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

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Collectibe History: Souvenir of NASA's Gemini Space Missions




Liftoff of Gemini III
Photo Courtesy of NASA
I dug up this little key chain with a Gemini command module at the end. It's a souvenir of the manned space program NASA referred to as the bridge to the moon. The Mercury program proved Americans could be lifted into space and returned home alive in a one man module. Gemini was the test bed for a great many technologies that would allow Apollo missions to succeed in getting humans safely onto the surface of the moon and back home again. The Gemini program ran from 1962 to 1966, with major manned flights in 1965-66. Ten crews of two men flew in those two action-packed years. The first American spacewalk was conducted from a Gemini capsule. The Gemini 10 mission proved two objects could dock in space and use one engine to move together in the same direction (important if you want to the the Lunar Module to the moon later on in Apollo). So, it's an interesting little souvenir of an important step in spaceflight, one I've overlooked for many years. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Adventures in Fitness 24: One Guy's (Renewed) Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: Benefits of First Week

No doubt I'm repeating myself, but it's been far too long, so here goes. Made it to the gym three times this week and was impressed with the results. The speed maintained on the elliptical machine increased significantly (for me), it took markedly longer for my heart rate to reach the maximum aimed for, and my body provided some fake news suggesting my heart might be feeling the strain. I looked at the heart rate monitor during that period, and it actually decreased slightly (uh huh, tell me another tall tale body). This was right before the body gave up and just fell into rhythm for the rest of the run and enjoyed itself.

The benefits of the first week were an end to lower back pain (souvenir of my first career in archaeology), general limberness, a feeling of well being, and greater confidence. These are all great reasons to continue. I hope I remember them well when the typical entropy sets in at the end of a work day. Oh yeah, and if your muscles ache after the first week (ache now, not scream with agony...you probably did something wrong there, tore something, and really should get that checked out, it's probably not bodily fake news), that's good. Muscle mass builds when muscles are torn down and rebuilt ... and that aches.

Good luck to you if you're in the same boat. Keep moving. See you at the gym.

For the previous post, which kicks off this new round, see: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2017/04/adventures-in-fitness-23-one-guys.html

Famous Quote for Science March

We are all in this picture. Can you find us?
As a person who puts great importance in both science and faith, I love this quote from British physicist, chemist, and mathematician Sir William Bragg: From religion comes a man's purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.

Here's to everyone in 2017 who marched for science on Earth Day, including ministers. Hats off to the lot of you. Let's make sure politicians don't ignore the hard evidence of science as we move forward, especially in regards to climate change, or we will be entirely responsible for the sixth great extinction event of planet Earth. 

For more from the science march, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/22/science/science-march-photos.html?_r=0 and https://satellites.marchforscience.com/

Saturday, April 22, 2017

End Death Penalty

Putting criminals involved in the most heinous crimes to death hardens us to state-sponsored execution without lowering violent crime rates. Look at Arkansas in 2017 and the spectacle of a state scrambling to execute 8 prisoners with an iffy drug before that drug expires at the end of the month of April, Easter month, what should be a holy time for many (of course there's a lot of irony here). The drug company won't make the stuff anymore as it doesn't want to be associated with this awful practice. Our new Supreme Court Justice, a conservative right to life sort of guy voted to execute the first of the 8 when the matter appeared. So much for life's sanctity there.

It is bad for humanity to play the role of executioner. It hardens us to taking life, which overflows into social interactions on the streets, raising the crime rate and the chance murder will take place. It also leaves no room for the mistakes we fallible humans make, and make regularly. How many convictions for murder have been overturned when DNA evidence proves somebody convicted of murder didn't commit the crime? If we kill one innocent person, we have killed far too many due to failures of our criminal justice system. Living in a country far from free of the ills of racism, misogyny, and many other social ills, we are not the greatest judge of who is worthy of death, especially among minority populations.

Keep people who have committed horrendous crimes off the streets, yes. Put them away for life if need be (all though restorative justice would be far better for us all when possible). But stop harming us all by state sanctioned executions. We all will be better off for that.   

Why Bad News Attracts

Why do we focus so much
on bad news???
I was concerned with a friend's post on Facebook, who was worried with all the terror news lately and felt under threat of terror attack as a result. It reminded me of working in a retirement community in the countryside where a 90-year-old resident was terrified the facility would be attacked by evil-doers of one sort or another. Frankly, unless the trees or cows were about to rise up, there was little to fear.

That sent me down an odd sidetrack I thought I knew the answer to and had it confirmed. The most common videos on the internet are cat videos, little kitties getting up to mischief, little kitties being cute, little kitties sliding into boxes and jumping from cucumbers, etc. You get the idea. So how come none of us are absolutely certain the world is about to be overrun by kitty cuteness, since kitty videos overwhelmingly outnumber bad news videos.

