New vehicle!

Well  it turns out after a visit to the dealer for a seat cushion recall, that the SX-4 was going to be needing good deal of routine maintenance fairly soon.  Brakes, struts, some other minor stuff all in totaling a couple grand.  Nothing really out of the ordinary or unexpected, but…

I had been planning for a new car next year, so I decided I might as well go ahead and pull the trigger now.  I’d been doing a lot of research lately anyway.  Having generally been a GM guy for most of my life I surprisingly settled on a Ford Edge!


So far, so good!

New Blog Site!

With the latest updates to Mac OS X comes more changes to old things.

I updated to Mountain Lion when it was released this past July. As part of this, as advertised, the former MobileMe service was being discontinued and replaced with the new iCloud. This meant no more publishing to the Apple hosted site which I had used in parallel with my own server. That was really a non-issue for me. However, there are also some quirks with the iWeb software that I use to create my website and blog. They’ve become a bit too annoying to deal with while regularly updating the blog. I can deal with it for the occasional site update. My iWeb version is a couple of years old, and I could try updating but don’t really want to shell out the money since from what I’ve gathered on-line the latest release has the same issues.

So, I finally made the plunge with WordPress. And I must say, even with this being my first post – I’m very impressed with the software. It took a little effort – to find all the right tips;-) – but I’ve got it running and didn’t kill my old sites 😉

Washington D.C., Day 3

Got up, packed, and had breakfast.  Left the hotel about 10 (a bit later than I intended…) and took the train over to Arlington Cemetery.  Saw the Kennedy grave sites, tomb of the unknown + changing of the guard, the mast from the USS Maine, lots of headstones.  Didn’t get to see Arlington House as I was running short on time.

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Left there about 1 o’clock – you could easily spend an entire day just wandering around.  Made it back to the train station, back to my car and headed to the airport for my 3:15 flight.  It was close, I got to the gate about 5 minutes before boarding – closer than I like to be.  Had a 3.5 hour layover in St. Louis and got home about 10 o’clock.  I’ll have to make it back there sometime to see the Smithsonian…

Washington D.C., Day 2

Took the train to Capital South station and walked over to the Capitol grounds.  Took a few exterior pictures, then walked across the street to the Supreme Court and snapped pictures of it.

It was a beautiful morning, but later turned a bit cloudy and cool – not bad actually for walking.  Returned to the Capitol and entered the Visitor Center.  Got a ticket(free) for a tour just starting.  First part of tour is a 15min movie called “From Many, One”.  I found it to be a rather moving tribute to the founding of our country and building of the Capitol.  Proceeded on tour through the rotunda (amazing), the Whispering Hall (original House Chamber) and some other room below with lots of statues.  It was a nice tour but unfortunately you aren’t allowed to wander so as to actually appreciate all the different art work (paintings, sculptures, etc.).

For some reason today the normal rule requiring that you have a pass from one of your congressmen to enter the HouseSenate galleries was lifted and everyone who wanted was permitted in.  As only the Senate was in session, only it’s gallery was open.  I decided to take the opportunity.  Tonight is the senate vote to determine whether to send the current Health Care bill before the full senate.  Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sam Brownbeck (R-KS), and Mike Johanns (R-NE) were discussing whether the current language permitting federal funds to be used for abortions should be removed from the bill.  Not really sure what the point of it all is.  They know how they’re voting and no other senators were even in the chamber listening, so they’re not changing anybody else’s decision…  Very interesting just to be there however.

I had a quick lunch at the Capitol restaurant, toured the museum exhibit and then headed over to the Library of Congress (LOC).  I missed the introductory film, but managed to latch on to the last tour of the day.  This is such a beautiful building it’s hard to put into words.  All of the artwork is filled with such symbolism it’s hard to appreciate all of it.  The only bit of symbolism that falls short today is the material chosen to gild the ceilings.  It isn’t silver or gold or any such “precious” metal – at least not today.  In fact, the most expensive metal of the 19th century was chosen, to display the wealth of our young nation.  Problem is that it wasn’t expensive due to it’s rarity, but rather in it’s production.  Though, plentiful it takes a tremendous amount of energy (electrical) to extract from it’s primary ore, bauxite.  Yes, the ceiling of the Library of Congress is gilded with Aluminum – foil that is…  It was also chosen as the material for the peak of the Washington Monument.

We have Thomas Jefferson to thank for the LOC.  After the War of 1812, in which the British captured and burned the capital, it was Jefferson who helped rebuild the library.  All of the original library contents (housed in the Capitol) were destroyed.  It consisted of about 500 pieces, mostly law related.  Jefferson offered to sell his personal collection of about 6500 pieces, but Congress originally balked at this citing the contents; philosophy, science, art, etc., as not being appropriate.  Jefferson’s reply to Congress was that there should be no subject of which the Congress is not interested.  Congress purchased Jefferson’s library.  The LOC is one of the last national libraries in the world to continue to collect works from sources worldwide.  The LOC is open to the entire world and there are but 3 requirements for obtaining a “Reader Card”; must be 16 years of age, must have a government issued ID, and you must be curious about some subject;-)

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After the LOC it was on to the White House where I got a few pictures as the sun was starting to set.  Walking across Lafayette Park, I also snapped a few pictures of some of the statues.  From there it was on to my final stop of the day – the Jefferson Memorial.  Unfortunately the sun had pretty much set, so I didn’t get any good photos, but it was still a pleasure to walk along the tidal basin and up the steps into the memorial.  I was tired and hungry so I made the trek back to the subway and headed back to the hotel.  Grabbed a bite and a beer at a Chipotle and then back to the hotel.

I’m beat.

