Friday, November 30, 2007

Things That are Different With a Broken Finger

I went to the orthoscopic/hand surgeon yesterday to have him look at my hand. He took a look at the X-ray and after hearing my story, he, too, said I did a good job re-seating the dislocated finger. He then followed this up with a smile, saying, "Which does not make me happy." I was taken aback by this, and he further clarified that it meant that he didn't have any work to do for me. *phew* It was an awful joke.

After inspecting my finger and it's mobility, he concluded that I will not have to have surgery, which was a relief to me. Apparently, I just need to keep it mostly immobilized for the next four weeks and it should be fine. The finger will be slightly crooked when all is said and done, but I shouldn't lose any strength or mobility. He also cautioned me to not re-injure it, or else I would make him happy.

Any way you look at it, though, there have been some changes to my life because of the broken finger. It is nearly always bound up inside a metal brace and "buddy-taped" to an adjoining finger. I decided to itemize them, since I'm so fond of lists:

-- I can't wash my hands as easily, so I steer clear of getting them dirty even more than I used to.
-- I used to be a full ten-fingered (and fast) typist, and now I'm down to seven or eight, because of the "buddy-taping" and since the right pinky isn't so useful on the keyboard when "orphaned".
-- Right-clicking a computer mouse is challenging.
-- Going to the bathroom is a whole new procedure.
-- Washing my hair is a challenge on my right side.
-- Tying my shoelaces is much more difficult, and I can't get the laces really tight anymore.
-- Turning the key in my car's ignition is difficult, though driving hasn't proven to be so since I'm a dominant left-hand driver.
-- Holding my cellphone is awkward and I'm prone to dropping it.
-- Retrieving anything from my right front or back pockets is extremely difficult.
-- I can't shake anybody's hand anymore, and have to issue an apology and experience a moment of awkwardness.
-- I look stupid when I wave, and I think people occasionally misinterpret my wave as flipping them the birdie since my ring finger is sufficiently close to the middle finger and is always erect.
-- Carrying a cup is hard if it has a wide diameter with my right hand.
-- Gripping pretty much anything that is heavy is no longer possible with my right hand.
-- Slipping on a shirt, jacket, or backpack almost always jars the finger unless I exercise great caution.
-- Changing the diaper of my youngest is extremely difficult, particularly if he's gone #2.
-- Riding a bike with my oldest is totally out, as is helping my daughter learn to ride hers (it will have to wait).
-- I can't hold the hand of two of my children at once anymore, since they are not careful not to jar or twist my hand.
-- Worst of all, I can't hold my wife's hand with that hand anymore, or gently caress her beautiful face the same way I used to.

On the plus side, there are a few good things about it:

-- With the metal brace, I can incessantly tap it against anything and drive people insane.
-- I get people's undivided attention when I wave my finger in front of them. Seriously, everybody checks the finger out then pays attention to what I'm saying.
-- I have an ice-breaker story.
-- I have an excuse to not carry anything heavy.

The disadvantages very much so outweigh the advantages.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rollercoaster Mania

The day after Thanksgiving, I had the chance to go to the local amusement park, Six Flags Magic Mountain, with my brother-in-law and his oldest son. As a forty-something male without much roller-coaster enthusiasm and a pre-teen with little roller-coaster experience, they weren't quite sure they could do/tolerate all the rides I was so anxious to get them on. Looking back at the day, though, I don't think I've ever had a more intense roller-coaster day in my entire life! The park was nearly empty so the lines were really short. Here's the run-down:

(Deja Vu was closed)
Riddler's Revenge - front row
Riddler's Revenge - middle row
Riddler's Revenge - front row
Batman - front row
Scream - front row
Scream - middle row
Scream - front row
Goliath - front row
Jet Stream (log flume ride)
Superman - back row
Tatsu - middle row
X - back row
(Viper was closed)
Revolution - back row
Tatsu again - back row
Ninja - middle row
Superman - front row
Goliath - middle row
Scream - back row
Scream - back row

We were at the park from about 11 am to 7:30 pm, taking about half an hour for lunch. So, assuming 8 hours in the park, we rode something about every 25 minutes. That's a remarkably high ride rate for any roller-coaster park, let alone Magic Mountain -- and let alone with a couple of guys who weren't so sure they could handle it. They left the park with smiles, though!

