Visiting an old friend for Become a Pilot Day 2014

This Friday, my wife and I leave for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located in Chantilly, VA. We’re attending a social media meetup for Become A Pilot Day.

Here’s what is planned, according to the NASM social media folks:

This is our 10th annual Become A Pilot Day and the 4th social media gathering in conjunction with the event.  Your Pilot Day Social activities will start early in the morning with a FOD (Foreign Object Debris) walk and a chance to watch aircraft as they arrive before the public event. You’ll also meet museum experts, pilots and guests, get a Docent-led tour of the Udvar-Hazy Center, and connect with fellow aviation and space enthusiasts who are active on social media.

This will be our first visit to Udvar. In addition to the SR-71 Blackbird, the Enola Gay, the Concorde, I’m looking forward to seeing an old friend:


Discovery being made safe for her eventual display in Udvar. Take in 2011 during a NASA social for the Juno space probe launch.


It will be nice to see how she is being displayed. Follow our adventures on Twitter and Instagram. Albums will be posted on Flickr.

On social media, the hashtag will be #PilotDay14.




Blogging versus Social Media

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 The long text narratives of blogs have been replaced by the cool filters of Instagram.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

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:

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

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

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?

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. 


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.

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 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

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.


Revisiting World War Z


World War Z
World War Z

World War Z (Max Brooks, $9 on Amazon) is one of my favorite books. It was the first book I read after my mother’s death.

You are probably thinking that a zombie horror novel is pretty dark read after such a tragedy, but I found the book to be comforting.

Mass media often depicts zombies in a gore-fest drenched in blood. From The Walking Dead to George Romero’s Living Dead movies, the apocalypse is typically portrayed with a lot of bite and blood, grimness and gore.

Z, on the other hand, examines how humanity copes with a zombie outbreak. The book is woven with the first person narratives of doctors, leaders, military people and other survivors of the crisis. There is not a lot much gore or horror. The main theme of organized civilization banding together to survive a horrific period gave me hope in the immediate days of my own personal loss.

A few weeks ago I downloaded the audio version of World War Z from Audible. It was a highly enjoyable listen during my work commute. The book was not simply read; it was acted by a full cast that included Alan Alda and Mark Hamill. The voices were filled with passion and emotion. The audio version won an Audie award in 2007 and it remains popular with listeners.

If you are a fan of the book, I highly recommend the audio version.





Cutting cable? Here’s some advice

Roku 3
Roku 3 is my pick for the best streaming box.

My friend Stephen wrote to me asking recommendations for cutting cable. Based on his description of his family’s viewing habits, he seems to be the ideal candidate. You also might be an ideal candidate. Besides viewing habits, location, services and technology are also considerations when deciding to tell the cable company to take a hike before it gives you a hike.

Viewing habits, of course, are the ultimate factor. If you don’t watch a lot of television, only popular shows and the main networks, you could be a prime candidate to cut the cord. This is especially true if you live in an urban area and can easily receive HDTV signals over the air.

Content services

Hulu Plus ($7.99 a month), Amazon Instant Video (prices vary on ala carte purchases), Netflix (streaming plan is $7.99 a month) are essential. You will find the latest popular TV episodes on Hulu and Amazon. Netflix still have the largest on-demand library, including past seasons of popular shows like Breaking Bad. Spring for Amazon Prime ($79 a year) for access to that company’s instant movie and TV library. Pay attention, though, to the number of devices you can connect and simultaneously stream from each service.


Popular streaming options are AppleTV, Roku, Xbox, “smart” TVs, internet-connected blu-ray players and TiVo DVRs. Indy Gadgetguy has had them all. I currently favor Roku and AppleTV. The family just acquired a Samsung SmartTV that is impressive. Roku (under $100) has the largest selection of streaming services and a slick interface. I also like my AppleTV ($99) because of the slick interface, movie rentals, and integration with my iTunes media and Apple devices. It lacks Amazon services, though. Bonus: Current Macs can stream to the AppleTV using AirPlay. My top recommendation is Roku.


The majority of streamers do not have digital video recording capabilities. You will need a TiVo for that. Prices are inexpensive, but there is a $20 monthly fee. The entry Tivo Premier (about $150) can be hooked to an antennae to snag analog and over the air HD signals. It also has Amazon, Netflix and Hulu services built-in. If you want one box to help you cut the cable, this is my top recommendation.

But not for my family

Our own family situation isn’t ideal for cutting cable. My wife is fond of HGTV shows and I like documentaries on The Science Channel. Both have sparse online content offerings, so we subscribe to DirectTV. The monthly bill runs around $170 a month, but that’s a good value for what we get. We’re too far away from Indianapolis to receive HDTV over-the-air signals without a large tower. We also enjoy the superior HD picture quality on our media room’s 120-inch LCD projector screen.

I’ve been impressed with DirecTV’s DVR technology (we have two networked together so we can watch anywhere) and have access to many movie channels. The DirectTV iPad/iPhone apps are especially nice for viewing content at home away from a TV. The sat service’s online web portal is great for finding and scheduling content and additional information in the forums. Nomad – DirectTV’s little box which allows recorded content to be place-shifted – needs more work to make it practical, though.


Still, $170 a month could fund a lot of streaming subscriptions and online movie and TV rentals and purchases.