Archive for the ‘meta’ Category

I have a Canon Canonet 28 sitting here in front of me. It’s a seventies brushed aluminium and black grip film camera with exposure automation, you just have to focus it yourself and push the button. It uses regular 35 mm film and has a fixed 40 mm F 2.8 lens. It was easy enough to use that most of my childhood is documented with it, and the picture quality was good (provided the person shooting had focused properly, also shooting against the light made the simple light sensor underexpose the picture). Towards the camera’s thirty year anniversary, around 2000, the shutter started failing, requiring taking it into a repair shop a few times. (By the way, although the linked page claims otherwise, it does not have a self timer.)

Having learned to shoot with this camera, I’ve always despised autofocus and other people’s blurry photographs. Here the operator had absolute control of where the focus is. This is both good and bad, but at least there’s no-one else to blame. I found the yellow ghost image focus system to be quite easy (if not always fast) to use and it guaranteed very precise focusing.

Canon Canonet 28

Canon Canonet 28, from Wikipedia, see the viewfinder and the focus ghost image viewport at the top of the front side. The light sensor is just above the lens. The thumb winder is the lever attached to the shutter. The focus ring is at the front of the barrel.

Much later a Nikon F60 SLR film camera was acquired. After some time, when searching for a cheap second hand fixed lens for the SLR, I ran into a cheap Canonet QL 19 and bought it (it’s somewhere among my stuff right now). The whole camera was cheaper than a prime lens for the Nikon! It has better power at F 1.9, being basically a more expensive version of the Canonet 28. You need to do semi-manual exposure control though, by setting the shutter yourself and let the camera handle the aperture, so in that sense it’s more complicated. You also can use really long exposure times and also use the mechanical auto shutter (that gets sometimes stuck!). If you load sensitive film into it, all kinds of exciting photography becomes possible: color photos in the night, without a tripod. This was the cheapest way to low light photography, handsome on a night bird listening trip.

These Canons are both rangefinder cameras, meaning focusing is done by aligning a yellow “ghost image” onto an ordinary image. They have fast optics, meaning they gather a lot of light. This was important because the earlier films were much less sensitive. Later, when disposable cameras with lousy optics were developed, they needed a much more sensitive film to compensate (it was cheaper to manufacture them that way with bad optics and good film). Now, couple the modern sensitive film with an old fast lens and you get great pictures even in low light. Because they are rangefinders, they also don’t have a big mirror giving shutter delay, a shake and clacking sound with every shot. Instead a quiet, whispering click can be heard – and also, the viewfinder view does not go black during the exposure. The compact size enables you to carry them more easily than an SLR. They still weigh quite a lot because of the metal construction, though that helps with steadying in hand. You do need good eyesight for focusing. A flash can also be attached. Film winding is with the thumb. This must be remembered after each shot, otherwise when you press the shutter next time when you have just aligned for a perfect opportunity, nothing happens! This also means the camera only needs a tiny watch battery for the light meter and can operate reliably for long times (years) without battery change or in very cold weather.

I’ve done most of my film photography with the Nikon SLR which is very versatile with the wide and long zoom lenses, but the Canonets have had some appeal. They might be excellent for street photography and possibly some journalism, when you don’t need long zoom distances or very wide angles. I also love natural light and don’t like flashes. They are much less menacing than a big SLR and don’t have the mirror clack and film wind whirr sound when taking a picture. It’s still much harder to do a composition with a prime lens, and I’m not a good at composition to start with. You could probably learn to work with it much better, immediately seeing what kinds of pictures you can get without having to look through the viewfinder, if you made a constious effort. Enthusiasts actually hold both eyes open when using rangefinders, I only heard of that technique quite late.

What are the Canonet series’ spiritual digital successors today? Probably Canon’s G series high quality fixed lens cameras. They still sport a purely optical viewfinder and I’ve seen some good quality photos made with them. Bracketing and a flash socket are a nice feature uncommon in pocket cameras as well. There are other manufacturer cameras in the same class. Back in the film days, there theoretically was not much image quality difference between a reasonable 35 mm fixed lens camera and an expensive 35 mm SLR. In the digital world however the fixed lens cameras usually have very small sensors, which leads to many things and is a subject for another post.

Most digital cameras have much less light power nowadays. Digital sensors are more sensitive than film, which is one reason. Also, the high power wide angle lenses in rangefinder film cameras (fixed lens and Leica) were possible because the light can strike the film at quite a shallow angle and still be captured, but CCD and CMOS sensors can’t do that. The light has to go through a Bayer filter first before it strikes the sensor and that means a relatively steep angle is needed. SLR:s have that since the lens is far from the sensor anyway (because the mirror has to be in between), and thus they were made into digital cameras relatively easily. But there are few digital rangefinders. Subjects for the next post.