While riding Tatsu for the first time -- a truly remarkable roller-coaster that is my personal favorite -- my brother-in-law kept repeating "This is wrong! This is so wrong!" while he was riding. I was laughing so hard at him that I could barely breathe.

It was a great day.

Broken Finger

It was Thanksgiving morning. The clock was running out, and the other team was fourth and inches from making a touchdown that would give them the game. The ball was hiked to the quarterback, who faked left and tossed to his right. I went forward and wrenched it from the poor man's hands. Throwing off two burly linebackers, I made a dash for the other end of the field. I reached the 50 yard line, the 40, the 30. I could feel the breath of the other team's desperate players running hard to catch me. I was 20 yards out, then 10, and was just about to cross the goal line when I felt hands pull on my back and begin to drag me down. But it was too late, so with a smile, I went down with them, the ball firmly clutched in my hands as I fell across the goal line.

I had scored the winning touchdown! Crashing to the ground, the tip of my right ring finger got caught just wrong beneath the football and was twisted horrendously to a 45 degree angle. I felt the crack and the pain. Pulling myself up from the twisted mass of bodies that had just tackled me, I looked to my finger and realized it was clearly not right, so I held it with my left hand and wrenched it with a satisfying double-pop back into it's proper position. It didn't hurt much, not 'til later, so I just smiled to my teammates as they lifted me onto their shoulders in triumph at winning the Annual Turkey Bowl! What a day!

Okay, so it's not quite what happened. Truth be told, it was an hour into a three hour game when I was reaching to pull the flags off a friend of mine (and missing) as he twisted and knocked my finger out of joint. Honestly, though, which story is more interesting? The one where I triumphantly win the game? Or the one where I get injured reaching for my guy friend's back side?!

In any case, it was Thanksgiving, and it really didn't hurt much at first. I was doing a pretty good job convincing myself throughout the day that I had just dislocated my finger and that there was no other damage, as I was able to move it; but the pain and the swelling continued to increase throughout the day. I refused to go to "Urgent Care", though, because I believed it would be an absolute madhouse with people lined up needing stitches from mis-cutting turkeys, or others with broken bones on bone-headed wanna-be sportsmen (like me), or still others who needed their stomachs pumped because they'd eaten the stuffing they shouldn't've cooked inside the turkey.

Nevertheless, reality won me over (and dinner was done), so I went to the doctor at about 5 pm. It was a ghost-town there! I went right in, was X-rayed, and went home within twenty minutes. Sure enough, though, the finger is broken. I've got the badly bruised finger on the outside to prove it, and the X-ray that clearly shows the break in case there was any doubt. Now I'm looking at maybe needing surgery (I'll find out when I go see the doctor in two days) and have to keep the finger mostly immobile for the next two months. It really stinks.

But I did have fun at the football game ...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Moment of Poetry

Last night I was putting my daughter to bed when I had an unexpected poetic moment. She doesn't like the dark, and gets mousy when we send her upstairs to go to bed by herself -- sometimes even if the light is on. I escorted her to her room, put her in bed, and turned the light off. Returning to her bed to kiss her goodnight, she said, "Daddy, I'm scared."

Here's the poetry: "Well, you'll have to fill in the darkness with the color from your dreams."

A heard a contented sigh, and she responded, "Okay. Good night, Daddy."

"Good night, my little girl," I told her as I heard her snuggle into her bed. It's funny how these moments come at the most unexpected times.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Awesome Wife

My wife is totally awesome. That's a true, honest-to-goodness fact. I'm sitting here entering receipts into Quicken to track our spending, and I've just entered three receipts for groceries from the local Ralph's grocery store. Ralph's does double coupons, and my wife has been coupon clipping for years now (indeed, it's the only reason we get the local paper). Anyway, she's gotten really good at it. For example, the last three shopping trips she went on look like:

10/30/07:
-- Total Purchased: $123.48
-- Total Discounts: $55.45
-- Total Out-of-Pocket: $68.03
-- Percentage Reduced Cost: 44.9%

11/05/07:
-- Total Purchased: $148.92
-- Total Discounts: $78.60
-- Total Out-of-Pocket: $70.32
-- Percentage Reduced Cost: 52.8%

11/13/07:
-- Total Purchased: $81.29
-- Total Discounts: $34.78
-- Total Out-of-Pocket: $46.51
-- Percentage Reduced Cost: 42.8%

Can you believe that she regularly cuts our grocery bill nearly in half?! And to top it off, she does a lot of shopping at Costco, for even more savings, and doesn't buy hardly anything else unless she's got a coupon or there's a good deal somewhere. My wife is just awesome, what can I say?

