Forever Etched

Feb 2, 2003

Helmet from the Space Shuttle Columbia

Some pictures stick with you, forever emblazoned in your subconsious.
The fragments of space shuttle
Columbia falling from the sky
on Saturday morning formed one such picture. The helmet to the right
is a stark reminder of the loss of life it included.

By odd coicidence, the wife and I watched Columbia rise
from the sky two weeks ago. I was quite excited.
I hadn’t witnessed a live lauch of the shuttle since I was young.
We just happened to turn on the TV. I waited 20 minutes
for the countdown. Incredible science wrapped
in a fiery display of power. For a couple of minutes, I was
that kid again. The anticipation was real. Danger does not
have to be explained to a child of my generation. We remember
Challenger. We remember the last time it happened.

I was in middle school. Class was stopped. A TV was rolled into
the room and we were shown a story with not such a happy ending.
As a kid, I don’t know if I truly understood the events.
Something was wrong but it’s meaning was tough to explain.

As an adult, I don’t know if I can do much better. The event
itself is tragic. But the world is full of tragedy. One of
my biggest memories of Saturday was that my first thought, and
the thoughts of many others, lead to questions of terrorism.
It didn’t help that I learned of the event via a telephone call:
“Did you hear the news?”

The difference in this case is that tragedy befell an American
icon. The shuttle bears our stars and stripes. The
passengers
inside were heroes. They had the job that every little boy’s
heart desires. This felt a bit personal.

My son visited church for the first time this morning. The pastor
mentioned he was glad we picked this day. The joy of a new life
could temper the loss still fresh in the minds of the
congregation. I hope it helped. The shining faces around me
made me believe it did.

Now we hear concerns about launching another. These concerns sound
silly. It is
dangerous. That’s no surprise to the brave souls that don the
orange spacesuits quite regularly. Not everyone returns. But that
won’t stop us; it can’t stop us. Whatever pause is necessary between
this one and the next should be short. Those that put
their life at risk for the advancement of science should not have
to wait in the stars for long before we send them some company.

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Looking Past Christmas

Dec 24, 2002

I’ve had a bit of trouble catching on to the Christmas spirit
this year. It has come and went and returned again. It didn’t
really grab hold of me until just last week.

Latching on to that spirit is normally a lot easier. The wife
starts the Christmas tunes just after Halloween. Just
watching the sugar plums dance around her head can right
the most downtrodden soul.

However, my soul isn’t the problem. Neither is the little
Scrooge or Grinch that can hide in us all. It’s not like
I don’t have the time to pause and smell the milk and cookies.
It’s that Christmas just hasn’t been my focus.
After all, for the wife and I, the big event of this year doesn’t
really happen until next. December, a month normally
reserved for shopping frenzies and Christmas wishes, has
been filled with child planning and baby dreams.

Decorating the inside of the house took us a while to finish.
The twinkling lights that line the outside of the house didn’t
get put up until just last weekend. I’ve been dragging my
feet through a combination of laziness and bad weather
(snow one week and rain the next didn’t exactly encourage
me to pull the ladder up to the side of the house).
All eyes were ahead.

All of a sudden Christmas has arrived. Even though I was a bit
late, I jumped on the train just before it pulled into
the station. Last weekend, we were able to spend some time
with family. I got to visit with my sister, see my father,
and hug my mother (ok, I may have given good old dad a hug too).

I’ll soon be preparing to head out to church for a better
reminder of that small child cooing in a manger, wrapped in
swaddling clothes; a King in the making who is truly a
reason to celebrate.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up early, grab some coffee, and
tear into that stack of presents under the tree. As I do,
I won’t be able to resist thinking about just how different
this will be next year.

It’s funny. The very thing that has me looking past Christmas
is one of the best Christmas presents I can imagine, even
if I have to wait until January to open it.

Oh, and Jesus, Happy Birthday!

