The 495th Bear Feed Post

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This post marks the 495th blog post to the Bear Feed!

Yeah … like … I am almost at 500 posts!  Can you believe it?  I mean, who knew I could stick to a hobby 500 times.  That’s 500 opportunities to make fun of myself, talk about my jerk of a dog (we have been on the outs recently), complain about the weather, and occasionally mention a bear.

I have some plans for the 500th post, something epic, something that’s going to take work … but between here and there, I thought I would give you a little bit of a warm-up.

I don’t expect many of you to know the real history of the Bear Feed.  Heck, 90% of you probably didn’t even know me when I started writing it.

For those of you who haven’t been here through all 495 posts, I expect you to go back and read them all.

I’ll just wait here until you did all that reading.

Seriously.

I’m not kidding, go back and read them.

Okay.  Fine.  I’ll give you a summary.  (And by ‘Summary’, I mean a long winded story of this blog that intended to give you anyway but was trying to be funny … but in fact, wasn’t.)

I can tell you the exact moment I had the idea to write the Bear Feed – mostly because it wasn’t my idea at all.  First a little background.

I was at a huge turning point in my life.  I had just accepted a job to work for BP Exploration in Anchorage, Alaska and was in the last weeks of my eleven year tenure at Cessna Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas.  There was a full on rush to finish all the projects I was working on, turn my house into something that would actually sell (rather be burned down for the insurance money), and somehow find a way to say goodbye to all the friends and colleagues I have built up for years before.

One of people I worked with on and off was a man named Peter Huy, a Dutchman who used to work for Cessna based in Holland but moved on to a role with a supplier in Mexico.  This day in particular, I just put my car on the back of a truck for it’s trip to Alaska.  I needed a ride to the Airport to pick up a rental car to take care of myself in the interim and Peter offered.  On the way to the airport, we talked about the move, and my combined excitement for the big change as well as sadness for the departure.  I mentioned that I wondered how I would keep in contact with everyone – social media was building still, but wasn’t a guarantee.  He stated bluntly:  “Why not write a blog.”

This was 2012.  Writing a blog wasn’t the ‘fashion’ it was 2 or 3 years ago.  It was new, building in popularity, but still accessible to the common folk.  Writing things wasn’t out of the question for me, especially in the blog type format.

I spent a little time doing research on what it would take, landed on a website, and started it off.  The name “Bear Feed” came from a couple directions.  The main one came from a joke – someone asked how likely I would be eaten by a bear, which led to someone else wondering if the bear would find I be more tasty covered in teriyaki sauce.  So the double meaning of possibly becoming “Bear Feed” and giving the “Bear Feed” seemed to fit.  That … and bears.

The first post was on July 26, 2012 and was a whole 53 words long:

Welcome to my Blog.  It’s just beginning, but the intent of this is to create a place where friends, family, or random people can keep up on what is happening in my life.  Specifically, my big move from Kansas to Alaska.

More Details to come, just trying to make sure the account works. 🙂

The first couple of posts were more excuses for me to put off housework (and there was a LOT of housework), but were as much about saying goodbye than anything.

Of course, it all changed with the post: Two Feet on the Ground, Two Fists in the Air  My great Alaskan adventure began.  For the next two years, the blog was quite prolific, but then again, there was so much to blog about.  So much of it was trying to explain to you ‘normals’ what life was like there, from the different sites to see to the different animals that could eat you.

One of the quirky things that came along in the early years was the ‘Bunny Count’.  Every month, I made the habit of posting on the 1st to give a rundown of the month’s stats.  The idea was stolen from Amy Fletcher (who’s husband you can see this weekend conducting the Purdue All-American Marching Band at the Indy 500 … just saying).    The Bear Feed Bunny Count was a summary of the activities – starting with the count of all the cool animals seen (bears, moose, whales, etc) then daylight hours, snow counts, weather facts, and more stupid things I got myself in.  Each Bunny Count ending with the harsh reality that I had yet to be killed by any of that.

Auggie the Doggie was a key part of the Bear Feed from early on.  He came into my life a couple months after the Bear Feed began – and was introduced to the world there:  The Next Big Thing is Small (it includes a picture of him at 2 weeks … so be warned of the cuteness).  Since then, he’s had more than a few of his own updates (or “Pupdates”).

