Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Upping the Weights

I'm psyched. My weightlifting is in the stage where you make tremendous gains every week. I think my body's finally starting to remember how to lift, plus I'm just plain getting stronger.

On November 11, I was happy because I got 135 pounds for a single in the bench press. 135 is significant because it's the weight of the bar plus a 45 pound plate on each side. It's nice because there's no bigger plates to put on (unless you're a monster putting on 100 pound plates). It's just nice to have the big plates on each side instead of a bunch of little ones that don't add up to 135.

Well, last night, I did 135 pounds on the bench press for a set of 5! Then I went beyond and did a set of 145 for a triple. Next week, I'll get it for 5.

My squat's coming along nicely too, but I saw a huge improvement in my deadlift last night. My previous max was 275 for a single on the deadlift. Last night, I did 255 for a set of 5. Obviously, that 275 is no longer my max, but I'll have to wait until we switch training programs to find out what my max is again. Right now, I'm content to just build strength.

It's funny how your favorite lift can change. I used to hate squats. So much so, that I'd almost make myself sick before squat nights. However, in the program we're doing now, we squat every single workout. On Monday it's sets of 5, on Wednesday, it's front squats, and on Friday it's sets of 3. Now I'm actually starting to enjoy squats, and even bench.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Big Chamber at NASA JSC

I had a chance recently to take a tour of the Big Chamber at NASA's Johnson Space Center. A big thank-you to Eric Chan and Mary Halligan, facility managers for the building that houses the Big Chamber, or as it's officially known, Chamber A.

The building is unique because it's the only one where they built the equipment inside, and then put the building up around it. It was built in 1963, soon after JSC was established, and it was used for thermal and vacuum testing for the space program. It uses various pumps and cryogenic cooling to create an incredible vacuum inside the chamber and to chill the chamber down to 3 degrees Kelvin, or -435 degrees Fahrenheit. Absolute zero is defined as 0 degrees Kelvin. It's the temperature where all molecular activity is stopped.

This is the first thing you see when you walk into the high bay area. The first word out of every single person's mouth is "Wow!" Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
This is my office mate, Dave, standing in front of the door to the Big Chamber. The door is 40 feet in diameter and weighs 40 tons. In spite of the weight, two people can push the door closed.

Here we are inside Chamber A. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us This gives you an idea how thick the door is.

It has an internal diameter of 55 feet, and an external diameter of 65 feet. It's 90 feet to the top, and it goes down another 30 feet underneath the chamber floor. In the Apollo program, they would actually put the Lunar Transfer Vehicle and the Luner Excursion Module inside the Chamber, pump it down and leave it exposed to space conditions for over 14 hours. During that time, the astronauts would be inside the vehicle in their space suits. It's the only time that the Big Chamber has had human test subjects in it.

In order to prepare the chamber for testing, they first use roughing pumps to get as much of the air out of the chamber as possible. Then they switch to a combination of diffusion pumps and liquid nitrogen, which gets them down to around a tenth of a torr. One torr is equal to one millimeter of mercury. At sea level, the atmospheric pressure is 760 torr or 760 mm Hg, so you get the idea that there's very little pressure in the chamber at this point.

The cryogenic system is really neat. There are radiator fins running the entire length of the chamber and placed every couple of feet around the outer wall. In the fins are small tubes that they use to pump liquid nitrogen. The nitrogen cools the chamber down to around 77 K. However, they're not done yet.

There are extra radiator fins with tubes, and they run liquid helium through these. This is how they cool the chamber down to 3 Kelvin. It's so cold that the remaining molecules of air (nitrogen and oxygen) freeze out as snow against the panels holding the liquid helium. At this point, the pressure in the chamber is down to one-millionth of a torr. It's now as close to space conditions as you can get on the planet Earth, excepting the whole gravity thing.

It takes just 14 hours to go from atmospheric normal to cold vacuum in the chamber.

Here we are outside the Big Chamber. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us The light silver wall is the outer chamber wall. The dark gray cylinder with all the rings is one of 20 diffusion pumps. When you walk through the building, it's hard to believe engineers can build something so complex. There are pipes running every which way, systems to handle air, nitrogen, helium and ammonia, dozens of immense pumps and control systems. And because the facility is so old, some of the systems aren't being made any more. If a pump part goes bad, they may have to look for a long time to find a replacement.

