On the MediaBiasChart.com

I’ve been made aware of this chart, which I find interesting.

I’ve read through much of the author’s commentary on how this chart was created, and I generally agree that she has done an admirable job in her methodology.  I largely agree with the relative position of the media sources to each other and where they fall along the Y-axis.  But I disagree with where the sources are placed along the X-axis.  As an example, I would not (nor do I know any conservatives who would) consider NBC, CBS, or ABC as “neutral”  Most conservatives would put the “neutral” line about where the dividing line between “Neutral” and “Skews Conservative” currently is.  The rest of this article explains why we would state this.

The author uses three criteria for ranking where individual articles and the media sources in general fall on the chart: truthfulness (statements of fact versus opinion), expression (the language used to make the statement), and bias (is the statement intended to move the media consumer toward one extreme or the other).  This is good, but while would consider the first criteria more or less objective, the expression and bias determination can be decidedly more subjective (Note: this is my opinion).

But more important is what’s left out of the criteria?

She gives a nod to the idea that information could be left out that would lead the consumer to a different conclusion, but I believe that is bigger factor that she gives credit to.  I would consider this to be a fourth criteria she should consider:  what confounding information is not presented in the article?  Conservatives certainly believe that the mainstream media refuses to cover, or covers incompletely, issues that are important.

Why is that?

One of the nice (if you can call it that) about being a conservative is that you don’t have to go looking for the liberal viewpoint.  Current American culture is awash in the liberal view point; so much so that, like a fish doesn’t realize that there is such a thing a “water” that they are immersed in, so most people who would label themselves as just left of center are actually much further left than they realize. This leads them to view as Nazis people who think of themselves only center-right or mildly conservative.

How does this affect media bias?

Both liberals and conservatives have a template, or narrative, that frames their worldview.  Both will cover news (or cover news in a way) that makes their side look good, or makes the other side look bad.  In other words, they fit their coverage to into the template they’re following.

However, liberals are much more disciplined in sticking to the template.  There is, it seems, much more diversity of thought in conservative media that in liberal media.  There are, for example, many more articles critical of Trump in conservative media that there were ever critical of Obama.  This leads conservatives to be skeptical that liberals are capable of presenting a balanced perspective.

Liberals actually believe in the principle that personal bias will seep into reporting regardless of how hard you try, but they can’t see it.  They would claim that a newsroom of journalists from a liberal school of journalism who always vote Democrat is capable of being unbiased because they are trained professional who would never let their personal bias show in which issues they cover and how they cover them. But they never have to confront that this might not be the case because they newsrooms actually are full of graduates from a liberal school of journalism who always vote Democrat, and the way the cover the news seems perfectly reasonable to them.

However, if the New York Times newsroom was staffed with ex-military, evangelical Christians who always vote Republican, liberals would never believe that this group could be unbiased.

And you know what? They wouldn’t be unbiased.  Their bias would creep in, in the same way that liberal bias creeps in.

Consider an example I saw just today:  Bloomberg (which in the media bias chart is slightly right of center) had an article today on refugees from Venezuela and the discrimination they feel in the countries they’re migrating to. The article makes it seem that Venezuela’s economic problems come solely from low oil prices and mismanagement.  But conservatives would argue that the price of oil only exacerbated problem cause by Chavez’s socialist control of the economy and that the economy would collapse eventually anyway because, paraphrasing Margret Thatcher, “the problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money”.  But since this doesn’t fit the liberal template that socialism is good and capitalism is bad, it wasn’t mentioned in the article.  So while the article was factually true, written with an even expression, and showed no obvious bias, conservatives would consider the article sorely lacking and misleading.

Is it possible to eliminate bias from media?  I would say no.  I would go further to say that it would be bad not to have different viewpoints.  But I do object to media sources who imply that they are unbiased, when they aren’t, and they may not even be aware of it.

For the individual, then, the solution is to read sources from both sides and consider the implicit or explicit biases.  This is much easier for conservatives; we can pick up almost any magazine or newspaper, or listen to almost any news report from the mainstream media and get our fill of news from a liberal perspective.  Liberals will have to search out quality conservative news and opinion, such as the National Review and The Weekly Standard from the chart, or Hot Air and Townhall, which are not on the chart but which I also like.  Also, Prager University which is less current events and more of a conservative tutorial.

