In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…



I just went to get cough medicine for my dog. Dogs take the same cough medicine as we do, guafinesin as an antitussant to loosen up the phlegm and dextromethorphan as a suppressant so they can rest without coughing up a lung. They can take human meds here as long as it’s carefully dosed using liquid medicine in a syringe.
No problem, only I had to go to three stores to find it in liquid form, because the first only sells cough syrup with acetaminophen (Tylenol) in it, and mixing meds like that is never a good idea, especially liver toxic meds when trying to dose a dog. Then the second store had the same, but also a bunch of baby cough syrup containing homeopathic “medicine”—-why is this still a thing?
Listen to me. THERE. ARE. NO. HOMEOPATHIC MEDICINES. There are only medicines–chemicals shown to have a particular biochemical effect–and “snake-oil” anything else pretending to be medicine.
“Homeopathic medicine” is distilled water. Period. Sometimes it’s mixed with real, actual medicine to avoid lawsuits. Sometimes it’s soaked into a pill of sugar or filler to match the form factor of actual real medicine. Always, it’s just distilled water–born of a mistaken guess from before the dawn of chemistry and an industry of quakery that JUST WILL NOT DIE. These cough syrups for babies are syrup–concentrated sugar water. They don’t even put real, actual medicine in the bottle as an “inactive” ingredient as these quacks often do, because babies can’t complain that the crap ain’t working.
Only here’s the thing. If you need an antitussant and drink sugar water instead, you can get pneumonia and die. I’ve had pneumonia, and guafinesin is a big part of what saved me. I know whence I speak.
Now far be it from me to stop people who can’t be bothered learning science or history from enriching the homeopaths and denying themselves and their young the medicines they need. But my dog has a cough–and you’re in my way. Stop buying this shit.
And please, don’t even bother commenting how homeopathy is real and your daddy’s a grand master homeopathic mixologist or it cured you aunt Sadie’s hemeroids or whatever. I don’t want to hear it. If you believe in homeopathy, you’re wrong. Period. Now you have a choice: you can continue being wrong, or you can learn and grow wiser.

Have Spacesuit, Will Jazzercise

Last week, NASA announced the new spacesuit for it’s Artemis program. The suit, which actually has been in the works in various forms for many years, is called the xEMU, or “Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit.”

The suit is an evolution beyond the current Enhanced EMU used on the ISS in much the same way the EMU was an evolution beyond the A7L used during Apollo.

Much about the suit is familiar, and much falls short of what NASA would like, but as it often the case with NASA hardware, it’s not bad and it will definitely work.

Like the EMU, the xEMU used a rigid upper torso unit and comes in sized components to fit many astronauts. Unlike the EMU, the limbs are also rigid and move using angles bearings, like the joints in HVAC ducts, only much smoother.

In additon, the xEMU:

  • Weighs less than the current Enhanced EMU.
  • Supports a wider range of motion, allowing astronauts to reach over their heads and bend down and touch the ground.
  • Allows much easier entry through a hatch in the back of the rigid upper torso unit. The hatch is also the life support pack. This design is easily adapted to a suit port, in which the suit stays outside all the time, and docks to the side of the habitat for ingress and egress, radically reducing the amount of dust tracked inside.
  • Allows the astronaut to step in an immediately start working in a pure oxygen atmosphere at 8 psi, high enough to eliminate danger of the bend when coming from a higher pressure nitrogen oxygen habitat atmosphere. The suit then lowers the pressure to 3 psi gradually, allowing the astronaut to slowly shed the nitrogen dissolved in their tissues without needing the pre-breathe oxygen before their EVA.
  • Audio communication is through sophisticated microphones mounted inside the helmet, and similar to those used for headset-free speech recognition, so there is no need for the astronaut to wear a “snoopy cap.”
  • The emergency oxygen supply is filled to the same 3,000 psi as the primary instead of the 6,000 psi used in the A7L OPS carried on Apollo missions, which made it impossible to recharge the OPS in space. It also made it more likely that the OPS would explode.
  • Like the Enhanced EMU, the xEMU is modular to make it easy to size to different astronauts.
  • The CO2 scubber in the xPLSS life support pack is regenerative, and can essentially function as long as it has power with no need to replace consumable lithium hydroxide canisters.
  • In an emergency, keep the occupant alive for up to six days. Yeah…think about that for a moment.


The Umpeen-Millionth Way You Know We Really Went to the Moon

Moon hoax conspiracultists are an odd bunch. They invest endless energies making and parroting Internet claims about complex topics they don’t understand, but none at all investigating the actual world they live in.

