The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Thursday, January 30, 2014

DARPA Robotics Challenge: Which Robot Won?

Here you can discover the most successful robot at the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge. A hint, if you haven't heard: It's a robot Google has snapped up. I wonder why Google is so interested. Are we going from online searches to real world searches with Google operated equipment?

If you are truly hardcore in your robotic passion, you can watch the entire challenge from beginning to end at: Just be prepared for over 10 hours of robotic goodness and robotic failure.

For a related robot post, see:

Writer's Corner: Laptop and Tablet Tag Team Excellence

In my new career, I need a lot of information at my fingertips for the writing I do and the administrative work. I have discovered that having the laptop and tablet working side by side works wonders. Each has its own strengths and each covers the others' weaknesses.

I use the laptop for the heavy lifting work:

  • Writing the manuscripts I need.
  • Storing and sorting the research material that goes into that writing.
  • Downloading and saving files transferred from office staff and outside sources.
  • Filing all the results of correspondence in easily accessible files for later use.
  • Storing large numbers of images for later use.
  • Holding the largest programs I need for my work.
  • Running the various podcasts I like to listen to when the work being done does not require deep thinking or creative writing as the laptop has excellent speakers.
  • Digital copy of a massive reference book with full research notes reside here for reference.

The tablet has other uses:

  • The final manuscript I will be working with when speaking to the public is carried on the tablet.
  • Last minute changes to that manuscript are handled on the tablet.
  • Fast email responses to various correspondents from the dedicated email site I set up just for the job are dashed off on the tablet. 
  • Quick reference research is done on the tablet, which is left open while I write and cross referenced without switching away from my Word document (most convenient).
  • A variety of news and information sites are kept here as Apps and referenced as needed.
  • My most often used email address (not the new business address) is checked from the tablet without taking me away from the work of the main computer. 
  • My calendar of upcoming events and my actions notes reside here to go with me everywhere.
  • Two copies of the massive reference book without the detailed research notes reside here for ready reference in the field, one quite colorful. 
With these two computers on my desk, work is done quickly, efficiently, and with more organization as I have become accustomed to which machine does what. With the laptop in front of me and the tablet to its right, I have all the information and computing power I could want for the jobs at hand. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Getting Past the Fear of the New

Moving into new adventures, new ways of life, new jobs, new careers, new relationships, new, new, new ... can scare us half to death. There are times when people will stick to an old situation simply because it is familiar. Even when that situation is making them miserable. Why? Simple fear. Fear of change which boils down at its most elemental to fear of the unknown. When we can't see what's coming next we get very uncomfortable.

Horror movies are based on this premise. So many great horror films have people wandering in the dark ... not knowing when or if the terrible something is going to jump out of the dark to get them. The best horror movies keep the horrible something unseen for as long as possible, making it all the more terrifying because even its form is unknown. 

We want to retreat from that horrible, uncomfortable fear. In doing so, we often deny ourselves the joy of the new for the security of the known. I recently went through this experience transferring from my previous career into a new career. There were all sorts of terrors before the first day on the new job. All sorts of fears that were nearly crippling when it was late and I was tired. But, I pushed ahead and discovered the great joy that awaited in that new situation ... along with the uncertainty about what comes next ... that tempered that insecurity. Now, two days into the new career, things are settling into a pattern and a pace. I'll be feeling my way for a while, but enough normal, familiar stuff has occurred to make things feel right and to dampen those fears. 

When facing the new, especially the new that makes sense for your life, fight to hold those fears at bay. Work one step at a time to forge ahead in the new. Before long, once you get past the initial fear, the new becomes the new normal ... and all is well once again. Better yet, you're stronger for facing those fears and living them down. You've been tempered and are better equipped to face whatever the future might hold. Hang in there. It's hard getting through the worst of it. Have someone with you whom you can confide in. That helps a great deal. My wife listened to a lot of fears for a little while and shouldered them well. She was a true blessing and helped me master those fears. 

Whatever you do, don't give into those fears and turn away from that good change in your life. Don't give fear an opportunity to grow strong in your life. You weren't made for that.

You can do it too. Good luck!

Friday, January 24, 2014

For Fans of the Space Shuttle and Star Trek: The Enterprise

I was clearing out materials in my office when I ran across these old NASA photos from the early testing days of the Space Shuttle. In a tip of the hat to Star Trek fans, NASA named their test bed Space Shuttle Enterprise. Here she is in five photos. More details to come later.