(Now, for those of you who don't live in Southern California and are thinking the grocery budget reflected above is high, you'd be right -- but that's life in Southern California. I think that if we lived in Utah with the bulk of our extended family, my very awesome wife would probably be able to get all our groceries for the week for a buck and a quarter.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Near-Miss Asteroid Found to be Artificial

The title itself speaks a thousand words. The article itself isn't quite so long, but it has lots of interest factoids in it.

First, there really isn't a central agency, in any country, that tracks and monitors all space assets, near or far. The U.S. has a pretty good system going, but not every country, especially those not-so-friendly with us, report all space launches and destinations. And even if they did, the initial trajectory on which a spacecraft is set isn't necessarily it's final trajectory.

I'm personally in the business of sending spacecraft to other planets, and recognize that doing planetary fly-bys are par for the course. We do it all the time as it is a cheap and easy means of gaining or draining energy from a spacecraft's orbit. We spend an enormous amount of time and money to ensure that a fly-by doesn't accidentally become an impact.

Yet whenever the public gets word that we're doing a fly-by of Earth, people start to panic -- especially if there's a nuclear power source on board. For example, when the good ship Cassini flew by Earth several years ago, the doomsayers were out in abundance. Here is one such example. In the case cited in the title article of this post, Rosetta certainly isn't the Battlestar Galactica (neither was Cassini), yet people start to believe these things are going to land on their heads. Because of this, most of the time it isn't widely published as a "Big Deal" that a fly-by is designed into a spacecraft's trajectory.

This has both good and bad things about it -- it allows a space agency to proceed without dealing with a potential and usually totally misplaced public uproar (which is costly -- especially if it ends up in courts), but it has the stench of "cover up" if such an uproar does end up occurring (which is also costly -- to do public damage control).

Nevertheless, planetary fly-bys are good. One of the finest examples of these is the "Grand Tour" performed by the Voyager 2 spacecraft as it flew by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune on it's way out of the solar system (see the image, below). Each fly-by allowed it to pick up speed to get to it's next destination. Even Galileo used fly-bys -- of the inner planets, no less -- to get to Jupiter, and then used them all the time to guide it's trajectory around Jupiter and it's moons (the Jovian system).

Still, the article cracks me up. People were right on the verge of panicking, but a moment's hesitation saved a lot of people a lot of embarrassment. I wish it were always so in my business.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No Charges Filed

I'm very pleased to find out that the 10-year-old boy who started the fire near my home several weeks back will not be charge. An associated press article states, in part:

No charges for 10-year-old fire starter

LOS ANGELES - A 10-year-old boy who admitted starting a 38,000-acre fire last month that destroyed 21 homes in northern Los Angeles County will not be charged, prosecutors said.

There was no evidence of intent by the boy who accidentally ignited brush outside his home by playing with matches, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a statement Tuesday.

Authorities are referring the case to the Department of Children and Family Services to determine if further steps are necessary.


I've been a 10-year-old boy. I've played with matches. I've even had a fire get out of control before (though I've never started a forest fire). I totally understand what happened. As of last week, the news reported that should authorities have to press charges against the boy, his family could be responsible for millions of dollars in damages and he could have gone to jail for up to 7 years. 7 years!

I'm grateful this worked out the way it did. This kid has learned a very important lesson, and I'm grateful that his youth and his family's life hasn't been ruined by this event. I am sorry for those who lost homes, however, and I hope their insurance doesn't play games with them. Mistakes happen, and sometimes it's best just to forgive and move on.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Day at the Temple

Saturday, November 10th, 2007, was The Big Event. We had been waiting over a year for it, my wife more so than others due to her direct, personal involvement in it. It was a time for us to attend the Los Angeles temple for a meeting in the temple's Assembly Hall -- a room that is only used with the direct permission of the prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the temple, and last year the current temple president, President Richard M. Andrus, received permission to use the room for special commemoration meetings each Saturday this year for each stake within the temple district -- 43 in all!

