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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cooperation and Love: My Wish for You All

I have seen some truly ridiculous posts recently on social media. All polarization and anger and fuss and fume, all divisive and spiteful and hateful and vile. Far too many "experts" are lined up for pissing contests, showing how far they can spew vitriol through willing media.

So, here is a little balm for the acid burns:

When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation.~William J. Clinton

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” [Jesus] said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”~Matthew 22:36-40

Live by these and we may go far. Ignore them and we may soon be comparing extinction notes with all the species that have gone before us.

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."


Wishing you all a peaceful, cooperative, love-filled holiday season.

Peace!


Monday, December 22, 2014

My Top Posts for December 2014 ... So Far

It is quite the whirlwind season for a first year pastor. Blogging is not getting top billing on the priorities at the moment and I apologize for that, faithful readers. But, here are the top posts for the last month for some holiday browsing with no purchase required. Wishing you all the best for the holiday you do or do not celebrate this season and a wonderful new year. In order of interest from first to tenth place:  

Toyota Yaris: Finding Your Jack and Tire Pressure: 


Turning off the 2009 Toyota Yaris Maintenance Required Light (most popular post of all, by the way): 


Mother Nature Reminds Us We are Small: 


"I Want to be Ebenezer Scrooge" Guest Post: 



Guides to Safe and Happy Holidays (Important reads for challenging times): 


Resist the Voices That Lead to Darkness (excellent advice for any time): 


Resetting the Clock on Your Toyota Yaris: 



Sloggin' Thru Blogging: Top Blog Post Topics (great ideas for bloggers):
Sloggin' Thru Blogging: Top Blog Post Topics


Tired of Turkey? Try 1950s Alternatives (Better Homes and Gardens wild suggestions):
Tired of Turkey? Try 1950s Alternatives

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Resist the Voices That Lead to Darkness: Good News From Christianity

I highly recommend the book (if you are seeking a last minute Christmas gift ... as I always seem to be) Jesus: A Pilgrimage by Fr. James Martin, the author of Between Heaven and Mirth (also recommended). He has many moving observations worth exploring, including some thoughts about Jesus' time of testing and temptation in the wilderness. James Martin warns us about giving in to the darker voices that lead us away from God and down dark paths. We Christ followers are to imitate Jesus and resist these voices. Martin writes:

It's easy for us to listen to the voices that do not come from God; those voices can sound appealing. Likewise, sometimes it feels more natural to dwell in the darkness rather than turn toward the light. We hear voices that tell us we are unworthy of God's love, that nothing will change, that all is hopeless. We hear the voice of, as one of my spiritual directors called it, the Hinderer. We tend to turn more toward our inner "demons," who tell false stories about us and subvert our identities, rather than turning toward God, who knows our true story, our real identity. 
Jesus realizes the need to turn away from those dark voices, and he does so with the help of his Father. Jesus is driven into the desert, much as we are driven to reflect on our lives in times of testing and struggle. But he is not alone, and neither are we. The same power that helped Jesus in his desert helps us in ours.
During holiday seasons, it is easiest to fall prey to these dark voices when expectations run high, to do lists are long, and family histories come into play. Use the power Jesus used and resist!

God bless you all.

Do Not ...

 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SpaceX to Try New Landing Trick

Perhaps as early as December 19th, SpaceX will launch its next Falcon 9 reusable rocket. This one will sport the landing legs and a steering improvement, hypersonic steering grids in an "X-wing" configuration. They will attempt to land the first stage sporting these improvements on an autonomous 300 x 100 foot floating platform at sea. This platform has extending wings of its own increasing its size from 100 to 170 feet. However, with landing legs requiring 70 feet, it's a small target area. The platform is held relatively stable by thrusters used to hold deep sea drilling platforms steady ... but without anchors the platform remains a bit of a moving target.

SpaceX rates its chances of success with this experiment at no greater than 50 percent. But ... if it succeeds, the future of reusable rockets takes another step forward. Officials will not allow SpaceX to try this landing on land until the concept is proven at sea. If it doesn't work the first time, no worries. SpaceX will try again next year.

This will be a steering challenge. In the past, a 10km accuracy range was the best a Falcon 9 could accomplish. It'll have to be a lot tighter for this landing to take place. This reminds me of those old cartoons where a character has climbed to the high dive platform in a circus and the water pool waiting below was a mere drinking glass ... and a small one at that.

Good luck, SpaceX team. Here's hoping you make sci-fi a reality with this landing.

For more, see: http://www.spacex.com/news/2014/12/16/x-marks-spot-falcon-9-attempts-ocean-platform-landing

Update: 12/19: Date reset until early January when orbital mechanics make for better flying and so a pesky reading can be tracked down.