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A Reason to Wake Up

Dec 21, 2002

gettysburg.jpg
A trip to a bed and breakfast can be like entering an old country home.
A warm fire in the corner, a beautifully made bed, and a room
decorated with all the niceties you could want. Breakfast is
icing on the cake.

Last weekend, the wife and I choose a
bed and breakfast
in Gettysburg for
our last child-free getaway. A weekend in a wintery, sleepy town is just
the kind of vacation we like. It’s really a chance to get away, quite literally.

We finished up the battlefield tape tour, something that we started about
three years ago and never completed. We also found our way to the
cyclorama, 360 degrees of fighting on a massive canvas. If only the real battle
had been that calm. There’s something haunting about this place and something
so peaceful. So many died. The horror of those three days has not and never
will be wiped clean from this small town. But you can sense
that this was the beginning of the end because, well, it was.

In the afternoon, we ignored the history outside to take in a just bit of
history indoors. The
local BnBs were offering a tour and we took it. A lot of the day was
spent traveling from one cozy BnB to the next, noting the differences
and sampling the homemade treats at each. Outside of our own
little BnB, our two
favorites were the
Battlefield BnB Inn and the
Herr Tavern.
Both were great for their very own reasons.

And that’s exactly what I like about BnBs: each is different — each offers
something else to the traveler. Hotels, in general just pale in comparison.
Why, you say? I’m glad you asked:

The proprietors want to work there.

The people running the show aren’t scratching and clawing at minimum wage.
There’s no front desk where a clerk can peer over the telephone at you
as if you are an interruption to his conversation. It’s not that at all. Instead, they are generally run and cared for by a married couple, a couple who
enjoyed or enjoy visiting BnBs themselves. They greet travelers and
welcome them to their humble abode.

The room is more than a bed.
Personal touches and memoirs line the walls. Great care is taken to make
each room unique. Common areas hint at the hobbies of the owners.
We’ll leave the light on for you, indeed.

Did I mention breakfast?
I love to sleep in. The sun is hardly an excuse to rise from the covers.
But all this breaks down when we hit a BnB. Let’s get up babe. That smell
wafting up the stairs is for us. We wander down to the table, grab our coffee,
and make some smalltalk with a couple of strangers. The meals themselves
are often great to boot.
Egg sausage souffle, banana walnut waffles,
baked apple pancakes with apple cinamin syrup – do I really need a better
reason to make it to the morning meal? Heck, we actually choose our
latest destination because of the fact that they placed fresh
Pennsylvania Dutch shoo fly pie on every breakfast table. Yum.

As you may guess, we had a blast. We didn’t even need the Christmas
carolers, complete in their civil war costumes, to stop by and sing
a couple of tunes. But we are glad they did.

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Some White Stuff

Dec 5, 2002

Snow Dog

The first snow of the year kept me entertained nearly all day.
I had the pleasure of waking up to frosty windows, nervous
forecasters, and heap of the white stuff all over the front
yard. I was able to watch the powder pile up all day while
I worked from the comfort of my own home. Later, these
piles found the happy feet of my dog and the business end
of my shovel. Now, as I write this, I watch the flakes
gracefully fall past the glimmer of a nearby street light.

There’s just something about snow that changes the pace of
a day. It’s slows it down. Brings everything to an even
keeter. You are probably not going anywhere. Settle in.
Grab a mug of hot chocolate and start up the fireplace.

It must have to do with childhood. One of the first lessons
of arithmetic is that snow = a day off. It means sleds
and snowballs, heavy coats and snow angels. Life is
on hold and the schedule is out the window, if only for a day.
Sit back and enjoy.

One of the unfortunate aspects of telecommuting is that
is wasn’t exactly a day off for me. That didn’t
mean that I didn’t get wrapped up in it anyway. Network
problems forced me to retire early and get my
feet wet, literally. The dog romped around in his first
real snow while the wife’s belly looked on from the
front door. Warm food greeted my plate for lunch and
warm cookies greeted my belly for a snack. I got to sip
from the happy cup, even if I couldn’t take a deep gulp.

