Tag Archives: Government

What was Kurt doing 25 years ago?

During the summer of 1994, I had recently graduated from college with my Electrical Engineering degree and I was now working full time at NASA/KSC in Florida. That summer I was spending time with other groups at KSC in an effort to learn more about the entire KSC organization. I was also working on a special project for my own group.

Here are the statuses that I submitted each week to let my boss know what I was doing and how I was doing. It’s kinda fun to look back 25 years and remember exactly what I was doing back then.

June 16, 1994

When I came to work on Monday, my supervisor, Gary Bassett explained to me what he wanted me to work on. He needed me to put all my efforts, at least initially, into getting our video lab back in working order. The new video-computer system has been in place for almost a year and has been very intermittent and unreliable since its initial installation. The system has many different components that need to work together, instead they seem to be fighting each other all the time.

I got the video-computer system’s ATVista card working so we could take photographs of the fathers and sons that came through the labs during KSC Son’s Day, which was Tuesday. I spent most of the week troubleshooting the video-computer system which stopped printing to the Kodak XL7700 printer since a new motherboard and SCSI card were installed a few weeks ago. I also got a computer desk and three workbenches moved into the lab and started setting up my new work area.

June 24, 1994

During the early part of this week, I got the video/computer system working again by installing new Twain drivers for the Kodak DCS-200 digital camera and by installing updated print drivers for the Kodak 7700 printer. A network startup problem was also corrected by changing the IRQ settings on the communication card. I’m in the process of troubleshooting a problem that presented itself in the RIO image design software.

This week I contacted someone at Johnson Space Center (JSC) who can fairly easily get an experiment flown on NASA’s KC-135 Zero-G simulation airplane. Gary and I are trying to make a decision between two different ATP projects. One would fly a fuse-blowing experiment on NASA’s KC-135 to find out if there’s a difference between fuses blowing at 1-G and zero-G.

The other project would entail getting a system working in which the engineer’s Failure Analysis Reports would get electronically published on the World Wide Web (WWW) system on the internet and also be easily found by searching the Wide-Area Information Servers (WAIS) database system which is also on the internet.

July 1, 1994

The RIO problem encountered last week was traced to a video synchronization inconsistency which was due to an incorrect connection on the RGB monitor. I attended the orientation session for the ATP Tours on Tuesday and got to meet all the other ATP’ers.

The Electronic Document (E-Doc) Project was chosen as my ATP project and Bill Dearing was chosen as my mentor. I started working on my project by becoming more familiar with the World Wide Web. I read a document titled ‘A Beginner’s Guide to HTML’ that helped me start writing HyperText Markup Language (HTML) files which can be read and displayed by www servers all around the world. I practiced writing documents and composed ‘Kurt’s Home Page’ which has many photos and subdocuments which are HyperText-linked to each other.

July 8, 1994

This week I was in charge of a burn-test in the lab. I worked with technicians and the job requester to get the test set up and running. We ran three burn-tests on a SpaceLab Terminal Junction Box by running excessive current through it to catch it on fire and observe the flame propagation. The tests went well.

On Thursday afternoon, I attended a WAIS meeting along with my supervisor and my mentor. We discussed ways that we might be able to get our Failure Analysis Reports searchable using the WAIS database and also viewable to someone who wanted to view them. I started some HTML documents on the Materials Science Labs so that we can get an MSL Home Page and corresponding sub-pages viewable on the WWW.

I am currently troubleshooting a file conversion problem which presented itself when we started getting pictures from our new digital still camera. This week I also searched the Web to find more documentation on the WWW and also HTML pages. I found a number of documents and downloaded them and am currently studying them. I’m also searching for more information on WAIS systems.

July 14, 1994

With the burn-test over with, I got a good chunk of the MSL Web pages completed this week. I scanned in images to try and decide on a standard for images on my Web pages. I also toyed around with a menu driven interface for accessing pages on the Web and did have some luck.

July 22, 1994

All week was spent in the ‘Introduction to C Programming’ Class.

July 29, 1994

This week was spent on a Diverse Work Assignment (DWA) with Jim Dumoulin and his Artificial Intelligence/Software Research group which is in the Information Systems Division of the Payload Management and Operations Directorate. He taught me about the Payload Data Management System (PDMS) and how it works to get the day to day information and to process a payload into one central computer system for every user to access.

Jim showed me the wonderful world of software development by fixing a few ‘bugs’ in the WinVN newsreader program which his group helped develop. He showed me how he gets information into his Web server and how he wrote PERL scripts to translate text into linked hypertext documents. By the end of the week, Jim helped me get my Web server up and running to serve documents to users on Center.

