29 April 2009


In the spirit of the my last post, I figured I'd drop a quickie on y'all with a few of the bands I've been listening to this last week or two. I feel like a lot of these bands have been around a while and for some reason have just flown under my radar. Well, I knew about The Swell Season, but only insofar as I knew about Glen Hansard and Marketa Irlgova (because I saw Once, which is an incredible movie). I guess since I have the soundtrack I even technically had The Swell Season's CD without even knowing it. So, here's five songs from five bands I'm digging on presented without comment. Let me know what y'all think! And, more importantly, let me know about more good music to listen to!

Delta Spirit

The Felice Brothers

The Swell Season

Justin Townes Earle

Elvis Perkins in Dearland

I should say that I discovered a couple of these bands through the wonderful folks over at bham.fm and one of them through Rachael. So they deserve some of the credit. Give it to 'em.

And go love on Some New Trend while you're at it.

27 April 2009

We ain't got no place to go

I was trying to post every day last week but, as you probably didn't notice, I had to skip Friday. M'bad. The reason? I had a short work day filled with meetings and then upon leaving (at, like, 2:30) I had to go home and clean up the apartment because I had company coming in town. Yay, company! A friend from Atlanta came in town to visit and to see Against Me! with a bunch of folks. Yes friends, we are getting into concert season and it looks to be a good harvest this year. Here's the menu for the next month or so:

That's all I've got planned so far. I feel like there's even some shows I'm forgetting. This should prove to be an excellent summer for a music fan. Also exciting is the Rocket City Brewfest coming up here in Huntsville on May 7th and 8th. I'll be volunteering on Friday night and drinking for free on Saturday! So, anyone who's planning on being at any of these shows/events should let me know! We'll have a meet-up.

The Against Me! show was awesome. It's been a while since I've been to a punk rock show. I forgot how much fun they can be. Especially when you're there with a bunch of friends and you know all the words. And you don't mind being covered in sweat and beer and jumping around like a fool.

I went to The Avett Brothers on Saturday in Birmingham at Sloss Furnaces. The weather was perfect for an outdoor venue. They played some of their new stuff, including one of my new favorite songs, "Laundry Room". Here's a video of them performing it:

How awesome is that song? Seriously. Those guys never cease to amaze me. "Last night I dreamt the whole night long/ I woke with a head full of songs/ I spent the whole day/ I wrote them down but it's a shame/ Tonight I'll burn the lyrics cause every chorus was your name."

Oh, and here's a couple of pictures I took yesterday evening on the lake behind my apartment. So nice...

^click for larger

So, folks, what concerts are y'all going to during this summer o' shows? Any that I need to be aware of?

*I've previously mentioned how excited I am about this. It is now less than 4 weeks away. ZOMG.

23 April 2009

Apollo Rocks The EP, a trial

A while back I had my first "Apollo Rocks It!" contest to come up with a great theme for a mixtape. Heather won with a kick ass idea. Sarah also had a good one, though, and I told y'all I would come up with an EP for hers. I've been putting it off because I wanted to try out the mixtape.me utility. I think this is going to be a good relationship. So here it is, the first of what I imagine could be a shitload of mixes that I put on the blog. For Sarah: "Apollo Rocks Holy Shit, Get the Fuck Outta Here!" (minus emo and scene music) The limits of their catalogue could be a problem eventually, but I think it'll work smashingly well for EPs. What do ya'll think?

*Okay upon trying to listen to it straight through I noticed that my Thin Lizzy stops playing at ~1:30. I haven't tried to listen to the others all the way yet. Is that happening to anyone else? The whole song is there, I promise. What's the deal mixtape.me?

22 April 2009

Flash bang

For a long time now I've had an interest in fiction writing. Mostly because I am constantly getting little snipets of dialogue or a story stuck in my head. I do the same thing with song lyrics, but for me it's easier to write songs for some reason. So while I've written probably a dozen songs or so over the past 5 years I can't say I've sat down and honestly attempted to write creatively (read: fiction) since I was in highschool. That was a long time ago.

