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Sunday, December 24, 2017

This tickled the Dickins out of me... again!

The exceptional cast of A Christmas Carol

Imagine: it is the Ghost of Christmas Present as you watch 22 talented, energetic middle school youngsters (and all of the behind-the-scenes skill set for sure) bring Charles Dickins' Scrooge alive once more. This was in the Boston area but A Christmas Carol is repeated annually across the country and world time and again as we celebrate this holiday season.

As I sat in wonder enjoying the performance, I saw my grandchildren and others growing richer in their world as they "broke a leg" for seven performances over two weekends. For those fortunate enough to be part of a grand production, be it acting, part of a band or orchestra or any activity where working together is the only way to do it right, skills are polished and life lessons are learned.

This performance was funded privately by a youth theater project but it is the schools that often offer, if they can, more broad based opportunities like this. The tinge of sadness is that more don't have such opportunities as school and personal budgets constrict such broadening activities. With school budgets being pinched to a point of making educational opportunities a lower priority, we often can't even get the basics done right. 

And what is more important? These youngsters are our future and too many of them just miss out on important stuff and more.

It is criminal that most teachers cannot live on a teacher's salary, let alone a broad based scholastic program be implemented.

Enter Stage Left--The Ghost of Christmas Future: "You scare me most, oh Ghost. What can you show me?  What does the future hold? 

When you wake from your fitful dream, will the largest goose still hang in the butcher shop down the street? Will there be a boy, a wonderful boy, there to run and get it for the Cratchit family? Or was it not a dream after all?


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Nothing lasts forever, right? WRONG! I know two things that will be around til the end of time. They are both man-made... and they are not Buzz Lightyear!

Buzz Lghtyear

Those two things are spacecraft--Voyager I and Voyager II--launched in 1977 and 1979 respectively. Voyager I, traveling at 31,000 miles-per-hour, is now about 18 billion miles from earth (Voyager II is a mere 2 billion miles behind) and flying out of our solar system past the sun and into deep space for at least 13,500 more light years. (A light year is 31,516,000 seconds x 180.000 miles per second... forever... or until the end of time--as Buzz Lightyear would say, "To Infinity and Beyond."

Yeah, yeah, you've heard the story... but have you really?

Here's a clip from television's 60 Minutes that will blow your mind, if you have a desire to be mind-blown! It's about 13 minutes long and you will have to watch two 30-second commercials but it is worth it.

To accomplish this 'eternal mission' in 1977, we used a primitive  'state-of-the-art' computer system that took up almost all of the large room it was housed in. Your smartphone is 10,000 times more powerful than that was. Then there were the human computers that put this thing all together. Here's my 2011 post with more information.

I have two more posts to follow on Voyager.
  • A review of the Golden Record: The Sounds of Earth aboard each Voyager for the aliens who discover our spacecraft--if ever. These records have been made 'earthling viewable' and have just gone on sale to the public. You will see how Carl Sagan tried to relate to unknown beings to tell them our story. (Hint: Chuck Berry performing Johnny B. Goode is there as are hundreds of other photos and data that may surprise you.
  • The backstory of Hidden Figures, the black women who were called 'computers' by their associates, because that's how it was done before today's computer age. One of them literally saved John Glenn's life by finding a calculation error in critical data.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

The value of a dollar just went up


Being the sharp trader I am, I think I have just wiped out the US debt and had $98 trillion left over for incidentals.

Yep, it's a $100 trillion bill, just like a regular dollar bill but bigger. And yeah, I had one even though I'm not even on the billionaire list. Don't tell anyone but I got this on the black market for my 2006 Honda CRV... think I found a real sucker... the car burns oil like crazy. 

So who's richer now Bill Gates... er, Jeff Bezos, the new world's richest man at $100 billion or Scrooge McDuck... not counting me, of course?

Thought I'd play a practical joke and bought a McDonald's senior coffee for 84 cents and paid with this $100 trillion dollar bill. Joke's on me, I guess. I got $99,999,999,999,999.16 in change... mostly ones and fives with a lot of nickles and dimes. 

