Archives: The Kessler Cascade

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so, my From the Archives series. This week: proper waste disposal is important, even in space.


Or: In Space, No One Can Hear You Take Out the Trash

My family goes to a lot of movies. We're not film buffs, by any means. Usually, we're looking for snappy dialogue and explosions.

A couple years ago, we saw the film “Gravity.” For those who haven't seen it, a runaway debris cloud destroys satellites and space stations. Even though the science in that movie was pretty badly off, in a lot of ways, something like it does have the potential to occur.

Kessler Syndrome is a hypothetical scenario dreamed up by a NASA scientist named Donald Kessler in the 70s. Essentially, it proposes that if enough objects are in low Earth orbit, collisions between them will eventually result in an enormous cascade of debris.

It's a pretty simple process: one piece of space junk slams into another, which sends debris scattering about.

Some of that debris hits another piece of space junk, creating another burst of debris, which slams into more space junk, and then maybe into a satellite.

Eventually, you have an enormous cloud of debris traveling through orbit. Each piece would be widely spaced, but even tiny bits can have insanely destructive power when moving that quickly. The cloud wouldn't take out every satellite, of course; it would stay in the same orbit, and many satellites would be in a higher or lower orbit.

A Kessler cascade could potentially make space travel impossible for millennia, completely blocking off that orbit. The debris wouldn't orbit forever. The drag from the miniscule amount of air at that altitude, along with a few other factors, would eventually clear the orbit again, though the process could take thousands of years.

Governments take the threat quite seriously. Satellites aren't allowed to launch unless they can be safely disposed at the end of their lifespans. The two most common techniques for doing so: dropping it back into the atmosphere or raising it up into a higher graveyard orbit.

People also have proposed gadgets for clearing the debris, including a device called a laser broom, which is precisely as cool as it sounds.

It all really just goes to show: proper waste disposal is important, no matter where you are.

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog / Eric Aguilera: Into The Mix

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy welcomes Eric Aguilera to the team. He worked on the space shuttle. And he spells his last name just like Christina Aguilera does. So, I'm confident with this new addition to the fine team.

Click HERE to read all about Eric.

Archives: The VHS Loop

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: ah, that VHS technology has me all holiday-nostalgic.


BetaandVHSThe End of the VHS Loop

Maggie had me cleaning out the attic the other day, and I found a cardboard box filled with old VHS tapes. We hadn't used the VCR in something like a decade, but I managed to find it (in the garage, under five or six cans of paint) and hooked it up.

I went through some of our old home videos, and found that some worked perfectly fine and others didn't work at all. There didn't seem to be any real link between their age and how well they worked, either, so I decided to do some research.

There are lots of stories bouncing around the internet about how VHS tapes are supposed to stop working after ten years, or 15, or 20, but there doesn't seem to be any real consensus. People have written their anecdotes about all sorts of lifespans for the dumb things.

It turns out that there are a lot of reasons for the wildly different stories. First off, there was a lot of advertising done when DVDs came out—trying to convince people to switch from VHS to DVD, with the claim that VHS tapes wouldn't last very long.

And the conditions that cause the tapes to wear out vary wildly. VCR malfunction is the quickest cause, of course, but other factors include: rapid temperature swings, frequent use, low humidity, proximity to magnets and electronics, and storage conditions.

theDVDWhat makes it even more confusing is that many of the factors aren't even consistent. Infrequent usage can sometimes cause the tapes to fail, and frequent use can do the same thing.

The last movie released on VHS was “A History of Violence,” in 2006. I doubt that a copy of this will be the last movie ever watched in the format, of course: by that time DVDs had pretty much taken over the whole scene, leaving very little of a VHS market remaining. The “last view” honor will most likely go to someone's home movie, and probably within the next 50 years.

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Your Holiday Ramp Cheer

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy dusts off the power of the pen, much mightier than the sword, and scribbles a great poem in tribute to the much, much mightier yard ramp.

Click HERE to get yourself well-versed.

From the Archives: The Tacoma Narrows

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: the Tacoma Narrows offers us an important cautionary tale on preventing disaster and respecting nature.


The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse is one of the best known architectural failures in modern history, and it is used as a lesson by everyone, from architects and civil engineers to insurance agents.

Built in 1940 across the Tacoma Narrows in Washington State, the suspension bridge lasted less than a year before collapsing. The only casualty was a dog stuck in a car.

Due to a very tight budget, the bridge was constructed with lightweight girders, as per the lowest bid design. (In my work, that Tacoma Narrows lesson is one of the many reasons I don't just go for the lowest bid). During construction, the bridge's thin design, low weight, and less-than-durable construction resulted in frequent vibrations and shaking whenever the wind picked up. It got so bad that the workers nicknamed it Galloping Gertie. Not exactly a trust-inspiring name.

