Thursday, January 29, 2015

Day 1870

Today was amazing! I got to go inside the ultra high security mission control building at Vandenberg. We visited the tower where the SMAP satellite will be launched early tomorrow morning. We saw the world's last remaining ICBM from the early days of the cold war. There were rockets everywhere. We were even on a live broadcast on the NASA TV channel. Oh, and I capped the day off by wrecking my rent car.

It was only a fender bender, but since it happened near a big Air Force base, three Air Force fire trucks and two MP's came to the scene. The Air Force guys quickly left when they discovered that nobody was hurt,  but I still had to wait on the side of the road for over half and hour for the California Highway patrol to show up. I knew I was going to miss the roll out of the rocket from the tower, but I didn't want to be charged for leaving the scene of an accident. In Texas, people just trade insurance information on minor accidents and go about their business. The other driver wanted to wait for the police though. When the highway patrol finally did show up, the first thing they asked was why we didn't just trade insurance information and leave. You could tell that they thought the whole thing was a waste of their time. Later I learned that the roll out had been delayed and that the other people attending the launch didn't get to see anything either.

The press conference for the launch was broadcast live on NASA TV. Janet said she saw me ask my one question on TV and that I didn't look like a dork. That's always good to know. I usually look like a dork. I learned a lot today. I never knew that there was a launch facility for the space shuttle at Vandenberg. At one point they were planing to launch the shuttle into polar orbit. The huge facility was finished about the same time the space shuttle program was canceled. It was never used. I never knew that at the beginning of the cold war, the USA only had three nuclear missiles and that they was all based at Vandenberg.

The rocket is scheduled to launch very early tomorrow morning. There is only a three minute launch window on Thursday, since it will be launched into a polar orbit. This means that if the launch is delayed at all, it can't be rescheduled until the next day. Hopefully, everything will go like clockwork. If the launch gets postponed, I'll have to return home without seeing it.

I met a lot of people today that worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Goddard Space Flight Center, or directly with NASA. I even met someone who had been accepted into the Mars One program. Every one of them seemed to really love their job. If you gathered a similar group of advertising people together, I doubt that you'd find anyone who genuinely loved their job.  I think I'll never look at "rocket science" the same way again. These people were amazing! We need a lot more of them.

At one point during the day, we had to leave all our phones, cameras, and computers on the bus while we visited a secret location. "Don't worry, your stuff is safe here," said an Air Force Sargent. I imagine it was. The is the most secure facility I've ever been to in my life. It was quite an experience to be allowed to see behind the curtain.

Molly is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Day 1869

I made it. It was a long travel day, especially considering I was just going to California. I flew from Dallas to Los Angeles, changed planes and then took a little prop plane up to Santa Maria. Santa Maria looked pretty close to Vandenberg Air Force Base on a map, but I discovered that it wasn't that close when I actually got there. As it turned out, Santa Maria was only about fifteen miles from the North entrance to the huge base, but I needed to go to the South entrance. I could have taken a short cut directly through the base to the South entrance, but I didn't have my credentials yet, so I had to take a long circuitous route around the perimeter instead. I'd probably still be driving around aimlessly, if I didn't have GPS in the rental car. I'm certainly glad I didn't decide to drive up Highway 1 from Los Angeles. I was considering doing this at some point, but wisely reconsidered when I remembered what rush hour traffic was like in California.

I was surprised at how pretty the countryside is in this part of California. There are lots of rolling, green hills dotted with what looked like small Live Oak trees. I was expecting urban sprawl, but this is a lot closer to wilderness. As I approached the base, the terrain flattened and the hills turned to farmland. The soil must be good here, because all the crops looked lush and green. It was weird to see crops growing in January. There was almost no signage on the farm roads that led to the base. Without the GPS in the car and some very explicit directions, I doubt that I would have ever found the elusive South entrance to Vandenberg.

