Category Archives: Weekend Walkabout

Posts on topics which are not strictly (or even loosely) related to a Space Elevator…

Weekend Walkabout – Thailand to Japan to Fantasy Land…

Welcome to this edition of Weekend Walkabout.  In this post, we visit India Thailand to see a ‘possible competitor’ to a space elevator, then journey to Japan to see the latest with our favorite anime series, Gundam, and then wind up in what can only be described as “Fantasy Land”.  There’s also a programming note concerning this blog and Facebook.  And without further ado…

A new “lift system” has been demonstrated in India Thailand and it is just awesome.  Frankly, I don’t ever think it will be a competitor to the space elevator 🙂 but it ranks pretty high on my cool-o-meter.  Make sure you watch it to the end…

At the very end, when all of the pieces are falling, it reminded me of one of the qualifying runs by the Kansas City Space Pirates at the 2007 Space Elevator Games.

Next up is a stop in Japan.  If you’re a fan of Anime, you almost certainly know about Gundam.  This started as a TV series in Japan in 1979 and now has grown to be much more than that.  According to Chris Beveridge, who knows much more about these things than I do, something very cool has happened:

While fans of Gundam Build Fighters Try have been treated to a proper simulcast for that series and its previous incarnation, fans of Gundam Reconguista in G haven’t made out as good. But that’s now managed to change some as the series has begun streaming on the official Gundam Info YouTube channel with English subtitles (as well as streams in other territories/subtitles). The addition comes as about twenty-two episodes have been broadcast in Japan since it’s debut last year.

Chris tells us that the plot concept of Gundam Reconguista in G is:

The Universal Century, an era of historic migration into space and space wars has ended, and some time has passed. Now, mankind believes that their pursuits and prosperity will continue on peacefully into the new era, the Regild Century (R.C.)

R.C. 1014. The Capital Tower is a space elevator which towers over the land connecting Earth to space. The tower’s purpose is to bring down Photon Batteries from space that power the Earth, and as such is perceived as a holy place…

Read more about it here.

Finally, we wind up in “Fantasy Land”.  The baseline model for today’s concept of a Space Elevator was defined in the book by Dr. Brad Edwards and Eric Westling; The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System.  If you want to understand how a space elevator could work in the real-world, this book is a must-read.  I’ve often referred to it on this blog.

However, it appears that this book has become worth its weight in Gold.  Longtime Space Elevator Blog reader Paul R. recently sent me this snapshot from Amazon:

When I checked this item yesterday, this price was still advertised.  Just to let everyone know, I have a copy that I will sell for just $1,999.99!

Finally, some programming notes.  I have killed, once and for all, with a wooden stake to the heart, the “Subscriber” function for this blog.  I’ve tried it twice now, but all I get are registrations from spam-bots and it’s just a waste.  So, if you want to subscribe to this blog, you’ll need to do it via RSS or…

There is now a Facebook page for this blog.  Yes, I’ve gotten with it with technology that’s only several years old 🙂 but still is relevant.  “Like” The Space Elevator Blog on Facebook and you’ll get a notification every time a new post appears on this blog – Thank you!

Hat Tip to Dr. Peter Swan, president of ISEC, for the URL of the new Indian Thai “Space Launch system” and to reader Paul R. for letting me know about the “greatly in-demand” Edwards-Westling book – thank you both!


09Mar2015 Update – Thanks to reader Bob Munck for pointing out that the “space lift” is from Thailand, not India and also that they are called “Girandola” – you learn something new every day…

Weekend Walkabout – From shooting things into the sun to India to Canada…

This Weekend Walkabout continues to catch up on some things I didn’t blog about while I was taking my holiday break.

We start off by hypothetically shooting things into the sun, then learn about the latest success from the Indian space program and wind up in Canada – learning about the Hudson Bay Space Elevator…

Have you ever been interested in shooting someone into the sun?  Want to know the physics involved and some of the problems you’re going to face?  Well, fear not – Mr. Ryan Hardy has done the research for you!  An answer posted by him over at Quora (and reproduced at Gizmodo, which is where I found it) makes it clear that, unless you are contemplating using a space elevator for this task, you are going to flatten and incinerate your payload.

