Friday, September 28, 2007

Air in the Tires

Trevor was happy. Very happy. He had a shiny, brand new bicycle. He never had such a nice gift in his whole life.

It was Trevor’s seventh birthday. He had learned how to ride the old bike in the garage, with his dad’s help. He had worked real hard, and was very careful with the old bike. Then, just like his dad promised, he got a new bike on his birthday.

Trevor rode his bike everywhere. He rode to school. He rode to the store. He rode all over town. People would see him coming and say, “There goes Trevor on his brand new bike.” Trevor was so proud as he rode and rode his bike everywhere.

But after a long time, Trevor felt something was wrong. It was harder to pedal his bike. He barely noticed the difference at first. But it was harder. Not only that, it was getting a little harder all the time. Even though Trevor pedaled as hard as he could, the bike just went slower.

Trevor started to worry. “Am I getting weak?” he thought. “No, I can still run and jump OK. Maybe something’s wrong with my bike.”

But try as he might, Trevor couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Finally he said to himself, “My Dad’s pretty smart. I’ll ask him.”

So Trevor went to his dad and told him about how his bike was getting harder to ride and was going slower. His dad said, “Well, let’s take a look.”

So they went outside and looked at the bike. His dad said, “Hmmm, I think I see the problem. Your tires are running out of air. When you ride a lot your tires slowly lose air. Nothing’s really wrong, you just need to do is go down to Bert’s gas station and put air in your tires. I’m sure Bert will be glad to help you.”

Trevor was relieved that the problem was so simple. And he was so happy that he hardly noticed how hard he had to peddle to get to Bert’s gas station.

When he got there, he didn’t see Bert. He looked all over. Then he thought, “Bert’s not here, but I’ve seen my dad get air a lot. I bet I could do it.”

And Trevor did just that. He found the air hose, and, since he was a very clever boy, figured out how to fill his tires all by himself. He had gotten his tires mostly filled, when he heard a man shouting.

“Hey, kid, get away from there! You’re gonna break something!”

Trevor looked up to see a strange man he didn’t know. The man was wearing overalls just like Bert, but he was not Bert. He was big and mean looking and angry. Trevor was surprised and scared. He dropped the hose and just stood there.

The man went on screaming, “What do think you’re doing. You’re too young to play around here. You get out of here now. If I ever see you here again, I’ll make you wish you were never born!”

It took a lot of courage for Trevor even to pick up his bike, but he did and rode away as fast as he could. He didn’t ever want to see that man again.

Trevor didn’t know what he did wrong, but he figured he must have broken something. He was afraid of what that man might do. He was afraid the man would tell his dad about it.

After a few days, Trevor was surprised but somewhat relieved. His dad didn’t say anything, so he guessed the man hadn’t told on him. Trevor sure didn’t want to tell. He could still ride his bike, although it was a little hard because he hadn’t filled the tires all the way up. Now he still rode all over town, except he stayed far away from Bert’s gas station.

And the tires eventually started losing air again. This time it didn’t take so long for the bike to be hard to ride, since the tires didn’t get full. Trevor loved his bike, but it got harder and harder to ride. Finally, Trevor gave up. Riding was just too hard. He put his bike in the garage, and just walked. He was also very sad.

One day, Trevor’s dad came to talk to him.

“Hi Trevor, buddy. Is something wrong? I haven’t seen you ride your bike, and you don’t look very happy.”

Trevor liked his dad, and he knew his dad loved him. But he didn’t want to get into trouble. He didn’t know what to say. Finally he said, “It’s too hard to ride.”

Surprised, his dad answered, “Didn’t you put air in the tires like I told you to?”

“Well, yeah, sort of.”

“What do you mean, sort of. What’s wrong, Trevor?”

Trevor couldn’t hold back any longer. He started crying. He had to tell his dad, even if he got into trouble. Between sobs, he told his dad the whole story.

Instead of getting angry, his dad said, “Trevor, I’m sorry you didn’t tell me this sooner. Let’s go have a talk with Bert and see what happened.”

Trevor was kind of scared, “What if that man sees me and gets mad at me?”

His dad said, “You let me worry about that.”

Trevor was still a little scared, but he felt safe with his dad. He knew his dad would make everything OK.

When they got to Bert’s gas station, they saw Bert and sat down with him in his office. Trevor’s dad asked him to tell his story to Bert. Trevor was still a little nervous, but he did OK since his dad and friendly Bert were there with him.

When Trevor finished, Bert said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I hired this new guy a few weeks ago. But I had to fire him. He kept taking breaks and leaving the gas station alone. Not only that, he was mean, really mean. I lost a couple of customers because of him. I apologize. I won’t let it happen again. Can you forgive me?”

Of course, Trevor and his dad said they would forgive Bert, and they were still friends (and customers!). They went to get Trevor’s bike and Bert personally put air into the tires.

After that, Trevor was very happy again. He learned it was a really good idea to talk to his dad whenever he had a problem. And once again, he rode and rode all over town. One of the places he visited most was Bert’s gas station, and he never ran out of air again.*

* Ephesians 5:18 "Be filled with the Spirit." The Greek for spirit is pneuma, which means spirit or air. Bikes have pneumatic tires — tires that are full of air.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let's All be Friends

Anyone else notice the resemblance between Steve Carell and Ahmadinejad?

Oh, I just learned Wikiality sees it too. However, we should not insult Carell. Maybe it's just how much Ahmadinejad acts like Michael from The Office.

Or maybe I'm thinking of Borat.


To be fair, word meanings often get lost in translation. Maybe we've just misunderstood Ahmadinejad all along. Like, maybe the reason he says there are no homosexuals in Iran is that he has a different understanding of the word.

Wow I feel better. Now that I understand Ahmadinejad, I think we can all be friends. I hope to send him a present soon.

Rocket Man!

Actually, Jet Man. Courtesy of Bubba. Awesome! Thanks.

Fusion Man home page. More Info.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Religious War?

I don't like war. I'm not sure about what's going on in Iraq, as I mentioned a while back. I like to think that eventually God's love, rationality, democracy and freedom will win out. Like the people of Eastern Europe a couple of decades ago, won't the oppressed people of various places, including those in the Middle East, finally see how badly they are treated and rebel?

Unfortunately it may not work out that way. My friend Robin often talks about the Islamic threat on his blog. Lately he has talked a lot about the travesty of Columbia University allowing Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to speak. Robin admits he may be biased, having lived in Israel on a Kibbutz, and I don't always like the intensity of his comments. However, after knowing him now for over 10 years I've learned not to take what he says lightly. He researches well. His information is rarely wrong and almost always well documented. He also thinks more clearly and in a more unbiased fashion than just about any person I know, both those I've met and those I've read. What Robin has to say disturbs me and I cannot ignore it.

Is all Islam violent? One of my bosses is Muslim. (He is coincidentally named "Oussama" which is pronounced the same way as "Osama.") He is a very nice person and a good boss. My daughter who served in Iraq saw people who just wanted to live a peaceful life like most of us do. I used to attend a church that had an Arabic congregation. My family and I worked in the Sunday school. (Obviously not Muslim, but still most people there were from the Middle East.) When I was just out of college, during the Iran hostage crisis, I and my roommates lived next door to an Iranian family that was very kind to us. When my wife and I sold our first house (just after the first Persian Gulf war) our agent was Iraqi. She and her husband were two of the nicest people I've ever met. This all makes me hope for the best.

And yet ... we have the president of Iran denying the holocaust. He heads up a country that oppresses women and executes homosexuals (perhaps that's why "such people" don't exist in Iran). And he asks why it is not OK for Iran to have nuclear weapons!

Perhaps you think it's just Western propaganda. Do things like this story about the execution of a 16 year old girl really happen? Check out the movie Osama (there's that name again but again has nothing to do with bin Laden) which was made by Afghan film makers. It's chilling.

How can all this be happening and there is not a stronger outcry from "moderate" Islam?

I've rambled a little. What is my point? I want to believe the best. I have known and do know good Arab and Islamic people. The idea of fighting a religious war is abhorrent to me. But I will not let my guard down. We better not let our guard down. The U.S. and Israel and the west are far from perfect. But let's not kid ourselves. There are some very evil people in the world. The kind that torture and kill innocent people. The kind that uses airplanes as weapons against civilians. The kind whose goal is to wreck our way of living or die trying. We cannot allow such people to have their way, no matter what the cost.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Jog in the Desert

(This one's for Justin, er I mean Austin, and Sarah. Let the questions begin!)

It was a crisp, cool morning as Sarah jogged steadily down Avenue J. Turning north on 30th Street West, she stayed to the left, because the dirt on the left side was much kinder to her shins than the sidewalk on the right. Majestic mountains spread out in front of her and to her left. She took it all in — the awe-inspiring mountains, the spacious desert, the clear dark blue sky, still painted with the pastel colors of the almost complete sunrise. Most people thought of the desert as hot and barren. But in these early morning hours, Sarah felt blessed by the refreshing air.

