Saturday, April 13, 2013

The "Foundations of Mission Control"

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the day one of the oxygen tanks on Apollo 13 exploded.  Popularized in the Ron Howard film Apollo 13, the mission quickly changed from the third moon landing to one of the greatest success stories of NASA. Commander Jim Lovell realized "The odds were very small that we’re going to get out of this alive," but Lead Flight Director Gene Kranz vowed "We will never surrender. We will never give up a crew."  Gene Kranz had been a flight director when Apollo 1 caught fire on the launch pad, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. As a result of that, NASA commissioned a document that Gene Krantz wrote called “Foundations of Mission Control.”  Reprinted below are those foundations.

Foundations of Mission Control
To Instill within ourselves these qualities essential for professional excellence:

  • Discipline- Being able to follow as well as lead, knowing that we must master ourselves before we can master our task.
  • Competence- There being no substitute for total preparation and complete dedication, for space will not tolerate the careless or indifferent.
  • Confidence- Believing in ourselves as well as others, knowing that we must master fear an hesitation before we can succeed.
  • Responsibility- Realizing that it cannot be shifted to others, for it belongs to each of us; we must answer for what we do, or fail to do.
  • Toughness- Taking a stand when we must; to try again, and again, even it means following a more difficult path.
  • Teamwork- Respecting and utilizing the ability of others, realizing that we work toward a common goal, for success depends on the efforts of all.

To always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences.

To recognize that the greatest error is not to have tried and failed, but that in trying, we did not give it our best effort.

Apollo 13 ultimately returned home, the combined efforts of hundreds utilizing ingenuity, the science of the time, and embodying the principles of the “Foundations of Mission Control.”

Disclaimer: The above "Foundations of Mission Control" are reprinted for educational purposes and are probably the copyright of Gene Kranz and/or NASA.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Never Get Involved In A Land War In Asia

"Never Get Involved In A Land War In Asia" ~Vizzini

This sage bit of advice comes courtesy of the Princess Bride.  Whether gathered around the kitchen table playing Risk or in real life, you should always avoid going to war in Asia.  In 1962, British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery addressing the House of Lords said this: "Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: "Do not march on Moscow". Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good. That is the first rule. I do not know whether your Lordships will know Rule 2 of war. It is: "Do not go fighting with your land armies in China". It is a vast country, with no clearly defined objectives."  For the purpose of this advice, I am going to (as Montgomery did) include Russia as part of Asia.

Let's start with Risk.  Yes, Asia is worth 7 armies a round, but if you're defending Asia, you could be defending Asia's borders from 6 different regions!  Much better strategy: try capturing North America (5 armies) and Australia (2 armies).  You're only defending against 4 different regions.  If you must fight in Asia, target the border regions: Middle East, Southeast Asia and Kamchatka. Another game where you shouldn't try to fight in Asia is Axis & Allies.  As the Americans, you start the game with a limited number of units in China.  Your best bet?  Reinforce the Soviets in Russia and/or the UK in India.  As the Soviets, you definitely don't want to be fighting in Asia; the more you fight the Germans in Europe, the better the game is going to go for the Allies.  On the Axis side, sadly, you need to fight in Asia if you're going to have any hope of winning.  Knocking the Soviet Union out of the game early is your best bet.

Moving on to real life, here's a partial list of military commanders who have been defeated in Asia: Alexander the Great, General Douglas MacArthur, Napoleon, General Field Marshall Wilhelm List, General Paul Harkins, General William Westmoreland, and General Creighton Abrams.  America fought and failed to win two separate military conflicts in the last half of the 20th century: The Korean War (almost 35,000 US casualties) and the Vietnam War (close to 60,000 US fatalities).  The Soviet Union spent millions of dollars and lost close to 15,000 men trying to invade Afghanistan.

R.I.P. Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

In 1969, just 66 years after Man took flight under his own power, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step foot on ground that was not the Earth.  One of America's most famous astronauts, Armstrong flew in space exactly twice.  His first space mission, Gemini 8, was the first time two spacecrafts docked together in space.  The rest of the mission was cut short due to faulty wiring which caused one of the engines to become stuck.  His second trip, of course, was Apollo 11.  On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module The Eagle and uttered the phrase "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."    

