The Magic Returns

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If you think Auggie is getting upset because of all the travel I’ve been on; well, he is going to be downright pissed when he finds out where I am not taking him along to next.

In little over a week, I am returning to where all of this Bear Feeds stuffs began, and doing all those things that Bear Feeders wish to have back … probably.  I am flying up to Anchorage, AK for a long weekend of catching up with good friends, curling, and maybe … possibly … having a drink or two.

Story goes … About a month ago, I was banging around on the old Facebook and came across a picture of my old curling team (Team Strugglebus).  Being in a sentimental way, I waxed about what it would be like to “get the band back together”.  One of my old teammates, Heidi Hill, floated back that a bonspiel (that’s curling for ‘tournament’) was coming up soon.  I checked flights, poked at people who could end up making a team, poked at others to get a couch to sleep on, sobered up, sobered up again, make sure I was sober for a long enough time to make good decisions, then hit the ‘purchase’ button.

Every since that day, a complete lack of a plan has led to poor planning (so … an improvement).  I’m going to be competing in the Spring Spiel at the old Anchorage Curling club; where I will throw my first rock in anger then probably spend the rest of the weekend crying from blown knees.  As we were working up the team, that old teammate Heidi and I had this conversation:

Me:  “So, if I skip, will you be my 3rd?”
Heidi:  “Sure”
Me:  “You know, in Canada, that would be a way to propose marriage”
(insert uncomfortable silence here)

The team is still coming together, meaning, yeah, who wants to play on a team where the skip hasn’t played in 3 years.  Contrary to popular belief, Kilts won’t be worn either.

As far as a rest of a plan … still coming together.  I’m being taken in by the world famous Laura Sherman with the blessings of the pack Auggie used to run with (plus Squirrel, cause … Squirrel is new).  I get some time to myself which made me want to do things that people do in Anchorage … like get chased by a moose, yell at the BP Building for taking years of my life away, or get stuck in traffic on the Glenn Highway in a Turtle Costume (look it up).    I am sure sooner or later we will hit some of my old haunts if they are still open.

The thing is … this is the first time I will be back in Alaska since the day I moved away.  Since that day, I don’t go very long between times I pull up the Alaskan Dispatch website, or check out old photos, or talk to old friends.  I’ve now nearly doubled the time I’ve been away compared to the time I spent there, but my memories are so rich and full that it’s so easy to miss that place.  Yes, things are good these days (at least better than my time in Boston), but it’s hard to forget a place that is so hard to forget.

Hockey Week in La Crescenta

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Oh a good old Hockey Game is the best game you can name, and the best game you can name is a good old Hockey Game!

Welcome to my Hockey Month.

While I never played the game, never really donned ice skates, I am a sucker for a good old hockey game … and as it turns out, I am in the midst of a heck of a hockey month for me.

It started last weekend getting live scoring from the Wisconsin State Championships for my Nephew AJ.  Their team went into Sheboygan as defending state champs, and were there to defend cup.  While they fell short in the defense, the updates were coming in all hours of the night (California time), and had me hanging on results on a plane.   It continued as word was coming back that my alma mater, Michigan Tech, reached a game 3 of a 3 game serious against a heated rival in Minnesota State.  That final game I got to live stream with my cousins (see the post: Out for Bread).  That party continues as Tech plays our greatest of great rivals Northern Michigan (aka NMU aka eNaMaU aka ‘That’s Alright, That’s Okay, You’ll Be Working For Us Someday’).  The winner of that one game tonight will win the WCHA and get an automatic bid to the NCAA Div I Playoffs & the road to the Frozen Four.  While I can’t physically get to any of those games … there is a few games I can.

One neat thing the NHL does to reduce the impact on players and fans is that east coast teams only have to play west coast teams once a year, and when they do they get it all done at once.  While they sometimes break it up, catching a ‘Grand Tour’ is great chance to follow a team that you only see once a year.

Way back in 1985, I was starting to get a itch for hockey.  Back then, the most we would get to see is tape delays of *blech* University of Wisconsin home games late at night, something that a teenager could pop on when he got home after doing whatever.  Being from Wisconsin, I didn’t really have an NHL team to follow.  I mean, I could follow the North Stars in Minneapolis or the Blackhawks in Chicago; but being a Green Bay Packer fan first and foremost, following a team from Minnesota or Illinois was a little bit contradictory.  So … I picked the team with the coolest logo.  No literally … I liked someone with cool uniforms, and … that was it.  Thirty years later, I am still a New Jersey Devils fan … and by fan, I am a reverse band wagon fan.  I tend to only follow them when they stink, when they are good I don’t even notice; I mean, I completely missed two of their three Stanley Cups.  Surprisingly, the Devils are decent this year, and I still haven’t turned my back on them.  Currently in the playoffs, but right on the edge, they started their Grand Tour earlier this week … and I am here to follow.

