There’s more to NASA than rocket launches

xploration Flight Test-1.

An artist’s impression of the first Orion spacecraft in orbit attached to a Delta IV Upper Stage during Exploration Flight Test-1. Image Credit: NASA

Many are excited for the test launch of the Orion spacecraft this December.  More than 3,000 people applied to be NASA guests at the Kennedy Space Center as a part of the Orion NASA Social. I wasn’t selected, but I congratulate those that were and will follow their experiences on social media.

There’s still time to apply for the NASA socials being held concurrently at the different centers around the nation. I encourage anyone to apply.  The deadline is 5 p.m. Nov. 2. Link: http://www.nasa.gov/social-orion-multicenter/#.VFZmLb7fY0s. Good luck!

UPDATE: Registration is now closed. Good luck to all that applied!

NASA hosts these meetings of social media users this in order to further communicate with the public. It’s an unique solution of bypassing a jaded professional media that doesn’t cover space issues.

I’ve been fortunate enough to witness two rocket launches as a part of a NASA social: the Juno Jupiter space probe from Cape Canaveral and the replacement Landsat from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The launches were amazing.

Living in the midwest, it can be tough to make arrangements to see a rocket launch. For this reason, and because I have already observed two launches, I don’t apply to many of the launch-based NASA socials.

NASA is a big organization and has different missions at its nation-wide centers (listing), ranging from life sciences to aeronautic research. Like my headline mentions, NASA does more than just launch rockets from Florida.

My visits to the centers have been phenomenal. I enjoyed getting a behind the scenes look at the labs, workshops and training facilities. My two favorites have been the Goldstone Deep Space Network Complex, and the Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center. The Great Moonbuggy Race at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center was a blast, too. In all cases, I enjoyed talking with the staff, scientists, and seeing demonstrations and technology up close. None of them had rocket launches on the schedule.

Some are of the opinion that once you attend an NASA social event, you should not apply again in order to increase the odds that others will be selected. I understand the sentiment. I add that if you have only witnessed a rocket launch and consider yourself done, you may be missing a bigger picture.

Keep in mind that an application doesn’t mean you will be selected. I’m pretty sure NASA attempts to diversify its audience reach, and they should. Sure, I’ve been disappointed at times but never upset or … gosh forbid … angry. I realize I am not entitled a spot and I’m always honored when selected.

Bottom line, I know that if I am not attending, I’m delighted that someone else is learning about NASA wonders.  You could be that person. For future NASA socials, keep a eye on the web page or follow along on Twitter at twitter.com/nasasocial.

 

 

 

 

 

Binge watch: Survivors

survivors-s1s2-r1-dvd

If you are looking for something to binge watch on Netflix, I recommend Survivors, a 2008 BBC TV series. Both Seasons 1 and 2 are available and short enough to conquer on a wintry weekend. Also available on DVD.

The series is about survivors of a flu pandemic which kills most of the world’s population. At times the show can be rather soap-ish, but more often it explores deeper issues such as security versus freedom, reliance on technology, and how people make connections and form societies after an apocalyptic event.  No zombies here, though, most everyone just catches the “European Flu” and dies rather quickly.

The 2008 series is actually a remake of a 1975-77 BBC series written by Terry Nation, of Doctor Who and Daleks fame. The original series (and Nation’s book that followed) was bleak but fondly remembered. For the 2008 series, head writer Adrian Hodges updated the original with a more diversified cast and included topical issues such as disease outbreaks and increasing reliance on technology. Unlike The Walking Dead, the lead character in Survivors is a mother looking for her son. I found all the characters to be well fleshed-out. There is a low gore factor.

The first episode, at 90 minutes, drags on a bit, but stick with it. Season Two is a winner. Unfortunately, it ends with some unanswered questions. There was no season three. BBC canceled the series because of low ratings. Even so, a worthy watch. There is enough closure to justify the time.

For some time, the series was one of the most popular on Netflix. There were discussions about Netflix producing a continuation, but nothing has materialized so far. Instead, we are treated a new audio series from Big Finish Audio. Set in the same era at the 1975 series, it features some new characters dealing with the same apocalypse. I’m on the first CD. I’m disappointed  that it is not set during the 2008  series, for it would seem more relevant.

Blogging versus Social Media

Blogging

One of my favorite Demotivational images. I have a small framed version at my work office.

I realize posts on this blog are few and far between, but I make no apologies.

For one, I reach a larger audience with my social media efforts.

You can follow me on Twitter (@indygadgetguy), Instagram (indygadgetguy) and Flickr.

Blogs serve their purpose, and for years I led blogging efforts for local media. Even back then, I — along with my fellow editors and reporters — found it hard to build and maintain an audience. Now that general audiences have switched to social media, blogs have become  more niche orientated. It’s far easier to build an audience on social media than with a blog.

A key driver of this, I believe, is our society’s short attention span and a desire to connect with people via experiences. The long text narratives of blogs have been replaced by the cool filters of Instagram. Another factor is the rise of the mobile platform in content generation. It’s easier to send a Tweet or snap a Instagram from a smartphone or tablet than to write a narrative blog post.