I left Alaska in 2014, which meant the Bear Feed had to change with the new surroundings.  During that time, I lived in Boston, Massachusetts; but I really did very little ‘living’ there.  I spent over 200 nights in hotels both those years, constantly on the road to try to support one plant or another in my job covering a quality program all over the US.  There was a high demand for my attention in my work, so finding things that weren’t about my ‘here and now’ to blog about was constantly difficult. During that period, the blog shifted more about me and what I was doing.  Sometimes there was a thing that popped up here and there about some event I went to or some place I visited; but my work-life balance wasn’t a big fan of next explorations.  I did tap into writing about things that interested me.  I spent more than a few posts on my history with the Marching Arts & Drum Corps.  I’d sometimes talk about the writing things I worked on.  Sometimes I just sat and made fun of the weather.

When I moved to California in 2016, things shifted again.  Now I was working in a job that made people interested.  Even as recently as this weekend’s posts, I update progress on missions coming out of JPL or touch on things that are happening here.  Plus there is more to see and explore.  Plus California is really different to many of you that aren’t from here.  So while still not back to how the Bear Feed was ‘All Alaska All The Time’ … it is a heck of a lot easier to write this thing.

I will be honest though – as much as the Bear Feed is about me the writer, it is HEAVILY filtered.  I intentionally do not blog about things that make my life troublesome, depressing, or difficult.  I avoid politics and other topics that people may find off putting.  The intent is this is supposed to be something I want you folks to enjoy reading.  I completely embrace that I am failing to do so … but that’s not the point.

The point is that 495 posts later, the Bear Feed is still rolling on.

Now … go back and read the rest of them like you said you would.

Hazzah!!

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(Note:  No Turkey Legs were harmed in the writing of this blog.)

HAZZAH!!

I like the Renaissance Faire.  Yeah … that’s right … I’ll own that confession.  I know folks out there probably agree with me on that, but it’s not like y’all are going around confessing your historical nerdism.  It’s easy to pick fun at really.  I mean, it’s a place where people dress up in costumes and pretend to be something that, minus a time machine (which kinda defeats the purpose) will never be.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t like LARP (Live Action Role Play, where people not only dress the part but act it out … and wonder why they don’t have girlfriends … like I should talk) or other times of full on recreations.  The Renaissance Faire is more of a celebration of symbols & sterotypes of the darker ages combined with a heck of a lot of drinking … like St Patrick’s Day without the green food coloring  (red yes, green no).

One of the largest Renaissance Faires in the country is LA’s own Renaissance Pleasure Faire, which concludes this weekend after nearly two months of events in Irwindale.  The gang went last year, had a great time, and after a false start due to weather we made it out again this year.  To give you a sense of things, here are a few phrases (edited … more because I am more sober now .. and funnier) that were heard during the day:

“I’m going to start all my e-mails with ‘Good Morrow’.”
“Your axe throwing would be more impressive if you were actually aiming for the ground, rather than just missing.”
“It’s all fun and games until the Puritans arrived.”
“There was a guy in line at the crepe station dressed as a Spartan.  I wanted to ask: ‘Is this was Sparta?'”
“I wouldn’t trust the soap you buy here.  What does it smell like?  Street Urchin?”
“I thought the guy dressed as Conan was good.”  “The one dressed as Conan of the ‘O’ Brian’ clan?”
“Nothing says ‘Renaissance Period Food’ like pita sandwiches.”
“You do you, Dany Targaryen”
“How many wardrobe accidents happen a day here, and how many do you think are accidents?”  “I don’t think any are accidents, but to answer your first question … not nearly enough.”
“I didn’t trust the blue bread fairy who was trying to feed me.”  “That’s good cause she just dropped the bread on the ground, and went back to eating it.”
“Hey look, it’s Yarn-beard Gandalf”
“It’s all fun and games until the Executioners arrived.”

And that’s just what I can remember … there may have been a few brain cells sacrificed for the greater good.