August 5, 1994

I finished my Individual Development Plan (IDP) early this week and acquired a PC-workstation from my supervisor to do my work on. I spent a few days getting the PC configured correctly and getting the software loaded and working properly.

I experimented this week with different screen capturing schemes so I can capture and print Mosaic screens. For presentations and meetings, I will print these screens on our Kodak XL7700 printer.

I also looked around the Web quite a bit to find out how different administrators are doing searches of their documents. I’m interested in how the other NASA centers are searching and serving documents to NASA centers and also to the public. I sent E-mail to some NASA people to find out some specifics about their current document search system. I’m awaiting a reply.

August 12, 1994

Earlier this week, I supported two ‘hot jobs’ in the lab by taking digital photographs and by getting them onto MSL’s anonymous FTP site. I spent a lot of time on the phone to Downey, CA and JSC helping people download files from our site.

This week was my week in Pete Clements’ Networks group. Pete and I couldn’t get together until Wednesday, however. I spent one day in the Network Control Center (NCC) with Steve DeWitt. I got an introduction to bridges and routers and got to modify access lists and work some trouble tickets. I spent Thursday and Friday in Bob Raymond’s group where they do hands-on hardware and software configuration of their network users.

I attended three different training sessions: two were for new PON Server Administrators and one was for new Network LAN Administrators. This was a very productive and educational week. I read the following material this week: Network and Electronic Mail User’s Guide; Handouts on Excelan Training Course

August 19, 1994

I spent this week in the Data Processing and Sofware Systems Section of the Digital Guidance and Control Branch in the Vehicle Engineering Directorate. Scott Chandler, the Section Chief, took me around to the different working areas of his group: LCC Firing Rooms, VAB Labs, and offices in the OSB.

I spent some time in Firing Room # 1 observing the loading of software onto the orbiter’s Mass Memory Units (MMU’s) and also the transitioning of the orbiter’s General Purpose Computers (GPC’s) from a ground testing configuration to a flight configuration. I also got a tour of the Kennedy Avionics Test Site (KATS) laboratory where they do off-line testing and configuration of GPC’s, displays and electronics, MDM’s and other hardware related to the DPS System. I attended a status meeting for second-level managers with Scott, and then spent some time in the Main Engine shop in the VAB to observe a main engine system power-up and valve test.

The mission scheduled to launch this week had a main engine abort on the pad and I went into Firing Room # 1 for a while to observe the pad close-outs of each system being performed. I also watched a MMU load / verify from the console in Firing Room # 4 . And finally, on Friday, I went back to the KATS lab to see a new MMU simulation computer being tested for applications in the lab.

I had some time in-between testing to read some material: DPS (Hardware and Systems Software) Training Manual; Design of an Anonymous FTP Site (LTRS); Zen and the Art of the Internet; XV User’s Guide

August 26, 1994

The first half of this week was spent with Bev Merrilles in the Personnel Offices. I attended a staff meeting with Bev after getting an overview of the Human Resources Management Directorate and their recent reorganization. I met all the personnel in the Training Section and spent a day with them. I also spent an afternoon with one of Marge Elrod’s personnel teams which are the heart of the personnel office. All actions get finalized through this office.

I spent another day with Ken Aguilar working on Special Programs and Labor Relations and attended a meeting with Chris Beidel concerning possible changes to the co-op program.

Thursday and Friday was spent in the ‘Effective Communications’ class in the training auditorium. .

September 1, 1994

I spent this week with Jose Garcia in the Electrical and Telecommunications Systems Division of the Vehicle Engineering Directorate. Most of my time was spent in Mike Kraus’s Electrical Systems Section. I got trained for crew cabin access and payload bay access by watching video courses but didn’t get the chance to enter either area this week.

I attended a Pyrotechnic Initiator Circuit ( PIC ) test in Firing Room # 4 where a problem presented itself and an IPR had to be written and the test was aborted. I spent a couple of days in the KATS Lab where the engineers were testing a new Engineering Main Events Controller (EMEC) by programming the UBIC computer to talk to it and read data back to tape.

I read ‘Learning Perl’ this week which is a UNIX based programming language. This programming experience will help me to automate some of the tedious tasks of keeping the Web server up to date.

September 9, 1994

Due to the Labor Day holiday and one sick day, I was only in the lab two days this week. I reformatted some of my old Weekly Notes that were done on Alis and gave Bill copies of all my Notes to date so he could turn them in for my 3-month evaluation which is due on Tuesday. I sent an MSL Weekly Note to Gary to sum up my work and advertise my Web Pages. I made an (ATP) IDP template and retyped my (ATP) IDP for Bill to turn in with my evaluation.

