Chimps in Spaaaaaaace!

I officially declare today to be Chimps in Space Day.

On January 31st, 1961, NASA launched a Mercury-Redstone rocket to do a capabilities test on the Mercury capsule. A four year-old chimpanzee named Number 65 was on board to enjoy the sub-orbital flight, lasting about 16 ½ minutes with 7 minutes of weightlessness. On his successful return to Earth, Number 65 received the name Ham (For a Chimpanzee? Really?) and a long, relaxing retirement at the National Zoo in Washington and then the North Carolina Zoo. He was only 26 when he died (average for a chimp is around 40).

Ham went up to see if it was safe to send people. During the flight, he duplicated pre-programmed tasks and had some heavy duty (for 1961) medical monitoring to make sure he was operating within normal parameters. The NASA scientists must have decided he worked out okay since they sent Alan Shepard sub-orbital only three months later.

Not the first primate in space, but among the earliest to survive the trip (a number of launch and parachute failures claimed early simian astronauts), Ham should be considered a pioneer, and certainly a hero of the early space age. The title of this post notwithstanding, neither the training nor the trip were probably all that fun for him.

Be well, everyone, and take a look at the stars tonight.


A Long, Long Time Ago in a Year or Two

Since the Mousketeer takeover of a galaxy far, far away was announced, every now and then, I debate in my head how I feel about the production of a new Star Wars movie.

I grew up on the original trilogy almost as much as I grew up on Star Trek, at least in terms of toys, and I watched all three over and over again whenever the opportunity presented. Yes, Luke is pretty whiny in the first act of A New Hope; yes, there are some inconsistencies in writing; yes, I would have preferred Wookies rather than Ewoks in Jedi; and yes, it would have been nice not to have any retconning done in the 90s. But I love Star Wars, to the point where I read the first few dozen expanded universe novels (and some of them were great).

In the very late 1990s, when we started seeing news and then trailers for Phantom Menace, I got excited. We all did, I think, the entire geek world, going to the theatre of films we wouldn’t have bothered with if they hadn’t been playing the trailer for it. For many, it was the movie we’d waited most of our lives to see.

And it sucked. Really, really badly.

Attack of the Clones was prettier, but worse. Not only was the writing horrible, but the actors weren’t allowed to actually act, with the possible exception of Ewan MacGregor as Obi Wan.

Revenge of the Sith started out better, but I started losing interest less than half way through and it was a long downhill slide as every conceivable item that might have been considered loose end got tied up, and most of them didn’t need to be.

When I heard Disney had bought out Lucasfilm and immediately announced its intention to start producing a new Star Wars movie every couple of years, I was cautiously optimistic. My first thought was that Disney could hardly do worse on the next three than Lucas did on the last three. I got a little more positive from there because Disney has managed some great stuff in the last decade or so, and they’ve slowly been taking over a lot of proven, awesome properties: The Muppets, Pixar, Marvel, and now Star Wars all come to mind. It’s hard to dispute the awesome of 2011’s Muppets. Pixar is mostly back on the uphill climb disrupted by Cars (the upcoming Monsters Inc prequel saddens me, but Brave quite makes up for Cars 2, which I refuse to see). And everyone caught the whole Avengers thing, right? Their recent track record is pretty good.

The latest announcement, with J.J. Abrams taking over the director’s chair for the first movie, leaves me a little less sure, but I’m not sure that’s fair. It’s well known I’m not a Lost fan, and that the Star Trek reboot of 2009 irritated me in a lot of ways. But in both cases, it’s because of major problems with the writing.

Lost was just ridiculously fragmented and confusing. I didn’t stick with it long enough to figure things out. If you liked the method of storytelling, it was probably fine. I didn’t. ‘Nuff said.

The 2009 Star Trek had half a good script and half something thrown together in a single sleepless night without the benefit of enough caffeine. It was well cast, well acted, beautiful, sounded awesome, and the opening scene was worth the price of admission, but it fell completely off the rails forty-five minutes or so in and the story never really recovered. I had a lot of issues with it, but, if you subtract a few really bad scenes, I can still watch most of the movie.

But we were talking about Star Wars, so I’ll sum up what I currently think about the next movie, and I don’t promise it won’t change in the light of additional information: if Disney hires actual writers and gives them time to come to terms with a good story, it’s going to be awesome. If they don’t, it’s going to be mediocre at best. Disney’s got a decent track record with writing the last few years, so I have high hopes. And besides, the world can never have enough awesome.

Be well, everyone. May the force be with you, and especially with the script writers.

The Day the Sky Fell

No, not a Chicken Little Reference.

On this day in 1997, Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma was struck a glancing blow on the shoulder by a 6 cm piece of space junk. Later identified as a tiny bit of a Delta Rocket launcehd by NASA launched a few months before, the bit of trash was the first (and so far only) piece of junk to ever strike a human being on reentry. While I’m keen to keep it that way, it’s a testament to how much crap we’ve thrown into orbit and just left there or forgotten about. I’m plenty eager for the second Space Age to get under way, but I have this feeling that a good chunk of the early work involved is going to be cleaning up the stuff we don’t use anymore.

So why celebrate it? Well, the fact that there’s enough stuff we’ve put in the big black to consider some of it garbage is a testament to the pretty incredible things the human race has accomplished in its time in the universe, at least when we put our hearts and minds into it. Greater things are coming, without a doubt, and it’s a good reason to ask ourselves two questions:

  1. What do I want the future to look like?
  2. What am I doing to help that future get here?
  3. What else can I do?

All things we each need to answer for ourselves and then reach out to other like minded people. It’s the only way we’ll get the future we really want.

