Monday, December 31, 2007

Obligatory Year in Review post

So, 2007 is just hours away from ending and I guess it's time for a "year in review" post.

So, 2007...overall, not a bad year. Not as many people that I know died this year as in years past. That's always a plus, and a nice change from the past few years. I traveled a lot less for work than I have in any of the previous seven years and am looking at another year of minimal business travel. It's been nice to be in town a good bit and for large chunks of time and I'm looking forward to that again in the coming year, especially since this will probably be the last year for a while that will happen. Speaking of work, I got another new cubemate and some more real estate and furniture (the only semblance of status available in cubeville). Oh, and a very nice flat screen monitor. Although I had to sticky my dinosaurs to the top of the monitor to keep them from getting knocked off on a regular basis. But, this has the added benefit of not requiring me to move those toys when I rotate the monitor 90 degrees on the odd occasions when things are easier to deal with in portrait orientation.

I'll finish the year up somewhere around 20 pounds lighter with a goal of loosing a bit more in the coming months (we'll see how that goes). I've become even more hard core about my workouts at the gym and have enjoyed the benefits of that time both in my physical strength and endurance and in the friendships that I've build with people at the gym. I even won the balance and functional strength competitions at the gym, which was pretty cool. I also started attending kickboxing class, which I tend to call "percussive therapy" and found that while I'm not very good at hitting things (which is probably not a bad thing), it is a lot of fun and a great stress relief, when practiced in a controlled environment.

I did some travel for fun this year. Spent some family time in Atlanta and got to visit with some friends while there. I got to attend the weddings of two friends from college, and both were great times (one didn't even require a drive of more than 90 minutes). The best week of the year (for the second year running) was spent in Colorado with a bunch of high school kids during the month of June. Great teaching, beautiful scenery, all the mini-golf you can play (and then some), lots of time to hang out with the kids. And I had the least difficulty with the altitude that I've had of any recent trip to Colorado (probably mostly due to my time at the gym). We have some vehicle issues and have to take one student to the emergency room (freak Capture the Flag injury. She's fine.), but it still qualified as the best week of the year. Second best week of the year was my return to Space Camp. There's lots about that trip in the archives on this blog. I met some very cool people, did some stuff I've never done before and had a very enjoyable week. I'll be heading back sometime in the next few years. Anyone want to join me? I also met another cool RUF pastor, Brad Tubbesing, who was kind enough to take me to church and lunch with him before dropping me off at camp.

Rounding out the cause for my using more vacation time than I earned in the year (first time ever, won't be the last), was the week long mission trip to Reynosa, Mexico. This was probably the week when I ate the best, drank the most water (although the week in Colorado would be a close second) and used the most sun screen. It was another good trip. I had more responsibility and learned that I really need to do more delegation (darn control-freak tendencies). I enjoyed organizing English camp, being one of the go-to people for special projects on the construction site and leading small group with the high school girls. And, despite the monotony of it, I did kinda enjoy moving 1000(ish) concrete blocks from one location to another on the construction site. This was due mostly to some of the kids who were at the end of the line with me making up games and giving names to the blocks as we stacked them. I think I will also retained the term "Mary block" for any broken concrete block. (Mary took care of removing all of the cracked blocks to the corner of the site reserved for the bits and pieces of the blocks.)

On the technological and entertainment front, I was introduced to (thanks Jason) and fell in love with Google's rss reader which has enabled me to keep up with more blogs and various other web sites than I'm comfortable admitting I read. I added more podcasts to my ipod including the very good 7th Son Trilogy ,NPRs Car Talk andMur Lafferty's Playing for Keeps podcast novel. I started (occasionally) blogging, expanded my interest in the business of television (and movies, but mostly television) by closely following the issues between the AMPTP and WGA which lead to the Writers' Strike, watched a lot of television on the internet (before the writers' strike. I'm boycotting streaming television programs in protest of the writers not getting paid anything for streaming content, even though the networks are making money through paid advertisements) and got hooked on Quarterlife. I also, finally, started watching Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off series Angel and was less sad about it being the last Whedon written television show I had yet to see once I heard the announcement about the new Whedon show Dollhouse (not coming soon...thanks to, say it with me, The Writers' Strike).

I spent a lot of time at church doing all sorts of things. I spent some time at home and managed not to kill anything in my lawn that I didn't want dead (although the killing things I do want dead didn't go as well this year. Especially with the summer deluges that defined the weather in June and some technical issues with my lawnmower, the weeds threatened to unionize and take over all of metropolis...starting with my yard.). I spent time with friends and family and friends who are family and family who are friends. I realized, although not enough and not nearly as often as I should, how truly blessed I am in so many ways.

Tonight, I'll celebrate 2007 and look forward to 2008 at the annual Tadpole Family New Years Eve Party (probably not the real name, especially since the family's name isn't really Tadpole, although the nickname continues to spread). Tomorrow I'll watch the Rose Parade, specifically looking for the sky typing in support of the writers' strike and cook up a big batch of "Pot O' Food" which will provide me with dinners a couple of nights a week for the next few months (it's easy to make. One package black beans boiled for a few hours. One package brown rice cooked according to directions on the package, although with chicken bullion added to the water. A couple of pounds of chicken. Some fresh, canned and frozen vegetables. A bunch of leftover veggies and meats and stuff that have been saved in the freezer for the past few months for just this occasion. An eggplant purchased from the "it's cheap because if we don't sell it now, it's going to go bad" section of the Kroger produce section earlier this week. Some garlic and lots of onions. Combine and simmer for a couple of hours. Divide into various containers. Freeze until needed. Defrost. Season with whatever hot sauce or other seasoning seems appropriate at the time. Microwave and enjoy.).

Oh, and maybe in 2008 I'll figure out how to convince Blogger not to add a line break after each of my links.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

But they only have a three second memory

Just discovered another thing I'm not allowed to do...taunt the fish.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another joy of the holidays

Something else that could only happen over the holidays: Mom, Sar and me all in the office, on three separate computers, surfing the Oriental Trading Company holiday clearance sale pages. The family that surfs together...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Is it a good sign or a bad sign....

that I got excited about the chance to go to the gym with my sister this morning?
The "Power" class was actually pretty fun. I'm able to get a similiar strength training workout in just over half the time of the class when I workout on my own at my own gym and I get to listen to the podcast or music of my choice. But, if you're not as disciplined, like the comraderie of classes or want and instructor guiding you through the exercises, it's not a bad deal.
It took me about half way through the class to figure out more of what amount of weights I needed to be using, so I don't think I'll really be too sore in the coming days. Sarah talked about wanting to go to the gym again on Wednesday, maybe I can go again then.
And, yes, I do know that I definitely qualify as a gym geek (gym rat? fitness geek?) that I really want to go to the gym while I'm "on vacation" with family. But, I'm okay with that. And it makes me feel a bit better about the amount of cookies and such that I'm consuming while I'm here. :)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday, Random Sunday

A few things that wouldn't have been part of my normal conversation but that I found myself saying today:
"Your brother is not a zombie."
"You can't have antics, that's my job." (Followed by elbow in the ribs from mom for the bad pun.)

Random things that make me exceedingly happy and show that my friends and family know me better than I might have thought:
Mom offered up a "slime making" kit...I think it was actually the "mother of all slime" making kits as something I "might like to do with the boys". We're saving it for tomorrow...if Sarah will let us. I had actually been thinking that doing something like this with the kids would be really cool to do while I was here, but hadn't had the time to look up the recipe or procure the ingredients. Mom didn't know that.

I received a miniature remote control helicopter for Christmas from my friends Jason and Sandra. These have been all over the web this year and there have been various times when I was really, really tempted to order one for myself. But I resisted the temptation, especially since I already spent a bunch of money on DVDs for myself (they were great buys). Jason and Sandra didn't know that. Now I have one, along with two sets of pirate AA batteries (Think Geek rocks). I'm very excited.

And other bits that made this a good day:
I also had dinner with Jason and Sandra. Jason's one of my closest friends from Tech. He got married in October. I had met Sandra before tonight but hadn't really gotten to spend a lot of real time hanging out and really talking or seeing she and Jason interact. I got to do that tonight and it was a lot of fun. It generally takes me a long time to really get to know people and to open up to them, but it seems like that wasn't the case with Sandra. I had a really good time tonight and I'm even more happy for Jason that he's found a wonderful woman to spend the rest of his life with. And I look forward to more evenings like this one.

And I got to help Dad out with his Christmas shopping after a present he bought on-line for mom turned out to not be exactly what he thought it would be. There was a store that I knew would have what he did want just a few miles from Jason and Sandra's place. Since I was going there anyway, I volunteered to stop and pick up the item in question. Dad agreed and I found what he was looking for and at roughly the price he was looking to pay.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Things that get me "that look" from my sister

So, I'm in Atlanta (well, Hiram, but close enough) to spend Christmas with the family. I'm enjoying the time off work, chance to get caught up on sleep, play with my nephews and just enjoy hanging out with my family (or my sister's part of the family. Mom and Dad haven't arrived yet.) And, as expected, I've been doing and saying things that get me "that look" from my sister. It's the look that says, "What are you teaching my children?" or "Are you REALLY doing that?" or "How is it that I'm related to you?". The thing is, it's coming from more people than just my sister now. Even my older nephew has picked up on it.

Here's a partial list of actions that have been earning me "that look" from various people.

- Skipping through the Petsmart parking lot holding hands with my nephews - Jerry (Apparently Sarah started skipping too. Jerry doesn't skip in public. Although in the basement, with heavy metal music, while theoretically filling in nail holes...that's possibly another story).
- Claiming that Zambonium, while all natural, is "that cold radioactive element" and should be added to the list of things that shouldn't be put in "all natural" cookies - Sarah. The list also includes arsenic and plutonium, in case you're wondering. Jerry had a hand in that one too.
- Suggesting that polio is the possible cause of the not quite high enough to be a real fever fever. Also, at some point, I think I remarked that typhoid is a cute" virus - Sarah. Although Jerry started it when he suggested that Devin had Ebola.
- Announcing that I was worried that the fish (my brother-in-law has many fish tanks around the house) might be working on perfecting their SCOBA system (self contained, out-of-water breathing aparatus) and might be planning a Christmas Eve mission to eat all the cookies and milk left out for Santa, which would then cause Santa not to leave any presents. - Jason (he's 7 and still into the whole Santa thing, for the presents if nothing else).

