Space Camp, now with realism

The Onion has an article that’s both funny and sad, because it hits close to home. It’s about making Space Camp a more realistic experience for kids by simulating the constant budget struggles faced by NASA. Without further ado, I’ll quote the article:


HUNTSVILLE, AL — Aiming to provide attendees with an authentic glimpse into the nation’s space program, representatives for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center announced Thursday that its newly updated Space Camp will allow children to simulate the anger and mounting frustration experienced by NASA personnel over a continual lack of funding.

Camp organizers explained that the redesigned education program will offer kids the unique opportunity to contend with all of the budgetary restrictions and bureaucratic red tape impeding the progress of actual astronauts and researchers, allowing children from grades four to six to immerse themselves in a true-to-life NASA environment in which financial shortfalls and endless procedural delays plague them at every turn.

“At Space Camp, each attendee experiences the trials of real-life astronauts who simply are not provided the resources they need to explore outer space,” said director Deborah Barnhart, noting that campers get a firsthand look at what it’s like to pursue cutting-edge astronomical research on a budget that, when adjusted for inflation, is a mere fraction of what it was in the 1960s. “Our campers endure constant setbacks throughout their week here, from engaging in spaceflight training modules that can be shut down at a moment’s notice, to working tirelessly on a solar probe project only to be informed that an across-the-board spending freeze has led to the indefinite suspension of their work.”

“Kids will walk away from a week at Space Camp knowing exactly what it’s like to be an American astronaut,” she added.

Barnhart told reporters that the modernized camp offers attendees an array of hands-on activities that include designing next-generation spaceships, searching for virtual extrasolar planets, and building a robotic Mars rover, any one of which could be effectively derailed by an abrupt mandate that the research and development process be made more cost-effective.

Additionally, campers will reportedly be able to sigh and throw their hands up in exasperation within a replica of the actual mission control room at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center after learning that a reconnaissance mission to scan for the presence of life on Jupiter’s moon Europa has been scrapped just weeks prior to the intended launch date.

Program officials also highlighted their efforts to make the experience as realistically discouraging as possible by furloughing a significant number of campers immediately at the start of each weeklong session.

“We put camp attendees in the shoes of dedicated NASA scientists whose attempts to further scientific understanding through the analysis of asteroid composition are halted by one of our camp staffers playing the role of a U.S. senator targeting all ‘nonessential’ initiatives,” said counselor Tyler Campbell. “When they take their seats in our mock congressional chamber, campers will work together to deliver an impassioned yet ultimately futile request for continued support of NASA until they have no choice but to stand up and leave, having just witnessed their life’s work go up in smoke.”

“When you see the stunned expressions on these kids’ faces as they realize their goals and dreams are no longer attainable because of political pressures completely out of their control, that’s when you know they’ve gained a valuable understanding of our space program,” Campbell added.

Early participants in the new program have reportedly hailed the experience as “eye-opening,” with many describing their visceral disappointment watching satellite feeds of their Chinese and Russian Space Camp counterparts pursuing scientific endeavors that were eliminated in the U.S. years ago.

“I’ll never forget what it was like to go to Space Camp and repeatedly attempt to convince the budget committee of the importance of our solar wind study so they would cancel the other teams’ projects and not ours,” said 11-year-old camper Sara Andrews, who explained that she spent most of the week steadily reducing the scope of her simulated mission so that it would remain financially viable. “I’m just glad I wasn’t working on the asteroid flyby project that was ultimately deemed too cost-prohibitive and was contracted out to a private aeronautics firm. The kids on that team just had to sit around and do nothing for the rest of camp.”

“I can’t wait to work at NASA when I grow up so I can constantly stress over limited financial resources and have my scientific projects canceled for real,” she added. “That is, if NASA even still exists then.”

Nailed it.

Comcast sucks

I just finished a call with Comcast, and was reminded why they are consistently voted the Worst Consumer Company year after year. I found a better deal for the internet at my office: CenturyLink offers twice the bandwidth at half the cost. So I set up CenturyLink, confirmed it’s working, and called today to cancel my Comcast account.


My contract expired about two weeks ago, so I figured it would be an easy matter to shut down the account. Oh no. There’s a 60-day notification requirement– I have to pay for two additional months of service, according to the terms of my contract. Frustrated, I found the terms that apply to my account (after searching a bit on Comcast’s site– the terms change every couple of months so you have to know the exact start date of your contract to even know which terms apply to you). I read them and found that the 60-day notice only applies when you’re within your contract term.

