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Unsolicited Idea for Evolving Tackle Football

There’s a new study out about the risk of American Tackle Football (heretofore called simply football) and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) or some spelling idk. Basically humans are not mountain goats, though scientists continue to work tirelessly.

All sport carries risk of injury. What makes CTE insidious is that it’s cumulative and invisible for years. You can break a bone and it resets and you can recover 100%. You can recover from most skeletomuscular injuries to regain your pre-injury performance. The problem both with CTE and football, as opposed to other violent sports like hockey, is that the purpose of the sport is to put your head in danger to make the violent play. There are bad collisions in sports like hockey, lacrosse, soccer, but they are less frequent, and typically in a play for the ball or puck. It has violent potential, but is not combative.

Continue reading “Unsolicited Idea for Evolving Tackle Football”

Planet Hunting!

We are in the middle of a planet finding bonanza. In just the past five years, we’ve discovered more planets outside our solar system than in the rest of history combined! And as for finding more planets, the sky is literally the limit! What is an exoplanet and how do we find them?

An exoplanet is simply any planet discovered outside our solar system. Even finding planets within our own solar system is no simple task. Only Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn have been seen with the naked eye and have been known since ancient times. In fact, we started discovering Jupiter’s moons before we finished discovering every planet in our own solar system. Jupiter’s first four moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto) were all discovered in 1610, and it wasn’t until 1781 until Uranus was discovered. Pluto was discovered in 1930, then unceremoniously demoted to dwarf planet in 2006. By then we had well begun identifying planets beyond our solar system.

Exoplanets discovered by year: Blue bars are the number of planets found with “wobble”, green bars are the number of planets found with “transit”

So how do we find exoplanets? The most simple method to detect a planet direct imaging: point a very powerful telescope toward a star and view the planet orbiting the star. Even with the most powerful telescopes we have we can only directly image huge planets (larger than Jupiter) that are close enough to a star bright enough to reflect light for a telescope to directly image.

That’s great, but we’re more interested in smaller, Earth-like planets that could exhibit features like our planet and even possibly harbor life. Finding definitive evidence that a planet outside our system harbors life is the holy grail of planet hunting! Currently we are finding plenty of planets slightly larger than ours that we’ve called Super Earths, that we can’t see directly but can infer their existence from other means.

As the planet crosses in front of the star (top), the brightness of that star as observed on Earth dips in a distinct pattern (bottom). The size and shape of the dip can reveal information about the planet size and orbit.

If we can’t see a Super Earth, how can we detect it? The method coming into fashion for detecting planets big and small is the Transit method. Direct imaging is detecting the light reflected off a planet, transit method is detecting the absence of light from the star when a planet crosses in front of it. If the alignment is right, a planet orbiting in front of a star will make that star’s brightness temporarily decrease in a predictable fashion. If the star’s brightness is graphed over time, the size and shape of the dip of brightness will give us information about the planet’s size and orbit. A planet close enough to its star will orbit quickly, and we can track the trends of the star’s brightness to get information about its orbit shape, which in turn can tell us if liquid water, and thus life, are possible on the planet!

A planet and star orbit their shared center of mass, aka the barycenter.

Another indirect method that was popular before the Transit method took dominance is the wobble method or if you prefer jargon, the radial velocity method. This method is somewhat limited to larger planets and smaller stars. Basically- planets don’t orbit their stars so much as both the planet and star orbit the system’s center of mass, so a large planet actually tugs a star around in a wobbly path. The size and frequency of the star’s wobble can tell information about the tugging planet. This method works best if the star is smaller relative to the planet (so it gets tugged more) and the two bodies are close (so they wobble quickly enough to be detected and modeled).

A comparison of TRAPPIST-1 against objects in our solar system.

There are some other novel methods, but Transit is king today, and the method used to detect seven planets in one system, called TRAPPIST-1. That stands for Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, a “backronym” that pays homage to the discovering nation’s chief cultural export, namely Belgium, who makes Trappist style beer. TRAPPIST-1 has seven planets, all roughly Earth-sized or smaller, and three of these planets are within their parent star’s habitable zone which simply means it’s the right temperature, given the star’s heat, to hold liquid water. The parent star is a red dwarf which is a smaller and cooler star than our own, so the habitable zone is much closer to the star. TRAPPIST-1’s parent star is only 8% the mass and 11% the diameter of our Sun.

TRAPPIST-1 is “only” 39.5 light years away, which suggests that solar systems like ours are fairly common, that planets are everywhere, and improves the chances that life exists elsewhere in our galaxy and universe. More and more powerful telescopes continue to come online, the techniques get more refined, and there are even some methods to detect the composition of exoplanet’s atmospheres coming around. It is a very exciting time for planet hunters, perhaps you’ll find one, or a whole system of them!

My Feces-Consuming Utopian Urban Design

I live in the capital of sprawl, Houston. I buck the trend by living in town and commuting backward to NASA in Clear Lake- take THAT commuter society! Nevermind my commute is 20 miles each way (but it’s backward so I go pretty fast!..). I scoff at the suburban dweller, nay, hermits, who retreat daily to their free standing single family homes to lock the door and pluck some brain cells to place into a jar until the day repeats anew.

