Space Madness

Marcia had a work conference last week, and I had work in Charlotte Monday and Tuesday this week, so I decided to head down to Florida for a few days of warmth with her before returning to the dreary Midwestern weather last night. Rather than staying at her conference hotel when her meetings were done, we decided to head over for a couple of nights in Cocoa Beach, on the Atlantic Coast. For folks our age, if we know anything about that seaside community, it’s likely the fact that it was the fictional home of Major Anthony Nelson (an astronaut) and Jeannie, from the deliciously cheesy television program, I Dream of Jeannie.

As we were headed up to our room on Friday night, we noticed a schedule of events in the elevator, and there was a paper sticker on the very date of our arrival showing a cartoon rocket. I pulled out my phone and, hurrah, was pleased to discover that SpaceX was, in fact, launching a mission that very night, at 245am. When we arrived in our room on the seventh floor, I happily noted that our private balcony was aligned in such a way that we had almost a straight-shot view of the pad where the Falcon Heavy rocket carrying a Dragon supply ship to the International Space Station would be launching. Double hurrah!

We set alarms and went out on the balcony at the appointed hour, and like clockwork, got to watch (and hear) my first orbital launch ever:

If you know me well, you know I’m a hardcore space nerd, so this was a real treat, and a great appetizer to our already planned Saturday adventure to visit Kennedy Space Center, where I got to snap a selfie at the business end of the mighty Saturn V Rocket.

Marcia also snapped me with my second favorite of all possible rockets, the Titan-Gemini stack.

D5u2Fc_X4AAVqhi.jpg large

Back-tracking a bit, Marcia had work meetings during the days in Orlando while I was there, and I also had a night alone there as she flew out on Sunday, and I didn’t head to Charlotte until Monday morning. So I spent the time making friends, as one does:

I also got to embrace my inner redneck with a visit to my favorite greasy spoon destination in the world, for some delicious carbs and fats.

The business part of my trip to Charlotte was great, too. A board meeting and a research workshop at the Bartlett Research Labs, a glorious location near the area where my Dad was born and raised. We had wonderful fellowship and got a ton of work done with good people in an amazing setting. Win, win, win, win and win, with thanks to Bartlett for hosting us.

In closing, if you don’t know the source of the title of this post, you need to watch the following video, perhaps the finest fifteen minutes of animation ever created for television. It was life-altering the first time I saw it, early one Sunday morning sitting in a hotel room with an infant Katelin, trying to find something amusing to do while Marcia was trying to sleep in. I do not think all of my tearful laughter helped the situation on that front, but Katelin and I did have a new favorite cartoon series for many years afterward, so a reasonable trade-off, I think.

Madness (Space and Otherwise)

My most recent trip was to Washington, DC, and Marcia accompanied me on this one. After my work was done, we stuck around for a couple of extra days, had some nice meals with old friends, and explored the city where we first met 30 years ago. While the iconic buildings and skyline remain mostly unchanged, the evolution of the city below that level was profound. When we lived there, for example, “14th Street and U” would have been the answer to the question: “Where do I get a hooker, a gun, some crack, or all of the above?” Now it’s a gentrifying neighborhood and the next “hot destination,” bridging quirky Adams Morgan and the ever-expanded heart of the downtown Mall area. Another example: I love me some Washington Capitals and Bullets, but I had no idea that their new (to me) arena was in the same general area where I used to go to amazing concerts through the 1980s at the very sketchy and smelly original 930 Club, at 930 F Street NW. We paid a pilgrimage to that site, where I once saw Butthole Surfers, Chuck Brown, Camper Van Beethoven, Fishbone, Black Flag, Root Boy Slim, Bad Brains, The Busboys, Minor Threat, Guadalcanal Diary, E.U., and so many others I can’t even remember anymore, and you know what we found?  That we could now buy sweaters. Sigh . . .

I can’t believe they got the smell out of the building.

