Tag Archives: Earth

Wonderful Whitson

Happy Labor Day everyone! Today in the USA we honor American workers with a day off for (most) everyone. On this 2017 edition of the day, I would like to pay special props to an American whose work is literally out of this world.

Peggy Whitson has been logging some major merits in her career as an astronaut for NASA. She recently returned to Earth via Soyuz capsule to Kazakhstan after working the past 288 days aboard the International Space Station. After her most recent stint in space, Peggy owns records for being the first two-time female commander of ISS, the oldest woman in space (57), the most practiced woman to take a stroll in space with 10 space walks, oh, and now she has spent more time in space than any other American. In total over three missions onboard ISS, Whitson has accrued 665 days in orbit, longer than any woman in history. There are a few Russian cosmonauts who have stayed in space longer, including Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin who returned with her.

Whitson is a biochemist who started with NASA in 1989. She has been conducting research on a number of things, perhaps most notably on antibodies in zero-G. She has been awarded numerous medals from NASA, including their Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2006, and even served as Chief Astronaut for a time. Originally hailing from Iowa, she now lives in Houston, Texas where NASA is headquartered. She said that any trouble she may have adjusting back to life with greater gravity is nothing compared to the hardships of those affected by Hurricane Harvey, which includes some of her fellows at Mission Control.

Whitson may no longer venture into the cosmos, but she is still planning on working at NASA on the ground for spaceflight missions, as well as some other projects in the future that may involve a certain red planet.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, then send them my way at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Float on back here next week for more fun.

Shine on you American Space Ninja,

Alex

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Totality Awesome

Even though I was not within the range of full totality for the total solar eclipse that worked its way over North America last Monday, I still was treated to quite a show as the moon moved almost entirely in the path of the sun to create the unique view of a cookie with a bite taken out of it that I enjoyed staring at through my eclipse glasses for about an hour as the moon progressed across the sunshine. I made the most of my watching experience by posting up in my front yard dressed in a Star Wars shirt that reads “Join the Dark Side” with a dark beer (porters are made for winter to be sure, but Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald is quality all year) all the while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I think I witnessed the closest moment to totality during “Time”.

For anyone else who was not able to see totality in person due to being out of the path or having overcast skies within it, check out this video that does a great job of explaining the dynamics of total solar eclipses:

I’m excited because the next such eclipse to grace North America will pass directly over Ohio in April of 2024, which means I’m bound to be able to infringe on someone’s hospitality to see it if even I move away somewhere else between now and then. That eclipse will also pass over parts of Mexico and Canada, as well as Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New York, and Maine, and slivers of Oklahoma, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Vermont within the United States. Learn more about it on NASA’s site here. It may be seven years away, but it will be here before you know it!

In regards to this most recent eclipse, Google and Cal-Berkeley worked together on a project to compile pictures taken by people within the totality path to make a short video of the view of totality from the US locations that got to see the brilliant glow of the sun’s corona light up the darkening sky. You can watch that video on Eclipse Megamovie here. As it has no sound, I recommend syncing it up with an appropriate song that fits the time pretty nicely:

Thanks for reading and watching! Feel free to send any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Orbit back here next week for more fun where everything under the sun is in tune…

But the sun is eclipsed by the moon,

Alex

 

Total Eclipse of the Part… of the World I Live In

What are you doing? Don’t look at me; look at the sun! It’s not often that I can say that in earnest sincerity, but in case you’ve been hiding away or stranded in the wilderness with no network connectivity (it would be more embarrassing if you were stranded with it), then allow me to tell you that there is a total solar eclipse – where the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun – making its way across North America on this hopefully clear skied August 21, 2017. So grab your properly produced eclipse viewing glasses and step outside to gaze upward when the moon makes its lineup with the big, burning, bright ball in the sky in your area. For more information on that and more regarding this awesome astronomical event, check out NASA’s website here. The next time such a sight will occur again for this section of the Earth will be in 2024, so make sure to make the most of it now because who wants to have to wait for seven more years?

Plan your lunch break accordingly,

Alex

State of the Season 12 – Rock and Roll, Reading, and Remembering

Hello and welcome to any and all who find themselves here! As is customary for my every 13th post I look back at the last 12 for a retrospective of the previous “season” of this blog. Let’s hop to it!

Back on May 8th, I tossed the second of my four-part inspection of the T-shirt worn by Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. This was followed by the final two parts over the next couple of weeks. Ament’s shirt contained a list of names of bands and artists he and his bandmates feel deserve inclusion into the Rock Hall. Some I know and agree with, others I was less familiar with. In an effort to educate myself further on all these acts, I listened to a cut of each act’s discography and sought the best (or my favorite) of the bunch to feature.