Here's our tour guide, Eric Chan, explaining the pump control system in the man-lock. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

They tested the Apollo space craft and dozens of other satellites in the chamber. I asked if they tested the Hubble Space Telescope in there, and the answer was no. That's interesting, because one of the main problems they had with Hubble early on was a wobble in the solar panels caused by thermal stress as the telescope went into and out of earth's shadow. They're looking at a new test in the chamber for the next generation of the space telescope. It's still a few years off though.

Eric took us outside to see the liquid nitrogen storage tanks. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us There are 6 tanks that hold 28,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen each. If you've seen a cryogenic semi-truck going down the interstate, each of those holds about 6,000 gallons. When the Big Chamber is running, they take a delivery truck of liquid nitrogen every 6 hours.

After Hurricane Katrina, they had a big problem. They were in the last week of a test, and even though Johnson Space Center hadn't been hit by the hurricane, Interstate-10 was destroyed, and the liquid nitrogen supply companies couldn't get their supplies to Texas. In a heroic effort, in just three days they managed to write a new contract for liquid nitrogen. If you know anything at all about government contracting, that's unbelievably fast. They managed to complete the test and get all the data they needed.

We went back inside, and Eric showed us Chamber B, or the little chamber. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
This chamber is used for small tests and for human testing. The top slides sideways and they use cranes to lower the equipment inside. People enter through an airlock on the side. They can get the same temperature and vacuum conditions as in the big chamber.

This airlock door is the one where the astronauts enter. The space suits weigh around 150 pounds, so they use a spring-loaded system suspended from an overhead track to carry the weight of the space suit, allowing the astronaut to move around the chamber more easily. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

When we saw the facility, they had the Little Chamber set up to do testing on space shuttle tile repair in orbit. Here you can see the tiles set up on the table. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

It was a really cool tour, and Eric and Mary were great to work with. So far, I've managed to see the Neutral Bouyancy Lab (the big swimming pool where the astronauts train), and land the space shuttle (simulator). Now all I need to see is Mission Control.

Thanksgiving with the family

Daniel and I flew home to visit my family the week before Thanksgiving. My brother and his family were going to Florida the next week to visit her family, and we all wanted to be together. It was an awful trip getting home. There was snow in Chicago, which messed up all our flights. After 12-13 hours, we finally made it to my parents' house. Man, next time, I'm taking that direct flight.

It was fun to see everyone again. Garrett's getting big, and Devon's so much fun to tease. You can tell a four-year-old anything and they'll believe it. :) I don't know how he does it, but somehow Mom's cat lets Devon chase after her and pick her up, and even carry her upside down, and she never complains or scratches him. Anyone else though, and she runs for the basement. Here's Devon and Gizmo, although she doesn't look at all happy to be held.

That weekend, the one before Thanksgiving, was the first weekend of deer season. Both my brother and my dad hunt, and they have for years. My dad was going out on Friday, so on Thursday, I asked him if I could try my hand at target shooting. He set up a target about 50 yards away. He shot and hit about an inch from the Center. Of course, he's been doing this for years. I tried, and my first shot landed about 5 inches away. Not bad. :) I tried two more times, and I hit 2 inches, then just 1 inch from the center. Woo! Of course, it's a lot easier to hit a paper target than a moving animal, so I'll leave the hunting to him. Here I am taking aim. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner. As I said, it's fun to tease little kids. Devon didn't want to eat his noodles, but he was all for having his cake. So we told him that we'd made a noodle cake, which greatly distressed him. He didn't want to believe us, but he wasn't sure we were lying. Finally, his mom let him have a piece of the 'other' cake, the non-noodle one. He's a cute kid, and looks just like his dad and his granddad.

Garrett and Devon both loved playing on my Gameboy DS, although Garrett liked the games, while Devon just wanted to draw pictures on the screen. It was a nice visit home.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Update on the house sale.

Well, here it is November 29th. I submitted the paperwork on Nov 12, but Cendant mucked around with the audit of our sale. They found out a sewer was being installed in the neighborhood, so they waited and investigated that for about 10 days. During that time, the counselor I'd been working with quit. So I had to start working with a new one, but she's been really helpful and nice.

Finally, I get a semi-maybe-kinda offer from Cendant, but they say they're going to hold back $5,000 from our final offer because of the sewer hookup. Now I'm upset, because we don't have to pay for a year (or so I was told), and it wasn't going to be $5K, it was going to be more like $1,300. So we go back and forth some more.