September 16, 1994

This week was spent with Larry Ellis who is the Deputy Director of the Launch & Landing Projects Division of the Shuttle Management & Operations Directorate. This gave me the opportunity to see first-hand what a Projects Office does.

We attended a project demonstration by the Mitre company which is a non-profit, non-competitive Systems Engineering & Research Organization which often does work for NASA, NOAA, EPA, and other government agencies. Mitre’s been studying NASA’s Shuttle Processing System and trying to improve and streamline it to save the government money and resources.

I spent a few days with Brian Harris who is the Chief of the LLP Integration Office. LLP reports directly to Brewster Shaw in the Space Shuttle Program Office in Houston. We sat in quite a few teleconferences this week which were headed up by Brewster Shaw who is an ex-astronaut. One telecon on Wednesday was between Mission Management Teams where each system manager talked about their problems that affected the mission currently in orbit.

Larry Ellis is the Environmental Officer for LLP and we attended many meetings dealing with environmental issues. On Thursday morning, we attended a monthly Dredging Project Meeting. In early 1997, the northern half of the river will be dredged again so as to prevent the External Tank Barge from running aground. Many expensive environmental surveys have to be studied and implemented to keep from impacting the environment.

Also on Thursday, I attended three Shuttle Program Planning Board teleconferences and a meeting to take care of some problems that occur when you upgrade the Space Shuttle Main Engine Combustion Chambers.

We spent quite a bit of time on Friday talking about the current problems with NASA’s Technology Transfer Program and discussing ways to improve the program without impacting NASA’s budget concerns.

Larry impressed me as a great ‘Idea Man’ and it was a terrific learning experience working beside him this week

September 23, 1994

I spent this week with Jim Sudermann who is the head of the Experiments Test Section of the Systems Engineering and Experiments Division of the Payload Flight Operations Directorate. Most of the week was spent in the Payload Checkout Unit Control Rooms on the third floor of the O&C Building which is where they simulate the SpaceLab computers and the orbiter itself for the experiments they’re processing.

I sat in on a demonstration of their new Data Logging and Retrieval System which was just delivered and set up. The last half of the week was spent preparing for Astro-II testing which started on Friday morning. Two very unique data buffer boxes were not working correctly. One was sent to a repair shop and the other one was being trouble-shot by CS-EED personnel. Progress was made in troubleshooting, but the other box was repaired in time to use it for Astro-II testing on Friday. I also watched a complete software load of the system.

September 30, 1994

I spent this week in Bill Helms’ laboratories in the EDL and LETF buildings. Mr. Helms is the Chief of the Instrumentation and Controls Systems Division of the Electronic Engineering Division of DE. He oversees the Transducer Lab, Data Acquisition Lab, Hazardous Gas Detection Lab, Optical & Acoustic Lab, Special Instrumentation Lab, Toxic Vapor Detection Lab, Contamination Monitoring & Control Lab, and the Control Systems Lab.

These offices have the unique authority to authorize the use of GSE in any area at KSC. They can take off-the-shelf items and qualify them for use after testing them. They sometimes systems-engineer different off-the-shelf items together into a package or build around an existing item to improve upon or make it work specifically for KSC’s needs. In special cases, they build items up from the component level because they’re so specialized that there’s nothing in industry that can be even partially used.

I spent about a day and a half in the Transducer Lab and the Data Acquisition Lab and another day and a half in the Special Instrumentation Lab, Optics Lab, and the Hazardous Gas Lab.

October 7, 1994

This week was spent with Charles Tucker who is Chief of the Data Systems group of the Communications Division in the Ground Engineering Directorate in Shuttle. This group is in charge of all the networking cables/fiber and the networking hardware like bridges/routers/hubs and they also handle the Network Control Center for Shuttle. They provide connectivity for about 1300 users.

I attended many status meetings on various projects and got extensive tours of some of the facilities this week. I spent quite a bit of time in the Control Distribution & Switching Center (CD&SC) and also the VAB repeater facility and I also saw the network center in the OSB. Most of their systems in Shuttle are premise wired where they run two data lines, phone lines, and cable TV lines to a box by each desk in the area.

I learned a lot about this premise wiring system this week, including the design process and the implementation of the design. I attended a lot of planning and scheduling meetings and design reviews for the Integrated Work Control System (IWCS) project.

October 14, 1994

Monday was a holiday. I attended Hazardous Waste Training earlier this week and also attended a NASA WebMaster’s ViTS meeting on Thursday.

I made an appointment with Shawn Riley and Richard Hall to go over the WAISifying process with some sample reports on the DE-VAX.

I got the photos from some of the sample reports scanned in this week and am struggling with WORD limitations that don’t allow me to paste all the images into the sample document. I got two of the five sample documents completed this week.

