On Becoming a Landlord

July 25th, 2012

Great news! Found a family to rent my old house. Very nice people, and I think they will be a good addition to the neighborhood.

Last couple of days have been occupied by getting the place ready for them; basically, clearing and cleaning.

It’s been a while since I’ve had this kind of transition, but it’s all good. Hard work getting ready, but it’s all good. Happy for them, happy for myself, and it will be good to have the place occupied.

Batman, the Dark Knight Rises

July 23rd, 2012

I am compelled to say ‘spoiler alert’ although it barely is, really. My comment speaks to a third order plot point, but still, since I reaveal, I will assert ‘spoiler alert’

Anyway, I found the movie to stretch the willing suspension of disbelief way beyond its elastic limit. Because, really, who is going to believe that anyone would lift a finger to save a congressman? Seriously; unbelievable.

Commemorating a Special Day – Apollo 11

July 20th, 2012
Upshot of the Apollo 11 Lunar Excursion Module, the Eagle

History and Heroism Infuse the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing!

A Day to Remember!

July 20th 1969 was a special day for this future Aerospace Engineer, in more ways than one. While not aware at the time that was to be my profession, I was a totally engrossed in America’s space program. And so, despite ample distractions, which I will describe later, I found myself planted in front of the television set on that muggy mid-summer evening. I watched history unfold, and heroism manifest, as it was captured and conveyed back to Earth; grainy chunks of rasterized black, white and gray imagery on that screen – breathless.

That was the day that man landed on the moon.

Visionary and Powerful Leadership

It was the crowning event of the American quest set in motion by President Kennedy during his special address to Congress in which he said that “…this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Beautiful, inspirational leadership, and a simple yet elegant system specification as well. To read the entire speech is to witness the power of effective leadership, meted out respectfully mindful of the balance of powers between our three branches of government. A balance of power, and relationships between the branches as established and constrained by our US Constitution. The mission to the moon, and the occasion of this speech, were not for mere pyrotechnic display, or theater, respectively. On the contrary, the President was asking for resources from the Congress in the name of national security. Kennedy cited the extreme stresses of the time, in the midst of the Cold War, and recognizing the on-going struggle between freedom and tyranny taking place on the world stage.

Failed Leadership and Floundering

Kennedy’s strength at the time saddens me, now when considering in contrast, the profound weakness of our current president. Bowing as he does before world leaders, apologizing for, and denying American exceptionalism, abandoning our allies, and decimating our current space program to the point of shambles – we now rely on Russian transport to ferry our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Pitiful.

Heroism Manifest

As for heroism though, I am continually inspired by that of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins – the crew of Apollo 11. To me this is the height of human achievement, exemplary performance under pressure, and a testament to the quality of the human spirit. A spirit which is capable to aspire to, and to accomplish great things. At the bottom of this post I have embedded an annotated video clip of the final 13 of descent and landing on the moon. Armstrong, Aldrin and Mission Control acting in perfect coordination. This is heroism exemplified – Armstrong at the control, Aldrin as co-pilot monitoring systems, and Mission Control coolly and professionally executed mission operations per procedure.

Using computer systems that would be dwarfed in comparison to even the simplest mobile phones of today, they prevailed. The entire video transfixes me, but in particular the last three minutes are absolutely riveting. As Armstrong assesses the suitability of the landing zone he in fact has to make manual flight adjustments to avoid boulder fields. Meanwhile Aldrin is calmly reporting systems status – with master alarms going off, no less! The guidance system was being overloaded, but because of robust software design the descent could continue. Regardless, dealing with master alarms in the final seconds of the landing on man’s greatest adventure to date had to be unnerving – still they steadied on. When they landed the Eagle Lunar Module had less than 25 seconds of fuel remaining. Incredible!

Landing, and then the words: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

A Special Gift for a delighted Birthday Boy

As for my other distractions; that day also happened to an anniversary of my own birthday – no need to tell you which anniversary, we’ll let that be a mystery. I am not sure where I stand on the concept of destiny – I don’t actually think that being born on a day that later would also be the day of the first moon landing made me be an aerospace engineer. How I became that is a story for another day.

I can’t deny though, the power of inspiration that I draw from this. Coincidences like this could have had an influence on such choices. But all of that speculation aside I do know that year after year it makes my birthday feel all that more special to me. Not only can I celebrate life, but I can share remembrance of a moment steeped in history and heroism – a moment in time when, as a result of strong vision and leadership, and of near perfect human execution, a great thing was accomplished!

Watch the video here; embedded link provided for your viewing and your appreciation, the annotated video of the Apollo 11 descent and landing:

In addition, the wikipedia entry for this mission is also very interesting.

I find this event inspirational; how does it affect you?

The World Needs a Magical Scoop

July 19th, 2012

Where’s my Magical Scoop?

