Monday, November 23, 2020

Day 3987

No big problems or revelations at today's doctor visit. Apparently my Vitamin-D levels are too high and I need to start taking a smaller dose. All my other lab results were right in line. My A1C levels keep decreasing, so diabetes continues to be less of a worry. All in all, I'm feeling pretty good for a senior citizen with all the usual aches and pains. 

I finally remembered to ask the doctor about my foot pain and my tendency to have coughing spells while I eat. I have referrals now to see a podiatrist and have some imaging done on my esophagus. The doctor wants me to take part in a swallowing study where I swallow a variety of liquids and solids while x-ray imaging is being filmed. The procedure is called fluoroscopy and it reminds me of of those machines they had at shoe stores when I was a kid where you could look through a viewing window and see the bones of your feet in real time. I asked the doctor what would happen if they found a problem. "Well, a speech pathologist will probably show you how to eat your food properly," he said.

We had time to walk Dawn before my doctor's appointment, but I didn't have time for breakfast.  This was a good thing because I wasn't supposed to eat anyway. Surprisingly, I wasn't even hungry when I returned home. I had a piece of toast and a cup of coffee and I was good for the rest of the day. I probably still eat too much, but I'm not gaining weight, so I'm not going to worry about it.

I called the manufacturer of our dehumidifier today and talked to their tech support guy. He told me that my problem was most likely a low refrigerant level in the compressor and encouraged me to take advantage of the company's five year warranty. He said that small portable dehumidifiers were hard to service and the even their own dealers didn't like to work on them. I told him when I bought the machine and he said all I need to do is get a diagnostic report from one of their authorized service centers and the company would send me a new dehumidifier. The only problem is that the closest service center is fifty miles away. The whole process takes a while, so Janet and I just ordered a new dehumidifier on Amazon Prime. I'll probably still do the warranty replacement procedure eventually. You can't have too many dehumidifiers.

Since it was Monday, we went and visited Charlie at the kennel this afternoon. He is always glad to see us and we enjoy playing with him and teaching him new tricks. Charlie is definitely not a calm dog. He's not very predictable either. This is probably why he's been at the kennel so long. Charlie is extremely smart and probably would excel at agility. He does have issues with other dogs however and would require a patient and careful owner. I'm convinced that the right person is out there. Charlie will make a great companion for the right person.

We will be doing Santa Paws pictures at the kennel in early December and I was surprised at how many people has already made reservations. It looks like we'll have a busy day. This wasn't what I expected. I thought traffic would be light because of Covid. Apparently few people are concerned about the virus in Texas even though infection rates keep rising. Oh, well. I've got my new N-95 masks. The chances are higher that I will get bitten by a dog than catch the virus at one of these photoshoots anyway.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Day 3986

Another cold front must be moving through the area. The temperature actually fell as the day progressed. I only needed a light jacket when we took our morning walk with Dawn, but a warmer coat was required by the time I took my afternoon walk. I was surprised at how cold it was this afternoon. The rain we were expecting has been postponed until Tuesday as well. All this is fine by me. I do wish the weather was more consistent though.

I'm getting bombarded with Black Friday deals. This happens every year. These deals always make it extremely tempting to buy camera and electronic gear that I don't really need. Today I was tempted enough by deals on Panasonic GH-5 and Olympus OM-D E-M1X camera bodies to waste about an hour online  researching features while trying to convince myself that I actually needed another camera. I don't. That's never stopped me before unfortunately.

What we do need is another dehumidifier. The performance of our current dehumidifier continues to deteriorate. The symptoms I'm experiencing appear to be caused by either operating in too cold of an environment, a dirty air filter, or leaking refrigerant. The house is pretty warm, the air filter is clean, so it must be the refrigerant. This, unfortunately is expensive to fix and it's a lot easier to just buy a new unit. Maybe it's time to change brands. I have a Friedrich now but the online reviews say a Frigidaire might be the better choice. This is what I do on uneventful days. I don't watch Netflix movies or get distracted by politics. I methodically research my next purchase.

The only thing I bought today was socks. REI had the wool hiking socks I like for 30% off. I don't know why socks have gotten so expensive, but if you walk a lot you've got to have good socks. While I was at the store, I picked up a small LED headlamp. I've been meaning to do this for quite a while. This headlamp has a red setting that won't affect your night vision and will be very useful the next time I attempt astrophotography or photograph a rocket launch at night. It's harder than you think to adjust camera settings in the dark without a red light that won't ruin your night vision.

