Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Little Plates

Sunny Madrid

The mother of one of Annabelle's friends just got back from a trip to Madrid, Spain. She said there is a completely different culture and mindset at work there. They are not as work-obsessed as we Americans. She said that everyone takes at least an hour for lunch during the work day. And everyone drinks wine at lunch. Everyone. And then they all take naps. Some lie down in the park for their nap, others snooze in their cars. And they eat dinner late. Like at 9:00 or 10:00, or much later. Before that, they snack on tapas.

Oh my gosh, what a culture shock this would be. I just don't know if I could HANDLE it. Ha ha ha.

Tapas with wine sounds good at 3:00 in the morning.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Overheard At The Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Artist's rendering of the Phoenix landing on Mars

Found in cyberspace: a live chat log from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), recorded on May 25, 2008, before the Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars as part of the Mars Scout Program.

Here are questions that visitors to the chat room asked, with occasional answers from JPL people. Why the mention of peanuts? It's a long-standing tradition at the JPL to eat peanuts before a landing for good luck.

What is the expected lifespan of the lander?

Will the first solar array images show any part of the surface?

How precise did the MERs and Pathfinder land with respect to their precalculated landing ellipses?

Is JPL a circus yet?

Where are the peanuts?! :)

I hear there may be a rough landing

JPL: yer, if you land on a big rock, it's going to hurt

Is the trajectory now set in stone, or is a final correction possible?

JPL: Its all on its own now. Last chance for a trajectory change was this morning.

A friend has asked me if its true they used cork in the manufacturing of the heat shield? Any ideas?

JPL: there is cork

I think cork was really used

Cork was mentioned in one of the NASA videos

JPL: Loonyman, yes cork is used on the heatshield. Now this is really special cork, and this cork is what's going to protect us from the violent atmospheric entry that we're about...

Is it possible for SSI to capture some astronomical images of the Earth, Phobos, stars? Do they plan to do this?

Is there any corrective maneuver that can be done during the thruster powered descent to detect and avoid large boulders or steep slopes?

JPL: No, it just lands. Its luck where it ends up

Is the champagne chilling, just in case Phoenix discovers life?

Will any images be returned by Phoenix as it descends to the Martian surface?

JPL: Unmanned Spaceflight had some news about MRO attempting to capture Phoenix EDL images. No promises.

Will you be eating peanuts during EDL? (Estimated landing)

And if the answer is yes, what type?

Everyone with peanuts in the shell for luck, crack one. Crack.

What's the peanut reference?

Josh: Go buy peanuts RIGHT NOW and start eating. :)

I understand that detecting life is not part of the Phoenix mission, but is there the possibility that during the sample analysis that life could be detected?

Like cells?

JPL: Yes, it has a powerful microscope

Josh, you MUST have some peanuts !! It's a superstition! :-)

I wonder how hard the wind blows

Thanks for the liveblog, it's really interesting to listen to (first-year undergrad in UK)

Compared to the other mars landing sites we've seen, how bland do you think the phoenix site will be?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dirty Water

This is one of my favorite songs from the 60's. We had the 45 when I was a kid. I listened to it in the basement again and again. It fascinated me. The lead singer was sassy. "Down by the river....down by the banks of the river Charles...." I pictured people hanging out near a gritty riverfront, not caring if the water was dirty or their clothes were dirty. Even as a young naif, the punk sensibility resonated with me. I sensed something was being expressed that was of value to me --the future me, that I would understand more when I got older.

These guys are doing a lousy job of lip-synching, but it doesn't seem like they care too much.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Gleesome Gladness

Ninety-seven years ago today was the first day of the first "official" Kansas State Fair, held on September 13 -20, 1913.

The Old Mill, or Ye Olde Mill, made its debut two years later, at the 1915 fair. It promised to take fair-goers through "gloomy caves of gleesome gladness". I can't figure out what that means.

The Old Mill has been spruced up. When I was a kid I remember it as looking more run-down and creaky.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


A muse painted by Jean-Marc Nattier in 1798

Last week, I was running over land and hillock with my muse. Once we get a good pace going, she just won't let up. She runs me ragged.

She came to me last weekend to help me with this writing contest I wanted to enter. I am grateful she showed up. But she jerked me around a lot. Had me taking off in one direction, then stop, and go another way.

The contest deadline was this past Friday. I submitted my entry in the wee hours Friday morning. I'd been working on it all week. Last Sunday, I was still struggling to get started, to gain a foothold. I went to the Broadway Cafe to brainstorm and bounce ideas off myself. There is something about the Broadway Cafe that makes me feel awake and connected. I have a favorite table in the window. I feel like I can think creatively there. Maybe it's because they play the best music. Stuff I've never heard before. A few times I've asked them what cd they were playing, then walked right down the hill to Streetside Records and bought it. That's how I discovered the Beck "Mutations" cd.

