Tag Archives: event

2015-05-09: AT MD Patch & Certificate

Although this is a “backlog”, not a “blog”, this post is made on the day of the event described.

Today Susan and I hiked with the Howard County group on Appalachian Trail Maryland section #2. This completed the series of seven hikes on the Maryland stretch of the AT, and earned each of us a patch and “a certificate suitable for framing”. The hike leaders like to make a big deal of the fact that only about 135 (or maybe 146, they aren’t the most reliable sources) of these patches have been issued.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the distance for the Maryland AT is 40.9 miles. The total of the advertised distance for the Howard County hikes is 46.1 miles. The total of the GPS distances recorded on my iPhone is 53.2 miles. It’s literally true: YMMV.

AT MD Patch_Cert

1977-10-00: Alice Springs, Australia

After leaving UNH, I still had one outstanding obligation to Prof. Chupp, to support his part in the expedition to Australia to test his gamma-ray telescope. I left Susan in Maryland and flew from Dulles to San Francisco, where Gary met me in the airport for a brief visit between flights. I flew on a Qantas 747 via Honolulu (in the middle of the night) to Sydney, then changed planes to Alice Springs via Adelaide, on Ansett Air. In those days, airliners had smoking sections. Apparently the Australian sense of egalitarianism dictated that the division between smoking and non-smoking was the aisle; as I recall, the non-smoking section was the right side of the plane.

The rest of the team (I’ve lost track of their names, but I recall three other physicists from Prof. Chupp’s lab, besides myself) arrived about the same time; we stayed in the Oasis Motel.

Chupp and his team had participated in previous ballon flights in Palestine, Texas. They knew the procedures and equipment involved. This expedition was in the southern hemisphere, and involved (if I recall correctly) about ten groups planning to fly various instruments to observe the southern skies. The launch truck and related equipment had been brought from the US, and was to be left for future Australian use.

Each group’s instrumentation and related equipment was delivered to a hangar at the Alice Springs airport, and had to be assembled, tested and readied for flight. On the first day, the Australian manager of the expedition gave a safety lecture, emphasizing the hazards of reaching under pallets, etc., where snakes might shelter. He said the local snake’s poison could kill a person in 20 minutes, but not to worry too much, because it was only 18 minutes to the hospital.

As each team declared its readiness for flight, it was put on the preference list. When the launch director determined a day was suitable for launch, the teams were given the opportunity to launch or decline in order of their readiness.

During this time, Carl was working in Tehran. When he got some time off, rather than going home to Maryland, he flew to Alice via Hong Kong and hung out with us for a couple of weeks. There was little time for sightseeing, but I did get a chance to go to a local glider club and had a flight in one of their two-place planes, a staggered-seat Australian design called the Kookaburra. The back seat person’s legs were beside the front seat. One day when we were at the glider port, someone was attempting to set a world record for altitude in a Piper Supercub; I think he appeared to have succeeded, but these things require review of instruments and documentation to be official. The day I flew, there was a brush fire approaching the glider port, and the club members dragged all of their planes out of the hangar onto bare ground where they couldn’t be burned. When I flew, the pilot took advantage of the rising hot air from the fire to gain altitude in the Kookaburra. It was a little smoky, but fun anyway.

Carl rented a Mini Moke (like a jeep), and we drove around some of the surrounding countryside. It seemed a lot like Arizona to me: desert with dry grass everywhere. The rock formations looked interesting, though we didn’t get to the famous Ayre’s Rock. I think the Moke had “roo bars” on the front, to protect the grill and lights in the event of hitting a kangaroo.

The winds in the stratosphere blow at high speed from east to west for half the year, then reverse direction for the next half year. While the direction is reversing, the winds are slow enough to allow a balloon to remain in the vicinity of its launch site for many hours or even some days. The ability to track the balloon and to receive data sent by radio from instruments to their ground stations limit the duration of a flight.

