Browse Month: May 2014

Space Camp, now with realism

The Onion has an article that’s both funny and sad, because it hits close to home. It’s about making Space Camp a more realistic experience for kids by simulating the constant budget struggles faced by NASA. Without further ado, I’ll quote the article:

nasa-launch-cancelled

HUNTSVILLE, AL — Aiming to provide attendees with an authentic glimpse into the nation’s space program, representatives for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center announced Thursday that its newly updated Space Camp will allow children to simulate the anger and mounting frustration experienced by NASA personnel over a continual lack of funding.

Camp organizers explained that the redesigned education program will offer kids the unique opportunity to contend with all of the budgetary restrictions and bureaucratic red tape impeding the progress of actual astronauts and researchers, allowing children from grades four to six to immerse themselves in a true-to-life NASA environment in which financial shortfalls and endless procedural delays plague them at every turn.

“At Space Camp, each attendee experiences the trials of real-life astronauts who simply are not provided the resources they need to explore outer space,” said director Deborah Barnhart, noting that campers get a firsthand look at what it’s like to pursue cutting-edge astronomical research on a budget that, when adjusted for inflation, is a mere fraction of what it was in the 1960s. “Our campers endure constant setbacks throughout their week here, from engaging in spaceflight training modules that can be shut down at a moment’s notice, to working tirelessly on a solar probe project only to be informed that an across-the-board spending freeze has led to the indefinite suspension of their work.”

“Kids will walk away from a week at Space Camp knowing exactly what it’s like to be an American astronaut,” she added.

Barnhart told reporters that the modernized camp offers attendees an array of hands-on activities that include designing next-generation spaceships, searching for virtual extrasolar planets, and building a robotic Mars rover, any one of which could be effectively derailed by an abrupt mandate that the research and development process be made more cost-effective.

Additionally, campers will reportedly be able to sigh and throw their hands up in exasperation within a replica of the actual mission control room at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center after learning that a reconnaissance mission to scan for the presence of life on Jupiter’s moon Europa has been scrapped just weeks prior to the intended launch date.

Program officials also highlighted their efforts to make the experience as realistically discouraging as possible by furloughing a significant number of campers immediately at the start of each weeklong session.

“We put camp attendees in the shoes of dedicated NASA scientists whose attempts to further scientific understanding through the analysis of asteroid composition are halted by one of our camp staffers playing the role of a U.S. senator targeting all ‘nonessential’ initiatives,” said counselor Tyler Campbell. “When they take their seats in our mock congressional chamber, campers will work together to deliver an impassioned yet ultimately futile request for continued support of NASA until they have no choice but to stand up and leave, having just witnessed their life’s work go up in smoke.”

“When you see the stunned expressions on these kids’ faces as they realize their goals and dreams are no longer attainable because of political pressures completely out of their control, that’s when you know they’ve gained a valuable understanding of our space program,” Campbell added.

Early participants in the new program have reportedly hailed the experience as “eye-opening,” with many describing their visceral disappointment watching satellite feeds of their Chinese and Russian Space Camp counterparts pursuing scientific endeavors that were eliminated in the U.S. years ago.

“I’ll never forget what it was like to go to Space Camp and repeatedly attempt to convince the budget committee of the importance of our solar wind study so they would cancel the other teams’ projects and not ours,” said 11-year-old camper Sara Andrews, who explained that she spent most of the week steadily reducing the scope of her simulated mission so that it would remain financially viable. “I’m just glad I wasn’t working on the asteroid flyby project that was ultimately deemed too cost-prohibitive and was contracted out to a private aeronautics firm. The kids on that team just had to sit around and do nothing for the rest of camp.”

“I can’t wait to work at NASA when I grow up so I can constantly stress over limited financial resources and have my scientific projects canceled for real,” she added. “That is, if NASA even still exists then.”

Nailed it.

Comcast sucks

I just finished a call with Comcast, and was reminded why they are consistently voted the Worst Consumer Company year after year. I found a better deal for the internet at my office: CenturyLink offers twice the bandwidth at half the cost. So I set up CenturyLink, confirmed it’s working, and called today to cancel my Comcast account.

comcrap

My contract expired about two weeks ago, so I figured it would be an easy matter to shut down the account. Oh no. There’s a 60-day notification requirement– I have to pay for two additional months of service, according to the terms of my contract. Frustrated, I found the terms that apply to my account (after searching a bit on Comcast’s site– the terms change every couple of months so you have to know the exact start date of your contract to even know which terms apply to you). I read them and found that the 60-day notice only applies when you’re within your contract term.

Ha! I had them. I called back and read section 5.1 of the terms, but the woman politely pointed out that two weeks ago, as my term expired, I was automatically renewed for another year-long term. I didn’t authorize that, of course, but she took me to section 4.2 where it says that’s what will happen. Argh.