To give you a flavor of what to expect from such a thing; the Faire is mainly a place for Renaissance and Medieval activities.  Some of it representative of the time period, some of it fantasy (like faires and elves and the like), some of it breaching into places that don’t always fit.  There blacksmiths, wood workers, net menders, butter churners.  There are shops that sell clothing, swords, tankards, toys, spices, and books.  Occasionally, folks would parade through either themed on something going on, or just random queens walking about.  There’s a lot of beer … a LOT of beer … so you get a higher rate of people not holding said beer .. but there was also a LOT of people enjoying themselves.  There were tons of little stages with acts, songs, magic, and fun.  The main attraction is the live jousting; including the finale “Joust to the Death” ,,, meaning after the usual jousting, they fake kill each other complete with fake blood (see, I told you there was red food coloring).

My favorites were some of the small shows.  At least eight years ago, I became a big fan of a group called the Poxy Boggards – a bunch of rowdy drunk guys with a singing problem.  They are not only there, they are one of the resident groups … they are from this area (in fact, turns out I know people who know people in them).  Seeing them perform last year at the faire was equivalent to a bucket item list for me … so of course I would see them again this year.  A similar group, with completely different reproductive organs, called the Merry Wives of Windsor added to the fun.  But it was a performance group called the ‘Washing Well Wenches’ (hard to explain, just think strange women acting a bit too desperate) left me on the ground in tears.

If there is one thing you walk away from a faire like this, it’s an easiness.  I don’t dress up for these things, but man … I not only think I could, I think I could see myself working the place.   Before y’all get wrapped around that axle, I put that out there because I am not sure anyone would leave that faire without thinking the same thing to some sort of degree.  At least two-thirds of the attendees were dressed in some costume to some level – and while they did so to varying degrees of success or uniqueness, there was a bravery to it.  It makes you think that you come to a place where you can strip off the insecurities of looking weird in a pirate hat, and just enjoy a day rousting about.  Some say they dress up for some of those events because it lets them be themselves; while I see myself being an anxious idiot who worries to much about things … the faire lets people be the self that is so much easier to be.

So if you ever get a chance, visit a Rennisance Faire, and enjoy it for what it is.

Just be weary of the bread fairy.

Hazzah!!

Following On With Grace

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I waited nearly a year and a half for the first JPL mission to launch after I started.  For the second, it will be just over two weeks.

Next Tuesday, GRACE-FO (or GRACE-Follow On) will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base to begin a multi-year study to track water movement, soil moisture, ice sheets & glaciers, sea levels, and dryer earth.  It’s a shared project between JPL and the German Research Center for Geosciences.  While mostly built at facilities in Germany, much of the project management and testing has been on our side.

Like other projects I talked about before here, I’ve had some passing involvement in the project.  In fact, similar to the InSight mission launched a few weeks ago, I was at the final assembly and test facilities used for GRACE-FO at VAFB … so close to the mission, that I had to race around it as it was transferring between buildings so that my testing wouldn’t delay it’s arrival.

Short for Gravity Recovery & Climate Experiment Follow-On, the dual satellite design flying 220km apart measures variations in gravity between the two satellites.  This data, tied with accurate GPS measurement, means that the specific gravity on the Earth’s surface can be mapped so accurately that wide sweeps of moisture levels can be detected.  Those maps then are redone regularly so changes can be monitored.

Or the less scientific description:  Water Moves Around the Earth All the Time, this is telling us where it goes.

The “Follow-On” in the name should tell you something too.  This isn’t the first GRACE.  This is actually, the continuation on existing technology.  The first GRACE was launched in 2002, and continued to collect data up to October 2017 when the batteries finally hit their life.  That means if all goes well with GRACE-FO’s launch, it will go for another 15 years at least.

The launch has been an issue.  Originally scheduled for March, the date has slipped a number of times … but it wasn’t our fault.  GRACE-FO launches on a SpaceX Falcoln 9 with five commercial satellites called Iridium Next (which will be a big deal some day for internet, but not the point).  Those other satellites had some issues to work though, pushing back the overall launch plan.  Then of course, InSight took precedence.  Right now, there is a good window to go up on Tuesday May 22nd at about 12:45pm local time.  I won’t be up at VAFB for the launch … I have to work; but the fact that it will launch while I am at work has me curious to see what they do.

Still, it’s another check in the box, another mission, and another opportunity for us to learn more about the world we live in.

And another cool launch.