I think four or five teams were ready before us, but even so, Chupp declined some opportunities hoping for better wind forecasts. We finally launched after about seven weeks of preparation and waiting. The balloon drifted to the northwest, and eventually we could no longer receive data. I was chosen to board a twin-engine Piper to go to terminate the flight. We flew out and landed at a muddy airstrip at a station (ranch), known as “Beasley International”. The balloon was still drifting northwest, so we took off again, with some concern about being able to break free of the mud. We landed once more at another station, where a woman and her two children lived. The father was away from house, tending cattle. These people get very few visitors. The woman served us tea, and we chatted for a while. They had a radiotelephone that served to connect the kids to their school. They had their books at home, and the teacher gave instruction to widely distributed students by radio.

We used their radiotelephone to verify that it was safe to terminate the flight. It is not a good idea to have an empty balloon fall into the path of an airliner. Given the OK, I flipped a switch on a little box we were carrying. This sent a signal to the balloon that separated the parachute and instrument package from balloon, and ripped a hole in the envelope. Then we got back in the plane and flew out to find where it landed so it could be recovered. The pilots were skilled at this task, and quickly spotted the white and orange parachute on the ground, marking its location on a map. They asked me if I could find it again from the ground. I had my doubts, but it turned out that wasn’t going to be my job anyway.

The next day, I made arrangements to go home, spending one day in Sydney. An observer from NASA, who sponsored some of the teams, was also leaving that day, and we went to the Sydney zoo, crossing the harbor on a ferry right next to the famous opera house, and with a good view of the famous bridge.

My flight home was on a 747-SP (Special Performance). This version has a shorter fuselage but holds the same amount of fuel as a standard 747, so it can fly fewer passengers over a longer distance. We flew directly from Sydney to Los Angeles. This flight wasn’t possible in the other direction with normal winds. The departure was delayed after we boarded, and the captain said one of the restrooms needed a repair: “This is an eleven hour flight, and we aren’t leaving until all the restrooms are working.”

I was glad to get home. Alice was nice enough, but it was a long time to be away. When Susan met me at Dulles, she said she had forgotten I had a beard.


1973-00-00: UNH, graduate school

In August 1973, Susan and I shipped a bunch of stuff by rail to Boston, sold our old cars, loaded up our new Chevy Nova, and headed for Durham, New Hampshire. Along the way, we stopped in Mars, Pennsylvania at Carl’s house, where we learned my Dad had died. He had pancreatic cancer, though I don’t think I knew the specific type at the time. When we arrived at UNH, we found housing in an apartment in Dover, on the “Kari-Van” route of minibuses operated by UNH. Later, we moved to a farmhouse in Greenland, where Ronnie and Paul lived on the second floor (with Fritz the cat), and we were on the first floor. Our landlord, Franklin Beck, lived across the street in his newer farmhouse. There was a large field, with cattle, between our living room window and Great Bay.

At UNH, Susan quickly found a research area in the Microbiology department, with Prof. Metcalfe. I settled in to taking courses. Eventually, I worked with Prof. Chupp on gamma-ray astronomy.

I found the physics courses interesting enough, the math less so, and found computer courses to expand my expertise in that area. For a class on integral equations, I was the only student, and I convinced the professor to let me use the computer center to develop automated ways to solve the problems, using a symbolic mathematics package called Macsyma.

I was never much interested in actually doing the experimental aspects of physics (though I liked to learn about them), but UNH didn’t provide many opportunities for theoretical research at that time. I drifted into Prof. Chupp’s lab, and was able to help test and assemble components for a gamma-ray telescope he was developing for an eventual balloon-borne observation program. I also developed the software to control the telescope from a ground station while it drifted in the stratosphere. (He was also developing a similar instrument for inclusion on the Solar Max satellite, to be launched by the Space Shuttle in 1980.)

When Susan completed her dissertation (I helped to edit and print it on thesis paper in the computer center, the first such at UNH), and received a prestigious National Science Foundation post-doc offer in Maryland, I decided to stop working toward a PhD, and accepted the “consolation prize” of a Master of Science in Physics. My Mom came to UNH to see me receive the degree in May 1977.

I had committed to support Prof. Chupp’s expedition to Australia in Fall 1977.

Sometime in the last hectic months at UNH, Susan and I agreed that we would never refer to our time at UNH as “the good old days”. While there were good times during this period, it was quite stressful with unpleasant aspects (probably much like everyone else’s experience of grad school).


