Hello, World, And Thoughts About Mars

Wednesday, 18 March 2015, 21:56

Periodically, I sit down with myself and think about what I really want to do. And one of the things I invariably say to myself is, I would like to blog regularly again. Even though blogging as we knew it is 5-6 years (or more) gone, and my old blogroll is mostly just a historical document, I still like the idea of blogging. Because I like the idea of writing. So every few weeks (months), I come back here and post something. Just enough to make me think I can justify paying my web host when renewal comes around again. And it always has that “Hello, World” feel to it, especially when the time between posts is really extended. A while back I decided to walk down my blogroll and see if any were still active. A few were, but most had either sat idle for a long, long time, with a last post hanging out there for several years, or were completely gone, drowned in the increasingly shallow pool that is Facebook/Twitter/Tumbler/whatever.

So why suddenly show up and post something again? Well – Mars. I was listening to a program about Mars, private spaceflight, and one-way missions. Especially one-way missions. They were discussing the many and varied problems that will have to solved for a successful Mars mission to happen, the personality profiles, all the supplies that will have to be taken along, the fact that in the entire history of space travel, while we’ve launched things of many sizes and configurations, we’ve never landed anything of the size that will be required to carry all that stuff. We’ve never even thought about how to land something like that. I thought about the medical issues that might come up, that there will need to be someone who can handle medical emergencies like broken bones and joint injuries, not to mention heart attacks. And then I thought about something that I’ve never seen or heard discussed. At some point, you’re going to have someone develop a condition, like cancer, that won’t be treatable with whatever medical facility and supplies there will be on Mars, but will be painful and debilitating. In other words, something that will be fatal, but will also be too much to live with. And somewhere in the medical supplies, there will have to be a planned method of suicide. As a society, we will have to embrace the notion that officially-assisted suicide is acceptable. It may well be that the plans for this are already in place. It’s not so different from the idea of a mission during he Apollo days going bad and marooning astronauts in space. But in some ways it is different. There would be no compromised facility, no dwindling air supply. Just someone who has no hope of a cure, and a remaining lifetime of pain or severe, deteriorating disability. And we’ll have to allow, and assist, that person to end their life, on whatever terms they think best.

Category : BlogStuff, Life, Science

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Saturday, 13 December 2014, 9:16

“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

— Tennyson

I still love Tennyson’s poetry. Always have.

Category : Poetry

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The Greece Trip, Part 1: London

Saturday, 1 November 2014, 16:50

Late – very late – blogging about this, but better late than never, I guess. About this time last year, my wife came home from school talking about a school trip to Greece in March (last March). We’ve often talked about places we wanted to go, and honestly Greece was never on the list – not because we weren’t interested in Greece, but because it just never bubbled up near the top of our lists. But this seemed like a great chance to take out first overseas trip – a planned, interesting agenda with people we knew. So we signed up, and that’s how we came to be traveling to Greece, with a one-day stopover in London, and ending with a three-night Greek Islands cruise.

We left on Sunday, March 9 – because the group was so large, we had to fly to Atlanta in 2 groups. We got the earlier flight, and had a 5-hour layover in Atlanta. But the time passed faster than I would have expected, and soon enough we were on the plane for London. I checked the flight path – right out over the Atlantic, no Greenland-Iceland skimming stuff for us. Arrived in London at 7AM, took our bags to the hotel, and then we were whisked off on a walking tour of London. The hotel was near Heathrow, so we rode the Tube to Piccadilly Circus, then started walking with our London guide. The day was cool to cold, windy, gray – I guess typical of London in mid-March. Our walking tour went from Piccadilly to Trafalgar Square, then to the Admiralty Building, then up to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard, then across St. James Park to Big Ben and Parliament, then back to Trafalgar Square for our first real stop, the National Gallery. They gave us about 45 minutes. Then to a shopping area called Covent Garden; then on to the British Museum. We had an hour there. Then on to a pub for fish and chips, then finally back to the hotel – it was about 8:30 by this time.

I did, of course, take pictures, but often they were rushed, as my group began to move away from me. But I had time for a few. In some semblance of order:

We took the Tube to our first stop, at Piccadilly Circus. It wasn’t actually that cold at this point, so I foolishly left my jacket at the hotel, a move I would seriously regret later in the day.

As I said, this was a walking tour, and we walked briskly to make it to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. But we didn’t get there early enough to get up to the Palace itself, so I settled for a spot alongside St. James Park, where I could see that day’s guard marching by:

Honestly, I thought St. James Park was more interesting, the early spring daffodils and blooming trees were really nice on an overcast day.