Today's visit to the base was just a dry run. I have to get up very early to check in at the South gate tomorrow morning. This is where I pick up my credentials and join the other media mavens who will be attending the launch. If I'm late, they'll just leave without me. That's why if you have to get lost, it is a lot better to do it today than tomorrow.

I was hoping to have dinner with some of the others attending the SMAP launch this evening, but after driving around endlessly trying to find the correct entrance to the base, I didn't have the energy. I drove back to the hotel in Santa Maria, ate some dinner, and tried to get the WiFi to work instead. I brought a little WiFi hotspot with me, but the hotel seems to block it. It works when I'm driving around, but as soon as I get to my room, it quits.

I think I'm going to be on NASA TV sometime tomorrow, but I doubt if you'll see it. Very few cable companies carry this odd little channel. Tomorrow will be a bucket list kind of day. I'll get to see the rocket up close, talk to the scientists who designed the SMAP mission, and visit all sorts of interesting restricted areas on the base. I think the whole idea is that we're supposed to live Tweet about our experiences. You can't really say much in 140 characters though, so if you really want to know what happened, you'll have to read tomorrow's blog.

I thought I'd forget a lot of things on this trip, but so far all I seem to have forgotten are spare batteries for my wireless mouse and the password for my mobile hotspot. I thought the password was already loaded on my laptop keychain, but apparently it isn't. Oh well, I can always use my phone until the battery runs out. Oops. I forgot the little charger that fits into the car's cigarette lighter too.

I'm tired, but I feel like the day was a success. If you're reading this, it means I've figured out a way to get online. I just put in an early wake-up call at the hotel and I'm looking forward to meeting my fellow space bloggers just before sunrise at the Vandenberg South Gate.

Sophie is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Monday, January 26, 2015

Day 1868

I'm glad I don't live on the East Coast right now. Blizzard conditions have closed all the airports, making travel to Vandenberg Air Force Base impossible for a couple of people from New York and Boston who were planning on attending the SMAP launch this week. The weather is much better in Dallas, so my only problem will be getting up at 4 AM to go to the airport.

I'm a terrible travel planner, but I knew if I didn't get started today, I would run out of time. I always run into something unexpected when I'm packing. Today, I couldn't find a small tube of toothpaste that the TSA wouldn't confiscate. I couldn't get my laptop to boot up either. It turns out that I forgot to power the computer down several weeks ago and the battery ran out while the computer was still on. When I got this issue resolved, I had trouble setting the second time zone on a radio controlled watch I was planning to wear on the trip. The watch is supposed to set itself using a radio time signal, but somehow I screwed up and ended up with the dial showing the time in London. I probably should take a simpler watch with me. I packed some socks and then noticed that most of them had holes in them. I still can't figure out how to get the WiFi feature working on my new little point and shoot camera. If I can get the WiFi working, I'll be able to send pictures directly from the camera to Facebook and Twitter. Travel never used to involve so much technology. My boarding pass is on my phone. I sure hope this works, because sometimes it doesn't.

One way or another, everything will get done. It always does. I got all my meds packed away in one of those plastic pill containers that old people use. Oh wait, I am one of those old people. I super-glued my comfortable tennis shoes back together and packed a second nicer pair of shoes just in case I decide not to embarrass myself. I still don't know what kind of coat to take. I never get coats right and am always either too hot or too cold.

I did manage to get the camera equipment from yesterday's video shoot put away, but I haven't finished all of my website updates yet. I've got one more to go, which I should be able to finish before bedtime. I thought I'd be able to get caught up on things with time to spare, but I never dreamed that I'd waste an entire hour trying to set a weird Japanese watch and another hour simply trying to turn on my laptop. You might be wondering why I didn't finish my work first. I guess it was a matter of priorities. I'm always confident about meeting my work deadlines. Not so much with technology. Inexplicable software glitches, poorly written instructions, and the occasional catastrophic failure all drive me nuts. I depend on my high-tech tools, but I often hate them as well.