Update: 1/8/15: The Monday attempt failed when a reading came up faulty in the second stage. First attempt to retry will be early Friday, 1/9/15. Good luck SpaceX. Stick that landing!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What to Do When Your Dog Barks Constantly for Food

Meet my demands, NOW!

Is your best furry friend driving you crazy when it is time to eat? Does Max or Millie demand bark constantly until fed? Does scolding have no meaning?

There's bad news, good news/bad news coming my frustrated friend. That first bad news is that you have taught your dog this behavior by providing food for the bark. Your dog has made the connection. The good news/bad news is this behavior can be unlearned.

Check this link for the full story ... and good luck: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/pets/dog-behavior/how-to-stop-demand-barking

Monday, December 15, 2014

Orion is back on This Week @NASA



Orion is on her way back to the Kennedy Space Center to have her data evaluated following a picture perfect flight. Curiosity has learned more about water on Mars and how Mt. Sharp was created ... and more. It's been a busy week.

To relive the joy of the Orion test flight, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/12/orion-flight-test.html

Friday, December 12, 2014

T'is The Season To Be A Blessing ... Like Ebeneezer!

Be of good cheer Ebeneezer!
Remember the transformed Ebeneezer Scrooge, who kept Christmas in his heart all year round better than anyone? We need to be like him as the season fast approaches.

Consider me the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future all rolled into one package. Annoying? Maybe. Still, it's time to get our collective act together and treat each other well. When we're out shopping for that last gift, that one thing some family member (usually a child) NEEDS to have or all is lost, at like the reformed Scrooge with the personnel in the stores you use. Be a blessing to them. Give them a smile. Be polite. Lighten their load. It will help ease our stress when we do so, no matter how they respond ... which may be with a look of gobsmacked disbelief after all they've already been through. It's not exactly a season of joy when you work in retail. 

Give everyone you meet some slack on the roadways as well. If someone does something stupid in front of you on the highways and byways, instead of laying into the horn and cursing, imagine they are rushing to the hospital to be with a loved one, that they are in labor, OR that they really, really need to pee. Whatever raises your sympathy rather than your ire. 

Treat your coworkers with good cheer. Work often seems to try to kill us before we head off for the holidays. It is one of the fa la la la follies of the season. It's the same for everyone so be a spirit of goodwill to your overworked fellow sufferers instead of a pain in the butt. Send pleasant emails and ignore your caps key until next year, if not forever. 

Be generous with your family and friends. T'is the season for everyone to go a little nuts. T'is also the season of ridiculously high expectations and heavy emotional baggage picked up over many years of family history. Give everyone a pass this season, a hearty laugh, and a deaf ear to anything that sounds like picking a fight from stress. They'll appreciate it once the tinsel clears.

Once you've managed to be like old Ebeneezer Scrooge reformed for Christmas, work to maintain that Scrooge-like reformation good cheer all year long. You'll be a blessing and one day people will talk about you in the community where you live like they did about old Scrooge in his fictional England of yore. Once you've started, you may find it is habit forming.

God's blessings on us all, every one, this Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate in the chill month of December) and all year round. 

For a related, popular guest post, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/12/i-want-to-be-ebenezer-scrooge-guest.html

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Torture and the Death Penalty Erode Civilization

The Senate Intelligence Committee's "Torture Report" is out. In the fear-soaked period following the 9/11/2001 terror attacks, terror held sway and terrible responses followed. "Enhanced interrogation techniques" became acceptable under the thin excuse that the information extracted would prevent another attack. Never mind that information obtained under torture produces no valid results as those tortured will tell "interrogators" whatever they feel they want to hear to STOP the abuse. Since the 16th century, people have cried out against torture, particularly state sanctioned torture.

Every generation seeks a humane way to kill people society has deemed to dangerous to live. Every generation has found the new and improved method to extract the life from another to be less-than-humane in the end. Such is the case of our supposedly clinical and clean chemical death on a mockery of a surgeon's healing table. Worse, being human, we are prone to error, especially when emotions run high and crimes committed are particularly vile. One lawyer, a professional entrusted with seeking truth and justice, proclaimed of a suspect of one horrible crime that the facts of the matter did not matter. The crime was so vile the suspect MUST be punished. This proclamation was made before any trial and with evidence thin enough to leave the suspect's guilt seriously in doubt. DNA tests are proving time and again that we do convict innocent people. Better to have them alive in jail when we discover their innocence and can offer redress (however grudgingly) rather than offering a weak "Oops" after a wrongful execution takes place.

