Tag Archives: awareness

Dinner and a Show

We were treated to a show with diner tonight. After a great game of mini-golf, we headed to Val’s for dinner. for those who don’t know, Val’s is a great burger joint on the border of Hayward and Castro Valley. Val’s is the kind of place you go when you want an old school burger at a reasonable price. Nothing fancy, just excellent burgers and fries. The restaurant is frequented by sports teams (to the point where they have a “No Cleets” sign above the door) as well as police officers. I’ve been to Val’s at least a hundred times over more than a decade and tonight was a first for me.

About half way through dinner, a police officer came in to have his dinner. Shortly thereafter, a gentleman sat down near us and commented on my daughter, saying that he had a daughter of similar age. I thought nothing of either of these events, but they would become intertwined. Shortly after we finished and paid for dinner, there was a loud crash and the sound of plates and glass breaking. I looked over and saw the guy who complimented my daughter and another guy engaged in an altercation. I jumped up to put myself between the fight and my kids. The police officer was immediately on his feet, separating the two participants in the fight and ordering them to the floor.

The officer had the two men handcuffed and was calling for backup before anyone really knew what was going on. Karin had pulled my daughter behind the bench seat we had been sitting on and I picked my son up and put him beside the bench as well. Our friends grabbed their kid and did the same. I’ve seen altercations in public before and generally they have ramped up from talk to yelling to physical contact, but this one was different. It started and stopped in what seemed like an instant. One of the participants was bleeding and an ambulance showed up to tend to him. It was very surreal…

The other thing that amazed me about the whole thing was that nobody in the restaurant panicked. Everyone was calm and basically backed away from the part of the restaurant where the two guys were. Shortly after the officer had the two guys handcuffed and on the floor, people were sitting back down and getting back to their dinner. One couple switched tables to get further away from where the police were doing their work. We had paid, so I followed my family out the door and we headed to our cars.

It was weird and surreal, raised our adrenaline and was over before we knew was was going on. We’re very thankful that the officer was there to keep things in hand. As he was leaving, my friend Drew Perttula took this photo of some of the police officers standing outside the restaurant.


I talked to my son about it once we got home, and he said he thought that two guys had “crashed into each other and made a mess.” I’ll be really interested to see if he wants to go back there after our next golf adventure. So, tonight we had dinner and a show. If we get a show next time, I hope that it’s a comedy rather than a drama.


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America Isn’t Easy, America is Advanced Citizenship

“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.” – President Andrew Shepard in the film “The American President”

Today is one of those days when America isn’t easy. In response to a film made by an American that criticizes Islam, several attacks have taken place on American Embassies and Consulates in the Middle East. Most have been non-violent, but in one of these attacks, the United States Ambassador to Libya along with several other diplomatic staff were killed. This is a tragic turn of events.

While I wish that this filmmaker hadn’t made his film, he was certainly within his rights to do so. I don’t understand why someone would spend so much of their time and energy on hate, but this man has a right to speak freely. Unfortunately, his speech has put others in danger and some have even lost their lives. The people who perpetrated these attacks and killings in reaction to this film have overstepped any legal, moral, or ethical bounds in doing so and should be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

When people try and understand each other, when people disagree without being disagreeable, the nation and world progress to a better state. When people hate and fight and kill, there is no progress at all.

My belief in free speech is putting up a fight today and I am convinced, as ever, that America is advanced citizenship.

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Twisst is back in business thanks to Twitter

So, I posted about Twitter breaking Twisst, the service that sends out notifications of visible International Space Station passes. Users of Twisst mounted a campaign using the #savetwisst hash tag. Well, Twitter has fixed the service! Here’s Twisst’s explanation of what happened. Here is a rundown from The Next Web.

I’m happy that Twitter heard the community of Twisst users and realized that Twisst isn’t spam.

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Twisst is Shut Down by Twitter

The International Space Station orbits the earth every 90 minutes. If passes over you near dusk or dawn, it’s actually possible to see the ISS as it flys over you. There are several web sites available to find out when there will be visible passes in your area. One of the best ways to find out when there are visible passes coming up is a service on twitter called Twisst. It’s a subscription service that sends you a tweet a couple of hours before there will be a visible pass in your area.

To get notifications, twitter users have to do two things: 1)Put their location in their twitter profile and 2)follow the main @twisst account. That’s it, notifications, in the form of @ replies start flowing your direction. Unfortunately, because of the way that twisst sends out its notifications as @ replies, its accounts are getting blocked by Twitter as spammers. There are so many subscribers to Twisst that it has to use multiple accounts to send notifications. Since users only follow the main account and not the accounts sending the notifications, twitter is considering the accounts sending the notifications as spammers.

Twitter clamping down on spammers is an admirable thing, as it’s hard to avoid spam on twitter these days. But Twisst is NOT spam. It’s a useful service utilized by over 48,000 people across the globe. Twitter should be able to make this useful service work within its rules and keep us space geeks informed about visible ISS flyovers.

Here’s a useful rundown on the situation.

Here are some tweets of support from users of twisst:

@janellewilson: Knowing when a 17,500 mph orbital spacecraft races over yr house isn’t spam. It’s science & engineering & math & awesome

@gabrielleNYC: @twisst is not spam. It’s a great service that tells us when the #ISS is passing overhead & is Opt In. #savetwisst

@thenasaman: Hey @Twitter. @twisst is NOT spam. They are actually a tool of science and inspiration. Please remove the suspension on their accounts

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Curiosity is Sending Back Data, and It’s Amazing!