A while back I discovered that a good friend of mine wrote flash fiction. When she told me that my mind went immediately to the gutter, as it is wont to do, with intricate dramas unfolding around college girls who liked to, uhm, show themselves. Upon being slapped corrected, I discovered that the actual definition was just as intriguing but for totally different reasons. It's like a hobby-kit for fiction writing!

I've read a good bit of it now and it's obvious that it takes a whole lot of talent to do well but just a little free time to do poorly. Free time I've got! There are, according to the All Mighty Wikipedia (May He Live Forever), even recognized subsets of flash fiction that are as short as 55 words! I don't necessarily know what it takes to be recognized as a 'subset' of flash fiction other than being published, but that's beside the point. Of course there is a challenge in trying to fit all of the classic story elements into such a short space, but I like challenges. I've even taken a shot today at writing something that fits that bill for Twitter. I didn't post it; it didn't go well. 140 characters is a hell of a limitation. Of course Ernest Hemingway predated all of this with his infamous, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn" which delivers some sort of story in about 33 characters. This kind of stuff is all over the place now. It's perfect for the internet. So I hope to write a little bit of really short fiction, some of which I may share here down the line.

I didn't put it on Twitter, but I likes yous guys so I'll embarrass myself by showing you the "Tweet-fiction" (coined?) I almost posted earlier:

"Z was loved by many, but the woman killed him anyway. His failures overtook his successes in sharp, stabbing steps. Blood poured cleansing."

Yeah, I know. It's a little morbid and not well-phrased. I really hate that last sentence. It's like chorus from a Misfits song. It's hard to convey a point with so little space. I do think that having 'characters' go by one letter is useful, though. So, for the writers amongst you with actual talent how would you go about telling a story in 140 characters or less? Care to share?

21 April 2009

Milk, milk, lemonade

This whole 'blogger awards' thing seems to have taken the internets by storm. Seems like every day I read a blog where someone has received an award from another blog and then passes it along like so much herpes; except more fun! So I realized that about a week ago Heather gave me The Lemonade Award because I commented on her post therein concerned. According to her, it is "an award given to sites which the giver shows either great attitude and/or gratitude." So if I'm reading that right, thank you, Heather, for showing me great attitude and gratitude. Upon accepting this award I am supposed to list 6 unimportant things that make me happy. I'm of the mind that anything that makes me happy is pretty damn important, but I'll give it the ol' college try. Here goes:

1) That first sip of coffee in the morning - Oh. My. God. Is there anything better? It seems like every day at work (and occasionally weekends) starts off with me sitting in my chair, taking a whiff of my fresh-brewed coffee, having a sip, and then melting in happiness. I usually don't reconstitute until after I've drank it all.

2) The blue herons around my apartment - They're simultaneously majestic and a little goofy-looking. I think there are about a half-dozen that live on the lake I walk around for exercise. I smile whenever I see them.

3) Going to the grocery store - Okay so this might not fall under the 'unimportant' category because, as Checker's is wont reminds us, you gotta eat. However, since I always wait until I have absolutely no edible food in the house, it's a great feeling whenever I come home with a trunk chock full of food. I realized recently that I buy mostly breakfast food, but that's a subject for another post.

4) New headphones - Now this is unimportant! I just bought a new pair of earbuds to replace the shitty ones that came with my ubiquitous mp3 player. These guys, actually. It's such a relief to be rid of the old ones. I don't have to worry about these falling out of my ears if I get particularly dance-y while on my walks.

5) Twitter - Yes, I'm addicted now. Damnit.

6) Cheesy Jokes - While I'd hardly argue that these are unimportant, some may. I've amassed quite a number of cheesy jokes over the last 5 or 6 years, all of which I'm too willing to share. Exempli gratia: A spark plug walks in to a bar and the bartender says, "Okay. I'll serve you, but you've gotta promise not to start anything." Or: What'd the fish say when he ran into a wall?? Dam... See what I mean? That's just two! I've got dozens of 'em, all tucked away somewhere in my head. Have you got one? I'd love to hear it. If I'm ever about to take a picture where I should be smiling, I'll typically think of one of these jokes so my smile doesn't look forced.

