally pulls your stomach contents toward your intestines target than allowing it to go back up your esophagus, weightlessness allows the contents to more easily return from their origin up near your head, so a weak lower esophageal sphincter or a hiatal hernia is bad for space travelers). Long term (a relative term, even a few days can cause these effects at a significant rate) low gravity can cause muscle and bone loss, which is why they have training equipment on the international space station. But there's a (potential) solution. Orbital Assembly Corporation plans to build an orbiting space station that includes artificially created low-gravity (plans currently expect to stimulate moon gravity). They plan to do this through in-orbit rotation, such that the outside edges of the station become a floor, and centripetal force pushes you toward that floor. Think of when you are in a car going around a corner really fast, how it pushes you toward the outside of the corner; of you don't have well bolstered seats, you'll end up sliding toward the outside of the car (or, if you're in a car with your brothers, you intentionally add your own force to the centripetal force in order to smash your little brother against the car door). In fact, amusement parks turn these sorts of things into fun and games; think of things like the scrambler. One time at a fair my dad, brother, and I went on one, and my dad sat in the middle to be able to keep hold of both his sons. Unfortunately for my little brother, he was on the outside, and was crushed the whole time by my dad and me! If you ever go on a ride like that, be sure to put yourself on the outside and your children on the inside, unless, of course, you really want to crush the little tykes.

So, back to the space station. They are ambitiously planning development, with assembly slated to begin in 2025. The station will be assembled by a robot in orbit, with another drone robot to provide observation of the process. They'll first build a smaller prototype on the ground to test the assembly process, then another in orbit to test the in-orbit assembly process and feasibility, reliability, and effectiveness of the spinning station artificial low gravity process, and then finally the actual station, which is slated to provide for up to 400 simultaneous occupants, and include things like "themed restaurants, viewing lounges, movie theaters and concert venues to bars, libraries, gyms, and a health spa." In other words, it's not just for scientists and research, although that will be part of its purpose.

I'd really like to go one day. I don't know what it'll cost for a stay, but I'll be sure to make a way for you, my faithful reader, to help finance my visit. Hopefully my heart attack won't be a limiting factor (I'm doing all my cardiac rehab, I promise! And I'll continue to do cardio and even strength training once the cardiac rehab is completed). Maybe we, the LBD faithful, can arrange a group trip once it's operational and open to the public. I can even blog about it. Who's with me?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

24 Hours and LEDs

24 hours cost me $6,400. Because my heart attack was Dec 31, we got to pay the 2020 deductible of $6,400 (much better than the $63,000 the hospital billed for the day plus I was there). Jan 1 that deductible reset, so my cardiac rehab (plus all my doctor visits post heart attack) is on my own dime, to the tune of $126 per visit (that's after the discount; the amount billed is $180). One day of cardiac rehab could pay an entire year of Planet Fitness at the lower $10/month rate. There should be some sort of grace period for this sort of situation, where, because the heart attack was Dec 31 instead of Jan 1, I get hit with twice the deductible instead of once. Insurance is a scam (but I'm glad I don't have to pay the $63k, so there's that).

Now, let's talk LED bulbs. The ones you put in your house. What's your experience with them so far? We have a few in various places throughout our home, and I must say: I think I've replaced more of those due to failure than the good old incandescents. The "super long life" LEDs, in several cases, have failed to last as long as the incandescent bulbs that were installed when our house was built just over a decade ago. And those aren't rarely used incandescents, either; many of the ones still going strong are bathroom and hallway bulbs which probably have more on/off cycles (which heat cycle the filament in the bulb, which I think is the primary cause of failure in those bulbs). So, while the energy cost per hour of usage is much lower for the LEDs, the overall cost per lifespan doesn't work out to the savings promised by the long-life LEDs. Now, perhaps, I've gotten low quality bulbs, or early generation bulbs, but still. Less than overwhelming in terms of the longevity of the LEDs.

Well, I guess that's all for this edition of LBD. Have fun out there, eat well, get your cholesterol checked, exercise, and don't have a heart attack! But if you do, try to plan it better than I did, and have it early in the year rather than the last day of the year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs

While many follow these leading theories of an asteroid wiping out the dinosaurs (over a long period of time), I have a preferred theory that actually explains their much quicker demise. While an asteroid is still the instigating event (likely one from the Oort Cloud, as proposed in this article), the theory that it was due to climate change from the dust and debris cloud that altered the amount of sunlight penetrating the earth's atmosphere, leading to cooler temperatures and widespread impacts to the food chain and eventual collapse of dinosaur society (as the plants died, so did the herbivores, which eat plants and not guys named Herb, then so did the carnivores, which eat meat and not circus festivals). However, while the asteroid did, in fact, cause the atmosphere to become cloudy from dust and debris, and block out the sunlight, the cause of dino-demise was much quicker, and for a different reason, as I will explain.

