In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…


Your Wine Is Radioactive

Liquor and wine is illegal in the U.S. unless it is radioactive.

No, really.

In the US, alcohol for consumption must be made from “natural” materials such as grains, grapes, or fruit. It cannot be synthesized from petroleum (like almost every medicine you’ve ever put in your mouth, or for that matter, most food containers and plastic cutlery.

No, synthetic alcohol is chemically indistinguishable from the products of fermentation, but it’s just too cheap to be tolerated (at least until we run out of oil.) So to reduce consumption (a goal of the anti-alcohol lobby) and reduce competition (a goal of the liquor lobby), ATF inspectors turn to the same tools scientists use to show how stupid Ken Ham is: radiocarbon dating.

Nitrogen high in Earth’s atmosphere is constantly bombarded with solar and cosmic radiation, and some of it gets whacked into smaller atoms, including radioactive carbon 14. C-14 has a half life of 5,700 years, so over time, the entire atmosphere has reached an equilibrium point where C-14 is decaying into stable isotopes at the same rate it’s being created.

Natural alcohol gets its carbon from plants, and plants get their carbon from the air, so natural alcohol contains C-14 in the same ratio as it occurs in our atmosphere today.

Petroleum contains carbon that was taken from the air by plants and plankton that lived anywhere from 70 to 400 million years ago. After that much time, it contains almost no C-14 at all.

By using extremely sensitive instruments, scientists can measure the C-14 in a sample and estimate it’s age quite accurately up to about 50,000 years–any older than that and the remaining C-14 becomes indistinguishable from traces caused by naturally occurring radiation in the ground.

So while Mr. Ham doesn’t understand this, you cannot carbon date a dinosaur (we have other methods for that) but you can radiocarbon date a paleolithic campfire, a medieval roundhouse, or a nice Merlot. The calculated age, in the latter case, should be “not much.”

Of course, you could always synthesize alcohol next to a source of ionizing radiation, but such skullduggery is best left to the young earthers.

QWERTY is Good Enough

The QWERTY keyboard layout, the defacto standard derived from the Sholes layout popularized by Remington in the early 20th century, has a bad rap. It’s generally seen as either a failure of market forces or a failure of regulatory oversight, depending on your political bent. After all, Sholes designed his keyboard to prevent the jamming of keys in an antique mechanical typewriter, while Dvorak set out to rationally engineer a keyboard optimized for high-speed typing. Such a keyboard is obviously superior, and it’s only the inertia of the market that has kept the world from reforming.

There’s only one problem with this. It just isn’t true.

Oh, Sholes did design his layout to prevent jamming, but he did this to speed up typing, not slow it down. He was, after all, in an economic death struggle with competing inventors, and while his approach was more intuitive and experimental than Dvorak’s, modern analysis shows that he actually developed a remarkably good layout by the three measure we now know to be important:

  • Balancing workload between the hands
  • Maximizing load on the home row
  • Frequency of hand alternation during actual typing (to permit one hand to prepare to type while the other is pressing a key.

According to Norman and Rumelhart, although the Dvorak layout is superior in the first two regards, QWERTY excels at the latter, and the effect is essentially a wash.

So how did the myth arise? Mostly from Dvorak himself, who like anyone acting on a sincere belief that his reasoning must be correct, stretched the truth more than a little. Then there was the Associated Press report of a US Navy study in which novices using the Dvorak keyboard “zipped along at 180 words a minute.” Only it didn’t happen, and the Navy Department, in an October 1, 1943 letter to the author said it had never conducted any such study. (Foulke, 1961). Apparently, the AP had transposed the “8” and the “0”.

The navy had in fact conducted a study; they just didn’t find the spectacular results that the press like to pick up and amplify, and that Dvorak himself was keen to see. In fact, the navy study was deeply flawed, and really only measured “the Hawthorn effect.” This term stems from ergonomic studies at a Michigan auto factor early in the century that found similarly surprising performance improvement when experimental changes were made on an assembly lineany changes. The researchers finally realized the obvious: workers speed up when they are being watched. They also speed up when they are taken away from their normal work environment and told their speed is being measured, as was the case in the navy study.