Finally, today, I hear from them again. Turns out it was closer to $5K and we'd have to pay the bill by the end of June, but Cendant apparently decided they could resell the house by then, or that it shouldn't be our responsibility, or something. So they made us an offer without taking out the $5k. Hurray!

Then I get a call from our agent back in Virginia. I thought she had stopped working for us, but apparently not. I don't know. I'm confused. She said our house was being shown for the third time to the same couple today and they were all excited about it.

-If- they made us an offer, and -if- it didn't fall through, and -if- it was for the full amount, we would have made an extra $6,000 or so on the sale of our house compared to selling it to Cendant. But our Cendant offer expires on Friday. We talked about if we should wait or not. Took about five minutes to come to a decision. We sold it to Cendant. So they should buy our house officially tomorrow morning and we'll be somewhat rich!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

We sold our house

Finally, we sold it. Not to a prospective house hunter, sadly. We took our safety net option and sold it to Cendant, our relocation company. Part of the relocation contract with NASA was the offer for them to buy our house if we couldn't sell it to anyone else.

Originally, we thought we wouldn't have any trouble selling our house. This was mid summer and the housing boom was booming away. When we first met our agent, we were hoping for a mild price increase of $60K over what we bought our house for. She suggested $140K, causing our jaws to hit the floor. Cool!

One reason we wanted to sell it to another buyer was that Cendant offers an incentive of 3% of the value on top of the sale price if we sell it to someone else. So we went to the trouble of updating the bathroom and keeping the house spotless until we moved.

However, we weren't getting many showings, so we dropped the price, then after a month, we dropped it again, to the appraised value. That was still a nice chunk of change, but disappointing after we thought we might get so much more.

Well, we waited and waited, but nothing. Bob told us that none of the other houses on the street have sold either. What's most frustrating though, is that 10 minutes away, townhomes are selling for $325K. Why buy a townhome for $100K more than a house, especially when the townhome is in an area that's getting horribly congested?

So Thursday we threw in the towel and sent off the paperwork to Cendant. While we won't make that $140K in profit we initially hoped for, we're still pretty happy. We might even be able to pay off our house here in Texas in full with the profits. Not bad for living in a place for three years.
I know I should really update this thing more often. I always thing about it, usually when I can't get to it, like at work, or when I'm off to the gym, or out shopping. When I get home, there's always a video game calling my name, or projects to work on, or other interesting things.

Lately, I've been on a home improvement / painting kick. I took two weeks off work to stay at home, burn up some use or lose leave and genally relax for the first time in eight months. Last year I was traveling 3 weeks a month to Alabama and couldn't really take any time off. Then I applied for and got a new job, which meant packing up and moving halfway across the country. Then I felt like I couldn't very well report in and then take a week or two off from my new job, so I wanted to wait a month or so. And then we had Hurricane's Katrina and Rita to deal with. Blah!

So the end of October came and I said enough. The temperature finally dropped below 90 degrees, allowing us to open the house up. I love have the windows open as much as possible, or I did until I realized our neighbors have a hound dog that howls at anything and everything. God I hate that dog. Now I know why people poison their neighbor's dogs. I wouldn't do that; I love animals too much. But I do yell at it. And grumble at the neighbors.

Anyway, I was in a painting mood. I took an old bookcase and painted it ivory, then scuffed it up and distressed it, then stained it brown. Gave it that old, country cottage look, and I think it turned out quite nicely. I was on a roll and decided my other bookcase needed something, but what? I thought and thought, and visited a half dozen different stores and lots of websites looking for ideas. I thought I could paint it a Moroccan theme, or Mexican, or put petroglyph paintings on it. I debated mosaics or decopage. Finally, I found it. In an import store, I saw a beautiful antique cabinet and decided to copy it. The bookcase was a plain dark wood, nothing fancy, but pretty and in good shape. I painted the entire thing a bright (shockingly so) turquoise blue. Then I sanded off as much as I could without tearing up the grain. After several sheets and pads of 60 grit sandpaper, I had most of the paint off and the remaining paint was nicely settled in the grooves of the wood. I like it. I think it's quite pretty. Now I just have to repaint the room it's in so it doesn't clash so badly.