1977. All photos courtesy of NASA

February 18, 1977. Courtesy of NASA

August 12, 1977. Enterprise's crew: Fred W. Haise, Jr., commander and C. Gordon Fullerton, pilot.

September 13, 1977

Photo Released January 28, 1985

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kepler Telescope Did Indeed Find Planets ... MANY, MANY Planets ... and More

The American Astronomical Society decreed this month that the Kepler Space Telescope did indeed find a great many planets orbiting other stars. This was the wrap up report from four years of ground-based follow up observations that has the astronomers convinced that Kepler did not tell a lie. The great bulk of these alien worlds range from Earth to Neptune sizes. Called mini Neptunes, these worlds make up the vast majority of the galactic census of worlds ... and yet, we don't have one ourselves. It's a puzzler for the scientists. At this point it is unknown if these worlds are rocky or gassy sorts ... but has lead to the hypothesis that there may be a whole lot of "super Earths" out there, larger and more hospitable to life than our own. Is this the connection to that hypothesis? I'm not sure but I'll dig around and check.

In other happy Kepler news, engineers believe they have found a way to keep Kepler operating reliably on just two of the four gyroscopic reaction wheels that hold her in place. Hopefully, Kepler will be finding more worlds soon.

For another post on Kepler, see:
For more on this report from NASA, see:

Adventures in Fitness 20: One Guy's Attempt to Knock the Rust Off: 2 1/2 Hour to Better Health

The gauntlet has been thrown and I'm taking up the challenge. I heard one doctor declare that he has proven that 2 1/2 hours of exercise a week leads to better health. It's on!

I'll be taking that challenge. 1 1/2 hours down, 1 hour to go. It seems like a small price to pay IF it works. If it doesn't, that's 2 1/2 hours a week working out ... and that can't be bad. I see it as a win/win situation.

Now, let's see if it works.

What do you think? What do you know? Have you tried this? Does it work for you? This inquiring mind wants to know.

See you at the gym.

For my previous adventure, see:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Really, News Crews ... Hour to Hour, Non-stop Coverage of SNOW???

We had snow yesterday. It snowed hard for hours. The office closed early. The drive home took twice as long as usual in the snow. The roads were slippery. Some people drove much too fast, others a nearly deadly slow pace. No surprise ... until I got home.

All the local news stations provided continuous coverage of this "weather event." At first, some of it was informative ... like predictions of when the snow might stop and how much we might expect to get and what schools were closed. But they just wouldn't stop. Turn off the TV, walk away for a while, come back, sure enough still talking about the weather. News guys and gals, come on now. Get a grip. It's weather. It happens every day of the year in some form or other. It doesn't require non-stop coverage. Yes, some people are hurt and others die in bad weather. Remind us to be careful. Remind us to check in on the elderly neighbors and shovel their walks and drives for them. Then just stop it and get out of the way, PLEASE!

After a while it reached the level of the comically annoying. One local weather guru intoned, "In a few minutes we'll go check our future weather computer." Future weather? How far in the future? Oh well, I never found out. I lost interest long before the future weather computer ... or the future weather ... got there.

I find the "reporter on the street corner during weather" the most ridiculous thing about weather reporting. Yesterday, reporter after reporter, men and women, in different towns, at different intersections, all wracking their brains to come up with some new and unusual way of responding to the inane question from the guy or gal in the toasty new room, "How is it out there?" There are just so many ways of saying, "Yup, still snowing and the traffic is still bad." We know that. We drove through it if we work. If we don't we can see that out our own window.

I have no idea how much was spent on all that coverage ... but in our area, according to the very unscientific snow gauge we have out back, we had roughly 4 1/2" of snow. That's it. Some areas got a lot more. Was that really worth it?

I talked to a reporter about this phenomenon of sending reporters out in bad weather to cover bad weather. He told me you never feel stupider than when you are driving into the hurricane everyone else is scurrying to get away from. You have the whole inbound side of the highway to yourself and the police just let you pass.  You know it's stupid, but you do it.

Enough of this.

