Author Archives: ianmdudley

About ianmdudley

Writer, lover, reader, father, taxpayer, husband, and son, though not necessarily in that order.

If you’re lucky, they’ll make you sit in the comfy chair while they indoctrinate you

To complement the planned publication of Balloons of the Apocalypse Sooner Rather Than Later!™, I am presenting a series of articles about a group that features prominently in the book – the Ludite (pronounced LEWD-ite) Church. Their primary claim to fame is that the worship the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The start of the series – Introduction to the Ludite faith – can be found here.

While many aspects of the Ludite Church can, and ought, to be viewed with concern, consternation, and untempered vitriol, one aspect of the Church’s work is universally praised.

Its furniture.

And rightly so.

Ludite furniture isn’t just the most highly sought after home and office product to come out of Beet City. It is the most highly sought after home and office product in the known world.

Many people, willingly or not, are brought into the faith. Not all are suitable for missionary work.

Some of those who aren’t show an aptitude for the arts.

A non-zero number of those who show an aptitude for the arts also exhibit a talent for carpentry.

A fraction of that number, it turns out, can be trusted with knives and other sharp tools.

These people end up under the purview of the Ludite Church’s Artisan Bureaucracy.

Artisans are apprenticed with a Master for ten years.

The first three of those years are spent sitting in a chair, holding stock still, and watching the Master work.

In the fourth year, the apprentices are allowed to start doing basic prep work, such as queuing music and fetching sand paper for the Master.

During years five through ten, the apprentice slowly works his or her way up to making miniature furniture: chairs, stools, simple beds, kitchen sets. This involves building a 1:15 scale version of an item, tearing it apart, then rebuilding it, over and over, until the muscle memory is perfected and the Master approves moving on to the next item.

Such is the thoroughness of their training during this period, that this miniature apprentice furniture is coveted by dollhouse aficionados, who are known to pay exorbitant amounts for some examples of the work.

If all goes well, after ten years, Journeyman status is achieved, and students are allowed to assist in the manufacture of full-sized Beet City tables and chairs.

Master status, usually attained during the Ludite’s twilight years, is only rarely bestowed, with fewer than ten Masters in existence at any one time.

This long and arduous creative path results in Beet City furniture being the most supple and calming furniture in existence.

The exact process of manufacture is a trade secret, but the sales brochures do disclose this much: the material is saturated with Beethoven’s music from start to finish.

It starts in the design phase, when the rare materials are procured. Only the highest quality recordings are played. In the case of a prestigious commission, recordings are deemed too flat for the sought after effect, and live orchestras are brought in to play around the clock.

It has been suggested by some that music is even played to the trees as they are cut down, and in extreme cases, to seeds that are planted with furniture in mind.

And, of course, Beethoven is played during the actual assembly of the furniture. The intention is to saturate the fine-grain wood with the dulcet tones of the Great Composer’s work, so that it might ooze the melodies’ soothing effects as the furniture is used.

Whether you view the Ludite Church as our last hope for salvation or an intolerable bane on freedom, you cannot dispute that the chairs are remarkably comfortable, the tables sturdy and beautiful, the bed frames deeply relaxing.

Even the condemned who swing from Beet City-made gallows are reported to go out with a smile.

Followed shortly thereafter by the violent convulsions of death.

Although Augustus Brutus, an early Il Maestro of the Church, claimed these convulsions were the Great Composer reaching out from beyond the grave, attempting to conduct one last symphony.

So convinced of this was Augustus Brutus that he tied batons to the hands of those facing execution, and he had an orchestra present during the hangings, playing music to the wildly gesticulating limbs.

The resulting music was said to be so disturbing that Augustus Brutus was eventually murdered to put an end to the practice, and all recordings destroyed.

Now who among us wouldn’t want to own a piece of furniture with a provenance like that?


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Don’t bother preaching to the choir – they’re listening to the music (and subliminal programming)

To complement the planned publication of Balloons of the Apocalypse Very Soon Now!™, I am presenting a series of articles about a group that features prominently in the book – the Ludite (pronounced LEWD-ite) Church.

The start of the series – Introduction to the Ludite faith – can be found here.

They say that travel broadens the mind.

It also broadens the faith base, if done correctly.

And the Ludite Church knows how to do travel correctly.

In the post-Big Fed era of limited long distance travel options, the Ludite Church recognized that bringing the flock to Beet City was not a viable long-term option for growing the number of the faithful.

So they sent out missionaries, to both preach to the unwashed masses and to market the desirability of Beet City as a vacation retreat for those with the means to travel.

But when your faith’s spread is reliant on brainwashed proselytizers, you can’t just take a newly minted convert and turn them loose on the world.

The Ludites learned this the hard way in the early days, when mass defections and deprogrammings occurred amongst their missionaries once they were out and about, free of Beet City’s cloying control.

So the Church evolved and took steps to prevent any but the most devoted from going on missions. This involved a series of activities and tests designed to crush any form of free thought or resistance.

Little is known about the first few years of indoctrination within the walls of Beet City, called the Rite of Composition, except that at one stage it involves a coffin-sized box, a stage magician with a sword, and asparagus-flavored marshmallows. But the end result is an evangelical with an undying love of Beethoven and an unending devotion to His music and return.

Once an Initiate has been deemed to have passed the Rite of Composition, he or she progresses to an Associate Second Stand position within the Church. At this stage, the adherent is deemed indoctrinated enough to trust outside Beet City limits.

They are shipped out to neighboring city-states, though never one where relatives are known to live. The Church is not willing to risk a deprogramming effort made on the part of distraught (and now either penniless or locked in property litigation [see second article]) family members. The Associate Second Stand’s mission is to spread the Lyrics and Music of the Church to new potential Initiates.

A complicated point system taking into account the number, wealth, and geophysical location of new converts is used to judge the Associate Second Stand’s progress, and when a certain point score is reached, they are said to have achieved Clarissimo and are elevated to Second Stand.

Attainment of this level is accompanied by a laminated certificate from Il Maestro, the Church’s leader, congratulating them on their success.

This point system is the closest thing to a bible the Ludite Church has. However, unlike religions that feel compelled to spread the word of their holy documents, the Ludites hold this system as a closely guarded secret.

The official Church line is that to know and fully appreciate the rules, adherents must slowly build up their spiritual readiness in a carefully controlled manner in order to accept it.

Others, who admittedly have not seen the writings, suggest it is because the rules would be immediately recognized as silly when viewed through an eye untarnished by extensive brainwashing.

Many books detailing the point system have been written, but are only available to church members for a more-than-nominal charge. Skeptics have joined the Church in order to gain access, but to date, all have succumbed to indoctrination and are now vocal supporters of the Church.

Each copy of the books is uniquely numbered, never allowed to leave Beet City limits, and carefully watched. And so, to date, a copy has never made it into non-secular hands for examination.

An investigative journalist with a platoon of mercenaries came close, which is how the outside world learned that the books were designed to explode once more than a meter outside Beet City limits.

This is also how the outside world became acquainted with that most fearsome weapon, the baton blaster.

It doesn’t need to be said that none of the journalist’s team, herself included, survived the incursion.

Her posthumous article on a baton blaster gap, however, both won a Peabody and started a baton arms race.

Which led to a lot of wasteful spending on musical accoutrements and more than a few nasty musical military industrial accidents.

