luscious_purple: Star Wars Against Hate (Star Wars Against Hate)
Reading this article made me quite sad.

I am still writing up my account of the partial solar eclipse (partial where I live) for my professional blog.

The boy toy and I are planning to go to Harpers Ferry tomorrow. I haven't been to that historic town in a number of years. It's having a "bread festival" this weekend.

Speaking of history ... today would have been Leonard Bernstein's 99th birthday. Tomorrow will be Katherine Johnson's 99th birthday.
luscious_purple: Star Wars Against Hate (Star Wars Against Hate)
... of the Apollo 11 launch!

More later, maybe.
luscious_purple: i'm in ur fizx lab, testin ur string therry (string therry)
My longtime friend Mike T. belongs to this group called the National Air & Space Society, which is like the Smithsonian Associates, only focused on the one museum. Sometimes he gets tickets to interesting lectures: Jim Lovell, John Young, Alan Bean, and a few others.

In May 2012, he got tickets to the overflow seating area for the Charles A. Lindbergh Memorial Lecture, which is an annual series of talks focused on aviation (and usually military aviation and/or flight test, as far as I can tell). This time, though, the speaker was going to be none other than John Glenn. Yes, he was going to be talking about Navy aviation and Marine Corps aviation, but still ... John Glenn!

So, three of us got together for the momentous occasion, and Helen even took a selfie of us:

photo from John Glenn night NASM 2012

We were seated on rows of chairs out in the main hall of the downtown Air & Space Museum. Before entering the Imax theater for the main lecture, Senator Glenn appeared in front of us so that we could at least see him in person. Then we watched and listened to his talk on a large screen. He went on and on about all the different planes he had flown in his lifetime, and there were many of them, as he retained his flying privileges for decades because, hey, John Glenn.

And finally there was a Q&A session. I figured: what the heck, this would be my only chance in this lifetime to ask a question of such a mightily famous person as John Glenn. So I got up, stood in line at the microphone, and managed to calm all my jittery nerves long enough to ask him: "What was the latest model fighter jet that you have flown?"

And he answered: "The F-14, I think."

So, there you have it.

Godspeed, John Glenn.
luscious_purple: Ganked from many people (damn not given)
Wow, barely one post here per week? C'mon, Patty, you CAN do better than that.

Facebook is such a time suck, especially since I want to Read All The Things. Especially the political things. Helps me articulate how much I hate the flaming sack of shit that is the Republican presidential nominee.

I see how some people have figured out how to crosspost from Tumblr to the LJ/DW platform, but I have no plans to do so. These days I look at Tumblr even less often than LJ/DW. Mainly I have a Tumblr account so that I can <3 and repost other people's things that I find interesting.

My Android tablet has been stuck in an "infinite boot loop" for some months now. One of the guys in the Lithuanian dance group saw my mention of the issue on Facebook and pointed me to a website that has some software that can supposedly solve the issue. Technically the software is for the Google Nexus, but my tablet is an Asus-branded clone of a Nexus, so maybe it will work. We shall see.

Forty-seven years ago tonight I was watching the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Well, OK, I dozed off around this time. I was young and wasn't used to staying up so late....
luscious_purple: Paint Branch UU Chalice (Paint Branch Chalice)
It's just after midnight, so that day that was the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster is over now. Of course it weighed heavily on my mind.

I believe I've written about it on LJ in past years. I just said this on FB:

That morning I was between jobs (story of my life) and watching the live coverage on the Manchester (NH) ABC affiliate, which sometimes came in better for me than the Boston station, which wasn't covering the launch anyway. When I realized what had happened, ice went through my veins. Nine months earlier, I had watched a Challenger launch in person from the press area at KSC, and I had decided that Challenger would always be my favorite shuttle. Once the crew was confirmed gone, I felt as if I would never be happy again. RIP.

