Sunday, July 29, 2007

To Boldly Remember

Last week was the 38th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first space flight mission that resulted in a human lunar landing. During the next three and a half years, twenty four more American men visited the moon and twelve of them walked on the moon’s surface. No one has been back since December, 1972.

A whole generation has grown up knowing moon missions only as something in history books or boring stories from us fifty-somethings who were obsessed with the whole idea of spaceflight and what it might mean for our global future. The Apollo astronauts who are still alive are all over seventy.

The anniversary went by with barely a mention. I thought Boomers were running the world and the media. What happened?

Some of the national news casts on television and radio might have noted the anniversary, but the main stories were about Pakistan, Hillary Clinton and Harry Potter. The mentions this date did get were usually short and near the end of the newscast – something we media folks call “kickers.”

My biggest disappointment, however, is that I forgot the date too.

I was a space geek as a kid, spending hours watching the endless space flight coverage on the three television networks we had at the time, yet July 20th was just another Friday this year and no newscast I watched and no DJ I listened to mentioned anything about Apollo 11 or that magic moment at 10:56pm EDT on Saturday night, July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong climbed down the lunar landing ladder and said “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Today I searched the internet to see if I was mistaken about the lack of coverage. The ABC Nightly News podcast gave it 2 minutes. Predictably, National Geographic, Moon Today (that really is a web site) and made mention of the anniversary. But one space news site I saw didn’t and I couldn’t find any newspaper stories across the country. Admittedly that could be due to my lack of good search skills.

What if the Columbus generation had had the same attitude? Few Europeans would have bothered to venture across the Atlantic after 1495. Queen Isabella’s successors would have been spending their country’s money on fighting wars instead of exploring the vast unknown. The United States might never have happened.

I think remembering events is important, not as a vehicle for living in the past or reminiscing about the often misnamed good old days but as a reminder to pay attention to lessons we might have learned from those events.

Moon missions united our country and our planet and gave us a positive vision of how science could improve our future. The spirit of exploration is a key part of the spirit of humanity and to paraphrase the opening line of the original Star Trek television series … which, ironically, ended its run a month before Apollo 11 … space is the final frontier and provides us with the opportunity to explore new civilizations and to boldly go … well, you remember the rest.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fifty Questions

Found this on Kim’s blog. She found it on myspace. KJ borrowed it from Kim.

Part of why I bother with these at all is that I’m obsessed with analyzing people, including myself. Another reason is to encourage other people to answer questions about themselves. I like reading them.

Sooo, please answer these questions on your blog and let me know where and when.

1) What holiday is your birthday closest to?
New Year’s Day if you count holidays that involve a day off from work; Valentine’s Day if you mean Hallmark holidays.

2) Favorite song?
I can’t name just one. These are songs I try to sing along with in the car: Friends In Low Places, You’ve Got A Friend and I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Dorky, I know.

3) Favorite fruits?
Nectarines, pears and strawberries.

4) Does it bother you when someone says they’ll call you and they don’t?

5) Are you allergic to anything?
Not that I know of.

6) Is there someone/something you want?
I want to take a year off from my normal life for a driving tour of the U.S. Ain’t gonna happen, but it’s something I want. Someone I want that I don’t already have? Do you really think I’d say it here? 

7) When was the last time you went swimming?
Fifteen years ago. Really. Unless you count wading in the ocean as swimming; then it would be about four years ago.

8) How many states have you been to?
36 – Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii.

9) How many of the states have you lived in?
5 – Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, Louisiana.

10) Have you ever lived outside of the US?

11) How many countries have you visited?
3 – Canada, Jamaica, Mexico

12) What’s your favorite kind of drink?
Coffee or Merlot

13) Does anyone like you?

14) Do you have any strange pets?
Sometimes I think my dogs are strange. They have incredible, unique personalities.

15) What is your dream car?
A fully restored ’67 Mustang.

16) What’d you do yesterday?
Mow the lawn. It’s almost an acre.

17) Who is the last person you fell asleep and woke up next to?
My wife.

18) Do you and your last ex have a good relationship?
Haven’t seen my last ex-girlfriend in years and I have no idea where she is. And I don’t especially care.

19) Where would you want to go on a first date?
Not applicable. :)

20) When’s the last time you were kissed?
Two nights ago.

21) Has anyone ever sang or played a song for you personally?

22) Ever been kissed under fireworks?
No, but what an interesting idea.

23) Have you ever bungee jumped?

24) Have you ever kayaked?

25) Has anyone ten years older than you ever hit on you?
Once, in college. She was drunk and I was disgusted.

26) What sound are you listening to right now?
The whirr of the laptop fan and some TV show in another room.

27) What’s your favorite song of the moment?
I can’t pick just one.

