Saturday, March 21, 2015

Nuclear Society of America

For the last seven months I have been working on a project for NASA. Almost every mission that NASA launches includes one or more radioisotope heating units (RHU) to keep their electronics warm. Semiconductors become conductors if they get too cold so the sole purpose of the RHU is to keep the electronics warm. At the center of the RHU is a pellet of Pu-238 which gives off heat from its emission of alpha particles. My job was to use the heat from the RHU to provide a small amount electricity using thermoelectrics. 

As we were preparing the final report for our phase I work some of the guys at NASA suggested that we submit a joint paper at the upcoming NETS conference. NETS (Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space) is the part of the American Nuclear Society that develops nuclear technology for use in space. So myself and a group of my colleges put together a paper and I presented it a few weeks ago Albuquerque. This conference was fascinating. The most difficult part was deciding which of the papers I wanted to listen to. They had four papers going on simultaneously and I wanted to go to all of them. 

I presented Wednesday at 11:30 just before lunch and I think it went well. It was well attended and I had plenty of questions and comments afterwards so there was definitely some interested. I also received several emails afterwards from people wanting to work together.  

Wednesday evening they served a banquet and the keynote speaker was William H. Gerstenmaier who is the administrator at NASA in charge of manned space flight. He was an excellent speaker and the whole time I was wishing I could talk to him one-on-one about NASA's plans. 

After dinner I thought I would hang around and see if there was any chance of talking to him and to my surprise everyone was so anxious to get home they just got up and walked out of the hall. There was Gerstenmaier pretty much standing by himself. I just walked up to him and we had a great conversation. I loved it. 

While in Albuquerque I had fully intended to go for a run but to my surprise it was freezing. I could see my breath. There was no way I was stepping outside in a pair of shorts. Thursday morning when I was headed to the airport it was actually snowing. I couldn't believe it. I now have a lot more sympathy for my Canadian family who loves to run. I'm not sure how Justin trained for that last marathon. Oh, that's right, he didn't train for it.  

It was a wonderful trip. 

Pluto never made a full orbit around the sun 
from the time it was discovered to when it was declassified as a planet.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Disney Cruise - Diagon Alley

When we woke up Sunday morning we were already tied up at Port Canaveral. It was a depressing feeling.
 We ate breakfast and on our way back to our rooms we finally got the picture we had been trying to get all week. Our four beautiful grandkids al in the port hole. 
I still don't know how many people were on that boat but when they all left at the same time it was quite a crowd.
 They said goodbye to us and we said goodbye to them and then we were off.
 Surprisingly those porters know how to get a whole lot of bags on a single cart. They must have a lot of practice. 
 Justin and Kira weren't leaving until the next day but we were leaving late that same day. They had decided to go to Universal Studio's and even though we would only get a part day in we decided to splurge and go with them. Universal Studio's is a big place but we decided to spend what little time we had in Diagon Alley. We were quite excited. It was amazing how accurately they portrayed the scene from the movie. As far as I could tell it was identical.

 Mom's favorite (and probably everyone's favorite) was the butter beer. Justin told me that Universal Studios had a plan to recover the cost  of the building Diagon Alley over a five year period. Once they opened they actually made their money back in fives months just off the sales of butter beer alone. I can believe it. It is very expensive and very delicious. 
 Gringots Bank

 Behind me you can see Ollivanders magic wand shop. You can buy a magic wand that you can used a several places throughout the park. If you point the wand in the right direction and wave it as instructed you can create magic. It was really quite fascinating. I felt a little bit stupid though because almost all of the people waving magic wands were under the age of six but I didn't let that stop me. 
 I did share my wand with the kids.

 Justin and Kira know how to travel.
 This is the exact wand that I got. If you know the story it is the Elder Wand used by Dumbledor through all of the movies and acquired by Harry in he end. Harry ended up destroying the wand in the end which I guess was the right thing to do but I'm pretty sure if it had been me I would have kept it. I guess now I have it. 
To be fair Mom bought herself a Time Turner. It is really quite beautiful. When it isn't around her beautiful neck it is display in the beautiful box. 

All too soon we had to bid farewell to our beautiful children and rush to the airport. Before we knew it we were fast asleep in our own beds. I missed being rocked to sleep by the ship.

It is commonly believed that 50% of all marriages end in divorce and most of the marriages that do survive are not happy ones. Actually this is not true. The 50% figure was a projection made in the 70's when divorce rates began to rise. It actually peaked around 25% and has been falling for decades. It is now about 20% and most marriages are happy ones. Divorce rates among couples that attend church (any church) is in the single digits.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Disney Cruise - Castaway Cay

Up until now, every one of our shore excursions have been a fun filled and exciting adventure where we returned to the ship thoroughly exhausted. Today was very different. It was a relaxing and peaceful day, but still very fun. It is a good thing too because the night before had been one of the most excruciating nights of my life. 

