Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I’m Still a Baby

I have had to have a bit of mouth work done due to the fact that I still have some baby teeth. Apparently growing adult teeth is not a 100% guarantee as one ages. In my case, I had four baby teeth for which there was no adult tooth to replace.

To manage the situation then my dentist ensured that as the rest of my adult teeth came in that the four remaining baby teeth would still be usable. This was done with a great deal of success as I’ve had those four teeth for a long while.

Early last year one of the four teeth split into fourths. As a result, I had to have it surgically removed as a tooth that has been around for that long becomes rather attached. Once the tooth was removed, some cow bone was placed in my jaw to maintain support for my gums as well as to support an implant to replace the tooth that was extracted. This explains my cravings for grass and periodic “moos”.

Last week I started having pain in the area of one of the three remaining baby teeth. When I went in to have it checked the dentist found that it had a small chip out of the back corner and that the tooth behind it had a rather large cavity. The bad news is I had a cavity (two actually), the good news is he was able to place a filling on the baby tooth to repair the chip and hopefully increase its lifespan. I’ve been told the remaining baby teeth may last until I’m 40.

I go back in January to have the remaining cavity filled. Until then here’s hoping the remaining three pieces of original equipment last – as you probably know, dental work ain’t cheap.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

If a tree falls in the woods.....

Often times the tech crew on Sundays will get involved in various discussions about sound theories and applications. I like to use these discussions to help teach the guys and help them improve as often my friends are misinformed.

This past Sunday we got on the very philosphical subject regarding if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound? I postulated that it does indeed make a sound but one of my former friends, whom I won't poke fun of here argued that it does not make a sound but rather creates a pressure wave that is not sound unless someone is there with an ear to perceive it. He said the wave does not become sound until it is heard by an ear which converts the pressure wave into sound therefore without an ear the tree only creates a pressure wave but does not create sound.

By now you are probably agreeing with me that my former friend was indeed wrong. It stands to reason that if the tree creates a pressure wave then it does indeed create sound with or without an ear. It's not as if the pressure wave is going to be perceived as light instead of sound when an ear intercepts the wave.

Needless to say my former friend and I had good time going back and forth basically arguing about the definition of the word "sound". Confident that I was right I continued with my morning. Being less sure of himself my former friend looked up the word "sound" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Turns out "sound" is both the pressure wave by itself regardless of whether or not an ear is present to perceive it and it is also the perception of said wave by an ear. I'm so glad his confidence in his own argument was so shaken that he had to do the necessary research to prove us both right.

Of course, I could care less who was right and who was wrong. I'm merely interested in the truth prevailing and in this case we were both in the right. The question this begs is why my former friend felt the need to argue the definition of a word? Perhaps he learned from a famous politician who was accused of infidelity and based part of his defense on disputing the definition of another obvious, simple word: "is".

Friday, September 17, 2010

Windows Mobile 6.5 Twitter App Update

In an earlier post, I talked about Twitter clients for Windows Mobile 6.5. Even though I have jumped ship and now have an iPhone, I don’t want to leave my Windows Mobile 6.5 friends hanging.

It would appear that the Twitter apps I reviewed before are no longer working. Neither one has been updated to comply with Twitter’s new oAuth authentication requirements. As a result neither one will allow you to login to your Twitter account.

The fact that these apps haven’t been updated can mean many things. Perhaps the developers are too busy or perhaps Windows Mobile 6.5 is dying a slow death. Another theory could be that they are putting their time into updating the apps for the upcoming Windows Phone 7 platform. No matter how you slice things, it would appear that there is much uncertainty ahead in terms of Windows Mobile based phones but that is another post for another time.

For now, when searching for a Windows Mobile Twitter client make sure it supports the new oAuth method that Twitter started requiring August 31, 2010. It is generally a good rule of thumb to check the update history to see how often the developer updates the program.

One I have come across and have friends using with success is moTweets. It has been recently updated, updates are free, and it appears the developer keeps the app up-to-date. It isn’t free though, it costs $3.99.

Since I don’t use the app I can’t recommend it for anything beyond the fact that is support oAuth but it does appear that the number of Windows Mobile 6.5 apps for Twitter that support oAuth are fewer and fewer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Story of the Beets

My dad has been teaching a parenting class for the community at our church and apparently he has been telling the class the story of the beets. In fairness to him I haven’t heard him tell it but I’m pretty sure his version is wrong.

For those who know me you know I eat adventurously and I eat just about anything. There are 3 small caveats to that mantra. First, I despise beets – no matter how they are prepared. They are a terrible food that I believe you are forced to eat if you die and go to that eternal hot place. Second, I’m not a big fan of olives, either black or green but I have been known to tolerate them on occasion. Third, mushrooms are ok but if I have a preference I would prefer to pass. Other than that, I like to try new things and enjoy the variety of foods available to us on planet earth.

Growing up I was the easy child. My sister was the difficult child. I would eat whatever mom and dad put in front of me. My sister on the other hand liked and disliked certain foods based on the weather. Some days she would like broccoli, other days she only liked broccoli with cheese, and on yet other days she would swear she never liked broccoli at all. Multiply that by the number of meals a family eats together and you can see how she was the difficult child.

Despite the fact that I ate everything I was served my father was determined to make me eat beets. I had tried them and didn’t like but for some reason I will never understand he wanted me to eat a full serving a beets. There must have been 2 or 3 pounds on my plate and with great wailing and gnashing of teeth I choked down all the beets. I remember that as being the longest night ever. I would take a bite, chew, choke a bit, gag them down and then regurgitate them a little.

I thought I was a pretty good 8 or 9 year old as I would eat everything else while my sister’s tastes changed based on the day of the week. Apparently my good track record was not enough. Meanwhile my sister was allowed to continue being a persnickety eater – and she is to this day.

As for me, I love broccoli – no matter how you prepare it but my favorite is with cheese and crumbled Ritz crackers.

Hopefully this sets the record straight, not only for you today, but for my therapist tomorrow.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day and Network TV

Labor Day 2010 has come and gone, but not before a pleasant surprise. Tonight was a rerun of the Big Bang Theory called “The Pants Alternative”, one of our favorite episodes. We were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves on TV again at the end of the episode as part of the vanity card.

If you missed it, the details are available here.

I know, I know. I’ve got to let it go but it is always fun for someone with as little excitement in his life as me to find himself on network TV not once, but twice. Oh, and my wife and Donnie too.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

iPhone Transition

You are no doubt as surprised as I am that I now have an iPhone. Not only do I have one but my wife also has one. Both these statements are hard for a lifelong Microsoft guy to type. Holding multiple certifications from said Microsoft I have always been in their corner. I’ve always said Microsoft can do anything and why learn multiple platforms if I can stick with the one I’ve known the longest.

Well, those thoughts, they be a ‘changin’. Not only have I taken the iPhone and iPad plunge but I’ve also abandoned Microsoft’s virtualization efforts through Hyper-V. That change in thinking is probably a whole other blog post so for this one I’ll try to just stick to the iPhone transition.

For my wife this is her first smartphone and she is loving it! We have already been playing around with Face Time and she is enjoying have the internet in her pocket along with all the other obvious smartphone advantageous.

For me there have been a few paradigm shifts that I have had to deal with. The first is the lack of ring profiles. On a Windows phone, you can set profiles that change ring and other notification settings based on your schedule or other rules. This is possible because in the Windows realm you have full access to the phone settings while Apple restricts such access to these settings on the iPhone. This could be one reason why the iPhone works so much better than any Windows phone I’ve ever had but I digress.

To get around this I have learned to modify how the iPhone notifies me of things and it doesn’t take that much to remember to use the silent switch. So far so good on this change.

The next shift is in the display. On a Windows phone, you can see your voicemails, emails, texts, missed calls, calendar, tasks, the weather, and much more all on a single screen just by turning the phone on. With the iPhone, you don’t get any of that until you unlock the phone. Even then, often times you have to open an app to see the total number of messages or details. The iPhone does tell you on the lock screen if you have new items but to see the full picture you have to unlock it. This is taking a bit longer to get used to but since the phone is so fast and responsive I don’t mind clicking the apps to get the information because I don’t have to wait for it nor do I have to wait to jump from one app to the other.

The final sift, at least as of now, is the lack of status lights. On Windows phones there is usually a colored LED that lets you know the phone is charging or lets you know if you have emails, texts, voicemails, missed calls, etc. So without even turning the phone on you knew something was waiting for you. The iPhone has no such lights so you have to turn it on to even find out if there is anything for you. This also isn’t that big of a deal since the iPhone responds so quickly and doesn’t require any waiting for anything – unlike my previous Windows phones.

Overall, I’m finding it easy to make the iPhone work for me, and hard as it is to admit I’m enjoying it a bit.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An Update on Eric's arm

Today Eric had a follow-up appointment with a pediatric orthopedic specialist. Eric is still unable to rotate his left arm at the elbow. It has taken some time to get to this point but everyone is confident his problems are with this elbow and not his wrist.