So forget the navy study. It’s rubbish. In 1956, though, Earle Strong conducted a careful scientific study of typing for the US General Service Administration. He found that expert typists took 23 days of Dvorak training to match their previous speed on the QWERTY layout. They then continued to train alongside an equal number of QWERTY typists, and were unable to keep up. That is, in direct, head-to head competition between highly skilled and motivated typists, the QWERTY team outpaced the Dvorak team, and Strong was forced to conclude that there would be no value to the government in retraining its workforce.

Typewriting sprints on both QWERTY and Dvorak layouts have exceeded 210 wpm and have been so close over the years that no conclusion can be drawn.The fastest sustained typing (over 50 minutes) ever recorded remains 150 wpm by Barbara Blackburn using the Dvorak layout, however, given that Dvorak typists usually take it up under the expectation that its myth is true–and therefore are clearly over-represented by people intending to train for speed, it’s dubious whether we can draw any conclusions from this. Did Barb make the record books because she typed on Dvorak or because she tried really hard? In 1959, Carole Bechen typed 176 words a minute for five minutes on QWERTY, but does this prove anything either?

The record books don’t represent real world typing, and anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence at all. Here is what researchers have found:

“No alternative has shown a realistically significant advantage over the QWERTY for general purpose typing.” (Miller and Thomas, 1977 509)

“There were essentially  no differences among alphabetic and random keyboards. Novices type slightly faster on the Sholes keyboard [QWERTY] probably reflecting prior experience… Experts…showed that alphabetic keyboards were between 2 and 9 percent slower than the Sholes and the Dvorak keyboard was only about 5 percent faster than the Sholes…” (Norman and Rumelhart , 1983, 45)

A large scientific study during the 1970s (for which I’ll add a link when I dig it up) found that most professional typists (remember, this was the heyday of typing pools and electric typewriting) average no more than 60wpm, less than half the maximum speed attainable by anyone on any keyboard who makes a good effort. Dispatchers and certain time-critical typing jobs pushed workers to 80wpm, still easily attainable with any keyboard.

So if QWERTY is the lead weight of history, dragging us down by our  fingertips, why don’t those who’s jobs depend on typing come anywhere close to its limits? Simple. The real world is not a typing competition. In the real world, typists and thinking while typing, and they just don’t need (or can’t sustain the mental effort) to put words down any faster.

In the end, Dvorak is a fine tool, well engineered, and might well be ever so slightly superior, but it just doesn’t make any difference. A $10,000 racing bike is a superior tool to my Schwinn, but unless I decide to train for the Olympics, it’s a pretty meaningless distinction.

Having presented all this, I must confess that I’ve never given Dvorak a first hand try. I taught myself to touch-type using an Apple IIe program of my own design, based on a one-page magazine article. Since then, I’ve never found typing speed to be a constraint, though I really only type up to about 50wpm. I’ve always felt that learning Dvorak is one of those things that, like balancing your checkbook in hexidecimal, you could learn all right, but at a cost to your sanity and ability to functionin the real world.

But what do you think? What is your experience? So you have studies I haven’t mentioned? Anecdotal evidence you’d like to share? Leave a comment. Send this to your Dvorak typist friend. Let them leave a note. I’m interested to know what you think.

And if you like science fiction and fantasy, pop over to my newsletter signup page for a free, signed e-sampler of award-winning stories.