I am “woke” to the depleting nature of suburban bedroom communities. I don’t need a car to get to the grocery store- provided I can get what I need from the michoacana up the block. Great news- tacos, again! It’s not a food desert! (If you’re reading Scott McClelland I will perform acts for an HEB east of downtown) I don’t retreat to my self-imposed prison because my prison is smushed up against other ones in an arrangement called townhomes. I get the best of both worlds: high price and no privacy!

Even better- my neighborhood is a rapidly transitioning area from blue collar warehouses/factories/shotgun homes to white collar purchased townhomes to probably eventually no-collar rented townhomes. Instead of windy streets that require a car (snort!) to get around, we have a grid where drivers are free to accelerate to 50+, and a railroad goes literally right down my street. It shakes the house in the morning. Not across the street. Down it, like oh hello I’m driving next to a giant train full of lumber; no arm is preventing me from embracing the void and veering under it. We live across the corner from a hummus factory- how many white bread subby kids can say that? In Spanish? They probably have a good Spanish teacher at their school…

I honestly love my neighborhood and flail against the Undeniable Likelihood that we’ll end up in the suburbs “for the schools”. I tell myself “Chaz won’t start school for six years and by then brick and mortar schools will be Disrupted™ with School Prime by Amazon” and we can continue to live like quasi-hip artists-cum-yuppy near downtown. I tell myself we’re here to get in on the gold rush of Houston’s new hip EaDo neighborhood, but promise to sneer at the term EaDo and prefer “second ward” or if I’ve had a Corona, segundo barrio. I hate what I’ve become.

I did want a townhome in an urban environment, and kind of had a loose list of priorities in living:

  • Prefer proximity to amenities over land or yard potential
    • Really no yard is tops- I hate lawnwork
  • Prefer mixed neighborhood to bedroom community
    • Walkability like NYC or Amsterdam!
  • Prefer upcoming neighborhood to mature neighborhood
    • Cheaper, speculative

I’d say for the most part I hit the nail on the head with our house, but the nail is in fact several nails of mixed quality and I pay well over $1000 a month for a gentle tap upon one of them.

I told a liquor store owner I bought a house nearby and she said “Puedes retirarse en dos años” which was not the case. I bought my house when oil began its free fall. Another fun thing you pick up against your will when you live in Houston is learning a laymans introduction to the oil business. Like when Johnny Depp went to prison for weed in Blow and learned cocaine. You are forced to listen to that or sports if you must talk to other men in Houston. Houston sports are bad enough that oil can dominate a conversation by default. Downstream’s doing great I’ve heard. That’s another column.

I realized now I’m not talking about the title of my rant. I guess there is a lesson inside reading and writing this article tangent to the actual content is that you can’t have it all, and your plans become minute tactical moves instead of grand designs you dreamed of. Instead of a self-reliant bungalow in a mixed urban environment where I can walk/bike/train to a park, grocery, bar, whatever, basically I Want To Live In Amsterdam But Maybe A Bit More Room is replaced with mundane decisions of what to do about the dang garage door sumbitch weather strip fell off and it’s $300 to replace a rubber tube whose only job is to keep my garage clean? Which it wasn’t in the first place and never will be?

Fuck every time I start an article it spirals into an existential I’m-jaded-with-western-capitalist-society-and-want-to-move-to-the-trees-in-a-commune-that-miraculously-rejects-pathological-quasi-religious-nuttery. Maybe I should write an article about my shit eating idea of a utopian oh god dammit.

Political Stream of Consciousness Part 1: Value vs Profit

Political Stream of Consciousness Part 1: Value vs Profit

I’m going to try and dump some positions on politics I have here in no particular order and see if some kind of coherent identity is apparent by the end. Even better a cohesive message that someone else may identify with. This is just a personal exercise after being inundated with histrionics and naked partisanship in these early days of Trump.

A contemporary Eames chair which sells for $5000, betraying the original mission statement. There’s a moral in there that is germane here.

I think if I had to boil my position on the role of government in society and policy into one sentence, I would plagiarize borrow the Eames design slogan: government should do the best for the most for the least.

It’s just one sentence but there’s a lot to unpack. First of all is the action verb “do”. I think government should do things. Is it asinine to back up to that level? Maybe. Being embedded in the political atmosphere I’m in (Southeast Texas), I feel like that needs to be said. Many people here myopically want government to shrivel away completely, asphyxiated by dwindling budgets. I acknowledge the need and role of administrative (as opposed to punitive) government.

I think the government plays a role in guiding society toward a consensus state of progress. Consensus to me means broad goals of equality, justice, and health. That separates me from libertarians who think only a punitive government should exist. I say punitive vs administrative to separate the military and safety (police, fire) roles of government from administrative roles- basically everything else: regulations, trade, safety nets, etc.

I say that the government should guide society, that verb guide is intentional. To me that means the government should have a soft hand wherever possible. I believe in a smartly regulated market, and the value of competition and enterprise. At the intersection of both is smart policy that is sustainable and guides us to long term goals that could not be met with profit-driven enterprise alone, or government run programs alone. The government is basically an incubator for things that don’t derive profit but have value.

