A New Constellation

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed a simple resolution, reading, “Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and while; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” These simple words created a flag which has changed through the years to the fifty star, thirteen stripe flag we have today. Since my childhood, I have been a lover of flags and an amateur vexillologist.

My love or flags began years ago with my across the street neighbor, John Alvis. He was a lovable, crusty old Navy veteran, who had built himself a flag pole out of galvanized steel and put it up in his front year. The flag pole, like Mr. Alvis, was no nonsense steel pipe in concrete with a golden ball on the top and a simple external halyard. I was drawn to the flagpole like a moth to a flame. I loved going over to his house and raising, lowering, folding, and talking flags with him. He lived in his home until his death and his daughter live there now.

Mr. Alvis helped foster my love for flags in more ways than his flag pole, but more of that later.

Several years ago, I dropped a note off to his daughter asking that if she was ever going to take the flag pole down, if she might consider giving it to me. She responded favorably and years went by. In January of this year, I got a phone call asking if I was still interested in the flag pole and, of course, my answer was yes. My father and I went to her home with a giant pipe wrench, unscrewed the flag pole from its base and took it my home. After several months of work, I poured the foundation on Saturday, June 8th. On June 12th, my father and I placed the flag pole.

On this day when the flag of the United States is celebrated, there is a new constellation in front of my house. Im proudly flying three versions of the new constellation, the current fifty star, thirteen stripe version is hanging from Mr. Alvis’s flag pole, and the Star Spangled Banner of the national anthem (fifteen stars and fifteen stripes) as well as the original (thirteen stars and stripes) hanging from the porch!

Happy Flay Day!


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The State of Political Speech Today

Somehow, we’ve gotten in to the mindset that if someone disagrees with you, they must be evil. Since the President was elected and took office, I’ve seen people of all political persuasions personally denigrating people who don’t agree with them. I’ve seen posts from supporters of several political schools of thought saying something to the effect of, “If you don’t agree with me, I don’t want to listen to you and I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t understand how you can be so stupid as to think something other than I do.” I understand the anger and frustration that leads to these thoughts and statements. If people are feeling scared or attacked, it makes sense that they would want to stop listening and/or talking to those who are scaring them or attacking what they believe in.

In my opinion, this is precisely the wrong tack to take. We’ve had political divides in our country before, we’ll have them again in the future. What is important is that people are able to express their political beliefs and make political statements in a civil manner. Just because somebody expresses an opinion that’s different from yours doesn’t mean that you’re wrong, it doesn’t mean that they’re wrong, it means that you hold different beliefs and opinions. Even if political leaders, including the President, don’t model this, we should not give up on civil discourse, it’s the only way we are going to get things done. Making someone into your enemy PREVENTS you from finding common ground with them. It’s a closed mindset that doesn’t do anyone any good.

Let me be clear on this, I’m not saying that abhorrent political speech should be ignored. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t stand up and denounce speech that is contrary to our collective values as a nation or a person’s political values. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t stand up to bullies. I am saying that making ad hominem attacks, no matter how tempting or satisfying, will further the division in our country. I am saying that even if our leaders aren’t modeling this behavior, WE SHOULD choose civility over personal attacks. I want my children to grow up in a world where they can have a strenuous political or policy argument with another person and then, be able to set that aside, and believe that the person they have just disagreed with is a valuable human being and possibly even a friend.

To me, it seems more and more that the politics of today are not about what’s best for the country, what’s in the long term interests of the our nation, or getting things done. Politics today seems to be about getting what you want no matter what the cost. This seems to have gotten exponentially worse during the term of our current President and his two predecessors. The way to stop this is to stand up and say no, I’m not going to return your personal attack. The way to stop this is to address issues directly, forcefully, and in a civil manner. Be wiling to recognize that your school of thought is not always going to be right and that coming to a compromise, even if it means you and the person you’re working with have to give something up, is probably the best way to move forward and get things done. Disagree on issues, disagree on beliefs, but don’t attack or denigrate those who disagree with you. Conversations and bridge building, especially on thorny topics is how progress is made.