The day had a full schedule and was intended for members of the church who hold current temple recommends. All year long, people have been preparing for this meeting. Some who didn't have a temple recommend for many years prepared themselves so that they could receive one to be there. Our stake president specifically asked that the young women of the stake make themselves available to babysit all day, for free, while the members with young children were at the temple. My wife was also the choir director for a very small group (less than 35 people) that would sing during the meeting, so was holding practices leading up to the event.

Saturday morning, my wife and I picked up some friends of ours and we carpooled to the temple. It was a quick ride (the freeways were shockingly clear), and when we got there, the parking lot was completely full. We ended up parking way back in the lot -- about a five minute walk from the doors of the temple. It was marvelous to see all those people at the temple.

From then, once we entered, we went and changed into white clothing for the balance of our temple experience. At every turn within the temple, we saw good friends from our ward and stake. The feeling of anticipation was palpable. People were excited and greeted each other with warm smiles, firm handshakes, and happy hugs. While the temple is a place of quiet and peace, there was ever-present a low buzz of whispered talk from the hundreds of people there.

The morning started for us with a meeting in one of the chapels of the temple (the larger of the two). There we had the chance to hear some words of wisdom regarding how we should look forward to the day, and maintain a spirit of reverence while we served in the temple. It was a brief meeting, but it set the tone for the day.

Following, we went and did an endowment session. We had just two of the seven wards in our stake in the endowment session, and we nearly filled the meeting rooms that accommodate over 200 people (some of the largest rooms of any temple). This was quite a wonderful sight and again it was great to be there with all the people we know and love from our ward. The session did take a long time because of all the people that were there. I was able to help people at the veil, as I usually do, and it was my privilege to help a few of my friends, one in particular who really struggled and needed a patient helper.

Following this, I raced down to the cafeteria for a quick bite to eat, while my wife went up to the assembly hall to have a quick choir practice prior to the meeting. I "snarfed" down my food as quickly as I could and then went up to watch her and the choir practice. Upon entering the assembly hall, I was stunned by how big it was. It extends the entire length of the third floor of the temple; if you were to look at the temple from the outside, you could get a feel for it, but inside the room feels even larger. A friend of mine whose wife was in the choir commented that he felt you could put a whole plane in the room -- I think he under-estimated and you could get several.

Strangely enough, I was also surprised by how plain the room really was. Elsewhere in the temple, things are beautifully decorated and ornate, but this was just ... a really big room. As the meeting progressed, though, I gained an appreciation for that -- the purpose of the room is not to be wowed or impressed by the architecture, but rather to focus on the purpose of ones attendance there, the Spirit of the Lord to be felt there, and the instruction that one would receive there.

On each end of the very long room there were stands with rows of chairs. Each level of the stand represented a different priesthood office, from the first presidency of the church, the highest offices of the Melchizedek priesthood; to the office of deacon, the lowest office in the Aaronic priesthood. The meeting was conducted from the third level down on the Melchizedek priesthood side of the room, and I was impressed by the order and significance of the reverence with which the higher rows were treated -- had the prophet of the church been there, he would have sat on the top row.

The meeting finally began and I was honored to watch my wife direct the choir as they sang the opening song. What an awesome experience for her! The use of the assembly room is a unique opportunity that happens so very rarely, and for her to not only be there for the meeting, but also to direct a choir therein may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her. Within the cavernous room, I expected the small choir to not be loud enough, but as they sang at her direction, the room was filled with the beautiful music they had prepared for us. It was magnificent, and I was moved by how much I love that good woman.

The meeting proceeded with various speakers who addressed the 50th anniversary of the temple. Some in the room were there for it's opening all those years ago, and shared stories of that time. The last speaker was the temple president himself, who expressed that while we had looked forward to the day for so long, it was not an ending, but rather a beginning, and he encouraged each of us to make temple attendance a higher priority in our lives and to serve there more often. It was a wonderful meeting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, my wife directed the entire congregation -- thousands of people all dressed in white -- in singing "The Spirit of God", a hymn that was sung during the dedication of the Kirtland temple in 1836 -- the first temple dedicated to the Lord in modern times. She knew that moment would come, and she had tried to prepare herself to remain stoic and professional while conducting, but I could tell she was caught up in the emotions she was feeling and struggled to keep tears from flowing. That hymn is a special one to her and to me, and singing it in such a place with so many people was moving to both of us.