We got a late start on our morning walk, so I got to sleep in again. Janet and Dawn like to get up earlier than me, so I'm usually struggling to get ready in time. Maybe it would be easier to get up early if writing the blog wasn't the last thing I did every day before going to bed. Lately, these posts have been taking longer than usual. The writing is easy when something interesting happens. Uneventful days can be a challenge.

I have to remember not to eat breakfast tomorrow. I have a semi-annual physical at my doctor's office and I have to fast for the blood work. I need to remember to ask why I frequently have coughing spells while I am eating and why my feet hurt all the time. Neither of these conditions are new. I just forget to ask about them. Maybe I'll wear one of my new N-95 masks and see whether the doctor notices. I guess I should ask about my insect bites as well. They still haven't cleared up.

Dawn continues to have much more energy and enthusiasm than she did before her seizure. It's hard to believe that a simple course of antibiotics and Prednisone would make such a difference, but Dawn is definitely feeling better. Maybe the cooler weather helps as well. At any rate, it nice to see her enjoying life again. Now I just need to find a little more energy myself. I didn't hear a thing about Dealey Plaza or the Kennedy assassination on the news today. I think the world has forgotten about it.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Day 3985

Good grief. People have started hoarding toilet paper and water again. Last week there were mountains of toilet paper at the grocery store and this week the shelves were completely empty. The water was almost gone as well. Customers were leaving the store with buggies filled with bottled water. Has anything changed? Nope. Stores and restaurants are still full. Roads are still crowded with cars. Apparently mass panic has returned however. People in Dallas may ignore the virus, but they will not be left without toilet paper.

Before starting on my weekly grocery run, we had a nice walk with Dawn and a leisurely breakfast. Neither of us work anymore, but we still sleep in on Saturday like we did during our working years. It was nice to get an extra hour of sleep. There was a light mist when we left the house and I thought it might rain for a while. My jacket felt a little damp when we returned home, but it was just the humidity. I don't think the rain will arrive until tomorrow.

I just noticed that when I get gas now, I get charged an extra dollar on my credit card. When did this start? The mysterious charge isn't added to the gas transaction, it is totally separate. Janet says she gets charged the extra dollar when she gets gas at a grocery store too. I wonder if this has anything to do with using an app to pay for gas? I'll probably never figure out what is going on, but I suspect the charge is here to stay. Somebody in government has decided that they need more money.

I watched the launch of the Sentinel-6 satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base on NASA TV this morning. I remember going to Vandenberg several years ago for the SMAP launch. It seems so long ago now, but that launch was what got me interested in following launches and becoming a space journalist. Like Sentinel-6, SMAP was also a meteorological satellite designed to learn more about the climate. Vandenberg Air Force is located right near the Pacific Ocean and I recognized a lot of the scenery near the base as I watched this morning's broadcast. Good times, even though I had an accident in my rent car on that trip.

I got Chinese take-out for dinner tonight and when I went to pick up my order I was surprised to see that it was completely dark. It is usually still light outside when I pick up take-out from this restaurant. I couldn't figure out what was going on until I realized that this was the first time we'd had Chinese since the time changed. I can't say that I like the shorter days that come with Winter. It should still be daylight at 6 PM.

Florida mosquitoes seem a lot nastier than Texas mosquitoes. It's been almost a week and my bites still itch like crazy. I've been to night launches in Florida before and never gotten bitten this bad. Maybe it was the weather. I was wearing a t-shirt on Sunday night and was always wearing a jacket on previous trips. That's one nice thing about staying out at night in the Davis Mountains. No bugs.

I wish my gym would reopen on weekends. Sunday is still the best day for me to go to the gym. I shouldn't be choosy though. If Covid cases continue to spike, gyms might close down completely again. It is almost inevitable that millions of Thanksgiving dinners are going to cause another surge. No problems here. It's just going to be the two of us, plus one dog eagerly looking for table scraps.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Day 3984

My editor likes the story and photos I submitted. I think my article will appear in the January issue of the magazine. Now it's on to the next adventure. I'd like to attend the static fire test of the Artemis 1 rocket that's scheduled to take place at Stennis Space Center in December, but that will require NASA approval. We'll see what happens. I applied for credentials months ago but almost forgot about it because the Artemis 1 Green Run tests have had many delays. This static fire would have have already taken place if it weren't for the recent Gulf hurricanes that I believe caused some damage to the test stand. Hopefully I will be approved. This is an easy trip that is much less expensive than going to Kennedy Space Center. I could even drive there is I needed to.

