Wednesday, December 06, 2023

"Flight of the Valkyrie," by Charles Coombs (Boys' Life, July 1962)

I was originally going to post this to an aviation forum as a story identification question, since I only remembered some details from when I read it as a kid. But I finally found it, so I thought I'd share. 

The July, 1962 edition of Boys' Life (the magazine for Boy Scouts) featured "Flight of the Valkyrie," a short story by Charles Coombs. The entire issue is available on Google Books, and it's a time capsule of the era (don't miss the ads). 

Mind you, I'm not that old; not sure how we got hold of it; maybe from a library sale or a leave-behind from the previous owner of our house.

The story is really short, only about three magazine pages total. Also, the opening illustration practically gives away the ending. (So I cropped out the first page image here.)

It's about a test flight of a prototype US bomber, the North American XB-70 Valkyrie, a very distinctive, six-engine delta-wing with canards.

In the story, three engines flame out over Kansas, and the pilot decides to try to land on an empty stretch of highway. The crew sticks with him (though he reminds them that they can eject using their escape capsules all the way down to zero altitude), and they land successfully on the highway.

However, the XB-70 needs two miles of runway, and despite brakes, flaps, and drag chute, the plane is about to hit a curve and crash.

Spoilers ahead for a 60+ year-old short story:

At the last moment, the pilot comes up with an unconventional idea that saves the plane: He lowers the plane's folding wing tips (designed to help manage the plane during supersonic flight), which dig into the dirt on both sides of the road, slowing the plane in time.

When asked by the flight engineer (who previously doubted him due to an earlier mistake) how he thought of doing that, the pilot answers, "Had to drag something to help slow us down. And I couldn't get my feet out the window."

The wing tips are damaged, but the plane and crew are saved. The end.

Real-World Epilogue

Now, while this incident is completely fictional, a few years later in June 1966, there would be an infamous and well-documented mid-air collision resulting in a fatal crash

Anyway, since there's not much in the way of search results for this short story, I just wanted to put it out there.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

A Personal Progression of COVID Masks as Revealed by Car Archaeology

This weekend, I needed an extra N95 mask from my car and couldn't find one. So I decided to go through the COVID supplies in my car (trunk, glove box, center console) to assess and restock.


Top left, you see components for the first batch of improvised masks: bandanas with extra filter material to fold in (cut up from reusable polypropylene grocery bags and old t-shirts), along with a few of my customizations: PVC couplings to snug the bandana up under my chin, and plastic-coated metal tabs (the kind used to seal coffee bags) to duct tape in the right spot to make moldable nose bridges, along with some extra duct tape.

Below that were the cloth masks, homemade (by others) or store-bought (with a paper clip wire inserted for a nose bridge for those that lacked).

In the upper right, surgical masks.

And then, finally, N95 and KN95 masks.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Halloween Costume Build 2022: Banana Cop & Human Target

Since I broke the seal with my blog entry yesterday, I figured I might as well pare down the blog backlog (backblog?) and keep the streak going.

There are 63 days until Halloween; here are my costumes from 2022.

Costume #1: Banana Cop

First, I had a to put together a hasty interim costume for Friday night, because I'm no longer pulling all-nighters to finish costumes. I came up with Banana Cop.


There's not a lot to it; a banana costume under a sheriff's uniform top. Though I thought the holster with a real banana in it was a nice touch. (I had to buy the banana, and I even brought the holster into Safeway to make sure I got one that fit.)

Costume #2: Human Target

The second one for Saturday was an actual build. First up was two pieces of foam core board (with a precisely cut eye slit), hot glued together and reinforced by two Home Depot yardsticks:


Next, some straps. I didn't have any nylon webbing handy, so I made some straps by folding over some duct tape. The buckles and keepers I already had:


Covering the eye hole is just some black panty hose. I had some left over from early on in the pandemic, when there was a mask hack for improving the effectiveness of surgical masks (just cut a tube of panty hose and put it over the mask to help seal gaps). The forehead pad is so I could wear my glasses; it's just some thick polyurethane foam glued to the board:


Assembly is just more duct tape and hot glue. The setup is super light, so strength isn't an issue, though I had to experiment to find the right height for the straps (around the neck and waist):


The front could be any poster sized paper, though the point of this costume was to use a silhouette shooting target (with a hole cut to match the eye slit). 

The holes aren't actually bullet holes; I started with a clean target, put a piece of scrapwood with holes drilled through it behind it, and poked a Sharpie marker through to get holes the right size. The white foam core backing shows right through. Then, I just used some spray adhesive to glue it down:


Wearing the costume:


From the side; this is clearly meant to be seen from the front only:


You can also use it after Halloween if you want to rent yourself out as half a sandwich board advertisement.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Mullet Is Back

I was deep down a Wikipedia rabbit hole when, whimmed, I popped over to the Mullet (haircut) article to see which photos were being used to show the hairstyle. This is because way back in 2008, the article's main illustration was me. (This lasted for a little while, then somewhere along the line [and after a mini-edit war], the photo was replaced. It happens.)

So, I was shocked (and not in the Casablanca, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" way) to see that my photo has made it back in, just below 1970s David Bowie and representing the 1990s:

The 1970s, 80s, and 90s section of the Wikipedia mullet article.
A man with a mullet in 1992.

