Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wanderers 2005.9.7

Doug Strain kicked off our evening series, alternating Tuesdays. We had the camcorder going, fingers crossed the lapel mike was doing its job (audio is critical for hearing Doug's many excellent stories).

We learned more about how Doug got transitioned from war time nutrition experiments to fighting fires started by Japanese fire balloons.

In the experiments, Doug and other conscientious objector friends were fed various diets to see what'd keep them alive in shivering cold conditions (they spent 8 hrs a day in especially refrigerated rooms -- like on some reality TV show). The high protein diet proved the best, which was disappointing to the experimenters, as it was also the most expensive.

Doug's talents were better used working with the U.S. Forestry radio lab. Maybe 5000 fire balloons were set adrift over the Pacific, timed to crash and burn stateside. Fortunately, the best wind patterns coincided with the wettest forest conditions, so although the fire fighters were kept on their toes, actual fire damage was not that great. Perhaps four lives were lost.

I quizzed Doug most intently on ESI's relationship to its neighbors on the Stark Street property, which was subsequently gifted to Quakers and the AFSC, after the city zoned that neighorhood out of bounds to even light industry (Jantzen had constructed the factory originally, installed lead lined die vats upstairs). Turns out ESI didn't get along with its neighbors that well either. Some long-running karma just goes with that territory I guess.

After ESI moved, over to the Macadam area, the new place burned to the ground the night of some firemen's ball (no one to answer the distress call -- probably couldn't have saved it anyway, given the high temperatures involved). Fortunately, the insurance came through. And later, State Farm (also insurance) helped grow the Silicon Forest with a lot of investments, as did Hewlett-Packard. HP loved Doug's ability to measure resistence in micro-ohms -- about 350 micro-ohms for a house key -- and added Doug's inventions to its product line.

Doug started the meeting with what he called good news: British Petroleum's outlook on remaining proven reserves (40 years worth?), then shared about some promising new city power R&D that Westinghouse is helping fund at Oregon State. Four of these vault-contained helium cooled convection units could sustain Portland. Yeah, we're talking nuclear fission again (means toxic byproducts), but minus any weaponization pathway. Iran might do something similar. Our two Davids discussed the average 24 kW-h per diem energy requirements of the average USAer (takes about a kW to power "the good life"™ they say).

Rick Grote brought a box of golf balls, inviting us to help ourselves. I took seven (six around one). Great seeing Allen Taylor, Dick Pugh, Julian, Steve.

Jim, Don, Barry and I, joined by Derek, celebrated afterwards with beers at the Bagdad. This was after Jim drove Doug home but forgot his thermos bottle, and so came back for it. I'm borrowing Jim's copy of The Astronomical Companion, which I'm cross-checking against Celestia, thanks to Trevor.


I almost forgot to relate Doug's much earlier interesting story about his participation on some panel proposing the switch to cesium-based atomic clock time, and how the Navy was all bellyachy that only astronomical cycles mattered, nothing so measly as an atom should give us the time of day.

Congress got caught up in the soap opera. So the cesium clock people just set it up in Colorado. It's not like they wanted to take anything away from the Navy, just add this new layer. And to this day, atomic clocks take the cake for enabling us to synchronize within tiny slivers of a second -- a kind of synching needed for GPS for example (so ironically, the Navy is now as interested in cesium time as everyone else).

Moral of the story: if you want to get anything done, don't get it bottled up in Congress. Which is too bad really, Doug went on. If only those lawyers understood the science even a little bit better, the whole enterprise might run more smoothly (which is where I think USA OS comes in). The job of educating powerful politicians is enormous, but with modern media, I think it's doable.