Fifty

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Since the invention of social media, I spend most my November 5ths giving out random Back to the Future facts, referencing an Engish insurrection, and thanking the hundreds of people who post birthday wishes to me. Honestly, I took a lot of pride to make sure I recognize each and every person who took the time to send me anything that suggests a well wish on my birthday. This year, I did not.

Last Friday, I turned Fifty. The big Five-Oh. The Half Century.

I shared my plans the last post along, but to suggest that it was just a little hockey game is to suggest I should have had the time to respond to all of you. Guess what … I didn’t.

The center point of the weekend was the hockey game between my long time favorite team New Jersey Devils vs the LA Kings, but we will get there.

Arguably, the party lasted closer to seventy-two hours, with very little downtime.

Somewhere around mid-day on Thursday, with the real chance that people might visit my house, I thought it was about time to actually clean in. You know, get the socks off the floor, wash the spilled wine off the walls, make the toilet look less like freckled granite and more like porcelain (and if you can figure out what that means, I’m sorry for the vision). My old friend from Kansas, Jeremy Phillips was due in that night to crash on the air bed, and I thought I better at least remove the ant bait traps that dumped their sticky goo on the floor. By mid-clean panic, my brother and sister-in-law called from the rougher neighborhood around LAX to let me know they made it in. Getting my first well wish from Laura Sherman, I celebrated with the most famous meal we ever shared … deep-fried Chinese take-out. 10 PM comes along, and I race the crazies across the city to LAX and pick up Jeremy who, ignoring the fact his friend was turning into an old man that goes to bed early, booked an 11 PM arrival. We raced back to the house, cracked open a beer, and said goodbye to my forties. For the rest of the next couple of days, I was joined with Jeremy at every step.

Sleeping in a little, we woke to my new age on Friday. Brunch was in order, so we dragged ourselves down to Montrose’s Black Cow – the best brunch place in our neighborhood. Joining us was my brother & sister-in-law, Eric Castillo, Lyle Barner, Josh Denson, and the party crasher Lauren Denson. Coffee, Montrose Cristo, and more coffee later; the birthday was underway.

An errand had to be run. With the rest of my weekend, we had to get Auggie the Doggie into his spa. It was a big day for him too, nine years prior I brought him home and into my life (where he promptly pooped the couch). Weirdly, he was well behaved … I mean, weirdly!! We cruised over to Montrose, dropped him off, and left him to play.

If you hadn’t heard me rant, November 5th is also referenced in the movie Back to the Future. The Flux Capacitor,that which makes time travel possible, was invented on November 5th, 1955 by Doc Brown. As it turns out, Doc Brown’s house in the movie was given the exterior shots of the Gamble House in Pasadena. So we stopped off, and I had my picture taken with my Back to the Future 1.21 Gigawatts jersey on.

We stopped at Trader Joe’s … because when in Rome … and picked up the essentials we would need the rest of the day. Beer and Peanut butter cups (with Dark Chocolate). It was 1PM and time to start day drinking. Brother and Sister-in-law stopped by. Micheal Gore stopped by. The Densons stopped by. Then Lyle and Tipti Barner arrived.

Now was the time for presents. My parents sent a symbolic book of coins and paper. My brother got me a ticket from the game when the NJ Devils last lifted the Stanley Cup in 2003. Then my JPL Friends brought out the big guns. They pitched in and got me an NJ Devils Jersey, and on the back, the name was NELSON and number 50. Even though I had planned to wear my Brodeur jersey, I was so taken aback by the new one, that I couldn’t not wear it. Literally on the edge of tears.

I had rented a suite for the hockey game. Including the day drinkers and brunch bunch, along came Dustin Tagawa (who was forced to wear the Brodeur jersey), Derek Garcia, Amanda & Alex Donner (aka “the Donner Party”), Derek Obergon, and a man only known as “Drummer Boy.” We had BBQ, beer, cake, beer, overtime, beer, and a Devils Lost; but it was still fun.

We post-gamed back at my house and rang into my 50+1 before crashing out.

Saturday, it was an early morning. We had to get Jeremy home, so an early run to LAX started the day.

Now comes the next phase of the weekend. I had to make the 3-plus hour run to Fresno to judge a band competition at Clovis High School. Of course, I was pretty tired from the day before, but nothing gets my energy back like judging a marching band show. What a show too, there were so many great bands performing at high levels and bringing their best. One group in particular absolutely blew me away, and given the chance I told their director their kids gave me one of the best birthday presents of the weekend.

I got into the car this morning way too early. Daylight savings didn’t hit the hotel’s wake-up call network, and hitting the road to get home just in time for the early football games got me home an hour earlier. Sprung the pup from the spa, got us home and here we are.