Let me close with the following, "I've been out this morning. I shoveled light powdery snow. My gloves were inadequate for the very cold weather. My finger tips hurt for 20 minutes. To sum up our current and ongoing story: Yesterday it snowed. Today it has stopped. It's stupid cold outside. Stay in. If you have to go out, drive carefully. This is J.S. Brooks reporting for J.S. Brooks Presents." 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Apollo Moon Flight Transcripts: Behind the Scenes with the Astronauts

I was introduced to the Apollo Onboard Flight Transcriptions (once listed CONFIDENTIAL) by a friend at work who had discovered the Apollo 10 transcripts. The various flight transcripts reflect the nature of the men sent to the moon. Apollo 10's crew has some pretty raucous moments. These guys liked to laugh, to joke, to have escapades of sorts when they weren't in the world spotlight or speaking space-ese with the ground. Their discussion of a wayward turd (when you have to poop in 0 g for days with bags you tape to yourself ... sooner or later ... well, you'll see) made the news recently and that's probably where my friend found out about the transcripts. I particularly like the Apollo 10 crew. Their very professional communications with the ground, followed by the kinds of things you see here, remind me of growing up ... where your parents could be irritated with you one moment, then the phone rings, and they are entirely different with whomever they're talking to (not that WE of the next generation would ever do such a thing, oh no) ... you note as you take the opportunity to make yourself scarce. You can check out Apollo 10's transcriptions for yourself at:

CDR Commander Thomas P. Stafford
CMP Command module pilot John W. Young
LMP Lunar module pilot Eugene A. Cernan

O0 O0 44 45 CMP Okay, everything - looks alright. Okay, I've got
Mars in there now, son of a gun ...
O0 00 45 03 LMP What's our chances on ... into the water?
O0 O0 45 07 CMP Gene, how's this?
O000 45 09 CDR How - how come these bastards gave us this star chart with no (laughter) Velero?

05 13 29 44 CDR Oh - Who did it?
05 13 29 _6 CMP Who did what?
05.13 29 47 LMP What?
05 13 29 4_ CDR Who did it? (Laughter)
05 13 29 51 LMP Where did that come from?
05 13 29 52 CDR Give me a napkin quick. There's a turd floating
through the air.
05 13 29 55 CMP I didn't do it. It ain't one of mine.
05 13 29 57 LMP I don't think it's one of mine.
05 13 29 59 CDR Mine was a little more sticky than that. Throw
that away.
05 13 30 06 CMP God almighty.
05 lB 30 08 SC (Laughter)

Let's just say, there's a lot of material in the transcripts that never made it on the news ... and it's the kind of conversation you never hear in science fiction movies either. There are also sublime moments to be had. For instance, on pages 72-73 of the Apollo 11 transcript:

CDR Commander Nell A. Armstrong
CMP Command module pilot Michael Collins
 LMP Lunar module pilot Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.

03 04 05 05 CMP Look at those craters in a row. You see them
right - going right out there?
03 04 05 07 CDR ...
03 04 05 08 CMP Look at that line of them.
03 0h 05 15 CMP Something really peppered that one. There's a lot
less variation in color than I would have thought,
you know, looking down?
03 0h 05 26 LMP Yes, but when you look down, you say it's brownish
03 0h 05 29 CMP Sure.
03 0h 05 32 LMP Oh, golly, let me have that camera back. There's
a huge, magnificent crater over here. I wish we
had the other lens on, but God, that's a big
beauty. You want to look at that guy, Neil?

And there's the approach in the LM to the lunar landing site:

03 10 54 01 CDR - - TPI approach. Man, this is really something;
you ought to look at this. You want to watch our
approach into the landing site; you got to watch
right through this window. We're coming over -
we Just passed Mount Marilyn. We're coming up on
Maskelyne series here - straight out ahead, coming
into the landing area.
03 l0 54 21 CMP Houston, we're holding inertial a little while to
study the approach to the landing zone.
03 l0 54 39 CDR See the monocular -
03 10 54 41 CMP I don't either, ...
03 l0 54 44 CDR Is there one?
03 l0 54 50 IMP Well, a crater - -
03 l0 54 51 CMP There go Sidewinder and Diamondback. God, if you
ever saw checkpoints in your life, those are it.
03 l0 54 56 CDR But ... we don't get to see them.
03 10 54 58 CMP You don't?
03 l0 54 59 CDR No, we roll over right here at this little - well,
you see Boot Hill coming up right here?
03 l0 55 06 CMP Yes, yes, yes.
03 l0 55 07 CDR And Just beyond it that's - that crater right on
track there, the big one?
03 l0 55 ll CMP That's Mount Marilyn? Psat Boot Hill?
03 l0 55 13 LMP No, Duke Hill.
03 l0 55 14 CMP Duke Hill?
03 l0 55 15 _ No, I'm sorry ... that's - -
03 l0 55 17 CDR Duke Island, Duke Island.
03 l0 55 20 CMP Oh God, look at that Moltke; he's my favorite ...
Look at that son of a bitch. You see all those
roads - triangular roads leading right past him?
03 l0 56 49 I24P Houston, this is Apollo LM in the Eagle - Apollo ll
in the Eagle, and I got a beautiful view of the
whole landing area,
03 l0 57 08 LMP Roger. I can see the entire landing area from the
position I'm in looking out the left window in the
03 10 57 20 CMP ...
03 l0 57 26 IMP That's right.
03 l0 58 05 _ Boy, that sure is eerie looking.
03 l0 58 G6 CDR Isn't that something?
03 10 58 08 MS ...
03 l0 58 l0 CMP ... enough of a shot down there, but you can't find
a single spot on the surface that doesn't look
... 1-degree sun angle, that's - that's Just a
lousy sun angle.
03 l0 58 28 CDR That's spectacular out there - Looks like you're
flying right into the side of a mountain, doesn't it?


Check it out for yourself at:

With these transcripts you get to go behind the scenes and ride along with the astronauts as they make history ... and share their thoughts, feelings, opinions, and more along the way.

For a related post, see:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Adjusting Our Sights Seeking Habitable Planets ... Super Earth-like?

Not just right after all??? Image courtesy of NASA
Scientists have recently begun to consider whether we have our sights set too low when searching for habitable planets. Seeking earth-like worlds just might be too tame an approach. As science tends to do, it takes us out of center stage. The thought is that earth might not be the most life friendly type of world. We might be one of the outliers rather than the "just right" Goldilocks sort of world we have considered ourselves to be. Turns out larger worlds that are older orbiting cooler stars (that last longer) with many shallow seas rather than big, deep oceans might be better places for life. Older means they have more time to develop life. Those cooler burning stars last a lot longer than our sun and give life a much better chance to take deep roots. Shallow seas are hotbeds for developing lifeforms. Deep oceans ... not so much.

So, in the future, we may need to keep our eyes peeled for worlds even better than ours. Who knows what sort of life we may find there. With less challenging worlds, would those creatures be a lot more laid back than we are? Only time will tell.

For another post on this topic, see:

Honoring Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ... In His Own Words and With "No Shots Fired" Monday

All of us American Baptists hold Martin Luther King, Jr. in special, high regard as he is one of our own. I want to commemorate his life and work for civil rights by allowing him to speak for himself this morning.

There is a lot of stuff and nonsense floating around these days about a conflict between science and religion. The loudest voices are equally strident and equally inflexible in their views. Let each have their sphere of influence. Dr. King took another approach, one far more intelligent and useful in my estimation. He said:

Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.*
Scientific vs. spiritual power:

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

On hope:

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

On violence:

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
 The burden of hate:

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
On ignorance (as relevant now as it ever was):

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

On equality:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
On change:

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.
Military defense vs. social programs (a timely reminder ... sadly):

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

Dr. King, any last words for us?:

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
According to the Chicago Tribune, today should be a "no shots fired" day across the United States and church bells should be rung in support of non-violence. Given the recent, terrible school shootings and the penchant for gun violence in this land, I couldn't agree more. Let's pray no shots are fired today ... and then keep praying for that every day!

*Keep creationism out of the classroom and let the two sides do what they do best. How about it?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Writer's Corner: Keeping Hard to Spell Words Spelled Correctly As You Write

You're writing a book, an article, a post and you're on a deadline. You have hard words to spell in your book (why oh why did you choose this topic?) and you need to make sure the spelling remains consistent and correct. There's a simple way to do this. Really.

Say you have to use Australopithecus Africanus or Czechoslovakia regularly. It's real trouble if both are appearing in the same book, article, etc. The simplest solution to keeping the spelling right without breaking your pace and a sweat every time they appear comes in the following steps:

  1. Activate your spell checker (you really should) and have it underline misspelled words for you.
  2. Teach the difficult words to your spell checker.
  3. Keep an eye out for underlined misspellings of said hard word/words as you write. Spell checker will do the work for you.
  4. When you find the troublesome word underlined in red, right click on the word and the spell checker program will bring up suggestions, including the correct spelling you taught it.
  5. Click on the correct spelling, the word changes, and you move on with peace of mind. 
This also works for editors who need to move through material quickly. 