The orthopedic doctor we saw in Lafayette last week didn’t really have any answers so I appreciate our pediatrician efforts to get us scheduled with the specialist before Eric starts Kindergarten next week.

After an exam, he ordered some more x-ray s of the elbow. I must say I’m starting to enjoy wearing lead lined aprons. Eric did not enjoy the x-ray process again but the pictures proved conclusive in determining that Eric did not break his elbow at any point. The doctor said there is no evidence of a break however there could be a broken piece of cartilage that the x-ray won’t see but that is causing the pain.

His suggestion was to remove the splints and slings and give it 2 more weeks. As Eric uses the arm it should strengthen and as is most often the case the pain will subside and go away. If that doesn’t happen the next step is an MRI to find if there is a cartilage fragment in the elbow. If there is one, it would need to be removed surgically.

We are praying that the elbow heals and there is no fragment. Giving a 5 year old an MRI requires him to be sedated, as he won’t lay still enough for the 30-minute procedure. That too would also have to be done by the pediatric imaging specialist in Indy.

Thanks for your prayers and comments, we will know more in 2 weeks.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My blog made a family wedding more fun.

This past weekend my aunt got married in Ohio so, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a lot of family, some of whom I don’t see very often.

One pleasant surprise was that my 2 great aunts, my grandmother’s sisters, were also there. I haven’t seen them in many years so it was great to get to spend some time with them. How my blog made it more fun is that they have been following my blog page for a while now and reading my tweets through this page. As a result, we had a great time talking about things they had already read about. They were also up-to-date on their great, great niece and nephew.

So this one is a shout out to my 2 favorite readers, my 2 favorite great aunts, Ruth and Mary (names may or may not have been changed to protect the innocent, I’ll never tell). It was a lot of fun seeing you this past weekend and I’m glad you enjoy reading this site. I’ll try to keep it interesting. Hope you can come visit soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Red Rover Should be Outlawed, part 2

Eric had a follow-up appointment with his pediatrician today and she was very concerned about the lack of movement in the arm. Eric is very sensitive to specific movement in the elbow so she ordered another round of x-rays. When they got to the x-ray room Eric asked if they could just x-ray his other arm instead.

After the x-rays we had an appointment setup with an orthopedic specialist. It turned out to be the same doctor who did my grandfather’s hip surgery back in January. He looked at the x-rays and was unable to see any breaks. Since Eric is only 5 his bones are not done developing so they are not hardened yet therefore it is difficult to see breaks in the cartilage. He examined the arm, with Eric screaming most of the time, and determined based on the limited range of motion that the radial head of the elbow probably has a small fracture in it that you won’t see on the x-ray. Either way the treatment is the same it is broken or not.

They immobilized his elbow and wrist this time in a splint and then put his arm in a sling to prevent any motion. We go back in 2 weeks to see how it has healed. Fortunately if there is a break it is small enough that it won’t create any alignment problems as his arm continues to grow and develop.

The saga continues.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Red Rover Should be Outlawed

Today was a fairly normal day, aside from getting some bad news regarding the compatibility of our MSA 1000 series SAN and Windows Server 2008 Core. I was looking forward to a quiet evening at home when around 4:30pm my wife calls me and tells me that Eric fell at school and they think he broke his arm.

Since we are all at Faith each day, she had picked Eric up and brought him over to the building I work in. He was crying like I’ve not seen him cry before and any attention we tried to pay to his arm only made things work. We called our pediatrician and Heather and Eric headed to Urgent Care.

I went back to my office to grab a few things and then followed behind them. By the time I got to Urgent Care, they were already back seeing the doctor. Apparently, I still look a lot like Eric because when I walked in the receptionist immediately asked if I was with the little boy that had just come in. She took me back and I could hear Eric crying in the exam room. I really appreciate the quick service the staff provided us although I don’t know if they were helping us out of concern for Eric or concern for their ears. Have I mentioned I’ve never seen Eric that upset?

While they were taking his vitals, Heather explained the story details. They were playing Red Rover and Eric was trying to break through the other team but instead of breaking through, he fell backwards and tried to catch himself landing on his arm. This got my attention as I had received a tweet earlier in the day from someone saying Red Rover should be called “Get Stitches”. Yet another example of Twitter predicting the future.

They took him back to x-ray and even from the lobby I could hear Eric screaming as they tried to get his arm in position for several pictures. The doctor was concerned about the wrist, arm, and elbow areas. Based on the amount of pain I was assuming a break of some sort.

We got back to the exam room and the doctor arrived a few minutes later after reading the films. His arm was not broke. The swelling and pain were caused by contusions and over extensions of the tendons and ligaments. I was surprised to say the least but very relieved. They put his arm in a splint (through Monday’s follow-up appointment), another enjoyable process, and we were on our way.

It is pictures like this that I make public that will inevitably scar Eric for life.

Later I asked Eric how he hurt his arm and he started crying and said, “I was trying to break through the line and I couldn’t.” I’m not sure if he was upset because his arm hurt or because he lost at the game.

We want to thank everyone for the kind words we received via many technology means and their prayers for Eric.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Live from my iPad...

It has been a while since I have posted here so I figured it was time to at least say something that was more than 140 characters. While I find Twitter easier due to the shortness of posts I know my loyal audience expects more on this blog.

This post is the first of its kind as I am writing and posting this entirely from my iPad. My iPad and entrance to the Apple world are posts in and of themselves but my point here is there is more to come and as always for the latest follow me on Twitter.

If there is anything wrong with this post, blame the iPad.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Are Bill & Steve fighting over me?

As you probably know by now, I purchased an iPad over the weekend. I’ve been evaluating this decision for several months and trying to make a business case for the device (more on that in future posts). The full story will be told on this blog over time and what better way to start than with the relentless pursuit of Microsoft not to let me go.

The backstory here can be summarized as follows: I’m a PC person, Apple sucks. PC’s are better. So my using an Apple product is very much a paradigm game changing shift.

The fun started with the whole Apple Store experience. . It was as if they could smell my MCSE and knew I was wearing a Windows Mobile 6.5 phone. You can’t just go in there and buy something, you have to put your name on a list and wait for someone to help you. Naturally, the place was packed and after waiting an hour I found out several of the geniuses had called in sick. I thought I could just go pick an iPad off the shelf and head home

The only one they had was the 64gb 3G model. I wanted the 3G but would have been happy with the 16gb but decided the extra $200 was worth the extra space and worth not having to wait another month to get one.

Once I got home I tried to install a free app from the App Store. I have an iTunes account but hadn’t used it in years so I had to update my credit card information. I’m still not sure why a credit card is required for a free app but it is. The problem was that iTunes would not accept my credit card. It kept saying my security code was invalid. Frustrated I Googled the problem and found out that I wasn’t the only one but that the solution was to call the credit card company. I couldn’t figure out what could be wrong with my credit card, after all I had just used it at the Apple Store.

So I broke down and called the credit card company. The nice lady told me my card had been blocked due to an unauthorized purchase at the Apple Store. She said I had never used my card there before and so they blocked my card. She asked me to confirm if the purchase was valid. At this point, I’m laughing aloud. I told the lady she made my day and the charge was valid. She turned my card back on and my iTunes account was back in business so I could install that free app.

Between the long lines and the blocked credit card it is a wonder it all worked out but I have an iPad, I’m using it, I made this post with it, and will be talking a lot more about it….even though I do feel a bit dirty.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Assisting the Flight Crew

I fly a lot and it seems that lately the drama seems to follow me onto the airplanes. Recently the FBI met a flight I was on; you can read about that here.

Yesterday I was on Delta Airlines flight 1534 from ATL-IND. I was traveling with my wife and Donnie Payne, yes I know, yet another story that includes Donnie. Being a good friend, I had secured all three of us seats in the exit row. One of the flight attendants approach the exit row and asked us all to provide a verbal ‘yes’ that we understood we were sitting in the exit row and willing to help the crew if needed. We all said, “Yes.” Then she asked for a verbal ‘yes’ if we were able to give and receive instructions in English. We all again said, “Yes.”

As she turned to leave I leaned over to Donnie and said, “In Spanish too.” I didn’t think she heard me. I was just being my typical self making wise cracks.

A few minutes later the flight attendant returned and pointed to me and said, “Do you really speak Spanish?” I replied that I did and she said, “Come with me.” You don’t have to fly a lot to know that you are supposed to follow the instructions of the flight crew. So I got up and followed her up to the front of the plane. She pointed to an elderly Hispanic woman and asked if I could help her understand what she was saying.