Torture and state sanctioned murder erode our civilization. They damage our collective psyche and make us increasingly coarse and violent people. You can see this any night on cable "news" channels where opinion makers who backpedal when proven wrong and say they are not journalists but entertainers (not what you'll regularly hear from them), where nothing is off limits, no matter how vile. Recently Eric Garner, an asthmatic murdered (the official conducting the autopsy used this word) with a choke hold had been alternately characterized as both a giant monster and an obese fragile individual (apparently implying if he'd been a better man he would not have died). These people spout lies with impunity and are never brought to task ... or very rarely ... and are well paid for their bad behavior. Escalation of violence on all sides and a militarization of the police force are results of this erosion of civilization. The fracturing of society along any number of lines, with opponents willing to say the most vile things about each other, is further evidence. The willingness to seek out a gun as a solution to any situation, leaving a staggeringly high number of dead annually behind us (many of whom should never have died ... and would not have died if our society were stable and fit and not fear-soaked and reactionary).

We need to correct all of this before it is too late. We need to change before we lose our civilization entirely and descend into madness from which there may be no return. We are sowing the seeds of violent death. The crop growing is terrible. The harvest will be death. Change NOW, while time remains and some sense of humanity remains.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What The Bible Is NOT: Good News From Christianity

There is a lot of misinformation about the 66 books of the library that comprise the Bible. It comes from a variety of sources who will not be named here ... but really should know better, at least some of them. 

The Bible spans many centuries of writing from c. 1400 B.C. and the last roughly toward the end of the first century A.D. Those writers were inspired by God but wrote in the language of and with the understanding of their times to the people of their times. These writers cover individuals living in a range of situations from accounts of people largely tribal and most often on the move to settled in towns and cities. Needless to say, such differences in life experience lead to a variety of perspectives and understandings that evolve over time, as is clearly seen. 

It is the hubris of the modern age that looks back on these works, which include stories passed down through even earlier oral traditions, and brush them off as irrelevant artifacts of an earlier age. The most common complaint used against these authors, and there are many, is that there are "inconsistencies" between their accounts. Let's take a moment to ponder that. Google Abraham Lincoln biographies. How many have been written across how many years? Go ahead, I'll wait. Now discount the writings of rank amateurs ... I'll let you decide who is who. Now, among the rest, each writing from a different perspective, with different experience, different education, and different historical tools for analysis by decade, would you expect them to see everything the same way or to write from the same point of view? No, you would not. If they did, there would be no point in having all those books, would there? So, the "inconsistencies" most often referred to come from the different perspectives of the writers and the slant they choose to take to most effectively reach their own readership. 

Much misunderstanding comes from the quaint idea that the Bible is simple and easily understood by all. This is a pleasant and democratic idea, but not consistent to a library this vast covering so many peoples and so many centuries. Take a look at several works of Victorian fiction. How many references and passages are mysterious to you? That's relatively recent history. Now extend that back through all the centuries of the books of the Bible. Writers, inspired by God, still used the language, the slang, the shortcuts, and all the writing genres of their own day. They referred to texts we do not have access to and spoke of things which were common understanding back in the day but are lost to us now. This leads to some astounding misunderstandings. Approach these texts with care. 

As for the argument that the Bible uses other genres, other stories, from other cultures ... have you ever known any writer worth his or her salt who did not? No culture, no person within a culture, lives in a bubble, uninfluenced and having no influence on surrounding cultures.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The Bible is overall the story of God's love for humanity and of God's promises kept to humanity no matter how many times we have resisted or rebelled against the free gift of God's love for all. It is also the story of grace, mercy, and redemption for us. Further, it is the story of all we are responsible for toward each other. Those who ask "why would a loving God allow such-and-such to happen," the question most often should be "why did WE let that happen, given the scope of our responsibilities to creation and each other?" That's a hard and scary question, but one well worth asking in turbulent times like right now. 

Our understanding of the texts of the Bible continue to grow and to change, just as does the understanding of science. Scholars continue to study and to learn. So do we all, when we are not caught up in ridiculous arguments that so often boil down to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. 

The books of the Bible are the study of many lifetimes ... and we have not come anywhere near a complete understanding yet. They should be treated with respect and approached with great care, humility, and boundless questions, not with foolish and often profoundly ignorant dismissals that would have astonished the original authors with the amazing lack of understanding they reflect.

Wishing you well this Christmas and always.

For information on resources you can use for further research into the Bible and various aspects of the Christian faith, see: http://lansdownebaptistchurch.blogspot.com/2014/11/recommended-reading-for-clarity.html

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Orion Flight Test



Here is a wonderful summation of the successful Orion capsule test flight from Friday, December 5, 2014. It is a beautiful thing to see. Glad to see the return of the capsule and big aspirations beyond low Earth orbit. It was fascinating to hear NASA's director discuss the possibility of allowing other nations to cooperate with us, with the US providing the Orion capsule and another nation providing the lander to return to the Moon. Not a bad idea, along with the trip to the asteroid and eventually on to Mars.

