Monday, July 30, 2007

The conquest of space

One of the people injured in last week's blast at Scaled Composites is a University of Michigan alumnus and a guy I know personally. Jason Kramb (now confirmed on Scaled's own website) is in serious condition after being knocked back 25 feet by the tank explosion.

Kramb played trombone in the MMB from 1996-2000, which was before my time, but I met and got to know him from his presence at various MMB events over the years. He worked for Scaled Composites at the time they won the X-Prize with SpaceShipOne. Each employee got a packet to fill with items they wanted to send to space and back, and Kramb is responsible for sending the first trombone mouthpiece into space.

This was forwarded from his mom:

"He had turned his head to watch the plume from the rocket and so his left side of the face has the most injuries while the right is ok. He has several cuts with lots of stitches. A piece of the carbon fiber went through his lip and broke a tooth. The side of his left nostril was cut so it flapped back...they repaired that also. He has a very severe injury on his left thigh from knee to groin that was probably from the force of the blast. It damaged the skin and underlying tissue. He had surgery on Thursday to debride...some areas it is down to the muscle. Also has a smaller one on the shin. He is going to surgery on Monday to skin graft the area.

Because the rocket is made of carbon fiber he had hundreds of pieces(big and small) removed in surgery and we are finding more daily...I sit and pick them out with tweezers! Just think of lots and lots of slivers.

On top of all that, he witnessed an explosion that killed three of his co-workers and critically injured his roommate. Scary stuff. Best wishes to Kramb, and everyone else involved, on a speedy and full recovery.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Secret Cardinal updates

The publicity train is rolling:
  • The official Secret Cardinal page is online at the Perseus Books Group website. It shows the final, less wordy cover.

  • The local chapter of Legatus hosted a Tom Grace speech on Tuesday. Legatus is a Michigan-based organization of over 3,000 Catholic executives and their spouses. A prime market!

  • Brilliance Audio will record and publish the audiobook in October or November. Brilliance Audio is the largest independent publisher of audiobooks in the country. They were bought by Amazon in May, so the audiobook will probably be available there in digital download form. Amazon is competing with iTunes on the digital audio market, so I wouldn't expect iTunes to carry the Secret Cardinal.
  • Photo, Michigander updates

    The Michigander was once again a fantastic week for riding. The hottest days were still dry, the coldest nights were in the 40s (which made the sleeping bags worthwhile), and the quest for Oberon was generally a success. It rained on Thursday on our way to Mackinaw for a half hour or so, then occasional downpours after we had our tents set up. That was the only blip in an otherwise flawless week of great riding weather. The shorter routes each day gave me more time to relax and read most of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

    My photos are here:
    2007 Michigander

    My dad's photos, which contain the group shots and all the pictures of gaudy bear statues and small-town landmarks, are here.

    After the ride was over, Danielle and I moved her into our new apartment. We also took pictures after the dust settled.
    New Apartment

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    Mrs. Hagen

    One of my 5th grade teachers, Mrs. Hagen, passed away July 22. This was not sudden; she had been in Hospice care for a few weeks and her family was prepared.

    She and Mrs. McKee were great teachers who understood my sense of humor and always spoke positively of me. I will always be grateful for their contributions to my education.

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    CNN Debates

    The CNN/YouTube Democratic debate was on TV tonight. I thought it was pretty good. Providing a human face and source to the questions, though indirect, made the event seem more like a conversation and less like meaningless puffery. Some questions were softballs and some treaded too lightly, but they covered the important subjects. And goodness, if Kucininch is going down, he's going down swinging.

    The great thing is that every question and answer from the debates are now available online. This promises to be the most transparent election we've ever had, and more transparency means more accountability.

    Weekend update forthcoming.

    Saturday, July 14, 2007


    Off for the week to ride across the state, from Midland to Mackinaw, on the annual Michigander. I'll be back Sunday night after moving Danielle into our apartment. If it's like the last years' rides, this will be a great week.

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Flock is cool, but not for me

    I've been playing around with Flock over the last couple days. It's billed as a "social web" browser with built-in integration and management of many popular online services. Since I have accounts with Blogger, Youtube, Livejournal,, and subscribe to many RSS feeds, I gave it a shot. I think it's a great browser with powerful features, but a little excessive for my current needs. Don't worry, Flock, it's not you, it's me.

    Flock is a sleek-looking program and it fits a lot of resources into the screen real estate. An optional media bar across the top displays Flickr photostreams or videos from YouTube subscriptions. A versatile multifunction side panel can display summaries of RSS feeds, available web blogging/publishing/tagging services, starred items, favorite links, or the web clipboard. This universal clipboard feature was interesting: Just drag and drop text or images to the side and they'll stay there, presumably to help with research or blogging about the items saved. It seemed redundant with built in, and although it would be useful for compiling many items in one place, it doesn't log the URL or where they're from. Flock aims to be one-stop shopping for everyone's social online needs, even combining all the blogging services under one generic publishing window.