Foulke, A. (1961) Mr. Typewriter. A Biography of Christopher Latham Sholes, Boston, Christopher Publishing.
Strong, E.P. (1956) A Comparative Experiment in Simplified Keyboard Retraining and Standard Keyboard Supplementary Training, Washington D.C., US Government General Services Administration
Miller, L.A., and Thomas, J.C. (1977). “Behavioral Issues in the use of Interactive Systems”, International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 9,509-536.
Norman, D.A. and Rumelhat, D.E. (1983) “Studies of Typing from the LNR Research Group,” in Cooper W.E. (ed.), Cognitive Aspects of Skilled Typewriting, New York: Springer-Verlag.


Our 240th Fourth

On this, our 240th Independence Day, I’d like my fellow Americans to consider: Our nation, which has endured so much, is not endangered because gays can marry, women can carry guns, and Mexicans don’t always queue up at the border. It’s in trouble because too many people—natural born Americans included—think they’re justified in using force where debate and argument have failed them.


Our founding fathers were no saints (sorry Texas State Board of Education) but they were smart enough to design a government that erred on the side of inaction. They knew the awesome power of the crown can only be retrained by the light of public debate, and that an ineffective government was preferable to a tyrannical one.

What’s true of government is true of you too, whoever you are and whatever you think you know better than everyone else in the world. The world we share.

You are not entitled to knock people in the head and take their stuff. Or manipulate the law to do it for you. Or lie to get contracts you don’t deserve. Or manipulate the political process to change the law so as to  enrich your business, your pet interest, or your brother. Or to bomb the property of other law abiding citizens who’s conduct you don’t approve of. Pretty low bar, that. You sure you want to cast the first stone there?

If you do any of these things, you are wrong. It matters not the reason. You are the enemy of freedom.

And to be clear, this applies equally to feminists, anti-feminists, gun rights activists (on both sides), sad puppies, hippies, and everybody else.

You are entitled you your opinion. You are entitled to live by the values you think are right–up to the point doing so infringed on others–and to advocate those values staunchly and loudly (much as I am doing here). You are also entitled to be a douchebag if that spins your dradle, and to be treated as such in return. You are not entitled to protection from offense–on any side of any issue. You are not entitled to be hailed as the hero of truth just because you think you’re right.

Our nation was built on argument, from the soap box squawkers who dared challenge the King to the delegates to the constitutional convention who feared we would all be too stupid to govern ourselves. We’ve made it work, imperfectly but solidly and for a pretty good spell. There’s nothing now to divide us but ourselves.

If you can’t make your case on the merits, too bad. It might be that things just aren’t as black and white as you’d like them to be, and that your neighbor’s dissenting opinions are as valid and deeply held as yours. It may be that the simple solution you cherish is just no solution at all. It may be that you cling to an error in fact.

Either way, if you can’t debate the matter with your staunchest opponent while still affording them respect and common courtesy, the fault—at least in part—is yours.

I’m eating chicken shawarma this holiday. If that strikes you as un-American, then shame on you. I’m just exercising my freedom to eat what I like, and I like chicken shawarma. I also think cooking outdoors in Texas in July is one step away from a death with, but you do as you like, and with whom. That’s what our flag’s all about.

Happy Fourth, America, the whole raucous, yearning, huddled mass of you.

Proof of Neil’s Giant Leap

Someone recently asked, “How can I convince my dad that Apollo 11 went to the moon?…He thinks later missions may have gone, but that Apollo 11 was faked just to meet Kennedy’s goal and beat the Reds”.

Simple. The Russians were watching. And listening.

The only way to convincingly fake a transmissions from the moon is to send transmissions from the moon. In addition to the high-capacity S-band transmitter in the CSM, the Apollo Command Module, Service Module, Lunar Module, and S-IVB upper stage each had their own independent omni-directional VHF transmitters which they used to communicate with each other and with ground stations and to support radio range finding.

Could the Soviets track these signals? You betcha.

