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Wed, 31 Mar 2010

Opus 61

"It is the end of the end!" said Ned Land.
-Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Much in the manner of the Ironman triathletes after which this event was named, Dan Ichov and I, the survivors a larger starting field, now stagger across the finish line, sixty months and close to 200,000 words each from where we started. When we first set out on this little adventure, I (rather arrogantly and smugly) thought this would be easy -- after all, I was a reasonably good writer, and had never had any particular difficulties cranking out term papers and essays in school, or reports at work. How hard could this be, especially with an entire month to prepare?

Well, it turns out that this little adventure was a lot more difficult than I had ever realized it would be, mostly because I did not know then the limits of just how far one could go relying on last-minute inspiration and innate talent to reach such a demanding goal -- and not just once, but month after month, for five solid years. I had to teach myself the discipline needed to turn out these articles on time, every month, and I had to develop a technique for writing to a deadline that would work for me for the long haul. Although I always paid attention to words and content (I am the only person I know who would write drafts of letters to friends in those bygone days before email, Facebook, and Twitter made every unpolished passing thought a potential nugget to be cast out into the ether for all and sundry) I never payed much attention to the mechanics of writing. I would soon learn better.

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Posted Mar 31, 2010 at 01:56 UTC, 3214 words,  [/richPermalink

Sun, 28 Feb 2010

Sleight of Hand

"Oww! Damn!"

Despite having spent more than a month on board, Mike Allen still managed to forget just how confined his rack space was. Not unlike being on board a submarine, his sleeping compartment was just adequate for his height, and less than three feet from bottom to top. Inevitably, each day's wake-up call resulted in Mike bumping his head as he sat up too quickly in the still-darkened space.

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Posted Feb 28, 2010 at 22:58 UTC, 3179 words,  [/richPermalink

Sun, 31 Jan 2010

You Pays Your Money and You Takes Your Choice

Throughout time immemorial, human beings have been fascinated with gambling. Psychologists have spent countless hours theorizing on what exactly it is that attracts most people to the notion of the big payoff, beating the odds, getting something for nothing more than a lucky toss of the dice or the turn of a card.

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Posted Jan 31, 2010 at 21:40 UTC, 3108 words,  [/richPermalink

Thu, 31 Dec 2009

The End of The Year, The End of The Decade

We're now deep in the final days of 2009, which means not only is another year coming to an end, but the first decade of the twenty-first century is ending as well.

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Posted Dec 31, 2009 at 22:56 UTC, 3353 words,  [/richPermalink

Mon, 30 Nov 2009

Voyage de Noces Après Vignt Ans

As had been noted in my previous essay, one's honeymoon is in many ways a more challenging test of a newly-formed marital union than even living together can be.

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Posted Nov 30, 2009 at 01:38 UTC, 3610 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 31 Oct 2009

Lune de Miel Après Vignt Ans

More often than not today, marriages are not what they used to be. Divorce rates hover near fifty percent, and this trend has only been moving upwards over time. Gone are the days when getting married was a more of less ironclad commitment for life, and divorce was looked upon as something somewhat scandalous. Changing societal mores (aided by the ready availability in this country of "no-fault" divorce laws) have changed divorce from a somewhat rare event to a condition rapidly approaching the norm.

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Posted Oct 31, 2009 at 20:04 UTC, 3351 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 30 Sep 2009

Meus Carus

What is the appropriate kind of relationship to have with people from your past, with whom you were once close but have subsequently lost contact?

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Posted Sep 30, 2009 at 04:43 UTC, 3359 words,  [/richPermalink

Mon, 31 Aug 2009

Don't Spend More; Spend It Better

Unless you have been lost in the jungles around Manchu Pichu or wandering the Gobi Desert for the last several months, you are almost certainly aware of the great national debate now currently underway in this country regarding the future of the health care system, and how it might be reformed. It's a subject which affects us all, except for those of you who never get sick and who will be perfectly content to die quietly in your beds while you sleep.

