Sunday, February 16, 2020

Star Travel

The hallways of the old astronomy building were crowded with students. I was just passing the office of Prof. Zardok when he waved me in. He would often do this with passing students. I didn't particularly want to talk to him but I decided I would stop today and humor him.

After I had taken my seat his opening words were, "I want tell you how it is to go to the stars. Rather, I want to tell you how it is not to go to the stars." He gazed up at the popcorn ceiling of his office in an apparent blue funk for so long that I thought I might just have to get up and leave. Finally he continued, nailing me with a fierce look, "There are great many stars in our old Milky Way, you know - over 200 billion, maybe as many as a trillion." He arched an eyebrow. "Have you any idea why the number has jumped so much?" He leaned forward with an intense look as if revealing a dire secret. "Orange, red and brown dwarfs. They can only be seen when they are nearby but we now know the galaxy must literally be stuffed with them - stuffed! And most of them have a Goldilocks zone." Then as if he were making an announcement of some startling new discovery, "They have planets. Kepler says so. And I don't mean the man; I mean the satellite telescope. Some of those planets must be near earth size, and some of those must be cruising in the zone." His hair literally bristled, "Millions of possible homes for living creatures. As our famous predecessor, Fermi wasn't it, said "Where is everybody?'"

I shrugged. I really had no idea.

"I'll tell you where an awful lot of them are - staying home where they belong, totally oblivious of the call of outer space."

Again I signaled ignorance.

"You see, my young friend, without tidal forces - (you need a moon or maybe the star itself for that) - and with tidal locking - (small stars promote that with near Earth size planets) - you won't get any plate tectonics." He stopped and inspected the ceiling again. "Like in the fairy tale - too little, too much, and just right - applies to water too. No tectonics without a proper lube job. You can get life but they will consist of little one cell creatures whose interests are likely to be severely limited. Our dear old Earth has a lot of these fellows locked up in deep rocks or in the oceans that are just about the same today as they were a billion years ago. They found the note and stuck with it. You've got to have turmoil to have speciation and you've got to have speciation to have folks that build computers and telescopes.

"Even so there are still a million or more possibilities for sentient beings, even allowing a lot of them being some sort of alien Orcas or Elephants." His brow wrinkled. "Sarah Palin hasn't spotted any killer whales building rockets has she?" Then he said, "don't forget the regular Sol type stars. There are a lot of them with their gas giants which could host some Goldilocks zones. Anyway, we've come up with an idea that, as they say, the universe is teeming with life. Again, where is everybody?"

"Well," he said. "That's settled. The universe is teeming with life." He nailed me again with a piercing look. Leaning forward said, "We must have foreign visitors all over the place." He leaned back, raised one eyebrow, and smiling crookedly said, "Maybe we do. Maybe we do." Turning to his desk he shuffled some papers and came out with what seemed a non sequitur, "You ever heard of Pogo?"

Being a great fan of the comics, if nothing else particularly, I nodded. Some vague memory surfaced - "We have met the enemy and they are us," floated to the surface. "Uh! We're Martians. I heard that some where."

He was very business like now. "Yes - yes. That's panspermia, somewhat bowdlerized I fear. Let's try something else. Lets make some basic assumptions. We have to start someplace. First I think we can assume Einstein's assertion that the velocity of light is the same everywhere regardless of the frame of reference and his theories of relativity hold - nothing can exceed that velocity. If we desire to go from A to B, and they are a very long way apart, it will take a long time."

I interrupted, "But professor, time dilation! If we go fast enough it won't be so long after all. I read that just yesterday."

"On the web, I'll bet," he said, making a sour grimace. "Do the energy calculations. Even with anti-matter it turns out to be impractical." Continuing, "just for argument's sake let's assume that, having agreed to using only Goldilocks zones, we need liquid water and a modicum of radiation. So with these limitations we're left with a few million possibles in just our home galaxy."

"Boy! That gives us a lot of choices. We ought to get moving," I said.

The professor actually guffawed. "It gives them a lot of choices too. Careful now. Don't crowd the space lanes. Have you any idea why there's nobody strange around." He thought for an instant, "Well, there's plenty of weirdness around but I think it's all home grown." He hesitated a long time and glared at me. "It's all the fault of that pesky little photon."

