Thursday, February 20, 2014

Remembering Ken

Instead of a formal service (which he would've hated) we're going to have an open house type event so people can stop by at their convenience and have some food and drink and meet people from his different worlds--work, friends, and family. Share stories, drink a toast, remember fun times... Trophy Ridge Subdivision Poolhouse, 10803 Manor Creek, SATX 78245. (Just off Potranco near Loop 1604, turn between HEB and Kohl's) Sunday March 2, from 2-5pm

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Closing The Lab Door

On December 21, 2013 my big brother Ken--the creator and author of Zzakk's Lab as shown in my photo above--was in an accident while Christmas shopping. He got thrown from his 1987 Harley Sportster 883 and when his helmetless head hit the pavement that was pretty much it. Despite heroic efforts, he was gone. I hope you enjoyed his writings and ideas on rockets and monocopters, etc. My plan is to keep this site online in perpetuity as a testament to his weird and brilliant mind, and will add photos and stories when I can. A service is planned for Sunday March 2nd. If you are near San Antonio and would like to attend, check back here for details.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Jabber, Jabber, Jabberwock


Lewis Carroll

(from Through the Looking-Glass

and What Alice Found There, 1872)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

  And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

  The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

  Long time the manxome foe he sought --

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

  And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

  The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

  And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

  The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

  He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?

  Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'

  He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

  And the mome raths outgrabe.

I love the Jabberwock. It sounds like complete nonsense, but theres fun to be had squinting between the lines.  I found the poem at this website.   A dusty place last I looked.

What started this was my purchase of the Tremors Attack Pack, a 4 movie DVD set.  I knew and loved the first two movies, but didn't even know about the later two till then.

As I first watched Tremors 3; Back to Perfection, the flying morph of the Tremors creatures first came on screen and I pointed at it, snapped my fingers twice, popped my forehead with my palm and yelled; "Jabberwock!"  and I hadnt read the poem in years.  Then it launched itself with it's butt on fire!  Haw, rocket powered flying Jabberwock!  A natural boost glider.

There are many examples of evolved chemical warfare in nature. Webbing, irritants, venomous bites and stings are only the most obvious ones. The plant world, both land and aquatic dont just compete for light but modify the medium in which they live, sometimes in exclusionary ways. The sessile ocean reefs are practically a warzone rife with other examples. 
The prime example for this blogpost would be the Bombardier Beetle, with its caustic binary chemical defense spray. From there its not such a big step to evolve a rocket propulsion system, improbable in a higher life form though it be.

For centuries we humans have made oxidizers for blackpowder  from our own urine, as well as the excretions of other animals.  Consider how history wouldve changed if we had had rocket powered Jabberwocks as an example.

A short BTW:  I googled the Vorpal Sword.  Another nonsense word at the time, but now its become a popular weapon in gaming and comics. Ran acrossem a few times myself.

A longer BTW:  In Tremors 2; Aftershocks, when the first Shrieker comes into view it presages its' entrance with much bashing and crashing, louder and louder.  Earl and Grady are getting increasingly nervous and are pointing their rifle barrels higher and higher. Around the corner steps this little 3ft tall spud, they start to let their guard down, then it charges It reminds me so very much of the old WB Merrie Melodies cartoon; Inki and the Mynah Bird. The jungle thrashes, the jungle crashes, one imagines terrible things; rabid rhinos, a constipated elephant or even worse!  Then out steps the Mynah Bird, tiny and totally blasé. Do not be fooled, DO NOT let your guard down! 
BTW to the BTW;  You're not likely to see Inki and the Mynah Bird on TV anymore due to racial censorship. 
3rd BTW to the second BTW; I cheered back when Warner Brothers Channel brought back the singing frog as its' mascot. I think it would be really cool if WB's New Looney Tunes brought back the Mynah Bird, at least as a cameo appearance, or six. The main characters have to pause the dialogue or chase for pedestrian traffic. The kind of gag Looney Tunes is well known for.  Or; Wylie Coyote thinks a Mynah Bird might be easier pickins' than Roadrunner...NOT!
Now the tune is stuck in my head!

BTW the fifth;  I've been sitting on this draft for a long, LONG time because it's a real rambler. It never gets any shorter though, and it still defies any attempts to divide and conquer.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Quiz Time

I don't remember where I found this online, or for that matter where I put my Star Fleet book with documents including fold-out blueprints for the ship...

Where is the transporter room?

Monday, June 18, 2012

25 Years in Tripoli

I was puzzled when my recent Tripoli renewal came back in a small bubble wrap lined envelope instead of a standard correspondence envelope.  I open it up and out comes this shiny  pin, WOW.  I hadn't given it much thought, but I've been a member of Tripoli Rocketry Association for 25 years now!  I'm temped to get all cliche and say; time flies when you're having fun,  but mostly it just flies.