And it’s only early December. I don’t believe I remember
a snow like this ever coming so early in the year.
Around here, snow is normally a bright spot in the dark
months of January and February. Something to cheer you
up while you wish for the warm breeze of spring.
This year, however, it just might get to usher in Christmas.
Wouldn’t that just be grand?

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I don’t remember the last time I had
tang. I have faint memories
of it as a child. There was something about NASA and something
about a little kid at breakfast; that’s about it.

But at 9000 feet I await my meal and what just happens
to be one of my beverage choices: the good old orange liquid
of the astronauts, sweet vitamin C tang. It was actually
pretty good. It’s like orange juice without the juice and
without the fruit. Yum. Someone needs to investigate
this NASA-tang relationship and explain it to me.
We are not exactly in space here. In the
meantime, my work on the telescope and it seem to fit just time.

(Would someone please shut up the person behind me in the airport
who has decided that everyone waiting for my flight wants
to hear how bad his business is going? He apparently wants
to fix the problem. I think we disagree about what the problem
really is.)

Another thing about Meana Kea is just how dry it is. Each
little room comes with its very own humidifier and boy does
it need it. On my first night on the mountain, I didn’t bother
to run it all night. That was a big mistake. I awoke in the
middle of the night with a piece of cardboard in my mouth.
I could have sworn I had a tongue. What is this nasty thing?
It will be nice to get back to where the air has some moisture
and my nose can grab some oxygen now and then.

Speaking of oxygen, it’s amazing how
winded I can get at high altitude without the stuff. Simple
tasks like walking up steps all of a sudden take effort.
My last trip to the mountain featured a room on the bottom
of a four story climb. Lugging the 1000 lb laptop to
the top each day required a gargantuan effort.
At more than 13000 feet these effects are more pronounced.
I’ll have to save my hopping around the telescope for a later
date. All it does it give me a preview of legs and heart at
60.

Now that I’m finally off the mountain, I have to say one of the
things I’ll miss the most is the easy access to their bubbling
tub of tang. Maybe I’ll hit the grocery store and bring
back the eighties in style. Does anyone know if Mikey still
likes it? Does anyone remember what “it” was?

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Painting the Heavens

Nov 11, 2002

One of the highlights of my trip is having the ability to leave
the confines of the observatory and drink in the night sky.
The transition from the florescent lights of the observatory
to deep dark of night can make this a rather surreal experience.

The lack of light outside the observatory is quite a shock
to your eyes. The darkness is consuming. The effect is blinding.
It helps to bring a flashlight with you. Those four steps
back to the observatory can be wild when you can’t spot your
own hands.

From what little I understand of the science, this has to do
with more than just an adjustment of the pupils. The diodes
in your eyes are just gleaming from the effects of the indoor light
and need some time to adjust. This period of adjustment
leaves you witness to extremely cool effect.

As your eyes slowly adjust, stars begin to pop into view, almost
one by one. All of a sudden you can make the dark profile
of the CSO. Other nearby telescopes spring to silent life,
focused on what you can just make out. More stars appear.
The Milky Way struggles its way out of the black. The
sky slowly fills in.

It’s almost if you get to watch God himself paint the heavens with
starlight. Let’s put one here and another here. This would be a good
place for a galaxy. This guy here surely wants a close neighbor.

It’s truly a cool effect. Tomorrow I’m going to add some oxygen for
an even greater show.

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Dinner for One

Nov 8, 2002

One of the strangest things about traveling on business is going out for
a meal and eating alone. On my first business meal, I quickly realized
that I never eat alone in a public place. My pizza is delivered,
my fast food is taken to go, and my Chinese is carried out. I never
go to a restaurant, greet a waitress, and make an order for one.
But that’s exactly what I did on Thursday. Only one
menu please. Thank
you.

When that business trip takes you to a tropical paradise, you
miss more than just a little chat over a side salad.
You miss the ability to share the experience.