I love this article – he’s actually run the numbers (something which is all-too-often sadly lacking in articles like this).  And humor abounds – I think my favorite part of the writeup was this;

Once the person makes it through the barrel, they will be immediately greeted by Earth’s atmosphere at Mach 90. The acceleration from the resulting drag would be comparable to the acceleration felt while coming out of the cannon, but in the opposite direction. The thermal loading would heat the air ahead of the person to tens or possibly hundreds of thousands of Kelvin.

So, in summary, you’ve embarked on one of the largest engineering projects in history and found a way to pulverize and incinerate a human being in less than three thousandths of a second.

Read the whole thing – it’s a treat – well done Mr. Hardy!

(The image is the Lego version of the Schwerer-Gustav, an enormous artillery cannon used by Nazi Germany in WWII.  Ryan Hardy’s article shows why even a device as large as this has nowhere near the power to shoot something into the sun.  Click on the image to see a somewhat larger version).

Next up is another milestone for that under-the-radar space program from India, this the successful launch of their Next Generation Launch Vehicle, one intended to put payload directly into geosynchronous orbit and also, eventually, for crewed vehicles.

The actual launch is just before the 26 minute mark.  You can read more about this event at the most excellent SpaceRef website.

I have blogged many times (for example here) about India and the space elevator.  I think they will have both the expertise and the desire to build and operate a space elevator.  They have a real and growing space program.  They are a respected military power.  And two of the prime possible locations for a space elevator are in the Indian ocean with Indian access via direct sea lanes.

Don’t discount India – they really could be the first ones

And finally, we have a hypothetical space elevator anchored in Hudson Bay (yes, the Hudson Bay in Canada).  This has been supposedly described by Scott Sigler in his book The Rookie.  Don’t confuse this book (which is about football in the future) with The Rookie with Dennis Quaid (which is about contemporary baseball).

I haven’t read the book yet (I’ve put it on my to-be-purchased list), but I did see this review of it by Paul L on Scott Sigler’s website.  He points out the following:

Hudson Bay is at 60 degrees North latitude. There’s just no way to anchor a space elevator at Hudson Bay with a satellite or a counterweight. And if you tried to build from Hudson Bay to a satellite at the equator (with the counterbalance going south of the equator) the forces don’t balance. Instead their would be a huge torque on the elevator (let alone no feasible way to build the elevator that far north).

He’s right, but it’s a shame you can’t build a space elevator in Canada.  It could be guarded by the Royal Canadian Elevator Police, it could have a beer named after it (or perhaps a line of clothes) and, could you imagine what Doug and Bob McKenzie could do with this?  OMG – look what they did with the Canadian arm on the space shuttle:

Oh those wacky Canadians…

Weekend Walkabout – Seattle to India to Russia…

This edition of Weekend Walkabout starts in the USA (specifically Seattle), moves on the India and then finishes in Russia.  There is also a ‘programming note’ I discuss at the end of this post.  And without further ado…

Our first stop is in Seattle, Washington, USA.  According to, our friends at Liftport is hosting a talk about the space elevator (“Space Elevator – Past, Present, and Future”) on Wednesday, February 25th at 7:30pm.  This event will be held at T.S. McHugh’s Irish Pub in Seattle, Washington.  From the announcement:

The Space Elevator is an idea that has been around for over 100 years. Building a ladder to space and climbing to the heavens by using a robot attached to a string, straight up. So what is the status of this project? Where do we stand? What do we need to make this vision a reality?

There is a Facebook page you can Like to get more information to follow this and other STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) events.

Next up is a stop in India. I had previously blogged about the International Space Conference which was held at Amity University in India.  The idea of a space elevator as well as the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) was well represented at this conference by Mr. Sourabh Kaushal, a long-time colleague in this effort.  ISEC was a “Knowledge Partner” sponsor.

From all reports, the conference was quite successful.  The picture, below, shows ISEC literature being distributed at the conference.  More pictures from the Conference have now been posted online.

Lastly, we make a stop in Russia.  I found a website / forum that appears to be all-things space elevator.  There are only a few posts and all of them are dated May 5th, 2014.  I don’t know if they really were posted on that date or if it’s some bug/issue with the website.  I’ll be checking it from time to time to see if there is anything new posted.

Most of the items on there have already been covered in this blog, but there were links to a couple of videos that I hadn’t seen before.  The first one shown was originally aired by the Russian state-sponsored TV station,, and shows someone giving a brief explanation about the space elevator.  It was very nice to see that Yuri Artsutanov was credited with the idea – that doesn’t happen as often as it should.