On our last day in Washington, we decided to make a quick stop in to the new (to us) National Museum of African American History and Culture. There didn’t seem to be any lines, so we strolled up to the entrance as one does at most Smithsonian museums to just amble in, but the gentleman at the door explained that demand was so high that advance tickets were required, and there weren’t likely to be any available for the rest of that day, nor the day following. He offered some helpful tips on how to perhaps score a stray ticket or two, but it didn’t look like it was going to work, so I said “Thank you, sir, I appreciate your help.” As I was walking away, he said “Wait . . . are you a Veteran? You sound like a Veteran.” And I am, of course, as is Marcia, and so we were admitted under the museums Vets’ policy. Good manners and politeness pay off in unexpected ways. We only had an hour to explore, so we actually only got through one of five floors, but it was so amazing and so well curated and so exciting that we will definitely be going back again. The highlight of highlights for me? Turning a corner and seeing this unexpectedly . . .

ZOMFG!!!!! THE MOTHERSHIP!!!!!

If you have to ask, you’ll never know, blah blah blah, but if you want to understand the significance of this iconic object, then sit down right now, click the next link, and watch the late Glenn Goins Calling Down The Mothership.

We also went to the National Air and Space Museum and normally I’d be falling all over myself to tell you about the rockets and planes I saw there, but even John Glenn’s Friendship 7 pales next to the experience of seeing The Mothership. Other snaps from our trip (including the obligatory cherry blossoms and a visit to the exceptional FDR Monument) are at my Flickr site, which you can reach by clicking the picture of the space nerd below:

SPACE MADNESSSSS!!!!

We were bopping around Washington on Friday as the healthcare vote debacle was unfolding, so it was interesting to see various helicopters and limousines racing back and forth between various key points in the city’s political infrastructure while the GOP did its best to punch itself in the face during its hot pursuit of political malfeasance. We both slept well that night, and let’s leave it at that, since I’m not intending to use my blog as political website, tempting as that may be. Besides, everything that really needs to be said about how things feel today in America is available in an extraordinary new video from Jed Davis and the mighty Hanslick Rebellion, linked below (language warning, NSFW):

I’ve been following Jed’s work since the ’90s, and have written about him many times here over the years. In short: I consider him to be one of America’s greatest songwriters, ever, and he’s got the instrumental chops, design skills, studio acumen, arrangement ear, and live charisma to make it all work in the studio, on the stage, in a box, with a fox, on a train, and even in the rain, in Spain. Get on over to his The Congregation of Vapors page now to discover what you’ve been missing all these years. It’s all genius, all the time, and the cast of characters who appear there with Jed (e.g. Chuck Rainey, Reeves Gabrels, Tony Levin, Anton Fig, Jerry Marotta, Avi Buffalo, Ralph Carney, Tommy Ramone, and many many many more more more) is mind-blowing in the extreme.

Shumëllojshmëri

1. Rosie the orange point Javanese cat joined our family in July 2004. She had some personality quirks, and a complex relationship with our other cat (The Bumble) but has been a sweet member of the household all these years. On Wednesday, she had rapid onset kidney failure and left us. She will be missed.

The Bumble will not have to share her toys with Rosie anymore.

The Bumble will not have to share her toys with Rosie anymore. Farewell Nervous Orange Kitty!

2. Marcia, our friend Kelli and I attended a wonderful concert by the Anat Cohen Quartet on Thursday night. A spot on review from The Tribune‘s Howard Reich here. If you are not familiar with her work, I highly recommend you check out Cohen’s latest album, Luminosa, from which her set list was drawn. The cross pollination of Brazilian musical motifs, Cohen’s Israeli upbringing and current Brooklyn music scene sensibilities makes for an intoxicating mix.

3. On our way back from the Cohen concert, as we tooled southward on Lake Shore Drive, Marcia and I were treated by a shockingly large and bright fireball dropping from the sky. It was at the back end of Leonid Meteor Shower season, so I’d expect to see a few streaks and flashes across the empty sky over Lake Michigan, but nothing this dramatic. It reminded us a family vacation at Acadia National Park when Katelin was little. We went to an evening educational program after dark, and the docent at one point in his talk about the stars raised his hands over his head and reminded us how the ancients looked up at the same sky we did. As if on command, the largest bolide I’ve ever seen rocketed across the sky, disintegrating with an audience boom. After a moment of stunned silence, our presenter received what I suspect was the biggest round of applause he’s ever gotten for that talk.