“Wow!” she thought as she once again reminded herself of the reason she put up with the torture of her early morning runs. She loved the solitude and the quiet, giving herself a chance to clear her head before another typically hectic day. The wonder and beauty of God’s creation overwhelmed her, and she uttered a silent prayer of praise and thanks as she had done so many times before.

In spite of her general aversion to sports, Sarah had been jogging for almost twenty years now. She hated the torture, but enjoyed her slim, attractive figure and the athletic confidence it gave her. She enjoyed too the way jogging in these quiet hours was so calming. That, combined with the endurance and low pulse rate it gave her, helped her through the stress of her day. God knows she needed it, with a demanding career and two small children to take care of. It also was a break from the drudgery of a daily routine that Sarah often found boring for her active, intelligent mind.

The rare sound of a car approaching pulled her out of her daydream. She looked up to see a blue sedan only thirty feet in front of her and approaching at high speed. “Oh my God, he’s going to hit me,” she thought as she began her next step. Instead of a normal running step, she instinctively pushed down hard with her right foot, sending herself rolling to the left. The car narrowly missed her as she rolled onto her back in the soft desert dirt.

“Idiot! I can’t believe a drunk would be out at this time of day!”

She was still in a state of shock as she looked at the car that had just passed. She saw it screeching to a stop several hundred yards beyond her and beginning to turn around. “I guess he’s coming back to see if I’m OK.”

Then she noticed it wasn’t coming back slowly, as she expected, but was picking up speed again. “He’s coming after me again!” she suddenly realized. Out here on the open, sparsely vegetated desert, she wouldn’t have much of a chance.

She saw that her only chance was to cross 30th Street to the housing tract there. She sprinted across the street, hoping she had time to get there before the car came back. Fortunately, her adrenaline rush and her well-trained legs allowed her to sprint across well before the accelerating car came near her. She leaped up the back wall of the house in front of her. As she rolled over the top, she heard a loud crack and felt something whiz by her ear. “My God, now they’re shooting at me, too! I’ve got to get out of here!”

As she cleared the wall on the other side of the yard, she heard the car screeching through another turn. “They must be turning to get in the housing tract entrance just south of here. I’ve got to think. Got to get to some people, call for help.”

Sarah didn’t want to risk knocking on a door this early in the morning. Most people were probably asleep and, even if they did come to the door, it would probably take too long, making her vulnerable to attack. She had to keep moving!

A plan began to form in her mind. Wal-Mart, just over half a mile away, would be open, as it always was. There would be people there, and phones. How to get there though? She knew she couldn’t outrun the car. But she realized she could hop fences. “I may not may not be much of an athlete,” she thought, “but at least I learned to climb when I was young.” The winding neighborhood roads would slow down and confuse her pursuers, while she could more or less make a beeline through backyards.

She made it most of the way through the neighborhood safely. She could still hear the screech of wheels from time to time, but had avoided her attackers successfully. She had just crossed the last neighborhood street and was beginning to climb into the yard on the other side, when the blue sedan screeched around the corner. It caught sight of her and began coming toward her just as she cleared the fence.

“Great,” she thought, “now they’ll know where I’m going.”

Nothing to do though, but keep on. Over the back fence of this yard lay 25th Street, and beyond that the back of Wal-Mart. She would have to cross the wide street and run through the 200 yard long side parking lot next to Lancaster Boulevard until she reached the front of the store. It was a dangerous open stretch, but she had to risk it. She knew the car would have to go out the housing tract entrance a quarter mile south and then come back up. She hoped this gave her enough time to reach her goal.

Clearing the fence, Sarah sprinted across 25th Street into the Wal-Mart parking lot. As she passed the back of Wal-Mart into the side parking lot, she heard the blue sedan turn onto 25th Street. “God, please help me make it!”

Literally running for her life, she gave it all she had through the side parking lot. It seemed like an eternity. 100 feet to go, 75, 50, 30, 20 — almost there. Just then, the blue sedan turned from 25th Street onto Lancaster Boulevard, at the far corner of the parking lot. She heard a shot and felt the spray of shattered mortar as a bullet struck the store wall just behind her. But now she was at the front corner of Wal-Mart. She rounded it quickly and flew into the store.

The always present, friendly greeter seemed somewhat surprised to see Sarah rush in like that. Nonetheless, she maintained her composure and asked politely, “May I help you?”

“Please help me,” Sarah yelled breathlessly, “I need the police! Someone is trying to kill me.”

“OK, ma’am, please calm down, and tell me what’s happening.”

Sarah drew a deep breath, and tried as best she could to explain what had happened. The Wal-Mart manager was called, and he quickly phoned the police. Sarah was still nervous, but was glad to be around people again. She was also glad that her plan seemed to be working — there was no sign of her attackers.

While they were waiting for the police, the manager had Sarah rest at the in-store McDonald’s. He got her a coke and she was finally able to relax a little. She could no longer hear her heart pounding, and was finally able to put a few thoughts together.

“How’d I get into this mess?” she wondered. “I guess it all started so many years ago, during that fateful year in eighth grade…”

Her mind drifted. It hadn’t seemed so fateful at the time. It had seemed like a rough year. Her family had, until that time, been trying to get on the mission field, but had finally failed at that at the end of her seventh grade year. Then one thing followed another: they changed churches; switched to Desert Christian School instead of the last four years of home schooling; Dad had begun to commute to work again instead of being at home so much; and they had moved from an apartment into their house.

School had been a struggle. Sarah was a new student and felt very out of place. Fortunately, the students were friendly, but still Sarah found it difficult to make friends. Her class work was much more mundane and boring than home school — Desert Christian was so inflexible at times, and not many of her teachers seemed to appreciate her intelligence and creativity.

All of this, plus some family struggles, caused her schoolwork to suffer. Sarah did survive and graduate. She also began to enjoy school more. Perhaps most important of all, she determined to do well in school, no matter how boring it was or what people thought of her. This determination set the stage for her great high school success — between her intelligence and hard work she became her class valedictorian. Her academic achievements lead to a scholarship at Harvard, allowed her to escape her rather bland life in Lancaster and propelled her into the top of her law school class.

That same year too, the summer after her eighth-grade graduation, she had taken up jogging. “Yuck!” was her first reaction. But she was encouraged (maybe a better word is “pushed”) by her Dad, brother and sister, and friends to try out for the cross-country team. She didn’t become a great runner, but did slowly learn to enjoy the sport. Her teammates were often encouraged by her quiet dedication to do her best. It never was clear to her whether her determination got her through four years of cross-country, or whether cross-country gave her the endurance and mental toughness for her later academic success. Jogging was in many ways boring, but it had become a life-long habit, and in the process, her friend.

The cross-country years had also broadened her social life. The girls, and even most of the guys, on the team weren’t just a bunch of airhead jocks. Rather she found some serious minded, dedicated, intelligent people. She made many friends, at last finding people who could begin to appreciate her complexity, intelligence and seriousness.

In a way, that set the stage for where she was now. After graduating law school, she was hired by a top Bay Area law firm. However, she soon grew tired and bored of the office politics. She certainly wasn’t one to kiss-up to anyone, even if they were top-notch lawyers. She had never really cared about making huge sums of money. She only wanted to help people. She saw the only people they were helping were big corporations and the rich, and often helping them to step on the poor.

After quitting, a series of events lead her back to her hometown of Lancaster. Oh, she didn’t live at home with her parents — she was much too independent for that. But she found comfort in being home among old friends after her time away in the big city. The big city hadn’t really been any more exciting than Lancaster, just more frenetic. “May as well be bored among friends,” she thought.

Furthermore, she found there were plenty of people in need of help back in Lancaster. She opened her own office, and did OK for a while. She never made much money, but managed to get by, helping people as she could. She grew tired however, of the court battles. Oh, she could hold her own in a debate all right. But she again grew bored, this time with the courts — the petty little technicalities and the need in too many cases to kiss-up to judges and deal with lawyers who were too full of themselves.

While a lawyer, she had actually spent most of her time investigating. After all, the key to a good case is facts. Most of her clients couldn’t afford a decent private investigator, so she had to do a lot of her own fact gathering, which she enjoyed. She liked being out in the field, gathering facts, and solving problems. There she even enjoyed the people. They were much more honest, and not so pompous as people around the courts.

And that led her to change jobs again — she became a private investigator. This may seem a strange change, especially for a woman. But contrary to popular opinion (and TV shows), the best investigators are not “macho” men. Rarely, if ever, is there the kind of heart pounding danger and action that makes a good TV show and requires some sort of super jock. Private investigation is, in fact, well suited to women. It requires patient fact gathering. It requires talking to people, making friends, and getting them to trust you. And people much more readily trust women. This is not a sexist view, just a plain fact.

