A Christmas Gift

Grunsfeld explained his concerns about Webb and the hundreds of single-point failures it faced during the deployment process in space. So many things could go wrong, he said worryingly. He thought something probably would go sideways, and then where would NASA be the next time it went to Congress and asked for big money to fund an ambitious science project?


The James Webb space telescope launched today.


I have been simultaneously both looking forward to and dreading the day that this venture was officially launched. It’s been a long hard journey getting to this day, even for the vicariously interested in the subject. It was conceived of, then it became an albatross and was cancelled, then it was revived and now it has finally been launched.

FLIR demonstration of Webb’s imaging systems

The first time I heard about the telescope was back in 2013 when I took the featured image of the touring promotional telescope prop. I’ve checked in several times in the intervening years, checked in just to make sure it was still going to be launched one day. I had almost given up on the thing when I heard that they were launching it today.

I dreaded its launch because I vividly remember the launching of the Hubble telescope, the world’s first orbital astronomical observatory, cheering the successful launch only to discover that the lenses for the telescope had been shaped wrong and that it wouldn’t be useful unless astronauts went out into space and did repairs to it. We had staked so many hopes, dreams and dollars on the Hubble and from the layman’s perspective it was a complete failure even though it successfully made it into space.

Sure, after the corrective lenses were installed it took really pretty pictures, but the initial failure of NASA to produce a satellite that worked as planned colored my feelings of everything the telescope did afterwards. Not too long after that was the series of failures of NASA ventures that seemed to point to a failing of big government in my mind, an observation that seemed to apply to everything government tried to do.

It wasn’t until after I was disabled and had time to spend following abandoned childhood interests like space and science that I developed the understanding of just how hard it is to do anything in space. Just how many points of failure there are in even the launch of any rocket into space, let alone the kinds of complexities that go into the research robots that we seem to deploy every few years lately.


The complexity of the James Webb seemed almost to guarantee failure. Failure that could be delivered on Christmas day like a stocking full of hazel switches. Mercifully, blissfully, the launch went off without a hitch. I almost can’t believe it. However that is just the first thing that has to happen in order for the telescope to get to where it is going in shape to do the job that it needs to do. A complex list of automated instructions that have happen flawlessly in order for the telescope to function properly when it gets where it is going.

…and where it is going is beyond the reach of our current manned space technologies, so a rescue mission like the one that Hubble required to function will not be possible for the foreseeable future.

Go Webb!

On December 28th the sun shield began to deploy and was successfully completed several days later. On January 5th the secondary mirror tripod unfolded. On January 6th the heat radiator on the back of the telescope (next to the instrument package) was successfully deployed.

Finally, on January 8th, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place and the primary mirror successfully unfolded and was secured in position. Now we wait six months until the telescope arrives at the stable orbit that was intended for it, and is cool enough to do the telescopic work it was designed to do. As a bonus, Webb used less fuel than expected to get into its insertion orbit, so it should have a longer than expected lifespan out on the edge of human space.


The light of distant galaxies has already reached Webb’s shiny mirrors and still-slumbering science instruments. Soon, the rest of the telescope will waken and start to make sense of it.

NASA – Where Is Webb? Just waiting for it to finish cooling down now.

It was a much longer journey to success than I remembered it being:

Consider This – The Long And Winding Journey Of The James Webb Space Telescope – July 26, 2022

The telescope has cooled down enough to allow it to take some pretty amazing images:

Kiss My Pudendum

In the beginning, shame knew no sex. First-century Roman writers used “pudendum” to mean the genitals of men, women and animals. But it was women to whom the shame stuck.

In 1543, the word made an appearance alongside an odd illustration in an anatomical atlas by Andreas Vesalius, a Flemish physician sometimes called the “father of modern anatomy.” The image, although labeled a human uterus, looks unmistakably like a penis, but with a tuft of curly pubic hair near the head, reflecting the idea that women were just men with imperfect, internal body parts. (Also, recall the dearth of female corpses.)

A century later, a Dutch anatomist named Regnier de Graaf highlighted the role of the clitoris in female sexuality. “If these parts of the pudendum had not been endowed with such an exquisite sensitivity to pleasure,” he wrote, “no woman would be willing to take upon herself the irksome nine-months-long business of gestation, the painful and often fatal process of expelling the fetus, and the worrisome and care-ridden task of raising children.”