Also, her ghost writer was pretty steamed about not getting any credit for the Peabody.

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Posted by on 13 August 2014 in Marlowe and the Spacewoman


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All your bass, alto, and soprano are belong to us

To complement the planned publication of Balloons of the Apocalypse Very Soon Now™, I am presenting a series of articles about an organization that features prominently in the book – the Ludite Church.

The start of the series – Introduction to the Ludite faith – can be found here.

This installment discusses the process of indoctrination – how new members of the Church are inducted into the Faith.

First, it needs to be stated that the Ludite Church believes in expansion. Rapid, unobstructed expansion.

As a result, some of their missionary activities are deemed by outsiders to be…aggressive.

Now while it is true that missionaries are sent out to find new converts, the primary source of new recruits is tourism.

The Ludites built a grand city in the desert, one of remarkable architecture, striking landmarks, and unrivaled musical performances:

Beet City.

One cannot see or hear the words ‘Beet City’ without thinking of some of these tributes to music and engineering:

  • The Eternal Flame of the Composer, a fountain of fire and vibrato unparalleled in modern existence, and said to put viewers into a trance of pure ecstasy
  • The imposing, 1000-meter tall Statue of Symphony, a stern-but-welcoming herald inviting music lovers to visit Beet City and experience its transcendent power
  • The Gift Shops of Inexhaustible Kitsch, offering a vast array of inexpensive mementos that allow you to keep Beet City close to your heart, even when you are far away

As intended, this wonder of the North American continent serves as a major tourist draw, pulling in a rich and varied pool of potential converts.

Once trapped within the walls of this holy see, visitors are barraged with subliminal messages and, in some cases, more overt methods of brainwashing conversion.

Those who are ill-prepared for this onslaught of indoctrination soon find themselves inured to the beliefs and tenants of the Ludite Church, and so a family vacation to Beet City turns into an unintended pilgrimage.

Tourists are carefully monitored at all times, and when the authorities deem that indoctrination is complete, they are designated novices and apartments provided for their long-term stay. The tour guides provide directions and maps, and the new novice then finds him or herself at the Office of Legal Orchestration.

It is in these offices that the novice provides a detailed family history, including last known addresses of all relatives and ancestors, and sign over all their worldly goods to the Church. Following the completion of this necessarily cumbersome paperwork, the Initiate is taken to a celebration known as a Mass Conversion. Here a Church Member of the First Chair performs the Rite of Confirmation. This Rite not only converts and enters the individual into the Church as an Initiate, it also converts all of their relatives and ancestors into the Church.

As relinquishing all your worldly goods is a prerequisite to joining the Ludite Church, the Office of Legal Orchestration then files lawsuits against all the Initiate’s relatives and ancestors in the City-States where they reside. The lawsuits seek to recover the property of said ancestors, which in the view of the Office of Legal Orchestration is now the rightful property of the Church.

It is disturbing how successful these lawsuits have been. Their success is usually attributed to the 10% finders fee awarded to the municipality in which the lawsuit is filed. All appeals have to be made in Beet City, where plaintiffs must sit through an indoctrination presentation before being allowed entry to the courts.

Few are able to resist the power of this presentation, and end up joining the Church as well.

Still, it cannot be denied that Beet City is an amazing place well worth visiting, assuming you can withstand (or don’t mind) the attempts at conversion.

Part 3 of this series, Assumed Missionary Positions of the Ludite Faith, can be found here.

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Deadly music isn’t just a Sirens thing: Intro to the Ludite Faith

With the planned publication of Balloons of the Apocalypse, the sequel to Marlowe and the Spacewoman, coming up Very Soon Now™, the time is ripe for an exposé on a group that features prominently in the book.

I speak, of course, of the Ludites (pronounced LEWD-ites).

Adherents to the Ludite faith, also known by the (derogatory) term Beeters, worship the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and await His return to complete His 10th Symphony.

It turns out this wait can be a dangerous one, for many of the faithful have died in the course of trying to expedite Beethoven’s return.

I will offer no person judgments on the ludicrous beliefs of this reckless cult, but will instead, in a series of articles, paint a picture of their history and beliefs, and allow you, my gentle readers, to come to the conclusion that they’re kooks.

In this first installment, I talk about the basic tenants of the Beeter faith.

But before one can talk about the rules of the Beeter faith, one must describe the events that led to it.

This brings us, of course, to the period of history known as the Partially Thwarted Apocalypse, and the collapse of the Big Fed (known in its heyday as the United States) that occurred as a result.

A great deal of chaos and fear ensued amongst the general populace immediately following the global collapse of all large governments. However, instead of driving the unwashed, and now ungoverned, masses to church as conventional wisdom suggested, this uncertainty so disheartened people that they fled from faith in droves.

Those who failed to be circumspect about their lack of a lack of faith often found themselves on the wrong end of a hail of stones and other heavy, sharp projectiles.

In the North American continent, secretive, isolated cults did well in the first few years after the fall of the Big Fed, as did religions that masked their beliefs behind faith in more secular items.

Prominent examples of these neo-secular faiths would be the Ludites and their fixation on Beethoven and his music, the Church of Mickey D and its holy Shroud of the Clown, which held certain types of fast food to be hallowed, and the deadly Bunny in da Hat cult, which placed a high premium on violent street magic.

And yet, within ten years, as city-states formed and imposed order in the form of local government, the uncertainty and disheartenment of the masses faded back to comfortable, or at least tolerable, levels. In this environment of structure and perceived stability, faith came back into vogue and there followed a period of openness.

With this new openness came conflict, and then, inevitably, consolidation.

The Ludites proved quite adept at co-opting and absorbing other religions, and as one of the first faiths to embark upon such a course of action, quickly built itself a large and stable fan base.

The best example of this absorption of other faiths is the annexation of the Church of Mickey D. To ease the merger, the Ludite Church declared fast food a required staple of the faithful (more on Ludite eating habits in a later article), and by the time fast food was phased out of Luditism, three years later, the Mickey D members had either embraced the Ludite faith completely, were excised with ruthless precision (sans all their worldly goods), or died due to poor heath resulting from their preferred diet.

The Shroud of the Clown became the Shroud of Tourette, reportedly donned by Beethoven prior to delivering his frequent public verbal flayings. According to the new Church doctrine, the shroud cloaked Beethoven in an impenetrable aura of obscenity and invective that left those subjected to his withering diatribes gibbering, broken shadows of their former selves.

The incongruity of a bright yellow and orange shroud in Beethoven’s era was glossed over as an article of faith not to be questioned. The golden ‘M’ emblazoned on the front of the shroud was explained as an emblem of the Church’s supreme leader, and thus was the office of Il Maestro born.

It is towards the end of this period of consolidation that the Ludite Church, now confident in its ability to safely operate in the open, published its basic tenants. Prior to this, the articles of faith were passed down only orally, in the form of hauntingly beautiful cantatas.

Initial circulation of the tenants was poor due to the use of stone tablets as the medium of publication. This was quickly rectified by phasing in the use of parchment and paper.

