Sunday, January 29, 2023

Challenger Explosion

Yesterday marked an anniversary of the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger flight. It's been almost forty years.

Few saw the event live: TV networks didn't broadcast the launch and cable TV wasn't popular yet. Media showed tape of the tragedy endlessly but only after it happened.

While the physical cause of the explosion was technical (failure of O-ring seals) its real cause was human error. NASA administrators felt pressured to move forward with a scheduled launch despite warnings from engineers that weather conditions were unsafe. (Cold temperature made the seals fail.) There was no escape mechanism for the shuttle -- despite being available --because NASA officials decided it was too expensive. 

A Presidential Commission investigated the incident and concluded NASA officials were to blame. The Commission recommended changing the decision-making process at the agency to improve safety in future flights. Essentially bureaucrats are now forced to pay more attention to engineers.

Post-crash investigation showed, sadly, that most of the seven astronauts survived the air explosion but died three minutes later when the crew module hit the ocean at 200 mph. There was nothing they could do during that time and their bodies were torn apart by impact.

Do you remember this sad event?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Cheddar Cheese

Want a good tip?

Cheddar cheese is popular because it appeals to Western palates. Like many foods, cheddar ranges from awful to fabulous depending on two factors. One is how the cheese is made. Cheddar can be produced industrially and taste bland. The cheese tastes better when aged but even then there's a limit. A long time ago I bought cheddar from a specialized cheese-maker in the Midwest that had been aged 20 years. Twenty! I assumed it'd be the pinnacle of food but was disappointed: it was simply ordinary. If you take normal cheese and let it sit, you'll get something better than what you started with but not necessarily terrific.

The second factor, of critical importance, is the quality of cheddar's prime ingredient, milk. The taste and quality of milk varies depending a host of influences. Until recently I've been buying Cabot cheddar cheese because its milk, produced in upstate New York, is very good, much better than competitors in the supermarket. But Cabot isn't the best cheddar in the world. I recently discovered what is the best and that brand now resides in my frig on a regular basis.

The special cheese is made by Snowdonia Cheese Company and is called "Rock Star." You can buy it locally at Sayville Cheese, a delightful little shoppe that rotates its wares. Rock Star isn't expensive (a 5 oz. package costs only $12). If you want to try before buying they will offer you a taste -- or you can ask me and I'll give you some.

Rock Star cheddar is made in Wales; Snowdonia is a region in the northern part of that country. Wales is an agricultural nation with long history of dairy production. Milk used in the cheddar reflects the country's cows, soil, air and overall environment. There are fancy words for this (e.g., terroir) but all you need know is it's very good.

Rock Star has a stronger, sharper taste than most cheddars but I find it delicious. Flavor explodes in your mouth. If you want to dilute it simply use the cheese in cooking. It's great mixed with cooked veggies like spinach or corn.

Ask me and I'll give you some.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

New Jersey Devils

I know most of you aren't hockey fans but everyone loves a Cinderella story. 

The New Jersey Devils have been a neglected stepchild for over a decade. Condemned to cleaning the house, ignored and unloved by all around them. When you mention their name to hockey fans you hear scoffs and derision. But...

But! The team has been quietly building a powerhouse ensemble of unknown young players whose speed and talent are extraordinary. And this is their breakout year. 

The Devils announced themselves in November by winning more games that month than any other team in hockey history. Since then they've proven that wasn't a fluke. Repeatedly, including last night, they combat top-notch opponents, score decisive goals at critical moments and protect their net. 

Despite the obscurity and ignominy the team has long labored in, they will become heralded stars in a few weeks when they qualify for the playoffs and win important games. If you get on the bandwagon now you'll be able to celebrate with me then.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

My Father

My father worked as a cop in a small, affluent village for 30 years (Lloyd Harbor, NY). After his death last month I wrote the Village's Mayor to inform her of it and included some personal history with photographs and documents. 

The Mayor just wrote back and said they're setting up a display at Village Hall with the material. Dad would be proud.

Thursday, January 5, 2023


When you get older, you realize experiences are more important than objects. Experiences are something unique that happened to you once and will never recur. Objects are mere trinkets, usually fungible and subject to decay -- unlike memories of key experiences which stay with us for life.

I'm not as smart as I appear but I'm capable of growth. When truth stares me in the face, I look at it and learn from it. Here's an example.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit I selected my new motorcycle for its looks. The Janus Halcyon's rare, distinctive retro-style attracts public attention like a strong magnet. That aspect of the bike is certainly attractive to me. But I'm learning, separate from that, that the experience actually riding the bike is also immensely pleasurable -- and vastly different from what my other motorcycles offer. 

The Halcyon model uses design from the 1920s, back before motorcycles became aerodynamically engineered machines capable of high speed. They were more similar to bicycles than automobiles with simple addition of a motor. Traveling at 30-60 mph was their goal. The geometry of motorcycles a century ago wasn't as advanced as it is today with machines taking sophisticated cues from racing sportbikes.

This translates to a dramatically different, instantly noticeable experience when riding. The bike handles different, feels different and runs different. Everything about it differs from what I'm used to. In fact, I'd say these bikes really should be operated only by riders with advanced skills; beginners will quickly get into trouble on them. When I ride the Janus, it requires me to deploy my highest riding skills, like intuitive control of the throttle and clutch, unconscious use of the rear brake, and careful balance in turns. Without these skills you'll certainly end up in a ditch on the side of the road. Unlike modern motorcycles, the bike's design and primitive technology doesn't do a lot of the handling work for you. No ABS, no traction control, etc.

At the same time, riding the Janus feels like time-traveling to an ancient era when motorcyclists sat upright, felt the wind hit them directly in the chest, wrestled with natural forces and developed pioneering riding-skills to stay alive. On the bike I feel like a rural postal-carrier scooting long distances in the Midwest a century ago, only occasionally seeing another vehicle on the road. Without today's cocoon of protection from the environment, I get off the bike with bug-splatter on my face-shield and jacket and unexpected physical exhaustion in my upper-body. 

Yesterday's riding-experience is totally unlike today's and the contrast is delightful to taste. I find riding the Janus more interesting and fun than riding my modern bikes -- and its palpable hardships enhance that feeling. Sometimes "better" is not preferable. I've traveled to the past and enjoy being there.