Let’s catch up

19 12 2010

I haven’t posted anything in a while, which seems to be the one type of post found on 98.3% of blogs (a number I didn’t just totally make up).

So since we’ve last chatted:

  • Turned 39.  I’ve been telling everyone I’m 40 so that when I actually do turn 40 it won’t feel like anything’s changed.  I’ll let you know how that strategy works out for me.
  • Halloween was great.  I wanted the clan to dress with a group theme and go as characters from Harry Potter.  I, of course, would be Professor Snape.  …oh, how I’ve longed to portray Alan Rickman in *something*!  (y’know, sometimes I think he really *is* the voice of God)  Alas, even though Geneva thought this was a great idea and created a killer Professor McGonagall costume, every one of the boys wanted to be Harry.  So the idea was abandoned.
  • Broke my tractor.  I was having some problems with the clutch sticking, so I tried a trick to pop it out of gear.  Well, it’s out of gear!  Totally broke the drive shaft to the back wheels.  Fortunately, it’s a four-wheel drive so I can still drive it around (and up on the trailer) by using the two front wheels (so I can get it to an actual mechanic).
  • the Leonid shower was a wash with the bright moon.
  • Had hernia surgery.
  • Thanksgiving was pretty fantastic.  –except for the whole ‘recovering from surgery’ thing.  My parents left for the week, so instead of doing our usual Thanksgiving Day bit, my family just stayed home and had our own dinner for a change.  As I said, it was pretty fantastic.
  • Back to the hernia stuff — the doc set me up with some very powerful pain killers, for my very powerful pain you see, but they made me itchy.  So, if you can imagine it, everytime I felt bad enough to take one I would spend the next four hours scratching my arms and neck until they were red and sore.  And they made me really grouchy (when the pain-reliever part wore off) so I got no sympathy from *anyone*!  (okay, not entirely true — my wife was actually incredibly nice to me during this whole ordeal, and I can never thank her enough for it.)  [And I’d like to take this moment to apologize to anyone I texted during this time.  I promise, in my mind I thought I was funny.]
  • I figured out how to set up a nifty HTPC.  I didn’t build it, I just sorta had the stuff I needed laying around my office.  So that means for the first time since buying my 1080P flatscreen, I finally had the chance to push every pixel.  First thing we watched?  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Not a bad flick.  12GB avi, though!
  • Re-read Contact.  I had forgotten how it ended, so I was surprised all over again.  For those who haven’t read the book, it is considerably different from the movie.
  • Watched The Venture Bros. seasons 1 and 2.  Okay, here’s a secret about me.  I didn’t get into this series when it began in 2004 because I didn’t like the first few episodes.  Then I watched maybe one or two episodes each season, if I just happened to be looking toward the TV while they were on.  This past season, though, I’ve really gotten into it.  Upon re-watching, I discovered I *still* don’t like the first season.  But there’s this point in the second season (2nd episode, actually — Hate Floats) where the series becomes awesome.  I’ve watched the first 3 minutes of that episode a half dozen times, and laughed out loud each time!
  • Geminids.  Good show this year.  Didn’t catch it.  Just heard about it.  The temps dropped to around 20F and I’m just getting too old to dress up and do that stuff anymore.
  • Found an old copy of Sid Meier’s Pirates on a hard drive and started playing it again.  Too.  Addictive.  I knew better.
  • Christmas break is coming next week, and I so need it.
  • Grades came out for my kids and, once again, they’re all above average.  Maybe we should move to Lake Wobegon, huh?
  • I found a cover album of the Finn Brothers by various Australian artists that I am just wearing out.  Oh, why can’t we here in America get awesome music like that on our radios?

So that’s pretty much it.  Looking back over the last couple of months it appears that my life has been pretty blah, but what’s not mentioned here is that for the most part I’ve been fairly happy, I’m getting along really well with my folks,  and my kids are doing great and keeping me busy.

I’m still working through the whole Twitter thing.  Not really sure what the etiquette is.  I want to tweet more, but at what point do my texts become really boring (okay, I know you yucksters are all ready to tell me “From the first tweet!” but I’m serious here.  I feel like I either need to get better at it or just lay it down.

