Thursday, January 29, 2009


I usually cruise the news online when I'm eating lunch, and today I found something particularly noteworthy. This is a true public service announcement.

Construction signs warn
of zombies

Seriously. This is important stuff. When you see signs like this, definitely keep your eyes open.

Day of Remembrance

Our new President of these United States sent out the following email to NASA employees:

Message from the President on NASA's Day of Remembrance, Jan. 29, 2009

The arrival of a new year reminds us that life is a journey, one that takes us on many unexpected paths. NASA's role is to pioneer journeys into the unknown for the benefit of humanity. Along the way, we sometimes experience tragedy instead of triumph.

Today, we pause to reflect on those moments in exploration when things did not go as expected and we lost brave pioneers. But what sets us apart as Americans is our willingness to get up again and push the frontiers even further with an even stronger commitment and sense of purpose.

On this Day of Remembrance, we remember the sacrifices of those who dared to dream and gave everything for the cause of exploration. We honor them with our ongoing commitment to excellence and an unwavering determination to continue the journey on the path to the future.

President Barack Obama

I also received the following from the Acting Administrator of NASA:

Message from the Acting Administrator - Day of Remembrance, Jan. 29, 2009

Today we honor the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia crews, and all members of the NASA family who lost their lives in the exploration of space. We honor their commitment as well as the loss to their families and friends.

The last Thursday of each January, NASA's annual Day of Remembrance, obliges us to reflect not only on the sacrifices that have been made by our fallen friends and co-workers, but to also consider what each one of us can do in their honor to assure that NASA achieves its very difficult goals in as safe a manner as humanly possible by recalling and reflecting on our core values of safety, excellence, integrity and teamwork.

Spaceflight represents one of the most difficult endeavors that we as a people can undertake. Just as the rewards are great, so too are the challenges we must overcome to safely reach, operate in, and live in space.
We will not always know what lies ahead of us; as we explore we learn more about the wonders outside of our planet, but also how unforgiving space can be.

While we all recognize these challenges, today is a good day to reflect on how we go about meeting them. We must challenge our assumptions, recognize our risks, and address each difficulty directly and openly so that we can operate more safely and more successfully than we did yesterday, or last month, or last year. We must always strive to be better, and to do better.

It's going to be a busy year for all of us, with missions that carry with them the considerable risk that is a part of our normal business. But they also carry great potential. We each have opportunities -- every day -- to remember through our actions, the courageous men and women who dedicated their lives to public service.

With each mission and every challenge, we build upon their technical achievements, benefit from their discoveries, and tap into their bravery and spirit. I am honored to remember these members of the NASA family, and to work side by side with those in NASA and in our communities, to fulfill the vision of these extraordinary people, of living and working in space.

Christopher J. Scolese
Acting Administrator

Monday, January 26, 2009

On Ugly Girl Scouts

This morning I put out my daughter's paperwork for pre-selling Girl Scout cookies. There's a table in the common area where people put that kind of thing for fundraisers. I think technically we're not supposed to do it, but it's a neighborly thing to do, and it's not like I'm knocking on people's doors asking them to buy these cookies.

Nevertheless, my wife and I always thought it smart for us to put a picture of our daughter with the sign-up list. No joke, here's an exchange that I overheard while I was minding my own business in my cubicle:

"This isn't really fair," one fellow says.

"Why?" asks another.

"Because she's so cute. The cute kids I think probably sell a lot more. I mean, if you have an ugly kid, you're at a distinct disadvantage. Isn't that true?" says the first.

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

I laughed so hard. I think she's absolutely adorable ... we'll see how that translates into cookie sales.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An Eventful Weekend

It's been an eventful weekend. Yesterday I left work a little early and went and bought a new suit more appropriate for my newly diminutive size. It will be ready next Friday. Then I came home and my wife and I went to the theater to see "Phantom of the Opera". I had never seen it in person before (just in movie form), and I thought that it was far better in person. Late night.

Then, this morning I went to a family history fair and learned lots of new stuff. Primarily, though, I learned about the "" site where you can go and check out newly available research material. I also learned about the new "Family Tree" application, an in-progress application that will eventually take the place of the "New" FamilySearch website. They're both pretty cool, and I immediately came home and started dabbling.