The basic tenants are simple:

  • Only through Beethoven’s music can one find fulfillment
  • Beethoven shall return to this Earth to complete his Tenth Symphony, bringing harmony and peace to the world
  • To prevent false prophets from claiming to be the Bringer of the 10th Symphony, Beethoven cast upon the world the Curse of the Tenth Symphony
  • Thou shalt not write a Tenth Symphony before Beethoven’s return, and after His return, His 10th will be so perfect there’s no reason to finish yours
  • The Return of Beethoven will be known and heralded by the Ludite Church’s holy leader, Il Maestro

Surprisingly, from those five basic tenants, Church bureaucrats have derived eight thousand pages of rules and regulations. This includes, to mention but a few, minutiae on offices that can be held within the Church, proscribed and prescribed food stuffs, acceptable methods of travel for missionaries, hierarchy of techniques for indoctrination (ranging from ‘kill them with kindness’ to use of drugs and sleep deprivation to break resistance), and proper posture of orchestra members when performing Beethoven’s music.

But whatever you might think about the Ludite Church, there is one fact that no one disputes:

They have excellent taste in music.

Part 2 of this series, Indoctrination into the Ludite Faith, can be found here.

Posted by on 29 July 2014 in Marlowe and the Spacewoman, Noir


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Think of the children! (Instead of ignoring them in favor of social media)

Walking past the kiddos’ room one recent evening, I heard crying.

“Daddy,” my son said, when he was still sobbing twenty minutes later so I relented and went in, “I don’t want to grow up, because if I do, I won’t be able to fit in your lap any more.”

I asked him to repeat that, because all I heard after “because if I do” was “I couldn’t be a Toys R Us kid.”

After he repeated himself, I sat down, forming a lap, and patted him over.

“Don’t worry,” I said as he plopped down on my legs, cutting off all circulation. “As you grow, I’ll just eat lots and lots of food so I get bigger.”

My son considered these words for a moment, and then burst into a new round of tears. “But Daddy,” he objected, “if you get bigger, you’ll break the house!”

This. My son fearing I’ll expand beyond the capacity of my house walls due to overeating.

This is why I have given up on social media.

Or at least dialed it way, way back.

Now a lot of folks who are going off-line or getting off the grid these days whine and drone on and on about corporate snooping and unconstitutional government surveillance.

Well, they can keep their tin foil hats. Those things are not my style.

And they’re utterly ineffective against government mind control rays.

If you want to properly shield your brain, you need to go lead or gold foil. Which is expensive and uncomfortable.

Not to mention, it gets you strange looks walking down the street.

(And mugged, more often than not, when it comes to the gold foil hats.)

But for me, social media had become an addiction that distracted me from family time and writing/editing time.

Also, work time, but that was more of a benefit than a disadvantage, in my view.

So, over the recent holiday weekend, I quit the internet cold turkey.

Just for the weekend, mind you, as an experiment to see how I fared. I’m not crazy.

The results?

The biggest benefit was that, with the mobile data setting on my phone off, my battery life went way up. Like 10% improvement up.

I know. Impressive.

The secondary benefit was I became aware of this strange, seemingly-but-actually-not intangible aura surrounding me.

The Missus, upon my commenting on this dawning awareness, snorted and said it was called ‘reality’.

I like reality. There are people and places and things that I can actually touch, feel, taste, and smell.

OK, the smell aspect isn’t always a winner, especially with kiddos still in diapers, but overall, a very worthwhile experience. Especially kissing. It feels way nicer to kiss real lips than displayed lips during a Skype session.

Last but not least, I must point out that during my 72 hours of disconnect, I didn’t miss the internet.

Considering how obsessive I am when it comes to checking for likes on Facebook, retweets on twitter, and visits on my blog, this came as quite a surprise.

How much of a surprise?

Well, usually when writing a blog post, I pause six or seven times during the writing to see if any of my other posts have gotten a hit since I last checked.

This post? Haven’t checked once.

Well, more than once.

Or twice.

The point is, I’m getting better. I’ve proven to myself that I don’t need it as much as I need things like food, water, and oxygen.

Even though it used to feel like I did need it, and in this order of priority:

  • Internet access
  • Oxygen
  • Ice cream
  • Soda
  • Food
  • Water
  • Hot baths with scented candles and Tangerine Dream playing in the background

The long weekend is over now, and obviously, since this blog entry exists, I have not given up on the internet entirely.

But I have scaled way back.

And in doing so, I’ve found I have more time and, more importantly, more patience around my family, friends, and coworkers.

(Since my boss told me I had to develop more patience over my probationary period, this is a double win for me!)

No longer do I view these ‘reality’ interactions as annoying but apparently mandatory distractions from being on-line and getting the latest status updates on people I’ve never met.

You know what else I did with this additional free time?

I  got back to editing my next book, Balloons of the Apocalypse. The sequel I’d originally planned to release this May, but which sat ignored on my computer for months. Why?

Because after I’d gritted my teeth through my work day, and then endured the dull agony of family time, I only had enough energy for one more thing. And when forced to choose between my indie writing career and on-line friends’ social updates, I chose the latter.

The latter plus watching that video of a wombat improbably attired in a Speedo wrestling with, and then eating, a python wearing a fedora.

I miss that video. It is awesome, but I’ve lost the link. Anyone have it?

But I digress. The point is, until completing this off-line experiment, I had no idea the former option, or any non-social media option, for that matter, was even a viable choice.

Turns out it is a viable choice.

The more you know.

You’re welcome.

Need a breakdown to decide if quitting social media is for you? Happy to oblige, because I’m a public service kinda guy.

Pros of internet and social media

  • That guy you follow on twitter because he’s a writer too? See exactly what he had for lunch today
  • Find out the horoscope for Libra even though you aren’t a Libra, or believe in horoscopes, because that very nice lady in Cleveland, Ohio (or so her profile claims) shares hers. Every. Day.
  • Discover the dinosaur-murdering truth about Steven Spielberg (that a-hole!)
  • Develop a deep and abiding hatred for family and friends because they are constantly interrupting your attempts to catch up on Facebook
  • Have a faceless, uncaring government build a detailed dossier on you based on where you surf, what you post, and what you buy, solely so they can predict your every behaviour, and when democracy is overthrown, know exactly where to send the shock troops to arrest you
  • Have a faceless, uncaring corporation build a detailed dossier on you based on where you surf, what you post, and what you buy so that they can make money off you without compensating you. Also, so they can predict when someone in your household is pregnant and send you coupons for baby formula. Actually, that one might be kinda handy…
  • The warm, cozy, but totally unwarranted belief that every time you tweet a link to buy your book on Amazon, it’s clicked on by thousands of eager fans-to-be. Or hundreds. Or even one

Cons of internet and social media

  • Incensed hatred of anyone, especially young children, who want you to forsake the internet in order to meet their social interaction needs
  • Lower productivity
  • Can cause Repetitive Motion Injuries and/or flare-ups
  • If a lot of the people you follow are female writers of a certain age, they have this thing called Beefcake Friday, where they barrage your feed with unwanted pictures of muscular, shirtless, well-oiled men, often fire fighters, which, coupled with the lower productivity already mentioned above, makes you feel even more inadequate as a man. Also, wouldn’t being slathered in oil make a fire fighter more flammable? Is that wise?
  • Cancer

I’ve done the math, and I didn’t even need a calculator! I will be doing a lot less internetting going forward. Which is good news for my family, coworkers, and anyone waiting for my next book.

But it’s very bad news for my oncologist. My poor, poor oncologist.


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Speak softly and, if you must carry a big stick, do it without making any sudden movements around my kids

My kids are insane.