The dogs loved today's unseasonably warm weather. We took a long walk before breakfast and another toward the end of the day. In between, Dot and Dash sunned themselves in the back yard while I struggled to get organized. I wish I didn't wait until the last minute with everything I do, but it's in my blood. I've always been this way. Perhaps it's for the best. If I knew what I was doing ahead of time, I'd probably just worry more.

Jazz is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Day 1867

I think the video I shot today will be a success. The sound was good. Exposure was good. Everything was in focus. What's not to like? My new LED lights performed a lot better than the old quartz variety. I was pleased with the wireless mics too. I'll have to use this stuff more often. Considering how I was dreading this shoot, it couldn't have gone better. Most importantly, I didn't break anything.

Video production seemed a lot easier when I shot with a full crew. Back in the day, I never had to transport, configure, and set up all this heavy equipment myself. With today's budgets, doing as much as you can yourself is a necessity. Maybe the Miller tripod and Century Stands were always this heavy, but I don't remember struggling with them like I did today. Clearly, Carpal tunnel, a bad shoulder, and arthritis have taken their toll on my aching bones.

I never did find time to do a practice run through before I loaded the car this morning. Necessity is always the mother of invention and I figured out the last remaining equipment mysteries on the set. I need to buy a bigger camera case so I can leave the rails and matte box permanently on the camera. Assembling this gear and attaching everything to the camera and tripod can eat up a lot of time. When I can afford it, I'm going to get more wireless mics too. Wireless mics are great. I don't know how I lived so many years without them.

Although the video shoot used up most of the day, we still had a nice long walk with the dogs this morning. Janet was looking out for me and fixed bacon and eggs for breakfast, along with Cowboy Burgers for dinner. If you've never had Cowboy Burgers, you need to pick some up at Central Market sometime. These are without a doubt the best hamburger patties in the universe.

It will take a while to edit the footage I shot today into something coherent, but I think the material is there. Now it's time to turn my attention to the upcoming SMAP launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base. I have no idea what to take or what to wear. I guess I need to start checking the weather in California. I have a feeling that it's going to be a lot warmer out there than it is here.

Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I'll start logging and cataloging the footage I shot today. There are already a number of website updates I need to make as well. At least today's work is complete. It's always nice to know that I won't have to go back later and re-shoot everything.
Bones is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Day 1866

The days just aren't long enough. After walking Dot and Dash this morning, I went up to Lewisville to photograph the new arrivals to the Dalmatian Rescue program. We've accepted quite a few new dogs recently and they all need to get up on the website. Gretchen was supposed to be aggressive toward men and I was a little worried about getting bitten. She turned out to be very sweet and I had no problems getting a cute picture. Charlie was one of the most nervous dogs I have ever seen. This handsome one year old pup was surrendered during a messy divorce and had probably spent his entire life listening to people yell at each other. No wonder he was wary of people. Elsa had probably been a breeding dog in a puppy mill and it was obvious she had been a mom far too many times during her young life. Her next home will be much, much better. Starr was another owner surrender, although I couldn't even imagine how someone could take this beautiful, sweet dog to the pound and dump her. We will make sure that all these dogs find a great home where they will get a second chance. It's still very sad though that they were so unlucky the first time around.

Photographing rescue dogs takes a lot of patience and the whole process took longer than I thought it would. By the time I returned home, there wasn't a lot of time left to go get groceries, fill the car with gas, and retrieve some additional equipment from the storage warehouse for tomorrow's photo shoot. The instruction manual for the production camera has been my bathroom reading for the past several days, but I'm still not completely comfortable with some of the more advanced features. I'm charging batteries now and I'm sure everything will work out fine. I only shoot a few of these videos a year now. When I shot and edited a video once a week, my confidence level was much higher. This is not really like riding a bicycle. You do tend to forget things.