Of course, it’s really not an either/or option, but when one has limited time, one chooses the most effective ways of communicating to an audience.

Unfortunately, I’m in the boat of limited time. I spend three hours a day in a car when I go to work. My professional work involves web site and social media management. I spend my time reaching audiences at work. At the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is look at a computer and pound out a long post for five people (hi wife!).

I will occasionally update this blog with looks at cool new gadgets, experiences, etc. For more frequent updates, please follow me on the social media outlets I listed above.

Cooking with Gadget Guy

rib
rib

Cooking Prime Rib on Christmas Day.

Two years ago I bought a Big Green Egg and started grilling. My first test was a disaster, but since I’ve gotten really good at burgers. My family now looks forward to my grilling escapades. Even my oldest stepson — who doesn’t like meat — likes my burgers.

This Christmas, I threw caution to the wind and decided to cook prime rib. It’s quite a leap from burgers, but these sources helped:

http://www.nibblemethis.com/2011/12/reverse-seared-prime-rib-roast.html
http://www.biggreeneggsperience.com/Standing_Rib_Roast.html
http://www.nibblemethis.com/2010/12/fire-roasted-beef-rib-roast-20-tips.html

My process

I bought a good boneless cut of meat from Lahody Meats in Muncie. I let it warm to room temperature for about an hour, then seasoned it with sea salt, pepper and rosemary. I placed the meat on a v-rack, and placed that rack in a drip pan filled with beef stock and a small amount of garlic. I used a place setter in my Big Green Egg for indirect heating.

The biggest challenge was getting the grill lid unfrozen. I didn’t anticipate that and had to light a fire through the top cap to unfreeze the hinge and gaskets. That set me back about an hour.

The roast was about five pounds, so I cooked at about 300f for about two hours. Occasionally, I poured some more beef stock over the roast to keep it moist.

At the end, I removed the place setter, added more charcoal and fired up the grill to 500f for a quick two-minute sear on the roast.

I like my prime rib a little more done than the usual rare, and this turned out awesome. Best prime rib I’ve ever had. The family and relatives were also extremely happy with it.

I monitored the grill from inside the house using the Stoker WiFi temperature control/monitoring system. The system has a basic web interface so I could set temperatures and alarm via a web browser or application on my iPhone with StokeMasteror BBQ Monitor. I even had my grill Tweeting my temperature numbers.

In addition to grilling the prime rib, I also deep-fried a turkey. That’s a future blog post. Stay tuned.

Genetic testing: My $99 lesson

Genetic testing: My $99 lesson
23andMe DNA testing kit. Photo from 23andme.com.

23andMe DNA testing kit. Photo from 23andme.com.

Last year, I participated in The Genographic Project, a DNA testing that identifies genetic ancestry. Much has been written about the perils of genetic testing, but the project has a scientific purpose and handles DNA results with appropriate privacy. I still recommend it to people.

Three months ago I became interested in 23andMe‘s DNA testing service. In addition to providing ancestry results, the test also included medical data on genes that could possibly cause health problems.

Having recently watched my grandmother decline from dementia, I began research on 23andMe. I encountered a few articles regarding privacy and accuracy concerns, but it appeared that if I discussed the results with my doctor, the test would be beneficial. I ordered a kit for $99.

I didn’t register the kit immediately after receiving it. I figured I would do it later. In retrospect, my procrastination may have been a good move.

FDA gets involved

On November 22, the FDA issued a warning to the company concerning the medical aspects of the test. It asked the company to stop selling the test. Apparently, 23andMe had ignored FDA requests for information about the service as far back as 2012.  According to media reports, even the company’s founders acknowledge there was a lack of communication with the FDA. Still, testing kits continued to be sold while the company touted the medical benefits.

Flash forward to Dec. 6. and the company has now stopped selling the kits.

If I hadn’t being paying attention to the news, I would have not known about the situation. The company did respond to the FDA’s letter on a blog post, but I did not receive an e-mail about the situation until today. There’s more detail on the company’s blog.

Mistakes we made
As I mentioned to the company on Twitter and Facebook, this whole situation has given me pause to go forward with the testing. Here’s why:

  • 23andme ignored FDA requests for a substantial period of time.
  • The company continued to market the kits after November 22.
  • It appears that 23andme hadn’t anticipated FDA scrutiny and action.

Thus, I’m left questioning the trustworthiness and ethics of the company. At the very least, that’s some poor business management. I don’t want to trust them with my DNA.

People are quick to blame the FDA for the situation, but that agency  appears to be doing its job.  Because of 23andme’s refund policy, I’m out $99. I chalk that up to a lesson learned.

I hope 23andme gets things worked out with the FDA. I see value in the service. Genetic testing can be helpful if you are comfortable with your DNA fingerprint being on file  and you consult a medical professional to interpret the results.

Genetic testing does raise valid concerns regarding accuracy, trust and privacy. 23andme’s recent missteps will not help to alleviate them.