Ha! I had them. I called back and read section 5.1 of the terms, but the woman politely pointed out that two weeks ago, as my term expired, I was automatically renewed for another year-long term. I didn’t authorize that, of course, but she took me to section 4.2 where it says that’s what will happen. Argh.

I explained that it’s pretty frustrating and underhanded to do this, and she even said that she agreed with me and deals with calls like this all day long. However, she couldn’t do anything about it, nor could her supervisor, because “That’s Comcast’s policy”.

So Comcast, bite me. Good riddance.

Waffle House!

James’ last day is tomorrow, so we decided to have a farewell lunch… at the Waffle House. The restaurant is a few miles down the highway from the office, and for years I’ve driven past thinking, “Man, back in college, Waffle House was amazing.” Of course, back then “amazing” meant “all you can eat for $4.79”.

So seven of us headed down there, enjoyed a good time together, and pretty much agreed that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Of course, we also agreed that we won’t be going back any time soon either…


Apps and humanity’s productivity

Today Kyra mentioned to me that she’s having a friendly competition with her friend Hannah to see who can score the highest in the Hot New App called “Don’t Touch the White Tiles”. Yeah, this game is all the rage, and the name pretty much sums up the entire premise. The screen has a set of four squares horizontally, one of which is black, and they scroll slowly upward. You have to tap the black one, and then the next row appears. It gets faster as you go along, and eventually the black and white tiles are just flying past. Truly this is a test of mental and physical dexterity.


I commented to Kyra that if all of the people who have spent hours playing apps like this would, instead, focus on something productive, it’s likely that humanity would have accomplished so much more by now. I suspect hundreds of millions of hours of productivity are lost every day to things like Don’t Touch the White Tiles, or Flappy Bird, or Farmville, or whatever else is the latest rage. If we’d channel that mental energy for good, we’d probably have flying cars and be living on Mars by now.

Stack o’ SSD’s

Mmm… I just received my shipment of fifteen new solid-state disk drives. These are enterprise-grade drives that I’ll be installing in a bunch of my servers.


I’ve found that once you’ve gone to SSD’s, you can never go back to traditional spinning-platter hard drives. Of course I still have those drives in the servers– it’s nice to have a terabyte of space that’s much cheaper, even if it’s slower.

I love these things, although $2,000 for 2TB of storage– no matter how fast– is a little steep. Hopefully they’ll keep going down in price.

Block party stock art

I just received an email from my HOA about an upcoming “block party” event. This is the actual header graphic.


I’m speechless.

Also, is the second guy from the left Willis from “Diff’rent Strokes”?

The great 80’s

Kyra is working on a final in U.S. History where she has to pick a decade and do a bunch of research about it. She picked the greatest decade of all time, which of course was the 80’s. For her assignment she interviewed me and Laralee about what it was like to grow up in the 80’s, including our favorite TV shows, books, music, things we did, and even phrases we used.

It was fun to reminisce about all of that stuff. Laralee was a huge Huey Lewis fan back in the 80’s… she had all of the albums (on cassette, of course), posters on her wall, and the highlight of her entire childhood was going to one of his concerts. I remembered that Dirk had one of the Huey Lewis albums, and we’d play it in his 1972 Plymouth Duster while we drove around getting beat up by kids on the highway by Taco Bell. Yeah, long story there.

Papa Alex

Today Alex interviewed and was offered his first real* job. We’ve been encouraging him for the past few months to get a summer job, but he’s been sort of lackadaisical about doing it. (In his defense, he’s been pretty busy with homework, finals, projects, martial arts, Scouting, and church stuff!)

He went over to Papa John’s Pizza today, interviewed briefly, and was offered the job on the spot. He accepted and had to participate in some training where– according to him– the presentation focused largely on how much quality Papa John’s puts into its product while the other guys are basically feeding their customers something dredged from the bottom of a septic tank. He said they kept mentioning Domino’s and Pizza Hut by name, and how they’re not nearly as awesome as Papa John’s.

So anyway, he starts next week. It’ll be interesting to see how much pizza he brings home. Luckily Papa John’s pizza is pretty good… especially that garlic butter sauce, which I’m sure is chock full of quality.


* A “real” job means one where he’s not working for me or one of my friends.

Huffin’ vanilla

One exception to not huffing various spray cans is vanilla.


I was making some frosting for cupcakes, and couldn’t help but breathe deeply of the vanilla bottle. Wow, huffing that stuff is like snorting angels up your nose and having them play their harps inside your nasal passages. Or… something. Whatever, it’s amazing.