The only place I drove today was to the post office. It was time to mail another letter to my sister who refuses to use the Internet. Now that I pay all my bills online, mailing this periodic letter is the only reason I have to go to the post office at all. On the way home I stopped at the smokehouse again and got a small ham for Thanksgiving. Now I know what to ask for. The little hams are called "chops" because they are cut from the end of a larger bone-in ham. The smokehouse uses them to make sandwiches for customers in the restaurant section of the store. At any rate, I now have a holiday ham that is perfect for two people without a lot of leftovers.

I'm having a hard time getting up lately. We walk at the same time every morning, but it seems like I should be sleeping at least an hour longer. You don't keep Janet and Dawn waiting, so I stumbled out the door and woke up along the way. Our Fall colors are already fading. There are lots of leaves on the ground now, and the ones still on the trees are turning brown. I found a few colorful leaves this morning, but even these will be gone soon.

I've stopped looking at Sprinter Van websites. I have no desire to get an RV anymore. Hotels are much nicer. You can take long showers and you don't have to deal with the dreaded black water tank. I'm no longer looking at Ford Bronco sites much either. The new 4x4 is already sold out through the end of 2021. I wonder why I'm still looking at telescope sites? A good telescope is expensive, quite heavy, and there is nothing to see in Dallas anyway. It probably makes more sense to save my money and make a trip out to the Davis Mountains whenever I need a dark sky fix. 

Old habits are hard to break. I really need to curb my desire to acquire new gear when I'm still trying to get rid of old gear. I had to go to the storage warehouse the other day and the thought of cleaning that place out seems almost impossible. The office is just as bad. I'm a borderline hoarder and get no pleasure out of throwing things away. On the other hand, I'm the first to admit that life would be better if all the clutter was gone and I was just surrounded by things I actually use.

It's time to make a grocery list again. I wonder if I'll ever be able to go to a grocery store without feeling like I'm making a journey into the heart of Chernobyl? The weird thing about living through a pandemic is that you gradually get used to things that would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago. I hope the "new normal" never becomes something we just take for granted. We need to remember that life used to be better than this. I'm still hoping that those days will return.

Puppies are today's Dalmatians of the Day

Watch of the Day

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Day 3983

After making a few more edits, I sent my completed manuscript to the magazine today. A few hours later I sent the accompanying photographs. I selected eighteen of the best images from the hundreds I took at the launch and did my best to clean them up for publication. It's weird that after all these years I'm still discovering new things you can do with Photoshop. I used to wonder why other launch photographer's images always looked better than mine. Sometimes it was just using a better tripod to keep the camera steady. Every photographer seemed to have their own secret sauce. Some like to shoot in manual mode. Others like aperture priority. Almost everyone does some sort of post-processing because the lighting is so difficult on  night launches.

I discovered that by changing the contrast and color temperature of an image I could often bring out more detail. You want everything to look natural, but there is nothing natural about an insanely bright flame surrounded by darkness. I wanted to make sure that you could at least see the rocket that was creating all the flames. My images might improve a bit with better equipment, but I think I did pretty well. Hopefully, the magazine will find something they like. When you send eighteen images, they'll probably only use three.

I must have fallen back to sleep after Janet said it was time to get up this morning. When I realized I was late, I stumbled around getting dressed as quickly as I could while Janet and Dawn waited at the door. It was cloudy this morning, but we still had a pleasant walk. Fifty degrees seems to be an ideal temperature for everyone. We have all settled into a predictable routine. Dawn has specific trees and rocks that she always smells. Janet checks out the progress of new construction in the neighborhood. We both count the ducks and geese to make sure they are all there. Our long walk takes about two hours and the slightly shorter route we sometimes use takes about an hour and a half.

It was a slow day, although I did spend a considerable amount of time preparing my launch photo for publication. Since photography was already on my mind, I went over to the storage warehouse to look for the backdrop we'll be using for Santa Paws pictures. I have lots of photo backdrops, but one is washable and is much lighter than the rest. That's the one I wanted. My storage space is so full that it always takes me a while to find anything. Lots of stuff brings back memories, but there is very little that I'll actually use again. While looking for the photo backdrop, I stumbled across some nice leather coats that don't fit anymore. There was a brand new outboard motor that belonged to my Dad. That's not much use without a boat. The only thing that resembled a boat was a windsurfing board that I'll never be able to use because of my bad shoulder. The guitars and most of the model trains are gone now, but there are still a few vintage synthesizers gathering dust. I diod find the backdrop, but was in no mood for decluttering today. That will have to wait.

My insect bites itch like crazy. I still don't know if I was bitten by mosquitoes or fire ants. I guess it doesn't matter at this point. They will eventually subside and while I wait, I've just got to keep from scratching them. The next time I go to a night launch, I need to remember to bring some industrial strength  insect repellent.

