Current state of rocket landings

As of this time, Blue Origin has nailed 5 successful landings in a row. The last landing was actually unexpected as the launch was to test (successfully) the launch escape system. The push back was expected to damage the launcher and make it unable to land. In a big plus for Blue Origin, not only did the escape system perform well, the booster was able to make a successful landing as well. Blue Origin may start launching tourists for suborbital flights this year. At least, that’s the plan.

Meanwhile, SpaceX just nailed a landing in Florida after a successful launch of a Dragon cargo vessel to ISS. This was the third success of bringing Falcon 9 first stage back to LZ1. There have also been 5 successful barge landings (4 in the Atlantic, 1 in the Pacific). So what is SpaceX’s record at this juncture? They have 8 successful landings in 18 tests. Consider that on the first 5 tests, all at sea, there was no barge involved. These were strictly systems tests and all the stages were intentionally lost at sea. Now we are talking 8 of 13. There have been 4 successes in a row, 7 successes in the last 8 attempts, 8 successes in the last 11 attempts. Overall, considering the complexity of the systems involved, not a bad record at all!

SpaceX is currently constructing a second landing pad in Florida, LZ2, and LZ3 is in the works. This will come into play when the Falcon 9 Heavy comes on line later this year. Three cores coming down at once! It is anticipated that two will return to LZ1 and LZ2, and the third to a barge in the Atlantic. If SpaceX can pull this one off, it will be a sight to see. A Falcon 9 Heavy launch and three core landings in a single act!

Between Blue Origin and SpaceX, 2017 could be quite a year.

Sphider 1.5.2 and (the PDO version) have been released

The newest version(s) of the Sphider search tool have been released and are available from the Downloads tab above. While there isn’t really anything NEW in these releases, they do address a couple of problems encountered. Of most importance, the problem of having Sphider exit during indexing due to web page coding errors on the site being indexed has been addressed. Instead of issuing a fatal error and stopping, only warnings are generated and indexing continues on its merry way. A potential database error when updating the settings has also be thwarted.

Also, the previous PDO version had a bug in which descriptions could disappear from search results listings. This has been fixed.
If you had the previous PDO version ( and have lost the descriptions, after upgrading to, you will need to restore the descriptions by going into the settings tab, go down to the “Search settings” section where it says “Maximum length of page summary displayed in search results”, change the selection to 250 and “Save settings”. (Updating the settings before would change this from the default 250 to either 0 or 1!)

Happy Holidays and Happy indexing!

Sphider 1.5.2 – coming soon

The next version of the Sphider search tool is now in testing. Sphider 1.5.2 (and its companion PDO version, is not very different from the previous version, except for a couple minor fixes on the Settings tab and the fact that the indexing portion has been toned down to issue warnings only when an improperly coded web page is encountered. Sphider 1.5.1 exits with a fatal error instead of continuing to index the site. While improper coding in a web page (commonly having to do with some off beat special character the database has no idea how to interpret) is rare, it sure was a monkey wrench when it came to indexing a web site. A couple other page conditions which could have produced a fatal exit now simply issue warnings (like the url exceeding the length the database could store).

At any rate, both the PDO and non-PDO varieties are now being tested to make sure the intended fixes work properly, and that we haven’t introduced any new problems. Expected arrival at this time is early December.

Blue Origin does it yet again. One booster, three launches, three landings.

On April 2, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard booster for the third successful West Texas landing after a suborbital flight. Previous landings of the same booster previous took place on January 22 and November 23, 2015.

The crew capsule successfully landed by parachute shorty after the booster landed.

SpaceX, which has been successful only once (so far), but it has to be noted that the Falcon 9 is larger and, being orbital, has a greater velocity to contend with. SpaceX hopes to be able to recover and reuse a booster sometime in 2016.

Whether it is Blue Origin or SpaceX, recovering a booster is no simple matter. It is, after all, rocket science!

One NASA year – Not your Father’s year!

Scott Kelly just returned to Earth after his highly touted “year in space”. By NASA standards, a “year” is apparently only 340 days, a little less than 94% of a “standard” year.