What the World Needs Now…

…well maybe not the world, but at least me. This thing would come in real handy. Look at that big pile of change. Accumulated over time. Now what?

So, maybe its maybe it’s just me, but what I need…

…is a Magical Scoop!

I want this magical scoop so that I can dig through this box’o’coins and sort the  coins, and then, before I forget… the scoop has got to put the into properly counted rolls. Well, something else too, I want the scoop deposit the collected, counted and rolled money into my bank account.

That’s not asking too much, is it? What do you think?


Good News/Bad News in Space

July 18th, 2012

Good News – NASA’s Next Generation Crew Vehicle is in Testing!

Good News, Bad News, in Space?

While starting to research a post lamenting the sad state of affairs with regard to US Manned Spaceflight I stumbled upon a bit of good news. So instead of a standalone bad news post, this turned into a good news/bad news post. Let’s start with the bad news, to get it out of the way.

US Needs Russia for Transport to ISS

Since the demise of the US Space Shuttle program, the United States has relied on the Russians to provide transportation of our astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The latest trip is ferried our Sunita Williams as a result of a successful docking of the Soyuz capsule with the ISS as reported by Fox News.

As a child of the space age, I grew up in an era when American exceptionalism, including, if not led by our accomplishments is space, was embraced and celebrated. Not so much now, when in America, starting with the office of president our past accomplishments almost seem a source of shame, and are downplayed and even used as cause for apology to the world. Regardless it galls me that we find ourselves as a space-faring nation having to depend on the Russians for transport.

I guess it could be worse; I suppose that absent a Russian program we could enlist the services of the Chinese? How does that sound to you?

Good News – Orion is in the Pipeline

In contrast with that gloomy outlook, witness the other side of the coin – progress is being made on the Orion program. According to the story on NASA’s website:

“A C-17 plane dropped a test version of Orion from an altitude of 25,000 feet above the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona. This test was the second to use an Orion craft that mimics the full size and shape of the spacecraft. Orion’s drogue chutes were deployed between 15,000 feet and 20,000 feet, followed by the pilot parachutes, which deployed the main landing parachutes. Orion descended about 25 feet per second, well below its maximum designed touchdown speed, when it landed on the desert floor.”

Despite our current dependence for astronautic ferrying, developments in the Orion program are hopeful signs that US standing in space will improve. Whether such progress will be sufficient to keep pace with other nations who are advancing in space, such as the Chinese in particular is up for debate.

Given how important space capabilities are to our national defense, I remain skeptical as to its sufficiency; what do you think?

Hot for Mentor?

July 17th, 2012
Stern Mentor Deconstructed

Stern Mentor Deconstructed by Michael Jay LaRue

While poring over my recent card acquisitions from Avacyn Restored I noticed art by an artist I have not noticed before, Igor Kierluk. His work on Stern Mentor is outstanding, and it serves as an example of effective composition.

The character is emphasized by choices made by the artist. The most important of these choices is the triangular composition formed by the three candles. The grouping of three items, is itself a common and effective technique – this choice is pleasing to the eye.

Beyond just the grouping, there is thoughtfulness in its placement. The bases of the candles, labeled A,B, and C create an interesting planar structure in the drawing. This plane is oriented in such a way that establishes an up shot. The viewer is looking upward into this scene. This choice adds drama and makes the character seem more imposing and formidable. As such, the artist is faithfully executing the art consistently with it theme as embodied in its title. Isn’t it appropriate, and therefor effective, to portray a Stern Mentor in this way? I think so. 

Not to belabor the point but there is an additional side benefit to this approach – notice how the plane intersects the character at about the level of her sternum. The lower two thirds of the figure, below the plane, is shaded in red in my deconstruction drawing. The placement of this intersection bisects the figure at its topmost third. Things presented in thirds are appealing.

A final element worth noting is the triangular construct formed by the orb in the background as a counterbalance to the character in the foreground.

To summarize, I think this is very beautiful drawing that is enhanced by careful use of triangular constructs that focus our attention on the character. There is an ample demonstration of depth, foreground, to middle-ground, to background.

I totally buy this approach – that character clearly and truly is a stern mentor; my complements to the artist Igor Kieryluk.

Blog Challenge Recap

July 16th, 2012

Thanks Starbucks for the coffee and the WiFi! You made it possible!

One blog challenge, 27 posts, 7 exclamation points, and 11 question marks. With contest rules that include daily posting for the duration, 351 words per day, and a properly labelled image, clearly I am a masochist who is slightly more inquisitive than excitable.

I’m glad I did it; I am also glad it is over.

Here’s a recap of the posts, each with a little commentary – a director’s cut, so to speak:

1. Go at Throttle Up! One of my favorites, a personal history as well seasoned with a bit of introspection about what it means to accept the label that your professional choice dictates.

