Saturday, December 04, 2010


Continuing an ongoing theme of space travel and pushing back the final frontier. Another milestone was reached this week with the return of the X-37B US Military unmanned spacecraft.

As this projected started as a NASA program, there is some information in the public domain about this prototype spaceplane. But there is growing speculation about the future purpose of the X-37B.

This week the craft returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Californina after seven months in orbit.

Smaller than the space shuttle at only 8.9m (29ft 3ins) long and with a 4.5m (14ft 11ins) wingspan, designed to be a reusable craft it is about one-quarter the size of the space shuttle.

One of the interesting differences between the shuttle and the X-37B is that while the space shuttle uses a fuel-cell power-system, X-37B is powered by a solar array and lithium-ion batteries.

The auto-pilot return to California is historic as the first autonomous re-entry and landing in the recorded history of the US space programme.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

London Underground Etiquette!

From comments received from my last posting... I wanted to share a couple (and so far I have found over 33 etiquette rules ) - Copied without permission... but you will get the general idea!

On the Train
Eye Contact
If God had wanted us to make eye contact on the Tube, then why did he give us the Evening Standard?- Unless you have a significant other to make eye contact with, or indeed, relatives and suchlike, eye contact is a London Underground etiquette no-no. On no account does a person make eye contact with another passenger on the Underground, in any circumstance, even accidentally.

Verbal Contact
Unless it is to ask the way, to ask for a newspaper which someone has read, to say 'excuse me!' to get to the Tube doors, or the persons with whom you wish to converse fall into the categories outlined in the past two sections, under no circumstances are you to engage in conversation with anyone on the Tube.

Facial Expression
None, save for looking sullen, downcast, and generally depressed. Smiling should not occur, as it is generally seen that there is no valid reason for any positive emotion to be expressed while using this means of public transport. If any emotion is to be expressed, then it is usually in response to an announcement along the lines of:

I'm sorry for the delay, but we're being kept here for a couple more minutes to let the Rayners Lane train go first - why they couldn't have let us go first as we got here before them, I don't know... but anyway, sorry for the delay...- Eastbound Heathrow branch Piccadilly Line driver, on approach to Acton Town, morning rush-hour

Even in response to an announcement like that, one should not exclaim vocally. To make known your disquiet, affect a slight grimace, wrinkling your brow very slightly, roll your eyes, or sigh very gently.

Thanksgiving 2010

"The attitude of gratitude".

With thanksgiving just a few days away, I wanted to share my perspective of this most inclusive of American holidays and why I beleive it is one that should live in all of our hearts throughout the year. (Without getting too mushy).

On a scale of one through ten, how grateful are you towards others year-round. Five perhaps.. more? Less?

Since arriving in America, I made an effort of making eye-contact and be polite to people I would meet. Not making this effort would give an outward impression of rudeness, something that I would like to think I am not. In no time effort gave way to habit, and a great habit to have.

If you like to be thanked and appreciated, do-as-you-would-be-done-by!

Year-round I work with volunteers, "thank you" is a small word for what all of these people do to help others. Yet is it the most appropriate expression of sincere gratitude I can share with them each day.

This approach typically goes against the british-reserve, where even eye-contact is avoided. for example there can be over 914 passengers on a tube train in London, with not one person making eye-contact to another.

Common-courtsey goes a long way, and trust me, will make you feel better too.

I digress!

Thanksgiving encapsulates a year-round habit of thanks. "Lets Celebrate" with those near and dear to us, but equally importantly let us continue to build an attitude of gratitude for our fellow man.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Will we look back and say... that was a good year?

The 2009 Grand Prix season was a cracker. If it was a fine wine it would be one of the best vintages to savor.

Short memory? 2009 was the year Jenson Button won the championship in the all-new Brawn F1 team.
As the sun sets on the 2010 championship tomorrow will fans view this as an equally vintage year for Formula 1 Grand Prix racing?

This year is certainly no beaujolais nouveau (which is released this Thursday and another story). In so far it has been a rough year of unending team dominance. For the championship to head "down to the wire" in the final race is thrilling for the spectators and armchair enthusiasts world-wide.
My 6 year-old has cheered loudly for her "Blue Babies" (Red Bull), jumped up and down when the silver car would lead a race (McLaren), and loved the red cars, as they are as close to pink, her favorite color (Ferrari). At least this year has given us all variety.

I cannot recall as interesting a season-end as Prost-Senna in Japan if I recall correctly who took each other out at the start of the race to decide a championship in an unorthodox fashion.