He had me here. "What's the fault? Which photon is that?"

"Consider," he said, "you're an ordinary guy, living say sometime during the last thousand years or so. You go outside and look up. Hey! Look at all those neat little lights. If you are smart enough you finally figure it out. They are just suns like ours only a little farther away. A little farther away! You have no idea. Nobody has bothered to tell you that the human eye operates over a brightness range of ten million to one. Not many people have figured out that even with a reasonably advanced telescope the inevitable tiny blur circle of a point source can and does cover up the entire system of planets in that star system. Mr. Einstein comes along and says, "hold on now. If you really want to go there, there's a speed limit. Be sure and pack enough supplies to last a while." It turns out that the 'a while' of that trip he mentioned is all of yours, your children's, your grand children's ... Etc, lives. That will take a really swell ship. you can hope everyone enjoys their little piece of the trip. You probably aren't up for that and it's possible that Mr. Little Green Man of Gleise IV isn't either. What's the pay off? Not much I would venture."

Professor Zadock used to smoke a pipe. Now he chews twizzles. He fished one out of his desk drawer and began chewing on it. With a dreamy look he ruminated, "no twizzles beyond Neptune I hear." Coming back to the moment, "The eminent and exceedingly brilliant scientists of Earth in our little thought experiment have started a new program that replaces much of the useful astronomical research that they were doing. That work will help us reach our travel to the stars goal. We will call it SETI and it will be good. We know it will be good because the demonstrably misguided and ignorant national legislators refuse to fund it."

He leaned forward, far into my personal space and said, "Dr. Green Man also thought of this and actually built a rather expensive laser for the purpose. He sent out a slew of messages but unfortunately he picked the wrong targets, and I suppose he lost his political support. In any case he didn't live long enough to get any answers to his very important message. Oh. he lived a long healthy life, about 100 of our years, but that old pesky photon loafed along at a mere 300,000 km per second. The message was nonsense anyway - Pythagoras's relationship for a right triangle." He straightened up and gave me a side long look. "It was a very sad case. His target systems did support sentient species of ocean dwelling creatures. Their technical achievements were all directed downward, into the depths of their ubiquitous oceans, looking for new mineral sources and building under sea archologies"

I was frankly incredulous, "How do you know this stuff?"

He laughed, "I don't. Prove me wrong however. Buried in a lot of this is the fact that most people, even the experts, have a great deal of trouble with really long long periods of time and really long long distances. Life times, dozens of generations are just a blink and we fail to appreciate how far that pristine and pesky little photon has traveled."

"So" I said "not only is it not on for us little May flies to go there but we can't communicate either?"

Zadock turned serious. "I didn't say that. I did say that SETI is nonsense but I didn't say that communication was not on."

I perked up at this.

"If you are willing to go along with panspermia, then we can agree that the universe may be filled, nay, teeming with DNA based life. Like life on Earth it will be of nearly infinite variety and no doubt very bizarre," he said. Then he said, what many an SF writer has said before, "What if those bits of DNA that regularly fall to Earth contain a message?"

I smiled. I had read enough in Astounding and Analog to know this was an old and moth eaten idea. But then, had anybody really tried to tackle the decoding. After all, it's only been relatively recently that we have had the entire genome available to look at. Maybe it's like the optimistic little girl who got the pile of horse manure for Christmas. "There must be a pony in there somewhere," she said.

John Hood, Feb. 2020

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Tinling Family
This account is not the usual thing for these blogs. It’s a very personal account regarding what I know about my mother’s family. It may indeed be worthy of note to others, since the Tinlings had some lively experiences and a few connections of real general interest. I had many personal interactions with the Tinlings – many more than with the Hoods of Tennessee and Kentucky.

During my lifetime the senior Tinlings resided in a very nice home at 104 Scottswood Rd., Riverside, Illinois. The street behind them had a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house called the Coonley Estate. The entire Village of Riverside is internationally recognized as one of the first planned suburban communities in the United States and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. The Burlington railway running west passed through the town just to the north. The towns to the west included the home of the famous Brookfield Zoo.

The nuclear family as I knew them were as follows:

Charles Franklin Milton Tinling - My grandfather (Big Daddy) – b. 23 Nov. 1858,   Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. d. 11 May 1943, Riverside, Illinois.

