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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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The Hogs That Ate Everything

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Dem Hogs

There are some things in life that you can count on.  Some things that you just know are going to happen.  Some things you can set your watch to.  One of those things is my father.

When I was growing up, it was not uncommon to look for one of my siblings around the house.  ‘Dad! Have you seen Biffie?’  Dad’s pat answer, his go-to response, his réponse générale was ‘He got to close to barn and the hogs ate him.’

Many nights I would lie in bed cursing myself for falling prey to that answer.  You would think that after hundreds of times, I would learn.  Lamentably, no.

One evening I, right after I made the standard blunder, I asked my father why he kept saying that.  I think he could hear the irritation in my voice.  He paused and his eyes grew distant.  Having known my father for the better part of my life, I could tell that I had triggered some basal emotion and, being predicable, I knew what to expect.  His eyes squinted slightly and when he spoke there was a catch in his voice.  He asked me to sit down next to him and he proceeded to tell me the whole story…

My father was raised in Owensboro, WA.  The three biggest exports of that little burg were tobacco, hogs and plutonium-239.  Each of these exports were produced in a separate part of the city and they only commingled as they were leaving town.  As you can imagine, the storage requirements for crops, livestock and nuclear fuel carried unique requirements, posing a daunting problem for the city’s sole engineer.  Each of these was transported from the city by rail, and in a town the size of Owensboro, there was only so much room for such a facility.  The decision was ultimately made to create a giant rotating dock where the various cargo could be unloaded in a segreated way.  I did some digging at the Benton County Hysterical Society and I was able to find a copy of the engineers original proposal:

Even to my untrained eye, there is an obvious fatal flaw in this layout.  Everyone knows that when you are organizing Hogs, Tobacco and Fuel, the order must be clockwise pattern of T-H-NF, not H-T-NF.  (Before you ask, yes, I know about the NF-T-H permutation promulgated by  Black and Merton, but I think Merton is a jackass.)

The first few years of the switching yard went smoothly.  Tobacco, Hogs and Nuclear Fuel were loaded into the trains and shipped off to the four corners of the globe.  The tobacco went to Greece, the hogs to Denmark and nuclear fuel went to an undisclosed location.  It was not until the late 50’s when the sun spot activity, seen below between the double pipes, approached it’s zenith that the magnitude of the error was made evident:

=>||

                             =>||

Following the marked crest in 1959, a breech occurred in the wall separating the hogs and plutonium-239.  The fuel was partially consumed by the hogs and they started grow to gigantic purportions.  The hogs, now even more hungry than before, could sense the organic matter behind the tobacco wall and promptly used their now-super intellegence to knock over the wall.  Frankly, I think their gigantic size had more to do with it.  How smart do you need to be to knock over a wall?  Seriously.  Anywho, we now had gigantic radioactive pigs who were eating tobacco.

It took all the effort that the Washington’s Naval Reserve (America’s 17th line of defense, right between the Cub Scouts and the League of Woman Voters) to subdue the beasts.  Look to someone else for a description of the awful slaughter.  I can never repeat what dad told me.  But I can show you a video of the destruction.  Needless to say, the hogs, fuel and tobacco where wiped out.  Or so we thought…

Now, if you have ever known a smoker, you know that when the craving hits you had better get out of the way.  Nothing is going to stop them from getting their nicotine, particularly nothing as trivial as being vaporized in an atomic blast.  The pigs somehow managed to reconstitute themselves and come back to life.  Like I said, these were smart little piggies.  The newly reanimated super turbo action pigs quickly used what was left of the rail yard and constructed a humongous fortress.  A barn actually.  To the surprise of many, the hogs made a demand of a telephone so they could communicate with an unknown party.  Two brave soles from the navy reserve stepped up to take the challenge, Nicholas Bergman and Benjamin Knack.  Since the railroad was still intact enough to a handle a hand car, Nick and Ben were sent to the scene.  This particular hand car, nicknamed ‘the paddy’ was older and it would not pump well, so Bergman and Knack had to whack it with some steel rods to get it moving.  When the day arrived, Nick and Ben loaded the phone equipment on the hand car.  There was some obvious hesitation on their part.  They were being ordered to go into a hog-infested, radioactive and nicotine laced  site.  It looked as if they would not go when their Sargent started screaming, ‘Nick! Knack!  Give the paddy a whack and get that hog a phone!’