“Waiting in the Wings of Rock and Roll – Vol. 2”

“Waiting in the Wings of Rock and Roll – On Being the Third Part of Jeff Ament’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Shirt”

“Waiting in the Wings of Rock and Roll – The Final Chapter”


“Never Forget Our Heroes” is my Memorial Day post that attempts not to remember fallen soldiers and service members, but those translators who have been forgotten by the US government in the mire of political bureaucracy. This came from a featured segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that I include.


“With a Little Help from My Friends” – I was committed to sticking to my original plan to release a celebration of The Beatles for the anniversary of their most famous album. I did so even in the wake of Trump pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement, and I am pleased that so many cities, businesses, and communities have all stated that they will continue to honor the international agreement on climate change mitigation. With a little help from my friends indeed.


“Da na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na That Man!” is a eulogy of actor Adam West. Fox Animation recently churned out a video compilation of his best moments as Mayor Adam West on Family Guy:

“Paul! That’s a person’s name!”


Indeed it is, Mayor West, and it is Sir Paul McCartney who is the focus of “Happy Birthday Walrus Man!” where I listed some of the best songs written and performed by McCartney over his career with The Beatles and Wings and on his own. He’s referred to as Walrus Man because he was the walrus! Don’t believe me? Well check, check it:


“Rowling Along the Reading Rainbow” is my thanks to J.K. Rowling for writing the book (series) that got me jazzed about reading. I’ll send another shout out to her for today right here and now: Happy Birthday to you and Harry!


“The Magical Mystery Tour is Waiting to Take You Away” – There’s that Walrus again. Expanding upon my fantasy book series fandom like a literary Bran the Builder, I next turned my attention to the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The featured picture is artwork of my favorite sequence from the books, the wildling attack on the Wall. Fantastic fantasy.


While the show, Game of Thrones, does not always nail some scenes like that battle, it has put together some excellent moments, including some that did not occur in the books. You may even call these moments “Epic! Badass” as I did. Enjoy these 10 scenes that may have fallen off your radar from the first six seasons of the show.


“Astronauts Without Borders” is a celebration of the docking between Apollo 18 and Soyuz 19 that took place in 1975. It was the first time two countries planned and enacted a mission to connect spacecraft in flight and kicked off a grand partnership between the scientific communities within the USA and the USSR/Russia that continues today as it always has – separate from politics.


“Nobody Exists on Purpose. Nobody Belongs Anywhere. Everybody’s Going to Die. Come Watch TV.” – Game of Thrones isn’t the only anticipated show that’s back. Rick and Morty made their long awaited return last night on Adult Swim, and Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon and company keep finding humor in the existential dread that surrounds us all. Props especially to Chris Parnell who manages to make us pity and laugh hysterically at the plight of pathetic Jerry whose name is dragged through the mud by even the wind.

Since next Sunday is six long days away, check out the Non-Canonical Adventures of Rick and Morty to help hold you over.


In addition to this recap, I’d like to wish the best to the family of Sam Shepard, who died from ALS on July 27. An actor on the stage and screen best known for his roles in movies like The Right Stuff and Black Hawk Down, but his true passion was as a playwright. Shepard penned 44 plays and won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama with his work Buried Child. He also co-wrote some film screenplays, was nominated for an Oscar for The Right Stuff, and even played banjo on Patti Smith’s unique cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. R.I.P.

Thanks for reading, watching, listening, and enduring some bad jokes in all along the way. I hope that I provide quality entertainment and ideally some education along with it; if I do, I hope that continues, but if I don’t, I hope it begins. Most of all, I hope you’ll check back in here next week for more fun.

Until next week,

Alex

Nobody Exists on Purpose. Nobody Belongs Anywhere. Everybody’s Going to Die. Come Watch TV.

As exciting as it has been to have new Game of Thrones episodes to watch over the past two Sundays, it pales in comparison to the return of one of the greatest shows ever made. Rick and Morty returns with the long-awaited second episode of the even longer-awaited third season this Sunday on Adult Swim at 11:30pm EST. If you’ve read some of my stuff before then you know I’m a big fan of both, but where George R.R. Martin’s incredibly intricate world and detailed characters are my preferred option for fantasy, mystery, and speculation, Rick and Morty is a show with an unending universe, nay, multiverse of possibilities that always surprises with how delightfully strange, silly, and smart it can be. Among poop jokes and quick quips about random pop culture are some brilliant subtexts that call into question everything we take for granted. I’ve never seen a show so masterfully handle sensitive subjects like religion so succinctly in such a skewering manner as the B-plot of an episode that runs 24 minutes. 24 minutes! You can learn more about what is going on with that particular episode from Jared and the Wisecrack crew:

When it comes down to it though, I love Rick and Morty because it connects with me so well. Rick and Morty just get me, man. This is of course true for many others, and the show has been a major common interest for some of my best friends and I over the last three and a half years.

