Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Seeing Orion

This past weekend I did some refresher training to keep my paramedic rating. The training was in Waterloo, but I stayed with my folks down in Cedar Rapids.

Saturday night, after eight hours of classes, my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew took me to the Eastern Iowa Observatory out by Palisades park. The night was overcast and cold, so we thought we'd just be attending a lecture.

The lecture was really cool though, and I learned a few things too. As the speaker was talking about distances between stars and distances from our planet, he would say things like,

"So at the speed of light, that star is only 10 gazillion light years from us, which is remarkably close..."

And my mind was boggling at just how big the universe really is. Looking up into the night sky is literally looking across time. Light from our own sun takes eight minutes to get here, so when we watch the sun set, it actually went below the horizon eight minutes ago. Sirius is the brightest star for our viewing pleasure, and we are seeing light from it almost nine years later! Canopus is the next brightest star, and if it exploded tonight, we wouldn't see it here for 74 years! It's a huge understatement, but there is no other way to say it... Space is BIG!

Nearing the end of the presentation, another volunteer came in and told the speaker that the skies had cleared and the telescopes would be set up for viewing.

This was very exciting, as they have a few pretty sizable scopes! They've got a 16" telescope under an observatory dome, and a 24" scope that was donated by the U of I when they upgraded. Both scopes were trained in on the Orion Nebula, located on the sword of that famous constellation. I went out to get the binoculars Dad had loaned us from the car, and as I was passing the 16" dome, I noticed that there was nobody there to look at it except the guy setting it up. So I wandered over and was able to step right up to the view piece. It was awesome. There was the trapezium, a cluster of four stars surrounded by the glow of the nebula. A line was forming, so I ran for the binocs. Then we lined up for the 24" scope. Thanks to the bitter cold, the line was very short. But the view was spectacular! It defies words really. Even with Dad's 10x50 binocs, I could make out the glow of the nebula and the trapezium. It was a very enjoyable night.
Orion Nebula photo by Anthony over at www.adventuresinastrophotography.com

I know there are places on the Internet where I can find instructions for building a telescope. I've looked at them occasionally over the last few years. I think that building one may just be in my future.

Looking at the stars that night, and the many hours I had to think while driving home the next day, helped to put things in perspective again. Life is short. I really don't have time for some of the drama that is going on in my life right now. I'll be glad when I can be done with that stuff and get back to what is really important. My family and friends. Doing things that I enjoy. Learning new things. Everything else is pretty irrelevant!

More Later

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Common Sense

Has anyone developed a test for this? Is it really that subjective that it can in no way be quantified?

I know that I have an occasional lapse myself. Spending a good hour sanding wood by hand when I could have spent ten minutes with a palm sander. Innocuous mostly.

Yet it seems like, in society in general, those gifted with less common sense seem to rise into leadership positions.

Case in point...

Listening to NPR on the way home from work this morning, I heard an economist talking about the stimulus plan. He said that while the $8-16 bucks a week most people would get as a tax break was ok, what the government should do is give large lump sums. 'They tried that' thought I, 'and we saved our lump sum for a rainier day'. Then the economist tacked on this phrase, just before they switched stories... Of course for that to really work, they should do it in the form of pre-paid credit cards.

EXACTLY what I said in my letters to my government representatives. Of course, the plan of pre-paid cards would make sense. People would spend them - stimulating the economy, or not - the money would stay in the treasury and not need to be paid back by my grandchildren. The trouble is, it is a too easy solution.

Another case in point I was thinking about as I drove home from work. We had officers in my USMC unit that were well loved by us enlisted men, and some that we could barely muster a salute for. What was the difference? Leadership abilities. And what was at the core of the leadership ability? Common Sense. The officers we loved didn't give us orders to do things that made no sense. When we left for Norway, we spent about six hours repacking our gear because there was an officer experimenting with his and passing along orders to do as he did. But he kept changing it around. This led to a number of SNAFU packs, including several really stupid ideas. Pack all of the clothing in one bag, but not the bag you carry with you (called a day pack) I wanted a change of clothes in mine, but that was against orders. So I spent the first five days in Norway in the same clothes because my clothes were all in a bag stowed on a boat.

But other officers seemed to possess common sense. They trusted us with packing our gear. Or trusted us to do our jobs without trying to micromanage. And things were generally better for it. More efficient. Higher moral. A better fighting unit. All because of a little common sense.

