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, August 16, 2017

Hobby Time: The N Scale Layout on a Door

I'm currently working on my N Scale layout on a door as well. I like what this hobbyist has done. It looks sweet. I'm also modeling inspired by a city in western Maryland. For me, I've driven past Cumberland for years and always felt the main street visible from the highway was beautiful and ripe for modeling. My era will be the 1950s-1960s roughly (i.e., there are more 1950s autos available than 1960s so I'm extending into two decades). Thanks for the inspiration David Betz!

My layout is in its very early stages, with benchwork under the door now:

For examples of my modeling, see: and

1971 Schwinn Sting-Ray "Pea Picker" - Disc

Had a moment of sweet nostalgia when walking down a small town main street. In among a number of empty store fronts, there was one serious bike collector's shop, open by appointment only three days of the week, with store hours on a couple more. There in the window was a sweet Schwinn Sting-Ray Pea Picker in what looked like near mint condition. If you weren't a kid back in the 1960s and 1970s, it wouldn't mean much to you. I had a non-Schwinn with the handle bars and the banana seat and sissy bar, but it wasn't like this. Mine had one gear, so no shifter. The model in the window had a speedometer I remembered well. I would have liked to have had one of these babies back in the day. It was great to see again and enjoy the flood of memories that went with it. I went on down the street with a nostalgic grin on my face. Honestly, I don't want to own one, but it was great fun seeing it again.

What Are the "Good Old Days"?

Over the years, from time to time, I've bridled against the elderly writing off the time I'm living by dismissing the present and saying it was better when I was growing up, or when I was young. My knee jerk response was, what's wrong with my time and my generation? It felt like a moral judgment.

However, I had an epiphany not long ago while listening an elderly couple in their 90s making that statement and then describing life in their youth. I came to know exactly what they meant, and it had little to do with how things are today for all of us, but what it means for them in particular. Describing their lives, I was told about their friends, their family, their adventures of their youth, raising the kids (now well grown and living busy lives in early retirement). It became obvious why the good old days were so good. Those were the days when many loved ones were still alive and having fun with them. Those were the days when they were active and adventurous. Those were the days when they were busy raising the kids (and all parents know there are few if any boring days when kids fill the house). Those were the days when they had a solid grasp on all the technology, the cultural references, the ground rules of life in society. Now, not so much. So, now I get it, and I'm sorry I didn't get it sooner. It will be the same for all of us if we are lucky enough to live so long.

Treat everybody gently folks. We're all trying our best and handling a whole lot of baggage.

God bless you all tonight.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

American Baptist Denomination Speaks Out Against Race Riot in Charlottesville, Virginia

I am an American Baptist and a pastor. I stand with my denomination, one of the most diverse in the United States, in speaking out strongly against the hatred on display from the white supremacists, Nazis, and other hate groups who gathered with the intent of violence from all reports. I have seen comments challenging what average pastors believe and why they don't speak out. Well, here we are, speaking out, condemning, denouncing the violent and deadly demonstration.

From the American Baptist Home Mission Societies: 

American Baptist Home Mission Societies denounces and condemns—in the strongest manner possible—the violent and deadly demonstration led by a host of white supremacist organizations and individuals in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
The human toll of three lives lost senselessly and more than two dozen individuals injured stains our American stature on the world stage. The racial and religious hatred expressed by the Neo-Nazi, Alt-Right, Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations in opposition to the city’s decision to remove a monument memorializing the American Civil War’s Confederacy and its standard bearers is an affront to democracy and our social order.
We join with people of goodwill across our country who seek to make America’s public squares, government grounds and city streets safe for all citizens.
Furthermore, we commend and pray for all the valiant clergy, students, justice workers and others who gathered in Charlottesville to say “no” to violence, threats and intimidation from the white supremacist demonstrators.
In the wake of yet another terrifying episode of violence in America’s public square, we pray for the families and loved ones of Heather Heyer, whose life was tragically taken during the vehicular assault on dozens of peace workers. We pray, too, for the families and loved ones of Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates—the Virginia state police troopers who died in a helicopter crash related to the situation in Charlottesville—along with those who were victims of assaults and trauma, both physical and emotional, resulting from the violence.
“We call upon people of faith and goodwill to continue to pray and work on behalf of freedom, justice and peace in the United States of America and throughout the world,” says Dr. Jeffrey Haggray, ABHMS executive director. “Never were these prayers and this work needed more.”

