How A Commercial Airplane Is Made

Hey, fellow travelers. Ever wonder how the planes you take are designed and built? MinutePhysics goes right to the source to find out.

900 Miles: A Week On Hawaii’s Big Island

Hey, folks. I’m baaaaack.

*Crickets chirping*

…Ahem. If you recall, I recently left for a week-long trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. As with all of my travels, I focused on exploration and seeing new things. This was my first time on the Big Island, so there was a lot of ground to cover. And while I’m going cover it all via writing and photography (with a new DSLR!) soon, I thought I’d outline my epic adventure using a list format from this week’s writing challenge. To give you an idea of the scale and length of the journey (totaling nearly 900 miles, to the amazement/horror of the rental car people) here’s a map of the Big Island:

Map_of_Big_Island_of_Hawaii_Detailed

Here’s a list in chronological order of where I went. See if you can chart my routes:

Friday, 11/28/2014:

  • Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. (The location of my hotel and the starting and end points of all my daily trips until the last day).

Saturday, 11/29/2014:

Sunday, 11/30/2014

Monday, 12/01/2014

Tuesday, 12/02/2014

Wednesday, 12/03/2014

Thursday, 12/04/2014

Friday, 12/05/2014

Beaches, harbors, volcanos, lava tubes, rainforests, towns, nature trails, waterfalls, gardens, farms, tide pools…I may have overdone it. Then again, I’m already compiling a list of all things I’ll do the next time I go!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections, Or: Reflecting In Phuket

Image

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections, Or: Reflecting In Phuket

There’s a huge reflection pool in the lobby of the Phuket Marriott. It looks really relaxing in the daylight, but it looks almost magical at night…

Death And Life In The Family

Hey, folks. You might have noticed I’ve been incommunicado for part of this week. I wish I could say that I was on some wonderfully epic adventure, but my near-600 mile road trip down to Bakersfield was for something much more personal. If you were following my blog a couple of months back, you’ll probably recall a post I wrote about my grandmother. Just before the end of January, the inevitable happened; her body could no longer keep up with her iron will and spirit. She died just as we all thought she would: tending to that rose bush in front of the house. She had just finished watering and pruning it, when a neighbor saw her suddenly lay down. My relatives and emergency responders did everything they could, but it was over far too quickly. And that’s the best anyone could hope for. Aside from dying in your sleep, a fast, peaceful death is preferable to an agonizingly dragged-out hospital drama. While I’m sad she’s gone, I’m actually happy, too; her injuries in 2013 made daily life incredibly painful, and she must have despised being so limited. It’s only fitting that she died doing the one of her greatest passions.

She died almost exactly 19 years after my grandfather, and they were buried next to each other. I had the honor of being one of her eight pallbearers. It’s an tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, though not all coffins are covered with cloth anymore. I won’t go into details about the funeral out of respect for my family; it’s excruciating to see the important people in your life emotionally broken. What I will say is that my grandmother earned the love and respect of every person she ever met. I heard so many stories about her life in the last week. How she met my grandfather – a valedictorian with hopes of becoming a lawyer – in high school. How they in their mid-20s survived the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II. How they once owned a coconut plantation. How she had a dozen kids, and became a master seamstress just to make ends meet. How the family suffered through floods and famine, starving and barely scraping by with nothing. How she sacrificed so much to keep everyone alive and well. How she taught her children how to kill and butcher a chicken the old fashioned way, to garden, to cook, to sew, to tell time by looking at the sun, to be disciplined, to be appreciate what little they had. How my grandparents took in stray kids and helped them survive to become pillars of their communities today. How much she loved to travel, and how she could be up and walking miles before sunrise. How the family came to the States in the 70s, resulting in multiple real-life American success stories. How her willpower was the stuff of legends.

To quote my cousin: “It’s a good thing Grandma died before the zombie apocalypse, because you know she’d have slaughtered every single one of us.”

Judging from what I’ve seen, that’s probably not an exaggeration.

