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Cher, Noble

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The 30th anniversary of the nuclear disaster at the Vladimir Lenin (a.k.a Chernobyl) nuclear power station is here, and I could not be more excited.

Wut?

There are several things that I really love to experience.  A new Calvin and Hobbes, a new beer, a new Rush song, and the anniversary of major events.  There are only three new Calvin and Hobbes comics I have not read, and Rush may or may not release a new album; however, anniversaries and new beers abound.

What I love is to see the change in the current understanding of a historical event.  This started when I was studying the Apollo moon landings.  We all know that the public universally lauded NASA for their efforts, and the country (if not the world) was fully behind these heroes.  (Fermat blog pro tip: this is a setup for another post).  We kicked the Russians in their red arse and proved that Americans are the dominate species.

Chernobyl  is now reaching that magic age of 30 where all the young people were not around to experience it, so all they can do is put today’s spin on yesterday’s events.  We will inevitably view a 30 year old event with today’s context and decide that someone else is responsible.  I’m not saying this is right or wrong, good or bad.  It is just what the dominate species does.

Growing up in the 80s the threat of the Soviet beast was very real.  I can still conjure up the abject terror I felt knowing that nuclear bombs may rain down on my house.  My mother assured me that our proximity of three Air Force bases meant that we’d all die instantly and not to worry about.

Seriously, that was her advice.

I am sure there was a little boy deep in Mother Russia who felt the same.  Chernobyl was constructed to ensure that the USSR would be secure against Western aggression.  The disaster was caused by a safety test (right?) that went all wrong.  The idea of the test was to see if the turbines could generate enough electricity to keep the water pumps on the core active if there was a disruption in delicate balance between the core and the generators (it is actually much more complex, but explaining is hard, and hard things are hard).

The Israelis destroyed a nuclear power plant in Iraq.  A plant designed by those evil commies.  If that could happen in Iraq, could it happen to them?  The test was partially to ensure that an attack on the plant would not cripple it.  Irony.  It’s not just a river in Egypt.

Because of the closed Soviet state, it is not surprising that the world is mostly not aware of the full sacrifice of the citizens of the USSR to ensure that Chernobyl did not render Western Europe uninhabitable.  The Reds threw a half a million men at the destroyed reactor to ensure that the disaster was contained and that it would not do any more damage.  Thousands of unrecognized heroes died so the full impact of their error did not crush the world.  I’m not a big fan of blindly following authority, but in this case the dedication of the citizens of the USSR prevented the desecration of several rivers and the water table beneath the plant.  This was the battle of Chernobyl.

The BBC covered the disaster in a show called Surviving Disaster.  This episode is told from the point of view Valeri Legasov, the man selected to investigate the disaster and present the finds to the world in a conference later that year.  In this show he has a line that sums up the Soviet spirit: ‘I don’t believe there are even a handful of nations in this world that could still produce such unquestioned sacrifice.’  Chernobyl claimed his life.  You can find the video here.  Please set aside some time for a morose hour of entertainment.

In the end, the USSR willing threw hundreds of thousands lives at the reactor because they knew that if they did not, they would die and take the world with them.

We still feel the effects of that night, and we will for eternity.  The most toxic parts of the plant will remain unapproachable for an eon.  But what is amazing is that life flourishes in the exclusion zone.  Without the interference of humans, nature has taken her land back.  The wildlife has adapted much more than this dominate species ever could.

In an effort to contain the radiation, the Soviets constructed a sarcophagus around the stricken reactor.  It was designed to last for 30 years.  There a new safe containment building going up and it should be in place soon.  This structure is designed to keep the site safe for a century.  After that, who knows what will go up.

If all this was depressing, I recommend a quick jaunt to this post.

And so it goes.

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I am The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything

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photo

 

Tomorrow I turn 42 and I wanted to share some thoughts from this past year.

The two biggest events this year were that we are getting ready to welcome our seventh child and my grandmother passed away.