The truth is out there, somewhere.

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On Mars Hill Was Us

In struggling through the demise of Mars Hill Church I came across the web site marshillwas.us. It’s a place where people can go through and on-line interview about their relationship with Mars Hill with the results published on-line. I went through the interview, and the rest of this article is my responses to the interview questions. I have no idea if my interview will ever be published on the site, but for your consideration here it is.

Update 2018-03-05: it was published, but the link is now broken, so I’ve disabled it above.  If you’re curious, here it is at the Wayback Machine.

Your Name




Which describes your role at Mars Hill?

Regular attender

What Mars Hill location(s) did you attend?

Ballard, Bellevue

What years were you involved / attending?


How did you first hear about Mars Hill?

In 2006 my daughter graduated from high school and decided to attend Seattle Pacific University (a bad decision we would both agree, but that’s a story for another time). She had read Body Piercing Saved My Life and in it had read about Mark Driscoll (the “cussing pastor”) and Mars Hill. We talked about it while I was driving her to Seattle and thought we should visit when we got there.

What was the circumstance of your first time attending Mars Hill?

During the time she was getting settled in at SPU we decided to visit Mars Hill Ballard.

What were your first impressions?

I was impressed—stunned might be a better word—by the number of people at the church who were under the age of 30, and especially that there were young men there. This was in sharp contrast to our home church at the time which, despite being in a large college town, had very few younger people attending. I was also impressed by Mark’s preaching.

Why was Mars Hill your church home?

Since I attended only sporadically when I was visiting Seattle, Mars Hill was my “church home” in the sense that I listened regularly to Mark’s messages and gave financially to Mars Hill—quite generously, as it turned out, although I didn’t know it at the time. We were, as a family fully invested in the church as much as we could be given we live over a thousand miles from Seattle.

We did what we did because we believed in the what the church was trying to do: reach young men with the gospel, teach sound theology, and grow families.

What about your time at Mars Hill has had a positive impact on you?

Mars Hill, and Mark specifically, kept me involved in the church. At the time I first learned about Mars Hill and Mark I was in a very dark time personally. I had been serving and worshipping in a local church, but I had not found a “tribe” where I felt I belonged. I was convinced (and still believe) that such a tribe didn’t (and doesn’t) exist locally, but Mars Hill seemed to be the kind of place where I could find such a group. While I was in no position to uproot myself and my wife and move to Seattle, I had the hope that someday I would be able to participate in Mars Hill. I had planned to spend my retirement hanging around the church picking up trash, cleaning toilets, and setting out chairs.

It also got me interested in theology in a way that I had not experienced before. Mark had (and I believe still has) a gift for illuminating scripture I had not seen before, and I fell in love with his expository preaching and going through complete books of the Bible (which doesn’t allow skipping over the hard parts). Since then I’ve sought out other great preachers and teachers such as Tim Keller, John Piper, and DA Carson, but as good as they are they can’t quite replace Mark.

What about your time at Mars Hill has had a negative impact on you?

Ironically, the thing that bothered me the most was their legalism. Ironic because Mars Hill preached—correctly, in most areas—freedom in Christ, but practiced a strict extra-Biblical legalism centered around the relationships between men and women. Two examples might be illustrative.

The first involves a young man who was exactly the kind of man Mars Hill wanted men to be: dedicated to following Jesus, hard-working (with a career, not just a “job”), kind and generous, and ready to settle down and start a family. But whenever he would approach any of the women in the church he had to run a gauntlet of questions like, “What are your intentions with this lady?” He confided in me that he would get this line of questioning after doing something as innocuous as having a cup of coffee together Starbucks. His response was to shy away from pursuing any relationship with women in the church and look elsewhere for a potential mates.

The second involves a young woman who had moved away from the church because of the pain of “Christians” condemning her because of what she wore (mostly black clothing, required by her job), her job (working in the fashion industry), her tattoos and piercings, and other open-handed issues. Deciding to give Jesus another chance, she moved to Seattle to attend Mars Hill. One Sunday shortly afterwards was serving as a greeter (at the invitation of her small group leader) when she was approached by another woman who told her, “Your leggings are causing the married men to stumble”. There are so many things wrong with this, starting with not taking the time to learn how many people had hoped and prayed for her to get her back into Christian fellowship. Fortunately, her small group leader came to her rescue and supported her and she was able to take it in stride. (Her partner in greeting was wearing Daisy Dukes and was not taken to task for her dress.)