4. My current “Serial Monogam-E” home (the one place on the web where I most frequently interact in real time with other people) is the Fall Online Forum, where a quirky international collection of music nerds and culture geeks gather to share their affections (most of the time) for Mark E. Smith’s timeless group, The Fall. The gang is currently deep into The Fall Cup, parsing all 502 songs in the group’s catalog down to a single champion, in the same tournament format that I use for a lot of writing projects here. We are currently on the cusp of boiling a Final 32 down into a Sweet Sixteen, and the whole shebang should wind up in mid-December. If you’re a fan of the group, I heartily endorse joining the Forum and helping us make the big Cup decision for the first time since 2007’s tournament. And even if you’re not passionate about The Fall, the Forum is a delightful and deep treasure trove of cultural arcana, with pretty much something for everything, especially nerds like me who like lists, polls and strongly held opinions about way too many topics. See you there?

5. Having completed my 2015 Album Of The Year Tournament, the next musical tradition in our household is the annual resetting of playlists in the family iTunes account, which combines play data from six iPods used by various of us in different places and times. It’s always interesting (to me, at least) to see how our listening habits overlap to create a mix of most-played songs that are eclectic, to say the least. Looking at the table now, the Top Ten includes a soundtrack song sung by a famous actor, a classic jazz number from 1951, some old school reggae, African music, and anthemic rock from one of the world’s biggest groups. It will be interesting to see how much it tweaks out in the next couple of weeks before I reset it all, clearing the decks to tap other components of our 10,000+ song collection on the computer.

Kholimog

1. I accepted a new job in the Chicago metro area today. I need to let public announcements be made through proper channels, but suffice to say at this point that it’s a grant-making organization with an international reach, it had an excellent board and staff, the mission is deeply resonant to me, and the board has recently completed an exciting transformational strategic vision for the next five years. It feels good to have that piece in place. I’ll be starting the new job on August 24. I’ll be thinking about this when I do it. Watch this space for news when I can say more. And then send me money.

2. Once upon a time, I had two closets full of vinyl albums. Then some years later, that arrangement was replaced with two book shelves filled with compact discs. Today, my entire music collection fits on a one terabyte hard drive that’s about eight inches by six inches by two inches. I suppose this is progress, since now I have more room in my car for stuff like clothing when I move from place to place.

3. As part of my final CD unburdening this month, I found a box of compact discs from a lot of Albany artists who I have not listened to much in recent years. I have very much been enjoying having Beef, The Wasted, The Wait, Small Axe and others in the iTunes mix again. I was dismayed, however, to discover that I was missing a crucial piece of the Small Axe canon: their first CD release, A Shot to the Body, which was released in 1997 on their own Shithouse Rat label. It’s a fantastic record. I reviewed it when it first came out, noting “it won’t sell many copies in its initial pressing, but will be hailed as a great lost masterpiece two decades from now when some 21st century music critic rediscovers it at a garage sale and slaps its choicer cuts on the Nuggets, Volume LXXIII compilation.” Apparently, it might be own copy of the album that’s going to trigger that response someday, since I can’t find it anywhere. If anybody has a spare copy of A Shot to the Body, let me know, and I’ll be happy to work with you to figure out a way to get its contents onto my hard drive.

4. We are one week from Pluto and Charon! I watched New Horizons’ launch nine years ago while sitting at my desk at the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer. Then I spent a good portion of the next year or so posting as the character “Pluto Rocket” on the late, lamented Upstate Wasted and Upstate Ether boards, long before people did such things on Twitter as a matter of course. After a brief loss of communications scare last week, New Horizons is sending ever-more astonishing images of the Pluto system, and I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks bring as it zips past its primary target and heads deeper into the Kuiper Belt. As I’ve said many times in this blog: we are living in a glorious era for planetary exploration. Relish it!

