"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Monday, July 30, 2012

NASA Social: Priming for my Visit

I am beginning to touch base online with fellow bloggers/tweeters who I will mingle with at NASA Glenn Research Center on August 3rd. We have been invited to preview the upcoming landing of the Mars Science Laboratory. The hotel room is reserved. A notepad and backup batteries for my camera are purchased. Two forms of government ID are ready. I even have my super-geek-space-tourist outfit picked out. Childe Jake's upcoming visit to NASA is getting real!

Introducing Glenn Research Center

Glenn's hanger and main gate as seen in April of 1999 

For any given citizen, a natural question might be this: If it's not the center where they launch the astronauts (Kennedy), and it's not the center astronauts call when they "have a problem" (Houston, more properly called Johnson Space Center), then what is it and why are we paying for it? The truth is I am a lifelong space enthusiast and even I am not well-versed in the various NASA centers. So I am excited to visit Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and obliterate a big hunk of that disconnect.

According to Glenn's About page, the center "designs, develops, and tests" technology for both air and space travel. How appropriate then to be named after a native Ohian who has excelled in both air and space: John H. Glenn. The center has been in operation since 1941, currently employs over 3,000 people, and its reach extends economically and academically into the surrounding region. Even if you don't give a special darn for space exploration, perhaps you or someone you love has flown on an airplane that got better mileage than older planes, caused less air and noise pollution, and didn't crash. If you did, thanks are likely owed in part to the folks at Glenn!

A Glenn test facility prepares to simulate and examine jet engine icing

Browsing the many webpages showcasing research at Glenn makes me think this center is a Discovery Channel reality show waiting to happen. The work at Glenn is not as immediately sexy as the heroics dramatized in films like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13; however, research at Glenn is what makes such exploration feasible. And of course, it benefits air travel as well.

Take the above image, with NASA trying to determine how it is that high altitude ice crystals can be sucked into a jet engine, melt, and then refreeze...while still in the engine. Yes, let's figure that one out in the name of preventing engine flameouts.

Did I mention that Glenn Research Center has an Emmy Award to its credit? Now I have. Thanks to NASA for use of the above photos!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Jupiter Family Ties

On July 19th I was in a funk of sorts. I believe the technical name for this type of funk is Wednesday. Then I checked my Facebook wall and was greeted to the following message:
"Jupiter-family Comet Christensen makes its closest approach to Earth today, at 1.286 Astronomical Units! :)"
The message was from my awesome space-blogging buddy: Pillownaut. Along with the message was a link to a NASA JPL page called the Small-Body Database Browser. Reader beware: if you do not want to see small bodies, do not look down two more lines.

I scored the above image by playing with the Orbit Viewer applet available on the site. Totally nifty! Plus it took the edge off my funk. And how cool is it that Comet Christensen is in the Jupiter family of comets? This must be what Harry felt like getting into Gryffindor.

...actually, reading a bit further one finds that being in the Jupiter family of comets is more a matter of gravitational odds than prestige. Whatevah! Thanks to Eric Christensen for discovering this comet!

A Childe Bound for NASA!

After not getting selected for a couple of previous NASA events, I have finally scored an invite! I will be attending a Social taking place at NASA Glenn Research Center on August 3rd. This will be a preview of the Mars Science Laboratory landing on August 6th. I and other blogger-types will be treated to a full day of guided tours, a special multi-center broadcast, and visits with NASA personnel. More details to come, tweets during the event, and a blog post or two after the very cool day is over!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Potent Quality of 'Sacré Bleu'

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'ArtSacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of the most profound moments of my creative development was attending a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit in Los Angeles during a college choir trip. You haven’t fully experienced a Van Gogh painting until you’ve seen the canvas in person. So whenever I encounter something Van Gogh related, I take special notice. Author Christopher Moore gave a great interview about his novel Sacré Bleu on NPR and I resolved to buy the book. To my delight, I scored a signed first edition from my local bookstore. More on that later.

Sacré Bleu portrays Van Gogh as a murder victim. But this is not a conspiracy work in the pseudoscientific sense. (Moore makes clear in his Afterword that Vincent indeed shot himself in real life.) Van Gogh’s death is only the catalyst for a novel that sports equal parts fantasy and murder mystery. And it is in those realms where the novel excels. Hastened along by crisp and witty dialogue, Sacré Bleu never stops feeling amusing, even during moments of high drama. The author describes it best; this book is a “dark little fairy tale of the color blue.”