The computer has a lot of tools. We might as well make the most of them.

Happy writing!

Things Are Looking Up for Lunar Exploration

The last time we were on the moon. Image courtesy of NASA
I want to thank the Chinese scientists for their successful landing of the Chang'e 3 robotic mission featuring the solar powered Jade Rabbit rover. Following the first successful soft landing on the moon in 37 years, NASA has announced an extension of their partnership with commercial space industry partners. Coincidence? Could be. Then again ...

Either way, NASA is now seeking partners in designing, developing, and sending reliable, cost-effective, commercial robotic lunar landers that will be able to drop payloads on the lunar surface. With these new landers and robots, we could be getting ready for commercial lunar activity, along with science and exploration missions on our nearest neighbor.

NASA states in their news release: "As NASA pursues an ambitious plan for humans to explore an asteroid and Mars, U.S. industry will create opportunities for NASA to advance new technologies on the moon," said Greg Williams, NASA's deputy associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. "Our strategic investments in the innovations of our commercial partners have brought about successful commercial resupply of the International Space Station, to be followed in the coming years by commercial crew. Lunar CATALYST will help us advance our goals to reach farther destinations."

So, which of the new commercial space industry companies will step up to the challenge? Only time will tell. 

Meanwhile, my friends at Universe Today tell me that Frank Culbertson, VP of Orbital Sciences (who recently successfully docked with the ISS with their Cygnus cargo delivery system) calls for an extension of the International Space Station to 2050 and using the massive station as a stepping stone to human deep space exploration. 

Things are looking up. Congress even provides for budget increases (small but there) for NASA. Wonders upon wonders!

For more, see:

For the Cygnus arrival at the ISS post, see:

Take a Ride to an Asteroid Aboard NASA's OSIRIS-Rex!

Image Courtesy of NASA
You, yes, you are invited to hitch a ride aboard the Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) as it heads off to an encounter with the Bennu asteroid in 2016. Space is limited so you'll need to sign up now. Also, it's your name that goes, not you, aboard the "Message to Bennu" microchip. OSIRIS-Rex will spend two years studying the 1,760 foot (500 meter) wide asteroid. Better yet, it'll be collecting a sample (a long sought goal of robotic missions to anywhere) and returning that sample to Earth.

You have until September 30 to sign up to be part of the exploration of our solar system. Better yet, if you "like" or "follow" the OSIRIS-Rex site on Facebook, you can keep track of where yours and everyone else's names ... and the spacecraft ... are in flight. Pretty cool idea.

To sign up, head over to the Planetary Society's site and fill in a couple of lines. You'll be on your way (in name) to Bennu before you know it. The address is:

Join me and my family aboard. And, as Jason Dworkin, mission project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, says, "It is exciting to consider the possibility that some of the people who register to send their names to Bennu could one day be a part of the team that analyzes the samples from the asteroid ten years from now." That is an exciting idea.

See you around Bennu.  

For more on the mission, see:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Building a "Scrap-a-pult" Catapult ... What Else Could We Do???

Not pretty, but it gets the job done!
"Build a catapult."

That was the job our daughter had to do. It was for a physics class. She asked us, her parents, to help. It was a blast!

She had a rough plan for the mini launcher. I looked up more online. Then we stripped it down to the basics. My wife pulled together all of the needed materials from leftover scraps from previous projects that had been squirreled away in case they were ever useful. Who knew?

All three of us came up with ideas ... as we were building the catapult ... for the use of particular materials in unusual ways. It was inspiring. None of us singly could have gotten the job done as well, nor as quickly. Roughly an hour to an hour and a half after we had begun, we were testing our scrap wood, bungie cord propelled catapult with a small rubber ball ... much to our dog's delight, who chased down that little ball wherever it was thrown.

Madeline alone did the physics math for the problem related to the construction. My wife and I stood back and let her do that part alone ... we know our limits.

There was more surprise and delight in this little construction project than I would ever have imagined. It made me wonder what more of us could do with the scraps around the house. What could we build that might be helpful to our communities ... if we combined our knowledge, our skills, and our scraps? It could be something wonderful.