I've also had fun quoting random movies/tv shows (normally rather obscure quotes), even though the rest of my family doesn't get them. I've been blaming things on "bunnies or maybe midgets", telling my nephew "don't warn the tadpoles" wheneven one of us lands on the frog pond while playing Balloon Lagoon (I'm not sure I'll ever get the song out of my head) - both Buffy quotes. Assuring Jason that I didn't eat the fish on my flight to Atlanta on Thursday - from the classic movie, Airplane. And I've thrown in my fair share of Battlestar references when talking wtih Jerry about what to name a possible new cat that they're thinking of adopting so that Apollo, the just over one year old kitten has someone to play with.

I've also looked up what frankensence and myrh are on Wikipedia and have almost convinced Devin (he's four) that he's not going to be a wiseman in the play at the Christmas Eve service but rather a wiseguy (I'm gonna get "that look" from my Mom when she realizes that one is my fault. :) ). Although I'm not certain how well that one has stuck with Dev. I never was able to convince him that his favorite color was plaid, although I came close one trip. :)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

At exactly what point did I become a Southerner?

At some point in the not too distant past, I took another step away from being a Yankee and towards being a Southerner (or Texan, in this instance, the distinction is incredibly subtle). I confess, I really, really dislike cold, rainy weather. Stick me outside (provided I've had time to select the proper clothing from my closet) in frigid cold weather; crank up the wind; let it snow, let it snow, let it snow and I'm good. Especially at first, I might even be happy. I'll relish the opportunity to wear my favorite wool sweater (yes, I have more than one). I'll breathe deep and enjoy the fact that I can feel the cool of the air all the way into my lungs. I'll have a smile on my face as my nose starts to turn red and run. And I'll chuckle at the reaction others have to my penguin hat. I love my penguin shaped winter hat. But, once it starts to rain I become like just about every other person living south of the Mason-Dixon line (and a lot of Southerners transported to the north, I would assume). Cold rain makes me want to curl up on my couch under my fuzzy Batman blanket, my two cats cuddled in close, a fire raging in the fireplace, a mug of hot chocolate close by and a book long enough and interesting enough that I am able to not have to leave the couch until the mercury either climbs to a respectable value or the sun comes out...preferably both. It's the weather that makes me want to hibernate until, like late July, when it's 127-bluezillion degrees outside and I seriously contemplate carry around a bucket, just in case I start to melt.
I didn't use to be like this. At least I don't think I did. I never remember liking cold, rainy days. But I also never remember disliking them with such a vengeance. Growing up, I think we were, in a way, thankful for cold, rainy days. Cause, then, at least, the rain wasn't coming down as feet and feet of snow. (Snow days weren't as idyllic for me as some media have made them out to be. The day usually started fairly early, helping Dad shovel a path so that he could get on the main road and go to work. Dad never missed work because of the weather. And, at that point, we were up and dressed, so we might as well finish the job of shoveling out the driveway and the sidewalk. By the time that was done, and my sister and I and some of the other kids from the block had gotten everyone who was foolish enough to venture down our street unstuck from the snow, the plow had come through and it was time to shovel out the entrance to the driveway...again. And then there were the elderly neighbors whose driveways we often helped shovel, or at least a path out their doors. Snow days were fun, but they were also a lot of work.)
I know I should be grateful that it's not 127-bluezillion degrees outside year round. But, on days like today...when it's cold and rainy, at least a part of me wishes that it was. And that desire, and the fact that it might mean that I someday soon have to give up my "Yankee card" scares me more than I really want to admit.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Obligatory Thankful Post

What do I have to be thankful for today? There's an awful lot. I've got the basics, health, family, salvation. Beyond that, I've got a nice home, good job, fuzzy cats, amazing opportunities, the list could go on. I think the easy way to sum up what all I'm thankful for is to say that, today, my biggest disappointment was having to watch Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade rather than being able to watch the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade on television while I thumbed through the Black Friday ads and baked a pie for dinner. If that's the bad that's going on in my life today, I've got it pretty good. I even got to IM with a friend who recently moved to Germany to be a missionary. (He had sushi for lunch today. Turkey dinner's on Saturday. Something funky with the time zones and international dateline or something. ;) ) There's so much I have to be thankful for...we all do. And we (which should be pronounced to include a great, big, capital "I" here) need to be mindful of that on days that don't involved gianourmous portions of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole and multiple varieties of pie.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How does Santa survive in that heavy suit?

Over the past week or so, a number of articles about how to get your home ready for winter have come across my RSS reader. And, I've skimmed through a lot of them and thought of a few things that I should probably add to my "to-do around the house" list. The thing is, it's just hard to worry about "winterizing" my house when it's 80 degrees out side and I have all my windows open most of the time when I'm home. As much as I really don't want to complain about this weather (it's incredibly beautiful outside. Like the summers up north that I remember from growing up outside of Detroit.), it's also almost November and, therefore, in my mind which is still obviously adjusted to Yankee weather, it should be getting cold...or at least colder. I keep telling myself that I'm wearing long sleeve shirts to work because my corner of cubeville has been chilly recently. But I sometimes wonder if I haven't slipped into the habit of selecting my clothing based on the calendar (which I'm convinced is what most people around me do) rather than based on the weather. This is the time of year that I really miss living up north. Of course, come February when it's back to being 80 degrees in the afternoon and Mom and Dad haven't seen above 40 degrees in the past two weeks, I'll be happy to live in Texas again.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Trying to be convinced to move to Maryland - Day 3 - The good kind of selfish

Trying to be convinced to move to Maryland - Day 3 - The good kind of selfish.

I didn't get a chance to blog yesterday, so I'll finish up my comments on the Maryland trip today.
MOst of Sunday was about getting home. Due to the time change, we had an extra hour to sleep. That was nice. It would have been nicer had the Indian type drum music not have come through the wall of my hotel room 30 minutes prior to when I had planned on waking up. I don't know for certain that it was India music. It reminded me a lot of the music that filtered through the wall of my college theater when Balethnic (ethnic ballet troupe, which always seemed to be doing something vaguely Indian) was in the "big theater" with which we shared a wall. So, I got up, got showered, enjoyed breakfast (the oatmeal seemed less salty but still wasn't as good as what we had on the mission trip in Reynosa, Mexico) and then headed back to the room to pack my gear. Thanks to all of the random stuff that I was given over the weekend as well as the box of banana Twinkies I picked up at the Food Lion, my duffle was significantly heavier than on the trip out. But it wasn't anything I couldn't handle.

We had to be down in the lobby to board the bus by 10am. On my way down, I stopped in the hotel's business center to print my boarding pass. Apparently there was a way to do that from any computer connected to the hotel's wireless internet, but I didn't feel like fussing with it. Greg, who is the alpha computer guy in my group and the guy I hung out with most of the weekend (his wife stayed home with the kids, mostly due to having a six month old son that she wasn't excited about leaving) tried it but wasn't successful. So, I didn't feel bad about not even giving it a shot.

The ride up to Baltimore was uneventful. I enjoyed watching the beautiful trees (just on the far side of peak color, so leaves were starting to drop off, providing the ground with a beautiful, technicolor carpet) roll by with my iPod providing a soundtrack of RUF songs. That also gave me a chance to think about the weekend and reflect on the possibility of moving to Southern Maryland. As I expected prior to the trip, I haven't changed my mind about not wanting to move to Maryland. Nothing against the place. I know now that I could live there. But, I really don't want to. Partly I wasn't that thrilled with the area. I'm used to living in at least a suburb of a large city, if not right in the middle of one. The two times that I've lived in a smaller area (Savannah, when I was a co-op in college and Lancaster, California when I was working at Edwards) didn't go well. I didn't like either area. I had trouble making friends outside of those I knew outside of the area. And I just really wasn't happy there. The other thing I thought about was the idea of having to start the outside of work portion of my life over again. And that's a big thing that I really don't want to do. I like my life. I love my friends who I consider family. I'm not ready to leave that. I do know that if God wants me to live in Southern Maryland, He'll let me know and he'll take care of me. He's been faithful in the past and I know He will continue to be faithful in the future. But, it's gonna take a lot for me to be convinced that moving away from the life I have here in Fort Worth is the right thing to do. and it's going to take even more if the destination of my move is anywhere other than the Atlanta area (that would only be like starting half over. Kinda like coming back to school after the summer.)

And, on the drive up to Baltimore, I did see three dead deer on my side of the bus, and that was when I wasn't dozing. I think that brought the weekend's roadkill count to five dear, at least two dogs and two or three smaller animals of indefinable species. Southern Maryland is a bit more rural than the DFW metroplex.

Upon arriving at BWI, Greg and I headed straight for security, stood in line for about 10 minutes and then realized that we had a couple of hours to kill before the flight. It was lunchtime, and just down from our gate was a Potbellys Sandwich works. I wondered how well an "order what you want" type sandwich place would work in a location with that high of volume. Apparently, it works very well. My sandwich was made to my specifications and with minimal wait despite there being a long line. The oatmeal chocolate chip cookie was good too. Lunch included a conversation about what are some of my favorite television shows. (Top five are 1.Buffy the Vampire Slayer 2.MASH tie for 3.West Wing (seasons 1-4 and maybe bits of five) and Battlestar Galatica (the new one) and 4. Veronica Mars. If we were to expand to top 10, Firefly and Sports Night (focusing primarily on the first season and neglecting the middle of the second) would definitely have made the cut. Interstingly, of the shows that I consider my all time favorites, only one is currently airing and multiple were cancelled after just a seasons or three.). After lunch, I settled in at the gate and picked up where I had leftoff at prepping my lesson for small group with my high school girls. That and reading and making comments on Psalm 32 for my small group kept me busy through about the first 30 minutes of the flight again, with my iPod providing background music (although I switched to instrumental hymns). After finishing up small group homework, I pulled out the laptop and enjoyed the first two episodes of Angel season 2 and some of the special features from Veronica Mars season 3 DVDs (including the season 4 presentation reel. That would have made for excellent television).

We landed a bit early and had to wait for the previous aircraft to clear the gate. And I got to thinking about the weekend again and chatted briefly with a coworker's wife who was sitting next to me. And, I realized that not only did I not want to move to Maryland, but that I really did miss my family here in Fort Worth over the weekend. I know that part of it was missing worship that morning (and not having the opportunity to worship with any congregation that day, due to the transportation schedule). And part of it was spending the weekend thinking about and investigating the possibility of moving away from that family. And, at some point in there I decided that if I at all could, I would make it to my small group as well as to small group with my high school girls.