So I did some digging. The reason seems to be our brains trying to make sure we don't get eaten. You see, our primitive minds (which had to cope with keeping us alive far longer than our modern minds) are still entirely certain we will be eaten by large, hungry carnivores out in the woods or savannas (lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my). So, to keep us kicking and producing new little humans, our brains made sure we fixated on the bad stuff (hungry stomach growl of something large in the bushes, stealthy pad fall in the high grass, drool dripping down from the forest canopy overhead [a la Alien but far more local]). The good and wonderful stuff wasn't going to eat us, so no need to worry about that.

So, today, we fixate on the bad news and become overly fearful those bad things will come and get us. Well, time to recognize the source of this information bias and work hard not to be scared silly of everything we see or hear on the news. Turns out the news is skewed to the negative because our brains want to know about the negative so we don't get eaten ... it all goes back to that paleo-diet. Don't fall for it. If you live in a small town, a quiet village, a rural farm, it is unlikely great big bad things are happening all around you. If you live in a big city, more likely, because there are more people all around you, but the chance of it getting you personally is still small. Be calm, be brave, enjoy your life with courage and tell that chattering ancient mind to chill out. It can keep a look out for grizzlies and pizzlies all it wants, but it can't make you a nervous wreck over it.

Have a great, fearless, wonderful day.  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hobby Time: N Scale Modeling

Two completed models, painted, constructed, and decals added.
I confess: I have reached that point in life where I need a hobby for stress relief. I need that something that helps me forget all the concerns of work and life for a while and leaves me with some tangible result. It needed to be something that could be done over a long period of time, without staggering investments of cash, and something that would both be humbling and rewarding.

I chose to return to a hobby of many years in the past that was started far too soon, but I still had the bits and pieces tucked away for later use. I have picked up N Scale Model Railroading. Yep, I've joined that club now.

Irony of ironies, I don't really care much about trains. I am not interested in running an accurate railroad or making trains run on time. As luck would have it, the first Model Railroader magazine I picked up featured a layout from someone who feels about it as I do. Both of us are fascinated by the modeling and the miniature buildings, people, vehicles, and yes, even the trains too. Building the layout and the many scenes within the layout are what drive me and that other modeler.

So, to see if I could do it, I started with the earliest and simplest model I owned. Turns out, hobby paints will last decades if properly stored (who knew). I used that first model to see if my hands were steady enough to work at this tiny scale where 1" = 10'. I could. I also used it to learn some painting techniques like washes for brick mortal and weathering. That model went well enough I moved on to another. Shown here are two completed (or nearly so) projects produced by two different model companies. The three story corner drug store was by far the more complex and challenging of the two. The donut shop was pure fun. On the donut shop, I repurposed a couple of old figures (one a drunk) by repainting them in donut shop colors and putting them to work. Painting figures at that scale requires a lighted magnifying glass and a really small brush.

I discovered that there are such things as decal papers that allow hobbyists to create their own personalized decals. This opened a whole world of possibilities for personalized decals throughout the city I intend to create. My first use of these decals was on Stewart's Advance Drugs, which is a store owned by my wife's great grandfather.

Now, the Coca Cola ad I found is one of the creepiest I've seen.
On the back the ad for Ringling Brothers includes an inside family joke as well. It was fascinating to learn that the smaller decals on the donut shop (professionally made decals) were actually far simpler to apply than the larger homemade models. I will pass along one tip. These decals lift free of their paper with water and a water soaked Q-tip (cotton swab) will allow them to be moved into position once they have been gently shifted onto the model.

This has been a lot of fun to start with and also humbling. It's a bit like theater stage set design. None of the buildings will be viewed from really close, so the imperfections seen in the close up images blend into a more convincing paint job when you back a way a bit. I'm far from perfect in my modeling yet, but I figure I've got years to develop the techniques and years of stress free hobby work to come.

This will give you a sense of the scale of N Scale with
both model buildings on my workbench.
One great advantage anyone getting into the hobby today has over decades past is that there are so many how to videos on YouTube these days to explain the basics. That is how I got up to speed on painting techniques, washes, and decal placement (both professional and homemade). I will have to buy a couple books on layout design and scenery before I have gone much further, but that doesn't bother me.

If anyone's interested, I'll let you know when the basic layout is up and running, with track in place, properly wired. After that, the slow scenery and model progression will follow. I have chosen the 1950s-60s as my era for modeling and the downtown area of Cumberland, Maryland, as my inspiration, a town I always felt was perfect for a model railroad. We'll see how that goes.

I highly recommend some sort of hobby for anyone who works in a stressful field. That and exercise are great escapes during any given day. 