If you’re not a native Russian speaker, you can translate the website using Chrome, but you’re on your own listening to the videos 🙂

Finally, a programming note.  Some of you may recall that a few months ago, I had turned on the feature for this blog to have registered Users – i.e., people could subscribe to the blog and have it automatically send them current postings.  After some complaints and problems, I turned it off.  With the new version (4.1) of WordPress which I’m now running on, I’m hopeful that these issues have been taken care so I’ve turned the feature back on.  Please let me know if you are experiencing any problems with this feature.

Weekend Walkabout – Maker Faire, cosmic radiation and Kerbal…

This edition of Weekend Walkabout takes us from a very cool Convention / Faire in Tokyo, Japan and then onto Central Europe (via the International Space Station) and finally winds up with the Kerbal Space Program…

First up is another trip to Japan – and to the recently held Maker Faire, “…the globe-trotting DIY convention that attracts both weekend hobbyists and high-end tinkerers…”.  This web page has a number of very interesting photographs, ranging from a musical instrument called an Otamatone to neon samurai to virtually brushing an anime characters teeth via an Oculus VR headset to robots galore.  Of course there is a “space elevator” (the 14th picture from the top if I counted correctly).  The site takes forever to load – not sure why, but many of the pictures are worth the wait.  I think this would have been a lot of fun to attend.  The Maker Faire map page shows that these events are held all over the globe – you’re sure to find one near you in the near future…

Next up is a trip to Europe (specifically central Europe) via the International Space Station – (ISS).  One of the potential issues facing manned trips aboard a Space Elevator is prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation.  An experiment (code-named MATROSHKA) was undertaken over several years on the ISS.  A specialized mannequin was constructed, containing radiation sensors.  This mannequin was then subjected to many years worth of radiation exposure on the ISS and the data was then sent to scientific labs in Poland, Germany and Austria for analysis.  Their conclusion was “…that the individual dosimeters worn by the crew inside the ISS overestimated the actual dose measured inside the phantom by about 15%. However, in open space this overestimation exceeded 200%…”  So, cautiously good news.  However, as the analysts also pointed out “We must remember that measurements within the MATROSHKA experiment were performed at low Earth orbit where the Earth’s magnetosphere significantly reduces the number of charged particles from cosmic radiation. In interplanetary space there is no such shielding”.  Once again, I am indebted to the most-excellent SpaceRef newsletter for this story.

Finally, we visit the Kerbal Space Program.  This software package is described as “KSP is a game where the players create and manage their own space program. Build spacecraft, fly them, and try to help the Kerbals to fulfill their ultimate mission of conquering space.”  This seems to be like a Microsoft Flight Simulator for spacecraft.  I had run across this many months ago, but as I didn’t see a way to build a space elevator with it, I passed it by.  However, I’ve recently found a YouTube video from someone (Mr. Scott Manley) who has tried to build a space elevator with this program.  As Scott describes his efforts to (ultimately unsuccessfully) build a space elevator with KSP, he talks about how a real space elevator would work.  Some of his facts and terminology are incorrect, but enough of it is on target to make the whole exercise (IMHO) interesting.

That’s all for this week!

Weekend Walkabout – Astronomy, SETI and garbage…

In this edition of Weekend Walkabout, we take an eclectic journey from telescopes, to SETI to music about how to deal with earth’s garbage…

I’m sure that one of the reasons I was susceptible to the idea of a Space Elevator was my early interest in Astronomy.  The brief introduction I had to it in High School made me “look up” at night, wondering what was “out there” and how I could get “there” to find out.  My father made the stand I used to grind an 8″ reflector mirror for a Newtonian telescope (albeit not a very good one) and I spent many an evening outside learning the constellations and watching the planets move among them.  I tried to get my son interested in astronomy with my enthusiasm and giving him a Meade ETX-90 telescope and showing him how to use it, but sadly it just wasn’t for him.  The upside to that is that I have that telescope at home and have been gradually accumulating lenses and filters for it and have been starting to explore the field of astrophotography.  I bring all this up as a precursor to tell you about a new, FREE, eBook about Telescopes I have just learned about.  The eBook, TELESCOPE 101: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE WORLD OF TELESCOPES is authored by Marcus Schenk, and is available here (it’s in pdf format).  I haven’t read the entire book, but what I have seen so far is a very solid, user-friendly introduction to the various types of telescopes, WHY there are various types, issues that arise in using them for different types of observation and how to solve them, etc.  It appears to be an excellent primer on the subject and I would recommend it for anyone who has an interest in this.  And it’s FREE – hard to beat!