In real life, a person could buy a lot with $100 trillion dollars. Just think Nutella, for example. I could eat it by the jar and it would last trillions of years. And feed the world's poor too with chump change.

Then I found out... the Zimbabwe, $100 trillion dollars is worth... ready for it?... 40 cents. In Zimbabwe, it takes over a jillion to fill a gas tank. Now THAT'S inflation for you. Sad thing. 

In the end, there is one truism... Money, Money, Money cannot buy happiness (but it does help ease the pain just a touch.)

Enjoy the links and if you see a $100 trillion bill laying on the street, don't bother.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Tribute to The Man in the Moon... really, there is one

No, I don't mean this guy, depicted in a 1902 French film, Le Voyage dans la Lune. (Those French, they have a different word for almost everything.) The movie was a furthering of Jules Verne's 1865 novel, From Earth to the Moon, but it wasn't til that glorious day in 1969 that Neil Armstrong actually set foot on our celestial shadow.

Eugene Shoemaker
It is this man, Eugene Shoemaker, the only man
that is actually buried on the moon. Didn't know that, did you?

Trivia question: How many humans have been to the moon? Answer: 24, with 12 of those actually setting foot on its surface... not counting Eugene Shoemaker.

Actually, a small number of us have been "buried" in space forever... or to be re-creamated if their tiny projectile reenters earth's atmosphere. There is a company, Celestis, which seeks 'remnant space' from anyone, including NASA one time, that puts payloads in space, contracting for any small unused ride-share area that might be available for a celestial memorial burial. Celestis's first memorial flight was  in April, 1997 from the Canary Islands on a rocket payload that also contained the ashes of Gene Roddenberry, the Star Trek TV producer and original Trekie and LSD guru Timothy Leary, plus 22 other nerds and normals.

So how did Eugene Shoemaker 'score?'  He and wife Carol with David Levy were the 1994 discoverers of the Shoemaker-Levy comet that fractured and crashed into Jupiter, a first such observable celestial collision. Shoemaker had a celebrated career helping to create the field of planetary science. When he died in a 1997 car crash, a close colleague petitioned to have the wanna-be-but-couldn't-make-the-cut Apollo astronaut memorialized in the grandest fashion. NASA, not in the space-burial business, liked the idea as a one-time shot and in January 1998 his remains were on its Lunar Prospector sent to crash into the lunar south pole ice cap. Thus, Shoemaker is the only man actually buried on the moon.

The 'urn' containing some of his ashes is a polycarbonate capsule wrapped in brass foil and laser etched with his name and dates over an image of the Hale-Bopp Comet and Arizona's Meteor Crater where he trained to be an Apollo astronaut. There was also this quote from Romeo and Juliet:

And when he shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Rest in peace man in the moon.

Final note: To date, Celestis has flown 14 missions. Shoemaker's burial on a celestial body, says Charles Chafer, CEO and founder, "may be the first but it won't be the last. I think we are entering an age of abundance in terms of commercial access to space. The largest hindrance to space burial is finding a rocket to take even a small amount of remains out into space, but with the rise of independent programs such as Space X and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, the number of opportunities to fly those secondary payloads is increasing , meaning that more people will have the opportunity to be sent into the cosmos."    

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The BIG and Small of it All

He was first, Ferdinand Magellan, to see how big our world was at the time. He set out from Spain in 1519 with five ships seeking fame and fortune by finding a western sea route to the spice islands.

En-route, he discovered the Strait of Magellan (How's that for a coincidence?) in the south of Chile which opened to the Pacific Ocean. Magellan was the first European to cross the large and dangerous Pacific and while he did find spices from the East, only one of his ships and just 18 of his original crew of 270 made it home. Magellan himself was killed in a battle on the journey but, as history records, "his ambitious expedition proved that the globe could be circled by sea and that the world was much larger than had previously been imagined."

That was when our world was truly BIG.

In 1873, Philius Fogg of London with his valet Passepartout fictionally made the trip in 80 days in a hot air balloon and numerous other modes of transportation and madcap adventures on a $20,000 bet... big money in those days. Jules Verne wrote this fun adventure tale that has been made into a movie in 1956 and remade in 2001. Both have great casts and are worth the look.