After deplaning and a quick stop in the little I-don't-want-to-move-to-Maryland people's room, I caught the shuttle bus back to my car (at The Parking Spot....the company with the yellow buses with the black spots. They may look a little silly to some (not me), but you can see them coming as you're waiting to be picked up. And that's what matters.)
I got to my car, go paid and was on my way by about 4:20. I also found out that the Parking Spot now gives oatmeal applesauce cookies as well as a bottle of water when you checkout. They're not great, but they're something and I was kinda hungry. And then I was finally on the last leg of my journey home. My mind was still swimming and I knew I had to do something to focus and get my mind off of the sad thought of leaving Fort Worth and back into the game so that I would have a chance of giving some sort of coherent lesson for small group with the girls. So, I did what I normally do in that sort of situation. I put in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode CD, cranked the volume and sang at the top of my lungs. Not sure why this helps to stop my brain from swimming off in a million directions at once. Other CDs don't do nearly as good a job. It just works, so I don't question it too much. And about five minutes after 5pm I was home. Whoo-Hoo!!!

My cats were excited to see me, after I let them sniff around a bit and reminded them who I was (They get like that after I've been gone a few days, but not after I've been gone for about a week. It's weird. I think after a while, they're lonely enough that they're happy to have attention from anyone. The fact that it's me is just a bonus.) I tossed my bags down, transfered the stuff I needed into my church backpack, grabbed what would become dinner, changed shoes and within 15 minutes was off again. Schedule-wise, it would have made more sense for me to skip my small group. But I wanted to be with my family. And so I was. It was great walking into church and seeing all the people who I love and who love me. I had a quick chance to chat with a few, make the copies that I needed for girls' small group and then headed up to the room where my small group meets. And it was a great time. I'm still getting comfortable with my small group, but it's coming along nicely. I got to hold Winston, the four month old son of our group leader. He's a cutie and looks so much like his older brother. We talked about Psalm 32 and prayed a bunch. And it was good.
Then I headed down to the high school room for girls' small group. I had no idea how the lesson would go. We were talking about self-identity or "people according to God", about what we were created for, how we should think about that and how that should affect how we live. The thing is, it's a lesson that's heavy on thoughts and light on real concrete, check the box applications. Which is fine, it just also makes it a little more difficult to teach and I didn't have a lot of interaction built into the lesson. But I did have a nifty little illustration with a screw driver that I opened with and came back to and used to tie it all together again (which was good, cause I have trouble ending lessons well). And I think the girls' enjoyed it and found it beneficial. No one fell asleep. There was some participation. I don't think I scared off our visitor. I know there were times when the lessons was a little disjointed and I know I lost my train of thought multiple times. But, I figure for having been home for 15 minutes in the prior about three days, that was pretty good. Afterwards, I hung out with a few of the girls for a while and we chatted and bonded over a love of sci-fi entertainment (mostly television shows, but also a few movies). And we got a lot more done on the puzzle (we'll have it done before Thanksgiving...of this year. :) ). And it was great to get to hang out with my family for the evening.
I might have been a bit selfish in subjecting others to the discombobulatedness that was me last night, but as Scott (my small group leader) said, they were happy to have me there. It was the good kind of selfish.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Trying to be convinced to move to Maryland - Day 2 - I think I filled up my brain

Maryland predecision area tour - Day two (part one).
Today was day out with the realtor. George, my realtor, is a great guy. Based on some conversations we had before I got out here, he showed me a lot of the area and some of the housing areas available to me. We based the housing choices on what I could afford to rent (not sure I would want to buy, as I'm not convinced this is somewhere I'd want to live long term. Plus, unsure housing market and homes that are a whole whopping lot more expensive than anything back in double the cost and sometimes then some. Just silly expensive. Okay, part of that is that Texas is just silly dirt cheap to live. Where I live in Texas has got to have some of the most affordable housing prices in the nation. Taxes and insurance make up for some of it, but just for the house itself, it's crazy cheap.) And also on the fact that I have two cats (who I would say "Hi" to, except they can't read.).

For housing options, there's a lot. Finding stuff that's affordable is a bit more complicated. Finding stuff that's in a reasonable area, not too far from the base, not too far from basic shopping areas and not too far from one of two PCA churches in the area (we drove by both buildings. I need to remember to once again thank Fred for designing our amazing church building.) is more complicated. But the housing options are out there.

For basic necessities and niceties of living, well that depends on what you're interested in. If you want water sports, life is good. You're never more than a few miles from the water here, being on one of two penninsulas (or one of two island areas. But that affordable housing thing comes up again.). There's enough shopping that you can get buy...the basic Generica options (Target, Old Navy, Best Buy, Wally World, gas stations, super markets, chain restaurants) as well as some mom and pop places. There's some urgent care facilities and well as doctor's offices. Although the nearest hospitals are at least 20 minutes out...and that kinda makes me a bit nervous. I'm used to having hospitals down the street. But I also have to remember that I am in very good health and, while it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that I could be in an emergency room in less than five minutes, it's probably not a huge deal that the hospital's a bit farther away. Similar situation with the fire department. It's all volunteer fire departments here. I've never lived in an area with that situation. But I know people who have and who do and, again, especially if you're in predominantly good health, it's not a huge deal. No warm fuzzy feeling, but not a huge deal.

Overall, I think I've got a good feel for the area. Or, I will, once my brain gets a chance to digest everything. Cause right now, my head feels a bit over full.

So, for the question of whether I could live here, I now know that the answer is yes. It would be more expensive. But it's not out of the question unaffordable. The bigger question is do I want to? And, especially, am I willing to pick up and start over coming out here. Most people in this position are married and many have kids. So, while it's more complicated to move an entire family (especially with a working spouse and/or school age kids), at least they get to move as a family. There will obviously be some issues with leaving a support structure, friends and all of that. But, at least the family is together. For me, being single, the considerations are a bit different. The people who I live my day-to-day life with, the people I consider a part of my family, wouldn't be coming with me. My friends, my church family, the gang at the gym, all the people I hang out with, depend on regularly and live my regular life with would be staying in Fort Worth. It'd be just me and the cats. And so, for me, I'm pretty sure that I'm just not ready to volunteer to leave that at this point in my life. I know that a lot of those people who are a part of my Texas family aren't ready for me to leave them....they've told me so (it's great to know that you're loved like that).

So far, this weekend, I've gotten out of it about what I expected to. I've got a basic familiarity with the area. I'm pretty sure that I could find everything, infrastructure-wise that I need to live. There's still a question of church home. But I do know that there are at least two churches of my denomination, another PC(USA) (the denomination I grew up and where I worshipped in college) and a variety of other churches of varying denominations. Plus there's always the base chapel. So, I'm pretty sure I could find a congregation to be a part of. But, what I haven't gotten is the 2x4 over the head that says that this is where I need to be living in the near future. And, with the activities that remain (dinner tonight and then all the transportation required to get back home tomorrow) I don't think that will come (still could, but the smart money is on "not gonna happen").

So, that's what I'm thinking.
As for what will happen now, I'm not entirely sure. It's easily going to be at least six months before I'd be asked to make a decision. Probably roughly a year before I'd actually physically move (should I decide that's what I need and/or want to do). So, there's some time, which is nice. The thing that I'm worried about, and that many people who I work with are worried about is how much of a decision it will actually be, on our parts. Or, really, what the decision will be. Will it be just as simple as move or stay in Fort Worth and travel (or not travel). Or will it be move or find a new job (in Fort Worth, somewhere else but still in the company, at another company). These are things that we don't know yet and which we won't know.

The one nice thing about this is that this is the last of the area tours. And, with the decision still months away, after recovering from this trip, I can shift all my thoughts of this stuff to the back of my head at least until we get through the holidays. And that will be nice.

Oh, and one nice added bonus from today is that I got to check off one thing on my list of things to do before I'm done living. Right before coming back to the hotel, George (that's my realtor, see the first paragraph) and I dropped by the Pax River museum. The gate to where they have the aircraft on static display (and out door area) was open, so we wandered in. I got to see the X-35C (Navy variant of the concept demonstrator aircraft. One of the aircraft that helped us win the contract to build the F-35). And looking inside the nose wheel well, I saw a bunch of names written in black sharpie marker. Among those names is mine. I wasn't out here when the airplane quit flying...I only supported the first two weeks. But when the team that was out here came home, I remember someone...Greg or John or Ricky saying that they had written all or our names up in the wheel well. I always trusted that they were telling the truth. But I had never seen them. Now I have. And I've got pictures (unfortunately, I didn't bring anything to get the pictures from my camera onto the 'puter. So pictures here will have to wait. I'll try to get them up next week.). It was really cool to see my name written in there and to just see get to touch the aircraft. She's still as beautiful as I remember her. Especially when compared to the X-32 (Boeing's airplane...which suffered many unfavorable nicknames...some of which are not exactly fit for public consumption. My favorite that is was "The Sailor Inhaler", so named due to the gapping maw of an inlet that the airctraft has.) which sits across from the X-35. It's been almost six years since I've seen the X-35C. Getting to spend a few minutes with her was kinda like catching up with an old friend.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Trying to be convinced to want to move to Maryland - Day 1

So, I'm in Maryland this weekend. It's a company sponsored "Pre-decision area tour" where we are shown the best that Southern Maryland has to offer in order to help us decide if moving here to support flight test on the F-35 is the right decision for us and our families. It's a quick trip and I'm not certain how good a feel I'll get for the area, but I think the trip will be profitable.
Today was mostly about transportation. We flew into BWI (Baltimore), collected our gear (except for one couple who's luggage missed the flight and, last we had heard, hadn't been tracked down yet, yikes!) and loaded onto the bus for the drive south. The box lunch we got wasn't bad. Excellent bread. Good brownie. The fruit wasn't the best, but it's hardly the season for melons and berries and I do appreciate the effort. After about 90 minutes, we pulled into the hotel to unload the luggage and then we were off for a tour of Pax River Naval Air Station (where, in true Navy fashion, the restrooms are "heads", you're greeted with "Welcome Aboard" and "We've got a full ship" means that everyone is present.). This is where we will be doing a majority of the Navy and Marine variants of the airplane. I recognized a few bits of the base from when I was out here in early 2001 supporting X-35C flight test. The work area is shiny and new. And it has real live windows which actually work! (It doesn't take much to exite me when I'm talking about cubeville.) After the base tour, we headed back to the hotel to get into our rooms, clean up and get ready for dinner. My duffle apparently didn't make it up to my room with the rest of the bags, but it soon arrived (thankfully).
Since I had some time, I wandered over to the Food Lion (grocery store) to stretch my legs, wander around, check prices and just have something to do. The store reminded me of the Food Lion I shopped at in Savannah (smallish with not much to really distinguish it, definitely a no-frills store). The prices were about what I expected. Fresh produce and milk were higher than at home. Packaged items were about the same or slightly higher. I didn't find any items that were lower. And no double coupons. I would say that grocery prices would be, overall, roughtly 20-25% higher for me here than at home (taking into account that I'm a big couponer). Although I only have the on data point and this does seem to be a bit more expensive of an area than some of the surrounding places. So, I could be wrong.
Dinner was pretty good. Not great, but of hotel banquet food, it was reasonable. I sat with some guys I work with, a woman from HR (definitely not an engineer), one of the real estate people who's helping to coordinate the trip and a woman who does business development in the community here. We didn't chat about the area much. Most of us were pretty tired and, honestly, just not all that up for conversations of this nature. At least not us engineers anyway. We've decided that HR and staffing people are definitely more talkative than engineers. Some might say more interesting. I tend to think it's just a difference in what we're interested in. :)