While I was away, my family went and bought a hamster. We've been thinking about getting one for a long time, and they finally went and did it. I'm happy with the decision, as he is very cute, but I was very clear that my only responsibilities regarding its care involve two aspects: 1) I will pay for whatever care and material it needs, 2) I will bury it when it's dead. The children laughed but soberly understood that those are the only two things I am committing to do, and if they don't take very good care of it, I'll get to #2 sooner than they want. Kinda morbid, but I laid down the law with humor, and they got the point.

My daughter also has been wandering the neighborhood and calling our friends today to encourage them to purchase Girl Scout cookies. She's done pretty well with the little effort she's put into it. It's remarkable to me that people don't even flinch at spending more than 26 cents per cookie on these things. Crazy.

So far it's been a good weekend, though I'm feeling sleep deprived ...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where Was I?

There's always those things that happen in life when people mark it on a calendar and remember "where was I when ...". Consider Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the resignation of Richard Nixon, the Challenger Disaster, the falling of the Berlin Wall, and 9/11. Now we add a new one: the inauguration of President Barack H. Obama.

Where was I? I was at home, sick with a cold. While I tried to work from home, my mind just couldn't focus too well. However, because I was home, I was able, for the first time in my life, to watch the inauguration as it happened. It was quite a moving experience. I may not politically lean Democrat, and I voted for the other guy (as futile as that was), but even so, this is a great day in the history of our country. I am proud to be an American, and I pray that my new president will have the wisdom commensurate with his position.

Now if I could just get rid of this cough ...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Christmas Decorations Are Stowed

Well, that's that - until next year - and my back hurts, like it does every year. I have a weak back naturally, and so have to be very cautious about picking up or carrying anything heavy. For the most part, I never, under any circumstances, carry my older children. This is particularly vexing to them when I spend some time swinging their younger brother around (who is a good 32 pounds these days). Their whining quickly turns to grumbling when I remind them curtly, "It will hurt my back!"

The problem with the Christmas decorations is that years ago we made the mistake of putting all the decorations into obscenely large moving boxes. These boxes store very well in our garage on the overhead shelves we have dangling from the ceiling. You can probably do the math here, but let me spell it out:

big box + heavy decorations + overhead lifting = sore back

Every year, I think to myself that it would make sense to get smaller boxes so that the decorations would be more easily managed. Then I never do; the big boxes just work so well. We have some large decorations that don't fit well into smaller boxes, and it's nice to keep all the Christmas lights in one place (which makes that box the heaviest ...). Even so, we should probably do something about that, and move all the decorations into smaller boxes. But not this year ... the decorations are already put away, and my back is sore.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Totally Want One of These

Seriously. This is, like, the best invention ever. It's practical, safe, and a technology that combines the best of common-place technologies. If they offer an IPO for this company, I am so in. I could take off driving down the street and land in the arroyo outside of work. Absolutely the best way to get around ... I could skip all the traffic and get straight to work! I love it.

Flying car takes high road to Timbuktu

Friday, January 9, 2009

Moving Offices

I've recently taken a new position at work. Along with the stress of picking up the new work (which is terribly underfunded), I am trying to balance closing out my old work on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project. MRO has treated me very well over the years. I have had a wonderful experience, learned a lot, met and worked with some great people, and accomplished a lot of good things. Needless to say, I'm going to miss it.

But in a way I'm not. I'm kind of sick of meetings not of my own making, and if there's one thing that the MRO project excels at, it's holding meetings.

Change is always a bittersweet thing. On the one hand, staying where you are is comfortable and you know what you're in for. On the other hand, moving on provides new challenges and opportunities, and should ultimately be for your benefit. I'm in that funny transition period right now between having sorrow for what I am losing, and excitement for that which I gain. It's an odd feeling.

In the meantime, things are happening to change my lifestyle at work. I am moving from the 5th floor of my building, where I have a spectacular view to the east (glorious sunrises, squirrels climbing the tall pine trees right outside, views of the morning mist), to the 2nd floor where I will have a spectacular view of ... the cafeteria to the west (um, people eating ...). Not quite a move "up", in my book, but that's how things go sometimes.