I introduced myself to the woman and offered to help. She said that her bag had been taken from her when she got on the plane and she didn’t know where it was but she wanted to find it. She said it was a black bag full of books and that since it was heavy she needed help with it. We started checking the overhead bins but couldn’t find it so I asked her if it was taken from her before she got on the plane or after. She said it was as she got on the plane. That didn’t help as I was trying to figure out if it had been gate checked or not. I also couldn’t figure out why she was so concerned about these books.

By this time, another flight attendance came up and said she had taken her bag and it was in a bin behind further back on the plane. I told her but she wanted to see the bag and make sure the books were still in it. So we go the bag down, opened it up and sure enough it was full of a bunch of books. The lady smiled in relief and said they were books for her church. I told her we would put it back and since it was heavy, someone would help her get it down when we landed. She said thanks and I sat back down. The rest of the flight was uneventful.

Thus concludes my first official task helping a flight crew. Stay tuned, subduing an unruly passenger is probably in my future.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The World of Coca Cola

Yesterday my wife and I spent the morning at the World of Coke in Atlanta. We have been to the World of Coke in Las Vegas several times but this was our first trip to the one here in Atlanta.

The Las Vegas edition is basically a very large Coke store with a small tasting experience while the Atlanta edition is a full-blown museum, multi-media experience, store, bottling line (you get to take a bottle with you when you leave), and a full-blown tasting experience.

My wife has collected Coke stuff since she was in high school. We have enough memorabilia to open our own Coke diner, complete with soda fountain and the jerk to operate it (that would be me). On our first trip to the Vegas store, we had 5 boxes of stuff shipped home.

The experience was a lot of fun. They have a 4D theater, a 3D theater, and a very large entrance theater where the screen raises to reveal the entrance to the World of Coke. That was cool. As you would expect all through the museum I was tweeting and I was impressed how quickly @worldofcocacola responded to my tweets and even retweeted a few things I said. That shows they get the power of social media and are fully tapped into it.

I enjoyed the whole new Coke vs. Coke Classic fiasco of 1985 exhibit.  Think how different that would have been if Twitter and Facebook had been around in those days.

My favorite part by far was the world tasting room. I really like Inca Kola from Peru and Manzana Lift from Chile. Inca Kola is like drinking cotton candy while Lift is the best tasting apple soda in the world. Asia has a few that try but they are either excessively sour for my taste or a bit bitter. Plus they are often a neon green color that makes you feel like you are drinking antifreeze.

My least favorites, first tried in Vegas and confirmed again in Atlanta are from England and Italy. Italy has a lemon soda that is not good at all, worse than drinking lemon Pledge. England has a clear soda that might as well be called Carbonated Bitterness, but instead I think the name is Beverly. Poor girl.

The A-Team, nuff said

Last Friday I was able to relive my childhood as the new A-Team movie opened nationwide. As a kid, I loved the A-Team and Knight Rider. If I wasn’t a good boy, my parents wouldn’t let me watch these shows. That was great motivation to behave.  For the sake of brevity I won't discuss the latest remake attempts of Knight Rider.

I don’t often do movie reviews but here’s a hacked review of the movie. Warning: spoiler alerts galore here.

As a TV show, the A-Team and its creators changed the way action shows were filmed. The whole camera-on-the-ground-with-the-car-driving-over-it effect was done first on the A-Team. The original show also provided a lot of action without a lot of gore. Watching the show now in reruns on Centric, it looks like an 80’s cheese show but in the day it was very cool stuff with a wide fan base.

The movie isn’t exactly a continuation of the TV show but rather an adaptation of the story in modern times. The movie shows how the team forms, gets court martialed, escapes, and then ends up as soldiers of fortune. It uses the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as the backdrop. From there on the story rings true to the A-Team and the cast fills the roles of the traditional characters with ease. The story is exaggerated with over the top special effects but believable within the A-Team paradigm. I was impressed with the conservative language and general modesty of the movie, especially considering the Face character.

I was surprised to learn that they shot the entire moving in Vancouver. The movie covers Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, Los Angeles, Germany, and more but they shot the entire thing over 5 months in one location.

My A-Team and Star Trek fandom collided together during my Star Trek days as I was able to meet Dirk Benedict (Face) and Dwight Schultz (Murdock). Dirk was in many Sci-Fi TV series and Dwight was in Star Trek: the Next Generation as well as Star Trek: Voyager. Both are also in the new A-Team movie but you have to sit through the credits to catch the cameos. Face with Face and Murdock with Murdock. Very funny.

I knew from reading a review that there was a special treat for the TV shows fans if they stayed through the end of the credits. So while watching them I saw Dwight Schultz as German Doctor #1 but I couldn’t remember having actually seen him in the film. It all made sense when I saw the ending so it was like a mini-spoiler having seen his name in the credits before he actually appeared on the screen.

All in all this is a great continuation of the story and I hope they make a sequel. If you’re not humming the theme song by now you really should be, that is if you consider yourself a true A-Team fan.  And yes, I still have my action figures and A-Team van Matchbox car.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


I finally did it. I purchased my own name as a domain name. The millions of reading of this blog know that the address of http://jonathanesmith.blogspot.com/ is just too hard to remember. So I shortened it. My new portal on the World Wide Web is now accessible through http://jonathanesmith.com/.

Don’t worry, the old address will still work so you don’t have to update your address lists but now it will be much easier for you to share access to this blog with your friends, families, and enemies.

As you know, you can find not only these blog posts but also access to my Twitter feed, access to my TwitPics, archived blog posts, and the ability to search the posts and engage in a lively discussion about them. Literally hours of online fun.

If you thought the NASA stories were good, wait till you see what we have planned next.....

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Launch Day Golden Ticket

On launch day at the NASA Tweetup I got up and left a bit earlier than I did the day before anticipating some heavier than normal traffic on the way to the Kennedy Space Center. They told us they were expecting 30,000 people on site for the launch so I wanted to make sure I got to the twent in plenty of time. I also knew there would be some extra security but I wasn’t sure how much.

14 miles from Gate 2 traffic ground to a halt. It took me an hour to go the next 5 miles. Since I had left early I was doing ok for time but I didn’t know if traffic was going to be this heavy all the way to the press site or not.

The first security checkpoint was a temporary one being manned by the Florida State Police near the Astronaut Hall of Fame. I was amazed at how many vehicles were turned back. Talk about waiting in line for hours for nothing. At that checkpoint, you had to have a ticket for the KSC Visitors Center or for the Hall of Fame in order to proceed. If you didn’t have that you were turned back. I pulled up, showed my credentials, and was waved through onto the NASA Causeway, after the officer called me a ‘tweeter’. Traffic on the Causeway was normal so I was back to driving the speed limit. Yeah, I know, I know.

The next checkpoint was at the KSC Visitors Center. Again, I showed my golden ticket and kept going.

The third checkpoint was the Gate 2 badging station, there I had to show my credentials and a photo ID but was again waived through onto the Space Center.

The final checkpoint was at the press site. Here again I had to show my photo ID and my credentials but I was granted access and headed to the parking area.

I’m glad I left early, even though the traffic added an hour I still go there in time for a schedule change. In order to accommodate NASA’s Deputy Administrator coming to talk to us they moved the group photo at the countdown clock from 10am to 9:40am. Wouldn’t want to have missed that!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Does Anyone have a Leatherman?

The list of security requirements for the NASA Tweetup was rather long and included not bringing knives or blades of any kind. I typically have a Leatherman Micro in my pocket and don’t know how I would live without it however for the Tweetup trip I opted to just leave it at home. It can’t go on the plane; it couldn’t go to NASA so I just left it at home.

I hadn’t been in the Twent for an hour when one of the NASA setup crew asked if any of us had a Leatherman or other pocketknife so he could fix something on the tent. We all laughed, for obvious reasons.

Long Pants and Closed Toe Shoes?

One question I asked a lot at the NASA Tweetup I attended last week was regarding the requirement that on Day 1 of the Tweetup that we had to wear long pants and closed toe shoes. Coming from an Indiana winter, I was looking forward to wearing shorts in the hot Florida sun once I was accepted for the Tweetup.

All through the first day we couldn’t figure out why we had to wear such warm clothes, and believe me, it was warm.

Finally, towards the end of the day as we were heading to the launch pad to watch them retract the RSS (Rotating Service Structure) they explained the safety concerns that forced our dress code. We were able to visit the launch pad within 24 hours of launch so the SRB (Solid Rocket Boosters) had already been fueled. Do to the potential dangers for leaking gas they want anyone within a mile of the launch pad to wear long pants and closed toe shoes. The gases that may leak are heavy in nature and would fall to ground level where they can burn your skin or cause other types of irritation.

Even though it was hot and my jeans were sticking to me, it was all very well worth it. Being 200 yards from the launch pad with the shuttle on it and ready to go was incredible. I would have worn my snowsuit if that’s what they would have required.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tweetup Group Pictures

As part of attending the NASA Tweetup at the Kennedy Space Center for the final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on STS-132 we were told that NASA would take a group picture of the attendees at the countdown clock.  I was pretty excited to even be at the countdown clock let alone get a picture taken there.