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Perhaps the biggest phenomenon from a western view has been the rise of China as a superpower.

Internet services and applications, terrorism and wars in the middle east, oil, global warming politics, are some of the big things as well.

What will 2010 see? Well, my bet is that energy will be a big part of it. Oil is limited and is getting more expensive, coal is not. But coal is bad in the global warming sense. The big coal powers USA, China, Germany, UK, Canada, Australia at least are probably just going to keep burning it and not care what it does to the rest of the world.

During the noughties, CO2 rose from about 365 to 385 ppm. If the decadal rate is constant at 20 ppm per decade, then 600 ppm, a doubling from 1950s levels will require 215 ppm more, or about 110 years. Of course, the decadal emissions rate is probably going to accelerate. Local climate change phenomena will come earlier than things like significant sea level rise but it’s harder to point out that greenhouse gases are responsible for them. A fascinating experiment, this atmosphere alteration.

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They suck. For example the latter picture in the post below is malformed. The original before uploading is fine and well readable. I posted with Firefox as I can’t post images to blog posts at all with Opera. The editor looks horrible in Firefox with a barely readable font as I’m typing this.

I don’t know what went wrong and where but blogging has always been tediously slow with each operation always lasting a loong time (start a new post, insert a picture…), on any operating system. This of course wouldn’t need to be so for technical reasons (a 2 MB connection is enough to stream fine video so sending some text and control inputs plus some small pictures is nothing) but is probably for other reasons – inefficient libraries are used because of compatibility and lack of manpower etc etc.

This is actually the case for a huge number of things nowadays. Many things would be possible but for some little reason are not done. Lack of knowledge, motivation, small money…

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Updated About

There’s now  some more info, a picture and an email address on the about page.

Feel free to mail me at valtteri maja at gmail com.

I’m not always as angry as I look in the picture. 🙂

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A somehow in an unspecifiable way interesting composition I ran into at the slightly risque chicks and bikes blog.

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I’m back. And what a trip it was! I’ll only comment the end till now:

Today, thursday, 16. of July, I took the perhaps 1000 people carrying Eckerö Line Nordlandia ferry from Tallinn to Finland, crossing the 80 km wide Gulf of Finland. It left at 17:00 and estimated time of arrival was 20:30.

Medical Emergency

There was a medical emergency on board. A coast guard helicopter was called and it arrived much later when the ship was already visibly close to Helsinki. Perhaps an hour away? I can always check the date of the photos and videos later (tomorrow). There was a long time between the announcement and the helicopter actually being visible. I think one person was winched down from the heli, as well as some equipment. Much earlier, not much after leaving Tallinn, I (and many others) had seen a fainted woman being transported on a wheel chair in the main ballroom, and many speculated it was her who was the medical emergency person. I do not know yet.

I will upload video of the helicopter hovering tomorrow. It was quite close to some of the deck structure. I think it was a pretty small one, Bell Sky Ranger or related model. Definitely not super Puma or any modern enclosed rear rotor one.


Later, when approaching the Ruoholahti western harbour, the ship experienced some electrical problems. I was already on the car deck and most of the lights went off. Many lights on ships have inbuilt batteries that keep them on for some time even when the power goes off so it didn’t get dark really. I just thought it wasn’t anything big. If I remember correctly, the lights came back on, went back off, then came to stay back on.

Then I remember hearing distinct strong rattling sounds. I thought it was the sideways propellers for maneuvering, but it turned out later that they probably were the anchor chains being dropped. The ship didn’t shake at any point so I don’t think there was any contact with anything. (I’ve been on a ship (much smaller though) that hit underwater rocks, and it jumped up strongly, and also sounded a lot different.)

Since I still was waiting for my friend who was the car owner and had the keys, I was getting impatient and went back up a few floors (one pneumatic door didn’t work but the adjacent did, I don’t know if this was caused by the blackout or not) and phoned him (it’s impossible to find anyone on such a ship). He said he was at the stern and we weren’t going to land anytime soon. So I went there. And finally there were announcement on the speakers on all the languages (Finnish, Swedish, Estonian, English) that they are experiencing electrical problems, are anchored in front of the pier and are waiting for tugs to come help and it’s just an inconvenience.