Does SETI need to shut up?  Speaking of what’s “out there”, I’ve always been interested in the SETI – the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence project (I used to have their search number crunching program on my computer, but during one of my upgrades, lost it).  It’s one of the “great questions” and I (probably naively) hope to have an answer to it in my lifetime.  Aliens, and whether or not they might be “friendly” to us, are a mainstay of science-fiction.  One school of thought says that Aliens WILL be friendly but another school of thought says they may not.  And that leads me to ideapod, which is (and I quote) “… a new social-media platform for sharing and connecting ideas“.  This question about SETI is being debated on this platform and it’s an interesting discussion, indeed.  If you want to participate, head on over to the ideapod community discussion…  In a previous post, I discussed StackExchange, another forum for discussions about various topics (including the space elevator).  It’s hard to know where the winners and losers will be in social media and online forums.  On one hand, I think that “expert guidance” is helpful – I see so many naive conversations about the space elevator on various forums that I want to cringe.  On the other hand, I think it’s important that unpopular ideas not be dismissed as they might, ultimately, be the correct ones.  There are many examples of this but a modern day Poster Child for “Unpopular positions that ultimately proved correct” is Alfred Wegener’s idea of plate tectonics.  It was an idea that was universally ridiculed when first proposed, but is now accepted as generally correct.  Global warming alarmists take note…

Let’s finish today’s post with MUSIC!  There have been several songs and music-videos about the space elevator (or that, at least, have had “space elevator” listed somewhere in their description).  I have reviewed several and found that almost all of them are just “yucch”, certainly not my cup of tea.  We now have another music “entry”, this about a “space escalator” that transports all of our waste into the sun.  The album, Shoot It At The Sun is by a group called The Porchistas.  Getting rid of the earth’s garbage by shooting it at the sun is an idea which gets periodically revisited by people who don’t realize that our species generates hundreds of millions of tons of garbage each year – far more than even the most optimistic space elevator scenario can envision.  It’s a problem we’re going to have to solve HERE, not by shipping our waste anywhere else.  Even “small” portions of this are so large, they defy the export solution…  Anyway, back to the music.  Frankly, I don’t like it, but perhaps you will.  For my money, the best (by far) song about the space elevator is the one by Glen Phillips which you can find on his Secrets of the New Explorers album (and on the sidebar of this blog).  I consider it the unofficial theme song of the space elevator and it’s going to take something really special to knock it off it’s throne.

More next weekend…

Hat tips to Harvey Burgess (for the information about the Telescope eBook) and Adrianna Roberts (for letting me know about ideapod and the ongoing SETI discussion).

Weekend Walkabout – Exploring the Solar System

In this Weekend Walkabout, we keep it simple but definitely not local.

But first a programming note: as many of you know, I recently updated this blog to the current version (4.0, now 4.0.1) of WordPress.  Since that time, I’ve been playing around with the features of this release and decided to turn on the “Subscriber” option, thinking that might be a good way to let people more easily follow my posts.  It turns out to be far more trouble than it’s worth (if it’s worth anything at all).  I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of “users” subscribe – but they turn out to be either not users at all (they don’t answer any confirming emails I’ve sent them) or users who are unhappy with this and who have emailed me to let me know they were now getting unsolicited emails.  There are some other issues I’ve found, but the long and short of it is that I have decided to turn this feature off and delete all of the email addresses that had been signed up as a Subscriber.  So, if you were adversely affected by this, I sincerely apologize…

And now to this weekend’s musings.  I have only one item for you, but it is MOST awesome.  This is a new short film by Erik Wernquist entitled WANDERERS.  It’s a paean to exploring the solar system and is accompanied by the voice of Carl Sagan.  The images in it all exist or could exist.  And yes, there is a space elevator in it (albeit on Mars) about 1 minute, 20 seconds into the video.

From the description:

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.  Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea with the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.

It’s in HD with great sound, so go full-screen, crank up your speakers and enjoy.