To see what one determined gardener did with scrap land in his LA community, see: That's one possibility.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

More Good News for and from the International Space Station: The Five Minute Response

Cygnus Transport Grapple by ISS Robot Arm Courtesy of NASA
On Sunday, January 12, working from the cupola of the ISS, astronauts successfully grappled into place the Cygnus resupply module lofted by the private company Orbital Sciences. Between this firm and SpaceX, it appears the ISS is now well fixed for private contractors to send supplies and experiments their way for the next ten years. More than 2700 pounds of necessities and experiments arrived and the offloading proceeded with nary a leak or a hitch in sight.

New inhabitants arrived aboard the ISS in the Ant Forage Habitat Facility. We'll see if the industrious little critters can be as busy in 0 g. The new empty space aboard Cygnus won't remain that way for long. Over the next five weeks, it'll be loaded with trash to be burned up on the modules fiery descent on February 18.

This is excellent news for the ISS, for NASA's program to develop private space contractors, and for the business end of space exploration. 

That's the five minute response.

For more good news from space exploration, see:

Friday, January 10, 2014

Supporting a Friend and Colleague: Daily Vlog #1: The Beginning

 A friend of mine and colleague in ministry has taken a bold step. 365 days of Vlogging for the year. Good luck, John. I look forward to seeing where you go with this. Check out days 7 and 8. Things get pretty interesting there. Happy viewiing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Exciting News from Space for 2014! The Five Minute Response

Image courtesy of NASA
I don't have a lot of time today, so here goes. The news from the final frontier continues to get more interesting and exciting.

Straight from NASA, the Obama administration extends the life of the International Space Station, the largest structure ever built in space, to at least 2014. See:  NASA expects to wring a lot more science beneficial to us on earth and to future long duration space missions out of the ISS in the next decade ... and possibly more.

Using Einstein's theory of gravitational lensing, the 23 year old Hubble Space Telescope looks back to the earliest light seen in the universe yet. The galaxies were small, filled with energetic blue stars, and metal was yet a distant dream. Now that's how to reuse old technology!

Good luck to Orbital Sciences, which strives this afternoon to become the second private company to successfully resupply the now extended life ISS! Launch from Wallops Island, VA, is scheduled for 1:07 PM. It was delayed yesterday for a very Star Trek-esque reason ... solar flares ... solar storm (where's Finney?) UPDATE, 1/10/14: At the advertised 1:07 PM yesterday, Orbital Sciences Antares rocket successfully launched, taking its payload on the first step of its journey toward the ISS.  That makes two private US company space launches in one week. SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 carrying a commercial satellite into orbit earlier in the week. Huzzah for the private space companies. Keep it up!

SpaceX will take strides this year toward a crewed launch as early as 2015 for their next-gen Dragon capsule with two tests of their abort rockets in 2014. Best of luck SpaceX! Now they race with NASA's Orion space capsule ... who will be launching people to space from the US again first?! Both craft can carry seven. Should be interesting to see this year.

And that's the five minute response.

For a related post, see:

An older post with a sweeping look at spaceflight, updated several times, is found here:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What Fills Your Mind Will Shape You ...

Years ago I decided that there were certain kinds of images and stories I just didn't need filling up my mind. From time to time, my dreams can be very disturbing and I chose not to give my subconscious a whole lot of additional material to play with. So, I started avoiding graphic horror and violence in the movies, news items on TV splashed with gore and destruction playing over and over again to fill the 24 hour news cycle. I just didn't need that extra, awful material floating around in my mind for the nightly mind movies.

Turns out this was a good decision according to Dan Gottlieb, the psychologist with the weekly show on NPR. I heard an interview with him recently in which he stated that research confirms that loading up on this awful imagery can bend the mind. Me, I was worried about nightmares. Dr. Gottlieb is more concerned with our attitude toward life and others. Too steady a diet of the horrific can back up in the brain and create all sorts of exaggerated fears, those neurotic fears we explored here not too long ago.

Thinking back on it, I can see the effects of this mind bending through diets of dire, dreadful, 24/7/365 news and entertainment doom ... and have for years. Over a decade ago (how can it be so long?), we had a lovable mutt, mostly German Shepherd, who felt it was her sworn duty to protect me from any and all other potential threats other dogs might pose to me ... no matter their size or apparent intent. For Ginger, the tiny Chihuahua in a purse was an equal potential threat to my life and limb as a rabid St. Bernard. So, we took an evening constitutional around 10 PM to avoid any potential confrontation (mind you Ginger was a huge fan of bluff and guile ... but a cream puff underneath ... still, no need to worry the neighbors). Walking those streets, we owned the night, no matter how nice the weather. It was Ginger, me, and an occasional teen getting away from the parents. Why? As we passed each home unobserved, a blue glow came from the windows, sometimes the only light on in a house. The nightly feeding from the TV fount was taking place ... no doubt some of it news, images, and entertainments most dire, raising fear levels where fear was unnecessary.* I truly believe more people weren't out because they were unsure of what might be out there waiting for them in the night ... thanks at least in part to the violent images swirling in their minds.

