Saturday, January 29, 2011

What symbolic item of cargo miraculously survived the Challenger disaster -- and is still in service today?

View of the Liftoff of the Shuttle Challenger ...Image via WikipediaFive years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, I wrote this Geek Trivia column. Half a decade later, I modestly pass this bit of history on to my readers again.
What notable item of nonscientific cargo survived the Challenger disaster, going on to have its own unique, symbolic career?

An American flag on loan from Boy Scout Troop 514 from Monument, CO was onboard the Challenger when it broke apart, and salvage efforts recovered it from the Atlantic Ocean completely intact inside its sealed plastic container.

Now known as the Challenger Flag, it has enjoyed some storied exploits since its discovery during the Challenger wreckage recovery efforts. ... Though explosion all but destroyed the flag's commemorative case and a group of silver medallions along with the Challenger, the flag itself survived to fly at many notable events and locations. ...

NASA returned the flag to Troop 514 in late 1986, but it did not remain with them long. In early 1987, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Warren Burger designated the Challenger Flag as the official flag of the U.S. Constitution's Bicentennial celebrations. On Sept. 17, 1987, the Challenger Flag served as a featured part of the Constitutional Parade in Philadelphia, and the following day it flew once again above the U.S. Capitol.

The Challenger Flag then went into semi-retirement for the next 15 years, serving only as an honored artifact in Colorado Boy Scout Eagle Court ceremonies. Then, in 2002, the troop loaned the flag to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for display in Salt Lake City while the city hosted the Winter Olympic Games.

Today, the Challenger Flag again resides in the possession of Troop 514, awaiting its next call to duty.
Read the complete column here.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What consumer product *besides* building blocks does Lego manufacture more of than any other company in the world?

A pile of Lego blocks, of assorted colours and...Image via WikipediaA mere 53 years ago today -- Jan. 28, 1958 -- the Danish toy company Lego patented their design for interlocking plastic building blocks. In the intervening decades, the Lego brick has become arguably the most popular brand of building block in history, as the company has produced some 400 billion Lego blocks, or roughly 62 bricks for every man, woman and child living today.

As a byproduct of this massive success, Lego has also become the world's most prolific manufacturer of another consumer product -- one that almost no one recognizes despite the staggering volume of the product put out by Lego every year.

WHAT CONSUMER PRODUCT BESIDES BUILDING BLOCKS DOES LEGO MANUFACTURE MORE OF THAN ANY OTHER COMPANY IN THE WORLD?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The 3 causes of polarized politics -- and how to fix 2 of them

Citizens registered as an Independent, Democra...Image via WikipediaTo my mind, there are three basic causes of our highly polarized perception of contemporary American politics, and at least two can be fixed with relative ease. (Be forewarned, I'm about to engage in an exercise of armchair political analysis. Here there be anecdotes; data junkies need look elsewhere.) Beyond the general tribal nature of the human condition to pick a side and stick with it regardless of the facts -- I point you at sports fandom for base evidence of the trend -- American politics seem especially rancorous, divisive and partisan these days because of...
  1. Improved political polling and voter data analysis
  2. Gerrymandered districts
  3. Expansion and fragmentation of news sources, especially television

Monday, January 17, 2011

What geekworthy technique was used to locate the lost Palomares hydrogen bomb?

Nuclear weapon test Romeo (yield 11 Mt) on Bik...Image via WikipediaForty-five years ago today, the US Air Force suffered a real-life Broken Arrow when a hydrogen bomb was lost in a mid-air collision over rural Spain. The so-called Palomares Incident occurred on Jan. 17, 1966 when a KC-135 airborne refueling tanker collided with a B-52G bomber that was carrying four Mk28 hydrogen bombs. The entire crew of the KC-135 was killed, three of the seven men aboard the B-52G died, and all four hydrogen bombs separated violently from the destroyed aircraft.

