Introduction to my 2-XL toy robot from 1978

I created this 20 minute video to introduce you to my 2-XL toy robot that I played with when I was 8 years old.  It still works!

Apparently the manufacturer is pronounced “meego”. Oops!

Here’s the website that I got the image of the internals of an 8-track tape from that I used in the video.

And here is a full resolution map of the 2-XL General Information user experience (click thumbnail):

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I love this 2-XL commercial!  “Can be used to play any 8-track cartridges!  Teenagers love it!”

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip to Krakow, Poland: The Travel

I just returned from a trip to Krakow, Poland last week where I was speaking at a software developer conference.  I posted details of that experience here.  I also posted details about my sightseeing experiences here.  Then I posted details about all the wonderful food I ate here.  This final post, however, is dedicated to the trip in general.  The flights, the hotel, and other stuff I noticed about Poland and Krakow.

I don’t travel all that much in general, and this is my first time outside of the United States, so I may have been surprised or excited about things that are very common and everyday in Europe or other parts of the world.  So please take that into consideration while reading this.

Here is a photo of the big Lufthansa 747 jumbo jet that took me across the pond.  It was about an 8 hour flight from Orlando to Frankfurt and then another couple hours from Frankfurt to Krakow.  The 8 hour flight started at about 8pm Florida time, so it was an overnight flight.

I chose a window seat towards the very back of the plane.  The Economy class seats were 10 across. 3 seats, aisle, 4 seats, aisle and then 3 seats.  But in the very back where the tail of the airplane starts to get thinner, there were only 8 seats across.  2, 4, 2.  So I chose a window seat where there were only 2 seats to choose from.  My thinking was that the likelihood of another single passenger to take that single seat next to me was less likely than a couple who would take an available 2 seats next to me.  And I was right.  Nobody sat next to me in the aisle seat.

Each seat had a complimentary entertainment system mounted in the forward seat’s headrest.  The system had lots of music, TV shows, and feature films to choose from.  It also included a live animation of the flight as it progressed, which I thought was pretty cool.  Since this was an overnight flight, I didn’t use the entertainment system very much.  I tried to sleep instead.  Poland is 6 hours ahead of Florida, so I tried to go to sleep earlier than normal in order to get used to Poland time.

As I mentioned, there was nobody sitting in the aisle seat next to me, so I tried to lay down across both seats and get some sleep.  I usually don’t have much trouble getting to sleep.  But two seats is just not enough room.  Not even for me.  Not even when curled up into the fetal position.  I tried.  I really tried.  I tried on my back.  On one side.  On the other side.  It just didn’t work.  So I sat upright and slept like pretty much everyone else on the plane.  I ended up getting about 4 to 5 hours of sleep.  Not bad considering the conditions.

Here is a photo of Germany about 30 minutes before we landed in Frankfurt.  You can see quite a few of those giant modern wind turbines down there.

I snapped this photo out the window of what turned out to be Oberwesel, Germany which looks like a cute little village with a cute little port there on a dogleg of the Rhine River.  Click here to explore this area using Google Maps.

We got basically a pilot’s view of the approach on the entertainment system as we came in for a landing in Frankfort.

Once we landed at Frankfort, I had to walk quite a ways around the airport to get to my gate for my flight to Krakow.  And I had to go through immigration, which had quite a long line.  I also had to go through the x-ray scanners again.

Speaking of the x-ray scanners.  I don’t travel much, so forgive me if this is common.  But both Frankfort and Krakow had a nice automated system for getting the plastic bins back to the start of the line after those bins were used to carry bags and purses through the x-ray scanner.  At Orlando, workers have to manually stack up these plastic bins and haul them back around to the start of the line.  A completely manual and highly labor intensive process.

Once I got to my gate in Frankfort for my short flight to Krakow, the gate was automated.  Each passenger just scanned their boarding pass and a little gate opened up for you to walk through.  Pretty cool.  I love automation.  When it works.