  • A Kentucky HAM radio operator named Larry Baysinger (W4EJA) did just that. On July 20, 1969, he listened in on 35 minutes of VHF chatter between Mike Collins (in orbit) and Neil and Buzz (on the surface), including the president’s “phone call,” all of which arrived in his headset about five seconds before it reached the TV inside the house. Baysinger used a home-brew chicken-wire 8×12 foot corner horn antenna he had built earlier for radio astronomy. This was sensitive enough that his buddy had to continually adjust his aim or the moon’s orbit would carry the transmissions out of focus. The Soviets and other national governments of course had far larger and more accurate antennas, and would have had no trouble telling the CSM in orbit from the landing site, or in decoding the S-band transmissions.

  • Apollo 11 communications were independently recorded by the Bochum Observatory in West Germany using a 20 meter dish. The page, A Tribute to Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, has a link to the Bochum recording (heard in the right stereo channel only, with the Goldstone voice added in the left).

  • A compilation of independent astronomical observations of the mission appeared in Sky and Telescope magazine, November 1969, pp. 358–359. These could not have been faked except by placing multiple alternate spacecraft in the announced positions at the announced times—which would rather defeat the purpose.
  • Apollo 11 was tracked by the Madrid Apollo Station in Fresnedillas, Spain. Most of the personnel were not with NASA, but Spain’s Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacia. Were they all in on a conspiracy together? I think not.
  • The Lick Observatory in San Jose not only tracked Apollo 11 and let throngs of journalists and well wishers see the spacecraft through their telescopes, they were standing by to use the new laser retro-reflector as soon as it was deployed.
  • The Table Mountain Observatory in South Africa tracked Apollo 11 and published pictures in “Observations of Apollo 11”, Sky and Telescope, November 1969, pp. 358-359. Here is a 20 minute exposure from that article showing the spacecraft (as a streak) right where NASA said it should be:

  • The Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK tracked the mission in both optical and radio frequencies. Jodrell was tracking the Soviet Luna 15 probe at that time and knew when it had failed. They certainly would have known if Apollo 11 had not really landed.

All of which is to say, the moon landing could not have been faked. Not the first landing. Not the last. Not any of the in-between. Will hoax monkeys never learn? Yes Virginia, We Really Did Land On The Moon

Eavesdropping on Apollo 11

Otter Creek – South Harrison Observatory

Apollo 11 anniversary: Lick Observatory scientists recall landmark experiment 40 years ago

Bill Keel’s Space Bits

Comicpalooza 2016


This was a remarkable year. I got to hang out in the Wordfire “Tower of Nerd” and chat with Kevin J Anderson. I got to chat with Ken Liu about all the awards his won and how he’s won them (basically, being bad-ass smart) and my old friend Todd McCaffrey.  clsrr3nvaaqa2he

And I got to meet a bunch of cool NASA folk and sit in their Orion spacecraft rescue study test article.clxeeynuyaab24y

And there were cookies.

Did I learn anything? Well, maybe that I’ve grown a lot more in my writerly journey than in just my ability to get words down on the page. I was able to give meaningful advice to friends old and new, and that was cool.


How Groceries Won the Cold War

After President Reagan died, biographers could be heard giving him  and his Strategic Defense Initiative credit for bringing down the Soviet Union. But the truth is, it was a visit to an American grocery store that did it.

In September of 1989, shortly after Boris Yeltsin was elected to the Soviet parliament, he paid a visit to the Johnson Space Center as part of the lead up to what would become the International Space Station. Afterward, he and his entourage made an unscheduled visit to a nearby Randall’s grocery store. c9ecce7cc5726cbee36386989caf707d

According to Houston Chronicle reporter, Stefanie Asin, he “roamed the aisles nodding his head in amazement.” He told his fellow Russians that if their people could see this store “there would be a revolution.” He asked customers about their purchases and about prices. He talked to the store manager and marveled over the frozen pudding pops. “Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he said.

Yeltsin was all smiles, but according to his biographer, he became despondent during the plane ride to his next destination. He couldn’t stop thinking about the plentiful food at the grocery store and what his countrymen had to subsist on in Russia.

