Recover, Reuse, Relaunch

Yesterday the SpaceX venture reached a new milestone:  the company took a used rocket that it had recovered from a prior mission, relaunched it into space, deposited a customer’s satellite into orbit, and landed the rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean so it can be used again, and again, and again.

falcon-9-dscovr-launchAs I’ve written before, private, commercial ventures like SpaceX are making significant progress in making space flight a common, everyday option.  Yesterday’s flight was a key development in that effort, because a significant part of the cost of space flight has been rockets that are designed, built, and used only once.  That single-use approach might have been viable back in the ’60s, when government funding was plentiful and the United States was on a national quest to be the first country to land a man on the Moon, but it’s simply not sustainable or feasible in our modern world of massive budget deficits and competing national priorities.  It’s also an approach that commercial space concerns could never afford.  That’s why SpaceX has been focused on developing technology that allows those expensive rockets to be reused.

No one should take away from the mighty, ground-breaking accomplishments of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and space shuttle programs, and there remains a key role for governments in space exploration.  Governments will always have more resources than businesses do, and the need for scientific exploration, and the technological developments that seem to inevitably accompany it, will often fall to governmental entities like NASA.  But profit-making entities and capitalist risk-takers are adept at building on the foundation the government has laid and figuring out how to make things affordable and, not incidentally, profitable.

If tourist trips to the Moon and settlements on Mars are in our future — and I hope they are, because I still hold out hope that I might see a glorious Earthrise from the Moon some day — commercial concerns inevitably will play a huge role.  SpaceX’s reusable rocket technology is another important step forward toward a future in which the “final frontier” becomes a much more accessible place.

Our Apparently Deaf Dog

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that our dog Kasey may be dealing with deafness.

If true, it’s not surprising, because Kasey’s getting to be of pretty advanced age.  She’s a rescue dog, so we’re not exactly sure how old she is, but the vet estimates from her teeth that she’s probably somewhere around 14 or 15.  Lately she’s experiencing some of the gimpiness, gastric, and bladder problems that you see in older dogs, and she spends a bigger portion of her day sleeping, too.

DSC04123The apparent deafness, though, seems to be a more recent development.  I’ve particularly noticed it this week, while Kish has been on the road.  It used to be that when I would get home from work Kasey would hear me walking up the steps and the key rattling in the door and come to the foyer to greet me with a few welcoming wags of her tail.  Now she doesn’t, and when I call her she doesn’t come, either, so I have to search the house to find her.  Usually she’s up in the upstairs bedroom.  As always, she’s happy to see me when I come into her field of vision, so I’m guessing that the change in habit has less to do with diffidence about the arrival of the Old Boring Guy and more to do with not hearing me as I come in.

There are other potential signs of hearing problems, too.  Kasey is terrified of thunderstorms, but lately it’s only the loudest peals of thunder that seem to bother her.  She doesn’t come running like she used to when the clatter of the bowls in her feeding area indicates that food is being laid out for her enjoyment.  She seems to bark more, and I wonder if that is because hearing herself bark is one way of interrupting her increasingly quiet world.

There’s no problem with living with a hearing-impaired dog, really — you just need to make sure that she sees what you are doing and can then follow the patterns of behavior that we’ve established over years of living together.  She doesn’t need to hear “time for bed” if she sees you heading up the stairs, and the sight of her leash is as effective a communication about going for a walk as a verbal command.  If she’s adjusting to a changing world, we certainly can do that as well.  Kasey may end up as deaf as a post, but we’ll love her just the same.

Old School

Over the weekend I was out for a walk in my casual garb.  As I was stopped on a corner, waiting to cross the street at a light, a young, highly barbered guy next to me gave me the once-over and said, with a nod of apparent approval, that my shoes were “old school.”

Is “old school” in fact a compliment, or is it just a polite way of saying that something is old-fashioned, which is never a good thing in always moving, always changing, always in the “now” America?  I took it as a positive comment, however it might have been intended, and as the light changed I strode forward with a warm surge of pleasure that someone in the 25-and-under generation had voluntarily acknowledged my existence and made an arguably favorable comment about my appearance.  Normally, I’m one of those guys that the young bucks pass without so much as a glance — just as I undoubtedly walked past guys in their 50s, without really paying any attention to them, when I was a college student.