Okay so that was actually harder than I thought. Not sure if that reflects poorly upon my psychological wellness. The thing about these awards is that you're supposed to pass 'em along. So, here's two folks who have my gratitude: Sarah and LadyGlutter. F'real, though... make with the corny jokes people.

20 April 2009

Complete uninanonomonitity

Hey blog friends! I've been negligent recently in updating. I think I can fix that, though. I'm really glad that I got so many responses to my last post about a vision for Mars. I've spoken to a bunch of my rocket science friends and gotten their opinions on the matter, as well. One guy even drew a very apt comparison to the colonization of the Americas and the corporations which provided the funding. Interesting to think about, anyway.

I fully intended to put up some pictures today but I loaded them all on the computer at home and deleted them from my camera [No, Heather, not pictures of me. Still trying to maintain a little anonymity, here]. When I went walking last Friday I took some pictures on the trip. Kind of a 'step into my (painful) running shoes' idea. One thing I learned is that it's best to stop walking before you take photos, lest they come down with a case of the blurries. Oh well. You'll see 'em soon.

Is it lame that I'm trying to keep this blog a little anonymous? I realize that almost everyone who comments either knows me well or has hung out with me before. My justification is two-fold, really. The most important reason is that I occasionally write about work. There are plenty of people out there who have gotten fired for the things they wrote in their own time on their own website. While I don't think I've ever written anything so scandalous such that would warrant reprimand, I do know that other people might not agree with what I have to say. Which is fine, really. Unless those other people happen to be coworkers or bosses. The best way to avoid that little snafu is for me to keep my name/face off my blog. Sure, I know that there's a significant chance that no one in NASA has ever even heard of this site, or would care that I run it. I'm just being safe. That being said I also love establishing friendships with readers and would love to hear from anyone out there who reads but doesn't comment.

The second reason I keep my name/face off the blog is that I don't want family or (some) friends to know about it. I have my own reasons for that.

I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I think it's best. I wonder if it's not a little cowardly, though.

14 April 2009

Neptune city here I come

I've got a question for you sci-fi (not SyFy) fans out there. Actually, scratch that. It's more of a question for fans of space exploration. Are those two mutually exclusive? Whatever. I think it's kind of a question for fans of space exploration and sci-fi. Confused? Me, too. I've told you recently that I finished reading Red Mars and it has got me thinking a lot about Mars exploration. Being part of the whole space exploration effort has given me a sort of new prospective on the whole thing so I'm curious as to what y'all think about this. How important is Mars to your vision of space exploration? How should it be treated? Does anyone besides myself actually think about this stuff?

I suppose it might help to clarify my point. Or my question. Or whatever. One thing you may have picked up from reading my blog or any news source is that space exploration is fucking expensive. Really fucking expensive. Even before the recession the amount of money being spent was staggering. Staggering but, in my opinion, totally worth it. Now, with the recession on and people clamoring for massive cuts in government spending it will only get harder to convince voters that all that money is worth it. Even I have a hard time doing it, and I know about all of the benefits of the space program. So if the problem is funding, what do you do? I've always been a big proponent of doing whatever it takes to get the private space exploration sector off the ground (PUN!). I think that if anything could really get space exploration going it's avarice and greed. The problem comes when you try to turn exploration into a money-making venture. It's not so easy. Sure there plenty of potential breakthroughs that could come from extensive experiments in space, but those don't necessarily have the immediate revenue potential needed to justify the investment.

I feel like I need a shower after writing those last few sentences. Honestly, though, I'm all for unchecked greed if it can get billions of dollars invested in space exploration. I hate unchecked greed when it ruins/costs lives. It could certainly take some of the monetary burden off of NASA (and thus the taxpayer). And maybe some of the public scrutiny, as well. The tallest tree is the first one cut and all that. So, back to Mars. If you believe that Mars is critical to our future (like I do) would you be okay with letting big corporations strip-mine the planet for metals/resources if they were willing to put up the necessary capital to establish a permanent human presence? That was a mouthful. But that's basically the question that I've been chewing over for a few weeks. It's one of the major questions dealt with in Red Mars but the book doesn't deliver much for an answer. I think I'm okay with it. But then I think I need a shower. Is there anything wrong with letting someone else pay the tab this time?