Two years later, he left the Communist Party and began making reforms to turn the economic tide in Russia. The rest, as they say, is history. You can blame the Cold War or the Moon landing or bootleg Beatles LPs, but in his own autobiography, Yeltsin wrote:

“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

So there you go. The mighty Soviet Union survived Stalin and Hitler and the Cold War only to be brought to its knees by pudding pops. Something to keep in mind as our own nation’s wealth is condensed into the pockets of an ever smaller elite, who complain that somehow restoring the minimum wage to its time-adjusted value during our heyday will somehow cripple the country.


Happy Birthday Crawlers

As it gears up for the next leg of the manned exploration of space, NASA is celebrating the 50th work anniversary of its two mightiest and most stalwart servants, Crawler Transporter 1 and Crawler Transporter 2, each of which has already traveled around 2,000 miles, all over the coarse gravel trackways of the Cape.

These two marvels were manufactured by the Marion Shovel Company in Marion, Ohio, and entered service in 1966 by moving the Apollo 4 test vehicle out to the pad.

Each crawler is 131 feet long and 114 feet wide, and weighs 6 million pounds. Diesel generators drive 16 electric motors, and a complex jacking and leveling system that permits the versatile beasts to sidle up beneath whatever needs to be moved and latch on with four pickup points spaced 90 feet apart on the upper deck.

Here is one of the crawlers carrying Apollo 12 from the VAB, where it was assembled on its mobile launcher, to the pad:

Here is the unmanned Apollo 4 test flight, sitting over the flame deflector. Note that the crawler has scuttled off to safety:

Here is a Crawler carrying the Shuttle Mobil Launcher and a couple of SRBs as part of a vibration test:

Image result for crawler carrying shuttle vibration test

And here is Crawler Transport hauling the Space Shuttle mobile launcher:

Image result for crawler transporter 1 sps launcher test

Designed to carry the Saturn V and its mobile launcher, the crawlers are now being upgraded to carry up to 18 million pounds.

To my mind, these 50 year-old workhorses are highly flexible and versatile, and excellent examples of government work done right.

Meet The Winners! J.W. Alden!

Let me introduce you to my new writer friend, 2016 Writers of the Future winner, J.W. Alden.8x10

Stuart: Hi J.W.! Introduce yourself.

J.W.: Well, I’m a native Floridian who never got used to all that sun. I had my fair share of bike rides and backyard shenanigans, but for the most part I preferred to stay inside where the books and video games were. This probably fueled the overactive imagination that led to my eventual love of writing. Though if you had asked Little Kid Me what I’d be doing at 30, he’d probably guess by now I’d be the first professional wrestler chosen by NASA to become an astronaut. It turned out this was not a viable career path.

Stuart: Perhaps not, but it would make a smashing short story for Unidentified Funny Objects. So aside from an aversion to solar radiation, what got you into writing?

J.W.: My second grade teacher. I told her I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up and she asked me to write about it. I fell right into her trap.

About four years ago, I was driving a forklift in a warehouse. I worked the graveyard shift, then came home as the sun rose, and spent the morning writing. Then one night, as I was heading out the door, my wife stopped me and said, “When are you just going to be a writer?” I must have seemed perplexed, because she added, “Just quit your job. You don’t need it. You’re a writer.”

I realized both how incredibly lucky I was and how incredibly dumb I would be not to take her up on that offer.

Stuart: Indeed. When we were packing up to leave my year at WotF, we asked Tim Powers if he had any parting advice. “Yeah,” he said, “Marry into wealth.” How long have you been entering WotF?