And I am tired.

Not just because I am fifty, but because it’s been a long long weekend.

From this point, I am going to order some Buffalo Wild Wings, another classic Laura Sherman meal. She couldn’t make it here for this weekend, so I am dragging her here in spirit.

Plus there is leftover day drink beer.

Plus there is a football game.

Did I mention I am tired.

If I didn’t get to thank you all for all your well wishes, take this as my thanks. It’s weekends like this that I am reminded how lucky I am to have so many people in my life, and it reminds me that I need to stick around for another fifty years.

Numbers

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There’s is a saying I like to use:

“Age is nothing but a number, but it is an accurate way to tell how old you are.”

In a week’s time my number is going to change, and do so in a big way. The four at the front of my age becomes a five. I will officially hit the half-century. I keep getting told I don’t look that old, but these days I sure do feel it.

I am going to spend my birthday doing things I love to do, which is kind of the trend when it comes to birthdays for me.

It didn’t start that way, then again, when you are little you don’t get to have much of a choice of anything. I remember cake when I turned 5.

I remember getting cake with only a single candle when I was seven.

Sometime around 10 or 11, I got a surprise birthday party. It was weird. Teacher conferences were going on, and we had a half-day at school. My brother and a neighborhood friend invited me over to the friend’s house to play some. Then, there was a call that said I needed to come home. I should have known something up when our front lawn was filled with bikes. The surprise happened, and I ran a half block away in shock.

When I turned 17, our football team had a State Football Semi-final. We won the game in the freezing cold. To celebrate, the Seniors through me fully clothed into the shower … so, freezing, riding a bus, Happy Birthday.

When I turned 18, I got another surprise. I was performing in the musical Oliver (I played the guy that wouldn’t let Oliver have more food). The musical included a few more numbers and scenes than the movie, but my role was limited. Early on, buried in some of the props on stage, I saw stickers with a cartoonish characture of me wishing me happy birthday. As the show continued, some of the other actors would come onto the stage with the same sticker positioned like a badge. By the time the curtain call came, everyone was wearing one … even me.

You would think that I would have had a heck of a party when I turned 21. Well, no. I watched some TV and hung out with my roommate in my room. I actually got stood up by some guys who promised to take me out, but that didn’t bug me. I got a call the night before that some other friends were watching a Houghton, Michigan bar legend perform a set. I walked in about 11:30pm, and after some pressure from my friends, I ordered a drink. Some other folks I knew were sitting at the bar, and questioned if I was old enough. The bartender overheard them and decided to card me. I showed him my card, after a thought or two he said, “By the time I call the police, you will be legal.” The guys at the bar got the story from the bartender, and the next thing I know they kept setting me up with crazy shots.

After college, I got into the habit of treating myself at birthdays. Usually, take myself to dinner, watch a movie, something like that. When I turned 27, my birthday came up midweek, and I wasn’t ready to call it a night. I was living in Milwaukee and stopped by my local watering hole. Only the bartender was there, a good friend, and a fun drinking buddy. On the TV was one of my favorite movies, The Fifth Element, and together we watched and built up a lifetime of inside jokes over MultiPass and Big Batta Boom.

My 30th was pretty quiet. I just moved to Wichita, and was still trying to make friends. The closest to a party that I had was a group party, as three of us were all turning 30 in the same month.

Usually, my birthday landed in an up or a down day. I got a lot of elections on my birthday, which sucks. I also get to judge marching bands on my birthday, or travel to a show, or something like that.

When I turned 40, I had what I considered my best birthday ever. I judged the Mid States Band Association Finals competition in Kings Mills, OH. The group I was judging with were some of my favorite people from that community. The bands were extraordinary. I really told no one there that it was my birthday, because it didn’t matter. I was happy. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate.

Next Friday, I celebrate my 50th Birthday, and like I mentioned before, I am going to spend it doing something I want to do. It turns out, the New Jersey Devils NHL team is in Los Angeles to play the Kings. I rented a suite. I offered up tickets to any and all friends that wanted to come in for the game. Most are JPLers. My brother and sister-in-law are flying in, as well as my old friend Jeremy Phillips. I’m actually handling most of the cost of the game, not because I have to but because I want to. As I keep saying “It’s my party, and I get to do what I want.”

Then again, Age is just a number … and a reason to party.