From the General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Ephesians 2:17)
Dear ABCUSA Friends,
As I write to you today, two concerns weigh heavy on my heart, as I imagine they do on yours as well. The whole world is watching the war of words escalate between the United States and North Korea. North Korea’s apparently successful development of its nuclear weapons arsenal threatens to destabilize Asia, forcing us to recognize that 25 years of diplomatic efforts to prevent such nuclear proliferation have failed. Since the end of World War II, American Baptists have advocated for nuclear disarmament in many ways, and surely in this current crisis no thinking person would want to see either side resort to the use of such weapons, or to precipitate armed conflict in any form. Our peacemaking mandate insists that countries find diplomatic means to settle disputes and differences. In response to this current crisis, I would like to commend to you all the thoughtful email sent out by Metro Chicago (Rev. Carol McVetty and Rev. Douglas Harris, Interim Executive Ministers), and the Mennonite prayer resources they refer to; please share it with your churches. Several people and I have been conversing about a specifically ABCUSA response. If you have suggestions/input, please share them with me.
Second, the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia (see, for example,, cannot be ignored. Let us encourage our pastors to remind our membership that ABCUSA stands for the full equality of all Americans and rejects every version of racial prejudice and specifically, the contemporary ugly resurgence of so-called “white nationalism.” I especially appreciated IM missionary Daniel Buttry’s Facebook reposting of an American Baptist Resolution which is still valid today:

The mood of America is characterized by growing economic unrest, unemployment, rapid social change and a sense of impotency and futility. That mood is contributing to a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, or to a “new Klan,” and to other white-supremist movements in the United States.
Public opinion has encouraged the growth of the Klan and racism in general when it has sympathized with it or indirectly supported it by endorsing the attitude that America’s minorities have “come too far, too fast.” Public tolerance has been demonstrated by voter acceptance of Klan political candidates, widespread distribution of printed material which accepts KKK actions, and by the failure of the criminal justice system to investigate effectively and end Klan-related violence.
THEREFORE: In accordance with the American Baptist Policy Statement on Human Rights which supports the right of all persons to be protected against discrimination and in light of its concern over the current manifestations of racism as evidenced in the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the General Board of the American Baptist Churches urges local congregations and individuals to:
1. Indicate publicly their opposition to the Klan by statement and action wherever the Klan appears;
2. Encourage politicians and governmental bodies to take active positions against the racism, terrorism and acts of violence fostered by the Klan;
3. Educate members, especially children, about the nature of the Klan and about the myths which it seeks to foster related to racial superiority;
4. Design and implement programs to educate people, especially children, about the biblical imperatives for racial justice;
5. Take every opportunity afforded by the media to affirm our support of racial justice; and
6. Become actively involved in local and national efforts to achieve and assure racial justice.
We call upon the agencies and the leadership of the regional and national units of American Baptist Churches in the USA to:
1. Provide informational materials and other forms of support to individuals and to congregations engaged in efforts to educate their members about the nature of the Klan and about racial justice;
2. Represent American Baptist Churches in ecumenical efforts to combat the Klan;
3. Encourage public media to use their resources to promote racial justice;
4. Commend those media which have carried out investigative reporting about the Klan and its activities; and
5. Express our repugnance for the philosophy and activities of the Klan through appropriate governmental and legal channels.
Adopted by the General Board of the American Baptist Churches – December 1980 130 For, 0 Against, 0 Abstentions
Rev. Dr. Lee B. SpitzerGeneral Secretary
American Baptist Churches USA

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Proverbs 6:16-19 Speaks to Hate on Display in Charlottesville, VA

Proverbs is considered wisdom literature. Let's pause for a moment of wisdom from that book and see what is worthy of being worked hard against, today, and always. There are far too many of all of these at work right now, right here. It won't stop is we don't stop it.

There are six things that the Lord hates,seven that are an abomination to him:17haughty eyes, a lying tongue,and hands that shed innocent blood,18a heart that devises wicked plans,feet that hurry to run to evil,19a lying witness who testifies falsely,and one who sows discord in a family.

I cannot tell you how repulsed I am by the hatred shredding this nation. It is time for all people of good will to stand up and cry out against hatred in all its forms.

