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

Friday, July 25, 2014

INJUSTICE: Poverty Crushes in These United States

Of the 46.5 million Americans living in poverty ($19,090 for a family of 3), women were 32% more likely to live in poverty than men, 16.4 million of the impoverished are children, and over one million of those children are homeless. One of the most pernicious lies about poverty is that any individual wishing to rise out of poverty need only "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps" and "be a self-made man and woman." It does not work that way. Living in poverty means living without support in many different spheres of life at once. It means you do not have social safety nets in place, your education may have been less-than-beneficial given your environment (perhaps you learned as some children do that when gun shots ring out in your neighborhood while you're walking to school that you hide in a trash can until things are quiet again, all the while praying some stray round will not find you among the garbage), you have little support from family, cannot easily access social services because you cannot get to and from appointments in various offices quickly or frequently, and the list goes on. Let's explore how fragile the hope of rising out of poverty is for those who struggle with one simple example.

For the rest of us, losing a license or a photo ID is a mere nuisance. We head down to the DMV, order and pay for a new copy (roughly $30), chide ourselves for our carelessness and the lost couple of hours and move on with our lives. Now, if you are poor and lose that ID, you have a problem. Without it, you can't get a job and get paid. Without pay, you cannot replace the ID. What do you do? You don't have social safety nets, family and friends easily capable of helping out, and you are in a bind. Now, suppose you do get the cash together. You still have to get to and from the DMV, most likely on public transport. Where do you keep your kids while you do all this? Take them with you and pay the extra fares you may or may not have?

Suppose you get the ID, secure the job, and start getting paid. Most likely, you won't be making a huge income, probably something still below the poverty line. After all, half of all the jobs in the US pay less than $34,000 a year ... which really makes the proposition that anyone can succeed who tries look like the crock it is. You are still going to be living one setback away from jobless disaster again. There are states after all where employers have the right to fire employees for no reason at all. Have the bus run late too often, have children get sick and keep you out of work too much, lose your apartment through misfortune, and there you go. You're out of work again and foundering once more.

And our myths of riches for all who work hard for them leave us so ashamed when we struggle that we won't seek help or admit we have trouble. And yet, the statistics say that half of all Americans will experience poverty at some point by age 65.

I know a local food bank for families who suffer from regular food insecurity (that means they go hungry regularly) in an inner suburb of a major city--a place where you would not imagine poverty to be from the looks of the community--that cannot keep the shelves stocked for long. The demand from working folks who can't make ends meet is just too high ... and that's with strict limitations on how many times a month one family can receive assistance from that food bank. I read a story of a small town police chief who is humiliated to admit he has to use his local church's food pantry regularly because on his salary he can't make ends meet. We need to stop feeling humiliated and stop being silent. The injustice of poverty is simply too great to sweep under the increasingly frayed rug (and the U.S. has it good compared to those places around the globe, forgotten struggling places, where roughly 22,000 individuals starve to death daily)!

Poverty is crushing many in these United States (and far more around the world). It is time we put our collective heads together and worked much harder to stem the high and rising tide of suffering in what is supposed to be one of the wealthiest nations in the world. It is long past time we stopped quibbling over everything under the sun that the talking heads on the opinion shows tell us are the new hot issues of our time, that we demand our politicians actually work together to solve problems rather than earning larger paychecks than many in this nation will EVER receive for doing nothing and make the hard compromises needed to push back against poverty and support people who suffer. It is long past time we stop blaming teachers for a system stacked against them based largely on the economics of local neighborhoods and found new ways to distribute funds and resources evenly so all are well educated.  It is time to stop blaming the poor for being poor and time to start rolling up our collective sleeves and ending poverty for the benefit of all of us.

For more depressing and angering statistics about poverty in these United States, see this Bill Moyers post: http://billmoyers.com/2013/05/29/u-s-poverty-by-the-numbers/

Solution: Garmin Cigarette Lighter Charger's Refusal to Charge

The other day, out of the blue, my trusty Garmin charger stopped working properly. It no longer lit up when placed in the cigarette lighter power port ... or its little green charge light would flicker intermittently and die. Repeated insertions would in time get it to work.

Close inspection of the silver tip at the business end of the charger that contacts with the base of the power port led to the discovery of an instruction that turning that silver tip one way would lock it and a quarter turn the other way would unlock it. I tried to unlock quarter turn and ... voila! The power cord worked properly and charged the Garmin.

