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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Launch of the new Martian Rover

Lift-off on Saturday 26th November 2011


The big space news this week, of course, is the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory mission which blasted off from Cape Canaveral on Saturday using an Atlas V launch vehicle.


Destination Mars: Gale Crater


Carrying the big new Martian rover, Curiosity (named by a schoolgirl as part of a competition), it is due to arrive at its landing site, Gale Crater, sometime in August 2012.  The mission is designed to see if Mars could, or has ever, hosted life.


The Curiosity rover hangs beneath the lander


Landing on Mars is tricky.  The atmosphere is too thick to use purely a rocket descent (like the Lunar Module) but too thin for conventional parachutes.  The Rover and its lander  will use a combination of both.  The rover will be lowered to the Martian surface by the new sky crane system which hasn't been used on a mission before.  After parachuting through the atmosphere, at about a mile above the surface the rover and the lander will seperate from the protective aeroshell in which they have travelled from orbit.  The lander will fire its hydrazine rocket thrusters and slow the descent. The rover will be lowered by the sky crane system until it hangs around 25 feet below the lander. A soon as it is confirmed that the rover is on the surface the lander will sever the connections to the rover and fly off to one side for a crash landing.  This sounds like proper space exploration but there does seem to be an awful lot that could go wrong.  Anything involving cables and explosive severing systems sounds like a recipe for disaster!  Let's hope not!


Mock-ups of the Mars Exploration Rover (Spirit and Opportunity 2004-2010) left, Mars Pathfinder (Sojourner 1996) centre and the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity 2012-2014) right showing size comparison


The rover, which can move at about 30 metres an hour, is designed to operate for 686 days, which sounds like an odd amount but is actually the length of a Martian year.  Curiosity is much bigger than previous rovers.  The original tea tray sized Sojourner rover weighed 11.5 kilos and was 65 centimetres long.  Curiosity weighs 900kg and is 3 metres long; about the size of a small car.  Sojourner is about the size of one of Curiosity's wheels. It is about five times the size of the more recent Mars Exploration Rovers.




This picture of technicians working on Curiosity at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory gives an idea of its scale.  It will be the biggest vehicle to land on another body in the Solar System.  It is about the same length as the Lunar Rover but is more than four times the weight.




Those fun loving scientists have cut the initials of JPL in Morse code into the vehicle's wheels so it will literally leave a trail of their name across the Martian landscape.




Its all engagingly science fiction -like, although it seems a long way from the Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian novels which Triple P read when he was younger.


Bruce Pennington's evocative cover for the New English Library paperback of A Princess of Mars (which Triple P still has up in the loft somewhere)


Actually, there is a strange connection between the Curiosity rover and the Burroughs novels.  Avatar director James Cameron was working with the JPL team on a 3D camera for the Curiosity rover but, sadly, they couldn't get it ready in time.  Cameron himself has admitted that one of his major influences on Avatar was A Princess of Mars! 


James Cameron (right) and the Curiosity rover camera team


There is a big budget film of A Princess of Mars due out next year; although they have re-named it John Carter, after the hero, but the trailer we have seen so far doesn't look brilliant. In fact, we prefer the look of the low budget Princess of Mars which came out two years ago.  Dejah Thoris, the princess in question, is far too overdressed in the new version, for a start, which is the downside of having Disney behind it!   But, who knows, maybe Curiosity will find a crashed Martian flier.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Strictly Come Dancing: Ola's catsuit of 2011





Our weather has, at last, turned normal for the time of year (i.e. cold damp grey and foggy) so it was nice to get Polish sex bomblet Ola Jordan in a catsuit on Strictly Come Dancing this Saturday to warm things up.   The BBC sensibly waited until their big Wembley Arena spectacular before unveiling  Ola  in this year's little number and it did not disappoint.  We were concerned that we may not get a catsuit this year because, after all, when she first wore one there were complaints and the BBC said at the time they wouldn't be putting her in another one. 




Given the current "anti raunchy" campaign led by the Daily Mail to stop anything remotely sensual on TV we thought that this might be a catsuit free year but, no, Ola appeared on Saturday resplendent in a lacy blue number with silver trim, although we were not sure about her big hair.





This year's version was well up to standard without, perhaps, topping the original shiny leopard print version she wore with Andrew Castle in 2008.