To close the meeting, the wife of the bishop in our ward was asked to say the prayer with only a few moment's notice. She was completely unprepared, and she told me later that prior to that time, she had been looking forward to hearing the words of whoever would say that closing prayer -- not knowing it would be her. So it was with surprise and concern that she went to the podium to offer it, and I can honestly say that the Spirit of God gave her the words to say. Her words were poignant and appropriate and summed up the meeting in perfect form, calling upon God to bless the congregation that we could go forth and continue to do the will of the Lord. It was beautiful.

After the meeting, my wife and I lingered and did the very Earthly act of collecting the music that was distributed to the choir and congregation. We stayed and visited with some good friends for a few minutes, then left the room. We changed our clothes and went outside the temple (it was too crowded to stay inside as everybody was preparing to leave), and we again lingered there. It was as if we didn't really want to leave, which was certainly true.

Finally departing, we went out to eat that night with two other couples -- good friends -- and had a great time visiting with them. (We had a long wait to sit down, though ...) We arrived home late and offered to pay the young woman who babysat for us for the unexpected time she watched our children, but she wouldn't hear of it -- she's a very good young woman.

Come the next day, Sunday, the temple experience was all the talk. At church, we again saw our friends, and it seemed every conversation turned to the events of the previous day. It was a wonderful, uplifting, unifying experience, and I am grateful for it.

Friday, November 9, 2007

French Lessons

The Lord takes care of his children. That's the only way I can explain it.

I was in the temple this morning, doing my normal thing. Two weeks ago, I had been asked if I was interested in learning the Spanish version of the temple ordinance with which I help, so I could help people who speak Spanish. At the time, I ended up doing something else, so I didn't have time. Today, however, I did have a little extra time, so I decided to get the paperwork that showed English on the left side and Spanish on the right. I also had the fleeting thought that I should get the French version, too, so I could compare the two.

Now, I don't speak Spanish, but I do live in Southern California where a lot of people do. Learning Spanish would be a good thing to do, but I just haven't gotten around to doing that, yet. Regarding French, when I was in high school (over 15 years ago!), I took four years of French and I also took one quarter of it in college. (Having done this, I thought I was assured the opportunity to serve a mission for my church in a French-speaking place, but it wasn't to be -- I ended up going to Texas speaking Texan.)

Needless to say, I haven't exactly pursued my French studies, but I still remember a lot about the structure of the language and can read simple text. As for Spanish, I knew that the two languages were similar in structure and can't have helped being exposed to it, living where I do; so I figured that it might be useful for me to compare the French to the Spanish in order to better derive some meaning.

Well, when I went to get the French translation, the woman who keeps them discovered that the French version was not where it was supposed to be -- I walked away only with the Spanish version. About five minutes later, after puzzling over the Spanish version for about five excruciating minutes, I went to return it and discovered another man talking with the woman, also asking for the French translation. While I was gone, the woman had looked for it, and found two copies.

As it turned out, there was a couple from French Polynesia attending the temple today. Suddenly, I was being asked not only to learn the French version, but to help one of these two people during the ordinance! I had about an hour to figure it out. Well, I didn't memorize it, but I can honestly tell you that my mind was quickened and my understanding made clear as I studied it in that hour. When it was time to help the good woman who spoke only French, I took my translation with me and did my best -- which apparently was good enough. She came through, gave me a grateful smile, and said, "Merci beaucoups."

For the life of me, I couldn't remember the French version of "you're welcome", and was about to sputter out "de nada" when I decided just to smile and nod towards her. (For the record, it's "de rien".) She was content with that, and I was grateful for the opportunity to serve.

We often think that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Back when I was a youth, I figured I'd find a way to put my French to good use, and the balance of my adult life, that hasn't been the case. However, today, I had the opportunity to help somebody with what little I remember from all of that experience. Interestingly enough, the way I feel today, if all those years of studying French were only for the purpose of helping this good woman today, then it was worth it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Another Long Drive

I went to the temple this morning ... I can't believe how long it takes me when I have to worry about rush hour traffic. To make matters worse, I have a terrible tendency to always pick the slowest lane. By the time I figure out that a different lane is moving faster and actually get into that lane, the lane I just left typically starts to move better than the new lane I am in. It's just my luck.