In 1924, a flimsy-looking bi-plane was the first to make the 25,000-plus mile journey by air but it took 175 days.

Today, the International Space Station at 5 miles-per-second takes less than 90 minutes to go around once... then again and again at 17,150 mph.

So the world is getting smaller all the time.

More proof:

Did you know that nearly half of the United States population is within a days drove of Columbus, Ohio?

Not only that but 90 percent of our population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart according to Harper's Index.

The equivalent of half of the planet's population has flown on a 747.

If you have ever taken a road trip of 2,500 miles or more, you have actually driven the equivalent of 1/10th of the way around the world.

Now go sing It's a small, small world this time... and mean it!

So you see, we are getting smaller all the time!

The scary part... North Korea can now reach almost every part of the globe with a nuclear war head... and so can every nuclear power on this earth.

Your angry neighbor is right next door... and on your Facebook page and in your face.


Monday, October 9, 2017

I Just drove 1/10th of the way around the world!

Really, on a road trip in our RV, I just drove 2,500 miles-- 1/10th of the way around the world at the equator.

So how big is our earth if you can take a road trip from North Carolina to Oklahoma and back--1/10th of the circumference--in just a few leisure weeks? The answer: Not very big at all.

Of course, one might have a spot of trouble driving across the oceans or over the Andes but theoretically, the earth isn't so large that you could drive it without much of a sweat. The cost of gas at 8mpg might kill you though.

Want another perspective? Here's this:
The earth, upper left, the moon, lower right
That's an actual black and white photo taken from NASA's OSIRIS-REx satellite on September 25th, this year. We see the moon's face, about the size of Australia's map image from where we stand but in space, we both look pretty puny and fairly close at 238,99 miles--less than 10 times around the equator--in space scale. And in the universe, we're less than a speck of sand.

We're not even so big in our planet line-up:
L to R from the top: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury
But, if you have ever look out of an airplane window from 30,000 feet over Kansas and marvel at the vastness of the prairie or taken a flight lasting 15 hours and you're still not there, don't you imagine our world is enormous?

 Now how does that song go again? 
Perhaps the most diabolically addictive song ever written is It's a Small World After All. (Try to get the tune out of your mind... good luck with that.) But maybe it makes an important point. If we are now all within range of a nuclear weapon, then we are all closer together than we ever conceived we could be. 

Technology has come so far as to realize that just one person--one crazy person--could bring the sky down on all of us. There are now 7.5 billion of us and that number will grow to 9.5 billion by 2050. On a smaller scale, we've seen the evil power of one with every mass shooting. 

As a civilization, we have rarely enjoyed a prolonged period of peace in the world. There is hate, envy, revenge, guns, bombs, super bombs, germ warfare and a total lack of respect for so many from so few. There are wars all over the place almost all of the time. Thanks Adam and Eve.

Social media makes our world even smaller by giving everyone a world-wide soapbox to spread both fact and fiction so that one can't often be told from the other, and--true or not--so many of us believe every word passed along, especially if it fuels our fire.

In Mark Twain's lifetime, he could play to standing room only crowds with the same material and it would be new to the audience's ear every time. Today, a tweet is heard by all instantly and new material is only new for the blink of an eye.

Wouldn't you think we'd have learned something by now. Sadly, I don't think so. We would be wholly brilliant if we just realized that the world is much too dangerous for anything but truth and much too small for anything but love. So a plea to God and/or your higher power... HELP! We need you desperately.

The redeeming take-away... there is more good in our world than bad... and we're all trying hard to make it better... but it takes so little to taint the human pool that it makes for a tough battle, won only by a greater realization that we need each other so much more than we don't. Otherwise, who is going to buy from Amazon and Walmart?

Take a deep breath... now All together:
 It's A Small World After All

its a world of laughter and a world of tears
its a world of hopes and a world of fears
there's so much that we share
that is time we're aware
its a small world after all

its a small world after all 
its a small world after all 
its a small world after all
its a small, small world

there is just one moon
and one golden sun
and a smile means friendship to everyone
though the mountains divide 
and the oceans are wide

its a small world after all 
its a small world after all 
its a small world after all
its a small, small world

 NOTE: It's A Small World plays 1600 times a day. How'd you like to work that ride?