I spent a lot of time with my extended family. I don’t get to see them very often – some of which I haven’t really visited with in 19 years – so it was very good to catch up. Religion is a huge part of our parents’ lives – it’s the reason they came to America – but it’s only one aspect of ours. I may be considered strange and rebellious by the older generations, but I discovered that all of us grandkids are far less straitlaced than we look. In a good way. I’m relieved to know that introversion, sarcasm, and geekery run in the family. My cousins are programmers, civil engineers, chefs, bakers, entrepreneurs, cosplayers, video game geeks, fashionistas, teachers, bankers, athletes, aspiring scientists, and so much more. Some like to go barhopping, while others prefer Disneyland, Comic-Con, and Austin City Limits. Others love Magic: The Gathering, Creepypasta, and Vocaloid. One of my cousins vowed to get all the kids together and throw me a Dirty Thirty birthday in Vegas this October. I haven’t decided if I’ll take them up on it yet.

Thank you for everything you’ve done, Grandma. Not just for all you’ve taught me in life, but for helping me become closer to my family even in death. I’ll miss you.

All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt is all about perfection. It’s worth noting that perfection is inherently impossible. Perceptions are subjective; “perfection” could mean “fair to middling” or even “abysmal” for someone else. It’s a matter of standards, realism, and common sense; if you have so much riding on a single thing or moment, you’ll probably be disappointed. If your expectations are too low, it’s easy to miss the real value of an experience. It’s really rare for something to turn out exactly as you’ve hoped. And while I can’t say that I’ve seen perfection, I’ve come pretty close a few times.

My visit to Paris was one of the most enthralling and awkward trips of my life. It was early March, and winter still held France in an icy, iron grip. It never went above 25 degrees the entire week I was there. It was the coldest temperature I’d ever been in; imagine a kid raised in California suddenly having to stumble around in five layers of clothing. Now imagine that same kid standing in line for the Eiffel Tower elevator for an hour and a half, trembling against the wind chill and the ice forming on his nose and cheek. Yes, the view was definitely worth the wait, but my face literally ached when I showered later. The Eiffel Tower is a lot like the Golden Gate Bridge here; they’re both amazing marvels of engineering and symbolism, and they’re huge tourist magnets. The Arc de Triomphe was slightly more enjoyable, only because there were less crowds and I’m a history geek. Its massive scale and unbelievably intricate designs almost made me forget that it stood in the middle of a gargantuan, noisy roundabout.

I could say that wandering around the city was perfect. I love exploring, so I was drooling at all the stuff to see and do. Stumbling across Les Invalides about an hour after it closed, settling for pictures of its front instead. Checking out Musée d’Orsay, specifically Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone and Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. And managing to talk the guards into letting me view a special Impressionist exhibition, for that matter. Wandering down and crossing the Seine, coming across Notre Dame without even realizing it. Walking down the seemingly endless line of cafes and restaurants as evening fell, a boisterous maître d’ trying to coax people inside with promises of amazing French cuisine. Retreating into a quiet Greek place and wolfing down my first gyro. Catching the last train back out to Marne-la-Vallée, and desperately trying to keep myself warm while waiting for a hotel shuttle.

Speaking of which, Le Métropolitain deserves a special mention. Before that, the only trains I’d ever ridden were BART, New York City Subway, and the Washington Metro. Paris’s subway system trounces them so much (the horrible, wretched stench at Les Halles notwithstanding), it’s not even funny. It’s not because of its size, but the layout. On a map it looks like a gigantic multicolored spiderweb, but it’s surprisingly easy to navigate once you’ve gotten the hang of it. I got lost on it for a few hours, mainly because I didn’t speak a word of French. It took some trial and error, but I eventually got it down. At one point a beautiful young woman approached me:

Her: Bonjour.

Me: (Glancing up in surprise) Huh?

Her: Savez-vous comment atteindre cette station?

Me: (Looking around awkwardly) …Uh, no parle vous français.

Her: …Oh. (Moves away)

Me: (Mentally) Damn it. WHY? Why didn’t you study French before coming here?

Any missteps were promptly forgotten once I visited The Louvre and the Palace of Versailles. If you’re a history and art geek, you already know how awesome they are. The former is the museum; 35,000+ items spanning across the whole of human history. The place looks huge on just the street level, but it’s much, much bigger once you enter that little pyramid and go underground. You’d need at least a month to see everything. If I could, I’d totally live there. I distinctly remember making a beeline for the Winged Victory of Samothrace, one of the greatest masterpieces of Ancient Greece. I was positively giddy at seeing The Coronation of Napoleon, The Raft of the Medusa, and Liberty Leading the People, and so many more. It’s very different from reading about them in history books or on a computer screen; you’re confronted with their sheer size and scope. Some of them are literally bigger than the rooms in my house. The amount of effort and skill required for those works must have been mind-boggling.