Shortly after Curiosity landed on Mars, it sent us two thumbnail images. One looking forward and one looking backward. These images were taken to satisfy  the “Pictures or it didn’t happen” crowd. On the next satellite pass on Mars, more images came down from the lander and in higher quality. The dust covers were taken off the lenses and even better photos came down. Mind you, the images were taken on MARS and were received on Earth mere minutes or hours after the landing. All the raw images from the mission are available.

This brings us to what I consider the most amazing image I’ve ever seen. This is an image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter of Curiosity as it descended toward the surface of Mars on its parachute. To put it another way, a satellite we put in orbit around another planet,  took a photo of a lander we sent to that same planet as it was descending through the atmosphere on its way to the ground. HOW COOL IS THAT? (Click on the image to enlarge)

So, if a still image of the rover descending is cool, how about a video of the descent? The Curiosity Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) captured the rover’s descent to the surface of the Red Planet. The instrument shot 4 fps video from heatshield separation to the ground.

So the same orbiter that got the picture of the rover in free flight, got another panoramic photo that includes all the equipment involved in the landing, including the rover, the sky crane, the parachute and backshell, and the heat shield. Take a look! (Click on the image to enlarge)

If the images are this good now, wait until the science begins. Because This is What Inspiration Looks Like.

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Curiosity is on Mars

Late Sunday night Pacific time, the Mars Science Laboratory rover, aka Curiosity landed on Mars. This was no small feat as Mars is over 150 million miles away and Curiosity weighs over 1000 pounds and is the size of the small SUV. The previous rovers we’ve landed on Mars have been smaller, about the size of a coffee table or smaller. So the engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory devised a new way of landing the rover on Mars. Dubbed “Seven Minutes of Terror” by NASA, this new way of landing involved friction breaking through the atmosphere, a supersonic parachute, a rocket, and finally, a sky crane lowering the rover to the surface. Here’s more information on how the landing worked:

Seriously, that’s an amazing feat of engineering, considering that it was impossible to test the whole process because the Earth’s atmosphere is so much thicker than that of Mars and our gravity is much greater that of the Red Planet. 13,000 miles an hour to a full stop in 7 minutes. Oh yeah, it all has to be done autonomously because it takes 14 minutes for signals to go from Earth to Mars and another 14 minutes to get back to Earth. Also, add in the fact that the landing site, a mere 12 x 4 miles, went below the horizon about two-thirds of the way through the landing.

So this is an autonomous vehicle going through an untested landing process going out of direct contact with Earth in the middle of the process. The amazing part is that it ALL WORKED as advertised and, truth be told, a bit better.

There were over 127 parties to watch the landing around the world. Some were large, like the one at NASA’s Ames Research Center, where over 5000 people got together to watch the landing together, to the one I held at my house with one of my close friends and his family. People came together to celebrate this technological tour de force. We didn’t know whether it would work, but we wanted to be together and celebrate the act of trying, the act of exploration, and the act of reaching. As I said before, IT. WORKED. SPECTACULARLY. Curiosity landed on safely on Mars.

The landing and the data that has already come down has truly been inspiring. Speaking of inspiring, my friend Heather Archuletta posted a blog post on Curiosity’s landing called “Because This is What Inspiration Looks Like” I can’t say it any better than Heather did. To quote her post, “The celebration of Mars Curiosity’s triumphant EDL was then even more amazing than any of us had dared to imagine. Everything that could have gone right, went right. Every sign and signal expected, came. Everyone who worked on this magnificent mission of space exploration can be proud, choked up, relieved and sleepless-for-days jubilant!”

Also, Brandon Fibbs made a tribute to the Curiosity Landing called Dare Mighty Things, interspersing landing commentary with the Seven Minutes of Terror video mentioned above. It’s another great exploration of the inspiration of the moment.

Now that Curiosity has landed, it will be checked out, and soon the science will begin. Thanks to JPL and NASA for the inspiration!

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The Sun, The Moon, and Two Pieces of Paper

My family and I joined a group of strangers today on Skyline Boulevard to watch a rare experience, an Annular Eclipse of the Sun! It was an amazing experience to come together and experience this natural event as a community. We shared solar glasses, welding hoods, and pinhole projectors among the group. We experienced about 90% coverage in the San Francisco Bay Area, which definitely dimmed the light, but I was amazed at how bright it still was when the moon covered 90% of the sun. Here’s a map of where the eclipse was viewable.

Even when 90% covered, the sun can still do tremendous damage to your eyes. So to watch the eclipse, we used ancient technology called a pinhole camera.  Basically, this was a piece of paper through which I pushed a pin to make a hole. I held this sheet up in the direction of the sun, and held another piece of paper up below it. The sun’s image was projected, upside down, on the lower piece of paper. It was amazing that this simple method allowed us to safely watch the eclipse. What amazed me even more was that my 3-year-old son kept on asking to see the projection on the paper.

Here’s the projected image from 1759PDT, about a half an hour before totality:

Here’s a view from just around the time of totality:

Neither of the above photos is particularly great, but the fact that I could project the image of the sun onto a piece of paper is just amazing to me.

I also took a direct image using my iPhone camera. Hopefully, I didn’t do any Apollo 12 type damage to my phone’s camera sensor,  but here it is nonetheless. Look to the right of the sun and you can see the lens flare showing the disc of the sun.

Finally, here’s the scene on Skyline before the eclipse.

Here are some of my favorite photos of the eclipse taken by others:

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