Sunday, September 28, 2008

Falcon 1 in Orbit!

They finally did it! Falcon 1 is in orbit. As Elon Musk said to his employees, "The fourth time's a charm." Launch was at 4:16 pm PDT and second stage cut off occurred ten minutes later. The picture perfect launch and flight to orbit was webcast live. SpaceX has now become the first company to design, build and launch a privately funded space vehicle into orbit. According to Musk, in the past that's been a "country thing" and only a few countries in the world have achieved it. Now a private company has. Congratulations!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back in the 21st Century

We finally got our electrical power restored yesterday afternoon. That's just slightly over a week living a lifestyle from the last century. Evenings were impacted the most. It was incredibly interesting to see how the family dynamic changed. We would sit around by candlelight talking or reading. I started teaching my younger son guitar lessons. Everyone went to bed early. It made me realize how much less stimulation people received a hundred years ago. For the twenty-first century family it was boring! No phone, no TV, no computer, no Internet, no X-Box, no stereo, and no iPod (because you can't recharge it). Even with a dozen candles burning, the light was so dim I would start to fall asleep at 8:30 pm. It was an experience we will remember for a long time. I know there are hundreds of thousands of Houstonians still in the middle of that experience. Three cheers for the hardworking linemen who are restoring power to two million people, one circuit at a time.

BTW, on Saturday, before the power came back on, we decided to pick up a few MREs with our FEMA ice. Our stock of salvaged food in our ice chest was just about gone, and we had never tried them before. Actually, we had never even seen an MRE before and we were all curious to try it out. The food is better than I would have expected, although naturally some things are better than others. The little chemical device to heat the food is ingenious. I can see how the soldiers would get very, very tired of it, though. In college we had very good dorm food, too, but about the third time through the two week menu rotation it started to get pretty old. Three more cheers for our hardy soldiers, for whom bad food is the least of their hardships.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two Bags of Ice

Two bags of ice: that's what we get every day at the local FEMA POD (point of distribution) in our affluent Houston suburb. Yes, we're still without power in our area, along with thousands of other people. CenterPoint Energy has 2.3 million customers in the Houston area. After Ike moved through on Saturday 2.1 million of them had no power. As of this morning (Thursday) 1.3 million of us still don't have power. So we're in good company here. Besides no power, our phones are out too. Fortunately, though, the water and natural gas services were never interrupted in our area. So with a little ice we can keep our food from spoiling and cook it on the gas stove. We're in pretty good shape, considering what so many others are enduring. Our area saw sustained winds of only about 65 mph, with gusts up to 90 mph. There were lots of downed trees and fences in the area, but the only damage to our property was losing a couple of large limbs from the pecan tree in our back yard. I'm even back at work. Our office building reopened Tuesday, and that's where I'm posting this message.

The first few days it was pretty hard to find the basic necessities, which in post-Ike Houston consist of ice, bottled water, gasoline and food (pretty much in that order). The lines were hours long anywhere a store was open that had any of these things in stock. So the FEMA POD that showed up on Tuesday was welcome. But more than that, it was something of a milestone in my 52 years of life. When my wife told me after work that our sons had collected two free bags of ice from FEMA, I laughed out loud. As far as I can recall, that's the first government assistance I've ever received in nearly 35 years as a taxpayer. Oh, I benefit from basic services like police, fire, roads, courts and defense. But in terms of targeted assistance, those two $1.79 bags of ice were a first. I started to wonder how many days it would take to get back all the tax money I've paid over the years, but then I realized I pay much more than $3.58 a day in federal taxes. So the net benefit is still negative. Of course, in 13 years I'm gonna be on Medicare. Then all you sorry Gen-Xers will be paying through the nose!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Preparations

A viewer named Bill in Santa Fe, TX sent this picture to KTRK, the local ABC affiliate. He called it Hurricane Car Safety. Yes, all the old hands around here know just how to get ready for a hurricane.

The heavy storm bands are just starting to come ashore in Galveston. We're getting gusts up to 40 and the power is beginning to blink on and off. This is probably my last post for the night.

I was going to title this post "Preparation H" but I chickened out...

Ike Takes Aim

Here in Houston we have Hurricane Ike bearing down on us and it looks like Friday night could be a pretty wild ride. When I was younger I used to secretly hope each year that a hurricane would hit us just for the excitement. Now that I’m a sober, settled, middle-aged father and home owner I’m just praying the whole thing fizzles. At this point it doesn't look like that's going to happen. I’ll try to give you a report this weekend if the power comes back on quickly.

[Update Sept 12, 10:45 am]
It's still 16-18 hours before landfall. It's just a breezy day so far here in our neighborhood on the west side of Houston, about 60 miles inland. Our preparations are complete and we're glued to the tube watching the continuous local coverage. The storm has hardly strengthened overnight, which is good news, but the size of this thing makes it really scary. The storm surge began in the early morning hours and many coastal neighborhoods are already flooded. Long time residents are amazed that the flooding is already so bad this long before landfall, before even a drop of rain has fallen. The houses we are seeing right now on TV as the helicopters fly overhead will probably not even be there tomorrow if Ike hits where it is predicted.