This is a classic Broken Arrow event, wherein US-owned nuclear weapons are lost in a fashion that does not lead directly to nuclear war. (The film Broken Arrow actually depicts an Empty Quiver incident, wherein a nuclear weapon is stolen by hostile forces. The thieves attempt to disguise the theft as a mere Broken Arrow. The result is a Nuc Flash, as the stolen nuke is detonated.)

Two of the Palomares hydrogen bombs detonated their conventional explosive components upon impact with the ground, spreading plutonium fallout over a 2-square-kilometer area of Spain. A third bomb landed intact in a riverbed. The fourth bomb was lost when its descent parachute miraculously deployed after the collision, allowing the weapon to drift into the Mediterranean Sea.

It took nearly three months for a massive naval expedition to locate what was a essentially a metal cylinder 22 inches wide by 170 inches long in the vast expanse of the Mediterranean. Fortunately, the US Navy had some serious math geeks around to help them increase their odds of tracking down the nuclear needle in the aquatic haystack.

What geekworthy technique was used to locate the lost Palomares hydrogen bomb?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What secret ingredient in Coca-Cola is illegal for every other US beverage-maker to import or use?

A Coke pinImage via WikipediaJan. 15 is the 122nd anniversary of the Coca-Cola Company, which is a perfectly good excuse for recycling an old Geek Trivia column rather than writing a new Truly Trivial for this blog. Thus:
The Coca-Cola Company took one of greatest media shellackings in history when New Coke debuted on April 23, 1985. The American consumer considered Coca-Cola a cultural icon that was above revision, so Coca-Cola Classic was released on July 10, 1985 (less than three months after being discontinued)...

Problem is, the Coca-Cola Classic that was released after the New Coke fiasco wasn’t the same as the Coca-Cola released before New Coke. The “logic” behind New Coke was two-fold: First, to make the drink sweeter in order to compete with sweeter-tasting rival drink Pepsi; second, to switch all domestic Coca-Cola bottlers from cane sugar to the cheaper high-fructose corn syrup sweeteners. When Coca-Cola Classic came back on the market, it too was made with corn syrup rather than sugar.

And that was far from the only change to the Coke formula over the years. In 1935, the formula was tweaked to be certified kosher. Moreover, John Pemberton, inventor of Coca-Cola, actually sold several different versions of the formula to different buyers — and that was after he had converted it to a carbonated drink, rather than its original alcoholic cocawine formulation.

One ingredient unique to American Coca-Cola is still used — after a fashion — in the formulation. Coca-Cola can rightly claim this additive as a brand differentiator, as it has received special dispensation from the U.S. government to be the sole American corporation to employ this ingredient in a consumer beverage.

WHAT INGREDIENT HAS THE U.S. GOVERNMENT GIVEN COCA-COLA SOLE AND UNIQUE PERMISSION TO USE IN CONSUMER BEVERAGES?
The answer is right here.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

So who is this 'Jay Garmon' jerk...?

Greetings, potential cyber-stalkers! You've reached this page in all likelihood by following a link from one of the various obscure and irresistible outposts I haunt throughout the intarweebs. (That, or Google's "I'm feeling lucky" button just totally hosed you.) Now that you're here, I suppose you want to know just who is this Jay Garmon jerk I've been hearing about?

I, Jared Matthew "Jay" Garmon, am a professional geek. Specifically, I am a writer, husband & father, technology advocatescience fiction nerd, self-professed trivia expert and general Internet addict. Each of these aspects is entertained at different venues around the Web, as listed below.

Technology Advocate: First and foremost, I am the product manager for all patient engagement software at ZirMed, a middle-stage tech startup trying to use SaaS technology to make healthcare cheaper for everyone involved.

I am also one of the (part-time) managing directors of XLerateHealth, a healthcare startup accelerator based here in Louisville. The group of local venture capitalists and economic development officials who founded the project (inexplicably) hand-picked me and a trio of others to launch the accelerator in 2013; we'll see how it works out soon enough. That covers the main day-job tech resume.