Wednesday, when I stuck in Florida meeting astronauts, the Devils were in Las Vegas.  If you haven’t been following the NHL this year, the Las Vegas Golden Knights are the story of the year.  They are an expansion team, in their first year in existence, a place which usually makes a team a joke at best.  Vegas is not only NOT a joke, they are not only in the playoff hunt, they are in the hunt for the best record in all of Hockey.  They are eating teams up by being nothing more than a really good team.  Devils started their Grand Tour by going into this foramble team’s home ice … and won.  Not just won, put on 8 goals in the biggest scoring fest in Las Vegas history.

Today, I join the Grand Tour wagon.  In a couple of hours, the Devils face the LA Kings at the Staples Center.  I’ll be there in my NJ Devils Green for St Pats day.

Tomorrow, I am in Anaheim to watch them play the Ducks at the Honda Center / Duck Pond.

Then Tuesday, I fly to the bay area and catch them against the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center.

All four teams on this grand tour are in the playoffs currently, so no game is going to be easy for the beloved Devils.  Not only that, before they head home they have one last game at the defending cup holders, Pittsburgh.  With just a couple of weeks to go in the season, these should be huge games and huge events.

Come April, of course, starts the playoffs … which means my nights are basically all taken up by watching game after game after game.  But that is what makes the game so much fun.  It is non-stop intensity for long periods of time.

So forgive me if I get a little bit wrapped up in hockey this month.  But as the Canadian country singer Stompin Tom Corners once coined … “the best game you can name is a good old hockey game.”

Spacing Out on Quality

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Did I mention I met an astronaut?  Okay, so by “Met”, I mean I was in the same room as one that gave a talk.  Spun from one of my favorite Laura Sherman-isms, I could literally say his attention was fully on me – because when he turned my way he was looking right at me.  That and he talked about me … and by ‘about me’ I mean he basically described why I was hired to move to Alaska and why I left … and by that, I more mean he described the situation that I just happened to be a part of … and by that I mean, he mentioned it … and  by that, I mean he was talking about me.

Today, I make the long trip back home after a week of conferences in Cape Canaveral.  I attended two in the same hotel / room (not actually at the space center, but come to find out where the Apollo astronauts stayed when they were in town … which explains the ’60s decor of the room).  Both conferences focused on quality in the Space industry – the first put on by our main industry group the American Society on Quality called the Collaboration on Quality in the Space & Defense Industry (giving you the mouthful acronym of ASQ-CQSDI).  The second, a NASA center Quality Leadership Forum (following the more responsible TLA approach of QLF).  Both pulled in industry leaders and key subject matters to discuss current topics & cultures in Quality – in a battle for everyone to stay awake through four days of industry leaders and key subject matters discussing most of the same current topics and cultures in Quality.  I joke, but it was actually really good.

After 16 months in this industry, I am still trying to put my finger on it.   Every job I have had in quality had shown me that Quality means something routinely different from industry to industry.  You would think my time as a quality person in the “Aero” side of “Aerospace”, would translate easily to the “Space” side of the same word … but it’s quite a shift.  Quantities is the most glaring one.  For example, while never to be confused with the quantities of parts needed to build hundreds of thousands of cars a year – we could still consider that any part a supplier would make would need to have a few dozen similar friends to fill the 40 aircraft built on a design in a year.  So, in comparison, how you deal with 100,000 parts for automotive is different than the 40 for air frames.  At JPL … we’re building one rover.  For a field that relies on data, a single data point to make decisions is difficult.  The gut feel for that is to make sure everything about that one part is perfect, to make sure every risk is mitigated, to make sure no chances are taken.

Yet where Space also sets itself apart is that it is defined by the risks it takes.  This whole week, the message was “if there is a major threat, a danger, a chance someone may not come back … you must stop the process” … shortly followed by “if there is a risk that exists, and you can accept the outcome; it’s okay to take it.”  It’s sort of like – the best decisions are made when you have all the information in front of you; but the worst decision is the one that is never made.  Apollo 13 for example was a great feat of problem solving to save the lives of astronauts; but some of the biggest risks and biggest moments in the rescue happened because the people on the ground not only knew the capabilities of the crew capsule and had calculated those events years before the failure happened.