So, fill your heads with more positive images and information my friends. Sure, keep up with the news ... perhaps radio and newspaper rather than broadcast ... I don't want you to be uninformed. Find affirming books, films, shows and other entertainments to expand your minds. Give that subconscious something bright to work with. Who knows, you might find yourself bending toward a more positive outlook toward humanity and be more inclined to leave the house and discover how you too might make a positive impact in your community instead. Let the information you consume shape you toward goodness and light rather than fear of the dark.

*This is in no way intended to discount the very real danger some people face in crime torn neighborhoods, but such is not the case in mine ... and for this I am grateful.

For more on fear (the post mentioned above), see:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Barbarians in the Comments ... Calling for the Destruction of Invaluable Artifacts

Recently I was reading a fascinating article about the third oldest Christian Bible, which is owned and curated by the Smithsonian Institution. They were making this 4th century A.D. artifact, written in Koine Greek and beautifully illuminated available and it was wonderful to see. Ancient artifacts are rare items. Ivor Noel Hume, former director of Colonial Williamsburg and noted archaeologist, stated that 90 percent of all man-made objects created in the last 300 years have been destroyed. Given that percentage, you can appreciate how rare this object is. For Christians, this foundational document of the early church should be a marvel.

However, I then made the mistake (and I know better, I really do) of scrolling on down to the comments. It was appalling. The barbarians were raging in the comments section. The fundamentalists (Christian and atheist alike) were calling for the destruction of this invaluable Bible on the grounds that it did not hue to their ideas about reality. They would see this ancient Bible, early artifact of the faith, destroyed rather than have their, apparently quite fragile, belief systems potentially challenged.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Come on, J.S. Their trolls, you can't listen to them. Surely you know better?" You're right, of course, they are and I do. However, the problem is that such comments build a mindset in those who are easily convinced, those of fragile psyche and weak cognitive abilities. If enough trolls howl loud and long enough, sooner or later some individual or group of individuals of weak mind and strong intent will act and barbarism will be unleashed again.

We've seen this all too often before. The library of Alexandria, the Mayan texts, books with challenging ideas seen as threats to every tin-horn, two bit, dictator who ever was and is a blot on humanity's collective soul ... all destroyed and in doing so impoverishing all of humanity.

If you are Christian, remind yourself that Jesus, the Messiah, our leader, teacher, and reliable guide tells us that what poisons us, what makes us unclean, does not come from what we put into our mouths but what we speak when that comes from corrupted hearts ... and what we write in the comments section. Paul states we should avoid that which would influence the weak among us to do what is wrong. If you're not Christian, common sense and great thinkers tell you the same.

I hope in the future we'll hear from fewer barbarians ...

For a related post, see:

UPDATE, 1/20/14: I want to thank Governor Chris Christie for illustrating my point for me with the bridge debacle in which his staff closed all but one lane of a New Jersey span to get even with a local mayor who did not support the governor. If the governor is to be believed, he knew nothing of the actions of his underlings who implemented the outrageous plan that put many travelers under outrageous travel burdens for no good reason and risked lives of those who were sick or injured and needed to get to the hospital quickly. If the governor knew nothing of this politically dangerous move, his own vitriolic rhetoric and bullying behavior still brought it about. He encouraged his underlings to do as he did and they took things a step too far. Just what I'm concerned about with the comments mentioned above ... inspiring those of easily swayed minds to do abominable things.
Sure, we have our First Amendment rights ... but we also have brains with which to determine what might be lawful but terrible to say ... to decide what might inspire others to do awful things. If our corrosive language brings about terrible, stupid, or tragic results, our hands are not clean. We cannot walk away, wrap ourselves in the First Amendment, and continue this bad behavior. We have a responsibility to society to be smarter than that.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Enjoy the Moment. The Five Minute Response

We spend a lot of time multitasking. We keep ourselves very busy and we like it. Caffeinated, full schedule, to do lists with boxes being checked, calls sent and received, emails answered, time spent with our Facebook friends ... and there goes the day. We feel like a hub rather than a spoke, the machine rather than a cog. We try to put ourselves back in the center of a busyness universe in which so many things revolve around us. In the process, we forget to pause. We forget to breathe. We forget to appreciate what others are doing for us and how much better they are making our lives.

