Sunday, August 9, 2020

Day 3881

We managed to get an early start this morning. The pre-dawn skies were clear, there was a nice breeze, and as an added bonus, there was a conjunction of the Moon and Mars overhead. Mars is nearing opposition and gets brighter every day. I still find it hard to believe that three spacecraft are currently on their way to this little orange dot in the sky.

The female Muscovy duck has returned and the trio living by the bridge is back together again. The hello guy has returned on his bicycle as well. The guy who walks his cat on a leash is still gone, as are a few regular dog walkers, but I appreciate continuity wherever I can find it. I have counted the local gaggle of geese and I always make sure that there are still ten. Four of the geese are white and the rest are brown. I'm still not sure what that means.

The Mexican plums are getting ripe. It would be tempting to pick some and make jam, but my plant identification skills leave a lot to be desired. I just think these are plums. They might be something pretty and poisonous instead. They say the white powder on the surface of this fruit is actually a natural yeast and can be used for making a sourdough starter. That seems a lot more complicated than making jam.

I finally acknowledged that my walking shoes have worn out, so I went out and got some new ones after breakfast. I still think Nike Air shoes are ugly and don't last very long, but they seem to provide the best cushioning for my tired feet. Another pair of Nike Air Max shoes it is. Since I was already out, I stopped and got some more ink for my printer and a tub of ice cream on the way home. There is no further need to use the car for the rest of the week.

This afternoon I made sure that all my video gear still worked. I doubt that I'll have a need for any of this stuff soon, but I don't want to forget how to use it. Actually, I did forget how to pair the wireless microphone transmitter and receiver. I had to download a manual online and review the procedure. At any rate, batteries are charged, everything works properly, and I'm ready to make a video again if the urge ever strikes me.

I don't know why I still take afternoon walks. Mornings are fine, but afternoons are way too hot. A lot of people must actually seem to like the heat because the park is full of people renting kayaks, having picnics, sitting in hammocks, and slacklining on Sunday afternoons. Young people have no problem gathering in large groups. I'm convinced that they are the ones spreading the virus.  It couldn't be us old people.

I guess I'll try out my new walking shoes tomorrow morning. This is when I usually discover that I've gotten the wrong size. My feet must be an odd size because nothing seems to fit perfectly. Shoes improve with wear however. By the time you've worn them out, they usually fit perfectly

Nautica is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Day 3880

One of the worst things about the pandemic is that every little ache and pain makes you think that your luck has finally run out. I woke up with a sore throat this morning. "This is how it begins," I thought. Never mind. I forgot that this is a common occurrence. When I don't sleep on my back, I get nasal congestion and start breathing through my mouth. Instant morning sore throat. As soon as I was up and had some coffee the sore throat disappeared.

Maybe I'm just a hypochondriac, but this has happened before. Occasionally I'm winded after a long uphill walk and I start to wonder about my lungs. I'm always checking my temperature with the forehead thermometer. If it even varies by a tenth of a degree I wonder if this could be the start of something. Every time I hear someone cough, I wonder how far the virus can travel through the air. None of this is good, but there is a certain logic to this sort of thinking. The virus is relentless and people aren't all that careful. I find it easy to believe that the longer you stay healthy, the more likely it is that your luck will eventually run out.

This is probably why I'm never wild about shopping day. Half the people in the grocery store had their mask below their nose this morning. I forgot the doggie poop bag I usually put over my hand when I pump gas. People are always picking through the produce to find the freshest items. There are so many opportunities for things to go wrong.

Oddly, I never worry about walking in the park even though I don't wear a mask outdoors. Joggers and cyclists pass us on the trails, but nobody lingers and nobody gets close. Fresh outdoor air is much different than a building's air conditioning system. I'm sure that if sports eventually returns, watching football in an outdoor stadium would be safer than watching basketball in an indoor arena. It's not good to think this way. Once you become convinced that every stranger is a potential danger, it's going to be hard to trust anyone again. No hugs please. Ever.