Rick and Morty has also helped me to sort out my own stance on religious belief. I have always been a spiritual soul (perhaps “soul” isn’t the right word for this, but I like the alliteration). I attribute this to a degree to my years of Catholic education, the latter nine of which were at Jesuit schools. The Jesuits follow the example of the founder of their order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, in seeing God in everything.  Between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere! Yes! Even between the land and the ship. Of course the previous sentence is a line offered up by Yoda to Luke to teach him about the Force, which should indicate where most of my sense of spirituality comes from. I do not identify as a Jedi on my census form; I still mark Roman Catholic when asked about my religious affiliation, but where once I believed in the whole truth of the dogma, then to most of it, then to some of it, and now to almost none of it that is not historical at its core (the Romans did some not so nice things to the people of Jerusalem; there was a dude named Jesus who earned some friends among these downtrodden folks; the Romans perceived him as a threat and encouraged his execution, etc.).

My continued education in science, theology, and philosophy – which remember all occurred at Catholic schools – really cast doubt on what had frequently been presented to me as “the way it is”. The teachers and professors who challenged me to challenge my own beliefs were my Bruce Hornsby. No one person or event brought about my shift from faithful to factual, but all played a critical role in my growth as a person and my understanding of the universe (or perhaps multiverse!).

My favorite scenes in Rick and Morty were some of the final pieces for my personal philosophy regarding life as I know it. The first time I saw the show was midway through the first season and I binged all six episodes that had been released at that point. The sixth and final episode I watched, “Rick Potion #9”, might just be my favorite episode yet. The ending of it is one of the finest wrap-ups I have ever seen in any TV show, and again it was all done in less than a half hour. With the world wrecked by his Cronenberg-like mutants, Rick portals himself and Morty to a universe where the two of them have returned things to normal and promptly died. Rick explains nonchalantly how there are infinite realities and encourages Morty to not worry about it, but it’s all too much for Morty to take and we see his wide eyes gazing around this new, yet familiar world in shock while Mazzy Star’s “Look on Down from the Bridge” perfectly matches the tone on the scene.

I knew I would love this show forever after this. I never expected the wild ending filled with hilarity and high-concept sci-fi, not to mention the use of one of my favorite band’s best songs to wrap it all together. It was love at first sight. What a show, and what an earth-shaking bolt of doubt sent to my core. On the one hand, it’s a cartoon telling fart jokes, but on the other it has got some things to say and they are not always easy to hear. Just two episodes later, in another round of what seemed to be senseless humor for the sake of it, Rick and Morty offered up the best line I have ever heard in my life. That is not hyperbole; Morty’s words to Summer in “Rixty Minutes” are my mantra now. They have become a truth that I live by, and they were part of a B-plot to a primary storyline that consisted of Justin Roiland’s freestyling improvisation that had been animated.

After learning that she was an unintended pregnancy that prompted the marriage of her parents and would not have existed had they not decided against the abortion they were considering, Summer plans to pack up and run away when Morty takes a break from Ballfondlers to give her the dose of reality that I have titled this post after.

My dad was never much of a religious man, but he told me he and his fellow soldiers would offer up their own prays of sorts at times during his tour in Vietnam. He quoted the old adage, “There’s no atheists in a foxhole.” It makes sense that our natural fear of death is easier to accept when you believe there is something waiting for you after your life on Earth ends. We even see ultra-cynic Rick experience this from time to time:

Gotta love those countless Schrodinger’s cats to represent uncertainty.

It’s important to separate belief from fact. This is something that is easier said than done, but it is critical to ensuring that we do not take what is objective and muddle it with what is subjective. Facts can be proven as they have evidence that can be observed and replicated to back them up. Belief is what we choose to accept in the lack of evidence. Some beliefs can be disproved by established facts, i.e. global climate change is human caused and happening; there are hats. Belief in a deity or deities, or belief in an afterlife get tricky because these are not things that able to represented directly by scientific data. We step more within philosophy and the utilization of logic, especially in regards to what has been seen and what is most likely to be less false, but not necessarily more true.