In my decidedly non-copious spare time, I have somehow conned my way into membership on -- and, for a brief two-year reign of terror, the Presidency of -- the board of the Louisville Digital Association (formerly the Social Media Club of Louisville), a non-profit group that advocates for technology startups and tech professionals in the Louisville region. Mostly, we have nerd get-togethers and try to jumpstart the next billion-dollar techno-IPO. For reasons defying comprehension, my fellow LDA board members assumed I'd be good at that sort of thing and placed me in a highly overstated leadership role.

I speak regularly on social media and emerging technologies at both LDA meetings and to external organizations and, as a guest instructor, helped inaugurate a Social Media marketing curriculum at the University of Louisville.

Writer:
 This post is hosted on Jay Garmon [dot] Net (formerly known as The Written Weird), which is my personal blog where I prattle on about whatever topics interest me with very irregular frequency. You can also find herein copies of my science fiction short stories that I have "trunked," which is a euphemism for "given up on trying to publish." Yes, I have written other sci-fi shorts, exactly one of which has been sold for professional publication (though it did make the Tangent list...barely), and the remainder of which I am shopping to similar ends.

As to the majority of the writing work for which I've been actively paid, look no further than my LinkedIn profile, and you'll see I've made my living in whole or in part by stringing together words for CNET, CBS Interactive, Scholastic Library Publishing, TechTarget and, at present, Backupify. But that's all non-fiction, so it doesn't count.

Husband & Father: Check out my Flickr photo stream, which is almost entirely dedicated to my daughters, wife, family, and friends, in that order, with each respective subject's photo volume descending logarithmically. I also have the requisite Facebook page, but -- fair warning -- I won't be joining your Zimbio quizzes or Bitstrip memes. I'm there to stay connected, not stay abreast of your newest herd members in Farmville.

Science Fiction Nerd: I am the originator of and prime contributor to The Geekend, a (currently on hiatus) nerd culture blog at TechRepublic, a Web community for IT professionals run by CBS Interactive. Predating the Geekend is Geek Trivia, a weekly (ahem) geek trivia column that I wrote for most of the last decade. Both the Geekend and Geek Trivia have been cited by sources as diverse as author John Scalzi to the editors of Wikipedia.

I am an also an extremely irregular contributor to the Hugo-winning SF Signal blog -- usually their also Hugo-nominated podcasts -- where I perform a barely passable impression of an expert in sci-fi media and fandom. I also help run a local science fiction convention should you be overcome with an urge to annually accost me.

Self-Professed Trivia Expert: As an adjunct to Geek Trivia, the kind and talented hosts of the TechTalk radio show on WRLR 98.3 FM in Chicago have me on as a regular guest. There I snark about movies, science fiction, technology, current events and ... eventually ... provide a geek trivia question each week. If you're game for a listen, you can tune in each Saturday at 11:00 am Eastern or just download the podcast via iTunes. I usually show up about ten minutes into the show and they hang up on me less than fifteen minutes later, so plan your listening accordingly.

I also occasionally wrote the Truly Trivial column here at JayGarmon.Net, wherein I threw a few hundred words at an obscure factoid that very possibly only I find fascinating. Inexplicably, other people were entertained by this.

General Internet Addict: Perhaps the most holistic view of my life as the Prince of Dorkness can be divined from my Twitter stream, which is riddled hourly with links that catch my interest. (I sometimes post my own thoughts there, as well, but for the sake of decency I keep those to a minimum.) Mostly out of a sense of obligation to the purveyors of Gmail, I maintain a largely neglected Google Plus profile. Finally, for you economic determinists who really want the inside scoop on my consumerist self -- or are looking for the perfect way to bribe me -- there's always my Amazon Wishlist.

In the unlikely event you would like to retain my services as a consultant, writer, speaker, radio guest, conference/convention panelist, or one-shot dungeon master, you can reach me at jay [at] jaygarmon [dot] net. Depending on the job, I can be be had for very free or very not. Pitch me, and we'll talk.