There is a deeper philosophical perspective I have here: value and profit are overlapping but not identical. Energy is both valuable and profitable. We need energy for everything, which includes noble endeavors that have value. On the other hand, some medicines have great value but little profit, or vice versa. A powerful vaccine may be incredibly valuable but the eradication of its target ailment puts itself out of market. These are just two illustrations but across every sector there are areas where value and profit diverge. I see the role of government as a regulating force to ensure that unprofitable endeavors of great value are addressed.

~$1.8b revenue yearly, zero lives saved. 

Combining the “soft hand” with the “value-profit angle”- where the angle is the divergence between profit and value- and I start to see the kind of policy I think would work. Namely, using incentives and disincentives to guide business mostly, or to incubate business/nonprofits to support value without profit. To me this point of view allows me to marry two seemingly opposing views: that government should work through private enterprise, but that government should regulate businesses to maximize value.

An example of the former is the government contracting to or purchasing services from private business to have profit from value where there would otherwise be no profit. The simplest example of this is commissioning infrastructure. A more controversial example would be leveraging private enterprise to do things traditionally administered by civil servants, like education and qualified healthcare. I’m not diametrically against private education or healthcare- I want the best for the most for the least.

An example of the latter would be dis/incentives for business to guide their behavior away from negative value. Negative value is generally harm and costs to society that would otherwise be externalized without protections. Pollution is the most visible negative-value that is externalized when companies shirk their responsibility to clean up their mess. I would tax this behavior, use the revenue to contract direct cleanup or offsetting activities. This may or may not explicitly include carbon emissions, political will depending.

So the unholy alliance of the soft hand and value-profit angle puts me in a position to upset everyone. Your classic liberal would not like privatization of government-run education or healthcare. Your classic conservative would not like environmental regulations, particularly in the form of taxes. This is how contrarians know they’re on the right path.

Stay tuned, I think the next stream-of-consciousness will focus more on domestic punitive policy, institutional racism, right-to-life, and other lighthearted topics.

Second Post!

What I do at NASA

I said in my opening blog that I’m an aerospace engineer at NASA. What does that even mean? What is NASA?

I have seriously had to answer to people who thought NASA was shut down. I don’t want to disparage them, everyone leads complicated busy lives. I wake up every day thinking NASCAR is shut down and am bitterly disappointed that it’s not.

I also often have to answer what I do in social situations. This is tricky depending on the audience. Usually its a social gathering far outside work. For this audience I have to be brief, concise, and also tickle their fancy like a little bell in a closet. I can’t just say I do engineering- that shuts the conversation down. I’m trying to impress these people. For this situation I have a pre-packaged one-sentence response with a well placed cliff hanger that makes the audience beg for more:

I lead a team that designs and develops the ground system operations software for processing measurements of the Orion spacecraft’s position, velocity, and other things.

This has several buzz words that someone is bound to bite on, and ends with a handwaving other things. This way, if someone is already bored then they got what they asked. Otherwise, they can inquire more and further slate my ego. Yeah we take measurements from ground radars, space based satellite tracking, and the Deep Space Network. Yeah the ones with the huge dishes they use for the Mars rovers.

Test footage of hair-based atmospheric re-entry heat sink to be used for the Orion spacecraft.

If on the other hand the audience is a fellow geek nerd, it gets tricky. These guys usually have low social skills and high technical skills with an unknown temperament. You can tell who they are by the way they are. For this type of audience I flip the script and get even more coy.

I do math.

Now the nerd’s area of expertise sticks out like a whip. The whip does a few things like whip things or allow passage over a crevasse, but it does not do everything. The nerd will attempt to link your work to his whip, in an effort to slate their own ego. He thinks he can drive your nail in with his whip.

We can’t have that. I’m the smartest guy in the room, even if I’m not.

By upping the coy to 90% or even higher, I deflect any attempt by the nerd to scoff at my work as “amateur and puerile”, which let’s be real it is. I work for years on a project which at best will send a handful of humans to an asteroid, at worst will get canceled upon Emperor Trump’s coronation. I maintain the air of mystery.

I’ll write articles about more detail, but will mete them out for the aforementioned reasons of ego market manipulation. Just take away with you that I do math. It’s complicated.

First Post!

Hello World!

This is Clark Patrick Newman. I’m writing this blog. Why do you care? You probably don’t, that’s OK. This is mostly an exercise for me.

I used to have another blog, but it was on tumblr. I don’t fuck with tumblr anymore, I’m a curmudgeony old man. I’m 33 years old, which in internet years is infinity plus 33 years.

I’m into a lot of things. I am a self-styled jack of all trades, master of none. I daydream a lot about things I could be doing besides daydream. This blog will serve as an outlet to write down these daydreams.

I am an aerospace engineer at NASA. I’ll write what I do in another blog post. All you need to know now is you should expect some of what a nerd would post.

Outside of engineering, science, and technology, I’ll write about social issues, music, comedy, sports, and other things that are typical of a middle class STEM educated white cisman.

Enjoy! Or don’t!