I was sitting in the window, jotting down ideas in a little book, scooping foam off my cappuccino... I started noticing that the music was really good. I sat back and soaked it in. Liquidy guitar, ambient electronics, a warm backdrop of strings--magical. The singer's voice was understated and floaty. I forgot about writing and just listened, drifting on a cloud of happiness. That's when I felt my muse sidle up next to me and tell me that she was going to be hanging around for awhile, so not to worry, it would all come together. I offered her a latte but she declined. My muse is not necessarily always a woman, but this time she was. Like a sharper, more with-it version of myself.

I eventually had to leave my cozy spot, but I know my muse was still with me. Little sparks were going off in my brain. There were ideas to get down. I had walked down the hill to my car, but then I turned around and went back to the Broadway Cafe. I asked one of the baristas the name of the cd they had been playing before. It was Radiohead's cd "In Rainbows." I went back down the hill, stopped in at Streetside Records, where they were selling it for $10.00, and I bought it.

Later on, at home, I began typing, trying to string some ideas together. A few false starts, but gradually the odd bits began to take a discernable shape.

It's always when things are starting to gel that my muse starts getting crazed--jealous of my time, wanting me to do nothing but write, write, write. All the routine obligations of an ordinary day become unbearable to her. No time to wash dishes! You have something much more important to do than cook! Forget about those bills. Bah! Your children will keep. Your man is a big boy. Let it all go to hell! Grab your laptop and tell the rest of the world to bug off!

So I neglect everything and everybody. No supper for the kids. They could make themselves ramen noodles. I'm typing and thinking. Typing, revising...I think I'm about finished, but my muse just laughs. "Don't kid yourself! You're getting warm, but you still haven't found it yet. That's still not IT! No, that just won't do. You have to completely throw a huge chunk of that out. Come on, no, not that way, this way.....hurry, hurry! It's over here!! And we're off and running, chasing down an idea, pouncing on it, until we choke the life out of it, which she blames me for...."ahh, you killed it!" Then it's off and running again. "Keep going, keep going!" she shrills.

People talk to me and can see by my eyes that I'm some place else. I'm off in some other world, exploring its scenery. My muse pushes me the whole time I'm in this world, and won't let me leave until she's satisfied, or is bored with me and wants to move on to something else. By the time she finally bails and disappears, I have something for the contest. And I also have a stash of new ideas I might be able to use for future projects. I'm glad my muse came to visit. But she's so all-consuming, it's good to have a break, and get back to washing the dishes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dung Beetle

I am excited. Have you heard about the car that runs on turds? Actually, it runs on methane gas generated by turds. Soon we can shit all we want and have it put to good use. Hooray! Talk about sustainable, this is one energy source we Americans will never run short of.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Ambrose Bierce Thinks Of Custard

"A detestable substance produced by the malevolent conspiracy of the hen, the cow and the cook."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

They Trust The Monkeys

Maybe the problem isn't that we have too many distractions in our lives, but that they aren't well-placed. Like, where are those lifesize holograms my dentist promised me were on the way? He said he'd have them up and working by this summer. Well, I go to get my teeth cleaned today, and still no holograms. I could have really used one. The hygenist was playing this delicate classical music. Now I love classical music, but when someone is digging at your gums you need some competing stimuli that is jabbier than the hygeniest's fork. The harp twinkling sweetly over the speaker did me no good. So I had to work extra hard to take the softness of that harp and turn it into a mental image of Harpo Marx. This is where a hologram of Harpo cradling his harp and grinning at me would have come in handy. But no, I had to hold this picture in my mind on my own.

My mental Harpo never tired, and I watched him mug and roll his eyes for quite some time. But then I started thinking that a better distraction would be monkeys. If I could have seen holographic monkeys perched on top of the arm of the x-ray machine, showing their teeth and performing antics, I would have forgotten about my own teeth completely.

This brings to mind a trip to the Omaha Zoo the Girl Scouts of Tomahawk Elementary will be taking in a few weeks. They're going to be spending time in the monkey pit. The monkeys, I am told, are running around out in the open. They come up and touch you. The zookeepers allow this. They trust the monkeys. But the monkeys like to jump you, and if you don't watch out, you end up with a monkey on your back! The trick is to shake them loose, but we all know how hard that can be. Good luck, Troop 1985. Perhaps there will be a badge in it for you.