What would you like to have changed about Mars Hill?


The other things were peripheral outgrowths of Mark’s inability to recognize his weaknesses and allow God to change him. If that had happened many of the other things wouldn’t have happened or would have been dealt with more constructively.

Which describes you?

I stayed at Mars Hill through closure.

Please describe why you stayed at Mars Hill and what that experience was like.

I stayed with Mars Hill to the very end, hoping that some good would come from everything. But there was so much chaos in my personal life at that time that it was just one other painful thing to be endured. During the time Mars Hill was coming apart, my father-in-law passed away and my children were present when a good friend took his life leaving behind a wife and young son. The kids, who were at Mars Hill at that time, could have used support from the church, but as things were falling apart at Mars Hill the church couldn’t effectively help them. It was a horrible mess.

How would you describe the reason for Mars Hill’s closure to an outsider.

From my perspective, there were two problems: immature elder leadership and Mark’s unwillingness to find and follow sound advice.

I used to find it amusing with some 25-year old kid who has been a Christian for all of three years is an “elder” in the church. Having seen the damage that they can do I no longer find it amusing, I find it terrifying.

I understand that younger people can have more energy and have fresh ideas that the church needs, but often that enthusiasm can, if not guided by wisdom, lead the church to do great harm. Wisdom is not something that can be gained just by a class or earning a degree in theology or by reading scripture. Wisdom comes from experience (and experience from making un-wise choices). As the catchphrase from the Farmer’s Insurance advertisements currently running on TV say, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two”.

I’ve been a Christian now for 44 years and over that time I’ve seen people do some really stupid things. I’ve seen Christians do some really stupid things in the name of Christ. I’ve seen people do things that didn’t appear to be stupid at first but that were in the end. Some of these things were at Mars Hill, and when they were happening I knew that this would not end well. I’m not the most mature nor the wisest person, and I would make a terrible elder, but there are men who could have served Mars Hill as elder leadership and kept the church from hurling itself on the rocks.

However, even if Mars Hill had had an elder board composed of wise, older, mature Christians, Mark, by his own admission, would not have listened to them. Mark had sh*t that he needed to deal with but didn’t. I don’t know Mark’s heart and where he is now, but I pray that he has or will deal with his sh*t.

All of this is unfortunate because if these things had been done we wouldn’t be where we are now.

What’s changed for you since your time at Mars Hill came to an end?

I find myself in the same place I was 10 years ago—wondering where I fit in the church … or if I fit at all. I have books and podcasts to feed the intellectual side my soul but I’ve pretty much given up on finding a tribe or a meaningful place to serve.

Please write anything else you’d like to add.

Oh, what could have been.

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On the controversy with Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church

Mars Hill Church, Bellevue WARecently, Mark Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, has been in the news for alleged behavior that disqualifies him to be in ministry at all, much less pastor of a church. You can read all you want to about it here, here, and here if you wish.

In response, a private Facebook group was created for Mars Hill members and supporters to share encouraging personal stories about how Mark has touched their lives. The following is my contribution to that group.

Having read much about this issue I will reserve my comments on the issues for another time. For now, here is my personal experience with pastor Mark.

By 2006 I had become disillusioned with church. I had been a Christian for 34 years at that time and I was tired of sermons without any real meat; sermons that were rehashes of the same points from random selections of verses I’d already heard a 100 times, or presentations of pop psychology with a Bible verse thrown in here and there for good measure. I was tired of churches that had flat lined; that were the same size this year that they were last year and the year before that … and ten years before that.

I felt like there must be something more.

Then my daughter decided to attend college in Seattle.

She also decided that she should visit Mars Hill Church to hear this guy, Mark Driscoll, preach. She had heard good things about him and thought it might be interesting.

So, during the move-in time at her school, we went to a service at Mars Hill in Ballard. I was, to be honest, skeptical, having a hard time believing there could be a good church in the Godless Pacific Northwest.