2. Is there an OODA Loop in your Future? An exploration of a combat proven decision-making method, examined with by use of a data flow diagram.

3. That’s my OODA Loop, and Yes, I am happy to see you! An extension of the previous post and how it can relate to personal matters, or least how I have found it applicable.

4. New Access to Knowledge Delivery for Everyone! Singing the praises of Udacity.com, a MOOC that offers world class coursework, for free, to all!

5. What Happened to that Feeling? Another one of my personal favorites; reflections from childhood, on the feelings of a summer day.

6. Obamacare, Explained as if to a 5 year old. A response to a reddit.com post, back when it mattered, because since then SCOTUS, has passed judgment, and has declared that the law is upheld – I am amazed at how easily people willingly surrender their freedom. I am even more amazed though at the faulty thinking employed by the chief justice who preferred to protect the perceived legacy of the court and in effect legislative from the bench. This was his choice rather than to decide constitutionality on face value of the arguments made in hearing.  Note: by a large margin, this was my most read post of over the course of the challenge. Two reasons might explain. I successfully got a link onto a reddit political commentary page using a “self” label (played by the rules). Also, recently a lot of people have been search for “Obamacare explained…” So somehow I am geeting part of that energy, although, no one really (save one)  has engaged me in comments, or “followed” as a result.

7. Functional Programming Defined by Consensus. My attempt to improve my understanding of the definition of functional programming.

8. A Brief Introduction to Systems Engineering. The title says it all!

9. Will Robots Rule the Road? Commentary on the prospects of robotic technology and artificial intelligence maturing sufficiently to the point where robotic cars will become commonplace, or not. References to the AI class I am taking at Udacity.com are included.

10. Top Down Robot Car! – A look at modern robotic car systems engineering as seen with the assistance of simple data flow diagrammatic modeling

11. Look Ma – No more Bending! A review of a dumb foot cleaning product.

12. Math as Model. A plea to teachers to make math more accessible by explaining that math is a model for understanding the things around us.

13. If Writing is good for me, why is it depressing me? Thoughts on the writing process, as brought about by the stresses of ambitiously committing to substantial posts on a daily basis.

14. Beyond Debate in Post-Constitutional America? To almost everyone I talk to, equality is more important than freedom; who knew? – go figure.

15. The Rolling Stones are now part of my Forth of July Tradition! In which I explain the scandalous choice to make a Brit-band to musical continuity that accompanies my independence day celebrations.

16. Swimming Freestyle – Propeller or Paddle? Choices, so many choices…

17. Best Robotic Legs Ever? Comments on developments in AI and robotics.

18. Micro Data Centers – Independence Day for AOL? The cloud is getting smaller, more deployable, and self-sufficient. Note: by linking to his blog post, I got a link back from a big player  (Michael Manos) at tech giant AOL. Cool!

19. Am I a Do-it-Yourselfer? I don’t even care about this one, I don’t expect you to either.

20. Continuum. This word kept coming up in my essays that I deceided to take a post to explain it.

21. Building 6. Reflections on my first day of work as a young aerospace engineer.

22. Gravedigger Revisited! I am an artist, as well as one who can write, so why not write about art?

23. Rise, Walk, Swim, Rinse, and Repeat. The morning routine I follow to swim on my master’s team.

24. Hanging On. Starts out as a gecko-eye-view of hanging on a screen, (since I had taken a pretty picture to write about); ends up as a rant on the subject of the president claiming that the only mistake of his first term in office was that he wasn’t a better story-teller. What a joke. Totally clueless.

25. Writing & Bodysurfing? – part 1 and part 2. A comparison between the two.

26. Blog Challenge Recap. Todays’ post – the last one of the blog challenge.

The challenge has been completed. I will continue with new posts after incorporating some lessons learned. But as for today, that’s all folks!

Writing & Bodysurfing? – part 2 of 2

July 15th, 2012

(what follows is a continuation from this post)

As within the water once the rise has approached it has to be contended with – furious paddling or furious swimming, hoping to match its speed, hoping to catch it at its peak – this part is necessary to see if the wave takes off… to see if it allows you along for the ride – without the right energy, or if left to pass untested – it either fizzles, or continues on without the waverider.

The wave and the rider must be ready at the same time, and even then, nothing is for sure. Without proper follow through a good idea can collapse, its energy can fade without warning. The rider must endeavor to earn the rest of whatever ride there might be, through diligence.

But this is a diligence not without reward, for this is the essence of creation.

Seeing the opportunity and seizing it; struggling with the possibility, to see what can become of this partnership. This is a state of flow… writing, riding, where the tension un-surety about a successful outcome, be it an essay or a great ride, is perfectly balanced with the satisfaction on feeling that the struggle is worthwhile.

But with practice, and a little luck the result can be amazing. Catching it at the height of its potential, the idea can take off.