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Posted Aug 31, 2009 at 02:28 UTC, 3233 words,  [/richPermalink

Fri, 31 Jul 2009

Hail and Farewell: Part IV

In this age of Google, it's fairly hard to stay anonymous and private. Buy a house, get a mention in your local newspaper's caption under a photo of the local Little League team you coach, get a land line phone, get arrested, have your name mentioned in the meeting minutes of the local garden club's web site, make a posting to a Usenet newsgroup, have a child, sue someone (or be sued), or have your obituary published when you die -- it takes remarkably little for the tireless little search bots to cull your name from somewhere, then cross reference it, index it, and make it available to anyone with the time and patience to ferret it out.

Some people do manage to do remarkably well at keeping themselves "offline", as it were. They stay off the Internet radar, and out of view of the search engines. But sometimes, with a modicum of luck, and by having a more-than-typical level of familiarity with where to mine for data, even someone apparently lost and gone forever will suddenly and unexpectedly turn up.

More than twenty years since I last saw her, reenter Beth, stage left.

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Posted Jul 31, 2009 at 17:44 UTC, 3350 words,  [/richPermalink

Tue, 30 Jun 2009

T Plus Forty Years

It is perhaps a few weeks premature, but an important anniversary is fast coming upon us -- and, as seems to be the trend today, it seems to be being largely overlooked. I ascribe this unfortunate state of affairs to the twenty-four hour news cycle, and the subsequent dulling of our sense of history. When there's a desperate rush to call something (anything) "news", day in and day out, I think we tend to lose our sense of proportion, our feeling for what is (or ought to be) truly memorable.

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Posted Jun 30, 2009 at 17:15 UTC, 3197 words,  [/richPermalink

Sun, 31 May 2009

Four Pills A Day

I was watching a rerun of Saturday Night Live not too long ago, featuring Steve Martin as the host. One of the sketches had Martin playing the title character, "Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber". A parade of people with various maladies were brought to him, and in each case, Theodoric impressed the crowd with his advanced knowledge of the healing arts: "Once we would have believed that this man's afflictions were caused by being cursed by a troll, or a witch. But now we know that it is instead caused by an imbalance of humors in the blood," for which the inevitable prescription was leeches and bloodletting. The audience roared as each hapless victim was led away to cut and bled.

A funny bit, but one that also got me thinking of the progress in medicine since Theodoric's day, and my own interactions with our health care system.

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Posted May 31, 2009 at 19:43 UTC, 3121 words,  [/richPermalink

Thu, 30 Apr 2009

An Inconvenient Debate

Do certain kinds of topics bring so much additional baggage to the table that it makes it difficult to discuss them rationally? And, if so, is there anything that can be done about that?

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Posted Apr 30, 2009 at 04:47 UTC, 3189 words,  [/richPermalink

Tue, 31 Mar 2009

Aux Armes, Citoyens?

A conversation over a beer one evening not too long ago provoked me to think about the sociology, economics, and psychology of revolutions. (Hey, what do you talk about while you're sitting at the bar?)

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Posted Mar 31, 2009 at 18:11 UTC, 3046 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 28 Feb 2009

Ad Astra Per Aspera

At dinner with my family a while ago, the conversation turned to the subject of hobbies. I was bemoaning the fact that my kids' hobbies seemed to be pretty much limited to things like achieving high scores on the X-Box, or serving in a godlike capacity as the master of a group of players in an role playing world. I was gently tweaking them over the fact that these kinds of activities were primarily computer based, involved at best a limited kind of interaction with other people, and kept them glued to the computer screen for hours at a time. While advanced joystick proficiency gained by hours playing Halo 3 might make my son a good candidate for piloting a Predator done someday, beyond that these activities didn't involve many opportunities for learning much of anything.

My kids, of course, immediately challenged me right back, asking me about my hobbies: what things did I do to occupy what little free time I had?

