Going To College

Over the past few weeks, the sun room has been filling up with goods. There were blankets and sheets and comforters… computer paper and notebooks… enough hair and beauty products to restock RiteAid… snack foods and soft drinks… and suitcases filled with clothes.

Steffie is packed and ready to go to college.

Note to possible roommates: Pack light. There’s no room for you.

I have taken today off from work to facilitate packing the car and picking up any last minute items. So far, things are going smoothly because Helaine and Stef (and not Geoff) are well organized and thoughtful.

Every time we deal with packing, there is a small family conflict. Steffie has said I could go anywhere for any length of time and pack it in a ‘hobo stick’. She doesn’t mean that as a compliment.

When I moved to Florida in 1969, I packed everything I owned into a Volkswagen Beetle and still had room to pick up a hitchhiker (who then allowed me to spend the night at a dorm at Georgetown). Ah, for the good old days.

A few minutes ago the sun room was emptied into the Explorer. We’ve folded down half the back seat. Everything fit pretty easily. Of course there will be stragglers; things that won’t make it to the car until tomorrow morning.

The fact that Steffie is leaving for college is a major moment in all our lives. Must I sound like a prototypical American Dad? I remember the first moment I held her, seconds after she was born.

Parents tend to dwell on stuff like that, so no matter how old a child gets chronologically, she’s still our baby. She should still be wearing pants with snaps and a bib when she eats.

Actually, the bib when she eats isn’t a terrible idea.

Steffie’s joke over the last day has been, when I mentioned she had given blood, I should have said she is “effin’ awesome.” OK. Let me take this opportunity, she is “effin awesome.”

Yes, she’s the same baby I held in my arms at Yale/New Haven Hospital. She’s also somewhat (not totally) grown-up.

There will be temptations at college. No parents to bother her with parental guidance. No curfews. No one to check when she comes and goes and what she’s done while she’s out. In most classes, attendance isn’t taken.

I don’t expect her to be perfect.

College was my undoing. I can’t put my finger on why, but I expect the opposite will hold true for Steffie. I’m confident she will thrive. I’m just worried there won’t be room for a roommate.

We leave early (for me) tomorrow morning. There is a chance the blog won’t be updated, or will be updated very late. I’ll do my best. I’m sure there will be lots to talk about.

Rendezvous With A Comet

One day and eleven hours from now, the Deep Impact spacecraft with crash into Comet Tempel 1.

That’s just crazy. Stop and think about it for a second.

Here’s a comet, tiny in the general scheme of things, which is moving pretty quickly through space. The impactor, the part of the spacecraft that will hit the comet, will be closing at 22,000 mph (if I’ve done my km/s to mph conversions correctly).

By the time it’s all done, the impactor will have blown a whole somewhere between the size of a house and football field into the comet’s side! Gas and debris should be ejected back into space.

Flyby spacecraft – nearly as large as a Volkswagen Beetle automobile.

Impactor spacecraft – about the same dimensions as a typical living room coffee table.

As it approaches, the impactor will be looking for a spot somewhere between the greatest mass and brightest point, making sure it doesn’t hit the edge of the comet and break off a piece or bounce back into space. All of this will be done autonomously since it’s too far from Earth for us to ‘drive’ the spacecraft in real time.

This crash will be monitored so scientists can try and get a better feel for a comet’s makeup. Comets formed early in the universe’s pre-history, so their makeup should be a clue to what went on then and how we got to where we are today.

The element copper isn’t expected to be found in the comet, so the impactor is made of it. That way, copper can easily be excluded from the scientific revelations that will surely come.

Back when I hosted Inside Space I learned one thing that serves me well for this mission. All extraterrestrial objects are shaped like potatoes. Don’t ask why. I don’t know. But, it’s true!

It’s possible when the impactor hits Comet Tempel that it will flouresce enough for us to see it with the naked eye. More than likely though, we’ll have to depend on NASA and their onboard cameras to get us the video sometime over the next few days.

Luckily, there’s no governmental agency better at multimedia and the Internet than NASA (and I only shudder to think what it costs all of us). There’s a pretty good Deep Impact website with everything you need to know – and then some.

It’s still pretty cool.

Another Reason Not To Smoke

I saw this just a moment ago on wired.com:

A San Francisco man learned the hard way that littering — especially burning objects — is not a good idea. Jonathan Fish was driving across the Bay Bridge on Thursday when he tossed his cigarette out the window. But the cigarette blew back into his $30,000 Ford Expedition, igniting the back seat and filling the SUV with smoke. Fish pulled over and leaped from the flaming vehicle, which kept rolling and crashed into a guardrail. “It was in flames by the time he got out,” said CHP Officer Shawn Chase. “He had some of his hair singed on the back of his head. (The car) burned down to the frame.” Fish likely faces a misdemeanor charge for littering, which carries a fine of up to $1,000.

It’s a sort of funny, ironic story. Except for me, now over 20 years a non-smoker, it hits home.

It had to be 1969, wintertime, and a Saturday night. I was living in Boston, making believe I was attending Emerson College and working as a talk show producer on the Steve Fredericks Show at WMEX.