Every time I go shopping, I'm more and more convinced that our country's supply chain and distribution system has become seriously damaged. Stores just aren't as well stocked anymore. I'm still seeing an overreaction to the toilet paper shortage. There is an abundance of toilet paper and bleach now, but not enough cheese. Every week I find common, everyday items that just aren't on the shelves anymore. Some aisles are half empty and I can't even remember what used to be there. This inconsistency often forces you to go to several stores when one used to be enough. If the whole idea is to get in and out of the store as quickly and efficiently as possible, it would be nice if the store had what you need.

We got a late start on our walk again this morning. Saturday should be the day we start extra early. The park is always crowded on Saturday, but few people get up before sunrise. Old habits die hard though. We always used to sleep in on Saturdays. One of these mornings we need to take a picture of Dawn right at dawn. At least once a week we see a beautiful sunrise. This would make a nice backdrop for a portrait of Dawn.

I hope I don't wake up with any aches and pains tomorrow. I'm tired of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's about time to wake up and feel like going to the gym.

Lilly is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Friday, August 7, 2020

Day 3879

I look presentable again. It's hard to believe I haven't had a haircut since early March. My stylist's new salon was a bit of a drive. I kept thinking that I'd been on this road before, but I couldn't remember why. Somewhere out here was a store where I bought my kayak. I think I passed a machine shop where I had some parts fabricated once. I know I used to pull dogs from a small community dog pound in the area. The details are all kind of fuzzy. I think I've lived in Dallas too long.

The salon was surprisingly busy for a place out in the middle of nowhere. I guess I wasn't the only one who needed a haircut. It seemed like everyone was playing it safe. Customers and employees all wore masks. A few people wore those clear face shields as well. There was a long list of rules on the front door but a lot of them appeared to have been forgotten. Nobody took my temperature or asked me to wash my hands when I entered the building. Hopefully, the next time I need a haircut the world will seem a little more normal.

We got started on our walk a little later this morning. A half hour makes a big difference around sunrise. I wish it were easier to get up early enough to start walking a full hour before sunrise. The air is much cooler at this time of day and the trails are mostly empty. Mornings are pleasant, but afternoons feel like I'm walking on a different planet. Sometimes there is a thirty degree temperature difference between sunrise and sunset.

I didn't stay up late enough to watch the Space X launch last night, but I watched the replay after breakfast this morning. I'm amazed at the dedication of my Florida photographer friends. They are always out there. Whenever there is a launch, they will post pictures of it on Facebook within a matter of hours. Even though last night's launch was in the middle of the night, there were still plenty of pictures. I'm still a little jealous. These local guys still seem to be the only ones getting access to the Space Center.

I'm seeing a lot of Egrets lately. These birds migrate, but I think ours hang around all year. I see lots of Great Egrets on our morning walks, along with the occasional Great Blue Heron, Cattle Egret, and Black-Crowned Night Heron. I'll never be a birder, but I'm slowly learning to identify all the local wildlife. We've got quite a variety down at the lake.

It's been a year since we had Hank over to the house for a few days following a medical emergency. It doesn't seem that long ago. I thought he would have found a home by now, but he's still up at the kennel. Dogs with special needs often take longer to place, but hopefully Hank will find his forever home soon. We also went to the Dior show at the Dallas Museum of Art about a year ago and I was starting to plan my first trip out to McDonald Observatory. What a weird year it's been. One year ago I would never have predicted that we'd have a new dog now and that I'd be wearing a mask to get my hair cut.

Tomorrow it's time to get groceries and fill the car with gas again. The precautions are all starting to feel normal now. I hope we don't get used to this. The old normal was a lot better than the new normal.

Lou is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Day 3878

I got asked to join a Zoom reunion with some old classmates today. Hmm. I've never used Zoom. I've heard about Zoom meetings on the news, but I don't even have the application on my computer. I have no desire to install it either. I guess I'm officially a Luddite. I have no interest whatsoever in this sort of thing. I'm glad I retired well before Zoom meetings became mandatory in a post-pandemic world. Jeez. I didn't even like conference calls years ago. Why would you want to add a camera to a conference call?