That’s also true for Versailles. If you want to see “living like royalty” taken to its logical (and historical) extreme, the palace is probably the best example. It doesn’t look like much when you’re approaching it from the front; its sloped entryway looks bland and aged. But that changes really quickly once you step foot inside. I spent hours gaping at The Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Chapel, the ornate drawing rooms, the Battles Gallery, the gardens that seem to stretch out into infinity, that ridiculously detailed bust of Louis XIV…it just went on and on and ON. Of course, it was also a reminder of why living so lavishly isn’t such a good idea; the amount of upkeep required for a place like this must have been staggering. This palace had so many fountains that it created water shortage issues. Such extravagant living was just one of the many factors leading up to the French Revolution. It may have been completely wasteful and unsustainable, but the king lived in style.

Looking back, the only thing that kept my trip to Paris from being perfect was the timing. I went about a decade too early; there were no digital cameras back then. I forget how many rolls of Kodak film I went through, but my pockets were stuffed with them. There’s a photo album somewhere down in storage, and there’s no feasible way to upload it for posterity. One of these days, I’m going to go back and do the adventure over. It’ll probably be better the second time around.

The Night Falls In Aruba

Hey, did someone order a Caribbean sunset? Because I’m pretty sure this Weekly Writing Challenge calls for one.

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These are just a sampling of the many, many photos I took during my trip to Oranjestad, Aruba this past April. It didn’t feel exotic; it had all of the American creature comforts, yet I struggled to find new things to do as the week wore on. However, I knew that I had to be back at Eagle Beach every night to see the amazing sunsets.

Oh, and I happened to be listening to this song on that fine evening:

Anyone else suddenly feel like going to the beach?

Daily Prompt: Five Items, Or: I’d Just Eat Gilligan

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about necessities. Specifically, five things you’d want to have on a deserted island. A classic question, and it’s hopefully something that I never have to face. Let’s see…

A survival knife. It’s hard to articulate the sheer importance of having a sharp object. They were essential in the human race’s development. You need one to hunt for food. I don’t think you’d want to use your teeth to gut a fish. Not only that, but to build shelters and other technologies as well. How else are you going to make your fishing spears and poles? How are you going to make a rain catcher? Take a look around your room; pretty much everything you own is the result of someone using a blade and fire at some point. Which brings me to the next one…

A way to make fire, preferably a flint and steel set.  Remember the myth of Prometheus? The dude stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. That theft was so heinous, Prometheus was doomed to be eternally chained to a rock and have an eagle eat his regenerating liver every day. The Olympians were hardcore like that. They’re not the only ones who kept fire to themselves, either. It underscores the necessity of fire; you need it to keep you warm, cook your food, and drive predators away. It’s also a way to signal your rescuers. Since matches are useless after getting wet, I’d definitely have some flint and steel around. I could potentially use my glasses for lens-based ignitions, but that’s assuming it’s sunny where I’m trapped.

A method of communication, preferably a radio. No, not your computer or phone. Most modern electronics won’t last a day when exposed to the elements, especially if you’re stuck on a deserted island. Pretty sure your data plan doesn’t include the middle of the ocean. You think dropping crumbs in your keyboard is bad? Imagine accidentally dropping your laptop into the sand or water. A radio – preferably a solar-powered ham radio – is way more effective. It’s your best bet for communication, and don’t have to worry about battery life. Considering that you could go mad from the isolation, having at least some way to communicate with the outside world is vital. Unless you want to start talking to volleyballs.

A tarp. When it rains here at home, I lay out a tarp to prevent part of the back deck from leaking. I’d do the same thing on a deserted island; if you’re in the middle of the ocean, chances are that it’s going to rain. A lot. An umbrella isn’t going to be much help. You need something that can not only fully cover your body, but also serve as a makeshift tent as well. It beats sleeping under a leaky layer of branches and leafs. It can also be used as a rain catcher, or a way to transport/protect food and supplies. If you’ve caught a day’s worth of fish, it’d be way easier to carrying everything back in a huge tarp-bag. Smellier, too.

