March 28 – Gyroscopes Are the Answer! (What's the question?)

Posted on March 28, 2017

"What did Robert Goddard successfully use on this date in 1935 to control a rocket?"

Now we think of Robert Goddard as the one who ushered in the Space Age, because this American engineer and physicist is the guy who built the world's first liquid-fueled rocket.

During his life, the press sometimes ridiculed his ideas, and most of the public didn't know him or applaud him. But NOW we know he was a pioneer, one of the founders of modern rocketry.

Years ago I wrote about Goddard Day (March 16), the anniversary of Goddard's first successful launch in 1926. Today's anniversary occurred nearly a decade later, as Goddard tried to figure out a guidance system that would keep a rocket pointing vertically longer, and then curve into a horizontal flight. This flight reached a then-record 4,800 feet of altitude before roaring off into a horizontal flight.

His answer was a gyroscope mounted on gimbals to electrically control steering vanes that are located in the exhaust.

A what-a-scope mounted on whatsits? Electrically controlling what in what?

A gyroscope is a sort of toplike toy or device with a wheel or disk mounted so that it can spin around an axis - but the axis can change direction. Notice that the axis is not affected by the tilting of the mounting. That's what makes a gyroscope perfect for maintaining the planned direction in a guidance system.

Goddard's gyroscope moved the vanes positioned to divert or change direction of a portion of the exhaust rushing past them during the rocket's flight.

Above, the exhaust rushing out of the
rocket's nozzle.
Below, the movable steering vanes
near the rocket's nozzle.

To find out more...check out this or this.

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March 27 – Happy Birthday, Ram Charan!

Posted on March 27, 2017

Ram Charan talked to college students a few days ago. This accomplished actor / dancer / producer / entrepreneur told the students that he loved being a college student - but that he hoped they would all set goals at an early age, and pursue them with dedication.

Charan is Indian, and he works in "Tollywood" - that is, he is in the business of making films in the Teluga language. (Teluga is an official language in several different states in India and is the primary language in those states and among sizable minorities in other locations.)

Charan has won loads of awards and is one of the highest paid actors in Tollywood, and he started his own production company.

I have heard several times from Asian American students what is apparently commonly acknowledged: Asian men, including Asian American men, are one of the least and worst represented groups in Hollywood. In other words - they are mostly absent, and even when they are present, they are usually minor roles, stereotypes, and negative (bad / evil / unpleasant) characters. They are rarely complex, funny, or romantic "leading men."

One of my husband's high school friends made a wonderful living playing mostly bad guys in movies and TV shows, but I'm happy that other movie-making centers like Bollywood and Tollywood exist.

To learn more about Asian men in Hollywood, you could watch the 2006 documentary The Slanted Screen on Amazon video. Of course, being a decade old, the documentary was filmed before all these great TV characters were created:

Tim Kang in The Mentalist - a regular but not leading character, with a bit of the inscrutable stereotype but certainly some nuance and complexity as the show continued for seven seasons

John Cho in Selfie - the romantic lead who is comic gold - but the series was cancelled WAY-way-way too soon

John Cho in Flash Forward and Go On - Cho is also great in minor roles!

Daniel Dae Kim in Hawaii Five-O - a regular in an ensemble cast, Kim plays the action-hero lead and the romantic lead in some story lines and has a ton of complexity

Danny Pudi in Community and Powerless - I loved-loved-loved Pudi's extremely funny, unexpected, and complex character in Community

Masi Oka in Heroes and Hawaii Five-O - one of the most memorable characters in almost any cast, Oka became a breakout character in Heroes

Jon Foo in Rush Hour - a bit stereotypical, in that Foo plays Jackie Chan's original movie character / martial arts expert - but a starring role

Aziz Ansari in Master of None (if it were a movie, it would have an R rating) - this is so funny AND Ansari created the series as well as stars in it

Randall Park in Fresh Off the Boat - a very funny major character in a show that some think misrepresents "the Asian American experience" but that also portrays one small slice of the Asian American experience and that can therefore start valuable conversations

Kunal Nayyar in The Big Bang Theory - a funny and quirky main character on a popular show

Dev Patel in Newsroom - a very minor character, but played with passion

Kal Penn in House and Designated Survivor - Penn is good at pointing out the racism and stereotyping in Hollywood, as well as at playing even minor roles with nuance

Alex Mallari, Jr., in Dark Matter - again, an ensemble cast; again, a martial-arts specialist

I am really happy that things are getting better for Asian and Asian American (and British Asian) men in Hollywood... More diverse characters, more starring roles, more comedy and romance as well as martial arts and action-adventure, and - crucially - at least a little bit more voice in plots, characters, and how the characters are played.

Onward and upward!

Also on this date:

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's birthday  

Quirky Country Music Song Titles Day

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March 26 – Democracy Day in Mali

Posted on March 26, 2017

It's not easy to be a democracy.
It's not easy to establish, as John Adams said, "a government of laws, and not of men."

Mali, in northwestern Africa, had been a center of mathematics, astronomy, literature, art, and trade in the early middle ages. 

But during the 1800s, European powers staged a "Scramble for Africa," and France seized control of the region. When Mali finally gained independence, in 1960, the leaders were not replaced with peaceful elections and lawful transfers of power. Instead, one leader would replace the next in a coup.

After Moussa Traore became president, the constitution was rewritten to make the nation a one-party state. Traore brutally repressed any political opponents and protest demonstrations. It took a large-scale riot among workers and students to make a change.

Today is the anniversary of that 1991 riot.

Traore was arrested by his own military - so, basically, it was another coup - BUT this time, democratic reforms began. Of course, another new constitution had to be written, but today Mali is a democratic, multi-party nation.

Check out some of the interesting architecture and natural beauty of Mali:

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