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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins


Here's a treat for anyone who loves Dr. Seuss ... and especially if you are a fan of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, as I am. These guys really bring life to that story, much as the story records I had as a kid did!

Take the 01/01/11 Random Acts of Kindness Challenge

Please follow this link to the Exton Community Baptist Church blog site and read about the 01/01/11 challenge: http://extoncommunitybaptistchurch.blogspot.com/2010/12/let-there-be-peace-on-earth-sing-along.html

Who knows where this might lead?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Meaning of Christmas from Peanuts


And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Building a Christmas Tree This Year ...

Artificial tree bits awaiting assembly!
It's been a while since last I posted. We're in the Christmas rush here. Working full time, attending seminary part time, and the holiday festivities have been keeping us hopping.

This year we needed to build an artificial tree. The last two real trees were causing allergy difficulties and so the really ever green came home to roost.


Hey, this is starting to look complicated!

This object was a surprise. I had sort of imagined a pole to which all the branches were hinged and folded downward. Oh, no. How naive of me. This was an assembly job that first reminded me of when we put up a 15' above ground pool in our backyard. In the end, this proved to be easier ... and the results are fine. We like our tree just fine now that we've inserted all the JJJ branches to BBB branches (color coded too) in the right places and gotten it decorated.







So this is what it should look like?!
This branch goes where?



End result ... not bad.
Speaking of decorations, we like 'em old (Shiny Brite c. 1940s) and we like 'em new (Hallmark c. 2009 ... I was a big fan of Superman as a kid and that's all the connection I needed ... especially with the ornaments deeply discounted after the holidays!).


Shiny Brite, c. 1940s w/ modern LED lights.

Modern Ornaments Too, c. 2009.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas, and may you have a wonderful new year. And for those of you with different religious persuasions ... or none at all ... we wish you all happiness during the holiday season and joy in the new year too.

Joy to You This Christmas ... and Always


Several teen choral groups, and group alumni, joined forces to deliver this message of joy and hope for Christmas 2010.

Advent Conspiracy ... Is This For YOU?


Here's a little something to think about for Christmas. Not a bad plan, not a bad conspiracy to join.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

1970 JAGUAR XKE SERIES II ROADSTER


You never forget that first infatuation of youth.

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishingllc.com/index_files/OldLinePublishingChildrensMichaelandtheNewBabybyJSBrooks.htm 


Meeting My First Flame ... Years Later

I was driving down a winding backroad the other night. "She" rolled up beside me. My first flame, the infatuation of my teen years. I looked over and jumped as she caught my eye. I stared, unabashedly stared. She looked good. Her lines were just as I remembered. All these years later and she hadn't changed one bit. The man she was with looked over and caught me staring. I didn't look away. Such is her power. He looked concerned and a bit nervous, until I grinned and gave him a big thumbs up, recognizing his good taste and that she was with him now ... and that was fine. His face lit up, he waved, and we both went on our separate ways.

She, the Jaguar XKE sports coupe with a convertible top, still looked fine as she pulled away with him. I don't want her anymore, but was glad to see she is still around and that she is still as beautiful as I thought she was in the 1970s.

Still, I mentioned my encounter to a friend at work, and he told me an unsettling story. His brother had one of these automotive beauties back in the day. All was well, as I would imagine, until the starter motor gave out. Such was this Jag's design that the mechanic told the dismayed brother, "Well, there are two options. To reach that starter motor we can either cut a hole in the firewall or drop the engine."

Sometimes it is best simply to admire old flames from afar and never get too close. Learning truth can put a big dent in an old fantasy.

Still, she did look fine!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Is New Barn Storming Age Here?

Back in the days of early flight, wealthy pilots explored the limits of their early aircraft in the barn storming era. These enthusiasts helped usher in the era of air travel.