So, that’s where Sarah had ended up about five years ago. She had a healthy little business, never making too much money, but helping people and enjoying the chance to be useful. She was a whiz at problem solving, fact gathering, and computer use, all of which are essential to a good private investigator in the twenty-first century. Although it was somewhat boring at times, at least she avoided most of the pompous airheads she had been around.

Just a year later, the biggest surprise of all had happened — she met him. She knew she never wanted to get married — she had known since junior high. She had no desire for the mundane life that she saw her mom and dad lead. Oh, she loved them with all her heart, and they were wonderful parents. She enjoyed her childhood mostly, and even at times her clueless brother and annoying little sister. It’s just that that kind of life wasn’t for her. In spite of being a child of the nineties, and having friends and family that were pretty open about women’s roles, she still envisioned marriage and motherhood as tying her down to a boring life at home.

But Justin had changed all that. He was not only charming and handsome, he respected her. More than that, he treated her as an equal, gave full worth to her mind, her career and her person. Falling in love had not been as hard as she thought.

Even before getting married, they decided to have children. They both loved children, volunteering as Sunday School teachers at church. It suddenly dawned on Sarah that with her own children she could be around the children she enjoyed, without putting up with the adults that often annoyed her. They also realized that with Justin working nearby as a school teacher and Sarah working at her own business out of their home, she could pretty well keep up a full career, even with children. She did most of her work at home on the computer. When she did have to go out, it was often in the afternoon and evening, when Justin was home.

Sarah found herself where she never thought she would be: enjoying marriage, family and career, in love and happy most of the time in spite of her busy schedule. The one thing that bothered her, that had always bothered her, was that life still was often boring.

Her mind drifted back to the present, however. What had happened? She was investigating an ex-husband, delinquent in child-support. Ripped-off mom’s made up a lot of her clients: there were so many flaky fathers it was a big need. Plus, these abandoned women were often some of the most needy. The work was a bit mundane, but the challenge of finding a person trying to hide often stretched Sarah’s creativity and problem solving abilities. She loved the hunt!

The case she was currently working on had been particularly difficult. This guy seemed to have no end of false aliases and addresses. Just yesterday Sarah finally felt like she was making some positive progress, and hoped to nail him today. Could her case have anything to do with the gunmen in the car? She shuddered: that was a scary thought.

Just then the police arrived at Wal-Mart, shaking Sarah from her thoughts. They of course knew she was a P. I., since she was licensed and registered. They asked about her case. She couldn’t talk about it because of client privacy privilege. However, she thought her client wouldn’t mind. After all, her goal was to expose the bum who left her. So she called and, as expected, her client let her talk.

The police were shocked when they heard who she was looking for. “Do you know who Robert Hernandez is?” they asked.

“No, just some bum,” Sarah answered.

“Ma’am, he’s not just some bum. We’ve been after him for a year. He’s in charge of racketeering in for the whole Antelope Valley. He runs numbers, controls book, even has a hand in the state lottery.”

Sarah was floored. She had no idea. No wonder these guys were after her! “Can you stop them?” she asked.

“We’re trying ma’am, but he is a slippery fish. We hope to have a case built in the next six to twelve months.”

“Six to twelve months! What about me, what about my family?” Sarah felt a shudder go through her.

“For now, we’ll give you protection. We’ll have an officer watch your place, at least for the next several days. We’ll see what happens. Meanwhile we suggest you back off, and hope it cools down.”

Sarah hated to back down on her case, but she saw the wisdom of their advice. Even if she did succeed in finding Robert Hernandez, what good would it do? Besides, the police were working on it.

Sarah and Justin were pretty shaken that night. They were in way over their heads and they knew it. They didn’t really know what to do, so they prayed. In fact, they prayed a lot. They prayed for safety, they prayed for wisdom. They even prayed that God would work in the hearts of Robert Hernandez and the men who had chased Sarah.

A week went by, with nothing happening. The police had to withdraw the protection: they couldn’t just keep a man there for months at a time. Sarah and Justin understood that and thanked them for their help.

Sarah didn’t sleep at all that night. So she spent most of the night praying. It wasn’t just that she was afraid, although she was still pretty shaken up. She just didn’t feel right. She didn’t feel it was safe to stay at home. But what could they do? They couldn’t just pull up and move, could they?

Then God gave Sarah an answer! She woke up Justin and told him the idea, and after shaking off the sleep, he liked it too. They could go to CBS! Campus by the Sea was their favorite vacation summer spot. Justin had just finished teaching for the year and was on summer break. They had some savings and were planning to spend a week there anyway. The Catalina Island camp was secluded and hard to reach since it had no roads in or out. It would be easy to spot an intruder even if they did find them, and call for help. Sarah and Justin together thanked God for his answer and prayed that he would work out the details.

In the morning Sarah called CBS. The camp director said they had just lost a staff family, who had to make a sudden move back to the mainland. This left them with an open cabin and in need of staff to work with children. Sarah and Justin had volunteered in the past, and the camp director said that if they were willing to come they could even be paid staff and would really help the camp out of a bind.

Sarah hung up singing and praising God!

She called the police and told them the idea, and they agreed it sounded good. They could arrange with LAPD to be on alert, ready to helicopter out in the unlikely event there was any trouble on the island.

Sarah and Justin were able to pack and leave that day. They reached the island safely and enjoyed a great summer.

During the summer the whole camp, as well as their church and many other Christian friends were praying for them. As the end of summer approached, they began to wonder about getting home. Just a week before they were due to leave, they got a phone call in the office. It was the police.

“Lady, I’m not sure you’re going to believe it. I’m not sure I believe what happened. You must lead a charmed life,” the officer on the phone said.

Sarah replied, “I don’t know about charmed, but I and my family and friends have been praying all summer.”

“Well, there must be a God in heaven then.” the officer answered. “Two days ago we were at the station, when Robert Hernandez walked in the front door! He said he’d become a Christian and wanted to confess and turn himself in! We practically fell off our seats! He also said he called off the contract on you. It’s safe to come home!”

Sarah leaped out of the office and practically floated up the hill. What a great God she served!

Back on the mainland, Sarah and Justin were able to visit Robert Hernandez and hear his story.

He said that since early summer strange things had been happening to him. He kept feeling weird. He had dreams and premonitions that his career would end soon. Since mob careers usually end in death, this really shook him up. Then, just a week before he walked into the police station, his right-hand man, and best friend, died in a freak accident. At the funeral, the preacher talked about heaven and hell and the need to believe in Christ. This upset Hernandez so much, that he went up afterward to the preacher and said, “Nobody talks to Robert Hernandez like that. I’m going to get you, preacher.”

The preacher just looked back and said, “Well, sir, I just speak for God, and I believe he has the right to talk to anyone like that, even you!”

This shook Hernandez up so much, he decided to go to that preacher and kill him that night. He found the preacher alone at church that evening. When he came, he brought a loaded gun with a silencer. But when he got there, and began talking, the preacher said to him, “Mr. Hernandez, God loves you and so do I.”

Right then, Hernandez saw his whole life, full of evil, and said, “How could anyone love me?”

The preacher explained how he himself was also evil, how God sent Jesus to die for all men, for all men are evil. Hernandez just broke down crying like a little child and prayed to receive Jesus.

After hearing his story, Sarah and Justin went away, once again praising God.

As they got ready for bed that night, Justin joked, “So Sarah, just another boring summer, huh?”

Sarah quipped back, “It was OK. It wasn’t too boring!”

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dean and His Ideal Family

Dean Peterson had an ideal family. His wife, Joann, was active in the church, kept a great home and was a wonderful mom. His kids were all doing well in school and were the nicest children around. Friends, fellow church members and even acquaintances, admired the Peterson family. So he thought to himself, “What can I do to honor this terrific family of mine? How can I impress on them how awesome they are and how happy I am with them?”

Then an idea came. It crept up slowly, almost faded, then reappeared. It began to take hold, and then grew and filled Dean’s heart and mind. He leaped for joy, “That’s it! I’ll make something, something special, that will honor them all.”

He went to the garage and began to work. As he saw his idea begin to take shape, he got more excited. “This is really going to be good,” he thought, “they’re going to love it.”

He worked and worked and worked. As he worked, new ideas came, and he added them to his original design.

Once Joann popped her head in the garage, “Dear would you like some lun…”

Dean cut her off, “Joann, please, this is secret. You’re not allowed to look until I’m done.”

“I’m sorry dear, I just was wondering if you wanted some lunch.”

“No thanks, hon, I’ll get something a little later. I’m pretty busy right now.”

When Joann left, Dean continued to work. He worked so hard he didn’t notice his hunger or the time.

Finally, he heard a knock.


“It’s me dear. Dinner time.”

“You and the kids go ahead. I’ll just grab a bite later.”

“Uh, Dean, usually we eat together. Couldn’t you just stop long enough to join us?”

“I know, honey, but this is important. Don’t worry, it’ll be worth it.”