After four days of discussions like that, I come back a little more informed and a little more motivated.  I’m a little more networked, a little more ready to do my job, and a little more disillusioned by winters in Florida.  I’m a little more aware of why we do what we do; little more aware of how I fit in the greater machine of space flight, and a little more excited about what else I can learn from this experience.

And I met an astronaut.

So what did the rest of you do this week?

Out for Bread

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Contrary to what you may have heard, this story begins with a plane coming in for an emergency landing.  Picture if you will, fire trucks lining the runway – ambulances on call – and pilots trying to calm the nerves of anxious passengers.  The plane had a computer fault, one that made itself believe that it was still on the ground when it was very much in the air.  This fault caused the plane to have to keep the landing gear extended; which on the surface isn’t a bad thing but could mean that the gear wasn’t locked out.  There was a chance that when the wheels touched down, all of it would collapse and the fifty or so passengers will be at the fate of whatever result that comes.

The way Missy tells the story, I was just trying to avoid meeting her.

If Missy was correct, I got pretty good at it too.  For nearly 10 years, I avoided meeting my cousin-in-law.  Missy married my cousin Ed Tietel up in Minnesota that weekend I almost died (not to be dramatic but ALMOST DIED) in a plane crash.  It all happened out of Wichita, who didn’t exactly have hourly flights to Rochester – so ultimately I didn’t make it up there.  Then other family get togethers lined up against other commitments I couldn’t get out of (why my family is committed to getting married during fall band judging season, I don’t know).   Ed and Missy made frequent trips to ‘The Du’, but only during times when I wasn’t there.  Missy, a graduate of Minnesota State in Mankato, would egg me into random bets when my alma mater, Michigan Tech, would play them in Hockey … something that happens more and more as they become top of the the table rivals in Division 1 WCHA conference games.

Of course, as Missy started seeing a pattern, a running joke arose.  Sometimes they would call when I was visiting my parents – which I would then take the time to ‘be out for bread’.  You do it once or twice and you start doing it all the time.  Like all the time.  I mean, nearly 10 years this joke went on.

It all changed more on a joke played not on Missy, but on Ed.  On one of those Thanksgiving visits to ‘The Du’, my cheapest flight was through Rochester.  As it happened, their Minnesota State team was up against Alaska-Anchorage in Mankato; a two hour drive, but still doable.  She hit me up, asked if I wanted to come down, and we decided to keep it a secret from Ed.  Story goes, they were meeting friends of hers for pre-game drinks – she gets a call (from me trying to find parking) – leaves them to take the call – pisses off Ed – and he is stewing about the whole thing I sit down next to him.  That night was a classic for me; yes for meeting Missy for the first time, but moreso catching up with Ed.  I may have gone nearly 10 years without meeting her, but that also meant a much longer time without seeing my cousin.

Since then, we have had more chances to get together.  More ‘in the area, come for a visit’ visits.  It usually involves a few beers, a few hashtags (#cousinsgonewild #wheresvegas #tomnelson #whatsahashtag), and more than a few laughs.  While sometimes there is planning, the better visits are done with very little.  This Saturday, as I was preparing to spend a week in Cape Canaveral for conferences, they hit me up remind me that:
A) They were just an hour away for Daytona Bike Week
B) Michigan Tech was playing Minnesota State in the WCHA playoffs Sunday night
Couple of beers, a couple of bucks to steam a hockey game, and a couple of hashtags, and the night was complete.

So now, I don’t avoid them to get bread.  Arguably, others get the honor of being the person that I reluctantly but consistently not hook up with (yeah, that’s probably you Greg Walker), but let’s hope that it doesn’t take a plane crash to make me avoid people in the future.

Top-Ish Lists: Greater than Spice Racks

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It’s award season here in SoCal.  Meaning the industry that is entertainment is taking a few breaks to pat themselves on the back.  The biggest, of course, is the Oscars just finished, which means I am reminded that I should go see some of them here and there … and not just on an airplane.  It also means I remember all the great movies I’ve seen, namely the best lines from those movies.  Since I needed a deviation from life for a little bit, I thought it was about time I throw together one of these “ISH” lists to do just that.

Honestly, when I was trying to create this list, I was split between doing one on my favorite quotes, and one on my favorite movies.  Honestly they blend together into one mass.  Also, I was pretty sure I was going to miss some; so it was hard to say this list is very definitive.  So I just decided … heck with it, I’m throwing out a list, and if I don’t like it, I’ll just bore people with another one later.