I explained that it’s pretty frustrating and underhanded to do this, and she even said that she agreed with me and deals with calls like this all day long. However, she couldn’t do anything about it, nor could her supervisor, because “That’s Comcast’s policy”.

So Comcast, bite me. Good riddance.

Waffle House!

James’ last day is tomorrow, so we decided to have a farewell lunch… at the Waffle House. The restaurant is a few miles down the highway from the office, and for years I’ve driven past thinking, “Man, back in college, Waffle House was amazing.” Of course, back then “amazing” meant “all you can eat for $4.79”.

So seven of us headed down there, enjoyed a good time together, and pretty much agreed that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Of course, we also agreed that we won’t be going back any time soon either…

waffle-house-sign

Apps and humanity’s productivity

Today Kyra mentioned to me that she’s having a friendly competition with her friend Hannah to see who can score the highest in the Hot New App called “Don’t Touch the White Tiles”. Yeah, this game is all the rage, and the name pretty much sums up the entire premise. The screen has a set of four squares horizontally, one of which is black, and they scroll slowly upward. You have to tap the black one, and then the next row appears. It gets faster as you go along, and eventually the black and white tiles are just flying past. Truly this is a test of mental and physical dexterity.

kyra-lost-in-apps

I commented to Kyra that if all of the people who have spent hours playing apps like this would, instead, focus on something productive, it’s likely that humanity would have accomplished so much more by now. I suspect hundreds of millions of hours of productivity are lost every day to things like Don’t Touch the White Tiles, or Flappy Bird, or Farmville, or whatever else is the latest rage. If we’d channel that mental energy for good, we’d probably have flying cars and be living on Mars by now.

Stack o’ SSD’s

Mmm… I just received my shipment of fifteen new solid-state disk drives. These are enterprise-grade drives that I’ll be installing in a bunch of my servers.

ssd-stack

I’ve found that once you’ve gone to SSD’s, you can never go back to traditional spinning-platter hard drives. Of course I still have those drives in the servers– it’s nice to have a terabyte of space that’s much cheaper, even if it’s slower.

I love these things, although $2,000 for 2TB of storage– no matter how fast– is a little steep. Hopefully they’ll keep going down in price.

Block party stock art

I just received an email from my HOA about an upcoming “block party” event. This is the actual header graphic.

block-party

I’m speechless.

Also, is the second guy from the left Willis from “Diff’rent Strokes”?

The great 80’s

Kyra is working on a final in U.S. History where she has to pick a decade and do a bunch of research about it. She picked the greatest decade of all time, which of course was the 80’s. For her assignment she interviewed me and Laralee about what it was like to grow up in the 80’s, including our favorite TV shows, books, music, things we did, and even phrases we used.

It was fun to reminisce about all of that stuff. Laralee was a huge Huey Lewis fan back in the 80’s… she had all of the albums (on cassette, of course), posters on her wall, and the highlight of her entire childhood was going to one of his concerts. I remembered that Dirk had one of the Huey Lewis albums, and we’d play it in his 1972 Plymouth Duster while we drove around getting beat up by kids on the highway by Taco Bell. Yeah, long story there.

Papa Alex

Today Alex interviewed and was offered his first real* job. We’ve been encouraging him for the past few months to get a summer job, but he’s been sort of lackadaisical about doing it. (In his defense, he’s been pretty busy with homework, finals, projects, martial arts, Scouting, and church stuff!)

He went over to Papa John’s Pizza today, interviewed briefly, and was offered the job on the spot. He accepted and had to participate in some training where– according to him– the presentation focused largely on how much quality Papa John’s puts into its product while the other guys are basically feeding their customers something dredged from the bottom of a septic tank. He said they kept mentioning Domino’s and Pizza Hut by name, and how they’re not nearly as awesome as Papa John’s.

So anyway, he starts next week. It’ll be interesting to see how much pizza he brings home. Luckily Papa John’s pizza is pretty good… especially that garlic butter sauce, which I’m sure is chock full of quality.

Papa_Johns_logo.jpg.scaled.1000

* A “real” job means one where he’s not working for me or one of my friends.

Alex hairdo, redux

Alex spent much of today running aerators to raise money for his high adventure Scout camp this summer. When he came home, he hopped in the shower and then decided he’d style his hair a bit.

alex-sleek-hair

I like this ‘do even better than his earlier experiments.

Huffin’ vanilla

One exception to not huffing various spray cans is vanilla.

huffin-vanilla

I was making some frosting for cupcakes, and couldn’t help but breathe deeply of the vanilla bottle. Wow, huffing that stuff is like snorting angels up your nose and having them play their harps inside your nasal passages. Or… something. Whatever, it’s amazing.