When I got out of the corps, I left at a change of command. Our CO, who was awesomely smart and oozing with common sense, was being rotated out of command. The new CO was awesomely full of his own ideas on how things should be done, and lacked even a pinky full of common sense. My common sense told me that if ever there were a time to be done, that was it. I seldom regret that decision.

Since then, I've often noticed that those in leadership positions often seem to have little common sense. But they keep their positions. Often because they know instinctively who to say yes to the most often to stay on top.

And what I see, again and again is that the cream no longer rises to the top. The cream is too often stirred back under by (for lack of a better term here) a good old person club comprised of those who rose to leadership simply by aging.

So again I ask... is there a test for common sense? How do we ensure that those moving into leadership positions possess enough common sense not to pound the morale out of their minions?

Too tired to think on this now.

More Later

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pictures of the Bow

As promised, here are some pictures of the bow I made. Total cost of the bow was around $20 since I used materials I had on hand in the shop. I've got materials for a few more bows too, now that I've been bitten by this bug!

More Later

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bluefeather Bow #1 is Done!

I've finished with all of the rough stuff on my first bow! Tonight I tillered the bow, quite an amusing process, and a learning experience.
A little FYI here. A bow is measured in many ways. Length of the bow is important. But what an archer looks for specifically is called draw weight. Everyone is different, and the draw weight for a bow depends on your arm length. When you pull an arrow back to shoot it, that is your draw length. Mine happens to be 29 inches. So a draw weight for me is measured at 29 inches. Make sense?
When I built this bow I wanted between 30 and 40 pounds at 29 inches. I worked and worked and worked it until it was about 50 pounds at about 12 inches. That would make it way too much at 29 inches, and would probably break the bow. Well, I marked off more areas of the arms to shave down and went to work again, this time really going at them, figuring I had plenty to work with. The next time I checked, the bow was at 33 pounds at 28 inches! In other words, I got lucky.

I finished shaping the handle, made a string for it and finally got to shoot it! I set up a bunch of knocked down cardboard boxes at the other end of the shop and flung my first arrow. After three shots I could put the arrow in a half dollar circle, so it shoots pretty well!

All that's left now is some finish sanding and putting on a finish! I'm going to post some pictures as soon as I find the little cable thingy that connects the camera to the computer.

Anyway, I celebrate another accomplishment... today I am a bowyer!

(And I guess it is pronounced " BOY-er")

More Later

Friday, February 6, 2009

Novice Bowyer

It's 2 am again, but I have not slept yet. Soon. Very soon.

As you may remember, the latest interest of mine has become archery. Well, bow building specifically. But only because a really nice bow would cost much more than just making a really nice bow myself.

Today in the mail came some supplies for making bow strings. I watched a couple videos online and thought 'now that looks easy!' but guess what? Not so easy!

I've made a few practice strings now, and finally feel comfortable enough to make a string for a bow that was my fathers when he was 14 or 15. It works pretty well! Though I am hesitant to take the bow to a full draw, because I don't know how fifty-two year old fiberglass will hold up, and I'd rather not have it exploding on me or the kiddos.

But the Boyo helped me make a string jig, and helped me loop string all around it. We had a pretty good time!

I'm working on an oak bow now, and have a few more steps for it before I can string it up and shoot it. But it is a fun thing to do, that building your own bow. Addictive too. I want to build a great many of them now! Until I get really, really good at it!

Ah, the life of an avid, addicted learner. Now taking bets on what I learn to do next!

More Later

By the by... anybody know how to pronounce the word "bowyer"?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Morning Musings

Hmm. Night shift can really mess with sleep schedules.

It's 2:30 am and I'm awake. I had two night shifts, got home in the morning on the 4th and promptly fell asleep for a few hours. The plan was to wake up after that and get turned back around. Well, I made it to six pm before the drowsy eyes caught me.

Then around 11 pm, the wife came in to leave Sweet Pea with me. She caught the Boyo's cold, and is having trouble sleeping as well. The Wife went to round up the dogs, who were running amok out in the frigid cold. Ben can get away with that sort of thing. He's a Kai dog, and double coated. Chilly doesn't affect him much. Holly is still very puppy though, and her coat is still the silky thin stuff. Sadly, she hasn't yet figured out why she gets so cold when she runs around outside too long.

Anyway. Dogs were brought in, Sweet Pea went back with mommy, and I tried to get back to sleep. To no avail. So I decided to write some. But like P over at Biped.Sideways, I really don't have much to say.