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Posted Feb 28, 2009 at 20:55 UTC, 3524 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 31 Jan 2009

In Memoriam P.J. McG. (1928-2009)

Without alarm or light, silently and abruptly, John Drake awoke.

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Posted Jan 31, 2009 at 19:43 UTC, 3502 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 31 Dec 2008

Present At The Creation

The year end is a time for looking back as much as for looking forward. People compile their lists of "Top Ten" movies, music, political events, and the like, for the year just past. Others look forward, placing their moistened fingers in the air, and, having discerned the direction of the prevailing winds, more or less confidently prognosticate on what the year to come has in store for us.

I hold no special claim to any abilities in the area of predictions -- if I did possess any, I would undoubtedly be spending more time at the racetrack and the casino than I do now. Instead, I use these short days at year's end to look back, not only at the preceding twelve months, but over even longer time frames. Having also turned fifty this year, I look back at my life so far, and find myself asking (among other things) about how fortunate I seem to be to have grown up at just the right times to have been in on the start of a true historical era or two.

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Posted Dec 31, 2008 at 16:37 UTC, 3227 words,  [/richPermalink

Sun, 30 Nov 2008

A Travesty On The English Language?

My friend Dan recently pointed out to me an interesting opinion column which appeared in one of the local newspapers a week or so ago. The writer was identified as "an entrepreneur and a Republican Party activist" in local political circles, and his subject was "How Civil Unions Square with GOP Principles".

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Posted Nov 30, 2008 at 19:29 UTC, 3102 words,  [/richPermalink

Fri, 31 Oct 2008

East 161st St and River Avenue: Part II

The passage of time affects all things, and my family's annual outing to Yankee Stadium was no exception. All too soon, most of my siblings and I had reached the age where we had moved on to bigger and better things than getting a new Louisville Slugger bat every year (most of us were also past the eligibility age of fourteen anyway). So by the early 1970s, although we continued to watch on TV and listened on the radio, we had pretty much stopped attending Yankee games as a family.

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Posted Oct 31, 2008 at 17:37 UTC, 3734 words,  [/richPermalink

Tue, 30 Sep 2008

East 161st St and River Avenue: Part I

On September 21st, 2008, with a 7-3 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, an era ended in New York and for the entire sport of baseball: in its 85th year, after hosting more than 6500 games and thirty-seven World Series (as well as twenty championship boxing matches, Masses offered by three Popes, concerts, and numerous professional and college football games), the Yankees played their final game in Yankee Stadium.

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Posted Sep 30, 2008 at 21:16 UTC, 3230 words,  [/richPermalink

Sun, 31 Aug 2008

Tickets Please

In case you happened to be away on vacation over the last several weeks and somehow managed to miss it, presidential politics has been front and center in the news. The Democratic party's convention has just completed, and the Republicans' festivities are shortly to get under way. And John McCain has (finally) just announced the name of his running mate, so now the presidential tickets are complete. 2008 has already been a very interesting political year, and now it looks like the fireworks are only just beginning.

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Posted Aug 31, 2008 at 19:58 UTC, 3141 words,  [/richPermalink

Thu, 31 Jul 2008

Oh, Canada

All right, I will admit it: this whole thing was probably an early-onset symptom of male menopause.

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Posted Jul 31, 2008 at 02:59 UTC, 3272 words,  [/richPermalink

Mon, 30 Jun 2008

Economic News, June 2018

When you look back on things, it's hard to believe how quickly the time flies. The days when you could gas up your car for only four dollars a gallon seem like just yesterday, but in fact, that price hasn't been seen for most of the last ten years.

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Posted Jun 30, 2008 at 03:15 UTC, 3235 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 31 May 2008

The War Profiteer In The Titanium-Gold-Alloy Mask
A Review of the Motion Picture Iron Man

It was with the thought in mind that perhaps Hollywood has in fact run out of original ideas, or that it was a continuation of the trend of shameless pandering to those of us who are part of the Baby Boom generation -- or both -- that I decided to spend a couple of hours a few weeks ago watching the big-screen makeover of Iron Man.