They did.  And what happened when they got to close to the barn?  That’s right.  They delivered the phones and were on their way.

Now, having a barn full of atomic hogs who were jonesing for a smoke is not all bad.  It did provide some tourist opportunities.  The constant military presence ensured a constant stream of low ranking government officials who made token visits.  As I said, it was not too bad.  They even set up a alternative fuel plant to convert the hog waste into energy.  As Pop used to say, ‘That smells like money!’  Really, it didn’t.

Years passed away and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange, of a long desert line of traps way back in the bighorn range.  Of a little hut by the great divide with a white man stiff and still, lying there by lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill.  (I’m sorry.  I went into a Robert Service trance.  Won’t happen again.)

After four or five years of co-existing, the solution was dropped on our laps by none other than the King of Pork, Mr. Jimmy Dean.  The Dean family had been trying to figure out  a way to combine the the rich goodness of pork sausage with the rich goodness of tobacco.  Since the FDA rejected his application for tobacco flavored sausage, he turned to the town to provide them with tobacco-fed pork.  The problem was getting the hogs in a permanently deceased condition, on account’a their tendency to come back to life, don’t cha know.  The solution was to come from right under their noses…

As everyone knows, it is common to use boron to slow nuclear reactions.  They had all these power plants that had all this boron, so the logical step was to start to flood the hogs with boron.  That process started in the mid-60s and was finished by 1972.  The hogs had lost their radioactive glow and were now fit for slaughter.  Mr. Dean came in himself to stick the first hog.  It was quite a party.  As the Dean staff winnowed through the herd of hogs, they slowly approached the barn strong hold.  Step by step, they slaughtered and processed, slaughtered and processed.  Then they slaughtered and processed more.  Now they were within inches of the barn.  The doors started to creaked open, showing only a razor thin beam of light.  As the door swung ponderously, the remaining hogs started to march out in a very deliberate pace.  There they were, face to face, the hogs and butchers.

It took many years for commission to finally establish what went wrong.  The report was over 500 pages, so I’ll just boil it down for you: The butchers got to close to the barn.  The hogs, despite their reduced girth, still maintained their super-intelligence.  No one had counted on that.  The lead pig started to bark commands (well, grunt, really).  The pigs circled the hapless butchers, teeth bared with an evil vengeance in their eyes.  Revenge would be theirs today.  The butchers got too close to the barn.  With squeals of triumph, the pigs lunged forward, eager for their meal.  The butchers pull out their knives to defend themselves.  But it was too late.  The butchers had got to close too the barn.

And the hogs ate them.

My great-grandfather was one of the butchers who lost their lives that day.  At the wake, they served Mr. Dean’s tobacco fed pork sausage, which my father felt was in poor taste.  I mean literally, it tasted awful.  People died for this?  It was on that day that my father coined his phrase, more as an emotional protection than anything else.

No one ever did find out what the phones were for, or if they were even used.  I supposed we should worry.  What’s the worst that could happen…

******************************************************************************************************

My fathers shoulders dropped, signifying the end of the story.  A deep silence permeated the air.  Could this have really happened?  Why was this the first time we had heard about it.  Had the history books been wiped clean?  We all stared at my father with a mix of respect and horror.  Unsure of the veracity of the story, we all pressed him to tell us the truth.   To this day he has maintained the story.  Sure the dates, people, location and variations of plutonium changes, be the story’s core message is constant:  Don’t talk to dad when he’s been drinking.

And so it goes.

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Dough!

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G?

No, GE!

No, G-Free!

Both my wife and the Alpha Child have a gluten sensitivity.  It isn’t full blow Coeliac disease, it is enough to floor both of them in different ways.  Alpha has a very severe eczema.  We put her on a G-free diet about five months ago.  Her skin went from being broken, split and irritated to irritated and hivey.  Believe it or not, that is a big improvement.  She used to have cracks in her skin that would bleed and become infected.  She still has scratching fits, but overall there is an improvement.