I am wondering if the the NASA devaluation is restricted to time, or does it apply to distance as well. If so, does that mean a mission to Mars wouldn’t ACTUALLY reach Mars, but would turn around a couple million miles short?

If Kelly had been up for 364 days, or even 360, I’d give NASA the extra couple days and call it a year, but when you come up 6+% short, I’m not so forgiving. NASA is just patting itself on the back for its BIG ACHIEVEMENT, the “big achievement” that Russia (and predecessor USSR) had already done four times.  Valari Polyakov bested the “NASA year” by 97 days (437 total) and that was 22 years ago.

PDO version of Sphider

Sphider 1.5.1 has proven to be a good, stable version of Sphider. HOWEVER, it seems some people can’t use it because their host chooses not to support MySQLnd, typically for shared hosting. It isn’t because it can’t be done, but because they don’t want to do it. In those instances, if you want MySQLnd, you to have to upgrade to VPS, at an additional charge of course. Sphider users in that scenario now have an option.

We have taken Sphider 1.5.1 and converted the sql to PDO (PHP Data Objects). PDO support is virtually guaranteed. The PDO version is referred to as Sphider PDO has some advantages over MySQLi/MySQLnd, but there are also disadvantages.

MySQLi/MySQLnd is SPECIFIC to a MySQL database, where PDO is a generic supporting a variety of databases, one of which is MySQL. There is an overhead involved. For Sphider, we STILL consider the MySQLnd prepared statement methodology over PDO prepared statements. Reality dictates a PDO version be made available. Our recommendation is that you install the PDO version only if the standard MySQLi/MySQLnd option is not available. If you already have a working Sphider 1.5.1, DO NOT install

One issue encountered was that PDO has no need to use the real_escape_string function…. EXCEPT WHERE IT IS NEEDED!!! The backup and restore functions failed without it. All research indicated “You don’t need real_escape_string, just use PDO prepared statements!” Dogmatic statements like that can come back to bite you. Well, our scenario wasn’t executing sql, it was CREATING sql, specifically, an sql string. Real_escape_string was necessary to create a valid string, and a prepared statement was not possible. We had ALREADY run a query, now we were manipulating the queried data to create a string for LATER use in a different kind of query. So we had to create an emulation for real_escape_string, which was a bit of trial and error. So much for “PDO NEVER needs real_escape_string”.

Blue Origin does it again

Kudos go out to Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin team. Yesterday their New Shepard booster made a successful landing, the second in two months. This was the SAME booster that flew last November 24, and carried the SAME capsule.

True, the booster isn’t as big as Falcon. It doesn’t need to be as it has a different purpose. Falcon is designed for orbital cargo launches, while New Shepard is designed for manned suborbital launches. It doesn’t go as high as Falcon, but it doesn’t need to do that either, for the same reasons.

What IS important is proof of concept. A booster CAN be landed, now proven 3 times, once by SpaceX and twice by Blue Origin. A booster CAN be reused as proven by Blue Origin. Blue Origin also demonstrated the re-usability of a crew capsule. The amount of refurbishment required by New Shepard and the capsule was minimal, also demonstrating the cost savings by reusing hardware.

To argue that one company is better than the other because they were first or are bigger with greater challenges is a meaningless and petty waste of time.

SpaceX and Blue Origin are BOTH great companies with great vision. They have DIFFERENT missions, but share the same objective of re-usability. They are both innovators, and as innovators we can expect to see both triumph and failure from each.  Yesterday Blue Origin experienced triumph.

Oh, Soooo close!

SpaceX Narrowly Misses Barge Landing at Sea

This is heartbreaking to watch. There came SO close! The landing was nailed, despite 15 to 20 foot seas. The engines shut down, the booster was upright… then a landing leg collapsed.

Considering the early stage of the development of booster flybacks, the 1 for 4 record (0 for 3 at sea) is actually quite impressive. All of the attempts have been dead on target, an amazing feat in itself. Blue Origin is 1 for 1 with a much smaller booster returning from a less challenging flight, but still an impressive accomplishment.