Whether conservative or liberal, democrat or republican, green or purple, tory or whig, Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian, engage each other. Have hard conversations and remain friends afterwards. Work to understand what’s driving those who disagree with you. Find common ground, remember that your point of view isn’t, by definition, the right one. Remember that, in the words of President Andrew Shepard (of the Aaron Sorkin film “The American President”, “America isn’t easy, America is advanced citizenship, you’ve got to want it bad, cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, you want free speech, lets see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs, that you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” Every day, I try to work toward this goal. Some days are easier than others, but I’m continuing to work at it.

(By the way, if you disagree, I’d love to engage in a civil discussion on the topic. I hope that we can still be friends!)

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The End of The Season is Upon Us

For most baseball fans, the season ended today. The majority of Major League teams played their 162nd game today and that is it. There is no more season for the players, there is no post season, the end is upon them and us, as fans. Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote an essay called,”The Green Fields of the Mind.” He wrote this profound piece at the end of a baseball season, on Sunday, October 2, 1960, 56 years ago today. For him, it was a cold and rainy Sunday and baseball reminded him of the seasons, of the change in the world every year from the bounty of spring to the color of. The first paragraph of his essay reads,

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.”

Baseball abandons us in the fall, earlier for those whose teams don’t make the playoffs, later for those who do. To me, without baseball, the world seems a bit less interesting, a bit less fun, and bit less stable. From April to October, there is always a game to listen to. Always the constant of baseball to remind us that life does not need to move so quickly. Always, the reminder that a baseball game goes on for as long as it takes to get the job done.

Though our nation has changed immensely throughout the years, for the last hundred, the constant has been baseball. The game has changed through these years, but it is fundamentally the same game as it was when, as the apocryphal story goes, Mr. Doubleday invented it. Quoting from Field of Dreams, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

October 2, 2016 was a momentous day in baseball, it marked the last broadcast of the legendary Vin Scully, who 80 years ago today became a Giants fan. His loyalties shifted to the Dodgers when he joined their broadcast team in 1950. He is the last of his generation, the men who began calling baseball on the radio.  If I can’t be there in person, I still prefer listening to baseball on the radio, because the game as described by a good play by play announcer is often better to listen to than to watch. Really, it’s because when I listen to the radio, the game is played in my mind. Quoting Giamatti, “The real activity was done with the radio – not the all-seeing, all-falsifying television – and was the playing of the game in the only place it will last, the enclosed green field of the mind.” The day also marked the final game for Boston’s David “Big Papi” Ortiz, and the final broadcast for Dick Enberg.

I’ll listen to the playoffs, I’ll listen to the World Series, but not with as much interest as if my team were in the running. The lights in the stadium of my mind have been turned off for this year and will come back in the spring.

I listened to the entirety of the Giants/Dodgers game today on the LA feed, not because I was interested in the outcome, as many of my friends were, but because I wanted to hear Mr. Scully’s final game. He ended his broadcast with these words, among others, “But you know what — there will be a new day, and eventually a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, rest assured it will be time for Dodger baseball.” These words gave me hope, because Mr. Scully reminded me that there will be baseball in the spring. The constant of baseball with return for another spring and summer, and will abandon us again next fall.

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QM2 Rocket Test NASASocial

I’ve been to several NASASocial and NASATweetup events, but this is the first that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures for a majority of one of the days of the event. When the purpose of these events is to publicize NASA and, in this case, the QM2 rocket test for the Space Launch System (SLS), would I not be allowed to take pictures?