J.W.: This was my second time entering the contest. The first time I entered, I was still a baby in the craft and received a well-deserved R. Being unaccustomed to rejection at the time, I became discouraged and didn’t enter again. After a few years of steady improvement and a handful of confidence-inspiring sales, I thought I ought to give it another shot. So, I vowed to buy all the anthologies, analyze the winning stories, and enter every quarter until I won or became ineligible. At the time, however, the current quarter’s deadline was coming up before I’d had a chance to enact this grand strategy. So I entered an older story to keep my promise of never missing a quarter. That story ended up taking 1st place, ruining all of my elaborate plans of engineering a winning story.

Stuart: Well it was an excellent strategy, and remains so. I still regularly read Hugo winners and such from current and ancient years for inspiration and tutleage. Star Trek or Star Wars?

J.W.: Oof. That’s a tough one.

On one hand, Jean Luc Picard was basically my TV-dad. Remember that scene in The Cable Guy where Jim Carrey laments, “I learned the facts of life from watching The Facts of Life! Oh, God!” Well, I developed my moral compass watching Captain Picard berate Wesley Crusher.

On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t be writing science fiction and fantasy today if not for Star Wars. In my favorite child photo, I’m holding a Return of the Jedi storybook at around five or six years old. Those movies instilled the first spark of wonder in me that made me fall in love with this genre. For this reason, if you held a lightsaber to my throat and made me choose, I’d have to go with Star Wars. Love them both, though.

Stuart: This is, of course, the correct answer. You have done well, young Padawan. Are you a pantser or a plotter?

J.W: I started out a pantser. Stephen King made it sound like the One True Way in On Writing. But as I grew in the craft over the years, it became clear that plotting works best for me.

For many writers, I know the first draft is the fun part, whereas revision is the part that feels like work. For me, it’s the opposite. When I’ve reached the revision stage, I feel I’ve done the heavy lifting. I lugged that big block of clay up onto my desk. Now I can mold it and shape it into something pretty. The blank page is far more intimidating. Outlining at the beginning of the process relieves a lot of the “WHAT NOW, WHAT NEXT” jitters the first draft used to bring. There’s no need to panic with my hand on the helm. The ship has a course.

I never feel handcuffed to my outlines, though. I allow room for discovery, especially when it comes to character. If I feel like the story wants to tug in a different direction, I let it.

Stuart: Man, you said a mouthful. Revision is awesome. It’s where you scrub the snot off your prose and let the miracles shine. I LOVE it! If you had a superpower, what would it be?

J.W: I wish I could stop time. I’ve always been a slow writer. Pausing the clock would solve so many problems. Not only would my productivity soar, but I’d never again feel guilty for spending too much time on the internet. Or playing video games. Or anything I want with no temporal consequences! I could have sickening amounts of fun all day and still pump stories out like there’s no tomorrow (because there would be no tomorrow until I commanded). I could be a literary machine. I could write ten novels a year. Come to think of it, this must be how Brandon Sanderson does it, right? He stops time? Yes, that must be it.

Stuart: Clearly. And boyish good looks. Tell us about your winning story

J.W: My story is called “The Sun Falls Apart.” It’s about a boy named Caleb who has never seen the sun. Boarded windows and a fortified door have kept the outside world a mystery his entire life. The only way out is passing the strange tests his parents conduct on him–tests that require Caleb to grasp at a power he doesn’t understand.

I wrote the earliest draft at Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. The pressure cooker environment of Odyssey forced me to produce a complete story on a tighter deadline than I’d ever experienced before (though the 24 hour challenge at the Writers of the Future workshop has since blown that out of the water), and I found myself turning toward this old story nugget that had been rattling around in my head for years.

After Odyssey, I came home burned out creatively, as is common for writers who go through intensive workshops. I needed time to digest all the knowledge swimming around in my skull before I could return to those stories. The draft that would become my 1st Place story languished in a cardboard box for a long time before I finally fished it out into the daylight. With the help of the feedback I’d gathered at Odyssey, I hammered that first draft into one of my favorite stories. I’m beyond delighted that it found its home with Writers of the Future.

Stuart: Nothing is more precious to the writer than unvarnished feedback. So what’s you’re favorite genre?