A View of the Other Side

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There’s a marching band that will be left unnamed. They stepped off first last night at the Rowland Field Tournament in Rowland Heights, CA. When you go on first, typically you are small and less refined, not to mention you are in front of a mostly empty stadium. On top of the press box was a guy who, by work & life choices, positioned himself to restart his adjudication notoriety and as such will take every gig he can get – even if it means not starting his season until the rest of the world is nearly finished. That guy suffered his way up to the press box having the shape of someone who rarely has left his house for the last 18 months, climbing up the ricketiest wooden bleachers in desperate need of a handrail, and the most awkward press box ladder west of Tennessee. The field and the stands were filled with people wearing masks as a reminder of the horror this world has been clouded by since the last time people entered this field last. Two years ago, high schools laughed and hugged, and played together in the marching arts world they all shared; and have gone without it for nearly half their high school lifetime.

When the first band stepped off, none of the rest of that mattered.

Yeah, I haven’t blogged in a long time. To put it bluntly, I don’t blog unless I feel good about what I am blogging about. I haven’t felt good about anything for a longer than my downtime. For what it’s worth, I never had COVID, never tested positive, and got vaccinated at the first opportunity I could get it.

I spoke with many around the country, and can see on the tele, that the world is opened up moreso than it is here in California. I am allowed to go back to my office, but only limited days a week. Honestly, if I had a work set-up that I didn’t have to haul back and forth to home I would be there. Masks are still mostly mandatory in many locations. Social distancing is still the norm. Pressure remains on acting as though the pandemic is still alive and kicking hard. In a world where everything can be delivered, I have little need to leave the house.

This hasn’t worn of me well. I have focused on things ahead of me to prepare for throughout this dark time. Like when the city got on me about my lawn, I had it redone (and it is beautiful). Or when family was coming to town, I got the house cleaned up with the worst cleaning lady ever. Yet when I have been left to my own priorities, I have chosen poorly. I never went out of my way to do harm to myself, but never went out of my way to do help to myself either. The simple facts of this period is proof of that. I spent days in the hospital on two occasions for issues with circulatory system. I spent another day in the ER because I was a couple quarts low on blood. My seven medications can leave me weak, tired, and with a toilet that constantly needs to be cleaned. In a single week, I broke my couch, bed, laptop, and even my toilet paper roll holder.

But I have been trying. After nearly 10 years of avoiding the slowly blurring words in front of me, I now wear glasses … religiously. Two months ago I started using a CPAP machine, and finding that dreaming is way underrated. I am trying to break bad habits, with little (but still some) success.

The problem is, a closed world still hung over me like a cloud.

I signed up to judge this fall because it is what I do. To be honest, I wasn’t wild about it. I felt I needed to get things fixed in my life. Truth is, since moving to California, most circuits treat me like a new judge wet behind the ears, and not someone with 25 years experience judging in 14 different states. So, I knew if I turned down work out here, I may never get it back.

During the week, I had to remember how to prepare for a show. I had to find the right information, read the right instructions, review the right judging criteria. I knew there would be rust to shake off, but how much was the question. Moreso, I was concerned about the physical toil of the show. Climbing the bleachers, standing for hours, the drive there, the drive back.

That unnamed band stepped off, and nothing else mattered.

Sure, I was rusty, but in hindsight, I had more rust when I have taken a week off between shows mid-season. I was excited, energetic, and really positive. Marching Band was back. And for a few hours on top of a press box, so was I.

I got home last night, and the demand hit me pretty hard. So did Auggie, since this was the first time in a while he was left alone outside his normal schedule, and I had to endure hours of Auggie kisses. This morning, things hurt.

And this is show #1 of 7 this year.

Next week, I have a much more demanding schedule. I will be flying for the first time since “the before times” to Idaho of all places. I will have to maneuver airports, drive across a state, judge a new circuit with bands I never seen before, drive back, airports, and do it all with the pooch in the pet hotel for the first time in nearly 2 years.

Let’s be honest, I am not back. I am a long way from it. This next month is going to be hard, and that includes a certain milestone coming up on me. But now that I got a view of the other side, I feel motivated, like I want to get back. Like I want to be back.

So let’s get back.

I Remember, Scotty

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I’m at a Starbucks. That’s not weird or anything, about half of these blog posts were written at a Starbucks, just not this one. I started coming to this one because of outdoor seating allowing me to take my mask off. My usual is more limited, and with many nearby restaurants using parking spots as outside dining, it can be a crap shoot to get anywhere near the coffee shop. The one I am at today is the forth closest to my house. I’ve only really started coming here a couple months back, and then pretty irregularly.

So it was a surprise to me this morning when the barista remembered my name. I am not all that chatty, and don’t have a usual drink. Heck, they hadn’t even seen my unmasked face .. ever. But I was happy when she remembered my name. Then again, that wasn’t the first time this happened this week, and not the most significant to me.

It’s been a while since my last blog, and a lot has happened since then. Much of it non-blog worthy, or fall into that category where I just don’t want to share it. I’ve been meaning to get this going again, but good intentions didn’t turn into words. More on that in a future blog, right now let’s get back to the story.