The website also contains a Gallery of photo-realistic images, including several of the aforementioned Martian Space Elevator.  These are also high-resolution images and the following is now my Desktop Background:

Truly worth the visit – enjoy!

(30NOV2014 Update – Gizmodo has a most excellent review of the video here)

Weekend Walkabout – From India to Broadway…

In this Weekend Walkabout, we travel to India (learning about a Space Conference and why that’s important to fans of the space elevator) and then to Singapore (finding a “space elevator” at the Space Invention Camp) and then on to England (watching a cool video of a carbon nanotube ‘forest’) and finally winding up on Broadway (for a really short story with a space elevator in it).

First up is a Space conference being held early next year in India.  The second International Space Conference is being held on January 8th and 9th at Amity University in Noida, India.  While this conference will be focusing on “normal” space subjects (satellites, interplanetary missions, etc.), the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISESC) will also be represented there by Mr. Sourabh Kaushal.  Sourabh has presented at previous Space Elevator Conferences and was also a contestant in the now-defunct Artsutanov-Pearson competition.  He will have several ISEC publications (ISEC reports and CLIMB – the Space Elevator Journal) to hand out and talk about while he’s there.

I have written about India and the space elevator before, discussing my belief that they could be a real player whenever a space elevator becomes viable.  They have a real space program with many impressive achievements, a real military (necessary to defend a space elevator) and open sea lanes to two locations in the Indian ocean that the Edwards-Westling baseline book indicated as prime possibilities to locate a space elevator.  Add to this their national obsession with beating China in every way they can and I think they must be taken seriously when the materials finally become available to build a space elevator.

Recently I blogged about a study done several years ago extolling the virtues of the island nation of Singapore relating to building a space elevator.  I just found a video of a “space elevator” being part of, I believe, the Wonderswork Space Invention Camp being held in Singapore in November and December of this year.

You can see a Lego poster in the background of the video.  Young (ages 5 and up) children use these Legos and then advance to Lego Mindstorm kits to build various projects, including the ribbon climber shown in the video.  It’s nice to see kids as young as this exposed to these types of technologies.

Next up is a video of a carbon nanotube forest grown at the University of Cambridge in England.  Sadly, they talk about growing these nanotubes for “…their use in various electronic devices…” but Cambridge is also one of the leading research institutions in examining the materials/structural properties of carbon nanotubes (along with Rice University and the University of Cincinnati).

This would be a good time to mention a project I’ve just started and that is a materials review of carbon nanotubes, carbyne, graphene and boron-nitride nanotubes, the leading candidates at this time for becoming strong enough at the macro-level to build a space elevator.  In case you’ve ever wondered why these materials are the best candidates, you should enjoy my multi-part post on this subject that I’m planning.  It’s probably a couple of weeks away, but I’m enjoying putting it together.  Stay tuned!

Finally, we have a (very) short story with a space elevator as a part of it; Yes Way or Nuclear Bomb Called Desire.  I don’t know if Tennessee Williams would have approved, but he probably wouldn’t have minded, either.

The brevity of this story reminds me of the Urban Legend revealing the winner of a concise essay contest combining the elements of religion, sex and mystery.  The winner:

Good God, I’m pregnant!  I wonder who did it?

And with that, I bid you all a good week…

Weekend Walkabout – Do you want to design a Rocket Ship?

According to Wikipedia, a “Walkabout” is “…a rite of passage during which male Australian Aborigines would undergo a journey during adolescence and live in the wilderness for a period as long as six months“.  But a Walkabout is also, according to the Urban Dictionary, “…a spontaneous journey through the wilderness of one’s choosing in an effort to satisfy one’s itchy feet“.  We all have the urge to explore new territory and, while this is THE Space Elevator Blog, I have occasionally posted items which are not strictly space-elevator related.  They were, IMHO, something which might be of interest to you or maybe just something I wanted to opine about (it’s a FEATURE not a BUG 🙂 )…  These posts have been varied, ranging from How I Installed DSL for My Mother to Blaming NASA for Selfies.  In the future, I’m going to make these types of postings the “Weekend Walkabout” feature of this blog, leaving the weekday postings to ‘strictly’ space elevator related items.  These Weekend Walkabout postings might be related to space exploration or anything else, but I’ll try and keep the Politics to a minimum.