I have no good explanation for why that locking feature is there. All I can say is that if your charger starts to misbehave as described here, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

If you can explain the purpose of this lock feature to me, I'd appreciate knowing. Thanks for the help.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

SpaceX's Falcon 9 First Stage Return | ORBCOMM Mission Largely Successful





SpaceX hopes to bring real economy back into their rockets, returning the sections back to Earth for a soft landing on the ground via landing legs. The idea is to reuse each section of the rocket for much greater economy. In this short video, we see two burns of the main engines. The first brings the rocket stage out of orbit and the second "lands" the rocket on its landing legs at very low velocity in the ocean. This second test of concept was deemed a success even though the stage lost integrity as it toppled over sideways into the waves.



With luck there will be a test over land in the near future. If this works, spaceflight takes a big step forward in economy. Here's hoping. Good luck to the whole SpaceX gang.

NO to Fear-based, Authoritarian Organizations

Remember the song "You're So Vain," which includes the verse "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you"? Okay, when you read this, keep that sentiment in mind. This post in NOT aimed at one particular organization, but at a whole bunch of organizations popping up like weeds all around the globe. This is my declaration of freedom from ALL such organizations, everywhere. 

Here are the key features of organizations I say NO to, will free myself from, and am loath to support, in quick bullet points. Such organizations are: 


  • Founded on fear: fear of any interpretation of reality other than their own, fear of deviation from that particular interpretation and even the knowledge of other interpretations, fear of others, fear of the world, the universe, of ideas ... the list goes on.
  • Driven by authority flowing from that fear: with leaders rarely questioned and their power considered absolute (until they are proved to be human by making mistakes).
  • Living with a "my way or the highway" mindset: often required to keep such fear-based organizations running--particularly if that mindset leads to the belief that others who do not see the world your way are either doomed or stupid.
  • Closed and static systems: loath to change and threatened by new ideas or changing social realities.
  • Relying on a very narrow interpretation of reality: that stubbornly refuses to entertain even the idea there might be other useful interpretations out there generated today that might actually benefit the organization in some way.
  • Are threatened by new discoveries: especially those who react to such discoveries with violence in any form.
  • Denying that humans make mistakes: especially if that organization thinks people who DO make mistakes are evil or mentally deficient or irredeemable. 
  • Denying we live on a fragile world: refusing to take an interest in and care for all who live here (fauna and flora) ... or refusing to help any who live here who do not believe as they believe.
  • Repressive of half the world's population.
  • Defending themselves by rote recitation of circular arguments, especially if those arguments are provided by opinion makers supporting their beliefs, whether those opinion makers work in the broadcast media or in print.
  • Either demanding there is only one meaning and truth as interpreted by its central authority figure(s) or that there are an infinite number of meanings and truths and therefore anything goes, no matter who is injured or dies in the process.
  • Humorless.
  • Demanding of loyalty to interpretation over thought.
  • Prone to conflict and dismissive of social issues.
  • Using "truth" as they see it as a bludgeon.
  • Withdrawing from others who think differently. 
  • Solving problems with violence. 

I'm striving to divest myself of the pernicious impacts such organizations and their often stridently stated beliefs have had in my own life over the decades. I find I have scars myself from run ins with such groups over time ... some quite recent and from opposite extremes. This delineation of the attributes of organizations I choose not to support and declare my freedom from has helped me to pull away from their more toxic teachings. I do admit that some of these organizations do mean well and some of their ideas have merit, once stripped away from their more dangerous teachings. It makes navigating the world a challenge, but a challenge well worth grappling with in my humble opinion. 

I actively work to promote organizations that have what I believe is a positive, healthy outlook on the world, an outlook that replace fear with joy, works with others to protect life in its great diversity on this planet, grapples with ideas as best they can while maintaining core values that promote the above. I'll support leaders who seek to bring out the best in others, accept that we all fail, that we are redeemable, that we can learn from our mistakes, that we can and should compromise, and that we benefit most when we move onward together. I will help those who promote peace, who choose the path of meekness in this life, who want to help those who struggle rather than condemn them, and who are willing to change with the times in necessary ways to remain relevant. 