The answer is because we spent the first day touring  a rocket factory. Apparently rocket manufacturing is something that the government considers fairly sensitive, so they don’t like pictures. I understand, but it was a little odd to not be able to photograph and even tweet from some places on the tour. Because they build rockets at the Orbital/ATK facility in Promontory that we toured, our bags were checked to see if we had any spark producing materials in our bag…

Touring the rocket factory site was amazing. This is the site where the Solid Rocket boosters were manufactured for the Space Shuttle program. It was really interesting to learn how these solid fueled rocket motors are built. How do they transport the segments to Florida for launch? By rail, naturally! the rocket factory is about 9 miles from the location where the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.

For my precious few pictures of the Rocket factory tour, please see the Flickr album.

Day two of the NASASocial was the main event, the actual test of the QM2 rocket. Our viewing site was about 1.3 miles away from the booster, with an unobstructed view.

03 - There's a Booster in Them Thar Hills

I’ve seen two rocket launches before. I watched STS-131 launch from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. I saw Landsat 8 launch from SLC3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base. In both those cases, the rocket sped away from me at a great and ever increasing speed, trying to achieve orbit. In this case, the rocket was bolted to the ground, and all of us in attendance got to experience the full three minutes of thrust and it was amazing.

16 - Full Thrust 01

After the rocket ignited it took a full 6 seconds for the sound to reach us at the viewing location. It wasn’t just a sound that I hear with my ears, it was a full body experience. I felt the rumble for the full three minutes of the test. After the test, they took to the test stand and we got up close and personal with the rocket!

27 - Business End of a Cooling Booster

For my full set of pictures of the test and visit to the rocket afterwards, please see the Flickr album.

I really want to thank NASA and Orbital/ATK for the tour and letting us view the test. If you ever have the desire to learn about space, I strongly suggest applying for a NASASocial event. You will get up close and personal with the scientists, engineers, and others that make our space program work. Visit the NASASocial web page for more information and to sign up!


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Innocence, 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, I was in second grade. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my last year at the elementary school that I attended and  lots of change would be coming over the next several years for me. Thirty years ago, I was young and didn’t believe that bad things could happen to me, to anyone I knew, or to my country. Thirty years ago, I had my innocence and it was a great state to be in.

On January 28, 1986, I was playing on the playground during morning recess and a friend came up to me and said, “the space shuttle exploded.” My first response was sheer incredulity, that he was testing me, to see if I would react… I said, “No, it didn’t, the Space Shuttle CAN’T explode.” I didn’t believe that such a thing could even happen. Space travel was routine, with the first shuttle launch just after my third birthday and the 25th scheduled for that morning. My friend replied, “yes it did, as it was launching this morning.” I still didn’t believe him. I couldn’t grasp that an event such as this was even possible.

From there, in my memory, that day becomes a big blur. The next thing I remember is being at a different friend’s house in the evening working on homework. The adults were in a different room, doing adult things. The room we were in had a TV, which was tuned to the news. They were showing Challenger’s 73 second flight over and over and over again. I’m sure that there were talking heads interspersed between the replays, but all I remember are the replays, over and over again. Looking back now, that was the beginning of the end of my innocence. The end of the belief that bad things couldn’t happen.

Every year, in mid-January, I post four pictures on my office door. The first is the Apollo 1 Crew, the second is the STS 51-L (Challenger) Crew, the third is the STS-107 (Columbia) Crew, and the final is a Red and Rover cartoon by Brian Bassett commemorating the aforementioned crews that all lost their lives in service of exploration.  I picked these pictures of the three crews because I think they represent the potential of the missions. Each crew is in their space suits, seemingly ready for launch, ready to being their exploration. I post these cartoons no later than January 16th, my birthday, which is the day that Columbia and her crew launched on their final mission in 2003. It’s also the day that the damage that caused Columbia’s demise occurred, though it would not happen for another fifteen days.

Last night I watched a wonderful documentary about the Challenger accident. The documentary focused not on the technical details of the accident, but on the reactions that people had to it. I was particularly taken by the audio of a reporter from Concord, New Hampshire, who was at KSC reporting on the flight because of its most famous crew member Christa McAuliffe. His station played several minutes of his spontaneous reactions to the incident, and at one point, he basically says, “I can’t talk any more. I’m in shock, I need to process this…” at which point I can imagine his dropping the phone he’s been talking in to and walking away. This struck me because it’s how I’ve been feeling since I posted those four photos on my office door.