Bears Live in California

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Long time Bear Feeders may remember the ‘Bunny Count’.  This summary of a months animal sighting & oddities (a concept shamelessly stolen from Amy Fletcher on her statistical reports on bunnies) was in part intended to let people know what neat things I was seeing when living in Alaska … at the same time letting people know that bears haven’t killed me yet.  I stopped doing the bunny count because like after Alaska wasn’t so observational in it’s strangeness, so if there are no bunnies to count why count them.

I can tell you … I have something Bunny Count worthy.

Yesterday, I was driving home from work on my usual route – taking the 210 North and exiting at Ocean View Boulevard Exit.  As I reached the top of the ramp, I noticed the cars in front of me were moving slowly through the intersection.  It was that way that felt annoying, because there didn’t seem to be any reason for people to crawl through there.  Of course, there was a reason, a big brown furry reason, and as I approached the intersection myself I saw that reason.

There sauntering around the corner was a bear.

Brown bear to be exact.  Probably an adolescent, but not a cub for sure (that would have been dangerous with a mama lurking about).  Small for a brown bear, it seemed to be about the size of a full grown black bear – just not as cute.

Only only saw him for a couple of seconds, and then while passing through an intersection so no pictures, not selfies, no throwing fish lying about my car at him to get him to do tricks.

I did circle back to see him again, if at the very least to verify he is there and put a call into someone to manage the situation.  The loop back wasn’t as easy, so it was about five minutes before I got there.  By then it had moved up into some trees along the freeway – and Highway Patrol was parked nearby with eyes on it.  I did alert folks on my ‘Next Door’ app, but other than that the adventure is over.

That being said, I became acutely aware how many of the things that I enjoyed about Alaska are now prevalent in my current home.  Mountains … check.  Beer … check.  And now, Bears … check.

It was exciting because I have a thing for bears.  I mean … this blog is called the Bear Feed (so named because my pre-Alaskan “friends” were so sure that I would end up as bear feed up there).  Big, powerful, resourceful, yet gentle when they need to be; bears are always an amazing creature to see – all while respecting how dangerous it is to me, the pup, and anyone.  While I saw my first bear just a week after moving to Alaska, sightings there were rare.

Of course there are bears in California, but if I rarely saw them in Alaska why would I see them here.  That bear had to come down about 3 or 4 miles, cross at least one major road, and wander through large neighborhoods to end up where it ended up at.

So yeah … it was a cool drive home from work.

Bunny Count:  1 Bear

InSight: Away She Goes

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As planned, InSight launched this past Saturday at 4:05am PT … as expected.

My plans didn’t got as planned … which is also as expected.

If you remember last week’s post, Cinco de InSight, or more likely saw on the news (because y’all “trust” those people more than me for some reason … and don’t say integrity because that’s not a fair comparison) the Mars bound mission was set to launch on May 5th out of Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) just north of Santa Barbara.  A couple friends and I planned to head up, spend the night in a hotel, then watch the launch from just down the street.  As with any launch, you have to be a little bit lucky to catch it – because there are certain conditions they don’t launch in.  As we drew closer to the date, the conditions were deteriorating.

On Thursday, it was announced that the weather for the launch window was unfavorable.  There was fog predicted for the area.  VAFB is right on the coast, in fact, the launch pad is within a half mile of ocean.  This time of year, morning fog is common to typical all the way up and down the coast, and that could be problems for a launch.  In fact, they stated it was 80% likely that the weather would “violate launch conditions” for both Saturday & Sunday.  Not wanting to take the 3 hour drive up for a lousy amount of sleep just to find out that the candle won’t light didn’t seem like my kind of party.  So we went into “winging it” mode … which basically meant we would keep an ear to the ground on how things will go.

On Friday, the weather report hadn’t changed, but the interpretation of what meant had changed.  Visibility on the launch pad was going to be minimal at best, but seconds after launch the vehicle will clear the fog and all other visuals would be on full display.  Following the Launch Readiness Review on Friday, the team made the statement, they would attempt a launch Saturday morning.

After a week of audits on the East Coast, and a Friday that actually began at 11pm on Thursday in California, followed by a 5 hour flight, followed by a two hour commute home, followed by still some hours of work to do, followed by needing to buy a grill to prep for a get-together … I was in no mood to make the run to VAFB.  So I didn’t.