Oh, and when did you get your degree in Psychiatry to enable such a diagnosis, you heartless bastard of a parent, you ask?

While I could argue that several years of parenting is far more of an evidentiary trial by fire than years of medical training, I will instead just say the state of their mental health is plainly axiomatic. Case in point:

It is a typical day in the Dudley household / juvenile detention facility. At home are Monster Kiddo, his brother Sadist Kiddo, and me, the hapless Daddy. Monster Kiddo has Sadist Kiddo pinned to the floor, using his body to crush Sadist Kiddo’s head.

Sadist Kiddo is screaming bloody murder about this, drawing my attention away from whatever it was I was doing in an attempt to ignore my children and the disruptive influence they have on my peace of mind.

I rush to the scene of the crime and, after muttering, “I am crushing your head. Crush, crush!” under my breath, I separate the two pugilists. This involves some heavy lifting and invective on my part.

Mostly invective. As they get older, I expect the balance to tilt more towards the heavy lifting side of the equation.

Which is ironic, given that as they age, hearing invective is less inappropriate for them.

Having caught their breath, the boys shrug free of me and begin circling each other, licking their chops and sharpening their fingernails.

In an attempt to maintain my sanity, I confiscate both of their whetstones and, as I wonder aloud once again as to why the Missus would possibly see fit to provide them such instruments of mayhem, order the two bitter rivals to stay at least three feet apart.

They are small enough that this would keep them just out of arm’s reach of each other.

Sadist Kiddo, having recovered enough from his head squishing, immediately bursts into tears and dashes to his room, leaving me a trail of woeful wails to follow.

I find him on the floor next to his bed, curled in the fetal position, tears and mucous flowing freely from, respectively, his eyes and nose.

(Once it was the other way around, and boy was that a long night in the emergency room.)

Me: What’s wrong? Why are you crying?
Sadist Kiddo: Monster Kiddo is my best friend! I love him!
Me: But he was crushing your head. I had to stop it.
Sadist Kiddo: But now I can’t play with him! I miss Monster Kiddo!
Me: But he was crushing your head!
Sadist Kiddo: He’s my best friend ever! And now I’ll never see him again because of you!
Me: (sighing and knowing I will regret what I’m about to say next): Fine. I rescind the order. You can play together.
Sadist Kiddo: (running from room): Fat ass jerk rescinded the order! He rescinded it, Monster Kiddo! We can play again!
Monster Kiddo: (from the other room) I’m crushing your head! Crush, crush.

In the end, the kiddos make peace with each other and tag team me. I do the only thing I can, and make a strategic retreat: I surrender my tablet to them.
They immediately turn on each other, fighting over who gets to use it next. In the chaos, I slip away and lock myself in the bathroom.

There are now ominous clunking sounds coming from outside, but I have water and a toilet – I think I can hold out for at least several days.

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Posted by on 14 June 2014 in Life, Parenting


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Remembering Dads on that most dreaded of holidays, Mother’s Day

Where or where is all the love for fathers on Mother’s Day?

I can’t help but be struck by the disproportionate amount of praise and love being heaped on moms this Mother’s Day.

Frankly, it wears on me. Like a steady, high-pitched whine that never stops the whole day through.

I just don’t understand why we, as a society, forget about the contributions dads make to Mother’s Day.

Do you think those kids pick out that card themselves? No! Dad does!

Well, OK, in my case, the kiddos did pick out the card, but guess who drove them to the store?

And had to read a bunch of cards to them since they’re still illiterate?

And had to put up with their crazy antics in public?

And had to buy a card for his mom to boot?

So much work. So unfair.

Especially with my kiddos.

I tell you, I’m so glad I’m at work five days a week and not having to endure the demon spawn running around the house, yelling and screaming.

But hey, don’t think I don’t put in my fair share of parenting time. I do.

On evenings and those parts of the weekend when the kiddos aren’t at their grandparents.

Why, weeknights alone, I spend an hour or two with them, or keeping an eye on them, or an ear on them, before they go to bed.

It’s impossible to get anything else done. Heck, I can’t even watch the TV since the Missus expects me to entertain the little monsters while she makes and serves dinner.

It really stinks. At this rate, I’ll never find out how Lost ended.

(I’m sure it was an awesome series finale.)

And let’s not forget: I’m the one who has to read them a bedtime story.

That’s hard. They are terrible listeners, with the attention span of gnats.

I get so frustrated.

And then Mother’s Day comes along, and moms get all the praise.

Oh sure, moms are the one who get pregnant and carry the babies to term and go through childbirth and then hold, feed, clothe, hug, kiss, love, reassure, praise, cuddle, and whatnot the kiddos throughout childhood.

But it’s hard for us dads, too.

Pregnancy was no cake walk for me.

Awakened in the middle of the night while the Missus dealt with the wet (and dry) heaves of morning sickness?

Disruptive to my sleep patterns.

Napping fitfully next to the Missus’ hospital bed while she’s in labor for two days?

Really rough. And surprisingly uncomfortable. My back ached for days after.

Being awakened from a dead sleep every time the Missus got up to feed the kiddos in the night or change diapers?

Left me exhausted the following day.

Never getting to sleep in because the kiddos wake up at the crack of dawn, making so much noise they rouse the Missus who, upon rolling out of bed, wakes me in the process?

Unbearably inconvenient.

I could go on, but I think by now you’ve got a clear enough picture of men’s contributions to raising kids.

I tell ya, it hurts me. It hurts me right here, in the heart.

So this Mother’s Day, don’t forget the dads. The poor, lonely, sad, left out dads.

Today, make them feel like it’s Father’s Day.

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Posted by on 11 May 2014 in Life, Parenting


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#DSN50 II: Electromagnetic Boogaloo

On Day 1 of the #NASASocial 50th Anniversary Deep Space Network event (#DSN50), we toured JPL and were exposed to, among other things, the stairs technology of tomorrow.

It was impressive.

If you're at the JPL 'Center of the Universe' you'd like you'd like to spend less time on Mars and more time on everything else. You'd think.

The folks at JPL seem to spend a lot of time focused on Mars. Soon I figured out why.

There was so much we didn’t know that first day. Sure, that includes the New Age stairs designs. I talked about those in the last post.

But it also includes the alien threats.

He was here to kick ass or chew gum. Only those of us with gum to offer him survived the trials.

I’m pretty sure he’s thinkin’ about ninja moves and fatal pressure points

On Day 2, those of us who survived mortal combat with Mohawk Guy were rewarded with a tour of the Goldstone Deep Space network.

Yes, we had to throw down with the rebel Daft Punk of Science, Mohawk Guy.

How did this come about, you ask?

In the usual way.

It turns out there wasn’t enough room on the chartered bus to Goldstone for all of the #DSN50 attendees and staff, and rather than have some of the JPLers miss out on the tour, our hosts decided to make all the civilian guests participate in a death match with NASA’s most famous internet meme.

Not only did they get a lot of publicity with these cage fights, but I understand Dr. Charles Elachi, Director of JPL, cleaned up on the betting pool.

Never count out the geekiest looking guy in a death match cage fight.

Now if it had been me, I would have put those fights up on Pay Per View.

And if you’d seen the fight cage, with its spinning razor blades, flying chainsaws, and radioactive nunchakus, you’d have paid to watch.

Paid top dollar.