And now it's after dinner. I'm enjoying the evening with some old friends, the staff of the 4077th MASH unit. Seems that, if you have cable, just about any time of day, you can turn on the television and enjoy an episode or five. Hallmark and TV Land are currently showing episodes from sometime in the last three seasons (Radar is gone which means Klinger's no longer dressing in drag). These are my favorite episodes (I much prefer seasons 4-7ish. The Colonel Potter, BJ and Radar era, particularly when Frank was still on the show, but some of the early Charles Winchester episodes are just as much fun.). When I was living in California, I watched a lot of MASH. I identified with their situation. Stuck in a place they would rather not be, away from home, in difficult conditions (okay, mine weren't near as bad, but you get the idea) but doing the best they could to do their job and make a life for themselves. Now, when I'm traveling, I enjoy watching the episodes. I'm familiar with almost all of them (I think I've seen all of them at least once), and the show wasn't serialized enough that you have to watch them in order, so it's easy to just sit down for a bit and enjoy. And, even though I know they're just characters on television, it kinda feels like I'm among friends when I'm alone in the hotel room.

Tomorrow I get to drive around and look at housing options with a realtor. This will be my best chance to get a feel for the area. I'm still not convinced I want to move here. I don't think that tomorrow will change any of that, but we'll see. I do want to be open to the possibility. If God makes it clear that this is where He wants me to be, I'll come. But it's gonna take a pretty big sign (2x4 to the backside of the head big).

Toht, I'm hanging out in the hotel room (high speed, wireless internet, comfy office chair, wide, flat screen tv) with some old friends...the docs of the 4077th MASH.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Can I blame Joss Whedon for being sleepy at work in the morning?

It's not a secret that I like television, especially well written, serialized television with compelling characters and realistic continuity and, if it happens to have space ships or somehow be sci-fi or fantasy related, so much the better. I have a couple of favorite writer/creator/show runners. Among those are Aaron Sorkin (especially when he's not preaching his political views. Sorkin did Sports Night, West Wing, Studio 60), Alan Alda (see note about Aaron Sorkin, you'd instantly recognize him as Hawkeye from least you would if you're no more than a few years older than I am) and, of course, Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Firefly/Serenity).

And, just hitting the interweb, on the verge of the writer's strike, Joss Whedon has a new television series ready to go into production....staring Eliza Dushku (Faith from the Buffyverse. She was also on the ill-fated Fox show Tru Calling) and with the help of Tim Minear (Firefly, Drive, Moonlight for a short time). There's tons more information all over the web. If you're that interested, most of it will be collected (and linked) over at Whedonesque. And I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Whedon himself commented in the thread sometime late this evening/early tomorrow morning.

The show sounds very interesting. The fact that Whedon, Minear and Dushku are all involved (and involved from the beginning) and aren't too worried about it being on Fox (Google Fox Firefly cancellation if you're unfamiliar) makes me even more excited. Now, we just have to wait out the writer's strike (which hasn't officially happened yet, but I don't know anyone who's familiar with what's going on who doesn't think we won't wake up to Hollywood writers walking picket lines instead of tapping out words on their computers). And, since it's getting late and I have to work tomorrow, I'll let anyone interested read all about the show on other sites (either follow the link or Google Whedon Dollhouse).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Time with friends old and new and other random thoughts.

I'm in Atlanta this weekend.

The main purpose of the trip was the wedding of my friend Jason earlier today. I've known Jason since my freshman year at Tech. We first met through a newsgroup (like a forum site, only before there were forum sites) for a freshman psych class and have been friends ever since. At one point, Jason checked on the word count of the emails we had traded back and forth over the previous years and we were approaching a couple of time the size of the King James Bible...and that was years ago. When Jason and I met, he was on track to become a Catholic priest. So, there wasn't even a question of us ever dating. By the time he decided that the priesthood was not for him, we were very good friends and had realized that differences in religion (him being very Catholic, me being very Protestant. Kinda like Ireland, only without the cool accents or bombs and such) would keep us from ever dating. So, there's never been that guy/girl weirdness. We're just friends and are both cool with that. Being at the wedding this afternoon was very cool. Seeing Jason smile as he waited for Sandra to walk down the aisle was very cool. And then watching the way that he looked at and interacted with her throughout the ceremony and through the reception was wonderful. So great to see a good friend so in love (and so ready for the stress of wedding planning to be over and done). I'm looking forward to getting to spend some time with the happy couple come Christmas time, after their life has settled down a little bit.

Also at the wedding, I got to see some friends from Tech. Mostly it was friends from WCF (Presbyterian (PCUSA) student ministry on campus). But there were also a few guys that I knew from Jason's fraternity or other times that we had spent together since graduation. So, it was neat to get to chat and catch up with them. Oh, and the cake was good too. Lemony, which was a nice surprise.

After the wedding, I had dinner with Reagan, my roommate from Space Camp. I enjoyed the chance to catch up with her and hear about her many adventures that she's been on this summer (Space Camp was just one) as well as what she has planned for the upcoming months. I joked as I was leaving that I looked forward to hearing more these adventures and living vicariously through them, especially since she's going to be doing some of the stuff that I've wanted to do for a long time (watching a Space Shuttle launch live from The Cape, swiming with dolphins, more scuba diving (in the real ocean this time), etc).

And I got to start the day watching my nephews play soccer. That's always fun. Devin's team of four year olds is great fun to watch. The coaches must have the patience of saints, cause it looks like just getting the kids to run in the right direction without falling down is a major challenge. Jason, who is seven, is on a team with more skill. But the boys seem to not always have the easiest time focusing on just one thing (playing the game) and, especially before and after games and during half-time or other breaks, can often be seen running and skipping seemingly aimlessly or otherwise randomly goofing off. Although I'm sure they've got some reason in mind. Might not make any sense to anyone other than a seven year old boy, but I'm sure there's a reason for their actions. It's so much fun to watch the kids out running about and enjoying just playing without a lot of pressure to win and be competitive. I think this is more the way that team sports are meant to be played. I don't think they even really keep score in this league. I know that there's a place for competitive play when the boys get older. But, for now, this seems to be working out well for everyone.

As I was driving back to my sister's place (I refer to it as home. But I refer to where ever I'm planning on sleeping that night as home a lot of times.) I got to thinking about what it would be like to live here. This thought comes to mind at least once just about every time I'm in this city. And I think about how easy it would be to live here. In many ways, it wouldn't be like starting over. I've got family and some very good friends here. I know the area reasonably well. And I even have some idea of the churches in the area. In a lot of ways, it would be very, very easy to relocate to Atlanta. Then I realize that moving here would mean leaving Fort Worth. And that would be the hard part. I enjoy my job. I've got some good friends. I love my church. Coming here would be easy. Leaving there would be hard. And, at least at this point, the hard is hard enough to make the easy not really an option. But, it is something that is on my mind. And, if, in the future, I do have to make a tough decision about my job, whether to find a new one or to leave Fort Worth, I think that I'll be adding in an additional option. And that will be moving here. It will complicate things to some extent. But, in the end, if I have to move somewhere, I'd rather it be here than anywhere else.

Now, if anyone back home (that would be Fort Worth) is reading this and getting freaked out that I'm planning on moving, know that that is not the case. A lot of this is just me rambling on about places that my mind tends to go on evening drives after spending time with friends. I have a standing procedure in my life that I don't make major life decisions without seriously considering the options for at least six months (if I can help it. Force me to make a decision faster than that and pretty much everyone around me will know, cause I'll be incredibly stressed about it, talk about it regularly, ask others for their opinions and pretty much be obsessed with the whole decision making process, to the extent that other areas of my life will suffer until the decision is made.). And I haven't even started that six month period yet. As usual, everything will look different in the harsh light of day (cold light of day? I can't remember the exact saying/quote.). And everything will look very different when that light is coming from a Texas sunrise. So, except for some vacations and work trips, I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. No need to nail my feet to the ground or duct tape me to a flag pole or anything else similiarly extreme. At least not yet.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

There's more than one kind of family

Many people who know me know that I define family a little differently than most people. For me, family is more than just the people I'm related to. Although my family certainly is my sister, brother-in-law, nephews and mom and dad, my family is also my friends, the people at my church, the gang at the gym. To me, family is the people who you live your life with on a day-to-day basis.

Tonight, I got together with my church family for a potluck dinner, hymn sing, barn raising and ice cream social (although not those last two). It was a great time. We haven't done an all church potluck in ages and I don't remember ever getting together just to sing hymns with the church family. The food was great. The time to just hang out and talk with people was wonderful. The singing was a lot of fun. The Quebe sisters sang and played for a few hymns including The Ninety and Nine, which I recognized from Andrew Peterson's CD Carried Along. They were accompanied by Jacob (our music guy) and Ben (who even links to a Quebe Sisters clip on YouTube) who's about to head to Germany to be a missionary. After the song was over, they broke into the Irish jig (or whatever) that ends that song on the disc. Watching them play, it was obvious that they were all having a great time. And all of us not playing really enjoyed it as well.