Civilization 4 also came out while I was on vacation. I lost a good 4-5 days to that game. I've always loved sims and city-builders and this one didn't dissapoint. It's got a few bugs still to work out, like the fact that nukes do practically nothing to your enemy, but I'm sure they'll put out a patch or an expansion pack.

And last weekend, we went to the Texas Renassance Fair in Plantersville, TX. It was nice. It was probably a third larger than the Maryland Ren Fair. The weather was nice, althoug a tad on the hot side. It's the first weekend in November and the temperature was around 90 degrees. Sheesh. We saw Tartanic, a bagpipe rock group, and I picked up their CD. We watched the Mud Show, which turned out to be a very entertaining half hour of them asking for donations. We wandered around for several hours, snacking on empanadas, alligator bites, cinnamon pecans and various sundry faire food. The parade at noon was fun, and I saw some really nice costumes, along with some really bad ones. One lady had a full-length peacock feather cloak, and another guy was wearing a gorgeous red leather armor outfit.

Monday morning came, and after two weeks of sleeping in, the last thing I wanted to do was get up at 6 am. I gave serious thought to calling in sick, but ultimately dragged myself into work to accomplish a few things. Next week - Texas Recycles Day. Then off on another vacation to visit the parents for an early Thanksgiving. They're going to forget why they hired me.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Texas Dept of Public Safety: "It's not my fault"

I had today, a Friday, off from work, so what do we do to celebrate it? We decide to finally go get our Texas drivers' licenses. Oh goody. Just what I wanted to do on my day off, was to stand in line at the DPS and fill out a bunch of paperwork and get an ugly picture taken of myself.

I did accomplish at least one thing that every day off should have: I slept in. Quite nice, but as a consequence, we didn't get to the DPS until noon. You guessed it, the place was packed. I thought the DMV was bad in Virginia, but compared to this place, it was a techno geek's heaven. At least in Virginia, when you went in, they had someone to hand you a ticket based on what you wanted to do, and to make sure you had all the appropriate paperwork with you before you had to wait an hour or two.

In Texas, you just get in the 2 hour line, with no chairs, inadequate cooling, and rambunctious kids bouncing all around the tiny waiting room, and occasionally stepping on your feet. You hope that you have all the paperwork you need, because if not, they'll send you home to try again another day.

They only had two people working, and one lady was doing nothing but administering written tests. The DPS was averaging about one customer every 10 minutes, which with around 20 people in front of us equaled a really freakin' long wait.

Finally we get to the desk and the lady makes copies of all our documentation. Happily, we had all the paperwork we needed. After she took my license, she managed to misspell my name and had to do that again. I had both my thumbs fingerprinted on their little scanner, and then I had my picture taken. I was looking at other people's pictures on the computer screens, and I don't know what sort of system they had, but it automatically took the absolute worst picture of every single person in there. I don't think even a supermodel would come out of there looking decent.

Finally, after all that, I don't even have a license anymore. I have to wait 3-6 weeks to get it in the mail! Apparently, the little license maker machine is too expensive for Texas to afford, so they send everything electronically to Austin and do everything for the state there. So for the next month or so, I have no official ID, unless I want to carry around a nine year old passport with me.

The best part of the whole thing was a quote by the employee though. As she handed me my temporary (picture-less) driver's license, she told me to look it over and make sure it's right. Because if it isn't, not only do I have to come back and stand in line again, but I have to pay all the fees again.

Then she said, "If we make a mistake, it's not our fault."

I stared at her for a moment and finally replied, "Gee, I wish I had a job where I wasn't responsible for my mistakes. Must be nice." I don't think she appreciated my viewpoint.

Ah, Texas. You never cease to surprise me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Evacuation Nightmare

We were among the estimated 2.7 - 3 milion people who evacuated the Texas gulf coast in advance of Hurricane Rita. We kept watching the storm as it passed by the Keys and grew into a monster in the Gulf. Even on Monday, I stopped at the store to pick up some water and extra canned goods, and I was far from the only one. The store still had water and food, something that would change 24 hours later. I waited until midnight to gas up my car though, to avoid dealing with the long lines. Even then, my usual gas station was out of regular and mid-grade. At the time, I thought it was just an annoyance, that everyone was panicking unnessarily.