So I thought I was walking down a ramp to board my plane to Krakow at this point.  But I was wrong.  I was walking down stairs to a ground level garage of sorts where there were several busses waiting for us to climb aboard.  These busses took us to our planes which were parked way out on the tarmac away from the terminal.  I guess this is necessary if your terminal cannot handle all the planes and flights.  But I thought it was dangerous.  I had already scanned my boarding pass and there was no way to make sure passengers didn’t get on the wrong bus or the wrong plane at this point.  I got on the right bus and the right plane, but there was nothing stopping me from doing otherwise.

Once I arrived in Krakow, there was a car and driver waiting for me holding a sign with my name on it.  That was pretty cool.  He drove me about 20 minutes to the hotel in Krakow and I gave him 2 US dollars as a tip.  He said that was highly uncommon but he was very excited to get it, though.

Checking into the Novotel Hotel Centrum was quick and easy.  Everyone in Poland speaks pretty good English.

When I got on the elevator, I noticed that the lobby floor was labeled floor zero.  This was the only elevator I used during my entire trip, so I don’t know if this was common or not.

I loved the design of the hotel bathroom.  It was very simple and clean.  I loved the fact that the toilet didn’t actually touch the floor.  I’m thinking that this is a more sanitary situation than a toilet that goes down into the floor.

During my 5 day stay in Poland, I noticed that none of the toilets actually touched the floor.  I also noticed that all of the toilets used the water efficient two-button system of flushing.  A small button for number 1 and a large button for number 2.  In theory, this conserves water.  But in practice, I noticed that the light number 1 flush was seriously powerful and used quite a bit of water.  And the number 2 flush was just crazy.  Stand back, people!

I will admit that when I got into my hotel room I had to go to the bathroom in the dark because I could not for the life of me figure out how to turn the lights on. Afterwards, after the pressure was off, I figured out that this little electronic thingy mounted on the wall just inside my hotel room door labeled “Hotelcard” was for me to stick my room key into.  And magically it allowed all the lights, and apparently also the air conditioning, to work!  Genius!

While experiencing Krakow, Poland for nearly a week, this historical dude riding a fake horse kept coming up.  Literally several times each day.  Apparently it’s a Krakow tradition called Lajkonik.  There are several stories and explanations, so I’ll let you read them on your own.

Here is a flight of stairs combined with a ramp for cyclists.  Very cool.

Almost all the streets I encountered while in Krakow are cobblestone.  Some were even quite decorative and beautiful.

One thing I noticed right away when walking around Krakow is that people only cross at marked crosswalks.  I also noticed that there were very few crossing signals for pedestrians.  Like in the photo below.  Pedestrians just wait for a clearing and they go.  And if cars happen upon pedestrians crossing in these marked zones, they always stop.  I get the feeling that if you try to cross outside one of these marked crosswalks, the cars would just run you over, though.

Many Polish words are very close to the English version.  Like “alkohole” for “alcohol”.  The word “alkohole” just cracks me up every time I see it, though.

And here is a selfie I took in the Krakow central town square.  It was chilly that day.  The high was only 60 degF.  Several days while I was there, the high was 75 degF which was unseasonably warm.

I did not drive while I was in Krakow, but I don’t think it would have been bad.  It’s not a very big city and there appeared to be some parking available.  I noticed that gas was about 4 US dollars per gallon, while back in Florida it was right at 2 dollars.  Yes, I did the conversion for liters and also for Polish Zloty.

I didn’t get the green running-man exit signs at first.  Probably because I’m used to exit signs being red instead of green.

One of my random observations of Poland is that everyone there smokes like a chimney.  I didn’t see very many electronic cigarettes.  Just old fashioned tobacco ones.  And lots of them.  Sometimes I even had trouble getting away from the smoke and finding fresh air.

Another random observation is when you order a Coke in a restaurant, you never get a big glass or a big cup like in America.  You get a teeny tiny little 6 or so ounce glass.  Barely enough for a meal.  They drink a lot of water and beer here.  Mostly sparkling water, which I’m not a fan of.