I do have a surplus of things on my mind right now. Fun stuff like learning to build bows, and what I want to build next for knives and bird feeders and other projects. Organizing more of the shop in my head to be made into reality later. What games to play with the Boyo tomorrow. That sort of thing. But some not so fun stuff. Rough night at work the other night. A patient died, that always gets me all reflective on mortality. Stress for other reasons at work which I'm hoping to have cleared up soon. That sort of thing.

Guess the ups and downs are what makes life interesting. Sometimes though, I wish that all could be right with the world for more than just a day or two. That somehow the planets would align just right to give me a few weeks to breathe and sigh and be centered and at peace. Someday perhaps. I'll keep striving for that.

And for the record, simplifying life is a very complex task.

More Later

Monday, February 2, 2009

Huge Sigh of Relief

Way to go Steelers!

When I was a younger man, a much younger man, something strange happened. I was in the basement of the elementary school I attended, awaiting practice for the instrument I played. There was an industrial sized fridge thingy down there that we wee ones filed past every day at lunch to pick up our carton of milk before heading in to get our trays of food. On that day, on the top of that fridge was a football almanac.

Now, I wasn't always disinterested in football. I was a huge Steelers fan. I was in awe of Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swan and Mean Joe Green. So I picked up the almanac and perused it a bit before practice.

It was a weird book. Weird because it was talking about teams that didn't exist, like the Ravens and the Titans. The Oilers weren't even mentioned. This strange book said that the L.A. Rams were in St. Louis, when everybody knew that the St. Louis home team was the Cardinals. But apparently they were now in Arizona.

My young mind could not comprehend any of this. After all, teams didn't move around! None of the players listed were right either. So I put the almanac back on the fridge and dismissed it as a fictional work.

When I heard that the Cards and Steelers would be playing for all the marbles this year, a chill ran up my spine. I remembered the almanac. Sitting on a milk crate and reading through some of it. I remembered that it had said that the Cardinals would make their first appearance in the Superbowl against the Steelers. I remembered a black and white photo of a Cardinal running back leaping over some Steeler bodies on the ground. I thought it had mentioned that the Cards had won the game with that run. It said the game was a close one. I remember that because back in those days a close game between the Cards and Steelers was about as likely as a close game between the Cards and my flag football team. It just wasn't realistic.

So thank goodness the Steelers won! I'm off the hook for setting down an almanac that could have made me rich! No guilt for me! Woo Hoo!


But why was I reading about the Cardinals? I was a die hard Steeler fan. I would have been reading the Steelers section, right? Is that right? Was it the Cards who won with a last minute play? Or was it the Steelers?

I think I should have kept that book...

More Later

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl... Big Deal

In the grand scheme of things, the Cards edging out the Steelers with a last minute touchdown run is really not so important. (I'll write more about this sentence later, but it has to do with a football almanac that I read back in elementary school that told about some weird stuff, including the Arizona Cardinals Beating the Steelers in a close game, by a running touchdown... we'll see)

Today is the big day for a lot of folks. Two teams full of guys who have worked very hard to get where they are, and a bajillion others who follow football with varying degrees of passion.

I am not a normal person. Definitely not a normal 'guy'. I just can't seem to get into the game too much. Oh, I do like the highlight reels, and I even know the names of a few people from different teams. But I don't follow them as religiously as most men. Added to my loathing of NASCAR makes me atypical amongst the males of the species.

This doesn't bother me much though, I have too many other things that occupy my time. For example, today...

I ran to the store for some supplies and a couple of movies. We were having a 'sick day' here, as the Boyo has the sniffles. Which of course means that he has copious amounts of goo flowing freely from his nose. In my absence, Mommy had a talk with him about how germs are the cause of such malaise, and how he should try not to smother the Sweet Pea with hugs and kisses in case some of those germs spread and make her sick.

Well, upon my return, the Boyo greeted me at the top of the stairs with a hearty "Welcome back, Daddy!" To which he immediately added "Don't hug me! I have GERMS!"

And a big day in the as of yet short life of the Sweet Pea! Not only is she starting to really enjoy the chunks of pear and sweet potato and raisins and such in lieu of the pureed variety, but tonight something magical happened.

She was in the Boyo's room helping Mommy and the Boyo clean up, when she moved FORWARD in her crawl stance! To date, she has been really good about stretching both legs out behind her and pushing backwards with her arms. So to see her go forward was quite thrilling! The Wife and I both caught it, which was also quite wonderful!

In light of the cuteness and awesomeness that are my kids, and an amazing wife who just keeps encouraging to go for my dreams, what possible thrill could the Super Bowl hold for me?

More Later