Now, SpaceX has successfully launched their Falcon 9 heavy lift rocket with the Dragon capsule that will be able to lift equipment payloads or humans into space. Here's a private corporation stepping in to replace the some of the services provided by the Space Shuttle, filling the gaping (and foolish) hole in our ability to send humans into space. You can find out more about SpaceX's program at http://www.spacex.com/updates.php

Meanwhile, in July Boeing announced it might team up with Bigelow and provide the Orion space capsule (remember the Orion capsule, once to return people to the moon and now demoted to rescue capsule for the ISS--not returning to the moon is a big mistake if you ask me, but that's another story) as a vehicle to take well heeled visitors to an inflatable Bigelow space station (a concept originally explored by NASA and set aside--this is their design enlarged). Spaceflight Now covered this news item in July 2010.

Further, Virgin Galactic has created the first private spaceport and is now preparing the Ansara X Prize winning suborbital spacecraft to take adventurers to the edge of space for a glimpse of the great beyond.

To learn more about any of these stories you can also check out articles from my friends at Universe Today.

So, is the new age of barn storming upon us? Could be. Looks to be an exciting time.

Great Christmas Gift: Michael and the New Baby

Tis the season for frantic shopping. Look, Michael and the New Baby is small enough to slip into a stocking (6" x 9" paperback), inexpensive enough it will not set you back even if you have multiple childern ($12.95--a real steal in a bad economy), and provides a great adventure story with wonderful cartoon graphics. It's the sort of book your kids will return to for years to come just to relive the adventure.

This book does not have to be limited to the child who will soon be an older sibling. Any child can learn great lessons about siblings and love, conquering fears, not giving into pop culture corrosive ideas, and much more. Click on any of the illustrations to the right of this blog page and you will be taken immediately to the publisher's website, where you can order the book securely online.

Also, if you live near Greetings and Readings in Maryland, there are 4 copies there just waiting for you ... or there were after the book signing. As they say, those copies of Michael and the New Baby are only there as long as supplies last (which won't be long).

Finally, if you like what you read on this blog and want to support it (me), buy a copy today. Okay, that was cheesy, I admit, but the original purpose of this blog was/IS to sell this book.

Happy Holidays to everyone everywhere.


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/




Saturday, December 11, 2010

Daisy Blasts Off .mov


Experimenting with another medium. It's a small start. A different sort of "launch" from what I usually discuss here.

At Home with Commander Scott Kelly: Private Space Aboard the ISS


Welcome to the crew quarters aboard the International Space Station!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Simple Childhood Wish Comes True in Technological Age!

Fighting Knights on lower right.
That childhood playset, closed and showing signs of much use...

When I was a kid, I had a Fighting Knights playset by Marx. It had a metal carrying case in which lordly knights and a barbarian horde were kept, along with plastic castle turrets, main gate, catapults, a well, and other accessories. However, for me, the most intriguing feature was printed onto the inner wall panel of the set. It was an open doorway, with a staircase leading upward in the distance. I always wondered where that staircase went and wished I could explore the interior of that castle between pitched battles. Of course, such things can't come true ... or can they?
Opening that set I was surprised to discover other "recruits" including a Robin Hood from a cereal offer and several fancier knights.


Those compelling doorways ... where did they lead?!

Decades later, that simple childhood wish did come true, in a way. First it came true in the computer game Myst, in which I could happily explore all sorts of structure interiors and plenty of mysterious staircases and passageways. It was a joy to have that childhood wish fulfilled.

However, I was reminded of this satisfaction while playing Halo Outreach and wandering happily through a multi-structure facility, ignoring the goals of the game for a time, and exploring every digital nook and cranny until I was completely satisfied.

Yes indeed, in the age of high tech, some simple childhood wishes can and do come true. Don't even have to wish upon a star. Sorry, Jiminy.

Political Delays, Blocks, Filabusters ... Is This What We Voted For?