In 1895, anatomy officially recognized a pudendal region in both men and women. But 60 years later, only the “pudendum femininum” — the female shame part — was still listed. It would later be simplified to “pudendum” and used as a slightly more formal synonym for vulva. Today, the word appears in almost every medical textbook, including recent editions of “Gray’s Anatomy,” “Williams Obstetrics,” and “Comprehensive Gynecology.

There are other terms that reflect antiquated notions about women. The word hymen, which persists in nearly all medical textbooks, shares the same root as Hymen, the Greek god of marriage. Nymphae, a slightly older term for the labia minora, comes from the Latin word for bride or beautiful young maiden. Even the word vagina, which translates into sheath, scabbard or close covering, suggests that this organ’s primary function is to house a penis, which is not accurate or scientifically neutral.

After some grumbling, however, everyone agreed that “pudendum” had to go.

Shame is one factor that contributes to women, transgender men and nonbinary people with vulvas receiving worse or delayed care. A 2014 survey by British charity The Eve Appeal found that one-third of young women avoided going to the doctor for gynecological health issues, and 65 percent struggled to say the words vagina or vulva. That same year, American public health researchers found that up to half of those with vulva pain never raised their concerns with their doctor, at least partly because of stigma.

Taking the ‘Shame Part’ Out of Female AnatomyBy Rachel E. Gross – Sept. 21, 2021

There will always be people who will be antediluvian. What is the point of having any terminology group unless it’s willing to grasp nettles on occasion?

Bernard Moxham

Featured image from the NYTimes article.

Delta Breakthrough Infections Are Transmissable

Delta breakthrough infections are transmissable should have been the headline on the new Coronavirus/SARS-2 masking rules. It should be a phrase in every leading paragraph in every news story about new CoVID-19 outbreaks.

If you are vaccinated and you catch the SARS-2 virus (and a small percentage of people, including the partially vaccinated, can catch mild versions of the infection) the Delta variant is still transmissable, not to mention the new Lambda variant and whatever comes after that. If you are infected and you pass that virus on to other people, you have created a new variant that could possibly bypass the vaccination in other people and start the entire pandemic all over again.

TRMS – Fauci worried about delta variant spread ‘if we don’t do the right thing’ – Aug. 10, 2021

I’d like to thank Texas Governor Greg Abbott for leading the way towards making the SARS-2 pandemic a two-year flirtation with complete social collapse. He is the apple in the eye of anarchists everywhere. It is no surprise that Abbott and Texas conservatives don’t believe that they are committing acts that are tantamount to treason in their negligence of public health issues like this pandemic we are still in.

They reject the findings of science. This includes the veracity of vaccination programs and the need for public health action, and even the basic understanding that viruses evolve based on the pressures we subject them to. If evolution is a myth then of course everything that follows from it, including genetically engineered vaccinations, have to not only be false, but dangerous flirtations with the devil.

It is important to understand what it is that your enemies believe; and if you are a thinking person then today’s conservative movement is your enemy.


Greg Abbott is potentially a superspreader. He has been infected under the exact conditions I just mentioned. Vaccinated, now testing positive for infection. How ironic would it be if he was the one infected Texan who starts the pandemic all over again? Would the average Texan recognize that this is a sign from their god that they should stop voting Republican, if what they say about every other act of god is also true here? I doubt it.

He’s also an idiot. He is attempting to take on the US government in the form of dictating that no government offices under his control will be allowed to mandate vaccination or masking requirements. He is working hard to make sure that the SARS-2 death toll in Texas is as high as possible.

As if we aren’t already the laughingstock of the nation. As if the US isn’t the laughingstock of the world over the Trump fiasco and his handling of the pandemic. Any Texan that isn’t outraged at our governor right now doesn’t understand a thing about public health. Greg Abbott is showing the world just how stupid the average Trump supporter is; and since that group represents the majority of Texans who voted in 2020, he is also proving just how stupid the average Texan is. Think about that when you go to the polls in 2022.