Tuesday morning, I made reservations at a motel in Waco, about 200 miles northwest. I couldn't find anything closer. By Wednesday, Rita was a cat 5 and the 3rd most powerful hurricane on record, and we were scared. The question became, 'when do we evacutate'? I left work early Wednesday morning and started packing the car. Daniel went to get some more water and some fish food. He said the grocery store was calm, Target was calm, but when he got to Petsmart, people were nearly rioting in the aisles over the few pet carriers for sale.

We were packed and loaded at 1:30 pm Wednesday afternoon. We tried taking the interstate, but it was backed up and not moving. We skipped that and went to a smaller road headed west. After 50 minutes, we had gone 6 miles. It was a record hot day and traffic wasn't moving. I was worried that my car would overheat or run out of gas, so we decided to turn around and try again later that night.

We left again at 9:30 pm and this time, the interstate was clear. We thought we had it made, for all of 10 minutes. Then we hit the backup. In 2 hours, we went 15 miles. This wasn't working. We took a risk and got off the interstate to try our luck on back roads. And it was a risk. We had just moved to Texas 3 weeks ago, and we didn't know the roads. We would also be away from any public assistance if anything happened. But we got lucky. We made it through Houston, and even found gas to top off the car.

We had a horrid stretch at 249 where we went one mile in an hour. Bathroom breaks were along the side of the road or behind buildings. The cat wouldn't stop crying the entire time, and I hadn't had any sleep since 6:00 am the day before.

Eventually, we made it through the worst of the traffic jam and onto some small country roads heading generally north and west. Our average speed at this point was somewhere around 10 miles per hour and it was 4:00 am. In 7.5 hours, we had just made it to the north side of Houston, around 70 miles from our house.

Fortunately, after that, the traffic broke up and we made good time on the small back roads. However, we were both severely short on sleep. Daniel was hallucinating, and I was pretending that driving was a difficult video game where the goal was to keep it between the lines.

We made it to Waco at around 7:00 Thursday morning. After a mix up over which motel we had reservations, we finally found the right place, and they had our room ready for us. We were among the lucky ones who had a room. We called our friends and family to let them know we were safe and fell asleep for 6 hours. Now, it all seems like a bad dream, one you can barely remember. You know it was bad, but you can't recall exactly how bad it was, and only a few moments stand out from the entire 10 hours experience. I brought my camera, but only so I could take pictures of my destroyed house when we got back to it. I didn't get any pictures because that was the last thing on my mind. Besides, I think most people in the country have seen the news stories of the ghastly gridlock in Houston.

Although we didn't realize it at the time, we were among the lucky ones. In my office, six of my coworkers evacuated, and I had the speed record. The worst story comes from Sandy Parker. It took her 22 hours to go from one side of Houston to the other, about 70 miles. However, she never ran out of gas. Her Prius still had a half tank of gas when she got to her destination, 27 hours after starting.

As we watched the news of the evacuation, with people running out of gas, stalled for 20 or 30 hours on the interstate, we were so thankful we got out when we did, even if it was a hellish trip. We were even more thankful as Rita weakened and turned to the east. When we left Wednesday night, we were convinced that we wouldn't have a house to return to.

An experience like that makes you stop and take stock of your life. You ask yourself, what's important enough to take out with me, knowing that if I leave it behind, I'll probably never see it again. What can be replaced, what can't, and what's really important? I've run through those situations in my head before. I lived in the hurricane zone in Virginia, too, but this is the first time I've ever had to put it into practice.

Would I do it again? Yes, if it was a monster storm headed toward us. But I would make reservations sooner, and I would leave town sooner. This area can't manage a huge evacuation like what happened. The government is calling the evacuation a success, but I'm not so sure. Yes, people did get out, but the gridlock, the lack of fuel, food, water and information severely hampered the effort. Now the news is reporting how people died by the side of the road from stress and because help couldn't get to them. The media and the government overhyped the situation and caused people from north of Houston to leave when they really didn't need to. People left sooner that they should have, further clogging the roads and interfering with an orderly evacution. There were signs on the interstate saying 'no re-entry for 100 miles' but people were getting on the interstate at every entrance ramp. I also heard stories of police not allowing people to get off the interstate even when they said they were about to faint from exhaustion and just wanted to sleep for an hour or two. The cop said, "It's every man for himself. Get back on the road." So yes, people did get out. Was it a success? In the technical sense, yes, but I hope Houston and the rest of the country learn a lot of lessons from this.

