Ramblings of an itinerant rocket scientist...

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Monday, April 7th, 2014
10:01 pm - A thought from a FB thread tonight...
Solitude is desolation.

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Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
10:39 am - Proposal submitted...
Since last summer, I've been part of a group that is proposing a life detection instrument in response to the call for potential 2020 Mars rover mission instruments. My part would be to lead the development of the sample acquisition and transfer subsystems, getting Mars dirt into an inlet funnel. As well as the ground software to talk to/from our instrument from/to Earth. Given project experience, I also wrote the sections on project organization and management, procurement regs compliance, past relevant flight experience, and rewrote our initial-phase task plan and our implementation plan.

This collaborative effort, spanning the US, Spain, UK and France, has consumed most of the past six weeks. Not only did I not get time to relax during the holidays, we were meeting and working on weekends and evenings. Hence few LJ posts. The past few days built up to a crescendo of effort spanning the Atlantic, and by 6pm PT yesterday it appeared we were done. The proposal had to be submitted by CAB in Spain, by midnight today ET. So we had margin. I went out for dinner and contra dancing with tenacious_snail while others finished the final tweaks and their corrections. When I returned home at 11pm, there was an email saying that the final version was complete and had been uploaded.

But not submitted yet, as it was still night in Spain. Because I'm a bit obsessive or paranoid (take your pick), rather than go to bed I started reading the final version. Which... had two sections that in reformatting had extended over their required maximum page length limits, by two pages. It was noncompliant, and would be disallowed or at least penalized if submitted as-is.

So I called our proposal manager, woke him, and we looked at it. Everyone else was non-reachable at that hour, so he and I fixed the issues and I re-uploaded a now-OK proposal around 2am. And then at 5am (here), the principal investigator in Spain hit "submit" and it was done.

Now, to catch up on everything left back-burnered, like my home mortgage refinance or neglected friends and sweeties...

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Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
6:07 pm - 2013's overnights...
Places where I spent the night over the past year (including places where there was only daylight ;-) :

Christchurch, New Zealand
McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica
University Valley, Antarctica
Akaroa, NZ
Oamaru, NZ
Te Anau, NZ
Fairlie, NZ
Parramatta, Australia
Brisbane, Australia
Mountain View, CA
San Leandro, CA
The Woodlands, TX
Harbin Hot Springs, CA
Santa Clara, CA
Arlington, VA
Annapolis, MD
Alexandria, VA
Quincy, MA
Windsor Locks, CT
Minneapolis, MN
Stillwater, MN
Pasadena, CA
Carmel, CA
Yellowknife, NWT, Canada
Resolute, Nunavut, Canada
Devon Island, Canada
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
East Palo Alto, CA
Fresno, CA
New York City, NY
Tyson's Corner, VA

31 places, 5 countries, 3 continents. Both polar regions...

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5:31 pm - Overtime!
I am into 2013-overtime! Meaning it has lasted for me more than a standard year in duration, thanks to travel... I celebrated last New Year's Eve in Christchurch, New Zealand.. 21 hours ahead (it is already Wednesday afternoon there now).

So my 2013 will have an extra 21 hours added... which is not a bad thing overall for me, as it has been a good year.

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Friday, December 20th, 2013
1:20 pm - Celebrating a win :-)
Yay! A proposal I submitted in August from the field on Devon Island, "Life-Detection Mars Analog Project," working with our Spanish friends at the Centro de Astrobiologia and with Honeybee Robotics, has been selected by NASA Headquarters for four years of (modest) funding.

It will support testing of "dirt to data" with sample acquisition, transport, and biomarker detection at Pasadena (in 2014 and 2016) and the Rio Tinto, Spain analog site (in 2015 and 2017). This keeps us in the game, so to speak, for another four years.

And with 8-10% selection ratios in these competitions, I had not had a major win in five years, probably 20-25 proposals submitted meanwhile. So I feel lucky today!

(high-fives my team members :-)

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Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
9:10 am - silliness...
Happy 09:10 11/12/13...

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Friday, October 18th, 2013
6:36 pm - quilting question
Does anyone on my FL have advice on how to get an heirloom patchwork quilt repaired? It was hand-sewn by my grandmother as a wedding gift for patgreene and I, thirty years ago, and after swaddling three kids and lots of use it has a number of torn or loose patches, as well as a stain on the backing. I can barely manage to sew on buttons, myself, but want to preserve and repair the quilt. Ideas?

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Saturday, October 12th, 2013
4:31 pm - Happy birthday!
To my dear friend and colleague dangerpudding, I hope you are having a fun and relaxed day!

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Tuesday, October 1st, 2013
10:08 am - Shutting down, may be hard to reach
Closing up my office, putting in "out of office messages" due to government shutdown. FYI, I will not be reachable on my NASA cellphone number after today (including texts), and online access may be sporadic. My home landline may have a use after all...