Being a talk show producer sounds more glamorous than it really was. WMEX was a second rate station with an awful signal. It was owned by Max Richmond, a larger than life caricature of himself. Everything he did was done with an eye to cost. That’s fine, but reward should be factored in as well.

We were in a building originally designed by a movie studio for their Boston operation. That’s probably the reason it was built of cinder block with no insulation.

I answered calls and watched the door to the outside. I didn’t even screen all the phone lines. Some came to my little booth – others didn’t.

The show ended at (I think) 2:00 AM. I found my car, a faded green 1960 Volkswagen Beetle&#185 and headed toward the Mass Pike. I was going to Albany, NY to see my friend Larry Lubetsky, a student a SUNY Albany.

Back then I was a smoker. My cigarette of choice was Tareyton. That was the brand which showed smokers with black eyes and the caption, “I’d rather fight than switch.”

This was the time when a pack of cigarettes in a machine cost 40&#162. I remember going to WHDH-TV (then Channel 5) for a conference and seeing cigarettes in a hallway machine for 35&#162!

I’m sorry. This story isn’t going in a straight line. Back to what I’m writing about.

As I drove, I smoked. And, as the cigarette would burn down toward the filter, I’d roll down the window and flick it outside. Looking back, that was wrong and I apologize to society in general for my selfish attitude.

Somewhere between Worcester and Springfield the car seemed a little smoky. Of course I had been smoking. So, I rolled down the window, let in some fresh wintry air, and then rolled it back up.

You didn’t want to keep the window down long in a 1960 VW. The heating system was vigorous enough to keep you warm through early September. After that it was a losing battle against the elements.

I continued driving, though the toll booth at the eastern end of the turnpike and through the Berkshires into New York State. The smoky conditions were getting worse. The window was going down more frequently.

It is only in retrospect that I realize I should have stopped and looked.

I merged off the Berkshire Extension of the New York State Thruway onto the main line. Even at this late hour there was truck traffic and my VW’s lack of power (the car topped out at around 60 mph… and took around a minute to get there) made me check my mirrors constantly. It was then I spotted the red glow from behind the back seat.

The 1960 Volkswagen had bucket seats in the front and a bench seat in the back. Behind the bench was a rectangular, deep pocket where you could store things. When I bought the car, there had been covers on the front seats. These fabric covers were in that pocket and they were on fire. One of my flicked cigarettes must have been blown back into the car.

I pulled to the side and jumped out. I didn’t think about safety at the time as I reached back in, flipped the front seat forward, pulled the slipcovers out and began stomping on them on the shoulder of the New York State Thruway.

I left them there, on the side of the road where they could commiserate with lost shoes and socks and the other things you find at the highway’s edge. I was shaking, now realizing what had… and what could have happened.

Still, I had to make it to Larry’s apartment before dawn. I hopped back in the car, lit another cigarette and started to drive.

Some people never learn.

Blogger’s note – I have been smoke free since the winter of 1984-85. This event had nothing to do with quitting. Of all the things in my life that were smart, quitting smoking was one of the smartest.

&#185 – I couldn’t find an actual photo of a green 1960 VW Beetle. I did find a yellow one and with Photoshop, made it green. Helaine took a look and said the color was unnatural. Actually, the color is pretty close. Though this was glossy paint when it left Germany, it was a very dull green during my ownership.

Men on the Moon – 35 Years Ago

Yesterday was the anniversary of the first men landing on the moon. Thirty five years ago today, Neil Armstrong took that first giant leap for mankind.

I remember those two days. I was excited to be working at WSAR in Fall River, Ma. It was my first professional broadcasting job.

I was on my way to work as the astronauts landed. I had stopped in my green Volkswagen Beetle at a rest area somewhere between Boston and Fall River. People were standing around listening to their radios. It was a sultry summer evening.

It is still astounding to me that we were able to achieve this amazing journey. Even today, with technology so far advanced, our space program is far from worry free. This was really uncharted terriotory in every sense of the word.

Over the years, some parts of the experience have been lost, others aodpted as if they had happened, when in reality they hadn’t.

For instance, we’ve all seen the film of Apollo 11’s landing, with the voices of the astronauts and Houston controllers calling out flight details. That film was not developed until the astronauts returned! Sure, we heard the voices live. We never saw the pictures.

Maybe there’s confusion because we did see (with some of the poorest video ever watched) Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. That was transmitted live from a camera mounted somewhere on the exterior of the lander.

One of my favorite trivia questions concerns the first words from the moon&#185. It wasn’t “One small step…” or “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

The first words from the moon were, “contact light.”

“Contact light…OK Engine stop…ATA outta detent…Mode control: both Auto…descent engine command override off…Engine arm off… 413 is in.”

Not very sexy. And, as my personal space expert, and former Inside Space producer, Dave Brody reminds me, that was said by Buzz Aldrin, not Neil Armstrong.

It is possible the greatest human achievment of my lifetime was achieved 35 years ago. That we haven’t exceeded this over that time period is a shame.

&#185 – My favorite trivia question is: “What is Lady Bird Johnson’s first name?” It is neither Lady or Bird.