Here's one action we can all take immediately:

If you need to catch up on what is happening, here's a couple sources of news available (to date it is reported that a car has run into counter protesters today with multiple casualties): ;

Here's what the Governor of Virginia had to say about those who rioted. Note that he doesn't mention the counter protesters. Apparently the Governor didn't have any doubt who were the bad actors over those two days:

Write the White House NOW

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia, today and last night with the "alt-right" (KKK, neo-Nazis, etc.) are vile and must be called out as such. Please take a few minutes to encourage Mr. Trump to speak out immediately (a couple of paltry tweets will NOT do), clearly, strongly against the hate on display. Insist that he speak out strongly against the alt-right white supremacists, neo-nazis, and KKK present and active in the protest that ended in terrorist violence. Support the counter-protesting ministers and other American patriots who stand against the rising hatred by insisting Mr. Trump takes a stand against this evil immediately. To reach the White House, go through the following link:

This is no time for people of conscience and good will to sit by silently. To be silent is to give tacit approval of the hate march and all the sickness it stands for. As of this writing, the hate groups have driven three cars into the crowds of counter protesters, creating multiple injuries.

Update: 8/15/17: After the appalling press conference Donald Trump held in Trump Tower, where he attempted to normalize race hatred, white supremacists, and compare and contrast them with those who came to demonstrate against hatred and try to make both sides the same, which they will never be, protest loudly and bluntly this immoral response to a tragedy that left three dead and 19 hospitalized. Protest as well Mr. Trump's assertion that honest reporters are fake news, as that is what authoritarians do. Do not be silent at this time, or you are complicit with those who hate and excuse hatred. Never before in my life has I seen a president do what was done today, which led to congratulations from active, prominent members of white supremacist groups.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

CGI 3D Animated Shorts HD: "LAST DAY OF WAR" - by Dima Fedotov

 Given the news of August 2017, with sabre rattling in the U.S. and North Korea, this short animated film seems quite topical. Consider it a firm warning.

Pray and work for peace.

Seeking truth might help:

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Collectible History: iBook Clamshell Still Works in 2017

Introduced in 1999, produced through May of 2001, this iBook Clamshell proves more durable than I imagined. It would take a telephone line and modem to connect it with the internet (what part of it could be handled) and the built in mouse has given up the ghost, but it still runs. This particular iBook was last used in 2011, but was retired when the hard drive started to groan with exhaustion at the end of an 8 hour summer course.

This is an experiment to see if little videos are within the scope of possibility here. The video was shot with a camera that is a bit of history itself, the Kodak Play Sport. The depth of focus is limited. My lack of a tripod at home (mine is at the office) made keeping in focus challenging, as you will see. I tried to keep things short to avoid boredom. I hope it worked. In the end, I think I did this video mostly for the student in his 20s who turned to me before a class began, pointed to the old clamshell and said (with feeling) "That's beautiful, man!" Turns out, after I retired the iBook I discovered I was known throughout the seminary for using this old and standout piece of computer technology. When I retired it, for at least a week, people asked me how it was doing as if it were a person out sick. Such is the power of a well designed and much loved piece of technology.

Final note: I have taken far newer failed computers to be recycled within the last few weeks.

A couple things I didn't film:
Remember the built in carrying handle? This was back before it was
decided all laptops should be carried in cases, I guess.
Imagine banging this against a railing as you went past.
How about this colorful little ring that turned
orange when the battery was charging and
green when it was complete?

If you'd like to see more videos like this, let me know.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Seeking Truth

In conflicted times, where it seems we in the US can't agree on anything outside of some labeled sphere, it is hard to discover where the truth lies. Inside my bubble, I'm astonished at what others claim as truth that makes me want to jump up and scream LIAR! It's a visceral response born of fear with no thought required. Hearing Mitch McConnell lament that no version of their ACA repeal could pass due to Democratic obstructionism, from my bubble I find myself wondering if he actually believes any of that. It certainly isn't what I hear.

Some people are impressed when a military man states, in short, declarative statements, that the military isn't fair. If you are sick or deficient in some way, there is no place for you. This was inspired by Donald Trump unilaterally declaring via Tweet that transgendered personnel could not serve in any facet of the military. Well, those short declarative statements were largely about sick individuals and the transgendered folks aren't. I don't think you become a Navy Seal while being seriously ill. But that's his bubble and his experience.

So, I recently asked a retired journalist I know (no, not fake news here, a real honest-to-goodness journalist who sought the truth of the stories covered for NASA, the State Department, and the White House) and asked him how he found the truth of the story. He started in a place I might have with a sermon: "People are fallible. They remember any given incident differently." You find the truth, he told me, by interviewing as many people involved in the story as possible, getting their point of view. Once you have all the stories, you look for the common threads among them. You will find the truth there, where the stories agree.