Anyone expecting a reply to voicemail or text or email (to my work account) may have a long wait; if something is urgent, please contact patgreene or cyan_blue or tenacious_snail as they all know other ways to reach me locally.

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Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
9:42 pm - The Wall...
Going to polar regions to work, the immersion in coldness and interruption in day-night cycles causes the thyroid to change its output… the amount of free T3 and T4 in the bloodstream decreases with weeks to months of residence, leading to "polar T3 syndrome", colloquially called "Ice brain". My own very limited-duration Antarctic stay of five weeks, or a past Arctic stay of about a month, were enough to give me some onset experience… kind of scattered thoughts, easily distractible, almost induced-ADD-like. Departments in McMurdo rely heavily on ritualized procedures and checklists, to combat this effect and make sure no one goes out missing something vital.

While it may take weeks to manifest and months before it seriously reduces one's capabilities, there's a noticeable transition for me about 5-7 days after I arrive at a polar environment, and another transition after I return to someplace warmer with day-night cycles. I call it, unoriginally, "the wall." Arriving in the field, I spend my first few days frequently shivering, cramming carbs to try to stay warm, and prone to frequent headaches (not due to dehydration, as forcing fluids doesn't help). Then around Day 5 to Day 6, the headaches stop, I'm comfortably warm in my parka and don't need the carbs anymore, I'm generating more body heat. And… my emotions crash, I often feel cranky or despondent. In a day or two my mood lifts, and then I'm fine physically and emotionally for the rest of the field season. Other than finding it a bit harder to concentrate and focus on any one thing.

Coming home, the return to crowds and civilization after living in a desolate wilderness is disorienting, and it is hard to follow all of the threads and figure out what should be done next. And I'm sweating even more than usual (and still burning 3500 kcal/day without gaining weight). After 5-7 days, again, a reverse Wall effect: my appetite plummets, I'm not as warm, I can think in longer bursts… but again my mood crashes, I feel despondent or cranky. Or like I need to push back on *something* just to prove I still exist. And I've typically just gone from action-filled long 18-hour days with strenuous physical activity, to long periods without much to do except catch up on reading. So… I often feel useless post-field, and if I haven't set up lots of return-home socialness, feel alone and aimlessly unwanted. Again, in a couple of days my mood improves and then I'm in a new equilibrium. As a male, I'm unaccustomed to my emotions being tweaked noticeably by my endocrine system (wry grin).

This past Arctic season, I hit the first Wall around Thursday the 15th at Haughton Crater. Just in time for news of a couple of disquieting bombshells from home, which I didn't handle well. It didn't help either that the weather was worsening and we'd just left a broken drill string stuck. (Kudos to tenacious_snail for emotional support online, and dangerpudding for putting up with me in person then.)

On Friday the 23rd, I left the Arctic and headed for Yellowknife and Edmonton and home. The return-Wall hit me around Wednesday-Thursday of last week, leaving me feeling useless and depressed and wary. I was not an easy person to be around, and a crashy venting on FB Friday night led to 30 comments (now made private). This has coincided with a local event that adds stress in one of my relationships, plus another sweetie with a sudden influx of new dating relationships in the past 2 weeks. One of whom stayed over in my house last Friday, so I needed to play friendly-host when I really just wanted to flee.

It hasn't been an easy Wall-transition… usually bumpy, hopefully now things will re-ground and find their new equilibrium.

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Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
5:05 pm - The past two weeks of field testing, in pictures (part 2)
nine more photos from the past two weeks in the Arctic…Collapse )

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4:34 pm - The past two weeks of field testing, in pictures (part 1)
eight photos from the past two weeks in the Arctic…Collapse )

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Saturday, August 24th, 2013
9:17 am - Daily notes...
Every time I open one of these daily cards and little gifts in a distant place, it lifts my spirits. :-) Thanks, cyan_blue and everyone who wrote one… I feel loved and seen.

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Friday, August 16th, 2013
10:05 pm - Snow and drills
The weather, coming here in August, feels like it used to be in July, in the late 90s… highs in the 30s, lows in the 20s, windy, occasional snow. A change from the 50s and sunny that we enjoyed in July, the past few years here at HMP. Climate change?

Anyway, I had to dig out this morning… there had been snow overnight, 2-3 inches but with 30-50kt winds. So the ground was scoured, but there were many drifts and piles. Including inside the vestibule of my tent, where a foot of snow was leaning against my inside door. Driving across drifts on an ATV this morning, headed to Drill Hill, I found myself whistling "Let it Snow" through my face cover...

But it looks, well, Arctic. And it is not as harsh as the Antarctic Dry Valleys were last January. Or so I repeatedly tell myself whenever I get cold or annoyed at something.