Well, that about covers my trip to Krakow, Poland!  Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip to Krakow, Poland: The Food

I just returned from a trip to Krakow, Poland last week where I was speaking at a software developer conference.  I posted details of that experience here.  I also posted details about my sightseeing experiences here.  This post, however, is dedicated to all the wonderful food that I ate while I was there.  The lighting was not great in most of these restaurants, so I will apologize in advance for the quality of these photos.

The food during the 2 conference days was catered and it was all very good, but I didn’t take notes nor take any photos of those particular meals.

The conference organizers took all the speakers out to dinner the evening before the conference started.  They took us to a bistro and restaurant called Kogel Mogel which was just a couple of short blocks from the central town square.

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We stared with a wonderful sour rye soup (Zurek or zur) with mushrooms.  It also had some sausage in it and also some hard boiled egg.  I apologize for not getting a photo of it.  It was super tasty.  Different from anything I’ve ever had before.  It’s made with fermented or soured grains.  I liked it a lot.

Our main course was a chicken schnitzel with a mushroom sauce and mild peppercorns.  A schnitzel is a meat that’s thinned by pounding and is then coated with flour, egg, and bread crumbs and then fried.  We also had potato dumplings (kluski slaskie) which were pretty good.  Especially when dipped in the mushroom sauce from the chicken.

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For dessert we had a creme brulee, which was to die for.  A week later, my mouth still waters when I think about it.

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The next morning, which was the first morning of the conference, I ate breakfast down in the hotel lobby.  I stayed at the Novotel Krakow Centrum hotel, which was just off the Vistula river, across from Wawel Castle.  It’s a very nice and modern hotel.  The breakfast buffet was quite impressive and it was included in the cost of the room.  I didn’t eat too much, though because I don’t eat heavy breakfasts and I didn’t want to be weighed down at the conference.

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I should have taken a photo of the entire spread, which was quite impressive.  I did get a photo of the meats and also of the cheeses, though.

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That evening I found a great little authentic old country restaurant, also within a couple short blocks of the central town square.  This family friendly restaurant is called Morskie Oko and it is in the style of an old Highlander’s Inn.  While I was eating, live entertainment included singing and dancing Highlanders in full costumes, plus live musicians.

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The food was really incredible here.  I started with an appetizer of baked prunes wrapped in bacon fat.  Now if you like your bacon cooked well done and crispy, this dish is NOT for you.  This bacon was very thick … probably hand carved … and it was very moist and greasy.  It was so yummy, though.  I could barely even taste the prunes through all that bacon fat.  Mmmmmmmmmm.

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Next I ordered the sauerkraut soup which had sauerkraut and potatoes and also a small rib in it.  I love sauerkraut, so this soup was delicious!  It’s sour, but it’s a different kind of sour than the fermented rye grain soup I’d had the previous night.

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For my main dish, I had the boar loin in red pine mushroom sauce.  Oh.  My.  Gosh.  This boar meat was quite tender.  Similar to a nice steak.  It had a wild taste but not too wild.  It was amazing.  It had grill marks on it, so it was cooked, at least partially, over an open flame.  And the red pine mushroom sauce was really great.  It tasted a lot like a red wine sauce, but I’m not sure whether that taste only came from the red pine mushrooms or not, since I’ve never had those before.

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The portions were not too big, so I actually had some room left for dessert.  So I ordered a walnut ice cream sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream, and roasted hazelnuts.  I hadn’t planned on eating the entire thing, but it was so good.  I couldn’t help myself!

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And here is my breakfast on my second morning in the hotel lobby.  Meat, cheese, and a bit of scrambled eggs.  The breakfast of champions!

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That evening I was tired from the conference, so I just stayed in and ordered room service.  This is just an appetizer of shrimp with garlic and chilli, but it was all I needed that evening.  It was very yummy.  We had snacks all day long at the conference, so I wasn’t exactly starving at dinner time.

I also got this warm soft brownie and ice cream dessert from room service.  So warm.  So soft.  So fudgy.  It was delicious.