Bear with me though, there is a lot of backstory to this.

Long time Bearfeeders know that I am involved in the marching band / pageantry arts activity, and have been since my school days. I remember the moment that put me down this path, and it was a specific moment, a single count. I had taken an interest in marching bands and competed with my high school on a couple tours before i was introduced to Drum Corps. For those who don’t know, Drum Corps is like the typical marching band except is considered the top level of the activity. IT is the most dynamic, most dramatic, most exciting, and highest caliber. The summer before my sophomore year in high school in 1987, I recorded the Drum Corps World Championships off of the live PBS broadcast. The first three groups they showed was everything I expected from the activity, and everything I liked about it. There was clean lines, great music, bold sounds, costumes, colors, and even gimmicks. Then this group came out, and from the first couple counts of their show they proved to be everything I never expected from the activity. They whipped around forms. They passed in tight spaces. They march fast and marched far. The were poetic, rhythmic, aggressive, beautiful. They didn’t have gimicks, or color flashes, or standard approaches – heck even their lines weren’t straight – but they amazed me of what a group could do. The group was called the Garfield Cadets, and everything they did sucked me in further. The last big move has gone down in legends as “The Scatter Front”. I could write a whole blog on that move, but to keep it quick – it was a traditional straight forward manuever everyone and their mother has done since the early 1900s; but then they innovated it by breaking it to pieces, then they stopped raised their horns and put it all back together. I’ve watched that move hundreds of times, and I am sure that last guy will never make it to the line in time, and every time he makes it right at the big hit. That big hit … that first time seeing that big hit … whatever my life was before that was not going to be my life after.

Five years later, I found myself auditioning for the Cadets, who by that time changed their name to the Cadets of Bergen County (they are known now as just The Cadets, but had also been known as Holy Name Cadets). There I was surrounded by these people I thought were gods of the activity. Over the five years I known them, and the dozens of years I researched them before I became aware, I saw them as almost robotic – sculpted heros from the granite of greatness. I was so nervous (and exhausted from an all night drive, and no food for 12 hours) I wrapped around a toliet when i should have been playing my horn. I busted my tail pre-season, but I knew I was the wink link in our line, just one bad move from getting cut from my dream group. During spring training, nearly two hundred members, staff, and volunteers came down with a horrific stomach flu that put each person down for days … only two were spared, and I was one of them. I understand survivor’s guilt because as others suffered, I kept practicing sure they would cut me for not suffering like they did.

Let me restate that — I thought they were going to cut me, because I didn’t get sick.

Things got better, and I continued to bust myself towards making it better. Though many times I found myself thinking I was just an imposter. I was just this guy from Wisconsin, surrounded by heros.

I don’t know exactly when, but that summer I met Scotty McGarry. He is the corps historian, having marched in some of the glory and traitorous days in the 1960s. He remains affiliated with the corps, now reaching into 6 decades of his presence. As the historian, he would bring in photos, videos, recordings, jackets, shirts, and other items to show the history of the corps. I ate it up. Scotty seemed to love that I ate it up. Once a year, Scotty puts on a history program and has done this every year for half a century. My first time at the program, Scotty pulled me aside to show me a picture of the first contra (tuba) line in drum corps history. He wanted to show me other great pictures, like the first females in the corps history. Different items related to the contras over time.

Scotty showed me that being a Cadet meant something. They way he puts it, there is a golden thread that stretches over the 87 year history of the corps. Each member is tied to that thread. From the oldest of the oldest, to the newest of the newest, to the ones that haven’t joined yet. Because of Scotty, I didn’t feel like an imposter anymore.

As the season was coming to a close, during a meal, Scotty called me over. Beside him was a man I didn’t know (whose name is lost to me). Scotty said he was a drum major for the Cadets back in his day and he wanted him to meet me.

Let me state that — He didn’t want me to meet this man, he wanted this man to meet me.

The one thing I remember above all else from that conversation was them saying “We watched you guys go out on the field last night, and we both said ‘they look just like us.'”

I wasn’t just looking up to those heros or legends that I dreamed about meeting some day. I was one of them. I was a Cadet. I am a Cadet.

Last Sunday, I joined a Cadet Alumni virtual call with the west coast regional alumni. I might not typically join those, but I made a wisecrack that since they used a picture of me in the call announcement I better show up. We were told there would be a special guest joining then out of the blue …. there was Scotty.

Being the humble great man that he is, he wanted each of us to introduce ourselves and say when we marched. To a person, he remembered each of us, the shows, the people we were friends with. When it got to me, he remembered my name, my nick name, my friends … even when he showed me that picture of the first Contra Line. Sixty years, and this guy remembers so many people and pulls us in to that golden thread.