28) What was the last movie you watched?
In theaters – Da Vinci Code (I don’t get out much). On TV – Hunt For Red October

29) Where is the last place you went besides home?

30) Have you ever seriously vandalized someone else’s property?
No, why would I?

31) Have you ever been punched?
No, but I punched a guy in high school. He was trying to push me into a pool and didn’t believe I can’t swim. He never talked to me again.

32) Did you participate in any sports in high school?
I did everything I could to avoid sports in high school. If I had my current attitude about fitness back then, I might have gone out for track.

33) What do you usually order from Olive Garden?
If I ever went there, I’d probably order Veal Marsala.

34) Say something totally random about yourself.
Most people who know me in real life think I’m quite and reserved. They’d be shocked to see there is another side to my personality.

35) Do you have an iPod?
I’m certain I’m the last person on the planet who does not. I plan to get one later this year.

36) Has anyone said you look like a celebrity?
Back in the 90s when my hair was longer and darker I was told I look a little like Seinfeld.

37) Are you comfortable with your height?

38) How tall are you?
5’ 11”

39) Do you speak any other languages besides English?
No, but I wish I did.

40) Have you ever ridden in a limo?
Many times … funerals, weddings, some radio station promotions and parties.

41) Has anyone you were really close to passed away?
Family, yes; close friends, no.

42) Do you watch MTV?
Not since they traded in videos for teenage soap operas.

43) What’s something that really annoys you?
Drivers who tailgate.

44) Do you have a crush?

45) Do you drive when you go on long trips?
Always. I’m a nervous passenger.

46) What’s the longest time you’ve ever stayed out?
Around 6 or 7am. It’s been a long time since I did that.

47) Have you ever thought you were honestly going to die?

48) Were you ever rushed by an ambulance to the emergency room?
Yes, sort of. I fell down the stairs when I lived in one of those tiny row houses in Baltimore. It was 5 in the morning, they did have the lights on and maybe the siren, but I don’t think they were rushing.

49) Who is the best roommate you ever had?
Myself. I’m close to admitting that I’m hard to live with.

50) Who was the last person to text message you?
Deena at work; she was answering a question I texted her.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Twelve Steps or Three Hundred Channels

Have you ever watched a new TV show out of curiosity and instantly became a fan? I started watching Burn Notice, in part because of the relentless promotional efforts and in part because a friend’s son has a small role in one of the early episodes.

I didn’t want to like this show, nor did I want to begin to follow a new series. The plots are totally unrealistic but the characters are likeable and flawed, just like me.

Two shows I used to watch every week without fail finally ended … West Wing and NYPD Blue. Law & Order and all of its spinoffs are on so many channels that I don’t have to make an appointment or program a VCR or Tivo; I just turn on the TV any time, day or night, and there they are. Same thing with CSI and its spinoffs.

But Burn Notice intrigues me. So did the Mad Men premiere this week. Now I’m hooked on both. And The Closer.

They say teens and twenty-somethings are addicted to television and its computer and iPod counterparts. But I know at least one Boomer who is addicted to TV … me.

As addictions go, this one isn’t so bad. It isn’t a drug, it isn’t alcohol or gambling. My only addiction is television. And coffee. Every morning I feed both addictions, mixing Diane Sawyer with Starbucks. But that’s for another post.

How did we get this way? OK, I won’t speak for other Boomers. How did I get this way? I grew up on only three channels. Eventually there were five channels in my hometown. But that was all, till cable. There were two types of Parental Controls, my Mom and my Dad. The quantity and quality of what we were allowed to watch was strictly controlled.

I was thirty before I had cable and then it was only twenty channels. One of them was a new novelty that played only music videos. Another played only movies that at one time had played in theatres; it had the catchy name Home Box Office.

Now I have 78 channels and I watch them all. One day I will convince myself to subscribe to all 300 of them. I’m just a little old school, however, because I grew up in an era when TV was free. Now I have to pay for it. So I only pay for some of it.

Is there a 12 step program for television addiction?
1. We admitted we were powerless over (television)—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves (Comcast) could restore us to sanity (OK, it’s NOT Comcast).
That’s all for this post. The commercials are almost over. Back to the show.

(PS – I mean no disrespect whatsoever for the real 12 Step programs)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Just Wondering

The most Republican thing about the 40th President was his dislike for big government. Ronald Reagan’s inaugural speech included the sentence, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

So why are there are two huge government-related facilities in Washington DC named for Reagan? Just wondering.

One is the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. It’s a huge structure on Pennsylvania Avenue, three blocks from the White House. The GSA (General Services Administration) runs the place and many of the tenants are Federal government agencies, including some Homeland Security offices.

The other is the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. It was called National Airport or Washington National Airport for its first forty-one years, but was renamed for President Reagan in 1998. Why would they name an airport for the President who fired all the air traffic controllers?