“Well, OK, but we’ll miss you.”

“Me too, dear.”

Dean continued to work, until he heard another knock.

“Dear, it’s the kids bedtime and they want you to read them a story.”

“Honey, I know I’ve been out here awhile, but this job is really special, and I want to get it done. Could you handle the story tonight?”

“Uh, alright, Dean. They’ll be disappointed, but I guess it’s OK this once.”

The last knock Dean heard was Joann telling him she was going to bed.

Dean worked on and on, until finally, exhausted, he came in, and not wanting to disturb Joann, fell asleep on the couch.

The next day was much the same. As Dean worked, he kept getting new ideas, and getting more and more excited about his project. “This’ll be so awesome. It’s for my family, I’ve got to put my all into it.”

The project grew and grew, and got better all the time. Dean spent every waking moment on it. He came home from work, and headed straight to the garage. On the weekends, he spent all his time, either there, or buying supplies.

At first, Joann tried to get him to stop once and awhile, but she tried less and less as time went on. The weeks stretched into months, and still Dean worked away on his project for the family.

Dean did miss his family, but he told himself, “It’s for their good, I’ll be done soon and able to spend time with them then. And they’ll just love what I’ve done for them.”

Finally, after the better part of a year had gone by, Dean finished. He burst into the house. “Hey everyone, I’m done! Come and see!”

No one answered, so he tried again. “Hey, where is everybody? Come on out! I’m done!”

Suddenly, the absolute silence in his house struck him. He searched every room, but could find no one.

“Probably just gone shopping,” he told himself. “ Won’t they be surprised when they get home.”

Dean went into the kitchen to get some lunch. As he walked over to the refrigerator he saw a note.

Dear Dean,

If you ever do decide to read this, I guess it means you’ve finished your project. I hope you enjoy it yourself. We’re sorry to miss it, but we just couldn’t take this life anymore. At first the kids cried a little, because they never saw you. It was especially hard at dinnertime or at a basketball or T-ball game. But we figured we could endure it until you were done. Then I started getting tired of taking care of the kids all by myself. I gave up on most of the housework, and started yelling at the kids more and more. This, combined with your absence, caused them to start losing sleep. They cried themselves to sleep, and often woke up at night with bad dreams. This, of course, didn’t help my sleep any, and I just got crankier.

In spite of all this, we tried to tough it out. But then the kids’ grades started falling. That made me realize just how bad it was getting. So I’ve taken the kids, and we’re now living at my Mom and Dad’s. You know the address, if you need to contact us.

Your wife,

Dean slumped down it a state of shock.

“What a fool I’ve been,” he said to himself. Then he prayed “Dear God, how could this turn out so badly? I was just doing it for them.”

The thought came to him, “Who were you really doing it for?”

It hurt, but Dean saw the clear answer to the question at once. He confessed his pride and selfishness to God. Then he knew what he had to do. It was hard, but he knew it was the only way.

He first called Joann, begged her forgiveness, and asked if they could meet to begin to repair their relationship. Joann was hesitant, but agreed to meet. She had one condition though. When, she told it to Dean, he said, “Yes, dear, I intended to do that right now.”

And so it was, early the next morning, before most people are up, two beggars were picking through the Peterson’s trash, and discovered an unlikely find.

“Too bad it’s all busted up,” the first one said

“Yeah,” said the second, “we could’ve got a lot of money for it.”

“The world’s full of funny people,” said the first, as they walked away.

What had caught their attention in the trash were the remains of an exquisite wood sculpture, showing a husband and wife and their three beautiful children happily gathered around a fireplace, enjoying each other’s company, in a room that looked remarkably like the Peterson’s den.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

This is an army?

General: Lieutenant, I’m confident that today’s battle resulted in an overwhelming victory. Although, we are up against a tough foe, we have the best weapons and a great battle plan. If all our forces merely followed orders, we should have done very well. Please contact all our regiments, and prepare a complete report for me in the next hour.

Lieutenant: YES SIR, General! (Salutes)

General: (Returns salute, leaves stage).

Lieutenant: (Putting on microphone and headphones, but speaking to himself) First, let me contact the artillery. (Speaking into the microphone) HQ to artillery. Hello, please report.

Artillery (voice over radio): This is Artillery, over.

Lieutenant: Artillery, please report. How did the shelling go.

Artillery: Very well. We didn’t break a single gun.

Lieutenant: What!? Say again, artillery.

Artillery: I said, the shelling went very well. We didn’t break a single gun.

Lieutenant; (puzzled): Well, I’m glad you didn’t break any guns, but how did the shelling go. How much damage did you inflict on the enemy.

Artillery: Well, we didn’t fire – but the guns are all safe.

Lieutenant: Please explain, why didn’t you fire. HQ has given you the newest, best weapons, guaranteed superior to the enemy’s. Why didn’t you use them?

Artillery: Well, that’s just it. We figured we had all these nice, new, expensive guns and we were afraid we would break them. I mean, war is pretty hectic. Someone might make a mistake, or worse, we might get fired upon and get hit. Then we’d wreck your nice new guns. So we figured we’d just not shoot. That way all the new guns are safe, and we don’t waste any of the general’s money.

Lieutenant: Well, it’s strange to me, but I’ll report it to the general and see what he says. HQ, over and out

Artillery: Artillery, out.

Lieutenant: (to himself) That was strange. Oh well, the rest of the divisions could still put up a good fight. Next I need to check on the tank corps. (Speaking into microphone) Tank corps, this is HQ, come in.

Tank corps: HQ, this is tank corps, over.

L: Tank corps, please report.

T: Well, we tried to carry out the general’s orders, but we failed miserably. We were soundly defeated by the enemey.

L: That’s awful. We gave you the world’s best tanks. You should have easily rolled over the enemy. What went wrong?

T: Actually, we used a weapon even better than the tanks, but we lost anyway.

L: Now I’m confused. A weapon better than the tanks. They are the latest in mobile artillery, with a direct comlink to HQ, to allow for real-time battle adjustments.

T: That’s just it. We looked at the tanks and they were too complicated for us. Besides, we figured the comlink was to shaky, it might have failed, or our communications might be intercepted by the enemy – way too risky.

L: Why would you think that. Didn’t you read the manual and train your men? It’s all in there – everything you need to know to use the tanks. Plus it explains how the comlink can NOT fail and will always be perfectly secure.

T: We tried reading the manual – but it was too boring. Besides, we already knew how to use our other weapons.

L: What other weapons?

T: Out BB guns. You see, we all grew up with them as children. We are so familiar with them, using them is like second nature to us. We knew they would be better than any new, high-tech, untried tanks. I’m sure we couldn’t have done any better with the tanks.

L: (Sigh) I guess I see why you were defeated. I’ll pass it along to the general. HQ out.

T: Tank corps out.

L: (to himself) Gee, this is terrible. Our great victory is deteriorating. I better get the rest of the reports – I hope they did better. (to microphone) Infantry, this is HQ, over.

Infantry: HQ, this is infantry, over.

L: Infantry, please report. How was your battle today? I hope you have good news.

I: Oh we do. Very good news. We completely defeated the enemy. He completely failed to enter our barracks.

L: Say again, Infantry. You were supposed to attack the enemy’s capital. Why are you talking about your own barracks?

I: No, no. The general specifically said that the enemy’s capital would “not prevail against us.” So we mined the area around our barracks, put up barbed wire fences, kept our rifles points out the windows and the enemy’s capital never came close to taking us.

L: You mean you actually saw the capital city attacking you?

I: Well, no, it never came close. That’s how good our defenses were!

L: OK Infantry, I’ll pass your report along to the general. Do let me know if the enemy’s capital ever does attack you! HQ out.

I: Roger, Infantry out.

L: (shaking his head and talking to himself) Wow, has this whole army gone crazy? I wonder how our air support did? (to mike) Air support, this is HQ, come in, over.

Air support: HQ, air support here, over.

L: How did you do today? I need your report.

A: We did fine. We only lost one plane.

L: That’s great, air support. What kind of damage did you do to the enemy?

A: Uh, we didn’t do any damage, HQ.

L: What, why not?

A: Well, we were flying along just fine, but then, just as we got to enemy territory, they fired at us and hit one of our planes. This upset us a lot. So we took a vote, and decided it was too risky and turned back.

L: Turned back, what about your orders?

A: We thought about that. We knew our orders. But we realized they must be mistaken. We know the general is a kind man and wouldn’t want us injured. So when one plane got shot down, we knew there must be some mistake. That’s when we decided it was too risky and turned back.

L: (Sigh) I’m sorry to hear that air support, I’ll pass along your report to the general. HQ out.

A: Air support out.

General (enters room): Well, lieutenant, how’d the battle go?

L: Not so good sir. I have reports from artillery, the tank corps, infantry, and air support. And they all failed against the enemy.

G: That’s incredible! How could our plans and weapons have failed?