So, I was impressed that my wife and I were, by far, the oldest people in the building. Where I come from, you just don’t see that many people under the age of, say, 40 years old in church. Especially guys. I figured any church that would draw that many younger adults — and men — had to be doing something right.

And then Mark got up to preach.

Then I knew why people were there. I mean, this guy could preach. He opened the Bible and started laying it out, explaining what it meant and not pulling any punches.

I was hooked. As soon as I got home, I began downloading Mark’s messages to my iPod and started listening. Since then I’ve listened to them everywhere: driving across the country, flying across the country, hiking the trails at Valley Forge, exploring the back roads of Wyoming and Nebraska, working in the garage, mowing the grass, painting the bedroom. But mostly in the car as I drive to and from work. And I’m still doing that, nearly every week.

Finally, the scriptures opened up to me in a way I had never seen.

For the first time I saw that the scriptures were all about Jesus, from the opening words of Genesis to the closing words of Revelation. Things that I had known were true but hadn’t understood finally made sense. I had known that I was a sinner since God saved me (or, I gave my heard to Jesus, if you’re Arminian) when I was 16 years old, but I finally I saw myself as I truly am: not as underserving of God’s grace, but ill-deserving; yet, clothed in Jesus’ righteousness and empowered with his Spirit to live a life I couldn’t live on my own (although I had tried).

As a result, I was better able to love and serve others; my wife, my kids, my family, my neighbors, my co-workers, and my church.

I don’t attend Mars Hill except when we visit our kids, both of whom now live in the Seattle area. (If our kids can’t live close to us, I’m at least grateful that they can attend a good church like Mars Hill.) But Pastor Mark’s messages rejuvenated my interest in the church in general and especially our local church. I serve, give, and pray for our church in a way that I hadn’t for a while and that I’m sure I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t heard Mark’s sermons.

I don’t like to contemplate where I would be had I not stumbled across Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll, but I think it would be a dark place. Would I have walked away from active participation in church? There’s a good possibility. Would my personal walk with Jesus have suffered? Absolutely. But, by God’s grace and his ministry through Mars Hill and Pastor Mark, I’m not there. Instead, I’m where I am today and I’m eternally grateful. And I hope that, in some tiny, tiny way, I’ve been able to pass on the things I’ve learned and the changes I’ve undergone to those around me.

Some have accused Pastor Mark of doing things that disqualify him for ministry. My perspective, and I believe that of scripture, is that we’re all disqualified for ministry. There is only One who is qualified, and his name is Jesus. Only Jesus can work though pathetic, misshapen, broken pottery like Paul, Moses, Peter, Elijah, David, Noah, and Matthew.

Like Mark Driscoll.

Like me.

Posted in Christianity, Personal | Leave a comment

We’re not very good at predicting the future

04-21-jetsons_full_600When I was a kid I read a lot of science fiction.  I mean, a lot of science fiction.  I was fascinated by the creative and interesting story lines and by descriptions of what the future might look like.

One thing predicted by science fiction back in the ’50s and ‘60s was self-driving cars.  But if I recall correctly, every self-driving car in those stories had the same limitation:  they all had to follow a wire embedded in the pavement or some other guide to determine where to go.

Fast-forward 50 years to 2012, and self-driving cars actually exist:  Google has a self-driving car that has driven 300,000 miles on regular roads in real traffic without an accident when under computer control.  The difference – and this is a huge difference – between the Google car and the one predicted by science fiction:  there’s no wire in the road.  The car looks at the road, the cars around it, pedestrians, bicycles, traffic lights; all the stuff we look at (or should look at) when we humans drive and decides when to start, stop, turn, speed up, slow down.

OK, it also looks at GPS data.  I’ll give you that is an external input.  But a lot of humans do, to; and if I was going to some place I’d never been before I’d probably at least look at a map before started out.  But that’s a huge difference from following a wire in the road.

So, where did the authors of the ‘50s and ‘60s go wrong in predicting the future?  They couldn’t imagine that a computer could be made small enough to fit in a car.  Back then, computers were the size of a house, weighed tons, and used enough electricity for a small factory.  They couldn’t foresee the integrated CPU that would eventually lead to today’s cell phone having more computing power that existed in the entire world in 1960.  Shoot, Gordon Moore wouldn’t even publish his paper on Moore’s Law (predicting ever more powerful computer chips) until 1965.

