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

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Space Shuttle Discovery launch 2/24/2011

In our continuing tribute to the space shuttle program, here is the space shuttle Discovery's final launch as captured from a passing United flight. Look at her move.

Discovery's next stop upon landing will be the Smithsonian Institution, joining the Enterprise.

Safe travels and happy landings Discovery crew!

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Time to Give a Child the Book Michael and the New Baby

Parents, grandparents, relations, and friends, if you know a child who is about to become an older sibling, give that child a copy of Michael and the New Baby on the way to the hospital to visit the new born little brother or sister. This children's book will give that special child something to do and a positive lesson to learn on the way. If mom and the new baby are being brought home for that first, special meeting with the soon-to-be older sibling, give the soon to be older brother or sister a copy of Michael and the New Baby a day before that arrival. In doing so, you will have given that child a special gift and an adventurous message that assures the older sibling to be that being the older brother or sister is a good thing and an adventure. This message is quite different from the one they have received from pop culture and will be a welcome relief.

If you click on the title of this post or any of the images from the book Michael and the New Baby found off to the right side of the blog (including the front cover), you will be taken to the publisher's website and be able to order the book online for $12.95. That is a good value for your child's or grandchild's peace of mind as life is changing.

Congratulations on your new arrival ... and on giving your first arrival a little help in this important time of transition.

Are We a Zombie Nation? Is This Prophetic Dreaming?

BRAINS! Brains?
The other night I was reading Dean Koontz's newest spine tingler, What the Night Knows. It's funny how a spooky tale can impact upon the often dormant primitive lurking in the shadowy recesses of your brain. Twice in the night I left my chair to search out the source of some suspicious noise around the house before realizing the sounds were innocent and it was the book that was creating the suspicions. So, to sleep, and the strangeness of the story followed me down into dreams.

In the dream I was among a small band of survivors huddled together in the midst of the zombie overthrow of humanity. As in every movie or TV show on the subject, our numbers were dwindling. Then, the unexpected ... I had an inspiration. Shouting to get the horde's attention, I looked over their corpsified heads, pointed eagerly, and declared with great enthusiasm, "Look, over there, brains! Lots and lots of brains! It's a brains buffet." Much to my surprise, zombie heads swiveled eagerly in the pointed directions and the horde shambled off in that direction. In a while, they returned disappointed, back to the real source of brains. So, now all of us survivors pointed in another direction and simplified the declaration. We just shrieked, "Brains!!!" Again, the zombies were duped and headed off eagerly looking for a meal. After a while, we survivors found it was great fun deciding where to send the attentive walking dead when next the returned. Would we send them lemming-like over cliffs, through thorny forest undergrowth, pied-piper-like into raging river torrents? We, the few, were sending the many off on wild goose chases of our devising, adventures in which the zombies gain nothing and may be destroyed, while we the malicious puppet-masters sat back and laughed at their undead antics.

Waking, at first I tried to shake these weird, even ludicrous images from my own sleep addled brains. Within seconds, however, I jolted fully awake as I realized this dream had a parable-like quality to it. It had a single point. In this waking world, there are those demagogues who send us regular folk scurrying off in all directions with their latest pronouncements and proclamations. Like the survivors in the dream, they must take great amusement at our antics as we shamble from one place to another, never finding the promised buffet ... or riches ... or the "good life" whatever that might be. Come zombie horde, awake, return to full humanity and stop taking directions from malicious puppet masters who point here and there for their own purposes, purposes that have little to do with our common good.

Prophetic dream? You decide. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Reel Wisdom: Lessons from 40 Films in 7 Minutes

Food ... or celluloid ... for thought.

First Cosmic Census Taken ... Billions and Billions of Planets!

Carl Sagan was right. As part of the "Cosmos" series he predicted multitudes of planets scattered across the galaxies. Associated Press reports that scientists have now created the first cosmis census based on the Kepler space telescope's first year survey results of one small portion of our galaxy. They predict now that there are at least 50 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone. At least 500 million of those planets are predicted to revolve around their stars in the habitable zone where life could exist. This is based on the Kepler team discovering 1,235 candidate planets so far, of which 54 are in the habitable zone.

Watch Sagan's short message here and take heed of his cautionary note. It is as valid today as it was when "Cosmos" first aired decades ago.
Consider this: that census of billions of planets is for one galaxy alone, ours.
Here's a sprawling view of many galaxies. Think of all the planets! Courtesy of NASA

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Robonaut 2

Soon, very soon, Discovery will launch (if all goes well) and R2 will become part of the ISS team. The first experiments are legless. Later on, there are plans for that to change. Also, early experiments will have R2 working on a platform within the station. Later challenges will involve work in space with maintenance tasks on the ISS exterior. As for the rest, time (and Congressional funding) will tell.

