The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Monday, September 28, 2015

Breaking News: Water Found on Mars

Curiosity rover landing site on Mars. Courtesy of NASA.
Today NASA declared that they have found evidence of water moving across the surface of Mars in certain areas during the spring and summer months in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Evidence came from Recurring Slope Linea, dark lines descending from high slopes during those warmer months. This water is highly salted, allowing it to remain liquid at much cooler temperatures, down to -70 degrees C. So Mars is a much wetter world than previously thought.

The entire hour long press conference was fascinating in its explanation about how evidence from multiple spacecraft and rovers combined brought about this important discovery. While at this point NASA officials were unwilling to say whether or not this improves chances that life might be found at the surface of Mars, everyone on the team felt that life deep below the surface, sustained by water and ice found there, was a virtual certainty.

The presence of water at the surface also has importance for future Mars missions involving humans exploring the red planet directly. Stay tuned for future developments. This will certainly impact what equipment is carried on future robots headed for Mars. 

For the highlights from today's historic news conference, see:

For what the scientists currently believe was Mars's early life as a world like ours, see: 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, American Baptist Church Seeks Part-Time Pianist

Here's an opportunity for some talented student of the piano. See:

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Matters of Life and Death on a Highway

I've found myself stopped in traffic many times. Here on a major highway, we all came to a stop for no reason we could see. We were too far back from the action to know what was going on. It's frustrating when you have someplace to be and you're going nowhere fast. All those car commercial claims declaring that one vehicle or another will go from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye are worthless in this situation. A few cars manage to get turned around, travel back up the shoulder and exit the wrong way up a nearby ramp, risking another wreck or ticketing if the police come by.

People get out of their cars. People do what people do. They stand up in open door frames, trying to get a better view of what has happened. Several head off toward the roadside shrubbery, apparently very interested suddenly in local flora (hey, when you gotta go ...). One gallant man brought an umbrella with him so his lady could have some privacy when she took her turn in the shrubs. But mostly we waited.

Then the police do start to show up, riding up the shoulder in a hurry, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Along with them came fire and rescue units. We began to understand that something bad had really taken place. Shortly thereafter the thump of helicopters overhead was heard. One was a news chopper from a local station. Two others were medivac helicopters from hospitals. We became quiet and solemn indeed, realizing a truly terrible wreck must have occurred. Matters of life and death filled our minds. Prayers for whomever was involved were sent up. After forty minutes, once helicopters and several fire engines had moved off, we started to move slowly forward. We were funneled left to avoid the wreck. It had been bad. One car was a charred skeleton of its former self. We went by solemnly, silently, and drove carefully onward, mindful of each other and of life's fragility. 

Adventures in Home Maintenance: Cleaning the Siding

We have reached that exciting point in home ownership where many changes need to be made. Much painting and upkeep needs to be done. Here's what we learned from power washing the siding.
Electric powered pressure washer.
Note how the water hose and hose for the wand attach.

  1. You can rent a power washer from many of the chain hardware stores. The electric models are the least expensive. In our neck of the woods, $25 will get you four hours of washing. For a modest ranch house, four hours is quite enough. 
  2. When renting a power washer, have the hose coupling checked before you leave the store. The hose for the power washing wand is held in place with ball bearings covered with a sleeve that holds the connection tight. The male attachment on the hose gets a lot of wear and tear. Our first try failed as the sleeve covering the bearings would not lock tight and upon turning on the motor the hose flew out of the mount followed by an impressive stream of water. Upon returning the unit for a replacement, it took the staff three times to find a hose that would work. Have them check it first and save yourself a second trip.
  3. Get a bottle or two of the cleaning fluid, which requires you to use a different tip to apply the soapy water than the high powered rinsing tip (either tip applies to the end of the wand used for washing the house). 
  4. Watch a video on YouTube demonstrating how to use the make and model of power washer you are using before you rent the unit. This will save you confusion and irritation later. 
  5. If you use the electric model, make sure you can plug it directly into an outlet. They do not recommend using an extension cord (tripped breakers may result). 
  6. Experiment with side to side and up and down motions. Dirt and grime will respond differently in different places ... I can't tell you why. 
  7. Work section by section across the wall surface. Have a ladder ready for the higher reaches of the wall. 
  8. Have someone work with you for safety's sake, especially when climbing up and down a ladder with wet shoes. 
  9. Wear clothing you don't mind getting wet. Work in warm weather. 
  10. Prepare to be horrified at how dirty the wall that gets less sunlight really is as you start to clean ... and glad that you have done the job. I recommend starting with the dirtiest wall while you are fresh. It is tiring cleaning walls with pressurized water. Oh yes, and be especially careful around those windows (they need to be shut and you don't want to hit them with the water stream). 
The dirtiest wall coming clean ... slowly.

Expensive Veggies ... The Stuff of Legends???

I know the organic vegetables can be more expensive than the regular "garden variety," but this is ridiculous. At $249 each, these tomatoes really are the stuff of legends. Now, I know what they mean and I know they know we'll know what they mean. But if you take that lack of a decimal point literally, WOW! If that's the bonus buy savings, how much are the regulars???

Clock from a Bygone Era?

Sometimes items from the past take us by surprise when we're out on the road. Here is a clock in a downtown area that looks like it has been there a good long while, keeping time near the train station, courtesy of the local Masons Lodge No. 711 from the looks of it. Then again, clocks like this are still made, so this could be a recent addition. It's hard to say.