Anyway, I took some more license plates down. If you can help me figure some of these out, that'd be great!

A few people who don't care for their privacy:
-- J SMITH
-- MINDY E
-- I JAMJAR -- at least I think this is a name.
-- CHAZ DAD = "Chaz's dad"
-- MAYMOON = it's either a name or they're talking about the moon that appears in the month of May.
-- H2O KEN = Ken likes water.
-- (heart)JKEANA = "Love Jake and Ana"?
-- CHASE JO = Somebody is chasing Jo?
-- CRAZ IVU = "Crazy for you" -- I liked this one's use of roman numerals.

Some automobile identifiers:
-- MGPOWER = "M.G. Power" -- it was a utility contractor's truck.
-- LUVMY D3 = "Love my D3" -- it was an Acura D3.
-- TRIK G35 = it was an Infiniti G35 -- and not "tricked out".

Some lifestyle plates:
-- WE TANDM = "We tandem" -- I assume it means they ride tandem bikes.
-- OYVEY LA = "Oy vey, Los Angeles" -- guess they're exasperated with life in L.A.
-- CU NSGRY = "See you in surgery" -- must be a surgeon.
-- W6DNY = I'm assuming this is a ham radio operator's ID.
-- IRSH VAN = it looked old and beat up; is that Irish?

And a bunch of mysteries:
-- SCUPER = "Super"?
-- CINDO = ???
-- WUNJO 4 = ???
-- (star)KILALA = ???
-- (heart)JRFRTK = ???
-- l (heart) VES = "One heart vessel" maybe?
-- OISHEE = ???
-- BOOG 3 = "Boogie"?
-- ETVC ST = ???
-- EXR10 = ???
-- AMSMAX = ???
-- HMD = ???

And my favorite for this trip:
-- KRYPTO7 = this car had Superman stickers all over it, so if you tilt your head over, it could read "Krypton", but I kind of prefer a reference to Krypto, Superman's pet dog.

I also saw "KR BMR" again, too ...

Safemode

“My” spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, went into “safemode” yesterday. This happens whenever something on the spacecraft happens that it detects and doesn’t understand. Essentially, it stops whatever it’s doing, turns off all it’s instruments, and turns so it’s solar panels face the sun. Sometimes it will reboot it’s onboard computer or perform a “side-swap” -- we actually have two computers (and two of a lot of other things, as well) on board that it can toggle between. In this case, it turned to the sun and did a simple reboot. An email from management tells the story pretty well:

Date: Wed, 7 Nov 2007 22:08:05 -0800
To: Big Cheese Mars Manager
From: MRO Project Manager
Subject: MRO Status
Cc: Other Mars Big Cheeses, including NASA Headquarters Guy, and Other Project Management

Big Cheese Mars Manager-

As you know, shortly after 15:20 (UTC) this morning, MRO went into safe mode. The proximate cause was a gimbal motor error on the +X solar array. The on board fault protection identified that the +X array was moving slower than the commanded rate, swapped out the motor controller for the gimbal, and then initiated a warm reset when the second controller couldn’t maintain speed.

Analysis of the fault indicates that the gimbal fault was due to the autonomous keep-out zone software erroneously allowing the solar panel to come into contact with the thermal blankets covering the +X bay. Analysis shows that no contact was made with any part of the spacecraft structure, and analysis is continuing to verify that no damage has been done to the thermal blanket.

The vehicle is healthy, and is currently being recovered from safe mode. At present there is a Project briefing required before returning to nadir (Mars) point, and a further briefing required before returning to off nadir observations. The first hold is to ensure that the anomaly is completely understood and it is safe to return to vector tracking. The second briefing is to verify that we have a plan to ensure that the excursion of any appendage into the keep-out zones is reliably prevented.

Provided all analysis is complete, the draft time-line would have the spacecraft returned to nadir point no earlier than Friday, and a return to targeted observations no earlier than Saturday (11/10).

Further status will be provided tomorrow.

-MRO Project Manager


So, life is even more complicated for me right now. We’re working to get things back up and running as soon as we can, and while we do have a plan, it’s just a lot of work. There’s also a ton of analysis that needs to be done, sequences to be built, and we think we want to take this opportunity to do some testing we’ve been waiting on. Busy, busy!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Exploding Kid

My oldest son has the stomach flu. Or something. All I know is he exploded last night. Yesterday afternoon, we had noticed that he would get upset really quickly when things didn't go just his way (which happened a lot), and we also noticed that his eyes were quite red. We assumed that he was tired, and planned to put him to bed a bit early.