As with all these lists, there must be rules … because without rules I can’t overexplain things.  The rules this time are:

  • SPOILERS!!!!!  There Will Be Spoilers Here Folks.
  • Each entry must be a great line from a movie I think is also great.  So great lines from stupid movies don’t count.
  • The line has to, in my unhumble opinion, to be part of what makes the movie great.  Out of context, it may not seem that great, in fact some of these seem insignificant.  Yet with the right level of overexplanation, the reasoning I chose them should be clear(ish).
  • One line per movie,  one movie per line.
  • I won’t commit to saying these are the best lines or movies ever.  For one, there is more to come surely; but for two, I don’t trust my memory … I did have some mighty fine wine last night.

So here we go … in order of ‘None of your business what order it is in’ here is:

The Top-6ish Lines from Movies I Think Are Great:

1) “Do You Classify As Human?”  “Negative, I am a Meat Popsicle”
The Fifth Element (1997)

I am not silent about my love for the Star Wars saga, but what I am also not silent about is that I think the Fifth Element is one of the best sci-fi movies, and the one movie that deserved every sequel that the train wrecks of the Transformers got.  For one thing, Fifth Element developed an entire cinematic universe that touched on politics, economics, entertainment, and art all wrapped in a ‘save the world’ action plot.  The film did a lot of this through nearly throwaway lines that you just start picking up, sometimes in the most comedic ways.  For instance, most of your life, including your identification, your travel authorizations, your background, and even how many points you have against your license is held on a single card … or “Multi Pass”.  It’s a culture that contains multiple races, and a very militant police force that has the right to force you against the wall while they identify you.  It was in that moment when our hero resisted with a little joke.  Yes, it’s nothing more than a throw away line, but just like all the others in this movie, it build this grand universe that even Micheal Bay could blow up.

2. “I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender …”
On The Waterfront (1954)

Yeah, going for a real classic here.  Of course, if you know movies you were bound to have heard this line at some point … I know I did before I actually watched the whole movie.  This line, which holds a fair bit of weight on it’s own, is the movie … it is the whole of what this movie was, and was as powerful of a moment in any movie I have ever seen.  The film is about longshoremen, caught between keeping their jobs and the mob.  The main character, Terry Malloy, is really stuck in the middle – a once promising boxer, protected by his mobster brother Charlie, and now seeing how he can be the linchpin to stop violence against his fellow longshoremen.  While he did a lot to walk the line between the two sides, it wasn’t enough – and his brother Charlie is sent to kill Terry.  From the moment he gets into the car, Terry knows what Charlie is about to do, and Marlon Brando acts his bottom off showing not fear but exasperation for a brother who let him down.  Terry brings up how it started with Charlie getting him to throw some fights, Charlie quick to know how Terry saw pay from that; but this is the turning point.  Terry points out what could have been … he coulda had class, he coulda been a contender, instead of a bum.  This was a burst of emotion Terry had been holding back the whole movie.  It explains why Terry is looking out for the other longshoremen.  It explains why he kept his mouth shut for Charlie’s sake.  It explains so much about Terry, and so much about what is to come.  Figuratively, Literally, and Symbolically, that line defines the life of Terry, Charlie, and the whole of the life on the waterfront.  So, yeah, I went with a classic, but it’s a classic for a reason.

3.  “Hi”
The Dark Knight (2008)

I like movies that make you forget that you are watching the movie you are watching.  It took me a while to jump on the Dark Knight bandwagon, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch a Batman movie; but it was easy to forget I was watching a “Batman Movie”.  The Dark Knight was the second in Chris Nolan’s trilogy, and easily the best of the bunch.  It was brilliant because, in part, Chris Nolan – who seems to love incredibly intelligent plots told in incredibly entertaining ways.  What really set Dark Knight apart, though, was Heath Ledger as the Joker.  If the theories and legends are true, this role sent him over the edge and contributed to his death – but this as a magnum opus is a work of genius acting.  While there are some great lines (like “the lose their minds” speech, or the intense interview room scene); I wanted to focus on just one simple word.  It was deep into the plot, and through a very long series of complicated events the Joker was in a hospital dressed in a nurse costume complete with a white mini skirt and a surgical mask.  What follows that scene is a just as complicated series of events to move the Joker’s plans forward.  All of this starts with the first conversation with Harvey Dent, who is going through some, for lack of a better word, complicated set of emotions.  As the joker removes that surgical mask, looks upon a knowing Harvey Dent, all of those complications, those plans, those actions, those emotions, ripple through the mess of smiles, lips smacking, and gritting that makes this portrait of the Joker so incredible, and he punctuates it with the simplest of words. “Hi.”  Every time I watch that scene, I am laughing in awe of that moment.