I’ve set up a new Blogroll category; “Weekend Walkabout” and will label all future such postings with it and will also, as time permits, perhaps revisit older postings which fall in this category (posted on a weekend or not) and label them as such…

And without further ado, our first Weekend Walkabout…

Conventional wisdom (if I can use that term while referring to a Space Elevator) says that, once we have a Space Elevator, we won’t need Rocket ships anymore.  Not so.  We (the human race) will need even MORE rocket ships once a space elevator is built.  There will be a much greater need to send people and cargo to really interesting places like the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid belt, etc. and that will still require rocket ships.

So, if you are a fan of space elevators, don’t think of Rocket ships as “obsolete” or “evil” – they have their place, it’s just not where they need to use 95% of their weight (the propellant) to get stuff out of earth’s gravity well…

And that brings me to this; the National Space Society (NSS), an affiliate of the International Space Elevator Consortium (ISEC) has launched a project called “Enterprise in Space“, a multi-year effort to “…design, build, fly, and eventually return to Earth an orbiter containing student experiments.  This project will be a tribute to the many great visionaries of science and science fiction.  It will demonstrate and pioneer new technologies while inspiring and encouraging space enterprise.  It will promote the development of educational curricula and activities contributing to related future endeavors in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).  This project engages and inspires the next generation – all ages and walks of life – by igniting a renewed interest in space exploration and development.

The NSS Press Release gives this information about the project from the project’s manager, Jim Plaxco:

“My first tip is to do it. Not only are there some great prizes for the contest winner but the winner will have a place in the history of private/personal space exploration.

My second tip is that you don’t have to be a master of 3D or CAD software. I’ll remind you that such software is a very recent invention. It’s the design that counts and that can be illustrated using nothing more complex than paper, pencil, and ruler.

Third is to follow the rules. An important rule is to not design a spacecraft that looks like a spacecraft that is associated with a spacecraft from TV or film. It must be your own original design.

Fourth is to be mindful that the spacecraft you design will be housing somewhere around one hundred student experiments. That means avoiding a design that minimizes internal volume. Once manufactured, your orbiter will physically have as its maximum dimensions 8 feet by 8 feet by 6 feet so be mindful of the factors 8 x 8 x 6 in designing your craft.

So now is the time to either fire up your favorite graphics software or grab your drafting supplies and get to designing a spacecraft that is truly unique. The submission deadline is fast approaching so don’t delay. But first make sure you fully understand the contest by reading the Enterprise In Space Design Contest Rules.”

Designing a rocket ship?  This sounds Über-cool.  The deadline to get your design in is December 7th – not very far away…

Oh, and why did I use that particular picture thumbnail (which I obtained from here) in this post?  Check out the Enterprise in Space website to find out…

Installing DSL for my mother…

This one is for you Ben…

Readers may have noticed a lack of posts over the past several days.  This is because I’m currently in NW Arkansas, visiting my mom, a trip I make every year around this time.

So I’m down here, installing DSL for my mother…

Mom (who is now in her 80’s) is not afraid of computers.  She and my dad were quite eager to learn about them and how to work with them.  They purchased their first computer sometime in the 1980’s, an Apple IIE (at least that’s what I think the model was – I’m a Windows guy).  When they first started using computers, I was living and working in Saudi Arabia.  I’d come home once or twice per year on business or vacation and always spent several days with them.  Answering their computer questions was always high on the list of ‘things to do’.

My professional career was spent entirely in the computer industry, mainly in software and working mostly with mainframes and minis (PCs didn’t come along until later on in my career).  I remember in particular one computer question my parents asked me; “how do you copy a file?”  I’m ashamed to admit that it took me the better part of an hour before I could figure it out (and I had to consult a manual).  Apple’s did not operate in the same way as IBM PC’s did and I remember thinking that my parents must wonder how I make any money in this field when I can’t even do something simple like copying a file without needing a manual.  To them, a computer was a computer…  It’s a good thing that the bank I worked at in Saudi Arabia was forward-thinking enough to use PCs early on or I would have had even more trouble copying that damn file.