    It's based on the Firefox architecture and claimed that many of the extensions would work, though I didn't try many. Twitter is not natively supported, but there's already a Twitterbar extension for it.

    The drag and drop photo publishing and attaching functionality also worked well. However, I use Picasa and its Web Album feature, and I see no reason to migrate to Flickr yet.

    Ultimately, I'm sticking with Firefox for two reasons: I don't use enough of the services offered by Flock, and I like the centralized control of my RSS feeds that Google Reader provides (tracking read items based on an online account and not a local, per-computer basis). If I used Flickr and only checked my RSS feeds from one computer, this would be perfect; for now, it's like buying myself an airplane ticket for a hundred-mile trip.

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Life FAQ

    Exciting news: On August 16th, I will stop working at my job here, pack up my things that weekend, and move in with Danielle in Grand Rapids. Here are my responses to all the questions I get about it.

    Um, what?
    I'm leaving my job, moving across the state, and living with my girlfriend.

    Why would you do that?
    First and foremost, Danielle. A 150 mile commute would be unbearable. Additionally, I need to be closer to my family, particularly mom and Tom, who are facing difficult times regarding Tom's health.

    Why so soon?
    My lease is up August 16th. I'd like to stick around until I have a new job lined up, but month to month leases are prohibitively and outrageously expensive.

    Are you insane?
    Probably, but I'm also young, healthy (knock on wood), and versatile enough to be able to pull this off.

    What happened to both of you finding jobs here?
    That would have been ideal, but there just weren't any for her. Well, there was one, at 50% FTE, so hardly any salary and no benefits. This opportunity opened up over there and it sounded fantastic. It's better for her career to work there than it would be for mine to work here.

    What will you do?
    Look for jobs, to start. Grand Rapids has a better economy than this side of the state, and with a year of experience now under my belt it becomes that much easier. Just by plugging in terms like Photoshop, digital video, media, web, and production into job search engines, I've already found a half-dozen suitable jobs to apply for.

    Where will you live?
    We found a nice 2-bedroom apartment at Aspen Lakes, on the northeast side of town. It has a bar in the kitchen, sliding glass doors that overlook a pond, a patio, and central air.

    That looks far away from everything.
    Yes, the apartment itself is in a residential area. I won't be able to walk everywhere anymore, and I certainly won't live six tenths of a mile from work. Grand Rapids is not Ann Arbor, and that has been tough to face. But, relatively speaking, this place is in a great location. It is:

    • 0.5 miles from an intersection with a bus stop, Walgreen's, gas station, deli, Little Caesars, and video store.
    • 1.5 miles from Danielle's job.
    • 1.5-2 miles from three different highway exits.
    • 1.5 miles from Meijer, a movie theater, a Beaner's, and the Beltline (chain-store-o-rama).
    • 4 miles from downtown.
    How can you afford that?
    That's not your business, but do understand that the cost of living is glorious in Grand Rapids. The same apartment would cost easily twice as much in Ann Arbor.

    What if you hate it?
    Then we can leave after a year. I may still decide to go to graduate school anyway.

    Will I ever see you again?
    But of course! I'm 40 miles closer to Kalamazoo and Chicago than I was before, and I still have my Michigan football tickets (which puts me in Ann Arbor on an outlandish four consecutive weekends in September, and six of the first seven games)

    Are you excited or scared?
    Absolutely. I have no idea what will happen, but I can't wait to find out.

    Monday, July 02, 2007


    • If you haven't heard already: Danielle accepted a position as the middle school band director and K-8 music teacher at Knapp Charter Academy in Grand Rapids! This is a fantastic opportunity for her, and on top of that, it solved her job search in June so she can still enjoy the summer.

    • Ratatouille was delicious. For the fifth straight Pixar release, I saw it opening night (HT: Rave Cinema). I don't think kids will enjoy it that much, save for the hand-animated and surprisingly funny slapstick. That is not a knock against Pixar, but an observation of the kind of movie they have decided to make. Animation is a medium, not a genre, and it's refreshing to see that their movies can cover such a variety of topics, conflicts, and characters, while retaining that je ne sais quoi that makes all their movies just plain better than everyone else's.

    • Some biking pictures -- from a June 20th ride along the river:

      This is from yesterday's ride with James, on one of many ladders at Burchfield Park in Lansing:

      Even though Burchfield is more raw and less polished than Fort Custer, I actually liked it better. It makes better use of the space, winding back on itself with difficult switchbacks; it has more difficult technical challenges and opt-out routes, and is generally more punishing to the bike and body. Since I enjoy the "jam your handlebars into your sternum" style rides quite a bit, this was just the grueling abuse I needed.