Further Confusion 2015

Kit and I flew down to California for FC this past weekend. We went a day early to have some time to hang out with Trey and decompress before the actual con started. We’ve both been very work-focused recently so some time to chill out was nice.

This year I was not responsible for running any events or panels so it was a pretty “easy” con. Didn’t even attend too many panels. I wanted it to be a more social con than I usually manage.


This year was a Victorian mystery theme. I’m not sure exactly what they have in mind with some of these con themes but I’ll at least give them points for creativity. (American Diner is next year’s.) So the three of us commissioned some Clue-themed badges from Mitti Mandy. (Note the character, room, and weapon details.)


I did get to see a lot of fursuit friends. (Including other makers; thanks Lance for the pep talk!) Hugs were given and received. Fursuits always manage to be delightful; something in them is just inherently fun to me. Even managed to finally get a hug from Sparky, who vies with Kingsford for the “cutest dragon” title. :)


Got a chance to chat with some writing folks I know. (Thanks Kyell, Kit, Not Tube, and Rikoshi!) Didn’t get to see Fuzz Wolf except in passing. He’s the publisher of the anthology I’m in so was hoping to chat. But he runs a busy dealer table and I was scurrying back and forth so… con schedules work like that sometimes.

Speaking of schedules, the low point was the 4am fire alarm. Our floor was one of the ones evacuated. Managed to somehow get clothes on and get down the stairs. Our room was right next to the end stairwell, so that was convenient, but we were on the 8th floor, which was less convenient. (Especially as the elevators get soooo overloaded at the Marriott so most of the weekend I was doing stairs up and down for each room visit.)


Great GOHs this year! Two of the puppeteers from the Mongrels TV series and various
Muppet productions were there. They brought most of the puppet cast of Mongrels, too! So I got a chance to really examine them and see details in the construction. One of the guys there was half of the team that built all the puppets too.


I asked him about coloring details and what sort of airbrush paint he recommended. He admitted “Airbrushing would probably be the proper way to do it but I just used colored markers.” I pointed out that he was the professional so markers must be a proper way! He did concede it seemed to get him by. :)


The other GOH was Lex (Alexis Rudd), also a puppet builder and performer, who’s worked for Folkmanis and Henson. I’ve actually known her for years now. Brilliant builder with such great enthusiasm and dedication. I really liked her panel on advanced construction techniques. She showed her work as well, both completed and as parts.


She also delivered a new rat fursuit for Sketch Ratner which is gorgeous! He was wearing it around so I got to see it several times. (And I met a new rat friend!)

Good times, all in all. Thanks to all my fine furry friends! (And a special thanks to Minnie and Scruff for delivering the new rat hat!) I look forward to seeing you at the next con.


Local press coverage:
Ratatouille: Chef's Toque

Cooking in 2014

Don't follow me on Twitter? You basically miss me posting photos of my cooking. I went through and picked some highlights from the past year and stuck them in a G+ album.

I did more cooking in 2014 than 2013, I think. I also pushed myself to be a bit more precise in my dishes and pay attention to presentation. It's such an enjoyably tasty pursuit! More to come in 2015 for sure. :)

A Dozen Dinners of 2014
Sly: Bentley Writing

"Abandoned Places" Anthology

(FA xpost)

When I got back from vacation I found a book in my mailbox... It features my first paid furry fiction publication! Thanks to publisher Fur Planet and anthology editor Voice. Order it here.

I've done paid furry non-fiction -- "Critter Costuming" and others. Also paid non-furry non-fiction. And.. Well, I'm working on covering all the combinations. :)

Anyway, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of "Abandoned Places". There's lots of great short stories in it. Interior artwork (including the page shown) are by Silent Ravyn. Order now!

Hmm... Now I've gotta work on that furry novel manuscript some more...
Sy Liebergot

Perfect Test Flight for Orion!

Early this morning, the new Orion module design was put through a full flight test (designated EFT-1). This is not the final vehicle but a first version of the capsule which may get NASA back to manned spaceflight. This flight is the furthest we've sent a capsule (though unmanned this time) from Earth since the Apollo 17 flight.

It lifted off on a Delta IV Heavy and went up into orbit. (Above image is a long-exposure view of the launch.) After a first orbit of the Earth, the upper stage of the central rocket fired to take the vehicle into a high elliptical trajectory. (Below image is a view of Earth's limb from later portion of the flight.)