After my dad retired, my parents moved to Arkansas – this was in 1989.  They brought their computers with them and I soon persuaded them to join the online revolution.  1989 was long before DSL, cable-modems or other high-speed access options to the Internet, so they signed up with the local provider ( for dial-up service and have been using it ever since.  A couple of years ago, NW Arkansas finally moved into the 21st century and DSL became available in the area.  However, my mom didn’t want to change to it; she didn’t see what faster service would do for her (and, since her only online experience up to this time is email, I can see her point).  However, I visit her every year and spend several days there.  My sister and her husband do the same as does my oldest daughter and her husband.  All of us would LOVE to have hi-speed Internet access while we’re visiting her.  It took a year, but we finally convinced her to make the switch.  I received an email from her a few weeks ago saying that she had ordered hi-speed DSL from AT&T and was waiting for my yearly visit so that I could install it for her.

I lived and worked in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for about 8 years.  My first employer in the Kingdom was The Saudi Investment Bank (formerly The Saudi Investment Banking Corporation) and, during my tenure there, they purchased the second PC that IBM ever sold in the Kingdom.  For those of you who may remember such things, it was an IBM PC-AT.  It was housed in two PC-cases, with the cases connected by a large, thick cable.  We purchased the AT so that we could get a full 10 MB of storage (woo-hoo) and the first application we wrote on it was Payroll.  Back in those days, employees of most companies in the Kingdom were paid in cash.  Payday was always fun; we’d line up in the Treasury department, waiting our turn.  When we got to the front of the line, the clerk would look up our name, place a tick-mark next to it, and then retrieve our pay envelope from a box full of envelopes stuffed with cash.  In the envelopes would be our monthly pay, all in Saudi Riyals and all in cash.  Then 99.9% of us would walk downstairs to the Tellers and have them either deposit the money in our account or else wire transfer it back home.  My boss, the Operations Manager, thought that this was an odd way to do things; he’d have to have a clerk spend a man-day or two counting out our pay and putting it into envelopes and then we’d all waste productive time standing in line waiting to get our pay, and then the banking tellers would have to re-deposit our money in our accounts (and/or wire it somewhere).  So a home-grown Payroll system, written in dBASE II, was the first PC application I ever worked with.

After I moved back to the States, I started my own software company and, in the course of things, acquired several PCs of various makes and models.  My parents had moved to Arkansas by then and so on one of our family visits down there, I took a couple of my older, Windows-based PCs along and gave them to them.  I schooled them in the ways of Windows (I think we were running Windows 95 then) and got them to use email via the dialup connection.

And their old Apple?  If you visit the Southern Illinois University Computer Museum, you’ll see it on display along with a small placard saying, “Donated by Carl and Lois Semon”…

At home, I have a cable modem and absolutely love it.  The service is fast, reliable and relatively inexpensive.  My sole experience with DSL up until this trip was at the offices of CASA of DuPage County, Inc., a child-welfare organization that I am associated with.  CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) works with neglected and abused children who have come to the attention of the state’s child-welfare system.  When a case enters the system, a CASA Advocate is assigned and stays with the case until it leaves the system (the child either ages out or is adopted).  As Advocates, we spend time with the child, ensure that their living situation and services are satisfactory and report to the courts on the child’s status.  We attend court hearings, DCFS meetings, etc.  We’re different from the typical case-workers in that we are usually assigned only one child at a time and we stay with that child / case until it is dismissed.  Often times, we are the only ones who really get to know the child.  If a child is in the system for any length of time, their placement will change, their attorneys and GAL and Case workers will change, the judge will change, etc.  CASA’s are the only ones who stay with the child during their entire experience in the system.  We Advocates go through rigorous training, have to be certified and sworn in by the courts, and are required to attend ongoing training.  CASA is a national organization and is county-based; each local CASA ‘chapter’ serves the needs of one particular county.  I’ve been an Advocate for over six years now and take great pride in what they do and what I do with them.  In addition to being an Advocate for the local CASA office, I also donate my time to maintain their network of 8 computers, various printers, a scanner, etc., etc., etc.  Some years ago, I upgraded them to DSL to replace the dial-up service they had been using.  It was a pretty painless experience and has been working fairly well for us.  Earlier this year, in an effort to save some money, I had AT&T move our data service onto our fax line, thus saving us the cost of a telephone line.  This experience was just awful; it took 5 days to get this up and working and required a visit by one of their technicians to come out to our building to fix some issues they had with their telephone cable.  Our AT&T rep was no help; as soon as she heard there were problems, she scurried for cover, not to be heard from again.