That sounds like a really good place to start. It means getting out of our bubbles and talking to each other. It means learning our stories, our fears, our concerns, our joys, what we have in common and where our differences lie. Then we can compare the stories, find the common threads, and perhaps come closer to the truth of our complicated situations. Can we do it? Will we do it? Or will be continue to glare and swear at each other from within our own tiny little bubbles? 

How we can face the future without fear, together | Rabbi Lord Jonathan ...

An important message on how to overcome fear. The blurb reads:

It's a fateful moment in history. We've seen divisive elections, divided societies and the growth of extremism -- all fueled by anxiety and uncertainty. "Is there something we can do, each of us, to be able to face the future without fear?" asks Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. In this electrifying talk, the spiritual leader gives us three specific ways we can move from the politics of "me" to the politics of "all of us, together."
If you want more, see: 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Geese: Forces of Nature Not To Be Denied!

This is just the beginning of the parade. The crossing went on for minutes.
Driving in to work recently, four lanes of traffic ground to a halt. A large gaggle of geese crossed the lanes and the center divide, totally nonplussed by our impatience and our technology. Our busy days, our precious schedules, our rat race paused by nature. Here's a quote: 

“A row of daffodils and red tulips nestled against the walkway beneath my feet. Stray weeds peeked up through the cracks in the concrete, a reminder that that nature had the final say. No matter how much mankind bulldozed or built, all was vulnerable to Mother Nature's whims.”
― Pamela Crane, A Secondhand Life*
(*Thanks to Good Reads for this) 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hobby Time: Putting Legs Under Door Layout in N Scale

It took me some time to discover a good, solid, inexpensive, reliable framework to support the door layout I'd started years ago, with my father's help. It doesn't take up a lot of room, which is good, as my space is limited. In N Scale, you can cover a lot of territory on a hollow core door, as you'll see if you follow my adventures. It was surprisingly difficult to find. If you're having the same issue, I can give you a short cut. Go see the following video on YouTube from Model Railroad TV and then return: Know that this video was made years ago, so $15 no longer applies, but the benchwork is still economical and solid. The list of materials remains sound. The 1 x 3 stringers are cheaper wood from the 1 x 3 framework wood.

I had this hollow core door layout surface for years, having started this hobby when I didn't have the time to pursue it. The challenge was to create benchwork that would support this door. The problem was how to attach legs to the base of that door.

The lip extending beneath the bottom of the door gave me the inspiration. Heavy trim work was placed around the outer edge of the door to protect it. It extended far enough beneath the underside of the door to create a sturdy lip. The benchwork frame could be adjusted to fit snugly to the bottom of the door inside of that lip. The weight of the layout is enough to hold the door firmly to the snugly fit benchwork top.

I measured each piece of lumber to fit beneath that door. The closely spaced 1 x 3's in the interior of the frame are the fasteners for the 2 x 4 legs. This solved the problem of how to securely attach legs to that flat door surface. It works remarkably well. If you measure carefully and fasten the wood with 1 5/8" wood screws firmly, you can achieve a tight fit with the hollow core door's lip. I cut the legs to countertop height (3'). The hollow core door layout on top of that increased the height and it is a great height for work.

I did as much of the work, virtually all of the lumber cutting with a circular saw, outside of the house where there was a lot of room to work with 8' lengths of lumber. With a small house, I had to bring the framework top inside and add the legs there. Inset the front legs 5" as the video instructions state to avoid kicking the legs later. Inset the rear legs by an inch so the stringer along the outside back legs won't hit the back wall (this also saves space). Here's a helpful tip. If you have a simple single speed drill, you can add the screw driving bit to it and easily install the screws (using 1/8" guide holes to ease the process) and do not need an inset bit. That drill will drive the screw heads beneath the surface of the wood! Just don't let it go too deep.

Attach the 1 x 3 stringers to prevent wobbling in the
legs and turn the benchwork right side up. It's remarkably light and one person can easily turn it over. I added leveling feet to the base of the legs to make sure the table would remain level for the layout.

While I was able to successfully build this straight forward benchwork alone, it took two of us to fit the layout to the benchwork. It was a firm fit.

The hollow core door layout fits snugly atop the bench work.

To see N Scale locomotives run on that layout in place, after years with the track unattended to in the basement, see:

Hobby Time: N Scale RR Makes a Leap Forward

This is a simple little demonstration that track that sat idle for years on a hollow core door for many years still works. Minor repairs were required. I am impressed by the durability of a model railroad scale that when I was growing up was considered little more than a toy. However, with limited living space and discretionary funds, N Scale proves perfect as a distraction from the stresses of my demanding work life.