As it came around the other side of the planet, this brought it down into the atmosphere. It plunged down, ultimately landing in the Pacific about 630 miles SW of San Diego. It appeared to be in fine shape, bobbing upright in the waves (the position known as "stable-1").

One odd metaphor from commentary as it came down: "This is a golden spike in the bridge to the future of spaceflight." Um... Okay. The golden spike was where rail lines met (and not a bridge IIRC). Makes it sound like aliens rendezvoused with us in high orbit there. :)

Congrats to NASA and the team for a great test flight. The vehicle was packed with cameras and sensors so hopefully this will be a wealth of data as they complete the craft's design. Next major milestone will be the test of the new booster stack, currently slated for 2017. We'll see how the program progresses (and if it continues to be funded).


The other exciting event coming up is New Horizons' approach to Pluto. On the way, though, it'll be waking up to photograph a small Kuiper belt object, temporarily designated VNH0004. This is scheduled for January 2015. The flyby of Pluto will occur in July 2015.
Sy Liebergot

Space Updates

First, the bad...

Antares Explosion Investigation

Preliminary investigation points to the old Soviet rocket engines used by the vehicle. Specifically, the current theory is that the "failure likely originated in, or directly affected, the turbopump machinery", which then blew out (or as they put it "disassemble") the fuel feed system. (Hey, I just about called it!)

Loss of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic's vehicle SpaceShipTwo suffered a catastrophic failure on it's test flight. At around 50K feet and just above mach one the vehicle disintegrated. One of the pilots survived (miraculously!) but the other was lost.

Preliminary investigation points to pilot error, with one of them unlocking the feathering mechanism for the tail vanes before it was safe to do so. This likely led to the vehicle tumbling and coming apart at speed.

...and the good

Chang'e Returns from the Moon

The unmanned Chinese spacecraft Chang'e orbited the moon and took that absolutely fantastic image above. What a terrific photo!

The craft circled around the moon (it was a free-return trajectory so it didn't actually enter lunar orbit) and made its way back to Earth. Then it separated a capsule that returned safely to Earth and landed safely in Inner Mongolia. A real triumph for their space program!

Extrasolar Planetary Formation Disc

This beautiful photo was taken by the the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile. It's a view of HL Tau, a star located approximately 450 light years from us. The photo shows a protoplanetary disk of gas and dust. The gaps in the disk indicate that emerging planets orbit around the star and are sweeping clear paths the same way that shepherd moons are observed to do in the rings of Saturn.

It's mind boggling to me that we're now able to get these images (and with terrestrial telescopes!) of the details of other solar systems. While the large disc is easier to image than small rocky planets, it's remarkable that we've been able to capture this and that it matches much about our theories of planetary system formation.
Sy Liebergot

Antares Launch Failure

I was watching the Antares launch yesterday. Not in person but on a live NASA feed. I try to watch SpaceX and Orbital launches whenever possible. I was watching on Monday when the first Antares launch attempt got scrubbed because a sailboat drifted into the restricted safety area downrange. Then Tuesday...

The Antares is a relatively new craft so of course the possibility of a failure was something I considered -- more so than on other launches, anyway; it always goes through my head. Rocket science is challenging enough to inspire it's own saying, after all.

The sight was incredible. You've probably seen the footage on the news by now. (If not...) It had a clean lift off and first few seconds of flight before engine failure, after which the craft fell to the pad.

The good news is that this was an unmanned cargo flight and so no one was injured or killed. To overplay the contrast, that takes this from being a human tragedy to an engineering problem. And investigation of that problem started today, with examination of the launch site and wreckage.

Interesting Points Less Covered in the News

  • The Wallops launch site is surrounded by marshland. Rather than send in a fire crew at night they just let the site burn itself out.
  • The resupply mission was to the International Space Station. There's no risk posed to the crew there by loss of this vehicle. They have enough consumables to last about five months at present. Plus a Russian Progress resupply ship docked today. (That launch had been scheduled for a long time and was not in response to the Antares loss.)
  • The very first thing said by the Launch Director after the explosion was a reminder that all operators needed to stay at their consoles and ensure records and data were fully captured for the subsequent accident investigation. After some early NASA accidents, this has become a hard-learned lesson and such an announcement is the knell that you've entered into what they term "contingency procedures".
  • The Cygnus module carried a number of payload items including 18 science experiments from selected gradeschoolers. Read about one such student team.
  • Orbital Sciences is in the middle of a merger deal with Alliant Techsystems (ATK), one of the other aerospace launch companies, most well-known for the Delta rockets. ATK earlier acquired of Thiokol, the company which made the Solid Rocket Boosters for the space shuttle.