October 21, 1994

I was sick two days this week, but still managed to get photos scanned from another sample report and also get all my MSL Personnel pages automated with a Perl Script by finishing an MSL Personnel Database.

I spent more time trying to get pictures linked to documents as opposed to just pasting them there and ran into more trouble. Bill talked with the ULead people to try and straighten out some of these problems.

I spent quite a bit of time late in the week getting the video lab reconfigured for editing of tapes. This was done in preparation for a hot job which is supposed to come into the labs early next week

October 28, 1994

I fixed my sample page on the Web this week and added the PDF’s and PS’s for the four sample documents that were complete.

I browsed the LTRS system for documents and downloaded and read the following: Electronic Document Distribution:Design of the Anonymous FTP Langley Technical Report Server; World Wide Web Implementation of the Langley Technical Report Server; The World Wide Web & Technology Transfer at NASA Langley Research Center; A Comparison of Internet Resource Discovery Approaches; Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) Archive System.

I got my Web pages transferred to the Development Area on the DE-VAX and made sure there weren’t any obvious problems. I’m still waiting on Perl for the VAX so that I can test out my automated personnel page script.

I sent my ATP Project Plan to Steve Chance on Friday afternoon.

November 4, 1994

I finished up the last of five sample reports this week, but I had to resample the photographs to get them small enough for MS-Word to handle them. I copied postscript and PDF forms of the sample reports to a WAIS directory on the anonymous FTP site for retrieval by the WAIS lookup engine. I also prepared refer citations for each report to be sent to Langley Research Center and WAISified.

Shawn Riley got Perl running on the DEVAX and after some slight modifications, my script that makes all the personnel pages was running without problems.

November 10, 1994

I spent the first part of the week helping the Physical Testing group prepare for a chamber test on some temperature probes from the Mobile Launcher Platform.

I also downloaded and installed a bunch of software on the Macintosh to get it set up to test out our Web pages. I spent some time working with PowerPoint to become familiar with the program, so I could get started on my presentation next week.

I added some finishing dates to my ATP IDP and printed out all my Weekly Notes for my final evaluation which is due on Monday.

Michael Nelson at Langley received our refer citations late this week and WAISified them. Now our WAIS search demo is working from the MSL Web pages.

End

So that’s basically what I did at NASA for my first 5 months as a full time non-intern employee! And the rest is history! Thanks for your interest! Kurt

Why can’t NASA get a reality TV show?

Marketing fail!

NASA has always been pretty bad about marketing itself to the general population … who happen to pay for the entire agency, by the way.  They’re getting better, though.  NASA has been latching on to new marketing technologies recently, like social media and video streaming on the Internet.  And I’ve noticed them outsourcing some of their marketing to external companies and external talent which probably means that they realize that they don’t have all the right skills and experience in house.  (No offense to all my friends in NASA Public Affairs.)

So if NASA is open to new marketing ideas and out-of-the-box thinking, then why couldn’t NASA have a reality TV show?

nasa
[image courtesy http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1379612/thumbs/o-NASA-facebook.jpg]

Documentary win!

I’m thinking that a documentary style program in the professional activities genre would work nicely as a marketing tool for NASA.  The show could focus on the subculture of NASA geeks, engineers, scientists, and possibly also their managers.

I’m not talking about what is commonly called “reality TV” these days where it is pretty much just scripted and the characters just put on a show to please the producers and directors.  I’m talking about a documentary that shows the reality of what NASA engineers and scientists actually do on a daily basis!  There’s no need nor desire for any morality experiments … no social experiments … no scripts.  Just real life NASA employees doing whatever they normally do.

I honestly think the general public would be interested in and also entertained by this type of show.  Geeks are gaining popularity and are generally thought of as cool in this day and age.

professor-frink
[image courtesy http://www.unpopularscience.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Professor-Frink.gif]

But who?

NASA probably couldn’t justify spending tax dollars on a project like this, so it would have to be taken up by a major network or a major production company that was willing to take the risk or maybe a small news crew or similar group who already has a good working relationship with NASA.  Or maybe an independent film company using a Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign to raise the funds.

networks
[image courtesy http://c.crossmap.christianpost.com/images/0/66/6616.jpg]

On the other hand, NASA might not be real keen on allowing unrestricted access without editing rights.  NASA has an image to maintain and they probably will want to have final say on what gets aired and what doesn’t.  So maybe this is a project that NASA Public Affairs does take on?  But I honestly think it would be a better product if an independent professional crew worked it.  Maybe there is a way to make everyone happy … for an independent crew to film it and edit it and for a NASA public affairs representative to approve the edits before airing or something like that.