Mmm, huffing

Today was one of those “get things done” days, where I did a whole bunch of stuff that’s been sitting on my to-do list for a while. One of them was to buy huge pieces of foam board so I could mount some new poster-size photo prints for my office.

I had to pick up some spray adhesive as well, which I sprayed on the foam boards before (carefully) laying the prints on them. I peeked at the warning label on the side of the can and hoo boy it was pretty serious.

warnings

This stuff contains hexane, acetone, propane, butane, toluene, and a bunch of other highly flammable gases. It has exciting warnings about how this can cause headaches and nausea, as well as permanent damage to the central nervous system. Wow.

I used it outside, because this stuff is super annoying if it gets on any surface (the surface feels tacky for the rest of eternity). Laralee told me I was going to be in trouble if the grass died where I’d over-sprayed the boards.

And I guess huffing this stuff is right out.

Happy (snowy) Mother’s Day

Wow, May 11 and it looks like this?

may-snow

We only had a dusting… Boulder had at least six inches of snow!

sudo

I was reading an Amazon review and ran across this sweet quote:

sudo is god-level access to your computer. Remember that sometimes God parts the Red Sea, but sometimes, God floods the entire planet and everything on it dies. Be sure you know which one you are doing.

And any time I think of sudo, I can’t help but remember the classic XKCD comic:

sudo-sandwich

Congratulations to Alex

Tonight was the annual Skyline High School awards night. Alex received an invitation letter a couple of weeks ago, which means he was going to get an award (he didn’t know what it would be). So he and I headed over there tonight.

As it turned out, he was given an award for excellence in the engineering program, as well as a second award for maintaining a 3.75 GPA for three years running.

Clearly, he was pretty excited about these.

alex-awards-1

alex-awards-2

Tornado warning!

I have the AccuWeather app on my phone and tablet. Generally it’s pretty good: it’s easy to use and provides the basic information I want. Is it going to be sunny tomorrow? Cold? Rainy? That’s really all I need from a weather app.

For whatever reason, the AccuWeather people programmed some sort of crazy fearmongering mode. Every now and then, it goes nuts and pops up all sorts of alerts about horrific weather conditions I should expect. At times during the winter, it was a daily ritual to see a warning about an EXTREME WINTER CONDITIONS, when in fact a few snowflakes were drifting down.

Well, today it warned that Longmont was under not only a SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING, but a TORNADO WARNING. Holy smokes! I was in Longmont all day, and I’m positive that at no point during the warm, sunny weather did I feel in danger of a tornado swooping down from the sky.

accuweather-fearmongering

Methinks a better name for this app would be FearWeather.

Alex’s new ‘do

Alex came home from martial arts tonight and jumped in the shower. When he came out, he decided to see how much he could get his hair to stand up. It turned out pretty awesome.

alex-hair-1

alex-hair-2

Laralee thinks he should wear it this way for school tomorrow…

Huffin’

Wow, I just opened a new three-pound bag of Wint-o-Green Life Savers and took a big whiff. That’ll clear your nasal passages.

wintogreen

Zing pong champion

At the beginning of April, Brent declared that we would have a round-robin ping pong challenge. Everyone who wanted to participate had to play against everyone else; standings would be kept and at the end of the month the winner would be awarded a Valuable Mystery Prize!

As it turned out, April was a really busy month for me, so I was pretty focused on getting things done and didn’t play more than a handful of games over the weeks. None of them were “challenge games” so they didn’t count in the standings. But then yesterday Brent reminded me it was the last day of the month and I hadn’t recorded any games in the brackets. Everyone else had, and the standings were pretty close: both Brent and James were 3-1, tied for first.

Keep in mind that it’s pretty serious around here. Everyone but me has their own paddle– Brian, feeling left out by the other guys, just bought a new one for himself this week. I don’t mind the generic Zing paddle we have, but Brent pointed out that using a paddle just because I’m comfortable with it is akin to driving a Fiat in the Indy 500 because I’m “used to” the Fiat. Wise words, Brent.

So I made some time in my schedule yesterday and threw down the gauntlet. I had four challenge matches to play, and I went through them one after the other. Based on previous challenge matches around Christmas, Brent calculated handicaps for everyone– as arguably the worst player in the office I was on the low end of that totem pole. I dispatched Brian and Nick without even needing the handicap; Brent and James proved a bit tougher but I finished them off as well.

Done! I went 4-0 to take the April championship. Clearly Brent will need to adjust my handicap for May’s games.

And the Valuable Mystery Prize? Well, it’s a little rubber ice mold that will create the Death Star in ice.

death-star-ice

With a little imagination you can see it’s the Death Star. Pretty cool.

Ahh, how I miss the good old days when I was the undisputed, undefeated ping pong champion…