But to be remembered by Scotty – it was a ‘wow’ moment for me. I can hear my dad say something like “of course he remembers you, you are hard to forget” or some fluffy thing like that. But when he remembered me, I remembered what it felt like all those years ago to be a part of something special. These last couple years have been hard. These last few months have been hard. So in what was something that made my year, Scotty made me remember that I am a Cadet.

FHNSAB

Chávez Ravine Needling

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For the fifth year in a row, I made a trip to Dodger Stadium, and every year seems a little different.

The first year, I watched the Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers.

The second year, I watched the Dodgers beat the Milwaukee Brewers, but with a far more embarrassing result.

The third year, the Dodgers lost, just not to the Brewers.

The fourth year, I didn’t even leave the parking lot. That was last summer, and I went there to do the merry-go-round that was COVID-19 testing.

Last Friday marked year five. Again, I didn’t leave the parking lot, but this time I knew the outcome.

On Friday, I received my first Modero COVID-19 vaccine. Two days removed, and I am feeling no ill effects except for a little bit of soreness at the injection site. With the current Modero vaccine, I will have to get a second shot which is tentatively scheduled for April 16th. I got the first shot just five days after I became eligible for it. Los Angeles County has progressed to allowing people with pre-existing health conditions, so maybe there is some good to my lifetime of bad choices. I wasn’t nervous about getting vaccinated, until three in the morning of the event. I made the dumb move of having a peanut butter sandwich before heading to bed – and it gave me massive acid reflux. I woke up and found myself coughing stomach acid out of my lungs. What I didn’t need was a a wet hacking cough while in line to prevent a pandemic in my house. That, and I forgot to take my meds that morning. So by the time I got home, I was miserable, and I didn’t know if it was my PB&J, forgetfulness, or my ounce of prevention to blame.

I chose Dodger Stadium as my vaccine site, because it was a relatively close drive-thru site with easy appointments. After I became eligible, appointments filled pretty fast, so it wasn’t until Wednesday before I could access open times. I grabbed Friday at 10am, working around my work schedule and not getting caught in traffic.

When I got tested there the year before, it was about 1-1/2 hours to work through the line that started a good mile outside of the ballpark, even when I had an appointment. So I was expecting something like that. My hopes were up when I passed a hand made sign that said “2 hours from this spot” and I saw no line in sight. In fact, I was flagged into the parking lot without even a hint of a wait. They were set up for it, however, because upon entering the parking we started the “Dodger Stadium Obstacle Course.” Intended to be a staging area on a busy day, an entire section of the parking lot was filled with pathways created by cones segmented out into two lanes. There were temporary lights and port-a-johns stationed at regular intervals in case folks get stuck in the area too long. The paths weaved back and forth reversing directions and turning corners. There was no wait in this area, so cars just continuously moved through. From outside, all you see is a sea of orange cones, and an occasional slow moving car somewhere deep into the mess. By a sea of orange cones, I mean hundreds and hundreds. Illinois road crews would say “that’s a lot of cones.” Just as the two lanes back back together as one, we crossed a street and entered the last staging area. At first, cars were broken into a two or three lanes. Then rows of cars were filled with about 10 cars. There it was suggested we shut off the cars, because we would be sitting there for a bit. About twenty minutes later, we were allowed to drive forward under a large tent, and again it was suggested that we shut off the cars.

In this ten was where the staff made their rounds. One by one, they verified our ID, check off that we made our appointment, and gave us the social media famous vaccine cards. Then a nurse with a car came up and did the sticking. After the last car in the row got the job done, we were on a 15 minute clock. At the end of that time, they asked us if we had any issues – and we were sent on our way.

I’m sharing all this in part because it was the most interesting thing to talk about in my life right now (because Fox Sports hasn’t worked out a contract to get Aussie Rules Football in American yet). Also, if you have any concerns about the vaccine, I wanted to share my positive experience. I know that some of you face real concerns with the vaccine, and had deep talks about the subject. If you don’t have real medical history with bad vaccines, I’d really recommend you get vaccinated. Experts with actual degrees in this sort of thing have said that the only way to make the virus go away is to make the world immune. It worked for Small Pox, it worked for Polio, it can work with COVID-19.

Let’s get back to normal, so I can go back to being disappointed at Dodger Stadium.

Teambuilding With Among Us

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Recently, someone identified that I had a meeting notice on my calendar that said “Among Us.” I said it was a teambuilding exercise. They replied: “Yeah, because nothing says teambuilding like murdering each other than lying about it.”