…and as far as this blog goes, I actually do have some good stuff to put up over the next week.  And I’m going to make the time to do it as well.  What I have noticed from reviewing the stats from wordpress is that it would appear that people don’t want me spouting my opinions on education and politics.  People seem to be drawn to cool science stuff and pretty astro pictures.  Duly noted!  So hopefully, some of the folks who used to frequent these pages will have some cause to come back.  ‘Til then…


Life Without TV

7 10 2010

As sort of an experiment, Geneva and I decided to shut off our satellite TV service last month.  A lot of people I know don’t watch much TV and we figured we might try spending our quiet hours doing more reading and getting house-work done.  Also, with this current economy I can’t quite justify the cost of the hefty DirecTV bill.  Those guys are determined to raise rates as often as our power company does!

So how’s it going, you ask?  Well, the toughest part is losing the morning news.  I know that our local stations broadcast for free —  in Hi-Def even(!) — but if you don’t know, I live in the sticks.  So far out live I that signals from the big city are more ‘suggestions’ rather than actual transmissions.  And in this digital age that amounts to pretty much a black screen.  But back to the stuff I miss…  the morning news.  I’ve grown accustomed to finding out what new thing I’m supposed to be fired up about each morning before heading off to work, and now that I don’t have that I feel, I dunno, not very fired up.  I’m sort of a news junkie so getting my morning fix has become — almost necessary.  And yeah, of course the internets could keep me in the know, but i can’t browse fark.com whilst putting on my socks.  I need that passive information feed.  Well, I guess I’ll just have to rely on NPR during the drive in to fill that hole.  But they need to learn to talk faster!  Headline news can feed me three news stories every minute.  Ya gotta keep Broca’s brain contextually stimulated.

For my other programming I’ve been taking a page from Wil Wheaton and hitting Hulu and various other video-specific websites.  And through the power of the occasional torrent, I’m able to watch most of the TV that I normally would have suffered through the ads to enjoy — like Rules of Engagement, the Venture Bros., and House.  I also can catch The Daily Show through their own website, which is nice because then I can easily catch all the parts of the interviews they edit out for the TV time-slot.  [But why must they show me the exact same very annoying commercial during every single break?  Can’t the AXE people just make a couple of extra commercials just to make me not spaz every time I see their product in the future?  morons.]

And so the experiment continues.  The boys haven’t complained about missing their daily dose of iCarly, but with school and soccer their schedules are so packed right now they wouldn’t have a 30-min. break in the day anyhow.  And I’m catching up on a couple of books I’m been limping through and working my way through the back-log of movies I’ve been ‘intending to get to’ for far too long.  (Sherlock Holmes is *still* sitting on my DVD player — unwatched!)

For someone who prides himself on  perpetually integrating current pop culture into his vernacular seamlessly (“Twitcher lets you send and receive short messages called ‘twits’. [ding] Why, here’s a twit now!), I’m gonna find it hard to keep up.  And as I’ve learned in the past, it’s not always a sure thing that an internet meme is recognizable by anyone other than those it was intended for.  …or the other 99.99% of the local population.  meh.  Honestly, if I wore a T-shirt with “The cake is a liar.” printed on it, will it actually make me seem any cooler to the general public?  I think not.

So for anyone keeping score:  Having time to do some things that needed doing, 1.  Keeping in touch with the things that keep me sane and make me cool, zero.

Oh, well.  At least I’ll have another $75 in my pocket at the end of the month.


Melt Right In

25 09 2010

When I was growing up, I watched a ton of Saturday morning cartoons.  Like most people my age, I loved School House Rock.  I would watch the cartoons on ABC more than the other three channels we got because it carried the 5-min. lessons told in song between episodes.

Now that I have kids, SHR doesn’t play anymore.  So I had to buy them on DVD.  And, naturally, my kids love them.  They have their favorites and they like to sing along.  In fact, I caught them this evening watching and singing along to the America Rock episodes.

If you ask anyone to name their favorite, they’ll usually name off I’m Just A Bill or Conjunction Junction.  Those tunes were awful catchy, but my favorite was American Melting Pot.  This was reinforced a few years back when I caught a stage production of SHR for elementary students.  The performers on stage were incredibly talented and truly deserved to go on to bigger and better things.  Of the songs chosen for the hour-long show, I was really happy to see they included American Melting Pot.  The woman who sang it had a gorgeous voice and really brought out the depth and beauty of the song — both musically and lyrically.  Here’s the original version in youtube form:

If you click on the video and actually go to youtube, you can find the full lyrics. There’s a wonderful line right in the first verse that goes:

They’d heard about a country
Where life might let them win,
They paid the fare to America
And there they melted in.