My wife had a attack of diverticulitis.  It runs in the family.  For the past year she was really struggling with the aftermath of the attack.  A few months ago I was reading and article in the WSJ about gluten sensitivity.  It was as if the journal interviewed my wife and wrote an article about what she was going through.

Now that both of them have successfully transitioned to a G-free diet, I have found myself doing more food prep to support that.  Key in this endeavor is making bread at least once a week.  You would be appalled at the amount of money you can spend on a loaf of gluten free bread.  My daughter will buy some from the baker at the farmers market for $3.00 a loaf ($4.00 for everyone else).  I get a box mix and use it to make two loaves at a time.  I also make flax bread for my wife, as well as deyhdrated almonds.

The new hit in the house is rice pasta.  It cooks differently, but once you throw on some sauce, you’d never know the difference.  I used to make a pound for dinner, but the boy eats so much of it that I have had to switch to at least 1.5 lbs just to keep up.

Since going G-free, Alpha has lost about five pounds.  She has never been overweight, but losing five pounds made her look healthier.  I guess that is a common G-free side effect.  Maybe I should do that too….

My wife has started reading a book by Elisabeth Hasselbeck, from that Afternoon Yak show, about how to be G-free.  An interesting aspect is that it covers the social aspect of how to inform a party host that you won’t be eating their yummy spread.  Or how to handle the situation where someone shoves a piece of sourdough bread in your face and tells you that you must try this!  Food is such a part of people’s identities that you can offend someone if you don’t take the proper approach.

The comforting part is that she is not alone.  There are a great number of moms-with-kids-who-have-gluten-problems-have-blogs-that-tell-you-all-about-it.  Wifey always has lots of ideas to that are gleaned from those blogs.  My MIL even sent a great cookbook.  Come to think of it, I think she sent the G-free book as well…

Great ride this  morning.  5 miles.  It’s a start.

And so it goes.

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Back In The Saddle Again

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This morning I took my first training ride.  About 5 miles round-trip to folks house and back.  Overall, not bad.  I topped out at 27 mph (going down hill, cranking for all I was worth).  I need to check the bike computer, but I probably averaged around 12 or 13 mph.  My goal for the SLO Lighthouse ride is 62 miles in 3.5 hours.  So I have until September 24 to shave ~two hours off.

When I was in high school I had a purple Raleigh Olympian (pictured above).  Purple became my new riding color.  The handle bars were wrapped with purple and while tape, my helmet and riding gear were purple.  Everything but my pump and shoes were purple.  When I went looking for my current bike, I posted that I gave extra points for purple.

I was convinced that because the name of the bike was ‘Olympian’, it must mean that this was the bike that was used in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.  I proudly boasted this fact to anyone who would listen.  In hindsight, I realize that it was probably not true.

I rode that bike for about six years until it finally gave up the ghost.  My parents paid the neighbors $100 for it in 1988.  I was so excited I could plotz.  I like to think that they got their $100 worth.

Now that I think about it, today was the longest ride I have had in probably 15 years.  Let’s see how I feel about it (literally) tomorrow morning.

And so it goes.

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Welk Was An Elk!

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This year my godfather sponsored me into the local Elk’s lodge.  My grandfather was very active in the Elk’s and my father joined for a while.  This particular lodge is the same one that sponsored my Boy Scout troop, so I was already very familiar with it.  There is a swimming pool, a little restaurant and, of course, a lounge!  The best part is that all of this is within walking distance of the house we put an offer on.

B.P.O.E stands for Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.  When I was in scouts, we joked that it stood for Boozing Place Of Elks.  Actually, the Elks started off as a private drinking club in 1868 to get around the blue laws in New York.  Back then it was called the Jolly Corks.  Over the years it has morphed into an impressive social foundation with a $400 million endowment.  Each of the Elk’s geographic areas has a ‘major project’ that funds a cause for helping kids with disabilities.  They have scholarships for kids, a retirement home, different community based programs to help those in need.  Overall, it is impressive how much they do for so little recognition.

To join you need to be 21, American, believe in God and not be communist.  I love it.

Every Monday night they have a once-around all you can put on your plate spaghetti feed.  For the last few months, before Biffie’s Cub Scout meetings on Monday, we’ve gone over there to have dinner before the meeting.  I need to bib the boy up beforehand.