1980-00-00: Chris

Before it happens, no matter how many parents you’ve spoken to, books you’ve read, or classes you’ve taken, I don’t think you can understand the impact of the birth of your child.

Looking back on more than 25 years of events (mostly blurred together), it’s a bit glib to say that raising a child is a 25-year project. The requirements are poorly understood, and there are no metrics to tell you whether you’ve met them. I think Susan and I (and Chris) were very fortunate; we certainly didn’t have a project plan. Nonetheless, we had a relatively easy time of it, and a very happy result. Now that Chris and Grant are raising Ren, it’s interesting to watch the process at some distance.

I’ve tagged this post as an unfinished project, because Susan and I aren’t yet dead. With my impending retirement, and a likely move to the Seattle area, we will once again be closely involved with Chris (and Ren). And we still don’t have a project plan or metrics to measure success. We don’t need ’em.


2013-10-10: Generation Zero

Perhaps the most interesting work experience I’ve had was during my first real job, at JPL: the programming of the first robot proof-of-concept robot planetary rover.

In 2013, I decided to use 3D animation technology to create a reconstruction of the demo that resulted from that work, as well as a document explaining how the work was done. I called the work Generation Zero: My Best Job Ever, since it came before the first real generation of robot projects at JPL. I used Blender to construct and animate the robot and its environment, and iMovie on the Mac to edit the segments into the final movie.

Though published by Castle Knob, this title was not made to be sold. The story is freely available from the Castle Knob site, and the video is freely available on Vimeo.

1972-01-00: JPL

When Susan and I married in October 1971, I didn’t have a job. Her former boss, Dr. Agnes Stroud, arranged an interview at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory that resulted in my being hired as a contractor in January 1972, to perform computer-related tasks as needed.

I’ve documented the high point of my JPL “career” elsewhere. In summary, the tasks I worked on were:

  • Helping Dr. Len Jaffe, the Principal Scientist of the Lunar Surveyor program, analyze the size distribution of lunar fine particles returned to earth by the Apollo 12 mission.
  • Developing the control software for JPL’s first proof-of-concept planetary rover.
  • Working in the Image Processing Laboratory, applying (and developing, in a minor way) techniques to analyze digital images (from planetary probes, ERTS (now Landsat), and aerial photography). We also enhanced the launch images for the Skylab launch, to try to determine how much damage occurred when a solar panel tore loose during the launch. A lot of the work was determing land use and vegetation types in the Verde Valley, Arizona, and on the shore of Lake Mead.

While I was working on the robot, a representative of General Electric came to JPL to demonstrate a teleoperate manipulator. I was one of the few selected to actually try it out after its “handler” demonstrated it. He used it to pick up a large steel plate, and to use a large plastic basketball backboard like a ping-pong paddle, batting around a basketball. I simply moved the unloaded arm around for a couple of minutes, but they gave me a picture/certificate! There is a website with a video of the Man-Mate in action, featuring the same man who demo’d it at JPL.

I left JPL in August 1973.





1966-09-00: Carnegie Tech

A turning point in my life was being able to attend college at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

At Tech, my freshman roommate was Carl. We also shared an apartment off-campus during our junior year.

I also met Susan, across a freshman chemistry lab bench.

Though my major was physics, I also took advantage of several computer science courses, and worked the summer of 1969 in the computer center. This background turned out to be the foundation for practically all of my subsequent work experience.

By the time I left, transferring to UC Riverside, the school’s name had changed to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).

2012-11-21: A Long Look At Jug Bay

Castle Knob created a tribute volume for Chris Swarth on the occasion of his retirement as Director of the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary (JBWS). This consists of reprints of all the articles he had contributed to the JBWS newsletter over his 23-year tenure as Director. The editing was done by Susan and me. The cover photo was provided by Lindsay Hollister.

At Chris’s retirement party, he was presented the book as a surprise (it was apparently a total surprise to him). We also gave copies to his wife and two children. The Friends of Jug Bay (FOJB) sells copies at the visitor center, and other friends and family of Chris have purchased several copies through Amazon.com. All profits from this book are donated to the FOJB.