We could literally see the pier about 200 m in front of us from the rear of the ship while waiting for the tugs to tend our disabled ship in. It had already turned around to back into its slot behind the faster green Tallink ship (that would have cost doubly for us, but would have left later and arrived earlier!), when the blackout apparently hit. A dangerous situation.

Eventually two tugs, Hektor and Protector (or some such) arrived and ropes were thrown and we were put safely to the intended spot on the pier and could go to land.

Conclusion, Speculation

It could have been much more dangerous though. I’m not clear what maneuvering capability remained during and after the blackout.

If it had happened for example when crossing paths with some tanker or other ferry in the very busy gulf of Finland, a large accident could have happened in a very short time frame. I also don’t know what would have happened if it had hit the pier with a swinging motion. It is always very potentially dangerous when a vessel becomes unable to maneuver.

I think this is a serious incident and should be investigated thoroughly. It’s good that there are mandated safety systems on ships like lights with batteries, anchors etc. They were definitely helpful in this case.

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Self Help Sucks

From BBC. This is also probably related to why it somehow makes me feel better to listen to sad music when I’m sad, and not happy music. 🙂

I’m somewhat happy, if a bit perplexed right now though.

Moving on tomorrow again. Don’t expect me to answer mail for about ten days.

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Slightly Away

for a week and then totally away for perhaps ten days.

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Experts on the Internet

A lot of internet discussion is ignorant speculation, rumor spreading, ranting and flaming. But that’s not all. The freedom and self-organizing nature of enables massive diversity. Newsgroups, mailing lists, IRC, forums, Twitter – and sometimes there’s something there.

Michael Tobis comments on his experience of reading about the Iranian riots on Twitter – way before anything was said in the printing press. Being his usual self, it acts as a motivation for a longer article about the resignation of reporting on important issues (global warming changing earth significantly being Michael’s issue because of his expertise in that).

I’ve long been saying related things  in relation to space issues.  Now, the traditional media defends its views and sheepish forwarding of NASA public facade material as the right way. Maybe some examples are necessary. The aerospace developments of national agencies are full of failures. All ventures have failures. It’s just that aerospace has so few successes – especially rocketry.

What if Nasaspaceflight.com had existed during X-33? NASP is moot here since it was a secretive military project – hence no insight possible there.

Would X-33:s failures and their reasons have been predicted much earlier? Ares I and V had their critics from before day one. Technical critics. Budgetary. Industrial ones.

What is important and makes things different from mere ranting, or “armchair generals”, is that the NASA and ULA engineers provide, on their free time, insight into engineering matters. Instead of the public affairs that the rest of the media reports on. They have a passion for what they do and want to succeed and advance. If they see hopeless technical incompetence at the top level, they will voice their objections – it is practically their duty as citizens.

X-33 – Marching Towards Certain Failure

X-33:s first failure was trying to use very unproven technology (composite multi-lobed cryogenic tanks) in a billion dollar magnitude program. The technology could have easily been proven on a much smaller scale, very cheaply and fast, before starting the whole X-33 project. Competent engineers should have seen that one as a real high risk with easy reduction possibilities. You don’t risk billions just for fun, if you can easily avoid it! You risk it for politics though.


The table above is from NASA’s tank report (pdf in references), with tests done on tank samples done after the failure, revealing the gross inadequacy of the material for the intended purpose

If, on the other hand, the composite tank was seen as a high risk but not necessary technology for reaching X-33:s goals, then X-33 should have proceeded with the metal tank. In other words, if the composite tank was an optional “nice to have” component. But NASA:s Ivan Bekey testified otherwise – that X-33 had no use without the carbon fiber tank.

All around the X-33 seemed quite big and hugely ambitious on multiple fronts for an experimental vehicle anyway. What were the other objectives besides composite tanks? Could they have been tested in a faster and less expensive vehicle? The metal TPS comes to mind as one. Did it have even the inadequate bench background of the tank? There were military programs from the fifties to the eighties that had developed such things in labs – maybe there was something there.

What about the lifting body shape? The successing Venturestar kept changing shape constantly in simulations and grew big wings. It could very well be that Lockheed Martin and NASA simply didn’t know what they were doing, on any level really, and should not have started building X-33 in the first place. The knowledge base was not at the level to justify going that far yet. The close to existing J-2 derived aerospike engine was perhaps the biggest justification for the size and shape of X-33. But the potential reward of finally getting an aerospike engine flight tested just made the fall that much heavier – the large vehicle necessitated by this turned out to be unworkable. A failure on a lesser scale would not have been as hard. Close to ten years later, no aerospike has yet flown. There have been spike nozzles in hybrids and solids but no aerospikes, where the physical spike is cut off and replaced by a gas jet.