I wanted to edit some of the Dalmatian pictures I had taken earlier in the day, but my own Dalmatians were insisting on dinner. I set up a pump on the roof to begin removing some of this week's accumulated water, fed the dogs, and we went on our evening walk. On weekends, I have to keep a watchful eye out for loose dogs in the park. On Saturday and Sunday there are always idiots who let their dogs off lease and you can never tell whether they are friendly or not until it is too late. I've learned from experience to avoid these dogs. If I see unleashed dogs up ahead, I immediately turn and go in a different direction.

It was almost dark before I climbed up on the roof again to finish removing all the water.  It was a very long day. I didn't even get around to taking a shower until after dinner.  I still haven't gotten around to testing the wireless microphones. Maybe I'll take a pair of wired lavaliers with me tomorrow just in case. I guess I've still got some time to test some things tomorrow morning, but I'd much rather sleep in late. I'm very tired.

Holly is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Friday, January 23, 2015

Day 1865

Have I mentioned that Janet retired at the first of the year? Since she's no longer working fourteen hours a day, we've been going to more movies. Today we saw American Sniper. I can understand why this movie has become a box office hit, but fail to grasp why it is so controversial in certain circles. This is a well made film in the tradition of Saving Private Ryan and Hurt Locker. I find it sad that we live in such a polarized society that everything from the car you drive, to the food you eat and the movies you watch is seen as a political statement. It's a movie! Get over it.

While waiting for the feature to start we sat through half an hour's worth of trailers for upcoming features. Each one was a more violent version of a movie I'd seen ten or fifteen years ago. There was a new Terminator movie, a new Mad Max movie, and a new movie by the director of District 9 that seemed exactly like District 9. Doesn't anybody like movies like Secretariat and Remains of the Day anymore? I'd rather see Old Yeller again than any of these apocalyptic blockbusters.

Dot worried me today. She fell on our morning walk and I had to help her up. She lost her footing when her rear foot landed on a loose rock and just fell over. I have to remember that even though her energy levels have improved and she acts like she wants to chase squirrels again, she is still pretty fragile. It's a tough job to let her feel like she's a young dog again while still carefully watching every single step she takes. Dot's OK now. I just need to remember where that loose rock is.

Dash is nearing the end of his chemotherapy treatment and now that there aren't many Palladia pills left in the bottle, I noticed that I was short by five pills. These pills are so expensive that you'd think that they could count them correctly. I called the cancer center and when they checked their records, they discovered that they were short a few pills when they renewed Dash's prescription three months ago, and just gave me the pills they had. I wish they had told me this at the time. At any rate, I went up to the cancer center to get the remaining five pills and then picked up some food for dinner at Central Market on the way home.

I only have one more day to familiarize myself with all the mysterious buttons on the production camera before my video shoot on Sunday. It's not like I have been consciously putting off this important dress rehearsal. I just keep running out of time. Walking the dogs, doing my physical therapy exercises everyday, meeting my work deadlines, getting the water off the roof, and even writing this blog takes a lot of time. Some days I take it all in stride. Other days, I get really tired.

Chloe is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Day 1864

It was one of those days. Shortly after we woke up this morning, the power went out. The power grid is so bad in our part of town that a feather can knock the power out. It rained last night, but there was no real reason for a power outage. Usually, it's an ice storm or severe winds that knock the power out, but this time it was just a very rainy night. Without power, there is no hot coffee in the morning, no fried eggs for breakfast, no television, no furnace, no lights, and no e-mail. Miraculously, we still have hot water though, since the water heater is fueled by natural gas.

As soon as the rain let up a bit, we took the dogs on a walk. Even though it was quite cold outside, walking was better than waiting for the power to come back on in a dark and drafty house. Janet and I didn't see lights in any of the other houses, so it looked like the power was out in the entire neighborhood. When a power outage is widespread, we're usually the last to get electricity back. They restore areas near schools and hospitals first, and eventually get around to the people who aren't near anything special, like us.

