Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stop Helping Already!

It seems that every time somebody in Washington, D.C. opens his mouth to even sneeze a thought about how to help the economy, the stock market takes a dive. Why is this?! Every kind act, every bailout, every new government-sponsored policy seems to be met by "the market" with skepticism, worry, and doubt, so much so that the market always seems to decline immediately thereafter. In fact, yesterday's big climb was reportedly directly related to the fact that Ben Bernanke (the Chairman of the Federal Reserve) specifically told us what the government wouldn't do to "help" us (nationalize banks). So, it seems the best answer to fix the economy doesn't seem to lie in big government spending, or new programs, or additional oversight ... the best fix that I think Washington could provide to the U.S. economy is ... drum roll please ... to: stop helping!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lost a Spacecraft

This morning, we lost OCO. It was a JPL-managed mission that was launching on a Taurus built by Orbital Sciences. The payload fairing failed to separate, and the rocket didn't have enough thrust to make orbit with it still attached. It went into the ocean down near Antarctica. Sad news. There is a somber mood here at work today as people on the floor above mine now contemplate the near-term. Tough break.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Historic Day

It's a historic day. I hope we don't have too many more of these ... let's party like it's, um, 1997! People don't use the term "crash" very lightly in the financial world, but it is certainly looking like one. Maybe we need a new term, like, what, a clatter? A smashdown? Maybe a wham?

Friday, February 20, 2009


Last night I finished a seven-week course that trained me to know what to do in the event of a disaster. It was a pretty good course, called "CERT", which stands for Community Emergency Response Team. It was put together by the Los Angeles Fire Department, and you can check out their webpage for more information.

Last night we had our final "graduation" exercise. We went to a local junior high school and there was a large room with people pretending to be hurt in the aftermath of an middle-sized earthquake. The others in my class and I (about 30 of us), were to size up the situation and figure out how best to respond. Me and a good friend of mine who took the class with me were assigned to be on fire suppression duty by the "incident commander". We circled the building and checked for fires or structural damage, and also shut off the gas and electricity (not really, though) to keep fires from starting.

Afterward, we were assigned to go inside the building where people were laying around, crying and sobbing and screaming. Some were walking around asking for help either for themselves or for somebody else. There were some mothers hysterically wandering around looking for their children. Even though it was an exercise and nobody was really hurt, the environment with all the noise and confusion was pretty darn realistic and had the effect of making you second-guess everything you did.

My wingman and I wandered through the room looking for people to help and tried to assess who was most injured. We had been taught that you should assess the room first, get those who can walk out the door, and then go from person to person figuring out what was wrong with them and assessing the extent of their injuries. Each person in the room had a tag pinned to their shirt that indicated if they were injured, their breathing pattern (fast or slow, a sign of shock), their radial pulse, and their responsiveness to verbal commands. Using this, we were to figure out what to do with them.

As we were moving through the room, lo and behold we found a good friend of ours (whom I didn't know would be there) lying on the ground. He "had" a compound fracture in his leg and told us that he couldn't feel either of his legs. Right as my wingman and I were trying to stabilize him, the course instructor came in and said there was an ongoing aftershock and the building was now moderately damaged. What should we do? Save ourselves, of course! My wingman and I ("Never, ever leave your wingman.") made for the door, leaving our good friend behind.

Now, this sounds heartless. We moved out mostly because we had been told to as part of the class. In hindsight, I felt terrible about it, and in reality, I most definitely would not have left my good friend behind, but would have dragged his sorry butt out the door with me. My class instructor, however, said that leaving him behind was exactly what we should have done because if we hadn't, we could have added ourselves to the list of injured people.

As it were, we "found" the building still standing, and my wingman and I went in and hauled him out. (Incidentally, I also discovered that I have the strength to haul somebody bigger than me to their feet ... who knew?!) All was well. Interestingly, we later found out that in the course of the night he had been left lying on the floor three times before we finally carried him out.