We got started on our morning walk in the dark again. It's weird walking this early. There aren't many people out, but we certainly aren't alone in the park. Cyclists seem to get an earlier start than joggers. The main reason we take a flashlight is so these guys won't mow us down in the dark. Cyclists are relentless and don't slow down for anything. Before the sky started to lighten, we saw what looked like an odd, very slow bicycle moving in the distance. As we got closer, we realized that what looked like bicycle wheels were actually two dogs with red lights on their collars and the third light we thought was a rider was a lighted bracelet on the wrist of the woman walking the dogs. When joggers started to appear on the trails, many of them had little LED lights on their arms and legs as well. Some of the lights were red and green as if the joggers were trying to emulate the port and starboard lights on boats. Maybe Janet and I are even Luddites about walking in the dark. All we had was a flashlight.

My days continue to be slow and uneventful. Maybe this is why blog readership has gone down. Nothing to see here. Very few people read blogs anyway. They're all out doing podcasts and having Zoom meetings. Even some of my space and astronomy friends have their own podcasts now. When did things change? I remember when blogs were very popular. Lots of people used to write blogs. Of course I remember when everything on the Internet was just text because it took too much bandwidth to send a picture. I wonder if Usenet news groups still exist? There were thousands of groups and not a single picture among them. Those were the days. Luddites tend to be nostalgic. We long for manual typewriters, film cameras, and those old brick cell phones.

When we walk really early, we've noticed that the ducks and geese are typically on the water. Later, when the sun comes up they return to the shore. This makes me wonder what the ducks do at night. Do they swim around all night? Are they nocturnal like the coyotes? I guess this will always be a mystery. I'm certainly not going down to the park at midnight to investigate.

Tomorrow I get a haircut. It's about time. I haven't had a haircut since last March. If this goes well I might start going to the gym again. I'm still very careful and tend to avoid people altogether, but this virus is going to be with us for a long time. We've all got to figure out what kind of risk we can tolerate. I'll take one of the good masks with me tomorrow. The masks I wear to the grocery store and get gas are basically worthless.

I've taken the trash out to the curb and am ready for another early morning walk. There are no Friday morning breakfast restaurant outings anymore. Such is life in the new normal.

Margo is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Day 3877

Wednesday has turned into house cleaning day. Don't look at me. I have lost all interest in cleaning, but I don't want to be a slacker. I still try to do my part. Today I vacuumed the house. I used to think the Dyson was amazing because it appeared to pick up so much dust. Now I suspect that the clear plastic cylinder is just a marketing gimmick to make you notice the dirt. The house doesn't seem any cleaner than it did with our old fashioned vacuum. It certainly was easier to empty a paper vacuum cleaner bag than it is to clean the Dyson. I have to go outside and use a leaf blower to get all the residual dust out of the canister after I empty it. Oh, well. The carpets and the Dyson are clean again until I have to repeat this exercise next Wednesday.

We got a later start on our morning walk today, but we got lucky with the weather. There was heavy overcast and a nice breeze that kept things cool. It didn't seem as humid today either. If you can manage to avoid the sun and the humidity, even August isn't quite so bad. We must be having a hot summer though. Our August electric bill hit an all time high. Something was fishy about that bill though. I know we have had hotter summers. I think the electric company just raised our rates.

At first it was baffling to me why the stock market was doing so well at the same time there was record unemployment and well known companies were going bankrupt every day. Now the answer is becoming clearer. The economy didn't shut down at all. It just changed. Some companies lost, but other companies were big winners and are doing better than ever. It seems like the pandemic just accelerated the rate of change that was happening anyway. Even Luddites like me have gone digital now. A wide varieties of companies have been urging me to use their mobile app, go paperless, and try online payments for years. All it took was a global pandemic to get me to change my ways.

I'm always curious about long-term trends. I think it will be five years before we realize how much has changed. I used to think everyone would revert to their old ways as soon as the lockdown was lifted. New habits are emerging though. We aren't going to be comfortable around strangers for a long time. Nobody even wants to ride in an elevator with me anymore. Handshakes are no longer going to be a common ritual. Ghost kitchens will become more popular than restaurants. Sports fans are going to have problems with the new normal, but ticket prices were becoming exorbitant anyway. Fewer and fewer people could even afford to go to a professional football game. Maybe fans will learn to love players in empty stadiums. I guess the big question is whether schools can safely reopen. If the kids have to stay home indefinitely, we are in for a world of hurt.