Two days walking around D.C. and I’ve manage to develop one huge blister on my pinkie toe – Ouch!  I’m headed to Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon tomorrow before heading to the airport and home!

Washington D.C., Day 1

After a business trip to Northern Virginia, I took Friday off and spent the weekend before Thanksgiving in D.C.  I started my visit at a train station out in the suburbs on Friday morning.  Took the train down to the Federal Triangle station and walked to the National Mall and down to the Washington Monument.  The day was breezy and partly cloudy so it was quite nice to be walking around with just a sweatshirt over a short sleeve shirt.

I got a ticket(free) to go up the Washington Monument.  Great views of the city from the 500 foot level.

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From there I walked over to the WWII memorial.  Finished in 2004, it’s a remarkable tribute to the Men and Women who served during that conflict.  I headed over to the Korean War Memorial and Lincoln Memorial, walking along the Reflecting Pool.  Unfortunately, it had been drained so there wasn’t more than a puddle in the middle of it.  Last site of the day was the Vietnam memorial.  Very powerful in it’s simplicity.

Go Endeavour!!!

After a long wait and much anticipation, I finally witnessed a Shuttle launch.  This was STS-127, the 127th shuttle flight, 23rd for Endeavour and 32nd construction mission to the International Space Station.

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I was beginning to think they were something out of myth and legend;-)  After two months on the launch pad and five scrubs due to hydrogen leaks, lightning strikes, and generally stormy weather Endeavour finally leaped off the launch pad into the Florida sky at 6:03:24 EDT time this evening.  It was a sight to behold!

The long wait ended up being well worth it, because I had an even better view than expected.  I had a ticket for viewing from the NASA causeway, which is a road across the Indian River, that ranges from about 6.5 to 7.5 miles from the launch pad.  This is where I spent the afternoons on the fourth and fifth launch attempts, and it’s not bad.  Today however, NASA made the decision to close the causeway to everyone – still don’t know exactly why.  So they took us instead to the alternate viewing site located at the Saturn V rocket exhibit.  From here, looking across the Banana River, I was only 3.5 miles from the launch pad – the closest anyone is ever allowed.  This is where the family members and other VIPs normally view launches.  In the twelve years since the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center has been running the tours and launch viewings, they have never taken a group to this site for launch.  What a treat!

And to think, I almost called it quits and went home on Monday.  Sure am glad I stayed!

No launch attempt today

So the next launch attempt is Wednesday evening – tomorrow, and I decided to stick it out.  It’s getting stupid now, but I’m committed.  Weather forecast calls for better than an even chance of getting off the ground tomorrow, so what the heck.

That left today wide open, so I decided on Sea World.  There were several nice shows, including Shamu, seen in the picture on this page.  Of course, lots of animal exhibits.  The best, was probably the dolphin nursery.  They had several mothers, a couple of two year old dolphins and some newborns that were just a few months old in a separate location.  It was amazing to see even these tiny little ones leaping out of the water;-)

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They also had a couple of nice roller coasters, the Kraken, and Manta.  Manta is the newest, it’s a suspended coaster, meaning you’re hanging from the track rather than sitting on it.  Additionally, once you’;re strapped in, the cars get rotated upwards so that you’re in a “flying” position, head first up the track.  It was awesome, especially the inside loop when you literally dive towards the ground.  It just wasn’t long enough.  I actually liked the Kraken better, it was also a steel coaster, but without cars, just seats going across in rows.  It was also quite a bit longer than Manta and had lots of unexpected twists and turns, very fun!

Take 5

So after yet another scrub due to weather at the 9 minute hold I’m now 0 for 6 in my launch viewing attempts.  The streaks gotta break sometime…

At least I’m no longer really disappointed by this.  I went to the launch today with no actual expectations of seeing a launch.  Despite the optimist in me, based on what happened yesterday, I truly expected the weather to be an issue.  I figured if it launched that would be spectacular, but I honestly didn’t expect it.  Even when the clouds were clearing and the announcer was saying he had a good feeling, I just looked at the clouds and thought,  “yeah, right”.

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The best part came at T-9 minutes and holding with 10 minutes left in the hold – that’s 19 minutes to liftoff.  They were explaining over the PA that the lightning had just abated, but they needed a 30 minute window with no lightning to call it clear.  I had been talking with a couple of guys from Orlando and we just looked at each other and agreed “that’s pretty simple math”; – you can’t fit 30 into 19.  We started packing our gear while the countdown continued.  The crack of thunder shortly after sealed it.

After conducting the formal poll the launch was officially scrubbed a couple minutes later.  I was really planning to head home tomorrow convinced that I was done with this for the year, but… I just can’t let go, so I figure I’ll stick around for the last attempt this week on Wednesday.  If it doesn’;t go then I’ll pull the plug on this mission.  Maybe try for one next winter if it doesn’t go.  They’re now predicting improving weather for Wednesday, plus the launch is a bit earlier 6 p.m., so perhaps they’ll finally get off the ground!

T-9 minutes

So things were looking good with a 70% chance of favorable conditions at launch time of 7:13 p.m.  Unfortunately with the countdown clock holding at 9 minutes and about 15 minutes before scheduled launch time, they had to scrub the launch again as the weather encroached within the 20 mile limit of the runway and was approaching the 10 mile limit to the launch pad.

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The streak is alive; 0 for 5!

I was fairly certain I would head home today, especially after the nearly 4 hour drive back to Orlando -it’s usually no more than an hour.  But after getting 4 hours of sleep when I got up to go to the airport I changed my mind.  I decided since I’ve still got a ticket and I’m here that I might as well give it one last shot.

So this is it for STS-127 for me – either I see them light it up tonight, or I’ll have to consider trying to come back for one of the remaining 7 missions.

Fingers crossed…