Today, in 2016, my son is in second grade. He attends the same school that I did on that fateful day in January 1986, and though it’s been rebuilt, he plays on the same playground that I was playing on thirty years ago when I learned the news of the Challenger disaster. For some reason, this parallel, this coincidence that came about because he was born in my thirtieth year and started kindergarten when he did, has been bothering me this week. Ever since I put up those photos a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about my experience on the playground thirty years ago. I’ve been thinking about the beginning of the loss of my innocence and the changes that would occur in my life. I feel like spaceflight, to most people is again routine and the fact that there have been astronauts in space for nearly twice my son’s lifetime is taken for granted (if it’s even known) by most people. I feel like so much of the technology that we use on a daily basis, most of which was developed directly or indirectly as a part of the space program, is taken for granted.

My son is fully ensconced in his innocence and I work hard to protect that for him. I wonder what he will look back upon some day as the beginning of the end of his innocence. I hope that it will not be for a long time. I hope that I won’t be a cause of the beginning of this change in him. This year and ever year, I choose to remember the crews of Apollo 1, STS 51-L, and STS-107 in their flight suits, looking like they’re headed to the pad to launch into space and explore our universe.

I choose to look at them with the innocence of a child, knowing that it is not possible for anything to go wrong. I know that this is not true, I know that complacency and apathy will create problems for my country and my world. I just hope that my son won’t realize this for a long, long, time. I want to remember him like this, full of promise, full of innocence, and full of potential. I want all kids to have a look like on their face like my friend Shannon Moore‘s daughter Sara does in this picture.

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The Space Station Museum

Until I got an email from my friend Heather Archuletta asking me if I wanted to tour The Space Station Museum in Novato, I must say that I didn’t know that it existed. I’m so glad that I was able join this morning’s tour because it’s clear that we have a gem in the Bay Area. It’s also clear that this museum has a different way of doing things that most space museums that I’ve visited.

The Space Station Museum is located in a storefront in Novato, California. On one side is a coffee shop and on the other is a pizzeria. This is not your typical location for a museum that has a large number of spaceflight artifacts. The other thing different about the museum is that visitors are allowed, in fact encouraged, to touch most of the artifacts there. Have you ever wanted to touch a meteor? If so, head to Novato when the museum is open and you can do it!

Walking into the first room of the museum, the first thing that I noticed were the pictures on the walls. After a closer look, I noticed that many of them had autographs of the astronauts who took or were in the pictures. There are crew photos, pictures taken on the moon, and in the space shuttle. My favorite is a photo from Apollo 16, labeled and autographed by LMP Charlie Duke. It’s a panoramic image and Gen. Duke has labeled some of the major features in the photo, including himself. There’s a photo of Bruce McCandless flying the MMU, a photo of  John Young scooping lunar soil  at North Ray Crater, and a photo of Harrison Schmidt standing in from of a lunar bolder larger than he is with the lunar rover in the foreground, among many others. On the back wall is a large photo of the Space Shuttle Columbia, apparently in orbit, against the blue of the earth and the black of space. More on this photo later.

Our guide to this room was Ken Winans, President of the museum and the man who has amassed much of this space memorabilia. Ken is quick to point out that the museum holds only a small portion of the collection and, as such, the content is rotated on a regular basis. Ken deftly walks us around the room, showing us Soyuz and Mir control panel pieces, space flown pieces and engineering prototypes, Mercury capsule pumps and Soviet and Russian suits. He shows us a Russian Sokol space suit while explaining its mechanics and those of its sister suit, called Orlan, to us. To our sheer delight, he invited us to try on gloves for both types of suit (neither of which fit my hand). He shows us two meteorites, one of iron and the other of rock, and encourages us to touch them! It was just awesome. Ken’s enthusiasm for the museum, the artifacts, and his concept of bring space to the people is contagious.

