One Ring to rule them all

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie,
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

The One Ring

(She did, after the initial shock, say yes.)

Arrival of the Dovahkiin

“Skyrim legend tells of a hero known as the Dragonborn, a warrior with the body of a mortal and soul of a dragon, whose destiny it is to destroy the evil dragon Alduin.”

Meet Emily:

Emily is my one-month-old niece, and the most adorable little child ever.

We’ve already picked up that she has a keen ear for music — it calms her down whenever she’s a bit upset, and even puts a smile on her face (she’s getting old enough to do that now).  Last week though, I was over at my sister’s place visiting, and put on the Skyrim soundtrack for her: she pricked her ears up, listened for a while, and then started conducting to Jeremy Soule’s fantastic score.

Long story short, I’ve now organised the Skyrim soundtrack for my sister — and the Last Dragonborn (the Dovahkiin) may indeed be amongst us.

(Further proof: she also loves the soundtrack from The Hobbit — especially the Smaug themes.)

The New Bane Rises

I don’t normally get into discussions about politics and all of that, but I couldn’t help commenting on Julius Malema’s new political party (the Economic Freedom Fighters, abbreviated to EFF — which confuses the hell out of my geeky mind, which associates the acronym EFF to the Electronic Frontier Foundation), and more specifically, their draft manifesto.  Anyway, ol’ Juju has taken his rather radical rhetoric to his own platform after being booted out of the ANC, as can be seen by what they’re pushing for:

  • All land should be transferred to state ownership.
  • All African borders should be dropped.
  • Certain criminal records should be scrapped.

Now, this sounds rather familiar.  One might be thinking about Zimbabwe, who went down a similar path (and look how well it turned out for them!), but if, like me, you’ve watched The Dark Knight Rises, it probably sounds even more familiar.

To this end, and courtesy of some photoshopping that the MyBroadband community has done, I present: Bane 2.0!

Julius "Bane" Malema

Thankfully, it’s quite likely that this story will have the same ending that the film did.  If not, then… “there’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

In Soviet Russia, asteroid plays YOU!

The nerd community had a bit of news earlier today: a meteor streaking across the skies of Russia.  Since everyone in Russia seems to have a dashcam (apparently it’s a car insurance requirement over there due to police/judicial corruption), we even got footage of it:

While the meteor didn’t cause any damage itself, the sonic blasts were significantly more destructive; current reports seem to indicate around 400 injured, mainly from broken/falling glass.  Not surprising: the sonic wave arrived ~30 seconds after the meteor passed over, and a lot of people would have been at various windows having a look at what had just happened (and in their defence, if I saw a massive flare like that, with a beautiful contrail in its wake, I’d be out there as well trying to get photos for this blog!).  It’s similar to tsunamis: most fatalities happen to people who chase the receding sea, unaware that the reason for the receding waters is that they’re about to un-recede in a rather spectacular and destructive way.

(You may want to turn your speakers/headclamps down for the sonic blast videos, unless you either enjoy extremely loud bangs or you’d like a crash course in Russian swear words…)

Of course, being Russia and therefore having Russian temperatues, blown-out windows are a serious problem in winter, so hopefully the emergency services there are more jacked up than ours.

The big question here is: is this related to the asteroid 2012 DA14?  For those of you living under a rock, it’s an asteroid with an estimated diameter of 50 meters, an estimated mass of 190,000 metric tons — and it will be passing approximately 27,000 kilometres from Earth’s surface in a few hours (19:25 UTC, 21:25 South African time).  Over on Bad Astronomy, Phil Plait seems to think that it’s totally unrelated:

For one thing, this occurred about 16 hours before DA14 passes. At 8 kilometers per second that’s nearly half a million kilometers away from DA14. That puts it on a totally different orbit.  For another, from the lighting, time of day, and videos showing the rising Sun, it looks like this was moving mostly east-to-west. I may be off, but that’s how it looks. DA14 is approaching Earth from the south, so any fragment of that rock would also appear to move south-to-north.

However, some folks over on Slashdot aren’t so sure:

Not necessarily. Imagine a basketball in front of you. That is the Earth. Now draw an imaginary line from your nose to the left side of the basketball. Your line is going east to west. Now draw another line to the right of the basketball. Your line is now going west to east. Same point of origin. Same basic direction of movement. Different perceived trajectory for those living on the basketball.

Information on the meteor is still rather sketchy, although we may get a better picture in the next few days — it appears that the meteor broke up in the atmosphere and may have rained down some chunks on the ground.  If true, and if and when those chunks are found, we may learn more.

For now, I’m going to have to end off with this image by EUMETSAT, showing the vapour trail:

Meteor vapour trail, 15th Feb 2013

UPDATE: 6000.co.za reminded me that something similar happened in Gauteng back in 2009.

Road closures for the Opening of Parliament

(Normal service has indeed resumed, in case you’re wondering.)

The City of Cape Town has published the road closures for the Opening of Parliament tomorrow.  You can click the link if you really want a detailed version, but if you’re anything like me and you just want a summary, here it is:

Stay well clear of anything going into the CBD between 16:00 and 21:00 tomorrow.

That is all.