Looking around the sanctuary, while we were singing, I realized, once again, what an amazing congregation I'm a part of, what an amazing family I have. I may not actually be related to any of these people, but it just doesn't matter. God has truly blessed me here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

10 and 2 - Adventures in the US Civil Courts System

My intimate, first hand look at the US justice system is now complete. As of about 2pm-ish, this afternoon, I have been released from my duties as a juror in the 96th District Court (a civil court, so no criminal trials). And, as with previous days, I'm a bit wiped out. Actually, I'm probably more wiped out today than previous days, but I attribute at least some of that to doing "Boring Abs" during abs class (where we do one specific exercise until we all collapse, usually in the 100+ reps and then switch to another exercise for another 100+ reps. I really dislike Boring Abs. But I went and I partipated and I'm glad that I did.) and then kickboxing class, which often wears me out. But, yeah, serving on a jury is, for me at least, draining. It's work, and of a different kind than I'm used to doing. And, now that the trial is over and I have been released from my duties, mustered out and even deposited my check for my service, I can talk about it.

Let me start with a bit about the jury selection process. During the Voir Dire (where the attorneys get to ask questions of the entire panel from which the jurors will be selected), we were told that this was a automobile accident case, that the plaintiff was seeking damages due to injuries and that she was Hispanic and spoke little English, that there were two defendants one of whom was black and the other who was a Marine. The attorneys spent a lot of time talking about the burden of proof (which is probably cause or "more likely than not" rather than beyond a reasonable doubt as in criminal cases), whether an autmobile accident could have more than one cause (and implied that it could be the fault of more than one person) and asked about our feelings about people in the United States who aren't able to speak English well or at all. In the end, no one with any experience in the medical field or military experience (and certainly not the retired Navy corpsman who now worked for the US Postal Service and had duties that included investigating postal service traffic accidents) made the jury. There were, however, two engineers (which I have been told by many people that it's rare for engineers to actually get on a jury) on the jury. Our jury of 12 was made up of three men, nine women. Three (I think) of the women were retired. Two of the women looked like they had some sort of Hispanic background. Most people seemed relatively well educated, over half had jobs in professions that would have required a college degree. It was an interesting cross-section of the people in the area.

On to the case. The traffic accident took place on North Beach just south of Western Center back in June of 1995. DJ (who has an African sounding name that looks like it has too many vowels...everyone, the judge included, refered to him as DJ, which was fine with him) was driving a PT Cruiser in the right hand lane. Mike, who's now a lance corporal in the Marines, but hadn't yet joined at the time of the accident, was driving a Mazda Protege in the center lane. Maria, a hispanic woman who spoke little English, was driving a Ford Explorer in the right hand lane. DJ signaled and looked to see if he could change lanes. Whether he made a move towards changing lanes is unknown. But he didn't cross into Mike's lane. Mike, thinking that DJ was about to change lanes on top of him, looked out his driver's side window, saw no one and swerved to avoid what he thought was an imminent collision with DJ. Mike his Maria, causing her Explorer to go up on the curb (at least a little bit) and jostling her around. They all pulled over and, a few minutes later, talked to the police officer to who respnded to the call about the wreck. At the time, no one said they were injured. All cars were drivable and left the scene under their own power. Mike's car had "distributed damage" along the driver's side which, according to the police report, was a level 2 (out of 9). Maria had a "good dent" (Mike's words) in the right front quarter panel (somewhere in front of the passenger door) that was a level 1 (again, out of 9).

Later on, Maria started to have pain in her neck, back, hips, radiating down her right arm and right leg. The pain did not significantly improve and two weeks after the accident she went to a chiropractor for treatment. She did improve some over the course of two months of treatment, but said that some pain remains today (2.5ish years after the accident). She was suing Mike for damages including pain and suffering that she incurred in the past (before the date of the trial), pain and suffering that she would most likely incur in the future (after the trial), physical impairment in the past and in the future and medical expenses in the past in and in the future. Mike blamed DJ, so he was added as a party in the lawsuit. We the jury were charged with answering a number of questions. Was DJ negligent in his actions (Mike admitted to being negligent in his, so that wasn't for us to determine)? If DJ Was negligent, what percentage of the accident was Mike's fault and what was DJ's? And, what amounts, if any, should Maria receive for those medical issues I mentioned above (which I'm not going to retype).

The evidence was not terribly clear. The police officer didn't remember the accident and could only go by the police report. There was questions about where the cars were in relation to each other. Both Mike and DJ said they saw the other in their side view mirrors. The police officer said that, in her opinion, based on her experience in traffic investigation, Mike was traveling faster than Maria and therefore hit Maria in the front of his car, slid along her car and that caused the damage. Mike remembers hitting Maria first with the back of his car, which would indicate that Maria was going faster than Mike. Although no one made any allegations of speeding (DJ said they were accelerating away from a light). We didn't have to determine anything about the legality of their actions, nothing about traffic laws or anything. Only negligence and damages for medical related issues. Maria's testimony was not easy. Since she spoke very little English, she used an interpreter. The judge said later than he knows just enough Spanish that the interpreter was doing more interpreting than translating. Apparently, Maria's lawyer caught that as well. But, as a court appointed translator/interpreter, there wasn't much that anyone could do other than the lawyers ask the questions a different way. Maria's testimony took the longest, partly because of that, partly because of the interpreter (everything was said at least twice). Maria was also very nervous on the witness stand (not surprising). She also didn't have a great recall of the events surrounding, well, much of anything. I'm not sure how much of that was cultural, how much of that was her being intimidated (which certainly was a factor. When I testified in a criminal case a number of years ago, I was very intimidated and I was just the person who called 911.) and how much was her just not really quite understanding what all was going on. In the end, all of the jury instructions, initial arguments, testimony, closing arguments and all of the filing into and out of the jury box (we got really good at lining up in the right order so that we wouldn't have to step over anyone getting to our assigned seats) took from Tuesday before lunch through quitting time Wednesday. Longer than expected, but we also got a late start on Wednesday due to some other court business that the judge couldn't do any other time.

In our deliberations, there was more varied opinions than I think anyone thought there was. We got a bit of a late start deliberating, due to two of the jury being stuck in traffic (apparently I-35 was a mess this morning). After electing a presiding juror (formerly called a jury foreman), which we did by more or less appointing the guy who was the latest, he was so apologetic that he didn't make any arguments, we got down to work. There was some discussion about whether DJ was negligent or not. But, after reviewing the definition of probably cause (would a reasonable person foresee that his actions or inactions would have caused these events...more or less), we unanimously agreed that he was not negligent. Although, later on, I think that one of the guys was waffling about that. But it turned out that even if he did, it wouldn't have mattered...I'll get to that in a minute. On the question of awarding money to Maria for medical stuff, we were all good with awarding no money until we got to the part about the past medical bills. That's where we got stuck for a good while. At the start, the jury was split almost evenly at awarding no money or awarding some money. There was lots of discussion about a variety of topics. I don't remember them all. There were questions about the credibility of the witnesses (since the accounts they gave were so different), whether Maria had any previous medical conditions that this accident could have made worse and pushed her over the edge of seeing a doctor (she said she had no previous medical conditions and hadn't seen a doctor in five years. But I wasn't convinced that the plaintiff's side did a great job proving that she didn't have any issues prior to the accident). There were comments about chiropractors and lots of other things. We took a number of votes and inched towards our required 10 jurors in agreement (it is required that the same 10 of the 12 jurors are in agreement about every question that is asked of them). It came down to 9 to 3 for giving her money for the past medical bills (which totaled just under $5000). I was one of the three. As I said, I had a hard time with the fact that I didn't feel that the plaintiff's side proved to me, more likely than not (which, again, was the level that was required in the case) that Maria's injuries were bad enough, solely as a result of this accident, that she sought medical treatment (the other hold out wasn't convinced she actually had the pain she said she had. The third had issues with her credibility, the fact that everyone's story was different and a couple of other things.). After what was probably 90 minutes of discussion (all very civil on everyone's part, although I could tell I wasn't making any friends or influencing people), I came to the conclusion that I believed that Maria was injured, to some extent in the accident and that, because at least some of her injuries were due to the accident, she was entitled to at least some monetary award for the medical bills accrued due to the injury. When I type it all out now and reread it, it sounds really simple. But, trust me when I say, at least for me, that it wasn't. At that point, it was about seven minutes to twelve, I knew I wasn't at the point where I was ready to talk about the amount of money, and so I suggested we break for lunch. I know there were a number of people who would have loved to have been done before lunch, but my blood sugar was crashing, my head was starting to hurt and I wasn't willing to make a decision like that when pressed for time and not feeling anywhere near 100%. So I said basically that (although I used less words and emphasized it by digging my grapes out of my lunch box and starting to eat them). And we broke for lunch.

I did what I had been doing the previous couple of days for lunch. I wandered down towards the river, ate lunch and then went walking along the trail there. Wednesday and today it was pretty warm out and I wanted to get some exercise (today especially to help clear my head) so I walked kinda fast. And, as a result got a bit sweaty. Yesterday I didn't realize that was going to be the case until it was too late. I had gone too far out and didn't have the time to really slow down and still make it back on time. Today I didn't really care. I knew I was going to be hot and a bit sweaty when I got back to court. I hoped I didn't smell too bad and figured it was better for me to have a clear head than for me to be really fresh smelling. No one said anything (although the baliff, a neat guy named Mr Tilley, who enjoyed the series premiers of both Chuck and Bionic Woman, both good pilots, in my opinion, did give me a bit of a look yesterday when he let us back into the jury room. Oh well. He didn't say anything and I felt better.)