You see, dinosaurs did not see very well (as I think we all know). So, when the sunlight was blocked and even mid-day was much dimmer, the poor dinosaurs had a hard time finding their food. The herbivores would end up munching on cardboard from Amazon delivery boxes instead of the goodies inside the boxes (ok, it wasn't actually Amazon, but we don't have any of the original delivery boxes from the advanced dinosaur online shopping portal to know its name, and the warehouses similarly are long gone, so I'll just call it "Amazon" since everyone knows that name from today; it was a very similar operation, with pterodactyls finding gainful employment in the shipping department, as drones were not yet invented by the dinosaur scientists). Similarly, as the herbivores went about their daily routines, the carnivores had trouble distinguishing them from each other and from inanimate objects like trees, and most of the carnivores had gluten allergies and really didn't want to take a chance on eating plants.

To combat this newfound darkness, all the dinosaurs had to turn on the lights in their homes and societies around the clock (except for bedtime, of course), in order to better see their next meal. Things seemed to be going well, as the dinosaurs seemed that they would weather this weather with only a mild initial dip in dinosaur population, but there was a problem. There was a dinosaur family that was fearful of "the system" and preferred to live outside of society, way out in the woods, off-grid for the most part. However, the darkness knows no distinction in class, and that poor family was still unable to see its meals well (most of them were herbivores, and it was much easier to get by out in the woods, but they had adopted a cute little T-rex before abandoning dino-society, and that little guy was having trouble distinguishing meals from family and had actually started to chomp on his little brother at one point). So, this dinosaur family needed to turn on the lights, too, but they were way out in the middle of the woods, and their solar panels were not very effective in the asteroid-caused darkening, so they had to fine another way. They plugged in their extinction cord, and the rest is history.

(P.S., this also explains all the fossils that look like they were in the middle of something when they died.)

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Let's Talk Seat Heaters

The first car we ever had with seat heaters is our 2015 Chevy Volt. Now, we don't get much call to use those here in the deep south. However, they're an essential part of the Volt's climate control system when it's cold out, especially when the Volt is running on battery power. 

The Volt's climate control heating system is fairly complex, using whatever waste heat is generated by the electric propulsion system (which isn't much), along with a supplemental heating coil (?) to heat the coolant going to the climate control coils (which heats the air being fed to the cabin). That supplemental heater only comes on when the climate control system is in "comfort" mode (the climate control has three modes: fan only, economy, and comfort; generally speaking, economy works just fine when cooling, unless you really need to cool the car quickly after it's been sitting out in the sun, but even then economy is usually "good enough"). When the car gets to where it's running the gas engine (either you've depleted the battery charge to the point that it enters hybrid mode, or it's cold enough that "engine running due to temperature" is displayed on the dash and it, you know, runs the engine, even though you still have battery charge left), there's a valve that switches to run the engine coolant to the cabin heater heat exchanger. There's a lot of waste heat from an internal combustion engine, and that works the best to heat the cabin.

The seat heaters, when the climate control settings are fully on auto, turn on when it's cold out in order to more quickly warm the body and provide the sense of overall warmth (level 1, 2, or 3 depending on the outside/inside temperature, and changing to lower levels, and then off, automatically over time). The seat heaters are actually more economical to run and more efficient for heating the person than using the supplemental coolant heater. Save battery charge, more quickly warm the person while the supplemental heater and waste propulsion system heat build up warmth to the cabin heat exchanger coolant system. Complicated, but it works.

That said, if you've never experienced heated seats... Wow, that first time. What a sensation! I can't fully explain it, and I'm not really going to try. I can only recommend that you rent a car with a seat heater and turn it on. Or, rather, get someone else to turn it on for you when you're not expecting it. It doesn't take long to get used to it, after which you'll probably love it, especially in cold weather. But, oh, that first time!

We still love our Volt, even when she surprised us with automatic seat heaters for the first time (and now we love those automatic seat heaters, too).

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Another Gap in Posts

Seems I'm not writing like I should. Like I said I would. It's been ten days or so. During those ten days, we've been to the cardiac rehab a bunch (three days per week), visited Whole Foods across the Bay in Mobile (honestly, we weren't terribly impressed), and visited the doctor once (check up with my primary care CRNP; diet, exercise, and Atorvastatin are doing great things for my cholesterol levels!), as well as making plenty of successful and good low sodium/low saturated fat meals (and maybe one or two that could use a little work; ground turkey works well in many things, but isn't the best with beans and rice - not bad, but not the best; on the other hand, the smoky mustard salmon was incredible!). Also during that time my third child began his teaching career as the choir teacher at the local middle school, which is awesome, and he seems to be settling in well. We're still working on reorganizing things in our home, hoping to eventually carve out a space to be our "fitness area" (planning to use the sunroom, just having to replan several areas of the house to make it work).

Oh, and dishes. LOTS of dishes. All this cooking at home has increased our dish utilization significantly, and, while a struggle, were (barely) keeping up. We did discover a few microwave (relatively) low sodium/low saturated fat meals, which will help when I need something quick. We found those at Publix, though (I really don't recall if we looked much at the frozen/microwave section of Whole Foods, if they even had such a section).

To be honest, I don't have a lot to write about right now. I'm a bit tired (getting up early for those cardiac rehab sessions, not to mention the cardiac rehab itself, and back mostly to a normal life otherwise), and can't really think of a lot of interesting things to discuss. But I'm writing, nonetheless. Maybe the next installment will be more interesting.