But evidently, the NASA lawyers ruined it for everyone since none of us had signed any sort of death match television rights release form.

Not intended just for the constant stream of trains and trucks, these ear plugs also help residents sleep through the test firings.

For a town in the middle of the desert, Barstow can be surprisingly loud between 12am and 6am.

Lawyers. But what else can you expect, right?

In actuality, Day 2 of #DSN50 started the night before, when, after applying salves and stitches to my wounds, I drove the long and lonely stretch through the desert to the tiny hamlet of Barstow, where I checked into the local Best Western.

Though I’m not sure this particular hotel earned the moniker ‘Best’ Western. More like ‘Passable Western if you enjoy architectural harmonics such that when someone uses the stairs in the wee hours, the entire building rattles and sways’.

And this hotel proved to be popular with the wee hours of the morning check-in crowd.

Quite popular.

So maybe just Terrible Western, for short.

That said, and unending stream of trucks and trains rattling by aside, the brave folks at this hotel did risk their liberty to provide me with my first clue as to the true nature of Goldstone.

The ear plugs.

I have to give them credit for that.

But wait, Ian, we don’t care about your noisy, sleepless night, I can hear you say. What we really want to know is why did you have to drive to Barstow the night before?

A fair question.

I had to drive down the night before because I am not a morning person.

I’m not really an afternoon person either, but societal norms, as well as my employer, require me to be up and about by 8am at the latest most days. On the remaining days, when I could sleep in, my kids burst into my bedroom at the crack of dawn to ensure I don’t fall into bad habits that carry over into the week days.

There are mornings, usual Saturday and Sunday, when I truly hate my spawn.

Now the morning bastards people at JPL, unaware of my slumbering predilections, scheduled the bus taking us to Goldstone to depart from Barstow at 6:30 in the morning.

There was only one bus that left the Park and Ride before that, and it was the 6:00am school bus.

Half the passengers were actual morning people. They insisted on singing Kumbaya during the drive. Fewer than half survived the trip.

Don’t let this seemingly well-lit picture fool you. This was a long exposure taken in the unsightly dark of morning.

When I imagine hell, it isn’t aliens raining hot plasma down on our cities, enslaving our cats and eating our children.

Oh no.

It’s having to catch the middle school bus at 6:00 in the morning, in the middle of the freakin’ desert.

A horror even Lovecraft would not touch with a 3.05 meter foot pole.

Once all the #DSN50 survivors were loaded onto the bus, we drove out into the desert.

Just as I was beginning to grow uneasy and fear that they were driving us out to a future mass-grave site, we reached a check point manned by heavily armed soldiers.

We quickly learned these men were not here to execute us because of our progressive views on science and space exploration, but to protect Fort Irwin, the military base where Goldstone resides.

Sadly, I did not learn this before soiling my pants.

Fortunately, I always carry clean underwear with me when I travel, and, much to both the joy and chagrin of my seatmate, I had soon changed into something more presentable.

Before we were let loose on the Goldstone facility itself, we were gathered into a large room to receive a safety briefing and, for those in our group who chose to stand in the back of the room, have our genetic material scanned and duplicated.

Oh, those clever NASA and JPL people. Putting the coffee in the back of the room next to the cloning scanners.

One poor attendee sitting in the back row fell asleep, head lolling back into the cloning field. Let's just say two heads are NOT better than one.

Looks like there’s a rastering problem with the cloning equipment

I wonder if all #NASASocial events have this high a casualty rate, and if so, how do they explain this to the relatives?

It’s a lot like Hangman, but involves Maxwell’s Equations, electromagnetic pulses from outer space, and actual death if you lose.

They also warned us about the snakes, which don’t have wings but can still be found on the antennas and in trees.

No one knows for sure how the snakes manage this, but the leading theory involves stray electromagnetic radiation causing mutations that either make the snakes more springy, or give them the power of telekinesis.

Or, nightmare of nightmares, both.

There is a third, slightly less unsettling theory that a disgruntled former janitor is living in a forgotten shed on the base, and that she goes around at night collecting snakes and moving them into unexpected locations like trees, antennas, urinals, and the coffee resupply cabinets.

Whether she uses brute force strength or telekinesis to manage the relocations is a hotly debated question, and until and unless she’s caught in the act, we may never know.

Regardless of the method, I had to break out my third (and last) pair of clean undies after that revelation.

To say some of us were put off or agitated by the snake revelation would be an understatement. Let’s just say there were a few other attendees wishing they’d had the wisdom I’d had to bring extra underwear.

As a relaxation exercise to sooth rattled nerves, Jeff, one of our hosts, tried to teach us the many nuances of Antenna Hangman.

Sadly, there was a snake in the cabinet with the dry erase markers, so it took a little longer than provided for on the schedule to get everyone settled down.

I also learned that I am hopeless at Antenna Hangman, but I still picked up the home version at the gift shop since it looked like something my kids would enjoy.

Plus it had Pat Sajak on the cover!

And then, after a careful survey for snakes, we went outside to enjoy the antennas.

This 34 meter antenna was sleeping. Our host informed us that we'd missed its mom feeding it by about half an hour. They had just enough time to wash all the blood off.

Don’t let the small size fool you – the babies have no venom control and are the most deadly of the antennas. You would do well to approach cautiously, or keep a building between you and it. Preferably a brick building, not one made of wood or straw.

If you stand under this thing, look up, and can only muster the adjective 'huge' then you are a complete and utter moron. This thing is freakin' ginormously garbiguan. And THAT'S an understatement.

The mother of the 34 meter antennas, or as she is known to the staff, Hortense. At 70 meters, she’s fully grown. Monogamous, antennas mate for life. However, the males are jerks and tend to split once the kids arrive. Probably so they can sleep in on the weekends.

Plus they tag you with an x-ray laser. It was fatal 50% of the time.

The Goldstone staff invited us to play a game of Marco Polo with the antennas. Turns out they’re really good at it, and they’re not very good sports. So if the antennas ever invite you to play a game, don’t bother.

Naw, I lied. You can totally see the aftermath photos. For $50 a shot. I've got dozens of them.

Some of the guests, out of a misplaced sense of bravado, wandered a little too close to this antenna. The aftermath was too gruesome to photograph.

Sadly, in order to maintain the overall health of the entire array, sometimes runt antennas need to be culled. This involves large dumpsters and high-security recycling yards. Since the only way to kill an antenna is to cut it up, ear protection is required. Their screams are known to drive even the most placid of sloths into a manic frenzy of slashing and stabbing. Human trials went even worse.

Sadly, in order to maintain the overall health of the entire array, sometimes runt antennas need to be culled. This involves large dumpsters and high-security recycling yards. Since the only way to kill an antenna is to cut it up, ear protection is required. Their screams are known to drive even the most placid of sloths into a manic frenzy of slashing and stabbing. Human trials went even worse.

Every time someone makes that 'your anus' joke, I just want to knock all their teeth out with a 8" telescope equatorial mount. That would learn 'em.

There was some sniggering on the bus as we drove past this antenna. Don’t know why. It looked no smaller than some of the other antennas we saw, and this one wasn’t wearing a pocket protector.

Now NASA and JPL have lots of propaganda official explanations they put out about the purpose of these antennas.

SETI (now discontinued by NASA…supposedly).