Enjoy the continuing new season of my favorite television show on today, and enjoy your life and share it with others regardless of their beliefs. One of my friends questions the validity of the moon landing and I still speak to him. My oldest friend with whom I have made many great memories graduated from the University of Michigan and I still hang around with him. The point is, we are all different in less important ways yet have so much in common in what really matters. Religious belief can be helpful to help one find peace in the everyday, as well as for healing someone who has endured trauma. As long as religion promotes living in harmony with your fellow man, then it can do tremendous good. Many hospitals are managed by faith organizations, even more schools offer a better education in some areas (mine included), and mission work throughout the world helps to provide both by treating illness and educating populations without proper health care or formal schooling available. As long as faith does not become a banner of hate or blind following, it can help bring humanity closer to itself. Kindness is key, and ideally we can carry on with it without the need of enticement of eternal happiness.

Thanks for reading and watching! Portal back here next week for the quarterly recap in the State of the Season. As always, send any questions, comments, or suggestions to monotrememadness@gmail.com.

Don’t trip along the way,

Alex

Astronauts Without Borders

Once upon a time not so long ago, the United States and Russia had a high-profile meeting that was a top news story. Unlike today though, this was not a shady circumstance that cast doubt on the inner dealings of each respective government, but rather helped to improve the relationship between two nations that had been engaged in a constant and bitter show of one-upmanship with nuclear proliferation. I’m talking about the Cold War. Nevertheless, 42 years ago on this date, July 17, 1975, the United States and Russia, then called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, set aside their differences, at least as far as the scientific community was concerned. As the preeminent superpowers of the world and the leaders in space exploration, the US and USSR arranged for an historic high five within the vacuum of space.

Contrary to what silly stories of moon crab monsters would tell you, there actually was an Apollo 18 mission. NASA had launched seven manned lunar landing missions with its Apollo program, successfully landing six of them (Apollo 13 had a bit of a snafu).  However, the final moon mission, Apollo 17, was not the last time a Saturn V rocket shot an Apollo craft into orbit. Apollo 18 was launched in conjunction with the Soviet spacecraft Soyuz 19.

After there establishment in orbit, the two craft were lined up and then linked up, marking the first time that two craft from different countries and space agencies docked. The mission was orchestrated to serve as practice for potential rescues in the future.

The ABC coverage is pretty good at explaining the mission, but here’s the link if you want to watch the docking without the newscaster speaking.

Leave it to the men and women who work in science and especially the students of space to show us how meaningless political squabbles can be. We are all one species on the same Earth, and it is missions like this one that help us to realize that no matter whether we are on opposite sides of the world, or floating above it, we are at our best when we work together to advance our mutual pursuit of greater understanding of our place in space.

Thanks for reading and watching. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, launch them into my inbox at monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to orbit back here next week for more out of this world fun.

I’m sure I’ve written that before and I don’t care,

Alex

Hello Should Not Be Goodbye

I normally have Sundays off, but yesterday I had to go into work for the afternoon, and even though I had volunteered to do so and was being paid money I otherwise would not have been, I still found it annoying. This irksome sentiment was further complicated by the bizarre inaugural protocol I was going to have to have to enact perfectly to maintain my comfortable employment – despite my well-appreciated quality of work, my job has become quite toxic lately. How well I performed it did not only have bearing on my career, but that of my friend and coworker assisting me that evening. Not to mention, this weird procedure I was tasked with involved directly calling one of the newly hired higher ups whom I have not had the pleasure of even seeing yet, so I had no flippity-dippity clue what to expect from contacting him on his personal phone except for a southern accent.

In all honesty, things were not too terribly unreasonable, but this combined with the hurricane of changes and moves going on at my workplace was a lot to handle. I had zenned myself to a level of professional calmness during the morning to prepare myself for whatever chaos could erupt later, but this chillness was brought back to a boil when one of my coworkers on duty called to say she got a panicked call from the client whose event I was going in to work. The client was concerned that we might not be coming, which was easy enough to reassure her about, but she had us pegged down for the wrong time and assumed we would be there a couple of hours before we were scheduled! Uh oh.

Fortunately, I called the contact and got the details sorted out, but then I started to worry we may have missed something else, whether with that event or another we may have left off the schedule entirely. Typically, I’m at an Outkast level of cool at work (i.e. ice cold), but yesterday was riling me up. Thus, I hopped in my car and hauled ass to the office. I was almost there when I remembered that due to construction, I could not park in the lot directly next to our department headquarters, but I was in too much of a hurry to park in the main lot since the other designated lot for employees was still closed off for one more day (instead of occasionally clearing away some snow they like to just close it down for three plus months). It was all good though, for another close friend and coworker lives in the adjoining neighborhood and had space in front of his place I could park at. So I set my sights on stealing his go-to out front spot while he was visiting family (classic Chris). As I went down the main road through his neighborhood, I slowed as I approached a stop sign, but not just out of adherence to traffic laws, but because I saw something small moving ever so gently in the road….