Among Us is a free-to-play online game that is taking the gaming world by storm. In Among Us, you play a armless peanut of different colors who is on a spaceship, or planet, or something. Usually involving ten players, most are randomly selected as a “crewmate”, while two are selected as “imposters.” It’s a game that rolls out out in two phases. In the main play phase, the crewmates run around the game trying to perform tasks (which are meaningless little puzzles). Meanwhile, the imposters run around trying to kill the crewmates — its cartoonish, so it’s pretty family friendly. The imposters have a ‘cooldown’ which means they have to wait between kills, but they have the ability to use vents to sneak around the map, and also can sabotage parts of the map to gain an advantage. If someone comes across a dead body, the player can report a death which leads to the meeting phase. During the meeting phase, players have the ability to vote off who they think is an imposter. If a someone gets more votes than any others, that person is ejected from the ship. The game is won by the crewmates if either they complete all the tasks, or they vote off all the imposters. The game is won by the imposters if they either kill enough crewmates so there is an equal number of crew and imposters, or a sabotage runs its course and times out.

Or put more simply, we are talking about a interactive murder mystery. It’s a battle between detectives to find the bad guy, and the bad guys trying to get away with their deeds. As an imposter, your strategy is undoubtedly to cause havoc. You can get your kills in places where no one catches you. You can frame someone else for a murder. You can even throw your teammate under the bus just to make it look like you are innocent. For the crewmates, you have to balance completing your tasks with trying to identify the imposters. Some of the challenges to that are part of gameplay. Like you could be doing a task, and the puzzle covers your screen so that when you finish you find yourself next to a dead body … and no one else.

The game is based played with people who know each other. Also, it is best played when they are different locations, but are patched into a group call – like through Skype, WebEx, or Discord. Which means, it’s perfect for game players living under a “Stay at Home” order. I’m currently in one lobby of co-workers who get together every two weeks to “team build”, and am working on a second lobby of friends. Honestly, I have only been playing it for a month or two, but the influence has been around me for most of the last year.

Last summer, on-line gamers took advantage of the time at home to stream their Among Us games. They stream live on either Twitch or YouTube, and then follow it up with summary videos on YouTube as well. If you aren’t into video games and wonder why anyone would want to watch someone else play a game … well, I tell ya, it’s highly entertaining. They display their tricks, their methods, and their meltdowns in hilarious ways. High quality players like Disguised Toast, Valkarea, and Pokimane team up in lobbies of good friends laughing, playing, and enjoying the game. Yet goofballs like SocksFor1 and Mr. Blaza give us the weirdness of creative minds set wild. It’s so big that every day, there are tens of millions of views of Among Us videos. Content is so fresh that game updates are trackable.

The game is so widespread that these videos are adding to the English language. Take for instance “Sus.” Short for suspicious, it’s not used in place of suspicious. Mostly from the crewmate perspective, it is treated like a verb (“I am trying to sus out the imposter”), as a noun for the actions people take, (“Dude, why are you throwing sus on me?”), and as an adjective to describe actions (“Bra, you’re being kinda sus”). Oh yeah, and “bra” is a new word for “bro.”

There’s even a great meme out there that redoes the classic twist scene from Empire Strikes Back:

Luke: “He told me you killed my father.”

Black (Darth Vader): “Na bra, I was in electrical doing tasks.”

So, that’s how we team build during a pandemic. Faking tasks, running through Speci, hanging by the tree in O2, venting out of security, and camping cams.

Percy’s Firsts

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It’s been two weeks since the Perseverance Rover landed on Mars, and while in the grand scope of the mission not a lot has happened, a lot of things have happened. So far, we have received 7000 images from the rover. Flight software updates were sent across the gap between Earth and Mars, and the system is nominal. The rover’s masts and robotic arms have been deployed, and things are working as they should. Yesterday, Percy took it’s first drive on the red planet, including a six meter trek and a check-out donut. Many of the scientific instruments are still coming on line, as the team continues to take a step approach to start-up, and the helicopter is still weeks away from deployment. In other words, we know we can walk, we just aren’t ready to chew gum at the same time.

For us JPL’s who aren’t directly involved with the mission, we are gobbling up whatever is leaked out from progress. Today, they held the second post landing press conference, and a large number of people are blocking meeting time off so that we can watch the press conference. Sometimes, we get leaks and rumors, and the rest of us eat all that stuff up. The first press conference caused half the lab to melt down. Held just a few days after the landing, the Perseverance team shared video of the landing. The video includes cameras on the decent stage, up at the parachute, below the sky crane, and up from the rover – all posted against the audio of the crew watching from mission control. It was the first video shared If you haven’t seen it, check it out:

The call “Tango Delta” still give me chills.