Was that bad? You bet, but in the midst of a real emergency, the rescuers can only do the best they can. The whole experience was a really good one and made me think. We can take classes like this (and I recommend all of You, My Loyal Readers, do, all two of you!) to help us know what to do in these kinds of situations, but when you get right down to it, training is only as good as the level-headedness you keep in the midst of such an event. Sobering as it is, simply saving yourself is okay if that is all you can do.

He is my friend, though, and I know in real life I most likely would have tried to save him and may have died trying. Curious, though, how even though I did the "right" thing in the exercise by leaving him the first time, that little bit of guilt still sticks in the back of my head. Had it been real, would I have been able to leave him if it were the wiser thing to do? And if so, would I be able to deal with the "survivors guilt" if he didn't make it? Tough questions.

Would you have left him behind?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Dog House

My oldest son slammed his door shut on me, which he knows I really don't like. I spent 10 seconds glaring at him with a red face then walked away shaking my head (no shouting! wa hoo!). My youngest son was in the bathroom and he asked me what was wrong.

"Nothing. Your brother's in the dog house, that's all."

"What dog house?" he asks.

"Not an actual dog house. He's just in trouble."

"What kind of dog house?" he persists.

"Its not a real dog house!" I say. "It means he's in trouble."

"Oh," he says, clearly not understanding.

You know, we really do have a lot of strange expressions in the English language. It's amazing that any child learns to speak ... a miracle of the finest sort. Kids are awesome.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Car Fanatic

My youngest son is a car fanatic. He always has been. Ever since he was little(r), he's been obsessed with anything with wheels. This includes trains, airplanes, space shuttles, wheelbarrows, and, yes, even wheelchairs. There's just something about the fact that it turns and it moves that absolutely fascinates him. During church, we can give him a toy car and he's delighted for the whole hour. It's amazing.

Well, yesterday, of course, was the Big Day in the racing world. The Daytona 500 was on, and while my family is not exactly full of NASCAR fans (okay, we're not really fans of any kind of sport), I remember as a kid that my own father would regularly put on the auto races on Sunday afternoons. In hindsight, I don't remember him actually watching it with me, but I remember watching it and loving every minute of it. Sitting at the foot of my parents bed with a bowl of popcorn watching the cars go round and round was fascinating. I don't even remember anybody else watching it with me, so maybe they actually left the house and it was just cheap babysitting ...

Anyway, so yesterday after church I turned on the race after lunch was on the table. My youngest, of course, was immediately sucked in. He literally jumped off his chair, went over the television, and stood about four feet away from the big screen TV. His jaw slack, his arms limp at his sides, he was completely absorbed in what was on the screen. I reminded him to come back and eat his lunch (pizza, for Pete's sake!), and he would come back to the table, get in his chair, and then get off his chair and return to the television, all without his eyes leaving it. I'm not even sure he blinked. This happened several times before I finally moved his plate to a place where he could still see the TV, moved all obstructions, and literally put his hand on the pizza so he would know it was there. It was hilarious.

The race ended prematurely due to rain, so it was sort of a let-down in that regards, but there were many accidents (nobody was hurt, thankfully) which always spices things up. The kids loved it. They watched every minute of the race, and my oldest even commented on how it was so strange that the commercials were all related to racing in one way or another (gee, imagine that!). It was a good time. I think this will become a new yearly tradition.

Hollywood Awards Season

I've been thinking about this for a long time, and it occurs to me that I am way out of the popular culture. This time of year, we are inundated with movie award shows that seem to honor films that are: 1) obscure or "artsy" or 2) favorites of the liberal elite. Oftentimes both. What's more, it seems that I very rarely actually see any of the films that are in the running. I got a little curious about this, so I went to look up the nominees for the awards shows that came to mind, and this is what I came up with:

Academy Awards/Oscars: Best Picture
-- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
-- Frost/Nixon
-- Milk
-- The Reader
-- Slumdog Millionaire

Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture - Drama
-- The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
-- Frost/Nixon
-- The Reader
-- Revolutionary Road
-- Slumdog Millionaire (winner)

Screen Actors Guild Awards: Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
-- The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (winner)
-- Doubt
-- Frost/Nixon
-- Milk
-- Slumdog Millionaiore