Characters!

There could be different NASA employees (characters) starring in each episode.  The show doesn’t necessarily have to follow the same 8 or 10 characters throughout the entire series, although it would be good to repeat characters occasionally during the series. And it would be even better if characters overlapped each other and the show used some characters’ experiences to introduce us to some other characters and then the show follows these new characters on tangential storylines.  NASA isn’t as big as most people think it is, by the way.  Employees cross paths and are inter-related more than you might think.

characters
[image courtesy http://www.andymartin.info/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/J20-characters01.jpg]

Plots!

Here are several examples of some plots and subplots that could be explored and highlighted by the producers of such a show:

  • Funding the Ideas: NASA employees and managers have a lot more ideas than they can get funded to actually work on.  Follow two separate employee’s fights to get their own project funded and witness what they are up against.  It’s a tough battle to get your project idea funded.  There are so many great technical ideas being presented to various funding boards and there is so little money that only a small percentage can actually get funded each year.
  • Cool Projects: Show off some of the really cool and high tech projects that are actively being developed and demonstrated around the agency.  This can also lead to some really cool and interesting filming locations.  Explain why they are necessary and why they are important for NASA’s mission.  Show the viewer behind the scenes stuff that they never get to see otherwise.  Show the excitement and the passion of the engineers and scientists who work on these cool projects.
  • Never Stopped: The reports of NASA’s death have been highly exaggerated.  Just because the Shuttle program is gone, doesn’t mean that NASA is idle.  They’re developing new rockets and spacecraft to go beyond low earth orbit.  They’re developing new ground systems to support these new rockets and spacecraft.  They’re helping private companies develop systems to launch astronauts into low earth orbit.  Tell the story about why NASA had to make the tough decision to retire the Shuttle before they had a program to replace it.  Talk nuts and bolts about budgets and why two large vehicle programs cannot run simultaneously in this day and age.
  • Art of Engineering: Engineering is basically the art of solving ordinary everyday problems.  Introduce the viewer to some problem that the viewer may or may not realize exists in their daily life and then demonstrate how an engineer or a group of engineers has recognized that problem and are working on a solution.  This subplot will help the general public make a better connection with NASA and it will show how NASA is improving lives for people here on earth through its projects that may or may not actually execute here on earth.  Introduce the viewer to the concept of NASA spinoffs.  Also, explore problems the employees experience while doing their jobs and show how they get past those problems.
  • Character Evolution:  Show how a character has a bad experience and learns from that experience and does a better job next time he is faced with the same type of situation.  For example, an engineer might get upset if a meeting decision doesn’t go their way, but then a coworker tells them that their attitude toward the decision makers was bad, so the engineer takes some leadership type training classes and practices what he learned and has a great experience the next time a similar situation occurs.
  • Communication Issues: Engineers are often known for their poor communication skills and their poor social skills.  This could lead to some humorous and/or uncomfortable moments in the show.  But the viewer will learn to love the characters and embrace their weaknesses.  The show should also reveal their strengths and help the viewers feel for and connect to the characters.
  • Slow Going: NASA is doing research and development in areas that could have big impacts on the general public down the road.  But unlike a big product producing company, like Procter & Gamble or similar, NASA technologies and inventions are complex enough that it takes a long time from concept to actual use in industry or out in the general public.  By then, NASA rarely gets the credit for the technology that they deserve.  Give a historic example for the audience to get a feel for this concept.
  • Stress and Pressure: Schedules and deadlines are common at NASA.  Some are just pulled out of thin air and some are critical and necessary.  But both can and often do cause employees lots of stress and headache.  Explore the pressures that NASA engineers and scientists encounter and show how different personalities deal with that stress and pressure differently.
  • Personalities and Management Styles: Just like any job, NASA is filled with employees and managers of various personality types and various management styles and leadership styles.  Explore how these different types and styles collide and how they deal with each other.
  • Tax Dollars: Demonstrate to the viewers how much of their tax dollars actually goes to NASA as compared to other government programs.  Show how much money NASA helps pump back into the economy.  Prove using simple concepts that their tax dollars are well spent at NASA.

Suggested titles

  • “The Space Program”
  • “Engineers At Work”
  • “Another Day at the Rocket Ranch”
  • “The Real NASA”
  • “The Reality of NASA”
  • “NASA Behind the Scenes”
  • “An American Space Program”
  • “The Space Cadets”

rocket
[image courtesy http://www.clipartbest.com/cliparts/pi5/erK/pi5erKnrT.jpeg]

Suggested tag lines

  • What happens when you send a camera crew behind the scenes of America’s space program?  Find out on Engineers At Work!
  • Watch as engineers and scientists struggle to solve many of the world’s problems.  Do they have the right stuff?
  • Wouldn’t you like to know how your tax dollars are being spent?  An American Space Program is an eye opening look behind the scenes of NASA, showing the viewer how their tax dollars are ultimately being spent.