Daisy In Deep Snow .mov

It's been a snowy winter in 2011 and Daisy loves it. Her legs aren't built for deep snow, but she loves it.

Daisy Loves Bubbles

Our daughter set up the video camera in a clever place to capture the action as Daisy, our bubble obsessed beagle, chases small orbs all over the back yard. If you click on the title you can see her other video.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dr. McCoy - He's dead Jim

As long as I'm posting "Star Trek" clips (see ), who can forget the late DeForrest Kelly as Dr. McCoy finding so many ways to pronounce somebody dead! I'm almost surprised he never burst out into the coroner's song from The Wizard of Oz, "... she's really most sincerely dead."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Discovering Shared Truths

As Matthew 15:11 reminds us: "It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth."

There is so much deep wisdom there. I experienced this personally this morning. NPR featured an interview with a retired senator of a party I usually disagree with ... no, I won't say which one as that would just get defenses going and rhetoric spinning in our heads.
I rolled my eyes and braced myself for a round of rhetorical vitriol and no truth whatsoever. I was expecting anger. However, what this retired senator spoke, on the budget no less, was simple truth I could agree with. I was absolutely astonished about how much ground we shared in common.
I was shocked. I was suspicious. I searched for hidden agendas and code words and came away empty handed.
Then I remembered Matthew 15:11. We have spent a lot of time and energy defiling ourselves with heated rhetoric. We've become so good at it we've missed the fact that all of us share common needs and concerns. We all need good food, shelter, love, family, medical care, and community (to name just a few of life's necessities). We share common concerns and common fears. If we could strip away the rhetoric and stop defiling ourselves and each other, we might actually be able to get things done.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Virtual Boy Promotional TV Commercial

All this edgy atmosphere to introduce ... a 3-D (sort of) tennis game. I guess this had something to do with a $180 game system falling flat back in 1995. Still, the juxtaposition of all that attitude and Mario Tennis is amusing.

Word Worth Using

I was listening to NPR yesterday and a reporter was discussing the picky eating habits of her young son. She called him a "pint-sized persnicketor." Now there's a word well worth trying to work into a conversation. Do you have any persniketors in your life?

Old 3-D Craze -- Nintendo's Virtual Boy ... FASCINATING

I reached into the old back closet and drug out the 1995 Virtual Boy system in the wake of the craze for 3-D movies and as a reminder that Nintendo's current 3-D game system offering was not their first. The thing always reminded me of Spock on the bridge of the Enterprise scanning space, hence the clips above. The truly "fascinating" thing is that the old VB system still works. Whether you remember this system and cringe (it was not a hit for the Nintendo franchise) or have never seen it before, you'll find a great discussion of the system and its history at

And here it is in all its retro glory.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone Everywhere

All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!

Lucy Van Pelt
In Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz.

Wishing everyone, everywhere a happy Valentine's Day. If you are between loves and feel this is insensitive, that is not my intent. Whatever your circumstances, know that you are loved. You are loved by the Creator. God knew you before you were born, loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life. You are not alone. Christians are called to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves. And who are our neighbors? Everyone! Therefore, you are loved by many who believe and act upon this belief.

And ... as Lucy says ... have a little chocolate ... or white chocolate. It couldn't hurt.

Have a blessed day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mountains in

Short slice-of-life video taken driving through the mountains of West Virginia in fog on New Year's day. The mountain peaks seem to float above the clouds. Note the emergency escape ramp for trucks with burning brakes. You find those on steep slopes only.
Now imagine 5 hours of this and you have the trip.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kepler Data Release NASA

Here's some visuals to go along with the NASA news release about the early Kepler Space Telescope potential planetary discoveries, including the five intriguing earth-like candidates located in just the right spot to be habitable. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Kepler Space Telescope Finds 5 Earth Sized Golidlocks Planetary Candidates ... Just Right

Image Courtesy of NASA
The following is a NASA news release from February 2, 2010. For readers fascinated with the search for new earths or life elsewhere in the universe, here is a first encouraging word. A little reminder--these results are only from the Kepler Space Telescopes first few months of observations of a very tiny patch of the sky. With results like these, it seems hopeful there are many earth-like planets orbiting in the right places around Sol-like stars in our galaxy and beyond. It's time to dust off those old plans for nuclear powered starships or to start tinkering with those warp drives! Now, here's NASA:

NASA's Kepler mission has discovered its first Earth-size planet candidates and its first candidates in the habitable zone, a region where liquid water could exist on a planet's surface. Five of the potential planets are near Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of smaller, cooler stars than our sun.
Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets. [And now things get weird!] Kepler also found six confirmed planets orbiting a sun-like star, Kepler-11. This is the largest group of transiting planets orbiting a single star yet discovered outside our solar system.
"In one generation we have gone from extraterrestrial planets being a mainstay of science fiction, to the present, where Kepler has helped turn science fiction into today's reality," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "These discoveries underscore the importance of NASA's science missions, which consistently increase understanding of our place in the cosmos."
The discoveries are part of several hundred new planet candidates identified in new Kepler mission science data, released on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The findings increase the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler to-date to 1,235. Of these, 68 are approximately Earth-size; 288 are super-Earth-size; 662 are Neptune-size; 165 are the size of Jupiter and 19 are larger than Jupiter.