J.W: Another tough one!

Earlier, I mentioned Star Wars instilling my first love for SFF, and it’s true. But looking back, Wizard’s Hall by Jane Yolen is the book that made me love reading. It kickstarted a hunger for the written word that has never let up, and I think part of me will always associate that feeling with fantasy. I gobbled up all the science fiction I could get my hands on as well, and I still love both genres. But fantasy brings me a sense of freedom that I don’t always associate with science fiction. I feel like it gives my imagination a wider playground.

As such, my own work has leaned further toward the fantasy side of things as I’ve developed my writerly powers. The scifi stories I write tend to be on the softer side, often to the point of feeling like fantasy with science fictional trappings. I think it comes back to that sense of freedom. With science fiction, the author has a certain responsibility to the reader to keep accurate science at the heart of things, especially as you climb higher on the hardness scale. You have to play by the rules. Not that this isn’t true of fantasy as well, but with fantasy you get to decide what those rules are. With science fiction, I control the plot, the characters, their lives. With fantasy, this control extends even deeper, all the way to the very fabric of the universe they live in. I’m not just a storyteller; I’m a god. And it feels pretty good to be a god. Maybe not as good as a pro wrestling astronaut, but pretty damn good.

Stuart: Agreed. I started out with hard scifi. I still love it, but the more I write, the more I realize the story’s the thing. So now that you’re back from tinsletown, was the best part of the workshop?

J.W.: The big art unveil. It’s always awesome when you talk to a reader who really got your story, but it’s something else entirely when they take that understanding and make art of their own.

Stuart: Yeah, that still makes me smile. So what’s next?

J.W.: I want to keep the momentum going. I have a couple of stories in the oven awaiting revision, including the one I wrote at the workshop. Hopefully I can keep making sales and getting my name out there. I’m also looking to make the transition from short stories to novels this year. I’m excited (and a little terrified) at the prospect of traversing this unfamiliar length.

Stuart: Well I can’t wait, and remember, we’re family now.


Follow J.W. at, on Facebook or @AuthorAlden

That Our Flag Was Still There

I was recently asked about this pair of images, suggested by moon hoaximonkians that the whole Apollo program was one big load of bull, as real and Donald Trump’s hair:main-qimg-91095b3a66dea9ae83e04217569e73a3

The flags in these two shots are suspiciously similar…These side-by-side comparisons reveal the startling fact that BOTH flags are billowing positively towards the camera…blah blah, blah.”

Originally, I suspected these had been modified as is often the case with hoax monkeys, who either twist things to fit their narrative or simply don’t bother to go find decent quality source material open which to base their flights of fancy. After all, the image on the left was used in a well-known composite called “Flag and Earth,” created in 2003 by Ricardo Salamé Páez.

However, good quality scans are available at Apollo 11 Image Library. Neither is from the Data Acquisition Camera. Both are from magazine 40, loaded into the Hasselblad used for the first EVA. The image on the left is cropped from magazine shot 5905. The one on the left is cropped and blown up from shot 5885.

If the images appear similar, it’s because they are pictures of the same flag photographed from opposite vantage points. For analysis, NASA compiled this map of all features, equipment, and photos taken at the Apollo 11 landing site:

So the images are real, just carefully cropped and manipulated from low quality source and presented with a false claim that they are impossibly “billowing” in the wrong directions. How this is any sort of hoax claim is hard to imagine. After all, someone would have to go to a lot of trouble to MAKE this happen, it’s not like a flag would be very likely to “billow” identically in two different directions in two different shots on its own.

In fact, the flag is not billowing at all. It’s hanging motionless from a metal rod. The rod is too short for the flag so that the fabric can be gathered like a curtain, to sort of simulate waving, but w the moon, they found the end retained the curl from having spent months packed tightly inside a narrow plastic tube. There may also be static electricity at play, this being nylon in a perfectly dry environment.