Needless to say, I have a very low membership number, in fact they had to add two zeros to the front of it over the years. What is surprising is that due to attrition  over the intervening centuries there are less than 50 members now with lower numbers. For my part, I don't consider this any kind of elitism, just hardcore rocketry.

My brother Keith composed this photo, and it was his idea to add the rocket motor.  It's a 38mm Vulcan I250 Smokey Sam and nearly that old itself.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rockin' with Fizzie-Rocs

Fizzie powered toys rocked!

I consider one of these to be my second flying rocket after the Korny-7 but my first real thrust powered rocket.
A recent web search yielded several similar rockets of this type and most look close enough to my recollection so as to make no never mind. They operated as water rockets powered by water and a fizzie type tablet. Pour in the water with the provided funnel/measuring cup, drop in the pellet[s] and quickly insert the nozzle plug. Then turn the rocket upright and insert the plug assembly in the pad base which is attached to the ground with a large nail, back-away and pull the release string. No recovery system, thus the rubber nose tip.

Vinegar and baking soda would probably fly just as well but the fact that the fizzie is in pellet form allows time for insertion of the nozzle plug where a quick dissolving powder would not.
I don't recall what became of this rocket but I know I put it on the 2nd story apartment roof at least once.

About the same time, or not long after, there were a couple other fizzie powered toys, a squirt pistol and a submarine. The sub definetely used more than one pellet and would drive forward, dive, then resurface. I wanted that sub. I did have the gun one summer. Both were also red plastic.

These were toys that, like pump-up water-rocs were an idea that were ahead of the materials technology of the day. Polystyrene doesn't hold up well enough. Polycarbonate [Lexan], PET and similar plastics have allowed the reintroduction of such products

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wig-Wag Monocopter

Ascent position

Descent position [almost]

The Wig-Wag is yet another monocopter with an adjustable pitch wing. Like the two Campitch MC's the wing automatically adjusts from ascent pitch to descending autorotative pitch.

The Wig-Wag employs a weighted arm mounted to the hub and a wire loop mounted to the underside of the wing leading edge which goes around the weightbar. Before ignition, the weightbar dangles down holding the wing down with it. As rpm increases centrifigal force swings the weightbar outward, thus upward, until it's horizontal, pulling the wing up to ascent angle. After motor burn out, as rpm decreases, the weightbar sags downward again, bringing the wing down into autorotation mode. Unlike the Campitch MC's, this pitch control system is more responsive in flight and doubtless more tunable on the ground since it's controlled by the mass [and length] of the weightbar alone rather than the interaction of wing weight and spring strength. This actually works like the weight ball governor on old steam engines [and some early petrol engines], particularly stationary units. So like them, at peak performance, the Wig-wag monocopter is literally running ball[s]-out.

While the Campitch MC's would've been difficult to design without serious drafting, preferably CAD, the Wig-Wag was cobbed together a part at a time with no drafting of any sort. It aint perfect, but it's a good first attempt and entirely functional from first flight on.
The wing and hub are used parts resurrected from the remains of the CP-1. This makes for a wing that is too small and heavy but it does turn in fair flights on C motors. The weightbar is made from an RC pushrod clevis and a piece of 2-56 all-thread with a lead fishing weight nutted on. My biggest conceptual stumbling block was coming up with a suitable weightbar pivot mount on the hub. Installation of an upright piece of G10 fiberglass was easy enough with my bandsaw followed by grinding access for the flybar with a moto-tool. What was actually more difficult was bending a suitable wire loop for the wing and then mounting it in the best spot. I bent two loops and then punched three pairs of holes in the wing before I was reasonably satisfied. I was glad to be utilizing used parts as I had no concern for cosmetic issues.

So far the Wig-Wag has made three flights. First on a C6, then on a D5, followed by a D12. While the two Estes motors were fine, the Quest D5 suffered a case burnthrough. While this is no big surprise anytime you spin one, that recycled undersized wing makes matters worse. This led to replacement of the motor mount tube.

After puzzling for quite a while over a name, I settled on Wig-Wag due to the resemblance between the weightbar and a wig-wag railroad crossing signal

Sunday, October 9, 2011

SpaceX Has A Pipedream

Spaceflight Now has a recent article [Reprinted from CBS Space] on SpaceX's vision of making their boosters reusable. The simulation video is sharp. The stated intention is for direct descent and landing under rocket thrust. Sounds simple enough on the face of it but I immediately saw some flaws in the plans.