Train Tanker Crush; or, The Power of Vacuum

Someone posted a GIF captured from this video, claiming it was a telekinetic experiment or whatever:

Railroad tank car vacuum implosion – Sep 29, 2008

It took me mere moments to find the video the image came from, so I’m not sure if they were fools or trolls trying to fool others. It really doesn’t matter. The image itself was removed from the Facebook group it was posted in. The only reason this article makes it to the blog is because of the search I had to conduct just trying to find the Mythbusters episode that I knew demonstrated what this video doesn’t explain.

The video itself could have been of a crush test (it is not an implosion) The crowd in attendance suggests that it is a demonstration. The crowd is a little too close for comfort. The steel deformed in a way that suggests it wasn’t the same thickness as the Mythbusters tanker, but the Mythbusters definitely demonstrated what is going on in the video.

Discovery wants you to buy their videos, therefore Mythbusters isn’t available from them on YouTube. You can get them by subscribing to Discovery+ on Amazon.com or on their website, but you can’t watch full episodes on YouTube for any price. Discovery has a playlist for all the Mythbusters classic highlights, but not complete episodes. I watched all ten seasons of Mythbusters on Discovery, another must-see series whose ending marked the ending of my time paying for cable TV.

Now, to illustrate a scientific fact that I know to have been demonstrated before, I have to subscribe for a monthly fee just to be able to reference a specific episode of the show, and the person I want to show it to also has to subscribe in order to see that one show. This situation is beyond ridiculous. We should be able to just watch that one show if that is what we want to see. Not that I would pick that one episode of Mythbusters to watch. As impressive as the demonstration is, that is not the best episode of the show. What is the best episode? I’d have a hard time saying.

If you are talking to Discovery, tell them how frustrating the unavailability of this show is, please. I just wanted to be able to reference it for informational purposes. I shouldn’t have to pay them a fee just to be able to reference the show that already exists in their archives.

I did find another account that published the full Tanker Crush show. I created a playlist from their videos. I doubt that they will stay up long. There were other videos claiming to be that Mythbusters episode on YouTube and other video websites, but none of them that I looked at were complete.

Finite Understanding

I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connections and relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at.

Ada Lovelace (?) (datanerds.com) (Amazon.com)

A hat/tip is owed to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe #818; however, I could find no source for the quote. I haven’t decided if it is worth the effort to go through all her papers in order to find it or not find it.

Ada Lovelace helped write programs for a computer before there was a computer to run them on. She translated articles on Babbage’s analytical engine from other languages. She experimented with electricity and tried to write a calculus for the brain to explain why we think and feel the way we do.

Not only was she born before her time, but I would say that her time has not yet arrived. Imagine what she could have achieved had she been born tomorrow?

[The Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine.

Ada Lovelace (Wikipedia)

Featured image: a watercolor of Ada found on Wikipedia

Mocking Creationism

Facebook – Berkeley Breathed

They deserve to have their beliefs mocked when they dare to air them in a public venue. When they dare to build Ark parks and Creation Museums with public money. If they don’t want to be mocked then they should keep their inane beliefs to themselves. This activity is an essential error correction process. Evolution is science, not belief. Penguin evolution is just hilarity.

FacebookMocking Creationismthaumaturgical.com

COVID-19 is Airborne

This Viewpoint suggests that infection control guidelines should be re-evaluated to account for the predominance of small particles within infectious aerosols. Protective devices available to health-care workers have a range of protection, increasing from surgical masks to filtering facepiece respirators to powered air-purifying respirators. Although these are indicated for close encounters, their limitations highlight the need for improved administrative controls, such as more rapid diagnosis and isolation, and the development of vaccines and treatments. These data support calls for the recognition of aerosol (ie, traditional airborne) transmission of SARS-CoV-2.144 This could facilitate the use of enhanced dilution and directional ventilation and other environmental control options—eg, air disinfection with ultraviolet germicidal irradiation,145 which might be especially helpful in congregate settings such as nursing homes. Implementation of improved infection control measures could prevent future morbidity and mortality among health-care workers.


It is airborne. I wish they would just come out and say the word airborne in the media that is targeted at the general public. The average person isn’t going to care about the vagaries of the scientific definition of airborne. A reproduction rate over 5 (which COVID can have) means that the transmission is functionally airborne. Why quibble over the semantics?

If airborne transmission were shown to be a major factor, some experts have suggested it could be helpful to wear masks indoors, even in settings where social distancing is being enforced; that tighter regulations may be needed for ventilation and air conditioning to minimise recirculating air; and that it may even be appropriate to install UV lights in some buildings to guard against potentially infectious particles.