For me, the biggest victory was finding that Bachmann N Scale Norfolk & Western passenger engine, which requires 15" curves at least, navigated the old curves smoothly after cleaning and minor repairs. I've looked over the old stock and will make some purchases soon to complete a basic layout. You see, it's the modeling that fascinates me most. It's rewarding the create the track and see the trains successfully navigate one's handiwork, but for me creating a detailed town holds far greater attractions. We'll see how it all turns out.

A really big step in the right direction was finding via Model Railroad TV a layout bench that would support the door layout. Having put a lip around the edge of the door, I was able to fit the benchwork smoothly inside the lip. With the weight of that door layout top, the layout fits snugly and firmly to the benchwork without needing any additional fasteners of any sort.

It has also been instructional to place the models completed on the bare layout surface for a sense of scale. I now have a much better understanding of what will be visible and, as importantly, what will not, to the average viewer. That's really good to know!

Small steps, but so far all in the right directions.

P.S. I often wondered why model railroaders made these films of running engines. Having successfully created a track and gotten engines to run along the track smoothly, I now get it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Halloween: July 15, 2017

July 15, 2017, I kid you not!
What do you suppose is the world's record for the earliest Halloween candy display? Well, walking into the local Acme today, I was hit with a case of time dislocation vertigo. There before me was the Halloween candy display you see here. I had to remind myself that this is mid-July, not mid-October. For just a second I was both confused and panicked. I thought for just a second I was way behind in my Halloween prep. Then I remembered the 87 degree heat right outside the sliding doors I'd just entered and my confusion and panic turned to incredulity. Really?!?

And what I might ask is the purpose of putting out Halloween candy in mid-July (I know, to turn a profit, but other than that)? Do people really stock up this early for the coming season of trick-or-treaters and jack o'lanterns? Is this just another sneaky way to fatten us all up on sugar and corn syrup? Or are the aliens ready to "Serve Man" close at hand?

Can Christmas and Hannukah displays be far behind?

Here's an NPR article from 2011 that explains the trend:

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hobby Time: Gloor Craft Single Stall Engine House Work Continues

Painting nearly done. I find this mailing package cardboard a
great painting surface as I'm not the neatest painter. The lighted
magnifier is a must for me. It makes painting fine details possible.
It has been an interesting challenge working on this old wooden model. After traveling through decades from the 1970s (I believe), the single stall engine house was missing a few pieces. I bought a pack of balsa wood and recreated the back wall of the office using the front wall as a template. The cast half window over the engine house's front door was missing, so I filled that back in. Looking over historical photos of old engine houses, I see this was a common fate for such features. I had to decide how to paint the engine house and ran across historical information that railroad lines would paint many of their buildings in particular colors. Since the town that is my inspiration is located in western Maryland, I went with an approximation of the Western Maryland RR's paint scheme for their buildings, medium gray with crimson trim. That worked well enough for this project. The painting is nearly complete and construction will begin soon. On the right hand side of one of the pictures is a paint stirring stick with masking tape attached. It's a great way, I learned via YouTube videos from model railroaders, for hanging on to small pieces in need of paint.

The top left wall had to be recreated and the half window infilled in the
bottom left front wall of the engine shed.

It's an ongoing adventure and so far I'm enjoying the process immensely. It certainly is different from the plastic model kits. It is a more hands on process, requiring additional steps not necessary with the plastic kits, including cutting out the openings for all the windows and doors, and creating interior bracing along wall edges and door frames.

As you can see, taping the instructions to the wall, out of harm's way, works best for me.

For a source for historic paint schemes of various railways, see:

Back to the Landfill: Post Yard Sale Impact

Lanchester Landfill site (tallest hill in distance to right) beyond
Honey Brook, PA's western edge of town
Our yard sale was terrific for lighting a fire under me to get rid of old stuff stored in odd places. While in the attic retrieving things from a previous yard sale carefully stored there, I rediscovered the corpses of computers past.

It was time to take another trip to our landfill, about 25 minutes from home. It is quite the place. It is a 600 acre property, 160 acres dedicated to the landfill itself. Looking at their fact sheet, it serves 400,000 residents of a single county, and their businesses. The 25 full time staff take in 1,000 tons per day of "non-hazardous municipal refuse and residuals." This represents 90% of the county's waste. I wonder if this includes the recyclables?