Can you find me?  I'm in the second row near the clock.  Maybe this will help.

As an added bonus they also took our picture while at the launch pad for the retraction of the Rotating Service Structure.  We were not scheduled to have a photo there but I'm glad we did.  The photographer for our group was NASA's HQ photographer.  He has done things like taken the official shots for presidential administrations so he seemed to know what he was doing taking pictures of a bunch of geeks.

I'm harder to find in this one but bonus points if you can do it without scrolling down.

The photographer had one simple instruction for our group. He said, "If you can't see me, I don't care."  Worked out pretty well.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kennedy Space Center Security

So getting here was fun. I got to the press Accreditation Building early and they were processing us so I was able to get my credentials before the big line formed. Then it was off to the first security checkpoint. I showed them my badge and passport and the guard was perplexed. Fortunately, he didn’t turn me around. Before I got there they had already turned around several cars. He just had me pull over to the search area.

It would appear the Tweetup folks changed the way the credentials looked and failed to notify the security checkpoints.

About 5 minutes later he came back with my badge and told me I was good to go.

Then I arrived at the press site checkpoint and was again pulled off, as my name, along with several other folks’ names, was not on the list. 5 minutes later we were cleared, provisionally until they got the official list.

I’m not fussing though, at least they let us in, and I got a great view of the VAB from the checkpoint. See the security truck?

Our Flight Was Met By Cops

Rarely do I get to utter the words, “Our flight was met at the gate by cops.” As you know if you’ve been following me, although I’m not sure why you would, I was traveling yesterday on my way to attend a NASA Tweetup at the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of STS-132, which is scheduled for 2:20pm tomorrow.

This entire trip has been a series of good things consistently offset by a series of not so good things. I consider myself a seasoned road warrior so no much surprises me anymore but I still find these instances fascinating.  I do want to thank all my 'friends' who automatically assumed the officers were there for me.  Hopefully this will set the record straight.

Our plane landed at Orlando International Airport 45 minutes late due to weather issues at IND and ORD. I was sitting in the first row of first class at the window. During the flight a guy from coach came up to use the first class lavatory but he couldn’t get to it as the flight attendant was serving us lunch. She told him he would need to use one of the two lavatories in the back of the plane. It is kind of an unspoken rule that if you are in coach you don’t use the lavatory at the front of the plane. They don’t like you congregating near the cockpit door for obvious reasons and they really want the folks in coach to feel like second-class citizens.

Irritated he went away. About 10 minutes later, with the beverage cart still in the aisle, he came back up to try to use the lavatory again. She again told him to use the ones in the back of the plane. He said he was mad about the poor customer service and stomped off towards the back of the plane again. We didn’t see him again until the cops boarded.

While we are taxing to the gate they announced several times that we were supposed to remain seated with our seatbelts securely fashioned until the captain turned off the fasten seatbelt sign. Nothing new there. The plane came to a stop at the gate and we were all waiting for the sign to be turned off. Since it was taking so long I didn’t even know if we were at the gate yet or if they were waiting on someone to operate the jet bridge.

Since I was sitting up front, I heard the main cabin door open and could smell the fresh Florida air. While I’m wondering why the door is open and why we can’t get up I see the first of 2 heavily armed Orlando police officers board the plane. One of them gets on the PA and says, “This is the Orlando Police. Remain seated.” About 30 seconds later, our friend from earlier in the story is escorted out. 30 seconds after that they let us go.

I was the first person off the plane and walked up the jet bridge behind the lead flight attendant and one of the Orlando officers. The other one I’m guessing had taking our pal into the nether parts of the airport that normal folks never get to see.

The conversation went something like this:

Officer – Did the passenger not follow your requests and instructions?
Flight Attendant – Well, I guess. I’m not sure.
Officer – Ma’am, it’s a yes or no question. I need a yes or a no.
Flight Attendant – Yes, I’m tired of people like him, yes, he did not follow the instructions of the flight crew.
Officer – Please come with me to the FBI office so we can take a statement.

Hoping they wouldn’t see me or ask me for a statement I slowed down and once they veered off I headed for the train to baggage claim.

While waiting for my bags I got the rest of the story from the folks in coach. Apparently, after his second attempt to use the lav in the front of the plane he made a bit of scene with the flight crew in the back about not being able to use the bathroom and use the bathroom he wanted. They all made it sound like he was a moron who got what he deserved.

So, the moral of the story, and if you don’t know this already you probably shouldn’t be breathing, is that you don’t mess with a flight crew. Duh.

Never a dull moment, although anymore I would kill for one of those.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Adventures of Old Christine Taping

Season finale episodes are upon us and on a recent trip to Los Angeles (the same trip we saw The Big Bang Theory taping) we saw the season finale of The New Adventures of Old Christine taped.

To get tickets I just went online to the Audiences Unlimited website and was surprised to find tickets were available. I easily got 3 tickets for myself, my wife, and Donnie Payne. Someday I hope to be able to blog without Donnie being part of the story.

Being a long time Seinfeld fan being able to see a former Seinfeld cast member live and in person was exciting. Plus it gave me another chance to get back on the Warner Brothers lot without security trying to chase me away.

The New Adventures of Old Christine, hereafter referred to as Old Christine, tapes at Stage 5 on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, CA. Stage 5 is next to Stage 1 where they tape The Ellen Show. The masses of screaming women going in to see a taping of Ellen were lined up and walking into the sound stage when we arrived at the lot.

We arrived a bit earlier for this taping then we did for Big Bang because we did not have VIP tickets or reserved seating. We were just plain old normal folks. The weather was nice so we wandered around a bit while the Ellen folks got through the audience cue area and then we got in line after securing our cell phones, cameras, and any other form of connection to the real world in the rental car. We were numbers 4, 5, and 6 in the line. Let the cattle herding begin.

The security folks came through and checked our ID’s and stamped our hands. I’m not really sure why they stamped our hands as we were never asked to show that our hands were stamped. Regardless it made us feel important.

The VIP folks were first taken across the street to the lot and through security. Then our group of regular folks went across and through the security check point next. We lined up across the street from the sound stage to wait for folks to use the bathroom. About 15 minutes later they took us to the stage. After going through another metal detector we were ushered to our seats.

From this point forward most of my comments will be comparing the Old Christine taping to the Big Bang taping. They were so radically different that comparing them seems the best way to describe the Old Christine taping.

The audience area for Old Christine was much nicer than Big Bang's. The Big Bang bleachers were just padded seats with backs. Old Christine had bright red theater seats which were much more comfortable for the 5 hour taping. Since we were close to the front of the line we ended up with font row center seats. What I can’t figure out is the episode we saw taped is the current season finale. I would have thought there would have been more VIP’s but it worked out well for us as our seats were front row right in front of Christine’s living room set, near the kitchen bar.

The most enjoyable feature of this taping was that they didn’t block off the sets from view. During the Big Bang taping, they blocked any part of the set they weren’t using. For Old Christine they left it all open so we had lots to look at and were able to see a lot more of the setup that goes into shooting each scene and even each shot.

The warm up MC guy was also much more relaxed. He was from Fishers, IN of all places and did a great job keeping us entertained while also allowing us to enjoy the experience and the show. His resume includes shows like Designing Women and The Golden Girls so he was definitely a seasoned pro. He even gave scripts autographed by the entire cast to those in the audience whose birthday was March 10, the day of the taping.

Between shots the MC wouldn’t do anything which allowed us to watch the reset, watch the writers and producers make notes and changes, and actual hear what was going on. At Big Bang at each second of downtime, the music was blaring and they were trying to entertain us. I saw and learned much more about how TV shows are made at the Old Christine taping.

The episode we saw filmed airs tonight at 8pm on CBS. It is the season finale and had a few other actors in it that I’m fans of from other TV series.

Since our seats were right on the rail we also got to talk with the cast a bit. Hamish came up to us several times talking to friends sitting beside us. Another celebrity was in the audience that night sitting 4 seats down the row from Heather. Jennifer Gray (Dirty Dancing) and her 2 children were there. I didn’t know she was married to Clark Gregg (Richard). Donnie asked Clark and he confirmed it was his wife and children in the audience for the season finale.

There were also more bloopers. When the actors goofed up they went with it and we all had a good laugh. On Big Bang goofs were bad and something not to be enjoyed. The opening shot of the episode has Christine (Julia) getting some glasses out of a cupboard and Barb (Wanda Sykes) pouring a bag of microwave popcorn into a bowl. Julia had the giggles from the start and they ended up going through 5 or 6 bags of popcorn just to get the taping started. That set the tone and it was a lot of fun from that part forward.