The point!

The entire point of this show is to demonstrate to the general public that their tax dollars are very well spent at NASA and that NASA has not been idle since the Shuttle program ended.  Much of the general public stopped hearing about NASA after the Shuttle program ended and many think that NASA as a whole has ended.  A show like this could open the eyes of the public and help spur the popularity of NASA and could even end up boosting NASA’s budget in the process.  But in order to be popular and to create a buzz with the general public, this show needs to be different than all those “boring” educational shows that NASA has been producing for the last 20 or so years.  The reality TV angle of being filmed as a real life unscripted documentary, I believe, is what is needed to get their attention and interest.

Most of the general public is disconnected with NASA and the work that NASA does for them.  This show idea can bring the two closer together using inspiration, humor, conflict, and then wrapping it all up with a happy ending.  In the end, the viewer will cheer for the engineer, cheer for the project, and cheer for our space agency!

applause
[image courtesy http://theinfosphere.org/images/4/4d/Number_9_Man.png]

Thanks for your consideration, Hollywood.

Kurt Leucht
(concerned citizen)
full disclosure: I work for NASA, but I do not speak for them.

Cast your vote!

Thanks for reading the whole article! Now that you’ve heard my idea, please let me (and Hollywood) know your opinion! Please vote below and make your voice heard! Please vote whether you like this reality show idea or not! I would like to get a realistic cross section of voters! Thanks!

Furlough Freebies (and discounts)

Today is Friday October 11th and I’ve been furloughed due to the government shutdown for 9 days and counting.  I shouldn’t complain because I’m getting a lot of tasks done and I’m also having some fun and also because there is a decent chance that Congress will give all the furloughed workers back-pay when this is all over.

But living without paychecks can be a bit of a burden for some.  Okay, for most.  Well, I’ve noticed that there are a number of businesses out there that are offering deals specifically to furloughed government employees.  Here is a list.  I will add to this list as I find out about more.  Please leave a comment or email me for additions or corrections.

Thanks to everyone for reaching out and helping,
Kurt

My unexpected (but fully paid) vacation: Day 9

This is my little digital journal from the government shutdown.  Today is day 9 (Friday Oct 11th), not counting the weekend.  Click here to see all of my government shutdown journal entries.

Today I got up at 7am because I wanted to get canoeing pretty early.  I could have set my alarm to get up before sunrise, but I’m on vacation so I just got up whenever I woke up today.  I checked Facebook real quick and then ate some breakfast burgers, since they make for a pretty quick meal.

Then I drove about 30 minutes to Pine Island Conservation Area.  Here it is on Google Maps.  My original NASA boss, Gary, told me about this place many many years ago and I’ve been wanting to check it out and have just never made the time.  This government shutdown is allowing me to do all sorts of stuff that I’ve been meaning to do, though.

There was a map station at the entrance and according to the map there were two separate canoe trails.  A 2.3 mile loop run and a 3.0 mile run.  The loop was obvious on the map, but the 3 mile run was not completely obvious to me at the time.  After studying it later at home, I’m fairly certain that the 3 mile run and the 2.3 mile loop overlap on the Indian River side.

I started on the south side of the sanctuary at the start of the 3 mile run.  My thinking was that I would quit after the 3 mile run run if I was tired.  My problem was that I actually started in a lake next to the run instead of starting in the run.  I didn’t actually realize that I was in the lake till I got to the opposite end and noticed that it didn’t take a sharp right turn as the map showed.  Oops.  No harm, though.  It was a nice warm up run.  The lake was dead calm.  This photo was taken on the lake at about 9:30am.

pine-island-canoeing-1-selfie

Had I used my GPS app on my phone and zoomed out a bit, it would have been obvious that I was not in the correct body of water.  But I didn’t do that.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.  So after I took my tour of the south lake, I got my canoe put in at the start of the 3 mile run and immediately started encountering manatees.  Huge manatees.  Manatees in large groups, no less.  I did my best to avoid them, but these things had no respect for my personal space.  They acted like they owned the place.  🙂

I didn’t see more than a couple jumping fish and some birds in the south lake, but in this canal there were tons of wildlife.  I saw alligators, manatees, ospreys, large cranes, and even a bald eagle.  As soon as I got out into the Indian River, there were tons of fish running in schools and lots of fish jumping out of the water.  This is a fisherman’s paradise.  I, however, am not a fisherman.

