Saturday Snippet: Debugging the Oak Ridge nuclear plant

During World War II, Richard Feynman, then a very newly-graduated physicist, was sent from Los Alamos, New Mexico (the heart of the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb) to Oak Ridge in Tennessee, where the nuclear material for the bomb was to be enriched.  He was tasked with making sure that the factory there would actually work, and that its design was technically and scientifically acceptable.  Needless to say, as a relative novice, he was more than a little unsure of his ground. In his book “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” he describes what happened.        I sat down

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“A River of Horns” is published!

My latest Western novel, “A River of Horns“, fourth in the Ames Archives series, has been published in e-book format.  A print edition will follow soon The blurb reads: Walt Ames and his Texas partner, Tyler Reese, know that the U.S. Army is bound and determined to push the Comanche and Kiowa tribes onto the reservation for good. Once the Texas Panhandle is pacified, millions of acres of land will become available. They aim to be among the first to set up a ranch there – but that’ll take money… a whole lot of money. How do you raise money

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Media hand-wringing versus reality: aircraft test edition

Last week there were alarming headlines when the fuselage of a new model of Boeing’s 777 airliner split while undergoing a stress test. Boeing got an unexpected jolt in September when engineers in Everett put the new 777X airframe through an extreme test of its structural strength. Just as the test approached its target stress level, an explosive depressurization tore through the fuselage. Boeing has kept the details secret, but photos obtained by the Seattle Times show that the extent of the damage was greater than previously disclosed and earlier reports were wrong about crucial details. The test plane is a complete write-off,

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Saturday Snippet: the perils of small game collecting in West Africa

In the 1950’s, naturalist Gerald Durrell went to what was then known as British Cameroon in West/Central Africa to collect animals for zoos in Britain.  He chose the region of Bafut for his collecting activities, and recruited local tribesmen to help him in his hunt for specimens.  In a moment of whimsy, he christened his hunters, collectively, The Bafut Beagles, which became the title of the book he wrote about his adventures.  It was an instant best-seller when it was released, and remains popular today. Here’s how Durrell and the Beagles hunted the rock hyrax, an animal well known to me in South Africa as the dassie.  The picture

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Meal delivery services: all hat and no cattle?

In Texas, an expression I’ve often heard is that someone is “all hat and no cattle”.  It means that someone is full of grandiloquent talk, but lacks the accomplishments or assets to lend substance to their words. I’ve long felt that services such as Grubhub, Doordash and their ilk are pretty much “all hat and no cattle” in business terms.  They don’t add even one cent of value to the goods they deliver.  Their entire business model is based on providing convenience for a price, but that’s an entirely dispensable benefit.  If I’m short of cash, there’s nothing stopping me cooking

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Saturday snippet: the perils of trail driving Texas longhorns

As part of writing the Western novels in my “Ames Archives” series, I spend a fair amount of time and money looking up original sources, written accounts of the Old West from people who were there and lived its reality.  (Recently, in this series, we heard from famed scout Billy Dixon about the Second Battle of Adobe Walls, which sparked the Red River War of 1874-75.) One of the scariest events for a cowhand was a stampede by the herd.  It could be sparked by almost anything:  the scent or a glimpse of a predator such as a wolf, bad weather, a rattlesnake’s warning buzz, or the

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Truth is hard in a special-snowflake world

Film screenwriter, director and producer Christopher McQuarrie sent a string of tweets a few days ago that encapsulate how he sees the industry, and how to achieve success in it.  He’s blunt (almost brutally so) about how nobody’s going to do the work if you don’t, and how you can’t expect the Success Fairy to alight on your shoulders and sprinkle you with magic dust, or something like that.  Here’s an excerpt. 1.  I‘m receiving a lot of questions from writers asking where to submit scripts or how to sell them. Others ask how to sign an agent, attach directors or producers, etc. You

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Flatness is as flatness does

Courtesy of a commenter at Alma Boykin’s place yesterday, I was led to this informative (?) article. In a survey conducted by the American Geographical Society, almost a third of all respondents said that Kansas was the flattest state. Some people even call it “flatter than a pancake.” But what does science have to say about that? The first, and only, study that we know of that directly compared the Sunflower State to a pancake was done by a trio of geographers in 2003. For their tongue-in-cheek analysis, they acquired a pancake from IHOP, cut out a sample slice and made a topographic

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Ridiculous!

I had to laugh at an article headlined “The 25 Most Absurd Job Titles In Tech“.  Examples include: Innovation Evangelist Dream Alchemist Time Ninja Security Princess Software Ninjaneer There are plenty more at the link.  Go read, and boggle your mind at the pretentiousness of it all! Peter

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