5. I’ve written before about my reluctant decline into twittering, and in recent weeks, I’ve found myself once again questioning whether I’m a point where I just need to decide that the social media era of my life is over, completely. Since I tend to follow specific areas of interest (politics, music, space), what I find is that I’ll have these long periods where it seems that everything that crosses my screen is about the same thing — and much of the time, it’s something I don’t care about, or that actively annoys me. Case in point: the recent Twitter coverage of some new documentary about Amy Winehouse. I did not care about her or her music when she was alive, and I do not care about her or her music now that she has died a junkie’s death, either. But the hyperbolic word salad spewed about her on Twitter is filled with nonsense about how we’re somehow all culpable for her death, and how we’re somehow all responsible for her “harrowing” upbringing, and how watching this documentary is going to change us all forever, somehow. But we aren’t, and it won’t. And I don’t want to see or hear anything else about it. Or about Donald Trump. If you tweet about either of them, I’m likely to stop following you. Just so you know.

Mopping Up: 2014 in Review

So here we are, December 31, 2014, the last day of the final year of my first half-century. How did it go?

I documented my life in 2014 publicly via 55 blog posts here and at Indie Moines — which I shut down in September, considering it to be a successfully-executed endeavor with nothing more to justify it as a standalone writing outlet for me. I quit Facebook in 2014, and became more active on Twitter. I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary in 2014, reaching a milestone where the days I have spent with Marcia in my life are now more numerous than the days I spent without her. I achieved the aggressive budget that I set for my work place, adding revenue, shrinking expenses, and expanding programs, all at the same time. I traveled to Europe, Florida, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, Massachusetts, Death Valley, Missouri, Minnesota, Chicago, and Wisconsin, among other places, both within and beyond Iowa’s borders. I spent more time with Katelin in 2014 than in any recent year, too, which was delightful.

Big picture-wise, then, it was a pretty good year on a personal front. Great Jorb There, Universe! Much appreciated! But, of course, if you’re a regular reader of my various websites, then odds are that you’re not here for such macro, big picture stuff, but rather for the micro, list-making, obsessive, nerdy, spread-sheet fueled piffle and tripe in which I specialize. So let’s hurry up and get on with discussing that kind of stuff, shall we? Yes! Huttah!

There’s already been a good amount of list-nerding and spreadsheet-geekery going on here throughout 2014, as follows:

Goodness, that’s a lot of nerd stuff — and I didn’t even mention my large multi-attribute utility model designed to identify the best retirement city in America, or my two college basketball ranking models, or the analysis I used to win my second Fantasy Football title this year. Ahem.

Here, finally, are just a few more lists of the sorts of things I like to count, sort, and order as we prepare to greet 2015 on the morrow, hopefully without hangovers. Enjoy!

Favorite Books of 2014:

  • Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters
  • Desperate Passage: The Donner Party’s Perilous Journey West by Ethan Rarick
  • The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry by Lance Dodes
  • Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies by Lawrence Goldstone
  • The Big Midweek: Life Inside the Fall by Steve Hanley
  • Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs
  • I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) by Chuck Klosterman

Favorite Movies of 2014:

  • Frank
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Snowpiercer
  • Under the Skin
  • Birdman
  • Jodorowsky’s Dune
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Interstellar
  • Bad Words

Favorite Blogs:

  • Fifty-Two Weeks of the Fall (I’m obsessive about Mark E. Smith and The Fall, I’m a big fan of pointlessly-masochistic writing projects, and I appreciate honest music criticism without commercial taint. This website delivered on all accounts from the first to the last day of 2014. Bravo!)
  • Figuring. Shit. Out. (Amy Biancolli may well be one of the best writers I’ve ever read in any format: she’s funny, wise, prolific, thoughtful and candid about experiences that most of us cannot imagine, plus she has excellent taste in music and movies, and knows when to cuss and when not to. What’s not to love?)
  • Reyna Eisenstark (The writer used to blog at a certain newspaper that I don’t mention by name anymore, but I liked her prose and content enough to hold my nose at her surroundings, and just focus on her words, while she was there. In 2014, thankfully, she finally moved to her own page. Hooray!)
  • Cumbrian Sky (I first got hooked on Mars Stu when he began documenting Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s adventures on The Road to Endeavour in 2008. His writing style, sense of wonder, eclectic interests, and passion for astronomy — amateur and professional alike — are all brilliant and inspiring).
  • XKCD (Again. Still. Of course. Duh. Randall Munroe’s live coverage of Philae’s landing on Comet Cherry-Gerry was a high-water mark in the ways that science and entertainment can collide online, and that was just one of dozens of sublime moments this year).