There are some who feel that the ne plus ultra of Ola catsuits was the red one she wore with Chris Hollins in 2009 (the year they went on to win the trophy).  Although it was even more abbreviated than the leopard print one it falls short for Triple P as it conceals her cute tummy button.




Our third favourite after the leopard print and this year's blue number was the one she wore last year for her showdance with husband James.  No wonder he always looks so irritatingly smug!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

X Factor 2011


Cowell endures this year's finalists


Triple P is not a big fan of the X-Factor (although he has watched it in the past) but this year it has become the Z-Z-Z-Z Factor and is interesting only in seeing how a once mighty force on TV declines week upon week.  The reason for this is quite simple in that it has become a parody of itself and Simon Cowell, absent in the US, is struggling to exert  his smarmy,  manipulative presence from afar.  It was always funny when, as a judge, he pretended that "the producers" were doing things over which he had no control as if he was just a minor cog in the X-Factor machine when, of course, he is the machine itself.  This year, from the scripted comments of Gary Barlow to the mock arguments to the ever-increasing number of sob stories of the contestants it has all now got so fake that even the British public have started to realise that they are being manipulated for the sole reason of making Cowell even richer, while he spends time grovelling to the American public in his US show.  The one thing that appears to have ruined his life is the fact that he isn't an American.  No doubt he soon will be.


Misha B naked


This year there aren't even any good singers.  The judges have obviously been told (by Cowell whose taste in music seems to start and finish with shouty, Afro-American/Caribbean, female RnB singers- the modern definition not proper RnB) to push Misha B despite her having a nasty voice and obviously being a horrible person. Now the whole team is having to try to rehabilitate her with the public as she nearly went out last week.  Let's hope she gets kicked out this week, although that now looks unlikely given the programme has unearthed her long lost mother (who can probably smell the money) and was playing it for all it was worth.


The judges: irrelevant, third rate, incomprehensible and catatonic.
 

Cowell must be wondering about replacing the whole judging panel if the show comes back next year.  Walsh is an increasingly doddering irrelevance whose limited repertoire of comments could be delivered by a randomly programmed robot.  Tulisa, who seems to be under the impression that people have actually heard of her or her third rate band (they were playing the ice rink at Ryde in the Isle of Wight last year, for heaven's sake), can only relate to people from her own trashy background, so we have had some nasty class-driven decisions.  Rowland,  seemes to have developed her own language which is like a bad parody of blaxploitation jive and is, therefore, mostly incomprehensible.  Finally, the catatonically dull Barlow, under the impression that he exudes some gravitas, looks to be hating every minute of it.  The average IQ of this year's panel must be 50% down on last year's and that had Cheryl Cole in it!

By this stage one or two leading contenders have usually emerged but this year no-one has distinguished themselves, really. Cowell must be preparing to write off this year and thanking his lucky stars for One Direction from last year.  You only have to see a bit of the American X-Factor to realise how lacklustre the UK entrants are this year in comparison.  So who else has Cowell left? Craig, who he won't know what to do with as he was originally pushed as comedy light relief until they found he could sing but doesn't have the looks to be a star.  If he wins (unlikely) he will be dumped in record time.  Marcus, an engaging and polished performer who might just pull it off but he's not the sort of act Cowell likes (he drops all of his solo male acts as soon as he can).  Janet, who hasn't lived up to her early favourite billing and just looks like an increasingly baffled rabbit caught in headlights as she croaks her way through unforgettable song after unforgettable song. Little Mix, three average looking girls and a hobbit whose only claim to fame is that they are doing better than previous girl groups on the X Factor, probably on the basis that they are so plain that they don't annoy the (largely female) voting public.  Could win by default.  Finally, there is growling rock chick Amelia, who was thrown out in week one and is now back in thanks to Frankie's (Triple P walked past him in Victoria last week - he is very small and grumpy looking) sacking. 

More power to Strictly Come Dancing, says Triple P!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Big Breakfast of the Week 13: The Gossips Cafe, Yarmouth



We haven't had a Big Breakfast for a while and at present we are reading a novel which features Algernon Charles Swinburne, who was brought up on the Isle of Wight and is buried there (in Bonchurch).  We are also preparing a post on the artist George Apperley who was also from the Isle of Wight so why not go back to a breakfast that we had there one sunny morning in August, we thought?