4. “But I still don’t drink coffee”
The Fisher King (1991)

So, most of the items on this list are about a single line that the movie seems to swing around.  This one is actually a punchline to a brilliant speech as part of a just as brilliant scene.  While it stands as a turning point to the film, a symbol of the ideas present, or even a key moment in these characters’ lives; the ‘coffee’ scene from the Fisher King may not be as powerful as all the rest of these.  But that isn’t the point.  This scene follows two people who met just hours before and now are walking back to her apartment.  She assumes that one thing is going to lead to another, the thought of which makes her feel bad about herself before they even reach the door.  This part of her comes on so quick that the only thing he can do to get a word in is that every time she mentions getting together for coffee, all he can do is say that he doesn’t drink it.  She goes to leave and he stops her – and that’s when things get brilliant.  She’s played by Amanda Plummer, and he … Robin Williams, at his most crazy and most controlled.  This speech he gives is all of that – from saying she is the greatest thing since spice racks, to discussing the phallic nature of Florida.  In this speech he reveals he has been, for lack of a better term, stalking her in a friendly way.  He bravely talks about what he loves about her, points out all her cute quirks, and even tells her he recognizes when she thinks she isn’t so happy about herself … doing so just revealing that it is all part of how he feels.  He leaves it with this final plea, a final wish, that he can be pushed away and never seen again if he can get that ‘first kiss’ from her, then he would accept anything.  Except the coffee of course.  For serious, if you want a happy cry, watch this scene.

5. “I forgot how big … Thank You”
Joe Versus The Volcano (1990)

If I ever get into an argument about movies, the one thing that can nullify my opinion is me admitting I love Joe Versus the Volcano.  Considered to be one of the worst movies of the early ’90s, I can watch it over and over again.  Yes, the symbolism is forced, the dialog is clunky, and the whole Hawaiian-Jewish-Orange Soda thing was confusing — but there are some brilliant moments.  I could have gone with the very quotable office scenes (“I’m Not Arguing With You” – “I am opening or closing the main valve” – “Do you think I feel good? Nobody feels good.  …  I don’t let it interfere with my job.”) or quotes about luggage or quotes about clothing.  But the scene that gets me happens later on.  The film is about this guy Joe who with the prospect of a terminal disease agrees to end his life by throwing himself into a volcano (yeah, like the premise of E.T. makes sense in summary).  Joe, stranded on his waterproof trunks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is awaken by the moon rising.  He stands on the trunks, and raises his hands.  With the theme of a man faced with his own mortality and understanding what that could mean, he reaches up and calls out:  “Dear God, whose name I do not know – thank you for my life. I forgot how big… thank you. Thank you for my life.”

6. “Okay”  “Okay”
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This quote, though, is the most spoiler heavy, so be warned.   Hopefully by now you see I am into different movies, smarter movies, and/or stranger movies.  Eternal Sunshine is that … and then some.  A couple end their long relationship and to help themselves get over the break-up they … well … erase their memories of the other one.  Literally.  In fact, most of the film follows as the guy, Joel (played by Jim Carrey) as the process removes the memories of her.  They start with the most recent memory, and work backwards – which means they start with the ones you most likely want to get rid of, but slowly as the film continues he figures out he wants to keep some of them, especially those that made him happy.  The film becomes almost a mid-dream battle to save the past.  In the end, all memories of her are erased except for a few hints of something — one of which was a suggestion to find her where they first met.  He goes there on valentine’s day, finds her, and they start hanging out again.  Without expanding on the details, they come to find out that they had been in this long relationship, that they really hated each other in the end, and that while they have no memory of that time they know now it happened.  In the very last scene they are stuck in that question – do we move ahead with this or do we quit now since we already quit.  She states all the things that are going to happen, all the bad things she will do, all the annoying things he will do and they will have to put up with all of that.  He, in his very soft spoken and sheepish way, shrugs, smiles and says “okay.”  She looks back at him, confused, scared, but breaks into a smile of her own.  She agrees as quick, “okay”.  The film ends, their futures all ahead of them, their past like a hint of something, but at that moment they are unafraid – ready to take all the lows, because the highs make it worth it.  In it’s own way, defining what love is.