The next day was Saturday, and the conference organizers took us speakers out for lunch at a nice restaurant called Miod Malina, which again, was only a couple short blocks from the central town square.

This is the Bruschetta, which was very simple and very good.

And I ordered the sour rye soup again, since I loved it so much a couple days earlier.  Many restaurants, including Miod Malina, serve it in a bread bowl.

Miod Malina put a lot more meat in this sour rye soup than did Kogel Mogel, but the Kogel Mogel version was more sour (sour being good).  Both were very good in their own way.

I finally got to dig into some good old fashioned Polish pierogis, also known as dumplings.  The ones I ordered were fried meat pierogis, but the restaurant also bakes them and also has a fruit version and a potato/onion version.  These meat pierogis had 3 different meats inside.  Some had pulled pork.  Some had beef.  And some had veal, I think.  They were really awesome!

This was not my plate … it was one of the other conference speakers … but I had to take a photo of it.  I had seen several people eating these while I was in Poland and it looks really good.  It’s veal knuckle, otherwise known as veal shank.

That same evening, I had my dinner at the Wesele Restaurant, which was directly in the town square.

This time I tried the sauerkraut and mushroom fried pierogis and they were so stinking good!  I could eat 4 or 5 plates of these things!

I had ribs with plum sauce which was pretty good, although I don’t think plums are really my thing.

And I also ordered fried cabbage as a side dish.  I’d never had this before and it was mild, but it was very good.  My pee smelled like sauerkraut for the next 2 days, and I think it might have been from this particular dish.  Although, I guess it could have been from other  dishes I’d had containing sauerkraut.

My last full day in Krakow was Sunday, and I had lots of sightseeing and shopping to do, so I went straight to the central town square and ate breakfast at this little handmade doughnut shop called Krakowskie Paczki, which means Krakow Packages.  It’s a popular little shop as there was quite a line of customers.

They also sold waffles.  So I got a jelly filled doughnut and a waffle with blackberry jam.  The filling in the doughnut was different than anything I’d ever tasted and maybe it’s an acquired taste, but the doughnut itself was spectacular.  And the waffle was quite good too.  And yes, I had Coke for breakfast.  Hey, I was on vacation!   🙂

This entire day went by pretty fast since I was trying to experience the entire central town square and also buy a bunch of souvenirs, so I didn’t actually eat lunch.  And when dinner time rolled around, I wasn’t exactly starving either.  So I decided to just get an appetizer.  I went to a fancy restaurant on the square called Szara.

I had heard a lot about Beef Tartare or Steak Tartare, and I had seen lots of people eating it here in Poland, so I decided to try it.  Even though it is raw ground beef and raw egg yolk.  It was actually pretty good.  I was not a fan of the smoked herring or whatever that fish is on the plate.  But when I mixed all the other ingredients together, it was an interesting and nice little treat.  Going around the plate, there was raw chopped onion, chopped tuna, I believe, chopped pickes, butter, and the sauce tasted like a mild honey mustard.

I finished my small dinner meal with an ice cream of sorts called Pistachio Semifreddo with caramel and chocolate sauce.  It’s very light, like a frozen mousse.  A pretty fancy dish.

Well, that about covers all the awesome food I ate while in Poland! Tomorrow I’ll publish a blog post detailing the trip in general along with some of my random observations about Krakow, Poland.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip to Krakow, Poland: The Sights

I just returned from a trip to Krakow, Poland last week where I was speaking at a software developer conference.  I posted details of that experience here.  This post, however, is dedicated to the sightseeing I was able to squeeze in while I was there.  I only had my iPhone 5S on this trip, so I will apologize in advance for the quality of  some of these photos.

This photo sort of shows the typical countryside in Poland.  Huge historic-looking castle looking structures right next to modern looking apartments right next to small modest cottages.

The Wawel Castle and the Vistula River are both important landmarks of Krakow.  The river is the longest and largest river in the whole country and it snakes through the entire city.  The castle sits prominently on top of Wawel Hill and is one of the most historically and culturally important sites in all of Poland.