Before the taping began, they showed us a previous episode. It was one we had already seen but when it was over Donnie and I noticed a buzz coming from the audience monitor speaker. Sound stages are setup to provide minimal amplification for the studio audience of the live action. They can’t turn it up too much or it will feedback but they have small speakers spread throughout the audience so we can hear the live action. These speakers are especially helpful if the action is taking place on a set away from where you are sitting.

The buzz kept getting worse as they filmed and we notice some of the audio guys coming over to check it out. They asked us if we heard the buzz and we told them we heard it, when we heard it, and that it sounded like a 60 cycle hum due to high voltage crossover. The guy told us he would check it out. After the next shot he came back and asked and we told him it was still there. A while later he came back and said we were right, it was a 60 cycle in the feed line for that speaker and that someone from Warner Bros. would be by to fix it the next day. Apparently, the union crew for the show sound can’t mess with the union crew gear for the studio sound. We offered to fix it for them but they passed.

Overall, it was a great experience. The taping lasted about 5 hours and then we headed off to dinner in Burbank, down the street from NBC Studios. As I’ve said, I like The Big Bang Theory as a show much more than Old Christine but we all agreed that we had more fun at the Old Christine taping and got so much more out of it.

So listen for us laughing tonight. I won’t be able to watch it, as I will be at the Kennedy Space Center for a NASA Tweetup. Go figure.

Author's Note:  This is my first blog post from 33,000 feet on American Airlines #1872
from ORD-MCO.  It may also be my last post from said location.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

NASA Tweetup for STS-132 - more than you want to know

Several have been asking about my schedule at the NASA Tweetup event I’m headed to on Wednesday. As you know, my sole purpose in life is to please my massive online audience and as such, I’m posting excerpts from the STS-132 NASA Launch Tweetup Agenda & Details email I received Friday.

If you are a regular follower of this blog, as I’m sure you are, you know I don’t post as often as I should. That is all about to change, at least next week as I will be posting frequently, especially while I’m at the Kennedy Space Center. Part of the deal getting to attend this event is that the attendees promote NASA through the various social media platforms. To get the most current updates please follow me on Twitter @JonathanESmith or by clicking the link on the left side of the page (scroll down). I can’t promise that my political views about the current and future states of our nation’s space program won’t seep in along the way.

For fun my 2 cent editorials are in red.


The Tweetup will take place at the press site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center is a government facility. Those without proper identification will not be admitted. (I will be carrying more forms of ID for this trip then I have ever carried before in my life.)

After you check in and receive your badge, you will drive yourself to the Tweetup parking and tent at the Kennedy Space Center Press Site.

Directions to the Kennedy Space Center press site from the Press Accreditation Badging Building on SR-3:
Turn right out of the badging parking lot and proceed approximately a half mile to Gate 2. After showing your badge, proceed ahead, traveling under the overpass and go approximately 4 miles toward the Vehicle Assembly Building. Turn right at the light at Saturn Parkway, passing the OSB building on the left and the OSB II building on the right. The Press Site is on your right just past the OSB II building. You will see a sign at the entrance marked "LC-39 Press Site." Turn right into the entrance and bear left into the lower parking lot. You will need to show your Tweetup badge and photo ID to the Security Officer, who will direct you to the parking for the NASA Tweetup. Please park only in the area designated for Tweetup attendees. You will see the tent ahead of you. Please proceed to the tent and claim a spot at one of the tables. The program will begin at 10 a.m. Your credentials allow you to drive only to the press site and do not provide general access to drive around NASA's Kennedy Space Center. If you drive anywhere other than to and from the Press Site, you forfeit your credentials and attendance at the NASA Tweetup. No person will be permitted past the security gate without NASA Tweetup credentials. This means every person in your vehicle must be a Tweetup attendee.

Thursday, May 13/L-1: Day 1
8-9 a.m. -- Registration at the Kennedy Space Center Press Accreditation Badging Building
9-10 a.m. -- Travel to the press site, set up, meet fellow participants
10 a.m. -- Welcome and introductions by @NASA team members John Yembrick and Stephanie Schierholz
10:10 a.m. -- Robert D. Braun, NASA chief technologist, NASA Headquarters
10:30 a.m. Jon Cowart (@Rocky_Sci), Orbiter Engineering manager, Space Shuttle Program, Kennedy Space Center
10:50 a.m. -- Stephanie Stilson, space shuttle Discovery processing director, Shuttle Processing Office, Kennedy Space Center
11:10 a.m. -- Astronaut Janice Voss
11:30 p.m.-12:15 p.m. -- Break for lunch
12:30 p.m.-1:15 p.m. -- Demonstration of the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES)
1:20 p.m. -- Instructions for launch day, board buses
1:30-6:30 p.m. -- Tour of NASA's Kennedy Space Center, including visits to the International Space Station Center and Apollo Saturn V Center. Your tour will drive by the Orbiter Processing Facility, Vehicle Assembly Building, Mobile Launcher Platforms and Crawler-Transporter. The last stop on the tour will be Launch Pad 39A to view retraction of the Rotating Service Structure, scheduled for 5:20 p.m. and space shuttle Atlantis. We will have a short break at the press site at about 4:30 p.m. If you need to leave, you may do so at that time. For the tour, you must wear long pants and closed, low-heeled shoes. Tank tops are not permitted. (Have I mentioned it's going to be close to 90 degrees?)

Friday, May 14/Launch: Day 2
9:30 a.m. -- Arrive at Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39 Press Site.
10 a.m. -- Group picture beside the countdown clock.
10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. -- Free time and visits from guest speakers, including
- Astronaut Dave Wolf
- Lt. Col. Patrick Barrett, weather officer with the Air Force's 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron
- Chris Meinert, STS-132 Closeout Crew member
- Madi Sengupta (@msengupta), Space Station Robotics instructor at NASA's Johnson Space Center
- Amiko Kauderer, @NASA_Johnson team member leading STS-132 mission Tweetup
2:20 p.m. -- Launch of space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-132 mission
~3:30 p.m. -- Post-launch news conference on NASA TV
Following the launch, you are free to depart on your own schedule. If you leave immediately, be prepared to sit in traffic for quite some time. (I don't plan to leave until they make me, when will I ever get to do this again?)

(In the event of a 24-hour delay, we will repeat the launch day schedule, but everything will begin 30 minutes earlier)

NASA Tweetup and Technology
Tweetup participants will have their own air-conditioned tent with video monitors, power outlets, WiFi and tables and chairs. We will have free Wi-Fi available both days. The SSID and WEP Encryption Key for the STS-132 NASA Tweetup will be available at registration.

No Ethernet drops will be available, but the WiFi will provide enough coverage for everyone, and the bandwidth will be about 54meg shared. Video and Skype will work, but it could be slow during heavy use. NASA Tweetup attendees should charge their electronic devices before each day's events. Power will be available only at the tent. You may need to allow your mobile phone to roam to achieve the best cell phone coverage. (54meg, that could be fun based on the lists of gear I see folks are bringing.)

Cameras, video cameras and tripods are allowed. However, if this is your first launch, we strongly suggest you put the camera down and enjoy the experience. After all, we have photographers and videographers there, too.

NASA will use UStream to broadcast the 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. portion of the May 13 NASA Tweetup at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nasa-television. Portions of the NASA Tweetup may be broadcast on NASA Television and online at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv. Photos will be posted online during and/or after the event at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasahqphoto. Your participation in the event signals your consent to appear on air and online. (Be sure to watch for me.)

The Twitter account for the Tweetup is @nasatweetup. We are following all those who are confirmed to attend. You can view the list of attendees at http://twitter.com/nasatweetup/sts-132-launch. (I'm on the official list.) If you are not already following @nasatweetup, please do so; we will post updates and reminders about the event there. Feel free to send questions you may have to that Twitter account. We will use #NASATweetup as the hashtag.

About Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39 Press Site
The STS-132 Tweetup will be conducted in an air-conditioned tent at the Launch Complex 39 Press Site, where news media from around the world are working. You may be approached by reporters requesting to interview or photograph you. If you don't wish to participate, simply decline their requests. (Yeah, like I'm going to decline any requests.) Attendees will have access to the grass area by the launch countdown clock and flag, as well as the bleachers. However, we ask that you refrain from setting up or walking directly in front of the countdown clock, where you will be in the line-of-site shots for many of the news organizations. (Now that could be embarrassing.)

You may leave the tent and roam around the press site, but you are not permitted to leave the press site without an official public affairs escort. You also are not permitted to enter the press site auditorium, where news conferences are conducted (the large yellow building with metal siding) or any private news media facilities (the trailers and buildings you see on the hill toward the front of the tent). You may enter the NASA News Center (the concrete building with the wedge-shaped roof, also on the hill), but we ask that you keep your visit short to respect the needs of the reporters who will be hard at work there. When you walk about, please be aware of equipment set up and broadcasts going on and try to stay out of their shots. (Watch for the top of my head.)

Restrooms are located in a concrete building on the hill, behind the press site auditorium.