A case in point is the fairly recent claim that images like this “prove the hoax” by showing “film crew credits for those filming the Apollo missions”:

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Hell and High Water

In Houston, we have a saying that every citizen is expected to know: “real chili has no beans.” But we have another saying that’s more germane to the topic at hand, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” We see it on the traffic signs all around town, and every time there’s a major storm, we see the results when our fellow citizens fail to heed this simple wisdom: don’t try to drive through high water. Every time, vehicles are totaled by the hundreds, motorists are stranded or have to be rescued, and all to often, people die–tragically yes, but as we are all quick to add, also needlessly, foolishly, presentably.

Except that isn’t always true. Not at all, in fact.

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How Did We Know We Needed Spacesuits?

When early rocket pioneers started strapping volunteers to missiles, how did they know those volunteers would need spacesuits? Of course, in both the Soviet Union and the US, animals subject we tested first, but in fact, we already had aircraft flying almost to the edge of space before that–and aircraft flew higher than humans can survive even during World War II. How did we prepare for this environment? How did we know we needed to?

Well in fact, people had been flying in balloons since the 18th century, and some later balloon flights led to deaths. But long before this, in 1644, Torricelli described the first mercury barometer, writing “We live submerged at the bottom of an ocean of the element air.”

Torricelli and his mentor Galileo knew full well that we live on a spherical planet, but Galileo gave an erroneous explanation for the difficulties in using the suction pump to draw water up a well even though Aristotle had known that air has weight.

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How to Stay Safe in a Lift


A man was tragically killed this week in Manhattan, trying to climb out of a malfunctioning elevator. Tragically, because what he did was very stupid. Understandable, but stupid. I’m writing this to make sure you know better.

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And Now For Something Completely Different

So I built a couch this week–one of those Home Reserve sectionals where all the parts are made on a CNC router and you have to put them together jig-saw style. I’ve never been a fan of “flat-pack” furniture, but with advancing technology, it’s lost most of the deserved stigma it once had.

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The Sad and Accurate History of Alice Nutter, Catholic

Many of you have, of late, been enjoying the video adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch — as well you should, it’s quite an enjoyable romp with wonderful performances by stars Michael Sheen, David Tennant, and Adria Arjona (among others).

What you might not know however (though the authors certainly did) is the link between the fanciful Agnes Nutter and the real life witch trials of 16th century Lancashire, in particular the Pendle Witch trials, which echo damningly even today.

This was a generation after the reformation, and England was ruled by the young James the First, who during his upbringing had been indoctrinated (brainwashed, actually) against the Catholics with wild stories of witchcraft and demons.

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How to Wash The Dishes

We now have a working dishwasher again. Over the last few weeks, we’d noticed is just wasn’t cleaning, and the usual remedied (cleaning the filter and using a hard water remedy) didn’t help. Over the weekend, if simply didn’t work at all.
But, a dishwasher only has a few parts, principally inlet valve, float switch, pump, and controller. The controller seemed to be working, the the inlet valve is by far the most frequent part to fail. There are technical ways to test it–but realistically, the easiest thing is to turn on the machine and give is a few minutes to see if the tub filled. It didn’t—and seemed to hum more loudly than it ought to—and manually filling the tub causes the float switch to float and “clickity click” its indication of health. Closing the door and pressing start caused the machine to run normally–so the controller and pump are good. Obviously, a bad inlet valve.
So….call the repairman, right? Wrong. A quick search found a Youtube video showing how to replace the valve:
1. Kill the power and water.
2. Remove the front kick plate.
3. Remove a screw securing the valve from the front of the washer base.
4. Remove the electrical connection.
5. Release a spring clamp and inlet hose.
6. Remove the supply hose (just like those for the sink).
7. Reverse steps 1-6 to install a replacement.
The old valve might be defective of just blocked with scale, but a new one cost $21 on Amazon and was delivered in two days. So when I got home tonight, I spent half and hour on steps 1-6 and 6-1 and washed a load of dished. Easy peasy.
And may your every repair go as smoothly. This Internet thing’s a keeper don’t ya think? Have you repaired anything lately?

Today, scientists working under the National Science Foundation reported using light from nine radio-telescopes spaces around the world to record the first (radio) image of a black hole:

I understand the physics involved just well enough to tell you that this view of the black hole at core of galaxy Messier 87 is neither head-on now edge-on, that is, we are looking at the accretion disk at a slight angle, the the bright rings are actually light from the plane of the accretion disk folded up into a plane fairly close to facing us, with the upper, darker half dimmed by gravitational lensing. Or I could be wrong. I trust the 200 scientists who worked for five years to create this image get a lot more out of it than I do.

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