L: Sir, they didn’t. It appears that, well, uh, ... your orders were just not followed.

G: Oh no, not again. Why won’t these soldiers trust me?

L: I don’t know sir. If I may be so bold, sir, I don’t understand why you keep this army. Why not just court martial them and get new soldiers?

G: (sigh) At times it does seem like I should. And sometimes I do have to remove soldiers for insubordination. But I want my soldiers to grow into a real army. I want them to trust me and enjoy the victory of following my orders. I just don’t know at times.... Say did you get all the reports?

L: No sir, I still haven’t talked to the paratroops.

G: Well, let’s contact them. Maybe they’ve had some success.

L: (to mike) Paratroops, this is HQ, over.

Paratroops: HQ, this is paratroops, over.

L: Hello paratroops. How’d you do today?

P: (excitedly) Great! We reached our objective with only minimal losses.

L: That’s wonderful, paratroops. How did you do so well?

P: Well, it looked really bad just jumping in behind enemy lines. They seemed to be everywhere and heavily armed. Plus we didn’t see our air support, or any other supporting infantry, tanks, or artillery fire. We felt like turning back.

L: Uh yes, paratroops, our other units failed in their assignments.

P: Oh yeah, that would explain our hard struggle and our losses. But in spite of how it looked, we went ahead as planned. We were under heavy enemy fire, but our new body armor protected us. And our weapons cut right through the enemy defenses. It was a glorious victory. The general sure know his stuff.

L: Thanks paratroops. It’s great to hear your report. Over and ... wait the general wants to talk to you.

G: (to mike) I just want to add my thanks and heartfelt appreciation for a job well done. Take a well deserved rest and enjoy your victory. Over and out.

P: Thank you sir, over and out.

G: (to lieutenant): Lieutenant, that is why I keep my army. A report like that so warms my heart. Good night lieutenant.

L: Good night sir!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Cruel Father

Steve couldn’t believe it. How could his father be so cruel? Steve thought they were going for a drive and he loved spending time with his father. Lately it seemed they had precious little of that, so Steve was really looking forward to their time together

It had started well enough. They drove for awhile and had a great time talking. Then they stopped. Steve’s dad said they had to visit an office building. “No problem,” Steve thought. How wrong he was. That’s where the trouble began.

They entered one of the offices. While Steve sat down, his dad talked to the receptionist. After a time their names were called, and they went into an inner office. There they waited and talked, until HE came in.

HE” was a very large man, who scared Steve from the minute he saw him. While Steve sat nervously the man talked to Steve’s dad. They made Steve lie down on his stomach on a table. Then the man took out a large needle and stabbed Steve in the back with it! Steve started to get up, but his father motioned him to stay put. Steve couldn’t believe it! How could his father bring him to be tortured?

Steve lay there in shock, numb from fear as a burning sensation spread out from the point of his wound. After a few minutes, The evil man took up another mean looking instrument and began to poke at Steve right where he had already stabbed him. In Steve’s shocked state, the fear hurt worse than the poking.

When the big man took out the knife, Steve got really scared. Steve didn’t care what his father said — he had to get out of there? But just as he was starting to get up, his father gripped him and held him down. What! How could his dad do this!

Steve wanted to be a man, but his fear and pain overcame him and he broke down and cried. As he sobbed, the awful man began cutting on Steve. Steve, overcome with intense pain and fear, tried his best to get away. But his dad and that man were too much for him. Steve just sobbed convulsively.

He couldn’t believe what was happening. What had he done? Why did his dad suddenly hate him so? What could inspire his dad to be so cruel? The pain of betrayal was almost as great as the pain he felt in his body.

After what seemed like an eternity, the man stopped cutting. Just when Steve thought it might be over, the man pulled out a needle and began poking him again. Steve was beyond crying by now. He just bit his tongue and it was all he could do to keep from screaming.

Finally the poking was finished. The man said a few words to Steve’ father and left the room. Steve glared at his father. “How could you do this to me?’ his eyes flashed. But in spite of his pain and fear and anger, the ordeal had exhausted Steve and he couldn’t hold his eyes open anymore. He fell asleep on the table.

Mr. Pearson looked at his son asleep. “I’m glad he’s finally asleep.” he thought. “At least he doesn’t have to feel the pain anymore. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I’m glad it’s over.”

He hated to see his son suffer. The angry glance just before Steve had fallen asleep had hurt him deeply. He had tried to explain. Several times he had sat down with little Stevie and tried to explain what was happening. But how do you explain birthmarks, and cancer possibilities to a three-year old? He knew his son would eventually understand, but how long would it take? He knew he had several weeks of relationship repair in front of him.

With a deep sigh, he picked up his little Stevie and carried the sleeping child in his arms out of the surgeon’s office.

Friday, September 21, 2007

It's a Plane

OK, Don, back at you. (No, it's not a submarine, but I thought you'd like the coolness factor.)

A Rose in the Desert

I looked out my window at the desert trail going by my house. Something was different, different from yesterday, and all the days before. Then I noticed it—a beautiful, luscious red rose, growing right in the middle of all the cactus, sand, and sage brush. I gazed awhile at this unique , lovely sight—taking in its beauty while contemplating the strangeness and wonder of that lone rose.

“A gift from El Niño,” I thought, “but it won’t last long out here. Too bad...”

Sure enough, the blazing summer sun did its work, and, before long, the rose had begun to wilt.

I saw a jogger come by, a business type no doubt, as I could see from the efficiency of his jog and the trim of his sweat suit. He stopped a bit when he caught sight of the rose. To my surprise, he began talking to the rose:

“Hey rose, good job, branching out here in the desert. Keep up the effort, put in the long hours, and I’m sure you’ll make it.”

Then he jogged off.

The sun still beat down, and the rose continued to wilt.

In a little while a lady came jogging daintily by. When she saw the rose she said, “Oh, you poor thing. Let me help.”

She sprinkled a few drops from her water bottle onto the rose and jogged off.

Unfortunately, the sun quickly evaporated the water, and the rose wilted some more.

Then I saw a deacon from one of the largest churches in town out for his daily walk. When he saw the rose, he stared a minute and then frowned. “No wonder you’re wilting! Roses don’t belong in the desert. Such rebellion! Serve you right if you fry to a crisp under the desert sun!”

He walked off, looking strangely satisfied with himself, as if he’d saved the world from yet another evil.

I can’t be sure, but I think the rose began to wilt faster while the deacon was talking. I began to give up hope, and was sure the rose would die within the hour.

Another visitor came walking by, but he looked almost worse than the rose. He had obviously walked a long way across the hot desert, and it had taken its toll. He sat down and was just about to drink from his canteen when he caught sight of the rose. He stared a minute, and then, instead of drinking, he took his canteen and poured its entire contents on the ground under the rose. When he was done, without saying a word, he got up and walked away.

I went to bed happy that night, thanking God for the hiker with the canteen, and the lovely rose, no longer wilting, but once again showing its radiance outside my window.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Moon Doggled

Last night I was tired and didn't feel much like looking at stars. However, I felt I was close to finding Neptune, so I went outside with my binoculars. The moon is higher and brighter. I had trouble even finding Capricorn. I gave up.

It would be a perfect time to look at the moon, but I'm not that interested right now. I went inside, got dinner and watched three episodes of "Two and a Half Men" (they've been recording on our DVR). I haven't laughed that hard for a while. Then I went to bed. It was nice to relax.

I did check out my binoculars. I was wrong about them being 7x50. They are Simmons Model 1107 which are 10x50 binoculars -- 10x magnification with 50mm lenses. Not bad. Their field of view (FOV) is 367ft @ 1000yds. If I am doing my math right that means their angular FOV is 7 deg. No wonder I get so much better context than with a 1 or 2 deg FOV telescope. Plus I can see much better than the 5x24 sighting scope on the reflector or especially the little sighting scope on my NGC 60 refractor.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


I made progress with my friends' reflector.

Last night I looked at the moon (just to practice pointing the scope). I also saw Jupiter and its moons. I saw three moons. They were very clear. This morning I took it out again and saw Venus. I could clearly see the bright crescent of Venus' light side. (Venus, just like the moon and earth, has a light and dark side because of the sun.)

Last night I tried again to find Neptune. First I aligned the equatorial mount to the north star. Let me explain why.

Astronomers find stuff using a grid that is like latitude and longitude. The grid is aligned to the earth. The celestial north pole is directly above the earth's north pole (it is very near where Polaris, the "north star" is). The celestial south pole is above the earth's south pole and the celestial equator is -- you guess it -- above the earth's equator. Instead of longitude astronomers use right ascension, or RA. Instead of latitude they use declination or dec (not "declension" as I wrongly told Carolina when we were out the other night. Maybe grammar and astronomy don't mix so well.)