So my sneakers are “old school,” and I guess I am, too.  So “old school,” incidentally, that I call them “sneakers” or “tennis shoes,” both terms that seem to have gone the way of “23 skidoo.”  (Nowadays, I think you are supposed to refer to your “athletic footwear” by its brand, as in “I got a new pair of Nikes yesterday.”)  I’ll continue to use outdated terminology like “once-over,” make mystifying references to characters on popular TV shows of the ’60s and ’70s, and try to wear that “old school” badge with pride.

Pro Sports In Vegas

The NFL has approved the request of the Oakland Raiders franchise to move to Las Vegas.  It’s not clear when the Raiders will actually start playing in Vegas, and the team will likely play another season or two in Oakland, but a new stadium is expected to be built for them in their new home in southern Nevada in time for the 2020 season.

ows_149067187344496The story here isn’t another move of a pro sports franchise; teams packing up and hauling their operations to a new town is old news these days.  The Raiders, who have shuttled back and forth between Oakland and Los Angeles and always seem to be either moving or on the verge of moving, are one of the hand-wringing teams that are forever working their local government for a more lucrative deal.  If Las Vegas wants to foot the bill for a lavish new domed stadium — which is expected to cost at least $1.9 billion, with the costs being split between revenues generated by an increased hotel room tax, the Raiders organization, and a Las Vegas gazillionaire — to get the NFL brand associated with Sin City, that’s its decision to make.

No, the real story here is that the Raiders’ approved move to Las Vegas is just the latest evidence of the increasingly accepted association of gambling and sports.  Gambling used to be one of the chief concerns of professional and college sports teams.  From the Chicago Black Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, to the college basketball point-shaving scandals of the ’40s and ’50s, to the suspension of Pete Rose from major league baseball for betting on baseball games, sports leagues traditionally reacted viscerally to any association with gambling.

But a lot has changed in America, and gambling has become much more commonplace and accepted.  When I was in Philadelphia recently the landscape was dotted with signs for casino gambling; the slot machines and table games that used to be reserved for Las Vegas can now be found in more than half the states in America.  Betting on sports events has become so routine that the lines and odds on games and matches are available to anyone with a few strokes of a keyboard, and one of America’s great annual pastimes is participating in the NCAA March Madness pool at the office.  There’s not as much of a taint to gambling as used to be the case.

But, is it good to have an NFL team in Las Vegas, where sports gambling is legal and people can make, or lose, huge sums of money if the point spread gets covered because of a flukey last-minute play?  Is it wise to have professional athletes living in a community where, at a party or charity event, they may hobnob with some well-heeled but shady characters who might drop a hint or two about how the athletes and their teammates could make some easy money without costing their team a game?  Could you envision a scenario where an NFL star has a bad run of luck at the gaming tables and is encouraged to even the score by missing a block or dropping a sure touchdown catch?  I suppose you can argue that pro athletes could be exposed to such characters, and temptations, anywhere in America, but gambling is so deeply engrained and accepted in the Las Vegas culture that I’m not sure other situations are really comparable to pro athletes being based in a place that is often called a “gambling mecca.”

We’ve come a long way since the days when pro sports teams did whatever they could to project a squeaky clean image.  Now we’ll have an NFL team located squarely in the most gambling-oriented town in America.

Ohio’s Continuing Population Shift

When our family moved from Akron to Columbus in 1970, Cleveland was the largest city in Ohio by a wide margin, and Cuyahoga County, Cleveland’s home county, was by far the most populous county in the state.  Franklin County, where Columbus is located, had less than half of the population of Cuyahoga County, and it wasn’t even Ohio’s second most populated county.  That status belonged to Hamilton County, thanks to Cincinnati.

94oh_-_columbus_-_birds_eye_view_1But in the years since then, population forces have worked inexorably in favor of Columbus and Franklin County.  With its stable mix of white-collar jobs — from employers like the state, county, and city government, the Ohio State University, hospitals, and insurance companies — and a culture that visitors see as friendly and welcoming, Franklin County has steadily grown since the days of the Nixon Administration.  Many people who’ve come to the city for college, or a hospital residency, or a graduate degree, have liked it and decided to stay and raise their families here.  Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, on the other hand, have seen both the departure of blue-collar jobs and employers and ongoing population loss.