People's Choice Awards: Favorite Movie
-- The Dark Knight (winner)
+- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
x- Iron Man

MTV Movie Awards: Best Movie (held early summer 2008)
x- I Am Legend
-- Juno
x- National Treasure: Book of Secrets
x- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
-- Superbad
+- Transformers (winner)

Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards (held in March of 2008)
-- Alvin and the Chipmunks (winner)
+- Transformers
-- Are We Done Yet?
x- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

These are the awards shows that just came to mind. Look at the ones that have the pluses or the exes. These are the ones I've actually seen in either the theater (+) or on DVD at home (x). Clearly I don't get out much, but what I also noticed is that of the most prestigious awards (Oscars, Golden Globe, SAG) I don't really see those kinds of movies. Typically, they are morally questionable films and rated R, so I don't even bother. Strangely enough, percentage-wise I saw more of the movies competing in the MTV movie awards than in any of the others. Go figure ... MTV! Truly shocking.

The other thing I have to comment about is that as far as the Kids' Choice Awards, it seems quite inappropriate for Transformers and Pirates to be on that list, as they're both PG-13 movies ...

Anyway, if you need your fill of awards shows for movies, wikipedia has a quite comprehensive list of awards. Truly the film industry is very much self-congratulatory. In my opinion, they don't have much to be congratulating themselves about, as the "big" movies that win these awards use sex and violence as crutches in their story-telling.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Spousal Appreciation and Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is coming! It's two days away! Did you know that? If you have ears to hear and eyes to see, of course you did.

In the news they've been talking about how Valentine's Day is a completely trumped up holiday, where businesses have found a reason for people to spend money between Christmas and Easter. It has no religious connotation and no cultural significance.

As I've said in this space before, any gift-giving holiday is an excruciating thing for me as I have difficulty thinking of good gifts, particularly for my most-loved ones. So it is that I'd be perfectly happy letting Valentine's Day go by with just a nod of recognition, but I know what is best for me, and that is not it. (At the very least, on the other hand, it is nice to have an excuse to go out on a date with my wife.)

Last Sunday, during stake conference, we had a new stake presidency installed. One of the speakers outlined the interview process when he was asked to take on a church leadership role. He basically went in with his good wife, and the person conducting the interview essentially asked how his day was then proceeded to kindly grill his wife about how well he, as her husband, was doing in his husbandly and fatherly duties, and what good things he does to keep their family. One thing he said that sticks with me is that it occurred to him afterward that his wife loves him enough to give him time to improve.

I've been pondering that statement a lot, as it has many meanings, and I think similarly of my wife.

I couldn't resist, though, asking my wife how she would have responded in a similar situation, and she told me that she would have told the interviewer that I'm patient with her. Asking for clarification, she told me some of her quirks that I find endearing or for which I think nothing less of her. Truth be told, I think I was fishing for a compliment, and ... well ... didn't really get one like I expected.

Nevertheless, I wanted to reciprocate the question a little bit, and record for all time some of the good things that my good wife does to keep our family. Just in time for Valentine's Day, here's a list of twenty things, in no particular order, that my wife does that are wifely and motherly that I really appreciate:

-- 1) She cooks for our family. All the time. Seriously, it's like pulling teeth to get her to go out to eat because ever since we started the whole Weight Watchers thing she's learned to love to cook. The best I can do to actually cook for myself is make a mean bowl of cereal.
-- 2) She tells me not to yell at the kids. Important.
-- 3) She loves to read. This is a great example for our children, each of whom, honestly, has turned into book worms. This is a good thing, I believe, and it's primarily because she is always reading some book or magazine.
-- 4) She is an excellent chauffeur. The kids gotta get around, ya know?
-- 5) She is a volunteer. For all sorts of things. I think she suffers a little from "good Mormon wife" syndrome in that she can't say no to any good service opportunity; I occasionally have to remind her to keep life in balance.
-- 6) Anything she touches turns to gold. Well, not literally, but you get my meaning. She is the kind of person who is dedicated, wise, and hard-working; and anything she tries her hand at succeeds.
-- 7) She works with the kids in everything they do. I'm really not that great of a father when it comes to helping the kids get their homework done, and I, frankly, absolutely detest art projects of any kind. She not only does both of these, but she teaches them piano lessons (off and on), helps with Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts, helps the kids get church talks prepared, and makes sure their science projects, book reports, and myriad of other projects get done on time.
-- 8) She cries at all the right things. It frustrates her how her emotions can come so readily to the surface, but she reminds me of the tender things in life (I'm very good at remaining emotionally aloof), and sets a great example for our children.
-- 9) She gets the kids to church on time, dressed and with their hair done. I'm usually already there for other church meetings, so she does this all on her own. It's amazing.
- 10) She does the dishes about 60% of the time (in a household with three other perfectly capable dish-doers, that's too much ...). I try to do them, and I think I do all right given my work and church obligations, but even so she still does far more than her share.
- 11) She appreciates and respects the priesthood of God, and my role as the patriarch of our home. She lets me lead our family as best I can, and isn't shy about counseling me when I'm not doing so well. She encourages me to have regular "interviews" with the kids, allows me to lead family discussions and to call on people for prayers and the like, and asks for priesthood blessings when appropriate. She has a good understanding of the concepts of order and leadership, and appreciates the mantle associated with the callings that others receive in the church to serve. She is truly a woman of faith and devotion.
- 12) I don't really consider myself a good or a patient man and she always encourages me to do better. Critical.
- 13) She organizes our family time. We often (no joke) sit down and actually walk through the calendar day by day for months in advance. Scouts next week? Check! Dentist appointment in three months? Got it! Family vacation for the 4th of July? Check! Conference travel for me in September? I'm there! Some may think this is abnormal, but with a very busy family life, it's one way we stay sane.
- 14) She does most of the mundane chores around the house: folding laundry, cleaning toilets and tubs, vacuuming, organizing rooms. We work on getting the kids to contribute, but invariably when they don't, she's the one who picks up the slack. She's amazing. She does it it all ... mostly without complaint.
- 15) She plans our vacations. She'll go to the library and load up on books and research places to visit and make lists of things to do. Then she'll call and make reservations for activities and hotels. She'll even contemplate souvenirs that we may want to buy when we go. It's incredible. She's my own personal travel agent.
- 16) She is a coupon/sale/free-shipping finder. She is the consumer in our family. You look at all the receipts in my wallet and you'll pretty much just see gas receipts, and receipts from when I was shopping with her. I would never make a major (okay, even a slightly less than minor) purchase without her input. She considers herself something of a "freak" (her word, not mine) for how economical she is, but I'm delighted. I know it aggravates her that I have a more flippant attitude towards money, but she should know that my attitude is only because I know how well she does with our money.
- 17) She sings beautifully. She is always humble about it, and last week I recorded a song she sang with two of her friends, and she kept asking in astonishment, "Was that me?" Yes, honey, that's you. Please sing for me some more!
- 18) She often organizes family home evening. We don't hold it every week, but when we do, nine times out of ten it will be because of her preparation.
- 19) She wants to be with me all the time. I don't know why. Ask her that! The feeling is reciprocated, however, but there's this pesky thing called "work" that gets in the way of us doing that ...
- 20) She is patient with me. (How's that for turn-around?)

So there's my list. I could go on, but I'd probably start listing how beautiful she is, what a joy her smile is, how I love the natural colors of her long and lovely hair, how her lush lips are a delight to kiss, and how I want to be with her every second of every day; but all that would just embarrass her, so I'll stop here.

Truly, I do love my wife.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ack! Space Disaster! The Sky Is Falling!

No, really. I don't mean to be alarmist or anything, but this has the potential to be really bad. Check it out:

U.S., Russian satellites collide in space

The news is noting this as something of interest because it happens so rarely. There's a reason this happens so rarely, people!! We avoid it on purpose! Seriously, space debris is very bad news. Imagine taking two things that are flying hundreds of miles per hour, smacking them together from different directions so that they fall apart into little itty bitty pieces, then having these pieces spread out in separate orbits like so many rifle bullets -- all going hundreds of miles an hour.