There is compost on site and a nature trail on the property. That was not what I expected. It certainly is not the town dump as represented in so many novels of years gone by. In fact, in 2015, this landfill won the Corporate Lands for Learning Rookie of the Year Award. Okay, I might as well use the name: this is the Lanchester Landfill outside Honey Brook, Pennsylvania. This is also a far cry from the rural dump site my grandparents used,  a steep hollow found by a bend in the road called colorfully "The Devil's Elbow." The tipping fees collected help benefit the communities around the landfill as well. Who knew?

Where staff tells you where to go and materials brought
for dumping can be weighed.

You can see the site from a distance, a good-sized hill rising above the landscape. How much of that is a natural feature and how much of it is years and years of waste accumulated, I cannot say. All I can say is the staff at the weigh station are unfailingly polite and ready to direct you toward the path you need to take to get your business done. I was pleased to see that the old TV previously dropped off was nowhere in sight.

Be glad all your trash goes off to such an anonymous site. As a former archaeologist, I can tell you, professionals can learn a great deal about you from your trash! 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Garden Invasion of Beauty

Darn it you white flowered vine, you; you opportunistic invader of a garden we can't tend as well or as often as we'd like. Why do you have to have such pretty blooms? I was ready to yank the vines and then caught sight of the white flowers among the day lilies and they stayed my hand. Very sneaky, you moon flowers, you ... or morning glories! Are such plants weeds when they look this good?

Okay, for the moment,
you stay! 

12 truths I learned from life and writing | Anne Lamott

What Anne Lamott picked up in the way of truths in 61 years of life and writing. She wishes us calm and truth and laughter in the midst of this stormy, fearsome life. Stick with it to the very end. The closing interview is well worth waiting for ... and the talk itself is pretty wonderful.

For more on truth, see:

Jupiter's Great Red Spot Up Close

The Juno spacecraft got up close and personal with Jupiter's Great Red Spot storm on Monday, July 10, as it flew by. The storm is believed to be around 350 years old, 1.3 times as wide as planet Earth, and may be shrinking (without the aid of many monoliths). This is one of the amazing images beamed back to hungry scientist waiting to devour the data and learn more about this storm of legend. We await further news.

To catch up with a NASA article about the event, see:

Stopped by Flowers

I have a week off. It's a stay-cation for reasons too complicated to bother with. I was that guy out in the yard mowing the front lawn like a maniac in the morning during a heat wave. It couldn't be helped, I told myself. Rain is coming tonight and by Saturday, when the weather clears, the lawn will be a jungle. So, out I went to mow, wondering what either heat exhaustion or a heart attack was going to feel like. I swung around to the side of the house and my progress was arrested by the simple beauty of the day lily and its cone flower buddies growing together along the fence line. All else was forgotten for a few minutes while I took pictures with my phone.

Beauty will creep up on us at the most unexpected moments. I'm glad it does.

The front lawn is done, the air conditioner is running inside, and I've got souvenirs of this morning's beauty. Life is good.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

NASA at Mars: 20 years of 24/7 exploration

 Honoring 20 years of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. We've been exploring Mars every day for all those years now. I remember when the Viking landers arrived on Mars back in the 1970s to try to find life there. We have come a long way and have much further to go. Here's to ongoing exploration and insatiable curiosity. Here's also to getting humans on Mars within the next couple of decades!

Here's what NASA has to say about this past twenty years:

No one under 20 has experienced a day without NASA at Mars. The Pathfinder mission, carrying the Sojourner rover, landed on Mars on July 4, 1997. In the 20 years since Pathfinder's touchdown, eight other NASA landers and orbiters have arrived successfully, and not a day has passed without the United States having at least one active robot on Mars or in orbit around Mars.

Jupiter: Into the Unknown (NASA Juno Mission Trailer) and Update on the Red Spot Fly By

Terrific NASA trailer for what its Juno mission to Jupiter hopes to accomplish and the problems they'll face. It is extremely well done and worth watching. Juno made history on July 10, 2017, with its close fly by of Jupiter's great red spot, the data heading for home at the time of this writing. For more on that fly by, see:

Here's just one image taken of the face of Jupiter by the Junocam on the Juno Jupiter mission. Where science and art collide:

Image Courtesy of NASA

What Is Truth?

What is truth? It's a hot topic today. Let's look at the first dictionary definition that popped up in a Google search: 

  1. the quality or state of being true.