The breeze was starting to pick up and work against me while I was traveling north on the Indian River, but I stayed close to the shore where the breeze was minimal.  By the time I got up into the north part of the sanctuary and at the start of the 2.3 mile loop, the breeze was calm and I felt pretty good so I kept going.  I hadn’t really been paddling very hard.  I was just taking a nice leisurely pace.

The north part of the sanctuary has multiple marsh ponds connected by small channels.  There was one spot where I wasn’t even sure I was going to fit my canoe through.  This is a great way to see natural Florida marshland.  This is probably the same landscape that the first settlers saw way back when.

The largest pond at the north end of the sanctuary was a bit of a challenge since the wind was working against me.  I was travelling north and the wind was pushing south.  But I knew as soon as I turned around the northern border, I would be travelling south on the Indian River with the wind at my back, so I pressed on.

So after making the turn around and ending back in the Indian River travelling south, I was expecting the wind to push me south and I was planning on just lazily riding it home.  But apparently the wind died just as I arrived.  It was dead calm.  I don’t believe this happens on the Indian River very often.  It was pretty weird.  The glassy smooth water did allow me to see lots of fish, though.

My rear was starting to hurt from sitting in the canoe, so I stood up and paddled and I could see even more fish.  I know stand up paddle-boarding is a popular activity these days, but is stand up canoeing also a thing?  Did I just start a stand up canoeing thing?

You can see a fish in mid-air in the photo below.  You can also see that I’m in about 1.5 feet of water.  The lakes and canals in this area are fairly deep, but the Indian River is very shallow unless you are out in the middle where the boat channel is located.

pine-island-canoeing-2-jumping-fish

In this glassy smooth water, I also saw some dolphins feeding.  I didn’t get close enough to them to get a good photo, though.  I saw some small stingrays in the Indian River too.  Here is a photo I took of a small stingray resting on the bottom.

pine-island-canoeing-3-stingray

So when it was all said and done, I actually ended up canoeing on both trails, plus repeating a large portion of the 3 mile run, plus a lake.  By my estimate, I canoed 7 miles or more today.  I started a little after 9am and finished a little after 4pm, so I was out on the water for 7 total hours.  It was a long day, but I was not paddling hard during any of my day.  Most of the time I was just taking it easy and paddling gently.  Although, that being said, I’m sure my shoulders and back muscles are going to be killing me tomorrow.

The weather today was really nice.  The high temperature was 85, I think.  It was mostly sunny all day long.  I think I applied SPF 50 sunblock three separate times today.  I think I got a bit of sun on the back of my neck, though, because the last time I applied it was sweaty and I don’t think it took very well.

Here is a Google map of the Pine Island Conservation Area marked up showing my path today.  This is not a GPS trail … I did not use my GPS today because I wasn’t sure the battery in my phone would last that long and I wanted to make sure my phone was available for emergencies.  This is just a satellite image that I manually marked up with my path.  Click on the image for a full size version.

Kurts-pine-island-route

So that was basically my entire day today.  Afterwards, I stopped for some ice cream.  Then I got home and rinsed off all the canoeing stuff, then I took a shower and ate a grilled swiss cheese sandwich.  Then I relaxed on the couch for a bit and now I’m writing this blog post.

It’s sorta funny that sitting at the table typing into my computer, I still feel like I’m standing in my canoe and it is gently rocking back and forth.  It’s just a bit dizzying.  I wonder how long it will take to wear off.  I wonder if it will impact me getting to sleep tonight.  I’m about to find out because it’s 10:30pm and I’ve had a long day in the sun, so I’m going to bed now.

So that was day nine of my unplanned furlough slash vacation.  My to-do list had 21 items on it last night when I went to bed.  Tonight it now has 20 items on it.  I’ll take it.

What will Monday hold for this furloughed government employee? Stay tuned! 🙂

Kurt

My unexpected (but fully paid) vacation: Day 8

This is my little digital journal from the government shutdown.  Today is day 8 (Thursday Oct 10th), not counting the weekend.  Click here to see all of my government shutdown journal entries.

Today I slept in till 10am because I was up pretty late last night working on my computer.  After getting up, I caught up on my Facebook news feed and threw in a load of laundry.  Throughout the day today I put laundry either in or out of the washer and dryer in between other tasks I was working on.  At the end of the day I had washed and dried 4 separate loads of laundry.  Yay me!  🙂

I know I should exercise more often than just once a week, but this is all I’ve motivated myself to do so far.  Today I fast walked for just over three miles while listening to my Adam Ant station on Pandora on my phone.  It was a nice cool morning today and it feels like Fall is trying to make an appearance in Central Florida.

fast-walking

It’s weird that the Adam Ant station plays Duran Duran, but the Duran Duran station does NOT play Adam Ant.  What’s up with that, Pandora?  Are they similar to each other or not?