What do you think? Am I on the right track or completely wrong?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Vacation Spots to Consider: One Dozen Recommendations






The J.S. Brooks Presents crew will be spending time at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware, this summer. Here are links to some of the best vacation spots in the nation, if you are looking for places to go this year, or any year

For the top ten national parks, check out the National Geographic post: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/national-parks/top-10-landmarks/

Check out this Fodor's Travel article for the ten best state parks: http://www.fodors.com/news/photos/americas-10-best-state-parks#!1-intro

For the very best in smaller amusement parks, see this blog's article on "trolley parks:" http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2009/06/take-family-to-trolley-park-this-summer.html

We'll turn to Fodor's again for the best of the big "theme parks" in the US: http://www.fodors.com/news/photos/10-best-us-theme-parks-for-2014#!1-intro

In my personal opinion, any park that does not have bumper cars is NOT among the best, as you'll see in my post: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/08/bumper-cars-best-family-rides-around.html

If camping is your thing, see the Greatist article: http://greatist.com/fitness/best-camping-united-states

If 26 places to pitch a tent is not enough for you, try this top 100 list from tripleblazehttp://www.tripleblaze.com/best/?s=2

From a recent trip to Philadelphia, I can recommend this city to you as well: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/05/awestruck-in-philadelphia.html

Interesting things happen in New York as well, like Comic Con: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2012/12/adventures-in-new-york-citys-2012-comic.html

Funny things happen in New York, too: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/08/funny-thing-happened-in-new-york-city.html

When vacationing with small children, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2012/08/parents-plans-for-happy-vacationing.html

If the vacation you seek is in Disneyland or Disney World, consider this: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2009/10/disneyland-and-disneyworld-still-great.html

To round out this "baker's dozen" vacation recommendations, this is Lewes, Delaware, where Cape Henlopen State Park resides: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/08/relaxation-modest-proposal.html

Those should get you started on a proper vacation. If nothing else, these articles will get the ideas flowing and you can take it from there. Just remember, a good vacation doesn't have to bankrupt you and it should not leave you exhausted. If, for example, you go to Washington, D.C., to see the sights, be selective. Pick a couple places you most want to see and spend time there. Do not be like the rank amateurs who dash across the Mall, dragging crying kids after them, trying to take in all the sights in a few days. IT CAN'T BE DONE!!! Give everyone a break and just see what interests you most. For me, I'd include the National Air and Space Museum ... and the Natural History Museum ... but that's just me.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, drive carefully, be safe, have fun, and relax.


Sloggin' Thru Blogging: 10,000 Hours!?

I've set one of my "Google Alerts" searches to seek out articles on blogging success. In some ways, these articles are like the child raising books my wife and I read before the birth of our first kid. The advice varied decade by decade, was often contradictory, and frequently flew in the face of common sense. We carefully set those books aside and moved on. The kids came out fine, thank you very much.

The most recent article states that blogging success comes from a diligent application of hours to the project. With 10,000 hours of blogging under one's belt, one will have made the blogging process routine and with that routine, all that practice, all that verbiage, the practiced blogger will find success through practiced familiarity with the medium. That and check out what wildly successful bloggers do.

Okay, I can understand that. Practice makes perfect and all. But, then there was that bit about blogging every day. That I find extremely difficult as ... well ... how to put it tactfully ... LIFE gets in the way. This comes on the heels of the article stating quality over quantity is the way to go. There's truth in that as well. But, I'm getting that queasy feeling that I'm receiving that wonderful, contradictory advice from the child raising books again.

So, rather than casting it all aside, I'll go for a compromise. Somewhere along the line, some day, I just might get in that 10,000+ hours. I'll strive for quality wherever I can and restrain myself from writing what I believe to be total crap that wastes everyone's time. We shall see. I'm also armed with all those trending topics (blogging advice being among those topics worthy of discussion) so I can keep to hot topic grounds ... if I so choose.

I'll also be keeping it short, which is more advice received ... and probably among the best considering the amount of material blogged each and every day around the globe!

Good luck, fellow bloggers!

Other useful Sloggin' Thru Blogging posts: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/07/sloggin-thru-blogging-top-ten-blog-post.htmlhttp://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/07/sloggin-thru-blogging-quality-over.html, and http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/07/google-alerts-search-for-you.html

Apollo 11 TV Broadcast - Neil Armstrong First Step on Moon

 It was 45 years ago (July 20, 1969) that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the surface of the moon. This was and remains a technological triumph for humanity and says a lot about our inquisitive nature. The politics that led to this moment, the race for arms superiority between the U.S. and Russia, take nothing away from this achievement.

I was nine years old when this event took place. I remember seeing part of it at my Grandmom's house with the family watching. However, 10:39 pm was a little late for this kid. I nodded off before the main event. I remember watching the image of the LM sitting there on the surface of the moon for what seemed like forever for me. It's nice to be able to look back on this event all these years later and better appreciate what a sleepy nine-year-old could not.

I fervently hope I will live long enough to see humans set foot on another celestial body again.

Thanks to everyone involved who made this momentous event possible. You helped us dream of and aspire to more.