Other than that, I had a decent day. I talked with my editor about my next feature article. The boy toy and I went to the Riverdale Park farmers' market, which is indoors during the winter. Then I went to water aerobics, which I'd been missing for a bit (can't go swimming when the pool is closed due to Snowzilla).

Tomorrow (or today, since it's after midnight) I'm going to see Bruce Springsteen again at the Verizon Center. Go me! Then on Saturday I am finally going to an SCA event again. I haven't been to a single one since War of the Wings last October.
luscious_purple: Boston STRONG! (Boston Strong)
Last night's news from Paris was certainly horrific. I changed the photo on the top of my Facebook page to an image of an old-fashioned postcard showing the American and French flags with the slogan "They Wave for Liberty." It looks like something printed up for World War I. I got it from a Facebook group called "French Canadian Descendants" (yes, I am in a whole lotta FB groups, just as I joined a bazillion LJ communities back in the day, even though almost all of them are dead now).

Today I got away from the sad news for a while and did something I've been wanting to do for more than a month: the boy toy and I went to see The Martian at our local multiplex. What a wonderful movie! Not only was it the kind of hard SF I like the best, but it was just so refreshing to watch a science fiction movie that was all about problem-solving instead of blowing up and shooting up "the others." Awesome!!! Now, of course, I really want to read the original book. (I also have a lot of respect for how the author, Andy Weir, crowdsourced the science while he was writing the book. Gotta think about how to do something like that in other contexts.)

(And, of course, I do have a few nits to pick about the plot, but in general it was one of the most "realistic" SF movies I've seen. And I've seen some awful stuff -- see, for example, Spacecamp. Bleah!)

Tonight I munched on homemade popcorn (the movie-theater stuff is way too expensive) while watching an hour-long YouTube video of Andy Weir, Adam Savage, and Chris Hadfield talking about The Martian. Now I'm listening to the Democratic debate while the boy toy watches Doctor Who in the other room. I'm following two live blogging/tweeting websites: Media Nation and Slate. Certainly Bernie Sanders is firing off some zingers....
luscious_purple: i'm in ur fizx lab, testin ur string therry (string therry)
Today was full of science in ways both big and small.

This year I was asked to make my homemade creamed corn gluten-free because of a couple of guests who can't have gluten. Yesterday I posted on Facebook about this and got various suggestions. The only thing I needed to replace in the recipe was 1/4 cup of Wondra flour. I ended up using cornstarch because I could find some amid all the disarray in the kitchen area.

While watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (yay, I got to see the UMass Minuteman Band on national TV!), I thought of Comet ISON and its close encounter with the Sun. I was lucky enough to find the NASA Google+ Hangout devoted to the Sun-grazing. I'm not sure the comet survived, and scientists aren't either, but it was certainly interesting to follow along as the creamed corn cooked itself in the crock-pot. (And, of course, I thought of how excited Pedro would have been.)

Finally, even though I've been criticizing the big-box stores for opening on Thanksgiving Day, I raced home from my Thanksgiving at T.H.'s after dessert so I could do a Skype interview with an engineering professor in Melbourne, Australia (which is 16 hours ahead of us right now). Hey, when you're a writer interviewing people all over the planet, you usually have to get them when they are available. So she and I (notice I said "she") had a nice chat about optical wireless communications.

I hope everybody in the U.S. had a great Thanksgiving!
luscious_purple: Paint Branch UU Chalice (Paint Branch Chalice)
Somewhere between Captain Kangaroo and the Partridge Family, I had another idol, one with a boyish smile (even though he was 29 years older than I!) and one who was the first to accomplish something incredible.

I was sky-high with excitement one summer week -- I even took a day off from "work" -- I don't think my feet touched the ground all week. I remember sitting in the half-remodeled living room and watching the blurry B&W images on our color TV. Heck, I still have the wooden rocking chair I sat in that night (it was a housewarming gift to my parents before I was born).