Duct tape. Yeah, you read that right. I’d want a very large roll of duct tape. Do you have any idea how useful it is? There are lists of ways to use it, both in and out of dangerous situations. Even the guys on Apollo 13 used it! Need to stabilize and expand your shelter? Duct it. Need a freshwater container? Duct it. Need a hat to help prevent sunstroke? Duct it. Need to build a seaworthy escape raft out of the branches you’ve collected? DUCT IT.

Oh, and I were to have one joke response, it’d have to be a Star Trek item replicator. It’s self-explanatory.

Daily Prompt: Now You See Me, Or: Teleportation Consternation

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about super powers again. This one’s a little more specific, though: what would you do with the power to appear or disappear at will? Now, this one’s kind of tricky because the extent of the power and its consequences aren’t discussed. The logistics alone would make me hesitate to use the power at all. Oh sure, it looks cool…on paper, anyway. You probably think I’m just an unimaginative naysayer, but let’s think about this. There are several aspects of the power that need to be considered:

-How long does the power stay in effect? Will you have to hold your breath like Shadowcat?

-Do you stay in the same place when you disappear? Do you just turn invisible? That’s not very helpful against, you know, an oncoming car. Or swords. Or anything deadly that you couldn’t possibly avoid anyway.

-If you’re capable of traveling distances while using your power, is there a range? How far is it? Can you do Bleach-style Flash Steps? Can you do some globe-hopping?

-If you do travel, how do you get through objects? Do you become intangible? Is there a portal system? Do you have to travel through a demonic alternate dimension a la Nightcrawler?

Also, if you’re traveling distances, shouldn’t you know exactly where you’re going? How are the destinations determined? Doesn’t the Earth’s rotation factor into that? What happens if you let your mind wander and reappear in a chunk of concrete? How exactly is the human mind supposed to develop the superhuman levels of spatial cognizance to do that? Do you practice in an open field or something?

-What about the conservation of momentum? If you decide to vanish out of a moving vehicle, then won’t you crash-land when you reappear? You really think teleporting out of a falling airplane and back into your safe little apartment is going to save you?

-If you’re not intangible, then that power isn’t going to help you get out of most situations. Especially in crowded, populated, camera-filled areas. If someone sees you disappear in front of them, they’re going to freak out. Have fun getting your mystical mug plastered all over YouTube, and then being chased by the government for “science.” Or amateur ghost hunters. Maybe both.

-Do your powers extend to your clothes? What happens if you decide to disappear, but only your physical body vanishes? You’ll leave a pile of laundry/traceable evidence behind! Didn’t that happen on Alex Mack? Oh, and I hope you have a good explanation for when you randomly reappear naked somewhere. Or do you have to wear a skin-tight undersuit, like the heroes in Animorphs?

-How much concentration and/or energy is required to use the power? Does it effect your metabolism, like The Flash? Will it kill you if it’s used too much? If you don’t focus enough, will you leave body parts behind? Didn’t that happen on the Star Trek transporters a couple dozen times?!

…Oh, dear. This is getting messy.

Look, teleportation would only be useful if it didn’t place enormous strain on your body, let you develop some kind of supplementary super-spatial cognizance, and allowed you to transport foreign objects as well. Those criteria in play, I would use it to explore the world. Reach far-flung cultures and get lost within them. See the world from all its peaks. Circumnavigate the globe in the blink of an eye…But that’s not all. There are practical uses too; I could use it to do scouting and mapping on scientific expeditions. If the range is far enough, I could revolutionize space exploration! When disaster strikes, I could bring medical aid and resources on an unprecedented scale. Or set up my own product shipment service. You think Amazon’s delivery drones are cool? I could teleport that Kindle with the snap of a finger. It’d be like magic.

Daily Prompt: I Have Confidence in Me, Or: The Paradox Of The Shy, Adventurous Writer

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about confidence. Specifically, what you’re good at, and what you’d like to be better at. This one’s actually hard for me to explain. I understand that I’m good at writing; it comes naturally to me. I’ve only improved over time and effort. My standards are much higher than they were a decade ago. The words flow from my fingers like a river, and the ideas therein are the rocks and rapids. You know how most students loathe writing essays? I thrived on that in college. A good piece of writing is like a puzzle; each word is an individual (but essential) component of a more complex structure. It’s just a matter of examining each piece and arranging it correctly to convey your message. Oh, and the key to developing a writer’s voice? Just read what you’ve written out loud. If it sounds weird, then you know you need to change something. It’s that simple. Unless you want to sound like a space alien pretending to be human or blatantly show off your thesaurus-perusing skills, but that’s an entirely different issue…