Of the 54 new planet candidates found in the habitable zone, five are near Earth-sized. The remaining 49 habitable zone candidates range from super-Earth size -- up to twice the size of Earth -- to larger than Jupiter.

The findings are based on the results of observations conducted May 12 to Sept. 17, 2009, of more than 156,000 stars in Kepler's field of view, which covers approximately 1/400 of the sky.

"The fact that we've found so many planet candidates in such a tiny fraction of the sky suggests there are countless planets orbiting sun-like stars in our galaxy," said William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the mission's science principal investigator. "We went from zero to 68 Earth-sized planet candidates and zero to 54 candidates in the habitable zone, some of which could have moons with liquid water."

Among the stars with planetary candidates, 170 show evidence of multiple planetary candidates. Kepler-11, located approximately 2,000 light years from Earth, is the most tightly packed planetary system yet discovered. All six of its confirmed planets have orbits smaller than Venus, and five of the six have orbits smaller than Mercury's. The only other star with more than one confirmed transiting planet is Kepler-9, which has three. The Kepler-11 findings will be published in the Feb. 3 issue of the journal Nature.

"Kepler-11 is a remarkable system whose architecture and dynamics provide clues about its formation," said Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist and Kepler science team member at Ames. "These six planets are mixtures of rock and gases, possibly including water. The rocky material accounts for most of the planets' mass, while the gas takes up most of their volume. By measuring the sizes and masses of the five inner planets, we determined they are among the lowest mass confirmed planets beyond our solar system."

All of the planets orbiting Kepler-11 are larger than Earth, with the largest ones being comparable in size to Uranus and Neptune. The innermost planet, Kepler-11b, is ten times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun. Moving outward, the other planets are Kepler-11c, Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e, Kepler-11f, and the outermost planet, Kepler-11g, which is half as far from its star as Earth is from the sun.

The planets Kepler-11d, Kepler-11e and Kepler-11f have a significant amount of light gas, which indicates that they formed within a few million years of the system's formation.

"The historic milestones Kepler makes with each new discovery will determine the course of every exoplanet mission to follow," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Kepler, a space telescope, looks for planet signatures by measuring tiny decreases in the brightness of stars caused by planets crossing in front of them. This is known as a transit.

Since transits of planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars occur about once a year and require three transits for verification, it is expected to take three years to locate and verify Earth-size planets orbiting sun-like stars.

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope to review observations on planetary candidates and other objects of interest the spacecraft finds.

The star field that Kepler observes in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:

Are we alone out here?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Kingda Ka Front Row Video

World's tallest steel roller coaster ride as seen from the front seat. DANG!

Kings Island - The Beast POV

Above is the objective experience of riding The Beast at King's Island in Ohio. It's the world's longest, fastest wooden roller coaster. Below is the subjective experience of climbing the first hill as written by someone who rode The Beast as his second experience riding a roller coaster ... ever! Phew!!!

Facing the New Year can be a lot like riding a roller coaster. Before college I’d never ridden a single roller coaster, not one. You see I’m uncomfortable with heights … to put it mildly. All I could ever see when I looked at a roller coaster was all that height. Then some college buddies and I went to one of the big amusement parks and I was “encouraged” to ride my first coaster. It was a nice little wooden ride that had been around forever and after the climb up the first hill, I made an amazing discovery. From then on it was all about speed … and apparently I love speed! Well, after that I was ready for more. So we got in line for a bigger, faster coaster. I was focused on that faster part until the first hill came into view. It was really sneaky of them to hide it until you were so far along that winding line, with so many people all around you, that there was no turning back. This roller coaster was called “The Beast.” At that time, it was the second largest wooden roller coaster anywhere. The first hill stood way above the tree line and it took a full minute for the cars to go from the bottom to the top. I know because I timed it!  Well, the lure of speed was gone and I was back to worrying about heights. My friends sat in the car in front of me and I sat next to some twelve-year-old kid who had about as much experience with these things as I did. I told myself it wasn’t so bad as the coaster started inching up that long incline. I almost had myself convinced when that kid next to me said … about fifteen seconds up the hill … boy this thing is high. Okay, it was bad. Forty-five seconds later we reached the top. Now, there’s this thing about the Beast. The slope on the far side of the hill is about 81 degrees steep and the cars don’t speed up until the very last car on the train … and it’s a long train … reaches the very top. Located in a car in the center of the coaster, I had a lot of time to think about the foolishness of my ways! And I said some things I shouldn’t … with enthusiasm … six times before I could remind myself I was sitting next to a kid and really ought to be quiet. My eyes slid guiltily over to see how he was reacting to my profane assessment. His knuckles were as white as mine, his eyes were bulging just as much as mine, and he was nodding vigorously in agreement with everything I’d just said. Then the brakes let go! The New Year can be a lot like a roller coaster ride!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thank You Loyal Readers!