My grandmother was a force. She was the quintessential matriarch and almost everyone gave way to her. Like most people forged in the era of the Great Depression, she worked very hard and had a great appreciation for family.  She always seemed happy, except when she was upset about something.  That happened a lot actually, though it was usually short lived.

She had an affinity for dyeing her hair and it was only in her twilight that she stop doing so.  The picture I had originally wanted to show was similar to the one above, but with a kids birthday crown and her attempt at a smile.  (Right, she didn’t smile when she was smiling. She could totally smile, but just not when she tried.)  This was a picture from the last time I saw her, and it has superseded most other images of her, so I posted this one.  I’m still going to try and find the birthday picture.

I very rarely saw any kind of emotion from her, save when we went to visit grandpa’s spot in the wall.  All she said, in a broken voice, was, ‘I love you, papa’.

Her second son passed in 2002 and even then I did not see a great change in her, but that was grandma.

Grandma was also my last grandparent.  With her passing comes a macabre realization that my own parents are next in line. The conversation I have with my parents now involve topics of what we will do after they are gone. Those conversations as are not as difficult as I had originally thought they would be, but I still feel unsettled discussing the topic.

My father was born when my grandmother was 18. He commented that his mom had been a part of his life for 72 years.  I really don’t have the context to fully grasp what that is like.  My grandfather passed away in 1991 and I was young enough for it not to have a major impact on me. My maternal grandparents also passed away in the 90s and my memory of them with somewhat abstract.  But not grandma.  She was a force.  And now she is in heaven trying to convince Saint Paul that he is really a Lutheran.

Happily though, there is another family member coming along to help fill the void.  Nature abhors a vacuum.  He doesn’t have a name yet, so we have been calling him, ‘baby what’s-his-face’, or ‘baby sierra three-five’.  I imagine we will have a name in a few weeks.

I can’t help but wonder if this kid will inherit grandma’s spirit, a-la Avatar.  That would be an interesting ride.

And so it goes.

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Life After Death

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Photo: Drinking it warm, of course...

 

Back in the day, my buddies and I had a tradition where we would drink a warm Dead Guy each year to prove our manliness.  I remember it being a vile task.  Yesterday, I was at Booze R Us getting beer flavored water for the MIL and I saw a single of the Dead Guy.  I thought that I would get some to see if it still tasted as horrid as it did before.

Before I get to the outcome of my experience, let me give you some history.

The year was 1990 and it was a tumultuous time for our nation. The clear beverage craze gave us all a reason to live. The information superhighway showed the average person what some nerd thinks about Star Trek. And the domestication of the dog continued unabated.  This was also the year that a show called Twin Peaks hit the airwaves.

The two most critical plot lines in Twin Peaks was that a high school student was murdered and there was a place called the Bookhouse.  And for the purposes of this post, the Bookhouse is the only critical point.

On February 23, 1990 it was raining and we were thirsty.  My three friends and I all had our Mickey’s Bigmouth malt liquor and we were ready to hit the road.  The quantity of the rain made us stop and think for a moment about driving all the way out to Prarie City to go drinking, which was longer than we were accustomed to stopping and thinking.  The baby of the group said that there was an older couple who lived by him who had an old woodshed and the suggested we ask if we could go there to drink.  He went up to his neighbors and explained our predicament.  The husband said that he would rather we go down there instead of driving all the way too boonies.  He even offered the use of a hibachi to have a small fire and an old oil burning lantern for light.  So we grabbed our beer and headed down.

First we lit the lantern, then the fire.  Finally it was our turn.  For reasons unknown to me, we agreed that we would not leave that night until the lantern ran out of oil.  I think we ended up being down there for at least three or four hours.  We headed home afterwards and that was that.

The next night rolled around and we found ourselves drawn the woodshed.  Over the course of the next four years, we spent two or three nights a week in what became known as the Bookhouse.  We each had our own chair and visitors were seldom welcome.  Every night included several rituals that still remain whenever we get together today.