He must be spinning in his grave.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Boomerrandomness 2

- What scares you more: reports that Al Qaeda is gaining strength and may be working in the US again or reports that the terrorists behind the recent UK bombings are doctors? DOCTORS!

- Were you ever really sure which one was Starsky and which was Hutch? Which one was Cagney and which was Lacy?

- I hope the co-worker who ate the lunch in the Safeway bag with BERNIE written in BIG RED LETTERS on the side, enjoyed the sandwiches Tuesday. The Snickers bar I had for lunch instead was quite tasty.

- We are at a moment in time when the two hottest trends in media are 1) the huge plasma TV that bring all the in-your-face action to an entire wall of the room it’s in and 2) the iPhone that brings you all the in-your-face action to a screen so small that it has to be in your face to view it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Are you watching the Live Earth concerts today?

Are you soaking in the messages as well as the music?

I was a little skeptical about the sincerity and potential outcome of this global concert event. One hundred fifty artists performing in ten cities on seven continents to draw global awareness for environmental issues is a noble cause, but will humanity look at this as just a publicity stunt for the music industry? Or will we learn something from the messages that are spread throughout the television, radio and internet coverage?

Holding a concert for a cause is nothing new. One of the first was George Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh in August, 1971. The concert, the album and the film has raised millions of dollars for UNICEF. Live Aid in July, 1985 was a huge two-venue, two-country event to help provide famine relief in Ethiopia. The early Earth Day celebrations often connected music with the environment as today’s event is doing.

Boomers can take credit for initiating the trend but successive generations are as much a part of this one as anyone. Boomer Al Gore is one of the organizers of Live Earth. Musicians include a generational potpourri of styles and artists: Madonna, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Genesis (and Phil Collins), Duran Duran, Keith Urban, Kelly Clarkson, Linkin Park, Garth Brooks, Snoop Dog and more.

The temporarily reunited Police are scheduled for later today. No doubt they’ll perform Message In A Bottle, including the line I'll send an SOS to the world.

S.O.S. is a major theme in the logo and marketing efforts of this event. Does anyone younger than a Boomer know what S.O.S. means? And what the …---… means?

Televised coverage of this event includes many examples of simple steps individuals can take to help reduce pollution and other environmental problems. I usually consider myself to be environmentally aware, but honestly all I really do is recycle cans, bottles and paper. And turn out lights in empty rooms. Living 42 miles from work and commuting alone five days a week in an SUV with a V8 engine certainly does not bode well for me when I claim to be an environmentalist.

Maybe the awareness part of today’s event will change some of my behavior. Will it change yours?

A New TV Show Set In 1960

Mad Men is a new TV series coming to AMC. It is set in 1960 and the characters are ad men (and women) who work at an advertising agency. The pre-show hype includes a cool behind-the-scenes look at how the show was put together and the lengths to which producers went to accurately recreate 1960.

I was a kid then. Now I’m an “ad man” – I make radio commercials. Some synergy, ‘ey?. Here is some of what I remember from 1960 and some of what I’ve looked up.

If you weren’t around then, you might think the entire decade was peace, love, drugs, hippies and Hendrix. That was all part of the mid and late 60s. The first year of that pivotal decade was more like a carry-over from the 1950s.

On the surface, 1950s society appeared to be simple, conservative and boring. As the decade neared its end, youth culture began to exert some influence in the form of rock & roll music of the Elvis style. The Space Race had begun to influence style, particularly in the design of automobiles and kitchen appliances.

The early 1960s were more a decade of attempted coolness and class. It seems that every one smoked cigarettes and the three-martini lunch really did exist in some circles.

In 1960, thirtysomethings had fought and survived World War II and were trying to make their mark on society. Twentysomethings of 1960 were kids during the war. Their fathers had likely served in the military during the War and their mothers might have had a taste of the working world briefly while the men were overseas but now they were mostly back to being housewives.

An older generation still ruled style and politics, a younger generation began to influence some aspects of the culture and the oldest Boomers were not yet in high school.

Women who worked in 1960 were likely to be employed in clerical positions and their male bosses might expect them to engage in activities that involved the prone position. It is hard to quantify this behavior because it didn’t really make the news and wasn’t especially part of TV show plot lines. But overt sexism is “documented” in some movies of the era and in this new TV show.

A typical American family in 1960 had a mom, a dad and two or three kids, all living together in the same house. Divorce was still unusual. The typical household had one TV, one phone and one car. Dad worked all day at a job and mom stayed home and cleaned and cooked. Many TV shows on the 1960 schedule, such as Leave It To Beaver, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet and The Flintsones, portrayed that idealized American family.

You could feel change in the air in 1960. Dreams of spaceflight were about to become reality. The civil rights movement began to get high-profile TV coverage of events when four black college students began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s counter in North Carolina on February 1st. In November, Vice President Richard Nixon, part of the old guard, was defeated in his bid for President by the younger John Kennedy.