On my first to Hawaii, I had a single day to myself for sightseeing.
I had a car, a map, and a list of destinations. I traveled to several
stunning waterfalls and visited one of the more unique places
on earth:
Volcano National Park.
I was able to witness water plunging
into the volcanic rock. I was able hike through a real life rain forest.
I scampered through a lava tube and peered into the deep caldera of
a live volcano. However, I did it all completely alone.

I resorted to telephone calls to get some company.

“Hey babe, guess where I am?”

“Mom, you wouldn’t believe what I’m seeing”

Now I don’t want to sound that I pined by the phone pleading for
attention. There were certainly some advantages to my plight.
I could move at my own pace. I could see exactly what I wanted to see
for exactly as long as I wanted to see it. It was a day like no other.
But it just helps to have some company. It helps to have my wife along
for the ride.

Tomorrow, I’ll likely wake to a glorious sunrise, where streaks of light paint the
bay outside my
hotel
window and glisten along the rocky coast. All my
wife will see of this is a simple photo. A photo could never do this
scene justice. A thousand photos couldn’t communicate just how bad I
want her see it for herself.

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Falling Away

Nov 7, 2002

That’s just what the ground did just a few short hours ago: it fell away.
Actually, it fell away for the first time of three, as I’m on leg one of a rather
long three leg trip to Hawaii.

This trip, like my last to the little tropical paradise in the middle of
the Pacific, is all business. There won’t be be any fun in the sun for me.
No beaches, no babes in bikinis, and no daquiris on the water will be in
my future.

That doesn’t mean there are clouds on the horizon. In fact, the only clouds
I’m likely to see will exist 1000 feet or more below me. I’ll be sleeping
at an elevation of about 9000 feet and working at the top of Mauna Kea,
which stands over 14000 feet above sea level. Things will be looking
up, literally.

For those that don’t know, my programming work with NASA has led me to
visit one of the best three places on earth to take astronomy. That
should be helpful, as that’s exactly what the scientists I’ll be helping
will be doing. The little piece of
software that myself and several
team members have been toiling over for the
past several years will be helping some scientists take some infared peeks
at the sky from the
CSO (Caltech Submillimeter Observatory).

The work itself isn’t exactly fun and games. It involves some rather long hours
fighting the effects of high altitude on the brain. I’ll help them use our
software and likely write some new software in the process. However,
the opportunity to see your hard work in action is very rewarding.
The opportunity to witness this in a pretty incredible environment can be even
better.

One regret I have about this trip is that I didn’t take this chance to take
better advantage of the surroundings. I’ve never — never — seen a night
sky like the display put on every night by Mauna Kea. My first trip was
nearly worth the first glance. Once darkness falls, you can easily make out
our neighbor planets with the naked eye. The spectacular light display
overhead never fails to impress. No wonder
our ancient ancestors once worshiped the sky as a god. It’s an incredible
sight to behold.

But it would have been nice to get out and grab some more information on astronomy.
Maybe I should have grabbed myself a book or two. It would
be a sad waste of an incredible view to ignore the twinkling above.
I suppose the internet and the words of several NASA astronomers will be my
replacement.
The one thing I did do was bring my 35 mm camera. Add in some 1600 film and
I’m hoping the little photographer in me will
allow me to share this experience with others.

Thinking about the rest of this trip has at least gotten me a bit excited,
maybe excited enough to ignore the mountains of work ahead. It’s also gotten
me a bit homesick. I already miss my wife and unborn child. I sincerely
hope I can enjoy the experience of the next week but – make no mistake
– I just can’t wait to be heading home.

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Trick and Treat

Oct 31, 2002

On Wednesday night, the events outside my living room window superceded the story
developing on my TV. At about 8:00 pm, a short wail of a police car was followed by
the constant flash of blue and red lights on the living room walls.