One of the great moments on those early days happened in a discussion thread I called “the most JPL thread in JPL history.” Historically, JPL like to add special twists to our missions that start as inside jokes and then can become Easter eggs for people to find. Curiosity had Morse Code cut into the wheels that spelt JPL in the sand as it drove around. We’ve known Percy’s tires wouldn’t have something like that, so many people guessed what it could be. During that first press conference, it was revealed. They put a code in the color scheme of the parachute, though they didn’t say what the code was – just that we had to “show our work.” Over the next four hours, 120 replies were made on a single thread from JPLers guessing, and helping to crack the code. It was a group of some of the smartest people in the world helping each other to try to crack a code that we wrote. As it turned out, (SPOILER ALERT) the code was based on ASCI that when converted into numbers and letters spelt our our motto: “Dare Mighty Things” and the GPS Coordinates of JPL’s main gate.

The early photos near the landing show curious rocks suggesting volcanic activity, but the location was selected because it is a short drive from what appears to be a dried river delta. So much is going so well that the whole team is over the moon with excitement. Almost as a reward, the Perseverance Team received a video call from President Biden congratulating them on their success. The main quote from that call was when someone asked him about a moon rock he had in his possession. He said. “if you think this is great, wait until you see what we bring back from Mars.”

Six Wheels on the Ground

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Today at 2:55PM PST, we heard the words “Tango Delta Nominal.” It was code for Touch Down, and the Rover is operational. Precedence landed on Mars. The JPL rover built and tested just across the road from my office performed flawlessly during the entry, decent, and landing.

I watched the event from home in a massive IT set-up. I streamed the event on my TV through my PlayStation and YouTube. On my IPad, I had our virtual watch party with five or six friends. I had my work laptop with it’s two screens set ups so I could be in a team chat room, follow a lab-wide chat room, and a telemetry page they gave us access to so we could watch real time data of the landing. Meanwhile I was loaded with messages, texts, and social media posts. I didn’t have anything to do with the landing, but not like anyone at JPL did. The landing sequence was autonomous, and as I blogged yesterday, the whole process was complete before we received a signal that it began. Even the folks in mission control cold only sit, watch, and hope.

All of us in the watch parties were nervous yet excited. There was a lot to go wrong, a lot at stake, and we spent a lot of our hard work. The first sigh of relief was when we got word of a successful parachute deployment, knowing the immediate failure would come harshly. Word that the thrusters lit meant the worst was over. Then, Tango Delta Nominal. Quickly, word came over that the rover was reporting it was safe, and in less than a second a picture of the landing site was posted.

What made it fun was seeing everyone’s reaction – and by everyone, I mean world wide. The best ones were the funniest ones. Like in reference to that picture, we saw:

“Kudos to the software engineers who were able to photoshop the Martians out of the pictures so quickly.”

Someone tweeted:

“Don’t let NASA fool you. “Percy” is no lovable, touchy feely explorer. It’s actually a two-ton, nuclear powered, titanium robot that is going to spend a decade trampling over Mars, drilling into it mercilessly and stealing some rocks.”

Another tweet came from an account called “SarcasticRover” said:

“Finally understand how Woody felt when Buzz Lightyear showed up.”

The rover is now going through it’s safety checks and uploading the data collected during landing. We will start getting high resolution photos tomorrow and possibly a video. The rover should start moving around in the next few weeks as the operational situation is checked out. On day 30, the floor on the rover will drop allowing the Integrity Mars Helicopter to be deployed where it will begin its tests to be ready for first flight. And that’s when I will leave you with the last quote of the day that came from a flight engineer:

“Now, all we need is to get the rover to poop out a helicopter, and we can call this a win.”

Across the area, JPLers are celebrating (safely). JPL’s motto is “Dare Mighty Things”, and this was the mightiest thing we dared. Last January, when they announced the rover name, I have to admit that I wasn’t a fan. Up to that point, we hadn’t faced that much of an uphill battle, so it seemed like a choice by a politician. When the rover left the lab last February, we still didn’t know what was coming ahead. Engineers and technicians finished launch protocols in the middle of this pandemic while some three thousand miles from home in Florida. Project specialists finalized their plans when they couldn’t even be in the same room to talk. All of JPL had to celebrate with each other alone, not the way we wanted to spend it. Yet this mission was successful. This mission Persevered, and that rover earned its name today.

Seven Minutes of Terror & Peanuts

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Tomorrow (Thursday, February 18) at 3:55 EST, 12:55 PST, the Mars Rover Perseverance (also known as Mars 2020) will attempt a landing on Mars. Since the day I arrived at JPL, all the talk was about this rover. It was built across the street from my office. I performed audits at suppliers producing hardware for this mission, and we have been eagerly anticipating this landing since the launch last July. While I spend little time on each project, Persey is probably the mission I have had the most touch time since I came to JPL. Granted, it isn’t nearly as much as the thousands who put seven years of their lives to make this mission come true, but it is still exciting to think we are near the end.