When we got back from lunch, we started talking about money. This was very difficult for me. I'm not certain if it's that I have a different view of money than many people (honestly, I make a reasonable amount more than my standard of living requires. So, I don't think about money a whole lot. I have more than enough for what I need and most of what I want and I'm content with that. I may gripe about "merit raises" at work a bit, but I have absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to money. God has blessed me hugely in that way.). Or it may be that I'm just not that great with numbers (yes, I'm an engineer. No, I'm not amazing with numbers. I have a hard time remembering specific, but seemingly random numbers (highway route numbers are the worst) and I still, on occasion, count on my fingers when adding an subtracting. I had do multiplication, division and figure square roots to a couple of decimal points in my head. I can't add or subtract too well.). But I had a real hard time with the number thing. It came down to the other 9 people (of the core 10. The other two who didn't agree with giving Maria any money at this point didn't really count anymore. Their opinions were still valid and valued, but since they weren't part of our required 10, their votes didn't count anyway.) were good with giving Maria 50% of her past medical bills (just under $2500), and I was waffling. I felt that somewhere between 25% and 50% was good, but I had a hard time coming to a specific number. Some of the other jurors were starting to get annoyed with me (or more annoyed in some cases), but I worked hard not to let that get to me. I had decided before I was even selected for a jury that, regardless of what pressure people put on me, regardless of the time pressures or anything else, I was going to do the best job I could to give the fairest and best decision that I was able to. I figured I owed the people involved with the case, the judge, the system, myself and, really, everyone who lives under the US justice system that. It's what I would want if I was a part of the case and I think it's the right thing to do. So, we talked a bit about the money and about the percentages. And others admitted that they weren't certain that 50% was right. I (and not for the first time) asked the other engineer, specifically, why he thought the way he did (I found that hearing how the men thought helped me understand things a lot more than hearing how the women thought. Not sure if that's because my engineering mind thinks more like guys do or I just appreciated how the men expressed their thoughts more than how the women did, or a combination of both and probably some other things.). And pretty much everyone couldn't come up with more than 50% seemed right. There wasn't a formula people were using or anything related to how much they felt Maria's injuries were sustained from the accident or how much of the accident was Mike's fault or anything. It seemed to come down to that it just felt right. And, I can't say that I didn't come to the conclusion that 50% was the right amount by any other reasoning. I'm still not certain that 50% was the "right" amount, but I'm also not certain that there is a right amount. I did the best I could. Many people breathed a sigh of relief. We decided (unanimously) to award no money for any medical expenses that Maria might have in the future (although the suit was asking for almost $2000, which would have covered an MRI and something else...I don't remember exactly what now. More chiropractic treatments probably.). And, just like that, we had our verdict.

We filed into the court room one last time, delivered our verdict and the case was over. There were still some other things to tie up. We had to get some (more) instructions, be officially released, get our verifications of serving jury duty (in case anyone needed that for an employeer) and get our paychecks. Officer Tilley took care of getting that rounded up for us while the judge hung out with us in the jury room and took some time to answer any questions we had. That was an interesting time. The judge was very careful to couch some of his answers to questions. He wouldn't say whether what we did was right or wrong or whether he agreed with what we had decided, only that we had done well. He did answer the question of why DJ and his lawyer had disappeared after Wednesday. Turns out that before the trial was over (and possibly even before it began) that he settled with Maria and her lawyer. The judge wouldn't give us a dollar amount, but he said it was a reasonable amount more than what we had awarded Maria. He would have been better sticking it out, but he didn't know that and I think he was a bit scared. Way it goes. We also learned that Maria didn't have a driver's license at the time of the accident. It wasn't really relevant to the case, since she didn't really do anything wrong. She just got hit. But we weren't allowed to know that. So, that was rather interesting and, if that information had been known, perhaps might have changed some people's minds. Not that it should have, but I think it might have.

So, tomorrow I'm back to work and back to my normal schedule (no more sleeping in a bit, doing morning workouts or using public transportation for at least part of my morning commute. For those in Fort Worth, the whole park at La Grave field and take the bus downtown works really well. It's free and aside from possibly having to wait up to 15 minutes for a bus (if you just miss the previous one), it's great.). I'm looking forward to getting back to my life. And that means getting to bed very soon, cause I'm well past my bedtime.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More new experiences

I've had a couple of new experiences over the past few days.

Monday morning I had to report for jury duty. This is my first time to actually serve jury duty. I was called once before, when I was in college. But, being a student and especially one studying out of state (I was a resident of Michigan, going to school at Georgia Tech), I was able to get out of serving. This time, I received a summons for a Friday in either July or August (I don't remember which), but it was for an off-Friday. So, not wanting to spend an off day serving jury duty, I took advantage of being able to postpone my date of service. Given the choice of three Mondays to report to serve, I chose 24 September. So, Monday morning I headed towards downtown.

While I'm sure the process of assigning prospective jurors to courts is more streamlined than it used to be, there's still a lot of room for improvement. I arrived a bit before 8am, about 30 minutes prior to the time I was required to show up...I wasn't sure how traffic and parking was going to be, and had to stand in line for a bit before being let into the jury room. Once I was checked in (a process that involved scanning my summons and being handed a plastic badge holder), I sat for at least 45 minutes (well, sat and least I had a good book) before we even got started. After some instructions, dealing with people who wanted exemptions or postponements, swearing an oath, a few more instructions and dealing with more exemptions, jury pools began to be called. This involved the woman in charge (I know she had a title, I just don't remember what it was) calling a series of names and instructing that group of people which court they were assigned to, the location of that court and the time they were to report. The first group was assembled around 9:10 am. Some large groups were called and required to fill out questionairres and then, once those were done, they were told their court assignment and where to report (these tended to be for the criminal courts, I believe). My group was finally called around 10:30 am. We were the first group that was given a reporting time for the next day. So, we were free to go...until Tuesday. I estimate that about half of the jury pool for that day had been assigned at that point. And, with the exception of the few jurors who would be held in the reserve pool (for those requests for juries that came in later in the day), I'm pretty sure everyone after me was assigned to a court to report on Tuesday. It seems like it would be much easier to have an automated system, either telephone or on the web (or both, ideally) that would allow you to enter your juror number and it would return your court assignment and your reporting date and time. Seems like that would save a whole lot of trouble and time for everyone. But, apparently, that system hasn't become available least not here in Tarrant County.

So, I showed up this morning and the judge spoke with us at length about how serving on a jury works and the jury selection process. It was all very informative and he made it interesting as well. This is a civil court, so 12 jurors would be chosen from the pool of 31. The lawyers asked us all questions (a process known by the French term voir dire...although it was said mostly with a Texas accent this morning....I only cringed a little) and after a brief recess the jury was chosen. I can't say anything about the case until after it's over, and I'm not sure about how much I can say about the jury selection process, so I'll leave that for another time.

After our lunch break, we heard the opening arguments for the case and the testimony of the first few witnesses. So far, it's been interesting to be a part of the process. I will say that the jury box for the court room we are in was not set-up for tall people. I'm 5'5.5" and I'm very cramped in there. The chairs are fairly low and the divider that sets the jury box apart from the rest of the court room is very close. It might be better in the second row (my assigned seat is on the first row), but probably not much. I'm sure that the couple of guys are pretty cramped. Hopefully we will finish up tomorrow (the estimate comes from the judge) although a lot of that probably depends on how long our deliberations go. We'll see. I do need to get back to work as I know I have a couple of things waiting for my return. I wasn't figuring I would be away so long.
I also realized that it requires a lot of attention to attentively and actively listen all of the time. Maybe I knew this when I was taking classes regularly and it was just second nature. But to have to force myself to actively listen for hours on end (granted we do get regular breaks), I've found has left me a lot more tired than I would expect.

The other interesting and new thing that I've done this week is start a basic music theory class at church. This is something that Jacob, our director of music (or whatever his title is. He's not an ordained pastor, so I think that makes him "director".) is teaching it. It's geared towards those with little to no music background. Tonight was mostly review for me...although I'm having to dredge up information from when last I actually played music which would be elementary school, so it's been a good review. I think it's going to be an interesting class. I'm not certain what I hope to get out of it, but since it's just an eight week class, and it fits in my schedule, I thought I would give it a try. As I mentioned to the small group that was assembled for tonight's class, if you put the word theory into just about anything, I'm liable to be interested. I figure it's a good way to broaden my horizons a little bit. And, maybe it will help me learn to appreciate music more. One interesting thing that I did learn tonight was that in most hymnals that have music, the four voice parts (soprano, alto, tenor and base) are all represented. Which is why there are four sets of notes (generally two on the top or treble staff and two on the bottom or bass staff). I had never noticed that there were always four sets of notes and never connected that that would be the four standard parts. I also learned that the soprano and tenor parts (generally the two higher parts, one on each scale) are the melody while the alto and bass parts are the harmony. I had a general idea of what harmony was, but never really realized that it was written on the scales. This may be common knowledge to others, but it's new to me.

It's been an interesting week for me so far. I'm looking forward to learning more...after I get some sleep. Who would have thought that just sitting and listening all day would make me this tired?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Stuff that sticks

Just about a week ago, I graduated from space camp. It's been interesting to me, especially in the past few days, to realize the impact that the trip has had on me. I've measured this mainly by what I've mentioned most when others asked me how the trip went.
Initially, I spoke most enthusiastically about my scuba diving experiences, particularly my helmet dive. And that was an amazing experience. As I've said before, it was unlike anything I've ever done. And it was one of the things that felt really like real astronaut training. While I still talk about that a lot (and show those pictures the most), it's the two times at Area 51 that I've shifted to speaking about more. Those were the times that really stretched me and during which our team really came together, especially our experience with the pamper pole. For me, personally, it was a big step, as I've always been too afraid to event attempt an element of that type. But, with the set-up at Area 51 and, especially, the support of my team, it was almost easy (actually, it was easy. All except for the part of getting from the second to last staple up to the top of the pole.). And, while I don't talk about the people as much, at least not individually, it was the people of Team Marshall, including the counselors and other staff people, who really made the program for me.

Space Camp, at least if you judge it from the web site is mostly about the simulated missions and learning about the space program. And that was one of the big draws of the program for me both when I initially went as a kid and when I went back as an adult. But those elements haven't really has as big of an impact on me. I do have a bit of a renewed interest in all things space related now that I'm back from camp. And I do spend more time looking up at the stars. But, overall, those aren't the parts of the program and of my trip that have stuck with me.

For me, I think, space camp was really about the people; my team, and the experiences we shared together. I guess, really, that's a big part of what summer camp and, by extension, life is all about.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

So, I was wrong

Apparently, my memory was incorrect and there is no manual override (hand crank or otherwise) for the space shuttle orbiter payload bay doors. Although the door latches can be manually engaged from inside the payload bay, should it jam when the doors close. And, the power drive unit for the doors can be manually disengaged, which tells me that if there was ever a real need to, there probably is a way to get the doors either open or closed without using the motors. But it certainly wouldn't be a lot of fun.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Back into the routine

While I don't consider vacation officially over until I have to get up for work on Monday morning, I am getting back into my normal, at home, routine. Sunday school and worship this morning, afternoon nap on the couch with the cats (although I need to convince Iggy to either stay off me or stay on me. The whole up and down thing interferes with my sleep a bit.). I talked to Mom and Dad this afternoon. They were at the IRC (I think that's the right initials) race on Belle Isle in Detroit last weekend and did the old car festival at Greenfield Village yesterday. Sounds like they had a good time. I remember going as a kid. Not my favorite event. Muzzle Loaders Festival (with the old firearms and some mock battles) was better. Although I do remember enjoying watching the various competitions on the village green. I remember something about having to drive from one end of the green to another and having to pop balloons on the way down...or something like that. Riding the carousel and eating ice cream while watching the old, mechanical clock strike the hour was always a lot of fun.

