On the Radio

I headed down to Colorado Public Radio about a week ago to record a Colorado Matters piece about the book. Available here: http://bit.ly/v4rn2E. It was a cool experience. The soundproofed studio not much bigger than a walk-in closet, the questions about Kepler, Hubble and (biaxial) pointing controls. On-air man Pat Mack and producer Michelle Fulcher did a great job. I was particularly impressed with the editing work, which trimmed fat while retaining meat. It aired Dec. 28, maybe 7-8 minutes.

Earth 2.0 — Who Cares?

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has discovered a rocky planet in the habitable zone of a star 600 million light years away.

Uh, O.K., you might say, and then check your smartphone email for the 311th time today.

With Newt Gingrich surging in the polls and Herman Cain’s 13-year mistress disclosing that she thought about shopping while having sex with the the former GOP presidential candidate, who’s got the bandwidth? Plus with the announcement of the Alabama-LSU rematch for the BCS championship and Ndamukong Suh’s suspension, we’ve got a lot of terrestrial topics to belabor endlessly.

History hinges on these developments, to be sure. But do take just a moment to consider, if you would, that one of the greatest discoveries in the history of astronomy is unfolding thanks to a group led by NASA Ames Research Center scientist Bill Borucki and the Kepler spacecraft Ball Aerospact built. I did a story focusing on Borucki in January 2007 and wrote a book about Ball Aerospace. Many of the folks on the Deep Impact mission I chronicled in “From Jars to the Stars” went on to build Kepler.

I won’t belabor Kepler’s specifics, but the spacecraft is a big, blurry-eyed telescope that stares at a patch of about 150,000 stars in a patch of sky about as big as your outstretched hand and looks for dips in light as planets pass. It’s found more than 1,000 extrasolar planets so far, and they’ve confirmed, through other telescopes, that one (of 48 habitable-zone candidates still to be checked out) indeed is in the Goldilocks Zone where water can be water (and not steam or ice or ionized plasma).

We have had, heretofore, precisely one confirmed example of a habitable-zone planet proven to capable of hosting water. Despite the presence of Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, intelligent life has been found there.

If ET existed, he came from a habitable planet. The notion of humanity colonizing the galaxy hinges on finding a habitable planet (it also hinges on being able to travel hundreds of light years in non-geological time frames, a stickier problem). Geocentric views of the universe have been passe for a few hundred years; the idea that the sun is the giver of life will soon join them. The planet itself is less significant than the statistics it bolsters: They found this thing on Kepler’s third day of operation. Nobody’s that lucky — quite simply, there are most certainly billions of Earth-like planets swarming around stars all over the universe.

So many, in fact, that the law of large numbers dictates that not only are there human analogs out there, but that exact copies of Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain, Ndamukong Suh and even Ginger White also exist. And Ginger 2.0 will tell you that, after 13 years of sleeping with someone, women throughout the cosmos are thinking about shopping.




Virtual auto repair

My vehicle exists in three dimensions, but I fix it mostly in two.

Two days ago, I noticed the climate-control fan in the white 2002 Town & Country minivan really whooshing away. Like it was trying to fly itself into a newer minivan. Problem was, it was a gorgeous afternoon — sunny, right around 60, an ah-yes-this-is-why-we-live-in-Denver sort of day. Not an air conditioning day, not a heating day. Not a climate-control fan day.

I dialed it back down; the whooshing stayed steady. I turned the entire system off; the whooshing amplified, apparently because the fan’s product had no escape. It’s white noise, I told myself. But I knew driving it like this would, over time, have the same psychological effect as a Shop-Vac in the passenger seat. I walked in the house, went online, and typed “Chrysler minivan climate control fan problem.”

Up popped this:
Fix Blower Motor Resistor on Town and Country 2002

It was almost spooky.

This happens all the time, though. Car problems isolate you, make you feel uniquely cursed with what seem like one-in-a-million problems with complex aggregates of custom components no one else you know owns. We forget that people buy more than a million cars a month in this country (52,511 Ford F-Series pickups; 149 Ferraris). We are not alone.

Wannawannastream came to the rescue, and dozens of grateful commentors and I are literally richer for it. And here I add my contribution, which will become esoteric for those spared blower-motor problems in an aging Chrysler product.

If you have fancy, fuzzy-logic climate control, as this van does, you need a fancier blower motor resistor than Wannawannastream has. The fix is the same and super-simple. The non-OEM $72.99 BWD RU1093, available at Advance Auto Parts, O’Reilly, etc., almost works, it looks like. But it lacks a connector spike that controls the fancy climate-control system’s AUTO function, so be skeptical. Auto is nice on freezing days — waits for the engine to warm up before blasting air.

So I went to the dealership and spent $99 on what I cribbed from the box to be a Mopar 04885482AC. I knew not having the AUTO function would drive me nuts, despite rarely using it.

Behold the Mopar 04885482AC blower motor resistor

Don’t go to the dealership. Combine the wisdom of Wannawannastream and my retail-priced knowledge and order the Mopar part on Amazon or wherever. It’s $60 via Avondale Automotive on the online retail giant’s site.

Then turn that fan back down. And know that we’re all in this together.