The first was that each time we went down there, we had to bring two beers that had never entered the book house.  This was 25 years ago and micro breweries were just coming into their own and new beer was hard to come by.  We frequented Cost Plus and out-of-the-way liquor stores.  Often our rovings for new beer took out of Sacramento county, and more than once into different states.  By the time we had our last book house, we had amassed over 300 different kinds of beer in the book house.

At the end, we had consumed over 2,000 bottles of beer.  And at the end, we had yet to remove a single bottle from the Book House.  For reasons as obscure as those that drove the lantern decision, we keep all the bottles.  There was an old saw table that served as the receptacle for the remnants of libatious habit.  After the table was full, we moved on to the shelving, the floors, the rafters, anything that could hold a bottle.

We even spent a portion of each evening reminding each other of the importance of proper hygiene when using the toilet.

So now you are probably thinking, ‘We are 653 words into this post.  When are you going to get to the Dead Guy!’  Ok, ok, here is the story.

One evening, we were opening some of the new beers.  The drill was this: Each person would open their own beer, take a drink, and pass it down.  We would each take a drink and comment on the beer.  One of the nights beers was Dead Guy and we all proclaimed to be so bad that only true men could drink this stuff.  So we started an annual tradition of drinking one warm Dead Guy each year.  Back then, they printed the date on the barrel of the Dead Guy sits on.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  I cracked the brew above open and drank it, warm of course.  ‘So, how’d you like it?’….

Dr. Theodor S. Geisel was a prolific author in the who lived in the twenty-first century.  He penned any number of books that addressed how to change habits and expand your life.  He wrote one particular book that addressed the profound reluctance of a the main character, to try a new, grassy hued food, accompanied with swine-dish.  Through out the book, this unnamed character is relentlessly pursued by Sam.  Sam proposes that this unnamed character attempt to consume the food in a wide variety of locations and circumstances.  Sam’s wild juxtaposition of suggestions lends no credence to either the quality of his character or credentials as a gourmand.  Despite these flaws, Sam is able to convince his prey that his concoction is not only editable, it is delicious.  At the end of the book, this unnamed character is heard to exclaim:

Say! 
I like green eggs and ham! 
I do!! I like them, Sam-I-am!’

My reaction to Dead Guy was very similar (sans the drinking with a goat.  A guy has to draw the line somewhere).  I like Dead Guy Ale and ha… never mind.

And so it goes.

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Youtu.be: The best of 2013

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Here they are!  The best youtubes I have found in 2013.  Some of them are the best because of how bad they are.  Some of them are the best because that is what they are.  These are presented in no particular order, except for the last two.

Please do not judge me.  Just enjoy:

First, we have this crazy Wendy’s rap for coffee?  Really?

Next up, Japanese television.  Who doesn’t love a joke played on this scale?

Talking boat thingy!

What happens when you cross a cat with a poptart with a rainbow.  In space.  This happens!

Pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows.  I dare you to watch all 1:47 of this.  I DARE YOU!

More unicorns.  Wake up Charlie!  Let’s go to candy mountain!

Let’s talk Autotune.  Or not.  I hate autotune with a passion with this one exception.

We all know I’m a little bananas, but did you know the terrifying truth behind those yellow fruits?

I love Minute Physics and I love cats and I love bunkers.  Who knew these would all come together?

And finally, the only thing better than an awesome dumb robot movie: An awesome dumb robot movie panned:

The Eagle Has Landed

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Lift off of Apollo 11

‘In 1969, a group of astronauts changed the world.  They ride the biggest rocket ever built, to the moon.  It’s the culmination of more than 10 years of space pioneering, and a foundation for more than four decades of exploring worlds beyond our own.  This is the story of our greatest adventure.’

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the first steps of man on the moon.  As I said in my last post, I am a child of the shuttle.  By the time I was born, Apollo 17 had finished the final lunar mission (unless you buy all the clap-trap about Apollo 18).  I have spent the past year learning about our early space program, and every new tidbit I learn only serves to deepen my respect and awe for what we accomplished.  We landed on the freakin’ moon!