I also got to talk to Cori and Jason, from Space Camp, tonight. It was a short conversation, but it was good to talk to them. I think it's a good sign when goodbyes are hard to say and you miss people when you're not around them. Means that these people made an impact on your life. And that's certainly the case with the team that I spent the previous week with. While I was out running errands yesterday I got to thinking about how close our team became in such a short time. And thinking about how I could become good friends with any of these people that I interacted with in the stores in just a week's time. I knew that I probably wouldn't, just given the circumstances, but it's interesting to think of that possibility. Gives me a certain kind of hope for just life and the world and people, knowing that I could be just a few days from having some new, good friends, given the right circumstances.

Tonight we start small groups at church. I have my small group at 5:30 until 7. Then I'm helping to lead the high school girls' small group from 7:15-8:30. I'll get dinner in there somewhere (already have it packed and ready to go). Oh, and I bought cookies to take for the girls' too. Baked goods always make everything more fun. :) I'm not terribly thrilled about the idea of having the groups back to back, but it's what works best for everyone's schedule. So, I'll make it work. It's only twice a month.

And back to work and back into the routines of life tomorrow. Gotta pay the bills, I guess. One day maybe I'll fulfill my dream of being an independently wealthy philantropist and not have to go to work unless I want to. Unfortunately, that day will not be tomorrow (nor probably any time this week....maybe in October though).

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Post Space Camp - Day 1

And now's the time in the Space Camp story where I spend some quality time with the couch. It's not so much the travel shock anymore, just the general sleep deprivation. Oh, and the fact that my right ear is still a little plugged up from either diving or flying...not sure which (or if it's a combination of both) but it's starting to get a bit annoying.

I'll try again to upload some pictures (might not be until tomorrow). Blogger is having issues (or maybe it's the computer of the internet connection).

Space Camp - Day 5 - EDM and other things

Thursday (yesterday as I type this from the airplane) was the day of the big extended duration mission. In many ways, this is the culmination of every part of the week at Space Camp. It's a chance to apply what we've learned in our lectures and other missions, a chance to work as a team to solve problems and a chance to have a lot of fun.

The day started a bit later than most. Breakfast was pushed back an hour, so we got to sleep in a little. I got up around 6:30 and headed out for a longer than usual run. I ran out towards the front of the museum, past the SR-71 (one of my favorite airplanes) and along the construction fence in front of the Saturn V center. When I reached the end of that area, I turned around and headed back past the Hab and the Mariott and down towards Area 51 and Aviation Challenge. I wondered if I would be stopped at the AC gate, but there was no one there, so I ran in, did a loop around the Cobra helicopter that sits in the "driveway" area and headed back towards Space Camp proper. I admit that I didn't run the entire way back, as by this point I had been going about 30 minutes. So I took a few stretches at a walk before arriving back under Pathfinder at the entrance of Rocket Park for some stretching, crunches, pushups and a bit of shadow boxing (it was Thursday after all and while classes at the gym are on a break week, I still felt like doing a little kick boxing work.) As I headed back to the hab, I encountered the group of Brits who were there for, I think, advanced academy (the high school equivalent of the program we were finishing up). I got some slightly odd looks (not a lot of joggers out early mornings at camp), but they made way for me to run through. I got a shower and got ready for the day.

Breakfast was the traditional astronaut preflight meal of steak and eggs. Not a prime cut, but they served it to us on gold rimmed china with real silverware and linen napkins. I took the chance and asked for salsa for the eggs. After confirming with the slightly confused kitchen staff that I really did want salsa in the morning and for my eggs, they got some out of the refrigerator for me. It wasn't great stuff, but it made my meal that much more enjoyable. After we all finished up, we were presented with a cake, decorated with our team designed mission patch. This was the first time I had seen the finished product and Bruno and the rest of the guys who worked on it did a great job. We took our mission picture with Valerie and Casey (our day and night counselors, respectively, if you don't have your program handy) and then had a bit of free time before EDM started. I went out to rocket park with a few others to throw a frisbee around a bit. It was a good way to pass the time and calm any last minute nerves. And then it was time.

As I mentioned, I was assigned to mission control for the duration. I filled the ACO role (assembly and construction officer...or something like that.) It's a role that involves helping out with the EVAs in real life. At camp, this person doesn't have a lot of responsibilities. This actually suited me just fine as it allowed me the freedom to help out as needed working problems (and there would be many) and left me free for my scuba EVA.

The mission got off to a reasonable start. We had a couple of comm issues, but those were quickly resolved and away we went. The pilot and commander got a little behind on their checklists (not unusual) and the flight director called for hold at around T-4 minutes (we started at T-9 minutes). Misson Control Space Ghost (the counselors who run the sims are called ghosts or space ghosts. They're there, but they're not really there.) was reluctant to grant the hold, but ended up, by a special dispensation directly from whatever space God rules over EDMs, we were granted about two minutes of extra time. It would not be the last special dispensations of time we would be granted over the course of the next few hours and it was greatly appreciated. When we resumed the count, we were in good shape. The ascent to orbit went well...until the commander had a heart attack. Well, not literally. Every position has a specific medical history that includes various allergies and conditions. The flight director is lactose intolerant. Oribiter pilot is allergic to bee stings (that got me when I went to Level II the second time and I was the pilot for the EDM. Turns out we had a bee experiment on board that was less than secure.) Capcom is allergic to pollen and has mild narcolepsy. Mission Scientist is allergic to chocolate. Prop is prone to tension headaches. As ACO, I only had a history of low blood pressure. But I figured this evened out EVA's high blood pressure, as she was in the seat next to me. All of these conditions as well as the treatments for various medical issues and all of the medications that are available are listed in the medical handbook in the mission control room. I spent a lot of time flipping through that book throughout the day. So, when Jennifer, our commander, had a heart attack, Cori, Mission Specialist 2, jumped up to help her. Unfortunately, she forgot about the g forces the crew was experiencing, as we were still in the ascent phase of the flight. The result was two broken legs and about 3 minutes of her having to lie on the floor (Jennifer just had to slump over in her seat) until main engine cutoff was achieved and the crew was weightless. By that time, I had found the procedures for treating the emergencies and had passed the corresponding pages off to Capcom (Jason) to relay up to the orbiter. Not long after we got the crew taken care of, Jason's narcolepsy kicked in and we had to figure out how to treat him. He was not easily roused, so I rolled him away from his station so that someone else (I think it was Bill who was Prop) could take over his position. I have a friend from college who has narcolepsy and I remember that he took ridaline (yes, the drug given to hyperactive children) for it. Apparently the effects of the drug are the opposite for a narcoleptic person as they are for one not afflicted with that condition. However, the med book had nothing on the treatment of narcolepsy and our med kit had no ridalin. While I was searching for some sort of solution and trying to convince Space Ghost that not only was the correct treatment not available (when it should have been) but that we also didn't have any other stimulants (and I was hesitant to give Jason anything with caffeine in it, as that also has the opposite effect on those with narcolpsy), Jason fell out of his chair (I thought I had him well propped up against the back table, using Reagan's pack as a pillow) and was happily snoozing away on the floor. It was about this time that Flight's lactose intolerance kicked in (I told him not to have milk for breakfast) and he had to go use the restroom. He found some "Crystal Pepsi" while he was out and between that and the discovery a mislabeled compartment in the med kit, we were able to get Jason the ridaline that he needed and get him back into action. The medical anomalies definitely made the time in mission control more interesting, despite being less than completely true to life. They also provided for a good bit of entertainment over the course of the flight.
Much of the rest of the first half of the flight blends together. I know we had trouble opening the payload bay doors. It is important to get the doors open, as the radiators in the payload bay provide the cooling for the orbiter. Without being able to activate vent the heat (mostly produced by the fuel cells and other electronic equipment), the shuttle must abort the mission and return to earth. Fortunately, the cabin temperature remained stable, so the crew was not in any danger. I remembered that there was a manual hand crank somewhere in the payload bay that would allow the doors to be opened in just such emergency case, but I could find nothing in the technical books that provided the location of that crank. The ghosts were unhelpful as they thought it was an issue with the way the checklist for the procedure was accomplished. We finally decided to run through the procedure for closing the doors and then rerun through the procedure for opening the doors and that worked. I still believe this was a computer glitch rather than an anomaly that was given to us by the ghosts, as the cabin temperature remained steady at this time. We had various other medical anomalies on station including more lactose issues for flight, Capcom's pollen allergies acting up due to some flowers that were sent to flight by his Aunt Ethel (or maybe it was Myrtle) earlier in the mission. Unfortunately, when benadryl was given to the Capcom, he became sleepy agravating his narcolepsy. But we figured out most of these issues fairly quickly and gave Jason a lot of meds (mostly smarties candy, which turned out to be a nice rewards for his great acting abilities). During this time, the mission specialists accomplished their EVA (another satelite repair). After about 90 minutes, it was time to dock with the station. That meant that the crew in mission control became ISS (International Space Station) mission control, which necessitated a move to the ISS control room (on the second floor, adjacent to the wall of the UAT (underwater astronaut trainer) tank. And it was also time for Lucy and I to head out to accomplish our scuba eva.