Here’s a close up photo of Wawel Castle at night.

And here is another photo at night, but from across the river.

In the center of Krakow city is Rynek Glówny, which means “main market” or “main square”.  It’s a large medieval town square, dating back to the 13th century, surrounded by palaces & churches.  It’s a wonderful area of town and it’s a huge draw for locals and for tourists both during the day and at night.

Here is a photo of Wieza Ratuszowa, or “town hall tower”, which is a renovated Gothic tower that used to be just one part of the town hall, but is now a museum.  I regret that I did not have time to visit any of the museums in town while I was there.

This building, also in the middle of the town square is The Cloth Hall which is a Renaissance-style market hall lined the entire length with stalls of locals selling goods.  It also contains a museum.

The main visual Gothic standout of the town square, though, is St. Mary’s Basilica, which is a huge Catholic church with 2 tall asymmetrical towers.  Every hour, a trumpet signal is played from the top of the taller of the two towers. The tune breaks off in mid-stream, to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city.

This photo fails to show the size of these huge doors since no-one is in the photo for scale.

The entire perimeter of the town square is lined with outdoor seating for the various restaurants and bars that make up the majority of the storefronts.

Street performers sprinkle the town square.  All day and all night.

And also the side streets leading to and from the town square.

This is sort of random.  Meet Polish banjo playing Abe Lincoln talking on his smart phone!

I’d like to see what’s under the hood of this street performer’s act.  She just sat there motionless.  What exactly is holding her up?  She looked very stable with no noticeable wobble.  It’s a great trick.

Musicians were by far the most popular choice of street performers.  Both groups and soloists.

There were lots and lots of horse drawn carriage rides to choose from in the town square.

Here is what the inside of The Cloth Hall looked like.  Lots of trinkets and jewelry for sale.

The streets of Krakow were very interesting.  Lots of 2 or 3 story buildings of various architecture styles.  Lots of narrow streets.  Lots of odd angles and irregular streets.

Some buildings are quite colorful.  In this photo you can see the wires that are used to power the street cars, which were sort of a cross between a bus and a train.  They looked a lot like a bus.  But they ran on a train track in the middle of the road.

This photo shows a typical street leading towards the town square.  St Mary’s is in the distance.  The streets leading to the square were full of tourist shops selling trinkets, jewelry, food, etc.

There were a few 3-dimensional bronze maps like this in the notable historical areas.  Very cool.   Wawel Castle is on the far end and the Vistula river is on the other side of it.  In the middle you can see St Mary’s and The Cloth Hall and the Town Hall Tower.

We took a short 30 minute trip down the road to tour the Wieliczka Salt Mine.  It is really cool.  It took about 3 hours to tour it and they told us we had only seen about 1 percent of the whole mine.  It’s huge!  And it’s all hundreds of meters below the surface!

When it stopped production of salt in 2007 it was one of the world’s oldest salt mines in production.  Within the mine there are lots and lots of statues that are carved out of rock salt and also many rooms and even chapels.  Here is a photo of a room with large logs holding up the ceiling.

This photo shows a long mine with a railway in the middle for hauling out the salt.

The walls and ceiling and floor of the mine are all rock salt.  The salt looks and feels like stone or marble.  It’s very hard stuff.  You can make out its crystalline structure in this photo.  The salt is far from pure when it’s mined.  It requires processing into table salt.  I don’t recall the details, though.

This is one of many many statues on display inside the mine that are actually carved out of rock salt.  Remember, it’s very hard … like marble.

This is pretty crazy.  It’s a huge chapel.  Underground.  Carved in the rock salt.  Walls, ceiling, floor are all rock salt.  And the stairs!  People pay tens of thousands of US dollars to have weddings in here!

Another photo of the chapel with alter detail.  Everything is rock salt!

The most pure rock salt is actually clear.  Crystal clear.  So they carved these chandelier crystals out of that pure salt.

Here is a close up photo of some of the relief sculptures carved into the walls of the cathedral.  This photo was probably a couple feet high.