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Posted May 31, 2008 at 18:13 UTC, 3170 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 30 Apr 2008

Driving The Big Rig

You wouldn't think it would be hard to drive at a top speed of one mile per hour, but when you're carrying thousands of metric tons around, it's a lot trickier than you think.

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Posted Apr 30, 2008 at 04:53 UTC, 3750 words,  [/richPermalink

Mon, 31 Mar 2008

Campaign Reform 2008

While it lacks the timeliness of those pundits who make daily or weekly entries, this Ironwriters site does have many of the same characteristics as other web blogs. And so, in that spirit, I offer some takes on this year's campaigns for President, specifically, on some modest proposals for improving the party primary election systems.

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Posted Mar 31, 2008 at 03:31 UTC, 3166 words,  [/richPermalink

Fri, 29 Feb 2008


There are fewer sights more humbling and more inspiring than the night sky on a dark, clear evening. These days, though, it is increasingly difficult for people to see the skies as our ancestors did. In much of the so-called civilized world, thanks to urbanization and suburbanization, the night sky is rarely a dimensionless, absolute black hemisphere punctuated by pinpoints of light spread out like tiny diamonds on black velvet. The pale yellow glow of sodium-vapor streetlamps, glaring skywards as much as downwards, gives much of the sky a washed-out aspect, with only the brightest and most obvious stars and constellations usually visible.

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Posted Feb 29, 2008 at 19:55 UTC, 3442 words,  [/richPermalink

Thu, 31 Jan 2008

The Bloodless Abattoir

Even when there were no accidents, traffic on this section of Interstate 80 often slowed to a congested crawl: a rather substantial hill several miles ahead inevitably caused even those truck drivers most oblivious to the posted speed limits to yield to the inexorable pulls of gravity and gearing, slowing down to a near crawl, thus forming an arteriosclerotic clot consisting of eighteen wheelers intermingled with the inevitable cars stuck behind or between them. These traffic plaques would then spread backwards down the road at (to use a phrase) highway speeds, as formerly unencumbered drives slowed down and stopped, trying to navigate through the morass.

But today, for once, the traffic was moving at a sprightly pace, Gerald Roth thought, as he guided his car around the swooshing on-ramp that led from his home town onto the great six-lane highway through northern New Jersey. He had not heard any alerts in the radio traffic reports as dressed, filled his travel mug with coffee, and scooped a corn muffin from the box atop the refrigerator to nibble on en route. For Jerry, this was what often passed for "eating breakfast", but his commute was long enough on a good day, and this way he could sleep twenty minutes later than he would otherwise be able to do.

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Posted Jan 31, 2008 at 18:42 UTC, 3534 words,  [/richPermalink

Mon, 31 Dec 2007

Pools for Dummies

Moving one's family to a new home is always disruptive for all concerned. And as hard as things are for us parents, moving is even harder, I think, on the children. Even moving from one side of town to another is not easy for kids –- they may end up having to attend a different school, ride a different bus, end up living further away from their friends, any one of which by itself is sufficient cause for youthful angst.

After moving once when I was an infant, and with only one two-year stint in California on a temporary assignment when I was fairly young, my father made a conscious decision to not move our family around, despite holding a number of senior technical and middle-management positions at IBM (which, during its growth period in the 1960's, wags commented stood for "I've Been Moved", as repeated transfers and relocations were often the norm for executives. Not until years later did I discover that Dad had turned down more than one promotion in order to keep us in the same home.)

So when my job required me to move to a new home several states distant from our old home, I felt I had to pay extra attention to making things as painless as possible for my children.