Phew! Got that off my chest.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A tribute to the Cassini-Huygens space craft that pulled a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ending after a brilliant 20-years hanging around Saturn... but first, a quick look at Jupiter that should make us humble

So this is Jupiter, our largest planet... and that's little teensy weensy us in comparison.

But this isn't about Jupiter... it's just that this image is so dramatic that I had to use it. This post is really about our second largest planet, Saturn, the one with the rings, and the reminiscent finish--like in Butch
Butch and Sundance
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid--of the Cassini-Huygens space craft which took a two-part dive into history on the surface of the planet and its largest moon.

After 20 years of sending information on Saturn and its rings, (made up mostly of water ice and some rocky particles) the Cassini-Huygens will separate and crash majestically into Titan, its largest of 150 moons and the surface of the planet itself.

That's one of NASA's thousands of Cassini pictures that was sent back to earth. (Just think how much more fun it would have been as an emoji if it was taken with the new iPhone 8.) A few facts:

  • Saturn is the only planet that emits more energy than it receives from he sun. Take that, solar panels.
  • Saturn is bigger than 76 earths. To go from New York to Los Angeles on Saturn would be 228,000 miles, or about a 500 day drive.
  • Christmas on Saturn occurs once in 29 years, so we would have to come up with names for 336 more months like the 13th of Huey, or Dewey the 23rd or Wednesday, Louie the 18th.
  • Leap year comes every even century.
  • No President's day holiday.
  • Weather forecast of a nice day is Sunny with wind gusts of up to 1,100 miles per hour from the southwest.
  • A blue moon happens every 20 minutes.
  • The Cassini spacecraft is NOT named after fashion legend Oleg Cassini who designed clothes
    for Johnny Carson and others, but for Jean Domnque Cassini who discovered the Saturn moon Lapetus in 1671. Huygens is the 17th century astronomer who did the first telescopic studies of Saturn's rings.
  • The rings are about 176,000 miles wide and less than one mile thick, made up of water ice and rocky particles. In scale, they are 1,000 times thinner than the sharp edge of a razor blade.
  • Saturn enjoyed a fly-by of Voyager 1 and 2 on their eternal voyages outside our solar system, launched in 1977, now soaring outside our solar system at about 40,000 miles per hour forever. No kidding.
  • The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is a joint venture of NASA, the European Space Agency and mama, the Italians. (Which makes me proud as a second generation of four Italian immigrant grandparents.
The Cassini-Huygens team. It takes a Village!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Do You Tattoo?


Three in ten do tattoo. Surprised?

Next question: Why?

Now that's where it becomes interesting, especially to one who doesn't... tattoo, that is.

I have just come from the opening of A Living Canvas, at a North Carolina art gallery. Knew it would be worth my time but I was blown away by the beauty and grace that I saw and the deep meaning of personal art. Some of my friends and at least one of my family are tattooed, but I never gave it much thought. This beautifully photographed opening showing individuals with their messages and some of the models themselves helped me understand the 'why.'

"Tattoos have been a part of American culture since the mid-1800s and in other parts of the world for centuries," says the story. "Body art has been a symbol of rebellion and taboo, making it a misunderstood medium. More and more, tattoos are becoming mainstream, from fashion accessories--for both men and women--to poignant personal statements."

That's what this exhibit is all about.

A man with a battle tank on his forearm pays tribute to his most emotional memory and the tank that saved his life in Iran. One couple chose their joint family crest with the thought "If you don't risk, you don't gain," into their marriage, expressing that love is a risk taken for a lifetime of adventure.

A woman has an angel wing tattoo on her arm as a reminder and tribute to the life she saved when she came upon an automobile accident. Another wears a design as a memorial to the son she lost. Then there was a woman with a tattoo in memory the  of her child that was lost and in thanksgiving for the blessing of a child just born.