Going on a tangent. Sorry.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m good at this. Getting the words together on paper (though it’s more on-screen these days) is really easy. Dealing with my internal critic, however, is a struggle of epic proportions. You probably know what I’m talking about. It’s that little voice in your head that just loves to sow doubt and undermine everything good you believe about yourself. Typing again, huh? It’s not even worth your time. Who’s going to read it? You think anyone will actually care, let alone notice? Where’s the money? Writing is your greatest skill? What a joke. Why can’t you get a real job, and be like everyone else? Failure! You don’t have a future. You’re never going to make it. You’re going to starve, man.

…Yeah, I need to work on the confidence thing.

For the longest time, I bought into all of that. On my really bad nights, I still do. But if you get me motivated and focused, I will be on fire. It’s all about the situations and objectives. The last time I did NaNoWriMo, I burned through 20,000 words in a single sitting. When I found out that that I might miss the deadline for my college graduation, I buckled down and scheduled more than a full course load, aced every single class, and got my degree on time. You give me a goal I’m interested in, and I’ll show you what tenacity and willpower can accomplish. Resolve is one of the greatest and most terrifying qualities a person can have.

My skills aren’t limited to writing, though. I’ve got a critical eye with regards to pretty much everything, so I’m good at picking up details. You know how kids are capable of absorbing tons of information? It’s kind of like that. Facial expressions, vocal tones, languages, accents, structural designs, philosophical concepts, colors, anything. It’s pretty handy when you’re tasked with reviewing something; I can take a game/story/whatever apart quickly. I can read and predict others easily. People think I’m insightful, but my observations seem really obvious. Anyone who’s ever played against me in fighting or strategy games knows what an utterly ruthless tactician I can be. It’s not about thinking outside the box; it’s about thinking outside the room the box is stored in. I’m capable of memorizing lengthy procedures and scheduling around them; I used to have my college commutes calculated down to individual steps. I’d like to think it was practicality over OCPD, but I know better.

I’m also a really good traveling companion. Whenever I travel in a group, I’m usually the one with the map or an idea of where to go. Give me a little time to figure out the layout of a new place, and I’ll quickly adjust to it. I explored Paris on Le Métropolitain, and I didn’t speak a word of French. Someone even asked me for directions! The pigmentation of my skin is ambiguously olive enough that I can pass for a local most of the time. Since I’m good at reading facial expressions, I don’t always need to verbalize to communicate. I’ve also got a cast-iron stomach; I’ve eaten local cuisine that have left others bedridden for days.

Huh. It’s surreal reading the last few paragraphs. I know I’m good at all of that, but it clashes with my personality. I’ve mentioned before that I’m introverted. It’s not a flaw (no matter what social expectations say), but it’s completely the opposite of adventurous side. Wandering a foreign city? I’m fine. Stuck in a crowded room? I’m lost. I’m really shy and uncomfortable in social situations. It’s tiring and awkward, and it makes me look arrogant and aloof. I don’t want to talk about my interests, because I just end up confusing the other person. People are sometimes intimidated by my use of direct eye contact. It’s a tactical measure; people know I’m paying attention, which puts them more on edge and gives me the advantage. I’ve also been accused of being a charmer, which always seems bizarre to me. I’m not trying to be charismatic; I’m trying to survive the conversation without making a fool of myself. You’d be amazed how far a smile, a joke, and polite conversation can get you. I’m always taken aback when women (and men, with surprising frequency) try flirting with me. I never know what to say, and I just want to back away as quickly and gracefully as possible.

Ye gods, I’m actually blushing now.

I need to work on the social skills. I get that. I’m not good at connecting with people beyond a purely academic level. It’s just scary, awkward, and unnerving. I wish I had a stronger voice, too. It’s annoying when people can’t hear you because your indoor voice is apparently a whisper. I can hear myself just fine. I wish I was more physically coordinated, too. I can hike for hours at a time, but I’m not good at conventional sports. I did pretty well in jujitsu, though…There are so many other things I wish I could do better. When I have the time – I’m heading out to a party now, incidentally –  I’ll make a list. It’ll be a long one.