Friday, December 5, 2014

NASA Premieres ‘Trial By Fire’ video on Orion’s Flight Test




Everything expected of the Orion capsule during its first flight test in orbit. It is quite a challenge and will all take place in 5 hours or less from launch. At the time of this writing the 4:00 minute hold is in place on Friday, the second attempt to launch. We'll see how reality matches this video. Good luck NASA team!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014, a Big Day for NASA and Orion

Art Courtesy of NASA

Tomorrow at roughly 7 AM EST, NASA test launches the future of human spaceflight with the Orion capsule. It will only be a 4.5 hour unmanned test, orbiting the earth twice, rising above the Van Allen Belt, and then returning to the atmosphere at a blistering 20,000 miles per hour. If all goes well, and the heavy lift rocket more powerful than the old Saturn V that took us to the moon is built (don't screw around now Congress), we will have the vehicle that takes us further out into space than ever before. 

A lot hinges on tomorrow ... so I'll be hoping for clear weather and a picture perfect flight.

For much more on Orion, see: http://blogs.nasa.gov/orion/

Tired of Turkey? Try 1950s Alternatives


While visiting with family this Thanksgiving, we ran across a few alternatives to the seasonal bird of both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We found these cooking suggestions in a 1950s version of the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book. I know for some, these will be no surprise at all. My grandparents were quite used to these possibilities. For others ... well, a revelation!


Take a look and try venison, rabbit, squirrel, and Hasenpfeffer (I cannot read the last without hearing the chef from the old Bugs Bunny cartoon saying it while chasing Bugs). Good recipes, I'm sure, and startling alternatives that will keep your family talking at the table.



Monday, November 24, 2014

Guides to Safe and Happy Holidays

T'is the season(s) for all sorts of family gatherings, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi, and the Day of Ashura. That means lots of travel, lots of food, lots of family gatherings and loads of family history. Here are some links to help guide you safely and sanely through it all.

Enjoy the seasons and may they bring you joy.

For long distance drivers, here are 20 top tips for survival: http://www.independenttraveler.com/travel-tips/car-travel/top-20-safe-driving-tips As for me, I make sure I have a great book on disc to listen to when traveling far and alone.

If long distance flights are in your near future, try: http://lifehacker.com/how-to-survive-a-long-haul-flight-with-finesse-1551468782  Remind yourself over and over that nothing lasts forever!

Cooking much? Worried about loved ones eating healthy means? Try: http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes_menus/collections/holiday_collection_1

If you need to feed a family on a food stamp budget, try this: https://8b862ca0073972f0472b704e2c0c21d0480f50d3.googledrive.com/host/0Bxd6wdCBD_2tdUdtM0d4WTJmclU/good-and-cheap.pdf  If you know anyone who needs this, print it and give them a copy! God bless you in your struggles.

Do family gatherings freak you out? You're not alone. See: http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/home-for-the-holdays-stress-tips and http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/12/09/6-tips-for-dealing-with-difficult-family-during-the-holidays/ (You can find MANY others!)

Want to avoid those tedious family arguments? See: http://www.29secrets.com/relationships/avoid-these-common-arguments-during-holidays and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurie-puhn/relationship-advice_b_1156885.html

If you feel the need to guide the conversation over the holidays, especially at meals, see: http://www.yourtango.com/200942646/6-safe-conversation-topics-thanksgiving#.VHMbnYvF_PY

Want some tricks to avoid overeating? See: http://www.wakehealth.edu/Health-Central/NMR/Overeating-During-Holidays/ and http://www.garmaonhealth.com/combat-overindulgence/ AND http://homeopathyplus.com.au/top-4-overindulgence-and-hangover-remedies/

Need something creative to do with those holidays? See: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/enjoy-the-holidays-at-home-9-things-to-do-around-the-house-just-for-fun-197273

There is always a need to entertain children over the holidays (and rightfully so, they have a much different perspective on time than we do). Try: http://www.uwishunu.com/2014/11/the-top-14-things-to-do-with-kids-during-the-holiday-season-in-philadelphia/ and http://mommypoppins.com/kids/things-to-do-over-holiday-break-with-nyc-kids-2012 and whatever is in the town nearest you.

If you will be spending a holiday alone, see: http://psychcentral.com/lib/10-things-to-do-if-youre-alone-for-the-holidays/000403

Happy, healthy, safe holidays to you all ... whatever you celebrate. Have a wonderful season wherever you are. Be good to yourselves and to each other ... the very best holiday gifts you can give and receive.




Thursday, November 20, 2014

No Chocolate Doesn't Mean No Hot Chocolate

Here's the sad situation. You've been diagnosed with a digestive disease, acid reflux perhaps. Your doctor has given you a list of foods you must not eat to avoid reflux. You've been sick enough, long enough that you're willing to listen. Then you see it. Chocolate is on the do not eat list. You are sad, very sad indeed. You love chocolate.