If you fail to follow the rules and heed the instructions of NASA security and your public affairs escorts, you could lose your credential and your privileges to attend the launch.

Your STS-132 Tweetup Credential
Your badge will provide admission to the Launch Complex 39 Press Site both days. DO NOT LOSE YOUR CREDENTIAL. You must have your Tweetup badge and government-issued photo identification with you at all times. Please note: Your STS-132 Tweetup confirmation and registration does not qualify you for news media credentials at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, now or in the future.

Tickets to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
You do not need to purchase an admission ticket for the Visitor Complex. We will provide you admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, including the Shuttle Launch Experience attraction, IMAX space films and exhibits and shows at the main site. Your Visitor Complex ticket will be valid May 12-14. The Visitor Complex is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thus, your best opportunities to use this ticket will be May 12 or after launch on May 14. If you would like to pick up your ticket May 12, you may do so from the Tweetup Registration area of the Kennedy Space Center Press Accreditation Building on SR-3 between 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and noon to 1 p.m. If you would like to upgrade your ticket, you may do so at a discounted price at the Visitor Complex. (I will be spending a bit of time here.)

Appropriate dress
For the L-1 bus tour of Kennedy Space Center on May 13, you must wear long pants and closed, low-heeled shoes. Tank tops are not permitted. (Bummer, most of my wardrboe is tank tops.)

In the event of a launch scrub on May 14
Launching humans into space is a very complex business, and the safety of the crew is NASA’s number one priority. Hundreds of different factors can cause a scheduled launch date to change numerous times. If the launch date moves or delays prior to this planned event, NASA will make every attempt to adjust the Tweetup schedule accordingly to coincide with the launch and will notify you about this change. If on the first launch attempt (L-0, currently May 14), the launch is delayed for 24 hours, NASA will provide you the opportunity to visit the press site again for the second launch attempt. In that event, the launch day schedule will begin 30 minutes earlier. (What isn't clear is what happens if they have a third or fourth scrub.)

FOLLOW THE LAUNCH: It is your responsibility to keep up with the date and time of the shuttle launch. Follow @NASA on Twitter to receive regular launch updates. You also can receive regular launch updates at http://www.nasa.gov/shuttle. Updates also are available by calling 321-867-2525. We will e-mail you if there is a major change to the agenda, such as a scrub early in the morning during fueling. You can view a schedule of the milestones to launch at: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/news/132_countdown_milestones.html. A media briefing and events schedule is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/news/132_hours_events.html.

NASA’s Safety Statement
NASA's Kennedy Space Center is part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. While on Kennedy Space Center you may encounter a variety of wildlife, including alligators and poisonous snakes. If you see such an animal, do not approach it or attempt to feed it. Please notify a public affairs officer or other NASA personnel.

Please be advised that hazards are inherent in launching and launch viewing of a space shuttle mission. By accepting the invitation to view the launch or landing you do so with the understanding of the potential risk. Although NASA applies stringent range safety principles and techniques to protect the general public, workforce and property for all areas of the Kennedy Space Center during launch, in the event of an inadvertent circumstance, hazards including debris, blast and toxics could occur.

It is imperative that you stay within controlled areas with your group and strictly follow all instructions provided by NASA. Although an accident during lift-off of the space shuttle is highly unlikely, some safety precautions are necessary. As is the case with the launch of a space vehicle, a potential danger exists from toxic vapors contained in any cloud formed as a result of a launch mishap. In the event of an accident, all persons at NASA's Kennedy Space Center should take shelter immediately in the nearest air-conditioned building.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

NASA Tweetup for STS-132

A few weeks ago I applied for the NASA Tweetup Event at the Kennedy Space Center for the May 14 launch of STS-132. I figured it was a long shot at best as the event is limited to 150 people. I also am not one of those people prone to such luck.

The registration period is limited to 72 hours. Within 12 hours of the registration period closing I received an email from NASA notifying me that I had been placed on a waiting list for the event. It didn’t tell me what number I was on the list just that I was on the waiting list. I assumed that was the end of it. The Tweetup provides access to areas off limits to the general public and since there are only 2 more shuttle flights after this one I assumed the line would be a mile long to get in. The only thing I had on my side was the schedule. Aside from our 11th wedding anniversary that weekend was clear.

Yesterday, much to my surprise, I received a confirmation email from NASA stating I had been accepted and my registration had been confirmed. Either a lot of people were unable to confirm their attendance or I was close to the top of the waiting list but either way my registration has been accepted.

Today I received a rather lengthy email from NASA with the details of the event. This is going to be so cool! I have wanted to see a shuttle flights since I was in elementary school and now I get to see one of the final flights. If you don’t catch STS-132 this month, STS-133 in September or STS-134 in November then in order to see a manned space flight in the foreseeable future you will have to go to Russia. STS-134 is the final shuttle flight and then the fleet will be retired. As of now the United States does not have another manned vehicle option ready. The politics of that can be discussed another time in another post.

Here are some highlights of the event:
  • We get to watch the launch from the press site, which is closed to the general public. This is where the famous countdown clock is located. NASA provides us with an air conditioned tent Wi-Fi access, tables, power, and monitors to watch and listen to all the live missions control and NASA TV feeds. This location is only 3.2 miles from the launch pad. The closest public viewing is the NASA Causeway near Titusville, FL at 6 miles away. While they specify that we will have access to this area they ask that we refrain from walking directly in front of the clock so we don’t get in the line-of-shots for the news organizations that will be setup as well.  The launch is scheduled for 2:20pm EDT.
  • We attend a 2 hour program and interaction with NASA shuttle technicians, engineers, astronauts and managers.
  • A bus tour of the space center.
  • On launch day they will have more speakers and visitors for us but they emphasize that we will have free time prior to the launch. 
  • Normally the tour and launch viewing access cost. As part of the Tweetup those things are free.
According to the Tweetup website, “The goal of NASA Tweetups is to allow people who regularly interact with each other via Twitter to meet in person and discuss one of their favorite subjects: NASA.” As such they mention on the things to bring list that we are to bring our laptops and favorite tweeting devices and chargers. They also point out that we should ensure our devices are fully charged for the tour portion as remote power will not be available but is available at the Tweetup tent and during the launch itself.

Aside from the dates working out well I also have amply frequent flier miles allowing me to get a variable date ticket. This should allow me to modify my departure and return dates based on the status of the shuttle launch. NASA states that in the event of a scrub we will be invited to the second launch attempt. They do not state what will happen if there is more than one launch attempt that is scrubbed. That should be interesting. Knowing my luck, well, let’s not go there.

My favorite part of the email confirmation is NASA’s Safety Statement:
Please be advised that hazards are inherent in launching and launch viewing of a space shuttle mission. By accepting the invitation to view the launch or landing you do so with the understanding of the potential risk. Although NASA applies stringent range safety principles and techniques to protect the general public, workforce and property for all areas of the Kennedy Space Center during launch, in the event of an inadvertent circumstance, hazards including debris, blast and toxics could occur.
It is imperative that you stay within controlled areas with your group and strictly follow all instructions provided by NASA. Although an accident during lift-off of the space shuttle is highly unlikely, some safety precautions are necessary. As is the case with the launch of a space vehicle, a potential danger exists from toxic vapors contained in any cloud formed as a result of a launch mishap. In the event of an accident, all persons at NASA's Kennedy Space Center should take shelter immediately in the nearest air-conditioned building.
This afternoon I submitted my request for credentials and agreed to a background check. Provided all that goes through you will be able to follow the Tweetup on Twitter @NASATweetup or @NASA. I will also be listed shortly on the official STS-132 Twitter list http://twitter.com/nasatweetup/sts-132-launch.

Another side benefit is some of the tweeps that I will get to meet at the event. One in particular that stands out is @LanceUlanoff, the editor-in-chief of PC Magazine. All tech folks know that PC Magazine is like the bible of IT.

So, in keeping with NASA’s objective you will see more blog posts, photos, and tweets about this event as it approaches. Have I mentioned how cool this is!!!

Monday, April 26, 2010

"The Spaghetti Catalyst" air date

At long last, the episode of The Big Bang Theory we saw taped on March 9 is schedule to air. CBS is changing its lineup a bit for Monday, May 3.  The Spaghettic Catalyst airs at 9pm as opposed to the normal 9:30pm time slot.  A rerun is then scheduled to air at 9:30pm.

For more information about the episode check out this blog post.

For information about how attending this taping ended up with me on TV check out this blog post.

If you are interested in watching the episode with those who were there you are welcome to come over next Monday.  We will be watching it in the theater.  Then we will show it again and pause it to provide live audience commentary.  Please be sure to RSVP.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Network TV Debut

On last night's episode of The Big Bang Theory my wife, Donnie Payne, and I made our network TV debut. As I mention in my previous post they shot the studio audience for the vanity card that airs at the end of each show.