And as I write this, another system is brewing in the Gulf. Will it grow into a major storm? Will it hit us again? We'll know in another week. Meanwhile, I think I'll see about installing those storm shutters this week instead of over the winter as I'd hoped. And I urge every one of my friends living in a hurricane zone to get your plan together now. Especially, buy an extra gas can or two because you don't want to be stranded with no gas stations open.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Adventures of the Fish Pond

As I mentioned earlier, we inherited a fish pond with our new house. I haven't had a fish since I was six, and then it was a little goldfish in a bowl. I don't recall it surviving very long, poor thing. So I was very nervous when I suddenly had eight fancy goldfish to take care of.

The people who owned the house before us had a very elaborate set up going on. They had a net over the pond to catch leaves, they had a whole bunch of chemicals to monitor and adjust the water, and they had some very fancy pumps to handle the algae. They were kind enough to come over a couple days after we moved in to show us how to take care of everything. It was a lot. Whew.

However, our fish survived while we muddled through learning. We eventually got the pH back down to where it's supposed to be and we got the rest of the water chemistry in check. Then, for some reason, we got algae. Not a little. We had great big floating clumps of it plus so much in the water, that the pond looked murky. Ugh.

I found a lady in Santa Fe, TX, who ran a water lilly business from her house. She works by appointment only, and I was envisioning a few tubs of water lillies when we arrived. Wow. I wish I'd had my camera. She had a half-acre that was covered in pond after pond of various kinds of lillies and bog plants. Plus she had a big old mud pond in the back with foot-long koi and night-blooming lillies. She even had a big 1500 gallon koi tank up near her house with tame koi. They came up to be petting. She gave me a koi cookie (they make cookies for koi?) to feed Samson, and he took it out of my hand and let me pet him. Pretty neat.

So we purchased four lillies, a bog plant and bunch of floating water moss that were supposed to clear up the algae problem. Supposedly, the plants will use up the nitrates produced by the fish waste and prevent algae from growing.

Here's the start of the project. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us And here's what the pond looked like before we started. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Unfortunately, my pond was deeper than the plants, so I had to find a way to elevate the plants. I decided to use some of my clay plant pots turned over to lift up the lillies. However, I only had one that was big enough to work. So, another trip to Lowes. And when I was trying to place the (very heavy plants), I knocked a big rock off the edge of the pond and into the water. Where it still resides, now with a plant sitting on it. I'll have to buy a replacement rock sometime because that one's staying down there.

We finally got it all done though, and here's the finished product. Ta da! Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Coming soon: I got to fly the Space Shuttle!

Monday, September 05, 2005

NASA's Neutral Bouyance Lab

Friday morning I was lucky enough to get a tour of the NBL at NASA Johnson Space Center. It's more commonly known as the big swimming pool the astronauts train in.

It was really amazing. I have to thank Shane for giving me the tour, especially because it's a restricted facility, so you have to be escorted to go in there.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Outside the pool, they have a hypobaric chamber, and all the astronauts have to go through training in it. The chamber takes oxygen out of the air, which makes the people in it act silly and uncoordinated. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Next to it is the hyperbaric chamber. It's the place they put you if you get the bends. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

The pool is 40 feet deep and the water is so clear, it only looks 12 feet deep. They only use Houston tap water to fill it. The blue color is from the lights. They don't tint it and the floor of the pool is plain white, but it's hard to believe since the water looks so blue.

Today, the pool was quite full. They had a mockup of the shuttle bay module in one side Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us, and the other 2/3 of the pool was taken up by two mockups of the space station. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

There were two astronauts doing training in the pool this day. Their goal is to get suited up and in the water by 9:00 am so they can get a full 6 hours of underwater training in. Their time is limited by the divers, actually. Each astronaut has a team of four divers. Two safety divers, one utility diver and one camera diver that records everything. The divers can only be on for 2 hours, then they have to take a 1 hour break and then they can come back for 1 more hour. That makes for a lot of divers during the day.

As you can imagine, it's a very competitive job, and Shane said they get stacks and stacks of resumes every week. He said most of the divers were former military. He told us about the physical requirements they had. The safety divers have to be able to pull around 250 pounds from the bottom of the pool to the surface. If they can't manage it, they could still be a camera diver though. He said a lot of the technicians have even learned to dive because they work in the facility, even if their job is something like a mechanical fabricator. But they've also got some people who can't even swim who work there.