Spring ahead, fall back. How about neither?

Spring ahead, fall back. How about neither?
I concur.

I concur.

National Geographic has published an article with experts questioning the validity of DST. I’ve ordered the book mentioned in the article. There seems to be a bit of a backlash building against the concept. The Atlantic resorts to over-the top-hyperbole, but points are valid.

I’ve lived in several states that observed DST. Indiana started in 2006. I didn’t mind DST in my youth, but now it’s a pain. Changing clocks, etc. Worse, there is general consensus that it doesn’t save energy and it messes with our health. Wikipedia has a good overview of these points. 

Great.

I doubt the national will ever do away with DST. The Federal Government leaves it up to the states to determine if they will follow the standard. Some states still don’t. That’s where I will be retiring. If DST is not going to be abolished, it might be a good idea to move the time change up on Saturday morning so we have the entire weekend to adjust. This would make the “spring ahead” a little easier.

Pet peeve: It is Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time.  In summer, most of the state is in Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), not Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Also, note to Congress: Quit messing with the standard.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daylight_saving_time_in_the_United_States#Local_DST_observance

Belated thoughts on the Federal government shutdown

Belated thoughts on the Federal government shutdown
One of my favorite demotivational posters.

One of my favorite demotivational posters.

The government shutdown cost America $24 billion dollars.

Let’s put that in perspective.

NASA’s annual budget is about $18 billion.

Besides the political grandstanding over the issue, I was deeply bothered by the disrespect shown towards Federal government workers.

One member of the House of Representatives berated a National Park ranger for following orders to only allow WWII veterans to visit the D.C. WWII memorial.

Many Americans see federal government workers as nothing more than leeches on our income. I see park rangers and NASA scientists that are good at their jobs and passionate about moving our nation forward. They also spend money and contribute to the economy.

America should continue the discussion about the government’s appropriate size and scope for our society, but we should all agree that some government is necessary. Governments are not perfect, but that’s because mankind is not perfect. There are government programs that are wasteful and have committed horrible actions.  There are programs that are thrifty and have brought wonder and made our lives better. It bothers me that people often focus on the negative aspects and overlook the positive ones.

The gridlock in Washington can be summarized in this manner: The problem with Republicans is they say “no” too much. The problem with Democrats is they say “yes” too much.

This centrist wishes we could find a happy medium.

Album Review: I hear you, Major Tom

Seeking Major Tom

Seeking Major TomWilliam Shatner’s third studio album – Seeking Major Tom – has nowhere near the emotional resonance of his last album Has Been, but it is a fun listen.

The concept album shines with arrangements of space-themed covers, including David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Elton John’s Rocket Man. Adding polish to the album is a slew of guest artists, from Cheryl Crow and Lyle Lovett to Peter Frampton. Shatner can chew the scenery and the microphone, but the musical talent backing him up prevents the album from hitting the Moon with a thud.

Favorite tracks of mine include covers of U2’s In A Little While with Lyle Lovett and Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly with Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream). The album’s only original track, Struggle, is perhaps the most genuine artistic work in the lineup and packs an emotional wallop.

If not a fan of Shatner or spoken word genre, I’d recommend passing on this launch. Otherwise, strap yourself in for an entertaining ride.

Meeting Major Mancheck

Meeting Major Mancheck
The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) undergoes testing at the Orbital Science Corporation's Gilbert, Ariz., location. NASA image taken August 7, 2012.

The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) undergoes testing at the Orbital Science Corporation’s Gilbert, Ariz., location. NASA image taken August 7, 2012.

 

In two weeks, I’ll be attending a NASA Social at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The event is a two-day affair featuring the launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission

What is Landsat? It is “the longest running enterprise for acquisition of satellite imagery of Earth,” states Wikipedia, and a joint effort between NASA and USGS. It was Google Earth before there was Google. Learn more about the program on the USGS and NASA web pages.

LDCM will be launched with an United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Space Launch Complex 3.

The Landsat program has an interesting Hoosier connection through Vice President Dan Quayle. According to Wikipedia:

In 1989, this transition had not been fully completed when NOAA’s funding for the Landsat program was due to run out (NOAA had not requested any funding, and Congress had appropriated only six months of funding for the fiscal year)[3] and NOAA directed that Landsats 4 and 5 be shut down.[4] The head of the newly formed National Space Council, Vice President Dan Quayle, noted the situation and arranged emergency funding that allowed the program to continue with the data archives intact.

I’m looking forward to my visit and touring the facilities. I’ve had interest in the place since I was a kid, but access is had to obtain. This will be my third live launch (last shuttle mission and Juno being the other two) and my first from the West Coast.

VAFB has often appeared in popular culture, notably in television episodes (The Bionic Woman) and literature (Shuttle Down by G. Harry Stine; it’s a good read). It’s also the home of Project Scoop in the The Andromeda Strain book and 1972 film. The title of this post refers to the fictional Major Mancheck, Project Scoop’s leader.

Following my VAFB visit and launch experiences on Twitter @indygadgetguy starting Feb. 9.