The news today is full of federal shenanigans. Headlines read: "GOP, in procedural tiff, blocks 9/11 aid bill;" "Senate delays Dream Act vote, short on support for it;" "Obama backpedals on new emissions rules;" and "House Democrats want changes in tax deal." And let's not forget Senator McCain, who demanded the military run a study on whether Don't Ask, Don't Tell should be repealed. The report is in. The military says, roll it back. The senator's response is, the study was mishandled ... do it again. Oh yes, and then, as we approach Christmas, let's not forget that wonderful old chestnut moldering on a dung hill fire, "extend unemployment compensation only if you can pay for it." Hmmm, alright, I can think of one really quick way to pay for it. Bar salaries for wealthy congress people and senators for the duration of the economic crisis (until all who need work have it, none of this "jobless recovery" nonsense, not when the economy is based on people's buying power--how does that work anyway in a society that is skewing all the advantages to the wealthy and grinding the long suffering middle class, working poor, and totally impoverished into the dust). Take away their federal salaries, their pensions, their health care, everything that comes out of our pockets...and what they get from special interest groups. That money should pay for the extension. Further, then at least we'll be getting better bang for our buck. Right now, we're footing the bill for obfuscation, ideological pandering, and stalling. This is a bad bargain for the American people. No wonder our average life span in the US is dropping.

Now, I ask you, is this what you want to pay for from your government? I know I don't. I want to overfed, overpaid, overprotected civil servants who presumably work for us to get the job done. People are suffering throughout the country. Then again, I'm one of the radicals who thinks everyone should have affordable health care. After watching one friend die without health care, and seeing others suffer from illnesses because they can't afford health care, and still others pay the equivalent of a second mortgage to cover their families every month, my view on that subject is set in stone.

Ah yes, one last thing. In a news report earlier in the year, a reporter described politics in the newly established "democracy" of Iraq. He stated that whichever party was out of power stalled and refused to work with the other side until they had regained power and could take credit for whatever decisions were made. The reporter's analysis: the system is broken. Sound familiar?!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Life Gets WeirdER 1

Just when you thought things couldn't get any stranger--what with arsenic life, secret mini-shuttles, and catalogues devoted to geek life (thanks to the company that sent that one along ... we LUV it)--an ad like THIS shows up in the local hardware store supplement to the paper. No explanation, just THIS. My wife and I puzzled over what kind of product THIS could be ... AND OUR 14 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER KNEW!!! What is it? Google it yourself ... or ask a teen. I'm not tellin'. Sometimes life just gets weirdER!
WHAT?!?

Friday, December 3, 2010

My God, It's Full of Stars!

A view of many, many distant galaxies. Thanks Hubble team.
When Dave Bowman uttered that memorable line in both the book and movie 2001: A Space Odyessy, little did anyone know how prophetic the fictional astronaut was being. Now astronomers have said the same thing. Recent findings discover astronomers were off on the size of the universe by, to borrow a line popularized by Carl Sagan [via TV commedians], a few billions and billions. Turns out, certain galaxies different from our own are chock full of far more stars than the ol' Milky Way. The new estimate revises the total number of stars in the universe (drum roll please) from one hundred sextillion to three hundred sextillion!!! That leaves a whole lot more flaming gas balls to find potential earths around than we thought.

Just when we think we have a handle on what's going on ...

ARSENIC ALIENS FOUND!!! TEENY WEENY ALIENS!!! NASA-FUNDED RESEARCH DISCOVERS LIFE BUILT WITH TOXIC CHEMICAL

NASA News Release ... Suspense is over ... life can take strange, new forms!

NASA-funded astrobiology research has changed the fundamental knowledge about what comprises all known life on Earth.
Researchers conducting tests in the harsh environment of Mono Lake in California have discovered the first known microorganism on Earth able to thrive and reproduce using the toxic chemical arsenic. The microorganism substitutes arsenic for phosphorus in its cell components.

“The definition of life has just expanded,” said Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it.”

This finding of an alternative biochemistry makeup will alter biology textbooks and expand the scope of the search for life beyond Earth. The research is published in this week’s edition of Science Express.

Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur are the six basic building blocks of all known forms of life on Earth. Phosphorus is part of the chemical backbone of DNA and RNA, the structures that carry genetic instructions for life, and is considered an essential element for all living cells.

Phosphorus is a central component of the energy-carrying molecule in all cells (adenosine triphosphate) and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. Arsenic, which is chemically similar to phosphorus, is poisonous for most life on Earth. Arsenic disrupts metabolic pathways because chemically it behaves similarly to phosphate.

“We know that some microbes can breathe arsenic, but what we’ve found is a microbe doing something new -- building parts of itself out of arsenic,” said Felisa Wolfe-Simon, a NASA astrobiology research fellow in residence at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., and the research team’s lead scientist. “If something here on Earth can do something so unexpected, what else can life do that we haven’t seen yet?”

The newly discovered microbe, strain GFAJ-1, is a member of a common group of bacteria, the Gammaproteobacteria. In the laboratory, the researchers successfully grew microbes from the lake on a diet that was very lean on phosphorus, but included generous helpings of arsenic. When researchers removed the phosphorus and replaced it with arsenic the microbes continued to grow. Subsequent analyses indicated that the arsenic was being used to produce the building blocks of new GFAJ-1 cells.

The key issue the researchers investigated was when the microbe was grown on arsenic did the arsenic actually became incorporated into the organisms’ vital biochemical machinery, such as DNA, proteins and the cell membranes. A variety of sophisticated laboratory techniques were used to determine where the arsenic was incorporated.

The team chose to explore Mono Lake because of its unusual chemistry, especially its high salinity, high alkalinity, and high levels of arsenic. This chemistry is in part a result of Mono Lake’s isolation from its sources of fresh water for 50 years.

The results of this study will inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth’s evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research.

“The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake.”

# # #

The research team included scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park.

NASA’s Astrobiology Program in Washington contributed funding for the research through its Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program and the NASA Astrobiology Institute. NASA’s Astrobiology Program supports research into the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life on Earth.

More information about the finding and a complete list of researchers: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov/

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So, aliens live among us, at least in a NASA research lab ... teeny, tiny aliens. The more we look, the wilder things become. Thanks to the NASA team for broadening our horizons once again! Keep up the good work.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NASA EMBARGOES SCIENCE JOURNAL PRIOR TO ANNOUNCEMENT OF ASTROBIOLOGY DISCOVERY THURSDAY

NASA SETS NEWS CONFERENCE ON ASTROBIOLOGY DISCOVERY;  SCIENCE JOURNAL HAS EMBARGOED DETAILS UNTIL 2 PM THURSDAY
NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.
The news conference will be held at the NASA Headquarters auditorium at 300 E St. SW, in Washington. It will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website.
Participants are:

- Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington
- Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobiology research fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.
- Pamela Conrad, astrobiologist, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
- Steven Benner, distinguished fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla.
- James Elser, professor, Arizona State University, Tempe

Media representatives may attend the conference or ask questions by phone or from participating NASA locations. To obtain dial-in information, journalists must send their name, affiliation and telephone number to Steve Cole at stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov or call +1 202-358-0918 by noon Dec. 2.
For NASA TV streaming video and downlink information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

For more information about NASA astrobiology activities, visit: http://astrobiology.nasa.gov

***
 
That's the official word from NASA. They've discovered something that will "impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life." The blogosphere is buzzing over what this might be. Some say SHADOW LIFE has been discovered (look that up, it's interesting), others say it relates to the thin atmosphere recently discovered around one of Saturn's largest moons (Nope, it's no Endor ... what a geek I am), and still others let their fevered imaginations run far and wide. Industrious, curious web researchers tell us that at least 2 members study ocean life ... which supports the shadow life theory. Still, could it be extraterrestrials have been mamboing across NASA's front yard? Only time will tell ... a little over 24 hours from this writing to be precise. The truth is out there. At 2 pm EST tomorrow we discover part of it.
 
Thanks NASA guys and gals for adding a little mystery to my life!