This article from the New York Times details investigations into methods of transmission aboard the Diamond Princess back in January. Nothing short of a properly adjusted N95 mask or multiple layers of cloth over the mouth and nose will keep you from catching the disease when someone is standing next to you has it. This makes Trump’s fumbling of the supply chains even more damning than I initially thought it was. If masks had been mandatory and available early, a good portion of the deaths we have seen across the country could have been avoided.


Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

So it isn’t telepathy. Color me dejected.

I’ve experienced this all my life. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting in a library or a classroom with people reading all around me, books quietly being opened, pages being turned, people whispering what they are reading to themselves, whispering to each other, and this feeling of being tickled in my brain, up and down along my arms and legs, a feeling of static electricity all over my skin surface would occur. It happened a lot.

I could not explain it. I didn’t even dare tell anyone about it for fear of being laughed at or being told I was hallucinating. The feelings persisted though, throughout my life. Anytime I was in a quiet space and these soft, rustling sounds would occur, I would get that familiar feeling.

I wondered about it a lot. I have a very active imagination. I wondered if I was telepathic or empathic or…? Even in my wildest flights of fancy, I couldn’t explain it. I dismissed the telepathic fantasy because I couldn’t actually hear people thinking, try as hard as I might. Dismissed the empathic fantasy because it didn’t seem to have anything to do with a particular emotion or set of emotions.

It was sounds and textures. Touching skin and moving my fingers softly up and down the skin causes the sensations, too. A few years ago I stumbled across the phrase autonomous sensory meridian response or ASMR, and I filed away the fact that there was an explanation for this weird thing I experienced. It was brought back to mind with this episode of Shortwave.

Short Wave – The Squishy Science Behind ASMR – October 17, 2019

It’s an encore episode, yeah I know. This was the video that I first watched way back when. Back when I first ran across the term ASMR and wondered if this was the thing that I experienced.

Accidentally GracefulASMR Unfiltered | Simple Sounds and Soft Whispers – Apr 30, 2015

Last year, when the Shortwave episode first aired, The Wife and I queued up some of the kinds of videos that the episode airs clips from. ASMR Darling, CosmicTingles, JellybeanASMR and others. We established pretty quickly that she did not get a reaction from any of the videos. She also noted the thing that the host of Shortwave first questioned. These are all young women. Is this sexual?

It isn’t sexual, although it might be related to a sexual response. Hard to say. I am not turned on by these young women. I find their crowding the microphones creepy. I understand that they have to be close to the mics in order for the soft sounds to be captured, but still. The mic isn’t the camera. Try backing away from the camera. You might discover that the ASMR response is higher if you aren’t looking at the video but just listening to it.

I haven’t tried playing with floam, the gag that Shortwave ended the episode with. The response can be triggered by tactile sensations, as I mentioned previously. I’m not a big slime enthusiast. It just isn’t my thing. Slime with styrofoam bits in it always struck me as pre-dirtied slime. Really not my thing. But put me in a crowded library with people quietly reading any day. It is an interesting (if slightly distracting) sensation to experience.

Daylight Swearing Time

It’s that time of year again. That time of year where you exclaim “Fuck! How did it get to be 4:30 am already?” It isn’t. Except it is now.

…And it will go on being 4:30 am at this time of night until after 2:00 AM on Sunday, November 1, 2020. Then it will be 3:30 AM again. At least I have that to look forward to in November.

Imagine just for a few minutes, what it would be like for your GPS to calculate time variance based on degrees of longitude rather than twenty-four one hour time zones. In the same way your phone can change times for daylight savings, it can change time to keep up with your actual position on the globe. The device that you already rely on to tell you what time it is could just do the time calculation for your location and actually tell you what the local time is. The satellites that control GPS already perform these calculations just to be able to talk to each other and establish UTC for themselves.

 I’m just not going to comply with Daylight Savings Time until somebody in authority can explain to me what we’ve been doing with all the daylight we’ve saved for the last 200 years.

I mean the interest alone on all those photons should be enough to power every solar panel in the country for the next decade.

I’m just saying, somebody owes me some sunlight here.

Stonekettle Station