I Am Not Your Best Buddy

I signed up for an online course late last week, and immediately noticed something I’ve noticed before. The company started flooding me with advertisements.

Message to companies: I am not your best buddy. I am not your parent. I’m not your lover, and I’m not even necessarily a fan. I am your customer, and I have no need to be in constant contact with you.

It’s not unreasonable for a company to request an email address with an order; after all, they need to be able to get in touch if there is a problem. I don’t even mind occasional updates if there is something new to say. But constantly bombarding me every day — and I think I’ve gotten one from this online course nearly every day — with mail of “offers” is supremely counterproductive; it is the fastest way to get me to hit the unsubscribe button. And I think twice before dealing with the company again.

July 20, 1969

I remember the Apollo 11 landing.

I was 9, almost 10, and had been a rabid fan of the space program. I remember watching the later Gemini launches. I remember building a Saturn V model with my Dad, and building larger models of the Apollo spacecraft itself.

We had just started our two weeks on the Cape. Mum had been visiting her sister in New York, so I’d had to watch the launch at my uncle’s house, but she was back, and we were on the Cape. It was only our fourth year at Sands Road.

Dad and his brothers had found the mast of an old boat, and were going to erect it at the Cape house as a flag pole. I remember them spending the morning planing down the bottom of the mast so it would fit into the steel sleeve that would actually go into the ground, and adding the fittings to it. I remember the bright gold ball at the top.

And then around 4, Mum called me into the house. The landing was about to happen. And on a snowy, staticky black and white TV, I saw Walter Cronkite announce the landing. What I did not notice, as I was too young, was what a close thing it had been, how close to running out of fuel they had come.

Then I went back out, to see Dad and his brothers finish erecting the flagpole. They’d set it in concrete, and in the base of it, Dad had inscribed, “ON THIS DAY, SUNDAY JULY 20, 1969 MAN LANDED ON THE MOON”

According to the flight plan, the astronauts were supposed to rest after the landing, with the moonwalk in the middle of the night, way too late for a little boy. But then the astronauts requested permission to go out onto the surface first, and rest later — they were too keyed up to sleep, and Houston agreed. This would take them outside around 10. Could I possibly stay up that late?

My mother said no, and sent me off to bed, deeply unhappy. Then Dad came upstairs, and told me I could watch the moonwalk after all. So I came back down and watched. The reception was crummy — without cable, television on the Cape was snow and static. It seemed to take forever for Armstrong come out of the LM — it took a long time to get ready, and to drain all the air out of the spacecraft, and then open the door.

Then finally, a fuzzy white blob came down the screen, and we heard the words, “Thats one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

My parents let me stay up a little while longer. I think I saw Aldrin come down too; I don’t remember if I saw the President’s phone call to them. But I’d seen enough; I’d seen the historic first steps. And I remember the newspapers the next day, with their huge headlines, “MAN WALKS ON MOON”

Putting up, and taking down the flag became part of our Cape Cod rituals. I would run the flag up the pole around 8:30, and take it down and respectfully fold it into triangles at the end of the day.

The flagpole is still there, but rarely used nowadays. The concrete with the inscription was broken a while back to permit the pole to be repainted, but it’s been a long time since and the paint is nearly gone, and the inscription is barely visible. I’d love to restore it.

For someone who was so deeply invested in the space program as a child, I haven’t been that much into the 50th anniversary hoopla; I’m not sure why. I first read Command Module Pilot Mike Collin’s book, Carrying the Fire, decades ago, and have re-read it several times since. It’s one of the best accounts of the mission I’ve seen, and I keep a copy on my phone and iPad, and dip into it from time to time, including today. And I did see the IMAX Apollo 11 movie.

But I haven’t been watching all the specials and news coverage. I haven’t bothered to watch the videos of Cronkite’s coverage on YouTube yet. I suppose part of it is a distrust of hoopla, and an annoyance with the typically shallow coverage things get nowadays — I can often pick holes in the Apollo coverage.

But I suspect that part of it is that I remember.

Fort Ticonderoga

After finishing up the Star Trek Tour, I had dinner, then headed for the motel, the Trout House Village Resort, and checked in. The Trout House has frontage along Lake George, with floats, a swimming area and some kayaks. It was windy, and near dusk, by the time I settled in, so I contented myself with settling into an Adirondack chair on a float on the lake.

The next morning, I headed for the fort. I didn’t know much about the fort other than the fact that it was the site of a Revolutionary War battle, but I figured I’d find out there.

Continue reading

Martha’s Vineyard via Wrangler

I enjoyed my trip to the Vineyard last year with Brian and Pam, and I’ve been thinking about getting a Jeep Wrangler for a while. Since the Vineyard is one of the places where you can rent a Wrangler, it made sense to me to kill two birds with one stone and go back and rent a Jeep to see how it felt.

Continue reading

Hornblower and the Island

I first read C. S.. Forester’s Hornblower books as a pre-teen, and I’ve re-read them several times since. A few weeks ago, I decided to see what iBooks had for Hornblower –I wanted to see if they had the continuation of the last, unfinished, Hornblower book. I didn’t find it (then), but I did trip over the Hornblower Addendum, five short stories Forester had written, and Hornblower and the Island, a pastiche by James Keffer. Bought and bought. I finished the Keffer book in the wee hours of this morning.