It is to West Wight we go, rather than Bonchurch, which is on the eastern end, to the pretty port town of Yarmouth.  Triple P used to visit Yarmouth regularly on his uncle's boat when he was small and, frankly it has changed very little over the years.


Yarmouth Pier from the cafe


The Gossips Cafe has a great location at the foot of Yarmouth Pier and, in our corner table we could see along the pier one way and the other way across to the ferry terminal at the boats coming over to the island from Lymington.


Yarmouth Castle and the ferry from the cafe


The cafe has a good choice for breakfast with everything from toast and marmalade for £1.70, through a hot bacon baguette (£3.80) to the full English breakfast which is what, of course, Triple P took.  This consists of a fried egg, two rashers of bacon, a jumbo sausage, mushrooms and tomato.  Also included in the £7.30 price is an orange juice, two slices of toast, marmalade and a pot of tea.  There are lots of optional extras too, so we added baked beans for 60p. 




Although the cafe was pretty busy when we went there, service was quite quick although there was one mistake made on our order which was quickly rectified.  The food quality was fair although, inevitably, the sausage was poor quality.  The difference in price between poor and good quality sausages is fairly small and yet, almost always, these cafes almost always serve  inferior sausages whereas their bacon was good quality.

Inside the cafe is bright and clean and decorated in the tourist friendly nautical style.  All in all a very pleasant place to have breakfast, given the excellent views, the food was acceptable so overall we can happily give it 7/10.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Oxford!

There was some quite nice light today


Agent Triple P was unexpectedly in Oxford today, which brought back a few memories (mainly of redheads, we have to admit!)  Although details of the city have changed much of it, particularly the colleges, naturally, have changed little.


Triple P once had a very intimate escapade at the top of the church tower overlooking his college


Triple P popped into his old college but the quads were full of fenced off building materials while they completely rebuild the college kitchen.  Food at Triple P's college, whose not too distinguished alumni include Michael Palin, the current Prime Minister, and...er..., well, a lot of judges, was pretty good by Oxford standards of the time. Some of the meals we had at other colleges were diabolical (Christ Church springs to mind).  Merton always had the best food when we were at Oxford; the story being that a rich American was so appalled by the food his son had to eat when he visited there that he paid a top chef to take over the running of the kitchens.  Our biggest problem at college dinner was the fact that you got a communal bowl of potatoes or rice between eight of you.  This had to be shared and was fine unless the dish was rice and you were sitting next to Mr Chung, a mysterious graduate student from China who appeared to speak no English.  Actually he didn't appear to speak at all.   Mr Chung was quite capable of demolishing the entire bowl of rice on his own before you fot so much as a spoonful so it was very important that you never sat anywhere near him!


Boots seem to be de rigeur with the current crop of lady students


The female students we observed today were quite different from the ones that we had (so to speak) when we were there.  Apart from the fact they were all glued to mobile phones and were carrying laptops (which would have seemed like complete science fiction to us in our day) all their clothes were much more figure hugging and their skirts, of course, were much shorter.  We were there in the days of long, high collared Laura Ashley dresses and before the days when stockings made their comeback.  That said, notable exceptions must be made for C, Triple P's principal girlfriend  in his first year and MS a girl whose rather obvious charms tended to divide the men in the college's opinion in the same way that Marmite does with most people.  We hate to be ungallant but the looks of the female students do not seem to have improved in the last three decades as much as the looks of girls from the general population of their age; which just goes to show that brains and beauty combined are a rare thing.




Triple P's rooms in the first year were on the top floor of the second building from the right.  The left hand window was his living room and the right hand window was his bedroom.  This was unheated and, as a result, Triple P developed a taste for intimate activities on the floor where you could be next to the gas fire and you could admire your young lady naked with out her freezing to death, particularly if you could toast crumpets for her on said fire.  The bedroom, apart from containing a large hospital bed with an iron bedstead which also, at least in the summer, facilitated our first bondage sessions, had a wooden box containing a large knotted rope which was, it seems, the only provision for a fire escape.  Best to keep a close eye on the crumpets (so to speak) therefore.


Triple P's college from ground level


All in all an enjoyable day but we must return soon as we were in something of a rush and would have liked to have visited a few more of our old haunts!