Friday, January 28, 2011

Volume 6, Number 3: Challenger, 25 Years Later

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy.

Obviously, I will never forget that day. For many in my generation, it marked "the end of the innocence," just as the 1963 Kennedy assassination did for the Baby Boomers and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing did for Generation Y. I was in eighth grade at the time. I didn't actually see it live--I was having my lunch in the cafeteria at my middle school, and to the best of my knowledge, that school didn't have a cable TV connection. And CNN was the only network carrying live coverage of the launch.

The first class after lunch--5th hour--was American History with Mr. Sutherland. Another student in that class said to me, "Did you hear that the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up?" I took it as a sick hoax and quipped back to him in a sarcastic tone of voice, "Oh, whoa, (Libyan dictator Muammar) Khadafy must have sabotaged the launch pad." Basically, I felt insulted--he didn't know this, but I secretly dreamed about living on a space station--and that Khadafy thing was my way of insulting him back.

Over the course of that hour, the news spread around the school, but in retrospect, it was obviously not in as organized a fashion as I would have liked--I didn't know the story was true until well over an hour after the disaster. When 6th hour--Science with Mr. Van Horn--rolled around, I still didn't believe what I was hearing until Mr. Van Horn set me straight. We spent the last two hours of the day in silence, sitting at our desks and doing nothing except reflect on what had happened and contemplate the fates of the men and women that President Reagan called heroes that "broke the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God." I remember as I headed home, I hoped that the crew, which included teacher Christa McAuliffe, survived the explosion.

A side note: As it happened, a film called SpaceCamp was being made in which a bunch of kids and their instructor are accidentally launched into space aboard a space shuttle. Even after the Challenger tragedy, I was still interested in seeing that movie. I confess that I once dreamed of living in space, on a space station where everything was within walking distance--food, entertainment, friends, everything in a self-contained community. (A number of years later, I finally did see SpaceCamp on the SciFi Channel. I liked the story, I liked most of the human characters, but that damn robot ruined it for me. You're going to have me suspend my belief so much that I would buy into a sentient robot existing in the 1980s, much less one that would put the interests of one kid ahead of everyone else? A computer malfunction would have made more sense--heck, even an error on the part of one of the kids could have been somewhat believable.)

Note: For a related blog entry I made about CNN's news coverage of the launch and the tragedy that ensued, and how that tragedy affected the world of TV news reporting, go here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Volume 6, Number 2: The Great Zodiac Shakeup

Just yesterday, Time magazine posted this article about the Minnesota Planetarium Society and its research on the 13-sign zodiac--yes, that's right, 13. Apparently the Babylonians wanted a 12-sign zodiac and threw out Ophiuchus, the snake holder, a few thousand years ago. Something about wanting to balance "yin and yang" and an odd number wasn't going to cut it. (In retrospect, I'd love to call out across space and time to those ancient Babylonians, "Every sign has their good and bad, there's your balance right there.")

What's more, the signs are off by anywhere from a week to a month (it varies from one sign to the next), so people who were born under one sign in the 12-sign zodiac belong to another sign in the 13-sign one.

It's not exactly new information. Stories about the 13-sign zodiac had been floating around the Internet for a few years. It actually goes all the way back to 1977, when Dr. Lee Shapiro of the University of North Carolina published a paper about the 13 constellations, but anyway, I didn't know about it until came out with it.

The Great Zodiac Shakeup affects me. Almost every 12-sign Cancer is a 13-sign Gemini. Now, I don't read horoscopes every day, but there are certain parts of me that led me to easily identify with Cancer. The self-reliance, frugality, being security-oriented, letting emotions get the better of me at times, those are all Cancer things.

But there are parts of Gemini in me, too: Geminis are intellectual, living in a world of logic and science, and can experience two sides of things at the same time. I listen to songs from a whole bunch of different genres (pop, rock, metal, rap, classical, jazz, etc.), which fits in with Gemini's willingness to try varied experiences to gain knowledge. I'll bet they talk to themselves a lot (I do that as well). Even when playing fantasy sports games, I'll compile and process data (for example, in a dynasty fantasy football league I'm in, I'm trying to get an idea of which players could possibly fall to my pick in Round 2 so I've compiled a list of players who will be taken in next year's NFL Draft, that league's labor situation notwithstanding). Geminis like variety (so do I--growing up, my favorite cereal was those variety packs where you got to have a different cereal every day) and get bored easily. They also reportedly have a very short span of concentration and tend to get distracted very easily--that's me, too!

After I read the article, I imagined myself battling a giant crab (Cancer) in my bedroom, ultimately breaking its shell to reveal my long-lost twin (Gemini). I further imagined the twin had mistaken me for an enemy for years and is now ready to be my best friend.

So bottom line, I don't reject the 13-sign zodiac at all. To the contrary--I'm living the first full day of my life as a Gemini in a world where my mind has better control of my emotions. Hopefully I don't lose much of my self-reliance in the bargain.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Volume 6, Number 1: Janus Strikes Again

It's time to take a look back and a look ahead (the title of this blog entry refers to the Roman god of beginnings and endings).