I have a solution. Look for this little miracle from Land O Lakes. Arctic White is hot chocolate mix made with white chocolate, which isn't really chocolate at all. This is a substance that is not forbidden. With the thermometer descending and the chill setting in, with this white chocolate you too can enjoy a hot drink when you come in from outside like everybody else. It'll even be a drink similar to that of everyone else. It will smell as good as what everyone else is drinking. Better yet, it will taste as good and look unique. AND, best of all, it will not make you sick!!!

If your local grocery does not carry this seasonal and elusive product, ask them to get it for you. Stock up whenever you see it because you are not among the largest of tribes out there. I'm having a cup this morning myself and it is making the start of my day much, much better.

Enjoy.

For more wonderful food you might want to try, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/01/bosc-pears-and-wensleydale-cheese-finer.html and http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2011/07/saucer-peachers-aka-donut-peaches.html

For more on acid reflux disease, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/10/acid-reflux-disease-what-it-is-and-how.html

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Voice of the People Pure Fiction. The Five Minute Response

I don't know if there ever was a "voice of the people" but I tend to doubt it. We hear all about the people's voice and the mandates politicians receive in each election. Given the poor rate of turnout in most elections, the efforts to keep people away from the polls if they don't agree with a party seeking permanent power, the gerrymandered voting districts ... I'd say there is simply the voice of every partisan group. We are a fractured people. 

Two entirely divergent political opinion pieces on the same issue (or set of issues) in today's paper proved the point. Either the President and pols were following or ignoring the will of those pesky people from this election or the previous cycle.  It was absurd when the two articles were set side-by-side, each author speaking with absolute certitude. Kudos to the savvy editor who pointed this out by the juxtaposition on the page. 

When seeking some information on the elusive voice of the people, I came across this: http://themoderatevoice.com/195429/were-not-americans-anymore-we-are-merely-partisans/ I think it helps illustrate my point and I'm sure there are sites that took any number of different opinions on the topic. 

As for there was a voice of the people back in the good old days, or the greatest generation's day (I have to say I'm sick to death of that phrase ... even though I understand and appreciate its origin), then history shows us that the people's voice used to exclude various minorities over time ... or half the population by sex. At this country's origins, the only voice of the people was the voice of the landowners. Today, the corporate voice screams loudest and has the most money to do so, along with a few 1% billionaires. Hardly the people's voice in my estimation. 

So, I'd say, "the people's voice is dead, long live the people's voice." The next time you hear some pol claim to have a mandate, just shake your head and laugh. That "mandate" is based on the idea of that people's voice ... which doesn't exist. 

Whether or not I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, that's the five minute response!

A call for political adulthood: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/11/isnt-it-about-time-ask-republicans-start-acting-adults I'd expand this plea to every pol of every party and all their operatives.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tillie's Punctured Romance Nov 14, 1914




In the spirit of old fashioned fun, I offer up to you the 1914 comedy Tillie's Punctured Romance. See the comic genius of Marie Dressler in action. Oh yeah, and there's this Charlie Chaplin guy.

Great to watch in a group. This silent film almost begs for dialog improvisation by those watching. Take the time and enjoy an old comic diversion.

Thanks to UCLA for the beautiful restoration work.

My Family Will NOT Shop on Thanksgiving

In an age where consumerism is king, my family will not participate in the new drag store employees away from families on Thanksgiving day to work to feed consumerism and materialism trend. I know times are tough merchants. I understand. But there are certain principles that should not be violated, certain standards of conduct that should be maintained. I'll be keeping an eye (via Google and news outlets) on which retailers are naughty and nice. I'll spend my money in stores that respect their employees and those employee's families on that day. How about you?

For more, see: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/15/business/some-retailers-are-promoting-their-decision-to-remain-closed-on-thanksgiving.html?_r=0

To join an online organization promoting staying away from businesses on Thanksgiving day, see: https://www.facebook.com/boycottblackthursday

To sign an online petition from change.org to Target to reverse their decision and remain closed on Thanksgiving day, see: https://www.change.org/p/target-stay-closed-on-thanksgiving-2

We do have a voice and the power of the purse strings and wallets. We may not make changes on the macro scale (or not easily), but each of us can choose how we will approach the holiday season for ourselves.

As for me, no discounts are worth a loss of scruples in how we treat others--not now, not ever.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gratitude Log for Perspective

Life is hard. Life is challenging. Life is full of peaks and valleys. Life can crush you ... if you don't gain some perspective.

There is an old discipline you can try to gain that much needed, perhaps lifesaving perspective. Get yourself a little notebook and a pen. At the end of each and every day, or at the beginning of the next day, take a few minutes to jot down those things that happened in 24 hours for which you are grateful. Small things do count. On some days, very small things may be all you have. Write them down and treasure them.

