Links and Notes - May 16th

Reusable rocket boosters!

I was catching up on my newsletters and came across this interesting tidbit about an American company called Tomorrow Rocket Lab. They are apparently in the process of testing reusable boosters, the bits that actually shove the rocket hard enough that it can go into space. The bits that break off and are apparently single use. Reading the company's approach to this problem sounds incredible:

Roughly 150 seconds after lift-off from a launchpad on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, the booster on Rocket Lab's launch vehicle will separate and dive into the atmosphere at eight times the speed of sound. Parachutes will slow its descent into the southern Pacific Ocean, from where it will be fished out and studied for signs of heat damage. The ultimate aim is for helicopters to catch boosters as they fall, allowing them to be reused for future missions

Catching a booster using helicopters sounds stupendously difficult and I'm impressed that when people gathered around the whiteboard that that somehow even came up as a suggestion. I'm in no way suggesting that's a bad idea mind you. I'm full of awe that such wild ideas would even be up for consideration. Of course, maybe it's not a wild idea and maybe helicopters are already being used to control descents of other heavy things. It's just that when I think of saving a heavy object coming down to earth where it's speed is being slowed down by parachutes, my first assumption is "let's catch the thing on a soft pad". Helicopters are finicky enough as far as flying machinery goes. The thought of piloting one of those while trying to grab a rocket booster whose descent could be affected by a number of external factors sounds terrifying.

While thinking through this though, I realised that despite growing up on excitement of rockets and spaceships, I have no idea about the details of anything to do with a rocket. All I know is that it makes a big noise, goes up super fast, and pieces fall off before the craft finally exits into space. Even with Space X making rocket launches exciting, I still know next to nothing about how stuff works. I mean, don't they have reusbale boosters already? And when it comes to the technical stuff, I don't mean the nitty gritty bits. I mean the bits where one has a level of understanding needed to explain to a 5 year old what's going on. For starters, I have no idea how big a single booster is in the first place. I think there are multiple boosters, are they all the same size?? I definitely have to go do some research asap.

Separately, one other nugget of information that got my mind rolling was that the experiments are happening from New Zealand. Maybe it's my ignorance, but it was the first time I was hearing of a rocket test by a private(ish?) company happening in New Zealand. That it's happening during Covid while New Zealand is following a closed borders zero Covid policy is doubly interesting. When I looked it up, I found an article from the Economist from 2018. The title reads, "Is New Zealand the world’s best rocket-launching site?" while the sub heading is, "One small, private space firm thinks so". That small private space firm?

Launch Complex 1, as this base is known, sits at the tip of the [Mahia] peninsula and thus on the edge of the South Pacific ocean.

The builder and owner of this paradise of rocketry is Rocket Lab, a firm which, though American (its headquarters are in Huntington Beach, California), was founded and is led by a New Zealander.

From the article it looks like it's just this company. I wonder why that is? Or maybe others have also been launching from New Zealand and I just need to go read more. It's always a good time when a small news snippets informs and then creates tons of questions as a result of the information.

Comments vs likes on social media

There's a trend going around on Instagram. A forward of sorts A long wall of text against a single coloured background. The premise of the post is that too many people are simply liking posts and not really conversing. The post has only one part that differs from person to person and that's the name of the person. You just change your name in the post and put it on your 'gram stories. The goal is to get people to stop, read, and then reply to you with actual words instead of emojis. They then get the text, and they can edit it and repost on their stories.

It's funny how no matter what platform, the classic "forwards" from mail days always finds a way to get re-invented. But I digress.

Personally, while I find the execution of the idea clunky, I love the idea itself. I try to avoid simply liking posts these days on social media. I find myself constantly remembering the Deviantart days where there was no concept of a "like" at the time. You could only add to your favourites and that was a slightly heavyweight action. Favourites were part of your public profile and was almost a curation of artwork you resonated with. You could even favourite into different "folders". So, less favourite, more bookmarks. The point is, the only interaction that DeviantArt lent itself to well was that of commenting. Commenting meant looking at the art long enough to decide you wanted to share your thoughts with the person. Even if your comment was "wow! Love it", the odds were that you'd be thinking of the right 3 words to convey what you thought of the artwork. You wouldn't passively scroll through the timeline, double tapping to like as you swiped by. You'd interact with the poster, the artwork, and the rest of the community.

And while comment sections can be a weird place to venture into, I still believe that it was more meaningful. In a way, I'd call it meaningful interaction versus today's empty reactions.

Probably being a little harsh here, but I do wish the pendulum would swing back a little more towards conversation.

Recipes as a description. Or even an inspiration

Masterchef Australia's second elimination challenge for season 13 saw Nigella Lawson set a challenge where a dish had to be prepared from a reading of her description alone. This type of challenge, where contestants have not tasted or seen the dish they must make and they rely instead on words, is a classic Masterchef pressure test. And this year I wondered to myself, what if this was made into a thing on its own?

What if instead of recipes preceded by a personal story, we had recipes that are told in prose instead. This is Nigella's original recipe for the cake. The actual recipe given? I don't have a transcript, but here have an embed below of Nigella reading it out:

While this is tough as nails for an elimination challenge, I couldn't help but wonder, what if more recipes were like this? I know that a lot of people want the prose out of the way and just want the recipe. I get that. I also understand the people who create recipe sites and books and need the prose to make the work fully connected to their identity. I also wonder, what if there was a more middle ground for the people who create the recipes? What if instead of requiring prose on the background of the recipe, the recipe makers wrote the recipe itself out in a prose that needs to be interpreted by the reader?

This might sound silly, but there's a growing interest around the slow movement culture. I can't help but feel that this idea resonates strongly with the slow movement. Instead of trying to rush for the ingredients and the steps, you choose to fully read a recipe, and imagine it in your mind. There are no ingredient lists. You get to think of it and list it down yourself. In a way, the final dish becomes yours and the recipe becomes an inspiration. It would be a niche thing, but I can totally see it being a thing.

Is it a thing already? I need to find out!

This blog doesn't have a comment box. But I'd love to hear any thoughts y'all might have. Send them to [email protected]

Posted on May 16 2021 by Adnan Issadeen