It was one of those days where I kept forgetting what day it was. I did remember it was Thursday just in time to take the week's trash out to the curb. You never want to forget the trash when the city only picks it up once a week. It's hard to believe that it's already been a full week since I left for Titusville and Kennedy Space Center. I wonder how many weeks or months it will be before I pack my bags again?

Jasper is today's Dalmatian of the Day

Watch of the Day

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Day 3982

My American made 3M N-95 masks arrived today. These are definitely a step above what you can find at the grocery store. The masks arrived a little late for my trip to Kennedy Space Center, but I will use them when Dalmatian Rescue does Santa Paws Christmas Pictures. It's hard to believe it's that time of year again, but it is. We're only doing pictures at a single venue this year. This one is large enough where we can do everything safely. That's fine by me. One day of pet photography is enough. Every December I keep saying that I'm getting too old for this. The show must go on however. It's been a tough year for fundraising and the Dalmatians still need to eat. I hope we do well.

I'm beginning to think that I got bitten by fire ants instead of mosquitoes while I was watching the Crew-1 launch. These bites are starting to look and feel suspiciously like fire ant bites. I've been bitten by fire ants before and they make hard little welts that itch intensely. Also, fire ants are everywhere in Florida. Maybe this is why I got bitten even though I sprayed myself liberally with mosquito repellant. I forget how long it takes for these things to go away, but it can't be soon enough.

I finished my story for the magazine this afternoon and will start sorting through the pictures tomorrow. I will easily meet the new deadline and then will eagerly await publication. This will be the fifth article I've gotten published since I decided to reinvent myself as a space and astronomy journalist. The whole process has been very rewarding. It's nice to know that you can do something new at any age. I'm glad I didn't start out as a space journalist and then decide to get into advertising after I retired. That wouldn't have worked at all.

I wish I could get a mulligan on that one day I missed my Fitbit goal in Florida. It hardly seems fair. Now I have to start all over again and it's going to take a long time to beat my 422 day record. Oh, well. I was just too busy to take a long walk on launch day. This obsession I have with continuity is why I continue to write the blog even though very few people are reading anymore. After 3982 days, you can't just stop. 4000 days is easily within reach and I may live long enough to reach my 5000 day goal after all. Sometimes I get a little jealous when I see a picture of a puppy that has hundreds and hundreds of likes while I only have about ten readers, but I need to remind myself that I'm doing this for me, not you.

We had another very nice walk with Dawn this morning. I still don't understand Dawn's behavior. She's very friendly with me in the morning. She comes up to me wagging her tail and can't wait for me to put on her harness so we can walk. Early in the day I can't detect any difference in the way she reacts to me and the way she reacts to Janet. As evening approaches she typically becomes wary and will often run away if I make any type of sudden movement. She does come out to the kitchen with me when I fix her dinner now. I guess this is progress. She wouldn't leave the bedroom without Janet a month ago.

I guess peaches are gone until next season, but I did get some more strawberries for tomorrow morning's smoothie. I also looked for a smoked ham for Thanksgiving. I guess we're going to eat at home this year. There is a small batch custom smokehouse in the neighborhood that prepares amazingly delicious smoked meats. They had several large hams available, but nothing small enough for two people. They told me to come back Friday. I'll give this a try, but I'll still miss going out to the Melrose for a Thanksgiving buffet.

I'm already getting invited to future launches by Space X and ULA. Unfortunately, I can't afford to travel very far for a while. I'll have to skip a few launches in the months ahead. I'm counting on there being something interesting on the horizon when my bank account recovers.

Puppies are today's Dalmatians of the Day

Watch of the Day

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Day 3981

My editor wanted a longer article than I had anticipated, so he gave me an extension. This was good news because it was a very busy day. I think I could have finished the assignment, but I definitely wouldn't have gotten anything else done today. The day after I return from a trip is always busy. I had phone calls to return, a stack of bills to pay, files to organize, and a pile of gear to put back in its proper place. I also had to make an appointment with the dermatologist who kept texting me with reminders while I was in Florida. Finally, I made a trip to the grocery to the store to get enough fresh fruit so I could make smoothies for the rest of the week. I washed my dirty laundry from the trip last night, but it was still sitting in the dryer. All these simple tasks took me forever because I am slow and forgetful.

Although I didn't finish my article today, I made good progress. I'm happy with the draft so far and think the finished article will be interesting. With any luck, I can wrap things up with the text tomorrow and move on to photo editing. Working with the photos will take me longer than writing the article. I'm still trying to figure out why some of the other photographers pictures look better than mine. It's rare that any of the launch photographers use pictures straight out of the camera on a night launch. Lighting is difficult and everyone seems to have their own processing tricks. I'm still learning. That being said, I'm happy with the pictures I took. They definitely look better than the ones I took on the ESA Solar Orbiter launch last February.

