Monthly Archives: August 2010

Engineering in the Columbia River Gorge

Because yesterday’s hike up Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls (see picture below) was particularly long, 12.5 miles, I took a break from posting when I got home. Today (Monday), however, was a more easy-going day, as we did more ordinary tourist stuff, driving from place to place with only short strolls at each stop.

Tunnel Falls

The most fascinating tourist stop of the day was by far Bonneville Dam. Just as the security guard at the gate let the car in front of us through, her phone rang. When she was finished and came up to our car, she explained that we would have to wait about a half hour before going to the visitor center, as they needed to open the swing bridge so that a barge could go through the locks. At first I thought this was very unfortunate timing. In the end, it turned out to be fortuitous indeed. We parked at the viewing area above the locks and watched five barges, tied tightly together as a unit and pushed upstream by a tug, slide gently into the lock with barely inches on either side. Neither Diane or I could believe how little spare room the tugboat captain had to pilot this massive object. The gigantic downstream doors then closed (while I quipped that music from Star Wars should be playing) and the lock was quickly filled with water, raising the barges/tugboat up almost a hundred feet. The upstream doors than opened and the barge headed out. All told, the whole operation took less than 45 minutes.

The barges enter the lock

The barges with the lock filled

We then took a tour of the dam’s first power station, with its ten turbines all in a row. Unfortunately, none were operating at the moment. Nonetheless, whenever I see places like this (such as when I visited Hoover Dam back in 2005), I can’t help but be reminded of the scene from the science fiction movie Forbidden Planet, when Walter Pigeon gives us a tour of the Krell underground machine. Unlike the Krell, however, it didn’t take millions of years for us to learn how to build such breath-taking big dams and power stations. We did it less than 150 years after the discovery of electricity!

Bonneville Dam power station

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Paper extolling the benefits from interstellar spaceflight

This guy is thinking ahead: a paper extolling the scientific benefits of interstellar space travel (published in a 2009 issue of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society) was made available today on the Los Alamos astro-ph website. Fun quote from the abstract:

Significant benefits are identified in the fields of interstellar medium studies, stellar astrophysics, planetary science and astrobiology. In the latter three areas the benefits would be considerably enhanced if the interstellar vehicle is able to decelerate from its interstellar cruise velocity to rest relative to the target system. Although this will greatly complicate the mission architecture, and extend the overall travel time, the scientific benefits are such that this option should be considered seriously in future studies.

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Republicans lead by 10 in Gallup generic poll

Still doubt the magnitude of the turnover expected in the November 2010 election? Then consider Gallup’s most recent generic poll, which has the Republicans now up by 10 points, the most in history. Key quote:

The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup’s history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994. Elections in both of these years resulted in significant Republican gains in House seats.

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The Columbia River Gorge

We’ve moved on from Mt. St. Helens to the Columbia River Gorge. Below is a shot of Vista House at Crown Point, looking east into the gorge. In the distance you can see Beacon Rock.

The Columbia River Gorge

Today’s hike was short, a six mile loop starting at Multnomah Falls (620 feet total).

Multnomah Falls

The falls and hike are probably among the most popular tourist attractions close to Portland. And since today was Saturday, there were a lot of people around. Nonetheless, the numbers quickly dropped as we worked our way up the trail, dropping to only a handful of people once we climbed past the top of the falls. The hike itself included a lot of waterfalls and babbling streams, but it also weaved its way through some impressive evergreen forests.

forest of trees

I find it sad how few people are willing to do the little extra work necessary to reach these beautiful places. At one point on our way down, we passed a family that was clearly discussing whether to continue. They had already climbed about 80 percent of the way up, but the father and mother were tired and seemed willing to stop. When the son (about 12) asked me how much farther it was to the top and I said it was only about 20 to 30 minutes, he was off like a shot, with the parents forced to follow, albeit reluctantly. My immediate thought was, “Go, kid, go!”

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Living underground for months

Though this article outlines succinctly the physical and mental difficulties faced by the 33 trapped Chilean miners, it also tends to overemphasize the worst case scenerios, none of which are likely to happen. I can state from personal experience — having spent numerous weekends underground during cave exploration trips — that though their situation is very unpleasant, I have no doubt these miners will survive. Because they have contact with the surface, and therefore a regular supply of food and information, they will simply demonstrate the limitless range of human endurance, and hold on until rescue arrives.

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Last refuge of a liberal

The last refuge of a liberal. Key quote:

The Democrats are going to get beaten badly in November. Not just because the economy is ailing. And not just because Obama over-read his mandate in governing too far left. But because a comeuppance is due the arrogant elites whose undisguised contempt for the great unwashed prevents them from conceding a modicum of serious thought to those who dare oppose them.

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Laser tag replaces air pistol in 2012 Olympic games

The summer Olympics has decided to replace the use of air pistols in the 2012 Olympics with laser guns. Air pistols shoot actual pellets, and using lasers instead will, according to the powers that be, “reduce the cost of shooting by two thirds in the sport and the improved safety of the event could mean new venues are used.” Of course, no one can cite any actual accidents from the use of air pistols, so this decision is essentially political correctness gone wild.

Update: Several shooting friends have emailed me to note that this change only applies to the Pentathlon, not to the air pistol events. Mea culpa.

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The influence of the Sun’s solar cycle on the atmosphere

Scientists have confirmed that the just ending low solar minimum had considerable influence in shrinking the Earth’s outer atmosphere. Key quote:

[The scientist] says the research indicates that the Sun could be going through a period of relatively low activity, similar to periods in the early 19th and 20th centuries. This could mean that solar output may remain at a low level for the near future. “If it is indeed similar to certain patterns in the past, then we expect to have low solar cycles for the next 10 to 30 years.”

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