Verscheidenheid

1. While I’ve been quiet here in terms of new material, I’ve been fairly busy on a “back of house” basis putting Indie Moines into a retirement phase, sorting through over 1,000 blog posts (I figure there’s an equal number that were once online, but were dropped somewhere along the way), and preparing to re-launch this website as my primary online outlet. It feels good to reclaim my name: when I moved to the newspaper blog page in Albany in 2007, and then to Indie Albany, and then to Indie Moines, I never really envisioned letting this page go fallow, but things happen, and here we are. Hopefully by not splitting my market presence I will consolidate traffic more effectively into a single destination for the long form stuff I do on my blog, while also driving traffic from my increased activity over at Twitter. We’ll see!

2. Today is the third anniversary of my arrival in Iowa, after two horrible days on the road with two very unhappy cats. I shudder to recall it. I wasn’t really sure what to expect in a lot of ways when I got here, and I had some visions of what my possible futures in Iowa might look like, but as always happens in real life, the actual path taken is hard to foresee, difficult to predict, and filled with unexpected twists and turns, some of which are surprising and delightful, and some of which are not. At bottom line: I have a unique and interesting job in a field that engages me, we live in a wonderful house in a good neighborhood, both Katelin and Marcia are here in Des Moines with me and happy in their own work/life situations, and the cats remain the cats, happily in a house, and not in a car. It is interesting to compare and contrast where I was at my third anniversary in New York, circa 1996: I had left Naval Reactors and had no full time job (instead freelancing for the local alternative newsweekly), Marcia was just beginning her legal practice, we lived in a small rented townhouse, we were trying to make decisions about where Katelin would be going to Kindergarten and how we were going to afford our first choice private school, and we were still bleeding financially from a house we owned in Alexandria, Virginia that had not been the good investment we might have desired. It was a tough, stressful time, and if you’d told me then that I would still be in the Albany area 15 years later, and would happily consider it home, I probably would not have believed you. So it’s obviously just as hard to see what the future here in Iowa might bring, too, a point which was serendipitously affirmed for me this morning when I read the latest post on one of my favorite blogs, Amy Biancolli’s sublime Figuring Shit Out. Here it is . . . words to the wise, words to live by.

3. Watching the European Space Agency’s Rosetta-Philae Mission perform a soft landing on a comet yesterday was one of the most exciting space nerd days I’ve had in quite a while, made all the better by the vast out-pouring of interest and support from folks around the world. Special mention must be made of Randall Munroe’s live animated progress reports on his utterly geektastic and incredible XKCD website as the mission unfolded; you can view the whole sequence compiled here. (Note that it doesn’t quite tell the full story of how the Philae lander actually bounced and drifted a kilometer away from its planned landing site, and that it appears to currently be sitting on two legs up against a cliff . . . we didn’t know that until after the fact!) Planetary exploration is important  and worth funding — and it’s a red herring to compare/contrast it to earth-bound domestic programs at a dollar-for-dollar basis, so don’t take that tack with me, please and thanks. As I’ve noted before here many times, we’re really living in a golden era of planetary exploration, as best communicated by this excellent graphic showing all current and planned missions in (and beyond) the Solar System. I also frequently hear people express dismay because (a) we haven’t been back to the Moon since 1973, and/or (b) the Chinese are likely to put the next bootprints there. Keep in mind, for perspective, that 58 years lapsed between the first and second sea circumnavigations of our own planet, the first on behalf of Spain, the second under the British flag. It has only been 57 years since the Russians launched the first man-made satellite, and 43 years since the United States placed its flag on the moon. In relative terms, we’re making great progress, and if the Chinese are next to visit our fascinating sole natural satellite, then that’s just the natural order of how exploration unfolds. I’ll be rooting for them when they go — but just as avidly rooting for our own Orion mission when it makes its first unmanned test launch beyond our atmosphere in early 2015. Go Team Earth! Conquer the Heavens!