Yesterday, Stephen Colbert testified before the House Immigration Committee in support of the legalization of undocumented agriculture workers.  As you can imagine, his presence caused quite a ruckus within the members of the committee, and Rep. John Conyers even asked him to leave!  (The chair, Zoe Lofgren, asked him to stay, so he got to speak.)  But what many of the democrats who support the bill didn’t seem to understand, Colbert’s presence was tweeted and publicized all over the internet and drew much attention to what is (or is not) being done about this problem right now.  Here’s his say:

As you can tell, he stayed in character for most of the time and tried to add levity to the hearing.  His words *should* have given the lawmakers pause to consider the human factor in all this, but I’m not sure what would help there.

This is a tough topic with no easy answers, at least I don’t have an answer.  I do, however, always take a stance on treating people with respect.  And Colbert ended his time by saying exactly what I feel:  “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers … these seem like the least of our brothers.”  For this important moment, he completely breaks out of character and ensures the committee that he means what he says.  He ends by saying, “Migrant workers suffer …and have no rights.”  Here’s his last words captured on video, so you can see what Stephen Colbert looks like in those rare moments when he’s being serious.

Again, I don’t know what the answer here is.  But somehow this just feels connected to the Health Care issue, the fear of persons of non-Christian faiths, and the revocation of welfare assistance during these tough economic times.  At some point, we should treat people equally and with respect.  As in my last post, we have to be courageous when we see people not being given the freedoms that we all want to enjoy.

What happens to the least of us, reflects upon us all.  It’s a melting pot.

SEPA wrap-up

4 07 2010

Heh.  So check me out.  I didn’t exactly blog every day like intended, but I wore myself out while I was there!  And then I dove straight into two weeks of professional development which, along with my garden and other chores, completely occupied my time.  Now I’m just finding it hard to get back into writing.  But, here we go…

The con was pretty wonderful.  Lots to eat.  Good people.  Some new things to see.  But what set this year’s trip apart from the others was the inclusion of my good friend, Jeremy Lusk, attending with me.  Jeremy has accepted a fellowship in another state in a doctorate program in physics, specializing in astronomy.  He’s very interested in education, so a trip to SEPA just seemed logical.  He made some solid contacts and by now should be blighted with the attraction to attend each year after this as well.

Some friends didn’t make it since this is an IPS year. IPS was in Egypt just last week, and since most folks can’t afford attending two cons in a single year, many opted to make that incredible trip and see Egypt through the eyes of an astronomer.  IPS occurs every other year, and 2012 brings it to Baton Rouge to a place I think many of you guys have visited before.  Cool, huh?  Jon Elvert & Mike Smail are regular attendees of SEPA (in fact, Jon is the past president), but only Jon attended SEPA this year (on account that he was the president).  I noticed a picture of Mike online attending IPS in Egypt.  Guess you should probably make an appearance if the next one is at your dome!

My probably favorite moment was getting to play play with a Theremin.  Not a very easy instrument to handle, even though it can only play one note at a time!  I feel so much joy even now when I think about getting to use my own hands (and Jeremy might tell you — most of my body) to wrangle something that resembled a tune from that beast.  I wish I had some video of my two minutes of glory for you, but alas, the people looking on were much more into pointing and laughing than trying to hold their video recorders steady.  You will simply have to imagine how totally hard core I looked in coaxing that last, deep, low note from the machine.  Think about how Luke Skywalker looked in that epic Star Wars poster with his saber lofted on high, and his hot sister hanging on his leg.  Wait, what?

I got to see two new programs made by some friends of mine in their entirety — SpacePark360 by Matt, Jason, and Michael of Dome3D and Natural Selection by Robin Sip of Mirage3D.  Both were excellent.  In fact, I lost my preliminary copy of Natural Selection and was quite upset because I wanted my family to watch it so bad.  After a week went by I decided it was just gone and I’d grab another copy next year.  However, I stumbled across it between my truck seats yesterday as I was headed out to Jeremy’s wedding.  Hoo-zah!  I excitedly showed it to them last night, but I’ve discovered it’s just not the same without that immersive dome around you.  Thhhbbbt!  And I wouldn’t even try to show SpacePark360 on anything other than a dome.  It’s all about effect, baby!

And the rest of the details are simply that — details.  The day-to-day excitement seemed continuous and most of my memories now consist of the moments I got to spend with my friends and colleagues rather than any specific event.   With my post-SEPA workshops out of the way I now turn my full attention to my summer break, which has now officially been going for a week.  Hope your summer outlook is as good as mine.