Neil Armstrong was able to do what he did because of the support of thousands of people in the Apollo Program.  This is not to diminish what Armstrong accomplished.  Armstrong had the courage to risk his life in the pursuit of science.  There was no guarantee of success; at the time 2 Soviet cosmonauts and 3 American astronauts had died either in training or during space flight.

The best eulogy I can find for Neil Armstrong was written 43 years before his death.  In preparation for the Apollo 11 moon landing, William Safire was asked to write a Presidential speech in case the astronauts were stranded on the moon: 
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.
These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

Godspeed, Commander Armstrong!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Max Brooks, Patron Saint of Zombie Preparedness

Saint George may have slain the dragon, but outside Elder Scrolls, D&D and the Hobbit, chances are you are never going to run into a dragon.  And if you do the only word of advice I have for you is this: 'Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.'

Zombies, now, are a different story.  The Zombie Apocalypse is coming and you need to be prepared.  Seek out the teachings of the patron saint of zombie preparedness, Saint Maximillian Michael Brooks, popularly known as Max Brooks.  Mr. Brooks has devoted his life to preparing society for the impending Zombie Apocalypse.  In 2003, he published the seminal zombie preparedness manual, The Zombie Survival Guide.  He followed this up in 2006 with the cautionary tale, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War.  In 2009, his graphic novel The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks revealed the secret history of zombie attacks (Ever wonder what the true secret behind the lost colony of Roanoke was?  Yep, zombies.)  Max has consulted as a zombie expert for the TV shows 'Deadliest Warrior' and 'Sons of Gun' and continues to tour the country giving Zombie Survival Seminars.

Recommended Reading

Who's your Daddy?

SPOILERS: If you have not watched Empire Strikes Back, two things.  1) This post contains spoilers.  2) Do yourself a favor, ignore the numbering and watch the Star Wars Saga the way it was meant to be seen.  Watch in this order: Star Wars (it may be known as A New Hope, but the title is and always should be Star Wars), Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  That's all there is to it.  There was some really bad schlock associated with the trilogy and if you must watch it, then you can add The Star Wars Holiday Special to the list.

There will come a day when you think one (or both) of your parents is the worst parent in the world.  They may have taken away your LED flashlight as you hid under your covers reading Tolkien or won't let you make blue milk or worse yet mis-pronounced Neil Gaiman's name.  But keep in mind that as bad as your parent(s) may seem, they pale in comparison to one of the worst parents in this or any other galaxy.

Meet Darth Vader, nee Anakin (Annie) Skywalker, Lord of the Sith, former Jedi Knight, Slaughterer of Sand-People, Massacarist of Padawans and Daughter Torturer.

Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father?
Luke: He told me enough. He told me that you killed him.
Vader: No, I am your father. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

Yes, Luke, that's your Dad!  Make sure you send him a card on the 3rd Sunday in June.  If not, he may find your lack of fealty disturbing and force choke you.  

So, just remember, the next time your parents won't let you go to Toshii Station to pick up some power converters, it could be a lot worse!

Friday, August 3, 2012

John the Baptized

Recently, my brother-in-law asked me to serve as the godfather to his first born, John William.  (And yes, I pushed to no avail for the s at the end of William; how great would that have been?)  Having not regularly attended church for some time, I grappled with the idea of refusing.  What good would a lapsed Christian be as a spiritual adviser?  But then I realized my moral upbringing had been more influenced by Geek than by God.  As much as I love my brother-in-law, I know he doesn't know the difference between Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel.  Someone needs to be there to guide John William's (drop that apostrophe and we're all humming the Superman theme!) geek education.  Someone needs to be there to help protect him from his villainous first cousins, Lex & Loki.  Someone needs to show this boy the path from the Shire to Mordor.  Someone needs to make sure he knows Han shot first.    Someone needs to introduce him to Douglas Adams (his father has John Adams covered).  Who better than the Geekfather?

This blog will be an ongoing testament to my godson John William.  In it I will share my knowledge of all things geek, introduce him to the Geek Commandments and canonize the Saints of Geekdom.