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Posted Dec 31, 2007 at 17:02 UTC, 3364 words,  [/richPermalink

Fri, 30 Nov 2007

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year, but that doesn't mean that it only lasts one day. This year, the Cable Family Classics Channel is bringing you a different holiday classic movie every night for each of the twelve days before Christmas. Some are old favorites, some are new favorites, some are new takes on old favorites, and some are just plain old. So warm up the Tivo or stock up on blank videotapes for the VCR -– you'll want to make sure to capture these great films to watch with your family, now and all throughout the year!

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Posted Nov 30, 2007 at 04:20 UTC, 3042 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 31 Oct 2007

A Halloween Story

Model Wanted: Sculptor needs male and female models for long-term projects (two to four weeks each). Athlete / Dancer types with ideal “classical” physique preferred. Previous modeling experience desirable but not strictly necessary. Per diem, meals, and transportation expenses paid. Respond with photo and contact information to Box 973, c/o this newspaper.

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Posted Oct 31, 2007 at 04:41 UTC, 3485 words,  [/richPermalink

Sun, 30 Sep 2007

"Time, Gentlemen"

The end of summer and the beginning of fall begins a time when one's focus turns not to the sowing and the growing, but to the final harvest. Also, perhaps, because of an unusually large (for me) number of funerals I have had to attend in the last month or two for family, friends, and business associates, I find myself thinking a great deal about my own eventual demise. While I sincerely hope it is a long way off, one can (meticulously planned suicides excluded) never choose the exact circumstances of one's own death. All one can typically hope for is that your final wishes will be respected.

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Posted Sep 30, 2007 at 17:51 UTC, 3084 words,  [/richPermalink

Fri, 31 Aug 2007

The Fishing Expedition

The pace of life in summer is much slower, much more languid than the other seasons of the year. The combination of heat and (usually) humidity seem to downshift one's metabolic furnace, moving everything to a lower and slower gear. Activities that call for great physical exertion tend to go by the wayside in favor of those events that demand less of one physically. (Granted there are those who will find the odd triathlon or criterium to compete in during August, but there's a good reason that things like marathons tend to be held in March or October instead of June and July.)

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Posted Aug 31, 2007 at 01:27 UTC, 3146 words,  [/richPermalink

Tue, 31 Jul 2007

Ten Years With Wizards

Well, the publishing event of many a summer has finally come and gone. The much-anticipated seventh book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published just a week or so ago. All the hoopla and media attention, however, fail to distract completely from the fact that this is the final book in the series, as has been repeatedly said by the author, J.K. Rowling. For those who have enjoyed the Harry Potter books (I among them), the occasion is a bit sad. Over the years, I have come to look forward to each installment, watching the characters grow and mature to greater and lesser degrees, very much in parallel with the lives of my own children (although I have not noticed any signs of magical inclination in my kids, except for a talent for making spending money disappear).

[Spoiler Alert: This article is a series of reminiscences about the Harry Potter books in general, and some meta-analysis of some of the overarching themes. It is not a review of Deathly Hallows or any of the other books per se. I will give a few very specific details from the latest book, but nothing that should spoil it for you. However, if you are a purist and would rather experience Deathly Hallows in toto for yourself first, turn back now and don't click on the "more" link.]

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Posted Jul 31, 2007 at 02:32 UTC, 3144 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 30 Jun 2007

Emptying The Desk Drawer

So far, this Ironwriters marathon has been not unduly difficult for me. There have been the usual amounts of fretting and worrying, mostly along the lines of, "What shall I write about this month?"

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Posted Jun 30, 2007 at 21:43 UTC, 3045 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 30 May 2007

The Groves of Academe

My daughter has achieved that certain age -- her junior year of high school -- which, besides the usual parental headaches of coping with her dating choices and teaching her to drive, brings her and us squarely into the initial stages of the single biggest transition of her young life: going off to college.

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Posted May 30, 2007 at 23:31 UTC, 3115 words,  [/richPermalink

Mon, 30 Apr 2007

Summer Vacation

Towards the end of the last ice age, the Wisconian glaciers that covered the northeastern part of North America began to slowly retreat back into the arctic regions from whence they had come, leaving at the point of their furthest reach southward terminal moraines of rocks and soil. As the glaciers retreated and melted, and the oceans rose, one of these moraines became isolated from the rest of the nearby land; we now know this area as Long Island, New York.