Each failure is a learning experience. I doubt, despite the naysayers, that it will not be long before both SpaceX and Blue Origin will be leaders in making space more affordable.

Why I just opted out of Amber Alerts on my cell phone

No one wants to see a child go missing. I certainly don’t. And if one does, I would like to be able to help. And I can’t help if I don’t know about it.

The system of sending out alerts via cell phone is sure going to let a lot of people know, so they are a good thing, right?

NO! They are NOT a good thing. At least not the way things work at this time. I have put up with this annoyance for as long as I can.

Annoyance? Knowing about an Amber Alert, something that can save a child’s life is an… annoyance?

Yes, it is. At least when the alert is for a child that goes missing at a location 3 to 9 HOURS drive away from my location! If I got alerts more local, say even up to two hours drive away, and particularly within a hour’s drive, I would continue to receive them. Unfortunately, of the last FIFTEEN alerts, ALL have been a MINIMUM of three hours away from me. TWO were NINE hours away in a DIFFERENT STATE!

My patience has been exhausted. Amber Alerts are the modern day equivalent of car alarms. Great idea, but so abused they are just ignored.

Either quit the notifications or do a better job of localizing their broadcast.

A matter of degrees

The first temperature scales were devised in 1701, one by English physicist Sir Issac Newton and the other by the Danish astronomer Ole Christensen Rømer. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, a German physicist, devised the Fahrenheit system in 1724. French scientist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur came up with his temperature scale about 1730, followed two years later in 1732 by French astronomer Joseph-Nicolas Delisle with the Delisle scale.

Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius came up with a temperature scale in 1742. More about that in a moment. Working independently, French physicist Jean-Pierre Christin developed a similar scale in 1743. In 1744, shortly after the death of Anders Celsius, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus made a modification to the scale developed by Celsius.

To round out the development of temperature scales, we need to mention Irish born mathematical physicist and engineer William Lord Kelvin (William Thompson, 1st Baron Kelvin) proposed the first scale with 0 as the absolute lowest temperature. This was based on the then Centigrade scale, and 0 K was the same as -273.15 ℃. Scottish physicist William John Macquorn Rankine devised the Rankine scale in 1859, based on the Fahrenheit scale and, as in the case of Kelvin, 0 being the absolute low, equal to -459.67 ℉.

Each scale had some measure of popularity, but eventually only three scales came into popular use. These were the Fahrenheit, Kelvin, and Centigrade scales. The Rankine scale was a close runner up, with the others fading into obscurity.

Eventually, the Centigrade scale became more popularly know as “Celsius”. Kelvin is used primarily in the scientific world, Fahrenheit in the United States, and Celsius everywhere else.

This brings me to the point. Why is the centigrade scale called Celsius? It seems the word centigrade has meaning in the French in Spanish languages involving angular measurement, precisely, that of being 1/100th of a right angle. Since ALL the other scales were named after their creators, it seemly logical to call it Celsius and eliminate confusion.

Well, first off, calling the scale Celsius is NOT logical! The scale created by Anders Celsius had the freezing point of water set at 100 °, and the boiling point set at 0 °! It was a reverse scale! The next year, working independently, Jean-Pierre Christin devised the centigrade scale. A year later, Linnaeus revised (reversed) the scale devised by Celsius, making it essentially the same as that done by Christin.

Now supposing the term “centigrade” is too confusing for some people, although the ℃ symbol should be a dead give away that we aren’t talking about angular measurement, I will concede the centigrade scale may have needed renaming.

But why Celsius? Why not name it after its true creator, Jean-Pierre Christin? It would even fit from the occupational point of view. Fahrenheit was a physicist. So was Kelvin and Rankine. Christin, too was a physicist. Celsius was an astronomer.

Obviously, those who make the decisions about what stuff should be called don’t really think things through. I suspect that since Celsius was Swedish, and Sweden is home to the Nobel Prize, and the people most responsible for naming this kind of thing are the very ones in the running for many of these prizes, there may have been an undue economic influence at play here!

Captain Quirk here is going to continue to use the term he learned growing up, namely, Centigrade. If I HAVE to use a different name for ℃, I will call it degrees Christin.