Think of it though. Even without a rider that very same wave would have the same trajectory, moving through space and time, unfettered. It might have passed without notice, like so many infinite waves through time immemorial.

Yet on this occasion there has been a collaborator; one to share in, and to mold, and to experience. That is what made this one different. That is what made this one memorable.

Ideas without elaboration are like waves without riders; know ones knows them for either what they were or what they could have become.

So if it contains the right energy, and if it is capably handled, out of nothingness, a wave, an idea, a rider, and a writer can share a perfect moment of creation.

This is a ride that can be exhilarating, and time after time, it proves itself to be worth the effort.


Writing & Bodysurfing? – part 1 of 2

July 14th, 2012

To what can writing be compared? Of course there are many styles of writing. Therefor many comparisons are possible.

Much of my professional writing has been in a technical vein. Customer driven requirements, malformed upon their inception, and needing analysis to correct their crippled state. Requirements that specified functions only half thought through, but uttered as they were from the customer, sacrosanct. Mutable only by application of cleverness, force-of-will, dedication and often just some good luck.

Requirements for large scale systems development – things our soldiers need to protect our freedom, but procured by bureaucrats and their lesser minions and agents. Those charged with spending other peoples’ money and therefor less concerned about outcomes, and more about costs and schedules. Pretty much dry as dirt, but supposedly purposeful, deliberate, and boring in the limit.

Why waste time making comparisons to boring things?

I choose not to do that.

As for the type of writing I am doing now, that’s a different thing altogether. I write by choice, about things that interest me. I can choose my own subjects, and I am my own boss. I am the writer, but I am also my own first audience.

With that latitude and freedom though, there comes a price. With the freedom comes the burden of idea generation. The difference here is that I want to write, I am writing by choice. Comparisons then, are come by easier.

Something natural and energetic comes to mind; something that requires effort but offers rewards. An activity enhanced by what it offers in terms of immersion. I am thinking about body surfing. I am thinking about comparing writing to body surfing. Yeah, that is right, body surfing.

Standing, or swimming in the ocean, just far enough out to where the waves break and start to turn over on themselves. Patiently, because often the water is flat and the time between substantial waves can be lengthy. This can be a tedious time, waiting for a wave, or an idea to appear. Every now and then a slight rise forms at the edge of awareness, and gradually it approaches.

Is this the one, will this take the proper shape and does it have the right energy?

Each such new arrival has to be tested. (…continued on next post)

Hanging On

July 13th, 2012

I wonder what it feels like to be a gecko hanging on a screen door. Suspended, in space, a flimsy net, a minimal connection to stability. All that air rushing past, an open patio door, like a giant industrial vent. Maybe it would be like skydiving but without the inconvenient falling, the screaming earthward at terminal velocity.

Delicate little gecko claws, grabbing tenaciously, defying gravity. Its minute lizard brain thinking lizard thoughts. Cold-blooded, suspended, clinging,  and then the bob. Like the blink of a human eye, thoughtless yet relentless – always the bob – a genuflection that seemingly, is a nod to its primitive ancestors.

At the mercy of so many forces; like I’ve said, the wind could sweep it away without warning, gravity too would pull it down to a thud of a landing. And predators; could a bird swoop past and pluck the lizard off the screen?

Then again, how is this different from the situation of people – those who may be hanging on?

Maybe not different at all. Aren’t many suspended? Clawing, clinging, trying to stabilize on an uncertain fabric. A fabric that seems fragile, itself battered about by the wind.

Sometimes I feel the relentless rush of the air, the circumstance of life. What would it take sweep me away to a fall? Am I many small wisps, or just one big gust, away? To be whisked off, tumbling – what would it take? How many more mortgage payments can I make, with no income before my own tenuous grasp fails? Does the county stop collecting property tax once a job is lost – no, they don’t. I exist to fund my public servants and my public projects. Taxes I must pay. This fulfils me. Especially the local high school’s multi-million dollar project to install solar cells over the span of an entire parking lot. Student’s cars are protected from the sun by carport-like structures, the roofs of which are mounted with countless photovoltaic cells.

A good friend of mine has reassured me though that these solar cells are good – and that, I will see that someday.

Meanwhile, as unemployment remains above 8% for more than 40 months now, and as reckless government spending ruins our nation’s finances and imperils the future value of our dollar, I take reassurance from another source. The president has told me that the only mistake of his first term is that he hasn’t been a good enough storyteller. Imagine that – the great communicator can’t tell a story well. The one who was elected for convincing us to believe in his fantastical story of hope and change has failed to master the narrative.

Here I have told you a story, although I leave it to you to decide if it is ‘good.’ As for my own assessment, I’ll assert that I’d make a better president than this one, based on my storytelling alone.

While we wait for the president to find his voice again’ let me assure you, I am fine – after all, I am hanging on.