Alonso (Ferrari), looks to take the drivers championship through his consistency this season.
Webber (Red Bull) the number one driver in the team on points is playing a supportive role to Vettel who while on a lower number of points appears to be a favorite by a team who have not declared who their number one driver is year-long. Yet their actions appear contary to their postion.
Hamilton (McLaren) mathematically stands a chance to win, but probabilty is against him. But on the last race of the season and starting on the front row there is every possibility something will happen, or break, or a pit stop go wrong, or a pig flies over the track (just checking to see if you are reading this).
Regardless, enjoy what will be one of the most memorable races for a long time to finish a season that perhaps will not be as unique as last year but every part as interesting.

That racing!

London Chimes Rewind to 2002

This weekend is the annual Wales Rally GB, also known in the past as the RAC Rally, Network Q Rally and probably the most famous association of all the Lombard RAC Rally for those who are as old and as long in the tooth as I!

Today the event visited Epynt and a return to Radnor not used on the event for 10 years.

The event clearly is as muddy and cold as every other year... part of the charm. While Rally HQ continues to be Cardiff, but not City Hall in Cathay's Park.

Sadly the event does not event merit a mention on the BBC News Sport website pages who clearly have their motorsport attention on the F1 finale this weekend. Rightly so, but hey Beeb there is other motorsport and the RAC used to be the biggest spectator event in the UK.

So in honor of my friends from Green Belt Motor Club here is a rewind to a posting 8 years ago on London Chimes....

Rewind to 2002 London Chimes Posting:

In recent years the event has been based in Cardiff, South Wales and has been run in the forest to the west of the City over 3 days. A far cry from when this event over 5 days visited England, Scotland and Wales and included Sunday stages designed for the fans who watched the Rally heroes yump their way through the grounds of Statley Homes and super-special stages at established race tracks. - Ah! They were the days! It has been my privilage over the years to have led marshalling teams on a variety of motorsport events, the most important being the Network Q RAC Rally and titled in the past, (The Lombard RAC, in the distant past). Rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship.

Event sponsors have come and gone. Next year the Network Q are to be replaced by the nation of Wales as the main sponsor. Allowing a rally enthusiast to reminice: My first encounter with this WRC event was marshalling at West Midlands Safari Park at Bewdley in 1983, as the sealed roads of the park were being used as one of the Sunday special stages. The park as it is now, closed for the winter season had moved many of its residents to enclosures not being used for the Rally. As the stage was one of the first to be run, and that the marshals needed to be in place along the stage (hours) before Car 1, I drove a car full of fellow GBMC members up to Bewdley the previous evening. We had been given permission to park in the grounds of the Safari Park to sleep in cars and the radio caravan over night. After I had dropped off my passengers to sleep in the caravan, I found an enclosure that I discovered was right next to where the lions had been moved to, and was kept wake by the continued pacing and growling not more than 50 feet away.
In the late 80's when I freelanced for Competiton Car Magazine, together with friends Nick and Andy, we drove the route moving from stage to stage as best we could. This is the only time I have ever visited Scotland, the moors of Yorkshire and deepest Sweet Lamb in Wales. There was an instance in Wales when one of the top teams service barges drove far to close to our car smashing the drivers door mirror. Asa we progressed north, I have memories of driving around the Lake District trying to find an open Ford dealership to purchase a new mirror as the car we were using had been hired and it was cheaper to make the repair than suffer the penalty when we took the car back.

The following year I drove friends Ed and Trevor all the way up the snow covered M1 to some country house in Yorkshire. Even though this stage was being televised, there is still nothing quiet like watching it at the stage. We arrived in time for car 1, and the local spectators throwing snowballs at TV crews who took advantage of blocking the view of some spectators that had been standing in the snow patiently at a great viewing spot for some hours. Almost an international incident.

Of all the Sunday stages I have the fondest memories of two in particular. Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. A beautiful setting for a classic event and Donington Park, the venue for final marshalling appearances on a World Rally Championship event.

As a seasoned marshal on the RAC my last three visits as a marshal at Donington Park in the East Midlands were the most fun, and the coldest I have ever been. The first of the three visits we were assigned a stretch through trees in the infield area. Plenty of slippy-sideways action close-up.

Friends James and Tim came prepared with a great primus cooking set up that enabled us to make bacon sandwiches, hot dogs and boiling hot tea in the hours we waited until the first car.

