A Device-Free Summer

When UJ and I were kids, we spent a few weeks one summer at Camp Y-Noah, located somewhere in northern Ohio.  We took hikes, made crafts, swam in a pond, sang around a campfire, slept in a cabin, learned how to ride a horse, played capture the flag, and ate camp food in a large mess hall.  We also shot bb guns, tried to hit a target with a bow and arrow, and used an outhouse for the first time.  As a tubby, bookish kid, I wasn’t a huge fan of camp, frankly, but it was a good experience to try different things.

ssnl-campynoah-2Those camps are still around.  And, surprisingly to some, they remain attractive to kids — even though many of the camps ban the smartphones, iPads, laptops, and other electronic gizmos that kids are supposed to be addicted to these days.

According to the American Camp Association, there are about 8,400 sleepaway camps in the United States, and about 90 percent of them ban campers from bringing personal electronic devices.  And while some kids — and, surprisingly, parents — try to sneak their way around the rules, and camp counselors have to spend part of their time on the lookout for devices that violate the camp rules, most campers apparently quickly adapt to a life that is focused on the outdoors, without texting, or YouTube, or handheld games.  When they’ve got other fun things to do, the urge to constantly text their friends is apparently less compelling.

I’m not a diehard opponent of technology; electronic devices are a reality of the modern world and kids inevitably are going to use them.  But I do think that it’s good for people to step away from constant connectivity now and then, and enjoy some fresh air and exercise.  I’m glad to see that so many camps have decided to stick to their (bb) guns on this issue and take steps to get campers to leave their devices behind and see what nature offers instead.  I’m not surprised that kids are enjoying the break.

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Facebook Changes The Rules

For years, I’ve had our WebnerHouse blog set up so that when I published a post on the blog, it would automatically be posted on my Facebook page.  On August 1, however, Facebook changed the rules.  Effective on that date, third-party platforms like WordPress can no longer automatically post to Facebook pages.

Why did Facebook make that change, exactly?

b9-bWell, apparently because . . . it’s Facebook and it can do whatever the hell it wants.  One website posits that the change was made to respond to the Cambridge Analytica debacle and is part of an effort “to remove re-sharing functionality for many apps . . . in order to limit the activities of auto-posting spammers.”

So, apparently Facebook lumps the WebnerHouse blog in with other bot-driven junk that has been filling Facebook pages for years.  Hey, has Facebook actually read any of the WebnerHouse content?  If they had, they would know that no bot or artificial intelligence could possibly come up with the dreck that poor readers find on our family blog.  Really, it’s an insult to Russian bots, Chinese bots, and every other bot out there.

So now, if I want to put a post on Facebook, I’ve got to do it manually.  It’s a pain, to be sure, but I guess it’s worth it to protect those Facebook pages from the Great Bot and Spam Invasion.

NASA Turns 60

Today NASA celebrates its 60th birthday.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 on July 29, 1958.

63a69251ab87b6532a23a84672c0bb66NASA replaced the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, and President Eisenhower viewed the creation of the agency as an historic step, “further equipping the United States for leadership in the space age” and allowing it to make “an effective national effort in the fields of aeronautics and space exploration.”  You can read the full text of President Eisenhower’s signing statement here.

It is not unusual for federal legislation to be hailed as historic when it is signed, but in the case of the National Aeronautics and Space Act that prediction was entirely accurate.  I think it is safe to say that NASA has met, and greatly exceeded, the goal of allowing the United States to make “an effective national effort in the field of aeronautics and space exploration.”  The Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, the space shuttle and international space station, and the many unmanned probes and devices that have allowed us to better understand our solar system all bear the indelible imprint of NASA.  NASA has taken human beings to the Moon and brought them safely back home and has given us up-close looks at Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons.  NASA’s efforts have also helped to push advancements in science, technology, and other areas that have now become part of our lives and culture.  By any measure, this still-sprightly 60-year-old has been a spectacular success.

Some people reflexively complain about the creation of any federal agency, but NASA is an example of how mobilizing an effort at the national level and entrusting it to knowledgeable people can accomplish great things.  With private space exploration and travel looming on the immediate horizon, and Congress currently considering how to regulate those private efforts going forward, it will be interesting to see what the next 60 years bring for NASA — the little agency that could.

Nothing New Under The Sun

The latest personal transportation initiative to hit Columbus is scooters.

Electric scooters, to be sure — but still . . . scooters.

A company called Bird has identified Columbus as a location for its rent-a-scooter program, and now you see the Bird scooters all over the place, like this duo that I found at the corner of Gay and Third on Sunday.  The Bird scooter program sounds a lot like the Cars2Go program that was launched in Columbus several years ago — and which was discontinued earlier this year.  Bird users tap an app that allows them to unlock a scooter for $1, and then they pay 15 cents a minute as they ride.  The scooters can travel up to 15 mph, can only be used during daylight hours, and are supposed to be ridden on the street or in bike lanes and not on the sidewalks.  (Speaking for pedestrians everywhere, I’m grateful for that last caveat.)  Based on an article in the Columbus Dispatch, it appears that Columbus and surrounding communities are trying to figure how how the Bird scooters fit into the current rules regulating transportation options and whether permits and other requirements should apply.