I realize I probably won't get an answer to this question, but it's something to consider. Because at some point, even if you're not a fan of space exploration or sci-fi, your vote will be counted amongst the ones that make the decision. Either by direct vote or by voting for a policy-maker (e.g. a senator who thinks we just can't afford it all).

Then again we could just cut the fucking defense budget in half and double-fund NASA for the next 100 years without ever taking an extra dime from the taxpayer. There. I said it.

13 April 2009

It's got one magic trick

Gah! I've been meaning to update now for, like, 5 days or something. It just seems like every time I get a little bit of free time I blink my eyes and it has disappeared! Who's disappearing my free time? Well, there are a few culprits. First, Jim Dunn over at Raising Jacobzona. He runs a couple of blogs, both rife with the funny. Check him out. F'real! Second, the city of Birmingham. I was there this past weekend and, as is often the case, filled my 'free time' with 'alcohol' and 'friends'. Then there was this other mixtape I had to finish for The Mixtape Club in Birmingham. We really ought to come up with a better name... any suggestions? Anyhow the theme was "Mixtape Suicide Note". As in 'if you were going to kill yourself tomorrow, what songs can you find that would best describe why'? Not the most fun theme to ponder at length, folks. I'd post the tracklist here but then you'd be all like 'what the hell is his deal' and 'of course he'd pick a Danzig song'. Besides, out of all the mixes I've made in the past couple of years I can say I like that one the least. Probably because I wasn't too keen on the subject matter. Also because I was kind of in a hurry to finish it. We exchanged these mixtapes at a friend's 30th birthday party. Let me tell you suicide music does not liven up a party. Actually they weren't all super-depressing, Morrissey-esque ballads extolling the virtues of death. Mine even had some upbeat sounding alt-country! More specifically it had a song called "You Can't Buy a Gun When You're Crying" by Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs. Here it is:

Yes, that's a very British band playing very good country western music. So it really wasn't all that bad, you see. Tonight I'm going to try to go see Jason Webley at a house show in Huntsville. I'm curious as to why he's playing at a house. He seems to have a decent following. I'm sure he could've played at an actual venue. I'm actually a little wary of house shows, to be honest. Houses don't typically have enough room or decent enough acoustics to accomodate more than about 20 people comfortably. At least that's been my experience, anyway. Maybe this'll change my opinion.

08 April 2009

Apollo Rocks Roots and Burial

A couple of weeks ago I had a contest to celebrate my 100th blog post. Heather Rose won and has been ever so patiently waiting for her mixtape. I know, I should actually call it a mix CD, but I don't care what I should call it, I like calling 'em mixtapes. Seems cooler that way to me for some reason. Anyhow, Heather came up with the awesome idea of a Roots and Burial mix. This was intriguing to me because I can think of all sorts of songs about death, but not necessarily burial; family, but not necessarily roots and so on and so forth. So it was challenging and really fun to make. I finally got it done yesterday. I haven't technically delivered it yet, but I did make my own copy which I've been listening to since yesterday to make sure that it all worked the way I wanted it to. It did. Without further ado (and with warning to Heather that if she wants it to be a surprise then turn away now) I present the tracklist for what I hope to be the first of many "Apollo Rocks It mix contests.