Be well, everyone.

Happy Universe Expansion Day!

The first of my created holidays for the Year of Celebration, Universe Expansion Day celebrates the release of the paper by Sir Edwin Hubble, “A RELATION BETWEEN DISTANCE AND RADIAL VELOCITY AMONG EXTRA-GALACTIC NEBULAE” which, by showing that the farther away things are from us, the faster they’re moving away from us, ultimately showed we live in an expanding universe.

Reason enough to celebrate? Well, I suppose that depends on your point of view. It’s certainly neat and gives us more to appreciate about the universe, but unless you’re a science or science fiction geek, it probably doesn’t play much into your everyday life.

So how about this: try expanding your personal universe today. Consider a viewpoint on something that’s completely different than yours and see if it has any merit. Search for something random on Google and click the “I feel lucky” button. Talk to a stranger.
The universe is expanding whether we like it or not, but we get to choose how we expand our view of it.

Be well, everyone.

To Resolve or Not


I only do one New Year’s resolution, and it’s the same one every year.

But in the spirit of the New Year, I do tend to set a variety of goals, enough that they need to be broken into categories. Leaving aside my writing goals for the year (you can see those over on my author’s site if you like), martial arts goals (which are very specific and look mainly for benchmarks I’d like to hit in my training), and other physical goals (e.g. getting back into real running condition this year), there are a handful that fit into the general category of ‘personal goals’.

Lose 20 Pounds

I actually did this last year, although December holiday eating cost me a couple of pounds. If I can manage it again, I’ll be down into the “ideal weight range” for my height. A little diet control and a little exercise. Well, and a little perseverance. And a few less chocolate chip cookies.

Return the House to Baseline

In late December of 2002, we moved into our house with two small children and one more on the way. Ten years later with three not so small children, we’ve got a lot of stuff hanging around. And kids are always messier than you think they are. We need to de-clutter. If I count bathrooms, hallways, the laundry room, and the garage twice, we need to completely reclaim one area every three weeks to get things back in line. Some of them will be quick and easy. The laundry room won’t be. Neither will the garage. Or any of the kids’ rooms, especially the one that needs redecorating. It’s a major task, but will make everyone feel better, I hope. It’ll make me feel better, anyway.

Get Better at the Telephone

Okay, I admit it, I suck at telephone. I blame the internet and texting and just plain laziness. Personal contact doesn’t mean what it used to, exactly, although it still can if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort. There are people in my life who I’m willing to put in that time and effort and this year I’m going to get off my a$$ and actually do it. On a certain day each month, I’m going to call someone I don’t talk to enough just to say hi. And I know who this week is going to be, because I owe him a phone call.

The Bucket List

My bucket list grows all the time. The target this year is to actually cross some stuff off of it, and the deal I’m trying to make with myself is that to put something on, I have to cross something off. Sounds easy enough, but there’s going to be some picking and choosing involved. Probably a half of my list involves either traveling somewhere or doing something when I’ve travelled somewhere. There are a lot of things I want to see while I have the physical capacity to do so. TV doesn’t count.

And that’s plenty

So there’s this year’s group of goals. I emphasize goals, not resolutions. These are things to strive for, to get better at, not necessarily to check off a list. Well, there is the bucket list. And the list of rooms to reclaim. But you get the idea.

Be well, everyone.

Year of Celebration—January

So, I blogged last month that 2013 would be a year of celebration, that I’d find something to celebrate every single day this year. While I still have a few days to figure out (including several in February), I’m pretty set up for the year, so the Year of Celebration™ begins today.

Not everything is an official holiday, of course, or even necessarily related to anything that actually happens on that day, but that’s fine. The idea is more about finding a little extra joy or meaning in life this year. And, while not every day is an excuse to party, there may be a couple of those mixed in with the joy. Who knows?

January 1st is pretty obvious. It’s New Years Day, the day the calendar turns over and we get that brief feeling of ‘this year can be anything’ before life settles back down onto us and reminds us that nothing has changed. (I’ll take an aside here that this year can be anything if you want it to be, but you also don’t have to take my word for it. Make the new year whatever you want and find as much joy in it as you can.)

But what about the rest of the month? Well, here’s what else I’ve got outlined:

 2         Run it Up the Flagpole and See if Anyone Salutes Day
3         Festival of Sleep
4         Trivia Day
5         12th Day of Christmas
6         Cuddle Up Day
7         Old Rock Day
8         Bubble Bath Day
9         Mermaid Day
10       Houseplant Appreciation Day
11       1st day of Carmentalia
12       Feast of Fabulous Wild Men Day
13       International Skeptics Day
14       Huygens Day
15       Youngest’s Birthday
16       Religious Freedom Day
17       Universe Expansion Day
18       Thesaurus Day
19       Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday
20       X-Ray Day
21       National Hug Day
22       The Sky is Falling Day
23       Pie Day
24       Compliment Day
25       Opposite Day
26       Spouses Day
27       Chocolate Cake Day
28       Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day
29       Puzzle Day
30       School Day of Non-violence and Peace
31       Chimps in Space Day

I’ll probably tweet and post to Facebook for each one, along the lines of “Happy {blank} day, everyone!” and maybe with a link to the source of the holiday. If I’ve made it up, it’s more than likely I’ll do a quick blog entry about it.

Happy New Year, everyone, and be well.