It came on so suddenly that it was quite shocking. It was a little after midnight and Kira and Justin were in our room and we were just talking. All of a sudden I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom so I grabbed a book said goodnight to Kira and Justin and off I went. Within five minutes I knew I was in trouble. I started getting nasty cramps that progressively got worse and worse. This hasn't happened often in my life but I just knew what was coming and before long the nausea started. I don’t want to subject you to all of the gruesome details but my night consisted of sitting on the toilet, kneeling in front of the toilet and then writhing in agony in bed trying unsuccessfully to find a comfortable position. This repeated several time throughout the night.

I felt so bad for Lisa because she was getting quite sleep deprived. As I mentioned, I had the flu during this entire week and while I was pretty much over the flu I had that nagging cough that sometimes follows and so I’d been coughing all night all week long and she wakes up to the slightest sound. Plus she’d also been getting up to turn off the alarm on Evan's feeding tube, as well as getting up with Cameron every morning. It’s not like she ever sleeps in anyway but Cameron had been getting up earlier than she would have liked. 

So now she was laying next to me worried about me the whole night and unable to sleep. I had actually planned on getting up with Cameron and letting her sleep. She would have been awake anyway, but at least she could have stayed in bed. Your mind plays tricks with you when you’re in that much pain too. In knew it had to be food poisoning the way it came on so fast but “what if I was sick?” “Would they let me on the airplane?” “Was I going to be stuck in bed on our last day ashore?” All kinds of horrible scenario’s passed through my mind.

The last time I remember crawling in bed it was after 3:00 AM. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew it was morning and other than sore abdominal muscles I felt fine. It was like nothing happened. I was weak but otherwise perfectly normal. Very bizarre. 
My plan of waking up with the kids was obviously shot. Lisa had let me sleep in and had the boys already watching the TV. You can see me in the background and there's Cameron controlling the TV with the telephone.  
We were trying to decide just how serious this sign was. I suppose that since this island was owned by an American company they are more worried about liability. 
 The Cabana was like being in paradise. We could order free food and sit in the shade and just relax. We were also surrounded by a tropical jungle. It was glorious. There was so much to do but all I wanted to do was sit in the chair and enjoy my surroundings. 
 The hammock was a highly sought after piece of furniture.
This is a view of the walkway between our cabana and the beach looking towards the cabana from the beach.  
 And looking from the Cabana to the beach.   
 Birds were constantly flying in and out of the cabana.
Castaway Cay is a small island that Disney bought in the Bahamas. It is actually a scruffy little island with nothing going for it but Disney has taken about a fifth of the island and turned it into a small paradise. They have created beautiful beaches, planted beautiful plants and created some very nice trails. Lisa and I went for a bike ride along some of the trails. At one point on the trail they had a tower that we climbed up and looked over the island. This is what the undeveloped portion of the island looked like. A far cry from the developed portion. It looked like they are continuing the development since large areas outside of where the tourists are were looking ready for more tourists. 
Mom and I in front of our cabana with the ship in the distance.
Mom and I relaxing in the Cabana. I didn't want to move. 
 Kira and Piper taking their turn in the hammock.
The Mount Rushmore of Castaway Cay
 The snorkeling off the coast of Castaway Cay would be quite boring compared to where we had been but true to Disney, if they don't have a natural beauty they created one. One area has been turned into a snorkelers paradise with underwater statues of Mickey Mouse and sunken ships. 

 Our own super model
Evan found a snail shell and was ecstatic when he realized it had a hermit crab inside it. He named the crab "Linda" and they were best friends the whole day long.  

 Far too soon, the horn blew and we had to make our way back to the ship.
 We were always very good about being back to the ship early but this time we did not want to go. We knew that when we woke up the next morning we would be back at the terminal and it was quite sad. We were literally the second to the last family to board the ship. The workers were all encouraging us to get moving. 
This platform is where it all happens.  It is just off the bridge and if you look carefully you can see a glass floor where you can look down and see the workers casting off the lines. We would love to stand here and watch them leave port.
 And then we were off. 
I'm already thinking about facing the real world the next morning. Rather depressing if I must say so myself. 
 But it wasn't over yet. We still had one more evening.

 Our last dinner was in the Animators Palate and it was a special show this time. They gave everyone a sheet of paper like the one above where you could draw a character. They then took everyones character and made an animated show out of it. Most of us got a brief cameo appearance but a very few of us (like Mom and Kira) had their characters become main characters. 
 Our servers for the entire week were Alan and Miroslava. Alan was from India and Miroslava was from Slovakia. They were very good to us. 
I then went for my midnight walk on the upper deck and said farewell to the Disney Magic. 

Vending machines are twice as likely to kill you than a shark is.