Yesterday, as the weather was moving in, we got our first stuck drill string of this campaign… the new drill hit an ice lens at 90cm, lacked enough torque to keep going, then when I tried to unjam it the threaded end of the first string sheared off completely. I think that this new small, thin drill may be lightweight, but not strong enough for drilling hard rocks or ice. Anyway, after a couple of hours excavating around it yesterday and this morning, we recovered the stuck drill string, then resumed with a different one. Total depth thus far is a bit over 2m cumulative.

Tomorrow is the halfway point of this deployment...

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Friday, August 9th, 2013
8:58 am - Washington in August...
… wasn't as hot or humid as I remember from when I lived there, twenty years ago. This past week I went there for a NASA Headquarters-sponsored Workshop on Mars Analogs, held at the Carnegie Institution (near Dupont Circle).

Last week I kept track of Arctic field deployment preparations, while putting together two posters for the workshop. One was on the initial findings from the May drilling workshop, as it pertained to analog sites. The second was for the "Drill Hill" site, which is on a fallback breccia deposit inside Haughton Crater and has been a favorite drill-testing site for NASA projects since 2004. And then I put up a poster for Pascal Lee, who is already up on Devon Island. After the first day of the meeting, attendees were given five sticky dots, and were asked to vote for their favorite analog sites by by sticking dots on the posters.

I had done well on stage earlier in the day… had missed the email to send in our 3-minute "lightning talk" slides, so mine were tacked on at the end. But given three posters, I had back-to-back-to-back and could joke and work the audience rather than hurriedly spew details. So my poster was one of the top vote-getters, and thence was on the short-list of five or so locales who received panel reviews and discussion on Tuesday and Wednesday. Which went well.

And I had good interactions with Headquarters folks…

Socially, I saw Judy on Sunday night for dinner and met geekchick Tuesday night… both were happy and enjoyable times.

Arriving home Wednesday evening, in time for my youngest (Kevin) son's birthday. And then to spend yesterday packing and wrapping up threads before heading out today again...

current mood: cheerful

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Friday, July 26th, 2013
4:14 pm - Another summer deployment...
And another summer Arctic field season begins again (my 16th)... FedEx just picked up our eight Pelicans and duffels, headed for Ottawa and then on to Resolute and to Devon Island. Testing a new, lighter Mars-prototype drill this year.

I hadn't really expected this season would happen, so was caught a bit behind in packing and gathering my personal gear… dangerpudding did a great job pulling together the equipment and packing our tools and supplies. She and I will be joined by Alex, a new Honeybee Robotics engineer. Our departure is in two weeks (9 August).

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Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013
11:52 am - Happy that tenacious_snail is here :)
I appreciate that tenacious_snail is in my life, and our friendship. We have supported one another and at times poked, embraced enthusiastically publicly and made drama, brought out edges in each other, highs and lows and lots of new experiences. Traveled together on three continents, looked after children and animals, plotted and planned and used power tools. I admire her powerful insight, her keen intellect, and ability to combine compassion with strong boundaries. And am happy that she's still here. :-)

current mood: cheerful

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Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
11:30 am - Happy 30th!

July 2, 1983 began a bit hazy and muggy along the seashore in St Petersburg, Florida. Just like the haze outside along the shore, this morning here in Pacific Grove. 30 years ago, patgreene and I were legally married, after we had been dating for a couple of years in college.

We have traveled together as best friends and lovers, through grad schools and moves and raising our three sons... Expeditions, early morning ER visits, great conversations, jokes, and passionate intensity... We've had fun. And value each other. Yay!

And here are photos, then and now...

Two photos, then and now...Collapse )

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Sunday, June 30th, 2013
8:32 pm - After five years...
photo and musings after Prop 8 is finally defeated :-)Collapse )

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Wednesday, June 12th, 2013
11:59 am - Gullibility and trust, part 4
The flip side of building communities, or extended family, is that a feud with a given community leadership leaves one's interactions with other community members to be kind of awkward and suspect, afterwards. This is an issue traditionally between families in villages and small towns… but also nowadays in virtual communities and social groups. Modern-day open-network sets of Montagues and Capulets, etc.
It creates divided loyalties… who or what will they put first? What will best meet a given friend's own needs and goals -- their friendship with me, or their own other-community acceptance by peers there?

It is hard for me to assess trustworthiness in real-time, anyway, and if there are conflicting loyalties surrounding a friend or sweetie… I almost *have* to be somewhat guarded around them. Since I can't be sure which way they will go, and am bad at assessing their attitudes. I grew up with lots of cases of professed "friends" who I would trust, and then they would betray me to gain brownie points with a given social circle's leadership. And this still happens to me, occasionally, with friends or even sweeties.

Over time, this dynamic of guardedness on my part, and being caught-in-the-middle on their part, seems corrosive to the underlying friendships where it has occurred. Eventually, if the feud with the community leaders and I isn't cleared or settled, I find myself distancing from or letting go of connections with most or all of the other community members. The ambiguity, structural conflict of interest, and conflicted loyalties is not conducive to growing and strengthening connections.

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