    "he had to accept the truth of her accusation"

    • that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.
      noun: the truth

      "tell me the truth"

      synonyms:what actually happened, the case, soMore

    • a fact or belief that is accepted as true.
      plural noun: truths

      "the emergence of scientific truths"

    • See that? Look at the difference between the first two definitions and the third. There's where we stumble today. We go from a strong declaration of the truth being true, in accordance with fact or reality, slipping and sliding down slope to "a fact or belief that is accepted as true." There we go, from something verified to something some group asserts strongly, facts be damned. That is the state of American society today ... and society worldwide, I figure (but that's my opinion, not a verifiable truth, so don't consider that true, please, thank you!!!). 

  2. I asked a journalist I know, how he dug out the truth of a story. He told me the way it was done in journalism (real, verifiable, years of training required journalism) is that you asked as many people (sources) associated with the story as you could find what actually happened. Being fallible and conditioned by their upbringing to see things differently, each gives you a different version of events. However, when you take those all together and compare and contrast them, certain consistencies will appear. Those consistencies point to the truth of the situation. That's as close to the truth as you can get with the stories from human beings and that's how journalistic truth is found. So, there you have one way to get at the truth.

In archaeology there was this thing called "ground truth." As a professional archaeologist, you did all the research you could on the site you were going to excavate before you began. You developed particular ideas, hypotheses, of what you expected to find based on models of human behavior and the findings of similar sites. That was all well and good. However, when you got into the field and started digging, you had to be ready to chuck all the pretty hypotheses out the window if the evidence in the ground told a different story. You could not pick and choose between elements, supporting those that bolstered your pretty ideas and ignore those that blew a huge hole in your hypotheses, no matter how much you loved your model, your research, or your beliefs. 

From this we see that truth is often come by only through diligent effort, and a great deal of it, and a willingness to admit you just might have been wrong about something. Actual, verifiable truth will stand the test of time. Truth is not simply the belief of some portion of the population shouted more loudly than others (it can be, but loud shouting and emotional assertion of a thing do not make that thing true). 

Watching our culture unravel is painful. The lack of trust, life lived in different bubbles, the use of social media to strengthen one point of view over another no matter where the facts lead, no common narrative among us, no shared perspective, all of this may well destroy us. It is certainly making it increasingly difficult to find the truth amidst the noise. Our leaders are not helping as they blatantly lie about one thing after another in a growing torrent, insisting that because they say it loud and often, it must be so. That doesn't make it true. At best, that is the third and least reliable definition of truth, and one easily thwarted by reality. You can say no harm will come to a person who tweets while walking the busy city streets of New York without ever looking up. Say it all you want, but the truth of the matter is that texter will soon either be smashed flat by a car or bus walked in front of or will break his or her nose or noggin on a wall walked squarely into while looking down. Truth will rear up and make a fool out of that prevaricator, no matter how insistent he or she may be that an untrue thing is truth itself. More likely it will make a fool out of the follower of the snake oil salesperson who said no harm would come from the street walking twitterer since the salesperson is unlikely to follow his or her own advice in this regard. 

George Orwell spoke of our situation: 

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history. George Orwell
Vladimir Lenin put it a little differently: 

A lie told often enough becomes the truth. Vladimir Lenin
At this point, let's take a look at various voices who speak of truth. We may find common threads in what they have to say, threads of truth. 

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is. Winston Churchill (Thanks brainyquotes for these accumulated quotes on truth. For more, see:
Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters. Albert Einstein 
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth. John F. Kennedy
We learned about honesty and integrity - that the truth matters... that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules... and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square. Michelle Obama

31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. Jesus: John 8:31-36, NRSV
You can hate me. You can go out there and say anything you want about me, But you will love me later because I told you the truth. Mary J. Blige
Here's an exercise in truth for all of us. Have I verified all of these quotes? Nope, I've trusted Brainyquotes and the Bible in their source verification. Check for yourselves and see if these are true quotes from the people mentioned. Once that's done, look for common threads in these truth quotes and others you can find. See what truth has meant to humanity throughout our long history and prehistory. Then, let's get back to the idea there are hard and fast truths to be found out there in multiple disciplines. Let's agree that people across the centuries have had insights into the reality of truth and we should both respect and profit from that, even when those discoveries fly in the face of what we in our various social media groups have come to believe is true, even when we haven't tested such truths. Let the truth make us free. 

For an interesting paper challenging postmodernism and its slippery hold on the truth, see: It may challenge some beliefs ... and that's not a bad thing, truth be told. 

