Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shuttle Landed at Edwards!

So this morning I arrived at my desk at UCLA and popped open a web browser to see a CNN article that said that the Shuttle Endeavour would be landing at Edwards Air Force base today at 4:25 pm Pacific time. As it was only about 10:30 am when I got in, I briefly entertained the idea of driving the 2 hours up to Edwards to see the landing. The shuttles are scheduled to be retired from service in 2010, and Edwards landings don't happen all that often, maybe once a year, so this could possibly be the last shuttle landing in California ever. I spent 20 minutes looking around online and reading about viewing locations, before I went to and found that CNN had got the times wrong: It would be landing at 4:25 EASTERN time, 1:25 pm pacific. Thanks CNN. And yes it was their mistake, not me misreading the numbers, as I had kept that browser page open and compared it with the NASA site. Serves me right for trusting CNN on details. Oh well.

I did get a shuttle-related treat anyway, though. I had heard anecdotally that you can hear the double-sonic booms from the Shuttle as it passes over the L.A. area on its way to Edwards. But I'd never heard it firsthand in L.A.. I remember back in college, when I worked at EarthKAM, wondering if we'd hear the booms in San Diego, but we never did. I guessed, at the time, that the shuttle was simply to high and too far away from our location on the ground to be able to hear it unless you are right under it. I know it also depends on whether the shuttle is approaching Edwards on an ascending (south to north) or descending (north to south) section of its orbit, as it will be coming in farther north if it's on a descending track.

Anyway, I expected I might be able to hear a soft double-boom if I went outside at the right time. So at 1:15 pm, when the NASA TV announcer said the shuttle was at an altitude of 20 miles and only 137 miles from the Edwards runway (which put the shuttle right over the coast, right around Oxnard) I walked outside onto the roof and listened. I waited for about 5 minutes, figuring that it would take less time than that for the shuttle to pass the area on its way to Edwards, as it was going about Mach 2.5 (~2000 mph). I waited and looked upward, listening. Nothing. A tad disappointed but not too surprised, I walked back toward the door, and was about 2 steps from going back in side when. . .


It was unmistakable, and much louder than I had been expecting! I walked down the hall to see if my friend had heard it from his office, but he wasn't there. I then thought to call my friend Phil, who lives in Downey to the southeast. He had the same idea, apparently, as my phone was ringing and I answered to hear his voice: "My house just shook!". Next came a text message from Regan, who was in the valley. She had heard the booms, which she said were so lound it sounded "like a bomb went off". Curious, I texted my sister and called my mom, who both reported hearing the booms clearly all the way in San Diego. Apparently, everyone else in the Southern CA area heard it as well, according to the OC Register and LAist.

From the timing and from listening to the NASA TV broadcast, I gather the shuttle was somewhere between 15 and 18 miles (80,000 ft and 95,000 ft) in altitude when I heard the boom. So, since sound travels around 700 mph at sea level (~11.5 miles per minute), it makes some sense that Endeavour's shock wave took a couple of minutes to reach me. As the shuttle flew right over L.A., I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I could hear it. . . but I am impressed that my family in San Diego, another 150 miles south, could hear it so clearly!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Obama Elected

I'm so glad the election is over. After nearly 2 years of hearing about this presidential campaign, it's finally over. We're getting a new president. A smart, inspiring, reasonable, Democratic president. I'm so glad! I have so much more hope for our country now! I think our standing in world politics, our reliance on science and reason for policy decisions instead of religion and tradition, our dedication to the Constitution, and our civic progress will all improve under Obama!

And, though Obama has been reluctant to play the race card throughout his campaign, all the emotion that comes with the fact that he will be our first African American President has come pouring out in me and in many others now that he has won. To think that, if we were living 150 years ago in this country, he would probably be a slave. To think that, if we were living just ~40 years ago in some parts of our country, he would have been a second-class citizen, with all the discrimination and "separate-but-equal" treatment that comes with it. And come January 20, he will be our president. Seeing Jesse Jackson's tears of joy as he stood among the huge crowd at Grant Park nearly moved ME to tears. Free at last.

I did not vote for Obama just because he was black. And I don't think most voters did either. If Americans were going to vote for a candidate because he was black, they had their chance with Jesse Jackson in 1984, and Al Sharpton in 2000. No, I voted for Obama because I agree with his policies, his positions on the issues, and I admire his background in relying on intellect and reason and dedication to the constitution. But, all that said, for the rest of my life I am going to be able to say that I helped elect the first black President in U.S. history. And yeah, I'm pretty proud of that.

John McCain's concession speech was excellent. It reminded me that I really do like that guy. He's probably my favorite Republican politician. And, if he had been running his campaign supporting the same ideals he had espoused for much of his career, I think I would have felt more sympathetic to his cause. But his switch to the more conservative of the far right side of his party, his changing positions on issues (like the Bush tax cuts) where I agreed with his former position but not his latter one, and his choice of a right-wing veep candidate, all heralded his loss. Of course, a huge reason why the country voted as it did is due to the economic crisis, and there's plenty of blame to go around for that crisis amongst the Democrats, the Republicans, and Wall Street. McCain just happened to be running for the party with a sitting administration. Well, he's a good man and I know he has more good work to do in the Senate.

As for California, I'm mostly happy with the results of our ballot measures. I'm especially happy that both Prop 1A (the high speed rail initiative), and Measure R (the L.A. County public transit initiative) have passed. As a result of those, my city and state are going to get a new, expanded, modern transit system that will help give people more travel options, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce our emission of smog and greenhouse gases, and demonstrate California's leadership in civic progress. I already believed that California is a great state, but I now also believe that Los Angeles has a chance to become a great (not just big) metropolis! And with a Obama in the White House, and a hugely Democratic Congress, where Pelosi has hinted that she will try to make infrastructure funding a major part of the next stimulus package, I'm confident we'll actually get the federal fund matching we need to complete these projects.

Despite these other victories, I feel a huge bitterness that Prop 8 appears to have passed. I am genuinely surprised, first of all. I knew it would be somewhat close, but I did not actually believe it would pass. I had more faith in the awareness of the people in this state than was warranted, apparently. I've already explained why Prop 8 is unfair, wrong, and completely analagous to the racist "separate but equal" Jim Crow Laws that survived until the 1960's, so I won't go into all that again. (Except to point out that California's Supreme Court was the first in the nation to strike down the ban on interracial marriage as unconstitutional in 1948, and I was glad to see the Court repeat its wisdom back in May, despite the stupidity and bigotry of the voters.)

All I'll say is this: Those who voted for this initiative (apparently a majority of this state) are, in my eyes, as equally bigoted as those who supported the ban on interacial marriage that became law in California in 1850 and lasted until almost 100 years later. You do not get a pass on this just because your church told you to do it and you were too indoctrinated to think for yourselves and realize it was wrong. And when homosexuals finally are granted the same rights as heterosexuals, hopefully some time in the not-so-distant future, your legacy will be that you opposed equal rights, opposed equal treatment under the law, and supported discriminatory policies that were along the same lines as slavery, Jim Crow laws, and Japanese Internment camps. Shame on you. You made a horrible mistake. And I won't be letting you forget it.