I wanted to meet Neil Armstrong. Well, any astronaut, really, but especially Neil Armstrong. As a painfully shy kid, I had no idea what I would actually say to him, but I just wanted to be in the same room as the man who had accomplished the most stunning feat in history, never mind my short existence.

Since that time, I've moved a long way away from Robert Goddard's home county, I've attended lectures by various U.S. astronauts and one cosmonaut (who looked eerily like John Glenn), and I got to see a live space shuttle launch in 1985. I own books signed by Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and a few months ago I got to ask John Glenn a question following his talk on naval aviation at the Air & Space Museum.

But now I know I'll never get to meet Neil Armstrong.

One of my college (and, now, Facebook) friends expressed things much better than I could. Rest in peace, quiet hero.
luscious_purple: Baby blasting milk carton with death-ray vision (death-ray baby)
When I was a kid, my dreams of the future didn't include a computer in my home, or a box that would give me directions for a road trip, or a phone that I could answer from Hawaii as well as from my East Coast state beginning with the letter M.

Nope, I fully expected that the future would be filled with fabulous American space journeys. Yeah, we made a quick dash to the Moon all right, but that was like the earliest explorers in the 1500s. Next would come the Jamestowns and Plymouths of space: orbiting platforms where groups of Earthlings would live and tool up to set sail for Mars and the asteroids and wherever else. Now, I never did figure out where I personally would be in all that -- I didn't see any women involved in the U.S. space program, and, I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't have the imagination to see myself as a spacefarer. I just assumed that my country would continue to soar into the heavens.

That gap in the 1970s? That was OK, we had Skylab and we were getting the shuttle ready. We were still making plans to go somewhere. Then the shuttle program started. I sweated bullets the first few times I watched a live landing on TV, because it was so different from a splashdown, but then I got used to it.

Trouble is, we all got used to it until something went wrong, as the Challenger disaster showed. And by that time, our society was pulling back, becoming more risk-averse with every passing year. Don't do anything that might get you killed. Don't spill hot coffee -- you might burn the navel you're gazing at.

For several years I belonged to a space-advocacy (space-enthusiast?) group that was first called Boston L5, then the Boston chapter of the National Space Society. We met monthly in a room at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab -- supposedly we had permission from the legendary Marvin Minsky himself to use that space, though I don't recall ever seeing him at our meetings.

Through those gatherings I learned a lot of stuff and met a lot of good people, some of whom are still my friends today. But I drifted away from the "space movement" once I moved to Maryland 19 years ago. Partly that was because I was just too damned busy to get involved in another group, and partly because I was hanging out with an astronomy-department crowd that, by and large, hated the space shuttle (and I didn't really feel like arguing with them, even after the first successful Hubble repair mission).

But I was also starting to feel a very large feeling of "been there, done that, got the T-shirt." I heard SO darn many space station plans and proposed configurations and blah blah blah that when NASA finally did start lifting segments of the ISS into orbit, I had no clue what the final product was supposed to look like. And then after 9/11 the country made a massive turn inward once again and there was endless jawing about what should follow the space shuttle, and where we should go after low Earth orbit.

And there is just NO consensus and NO societal will to do anything.

Somebody makes a plan for human space flight and a few years later it gets scuttled. What's the latest plan for a reusable capsule? Do you ever expect it to fly? Some people say we could get to Mars or an asteroid in 20 or 25 years. That's what people were saying FORTY years ago.

I no longer expect to see the "next big step" in human spaceflight in my lifetime. (President Obama claims that he expects to see it, but I doubt he will either -- he's not THAT much younger than I am.) In fact, I fully expect that the next humans to visit the Moon or Mars will come either from China or from some consortium of nations with considerably less personal freedom than America. I hate to say it, but maybe it *does* take at least a mild autocracy to steer such an ambitious, expensive, never-done-before program through the inevitable technical and financial shoals.