Having done so, a few hours later we found him sitting at the top of the stairs. He was just sitting there in a daze and when I asked why he was sitting there, he replied that he was waiting for us to come since he had called us (which he hadn't). I have no idea how long he was there, either. Nevertheless, since he has a tendency to be completely clueless when he wakes in the middle of the night, I stood him up and took him to his room.

I was met by an awful stench. Turning on the light, I found that his bed looked like a massive bean burrito bomb had blown up on it! It was awful. Somehow he had vomited while sleeping -- and a lot of stuff came out. It was all over his pillow, his sheets, the comforter, the bed head -- it had even oozed down the head board and soaked the floor. None of what was there looked even remotely like what we ate for dinner, not that it matters -- it was uber-gross.

My wife and I spent about an hour thereafter getting things cleaned up. He needed a shower, so he got in and basically stood there staring at the wall for at least half an hour. His clothes, his sheets, his comforter, and his pillow and pillowcases all needed to be washed. We also use mattress pads on all the beds in our house (just in case ... whatever ... happens, like it did last night), and that clearly needed to be washed. We got the disinfectant wipes and started on the headboard. My wife got out the steam cleaner and worked on the pools on the floor.

He has a bunk bed in his room, even though he's the only one that sleeps in there; we got it in preparation for moving his younger brother in there, and we just haven't done that, yet. Oddly enough, he had ended up sleeping on the lower bunk last night, and we are very grateful that was so, otherwise we might've ended up cleaning the ceiling fan and the window curtains, too.

We pulled his mattress off and put it by the floor by the door. We then gave him a bowl to keep by each side of his bed, and spread out some old towels between there and the bathroom. He really is the best little kid when it comes to having the stomach flu. After the initial explosion, he's extremely responsible about getting to the toilet. Nevertheless, what followed was still tough for him (and us), as he was up every two to three hours at the toilet, vomiting or dry-heaving. It wasn't a very fun night for anybody.

Now we're worried about the weekend. My wife and I have a big commitment for Saturday and if either of us gets sick, that'd be nothing short of miserable. We also wouldn't want to leave the kids with a babysitter if they were sick, so we're holding our breath right now that what he has will be gone by then and that nobody else catches it.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Tough Day of Gardening

Today we actually had the calendar mostly clear so we actually scheduled to do gardening. Yes, we actually have to schedule time to do this sort of thing. So, after my daughter's early morning soccer game (to which we were late ... we had a slow morning ... but she scored 4 goals! but only after she stopped doing a touchdown dance every time she touched the ball ... funny girl), we headed off to Home Depot to go buy some plants and some bark chips for ground cover.

Coming home, the weather was pretty good -- warm with a good breeze. I spent an hour edging, the last time I expect to do that this year. I gave the grass a close shave by the walls and flower beds (my wife hates that, by the way, but I think it looks good), and then mowed the lawn for the first time in weeks. It needed it badly, as parts of the grass are going brown because the sprinklers haven't been able to water in those areas due to the tall grass. I love my lawn, so that just hurts ... but life's been too crazy lately to do anything more.

Then we had lunch and then we started into the garden area. The entire south side of my house is given over to a garden, and living in Southern California like we do, we can actually have a summer crop and a winter crop. It's still a somewhat foreign concept to me -- having grown up in Utah where the farmers take the winter off, it's weird being able to have a whole other planting season.

We had the two older children help us move rocks, turn the soil, break up chunks of clay-filled dirt, and move up-rooted weeds. I did most of the heavy lifting while turning the soil, and my wife did most of the work with regards to breaking up the dirt, but the kids did contribute as much as could be expected -- it's always a good lesson for them. We could easily get gardeners to take care of our yard for us, but I want my children to learn the binary lesson of care and neglect.

We added "Amend" to the soil; it's a yearly ritual as our dirt around our house is awful and we're trying to make something good out of it. We also put rocks around the garden area to designate "keep-out-zones" for walking in the garden. The kids always love lining up the rocks around the perimeter of the garden, and they do a good job of it.