It will be interesting to see how Mad Men handles the various aspects of 1960. Will it be reasonably accurate in how it presents the era (as much as any TV drama can be) or will it be a stereotype drawn from the same kind of ‘skim the surface’ research I did for this post? We’ll know in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, here are a few interesting links that provide a glimpse into the ad world of the 1960s.

TV commercials from 1960s

More TV commercials

A Slinky commercial

A Chevrolet commercial

And here is a 1960 song survey.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

The local TV station that carries the Jeff Foxworthy “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader” show has a quiz on its website. There are only six questions. I can’t resist a quiz. I went to college so I must be smarter than a 5th grader.

I only answered 3 of the 6 questions correctly. A fifty percent score on a quiz is an F.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Fountain of Youth

“Maybe the Fountain of Youth isn’t a fountain at all.”

A character in a Twilight Zone episode spoke that line and went on to tell another character that maybe the secret to staying young is as simple as playing kick the can. “Maybe it’s a way of looking at things, a way of thinking.” He said that the two of them played kick the can as young boys and as soon as they stopped playing kid games they started to get old. This conversation takes place at a “rest home” (old-age home, forerunner to assisted living).

Isn’t that a great way to look at life?

I’m not suggesting that we should act like children or that we should never mature. But if we think we should feel “old” and used up at a certain age, then we probably will.

The coolest thing about the Twilight Zone is Rod Serling’s opening and closing statement in each episode.

Here is how he closes this one:

“Sunnyvale Rest, a dying place for ancient people who have forgotten the fragile magic of youth. A dying place for those who have forgotten that childhood, maturity and old age are curiously intertwined and not separate. A dying place for those who have grown too stiff in their thinking to visit the Twilight Zone.”

Monday, July 02, 2007

In Our Lifetime

Did you know that the first commercial jet airline service began in 1957, fifty years ago? Before that, airliners had propellers. During the prop days, air travel was an expensive luxury reserved for the rich, and although planes were faster than trains or cars, a flying trip was still an adventure that could take a long time.

The most popular passenger plane during the 1940s and early 1950s was the DC-3. A trip from New York to Los Angeles on one of those cost $1,000 ($7,500 in today’s dollars) and took all day, including at least three stops for fuel.

I love old planes and the DC-3 is my favorite. Douglas Aviation also made a military version during WWII called the C-47 cargo plane. I took these pictures at the annual Andrews Air Force Base air show a few weeks ago. This particular DC-3 is a flying museum based at the Carolina Aviation Museum.

The plane at the end of Casablanca is also a DC-3.

We take jet travel for granted now. NY to LA takes about 6 hours with no stops, and tickets can cost as little as $400.

I knew that commercial jet travel began in my lifetime, but I didn’t realize it was 1957 till I saw that detail on the History Channel recently. That got me to thinking about other things that began or ended in the lifetime of fifty-somethings. Here are a few examples that might surprise you.

- Two of our fifty states became states less than fifty years ago, Alaska in January, 1959 and Hawaii in August, 1959.

- Color television wasn’t available on a regular basis till 1961 (Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color) and wasn’t full time till 1966 (on NBC, later on the other networks).

- Black and white children usually went to separate schools until fifty years ago. Racial segregation in public schools was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1954, although the practice continued in many states for many more years.

- Seatbelts became standard equipment in some cars in 1964. They weren’t even offered as optional equipment till fifty-one years ago.

- Self-service gas stations started to take off in the 1970s. Before that, one or two men (yes, it was always men) would pump the gas, check the oil and clean the windows. By the way, self-serve stations are not allowed New Jersey and Oregon. Those laws were passed more than fifty years ago.

- Telephones with buttons were first available to the public in 1962. Before that, phones used a rotary dial. In case young readers have never seen such a thing, here is a picture of one. (Now you know where your parents get the phrase “dialing a number”.

Commercial computers are also a product of our lifetime. The first UNIVAC computer made its debut 56 years ago and only 48 of them were made between 1951 and 1958. The average model was 25 feet by 50 feet in length and weighed 16,000 pounds. There are no typos in that sentence. And this is a picture of one:

It did 1,000 calculations per second; that’s less computing power than a musical Hallmark card. The UNIVAC could store enough characters to spell out 1,000 words.

The laptop I’m using to write this post is less than 12 inches by 12 inches and weighs about 6 pounds. It can store several thousand songs.

At the dawn of the commercial jet age fifty years ago, we were certain that passenger travel to the Moon would be a reality by now. That hasn’t happened, but we can keep dreaming. Many of the events and inventions that fifty-somethings have seen were made possible by dreamers who dreamed big. My dream is that forty, thirty and twenty-somethings continue some of these dreams.

By the way, this is my 150th post.