Communicating with spacecraft like Voyager 1, Voyager 2, New Horizons, Curiosity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Opportunity, LADEE (RIP) and a host of others with acronyms that just confuse me.

Imaging asteroids with RADAR.

But something didn’t ring true. Something was tickling at the back of my head. Even after I swatted away the fly on the back of my neck.

No, it wasn’t the altitude-induced headache that was setting in.

Or the sleep-deprived delusions caused by my involuntary lack of sleep at the so-called Best Western

It was something else.

But I needed more clues before I could figure it out.

The next stop on the tour was the 70 meter antenna.

In a pinch, you can use the antennas to catch rain water. If they're looking up when it rains, make noise so they look down and the water spills into strategically placed barrels. But don't let an antenna spot you. That's certain death.

‘Mom’ happily pondering the sky and clouds, blissfully unaware of the potential food milling about underneath her.

Allergy season at Goldstone is a killer.

You’d be surprised how quickly a hungry antenna can whip around towards the sound of lunch. Fortunately, all of the antennas were fed prior to our arrival, and the adult 70 meter antennas never eat out of habit, only out of hunger. Not true, the younger 34 meter antennas…

Hortense didn’t notice us at first, but then somebody sneezed and she turned to see what made the sound.

Fortunately, they’d told us at the safety briefing that like the T-Rex dinosaurs in the movie Jurassic Park, the antennas can’t detect motion.

We all froze. And unlike the bouts with Mohawk Guy, we all survived.

Once the antenna was suitably distracted by a desert squirrel, we made a mad dash for the control room.

Unlike the cake, the control room isn't moist and chocolatey.

If one could truly control an antenna, one would do so from here. But this control room, like the cake, is a lie.

Keeping morale high at Goldstone is very important. That's why all the water is spiked with grog.

I don’t know who this man is, but I salute his naive optimism.

Inside, we could tell morale was high. But little did I suspect the true significance of that ‘V’.

That didn’t come until they took us to the tunnels. They claimed the tunnels were for moving about while avoiding detection by the antennas, but I wasn’t so sure.

I would have gone with a more light and airy motiff. But that's just me.

When the alien bombardment begins and JPL staffers evacuate the surface of the Goldstone facility, this is the first view they’ll have of the next fifty years of their life. Cold, dark, dank, and filled with pictures of our solar system.

If you ask me, anyone forced to live underground would just find this depressing.

Ah, the mighty and majestic sun. Once something we took for granted. Why not? Above ground, you could just look up and see it. Not so these days, with the alien hordes patrolling the now Moon-like surface.

Yeah, just depressed. Sad, really, what we'll end up sinking to.

Yet another possible future denied us by the alien invaders. If only we had given more funding to NASA, we might be on Mars and the other planets right now, driving the (literally) heartless invaders from our beloved solar system.

I'm just not feeling inspired by these.

Ah, majestic Jupiter. If not for those cursed aliens now bombarding our surface and making life on Earth impossible, we might be there now, swimming in its cold, toxic atmosphere.

I would have gone with pictures of tropical beaches and redwood forests. More immediate.

Screw that. Sure, Saturn is all pretty with that ring and everything, but it’s cold and harsh there. The aliens can have it.

Everywhere we looked in those tunnels, there were pictures of the planets in our solar system.

Why? Why all the reminders about the solar system?

Could they be there to remind us, while we cowered underground during a brutal, overwhelming alien bombardment, of what was rightfully OURS?

A picture of Goldstone’s true purpose was beginning to emerge from the swirling confusion that is my mind. And it was not a pretty picture.

Or a very well-focused picture. At least, not yet.

And then there was the awards ceremony. We were told it was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Deep Space Network being operational and communicating with spacecraft, but if that’s true, why did the placard reference defending us from aliens?

If the aliens are socialists, then we're in big trouble. But if their hawkish neo-cons, we are all kinds of screwed.

The placard reads, in part, “For 50 years of excellence with regards to holding back the alien hordes currently occupying Mars, a grateful state thanks you.” Maybe next year the Federal government will thank them too.

After that, it didn’t take long before my extensive knowledge of science fiction movies and books enabled me to suss out the true nature of the Goldstone facility.

Alien repulsion.

If you believe NASA, all the antennas can do is send and receive communications transmissions, enabling us to stay in touch with our space probes.

But it’s way cooler, and better fits in with my theory, if they can transmit more than just puny communications.

I’m not talking about Skyping with belligerent ETs who keep waffling and flip-flopping on whether or not to invade Earth.

Oh sure, low power transmissions work great when it comes seeking a diplomatic solution with the forces amassed on the surface of Mars before they invade.

But if the talks fail? Well, that’s when this network of antennas becomes a network of LASER DOOM!

Ever wonder why there are three sets of antennas on Earth, enabling us to keep the entire sky covered at all times?

JPL and NASA tell us it’s so they can have constant communication with all those space probes we’ve launched.

Uh huh. Sure.

But if this trip to Goldstone was the opening chapter of a science fiction trilogy, I know what the next chapter would be.

It would be Chapter 2: The Ugly, Secret Truth Is Uncovered by the Incredibly Sexy, Unwitting Space Enthusiast Hero On The #NASASocial Tour.

Wherein our hero, who bears a striking resemblance to me, by the way, overhears the head scientist at Goldstone talking to her engineers about the breakdown in talks with the forces marshalled on Mars and the need to align and calibrate the antennas to maximize the Death Ray yield.

Weird. I have a series of moles on my left buttock that look exactly like the placement of the antennas at Goldstone. What are the odds?

I couldn’t build a more appropriately configured array of Death Ray antennas if I tried! And believe me, I’ve tried.

I sure hope not...for all our sakes.

If Australia was in the northern hemisphere, we could have had a perfectly straight line running through all three facilities. I wonder if this negatively impacts the output of the Death Ray?

So as my imaginary sci-fi trilogy clearly shows, these antennas aren’t just engineering marvels or pseudo-steampunk ear horns for the profoundly hearing impaired.

They are Earth’s last defense from the Martian hordes (who are actually colonists from 55 Cancri and very, very pissed that they initially landed on Mars instead of Earth).

I wonder if our new robot overlords will have better luck fighting off the alien hordes on Mars than we're having. Strategic subjugation, anyone?

Once I learned the truth, Security tried to silence me by running me over with a rover, but I swapped jackets with another visitor, and he got run over instead. It’s a little scary how much dangerous stuff they have on the Goldstone playground. It’s totally not suitable for children at all!

I leave you with this last image. It forces one to ask more questions:

Although when you think about it, would the world really be worse off with a few thousand fewer football fans?

Is this the space defense equivalent of what IT people call a ‘honeypot’? Yet another reason to avoid large venue sporting events, if you ask me.

Why there? Why in the middle of the Rose Bowl?

Are they using tens of thousands of humans as bait, to lead the alien hordes into a horrible, microwave-induced death trap?

Any why are there no other records or reports of this event? I mean, a 70 meter antenna in the middle of the Rose Bowl? People would notice…unless NASA has mind control satellites as well!

Or access to Photoshop.

Eh, it’s a coin toss which one it is.

(But I’m leaning towards orbital mind control lasers.)

All in all, an exciting and educational trip (unlike, perhaps, this blog posting).

I’d love to do it again.

I just hope my blog posts haven’t disqualified me.

And if you’d like to see which antennas are communicating with which space probes, in real-time, NASA has a website for that: DSN Now.