That morning, one of the astronauts was having trouble putting on his pants. While we watched, he took the pants off and put them on four times. They have to be just right because he'll be working in it for 6 hours at least.

It's hard to see in this picture because I couldn't zoom in very far. But by now, both astronauts have been suited up and are putting on their helmets. The donning platform they're standing on will lift them into the pool, and the safety divers will then unhook them from the donning platform and they can start working on their training tasks for the day. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

The pool is a unique NASA facility, and it's hopping all the time with various kinds of training. They even do some outside training there for various industries. Shane said they were considering doing some work with the oil and gas pipeline industry, but it turned out the mockups the company wanted to build were so heavy they would have damaged the floor of the pool. So that got nixed. But they do some DoD training activities there because it's a controlled environment.

All in all, a nice end to my first week of work.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Finally, pictures

(take 2, because I just lost 10 minutes of writing due to learning how blogspot works. Doh.)

Anyway, we're here. I finally found my USB cable for my camera after unpacking every box left in the house. But now we can call the movers and ask for a debris pickup and get all the empty boxes out of the garage. Our house is starting to feel more like a home now and things are starting to find their way into various cabinets and bookcases.

On the wildlife front, our pond is getting more algae, but the fish are still alive. I count that as a major accomplishment for the first week. We poisoned the fire ant nest in our backyard, so I hope they die soon. And I will be so glad when our new neighbors finally move. They seem nice enough but they have a beagle and a hound dog that bark all morning long. Ugh.

Plus, I feel so decadent. We just hired a company to take care of the yard for us. They'll do all the mowing, edging, weeding and upkeep, plus 4 times a year, they'll take care of the bushes. We have such a nice yard, I'd hate to kill it my first summer here. I'll gladly take a reduction in my weekly allowance for eating out to pay for the lawn care. Especially when it's 95 outside.

We went exploring a little bit this afternoon, looking for an Army-Navy store. Didn't find what we were looking for, but now at least we've explored another road.

I thought I had gotten rid of most of my 'junk' before we moved, but as I'm unpacking everything, I'm deciding I really don't need a lot of this stuff. Part of it's beacuse of the poor people suffering from Hurricane Katrina. They've lost everything, and I'm looking at my stuff going 'what do I really need?' And it's not as much as I have. So I've put together a box of shoes, clothes, towels, kid's games and some kid-friendly books to take to a drop off tomorrow. Maybe I'll finally achieve the zen look I admire so much.

Okay, on to the pictures.

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This is Daniel taking the hard drives out of our computers before we moved. Maybe we're paranoid, but we didn't trust the packers and movers to be as careful as we would have. So the hard drives traveled in air conditioned comfort in the back seat of our car, and now the computers work like a charm.

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Here's our kitchen after the packers have left. All that stuff on the counter is the stuff they forgot to pack. They also missed 3 cabinets with glassware and a drawer of kitchen tools. Grr. Fortunately, the mover guy was happy enough to pack up the remnants.

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Here's our bedroom. It looks so empty and sad with no sheets and the boxes piled up. I was glad to go to the hotel that night.

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Here's Daniel taking a well-deserved break after the movers have gone. It was wierd having someone else in our house packing up all our worldly belongings and us just sitting there because we're not allowed to touch anything.

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There's the moving truck in front of our house. One of the poor moving guys found a yellowjacket nest in our yard by getting stung. Ouch. Fortunately, he only got stung once. I mowed the yard the night before, and I don't know how I managed not to get stung then.

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This is our picnic lunch after the movers have gone. That's it. Everything we own except for a couple of suitcases is on a truck and on its way to Texas. That's a very wierd feeling. Daniel's car was also loaded onto a car carrier and taken away.

Saturday morning, we had a lot of work done on the house. We found a great handyman, Jay Doyle, to come in and fix some minor stuff before we took off. Look him up if you live in Williamsburg and need some help.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast with our friends.
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Carolyn and Bob.
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us David.
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Hey, that's us!

Monday morning, we got up nice and early and loaded the cats into the car. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us This one, Nomia, hated being confined and told us that for a couple of hours. The other one settled right in and went to sleep.