The day started as usual with a nice walk with Dawn and Janet. The weather was crisp and cool. Morning temperatures were in the 80's while I was in Florida. It was only 46 degrees here in Dallas when we left the house this morning. Dawn loves these cooler mornings and was eager to get going. She was waiting at the door for me to put on her harness while I was still putting on my shoes. Dawn seems to have finally remembered who I am. She has warmed up to me considerably. Let's hope we are friends again.

I called the rental car company this morning because I saw a big discrepancy between the receipt I got in Orlando and the bill that showed up on a credit card statement that arrived today. I felt pretty stupid a few minutes later when I realized that I was looking at the bill from my previous trip to McDonald Observatory on the credit card bill. The current trip hadn't even been posted yet. That's the trouble with traveling. Some bills arrive instantaneously and others languish for weeks, only to arrive when you have totally forgotten about them.

I didn't have problems with allergies or heartburn at all while I was in Florida. I didn't have random coughing spasms while eating either. It certainly didn't take long for all these problems to return. Is Florida really that different? There are different types of trees in Florida and maybe there isn't as much pollen in the air. I don't know why my heartburn symptoms disappeared. Maybe it was because I mostly just ate Chicken Caesar Salads at dinner. There is a flip side to this coin unfortunately. I am covered with mosquito bites. How did I get all these bites? New one are still appearing. I even used mosquito repellant provided by a nearby photographer while we were all waiting for the launch. Somehow the mosquitoes still prevailed.

Janet and I still don't know what we're going to do for Thanksgiving. Our long standing tradition of going to the Melrose for a huge Thanksgiving brunch may never be an option again. I bet those big buffets at the hotels in Las Vegas won't be an option again either. What a shame. I've learned to navigate the new normal pretty well, but that doesn't mean I like it.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Day 3980

Sadly, I had to say goodbye to Kennedy Space Center today and return to Dallas. As I made my journey home, the four Crew-1 astronauts were also making their way to their new home for the next six months. Oddly, my return to Dallas took about the same amount of time as the astronauts much longer journey to the International Space Statioon. I'm watching them approach the ISS now on NASA TV. They've been in the capsule over twenty four hours by now. When the launch was postponed for a day, the time required to reach the ISS increased dramatically. If they had launched a day earlier, they could have made the trip in around seven hours. It's all orbital mechanics. If I really understood how this worked I might have been a rocket scientist instead of a guy who wrote jingles for fast food chains.

My own journey home was much simpler. I returned the rent car after a short 40 mile drive from Titusville to the Orlando airport. It takes a little less than three hours to fly from Orlando to Dallas. It's almost always a very uneventful flight. I guess I'm still a little amazed at how many people are flying these days. If you listen to the business channels you'd think that the airline industry was on the verge of death. It doesn't look that way to me. There were lots of people at the airport. The food court was open. And our plane was technically "full" by the new Southwest Airlines standards. They're still keeping all the center seats open, but I think that's going to end in December. 

This actually seems like what air travel should be like. You can find a parking place at the airport. The lines at the TSA checkpoints aren't horrendous anymore. Best of all, you don't feel like you are packed inside a sardine can on the plane. Having the center seat empty makes a huge difference. Everyone seems to have room for their bags in the overhead bins. It doesn't take as long to enter and exit the plane. And that annoying center seat person who is always making you move so they can go to the bathroom is gone completely. I wish we could keep flying like this forever.

I really enjoyed my trip. I got to see two significant launches within a span of several days. I renewed friendships with members of the space press that I had met on earlier trips. I actually interviewed people on this trip and attended a press conference where I was able to ask questions just like any other reporter. My photos were better this time too. I'm already looking forward to my next launch. It's too bad this is so expensive. I need to find a magazine that pays for travel.

It looks like I'll have to win Dawn's confidence all over again. She appeared frightened when I returned home, just like she did a year ago when I met her for the first time after returning from another launch in Florida. It's kind of sad that her fear of men may never go away. We're convinced that she was mistreated by her former owners. I think we were making real progress before I left for Florida, but this is going to be a very slow endeavor. 

Tomorrow will be busy. I've got to finish my article and send it to the magazine. There are pictures to edit and a lot of laundry to do. I found three new bills to pay in the incoming mail and I've got to go to the store and get some fruit for my morning smoothies. The Resilience capsule just docked with the space station as I write this. It's been quite a year. I wonder what the world will look like six months from now when the astronauts return home.