The scooters are supposed to target people needing “last mile” transportation, and I’ve seen a few people riding them around.  I wouldn’t use one, but if the Bird option gets more people out of their cars and using the bike lanes, that seems like a positive thing to me.

Mostly, though, I’m amazed that scooters — which date back to at least the ’30s in America — have reemerged as a transportation option.  What’s next?  Rentable pogo sticks?

 

Leave The Colors Of Air Force One Be

News outlets are reporting that President Trump is planning on redesigning Air Force One, the plane that ferries the President of the United States around the globe.  Boeing is starting work on the new plane, which will replace the plane that has been in service for the last 30 years.

http3a2f2fcdn-cnn-com2fcnnnext2fdam2fassets2f180717113814-05-af1-designThe President thinks its time to junk the understated blue and white motif of the plane, which has been the color scheme since the Kennedy administration.  He thinks a red, white, and blue design would be better.  He also wants to install a bigger bed on the plane — the current bed apparently isn’t as large as the one on President Trump’s personal plane — and he also reportedly has issues with the softness of the current plane’s hand towels.  As the case with so many things the President is involved in, he’s very enthusiastic about the new design, and says the plane is going to be “incredible,” “top of the line,” and “top in the world.”

I’m all for modernizing Air Force One.  No doubt there have been significant advances in airplane design and outfitting in the past 30 years — aside from the constant reduction in passenger leg room and comfort that we’ve experienced in commercial passenger jets, of course — and the President’s plane should have all of the cutting edge technology, as befits the United States’ leadership position in the world.  And clearly the President has the prerogative to fiddle with the plane.  After all, the Kennedys chose the current color scheme and jettisoned the red and gold that had decorated the plane in the Eisenhower administration.  By all means, get softer towels and a bigger bed in there.

But I like the current color scheme.  It’s not only familiar but also understated and classy, and I think it projects a powerful image to the world.  It’s not shouting about who we are; instead it speaks softly (and carries a big stick).  I’m a fan of the American flag and our national colors, but that doesn’t mean we need to douse everything in red, white, and blue.  And I’m concerned that we’re going to end up with some gauche, over-the-top design with maybe a screaming eagle and some gold foil thrown in, too.

The color of Air Force One is something that America got right.  I say leave it be.

Going To The Moon

Forty-nine years ago, on July 20, 1969, the Lunar Module carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon.  Neil Armstrong stepped off a ladder onto the lunar surface, spoke his famous words — “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” — and history was made.

6dd375de95e2dbaea454b6203379dd20I was watching on that day, along with probably everyone else on the planet who had access to a TV set.  I remember sitting with UJ and watching grainy black and white footage as the lunar module landed and then, later, Armstrong stepped into history.  I was 12 years old.  Even now, I still feel a little thrill just thinking about that day and that moment, when it seemed like anything was possible and it would be the start of a golden age of space exploration that would take human beings to Moon bases, Martian colonies, and on to the stars.  Of course, that didn’t happen . . . but I still remember that awed and awesome feeling.

Popular Mechanics has a great piece that steps through the various phases of the Apollo 11 mission, from liftoff to the descent to the Moon to the return to Earth, based on the recollections of some of the participants.  It’s well worth reading.  If, like me, you watched it live in amazed wonder, you can relive that experience.  If you weren’t around then, it’s worth reading just to get a sense of what it was like for the United States of America to invent spacecraft, land on the Moon, and return to Earth in an era when the most sophisticated computer used on the mission would now be considered a Stone Age relic.  It was an extraordinary achievement.

I hope our politicians celebrate this 49th anniversary, and finally decide that it’s high time that we return to the Moon — and venture farther still.  It’s long overdue.

Original Fixture

Our little cottage in Stonington has been revised and reconfigured and redesigned repeatedly since it was first built in the early 1900s.  As a result of all of the renovation work, we think there’s only one original fixture still in the house — the ceiling light in the guest room.  We’re determined to keep it as the one interior connection to the original design of the place.

It wasn’t a hard decision, because it’s a nifty little pink glass piece that has a distinctly old-fashioned, cottagey vibe to it.  But what I particularly like is the design.  Unlike modern overhead lights, which require you to stand, aching arms stretched directly overhead, and loosen multiple screws and then remove a glass fitting to get to the light bulb, this design is open.  Remove one of the anchors, tilt the pink glass section down, and voila!  You can easily change the light bulb or, more frequently, remove the inevitable collection of fly carcasses that you’re always going to find in a summer cottage.

It’s as if the light fixture design was based on the practical realities of where the light fixture would be and how it would be used, and took into consideration making it easier and simpler for the user to do the basics like changing a bulb.  What a concept!