Normal service shall resume shortly…

Yes, I’ve dropped off the grid.  We moved into our “final” new home on Friday, and our wonderful fixed line provider dropped the ball on moving our line and are now only scheduling the installation for the end of the week.  I’m still around though, just generally out of touch for the time being.

While we wait for normal service to resume (though I can’t promise whether or not that will be shortly), here’s a clip of some crazy longboarding down this stretch of Kloof Nek to keep you all entertained:

Guess no-one listened…

… because after I asked people yesterday not to set the next veld fire off, guess what happens?

It’s fire season, again…

So, with the end of January fast approaching, the Cape Peninsula’s fire season is in full swing again.

I posted last year on the havoc that a small uncontained fire on some open areas near the office park wreaked on the afternoon scrummage on the N2 leaving the CBD but, us city-dwellers have it comparatively good.  The rural areas have it far worse.  Case in point: the Hermanus/Stanford area (just over an hour’s drive away, unless you foolishly attempt it on a Friday afternoon when everyone going away for the weekend has the same general idea) had a massive blaze over the Christmas and New Year period that took six days to contain (and did significant damage to the Hermanus Yacht Club).  The photos posted on the South African Weather Observation and Disaster Service blog pretty much say it all.

Today, the mountains separating Stellenbosch from Franschhoek is Ground Zero.  Megan (who I mentioned in one of my ancient posts here) took this photo earlier today from the University of Stellenbosch’s Danie Craven Stadium, and has been kind enough to let me reproduce it here.  Once again, the photo tells the story.

Stellenbosch Fire!

Yup, it can (and does!) get pretty bad around here.  I was given a guided tour of one of the Stellenbosch wine farms around nine months ago, and I recall our tour guide mentioning that all of the area’s wine farmers have a genuine fear of blazes such as this.  Not really surprising.

The fire situation around this time of year is problematic enough that the provincial government has published a brief “what-if?” guide.  Still, prevention is better than cure here: please don’t be the person who sets the next one off.  If you habitually smoke and toss your cigarette butt out of your car window, I’m looking at you here…

You are having a bad problem…

Earlier in the week, North Korea performed a missile test that successfully put a payload in orbit.  Just one problem: the orbit isn’t exactly stable.  Here’s why it’s bad news:

The most obvious bad news is that this is quite dangerous, as this object has now become a collision risk to other satellites.

The first collision between two satellites happened in 2009, when an American 1,235-pound Iridium communications satellite—launched in 1997—collided with a dead 1-ton Russian satellite launched in 1993. At the time, NASA blamed the Russians.

The collision wasn’t only bad for the functioning Iridium, but also to everyone else. Space is a big place, but it’s full of trash. And like that accident proved, collisions happen.

We can track small pieces of debris, but space crashes generate particles that we can’t monitor. The thousands of objects that may result from such an accident put other satellites, spaceships and the lives of astronauts at risk.

There’s probably several of you wondering how a small piece of space debris can be so deadly, and the answer is a simple one: the speeds involved.  Earth’s escape velocity is 11 km/s, so that’s kind of a minimum speed limit for anything wishing to escape the planet’s gravitational influence.  In practice, satellites will be moving slower than that, since they don’t need to escape Earth’s gravitational influence; they need only to obtain balance between Earth’s gravitational pull and the inertia of the satellite’s motion.

But that’s still fast.  The closer the object is to Earth, the faster it needs to be moving to obtain that balance, since the gravitational influence is stronger.  I spend a bit of time tinkering with NASA’s orbital velocity calculator, and discovered the following:

  • The International Space Station, which is maintained at an orbital altitude of between 330 km and 410 km (if Wikipedia is to be believed), has an average orbital velocity of 7.706 km/s.
  • Geosynchronous satellites, at an altitude of 35,786 km above the equator, requires an orbital velocity of 3.07 km/s.
  • The Moon, which is around 380,000 km away, has an average orbital velocity of 1.022 km/s.

For comparison, a bullet fired from an AK-47 assault rifle has a muzzle velocity of 0.715 km/s.  (Once again, if Wikipedia is to be believed.)  Imagine something the size of a bullet colliding with your spacecraft at 10 times that speed — the consequences of an almost-certain uncontrolled depressurization would not be pretty.

Then, when one considers the North Korean political situation, other concerns pop up:

The other bad news is that, while nobody really knows if this is a satellite or not, all countries are assuming it has been an attempt to disguise the test of a three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile. One that can easily reach the United States or Russia. And it worked.

The only bit of good news is that the lack of precision that probably led to a spinning satellite is proof of North Koreans’ ineptitude when it comes to design and control these long-range weapons. Putting an ICBM in space is not all you need to, say, drop a couple of nuclear warheads over Los Angeles. You need precision guiding systems for that, something that Kim Jong-Un’s boffins don’t seem to have mastered quite yet.

But then again, a nuclear warhead falling anywhere will definitely be very bad news anyway, no matter how precise it is.

While the rest of the world worries about that, I’m more interested in where the satellite will potentially come down after an almost-certain uncontrolled re-entry.  The satellite’s position can be tracked here: rather disturbingly, it passed almost directly over Cape Town as I was typing this post up.

So, lesson of the day — if you’re going to put something in orbit, make sure you do it properly.  Otherwise, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.