I just received a royalty check for the most recent sales of Michael and the New Baby. I want to take a moment and thank the loyal readers of this blog who clicked through the blog site to the publisher's website and purchased a copy for someone you love. That action is much appreciated. I hope that story will give the young reader receiving it years of enjoyment.

Mysterious "News"

Where do these stories come from ... and more to the point, where do they go? Some weird news item floats to the surface, catches your eye long enough for you to say, "What?!" and then is gone, never to return, never to receive a follow up, never to be found if you go looking for it again. I used to collect such stories as a kid. I found them intriguing and odd and always elusive. I was reminded of this when I came across a brief item that stated JAXA (Japan's space program) is considering establishing a lunar base built and run by robots. "What?!" I said. Giant, 16' high robots if I remember correctly. Now I know many Japanese scientists were influenced by "Astroboy" in childhood (that li'l robotic, nuclear powered kid for justice), but still. And of course, now, if I look for that story again, it's gone without a trace.

Recently I captured a post from AOL News, by contributor Lauren Frayer, stating the Japanese are within 5 years of bringing back the woolly mammoth from DNA recently extracted from frozen mammoth bits. Of course, it's been 10,000 years since we've had to share the place with these furry tanks and our memory may have dimmed a bit about what they were like. I imagine it's not much like the amiable character from the Ice Age movies.

Anyway, the story goes the revived DNA will be placed in an African Elephant's egg, inserted, and after 600 days of gestation ... I cannot imagine (oooppphhh) ... viola, baby mammoth.

It sounds like the plot for a bad sci-fi or horror film ... a more "recent" version of Jurassic Park ... or ... perhaps a Godzilla movie with the mammoth rampaging through Tokyo ... and includes a cast of characters featuring Japanese, Russian, and American scientists with Russian archaeologists supplying the frozen 10,000 year old mammoth bits from Siberia. But, don't hold your breath, it'll be two years yet for the DNA and egg to be ready to begin those 600 days in a confused African Elephant. And ... of course ... the Mayans will ring down the curtain on creation in December 2012 anyway, so, nice try guys but you're a little too late. Or so they tell me, in the weird and elusive news.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Take Children Out of the Culture Wars Cross Hairs NOW!!!

This is not the opening of a debate about an overheated culture wars issue. This is not a grenade thrown in that war awaiting the explosion and response. This is a call for peace and sanity. This is a call to save lives and protect vulnerable teens. There will be no arguments on the central issue one way of the other (and I could make many). There will be no invitation to debate (frankly because "debate" has devolved to who can scream loudest with neither side willing to hear out the other and consider their remarks).

We attended a benefits show the other night, a community theater play titled Dog Sees God (title is not disrespectful: it is taken from the line ... badly paraphrased here:  "When a dog looks at its master it sees a reflection of God. To accomplish the same thing a cat merely looks in the mirror.") It is powerful, frank, and very adult. The program featured the following disturbing statistics:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. More than 5,000 teens and young adults take their own lives each year.
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youths are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
  • In September 2010 alone, at least six youths who endured a relentless stream of taunts from their classmates chose to end their own lives.
  • 53% of students report hearing homophobic comments made by school staff.
  • 45% of gay males and 20% of lesbians report having experienced verbal harassment and/or physical violence as a result of their sexual orientation during high school.
  • A 2002 study found that bisexual students were three to six times more likely than their straight classmates to be threatened or injured with a weapon at school.
  • 84% of LGBT students report being verbally harassed (name calling, threats, etc.) because of their sexual orientation.
  • 82.9% of LGBT students report that faculty or staff never intervened or intervened only some of the time when present and homophobic remarks were made.
  • 64.3% of LGBT students report feeling unsafe at their school because of their sexual orientation.
  • LGBTQ youth are seven times more likely than other students to be threatened or injured with a weapon at school.
  • Sexual orientation and gender identity alone are not risk factors for suicide. LGBTQ youth face many social factors such as isolation and rejection that put them at higher risk for self-destructive behaviors.
It is time to stop and see who is being harmed in this culture wars debate. It is time to set aside the rhetoric and protect the children. No, I'm wrong; truthfully, it is LONG PAST TIME.