NASA: News Conference on Oceans Beyond Earth



Meanwhile, beyond Earth orbit and SpaceX's reusable rocket, NASA on April 13, 2017, announced they have found some encouraging signs for the potential for life in oceans off Earth's surface. As NASA states: 
News conference held on April 13, 2017. NASA announces two missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn. In one discovery, NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy particles spraying from Saturn's moon Enceladus. This discovery means the small, icy moon — which has a global ocean under its surface — has a source of chemical energy that could be useful for microbes, if any exist there. Meanwhile, Hubble researchers report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa.
So, Enceladus may well have the chemicals necessary, along with liquid water, to support life. No signs of aquatic aliens yet, but at least there's nothing to entirely preclude the possibility of life in the oceans of Saturn's and Jupiter's oceanic moons below the ice crusts. With the plumes present, given the right instruments (which Cassini doesn't have) we may well be able to determine if there is life on those moons without ever having to get beneath the ice caps ourselves. Exciting times to live. Enjoy the show if you're a dedicated space geek like me!  

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands first-ever reusable rocket 03.30.2017

 Dang, the things that happen when you take a blogging break! History has been made in a big way. Once again science fiction and science shake hands as SpaceX (spoiler alert) successfully reuses a Falcon 9 rocket. The refurbished rocket successfully flew and landed on the SpaceX drone barge. With that feat accomplished, SpaceX is revolutionizing space flight. Reusable rockets will make spaceflight cheaper as each rocket no longer needs to be a unique, one use vehicle. Further, having the opportunity to recover the rocket and see how the stresses of flight on all the components compare with the hypothesized projections is invaluable data allowing SpaceX to improve upon the rocket design with each use. This was a great day for spaceflight. It is most impressive that it is coming from a private company. I look forward to seeing where this will be headed in the future.

As a follow up note: as someone who grew up with the American space program, I had always wanted to see what happened from the spacecraft's point of view. The new cameras today make that wish come true and I find that thrilling!

P.S. Oh, the suspense, at 9:24!

Okay Elon Musk and SpaceX, now let's see you get all the rocket stages reusable! 

Life Post 11/9: NPR's Indivisible and Attempt to Get Divided Nation Talking

Since the election of Donald J. Trump, a new radio show has cropped up on NPR, called Indivisible. It is an attempt to get an oh-so-divided America to check out what we share in common as well as what divides us. In a recent episode I listened to a conservative Southern reporter tell the host how what liberals and conservatives tick off as negatives about each other are largely, if not entirely, the same list of faults. So, perhaps, we aren't so different after all. We are all people. We all have basic needs to be met, the healthy among us love our families and wish nobody in particular ill (outside of those seeking to actively harm us or our families ... these broad statements always come with caveats). Perhaps, if we choose to listen less to politicians, pundits, and social media comments sections, we might discover more of us could actually get along and not dismiss each other out of hand because we wear a red trucker cap or don't. Could that be?

It seems this might be the case. We certainly did unite (or many of us did) in our anger over how United (oh the irony in that name) Airlines treated a paying customer ... and explained their bizarre treatment to the legalism of our contract says we can. We were able to come together over that moment and, in a united from that no political divide seemed to blunt, drive down the airline's stock price significantly over night and force the CEO to a quick and more complete apology than he at first felt needed to be made.

If we were to get past all the divides thrown up in our faces by forces seeking to control us, who knows what we as the public might accomplish. This could be a really good thing coming post 11/9/16. Time will tell.

If you want to hear Indivisible, check it out at http://www.npr.org/podcasts/516647023/indivisible

Gone Too Long: Apology

It has been far too long since last I blogged. I'll make no excuses ... just say LIFE and LOTS OF IT and leave it at that. I'll try to do better for anyone who enjoys what I have to say. Thank you for stopping by and mulling over the posts. I hope you find something enjoyable here among the years worth of posts, old and now new. 

Adventures in Fitness 23: One Guy's Attempt (Yet Again) To Knock the Rust Off; Try, Try Again!

Confession time: there are two things that keep me from fitness success and I've been trying long enough to figure it out for myself. The two are rivals in terms of which one is the greater culprit.

1. A compromised immune system: I'm a life-long asthmatic and I tend to get sick roughly quarterly throughout the year. Each sickness tends to linger. With that impediment, it's hard to maintain an exercise routine and cling to results gained during periods of good health. If anyone has a workaround for this problem, let me know.

2. Like many ministers, I spend more time caring for others than for myself. This is a huge error, as I have now learned in my first years in ministry (third career, and with God's help final one). I will have to spend more time in self-care if I'm to be of use to others, both in family and congregation.

So, that said, excuses aside, I've returned to the gym after far too long. One very useful thing I've picked up from years of on-again, off-again exercise is that some things stick with you. Like, for instance, when you're starting a routine you no longer listen to the fake news coming from your body telling you how hard this is, how uncomfortable your lungs, heart, muscles are, and keep going. In five minutes or so, as I've learned over and over again, those reports fade and cease when they are ignored. Could that be a life-lesson for us all? I think it is for me.

So, back to the gym and time to figure out how to make this at least a three times a week effort to maximize the time when I'm healthy and possibly extend that time.