What was one incident could turn into thousands (something called an ablation cascade that could ultimately result in the Kessler Syndrome). At the altitude these two spacecraft were flying at, the debris will be in orbit for decades, if not hundreds of years! This is an astrodynamicists worst nightmare ...

Can't people just clean up after themselves?!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Few Things I've Always Wanted To Do

The highly impractical:
-- Hurl really big stuff through the air with a giant trebuchet. You know, like, a car or something.
-- Skydive from low-Earth orbit.
-- Witness an actual nuclear explosion without burning my eyes out and/or dying.
-- Drive a monster truck through Walmart's very full parking lot.
-- Float down the entire length of the Amazon.
-- Climb Olympus Mons and hike the length of the Valles Marineris on Mars.

Okay, let's talk superpowers:
-- Read people's minds at my own discretion.
-- Be invisible when I want to be.
-- Fly like Superman -- you know, just think about moving in a third dimension and actually doing it.
-- Run like the Flash without my clothes getting ripped off by the speed.
-- Walk through walls without falling through floors.
-- Travel back in time to see anything from the past (and change the timeline! or maybe not ...).
-- Okay, with that, I think I need to add: experience divergent timelines -- you know, all the "what ifs" of my life.
-- Safely teleport myself anywhere I want to go -- even to other planets.
-- Be invicible/immortal (until I'm ready to move on, of course).
-- And what good would that be unless I could help other people be the same way (life wouldn't be very good without my dear wife and kids and friends ... and their friends).
-- Use my awesome mind powers to, you know, make people do the right thing.
-- Reverse entropy.
-- Know everything without going nuts.

The comparatively "ho-hum" but more achievable stuff:
-- Visit the Great Wall of China.
-- Climb the Pyramids of Giza (though, really, flying around them would be better).
-- Climb the Mayan ruins.
-- Learn how to fence.
-- Learn how to surf, and ride some really big waves.
-- Have enough money to never worry about it again.

Sadness of Service

My wife has been asked by the stake presidency to lead up this year's stake cultural event. Last year, she had suggested to the presidency that the stake produce a play for everybody's enjoyment. It had been decades since one had been done (we've had road shows, art shows, and the like, but not a play), and she suspected that the suggestion might boomerang back to her. She is the stake music chairwoman, and things like this tend to fall on her lap.

Anyway, when she told me that she had been asked to produce it, as we both expected, I knew it would take her away from home a lot until it was all over. Tonight the auditions start, so she'll be mentally absorbed in this until it's all over in May. She's been planning and scheming and visiting with others who are going to do the directing, the dancing, and the music; and seems excited about the whole process.

I know for a fact that the whole thing is going to go very well. It seems anything my wife puts her heart into works out beautifully, and I am delighted that she can work on this. Even so, I was surprised the other day when she came home and told me that she's a little sad about the whole thing. Why is she sad? Because she can't be in it. This floored me. It never occurred to me that she might want to actually be in the play itself, though in hindsight it makes perfect sense -- she loves to sing, enjoys dancing, and is not afraid of being on stage. I don't know that she's ever done any dramatic acting, but I have no doubt she'd be great.

I feel bad that she can't participate in that way, and have no good words of comfort for her. I know it will be great largely because she isn't in it, and is rather behind the scenes making everything and everybody work together. It's a pity she can't be on stage to take the bow amid all the clapping, but even if she's not, I hope she will never forget that in my mind there is no applause loud enough to express my appreciation of her.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Google "Mars"

I wouldn't be a very good space nerd if I didn't post about this. There is now an overlay to "Google Earth" where you can check Mars out, with lots of the imagery from the spacecraft we've sent there superimposed. It's nothing short of awesome. Check out the news article.

Several years back, right after Google Earth was first released, I emailed the good folks at Google and suggested that they do this very thing. I don't know if I was just one of a million people who made that suggestion, and they never even emailed me back, but it's good to see it finally come to fruition. They also include specific images from the NASA archives, with links to descriptions of the different things to be seen. It's awesome.

Click here to see the full blog.

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