Review your log regularly, especially when you feel ground down by life. Your gratitude log can become a wellspring of joy for you, a reminder that being part of this world is a really good thing. That is valuable information to have on a rough day.

Don't imagine you'll remember these little things if you don't take them down. You won't, especially when stressed. Keep that book close at hand. Perhaps you'll even find yourself jotting things down right after they happen as time goes by. Who knows?

This is a discipline that has been around for centuries. It has lasted so long because it works. It's a personal life preserver just for you. Use it well and know that you are blessed.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Holding Political Feet to Fire

The elections are over and went as the pundits expected. I'm tempted to lean toward a particular explanation dealing with inept decisions on exclusions of vital information from school books and the inaccessibility of higher education to most ... but I won't. (See: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/10/if-knowledge-is-power-us-students-being.html)

It's done, it's over, and we have to live with the results. It does not mean we have to accept what is to come quietly ... NOT ... AT ... ALL! There were all sorts of wonderful noises from the pols in the glow of post election satisfaction that bipartisan cooperation would be in the works, provided the other side did their part. Pretty noises those were, but if you've been around any length of time at all, you don't believe them. Sure enough, the House and Senate are back in the nation's capitol and ... nothing but partisan bickering all over again.

Come on folks, these guys and gals are paid far too well to let this happen time and again. The world situation is far too dire to sit on the sidelines rooting for your "team," whatever that might be. We have to act. We have to hold political feet to fires and make these overpaid blowhards work for the people as intended. Write letters, send emails, call ... this is after all the age of electronic communication. Join groups that agree with your positions and sign the petitions they send in so that your name has the backing of many other names (okay, make sure they are legit groups with strong standings and not some loony fringe folks back by some uber rich out of the loop haters of humanity). Research the issues that drive your passions (that is very easily done today with computer technology ... and if you don't own any, head off to the libraries that do and check out the newspapers and magazines kept there. Ask the staff at the research desk for help and learn.) Knowledge will always be power. Don't hope that you're hearing what's right from pundits and opinion makers on your favorite cable networks because they are shoveling crap and raking in money as fast as they can to feed their most rabid, avid groupies. 

It may end up taking some old fashioned peaceful demonstrations to get the job done. Petitions will need to be drafted and signed. Editorials written and published. Blog posts created and shared. It won't be easy but nothing worth doing is. Let's make a difference this time and stop the new and old pols in D.C. and the states from being overly well paid to ride the same hobby horses around for the entertainment of each other and their most loyal supporters. The world, the suffering marginalized peoples, the peoples in war torn countries, the men and women in our volunteer armed forces, and many more all need our help and it is long past time we responded. 

For one example of suffering souls in our own society who need more and better action from our pols and us all, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2014/10/coping-with-food-insecurity-in-us-local.html

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Movie Reviews: Big Hero 6 and Interstellar

Big Hero 6 is well worth seeing, especially if you have kids. It's made for older kids, but they handle the thorny subject of death carefully (someone is "gone" and not coming back) enough to avoid creating trouble with younger kids. However, the villian is scary enough the really little kids should probably give it a pass.

In the story, a 14 year old robotics enthusiast, Hero Hamada, a young genius on the subject actually, is pulled out of a dead end life fighting 'bots by his big brother. The caring older brother introduces his younger sib to a college institute for robotics and some truly talented students there ... plus a groupy who provides comic relief. There the young man also meets his older brother's robot Baymax, designed for healthcare but capable of much more.

Adventure ensues with plenty of humor and fun. If you want casting voices and other information, try Google. I'm in a hurry.

Interstellar, the sci-fi wonder fest, is worth seeing as well. It is filmed partially in IMAX and is startlingly gorgeous. It deals with the topical issue of global warming and a future generation (not that distant) that has used the planet up. The main character's, Cooper's, generation will be the last to survive on a planet turning into a large dustbowl. In this future, the technology revolution has collapsed. History textbooks are rewritten, stating we never made it to the moon and the entire attempt was propaganda designed to get the Soviets to spend themselves into oblivion on useless rocket tech. Cooper knows better, being one of the last NASA test pilots, who now must grub out a living as a dissatisfied farmer.

Cooper gets one last chance for space to try to save his family. The film is character based and driven, making it a good story you can get absorbed with and providing characters you'll care about. It is also worth the expense of IMAX for this experience.

For me the only downside of Interstellar is the use of postmodern claptrap to explain the metaphysics near the end. However, if you are a sci-fi geek like me, you've seen this often enough before not to be surprised or too badly thrown. Give Interstellar a try.

Both films are worth the time.

Remembering the Sacrifices of Veterans and Their Families

…Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Taking a moment to remember all the sacrifices veterans of war and their families have made, especially in the age of the volunteer military where so few share in their experience, even when a nation is at war. 

Be well and know that you are remembered and we are grateful. 

Peace.