Declination is measured in degrees just like longitude. The equator is zero degrees, the north pole 90 deg and the south pole -90 deg. RA is measured in hours rather than degrees. There are 360 degrees in a circle. There are 24 hours in one day which is one revolution of the earth -- in other words a circle. So one hour equals 360/24 = 15 deg. Astronomers picked hours to make time and position comparisons easier. Time plays an important role in finding celestial objects because the earth is always moving. The zero point for RA is the vernal equinox point. The vernal equinox point is where the sun is at the March equinox, which is the first day of spring and a day where nighttime and daytime are the same length. The earth is tilted compared to our solar system so the solar system plane and the earth's equator plane are not the same. The vernal equinox point is on the intersection of the earth's equatorial plane with the solar system plane. (BTW, most of what I just said also applies to the autumnal equinox, except it is at 12 hours RA.)

The cool thing about an equatorial mount is that is turns on two axis. One axis is RA, the other is declination. The first step in setting up the telescope is to align the telescope mount with the earth so the scope RA axis matches the earth (and celestial) axis. I set up the telescope tripod so it was stable. Then I set the declination to 90 deg. Besides the RA and declination axis, the mount can be turned horizontally and tilted vertically. I used these controls to point the scope at Polaris. I then locked these controls -- they should not change once the scope is aligned. The scopes RA axis was now aligned with the earth's axis.

If the scope has a motor aligning the mount allows the motor to keep the scope synced with the stars. I don't have the motor but aligning it correctly has other uses. Now I could control RA and dec independently. The mount RA and dec axes have angle markings. If they were accurate enough I could use them to find things. I thought maybe I could find Neptune using the marking. I found out last night that they aren't precise enough for that.

Still, aligning the mount helped me a lot. First, stuff is always moving. You find something and pretty soon it leaves. I was using a 25mm eyepiece which gave the scope a field of view (FOV) just over one degree. When I point at something in the center of my eyepiece the edge of the eyepiece is about 1/2 deg away. The earth rotates 15 deg in an hour, or about 1 deg every four minutes, or 1/2 deg in two minutes. That means that once I point the scope, the object will be out of my FOV in about two minutes. Having the mount aligned means I can find the object again just by turning the RA axis. (I take the place of the motor.)

Aligning also helped me search for Neptune. I looked up the position of Neptune for last night. I also looked up the positions of the stars near Neptune. (I used Google Sky and Wikipedia. Google Sky is cool because it shows the RA and dec for where the mouse is pointing.) I used the dec markings to set the scope at approximately the right dec for δ Cap. Then I turned the RA until it looked like I was near δ Cap. I used the sighting scope and found δ Cap. The sighting scope had a wide enough FOV so I could see δ and γ at the same time. I moved down a little and saw κ and ε. I scanned up a little and to try to see 45, 44, and 42 Cap, but the sighting scope could not pick them up. Still I was pretty sure I had found δ and γ Cap. Since γ Cap is about the same dec as ι Cap, I moved the RA right to get to ι Cap. The picture below is from Google Sky. It got compressed in the blog so it's hard to read. Neptune is the big blue ball (just an icon, it's not really that big in the sky). δ Cap is on the middle of the left edge, γ Cap is just right of it. ι Cap is under the red box.

I thought Neptune was pretty near the same RA as ι Cap. When I found ι Cap I locked the RA and moved up with the dec. I never really found Neptune. When I went back inside I looked at Google Sky and decided I had spent my time looking in the red box. I believe I found the star in the lower right corner of the box and didn't stray too far from it. I didn't go back out because I really do need to sleep sometimes.

Now I have practice working the scope on the mount. I have a much better idea of its FOV and how to find stuff with the sighting scope. Maybe tonight I can bag Neptune. Hopefully I'll also have time to see how Uranus looks with it, and maybe Andromeda.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Newtonian Reflections

I felt better Sunday after sleeping in. Church was encouraging because of the people. I get discouraged as treasurer because we are out of money and behind on our bills. We had a meeting about fixing the roof. It went well -- despite our lack of funds we've almost raised enough for the roof. Interacting with my friends there was also very encouraging. I was also encouraged by some generous giving. I even went to evening service, which is rare for me. Carolina and I both went. Don spoke about what we needed to do to as a church. It was convicting but good.

Sunday morning I was rambling about stars or something and found out a family at church has a decent telescope they rarely use. They have a motor drive but couldn't figure out how to use it. I asked to borrow it and they said yes. I was sure I could figure out the motor drive and offered to explain it to them. My friend from college with the big scopes explained his motor drive to me and I think I know pretty much how they work. My friends brought their Sunday night and let me take it home.

This prompted me to become more familiar with my scope and it's capabilities. Turns out I have a Meade NGC 60 (NG 60 plus a "computer"). It is a 60mm refractor with a 700mm focal length. I learned how to compute field of view and magnification and what apparent field of view mean for an eyepiece. There's even a FOV and magnification computation website. I have a 25mm eyepiece which gives 28x mag with a 1.79deg FOV. I also have a 9mm eyepiece with 77.8x mag and 0.64deg. (The computation website only lists a Meade 9.5mm. Do I have a newer eyepiece? Is there round off?) I also have a doubler. They are 1.25" eyepieces.

It's hard to compare with my binoculars, although I did learn some here. They are 7x50 (7x mag and 50mm lens) probably have about a 5 or 6 deg field of view. My scope's 60mm lens should collect 1.44 times as much light as the binocular 50mm lens. Or can I double the binoculars since there are two lenses? (Probably not since they each go to a separate eye, but it's not obvious.)

It seems like a telescope would be easier to use if you could start with a binocular like FOV. Why can't I find a 100mm or 200mm eyepiece? I suppose that's what the finder scope is for, but I have a lot of trouble seeing dim things in it.

My friends' scope looks like it is a Meade LXD75 Series 114mm Newtonian reflector. It has a 910mm focal length. They only have a 25mm eyepiece and couldn't find the motor drive. Bummer! At least my Meade 1.25" eyepieces look like they'll fit. They had a good tripod with and equatorial mount and I got it put together easily. It all looked very familiar -- a small version of what my friend of long ago had.

I took their scope out into my backyard. I wanted to look at Jupiter (easy target for practice) but it was too low and behind a tree and street light. I decided to go after Neptune again. This time I actually found δ Cap with my naked eye, and even barely saw γ. Before I had thought it was too bright at home. Practice makes perfect. I also learned at my eye examine Saturday that my right eye is weaker and doesn't see as well (I actually knew about it for a long time but hadn't thought about it). I always look through scopes with my right eye. I tried using my left eye more. Even so, I couldn't get Neptune with their scope. I need more practice. Today I realized I should also make use of the declension and RA markings on their tripod! (Duh. Hey I'm learning!)

I scanned with binoculars and at times thought I might have caught Neptune, but my final thinking is not. Too dim. I'm now very familiar with that little patch of sky and looked up the apparent magnitudes to compare with Neptune. Neptune is 7.7 (brightest) and all the stars I have values for are magnitude 7.0 or brighter.

I also got my scope out and used its computer. It pointed me at something that could have been Neptune. I never figured out how to confirm. I tried scanning for context, but just got confused.

Again I learned a lot but was a bit frustrated. And again I stayed up too late and am tired today.

Concert Under the Stars.

I'm sure you've noticed by now that astronomy is consuming me lately (DUH!!). Saturday I was more than a bit tired. I was very tired, but couldn't sleep in late. I thought I'd catch a nap but it never happened. This made me spacey and dead tired most of the day. I actually didn't stay up late looking at stars. I still had a very good day.

I took our 1989 VW Fox in to be smogged. Bad news -- it failed. Good news, it didn't seem too bad a failure, but who knows. Better news -- apparently the wonderful State of California will pay us $1000 to take our car off the road. It's a program to get rid of polluting cars. I couldn't believe it, since the bluebook on the Fox is, let me guess, just a shade under zero. I filled out the paperwork and we'll see if we're approved. We meet all the listed criteria. Sounds too good to be true. We were going to keep the Fox as a second car, but this seems too good to pass up. The cold statement "Then you take your car to a California approved dismantler where it will be crushed." is a bit harsh for a car we've grown to love, but hey we all have to go sometime.

Shopping went well but took a long time because I had an eye appointment at Costco. MB shopped while I was examined, but then it took forever to sign up for new frames and lenses. Same price as Lenscrafters (with my coverage) but I have to wait 1.5 to 2 weeks. Exam was slightly cheaper than Kaiser. Oh well, at least they were nice. We finally got home at 3pm. Carolina and I wanted to eat early because we wanted to go to a concert we thought started at 5:30 (more below). This is why I had no time for a nap.

