Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NASA will pay you $5,000 to eat really bad food, and you get to spend 4 months in Hawaii! (seriously)…

NASA will pay you to eat really bad food, and you get to spend 4 months in Hawaii!  (Seriously, I’m NOT making this up, and it’s all in the name of scientific research.) As part of its four-month simulated mission to Mars, NASA is looking for volunteers. And no, you won’t be spun around in a gravity simulator until you throw up, nor will they confine you to a tin can the size of your kitchen for weeks to see if you lose your sanity (they’ve already done that sort of testing, and it’s called the International Space Station). No, NASA wants to fly you to Hawaii to study the human limitations of really bad food.

According to a story at Mashable.com, NASA is looking for paid volunteers that can put up with space food for a simulated four-month trip to Mars. Study participants will get to sample a wide variety of dried packaged foods that probably taste like cardboard, while NASA researchers record the participants’ reactions. The goal of your tax dollars at work here is to measure whether the participants can avoid “menu fatigue.” Apparently, menu fatigue is a NASA technical term meaning, “if I have to eat these crackers and processed cheese for one more lunch, I am going to whup sombody’s…” well, you get the idea.

Now before you begin packing for Hawaii, you should know about the qualifications. You must have a bachelor’s degree, either in math, engineering, biological or physical science, or computer science. You can’t be a smoker, and (if selected) you must be prepared to live astronaut-style in tiny rooms with limited bathing and shower facilities alongside total strangers who are likely to work your last nerves.

On the plus side, you get an expenses-paid four-month stay in Hawaii, with airfare, lodging, and meals (if you can go so far as to call them “meals”) included, along with the $5,000 stipend. There’s also R&R time built into the study, so you could take up surfing while your friends back in the continental US are helping pay for all this with their taxes. Still interested? You can apply at http://manoa.hawaii.edu/hi-seas

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Large ship strikes large sharp object, tears hole in hull, sinks. In a hundred years, we’ve learned… what???

It’s been slightly over one hundred years since the R.M.S. Titanic tore a gash in her hull by hitting an iceberg in the cold North Atlantic, sank in a matter of hours, and went to a watery grave, taking 1,514 souls along for the ride. (Titanic sank on April 15 1912, and there is something bizarre about the ship going down on income tax day, but I haven’t figured out just what that is yet.) I’m morbidly aware of the anniversary of this event for two reasons. One, as an e-book author, I’m always looking at what’s in the top 100 list at the Kindle store, and this month, there are two or three Titanic-related e-books that are doing well on the charts. The other reason is that the circumstances described in my own maritime disaster book are strangely familiar, even if they did occur nearly a hundred years after the Titanic went under. As my book “Reckless Abandon: The Costa Concordia Disaster” describes, here’s the scenario:  “Large ship strikes large sharp object, tears hole in hull, sinks.”

So at the risk of sounding boringly repetitive, in a hundred years, just what have we learned?  I’m hoping the answer to that question is ‘we’ve learned something.’ Titanic taught us that ships needed sufficient lifeboats to hold all the passengers on board (well, D’UH…). Now, our modern ships have so many lifeboats that there’s space in one for a ship’s captain to accidentally fall into a lifeboat ahead of a few hundred of the passengers. (Yes, cheap shot at Costa Concordia's Captain Coward, but hey, I couldn’t resist.) And with all our increasingly geeky technology which I love, I’m sure we’ve learned from the Costa Concordia tragedy as well. I suspect all the big cruise lines have learned to program the following subroutine somewhere in the headquarters’ mainframe (you could write this one in Visual Basic if you were so inclined)-

    ship’s computers send signal that [AUTOPILOT = DISENGAGED]
               ship is anywhere near land THEN
                                             CALL SHIPS BRIDGE ON CELLULAR
                                             ASK “WHAT THE !##$>>!?!#$! ARE YOU DOING???
           END IF

Enough said!!!