How does NASA do it?

With a cunning combination of nerds, science, and awesome.

That, and modern technology.

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Posted by on 21 April 2014 in Astronomy!, Science!


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NASA experiments with socialized Science – Thanks, Obama!

I recently returned from Southern California and the two-day NASA Social event #DSN50.

#DSN50 was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Deep Space Network, and as part of the event I was lucky enough to tour both JPL in Pasadena and the Goldstone desert facility that has a number of large antennas on-site.

It was awesome. And eye-opening.

At this point, the court-appointed lawyers have instructed me to point new readers to my blog site banner. Particularly, the bit mentioning mercury. And no, I’m not talking about the Mercury program.

Just so your expectations of accuracy are properly calibrated.

Besides, accuracy is overrated.

Unless you work at JPL, in which case, carry on, please.

On the flight down, I looked out my window to see this amazing sight:

I could feel their eyes on my neck. Their telescopically enhanced eyes!

That’s no double rainbow – it’s a bull’s-eye!

At first, I took this as a good omen for the trip ahead. But then I wondered, what if it’s a Strategic Defense Initiative targeting laser locked onto our plane?

I attempted to alert the flight crew to this potential threat, but all my efforts led to was detention upon landing at Burbank airport.

Fortunately, a check of my psychiatric history led to all charges being dropped, and I was released in time to still attend the celebratory events at JPL.

After registering, we were guided to the JPL control room. I got to sit in the very room where the Curiosity rover (among other missions) was tracked and, well, controlled.

I think I really annoyed the people around me with the constant muttering.

Under my breath, I kept saying, “Ten, Nine, Ignition Sequence Start, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, One, Zero, All engines running, liftoff! We have a liftoff thirty-two minutes past the hour!”

It was a cool feeling, but when I started powering up the computer in front of me and pressing buttons, I was pulled aside and given a stern talking to about firing attitude adjusters on the New Horizons probe.

We were part of a broadcast for NASA TV, which coincidentally was also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Deep Space Network.

It was a huge production, seemingly lavish in its scale (Near-Earth Object Radar Scientist Marina Brozovic brought asteroids to show!), but it turns out they keep the costs down by paying everyone with peanuts.

I prefer honey roasted myself, but honey roasted peanuts are credited for the Mars Climate Orbiter failure

Our host, Veronica McGregor, shows us a typical JPL paycheck. Dammit, unsalted! Again!

During filming, I noticed that the cameras didn’t stay on me. In fact, they were hardly ever on me.

As the star of the show, I couldn’t understand this. When I flagged down the host, she gave me a strange look and then patiently explained to me that yes, I was the star, but in order to protect the delicate egos of the JPL staff and other attendees, they had to make it look like I was an incidental part of the production.

This made sense, and I resigned myself to relative obscurity during the rest of the show, even forgoing the song and dance number I’d planned for the end.

You guys really missed out on that one, let me tell you.

But even without my performance, it was a fascinating program to watch, and I suspect it retains its fascination even when not watched live and in person, but through a TV screen. So I recommend you check it out:

This image is from the NASA broadcast, so they probably own it or something

Despite the lack of focus on yours truly, I do appear…in the background

Another benefit of the trip was a journey to the center of the Universe. At first, I was worried – my flight home was the next day – but the trip was really short.

Did you know the center of the Universe is in Pasadena? I didn’t, but based on how people drive there, I’m guessing the native Pasadenians do.

Their first choice for slogan, 'consider doing timid things, but if it seems unlikely to succeed, skip it' didn't test well.

Gravity is different in the center of the universe – I felt light and giddy standing there

Five minutes before the event started, they were all watching college basketball on those screens. Except for one screen showing a cricket game.

The Control Room at the Center of the Universe is surprisingly close to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe

I’ll be honest. I thought the center of the Universe would be more … space-y … and less LCD panel-y. But I’m not a scientist.

Not since they revoked my license, anyway.

After the broadcast, there was a photo-op with NASA celebrity Bobak Ferdowsi, otherwise known as the NASA Mohawk Guy.

I tried to get a mohawk just like his, but my barber just shook his head and said, "Nope, you don't have the head or hair to pull that style off."

If you don’t know who the guy on the right is, you are dead to me. If you don’t know who the guy on the left is, well, that just hurts my feelings.

After I photobombed Bobak’s portraiture session, I was escorted outside for the tour of other sites at JPL.

Those other sites consisted of a lot of cool places, including the Mars Yard, the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, and the JPL Museum.

Confound these stairs!

I go to great effort to come down to this event and this is how you repay me?

They require effort to ascend!

You make me walk up stairs?

But before I talk about those, I want to talk about stairs.

There are a lot of stairs at JPL.

Now if you listen to the budget-hawkish NASA naysayers, you’d think everyone at JPL tooled around on their own personal rover.

Let me put that rumor to rest right now. I only saw one person riding a rover between office buildings, and frankly, given the anti-psychotic drugs the Burbank airport police administered during my detention, it is entirely possible I imagined that.

Besides, the rovers are too big to fit in most of the hallways.

But to support the more pedestrian mode of travel in use at JPL, there are stairs galore.

What impressed me most are the stairs currently under development at JPL.

Oh, to be sure, there are old stairs, gathering dust and waiting for retrofits and upgrades, but JPL also has new stairs.

Exciting stairs.

Gravity-defying stairs.

Sadly, as they are still under development, I was not allowed to photograph any of these new-fangled modes of ascent and descent.

In fact, prior to rounding one corner, we were all required to put on blindfolds so we couldn’t see a particularly advanced prototype we needed to use to get to the JPL Museum.

But if the smooth, effortless nature of my traversal of those particular steps is any indication, in the future people will take the stairs in lieu of seeing a therapist, and ski lifts everywhere will be replaced with these springy, refreshing wonders.

I look forward to the day I can tell my grandchildren (assuming I have any and the inevitable restraining orders are lifted) that I was there, at JPL, at the beginning of the Staircase Renaissance.

I wish I could say more, but the NDA I signed is quite explicit about the painful consequences if I let slip any more information.

The Mars Yard was a lot less Mars-like than I expected. For one thing, there was air there. Breathable air. Now I may have had my scientist card pulled out of my hands and cut up right in front of me, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t much air on Mars.

And there was way more gravity in the Mars Yard than you’d find on Mars.

In fact, it was pretty close to Earth gravity.

The weather on Mars on this particular morning was a partly cloudy 18 degress Celsius. Or Centigrade, if you're measuring it old school.

Apparently there are a lot of sheds on the surface of Mars too. Who knew? They’re a total mystery to NASA.

Now you can’t try a new maneuver on a Mars rover without testing it first. What if something goes wrong? You can hardly call roadside assistance and ask for a tow truck to come over and right an overturned Mars rover.

I asked. You can’t.

You want to test it on a sibling rover that you aren’t worried about wrecking.

So clearly the only way to truly test how well a new maneuver will work is to send a duplicate rover to Mars and try your routines out on that one first.

When I asked for confirmation on this, the guide sighed and then explained that while NASA had considered this option, in the end it was deemed too expensive and they decided to make do with the less-than-ideal mock-up here on Earth.

This, of course, was little consolation to the poor test rover who had her heart set on going to Mars. I did my best not to bring up the subject in her presence.