So that night we to the concert. It was the Funk Brothers and was a part of Lancaster's Aerospace walk celebration. Lancaster boulevard was blocked off from Sierra Hwy to Fern. The concert was at Fern -- the Fern street sign hung over the back right of the stage. I was tired and it wasn't all my favorite music (but it was still very good) and I got squeezed next to a big guy. Even so I still had a lot of fun. We came across friends including Mike who played trombone for the concert because they like to hire their horn players locally. The weather was great. The concert actually didn't start at 7:30 and we got there a little before 6:00 so it worked out pretty well. We sat and talked and saw the sunset. Then we got to hear the concert.

While waiting and during the concert I noticed the stars (whoa, big surprise!). It was very light and I only see the very brightest objects. I saw Jupiter above Antares and later found Vega. Arcturus was right above the stage, since it was facing east and we were facing west. Recently my mom sent me a cool email showing the relative sizes of things. The content was a lot like this site. This picture shows the planets -- earth is on the left of the bottom row.

Here are the planets with the sun.

And here is the sun compare to other stars.

It's pretty cool and it was still on my mind a bit.

I had a reflective moment. There I was, little me, at a small concert -- I doubt there were more than 500 people present, maybe a 1000, I'm bad at estimating crowd sizes. I was small compare to the concert. The concert was small compared to bigger events. We were all small compared to the earth. The earth is small compared to Jupiter and especially the Sun. The sun is a relatively small star. It is very small compared to Arcturus which is a red giant. (Arcturus is not as big as Betelgeuse, but it's still pretty big for a star.) I felt like I was seeing through several orders of size magnitude. I felt small, but also happy to be in my God-given world. It made me feel good and well-cared for.

Saturday night I went to bed very tired and slept in Sunday morning. Finally I had a chance to rest.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


I had a fun day yesterday. At work we had a team building time which meant that we had a nice lunch and then went bowling. I did well, bowling 138 and 177 officially. They let us keep bowling a third game but turned off the lanes just before we finished. I was close to 200 -- 183 in the ninth frame with seven pins on my first ball and a makable spare in the tenth. Even better, our team did well. Steve, who I play racquetball with, bowled about as well as I did. Betty and Angela did well too. We got third place which meant a $100 gift certificate to BJ's. We actually won something! When we got there we threw a couple of practice balls, but there was no practice -- the machine started scoring right away. Ironically Steve said, "Don't worry, we're here for fun. We're not going to win anyway." He he.

Carolina was feeling bad because her friend, Theta (pronounced "thee-ta" not "tha-ta" like the Greek letter θ) died a couple of days ago. I met Theta a few times and talked on the phone briefly many times. She was a wonderful woman and was always leaving pleasant and encouraging messages for Carolina.

Well, as I started to say, Carolina was feeling bad and wanted to get out of the house. She decided to go to Universal Studios for which she has an annual pass. She called me and told me she could pick me up from work. This was a good thing, because I was a bit short on hours and it gave me time to make them up. I normally leave work at 5:40 to catch the last bus. Carolina picked me up at 7:30. We had dinner and drove home. We got home around 9:45.

I was a bit tired and it was a bit late, but I wanted to go out to look at stars. I wanted a shot at finding Neptune and a chance to see Uranus in my telescope. Saturday is our date night and I didn't think Carolina would want to spend another date looking at stars. (We just did that last week plus we're planning to be out at the Aerospace walk and Carolina can only handle so much outdoors before her allergies kick in.) If I wait till next week the moon will be up and make viewing harder, so I was motivated. Carolina was interested too, so we went.

We decided to go to church. It's fairly dark there -- I had been there Thursday night and noticed better viewing conditions than I expected. We got there around 10:30 and set up behind the back classroom. This got us away from the security lighting. There's still a little light, like anywhere in around here, but it's pretty good. There are obstructions -- building, tree, power lines but we had a mostly clear sight toward Capricornus (where Neptune is) and Aquarius (where Uranus is). The power lines were kind of in the way, but we could get around them and I actually used them to help point my telescope.

I found Capricornus and Aquarius pretty easily with my naked eye. Much better than near my home where I needed the binoculars to see them. I easily found Uranus in the binoculars -- so much easier after you've done it once and when you can actually see the guide stars. Here is the Wikipedia Capricornus chart.

Right now Neptune is next to γ Cap as this Sky and Telescope picture shows.

I found δ Cap and γ Cap easily with my eyes. In the binoculars I thought I might have seen Neptune. It's possible, they say, with good binoculars. Mine are pretty good, but usually when "they say" it's possible, I can't do it because of imperfect conditions and my old eyes.

I pointed my telescope at δ Cap with the help of the power line and found γ Cap by moving to the right and down slightly. With my lowest power 25mm lens δ and γ are just wider than my field of view. (I can see both in about half my binocular field). I then slide up and right to what I thought was Neptune. I tried my higher power 9mm lens. Less light but I was able to see it. Then I tried my doubler with the 9mm. Not enough light to see much.

I wanted to double check that it was Neptune. I couldn't really tell that it was much different than a star, which bothered me. I tried to look up but a power line (the one that helped me guide the scope to δ) was in the way. It slowly moved the scope forward so I could look up more. Move a little, readjust, move a little. It worked. I found nothing further up and to the right, but it was hard to be comprehensive. I went back to what I originally thought was Neptune.

I looked again in the binoculars. I'm pretty sure I saw what I thought was Neptune in the telescope. With the binocular wider field I could compare the γ to Neptune distance with the γ to δ distance. The looked about equal to me.

I would have liked to point my scope at Uranus, but Carolina was ready to go home. I knew finding Uranus in the telescope would take some time. However, Carolina volunteered to put our folding chair away. While she did that I pointed my scoped at Albireo. I've wanted to do that since Carolina gave the scope to me this summer. Albireo is a blue and gold double star. I saw it a long time ago in a friend's 12in reflector. I've tried a few times but never succeeded. Last night I got it on my second try. I focused and saw the double -- the first I've found on my own! I almost missed it because (duh!) it wasn't nearly as brilliant as in my friend's scope. But I could still see a bright gold star and a dimmer blue star. Neato!!

We went home and I doubled checked Neptune on Google Sky. I discovered I could copy the Google Sky image. I made this picture.

The big blue ball is a Google Sky icon, not how Neptune really looks in proportion. δ Cap is on the left at the same height as Neptune. γ Cap is to the right slightly below δ. OK, here's my dilemma. γ Cap to Neptune is not exactly the same distance as γ Cap to δ. Did I remember wrong? Was I just rounding off? Or did I pick up some other faint star? There is a star that is near the "δ-equal-distance" point. It's hard to see in the blog's compressed version of the picture so I circled it in red. It also is on the Sky and Telescope chart above. Is that my Neptune? Maybe I sometimes saw Neptune and sometimes this star? Or is it so dim I shouldn't worry about it? If I was looking at the star, I didn't find Neptune when I went up and right. Did I just miss it? On the other hand, if I was looking at Neptune I never saw this star go by.

The Google Sky picture and even this compressed view give me more data for how to look. The three stars above δ Cap give context (I think I saw them last night). A star below Neptune and one to the right also should help. I need to get back out there, maybe Sunday night. Maybe the top of the Tehachapi Willow Springs road would be a good place to go. Is there a way to increase my telescope field of view so it is like the binoculars. Say with a 50mm lens or greater? Should I try using the computer on the scope and see where it points?

It got to be very late and am tired today. Perhaps I'll need a nap. It was worth it but I cannot keep losing sleep without bad things happening.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

To the Moon or Bust

A new X Prize is available. For a space and science geek like me it's a great time to be alive.

Uranus and Astro Fun.

I'm having an awesome time with astronomy. Tuesday the Chathams had a birthday party for Hannah. We talked about going somewhere and doing some star gazing, but it never really happened. However, we were in their backyard and got to look at the sky some. I had brought my binoculars. I had a great time with Beth, Marybeth and Jed looking at stuff. I found out that my binoculars are not so great for finding Jupiter's moons, at least not from the suburbs. I'll need my telescope next time. I was able to show Jed how to find the Andromeda Galaxy. It's amazing how easy it is once you've found it! I hope I can get some people out a few more nights, especially while the weather is good.

Yesterday I got an email from NASA (we've been good buddies for a long time) with a link to this Voyager video. They are celebrating Voyager's 30th anniversary and right now all the Voyager planets are visible. Jupiter is easy. Go out in the evening and look south. The bright "star" you see is Jupiter. It is above and slightly to the left of Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius. Saturn is not too hard to see either, except right now it is only right before dawn next to Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. They are in the east at sunrise, below Venus.

Uranus and Neptune are harder. Uranus can in theory be seen with the naked eye and Neptune with good binoculars. For me, more like binoculars for Uranus and my telescope for Neptune. I tried for Uranus last night. I had many problems.

I did my looking near home. Lancaster is better than the big city and is at 2400ft, but there is still light. I could walk to the vacant field next to the freeway for a little less light. When I got there I noticed light clouds blowing through.