Walking on Space Science's Wild Side

Rosetta and Philae lander almost at comet. Image Courtesy of ESA

There are three organizations walking on space science's wild side right now, making current events fun to watch. As of this writing at 6:30 am EST, the Philae lander from the Rosetta comet chaser is descending toward what could be a historic first ever landing on a comet. The little lander has a combination of rocket thruster (whose functionality is currently in doubt), harpoons to snag the comet's surface, and landing screws to draw Philae close to the surface of comet Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. That will or won't take place ... and we will know the results of the attempt ... around 11 this morning. Here's hoping more history is made today. 

Follow along with the webcast at: 
Webcast live from mission control: http://new.livestream.com/esa/cometlanding

Meanwhile, SpaceX will be trying to land their Falcon 9 first stage with landing legs on a massive platform in the ocean. The seafaring platform will measure 300 feet by 170 feet. This is the next step in proving that SpaceX can create entirely reusable rockets with each piece returning to dry land on pillars of flame and landing legs. When they will try this, and whether their floating football field exists yet, I cannot say. But this reminds me of those old high diving cartoons where the diver is at the top of some crazily high platform attempting to jump into a small glass of water. Great stuff! Let's see if it works. For more, see: http://www.space.com/27538-spacex-reusable-rocket-test.html To keep an eye on SpaceX news, see: http://www.spacex.com/news

NASA rolls out the Orion space capsule. Image Courtesy of NASA

Finally, NASA has the Orion human flight space capsule headed out to the rocket, ready to bring the two together for an unmanned, experimental launch to see if the Orion capsule really is spaceworthy and ready to take us out farther than humanity (not our robots, but our fragile selves) out beyond the orbit of the moon. This is also wild and exciting rocketry that will hopefully inspire future generations into space science and the great beyond, the big empty, the black as various science fiction shows and books have called space. Here's hoping all these walks on the wild side work and our space future is so bright we gotta wear shades.

UPDATE: Wednesday, at 11:03 AM EST, Philae had landed on the comet over 300 million miles out from earth. She may have bounced once and landed twice, but she's there! Never in history has such a thing been done before and it took international cooperation to make it happen (see, people, we naked apes really can work together)! It was lucky that robotic probe had three landing systems because two failed. The thruster designed to fire and affix Philae to the comet failed and the harpoon system never functioned. But the screws in the landing feet did their job and Philae now rides a volatile comet. Congrats to the ESA for making some pretty wild space history.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Don't Lose that Car Key! The Five Minute Response

Keep a tight grip on your car keys. Do not misplace them. Make sure your pockets do not have holes.

Here's why. It isn't like to old days, at least for some cars. New keys have computer chips in them. These chips speak with a computer program in the car. Only when the chip and computer program agree will the car start. It is an antitheft method. It's clever, but it doesn't come cheap. You can't replace a key at your hardware store. It has to come from the dealership. You have to take in the car, ask for a replacement key, hand over any remaining keys and the new key, the old key(s), and the computer program are all adjusted to agree with one another, ensuring that your shiny new key will start the car.

All of this will run you somewhere in the $140 to $160s. Better to keep tight track of those keys your car came with.

And that's the five minute response!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Spaceflight After Disaster: Imperative We Do NOT Quit

Cygnus at the ISS
Orbital Sciences lost a rocket and their automated payload delivery capsule Cygnus when one of the Russian built Antares rocket engines failed. The team destroyed the rocket as they should and no lives were lost at the Wallops Island, Virginia, launch site. Equally fortunately, the cargo heading for the International Space Station was not critical to the crew's survival and other launch systems are still providing supplies. For more, you can see: http://time.com/3567208/orbital-sciences-antares-rocket-explosion/

Sadly, for Virgin Galactic and the families involved ... and us all as we share our empathy with them over their tragedy (we do stand with you in this trying, terrible time), loss of life was involved in the destruction of their SpaceShip2 during a test flight checking out new fuel for a higher flight. It is hypothesized that flaps may have been deployed at the wrong moment, causing the craft to break up in midair. For more, see: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/01/us-space-crash-virgin-idUSKBN0IK24220141101