Mary (Brownie Belle) Tinling (nee Gridley), My grandmother (Big Mama) – b. 4 Dec. 1866 – Logansport, Indiana. d. 21 Mar. 1957, Riverside, Illinois.

Gladys Helen Tinling – My mother - b. 15 Aug. 1889 – Miles City, Montana. d. 21 Feb. 1964, Denver, Colorado.

Theodore (Ted) R. Tinling – My uncle - b. 10 Jan. 1899, Washburn, Wisconsin. d. 31 Jul. 1969, Denver, Colorado.

Virginia Tinling – My Aunt – b. abt. 11 Sept. 1900, d. 23 Mar. 1972, Denver, Colorado

There were four other members of the nuclear family of whom I have little knowledge – except for my grandfather’s sister, Katherine. She lived in Washington D.C., and as a child I used to get cards from her regularly. I never actually met her, but I have a photo of her someplace. I do not know if she ever married or had any children. As far as I recall she was single. Big Daddy had a brother, Frank, who worked with him for the railroad in Montana. I was told that he moved to Seattle from there, and as far as I know there was little subsequent connection with the family. A child, Jean Milton, b. 1888 in Stillwater, Minnesota, was the firstborn and died as an infant, and a son, John Creton, b. 1892 in
St. Paul, Minnesota left home as a teenager, went to New York and changed his name.

The family lived in Memphis for some years. My mother kept a diary in her teen years in which she noted her basketball activities, her piano playing, going downtown in the afternoon for a coke, and her distress at the disappearance of her younger brother, Jack. She tells a story of working in a music store in Memphis when W. C. Handy entered and asked her to play some of his music. He wanted to hear how it sounded with someone else playing it. I checked Handy’s movements on the web and found that he and his band, quite famous by that time, were indeed in Memphis in 1906. My mother would have been about 18.

For this account I should be quite clear; my direct connections with this family were limited to their residences in Riverside, Illinois and Denver, Colorado. Determining when and where the various members resided has been a problem. Obviously they lived for some time in Memphis, as that is where my mother worked in her late teens and where she and my father were married.

I have an album of photos, many of them taken in Riverside, and a lot at wherever they vacationed in the summer. They had a place across Lake Michigan in Oceana County, Michigan. That may have been the location of most of their summer holidays. They show my grandfather shooting a rifle, chopping wood and generally enjoying the great outdoors. He must have been a very vigorous and active person, and, although an executive with the railroad, clearly enjoyed the “rough” life. In that same album and having the same “age” feel are photos taken by my uncle Ted of his model airplane and one with a note in his hand, “Beachy over Midway.” The very grainy photo is clearly identifiable as a Curtiss biplane with interplane ailerons that Glen Curtiss used to avoid the Wrights’ claim of the ownership of lateral control patents using wing warping. Lincoln Beachy died in a crash in 1916 in San Francisco. One would guess the date of this picture as 1915 or slightly earlier. Ted would have been about 16 and clearly living in Riverside; Midway is the Chicago airfield near Riverside and the name of a nearby east-west boulevard.

I have a formal portrait of C. F. M. Tinling that fully justifies him being mistaken for Buffalo Bill Cody from time to time. This amused him, and he never actually set people straight on the matter. My grandmother, Big Mama, tells two interesting anecdotes from her childhood and youth. She said she once met Sitting Bull while traveling on a cruise boat on the Mississippi. He was in the company of some army soldiers. He gave her a small beaded purse – regrettably now lost. The other incident occurred later while she was aboard a lake cruise ship which became caught in a violent storm. My mother, Gladys, her only child, an infant at the time, was with her. Gladys had not been baptized, and Big Mama was in fear that they would sink followed the teaching of their Presbyterian faith. So she performed the child’s baptism herself.

I had my first contact with my mother’s family at about age 10 or 11. My parents and I made the trip then to Illinois from our home in Alamosa, Colorado for an extended visit. I do not recall the trip, but we undoubtedly traveled by train. It might have been the Burlington Zephyr from Denver. I have a vague recollection of traveling on the Zephyr, and that must have been the occasion. My sisters were not present. Dorothy was working, and Jean was graduated from high school and was probably in or about to begin her college work at the Colorado Women’s College in Denver.