Some are adorned with carefully chosen designs that represent milestones in their lives, another s for adventures taken. Some choose carefully for the design and beauty they see around them. And that itself is a tribute to the artistry that goes into most work.

Many who tattoo seem to be military, perhaps because the gallery is near a military base busy with so many deployments and multiple deployments over the past years. Tattooing seems to be as much an emotional expression as rebellion or less noble reasons, but that's life.

I'm guessing the most tattooed group we all see are the professional athletes who play football, basketball, wrestling, etc., perhaps because their bodies are so exposed to us as we watch our favorite sports and perhaps because so many professional athletes have noteworthy achievements, time and money. 

There is good and bad in everything as there is in tattooing itself. Tattoos were used to mark the Jews in Hitler's time and earlier than that, on slaves and in other evil ways. Today, street gangs use tattoos as identification.

There are those who look at a tattoo on anyone as something of a disfigurement that lasts a lifetime. Well, we all have our foibles but to deny those who tattoo their right, privilege and earned respect is to say they are wrong and we are right. Some tattoo modestly... perhaps a simple rose or the words "Peace" or "love," and some use much or most of their body.

We all have personal tastes because, thankfully, we can. The world is a beautiful place from every different set of eyes and beauty is where you find it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Word of Mouth: Blah, blah, blah.

*Thanks to Norman Rockwell

Word of mouth takes many forms... with gossip being the most ugly, not counting lies, and pithy quotes the most interesting, not counting good news.

"So," I'd say to Alex Trebek, "I'll take quotes, for $1,000 please." (See, a pithy quote.)

I love quotes because noted sayings can often bring reflection, common sense, perspective and whimsy... sometimes doing all of these at once. I also note this person Anonymous is oft quoted.
He/she must  be very wise. Oh, as you may guess, I like the funny ones best.

Here are some favorites:

  • "The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits." --Unknown
  • "Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped." --Groucho Marx
  • "In 1932, lame duck President Herbert Hoover was so desperate to remain in the White Hose that he dressed up as Eleanor Roosevelt. When FDR discovered the hoax in 1936, the two men decided to stay together for the sake of the children." --Johnny Carson
  • "I'd rather be black than gay because when you're black you don't have to tell your mother." --Charles Pierce
  • "The only time a woman succeeds in changing a man is when he's a baby." --Natalie Wood
  • "I'm no different than anybbody else with two arms, two legs and forty-two hundred hits." --Pete Rose
  • "You know it's not a good wax museum when there are wicks coming out of peoples' heads." --Rick Reynolds
  • "There will be a rain dance Friday night, weather permitting." --George Carlin
  • "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." --Albert Einstein
  • "Roses are red, Violets are bluish, If it weren't for Christmas, We'd all be Jewish." --Benny Hill
  • "The old neighborhood has changed. Hurley Brothers Funeral Home is now called Death 'n' Things." --Elmore Leonard
OK, time for a coffee break, but be back here in 10 minutes. Ready for another format?

Always remember, you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.Margaret Mead

We are all here on earth to help others; what the others are here for I don't know. W.H. Auden

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. Mark Twain

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. Isaac Asimov

Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schitzophrenic and so am I. Oscar Levant

I never said most of the things I said. Yogi Berra

Go to heaven for the climate, go to hell for the company. Mark Twain

A day without sunshine is like, you know, night. Steve Martin

Al Franken AKA Jack Handy
Let's finish with Jack Handy because he's worth it:
  • To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.
  • Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.
  • I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it.
PS: There really is a Jack Handy who writes these. 

See, I told you they were fun. 

Last, this serious quote is a Lutheran blessing that resonates beyond prayer, no matter your belief: "May the Lord give you the grace never to sell yourself short, the grace to risk something for something good, the grace to remember the world is much too dangerous for anything but truth and much too small for anything but love. And now may God take your minds and think through them. May God take your lips and speak through them and may God take your hearts and set them on fire. Amen."

*Norman Rockwell was the one of the most admired illustrators who is best known for his 47 years of covers for the now defunct (1967) Saturday Evening Post weekly magazine. His many illustrations can be enjoyed if you Google his name.