In the wake of these disasters, especially when loss of life is involved, many lose their resolve. They begin to fret over the private company space program venture of NASA or the very existence of a company devoted to space tourism (well, somewhere near space tourism in the Virgin Galactic case). This happens every time something goes wrong with a spacecraft. You would think we might learn from history and calm down a bit. Spaceflight is complex, very complex. It is rocket science after all. Unlike science fiction, real life science in space cannot be done without risk. Pushing boundaries can't be done without testing new and exotic equipment. We will get past this unless we decide to be a spineless as jellyfish and run away from the challenges to "safer" pursuits. Doing so will not keep us safe, however. We live in a risk-filled, dangerous world. However, steer that course to "safety" and we lose. We lose opportunities to explore, to learn, to teach new generations about new wonders, and we lose out on "awe." So what about the "awe" thing, you might ask. Well, science has uncovered a truth long known by humanity but rarely thought about. Humans faced with the awe inspiring become a more tight knit community because of it. Humans soaked with awe also become more empathetic of others. We NEED more awe in our lives, given the way the world is going right about now. We need a robust and exciting, awe inspiring human spaceflight program heading further out than we have gone before. We need to be able to ride along vicariously with the brave men and women who venture out further than ever before so that we can be in awe and raise the next generation of future explorers who bend their lives to constructive pursuits and away from violence, war, and death. We need future generations more inspired to push boundaries of knowledge and spirit, not generations soaked in traditions, dwelling on past hurts, and seeking revenge in all its nasty caveman forms.
Orion

We need a robust space program sending humans out beyond the moon. Right now NASA is preparing to launch a spacecraft capable of making that happen, the Orion, which looks much like the old Apollo space capsule for those of you who are old enough to remember (and love) and what the rest of you may have read in history books. If all goes well, sometime in December 2014, an uncrewed Orion will head out beyond the moon's orbit and return. If that is done safely and the ship is proved space worthy, crews will climb aboard once the really robust rocket to launch the fully loaded craft is ready and we will be off on new adventures to asteroids, perhaps back to the moon, and eventually off to Mars.

And who knows, that private company SpaceX may surprise us with their Dragon capsule. It may go farther than the International Space Station before Elon Musk is done. Let's hope so. We could use the competition.

Apollo
Let's fill our future with awe. Let's excite everyone with the possibilities and bring back the heady days of Apollo 11 and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey when people wanted to buy their own Pan Am shuttle tickets to space while humming "Fly Me to the Moon." It's worth the investment for the benefits of awe alone. Then there is all that we will learn, all the spin off technology we'll benefit from right here on earth, all the jobs created on all levels across the nation ... and if other nations are involved ... around the globe. Really, in the end, we cannot afford to be spineless jellyfish when it comes to human spaceflight. We can't afford to sink back into our old and angry caveman ways. Here's to the future. Here's to flight in space and risk taken and awe. Here's to future generations of spacemen and spacewomen created by our endeavors and all the men and women who will support them as they take us toward the stars. Let's make it a bright future together!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Looking Back Over 55 Years

It's my birthday. I've made half a century plus five and I'm looking back. Boring? We'll see.

That's a pretty fair stretch of history. A lot has changed on the technology front.

When I was in Junior High, I was amazed by the big video cassette machine (top loading) and wondering if those things would get out of schools and into homes. Boy, did they ever.

The Texas Instrument calculator came out, answering my wish for a "magic pencil" that could do my math.

The US manned space program took us from Earth orbit to the Moon ... before parking it in LEO ... but even that took us from the small Skylab to the massive International Space Station, proving many nations working together could accomplish something other than warfare and self-serving economic treaties. Amazing (I know, I'm being harsh there, but hey it's my birthday)!

In unmanned spaceflight we have toured the solar system and found its outer limits. Our space telescopes have taken us back about as far as we can go.

I read a lot of science fiction growing up and watched a lot as well ... Star Trek (original series) and it has come a long way too. I was a 2001: A Space Odyssey snob until Star Wars came along and blew me away. Now we have CGI and telling the real from the computer generated is getting to be quite the challenge. We also had a resurgence of 3-D movies ... and ... well, some things just don't change that much.

We've seen some great strides in this nation's campaign for better equality for women and minorities ... but we still have a long way to go. I've seen the "American Dream" spun in the 1950s, told to wide-eyed me in the 1960s and swallowed whole with its shiny promises (be good, get a college education, get that good job and be set for life and your paid retirement as a thank you for your efforts ... yeah it was kind of delivered like that ... sort of Mad Men style) turn into the "American Dream Snatched" by the 1980s. Today I heard a business newscast about extending the work years way past 65. Uh huh!

But, let's not jog off into the land of the negative today. I grew up. I have a wonderful family, a loving wife, two kids we adore and who love us right back and are growing up into really impressive adults. I've gained so much, been blessed by God in so many ways, and am in my third (final?) career in a path that took me from archaeology to publishing to ministry. There have been many trials along the way, losses of loved ones and friends for all the expected reasons who I miss a lot, but there have also been great joys that I treasure. At this point I look ahead with wonder and hope, despite what comes through on the news daily or perhaps because I've seen 55 years of that come and go. I'm looking forward to what comes next, tempered knowing loss will accompany joy in equal measure, but wanting to see what happens anyway.

Wishing you joy today and welcome surprises tomorrow.

Update: In 55 years I have gone from wanting presents on my birthday to craving presence for my birthday. Family and friends me far more to me now than any tangible object as a gift.