The household at Riverside consisted of my grandparents; Ted, who was employed as an architect in downtown Chicago and also had an office and bedroom in Riverside; Wilma, the lifelong housekeeper and the cook for the family; and the dog. I don’t recall Virginia’s presence, but I recall that she was employed at the time at Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago. They hadn’t a bed for me, so I had a room at the neighbor’s house to the north. I have no recollection of those people – only the accommodation that they gave me. We took all our meals in the Tinling home with Big Daddy, an imposing figure, at the head of the table. We did go to the zoo at Brookfield, but the major activity that seemed to engage me
was perusing a book I found in the house on how to read tea leaves. This must have amused the adults, and I have no idea why this so intrigued me. I also have a vivid memory of uncle Ted giving me specific detailed instruction on how to mow the lawn. Apparently that was an assigned duty of mine while there.

There were two further occasions for me to visit Riverside. The next was in 1943, while I was taking primary naval electronic training at Wright Junior College nearby to the east in Chicago. I probably also visited there during my training at Navy Pier in 1944. My grandfather died in 1943 before I came to Chicago out of boot camp, so I would have had only the one visit to get to know him personally.

After Barbara and I were married and were living in Boulder, Colorado, we had an occasion to visit the Riverside home during a visit to Barbara’s parents. This was in the summer of 1949. We had our first son Jack with us. I show the picture of Big Mama, aged 83, with Jack on her lap. Virginia and her husband Clark Austin took us all out to dinner on that occasion, and Jack managed to throw up in the restaurant. Ted was present and still working in Chicago.


Big Mama died in 1957, and Ted decided to sell the property, retire, and move to Denver. This was not unusual since he got his civil engineering degree at the University of Colorado in 1925, the year of my birth. Anyway, the rest were in Colorado. Clark and Virginia had already gone out to Denver a few years before.

My wife Barbara thought Ted should just marry Wilma and take her with him into retirement. That didn’t happen. We had been in California for six years, and I was at the Navy Electronics Lab by that time, but we made frequent trips to Colorado and kept in close touch with all the family. Ted moved into a retirement facility in Denver, and Clark and Virginia had a nice modest home in east Denver. My parents’ home was at 819 Steele St. just a few blocks west of Colorado Boulevard.

The Ted Tinling saga was not quite over. Very late in life, he did decide to get married – to Acklyn (maiden name unknown). They moved into an apartment, and we (the rest of the family) tried to like his new spouse. It was difficult, but then Ted always was a bit eccentric, so we soldiered on.

The Tinling story was also not over. Gladys, died in 1964 at her home on Steele St. Ted died in 1969, leaving Acklyn allegedly better off than she was. But we will never know, since she disappeared – completely.

The Virginia and Clark Austin story has some quixotic twists. Virginia was a character right out of some classic piece of humor. She loved to give everyone a big hug and kiss whether they wanted it or not. She had a car that would only go forward; it had no operating reverse gear. She didn’t seem to mind. She always just looked for parking places at grocery stores and elsewhere which had plenty of room in front so she could always just drive straight out. She never saw this as a problem. When Clark became very ill with cancer, he took off one day unannounced and drove down to either Santa Fe or Albuquerque and rented a motel room in which to die. He didn’t want to be a bother or an
expense. Virginia kept his ashes on the mantle for the rest of her life, although she could have used the mausoleum east of Denver where the rest of the Hoods and some of the Tinlings were buried. Ted used to say that when the rest of Denver had turned to dust, that fabulously built mausoleum would still be standing.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Nicholson DD442 - Reunion Oct 2005 Washington DC.