According to the edit history (as if there was any doubt that I would scrub through it to pin down exactly when it happened), a user (now banned for sock puppet accounts, and again, no it wasn't me) made the change on March 2, 2022

I also note that it replaced a photo of 1980s Lou Diamond Phillips from two revisions prior.

Immediately, I checked the Facepalm article, but alas, it was not to be.

Anyway, enjoy it while it lasts.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

My First Banana Bread

I don't bake much (though I do roast a fair bit), but I had a few bananas on the edge so I decided to make banana bread.

The recipe I used (literally the first search result) only requires eight ingredients, and I had all of them except vanilla extract, which I remedied via a serendipitous Amazon sale.

I added chia seeds and unsweetened coconut powder (which I add to many things for the extra fiber). 

I'd recommend one other modification: Cut the butter down from the given 1/3 cup, which is waaaaay too much—you can't taste anything but butter.

Banana Bread

The other thing I missed was the given cook time (50—60 minutes at 350) is for an 8"x4" loaf pan; it's a few minutes shorter for an 8.5"x4.5" pan, which is what I have. So the crust came out hard.

As to the photo: Yes, I have a PVC light box; yes, I put the banana bread in it; and yes, the photo still managed to come out horribly.


Sunday, March 26, 2023

#51FactsAbout51: The Return of Birthday Factoids

Today's my 51st birthday. (Which doesn't seem right, but the math checks out.) A few years ago, I started responding to Facebook birthday well-wishers with trivia based on my new age, though I paused when the pandemic hit, when celebrating birthdays just seemed different.

51. Includes newer glasses.


Well, after a morning of french toast, hash browns, an age-appropriate level of fiber, and 80s music, here are the 51 items I posted about the number 51 (clearly, mostly taken from Wikipedia and the first few pages of Google search results):



  1. 51 is the product of 3 and 17 (both prime numbers)
  2. 51 in binary is 110011
  3. "Route 51" is a Wisconsin Public Radio show focusing on issues in the north-central Wisconsin area
  4. 51 in Morse Code is ..... .-----
  5. 51 in Roman numberals is LI
  6. 51 is the title of a 2011 sci-fi horror movie
  7. 51 is the atomic number of antimony
  8. 51% is the minimum percentage (rounded up) needed for a majority
  9. The USS Arleigh Burke is DDG-51, the lead ship of its class of guided-missile destroyers 
  10. 51 is the country dialing code for Peru
  11. 51% a men's clothing brand in Seoul, South Korea)
  12. is the number of laps in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
  13. 51 is the second solo mixtape by rapper Kool A.D., formerly of the rap group Das Racist. 
  14. Station 51 is the fire station featured in the 1970s television series Emergency! 
  15. The number of essays Alexander Hamilton wrote as part of The Federalist Papers defending the US constitution
  16. The TV show The Price Is Right is currently in its 51st season
  17. The Mustang World War II fighter aircraft is the P-51.
  18. "Fifty-One" is a fourth season episode of Breaking Bad where Walter celebrates his 51st birthday
  19. A 51% attack is when a party gains control of a majority of a network blockchain [this is a massive oversimplification, don't come at me cryptobros]
  20. The 51st day of the year is February 20
  21. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) was the longest-serving US Senator at 51 years, 5 months, and 26 days 
  22. 51 degrees Fahrenheit is 10.56 degrees Celcius (and 283.706 Kelvin)
  23. IRS Publication 51 is the Agricultural Employer's Tax Guide 
  24. Title 51 of the United States Code (51 U.S.C.) is entitled "National and Commercial Space Programs"
  25. Area 51 is a US government facility that's supposed to house secret military (and even alien) technology
  26. 51 is the number of Doc Hudson in the animated movie Cars (which I've never seen)
  27. Photo 51 is an X-ray image of key importance in elucidating the structure of DNA in the 1950s 
  28. The 2023 Iditarod was the race's 51st running
  29. Pier 51 in New York City's Hudson River Park features a playground 
  30. Randy Johnson's number 51 was retired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015.
  31. The Chicago Bears' Dick Butkus wore 51.
  32. Emperor Cheng of Han was born in 51 BC 
  33. The 51st US Congress ran from 1889-1891 and saw the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act 
  34. 51 is Ichiro Suzuki's number with the Seattle Mariners
  35. The Wikipedia article for Ichiro Suzuki is available in 51 languages
  36. Telemundo 51 is a Miami-area TV station
  37. VFD Fire Station 51 is a volunteer fire station in Visalia, CA 
  38. The Whirlpool Galaxy is known as Messier 51a and M51a
  39. The M51 SLBM is a French submarine-launched ballistic missile 
  40. The M51 is a Samsung Galaxy phone released in 2020 
  41. The M51 is an M4 tank variant known as the Super Sherman 
  42. The M51 field jacket is an iconic US olive drab military jacket from 1951 
  43. Cachaca 51 is a Brazilian rum known for its mellow flavor and floral, fruity aromatic notes.
  44. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Bus 51 route runs from Reservoir Station to Forest Hills Station 
  45. Article 51 of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) specifies Supervisory Authority 
  46. The 51 for 51 campaign is a DC statehood effort
  47. Article 51 of the UN Charter is about the inherent right of individual and collective self-defence in attacks against member states.
  48. Federalist 51 is an essay by James Madison about checks and balances and separation of powers.
  49. NAICS code 51 covers information services 
  50. Article 51 of the Geneva Convention is about protection of the civilian population 
  51. Party 51 is a Canadian political party that wants Quebec to join the United States (wat?)