My years of birdwatching paid off in that instance, for I was able to spot and identify a teeny-tiny bird laying on the pavement. I initially passed by him on the right as I verified what I was looking at was not just a stick or leaf (trust me, I do not claim to be one, but even the most experienced birdwatchers spend more time than they wish staring at branches, leaves, and general detritus trying to figure out if they are looking at a bird or not). I could see that it was a little bird, and swung back around to block any oncoming traffic while I picked him up out of the roadway.

As I pulled on my thin knit gloves, I could see that the grounded little guy was a golden-crowned kinglet (the bird in the title picture), an adorable bird of the forest and backyard with trees that is a common sight throughout the United States and Canada, especially in the cooler months. The namesake for this bird is obvious at a glance, and I could see this guy’s brilliant gold crown with a touch of red in the center. He seemed to be okay, just a little shell-shocked, so he probably had been hit by a car, or rather the envelope of air around a car which would be more than enough to knock the wind out of such a small animal. I quickly picked him up and moved him under a nearby conifer tree so that he would have some cover from predators, and of course so he’d be away from the road. It was clear to me that he was not going to be flying anytime soon, but he was able to hop around and had a better footing on the pine needles and branches than the pavement he had been sprawled on.

I was still in a hurry to get things sorted at work, so I left the bird there with a renewed sense of purpose, glad of the good deed I had done. I wanted to scream it to the world how I had saved the little kinglet, but that would have been seeking hero worship for a simple action. I’m sure that kinglet thought I was a hero, and that was enough for me.

The rest of my day went smoother than I could have imagined. My colleague and I got to our event early, kicked some ass, and were able to roll out early. I had an extremely nice chat with the new big wig I had to call, and messaged my boss the favorable details. Everybody was happy, so I was happy. As I punched out and made my way back to my car, I considered stopping in at my friend’s house that I was parked outside of to inform him of the crazy start and easy finish to the wacky day I had, and maybe bum a beer off of him. He still wasn’t home though, so I decided to head to my own home.

Suddenly, I thought of the kinglet, and decided I would swing by the tree I left him under to see if he was okay. I parked on the other side from where I found him and moseyed over to the fallen branch I had set him beside. To my excitement, he was nowhere to be found! He must have regained his strength and flown away, off to catch more small insects tomorrow. I did a quick round of the tree just to be certain, all the while careful to make the most delicate of steps in case he still was on the ground nearby. After a minute of searching I decided he was definitely gone and started back to my car.

Upon turning back I froze in my tracks. There he was, leaning on the ground close to where I had set him hours earlier, only he was not moving. I moved in as quietly and slowly as I could and took a closer look. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t, not until I had absolute proof. I pulled my knit gloves back on and gently touched him. He tipped over helplessly. The body had gone stiff; only the legs had any flex. I tried to gently press his chest in and out in a small bird CPR motion, but to no avail. I have experienced death more than I would like, but I fortunately have not had any close friends or family pass away for some time. I was broken up by the loss of plenty of celebrities last year and this year, as recently as Chuck Berry who I wrote about last week. However, this one was different in that it was such a small thing. I had never seen this particular bird before, and I did everything within my power to offer it a chance at life, but it’s wounds were too great. I noticed the slightest abrasion on its head after I found it lifeless. Who could have helped?

I was determined not to leave the bird in such an undignified manner. I have no problem with the circle of life, and welcome the thought of the bird’s body being consumed by predator or detritivore to continue the energy cycle this universe runs on, but I could not permit him to be flopped on his side looking helpless. I scooped up a handful of pine needles and placed him on the bare ground I’d opened up, then replaced the pine needles to cover him up. This tiny burial for an equally tiny bird is still fresh in my mind and I anticipate it will remain so for a while.

I’m sorry if this upset you. It is a departure from my usual subject matter, but this small experience deeply affected me, and when something shakes me to my core as this did I find some peace in sharing my experiences through words. This encounter reminded me of the fragility of nature and how much we are responsible for as the dominant species of this interconnected world.

Thanks for reading. Please send any questions or comments to monotrememadness@gmail.com. Be sure to swing back around here next week for a look at the newest class of Rock and Rollers who will be immortalized in Cleveland.

Fly on, my feather friend,

Alex