Our first night, we stayed in Salisbury, NC. Turns out my parents were vacationing in weastern NC and rode over to see us. Hi Mom and Dad. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Did I mention they rode in on a Honda Goldwing? We passed them the next morning and we headed south. They were off to a NASCAR museum in NC. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us We passed a water tower made up to look like a giant peach in Georgia. We also sampled peach cider at the welcome center, and it was so good, it tempted us to stop at a roadside stand and get a few bottles to take with us. They even had boiled peanuts. Yum.

Wednesday night we stayed in Mobile, Alabama, and we drove down to Dauphin island that evening. I couldn't believe some of these houses on the west end of the island. They were so far on the beach that there wasn't a blade of dune grass to be seen. All I could see was a bit of road and sand with big houses on pilings. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Even the fire hydrants risk being buried in sand. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us We went wading in the ocean on Dauphin Island and ogled the numerous oil platforms off in the distance. The water was bathtub warm. It's a very disturbing feeling to think that all those houses may be gone less than a week after we were there. At the time, Katrina was menacing south Florida and we didn't think anything of it. I don't think I even turned on the Weather Channel that evening to check on it.

Hello, Louisiana. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Thursday night we stayed in Lake Charles, LA, in another Motel 6. They're the only chain that takes pets, but I've become accustomed to a slightly higher level of hotel. Oh well, it's just for a night, right? To make up for it, we went to one of the casinos in Lake Charles for dinner and a little fun, and we both agreed it'd be a nice place to come back to sometime.

We drove I-12 around New Orleans. If we hadn't had the cats, we probably would have gone to New Orleans to tour around. Now we're wondering what will be left to go back to.

We passed through the Frog Capital in LA. Here's proof: Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us They did like frogs. They painted them all over the place.

It's Friday and we're in Texas at last! Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Yep, lots and lots of Texas. I still haven't grasped how big this state is.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us Here's a bridge outside Houston, over the Houston shipping channel. I'm getting excited now. We call our real estate agent and she's going to meet us at our house to give us the keys. "Um, Leslie, can you give us directions to our house?"

Our house!
The family room. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
The bedroom. It looks out over a beautifully landscaped backyard with a fish pond. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
Here's Nomia checking out the front porch. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

On Monday, our furniture and boxes showed up. Well, the house isn't nearly so empty and echoey now. But the piles of boxes are very daunting. So we started in the kitchen. Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

It's a very nice house. We have granite countertops in the kitchen, cherry hardwood floors in the public part of the house, glass fronted cabinets and a beautiful back yard. I even can deal with the previous owner's wallpaper and paint choices for a while until I get the money and gumption to change them.

Okay, enough pictures of boxes. I'll post some more when I get pictures up on the walls and I don't have piles of junk lying on the floors.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Getting Started

Eventually, I plan to post the story and pictures of our move from Virginia to Texas, but for now, this is just the obligatory first post in my first-ever blog. Ooooh, I've caught up with the kids in the 21st century.

Today is Friday, September 2, 12:38 pm Central time. We arrived at our house almost exactly one week ago to the hour. Since then, we've lived our last weekend in a hotel, gotten lost in north Houston, had a timing belt break on my car (in north Houston), bought appliances, gone grocery shopping, cooked our first dinner in our new house, unpacked 80% of the boxes, driven 4 hours to north Houston and back to pick up my car, and learned to take care of fancy goldfish in the backyard pond.

I've worked my first week at Johnson Space Center, and today I was lucky enough to get a tour of the Neutral Bouyancy Lab, the big swimming pool the astronauts train in. (pictures are coming, as soon as I can find my camera's USB cable.)

Everyone asks if I like it here. Yes, although I'm still homesick for Virginia and my friends back there. It's hot here. It was hot in Virginia, but it seems even hotter here. There are fewer trees, and they're shorter, so the sky seems much, much bigger. It also likes to rain here every afternoon, and it's strange to see it raining, but with blue sky up ahead.

I don't like the traffic, but I was warned about that before I got here. For some reason, Texans here love donut shops. Just a guy with some dough and a vat of oil. They're pretty good. And of course, the Tex-Mex is pretty good, what we've sampled of it so far. No shortage of places to eat, that's for certain, however, with gas at $2.99/gallon today, I think we'll be eating in a lot for a while to make up for all the eating out on the trip down here.

This is a long weekend, so hopefully we'll finish unpacking, get more things straightened up and arranged. We have to buy new lamps, because every lamp we had was broken in the move. That Lowes' gift certificate from the guys at LaRC will come in very useful this weekend.

I'll publish more and my pictures later.