2009-10-00: Chuck Wagon Trailers

While cross-checking Harry Gant’s statements in I Saw Them Ride Away, I discovered that the Chuck Wagon Trailers (CWT), the fraternal organization he had founded in 1931, still existed and was planning a meeting in September 2009.

I arranged to travel to Los Angeles for the meeting, and contacted as many of Gant’s descendants as possible. In connection with that meeting, I also recruited Mom and Chris to help me search the UCLA library’s George P. Johnson collection of material related to Black films and other entertainment. We found several interesting items, such Gant’s 1,000-share stock certificate in the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, photos, movie posters, and notes of George Johnson about Gant. Johnson clearly considered Gant a good friend.

2012-01-07: Code of the West

As a result of cross-checking Harry Gant’s statements in his memoir, I discovered the Chuck Wagon Trailers (CWT), and attended their meeting in 2009. While there, I met their past president, J. Verl (J. D.) Silvester. The following year, I attended again, and he told me that he had a manuscript he was interested in publishing, primarily to sell at speaking engagements. The title was Code of the West.

In appreciation for his part in keeping the CWT alive, I edited the manuscript and prepared it for publication without charge (except for the cost of printing and shipping the proof copies). I also developed the cover, based on an image he provided.

Castle Knob published the book, with royalties paid directly to Silvester. As of 2014, it is our best-seller.

2010-09-13: The Making of ‘I Saw Them Ride Away’

I had so much fun preparing I Saw The Ride Away for publication, cross-checking as much as I could and finding way more that I could have expected, that I documented it in a little book I called The Making of ‘I Saw Them Ride Away’, published on September 13, 2010, a year after I Saw The Ride Away.

I have continued to gather new material related to Harry Gant’s life, and hope to deliver a second edition with this additional material, or at least to make it available through the Castle Knob website (castleknob.com).

2009-09-22: I Saw Them Ride Away

After recovering from the exhilaration of publishing Marie and Claude, it occurred to me that, with a publishing organization and process in hand, I was in a position to fulfill a long-time dream of my family: publication of the memoir of my great-grandfather, Harry Arthur Gant. He had written it in the late 1950’s, but was unwilling to allow an editor to alter his somewhat rough style. He seems to have had some contact with at least one publisher, but it didn’t go anywhere.

A pencil manuscript and a typed carbon-copy remained in possession of the family after his death in 1967.

Intending to share it with other members of the Gant family, my mother copied the typescript into her computer, and printed ten copies. She spiral-bound the copies, including several pictures that had been in Harry Gant’s possession, and sent them to his descendants, including me.

Some time later, her computer failed, and the file containing the book was lost. When I decided to pursue publication, I scanned the pages of my copy, used Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to reconstruct the text, and corrected the OCR errors. At that point, I enlisted the editing help of my relatives and fairly rapidly had a publishable version. I designed a simple cover incorporating two pictures of Gant, and used his preferred title. I Saw Them Ride Away was published on September 22, 2009, fifty years after he wrote it and five months after Marie and Claude.

The pencil manuscript was lost in a wildfire that consumed the house of my Aunt Peggy (among many others). The carbon-paper typescript is in my possession.

2009-04-29: Marie and Claude

The first title from my publishing company, Castle Knob Publishing, was Marie and Claude, by Lewis Bailhof.

The development of the manuscript began in mid-1990. During our trip to France, the Unisys office that had supported my work at Goddard Space Flight Center closed, and I was transferred to an office in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. While there, I had the idea for the story that makes up the first chapter, and wrote the initial draft of that chapter.

The story lay at the back of my mind for several years, but by 2002 had been expanded into the basic structure as it was published. However, there was another six years of sporadic work to get it into condition for publishing.

By 2007, I had learned of the possibility of self-publishing through print-on-demand services, and of the connection of the CreateSpace service with Amazon, which allows a book to be listed as “in stock” at Amazon. Some of the best information came from April L. Hamilton.

In late 2008, I created a proof copy with a placeholder cover design, and showed it to Susan and Chris. From then on, they helped with the final rounds of editing, culminating in publication on April 29, 2009.

194something: I was born

I have it on good authority.

I’m not providing the details, because this is the Internet, and that would be a security weakness.

I don’t actually remember the event, anyway.