After leveling the dirt, I took the hoe and made little ditches for the seeds. My oldest son helped me put the seeds down. This winter, we're planting peas, carrots, and beets. We typically plant the first two vegetables, and the third is something we tried last year for the first time with little, but delightful, success. We look forward to a better crop this year.

Planting the seeds for the carrots is always a pain in the neck, though. The seeds are so tiny, and even though the instructions said to leave 4 inches between each seed, I think I got it backwards and put something like 4 seeds in each inch. We'll have to thin them when they start coming up ...

After the garden was finished, my wife also planted some other flowers around the back yard. She's not really happy with the yard right now, so she'll probably be working for several weeks tweaking, replacing, and moving plants until she's satisfied. The results of her finicky gardening is always pleasant, though, so I just mostly stay out of the way and dig holes for her when she asks me to.

We then headed to the front yard where we had several more plants to put in. Our flower bed in front of the house had largely gone to weed, so we spent a little time gutting that then planting a few new experimental plants. I also put down some bark as ground cover to manage the weeds and to keep the moisture in to the soil. One of our trees in that flower bed isn't doing so well -- we need to baby it a little through the "winter." There's still other work to be done there, but we made a lot of progress.

Anyway, it's been a really long day. I'm very tired, but content with the day's work. Any day I get to rip plants out, put down bark, and dig holes (I like it and it's a special talent of mine, okay!) that my wife fills in with pretty plants is always satisfying to me because the results are always so good to look at.

I'll have to do that sometime when the calendar is clear again ...

Friday, November 2, 2007

Huh

I, uh, don't really have anything to say tonight.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween

Okay, so I'm a nerd. Worse, I'm an engineer. And as an engineer, I'm fascinated by statistics, and keep them on all sorts of things. My wife laughs at me all the time that I actually track in an Excel spreadsheet the gas mileage of my "new" (2004) Honda Civic, including average miles driven per day (there is a correlation!).

Anyway, so last night I thought it would be fun to keep track of how many trick-or-treaters came to our house and what they were wearing. What I found was that the most popular costume for young girls was either a princess or a fairy costume. For young boys it's generally a superhero or other themed costume. For teenagers, I noticed that they take the minimalist approach and just come with scruffy clothes that may or may not be torn with a touch of gray or red makeup on their faces.

Here's a chart that outlines the number of people who came to the door in each of ten minute increments. You can see that the average peak (the black line is a parabolic curve fit to the data) was somewhere around 7:30, but we had surges both earlier and later. We had a total of 121 trick-or-treaters come to the door, with probably an equal number of parents and friends of parents who stood back. It was quite busy!

The full list is here. Sometimes we just couldn't keep up with all the costumes, so we just enumerated the number of people who raised their bags before us. (Okay, I'll be honest -- I did most of the tallying while my wife was taking our two older children around the neighborhood ... and they came home with way too much candy!)

6:15 - clown, cowboy
6:30 - Woody, tiger
6:35 - clown
6:55 - Spiderman, Princess Leia, 3 teenagers
7:00 - witch, 2 princesses, 3 teenagers
7:02 - girl army dude, gangster
7:05 - 8
7:10 - 11
7:20 - soldier girl
7:24 - guy with Afro hair, skeleton
7:27 - Supergirl, sports fan, ballerina
7:28 - princess, ghoul
7:29 - Batman
7:30 - Darth Vader, princess, fairy, 2 others
7:34 - witch, fireman, Supergirl, Buzz Lightyear, 2 others
7:38 - 11
7:40 - 6 scruffy teenagers
7:41 - bumblebee, Donald Duck
7:45 - 3 teenagers, 1 princess, 2 others
7:46 - 2 princesses, 1 other, 2 adults who traded me a business card (for house cleaning services) for the candy
7:56 - Venom, bumblebee, dancer, hockey victim
8:02 - pirate, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, soccer victim
8:15 - 2 teenagers
8:16 - 2 witches, ghoul, dead guy
8:17 - mouse
8:19 - 11
8:37 - dinosaur, Batman, Venom
8:38 - 4 teenage girls

All in all, it was a really fun evening. The kids had a great time, stayed up late, and went to bed exhausted, with dreams of consuming mass amounts of sugar in their heads. School is wisely cancelled today, so I have no doubt they will consume far too much candy and make themselves sick today ... it will be a good lesson!

Happy Halloween!

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