We put the destroyer Nicholson to sleep 60 years ago. Being asked to say just a few words today I began to think about that ship. The Nicholson like any ship has a life and spirit of its own. Those of us who served in her, for however short a time, became members of her family. Like any family, strong bonds of love develop among its members as well as for our ship. I would dare say that each of us when we read of the commissioning of a Navy destroyer like the new DDG Preble we are proud that that ship is now at sea in our Navy but we also look down through the performance specifications to see how it stacks up with the Nick. We take secret pride that our narrow beam and powerful engines probably gave her a higher flank speed than even this latest. We came into the Nick from very different parts of the country and from many different backgrounds but when we began to live our daily lives in her all those differences became unimportant next to what bound us together. None of us probably knew the names of everyone aboard. Some we knew only by a first or last name or a nickname, but we were shipmates, and that is what counted. As the years passed many began to pass on and our numbers here on the ground began to thin. When we die we live on in the memories of our loved ones and our family – and of course, in the memories of our shipmates. One way to keep these missing ones truly alive is to say their names – either silently or aloud. I would ask you now for a quiet moment while we say the names of those we specially remember who are not with us in the flesh.
 A Water color by Charles Geer, a shipmate, later an illustrator of note in New York.

Trooping the colors

 A few words by John M. Hood, Jr. at the Washington DC Navy Memorial - surviving members of the crew at the podium 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

c. 1600 - An Interesting Confluence

c. 1600 – An interesting confluence
I have been a casual collector of rare and scarce books and other items from the early days of science. Among my most treasured acquisitions is a facsimile copy of Tycho Brahe’s 1573 publication “Novae Stella,” (New Star), published in 1901 and dedicated to the King of Belgium. Brahe did not subscribe to the new Copernican ideas of the sun-centered solar system but he was the last of the great naked eye astronomers and a superb observer of the skies. His observational data were impeccable and accurate for the time. Poor Kepler, his impecunious assistant, was forced to steal this observational data in order to have grist for his brilliant work in developing the laws governing the motions of the planets around the sun.

Below are two pages from this 1901 facsimile.


Remarks that Kevin Brown wrote in his encyclopedic work, “Reflections on Relativity,” involving Brahe are worth repeating. Much of what follows is centered on Tycho Brahe and his, one might say, unconscious role in the history of England and the dawn of modern science. What follows is tangled but is indeed a confluence of events.

John Craig, an advisor to King James VI of Scotland, later King James I of England, once made a remark to John Napier that turned Napier’s attention back to the task that resulted in his momentous discovery of logarithms. Maestlin, Kepler’s math tutor at Tubingen, once jokingly cautioned him not to use logarithms for his calculations – it would be cheating for a scientist to take a short cut in doing multiplications and divisions of large numbers.

The story as Brown tells it finally centers on James and his journey in 1590 to Denmark to escort his bride, Anne of Denmark, back to England. A fierce storm forced them to take shelter in Brahe’s Uraniborg observatory on the island of Hven. It is conjectured that William Shakespeare used the news of this occasion as inspiration for his play "The Tempest” (c, 1611), one of the only two of his productions having an original plot. Suggestive are the presence of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as two minor characters in his earlier play “Hamlet” (c. 1600), the play that suggests the connection to the above interpretation. These same names, family antecedents, occur in Brahe’s head dress band in one of his portraits. Brahe was related to a great many of the titled figures in Danish history. Some scholars have conjectured that Shakespeare had an island in the Mediterranean or perhaps Bermuda itself in mind. Surely, given the strong public awareness of the events of King James’ adventures encountered in bringing his bride home, the marooning of the King and his bride on Hven would have been well known and would have been a touchstone for playgoers of the time.

This brief time in English History, The Jacobean period, was host to some remarkable individuals related perhaps by circumstance: Tycho Brahe, King James I, John Napier, Johannes Kepler, William Shakespeare, and, of course, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Friday, September 13, 2019


It seems like ‘black’ was an important topic of much of my early technical career. It all began with a story told us by Dr. Seibert Quimby Duntley during my second job out of college as a research engineer at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Visibility Lab, in San Diego. Doc Duntley, the director of the lab, had been a research scientist at MIT during WWII doing military camouflage studies. This work continued after the war in California at what came to be known as “The Vis Lab.”

Duntley described the development of the “Black Widow” paint used on night fighter aircraft during the forties. Before the days of radar antiaircraft defense by the Germans consisted of sonic detection with big horns and search lights to spot the overhead aircraft. When pinned by the lights the planes, as Duntley described them, appeared as easily seen bright grey silhouettes – even though painted black. It turned out that the best black paints diffusely reflect at least 5 or 6 percent of the light that illuminates them. That’s enough to make them easily seen and identified. Take the moon for example. We are used to seeing it as a brilliant white object in the night sky. It’s not at all white. The Moon’s average albedo (reflectance) is only 12% and the mare, flat areas, are probably closer to 5 or 6% - like black paint.