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Posted Apr 30, 2007 at 01:34 UTC, 3330 words,  [/richPermalink

Sat, 31 Mar 2007

Felling Trees

The area where we live is pleasantly suburban, close enough to the shopping centers that getting there is not a chore, yet fairly quiet and secluded, tucked away in a far corner of the township. Our little subdivision is one of the older ones in the area, created in the late 1960s by carving out and building over what were then essentially farm tracts and woodland.

With more and more growth happening over the years in the surrounding towns, there's an easy way to distinguish at a glance the older communities from the newer ones - just look at the trees.

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Posted Mar 31, 2007 at 15:35 UTC, 3318 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 28 Feb 2007


"These meetings are achingly dull," Kevin Wright thought, as the shuttle bus crept through the Holland Tunnel towards Manhattan, "and they screw up your whole day."

Kevin's company had offices all over the New York City area, but after 9/11, they thought it better to not have so many of their staff concentrated in the city proper, opting instead for a light dispersion of offices around the suburbs. Kevin always smiled at this, for he had realized as soon as the plan was announced to relocate himself and his staff to northern New Jersey that the new offices, being less than 20 miles away from Manhattan, were almost certainly not going to be immune from the aftereffects of any major terrorist attack. His only consolation was that they were at least due west (and thus generally upwind) of the city, which meant that the folks who had opted for new office sites in the outer boroughs, Long Island or Connecticut would probably get somewhat the worst of it when al-Qaeda dropped the big one.

The verymost senior executives kept their offices at the corporate headquarters in midtown, and geographic dispersion wouldn't keep them from scheduling all sorts of face-to-face meetings with underlings at all hours of the day and night. So for Kevin a summons to Galactic Headquarters meant an earlier-than-usual arrival at the office, followed by long ride in what had become rush-hour traffic into the city on the corporate shuttle bus.

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Posted Feb 28, 2007 at 03:49 UTC, 3398 words,  [/richPermalink

Wed, 31 Jan 2007

Cat Confessions

Who's to blame? I can only blame myself. Like most problems, the beginnings of the downward slide were almost imperceptible at first. You think you're doing a good thing, the right thing. But little by little, you find yourself falling further down the slippery slope, being drawn deeper and deeper into an ever-growing nightmare, until one day you find yourself at rock bottom, wondering just how you ever got into this mess in the first place, your life shot to hell.

Health problems? Drug or alcohol addiction? Financial irresponsibility? No, my problem is far more intractable than any of these, for it is neither an addiction nor a simple dependency. Instead, I have become the codependent and enabler of my spouse's obsession, an obsession that has stripped away any vestiges of a peaceful and quiet life for me.

I refer, of course, to life with cats.

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Posted Jan 31, 2007 at 17:18 UTC, 3094 words,  [/richPermalink

Fri, 29 Dec 2006

NASA Goes Back To The Future
A First Look at the Constellation Program

The latest Space Shuttle mission (STS-116) is back on the ground again after delivering supplies, equipment, and crew to the International Space Station. Preparations for the next launch (scheduled for March 2007) are already underway. The ISS itself continues to orbit the globe, changing crewmembers every three to six months, its ongoing assembly still several years from completion.

But the buzz around the aerospace community is not so much about the shuttles, or the ISS, or the couple of dozen robotic missions NASA currently has underway. Instead, the focus is quietly but perceptibly shifting to NASA's "next big thing": the Constellation program, a manned program designed "to take us back to the moon, then to Mars, and beyond", as the NASA spokespeople like to put it.

So just where did the Constellation program come from, and what's it all about anyway?

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Posted Dec 29, 2006 at 02:49 UTC, 3362 words,  [/richPermalink