Yesterday I posted some rough pictures of our admittedly brief network TV appearance on Twitter by freezing the image on my TiVo and then taking pictures of our TV with my digital camera. Today the show’s producers posted the full blown images on their website.

(you can zoom in using your web browser)

This is the actual vanity card that aired.  You can see us sitting in the second row on the far right of the picture.  Heather is the rose between the thorns wearing the orange top.

This is our area blown up.  We had a lot of fun with the guy sitting in front of me.  His name is Josh.  He was more VIP than we were as he got to go down on the stage itself after the taping was over.

You can tell they had to edit multiple still shots together in order to get this panoramic image. Even with that they still left the far ends of the audience out. You can see us clearly on the far right of the image in the second row. We had great seats right in front of Penny’s apartment.

It took 2 takes in order to get it right because Donnie had his eyes closed the first time, that or a lighting problem, you pick.  For an autographed copy please send a self addressed stamped envelope to....

Monday, March 22, 2010

A taping of "The Big Bang Theory"

Warning: This post contains some spoilers relating to the plot line of “The Big Bang Theory”. Proceed at your own risk.

A few weeks ago I was in the Los Angeles area for a conference. Knowing that I was going to be in LA I started looking around for tickets to a few of my favorite TV sitcoms. One of my favorite shows right now is The Big Bang Theory on CBS. This is a show about 4 scientists who are also major computer, Star Trek, Star Wars, and comic book geeks. I like the show because my wife says I am parts of all 4 geeks. My wife likes the show because she is married to parts of all 4 geeks.

After looking around for tickets it became apparent that due to the show’s popularity that I wasn’t going to be able to get a ticket without some inside help. You can see this blog post for where my inside help came from and how we scored VIP tickets to the taping.

We arrived at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, CA at 5pm on Tuesday, March 9. We checked in as “guests of the production” and were moved to the front of the line. At 5:15pm they escorted our group of about 20 from the parking structure to the security check point across the street at the lot entrance. They were scanning primarily for cell phones and other obvious items. It was painless primarily because we opted to leave our cell phones in the car. That’s why there aren’t any pictures of our event as cell phones and cameras were not allowed on the stage so leaving them in your car is the best bet.

From there we started walking towards the center of the lot. Big Bang tapes on Stage 25 which is close to the middle of the lot. About half way there they stopped at the restrooms so anyone who had to go had a chance to go. Once you were on the sound stage going to the bathroom meant a long walk.

From there we continued on to the stage. On each of the sound stages at Warner Bros. they have a plaque so you can see what movies and TV shows have been shot on each stage. Of note on Stage 25 were most of the Batman movies and the original V from 1985-1986. V has made a recent comeback on ABC, another show I like to watch. Across the street from Stage 25 is Stage 24. Obvious I know but Stage 24 is where Friends was filmed and is appropriately named The Friends Stage.

Upon arriving at the door to the sound stage we had to go through security again and another magnetometer. If you had your cell phone or a camera with you they required you to check it. Another good reason for leaving your phone in your car is that if you were not a VIP then you had to step out of line while they checked your phone which meant you might not get as good of a seat. Since we were VIP’s our seats were reserved.

We entered the seating area and were directed to our seats. They had written Smith, Smith, and Payne on our seats using masking tape. It sounds like a new law firm but Smith and Smith is me and my wife and Payne is Donnie Payne, a good friend of ours who attending the taping with us. It is now around 5:30pm.

We had seats in the center house left section in the second row on the aisle right in front of Penny’s apartment. They were good seats as several scenes in the episode take place in her apartment.

Donnie and I spent the next hour looking around at all the technology on the sound stage. They had partitions blocking our view of the actual sets but we could see over the partitions to the lighting, rigs, and sound gear and we could look up at the rafters and other cabling and equipment over head. We also were able to see the sound booth and lighting booths. While we waited they had some music playing but it was fairly relaxed.

Around 6pm they told us they were going to show us an episode of the show that had yet to be aired. It was still a rough edit with a few sound issues and with the time code still on all the shots but nonetheless it was an un-aired episode and we were going to be the first to see it. At that time we were not sure why they were showing us an un-aired episode. Usually they just show one that has already aired but we didn’t care. The episode they showed us was titled The Pants Alternative which airs tonight, 3/22 at 9:30/8:30pm on CBS. If you like the X-Men you will love this episode. It also shows a side of geeks that most geeks would not admit to.

At 6:30pm they started shooting The Spaghetti Catalyst, the official title of the episode. The emcee introduced him and the cast and off we went after the actress who plays Penny came out to talk to audience. She told us that in order for the episode we were about to see taped to make sense to us we had to know that Leonard and Penny breakup. This breakup happens sometime between the un-aired episode they showed us that airs tonight and the episode we saw filmed. I’m guessing that the breakup happens in the episode that will air prior to the one we saw taped.

If you have never been to a TV sitcom filming here is how it goes. They shoot each scene 2-3 times. Often times they change lines between takes based on the audience response and they obviously repeat any bloopers that may have happened. Sometimes they will shoot them another time to get additional camera angles as well.

For continuity for the audience they shoot the show in scene order. Each time they move from one set to another there is a lot of down time but they do this for the studio audience. It would be much easier to shoot all the scenes on a single set at one time rather than move around. Each time they moved from one set to another they used partitions to block the sets that were not in use. Sometimes they pre-shoot scenes as well. During our episode there is an outside scene that was pre-shot. At the proper time during the taping they played it back for us so they could record the laughter.

The emcee’s job is to keep the audience energy level up and to keep you entertained as sometime the amount of time between takes can be 20-30 minutes. He gave away candy, $20, and did a lot of contests to keep the audience entertained. It was fun for a while but as the night wore on it got a bit old. I understand what he was doing and why they wanted to keep the energy level up but after a while I was ready for some quiet. They were always playing music and while I didn’t mind the music I wondered how the folks on the set were able to get anything done due to all the noise the audience was making and with the music playing . How they rewrote lines, received instructions from the director, fixed lighting issues, etc. with all that noise is beyond me but those on the stage seemed to enjoy it. The actors were often dancing around to the music between takes.

I was expecting the taping to have more bloopers and be more relaxed however compared to other tapings I’ve been to this one was pretty rigid. The actors took goofs and flubs seriously. There was not a lot of clowning around on the set. During one scene Sheldon and Penny are coming up the stairs with Penny carrying a bag of groceries. The actress slipped on one of the steps so they had to redo the scene. Before the director yelled “action” the actress playing Penny turned to the actor playing Sheldon and said, “Don’t push me this time.” We loved it and thought it was funny but the actor playing Sheldon didn’t appear to enjoy it.

When they goofed many of the actors would apologize and we would start over again right away. They didn’t elaborate or have fun with it. Seeing as the show is so funny I would have thought that they would have messed around a bit more. Perhaps it is due to the highly technical dialogue that keeps them from playing around too much. Either way, we still had a good time despite the lack of antics on the set.

As we got down to the final scenes Chuck Lorre, one of the creators and executive producers came out to talk to the audience. He said they are often criticized for using a laugh track for the show due to the sophisticated science jokes and humor. He said in order to show that they use a live studio audience they were going to include a shot of the audience in an upcoming episode. Come to find out it is The Pant Alternative episode that airs tonight. This explains why they showed us an un-aired episode.

They brought out some lights and cameras and filmed the audience in sections to appear as part of the vanity card at the end of the show. The vanity card is normally a white screen with black text containing very funny writing by Chuck Lorre. This appears for all shows that he has created. For tonight’s episode the shots of the audience is what will appear in this spot for about a second, maybe two at the very end of the show just before CSI: Miami starts.

After our moment in front of the camera they went back to filming the final 2 scenes. Once they were done they came back and told us they needed to shoot the audience images again because they needed more light. This time they brought in a large lighting rig and really lit the audience. The camera came back and we shot it again. This time Chuck Lorre was standing a few feet away from where I was sitting really encouraging the audience for this second take.

After our second moment in front of the cameras passed they did the final curtain call and that was it. It was around 10:15pm. One of the actors stayed around and signed a few autographs but for the most part they split. Chuck Lorre was still standing near to us and Donnie got his autograph.

We hung around until they made us leave looking at various things and checking out some of the other sets we couldn’t see as well from our seats.  It was around 10:45pm by the time we got back to our car and headed to the hotel.

We are not sure when The Spaghetti Catalyst airs. They film their final episode of the season on April 6 so I’m guessing it airs sometime in late April or early May. If you follow Bill Prady, one of the other creators and producers on Twitter you can find out a lot of behind the scenes info about the show.

He tweeted this week that they have been picked up for a 4th season and begin production in August.

There is more I could say and probably will in future blog posts but this gets the story started. We also attended a taping of The New Adventures of Old Christine. While I like The Big Bang Theory better I enjoyed the taping experience more for New Christine.