To achieve a reflectance of less than one percent a priority wartime project was undertaken. A pharmaceutical firm came up with the solution to the problem – a paint that consisted of tiny exploded carbon particles similar to popcorn suspended in a glossy transparent durable binder. This top secret material was sent to England in a container locked to a courier’s wrist for trials as a coating on the North American P-61 night fighter, the Black Widow. It was highly successful. Even though the glossy binder gave a substantial specular reflectance there was practically no diffuse reflectance. As seen from the ground. Only a few sparkles might appear and identification as an aircraft was exceedingly difficult.

Cmdr. Dayton R. E. Brown, a mentor of mine and the Navy’s camouflage expert during the war, tells the story of designing the paint for aircraft in the pacific. The Navy had already rejected the idea of black – to much like a coffin – and had opted for a deep blue. Admiral John Sidney McCain, ComNavAirPac, was paying a quick visit to an island base in the Pacific during a period that coincided with Brown’s presence at the base. Brown wanted to sell his idea for painting Navy planes more effectively and tried to get the Admiral to give him some time. The Admiral was in a hurry so Dayton volunteered to paint a plane at the side of the runway with a fire hose while the Admiral’s plane was waiting to depart. McCain agreed and Dayton Brown succeeded in selling his paint scheme to the Navy. It wasn’t black but it was a good camouflage story.

Eliminating stray light inside of optical instruments is always a prime concern in the design process. Various techniques have been used in cameras, telescopes and the like. Usually it’s just black paint which in most cases serves well. One technique for absorbing light that is little used but is very effective is a stack of razor blades seen edge on. If they are brand new and have never been handled the edges are very sharp and the incident light vanishes down the interstitial cavities between the individual blades. It's an interesting technique but hardly suitable for coating the entire inside of an instrument. One needs a hundred or more to make a small black trap.  Over the years we came to use a 3M product called Velvet Black. It may no longer be available but it had a diffuse reflectance of about 2 or 3 percent. It produced a very matte surface and was fairly delicate so it would not weather well if used on the exterior surfaces. 

Our major efforts at instrument design were directed to the measurement of "meteorological range." Roughly, this is defined as the maximum distance at which one could detect a small  dark object seen against the horizon sky. There are exact mathematical formulas for this distance and any reader who wishes to pursue it can look up the article referenced at the end of this blog.

In particular it found a good home inside the Meteorological Range Meter we installed on the aircraft pictured below which required a phototube to measure the scattering of light by particles and air molecules of a one meter column of air at an altitude of 35,000 feet. The photo below shows the MR Meter installed on the upper fuselage of the B-29 that the Air Force assigned to the Vis Lab for research purposes.

The most interesting and “colorful” use of black surfaces, however, was the employment of a very large amount of heavy black velvet cloth in our research station at Point Barrow, Alaska. The station consisted of a well-insulated cubicle facility containing all the electronic and mechanical machinery along with a stool, a desk, and a coffee pot for the attending scientist. This facility was located on a low platform well out on the tundra away from the base and village itself. The MR Meter machinery, optics, and recording devices were safely enclosed in the cubical. Out on the distant tundra were two black cavities – the more distant a ten foot cube –and the nearer one a three foot cube. They were arranged so that they both appeared the same size to the meter’s optics. During recording the telescope was electrically driven to view one after the other of these cavities and then the horizon just above them. If the reader is interested in the details of these experiments and the theory behind the measurements see the reference below.

The scale of the distant black cavity is evident in this shot of the construction process.

The large cavity, complete, and braced for bad weather.

This view below is similar to what the MR Meter saw except for alignment and actual distances.


Many Inuit helped with this project, all under the direction of Chester, the village chief. When all was complete Chester instituted the penultimate use of our wonderful black fabric by asking if he could have some of the scraps to decorate his best parka. We, of course, gave him all he wanted. One of my prized possessions is a photo of him leading his people in some of their ceremonial dancing at the village hall.


John M.  Hood Jr., "A Two Cavity Long-Base Mode Meteorological Range Meter”,  Applied Optics, Vol. 3, P. 603-8, May 1964.