1) William Elliott Whitmore - Digging my grave
2) Blind Lemon Jefferson - See that my grave is kept clean
3) Oakley Hall - Bury your burden
4) Great Lake Swimmers - I am Part of a Large Family
5) Eisley - Many Funerals
6) Rancid - Roots radicals
7) Tom Waits - Cold Cold Ground
8) William Elliott Whitmore - Cold and Dead
9) Pine Hill Haints - Don't Wait for Six Strong Men
10) The Ramones - Pet Sematary
11) H2O - Family Tree
12) Modest Mouse - Bury me with it
13) Talking Heads - Pull up the Roots
14) Old Crow Medicine Show - Beech Creek Dirge
15) Tom Waits - Dirt in the Ground
16) Alisdair Roberts - A Lyke-Wake Dirge
17) The Pogues - Worms

I'm still working on the cover design. Since I don't have a printer at home it takes some doing. Once that's done, though, it's all hers. And mine. Cause I'm totally keeping that mix forever. What songs would you have put on this mix if it were yours to make? There were probably six songs that were on the bubble for me but didn't make the cut.

Now I've just got to finish the Suicide mix that I'm supposed to be doing for my Mixtape Club. Yeah. I know. Depressing theme, right? Once that one is done I'll probably post that tracklist here as well.

Do y'all think I should keep doing these? Cause I get a kick out of making mixtapes. I can imagine that Heather won't have a problem trying to win 'em all.

06 April 2009

A rocket's not an easy thing to make

Well these last two weeks were pretty busy for yours truly. This past week was especially so because not only was work pretty hectic but I also had some friends in town from Wednesday to Saturday. This, of course, was occasion to drink. A lot. And I also got a girl's number on Friday night who I've kinda been crushin' on for a bit. Good times! Things should settle back down this week, though. That should give me more time to attend to my bloggin'. I'm almost done with Heather's awesome mix. It's been a fun challenge and it's pretty dern good if I do say so myself. I'm hoping to have the tracklist up here for y'all tomorrow.

Okay so I don't know how many of you have been following the trials and tribulations of NASA's Ares program. I'm pretty sure I've blogged about this before but it's starting to come up in the news again so I thought I should revisit it. Ares is the name of the rocket that's meant to replace the Space Shuttle for the U.S.'s future human space exploration. The Space Shuttle is (as of now) retiring late next year. It's been used now for almost 30 years and is getting a little too risky to operate without major, expensive upkeep and changes. So NASA decided about 5 years ago to go with a design that looks like this:

The Ares I is on the right in that picture and is meant to be used primarily for human transport to the moon and, eventually, Mars. Hence the name. The one on the left is the Ares V and is being designed as a 'heavy lifter'. In other words it'll be taking on the Space Shuttle's cargo-carrying duties. The main reason the Space Shuttle is still in use today is that nothing else available can carry large cargo (like Colbert, the new module for the International Space Station). I'm working on a part of the Ares I project that keeps it steady during launch and ascent.

There has been a lot of to-do about the problems and delays with the Ares I program. It is, per NASA's own schedule, already at least a year and a half past it's initial launch target of 2014. Some people are saying that it's more like 3 years behind schedule. It's hard for me to say. It's such a massive undertaking that trying to make it adhere to some schedule seems to me like a fool's errand. Lot's of people are calling for a complete cancellation of the Ares I program. That, to me, seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes, there are lots of problems with the Ares program, but so much time and money has been invested in its development that it would be a travesty just to abandon it. And it would probably completely kill NASA in the court of public opinion. That is the absolute last thing we need. I'm saying this not as an aerospace engineer but rather as a person who has watched science, mathematics, and engineering take a backseat in this nation's mind and its education systems. LadyGlutter recently spoke to this on her blog. It's all a big mess. To be honest I've never really been a fan of the Ares I design. It seemed too derivative of the Apollo program to me. I don't think it's a design that spurs a lot of innovation. That being said I will stick behind this design because it's the one that we've been working so diligently on. I'm not really worried about my job security, though maybe I should be. I just think that backing out of the Ares program this far into development would be devastating to the U.S. space program. Plus, without going into a lot of detail, most of the proposed alternatives aren't so hot themselves.

I hope I'm making my point clear. It's hard for me to elucidate how I feel about the current direction of the space program because I'm embroiled in it. That's kind of why I started this blog entry -- to clear up in my head what I think about all of this. Feel free to ask me any questions you have about this whole mess. It may even help me understand. I think this song (by one of my favorite bands EVER) may well sum it up:

In other news, SPACE ROBOTS.