I guess we're just going to have to learn to live with the changes. Some of these changes were going to happen anyway. Just not as fast. Change is never easy and it is seldom fair. I'm certainly having problems dealing with all this. I need to remember the importance of staying flexible. Youth was all about staying flexible and seizing opportunities. It was only when I became older that I became set in my ways. We'll see how it goes. There will be winners and losers in the days and months ahead. It would be nice to be a winner.

Tomorrow we're going to try to get up early again. The flashlights are ready. I don't know how ready I'll be. I was never a morning person and it's not easy to change old habits. I'm convinced that the future will be all about changing old habits. I might as well get good at it.

Morgan is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Day 3876

We got such an early start this morning that we had to take a flashlight with us. Venus, Mars and a full Moon were still bright in the sky and there was a cool breeze. We kept an eye out for coyotes. They are often on the move at this time of day. I'm not typically an early riser, but the hour before sunrise is definitely the best part of the day. The sky changes from darkness to daylight remarkably quickly and if there are clouds in the East, you often get to enjoy a beautiful sunrise. I just need to go to bed a little earlier to fully enjoy the experience.

Our walks were the main event of the day. Our morning walk is for Dawn and the afternoon walk I take by myself is basically just a substitute for going to the gym. Eating, sleeping, and walking. That's pandemic life for you. I paid some bills after breakfast and did a little bookkeeping, but spent most of my time watching the Space X Starship's first test hop down at Boca Chica. Coverage of events at Boca Chica is strictly a volunteer affair. A couple of Space X fans have set up cameras outside the perimeter of the Space X compound and provide a running commentary whenever something is going on. Often hours go by and nothing happens at all. If there is a puff of smoke or even a bird flying by, there will be a lot of speculation about what it all means.

Boca Chica is the exact opposite of Kennedy Space Center. There are lots of tents and temporary buildings. The place is a mess. Rocket parts and construction equipment are strewn around everywhere. After seeing all the high tech equipment and precision engineering at Michoud Assembly Facility, this place seems more like a bunch of oil field workers decided to weld together a rocket out of scrap steel. The SN5 prototype that was being tested today looked exactly like a huge grain silo. It certainly didn't look like it could fly. The first attempt today got scrubbed, but everything went perfectly the second time. The flying grain silo slowly rose over 150 feet in the air and then descended again to land safely at a nearby landing pad. Probably in less than a year, a more refined version of this rocket will be launched into into orbit from this same Boca Chica site. It doesn't look like much now, but if Elon Musk has his way, this barren strip of land on the Gulf Coast will be where we depart for Mars. Hope I'm still around to see the journey begin.

I wish people could make up their minds about the virus. In less than ten minutes this morning I heard that things are getting better, that conditions are getting worse, that the virus will be with us forever, and that we are getting ourselves in a panic for nothing. Wait a few minutes or flip the channel and you will hear something completely different. Who do you trust these days? Even the scientists don't seem to agree on this one. I have no doubts that this is a serious disease, but I'm equally convinced that the media is stirring the pot.

I think we're going to try to get up real early again tomorrow. It's a little strange walking in the dark but it's the only way to beat the heat. The only downside to these early walks is that too much of the day remains after you return. What do you do next? Tomorrow I'll attempt to answer this seemingly eternal question again.

Pebbles is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Monday, August 3, 2020

Day 3875

Dalmatian day is here again. We didn't get to meet Marshall after all. Some dogs get lucky. We found out today that Marshall was only at the kennel for a few days and has already gone to his forever home. Charlie, Hank, and Luckie were still waiting for us however. Luckie seems more relaxed this week. She still had little interest in playing, but would come when we called and wasn't nearly as fearful. She definitely likes treats. Charlie and Hank were still happy and playful. One of these days, these three will find their forever homes as well.

It was hard getting up this morning. Another day where everything seems the same. I always thought I was well suited for monotony, but enough is enough. Janet and I are both having trouble remembering what day it is when we wake up. It's definitely time for something different.

I hope Dawn still enjoys her morning walk. The landscape is getting pretty familiar by now. I think I have memorized the entire route. When everything is the same, you start to notice the smallest changes. There was a guy who used to walk his cat on a leash who we haven't seen in a while. There were three Muscovy ducks who always used to hang out next to a small creek we always cross. The female has been gone for several weeks. Where did she go? I'm still trying to identify some of the trees we see everyday. I'm fairly certain that the fruit tree we have been speculating about is a Mexican Plum, but I'm not sure. The fruit is edible, but I'm not going to try it.