Since I can't function without coffee in the morning, I drove to a nearby restaurant to get take-out. Eventually, the power was restored, but a big chunk of the day was wasted. Every time something like this happens, I wonder why we don't pay more attention to improving our power grid. Politicians are always talking about creating jobs and about the growing threat of cyber-terrorism. They could create tens of thousands of well paying jobs by making a commitment to refurbishing the country's power distribution network. Put all the lines underground. There is just no reason for the power system to be so fragile, especially in a world where you are dead in the water without electricity.

It was hard to get Dot out of bed to go to her therapy session today. I understood completely. I didn't feel like doing my stretching exercises either. We both persevered though, driving to the vet in the cold rain for her weekly conditioning session. Dot did well in the underwater treadmill, as she usually does, but as soon as we got home again she curled up on a warm blanket and went to sleep. On days like this I wish we had a fireplace. Today would have been a perfect day for sitting in front of a warm fire.

I'm so forgetful lately. I left my phone at the vet this afternoon and had to turn around on our way home to go back to retrieve it. I probably never would have remembered the phone if a warning light hadn't come on in the car, telling me that the phone was no longer paired with the Bluetooth connection. It's sad when my car has a better memory than I do. I almost forgot to take the trash out to the curb this evening too, but Dot always remembers when it's trash day.

I hope tomorrow seems like Friday. I usually look forward to Fridays, but all the days have seemed exactly the same this week. It's disorienting. Maybe a tasty meal at my favorite restaurant will get the compass pointed in the right direction again.

Raider is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day 1863

I'm going to miss going to physical therapy. It's nice having someone telling you what you are doing right and doing wrong. I don't need help with writing or taking photographs, but apparently I do need people to remind me not to destroy my body. It should be easy to continue on my own. I've got enough exercises now to last me for a year. Success is pretty easy to measure too. If I can move my shoulder more, I have succeeded. We'll see how it goes. They want to re-evaluate me this Summer. You can't cheat with physical therapy. Your progress is surprisingly easy to measure. The therapist actually takes a protractor and ruler and measures how much further I'm are able to move my arm. At any rate, I've got my marching orders. Hopefully, when I reconnect with these folks later this Summer, I won't shame myself by revealing my many lazy tendencies.

Our extended string of beautiful, warm days is sadly coming to an end. Our early morning walk was nice, but the temperature began to drop right after breakfast and conditions continued to deteriorate throughout the day. The dogs and I were both disappointed to get rained on this evening. It's been almost two weeks since we've been caught in the rain. It looks like I'd better get out some bath towels to dry the dogs off tomorrow morning and be prepared to clean the mud off my boots again. It's going to be wet.

The small group of bloggers and social media mavens I will be joining at Vandenberg Air Force Base seems like an interesting bunch. Some are coming to the launch from as far away as London and one guy is even flying his own small plane to the event. I think the only thing that ties us all together is an unabashed inner geekiness. Everyone I've heard from so far seems absolutely delighted to have an opportunity to get close to a rocket. As much as I hate to travel, I really think I'm going to enjoy this.

I've got a big video shoot coming up this weekend, so it's time to get out the instruction manuals again. I've gotten so used to shooting with GoPro's and automated consumer cameras that I've kind of forgotten what some of the dozens of cryptic buttons on my big production camera do. There is no auto-focus on most cinema lenses either, so I'd better practice the fine art of keeping things in perfect focus as well. If I shot as much video and film as I used to, none of this would be a problem. Unfortunately, the old adage use it or lose it still applies. I've got some work to do.

It's raining pretty hard now, but I hope the weather improves a bit before I take Dot to her physical therapy session tomorrow. Cold rainy weather makes Dot's arthritis act up and she doesn't do as well in the underwater treadmill on rainy days. The vet can warm up the water in the tank though, so maybe that will help. Nothing will help me until I see the sun again.

Molly is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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