I did a blog a couple years ago about the mission:

https://bearfeed.net/2019/06/19/mars-2020-is-coming/

While we landed Curiosity with nearly the same platform and design, the nerves are high. The landing tomorrow will come with what became known as the Seven Minutes of Terror. Landing this rover is incredibly hard. For starters, Mars has an atmosphere, but its really thin. It is thick enough that unless you get the angle right with the right heat shield, the mission will burn up. So there is a heat shield to take the lander from its cruise speed of 24,000 mph to around 900 mph. The heat shield won’t do much more to slow things down, so there are parachutes. Again, the atmosphere is thin, so the parachutes can only get the lander down to 200 mph, so there is thrusters to lower the decent rate to 2 mph. However, the thrusters will stir up so much dust that it could destroy the instruments. So, the rover is actually dropped from a sky crane as it nears the surface, the wire holding the rover is cut, the thrusters are released and the rover is landed.

The whole process from 24,000 mph to sitting on the red planet will take seven minutes. It takes fourteen minutes for the signal from Mars to reach Earth. So, when we hear that the mission has started the landing sequence, it would have been over for at least seven minutes before.

So, why call it seven minutes of terror? Because, while we did it once, we were sweating bullets then as much as now. For instance, when Curiosity was launched, the software for the landing wasn’t on board. They uploaded it when it was in route. Rumor is, the same happened this time. Rumor is, there is a lot of things to be worried out. Until word comes back that we have six wheels on ground, we are all terrorized.

How do we cope? Peanuts. In the 1960s, JPL was building and launching the Ranger missions. Ranger 1 thru Ranger 6 failed. One of the main engineers, thought that folks were getting too skittish, so he brought peanuts to the launch of Ranger 7 to share with his collogues. Ranger 7 was not only a success, it was flawless. Since then, peanuts have been in the room for every JPL launch, and if you tune you are bound to see a few jars sitting around.

As nervous as we are, this is also really exciting. I mean, I worked for companies before that were well known by the public, but let’s just say they weren’t looked upon kindly. The Empire State Building is lit up red for this landing. Piccadilly Square in London is showing a landing countdown. Heck, even Krispy Kreme has a Mars donut this week. I see all this and I say “this is my job, you are celebrating my job, how cool is that.”

I encourage all of you to tune in and watch what they can show you. The landing will be on NASA TV and on YouTube. It will start at 2:!5 PM EST (11:15 AM PST). And as long as the seven minutes don’t become a terror, it will make history.

Winter Storm Warning

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Los Angeles County is currently under a Winter Storm Warning.

It is Snowing at my house.

No I am not kidding, yes this is real. This is not some, “Hollywood People can’t stand temperatures below 65/” There is an honest to Betsy Winter Storm Warning in effect.

From the National Weather Service: “Heavy snow expected. Total snow accumulations 4 to 8 inches above 4500 and 2 to 4 inches between 3000 and 4500 feet. Wind gusts up to 65 mph.”

To be fair, I am at around 1100 feet elevation, so I am officially outside the warning area, but the warning area is just a mile up the hill from me.

That being said, just before I started writing this post, Auggie and I were watching some crocodile sized tears falling out of the sky. After a bit, I noticed they were getting chunky. By the time I got my phone out to take pictures, white balls that clearly weren’t hail splattered on the hood of my car. They melted in an instant, but this Northerner knows snow when he sees it.

Its a cold day for Southern California. Low of 34, high of 49, and most the overcast day has been in the low forties. All weekend it had been cooler, but this has been a lowpoint.

The rain was different as well. It’s rained each day for the last four – coming and going like today, and full-on toad choker on Saturday. It’s the first time we had any real rain since last March. This does become the wet season for us, and that’s supported by rain most days this whole week. For half my house, the wet is welcoming because it calms the allergies I tend to get. However, getting a puppy’s feets wet is the worst kind of torture there can be. So every time a pup has to do his business, he must cry in pain.

Auggie’s always been like that. I remember when he was just six months old, and we were still figuring out the potty training game. A cold wet rain was falling when I got home from work and took him outside. He sat next to the door wanting to go back in for fifteen minutes; and I waited him out. Finally after getting the job done, we ran inside for some well deserved wet doggie belly scratches. It just was hell up until that point.

So, don’t mind me as I get out my snow blower, driveway salt, and ice scraper. We’ll get through this like all those other catastrophes like earthquakes, sharknados, and the invention of avocado toast. Us Californians are tough like that.