The Bridge Collapses

The Bridge Collapses

The bridge began undergoing severe oscillations (or, to be a bit less technical about things: the bridge shook itself to bits) under heavy winds on November 7th, 1940.

I won’t go in depth on the science behind the collapse; you can find that easy enough. I'm more interested in what lessons it gives us about ignoring nature. For all the amazing things mankind has done, we still need to respect nature or it will come back to bite us. All of our technology and inventiveness allows us to stand up to nature, but push it around? Not a chance. We need to foster a design philosophy that promotes working with nature, not against it.

This sounds like hippy talk, I know, but it's nothing new. Heck, the idea goes back millennia. Look at any number of cultures that lived in hot climates—high ceilings, big windows, light colored paint. Cultures that live with heavy rain? You build your foundations strong, angle your roof, and pick your building site really carefully.

Why'd I decide to blog about Tacoma Narrows, when so many people already use it as a lesson? Well, I think some people missed that one ⏤ like my son-in-law, who decided to have his shed built by the cheapest contractor: at the edge of a hill, with no real foundation to speak of. He's going to be picking his tools out of the stream for weeks.

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Smart Financing

When my friend The Yard Ramp Guy tells me I can save thousands of dollars, my ears perk up. And my bank account lofts skywards.

Click HERE to be uplifted.

From the Archives: Funiculars

A Slippery Slope

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: ramps sometimes appear in the most unlikely of places. Which brings us to the funicular:


(Not) a Walk in the Park

You normally want ramps to have a relatively low slope: it's hardly going to cut back on the amount of work you need to do to get something to the top if it's too steep.

Unfortunately, it sometimes isn't possible to construct a shallow ramp, usually due to terrain. You've still got to be able to get up to the top, though, which is where funiculars come into the picture.

A funicular is essentially a pair of linked carts on rails going up and down a slope. Think elevator, but tilted to the side, and using each other as counterweights instead of having their own counterweights.

Funiculars take shockingly little power to operate, since you're really only hauling up the weight of the load. In fact, some low-tech funiculars operate by filling water tanks at the top cart and draining them at the bottom, which pulls down the top cart and vice versa. They're an extremely effective way to get around, and since they're usually in the mountains, you usually get a great view as well, except when you go through a tunnel. You also get quite a few in mines.

Depending on the amount of space available, the carts might have separate tracks, or they may share tracks. When they share track, there's generally a split rail in the middle of the run that diverts the carts around each other.

McCoy Fields, at rest

Me...on my own slippery slope.

Unfortunately, a funicular was the site of the worst ramp-related disaster in history. (Yes, definitely worse than the countless groin injuries caused by ramps in sports.) The Kaprun disaster occurred on a large funicular leading up to a ski resort. One of the large trams used in the funicular caught fire while going up the tunnel. The resulting smoke billowed up through the tunnel, killing more than 150 people, largely through smoke inhalation.

The disaster turned out to be caused mostly by poor training and a fault in the tram car, but public confidence in funiculars remained shaken for some years. (Maggie wouldn't let me ride the last one we saw, but I think I've finally got her convinced that they're safe.)

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Forklift Ramp Modeling

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy presents some amazing ramp photos that show the depth of his geographic reach across the nation.

Click HERE to enjoy the visual splendor of it all.

The Yard Ramp Guy for Troubled Times

 

My friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, is honest as the day is long. He's also humble, which means ⏤ beyond the necessary marketing campaigns to keep competitive in the industry ⏤ he might not readily draw attention to himself or his business.

I, McCoy Fields, am not so humble. That's why I'm proud to share with you just a bit of what Jeff and his team are doing in response to the coronavirus pandemic that has so quickly altered our landscapes and disrupted our world.

YRG Response During Coronavirus

Ramping Up in Troubled Times

There's a difference between what we can see and what we can't. COVID-19 is invisible to the naked eye, an insidious, lethal virus that does not discriminate, that transmits from person to person through proximity, breath, and touch. It's a frightening thing with all-too-often devastating results. A yard ramp is a tangible three tons of steel: an incline with purpose and utility.

The clamping off of much of the country to limit transmission of coronavirus is having devastating effects. The alternative is worse. Essential businesses continue to operate. That's why the supply chain keeps our grocery stores stocked. And that's why The Yard Ramp Guy continues to sell and rent its inventory.

Yard ramps classify as essential tools to emergency service and product providers combatting the pandemic. The Yard Ramp Guy has placed ramps at Coronavirus Emergency Distribution staging sites and rented a ramp to a hospital in New York City ⏤ sadly, to provide access to refrigeration trucks serving as temporary morgues. I've known more life-affirming examples. Yet this is important and, yes, essential.

The Yard Ramp Guy is listed in ThomasNet's COVID-19 Response Suppliers.

In good times and bad, Jeff's yard ramps are workhorses, functioning without complaint to help movement between points.

I've never been prouder of my friend Jeff and his team.

Stay safe and be well.