I wonder if we would have been in such a rush if it weren’t for two things.  First, President Kennedy challenged us to go to the moon.  On May 25, 1961, Kennedy issued a challenge for us to reach the goal of ‘landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.’  The genesis behind this challenge was the announcement that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had made it to outer space, edging out the United States by only a few weeks.  It is not a far stretch to say that almost anything of significance the United States did from the mid-40’s to the mid-80’s was in response to the Russians, and the Cold War was a strong driver of our race to space.

Second, Kennedy was assassinated.  Galvanized by the memory of this young president, we charged forward.

Once on the moon, we gathered lunar material for study back home.  Charlie Duke, an astronaut on Apollo 16, and the CapCom for Apollo 11, commented that, ‘Kennedy’s challenge was that we would land on the moon and return safely.  Didn’t say anything about picking up any rocks.  Just said land on the moon.  But if you’re going to land on the moon, you ought to pick up some rocks!’  I have adapted that quote in my professional life when I need to point out that if we are going to go this far, we might as well go all the way.

There are a great number resources available for those of you who wish to learn about our greatest adventure.  Anytime you feel discouraged by humanity, I encourage you to look at the moon missions, starting with Project Mercury, to Gemini, and finally Apollo. Then the icing on the cake, at least for me, are the STS and Space Station.

I dedicate this post to Commander Neil Armstrong.  This is the first Apollo anniversary we well celebrate where he is as he was 44 years ago.  Not on this Earth.

And so it goes.

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Notably Awesome Space Adventures

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Launch of STS-135

I am a child of the shuttle.

The final extended mission series to be launched by the United States was Apollo.  Apollo 17 launched on December 7. 1972, slightly before my time on earth began.  The final manned launched before the shuttle program was for SkyLab, which occurred shortly after my time on earth began.  The only thing I have ever really known is shuttle.

Growing up with shuttle, I never really appreciated the complexity involved in launching a space craft.  Really, I can’t say now that I fully appreciate it, other than I know it’s hard.  As with most things, if something has always been around your whole life, you tend not appreciate it as much.  In the last year, I have started to study the shuttle program and I am in awe of what it entailed and what it accomplished.  It was the most complex machine humans have ever built and had the most complicated launch profile of any space mission.  Literally millions of tasks and checks had to be performed in the final nine minutes before launch and a failure at any level would result in an aborted launch.  What is truly remarkable is that a failed launch was rare.

My favorite part of shuttle is the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs).  Here are a few facts:

  • The SSMEs burn cryogenic hydrogen and oxygen for fuel
  • The fuel pumps on the engines could drain an average size swimming pool in 25 seconds
  • The engines burn 350 gallons of fuel per second
  • The combustion chamber in the engine operates at over 6,000 degrees fahrenheit, hotter than the boiling point of iron
  • The reason the engines do not melt at that temperature is because  the cryogenic fuels are used to cool the engine before they are burned
  • The engines produce 418,000 pounds of thrust at lift-off

When I first read about the SSME combustion temperatures being hot enough to turn iron into a gas, I believe my initial reaction was something along of lines of WTF?!

Each shuttle mission was coded as STS-x (Space Transportation System, the original name of the shuttle program).  A total of 135 missions were flown, with two missions ending in the loss of the orbiter.  I have a vivid memory of the loss of both Challenger and Columbia.  It brought focus back to how dangerous it was to hurl 4.4 million pounds into space.

Now that shuttle is retired, we have gone back to the drawing board on how to replace it.  I’m eager to see how the final product preforms.

In closing, here is my favorite launch video, from STS-51c (sound on, please):

Notice how the entire launch assembly rocks back and forth when the SSMEs are ignited.  Awesome.

I also encourage you to watch the shuttle tribute that shows up in the video window during the launch.

And so it goes.

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Vlog. Vidlog. Video Blog. Video Web Log.

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Here is the first edition of my video blog.  Enjoy!

And so it goes.

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