I still don't have a publication date for my Sky and Telescope article. The closest I've been able to get to a commitment from the editors was a mention of "early next year." I hate to bother these guys. I'm afraid they might get irritated at my impatience and not publish the article after all. It has been a long time though. It's been almost a year since I got the idea for the article and made my first trip to the Davis Mountains. I got rained out on the August 2019 trip and it took a second visit to McDonald Observatory the next March before I finally had an opportunity to look through the large telescopes. I never dreamed the whole process would take this long when I initially contacted the magazine over a year ago.

Life seems to be a waiting game these days. I'm still waiting for the Artemis Day article I wrote about my visit to the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to be published. I wrote that article last December. I think this piece is going to appear next month though. We'll see. I'm also still waiting for the Air Force to process my application for media credentials at Kennedy Space Center. How long ago did I send that application in? I'm waiting for the new Bronco to appear at Ford dealers. I'm waiting for star parties to resume. Most of all, I'm waiting for the pandemic to be over. In many ways, this has been a wasted year.

It's weird that all the things we used to worry about are still here. There is a hurricane on the East Coast and wildfires in the West Coast. The virus just adds another layer of bad news. It makes you wonder what we'll be dealing with this time next year. Sure would be a nice surprise if something good happened.

Puppies are today's Dalmatians of the Day
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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Day 3874

I spent a lot more time watching Bob and Doug return to earth than I intended. It was fascinating watching all the events leading to splashdown in real time as they happened. The capsule was completely automated and the astronauts were basically just passengers. All the people in the control room at Hawthorne were just monitoring a very complicated sequence of events to make sure nothing went wrong. Nobody had to intervene. Unlike the Boeing Starliner mission, the Space X software worked perfectly. I've always been impressed with what Elon Musk has been able to accomplish. Today was a big milestone. I can't wait to see Starship get off the ground.

It didn't take me long to spot Elon in the mission control video feed. He was the guy in the front row who kept taking his mask on and off and casually eating a sandwich while everyone else was staring intently at their screens. I kept wondering what the guy behind him wearing white hi-top boots was doing. Other than the outlandish shoes, he was dressed very normally. I spotted a woman on the back row of monitors who didn't appear to be wearing a mask. What was the story here? The room itself seemed spotless with the exception of one table with a big piece of laminate material falling off. Some might find the long lock-off shots of control rooms boring, but I like looking at the details. Where is the box of donuts? Who is texting or taking selfies instead of looking at their screen? There is always something going on.

I bet Space X will keep the splashdown location secret the next time there is a manned launch. I was surprised to see a flotilla of cabin cruisers and fishing boats coming near the capsule as the Space X team prepared to secure it. Space X was probably even more surprised. Apparently they forgot to ask the Coast Guard to set up a safe zone around the splashdown area. Some of these private boats got very close to the capsule while it was floating in the water. Oops. I doubt that this will happen again.

I didn't spend all day watching the landing. We had a nice walk with Dawn this morning. We didn't get an early start, but the weather was a little cooler and there was a nice breeze. There are always fewer people in the park on Sunday than on Saturday. Tomorrow morning there will be fewer still. Everything is very predictable after you've been doing these walks for a while. Usually you see the same people day after day. When a regular walker disappears, you can't help but wonder what happened. Did they catch the virus, or did they just get tired of exercising?

I briefly thought about going back to the gym today, but then I remembered that the grass needed mowing. Mowing the grass burns just as many calories as my time on the treadmill. The yard looks better too. I'll go back to the gym some day, but I'll still in no hurry. I'm getting plenty of exercise on Sundays. 20,000 steps was a piece of cake today.

Janet made a pot roast for dinner tonight. We've had to cut out a lot of activities, but we are certainly eating well during the pandemic. Tomorrow we meet Marshall when we go visit the rescue dogs at the kennel. He's finished with his initial visit to the vet and will be joining Charlie, Hank, and Luckie. I need to remember to take my camera so I can get some pictures of him for the website. I don't anticipate an exciting week, but it will be predictable.

Scout is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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