Personal accomplishments in 2010:
6. Another fantasy football title! My San Francisco Slobberknockers--the team that got me my first such title back in 2004--won the BDFL championship for the second time Sunday. (Yes, I know Sunday was the second day of 2011, but the way I see it, the NFL season started a week late and should have ended on December 26.)
5. New gas range - This was item number one on my Shopping List for the Near Future. I had been wanting to ditch the 43-year-old pile-of-crap Montgomery Ward Signature range that had a series of problems (burners didn't always ignite off the pilot light, the oven usually took two minutes or more to turn on, the handle on the oven door was broken, no oven light). Back in July, I finally did. I got a Hotpoint range with sealed burners, electronic ignition, an oven light, a window you can see through pretty well, and an electronic timer for about $340. (On a related note, I also took care of items 7 and 10 on that list: I got a better digital camera and replaced my tires.)
4. Low-cost alternator replacement - Back in February, the alternator in my 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix went on the blink. My mechanic, a very trustworthy guy who I entrust to fix whatever I can't fix, offered to replace it for $300 or so. Thing is, I knew beforehand that the alternator is easy to access and replace. So I did some research and found the step-by-step instructions I needed in order to replace it myself, then bought a rebuilt alternator and installed it myself. Final cost: $65.
3. Low-cost body work: On that same car, a piece of plastic molding on the passenger side had been sagging. The reason: A piece of metal railing under the plastic had turned to rust; the only things keeping the molding attached to the car were four screws--two on the front of the rear wheel well and two at the back of the front wheel well. So in July, I bought a replacement molding rail on eBay (from Ed Morad, a parts dealer in Cleveland specializing in parts for late-model front-wheel-drive GM cars) for $68, and was able to install it myself. Final cost: $74 (I also bought a can of spray paint to repaint the molding). Heaven knows how much Maaco would have charged to get that fixed.
2. Finally, a vacation: The week of Labor Day, I went to St. Louis to cross one item off my "bucket list": Going to the top of the Gateway Arch.
1. Weight loss: You all know about this one because I've been harping on it for a while now. The first year that I started living on my own, my weight shot up as I ate more freely than I did previously. From July 2001 to July 2010, my weight had slowly been creeping up at the rate of roughly a pound a year. (Before that, I was overweight at about 180.) On July 31, 2010, I weighed 191 pounds. Not even my mirror would tell me how wrong that was. It took a picture someone else took of me at a friend's barbecue to shock me into making two changes to my diet: I switched from regular soda to diet soda--a change that, for years, I found inconceivable--and stopped buying junk food (because every time I bought and ate it, however much I liked it, it amounted to turning money into flab). This morning, I weighed 174. My hope is that I can lose a pound a month over the winter, then go back to losing a few pounds a month in warmer months. (On a related note, I've saved at least $38 since August by avoiding junk food items that my younger, not-so-careful self would have bought.)

Resolutions for 2011:
1. Exercise. A year ago, I figured all I'd have to do to get rid of my excess weight was exercise. But then I'd have a hard time running without feeling tired just a 1/4-mile. I was caught in a Catch-22 I created: I couldn't exercise due to the excess weight, even though I needed to exercise to lose that weight. Now that regular sodas and junk food are no longer a regular part of my diet, that Catch-22 is broken. I need to use my aerobic rider more now, and need to run more in the summer.
2. Knock another item or two off my bucket list. I still haven't been to a Lions football game, a Red Wings hockey game, or been on a rollercoaster. (Quick question: Anyone know of a theme park where you can pay for each ride instead of paying a larger amount up front for admission to the whole park?)
3. Take care of another home improvement project or two. Last year, I replaced the range; two years ago, it was the hot water heater; in 2007, it was the fridge. This year, projects I need to tackle include the garage door, the driveway and the steps to my front porch (items 2, 4 and 8 on that "Shopping List For the Near Future").
4. See my younger brother in Texas. He moved to Austin, TX in 2006 and I have not been down there.
5. Lose more weight. I'm still a little "out of shape" at 174. 170 should be no problem. Getting my neck size down to 15.5 and my waist size to 34 seem possible as well; after years of being stuck at 16.5 and 36, respectively, I am now at 16 and 35.
6. Be more organized. I have let my clutter get out of control at times.
7. Keep the house clean more often. I need to act like I have people over more often, even though I almost never do.
8. Look for new meals to cook. My "menu" is seriously limited--Hamburger/Chicken/Tuna Helper, chicken chimichitos, that kielbasa/potatoes/sauerkraut dish, frozen pizzas (Freschetta/DiGiorno/Red Baron only), pasta, canned soups, frozen dinners... and I have a half-dozen cookbooks sitting on top of my fridge! It's time I went through them.
9. Read more books. I've bought a number of books over the past few years with the intent of reading them, but end up failing to make the time to do so.