The only reason I survived the rover onslaught? Maggie's engine didn't turn over the first couple of times so I was able to hide behind a simulated Marian escarpment.

Jamie Catchen attempts to explain why she chose to aid and abet the robot armies just before flipping on the killbot pictured here, affectionately known as Maggie. The Mars Yard was never so red as it became in the next few moments.

Our JPL hosts, under the command of the robot rover sentries suddenly popping up all over the campus, next took us to the SAF.

No, not a safe place to hide from the malevolent rovers. The Spacecraft Assembly Facility. Basically, a giant cleanroom where they make new spacecraft and robots to crush the human uprising.

You can just make out the giant robot arm in the bottom left of this picture. Be glad it isn't clear enough to see its uncompromising, vicous strength, no doubt to be employed crushing hapless humans

In the SAF is where they build spaceships and rovers that will boldly go where no robotic overlord has gone before

Sadly, the latest satellite being built, called SMAP and supposedly intended to do climate study work, had been whisked behind the walls of a electromagnetically sealed inner chamber in the SAF as part of testing or some such.

I’m no fool. The roving rovers didn’t want us to see the latest killbot, no doubt. So it goes.

During a lull in the rover patrols, we furtively made our way to the last stop on our tour: the JPL Museum (and on the way used those magical, mystery stairs that I will dream about for the rest of my life).

There I was treated to an amazing interactive exhibit the JPL employees affectionately call Randii Wessen.

This life-like automaton engaged the audience, taking questions and keeping our egos in check by informing us that, kilogram for kilogram (damn JPL and their insistence on metric!), there is more life in the form of microbes in the rocks under the surface than all the life above ground combined.

This was my first moment of feeling puny and insignificant. The second moment came the next day, at Goldstone.

I haven't seen figure eights like this since the last winter Olympics!

Randii is either describing the sun’s path as viewed from the surface of Uranus with its 90 degree tilted axis, or dancing the Hokey Pokey. Or maybe both.

In all seriousness, it was an awesome day spent surrounded by smart, amazing, and really cool people, both my fellow guests and the JPL staff. Truly, a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will never forget.

Unless I hit my head and get amnesia.

That would really suck.

Up next in Part 2: The Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex or What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

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Posted by on 5 April 2014 in Astronomy!, Science!, Technopocalypse


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Date Night book signing!

Last Friday night the Missus and I decided to experiment with something new.

I’d been lurking in the shadows of the internet, typing things like “The kids are driving us crazy! What can we do besides hire someone to kill us and put us out of our misery? Oh God, they’re at the bedroom door again, knocking and calling for ‘Daddy’ and asking why the sky is blue and why their pants are suddenly heavy and full of brown and whinging about being hungry again. All they ever do is complain about being hungry and acting like we should feed them. Help!”

It was a pretty specific search term, and it resulted in a pretty specific search result:

Date night.

I did research on this counter-culture concept that lurks in the dark underbelly of the tubes that make up the internet, and it actually sounded like a good idea.

OK, it didn’t sound like anything to me other than getting away from the kiddos, and that’s the only sound I wanted to hear.

So last Friday night was date night for the Missus and I.

There was only one component to date night that we had to plan in advance:

How to ditch the kiddos?

Since Child Protective Services has informed us they will take the kiddos away if they catch us putting them in their Skinner boxes again, we had to come up with an alternative stowing plan:

Babysitting FTW!

Except babysitters cost money.

And tend to be teenage girls, and really, how trustworthy can a hormone-flooded teenage girl be? Especially one who is watching your kids not out of maternal instinct, but due to the cold, hard capitalistic urge to make money?

And paying an older male to watch your kids? Feels creepy.

Plus, still costs money.

How to overcome these obstacles? Why, in the most cost-effective way possible! Time for:

Operation: Overnight with the Grandparents

Or, as the kiddos put it:

Overnight with the Grump-parents! YAY!!!!! *run around house in excitement, crashing into walls and generating more bruises to explain away to CPS*

The best part of having the grumps watch the kiddos?

It’s free!

Also, they apparently have actual ‘feels’ for their grandchildren, which makes them far less likely to eat them.

Or sell them on the black market.

And if they did sell them on the black market, being family they’d most likely give the Missus and I a cut.

Note to self, though: if kiddos go missing and my parents offer us leftovers, skip the leftovers.

Once we had the kiddos safely stashed away in a CPS-approved storage facility (well, assuming they never find out about my parents’ felony convictions for child endangerment and capital murder (before you judge – overturned on appeal!)), the Missus and I escaped into a carefree evening of dinner and a movie.

It's big enough to park my car in, but the doors are too small to drive through! Come on, what were the designers thinking????

Layer the outside with Sherpas, and you’ll stay toasty warm all night.

Right after I took down the new tent.

You see, we got a ginormous 8-person tent for the next family camping trip, as the 4-person is too small for four people when they are two adults and two toddlers.

Yeah, I was surprised too.

And once I buy a tent, I friggin’ put it up right away, before any actual trip, to make sure all the parts are there.

That Everest base camp tragedy is never happening again.

Normally, I’d tell the Missus she was my ‘one all, be all’ and deal with the tent the next day, but the forecast called for rain, and the tent instructions were very clear about making sure the tent is dry when you put it away to avoid mildew.

And who wants to go camping in a musty tent reeking of mildew and BO?

Yes, BO. You try camping for a week without access to showers and not have body odor issues. I wish you the best of luck.

So dinner was a bit of a rushed affair, because the tent is big and took longer than expected to pack up and the movie started at 8.

But fast food can still be romantic if you bring a candle with you to the restaurant.

And don’t sit too close to the play area in the back.

Because the sound of screaming, yelling kids?

Kills the date night mood.

The movie was The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest movie from Wes Anderson.

And let me say, it is much better than his other movie, Scream.

And a lot less scary.

I highly recommend it.

All in all, a delightful evening free of toddlers screaming, poking, and whining. If you are afflicted with children, I highly recommend this date night concept.

I have a feeling it’s a trend that just might take off.

And hey, just a head’s up that on April 1st and 2nd I’m having a book signing!

It’s all part of #DSN50 and #NASASocial.

Come find me while I’m touring JPL and/or the Deep Space Network, and I’ll answer any questions you have and sign books.

Heck, the book I sign doesn’t even have to be one of mine. I’m not that particular.

Now if you do want me to sign one of my books, and you don’t already have a copy, you should know I’m not planning to have any books for sale.

The only copies I’m bringing with me are for friends in the area.

But if you offer me enough money, well, screw my friends.

Only one catch: you have to be a US citizen to get on the sites I’ll be at.

Oh wait, another catch: you have to be on the list of US citizens being allowed on the tours.

Unless you work there. I suppose if you work there, you could find me.

Especially if you work for Security. Security is always finding me, everywhere I go. So if you work for Security at NASA, it’s a good bet you can find me.

Unlike those chumps at the FBI. They’ve yet to find me! Muhahaha!

But other than that, it’s all-Ian, all-access, all-morning.

Oh yeah, if you have trouble finding me, don’t ask the #DSN50 event organizers.

They have no clue about my book signing event. They think this event is all about celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Deep Space Network.

As if.

Seriously though, don’t ask. You might get me kicked out.

(And here’s a link about the actual #DSN50 event)

Also, on an unrelated note: I have two Skinner boxes for sale. Cheap.


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