SEPA is coming!

5 06 2010

If I could go to any con I could it would be.. well, it would be the San Diego Comicon!  But then the next con would be… okay, it would be the Atlanta DragonCon.  But somewhere on that list is definitely SEPA con!  SEPA stands for the South Eastern Planetarium Association.  And even though I don’t have a planetarium to call my own anymore, they still let me be a part.  ‘Cause it’s all about what I bring to the table, man!  I just love all the people, the programs, and even the workshops that are packed into the five days the con runs.

And this year the theme is something close to my heart — Storytelling!  I take seriously the role storytelling plays in education.  It is the most primitive form of teaching from the beginnings of our species.  A well-told story doesn’t just educate, it rips open the mind’s creativity and passion.  It makes the hard-coded, bulleted lists of our seemingly random informational bits a cohesive tapestry of flowing imagery that makes the bits make sense.  It compels us to educate ourselves.  (Wow, suddenly I’m inspired to write up a speech about how I feel about all that.  hmmmm.)

The workshops, the presentations, and the special speakers are all just fantastic.  (Especially the special speakers.  This year we are honored to have Dava Sobel hanging out — woo hoo!) But that’s not the whole reason why I’m so excited.  I’m excited over the unveiling of new technologies in the realm of full-dome theater!  Every year the advances made leapfrog the year before.  Two years ago I was stunned by the introduction of the Super Megastar II.  Last year it was the ease of Sky-Skan’s proprietary software to place and then color-code lists of asteroids into a star field (okay, that doesn’t sound impressive at all.  This is why one has to make the journey to actually see this stuff for himself!)  So this year who knows what will emerge.  I’ve heard that Evans & Sutherland are supposed to really wow us with a new demo.  I await with baited breath…

Also this year I’ll be joined by Jeremy Lusk, making us the only two participants from Arkansas — instead of the usual one participant.  All together there will be representatives from six countries and thirty-two states.  I know most of those by name, and I think most of those would recognize me.  It’s wonderful working in a field where you truly feel part of a larger good.  Where the goals of the collective are to better each other.  The methods I learn, the techniques I pick up, the stories my companions tell always inspire me to return to my job …and try very hard to inspire others.

But, as with all cons, the real stuff comes after 11pm, when everyone is relaxed and can just talk about what they truly enjoy, which is working in this educational field that brings new challenges every day.  There’s where the real inspiration is.  The after-hours camaraderie is where the lasting friendships happen.  And those are the moments I remember best every year.

I’ll keep the blog updated daily next week.

Luck of the Fry-ish!

11 04 2010

So yesterday I discovered a few hundred feet from my house a patch of four-leaf clovers.  You read that right… an entire patch of four-leaf clovers!  Don’t believe me?  How about this?  Those may not look all multi-leafed, but they are.

Better?  Good.  Now — here comes the exciting part! — overall we found several dozen five-leaf clovers, and maybe 15 or so six-leaf clovers,

and then THIS!

Count ’em, suckers!  That’s seven leaves …all on the same stem! And from what I understand about leprechaun magic, one of my kids will have a son who gets to go to Mars.  Sha-pow!

There’s one leaf that’s been chewed up a bit by some bug, but other than that all the leaves are fairly congruent.  That means that they’re almost too big for all of them to be seen at once.  In fact, I had to count them three times before I was sure I wasn’t counting one leaf twice.

Now to figure out how to preserve this thing in a necklace or something.

Time In A Bottle

29 03 2010

So my 4-year-old came up to me tonight with this in his hand:

And pointing at the top half he said, “Know what I’ve got?  I’ve got time!  It’s in the top!”

I watched him as he stared at the last bit of sand running down into the bottom.  “Aww, I ran out.”  I laughed and started to send him on to play with his brothers.  Then he turned it over and his face lit up.  “It’s okay, daddy.  I found some more for us!  It was right there!”

I spent the entire spring break with my family.  We didn’t stay home, but we didn’t go sightseeing, either.  We went off to a condo for the week and spent the whole time just relaxing and being together.  There were a ton of things that needed taken care of at home, but those things were there before the break, and they’re still there now.  Spending a week with my family away from all other responsibilities just seemed so much more important.  I’m really glad we did it, and I think we all got a little closer because of it.

Sometimes it seems like there’s no time for the things you want, but time is always right there if you make it happen.