My stuff is mostly boxed up. My phone is being moved on Monday (not only do you carry your phone number with you in this place, but your actual phone, too -- I have a dinosaur from 1995 that I really like). My new internet connection is ready for me in the new cubicle. It's now just a matter of actually hauling my stuff downstairs ... but I don't really want to. I like it up here on the 5th floor. Before 2003 when I moved to the 5th floor, I used to have the adjacent cubicle to the one I am moving to, and while it was a happy place, it wasn't as happy of a place as where I am now.

I don't really have much incentive to go. I don't really use my phone, and with a laptop I can work practically anywhere. To make matters worse, I have no compelling need to move. Nobody will be moving into the cubicle I'm vacating for an indefinite amount of time, and people are actually surprised that I'm moving. Some are even a little concerned (how touching!), because I've been with the project so long and carry much of the project memory around in my head; I think there's only a hand full of people who still work on the project that have been with it longer than me ... not even the project manager!

Maybe what I'll do is inhabit both places for a while. I could keep my land-line down there, with my extra monitor, and all my stuff, but just ... sit ... up here on the 5th floor. That way, nobody can find me, my phone won't be ringing, and I could probably get a lot of good work done. Now that's an idea.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Who Paid For You?

My youngest son, my three-year-old, was in the bathtub and was looking around at all the things around him. He pointed to the jet outlets in the tub and asked if I paid for them. I told him I did. Then he asked if I paid for the tub itself, and I again answered that I did. He then proceeded to ask about the water, the lights, the counters, and the door. I finally told him that pretty much everything he sees I paid for.

"That's why I work," I told him, "to pay for stuff."

Then he surprised me and asked, "Even you?"

I smiled, and answered, "No, but somebody did. Do you know who?"

"No," came his reply.

"Jesus paid for me," I said, "so that I can go back to live in Heaven."

His face lit up with a big beaming smile and said, "Jesus paid for me, too!"

"Yes, he did," I replied.

Sometimes kids just know stuff, you know?

On New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions are something I don't really understand. Every year, people of all walks of life consider ways that they would like to improve themselves in the year to come and then set goals on how to do so. Personally, I am not much of a resolution maker, and I don't quite understand why making resolutions at this time of year is significant. For me, a resolution is something that you can make at any time. It does not need an arbitrary calendar date on which to begin.

Sure, it may make people feel good to have a time at which to start something, but why at the New Year? After all, the New Year really is just a point in time at which the Earth is at a particular place in it's orbit. There's some exact scientific measurement for where Earth is at the exact time of the New Year boundary, but it isn't like we as the travelers on this massive body we call Earth really pay much attention to it. We're far more tied up with the rising and the setting of the sun, the changing of the seasons, and, honestly, how often we have to go to the bathroom. Even our calendar doesn't get it right, as evidenced by the concept of a "leap year", and, most recently, the "leap second" that we just experienced.

So, why at the New Year? Why not at the summer solstice or the first day of spring? Those days, to me, seem like more reasonable times to "start anew". Or how about at some other culturally significant time, like Easter or Halloween or Groundhog Day? Seriously, all this hullabaloo about making resolutions this time of year gets terribly wearying. We've got news articles coming out our ears that talk about how to be successful in your resolutions to lose weight, get out of debt, find your soul mate, be happier in your life, and to clean out your closet.

For me, any time is a good time to make a resolution. The tricky part is to see it through; making them is easy, keeping them is the hard part. For me, I just don't need to make them at the New Year. I never have, and I don't think I ever will. When I find something that I need to improve in my life (and believe me, it happens far too often ...), I don't wait for the New Year to do something about it. I make my resolution now, and I work on it now. And when I finally break my resolutions, as I inevitably do, it happens at just about the same number of days from when I make the resolution as most people who do it on January 1st.

This means that I usually get, oh, about 9 days out of it. So, rather than actively planning to make January 10th a bad day, I like to spread it out over the course of the year. That way I can keep those days of bliss (or misery) between the making of the resolution and the breaking of the resolution nicely spaced out throughout the year. This serves to reduce my stress level after the Holidays, because all my resolutions don't come crashing down at the same time. It's great, and it works really well for me.

So, next time you think about making a New Year's Resolution, think again! You should make it when you think of it, and spread out the joy and misery of breaking it throughout the year! These are good words to live by.

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