What should have been done to enable the X-33 building?

  • Bench tests of composite tanks (basic, room temp, progressing to multi-lobe, cryogenic). Test cryopumping as well (this has been done somewhat since).
  • Possibly aerodynamic tests with a much smaller vehicle (or generations) as a glider, first released from a helicopter, then an airplane and finally with a sounding rocket. Alternatively with conventional engines. Possibly horizontal takeoff to reduce test costs.
  • Aerospike engine small scale tests. Perhaps contract a smaller company for that, like Armadillo and XCOR have done tests cheaply for NASA methane engines.

If any of these solutions proved unfeasible, then no reason to build the Lockeed style X-33.

The Competitors

Rockwell had a shuttle shaped cylindrical tank vehicle with wings, which seemed pretty simple on the outside. McD had the DC-X growth model. At least both had some heritage in working hardware. There is very little engineering information available about the competitors so if anyone wants to help, drop me a note. Would they have succeeded?

Probably both would have failed as well, in the role of traditional X vehicles of developing new capabilities, mainly because of being too large. Both of the other potential X-33:s would have had a composite hydrogen tank as well (though possibly axisymmetric, even conical or cylindrical), so they could have had similar failure possibilities, though perhaps they would have had a different (sensible) development approach. As is evident from lab tests in the references, cryogenics and composites are hard to fit together.

The Shuttle thermal protection system  is notoriously work intensive, and as far as I know, the Rockwell proposal had quite similar tiles in its proposal. On the other hand, surface loading could have been less since the vehicle had its own tanks and high mass ratio. Also the SSME:s are very work intensive when reused. It was partly more of a rehash of existing technologies, which would perhaps have had moderate chance of success. If it worked, maybe one could try different technologies in it, if it was cheap to fly and could do incremental envelope expansion, while still having high enough performance to really stress test things like TPS or vacuum test less maintenance intensive engines. Heat loads on the composite structure would have been an interesting problem area as well.

McD’s precursor for their X-33 design, the small flying DC-XA program was cut prematurely (after having survived agency changes and funding problems) after a crash from a trivial easily avoidable failure, an unsecured hose. It could have made sense to do DC-XA again, to try the high speed properties, flying at different angles of attack and test the turnaround maneuver that it should perform after re-entry for landing. It would also have made sense to keep in the DC-XA scale and try lots of other solutions in the same vehicle (or fleet). It’s cheaper to test when at small scale. Only when the low capabilities of the vehicle would have been exhausted and good enough solutions found, would it have made sense to move to a bigger vehicle.


All  in all, space is no different from other fields, that rationality is the most effective way to reach sustained progress. It is obvious to any engineer worth their salt that one should retire as much risk as possible, as cheaply and as fast as possible before moving to the big bucks and long development time game.

Sadly, aerospace seems like a hopelessly irrational field in this regard. There are historical reasons for that attitude. Crash programs like Apollo or military ones have left their mark too deep – the field is unable to grow to a rational mature one. It is evident when looking at NASA’s troubled history with manned spaceflight. Since Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, it has not been able to build much incremental progress. STS was a partial success in capability – but it has stifled progress. Everything must always be started over, and at giant scale – making the unavoidable multiple tries very costly, both in time and money, and even utterly shameful in case of failures. A gigaprogram with failure as no option is a recipe, not for sustained progress, but for either a great disaster, or stagnation. A gigaprogram with failure inevitable is waste incredible.

So, the media of today should examine the world in such a perspective. Simplistic “against NASA / for NASA” analysis serves no one. There have been such incredibly farces lately that I’ve had to double check I wasn’t reading the Onion.

I speak for many, when I say, we don’t want delusional Programs, we want rational Progress!

Some sources:

1 Final Report of the X-33 Liquid Hydrogen Tank Test Investigation Team, NASA Marshall

2 Cryopumping in Cryogenic insulations for a Reusable Launch Vehicle, Johnson et al., NASA Langley

3 Proceedings of the RAND Project AIR FORCE Workshop on Transatmospheric Vehicles, Chapter 3: Design Option and Issues, containing X-33 general overview and info about the competitors, Gonzales et al, RAND Corporation

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I’m Back

in the city. Still have some moving to do.

Seems the ESAS appendices were put on wikileaks, the NASA panel was finally made official (I don’t really have high hopes for the outcome), Herschel and Planck were launched and Hubble was repaired. Still no NASA boss.

I think the polypore / fungus / kääpä in the new title picture is the usual Koivunkääpä.

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