For one of my most popular posts on human spaceflight activity, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2010/03/progress-in-manned-space-flight.html

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Power of Friendliness

I stopped in the local convenience store this morning on my way in to church to preach. As I picked up what I needed and got into line at the register, I noticed something surprising. The cashier was a very friendly young man who seemed genuinely pleased to meet you and to do business with you. Each person was met with a smile, a polite greeting, and a friendly attitude.

I have to say, after that service with a smile, I left the store with a bit of a spring in my step. There was the simple power of a friendly smile. There was the power of another individual showing you that you matter.

This friendliness cost the employee absolutely nothing, gained him a far more enjoyable morning, and gifted everyone he met with a lifted spirit with which to face the day. I'll bet that friendly attitude was contagious.

If you see this post, it may also be lifesaving in some instances: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-power-of-smile-suicide-prevention.html

The Power of a Smile: Suicide Prevention

Your smile could save a life. It's true. Check out the American Journal of Psychiatry article "Just a Smile and a Hello on the Golden Gate Bridge" in the link below. In it you'll discover that the Golden Gate Bridge is a magnet for the suicidal. Very few jumping from the span roughly 220 feet above the high water mark survive. One person who let a note behind said if a single person smiled at him, he wouldn't jump. He jumped.

John Kevin Hines is one of two survivors of the jump since 2000. He stated that if someone had smiled at him and asked if he was alright, he would have abandoned the jumped and pled for that person's help. 

The doctor in the article surmises that the smile and hello tell the person feeling isolated, depressed, and suicidal that they really are a person of worth recognized by someone else. That's a lot of power in a simple friendly greeting. 

In my faith as a Christian, one of the greatest commandments in the Bible is to love our neighbors as ourselves ... and our neighbors are everyone on this world of ours. In another passage, we are told  (Matthew 5:15-16) No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others ...


I say, love those neighbors, let that light shine, smile, say hello, and perhaps save lives. It's so very simple, isn't it? It's hard to believe it would work. And yet, what do you lose in trying? Nothing. What do you gain? You may never know, but you just may save a few lives. You may improve a few days filled with darkness. You may buoy a troubled soul and remind that person the world is not so bad. That person may smile at another, with the same impact. It might just spread to many people in many places. The light will shine and it will spread. Is that worth stretching a few muscles and adding a friendly greeting? Is it worth following the still, small voice inside you that says from time to time, this is a person who needs you. Smile and say hello. I'd recommend following that voice. It sure beats the alternative, having yet another person succumb to the terminal phase of a long struggle ... suicide.

To read the compelling article, see: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleID=98321



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sloggin' Thru Blogging: Top Blog Post Topics


Here are the top ten blog topics right now for all you eager bloggers out there, according to WP Virtuoso


  1. Music: top of the charts!
  2. Fashion
  3. Car
  4. Real Estate
  5. Beauty
  6. Travel
  7. Design
  8. Food 
  9. Wedding 
  10. Movie
I've posted periodically on two of the top ten. The rest, well, I just don't care much about them. Topics of interest for me appear much farther down on this list, providing far fewer hits. That could explain a lot. 

However, Upworthy has a different spin on things more favorable to me, with the top three topics of highest importance for 2014: 

  1. Climate Change and Clean Energy
  2. Income Inequality and Poverty
  3. Human Rights
Now those are issues I can sink my blogger teeth into. 

Still, Search Engine Journal takes a different spin altogether. Their top nine popular posts include: 

  1. Blog Lists: Posts like this one of lists of things people are interested in are interesting to people! Huzzah, I got one right! 
  2. How-To Posts: Yeah, how to turn off that blasted "Maintenance Required" light on the Toyota Yaris is a big hit for me!
  3. Reviews & Recommendations: Restaurant, book, and movie have all worked for me.
  4. World Events
  5. Blogging Tips: Hmmm, maybe I'm just writing those wrong!?
  6. See What Top Blogs Are Writing About
  7. Link Roundups: Links to great blogs with terrific posts ... to see more on this subject, go to: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/find-great-topics-write-blogging/81831/
  8. Interviews
  9. Google Trends
To sum up, the posts that I've done that are popular fall into either Upworthy's or Search Engine Journal's lists. I'm almost entirely out of luck if you stick with WP Virtuoso.  

According to my blog's history, the best topics include, in order of popularity: 

  1. How-To Posts
  2. Space Flight
  3. Reviews & Recommendations 
  4. Flight (Flying the Goodyear Blimp)
  5. Guest Written Posts
  6. Politics
  7. Health
  8. History
  9. Careers
  10. Blogging Tips
What are your top ten, based on experience?