More to come I’m sure as this post is already quite long.

Update August 28, 2011
I've posted a Q&A list to go along with this post and hopefully answer some additional questions.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Calibration and Mall Security

I’m in Memphis this week for some meeting at Shelby Systems while Donnie attends the basic Shelby training as part of his ramp up at Faith. Last night we picked up a rental car and the Memphis airport. While driving to the hotel I noticed the compass on the dash said CAL. Being a bit of a geek I knew that meant the compass in the car had not been calibrated. The upshot is that means the car is very new and I’m one of the first renters, the downside is that CAL was going to drive me nuts knowing that the car wasn’t doing something I know it could do – namely showing me what direction I’m going. I know my GPS tells me the direction but it’s the principle of the thing.

We checked into the hotel and then ran out to grab a bit to eat. On the way back from eating Donnie suggested I go ahead and calibrate the compass. To calibrate the compass in a GM model car you select calibrate on the dash board menu and then drive in circles for it to calibrate it. I’m not joking, look it up in any GM manual. On the way back to the hotel we found an empty mall parking lot and gave it a go.

So I started driving in circles, slow enough that I didn’t make Donnie sick. First I tried small circles to the left, then larger circles to the left, then small circles to the right, then larger circles to the right and finally I did some figure 8’s. All the while the dash kept reading, “Drive in Circles”.

5 minutes later I finally realized that the zone must not be set. In order for the compass to calibrate you have to know what zone you are in so the compass can calculate the magnetic north based on your longitude and latitude and let you know your direction in reference to the magnetic north. How do I know this? Like I said, I’m a bit of a geek. Because of that inherent geekness I also happened to know that Indiana is in zone 5 and that Memphis, TN is also in zone 5 as it is almost due south of Lafayette, IN. So, I set the compass zone to 5 and started driving in circles again.

By this time mall security had noticed something odd with a car driving round and round and round in their parking lot. I completed my first circle after setting the zone and the dashboard displayed those magic words, “Compass Calibrated” and the letter SE appeared in place of the CAL. Also at this time a mall security vehicle appeared next to ours.

The mall officer rolled down his window and asked what we were doing. I explained we were from out of town and our rental car compass needed calibrating and to do that we had to drive around and circles and that the empty mall parking lot behind our hotel seemed like a reasonable place to perform said calibration. His respond, “I’ve always wondered how you do that.”

He wished us a good evening and said he was glad his boss didn’t notice us and sent us on our way. I’m not sure what that meant but I’m glad our compass is calibrated. I don’t plan charge Enterprise for the services performed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Wife is Awesome!

I know the title of this one seems obvious but let’s face it, all guys marry up.

Anyway, my wife is awesome for many reasons but here is the latest one. Next month I’m attending a church IT event in Southern California. Our schedules worked out so that Heather can come with me and take some vacation time around the event. While we are in LA we wanted to see some of our favorite TV shows being filmed. On our honeymoon we attended a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman in New York. We were able to get some tickets online to a few shows but the one I really wanted to see was The Big Bang Theory.

The Big Bang Theory is about smart geeky people. You may wonder whether I’m smart but I think the verdict is long in on my being a bit geeky. However, due to the popularity of the show the taping while we are in LA was sold out.

Heather has an uncle who is well known in Hollywood. To protect his privacy I’ll leave out the details lest you all try to get TV show tickets through him. Heather emailed said uncle asking if he could possibly score us a couple of tickets to The Big Bang Theory since that’s the one show I really wanted to see. Two days after she emailed we received confirmation of VIP tickets to the sold out taping of the show.

The VIP letter told us where to park, not to bring our cell phones, and how to check in as VIP guests of the production. Once we check in we get a private escort to Stage 25 on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.

I’ve been doing some reading online from various sources about what to expect at a taping and it appears we are in for a good time. The tapings usually last until after 9pm and we have to be there at 5:15pm so I’m not sure how I will survive without my cell phone for so long but I know it will be worth it.

Will we get any autographs? Will we meet any of the cast or producers? Is the pizza they serve the audience any good? Will we run into anyone else on the studio lot? Stay tuned.

My next post will be My Wife’s Uncle is Awesome!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The One with Two Titles

This post could have easily had two titles. Since I like them both I’m going to let you decide.

Option 1: My Father the Terrorist

Option 2: Chinese Food is Explosive

This past week was our Biblical Counseling Training Conference at our church. A lot of my immediate family is involved in serving during the BCTC and attending it. As a result we usually try to get together for a meal with everyone one night during the week. This year my wife, mom, dad, uncle, cousin, grandpa, and grandma were all involved in the conference. Our kids were there too but they were doing their normal weekly school stuff.

My uncle, from Peoria, IL found out about this new Chinese Buffet that had opened near the church. Since we all enjoy that kind of food we decided to try it out. The food was good and we were having a great time when we noticed several police cars from the city of Lafayette pulling up in front of the restaurant. Thinking nothing of it we kept eating until a third office arrived from the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department. My mom, getting up to get some more food, went to the window and noticed that they were looking in my dad’s van with flashlights.

To understand why that matters you have to understand my dad’s vehicle. He drives a 1988 vintage Ford Econoline cargo van. Its original color is white but due to the amount of rust it is hard to tell these days. It has a blanket hanging behind the driver and passenger seats to keep the front warm in the winter and is full of odds and ends in the back. It has a side window and two rear windows which is what the officers were shining their lights through to see what was inside.

After getting back from getting a bowl full of ice cream dad decided to go out and see what they were looking for. As he was getting his coat on one of the office came into the restaurant and asked if anyone owned the white van. Dad and the officer went outside.

Watching from the window we noticed that dad was letting them into the van. Finding that odd my uncle and I decided to get our coats on and go out to see what was going on. In Indiana it isn’t legal to search a vehicle without a warrant so I was surprised my dad was allowing them to poke around.

When we got outside we found out that the clothing store next door had been robbed a lot lately around closing time, 9pm. The thieves would pull up in a van, similar to my dad’s, and while the store clerks were locking the door to leave they would push them aside, grab a bunch of clothes, throw them in a van and drive off. So the store clerks seeing the van parked there called the police thinking it might be waiting to rob them when they closed. When the police showed up they noticed some items they viewed as suspicious in the van leading them to want to search it.

To understand this part of the story you have to know a bit more about my dad. He is a profession pyrotechnist. He launches fireworks, designs and tests fireworks, and trains others on explosives. The mild mannered chemist from Purdue is just a cover for the pyro inside. However, dad is also legal about all this. He has more licenses and explosive permits from more levels of government than I have Microsoft certifications. He has done training sessions for the local bomb squad and even took chemicals for making explosives across the US/Canada border for a ChemEd teaching conference he was invited to in Vancouver. Last year there was a deflagrating fire in a chemistry lab at one of our public schools and the Sheriff’s Department consulted with dad during the investigation. So, the fact that he had some electric igniters, an old cardboard box with diamond shape explosive decal, and other odds and ends in his van should be no surprise. The fact that he had all the paperwork for all that in his van should also be no surprise.

The tension came from the fact that dad believed procedurally they should have asked more questions and investigated his paperwork before searching. However the officers were determined to search. While dad initially refused giving them permission to search he grudgingly then gave permission considering how long the process would drag out waiting for the bomb squad to show up and waiting for a judge to issue a warrant. So dad, with nothing to hide allowed them to poke around. They found nothing of interest although they never asked to see further paperwork; they only saw dad’s hazmat endorsement on his license.

The bigger issue here is that suspicion by someone else caused a loss of privacy and liberty for my dad. I realize this is a much more complicated issue but here is a quote from my dad’s Twitter account that I think sums it all up:

“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Again, I get how complicated this can be and I understand the threats of the world we live in however a citizen with all his ducks in a row, who has trained law enforcement on these very situations was himself subjected to a loss of liberty and privacy for doing it all the right way. One of the officers suggested that dad simply hide the stuff in plastic bins so that if someone does look inside they can’t see anything. The logic here fails me as while that removes the element of suspicion it doesn’t solve the real problem.

I think I’m going to drive around town with a fake foot hanging out from under a blanket in my backseat and see how long it is before someone suspects I have a body in there and calls me in for murder.

The next day dad called the sheriff and the sheriff called back. They have a meeting setup to review the case with the Sheriff’s Department as well as officers from the Lafayette Police Department. At issue is procedure and helping those men of zeal gain some understanding.

More on this story to come I’m sure.  Dad's biggest objection to all this was that his ice cream had melted by the time we got back inside.

Oh, and speaking of dad being a terrorist my grandfather (dad’s dad) actually is a terrorist. He is on the official terrorist watch list because of his name, Bob Smith. Apparently that is a common alias used by terrorist so grandpa can’t check in online for flights, gets all the extra screening, and now that he has a metal rod in his hip, well, let’s just say flying with him is fun.