We made the obligatory stop at Big Ben (which is actually just the bell at the top of the tower – the tower is officially the Elizabeth Tower)…

After a short stop at the National Gallery and Covent Garden, we finally made it to the British Museum, the thing I most wanted to see in London. As I mentioned earlier, I only had about an hour, but at least I’ve been inside.

I will go back, hopefully soon, and make sure I have plenty of time.

Notice the lack of details here? That’s because there weren’t any. This was an add-on day designed to give people a taste of London, and it was just too rushed. I mapped our route when we got home – we walked about 6 miles that day. But, I can at least say I’ve been in London now. Up early the next day for the flight to Athens, where the trip got much better.

Category : Britain, Travel

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Senate Pondering

Thursday, 30 October 2014, 14:39

With just a few days left before election day, it’s getting more and more difficult to see a way that Democrats retain control of the Senate. In Montana and South Dakota, the Democratic candidate has essentially no chance. In Arkansas and Iowa, slim chances appear to be slipping away. Colorado, somewhat surprisingly, is moving in favor of Cory Gardner (R), even though Mark Udall seems to be a fairly popular incumbent. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana looks increasingly like a losing candidate. Lose those six states with no offsetting Democratic gains, and the Republicans take control of the Senate, 51-49. Of those, Colorado looks like the best chance for Democrats to hold on, but if the polls are correct, that chance is fading. And there are other states where Democrats could well lose their seats – Alaska, North Carolina, New Hampshire. Kay Hagan appeared to have stabilized her race in North Carolina, but the past few days have seen her lead shrinking. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is a couple of points behind in most polls, but Alaska polls are notoriously inaccurate, so nobody can really say what’s happening there. Jeanne Shaheen looks like she’s ahead in New Hampshire, but the race is tight. On the Republican side, two races that should be safe are surprisingly not, and the most surprising is in Kentucky, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a very tight race with Allison Lundergan Grimes. Georgia, a red state that is beginning to trend purple, wasn’t expected to be a problem for Republicans, but David Perdue (R) and Michelle Nunn (D) are probably headed to a January runoff. And then there’s Kansas, which will either re-elect a very unpopular Republican (Pat Roberts) or elect an independent (Greg Orman) who isn’t saying which party he would caucus with.

What’s the likely worst case for Democrats? Losing all six of the states where they’re in the most trouble, and adding one or more losses in North Carolina/New Hampshire/Alaska would put Republicans in control with somewhere between a 51-49 advantage and a 54-46 advantage. And given the factors lined up against Democrats – President Obama’s unpopularity, traditional mid-term losses by the President’s party in the mid-term of his last term, and the lack of gaffe-prone Republican candidates this time around – the most likely outcome is a Senate that ends up with 52 or 53 Republicans. But if Democrats somehow manage to hold on to their expected wins, and salvage victories in a couple of their endangered seats – say, Colorado and Iowa – or pull off upsets in Kentucky or Georgia, then they could retain control with 50 or 51 seats (a 50-50 tie keeps Democrats in charge with Vice-President Biden casting the tie-breaking vote). That would be a shocker, however. And given the advantages for Republicans this time around, a Senate still controlled by Democrats would be a crushing defeat for Republicans.

Why? Because 2016 could be a strong year for Senate Democrats. 23 Republicans will be up for re-election, compared to only 10 Democrats. And among those 23 Republicans are a number in traditionally blue states: Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. John McCain (Arizona) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) could well retire. And if a Republican Senate majority following 2014 starts playing hard to the Tea Party faction, they could turn many moderates against them. So a Republican win in 2014, while painful for Democrats, may be a short-lived pain, and could actually enhance Democratic prospects in both the 2016 Senate and Presidential races.

Category : Politics

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Garden Update – A Year’s Difference

Sunday, 26 October 2014, 11:58

A little over a year ago, I posted about a new perennial bed I’d made in the back. Now it’s a year down the road, and you can see the difference a year makes in the life of a garden. Here’s an original photo:

and the same shot this morning, about 14 months later:

Another shot from last year:

and today:

The asters hadn’t been transplanted into that bed at the time of the earlier photos. The azaleas have grown, but they’re overshadowed by the asters. In the next year or two, once the azaleas have grown more, I’ll have to start moving some perennials away from them. I hadn’t realized how much the Vitex had grown until I compared the photos. And I added the border using blocks I removed from the front yard, which I think really helped the looks of the new bed.

Category : Gardening

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