Continue reading

Sunset and Moonrise over the Charles

This Saturday night was a full moon, and I decided to take the bicycle, tripod and camera into town for a ride around the river. I got in just at the tail end of sunset, when the orange was still glinting off the Boston skyscrapers, but fading. I parked where I usually do, on the Cambridge Parkway, balanced the tripod on the bicycle’s handlebars, and set off westward along the Cambridge side. Once past the Longfellow Bridge, I set up the tripod and took some sunset pictures. Then I asked Siri, “What time is moonrise”, and she replied, “Moonrise on May 19th will be at 8:59 PM.” That’s kind of a weird reply, I thought, since it was still the 18th. But I decided to pack up the tripod, and come back a little later when the moon was out.

Then I noticed a little glowing cloudiness around one of the buildings across the river. “This looks interesting,” I thought, and set the tripod back up. Then it dawned on me — the moon had already risen today, and was just starting to clear the buildings.

As it got darker, I shifted my position upriver a bit, and got some pictures of the river and the moon. It became more difficult to get an exposure of both the buildings and the moon, so as I crossed the Mass Ave bridge, I tried a couple of high dynamic range pictures with both the Nikon and the iPhone.

It took me a while, since I still was balancing the tripod on the bike’s handlebars with one hand, but I eventually got over the river and to the Esplanade. As part of a recent renovation, they’ve installed cool blue lights underneath the bridge’s arches.

Interview Questions for the Next President

In another year, it will be time to start thinking about hiring another President of the United States. What we get from the press is constant handicapping of the race, a series of short sound bites, and staged debates that are more about scoring points against the opponent rather than revealing more about the candidates.

I can do without the horse race aspect of the reporting entirely. What I’d like to see are long, conversational interviews with each candidate, where the goal is to let the candidate talk, so that we can learn more about each one. I’m not interested in playing “gotcha”, but I would like the interviewer make sure each question was fully, thoughtfully, answered.

Continue reading

Chasing the Type 9

The MBTA is in the process of adding 24 new streetcars, called the Type 9, * for the Green Line for the extension to Somerville. The first one, #3900 went into revenue service in December, and I’ve been wanting to ride one since.

A gentleman by the name Stefan Wuensch has created a site showing real time location data of each train on the system, and I’ve been monitoring it to see if I could see #3900 running. Yesterday, it was running on the B line with #3902, and I decided to head into town.

I got to Riverside, and checked the site again. #3900 was inbound from BC, and I was curious to see whether we would get to Kenmore before or after it. The B line is shorter, but also slower. As we approached Fenway on the D Line, I could see it approaching Blandford Street on the B. As the lines merged at Kenmore, it was one train ahead of us.

I saw that the Type 9 train was terminating at Park Street. I decided I wanted to see if I could take it back outbound. Decisions, decisions. Do I take my train all the way to Park Street, and hope it takes some time to turn the Type 9 around, allowing my train to catch up, and allowing me to board an empty train? Or do I get off at Boylston? That way, even if the train is turned around fast, I’m still going to be ahead of it. It also means I will have to pay to re-enter on the outbound side, and possibly getting onto an already crowded train. I decided to get off at Boylston, walked fast past the old PCC and Type 5 parked on the outside inbound track, up to the Common and back down to the outbound platform.

First up was a Type 8/7 combo bound for the B Line and Boston College. “Great,” I thought. “The Type 9 will be less crowded. The train loaded, and left, and I saw the the next train approach. It was the Type 9, and it was now signed for the C Line. “Great,” I thought. “It’ll be easier to get back to the Riverside line”. As the trolley pulled into the station, I grabbed my phone, and took its picture.

MBTA Type 9 #3902
MBTA Type 9 #3902

And then it continued on, without stopping. Curses, foiled again.

* The MBTA uses the same “Type” nomenclature to designate models of Boston streetcars that its predecessor, the Boston Elevated Railway, did. Types 1 – 5 were Boston Elevated models, dating from the early 1900s up to the early 1950s, before going to an industry standard streetcar, the PCC streetcar in the 1940s. When it came time to replace the the PCCs, they prototyped a Type 6 car before going with the US Standard Light Rail Vehicle, manufactured by Boeing. When the Boeing LRV failed to live up to expectations, the T went with a custom design, the Type 7, which is still in service, along with the Type 8 cars, which are a “low floor” car designed for wheelchair accessibility.

Ex Post Facto

One of the earliest constitutional protections we have–even before the Bill of Rights — is that neither the federal nor the states can pass ex post facto laws, which are laws that retroactively criminalize an act which was permitted before, or retroactively make the punishment worse than it was before, or changes the rules of evidence in such a way that makes it easier to get a conviction.

This means that if I do something that is not against the law today, and a law is passed forbidding it next week, I cannot be prosecuted for it, because the law criminalizing it was passed after the act. The term is derived from Latin meaning “out of the aftermath”.

Continue reading