We both got pre-dive physicals (temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate and a quick confirmation with the nurse that we're feeling okay as well as a nice conversation with a lovely woman who's been one of the nurses there for over 15 years) just in case something happened and I wasn't able to dive or in case Lucy was some how able to take part in a way other than just reading me the procedures. Then we headed up to the tank. Dana and her daughter....I want to say Stephanie but I'm pretty sure that's wrong, got me suited up and ready for the dive. This involved putting on a "space suit" which included a set of white coveralls, white boots (which were huge, a little floppy and kinda funky inside), gloves (fortunately fairly thin and with non-slip rubber dot type things on them) and the dive rig. Unlike when we dove on Tuesday evening, for this dive, I did not use a regulator to breath but rather had a bubble helmet (okay it had a regulator hooked up to it, but it wasn't in my mouth) that allowed me to not only breath, but see without using a mask and be able to communicate via a headset. The dive rig was cumbersome and kinda uncomfortable. The helmet had a metal collar with a rubber ting that fit tightly around my neck. The bubble helmet hooked into the ring. The collar was attached to a cord that wrapped around my back, between my legs and reattached to the front of the collar. Dana said that it was supposed to feel like a pretty big wedgie, which it did. Also, the collar pressed down pretty hard on my shoulder blades. The air tank was in a backpack that strapped tightly onto my back with another strap that wrapped around my hips. No padded back on this pack either. I don't know how much the entire system weighed, but it was a pretty good bit, even to me who is used to carrying a fairly heavy pack around many places. To say that the whole system was uncomfortable was a bit of an understatement. But, once I got into the water none of that really mattered. While I was definitely negatively bouyant (meaning, I sank), it wasn't impossible to move around. I think it was a combination that all the pieces of equipment had a bit of bouyancy to them and the fact that I just didn't really care because I was too busy with the entire experience, but once I got underwater (and got used to the sounds that my breathing made as well as the feel of the bubbles floating under the collar) I wasn't nearly as uncomfortable. Dana and I worked our way over to the ladder and I began a slow descent to the bottom of the pool. Clearing my ears was a bit easier this time, as it's much simplier to swallow when you don't have a regulator in your mouth. I didn't have to use the little nose pad (basically for sealing your nostrils shut) at all. It seemed like it took less time to descend than on my previous dive and before I knew it, my feet were firmly on the bottom of the tank. Dana had warned me that staying upright was the best course of action, as that would help to keep water out of my helmet (there was a way to blow it out, if it became an issue, but it sounded like it was better just to not let it get in there in the first place). So, I had to hop and jump my way across the pool to the far side of the structure so that I could begin my task of erecting a "solar array". As I moved around, it was neat to be able to talk with Lucy and share the experience at least verbally. The feeling was amazing. I knew I was underwater, but being able to breath and talk normally made it almost an unreal experience. That compared to the struggle of moving around in the bulky equipment and pushing against the water made the whole experience unlike anything I had ever done before. It really felt like I was on another world. But, I had work to do so I wasn't able to pause too long to contemplate the experience. Lucy talked me through the solar array erection. It wasn't difficult after I figured out how the connectors worked. But it would have been much easier had I seen a picture or at least the parts prior to the dive (I had no idea of the task before I got to the bottom of the tank). The hard part was trying to find a way to hold myself in place while I put the parts together. The part that the array was connected to was probably about eight feet off the bottom of the tank, so I had to swim/jump/climb/crawl up with each piece and then find somewhere to stand and somewhere to hold onto while I also needed a couple of hands to hold the pieces in place and work the connectors. I think I got a taste for why working in space is so difficult. If there's nothing to hold onto it's impossible to do much of anything. You can't use your own weight or leverage to do much (which I rely on a lot when I'm doing much of anything) because, thanks to Newton's law about actions and reactions, you just got off in the opposite direction. So, not only do you have to figure out a way to apply the required force, but you also have to figure out a way to counteract that force and keep yourself where you need to be. The erection of the solar array didn't take very long, but we still had a bit more time. There were some people at the windows of the tank, so I asked Dana if I could go over and wave to them. She said yes, so I bounced along and swam up the wall to reach the first set of windows. Holding onto what little of the rim I could reach, I waved at some camp kids in one window and then moved to the next. At this window there was a family with a small daughter. The girl was probably around 3 or 4 and seemed kinda confused to see this big bubble headed person (I'm told that the bubble made my head look really small) waving from the inside of this big fishbowl looking thing. Bill was out and about (apparently taking a break from mission control) and found me and took a couple of pictures with his camera. Dana helped me ascend some more and we made it to the second story windows where I got to look in on the ISS mission control crew. It took a bit of knocking on the window to get there attention, but finally someone looked up and noticed me in the glass. So we got to wave to each other and take some pictures. Then it was time for me to continue ascending and end my dive. Afterwards, Lucy said I was only down about 15 minutes. I had lost all track of time, but I knew it wasn't very long. Certainly it wasn't near long enough. We got all of my gear off and I got cleaned up and went for my post dive physical (although I forgot and drank a bunch of water on the way over to sick bay, so the nurse didn't even bother to take my temperature. Which was probably a good thing. I was at 99.4 degrees before the dive. And I'm sure my temp would have been up higher than that afterwards. Mostly that was all due to the walk over from the training center over to sick bay in the warm, September early afternoon.) I then headed back to ISS mission control in time to help gather up our gear and head down for lunch.

I was a bit bummed that we broke the simulation and all ate lunch in the cafeteria. In the past, we've been able to eat "on orbit", each group eating in the location where they are currently working. But it was neat to get to sit with everyone and chat and take a bit of a break from the mission. After lunch, it was back to work for the second half of the EDM.

The crew on the orbiter swapped positions, as did some in mission control. That took me a couple of seconds to figure out, especially as I kept turning to my right to look for Bill when he spoke(who had been filling the roll of prop) and not seeing him. He was now on my left, filling the INCO role. We also had to remember that with the changes in position, everyone's medical issues changed (the medical issues stay with the position). The biggest thing we had to deal with was that the lights were off in the orbiter. Some on the crew had flashlights with them and they broke those out so they were able to work the checklists and procedures while mission control tried to sort out the problem. I immediately went for the reference books, looking up the fuel cells. We noticed that Fuel Cell two was producing no power and had no flow of oxygen or hydrogen. We tried a few procedures to shut the cell down and restart it while I continued skimming and reading. I found a couple of schematics and started tracing systems. I don't remember exactly how we finally solved the issue, but I do know that I'm now pretty familiar with how the fuel cells work and how they are plumbed and wired. Meanwhile, we had some more medical anomalies. Capcom's narcolepsy kicked in. Adam, who had trained me on the station a few days prior wandered in, having noticed that someone had tossed some flowers outside the door and wondered if anyone wanted those. That set of Capcom's sneezing again (which meant more benadryl and another little nap for him) before we could kick Adam and the flowers out. We had a gas leak that took a bit of time to diagnose. Half the team collapsed while the others had no message that they were having any ill effects. I kicked into House mode (yes, the tv show) and surmised that it could not be an environmental effect since not all of us were affected. I dug through the medical book, looking for anything the affected team members had in common and even asked if they had all had the fish for lunch (no one either heard me or caught the Airplane reference, but I thought it was funny). Soon the rest of us started to feel bad and a sign with the number for the United Gas Supply mysteriously floated around the room (well, mysteriously if you were pretending that you couldn't see the Space Ghost). Jet, who had been the ghost when I was in station for Charlie mission, who is just back from maternity leave and has a beautiful baby girl, showed up as our gas worker. Somehow she passed out before fixing the leak. We were getting a bit fed up with things and decided to just leave her there. Meanwhile, Dennis fixed the leak, the crew recovered and we went back to the mission, leaving Jet lying on the floor. Not the nicest thing to do, but as I said, we were a bit frustrated with the medical anomalies (especially the ones that we weren't given quite enough information, especially information that would have been available in the real world, to be able to solve quickly). But it was still fun.

As we got on towards landing, we noticed that the temperature in the orbiter was rising (we'd fixed the lights by this time) and that Cori and Martin were acting oddly, dancing about and such. We surmised that it was possibly due to the heat and worked that problem (trying to turn off the heaters, turn on the air cooling, etc). Turns out, they were, originally just goofing off. At least until the Ghost decided that things were getting decidely too silly and made the decision that they both had space demensia. Cori's demensia manifested itself by extreme mood swings (apparently she's one you don't want to cross) while Martin became delusional. I think he decided himself that he was a pretty princess. That got Lucy (still the EVA position and the only one in communication with the mid-deck area) laughing and after she advised the flight director of this development over the mission control main loop, the rest of us joined in. I asked for clairification of he was a pretty princess or a pretty, pretty princess and by that time, the crew was wrestling Martin into an impromptu straight jacket. I don't think they quite got to duct taping him to a seat, but I don't think he got out of the jacket until after the orbiter landed. Meanwhile, we continued to work the heat problem until about 5 minutes from landing. At that point, we gave up, figuring that the crew could just sweat it out and pop the hatch upon landing. After a beautiful (although just barely on the runway, in the short direction) landing, Enterprise was home safely with the crew and our EDM was complete. The biggest challenge for our team for the week was over and it was all downhill from there.

We had a brief debrief as a team and then had some free time to spend in the museum or whatever. I headed outside with some others to see if Space Shot was open. When we found that it wasn't, some of the team rode G-Force (and centerfuge) while Jeremy and I tossed a frisbee around, trying to avoid space center paying guests and a team of academy kids from Costa Rica (Jeremy and I both have centerfuge issues. I knew about mine before starting camp. Jeremy learned at the AC centerfuge.) Then it was time for our second NASA speaker.

I don't remember the names of our speakers, but they were both not only incredibly smart physics geeks (at least five degrees between the two of them) but also sci-fi geeks. They showed some Star Trek clips and we talked about the technology and how it was used and such. It wasn't terribly interesting, but as some of us commented later, it was nice not to have to think for a while after the EDM. After about an hour, it was time to launch our rockets.

Rocket launch was a lot of fun. Everyone had at least one rocket to send off. We had a few engine issues, some complete failures, some spectacular successes and a few that were lost to the wooded areas around the launch site. My rocket had a beautiful first stage ascent but something went wrong with the second stage and the engine burned through the wall of the rocket and melted the parachute. I was able to recover all of the pieces, but the rocket would never fly again.

We had all agreed the previous day that we would change up our evening schedule slightly, moving Space Bowl to before dinner so that we could enjoy a meal not cooked by the cafeteria for our final dinner together. Space Bowl was fun and provided a chance to test our space trivia, joke around with each other and have some friendly competition. The results were not revealed until graduation, with the mission specialists barely eeking out the win to take home the extra t-shirt.

We took a few minutes to clean up before heading over to Landry's for seafood for supper. Both Ray and Reagan had vehicles, so they shuttled us all over to the restaurant and back. On the back to pick up the second crew, Jason thought he spotted what was left of Bruno's rocket on the road. As we headed back to the restaurant with the final crew, we found the spot and Jason jumped out and sure enough, it was Bruno's rocket. When we got to the restaurant, Jason swapped the rocket out for Bruno's silverware (which was wrapped in a napkin). Bruno was surprised and excited to see his rocket again. It was neat to get away from camp and relax and hangout as a team. Valerie, Jason, Casey and Lisa (another counselor who had been around during the week and helped train us on some of the sims) all joined us. The meal was excellent and the conversation wonderful. I collected some more pictures from people. And we ended the evening by enjoying our mission cake for dessert.

After the very large meal and very long day, we were all tired, so we headed back to the hab to start packing up our gear and heading to bed for our last night in the hab at the end of our last full day at camp as a team.