After spending time with Ken in the first room, we move on to the second room, which among other things, contains two amazing pieces, a 85% size lunar module and a lunar rover trainer. Our guide in this second room is Don Shields, an Apollo program veteran. Mr. Sheilds spent his time in the Apollo program working on the lunar module, so it’s quite fitting that he’s our guide in this room. He regales us with stories of working in the Apollo program and putting astronauts on the moon is amazing! The artifacts in this room are just as amazing, including more Russian control panels, rocket nozzles and a training flag that the Apollo astronauts used to practice putting up a flag on the moon! (Yes, it took practice, remember they were wearing pressurized space suits with limited mobility.

Besides being able to touch artifacts, Mr. Winans has a vision for museums. He don’t believe that they need to be big stodgy affairs. Rather, he puts his artifacts where the people are. As I mentioned above, the Space Station Museum is located in a shopping center in Novato, near a coffee shop, a grocery store, and a yoga studio. He wants people to see the collection and learn from it. Another wonderful feature of the museum is that there is no admission charge. When they’re open, you can walk in, view and touch the artifacts, and learn more about our adventures in space.

I am tremendously thankful to Heather for inviting me to join a group of fellow space enthusiasts on this tour. It amazes me that space can bring a group like this together. We had an aircraft electronics engineer, a lab technician, a City Clerk, a planetary scientist, and an Apollo program hypergolics engineer in the group. It was a lot of fun to talk with and learn from Amy McKinney, Grant McKinney, James Sharkey, Stephanie Evans, Natalie Batalha, Jeffrey Holton, and Robyn Villavecchia.

See the full photo set!


OK, with regard to the Columbia picture mentioned above, Mr. Winans says that he believes the photo is original and not photoshopped. I want to find out if this photo is indeed non-photoshopped. It’s odd because the cargo bay doors are closed, which means that the orbiter is either in the ascent or entry phase. If that’s the case, what would have been with the shuttle to take the photo. Any thoughts? – I’ve found out that it’s a composite photo of one of Columbia’s early landings over a shot from orbit. Lots of them were sold in the 80’s.


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Into the Woods – Musical vs Movie

As some of you know, my favorite musical of all time is Into the Woods, with music by Sondheim and book by Lapine. I’ve loved Into the Woods since I was in Middle School, seen it performed multiple times at all levels (community theatre to original Broadway cast (I think)) and even performed in it as the Narrator and the Baker. So, when the movie was announced, I was hesitant, to say the least.

On Thursday night, I saw the movie and enjoyed it. They did a good job of capturing the spirit of the story and translating that into a beautiful film. The lighting was stunning and they did a great job of making the giant seem big without ever showing the full size of the giant. When it comes to musical numbers, the filmmakers nailed Agony, almost nailed No One is Alone, and did a good job on most of the other numbers. One of the interesting choices they made with a couple of songs from the musical (Cinderella at the Grave and No More) was to play the melody from the musical under the visual of the actor in the film who wasn’t singing the words. I cringed at this both times, but I can understand the choice.

The filmmakers make two interesting choices in explicitly stating a couple of things that are assumed in the musical. (Spoilers begin here) They have the witch explicitly state that the four items (cow as white as milk, cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and slipper as pure as gold) that the baker and his wife have to gather to reverse their curse will also reverse her curse. They also explain the necessity of the three days time in the film, which isn’t explained in the musical. Also, the witch states several times before the final feeding of the four items to Milky White, that she can’t have touched any of them. I don’t believe this is stated in the musical until the cow won’t produce milk. These are interesting choices, which take a bit of the magic away, in my opinion.

All in all, it’s a great film, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the musical.

P.S. I wrote most of this back on January 11th, but didn’t manage to post until today. Not quite sure why…

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