This summer we are looking forward to walking to the pool (assuming the bank that owns the house ever get’s back to us).  When my buddies are around, we can walk to the lounge and enjoy $2.00 drafts or have lunch.

I imagine I will get more involved as the kids get older.  I’d say the average age of membership is mid-60s, but there are plenty of younger guys and gals around.  The Exalted Ruler looked to be in his mid-40s and there are officers who are younger than I am, so it is more welcoming than I had initially thought it would be.  The only meeting I have been to so far included a lot of updates about who died, who just had surgery and who was now in a nursing home.  There are about 2,400 people listed on the membership roles and about 100 of those come to meetings.  From my sample size of one, it is the older crowd that comes to the meetings, so the news topics make sense.

We all went there for a Mother’s Day brunch this year.  Lot’s of food, family and friends for a few dollars.  A great deal no matter how you look at it.

You can go here to see the Elk’s homepage.

And so it goes.

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Father of Daughters

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I have the pleasure of being a father to four girls and a boy.

Our oldest, known here as the Alpha Child, is joyful, eccentric and can be, um, difficult.  She is a natural performer.  This past year she sang, ‘A Few of My Favorite Things’, from The Sound of Music at her schools talent show.  Did a great job for a nine year-old.  My Facebook friends can poke around on my wall and find the clip.  When she was researching saints at school this year, she had to say what cause she would be the saint of.  I suggested that she could be the patron saint of dramatic little girls.  Note to self:  Dramatic little girls don’t like to be called dramatic little girls.

Our second daughter, Julia Grace, died when she was very young.  She still looms very large in my perception of the world.  She would be turning five about this time of year.  The kids have a cousin that is her age and I often watch cousin Izzy and wonder what Julia would be doing now.  And so it goes.

Next down the line is The Cuteosaurus.  The running joke with her was to pick an adjective or action and add ‘osaurus’ to it. Burposaurus, screamosaurus, eatosaurus, etc.  The CS has steel in her.  She is four and half now.  When she was 1-2, she would scream this piercing scream to get what she wanted.  It drove my wife to go back to work.  Seriously.  It took a lot of work to get her to stop screaming and start asking, but we got there.  Now she is the easiest of the kids to manage.  She just wants to make you happy and has a mostly sunny disposition.  The screaming will return on occasion, but nothing beyond the scope of what one would expect from a kid her age.  The CS is the most driven of our children and I expect that she will be the one to go into the business world.

Finally, we come to LJ.  (That not a nickname or anything.  Her nickname has her actual name in it and I’m one of those paranoid types who tries not to list his kids names on his blog.)  LJ is two and half and knows the exact moment when my wife and I are too busy with the others to pay attention to her.  She can switch between ornery and sweet very quickly and I never know quite what to expect.  I got her out of the bath the other day and she put her head on my shoulder and said, ‘I’m so happy to see you daddy.’  It really get’s you.  Five minutes later she was screaming at me because she didn’t want me to put lotion on feet.  That really gets me, too.

So there you go.  With summer around the corner,  I expect things to get a little hectic.  We put in an offer on a house last month, so if all goes well, our summer will include a move.  Four kids and a move?  No sweat.  (end delusional statement)

I’ll cover Biffie (the boy) later.

And so it goes.

f

All Quiet on the Western Front

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MS SUNBM seems to have taken a vacation.  Perhaps a summer vacation. 

Over the last few weeks, I have had three vehicle related markers to look for in the morning.  The first was at 7:08(ish) when a school bus would drive past the house Northbound.  Then at 7:15(ish) MS SUNBM would honk.  Finally, at about 7:25(ish), the Northbound school bus had completed its route and would pass the house Southbound.  This past week marked the end of the summer school season and, as you may expect, the buses stopped running.  And apparently so has MS SUNBM.  I’ve been keeping an eye out for her, and she is conspicuous by her absence. 

So now I have a working theory that she is an employee of the school district.  I’ll post a follow up after the school year starts to see how accurate my observation is.

And so it goes.

f

p.s. The road that she drives by on is on the West side of house.