When I was a grad-school teaching assistant, my Astro 101 students would inevitably whine about "how hard" the homework was. And at least once a semester, I would inevitably whine back at them: "Look, everything that's worth doing is hard! Curing cancer is hard! Ending hunger is hard! World peace is hard! That's life -- get used to it!" And then I would get lousy end-of-semester evaluations with comments like, "We are students, not scientists."

Look, no offense meant to all the great scientists of the past -- Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Lister, Mendel, Mendeleev, Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, Bohr, Curie, to name just a few -- but in all the branches of science, humans have already picked the low-hanging fruit. More scientific discoveries remain, to be sure, but we have to work harder and harder to discover them, because they're nowhere near as easy as, say, rolling balls down inclined planes or studying the innards of a frog. And that work costs money -- more people, more computing horsepower, and much more powerful instruments.

JFK said: "We go to the Moon in this decade and do these other things [that he listed in his Rice University speech] not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

And now Republicans in the U.S. House want to cut the James Webb Space Telescope program because it's costing more than originally anticipated. *headdesk* This seems to be the final blow to any notion that we as a society have any attention span at all beyond the next tax cut, video game or app release.
luscious_purple: i'm in ur fizx lab, testin ur string therry (string therry)
The International Space Station and the space shuttle Discovery practically passed overhead this evening, according to this website via the University of Maryland Observatory.

I walked to the other end of my condo building, where there was a "puddle" of relative darkness between the stupid security lights. I got myself oriented (not difficult, as I live in a south-facing condo), and, sure enough, in a few minutes I saw a *very* bright space station moving across the sky. Another bright dot, a tad yellower, followed maybe 25 seconds behind in the same orbit (the predictions had been for about 15 seconds of spacing between the two). I watched them until they faded out as they crossed into the shadow of the Earth.

Hail to all the space travelers!

And, oh yeah, Happy 100th International Women's Day! "Women hold up half the sky...."
luscious_purple: Paint Branch UU Chalice (Paint Branch Chalice)
Actually, I told the story of that day in 1986 in this entry from 2006. If you didn't know me back then, please feel free to check it out and learn why I had considered Challenger my favorite space shuttle up to that day.

Last night I didn't sleep all that well at the church. Partly that was because my sleepover buddy in the church kitchen, a 70-year-old guy with various health issues, woke up every time I started to snore and he yelled at me, "Pat, wake up!" Then I woke up and would toss and turn while he slept for a bit. In addition, I never sleep very well the first night I'm in a strange place. Lastly, I could have used a bit more padding between me and the cot (other than the sleeping bag). If I do get a cot for SCA camping, I'll need to get either a thin self-inflating air mattress or an egg-crate foam pad.

This evening, and tomorrow during the day, we're having our mid-year Board of Trustees retreat. Tonight was the social potluck dinner, and tomorrow we will have the more structured discussions. Between this and Warm (K)Nights, it's certainly been a church-oriented week. I'm tired and I'm going to hit the hay soon.
luscious_purple: Star Wars Against Hate (Default)
Congrats to my grad-school adviser, Mike A'Hearn, and his EPOXI team for another spectacular close encounter with a comet!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/05/science/space/05comet.html
luscious_purple: Star Wars Against Hate (Default)
One cool thing that I found on Facebook: Reanalysis of the Apollo 13 trajectory data indicates that the spacecraft, had it missed its successful landing 40 years ago next month, might NOT have gone out to wander through outer space forever and ever. (Link is to a YouTube video narrated by Andrew Chaikin, author of A Man on the Moon.)

Another neat thing, courtesy of a blog called Greater Greater Washington: The Census Bureau has an interactive map that shows how many households in your county have returned their Census 2010 forms so far. (Another thing I need to do this weekend.)

Finally, CommonDreams.org forwards an article by The Nation on the Cloward-Piven conspiracy theory, about which I have never before heard, even though I took a class taught by Frances Fox Piven back when rocks were soft. (But then, the only people who seem to use that phrase are people who despise her, so maybe I shouldn't be too surprised.)

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