A quick run to the window transformed me into more than a casually interested
observer. An unmarked police car had pulled over a red Chevrolet sedan. The
driver of the vehicle and the police officer were both out of their cars. Mr.
policeman was not happy. He shouted at passenger to remain in the vehicle.
He shouted at the driver to remain behind the car while he peered into the
vehicle with a flashlight.

Probably a simple traffic stop, I thought to myself. It was odd that the
police officer was in an unmarked car. It was also odd that apparently the two
cars had come from within my neighborhood, not from the main road.
That isn’t the likeliest place for a radar trap. Oh well, no matter –
Ed was on.

What’s going on? Is disco coming back? Another trip to the window revealed
an even more interesting scene. Three more police vehicles had appeared, blocking
off much of the road. Six kids were lined up against the car. Several police
officers were talking to each other. Cars of adults began to appear.

This is getting good. I better get on the phone with the neighbors. The neighbor
behind me called to make sure John Travolta wasn’t dancing away in the yard.
I called the neighbor across the street to see if they had the scoop.
They too were peering from behind the curtains but had the window cracked
to gain an audio track to the movie playing in the street. A jarbled version of
the tale indicated there was something about an assault. The clown car of
children that was pulled over contained six kids. One was taking the blame.
He was the one in cuffs.

Eventually, parents showed up to take their future convicts home. The kid in cuffs
got to ride in the car with the pretty lights. Calm was restored.

That would have been the end of the story but it got much better when a kind policeman
stopped by while the wife, myself, and a neighbor were handing out candy on
Halloween. He had seen us peeking anxiously from the windows.

The kids in question were having a bit of fun, celebrating mischief night by sharing
some recent poultry purchases from the grocery store. This merry band of
adventurers had decided to not only pelt inanimate objects but humans as well.
In fact, a man in my neighborhood had been attacked with eggs as he exited his
truck. This man was unhappy. This man left his truck behind and jumped in his
undercover police car in hot pursuit.

A state trooper got his man that night. The kid in cuffs went to jail for assualt.
The hooligans in the car were stopped, thankfully before they got around to my
house.

I can’t help but chuckle at their bad luck. I’d say someone has egg on his face (oooo, too easy).
Just wait until junior gets back to school and has to hear about this one from his friends.

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Me Time

Oct 23, 2002

This weekend I had a little bit of “me time”, a time where I could relax and
do — well, do whatever my little heart desires. The wife was treated
to a free trip to Ocean City by a good friend and off she went Saturday morning.
I had all weekend to myself. What to do? What to do?

I usually fill nights out on the town by the wife with an invite for a couple
of friends. They come over to watch some movies and play some
games. I rarely spend this time alone.

This time, however, I wanted a slight change of pace. I wanted a chance
to adjust to the quiet of the house, where only the cat and dog need the
occasional bit of attention. I wanted to feel a little lonely. I wanted to
focus on me (hmm, that sounds a bit unfair in retrospect).

And so I did. I had to deal with the cable man in the morning but the
afternoon was filled with activities to make me happy. A quick spat
with
Madden 2003,
some reading, and a quite a lot of
Battlefield 1942
dominated the rest of the day. Some
unfortunate news finished off the night as I fell asleep in front of the TV.

Sunday I awoke determined to feed my
Mafia fix. There went my early
afternoon, where only
Ravens’ game diverted my attention from the mob.
Then, a funny thing happened: I started cleaning. Some dishes,
vacumming, trash, poop duty (I’ll go over this another day), and a lawn mower
discussion later, my husbandly duties were complete. The wife must be
messing with my internal wiring; it couldn’t have been me that thought the
house was dirty. It just couldn’t have.

The time away from the wife seemed to have its intended effect.
Sometimes her mere absence leads to a yearning of the heart that her
reappearence answers.

I’m glad I had the time to take. In only three months, “me time”
will be in very short supply. For the next 18 years or so, “me time” will consist
of me clutching a magazine and yelling to the wife to stop the kids from
banging on the bathroom door.

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