The other two visits we improved our catering, and were assigned a stretch of the main circuit taking up position in the marshals post at the bottom of the Craner Curves. With no spectators to contol at this point, we were afforded a great view of most of the stage and could concentrate on cooking up those bacon sandwiches! The stage started on the old circuit, long since abandoned in favor of the current layout. The cars ran behind our post first, on the loose muddy track down to the old hairpin, then onto the racing circuit track, in the opposite direction to normal racing, past our post and up the Craner Curves to the entrance to the infield. The primus stoves were set up in the marshals post that had recently been upgraded to a cage with a solid metal framework that provided us with a shelf for our mustard, English and French, Ketchup, etc. My final trip to Donington proved to be the longest of all my marshalling days on the RAC Rally. The stage was run twice, early morning and late in the afternoon. With the a classic rally made up by old historic rally cars of the 50's and 60's running through the stage in the middle of the day. With beautiful blue skies all day, for November it was cold. While thankfully we were at the bottom of the hill and out of the wind. As the sun set, car 1 started the stage for the final time as the thermometer hit 32F, freezing, before windchill factors. It just got colder, and colder. To combat the cold, I was wearing my race suit, and nomex under my race suit with a pair of hiking boot over 3 pairs of socks. Add one gortex jacket and a Scandanavian ski hat I was as warm as I could possibly be. Given that our food supply was extensive, the marshalling team from GBMC were well looked after with food and hot drinks supplied from our "catering cage".

As a veteran of RAC's I think that "we finally got it right" at the Craner Curves with the catering and and excellent viewing spot. As the last cars past us it started to snow, the temperature was well below freezing and the mustard pots had frozen to the marshals cage.

Great times, to especially to Nick, Trevor, James and Tim I thank you from the bottom of my heart for some of the BEST days I have ever had on the RAC Rally.

My hats off to all the volunteer marshals who make the biggest sporting spectator event in the UK safe for all. It may seem a wonderful job, but it is long hours. When I undertook this task the marshals have to be in position before the public are allowed to access the spectator areas. This could be over four hours before the course cars would be seen on the stage.

In 2002 the entry list seems smaller than other years where I recall 200 odd cars. Starting at minute intervals followed by a thirty minute delay after the due time of the last car. Then another delay as the course closing car passes through the stage, offering a thank you on the PA and a cheery wave for standing still for up to 7 hours. Our day at Donington was over 12 hours, so you see why it was necessary to make the best of it.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

November is National Caregivers Month - US and UK analysis

November is National Family Caregiver's Month (NFC Month).

Thank you is a very small word, but the most appropriate expression as I honor every person who provides care to a wife, husband, family member, friend or neighbor.

So frequently people do not see themselves as carers but as a family member, friend or neighbor taking responsibility and doing "what anyone in their position would do."
Respectfully, if you know someone who is a family care partner, give them a call, thank them, send them a message, see if you can help them in a meaningful way.

Act today!

And don't forget the tomorrows that are not part of a "special " month.


There are more than 50 million family caregivers / care partners in the United States who provide 80% of the long-term care services. Estimated at over $306 billion annually on "free caregiving services" to their loved ones."

In the UK the proportion of people caring for others has doubled in the last ten years. Estimated at over 5 million of all ages aged 16 or older,or one in eight. Half provide more than 20 hours care each week and one third more than 35 hours or more.


It would appear we have come very long way from the days of Robbie the Robot. NASA and General Motors have developed R2, who appears to be more like a Star Wars Bounty Hunter than a small beeping triped.

Robonaut 2, or R2 for short has flown into history as the first humanoid robot to be sent into space. Quoting from Michio Kaku, " R2 is designed to help astronauts perform tedious and dangerous missions. It's designed so that it will eventually be able to vacuum air filters, do space walks, flip switches, and go into dangerous toxic environments."

In the early 21st Century this is a first step towards the complex androids in the world of Star Trek and Star Wars. But look how far robotics has developed in the last 25 years.

R2 may be considered the disposable robot designed for one-way missions, for example to the moon.

Heading towards the final frontier has a price-tag. That said, the advantage of R2 is that you can accomodate off-the-shelf technology to put a robot quickly on the moon.

Michio also adds in his report, "Moon rockets these days are not so expensive; putting R2 on the moon can be done with half a billion dollars, which is pocket change compared to the price tag of a manned mission to the moon: $150 billion."

Will this ignite excitement of space travel and possibilities for the next generation? Consider what is possible in the next 25 years.