That summation is a key point in assessing the book’s merits. The main character is not Van Gogh. Instead the leading presence remains the color blue. On a related note, given this book drips with oily pretension, it makes me chuckle to say I loved the pictures. My hardcover edition includes relevant paintings from many of the greats of Impressionism. Each painting provides a new layer of intrigue to the plot. History and art make significant guest appearances, but they remain supporting characters in this loose and bawdy tale.

This brings me to Sacré Bleu's chief drawbacks. Unless you are exceptionally well-versed in the history and artists (Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.), you are likely to miss much of Moore’s historical nuance. I did. The only reason I know it’s there is I read Moore’s enlightening Afterword. Nuance out of reach is nuance that does not add measurably to one’s enjoyment of a book.

More critically, Sacré Bleu presented me with a cast of characters that the author, through an authoritative main character, describes as “whining narcissists.” As this main character and I agree, associating with them makes for “long periods of suffering and neglect…” With some wonderful exceptions, much of this book comes across as impersonal narrative whimsy. It’s clever and lively, but I never felt closer than arm’s-length to the material.

Still, I love owning a signed first edition of Sacré Bleu. As I type, I keep peeking over at it. A metallic blue dust jacket presents the title in a bold mustard yellow font. This feels appropriately flagrant. Ironically, by only protecting half the book the dust jacket proves twice as useful. The front cover becomes a striptease by a mysterious woman painted in various shades of blue. Inside, there is an intricate period map of Paris and a range of inviting bluish fonts on rough-edged paper. Eat your hearts out readers of e-books. And kudos to designer Jamie Lynn Kerner. There is no substitute for being in the room with a blue-adorned work of art. Long live ultramarine!

View all my reviews

Friday, July 13, 2012

Casket Roses on Kentucky Stone

My maternal grandmother passed away a week ago after a long struggle with Alzheimer's. After carrying her casket as a pall bearer, I and other grandchildren were invited to take some flowers from the arrangement on her casket. I took the three roses featured below. Back at my parents Kentucky home I found a section of stonewall to photograph them on. Much love for the late Virginia "Mimi" Lawrence.

Click Images to See Full Size Versions


Artistic Cutout Filter applied in Photoshop CS5

NASA Image of Reflection Nebula Applied

Photo Notes:

The original photo was taken with a Sony Cyber-shot digital camera. For the cosmic version, I added a blue Photo Filter to the whole image. For the stone and flowers I utilized effects: Inner Shadow, Outer Glow, and Drop Shadow.

The cosmic background photo is from the Spitzer Space Telescope Collection. That image of a reflection nebula is gorgeous and can be seen here. Credit goes to NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. A. Gutermuth (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA).

Friday, July 6, 2012

Profile of a Michigan Hiker Triumphant

A person of considerable taste once told me I have a fine profile. ...I think I was told that. Maybe I just wish someone had said that. ...Or maybe they indeed complimented my profile but they were referring to my MySpace page. I don't know. Regardless, ever since, I have believed I don't look half bad when seen from the side.

Or maybe they said I look half bad when seen for the si-...anyway! Recently I completed hiking the Waterloo Pinckney Trail (as opposed to the Waterloo Pinkeye Trail, which Spell Check assures me is the correct name). I hiked the trail in sections of 3 - 6 miles. It was a solitary quest fraught with tense chipmunk encounters, some of which occurred while attempting self-portraits like the one below. But I think the finished product is quite nice. Here I am having just finished the last section of trail. This shot for me typifies the hiker triumphant.

Aw, for the love...the freakin' dog poop removal sign is in frame. How did I not catch that in Photoshop when I was removing that unwanted freckle (as opposed to all the freckles I clearly wanted readers to see).

Let's try this again, folks. Here is a statelier and more ceremonious profile taken at the next sign over.

What the...?! The Department of Natural Resources misspelled "Hiking" on the sign! It figures. Darn DNR. Don't get me started on them.

You know what? Forget the profile pictures. Here are some nice views from my recent hikes in Pinckney Recreation Area. Enjoy!

Click on images to see larger versions.