I did set the alarm for 3am, which is a lot easier when you are still on East Coast time, and set-up the laptop on the back deck to watch the live feed and look to the sky.  Shortly before 4am, they gave the final rundown with all the project managers – they asked first the booster team, then the upper stage team, then the payload … and it went:
“Atlas?”
“Atlas is Go for Launch”
“Centaur?”
“Centaur is Go for Launch”
“InSight?”
InSight is Go For Launch”

Folks in the area said they could feel the ground shake.  They said they could hear the rumble.  Some thought they could see a bit of a glow through the thick fog.  They saw nothing.

At about 1 minute after launch, I saw the red light appear over the Vendugos.  InSight was about a hundred miles from my position, but already 50 miles down range and climbing.  I have seen the SpaceX Falcon9 launches out of VAFB, but this Atlas rocket was a monster.  That thing cooked across the sky and finished with it’s first stage in what seemed like no time what so ever.  Daybreak launches like this are much harder to see from LA and places south.  You basically are looking for a dot going across the sky.  Twilight launches are way more interesting as you can see the contrail through the setting sun.  But InSight was mine … that was my first JPL launch.

After the launched, InSight continued on.  As I type this, InSight is 365 Thousand Miles from Earth (or 587 thousand kilometers … for you Canadians). That’s already 15 thousand more miles than it was a couple hours ago, so she is making good time.  She’s on track to make a landing in November as planned.  All systems are good, all communication good.

After the launch, I continued on as well, but moving way less slowly.  It got hot here, and I had a grill to build and a house to clean.  I officially opened my deck, in probably the closest thing to a house warming … just a mere 10 months after moving in.  We drank cervesa, grilled carne, and spit out chili covered watermelon candies.  I didn’t nap Saturday, so I dragged by the time the night ended … dragged even more on Sunday … dragging today.

Moreso, I am back at it today.  InSights launched, but we got more projects to come, and I got work to do.

Cinco de InSight

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This Saturday, the next JPL mission to Mars is scheduled to launch, and I just might be there to see it.  The Mars InSight Mission will open it’s launch window, and all signs are pointing to the candle lighting as planned at 4:05am PT (6:05am CT for you Midwesterners) from Vandenberg Air Force Base just North of Santa Barbara, CA.  The current plan for is to make the run up Friday night, crash at a local hotel, wake up at 0-dark-30, drink coffee, launch, breakfast, home, then celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Depending on how the launch goes, InSight is expected to land in late November 2018 on Elysium Planitia on Mars to study the ‘Inner Space’ of Mars.  It is essentially a lander that will measure the make-up of the red planet.  One science goal is to understand how Mars formed by doing geological testing.  The other main goal is to determine the tectonic activity — namely measure for “MarsQuakes” (Because you can’t have Earthquakes somewhere other than Earth).  This mission also includes two CubeSats (miniture satellites that can fit in the palm of your hand.  Names Mars Cube One, these two units will test deep space communication that could lead to a a better way to push data through our solar system.

While not considered a flagship mission, it still has a lot of great things going for it.

For starters – it’s my first JPL launch.  Like, not just seeing it, but the first of the JPL missions that launched while I was paying attention as a JPLer, so there’s that.

This mission also has my name on it … figuratively and literally.  InSight’s body includes a microchip that, for those us in the know, allowed us to have our name carved into that chip.  I did the same with my nephew, so the two of us will have a man-made object on Mars with our names on it.  Goofy stuff aside, I did have a part of the process.  While my involvement in InSight is an infinitesimal percentage of the overall project, I’ve played some roles in it’s build – most notably buying off the electrostatic discharge safety of the final assembly area (meaning, I stuck something into an outlet, and the light turned green).

InSight will also find a place in history in American Space flight.  Before this weekend, Kennedy Space Center was the only launch facility where extraorbital flights were launched.  InSight, flying out of Vandenberg, will be the first interplanetary mission launched in this country outside of Florida.

The launch window is precise.  If the bird doesn’t fly at 4:05am Saturday, they’ll try again Sunday … same bat time, same bat channel; then lather rinse, repeat until the candle is lit or June 8 when the window closes.  Flying on a United Launch Alliance Atlas rocket, it should make for a pretty good light show coming out of Vandy; but the view won’t be so good after that with the sun to our back.  That’s why we were pretty excited to head up to see it.