First Stage; Slant range puts the booster a long way from the launch site and variable target orbits increase possible descent points over a large arc, typically well out over the Atlantic. The sheer height of the Falcon 9 booster makes me want to install much larger landing legs [and more of them]. This is why all flyback booster designs thusfar have wings, wheeled landing gear and sometimes jet engines.

Second stage, This might actually be a bit easier than the first stage. Because the 2nd stage is itself orbital [or nearly so], one can pick the reentry point and bring it down where desired. A reentry heat shield adds a lot of weight though. At least 2 motor restarts are needed, but restarts are not that uncommon here. Need a lot of spare fuel for both the deorbit and the landing. Second stage motor nozzles are typically optimized for high altitude/vacuum operations and will be inefficient back at sea level.
I believe it was NRL that was ground testing a booster 20 or so years ago that was low-pressure [no turbo pumps] and had a variable expansion thrust bell, kinda like the "turkey feathers" on a fighter jet engine nozzle. This allowed inflight expansion ratio optimization for any altitude.

Capsule and boosters are shown returning on thrust alone. Even with thrust for landing, parachute systems would still be more economical and probably lighter for slowing and stabilizing the vehicles in an upright position instead of relying on attitude thrusters and the mains alone. Parachutes would also add some safety in case of motor failure, or at least reduce the splat.

"We'll see if this works," Musk said. "But it's going to be certainly an exciting journey. And if it does work, it'll be pretty huge. If you look at the cost of a Falcon 9 ... it's about $50 (million) to $60 million. But the cost of the fuel and oxygen and so forth is only about $200,000. So obviously, if we can reuse the rocket, say, a thousand times, then that would make the capital cost of the rocket for launch only about $50,000. ... It would allow about a hundred-fold reduction in launch costs."

Was Mr Musk reading that off a script???
Nobody's gonna get 1000 uses out of any booster, even if there is that large a backlog of flight contracts. Divide flight contracts by; payload production rates, vehicle refurbishment rate, available ground support, optimal launch windows... I'm sorry but I would've scoffed at 100 flights per booster. How about 10 flights each on a 5-10 booster fleet. By then; if the economics are sound, you'll be building a few replacements and/or an improved new fleet anyway.
Note that Elon says a 1000 fold reduction in booster cost relates to only a 100 fold reduction in overall launch costs. That sounds reasonable as other costs go up drastically. Additional flight systems complication, booster retransport, refurbishment, range comm/nav systems, additional facilities...manpower, manpower, manpower.

I have great respect for SpaceX and what they have accomplished. In fact I'd like to work for them, and I can't say that about most of the aerospace industry or NASA itself.

Upgraded PC At Last

My friend Steve recently replaced my PC tower with a much newer one. Not precisely cutting edge as it was assembled from hand-me-down components, but it's a lot more advanced than my old one which I had for over 11 years.

There's a helluva lot of work to do yet, software and tools to transfer or download, and gigs of folders to transfer. Wherever practical, I'm downloading fresh copies or newer versions of software and tools just to be sure they're clean and up to date. Normally I cringe and start to break out in hives every time I'm faced with "Updated" or "Improved" software. Most of the time it has compatability issues or unresolved glitches, or will no longer do what I needed it to do beforehand [Quicktime comes to mind on that score]. Naturally, I totally object to automated updates and block them always. The learning curve is pretty steep, principally changing from Win 98 to XP, and Bobcad 17 to 21.xx. After using dialup all those years, having a hi-speed internet connection sure is nice too.

Steve is a computer professional and I cannot recommend him enough. You can reach him through the following link;
Thanks Steve.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Don't Forget the Cheese!!!

One of the things I like best about living in south Texas is Mexican food. To be more accurate; Tex-Mex food. I aint talkin' about Taco Hell here. Above all else I love breakfast, I'll have breakfast for dinner even, this includes breakfast tacos. I usually ask for cheese on my breakfast tacos and from time to time the cooks forget to do so. Happens to burgers sometimes too. Over the last 30+ years this has added up to quite a bit of lost cheese. Brings a tear to my eye.

Today I was trying out a new restaraunt, ordered myself some coffee and two tacos; bacon, egg & cheese and chorizo, egg & cheese. When the order was ready the manager brought it out because my server was busy elsewhere. The tacos were large but they looked a bit thin, I peaked under the flaps and there was plenty of cheese but nothing else! No eggs, no porky bits. Without some grilling time, these weren't exactly quesadillas yet either. The manager was all apologetic but I had to laugh out loud, disturb the whole place loud. That was funny!

The Wheel of Cheese Turns Full Circle.