But okay, it’s a silly claim, but let’s take a look.

First the right image. This is the highest resolution available for this image, blown up to match the size of the left image, and I defy anyone to definitively determine whether any of the folds are towards or away from the camera. The only thing clear in this fuzzy frame is that the flag is fairly opaque. It’s hard to tell from this frame, but we know from the log and from the other picture that the curl near the end of the strips is not a simple bend or roll but is bunched, so it makes sense that it will cast a similar shadow on both sides (it is is similar, but not identical).

Now the left image. Here it’s quite clear that this is not a flag billowing in the breeze but is creased and crumpled cloth. The “billow” indeed appears to project toward the camera on both sides–it isn’t a billow, it’s a gather or bunch.: The shadow is similar but not identical on each side, and what should be the upper left corner (the little flap protruding a third of the way from the bottom, clearly is on the side facing the camera. Going back, the same protrusion is clearly behind the flag in the right image.

And the more you compare the images, considering the stripes are pointing almost directly into the sun, you can see that we are looking at mirror faces of the same, non-moving flag. The fold in the lower stripes in the left image covers one star that remains visible in the right image. A fold at the bottom of the “billow” in the right image is covered in the left. Looking at the ripples where the stars attach to the the rod, the ripples occur in precisely the same spot in each frame, but the prominently lit star in the upper right of the left image is hidden in shadow in the right–the ripples are reversed as they should be.

So like everything put forth by the hoax monkeys, close analysis of good source material only counters the claim.

Forget the conspiracies. Get some intentional fiction free from C Stuart Hardwick

About This Moon Malarky

I try to be tolerant and understanding of other people’s positions, but moon-hoax conspiracists really get my dander up. I mean….I mean…no, we’ll come back to that.
My recent post, Yes virginia we really did land on the moon has been very popular, and prompted someone on Quora to asked what are the best pieces of evidence that the moon landings were faked. Well, there are none. No, really. None at all. There are only assertions made by people who have absolutely. No. Clue:
  • No stars in pictures (camera stopped down for lunar surface )
  • Flags waving (held by wire)
  • Apollo 11 flag “billowing ” (it was curled from long storage)
  • No blast crater under the LEM (early engine cutoff was to prevent cratering)
  • Dust around the lander. Or something.
  • Non-parallel shadows. (The moon has terrain)
  • Seemingly identical backgrounds. (when kilometers away)
  • Lander unable to balance itself on a rocket. (Like Surveyor and Lunakod did? Like space-X did–YESTERDAY–with six times the gravity and cross winds?)
  • Lunar trainer impossible to fly. (It was not, except when it broke).
  • No flames from lunar launch. (small UDMH engine in a vacuum)
  • Herky-jerky movement of LEM (in low frame rate engineering camera films)
  • No RCS plumes (in same footage with shutter speed less than thruster duration)
  • Astronauts footage shot in slow-motion (demonstrably not so)
  • Why was every picture perfect? (Because NASA didn’t put the crappy ones in Life—but they are on the website)
  • Missing crosshairs in photos (because LIGHT)
  • The deadly radiation of space (is not deadly for a mere camping trip)


Every single assertion made by these hoaxicanians only demonstrates their own ignorance of physics, optics, basic science, basic math, how to keep a secret (tell only two people–then kill them), how rockets work, how air works, how inertia works, the effects of radiation on the human body, how static charge affects objects, the state of electronics in the 1960s, how TV works, gravity–and EVERY OTHER SINGLE THING

But that’s okay. If it will make the world a better place and my blog a busier nexus of nerd-dom, I’m prepared to refute every single claim by any hoaxicanian anywhere, no matter how daft or ditsy–if that’s what you all would like.

But first, what think ye of this quick and dirty stab? Does this do it in a nutshell? Want more? Have a few dozen more assertions to add to my list (I’ve heard some doozies)? Let me know. The more the merrier.

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