Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cold and Clear

Just an evocative photo of surfacing after a dive in Puget Sound last year. Two weeks from now Todd and I will be back in the water, dropping down the 100-foot line towards the sea whips, seen in the drawing below!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bob Edwards Show Interview

A recent interview with Bob Edwards -- the legendary 'Voice of NPR' for two decades -- covered the evolution book, and will be broadcast on 01 March 2012:

"Thursday, March 1, 2012: Evolution is a fact, not a debatable theory. Prehistorian and popular-science writer Cameron Smith lays out the evidence and logic in his book The Fact of Evolution."

[ direct link ]

An alternative to pick up the book, from the Amazon monster, is at the Scientific American Book Club.

Arctic Moonlight

"Arctic Moonlight", from The Polar and Tropical Worlds by G. Hartwig, 1883.

Monday, February 20, 2012



If the video doesn't show, see the direct link.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Helmet Details

Worked on some fine adjustments to the helmet. The oral-nasal mask is fitted inside, with a communications microphone (fitted on the side of the mask) that leads to a walkie-talkie that I will wear inside the pressure suit; this is just for the tests, and of course a normal radio comms cable will be used when I fly. The breathing gas hoses--IN and OUT--descend from the mask to through-ports in the suit itself. In the view from slightly above you can see the oral-nasal mask hoses connected to the mask itself; inside are the inhale and exhale valves. Side view shows how I had to customize the mask to fit inside the helmet; most aviation breathing masks are much too large to do this. You can also see the reflective UV / IR blocking film I've attached to the outside of the visor; this is simply attached with bits of blue-tack right now, but for flight it will be attached in a different way.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dive! Dive! Dive!

My diving partner, Todd, shot this photo of me ascending through some murky, beautiful cold Pacific waters!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Page Proofs!

Well, it has taken eight years since first dreaming up the idea for this book, but now the pdf file of proofs are here, and I'm just wrapping up the final typos. Above, the opening page of Chapter 7.

It will be said, of course, that expending energy on such a project as the colonization of space would be to callously ignore the plight of so many unfortunate people on Earth. But while those circumstances must of course be addressed, the same could be said of anything that does not address them. What is the use of a painting, or a multi-million-dollar art museum? What is the value of a poem? Considering the real threats to our planet and civilization, on a cosmic scale the colonization of space is not an unnatural, technocratic stunt, but a natural human species insurance policy.

Some will say, also of course, that the human species will only continue to destroy and waste off of Earth, as we have on Earth. But that takes only the sour view. Humanity also has done magnificent, wonderful and magnanimous things. As an extraterrestrial put it to an astronomer, in the movie 'Contact', based on the Carl Sagan / Ann Druyan novel, ' have such terrible nightmares, and such wonderful dreams.'. Every person decides where they will lean in this spectrum. I am choosing to gravitate towards the dreams and the light.

The Apollo Guidance Computer

Mind-boggling material on the Apollo guidance computer hardware and software, from David A. Mindell's Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight.

"Battin broke the problem down into 'decision points; on a lunar flight: an observation is made, the state vector is updated, and then either a correction is made (e.e. a rocket is fired) or no action is taken. A set of decision rules control the number and frequency of these observations. Each measurement would update the state vector in some way, depending on the statistical level of uncertainty... in the measurement...[Battin used] a catalog of stars and planets; at each decision point it would suggest which combinations would provide the best new information. In a typical Earth-moon trajectory, taking about 62 hours, Battin developed a plan for 41 observations, resulting in four velocity corrections...the position uncertainty when arriving at the moon would be 1.2 miles...enough for a precise orbit."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fine Adjustments

Early this morning, unable to sleep, I got up and pressurized the suit, then worked on some fine adjustments. In the foreground, the pilot's right glove has been shortened by three inches such that when pressurized it does not 'extend' away from my hand (compare with the other glove, which looks longer). I also strapped a mockup of the horizontal instrument panel on a swing arm, above and in front of the helmet -- the wooden panel in front of my head. Before moving all the instruments to this panel I need to be sure it's what I want. Also finessed the breathing gas intake hose hanger clip (a tiny detail, but important!) so that the intake hose does not put undue stress on the suit itself (it's not seen working here as this is just a 'dry' pressurization, without breathing gas hoses screwed in). The final leak it seems is indeed through the boots, and I am going to cut them off (there are unsealable elements to them, as I've found over many months) to replace them with the completely airtight system I've worked out for the glove connections. I'm waiting on two pieces of aluminum pipe, six inches in diameter, to arrive; once they do, I'll do that installation, which will be a real relief. A writer for Wired magazine emailed the other day about the suit, and I'll do an interview with him before long. Later this week, an interview with NPR's Bob Edwards RE the evolution book -- it's only Sunday but the week already feels as though it's speeding along!