Since this experience was still relatively fresh in my mind, I was a little bit leery about installing the DSL service for my mother.  But hey, it’s just DSL, right?  The product has been out for a long time, the technology is well known and stable, and it’s from AT&T.  What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, plenty…  I arrived at my mom’s Tuesday night.  I tackled the project first thing Wednesday morning because if things went badly, I wanted plenty of time to be able to fix them.  And this is MY MOTHER – I want to make sure it’s working and working well before I leave because I’m the one who badgered her into upgrading to this service in the first place…

When I arrived, the DSL kit was waiting for me.  My mom had already been billed for it on her latest AT&T bill.  In the kit is the installation CD, one of the better ones I’ve seen.  They really try to make it as simple and as easy-to-understand as possible.  Their audience is generally non-technical, just the ordinary family that wants a better Internet experience.  Each step is meticulously described and is illustrated to ensure that the instructions are as easy to follow as possible.  So, first step, install the DSL filters on all of your household devices plugged into the phone lines.  The kit contained four DSL filters but wait, there’s no filter included for a wall-mount phone – why?  They used to be part of the kit, but now all you get is a little piece of paper which says that if you call a certain telephone number, they will ship you one.  Joy.  The phone in the kitchen (which is the one used by my mom 95% of the time) is a wall mount.  Yes, AT&T will ship one to her in the next 2-3 days and it will arrive in a week or so.  However, I’ll be gone by then.  OK, I’m sure we can buy one locally, let’s move on (minus the phone in the kitchen which I’ve now disconnected).  Everything (else) gets hooked up and, joy, the DSL light starts flashing on the modem.  However, we get repeated error messages in the registration process.  Expecting incompetence and frustration, I dial the AT&T support line.  Surprise – the lady I talked to knew what she was doing, gave me a couple of URLs to use to finish the registration process and, Hurrah – we have high-speed Internet access!

And, hey, we can get the DSL filter for the wall-mount phone at one of the local hardware or computer stores tomorrow, so all is cool, right?  Silly me…

After dinner (and watching the Cubs lose – I’m a White Sox fan but my mom is a HUGE Cubs fan), I add her new AT&T email address (which I had to set up as part of the registration process) to Microsoft Outlook, the email client she uses.  It doesn’t work – won’t send or receive email.  Is it me or is it Outlook?  I go onto the AT&T webmail tool and that doesn’t recognize her email address either.  It’s past 10:00pm now, so the AT&T help line is closed.  However, there is an AT&T support-chat tool available.  So, I sign on and, after waiting for several minutes, get connected with “Lisa”.  I tell her my problem – she looks up my mom’s account and says that she has no record of it having DSL.  This in spite of me using it to chat with her AND my mom already being billed for it!  She tells me that to resolve this problem, I have to call AT&T Billing tomorrow morning (they’re closed now, too).  Billing?  I’m sure they’ll be a big help.

The next morning my mom goes bowling in her Wednesday morning league.  I give her the slip of paper which AT&T included in the installation kit and that has a picture of a wall-mount DSL filter (the one with the ‘helpful’ phone number on it).  She’s driving right by a Radio Shack on her way home, so I tell her to stop in, give the salesperson the piece of paper and have him/her sell her one of ‘those’.  Great idea, but Radio Shack is out of them, sigh.  In the meantime, while she’s gone, I’m steeling myself to call AT&T Billing to get my email problem sorted out.  However, I’m bright enough to call AT&T support instead and, surprise, yet another competent person takes my call.  After a brief explanation of the issue on my part, she directs me to yet another URL and has me re-register my mom’s new email address.  She also asks me which email client I’m using and then verifies with me that I’m using the right parameters (server names, ports, etc.).  And it all works!

So, outside of not being able to use her kitchen phone, all is good.  Lowes is out of wall-mount DSL filters, too, but the ‘local’ Best Buy (25 miles away) has two left in stock.  I have them hold one for me and we drive over and get it.  We drive home and I install it and Hurrah – my mom’s Internet setup has officially entered the 21st century!

I’m sure glad I was here to do this, I think my mom (or most anyone who didn’t have a computer-tech background) would have had great problems with this, culminating in a $150 service call to put things right.

And that’s how I’ve been spending part of this week.  Barring any late-breaking, significant news, I’ll be back to blogging about Space Elevator stuff next week.