With the cameras in phones these days, it's amazing what you can capture walking along the street.

If you know more about this particular clock, especially whether or not it is an old model, I'd love to hear from you.

Update: I found out the Masons had restored this clock in recent years and that it sits out in front of their lodge. For more, see:

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fie on Fanatics: Quotes to Live By

The first quote is from Brad Hirschfield's book You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. This is for those most strident supporters of the "New Atheism:
"Belief is more complicated than either the believers or the disbelievers among us are usually willing to admit. Too often I hear people referring to God as a delusion and religion as some kind of neurological disorder. All their qualms and suspicions are justified [in the wake of religious violence discussed just before this quote]. But if all they see is the ugly face of faith and the danger in spiritual connection, they have become as absolute in their disbelief as any religious fanatic. They have become fanatics of secularism who are as problematic as the fanatics of faith, because ultimately it is the fanaticism that kills, not the faith."
The second quote is for those faithful folks who use their religion as a weapon to beat people with, doing great harm. It is from the one-time atheist and later Christian writer C.S. Lewis and is found in his book Mere Christianity. He writes powerfully: 
"All the worst pleasures are surely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the animal self and the diabolical self. The diabolical self is the worst of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."

I think that gives everyone a little something to think about before stepping up on the next soap box.  

Adventures in Fitness 22: One Guy's Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: Called Back to the Gym

It's been a while since I've posted under Adventures in Fitness. It's been a while since I've exercised regularly. What happened? Life in ministry happened. I began my new career as a minister in 2014. The first year was all consuming. Over half way into my second year, I've got the basics nailed down and can breathe a little.

Then, God called me back (sure, roll your eyes at the religious reference if you must, but I'm a pastor ... and it's true in my case). You see, yesterday my wife and I helped a member of our congregation move some of her clothes from the apartment she had been living in to her new place. She had to move because the building caught fire and was badly damaged. Fortunately, her things on the third floor were spared the destroying flames and the worst of the smoke. She needs to move her things out quickly as the landlord is looking to rebuild. I'm try to gather a work crew, but in the meantime, after church was finished, we changed into work gear, rolled up our sleeves, took our large van over and got busy.

The apartment was on the third floor. The only access was a winding staircase leading from the basement to the third floor. We "Stairmastered" for hours. I expected to feel crippled up today (lack of regular exercise and all ... or so I thought). Instead I felt limber, the feeling I remembered and welcomed after a good workout.

Not long ago, I discovered I'd actually lost weight on my job (there's a lot of walking involved in ministry). Returning to the gym I discovered I was not short of breath on the machines. Several of them I was better on than I had been last time I'd been there. Some equipment I had to dial back the weight as I had indeed lost muscle mass in my chest and back and arms. Sure, that was to be expected. The rest was not. It was a great workout and a return to old friends. It was a joy.

I'll be back again. I'll try to work in a regular routine as I hope to be in ministry for many years to come and I want to be able to help others as best I can. That means getting this particular aging temple of God repaired and in proper working order once again.

So, back to the gym, back to knocking off the rust, and back a little wiser. I learned an important lesson. It's a journey, this fitness thing. It is not one and done. It is not a situation that if circumstances work against regular workouts you have failed. No, it is an ongoing process and you can pick it up again. Your body will remember what you had done and will fall back into the routine with a lot less grumbling than you might imagine. You'll find joy in that ... and a lot of satisfaction. Just don't let the old ego get in the way. Accept the fact that you're going to have to do shorter routines with less weight than you were doing when you left. Those muscles don't go on pause and maintain while you were away from the gym (home or public gym). You don't have anything to prove to anyone. Don't delay exercise further by hurting yourself the first time back with overexertion.

Enjoy the journey. Maybe I'll see you at the gym.

If you want to catch up with my last post (lamenting lack of ability to keep up a routine, ironically), see:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Aging Beagle Transformed

Daisy celebrating New Years Day ...
I watched a transformation this morning that was impressive. It was 6 a.m. and I let our now fed beagle Daisy out the back door. I knew something was different immediately. Instead of slowly trotting out into the grass, her ears perked up, her eyes locked, her body lowered and she began to move forward with a sinewy grace I would not have thought possible for a 15-year-old dog. This transformation was caused by a young and foolish rabbit in the middle of the yard. I clapped and yelled (I had to do it twice, I don't hold a lot of hope for that bunny's future) to change the scenario's outcome. Daisy has dispatched two bunnies who disrespected her hunting skills over the years and I didn't want to see a third. With the rabbit gone, Daisy stood up straighter and gave me a reproachful glare before getting down to business.

Please do not think your dog "mean" if it goes after and kills a small prey animal like a rabbit. In our case, the beagle was bred for the hunt. Also, instinct kicks in when faced with such an opportunity. Some dogs listen to that instinct more closely when it calls than others. Our previous dog, a German Shepherd mix had an agreement with the local rabbits. She would pretend to chase them and they would pretend to run away. It was an amiable agreement. Daisy, however, sees things differently. 

Abandon Mean "Memes"

I am growing increasingly disturbed with "memes." So many of those pithy pictures and quotes are designed to divide people. So many memes essentially say, if you do not agree with me, you are subhuman. Making people into subhuman "others" is the first step toward violence against them. Before sending another hateful meme, we should all pause and ask ourselves, "Who do I know who is being unfairly tarred by the gross generalization here?"

Let's all do what we can to stem the tide of divisive hatred leading to violence.