"What Caused the Failure?"

The press conference following the accident almost made me laugh at one point as the Orbital VP struggled to find new ways to say, "No, we don't know what caused the failure of our rocket only an hour ago. We actually need to investigate it thoroughly before we have a good answer. No, I won't blindly speculate for the press. Next question."

As someone unconnected, I'll feel free to speculate with the important caveat that it's entirely amateur armchair analysis. :)

Everyone is asking about the engines because it's clear in the video that there's an explosive burst from the aft of the rocket. Plus the Antares is powered by AJ-26 engines which have had failures during testing, including May of this year.

The AJ-26 is actually a refurbished Soviet-era engine known as NK-33. Orbital buys them from GenCorp subsidiary Aerojet Rocketdyne. Aerojet is refurbishing old Russian hardware (literally fixing up engine pieces built 40-45 years ago) and, due to problems, badly losing money on the deal.

Furthermore, Orbital had already decided to abandon AJ-26 engines and last year started looking for a new propulsion system, implying a drastic decision and extensive vehicle redesign work. Orbital has not announced what replacement engine it has selected but we know they considered "solid-rocket motors from ATK for the next block of Antares vehicles", which means the merger would make a lot of sense.

(If this were a spy novel or thriller, here's where the audience would realize the tragic motivation of the shady businessman at GenCorp/Aerojet, losing money and finding out his business deal has no future because his client is being wooed by another supplier, decided to take a drastic step...)

As a historical side note, the NK-33 engines (advanced for their time) were designed to power the Soviet moonshot vehicle, the ill-fated N1. This program's 5L launch failed about ten seconds after liftoff and crashed back to the pad in an eerie precursor of yesterday's event. The N1 accident in 1969 is possibly the largest non-nuclear explosion in history.

It is also, to be fair, likely entirely unrelated to the Antares accident except for those superficially similarities. But it's such an interesting historical footnote that I had to share it.

What I find most curious about the footage of the Antares launch failure is the motion of the vehicle. The first stage booster features two AJ-26 engines side by side, as seen here:

Watching the launch video, you can see the explosive burst from the aft of the vehicle around T+0:13, after which there's a clear loss of thrust. The vehicle stalls and descends.

However it does not tumble (at least while visible around the smoke and glare in the footage released which I've seen). The booster remains basically vertical as it starts to fall. This seems to indicate the failure was in a common component and the fuel feed system completely lost pressure; presumably, escaping RP propellant is what we're seeing in the growing fireball. This would point to the failure not being in just one engine (where the other could continue operating at least for fractions of a second and impact torque) but something in the aft tank, feed flow plumbing, or front of the turbopumps.

So what happened? As they said at the press conference, we'll have to wait for a proper investigation. I'll be quite interested to learn, though. Perhaps the storied record of the AJ-26 will prove a red herring and something in the adapter to the booster tanks was to blame?

In the meantime, sympathies for the Orbital staff who've had to take this blow.
Sy Liebergot

New Horizons Closing in on Pluto System

The New Horizons mission is closing in on Pluto after all these years in flight!

The long range camera has previously been able to see Pluto and Charon orbiting (showing how they move as a binary). Article here.

Interestingly, the other moons orbit the binary pair -- in other words they are circling the common center of gravity (barycenter) between Pluto and Charon.

New Horizons has just barely been able to spy Hydra, the next largest object in the Pluto system. Here is a long-exposure time-composite image. Hydra is the little bump just above the Pluto-Charon bright spot. Article here.

Only 10 months until the flyby!

FFFF Contender?

Someone nominated Hazrat for the Fursuit Fracas tourney! This is rather a surprise as I've never asked for anyone to nominate me. I've always stood clear of such popularity contests.

Nevertheless I'm really quite flattered that someone nominated me! So I filled out the form and will officially be part of the tourney this year. We'll see what happens. :)
Nicodemus and Son

Family Vacation Time

We are doing a late-summer road trip down to CA. We arrived last night at Trey's place in Santa Clara. I've been tweeting some pics as we travel. Once it's done I'll collect some of the better ones here too.

We are down here for a few days. On Friday morning we start the haul back up.