And now the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Franklin County has passed Cuyahoga County and become the most populous county in Ohio, with more than 1.2 million residents.  CFranklin County isn’t one of the fastest growing counties in the United States — no counties in the Midwest are — but its consistent growth, year after year, has produced a long-term result that would have surprised anyone who lived in Ohio in 1970.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that, because at least one person saw the trends.  I took a class in investigative reporting at Ohio State in the late ’70s, and the professor, Marty Brian, gave us the project of writing about the growth and future of Columbus, given its business attributes and employment stability described above.  The would-be Woodward and Bernsteins in the class groaned at the project, which didn’t have much sex appeal, but it turned out to be an interesting assignment that required us to delve into public records and other nuts and bolts aspects of investigative reporting.  And now the gist of the assignment has been proven in the population data.

Going Out Your Own Way

There’s a reason — aside from getting helpful birthday reminders — to endure the political stuff and the paid ads and still participate on Facebook:  sometimes you’ll see a story that you missed the first time around.

I saw this article about Norma Jean Bauerschmidt on my Facebook news feed today, thanks to a posting by Dr. Golden Bear.  It’s old news, dating from last year, but the underlying message is timeless and bears repeating.

hotairballoonFor those who missed the story, Miss Norma was 90 years old when she received the news that she had uterine cancer.  Her only treatment option, which wasn’t likely to produce much in the way of positive long-term results, was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  Miss Norma decided to chuck the treatment and live her remaining days traveling the United States.  She ended up on the road with her son, daughter-in-law, and their dog Ringo for about a year, visiting multiple states and national parks, taking her first hot air balloon ride (where the photo accompanying this post was taken), and trying her first taste of oysters, before the disease forced her into hospice and eventually led to her death.  Thousands of people followed her exploits on a Facebook page called “Driving Miss Norma.”  She died on September 30, 2016, and you can see her obituary here.

It’s a great story, and it made me wish that I had the opportunity to meet Norma Jean Bauerschmidt.  When people are faced with such end-of-life decisions, there is no right or wrong answer — you just have to be true to yourself.  Miss Norma chose the path that was right for her, and thousands of people were made a little bit better thanks to her decision.

One part of the story linked above particularly touched me.  During her year of travels, Miss Norma was often asked which spot was her favorite.  She always responded:  “Right here!”  It’s a good reminder about the importance of living in the present.

Reality, Of A Sort

I don’t watch “reality” TV shows.  They all seem so contrived, with their deliberate plot lines and forced conflicts, all occurring while the cameras roll.  It seems to be about as far from true reality as you can get.

But a British “reality” show called Eden may actually have unwittingly exposed the contestants on a show to reality, of a sort.  The typically silly, wholly contrived plot sent 23 people out into the wilds of Scotland, to a desolate area called the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.  There, they were supposed to be totally cut off from the outside world, so they would have to use their survival skills, live for a year on food they trapped and caught, and create a new community from nothing.

eden-lead-xlarge_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqv30ccb2vduhjw47nmzf9bznxedyfs9ixtxv7dtwrcjuUnbeknownst to the contestants, however, the show was cancelled and taken off the TV schedule after only four episodes, months ago.  But the show’s producers kept the cameras rolling, apparently without telling the contestants that no one was watching.

Now that the year in the wilderness is ending, the truth about the show apparently has begun to emerge.  Ten of the 23 people quit, with one contestant who threw in the towel calling the show “a load of rubbish.”  And according to a Scottish newspaper, at least some of the other participants “resorted to smuggling in junk food and booze.”  According to one resident quoted in the newspaper, “[s]ome of the participants were even seen in the dentist at Fort William needing treatment after eating chicken feed grit.”  The paper also reported that the show’s failure was due to “sexual jealousy, hunger and feuds.”

There’s something richly satisfying about this.   Contestants on “reality” shows seem to be stunningly self-absorbed and convinced that everyone will be keenly interested in their thoughts and feelings and plans as they talk to the cameras.  From their carefully crafted poses in the publicity photo above, the Eden contestants seem to be as phony, calculated and absurdly self-conscious as the rest of reality show “stars.”   It’s not hard to imagine them spending time during their year in the “wilderness” wondering which of them was really connecting with the audience back home, and whose antics were making them the sentimental favorite or the hated villain — when in reality no one was watching and no one cared.  I think you could say that they’ve been exposed to reality of a sort.

The producers say that a show about what happened will be broadcast later.  Who knows?  Maybe the news stories about the wilderness reality show that was cancelled without telling the contestants are all part of an elaborate plan by the producers to drum up viewers for a show that was a ludicrous dud, so they can recover some of their losses, and the rest of us are being played.  I guess that would be reality of a sort, too.