Last word: 
Quick condemnation of all that is not ours, of views with which we disagree, of ideas that do not attract us, is the sign of a narrow mind, of an uncultivated intelligence. Bigotry is always ignorant, and the wise boy, who will become the wise man, tries to understand and to see the truth in ideas with which he does not agree. Annie Besant
Now, I have to go. Truth be told, I'm WAY past my 30 minutes for this post. 

For a little more truth telling (with colorful pictures), see: 

For some truth about journalism and journalists (professionally trained and employed) (not commentators for various outlets) while under attack as "fake news," see:

For a book by a seeker of truth, NPR's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty, see:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

THANK YOU: 1700 Posts and 400,000+ Views

We've past another milestone here at J.S. Brooks Presents. Over 1700 posts have been written and you all have viewed them over 400,000 times. Thank you for stopping by. Special thanks to those who read what is written and respond. You gladden my heart, you really do. This is a weird little adventure that was started in May of 2010 and has continued far longer than I had imagined. The blog has changed a couple of times and doesn't follow the rules for successful blogs (I never could force myself to focus with laser-like intensity on one single subject, much to this blog's detriment, I imagine). Still, I have fun here and I hope you do too. Well, it's the middle of the night and I really should get some sleep. Thank you all once again. I enjoy sharing with each and every one of you. I hope something here makes you glad you stopped by and that you'll want to come by again someday. I'll be here just as long as I keep having fun. I look forward to seeing you again.

Have a blessed day! 

Why We Will Hold Yard Sales No More Forever

Yard sales are a lot of work. They involve moving a lot of heavy stuff out of the house and into the driveway, yard, etc. Let me just say, lots of items are heavy as all get out when you have them in large numbers, be they books, or videos, or stuffed animals or whatever. There is pricing involved, and checking where and for how long signs may be placed before the sale and how soon afterwards they must be removed (do check on this, it's important). Once you know where and when the signs can be placed, they must be placed and removed, and weather may shorten the number of hours they are in place. Then there's the fact that the "treasures" you have will actually have more emotional value to you than practical value to others. You're going to be working hard for long hours getting ready and then spend many hours more questioning your sanity waiting for folks to show up. As the hours wear by, the "drive-by" "scrutinizers" (is that a word?) get increasingly hard to handle with a calm and pleasant attitude ... their faces seem to get more pursed and judging as the hours roll by ... but that's likely a subjective observation more than objective reality. One thing that was a delight was posting the yard sale on my Facebook page and having an old friend show up. Catching up with her was a delight! That I highly recommend.

At the end of the day, the money just isn't worth the effort in many cases. And most of the items are still sitting in the driveway or the yard waiting to be lugged back inside in defeat.

Then there appear to be certain prevailing ideas about what might be found at yards sales that are pretty weird. I think far too many people have watched far too many episodes of antiques shows of various sorts. I was asked if we had antique sheet music, records, coins, and other expensive items really not common to yard sales in my experience. Lots of folks who did come wanted to haggle on prices in the $1 and $2 range, which to a degree I understand, but come on, nobody's spending or making a fortune here on these already deeply discounted items. It's fun at first, true, but toward the end of the day, this haggling loses its charm.

For me and my family, we'll get rid of our excess clutter in other ways. The vintage media (i.e. video cassettes) have gone the way of all things (and no, Disney movies with black diamond labels really aren't worth a fortune ... if they were I wouldn't have them, trust me on that). The books will be donated to several libraries to see if they have better luck selling (books turned out to be the surprise best sellers of our sale, by the way). A lot of other items will be purged as well. Time to let go and move on. In fact, that is one great advantage to the yard sale. By the time it's over, you just want all that stuff gone and large trash bags are deployed with all emotional attachment shattered over the course of that one long day.

Dang, we had more movies on VHS than I thought!
Those things weigh a lot! 
If you want to hold a yard sale, go right ahead. Do not let me discourage you! Plan well, wait for a multi-family opportunity, and have a great deal of stuff for people to look at. See if you have better luck drawing families with children. We could have used a whole lot more of those. I wish you luck.

Here's a great article about thinking twice before holding your yard sale:

Friday, July 7, 2017

Skee Ball and South Park Pinball

I have to say, at a wonderful local ice cream parlor, they share space with a group that sells pinball games of all stripes. At this particular moment in time, there was an improbable duo side by side (no not the dad and his young daughter), two skee ball machines and a South Park pinball machine. Given the young patron of the skee ball game, I was glad the South Park game was turned off. Part of me really wonders what that game's sound track says, though!