Occasional statues like this one of Mary are carved out of pure salt which is clear and looks really cool with lights inside.

There are a few underground rivers and lakes inside the mine that are completely saturated with salt.

I have a lot more photos, but I wanted to try to minimize the selection and try to not overload my readers.  Tomorrow I’ll publish a blog post about all the wonderful food that I was able to experience during my short time in Krakow, Poland.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip to Krakow, Poland: The Conference

This past Friday I had the honor of giving the morning keynote presentation at the 6th annual DevDay software developer conference in Krakow, Poland!  Here is the website!  (Check it out!  It actually has my face on it!)

http://devday.pl/

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This conference is sponsored by ABB Automation Group, which is a huge industrial robotics company in Europe.  They also manufacture industrial electronics, industrial control systems, and industrial power systems.  They’re kind of a big deal.

DevDay is a 2 day conference for software developers that is limited to only 500 attendees, so it’s a small and intimate event.  The speakers are truly able to interact with the attendees and networking at this event is highly encouraged by the organizers.  During the 2 days, DevDay packed in 4 separate keynotes and a total of 30 technical sessions!  It was a really great event!  The organizers did a wonderful job!

The DevDay organizers feel strongly enough about using only live speakers, that they pay for their airfare,  hotel,  food, and also ground transportation.  The venue for the conference was a movie theater and the screens were enormous!  Can you imagine giving a keynote address on a screen like this?!?!?

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By the way, that’s Zach Holman in the photo getting ready to give his keynote.

My keynote presentation was called “We Are The Explorers!” and it presents the story of the great westward expansion by the early American pioneers.  It describes how difficult the task was and how great the payoff was.  It then explains how the settlers had to live off the land to survive and then it transitions to NASA’s space exploration plans and how we will have to live off the land too.  Then it shows off a bunch of living-off-the-land technologies (ISRU) that are being developed by NASA to support future planned long term human exploration missions on Mars.

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Here is the official DevDay 2016 video of my keynote on YouTube:

My keynote presentation was very well received and I got a ton of compliments from both attendees and from other speakers!  One of the biggest compliments I received was from another speaker who speaks at a lot of conferences all over the world.  He said “You rehearsed the *bleep* out of that, didn’t you?”.  Yes, I did rehearse the *bleep* out of my keynote during the weeks leading up to the conference.  I guess it paid off.  🙂

I also gave a technical presentation called “NASA’s ant-inspired Swarmie robots” which gives the background of the Swarmie project and describes the software technologies that we used as well as various challenges and solutions that we encountered along the way.

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Here is the official DevDay 2016 video of my technical presentation on YouTube:

Full videos of all the keynotes and talks, are posted on the DevDay YouTube channel:

https://www.youtube.com/user/ABBDevDay/

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There are tons of great professional photos from the event posted on their Flickr account too:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/96896358@N04/albums

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Here are my favorite professional photos, though:

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One of the highly experienced professional speakers at this conference paid me a huge compliment after my keynote when he asked me how long I had been a Tech Evangelist for NASA.  He didn’t know that this was my very first professional conference keynote speech.  Sure, as a NASA employee, I speak to students a lot.  And I give technical presentations to co-workers and to managers all the time.  But the keynote at a conference like this.  Never before.   I’m honored to have been invited to come speak at this amazing conference!

Also, this was the first time I’d ever left the United States.  I had a really great experience!  Tomorrow I’ll publish a blog post about the sightseeing that I was able to squeeze in during my short time in Krakow, Poland.

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

P.S. Here’s a selfie of me standing outside the venue soaking up some sun in an effort to counteract some of my jetlag.

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P.S.S. And here is a photo I took of Russ Olsen giving the closing keynote which was a very inspirational story about the race to land a man on the moon!

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P.S.S.S. And finally, here is just a photo of me striking a pose after the conference was over.

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Thanks for visiting,
Kurt & Sam Leucht
Titusville, FL
http://www.leucht.com/
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