Friday, February 10, 2012

William Lord Watts

"Iceland again! Reykjavik again! Here I am upon the same errand as in 1871 and 1874 -- foolhardiness and folly as it is denounced by some at home. I fancy I can see some of my worthy countrymen at ten o'clock in the morning, clad in dressing gown and slippers, breakfast half-finished, and a copy of some journal that has condescended to take notice of my little expedition in his hand. Umph! he says, 5,000 square miles of uninhabited country, a howling Wilderness, nothing but Volcanoes, ice and snow...a man must be a fool to want to go there...why, in the name of everything that is worth shillings, pounds and pence, should anyone be mad enough to do so now?...He sees it costs money, time and labour. He thinks of the hard cash going out...he magnifies the risk a thousandfold and stamps the whole concern as 'utter folly'. Well! Well! let us let our worthy friend shop at home; it is his element. Only it would be as well if he did not go out if his way to anathenmatise an expedition which costs him not a farthing...Our friend's mania may be that he thinks he is specially called upon to spend his energies in raising a superior race of poultry; mine may be to wander amongst unknown or unfrequented corners of the Earth, but so long as I leave his chicken-house unmolested, I think he should leave off sneering at my wild perignations." WL Watts, 'Across the Vatnajokull', 1885.

Saami Reindeer World


(direct link)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Intercellular Spaces

The spaces between plant cell walls have their own unique gas and fluid properties, and they are habitats for fungi, as seen in this microphotograph. Fascinating to think about the worlds between cell walls!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

At War With the Universe

After reading Kim Sterelney's mind-boggling essay, 'What is Evolvability?', this morning I wrote out this statement. I haven't edited it, but that is one of the things this blog is for -- an online notebook.

"The conservative mind is at war with the universe. Five centuries of science tell us that the universe is not fixed, but that it changes. The only life forms that survive change are those that adapt to change. Adaptability equals survival. And adaptability is the capacity to change. Fundamentalists and conservatives have the same essential message: that we must return to original principles if we are to survive. But the fossil and genetic records show us that few life forms return to original schemas. More often, they change with changes in their selective environments. To align with the essentially changing nature of the universe, we must embrace the capacity to change. But change is antithetical to the conservative mind. Thus the conservative mind, which seeks solutions in past conditions, is, ultimately, suicidal. This is not politics, but a basic biology lesson."

(c) Cameron M. Smith, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Seven Hours to Go!

I think seven more hours of final touches will do it on the textbook. I think I can knock that out tomorrow. Above, my drawing of the WT-15000 specimen, H. erectus / ergaster of over a million years ago, and my reconstruction of the individual, a male adolescent.


Friday, February 3, 2012

System Overview

A sketch of the 'bottom end' of the airship from a few weeks back. As I build the various components, sometimes concerned with a millimeter of wire here and there, I also have to occasionally keep in mind the larger picture.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Textbook Diagram

A new diagram -- not many more to go, now!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Demanding Question

A philosophically demanding question:

"If God has spoken, why is the world not convinced?"

-- P. Shelley.


The other day I attended a lecture by a visiting anthropologist; the title sounded interesting, but I drifted away during the lecture, sketching out a design for a large sailing raft, a replica of a pre-Conquest vessel of South America. This little mental drift reminded me of how thankful I am that I didn't follow the tenure-track path. On that path, there would be no time for these more expansive thoughts.

Sketching the design put me back in the mind of the sailing expedition of 1998; here's a great photo of Dowar Medina-Urbin, an Ecuadorean fisherman who sailed with us for 750 miles, to Northern Colombia. We learned a lot from him about the local conditions, and he learned -- as we did -- about sailing a 60-ton vessel made of 50-foot balsa logs tied with over a mile of 1-inch diameter native hemp rope and propelled by nearly a thousand square feet of native cotton sails! That expedition led us to a realistic understanding of the sailing options and constraints that would have conditioned the behavior of pre-Conquest Ecuadorean mariners, an issue that I and my coauthors approach -- in a roundabout (but appropriately roundabout!) way -- here.