I want to thank my sister and her friend Missy and also my friend Mick for introducing me to Adam Ant along with lots of other great British music in the early 80s.  I was probably 12 or 13 years old which is probably too young for many of the lyrics in Adam Ant’s songs, but I was probably not understanding the lyrics anyways.  I think I turned out okay, regardless.  Now that I’m older and wiser and actually paying close attention, it seems to me that Adam Ant sang mostly about sex, but he also sang quite a bit about pirates and also a little bit about native american Indians.  Weird.

I tried to beat my fast walking time from last week, but I was not successful.  Trying to take my own self portrait while fast walking may have been a factor.  I’m not quite coordinated enough to work the camera on my phone without slowing down, I suppose.  After my little hike was over, I passed a yard sale walking back to my house, so I quickly checked it out.  There wasn’t anything there that I needed to have.  As a matter of fact, I noticed a pair of gently used men’s underwear and also some sexy women’s lingerie.  That’s real classy, people.   Real classy.

Then I sat in my Adirondack chair on my front porch for a while and enjoyed a banana and papaya smoothie.  I caught up on my email while I sat there and I also sent out some feelers for any potential TV or film background talent needs that might be currently active in Central Florida.  I’ve done some extra/background work in the past and I wouldn’t mind doing some now since it would not conflict with my NASA work schedule.  So if you know of any leads, please let me know.  Thanks.

After I pried myself up out of my comfortable Adirondack chair, I went into the shop and changed out my old mower blades with a brand new set.  I was not able to get them off the other day by hand, but I borrowed an air powered impact wrench the other day from a friend and it worked like a charm.  I have a convenient setup in my shop where I can lift up the front of the mower using a cable winch puller (a.k.a. come a long winch) inside the doorway between two rooms in my shop.

mower-lift

Notice that the winch is attached to the header in the doorway which is essentially a strong beam that is designed to support a load.  The rafters/trusses that you can see in the background of the photo (that the lights are attached to) are not designed specifically to support a heavy downward load applied at the lower horizontal members.  Those horizontal members are designed primarily for tension.  You could cause some structural damage if you applied heavy loads to those horizontal “beam” looking portions of the trusses.  So be careful.

There is a really simple diagram on this website that shows the forces on a typical truss.  Scroll down a page or two till you see the blue arrows.  (Some of the arrows should show compression and some should show tension, so it’s not perfectly accurate but you get the idea.)

After I put on the new mower blades, I took them for a test drive.  They worked beautifully.  They sounded great and they cut like butter.  It felt kinda like walking in a new pair of shoes.  You feel light on your feet and empowered to go places.  With my new mower blades I felt like I could take on the world … or at least a few large yards.  My yard doesn’t need cutting for several more days, though, so I put the mower away and went looking for my next task.

I realized that I was starting to get hungry, so I went inside and ate my leftover Mr. Submarine sub sandwich from yesterday.  Then I installed trim around the fireplace brick in my living room.  This has needed to be done for two years now … ever since we bought this house … but I’ve been busy and this was not one of my highest priorities.  Don’t judge me … it’s done now.   🙂

It wasn’t exactly a simple job.  Most trim is just nailed into the bottom wood plate of the wall.  But this fireplace trim had to be installed in the direction such that the tall dimension was laying against the brick and the thin dimension was laying against the drywall.  That left me no place to nail the trim to, so I had to glue it.  I used Liquid Nails Indoor Projects adhesive and then I nailed some finish nails into the drywall to hold the trim tightly against the brick while the adhesive dried.  After I remove the finish nails from the drywall, I will have tiny little holes right along the new trim to patch and paint.  Oh well.

fireplace-trim

This odd installation direction is partially because the gap between the drywall and the brick is too large for the thin dimension to cover, but partially because it looks pretty good this way.  After I got my tools put away, I sat down and did some planning for going out in my canoe tomorrow.  The plan is to go out bright and early in the morning, unless it’s real windy.  It’s no fun rowing a canoe against a stiff wind.

Then I ate dinner which was popcorn shrimp wrap … popcorn shrimp, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, Italian dressing all rolled in a soft flour tortilla.  After dinner I spent an hour or so pulling stuff together for canoeing in the morning … including strapping the canoe to the top of the SUV.  Then I showered and now I’m writing this blog post.  That’s pretty much day eight of my unplanned furlough slash vacation.

My to-do list had 24 items on it last night when I went to bed.  Tonight it now has 21 items on it. Not bad at all.

What will tomorrow hold for this furloughed government employee? Stay tuned! 🙂

Kurt