Yesterday afternoon I was ordained as a minister. I now hold the title Reverend. It means a lot. It represents a whole mountain of business accomplished ... and far more to come.

Yesterday morning I sat down and read a brief passage from theologian Henri Nouwen's devotional guide Bread for the Journey that was remarkably appropriate to the moment. He advised me to be patient. He advised me to appreciate the moment, to savor it, to live in it rather than work through it. It was great advice.

During the ordination service, I had to remind myself to be there in the moment. I needed to set aside all the electronic devices (for full disclosure, my wife had the video camera and still camera and was recording parts of the event ... I wasn't completely virtuous here), clear my mind of all the to dos to come, banish the "what if" questions lurking about the immediate future that would want to spoil the moment, and appreciate what everyone present and what God was doing for me and with me in that moment. I sat there or participated and soaked in as much of the moment as I could.

It was wonderful to pause, to see the loving family, friends, and new colleagues who are walking alongside me in this journey of life. It was wonderful.

I encourage you to carve out a moment or two to breathe, to consider, to soak in before rushing off on the next to do list. May your day be blessed with such a moment.

And that's the five minute response.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

You Know You're Too Sleepy When ...

Here are a few classic indicators that it's time to hang it up and get some sleep. Here at J.S. Brooks Presents, we're always looking out for you:

  1. The hour long show you're watching is roughly 20 minutes shorter than it should be according to what you saw ...
  2. The book you're reading just took a really weird plot twist ... as you drifted off toward dreamland. This is a very bad thing if you're studying for an exam!
  3. You've been on the same paragraph of said book for the last half hour. Give it up.
  4. You're driving in the rain and suddenly you see a man in front of you wearing a yellow rain slicker running down the road. You slam on your brakes (thankfully it's very late and you've got the highway to yourself) just before you realize it's not a man running at 55 miles an hour in front of you in a yellow raincoat but the reflection of the yellow gas station sign. You stop for gas, even if you don't need it.
  5. You mistake the "Lumber Yard" sign along the road for "Slumber Yard" and think it's a motel. 
  6. You suddenly add a long string of "aaaaaaaa" to your blog post as you nod off, waking up only after leaving three lines of the letter across the screen.
  7. Reading in bed, you suddenly slam the book shut in front of your nose as you drift off (that was the last time I ever read a hard back book in bed). 
  8. Debating with yourself over which cookie to select, unable to make a decision. 
  9. Nearly falling out of your chair as you nod off while doing ... well, it doesn't really matter what you're doing at that point does it?
  10. Finally, walking into the restroom after many hours driving and seeing an out of order sign taped to a mirror over a sink and wondering "How can a mirror be out of order?" 
I'm sure you can come up with more. If any one or more of these is happening to you, give it up and go to bed. You'll feel better in the morning. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cold Snap Begs Response

My family has just returned home from Christmas. It was wonderful. We feel recharged. Just in time to be warned about the upcoming cold snap for today and tomorrow. Our local government has issued a warning about the chill. Nighttime temperatures will drop to about 7 degrees ... cold for us, stop snickering you Western mountain folks!

This kind of warning calls for action from all of us, some kind of action suited to each of our abilities. For me, I am currently carrying small hand warmer packs in my car, 10 pack each carrying two chemical hand warmers that last 10 hours each. I keep an eye out for likely souls who look like they could use the help. So far, the postman, sanitation workers who collect our trash, and a couple of Salvation Army bell ringers (pre-Christmas) have received them. They've been glad for the help. I'm sure there are others in the next few days who will be able to use them as well.

Check in with neighbors who are elderly and/or in ill health. Make sure their houses are warm and they are safe in this killing cold weather. Keep your eyes open and help where you can.

With all of us responding with small helping hands, we might just be able to avert tragedies in our neighborhoods. We may preach individualism here in the US, but really, we're all in this together and can all, each and every one of us, at some time, use a helping hand.

Stay warm, stay safe, help others.

See you tomorrow.