Uranus is in Aquarius. I at least now know where Aquarius is. However, Aquarius is a very dim galaxy, only well know because it is in the zodiac. (The astrological signs, but also the constellations through which the sun and planets move. There are actually 13 constellations the sun moves through. Twelve you hear about in astrology: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces. The thirteenth is Ophiuchus which is above Scorpius.) I have never seen Aquarius and I could not see it with the clouds and city lights. I did find Formalhaut, the bright star in Pisces Australis. That was a new find for me. I also found Corona Australis right behind Scorpius, another new find. I called it a night and went back home. There I checked on my new finds using star charts on the computer.

Even though I had called it a night, I decided to try to understand more about where Uranus is. The NASA video shows where Uranus is, but it is not very precise. It does show Uranus at the front of Aquarius. Here is what Aquarius' pictures look like.

I use the interactive star chart from Sky and Telescope. It's Aquarius line drawing is different than this picture and the NASA video, which caused me some confusion. I found Uranus' precise location online in Sky and Telescope. Here is their picture.

This is very precise but gives no context. The Sky and Telescope interactive star chart is very wide field and has no star markings. I looked at the The Wikipedia chart of Aquarius which has context and at least labels some of the stars.

The ecliptic (the path of the sun and planets) is the red dotted line. All of Aquarius and some surrounding stuff is shown with star labels. Using this I went out and found the Aquarius delta (δ) and lambda (λ) stars. (Stars are labeled with Greek letters. The first Greek letter, alpha (α), is the brightest, then beta (β), gamma (γ), delta (δ), epsilon (ε) and so on. Even α Aqr is not very bright. Phi (φ) , chi (χ) and psi (ψ) -- numbers 21, 22 and 23 in the Greek alphabet -- are even dimmer. They are not in most charts because there are 20 brighter stars in the constellation.)

Armed with new information I decided to go back out. To find δ and λ I first found Formalhaut and scanned up and left with my binoculars. I was very happy. I thought that Uranus was near λ because I forgot the designations on the Sky and Telescope picture.

I came home and found I was wrong about Uranus (but still happy to have found stars in Aquarius). I found a more precise chart.

I went back out and confirmed my star finding, but still could not find Uranus. Even this chart did not have φ, χ and ψ Aqr. (This chart is from 2001. Uranus has moved since then so I could not use this chart's Uranus location last night.) I needed a better star chart. I figured I could use Google Sky because it zooms and shows context. It also labels stars if you have the Yale Bright Star catalog turned on. However, Carolina was doing her homework on the computer with Google Sky. Now I really called it a night and began to move toward bed.

Before I got to bed Carolina finished using the computer. Even though it was late -- about eleven when Carolina was done -- I checked Google Sky. Viola! Google Sky showed me φ, χ and ψ Aqr in context. I went back out and found Uranus, right above φ Aqr just like Sky and Telescope said. λ was actually pretty close. The ψ Aqr stars are a bit left of λ Aqr. I had already seen the ψ stars but didn't know it. I just needed to look up a bit to find χ, φ and Uranus. It's not much to look at in suburb light, but I was very happy. I can actually find stuff and navigate with my binoculars!

Today I'm at bit tired but happy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Burning Salt Water

A friend sent me this article. John Kanzius accidentally discovered he could make salt water burn by subjecting it to radio waves.

This does not seem like a hoax. It's reported by reliable news sources. Kanzius is a scientist and seems to have been careful in his approach. He had it independently checked by a chemist. Of course, I want to believe it because it is very cool.

You can do the same thing with pure water by running an electric current through water. We did it in high school chemistry. The electric current breaks water (no salt needed) into hydrogen and oxygen. The problem is that it takes more electric energy to break apart the water than the energy you get from the combustion.

Radio waves are electromagnetic fields. It makes sense that they could affect the bonds of water in a similar way to passing a current through the water. I would think the frequency matters. If so, Kanzius was very lucky.

So I'm pretty sure Kanzius came up with something. It is at least a very neat chemistry demonstration. Is it anything more? Can it solve the energy crisis?

The key question: how much energy is being put in by the radio frequency generator? Is the energy output significantly greater than the input? Kanzius' system needs to output significantly more energy than input for it to work. The articles I found don't mention how much energy is put into the system and how much comes out. Those measurements are critical.

Burning water and hydrogen is very clean and efficient. The by-product is water! I'm not sure if the sodium and chlorine are also getting burned -- they might produce something nasty.

Uh oh... now I feel like this is perpetual motion. Let me explain.

A non-perpetual motion reaction consumes the fuel. Gasoline is used in most car engines. Gasoline combines with oxygen when burned. The gasoline is made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms. When it burns they combine with oxygen and produce things like water, carbon, carbon-monoxide and carbon-dioxide. The gasoline is gone. The reaction is not circular. Energy came out, but the fuel was consumed. You need more fuel to keep going. I can't be precise about the reaction because I don't know enough about gasoline chemistry but the idea is: Gasoline + Oxygen + EnergyIn ==> Water + Carbon + Carbon-monoxide + Carbon-dioxide + OtherStuff - EnergyOut (EnergyIn is the ignition spark and EnergyOut is the heat from burning).

In Kanzius' system I think the reaction looks like this: Water + EnergyIn ==> Hydrogen + Oxygen + EnergyIn2 ==> Water - EnergyOut (EnergyIn is energy in from radio waves, EnergyIn2 is the spark to light the fire and EnergyOut is heat from burning). For this to work as a power source EnergyOut must be greater than EnergyIn and EnergyIn2. That means there is some left over energy = EnergyOut - EnergyIn - EnergyIn2 = EnergyNet. EnergyNet can be taken out of the system which is what makes this useful. So far, so good, just like gasoline. However, the resulting product is water. The reaction does not consume the fuel. That is a perpetual motion machine, which is not possible. The laws of thermodynamics state that any process like this must lose energy.

Kanzius' system requires more than water. It also requires salt. The salt molecule is made up of sodium and chlorine, which is why it is called sodium chloride. Do the sodium and chlorine somehow change the reaction so it is not circular? Is the salt consumed? Do sodium and chlorine interact with the oxygen and hydrogen to produce something else and avoid the water product? It's been a long time since I've had chemistry. Any ideas?

Say Kanzius' system actually does produce significant energy. There are still other questions.
  1. Does the salt produce nasty by-products when burned?
  2. How cheap is the radio frequency generator?
  3. Can the system be usefully packaged?
  4. The external combustion Stirling engine (which a Kanzius system powered) is not very efficient cost or weight-wise. It is not very good for vehicles like cars. Is there another way to harness Kanzius energy?
  5. Can salt water be used for internal combustion and thus be more suitable for cars? Salt water is very corrosive which could cause all sorts of maintenance issues. It also could be very difficult to set up proper radio frequency generators in internal combustion engines.
I hope this turns out well, but there is reason for skepticism. The easiest answer will be that despite the obvious high temperature and energy of the burning the input energy is actually greater than the output energy when all is properly measured.

A final thought occurs to me. If it is the salt that is consumed, conceivably you could conserve the water and just keep adding salt. This means the real fuel would be salt, not salt water. You would also get a nifty desalinization process, which is what Kanzius was going for in the first place. This would make it a great way to to propel a ship. Your engine uses sea water for fuel and outputs the fresh water you need to survive. A ship, by the way, is big enough to possibly use a Stirling engine effectively.

Monday, September 10, 2007

More Astronomy

Two more astronomy tidbits.

First, Carolina and I went star-gazing Saturday night. We had a blast. We took a couple of folding chairs out to a dirt field at Ave L and 90th West. The weather was perfect, with a mild breeze at times. There was more traffic than I expected and we were bothered with headlights for a while, but it got quieter. There was significant light pollution looking back toward Lancaster (east) but the rest of the sky was very good.

I could identify lots of constellations and Carolina learned a lot of them. We also identified many bright stars and a couple of planets. Even with the light pollution I found the Andromeda Galaxy again with my binoculars and with my telescope. Carolina learned how to find the Andromeda Galaxy with the binoculars. I even guessed at four constellations (Aries, Triangulum, Aquarius and Capricorn) I had only seen on charts. I checked Google sky when I got home and found out I was right on all four! The night was great for the astronomy and also for a very relaxing and enjoyable time together.

Second, a little more on Hercules. I forgot I had already put together pictures from to try to understand Hercules. I took that picture and updated it with my new-found knowledge of the more modern Hercules. Here is the composite.

The traditional Hercules is the drawing. I traced the new Hercules with green lines. The new right leg uses faint stars not in the traditional picture. The other constellations give reference. Their position and size is not exact, but I tried to get close to help visualize this part of the sky. Below Hercules is Ophiuchus holding Serpens. To the right of Hercules is Corona Borealis, Boötes and the Big Dipper (Ursa Major or Big Bear). At the right-bottom is Virgo. Not in the picture, the bright star Vega (in Lyra) is to the left of Hercules. Looking at Vega on the charts and in the sky helped me orient Hercules (both pictures) correctly.