And yet, here we are with self-driving cars that contain computers almost unimaginable 50 years ago.

As amazing as that is, here’s what I wonder:  what will things be like in another 50 years?  What are we missing now because we don’t think it’s possible?  Faster-than-light space flight?  Star Trek-style transporters?  Anti-gravity shoes?

Maybe I’ll finally get that flying car I’ve always wanted!

Posted in Engineering, Geekery | Leave a comment

Father’s Day, 2012

This is a hammer.  (No, really?)

Specifically, it’s a Stanley Tool Works 16oz framing hammer.  At 16oz, it’s a little light for a framing hammer, but I don’t have the arm strength to use a heavier 20-32oz framing hammer.  Still, it’s an incredibly useful tool, probably the most useful tool in my toolbox.

I’m pretty sure I had this hammer in college. I may have used it in the original improvements (such as they were) we made on the original 777 Techwood Theta Xi house. I know I had it after college, first in Arizona and later in Colorado.  I can’t begin to count the projects where I’ve used this tool:  when I finished the basement, built the storage shed, put up the privacy fence, remodeled the bathrooms, laid tile in the kitchen, build the camp box; the list is almost endless.  There’s not much around the house that I’ve done or built where I didn’t use this hammer.

It was a gift from my dad, years ago.  I don’t recall the situation; in fact, it may not have been anything special.  He did that with a number of tools he gave me.  Just out of the blue he’d give me something he thought might be useful.

Sometimes the things we pick up in life are like that.  We don’t see them as all that important or useful at the time, but as life goes by we begin to use them when the need arises without thinking about where we picked them up.  When our son was on the way we needed a changing table but we didn’t have a lot of free cash.  I thought, “I can make one from some plywood using my saw and hammer and some paint”, and so I did.  We used it for years through both kids.

Having tools like a framing hammer in your toolbox gives a kind of confidence to face life. It gives you a sense of, “I can do this.  I can fix this problem.  I can take care of myself and the others in my family. I can help other people.”

I think my dad knew that when he gave it to me.  He knew I’d need to be on my own someday, and that I’d need a toolbox filled with useful tools to make it in this world. So one day he gave me a hammer.  Now I think of him every time I use it (which is often), and I’m thankful that he did.

Thanks, dad.  And happy Father’s Day.

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“I don’t get no respect!”

These “What People Think I Do” picture montages are popular on Facebook, so I’m glad someone created one for engineers:

Sadly, this is my life.

Except that it’s Excel instead of Word, the last panel is pretty much true.

It didn’t start out like that.  When I started grad school, we got a pep talk from the dean of graduate students. He commented that, “Engineering is one of the oldest and most respected professions known to man: most respected, second oldest.”  I thought engineering was cool (I still do!).  But I don’t think the public shares that perception.

I think that one problem with the perception of engineering by the public at large is there are very, very few portrayals of engineers in popular media. For example, you can’t channel surf for 5 minutes without coming across a show about lawyers, doctors, police, or actors, but there are almost no TV shows about engineers. (Is there one? I couldn’t think of any off-hand.) The same is true of movies, although there are a few exceptions. (“Apollo 13” comes to mind as one of the best.)

Two big differences between those other professions and engineering is that 1) people encounter those professions on a regular basis and thus know a bit about what those people do, and 2) the story lines about those professions usually focus on the interactions of the characters with other people (think, “Gray’s Anatomy“); the law, medicine, etc. is almost incidental to the story.

Engineering, on the other hand, is mostly about solving technical problems. Yes, I know about the people-related issues, but let’s be honest: most of us got into the profession because we liked the science, not because we wanted to interact with people. That makes our profession uninteresting (at best) or incomprehensible (at worst) to a lot of people. Indeed, when people ask me, “What do you do?” I’m kind of stuck: how do explain what an engineer who works for a high-performance ASIC company does? Usually I just say, “I work for a computer chip company”, and move on to another topic before their eyes glaze over.

That’s not the greatest sales pitch for engineering as a profession, but what can you do?

*     *     *

BTW, the picture for this article came from this blog, where I also posted most of this article as a comment.

Also, my apologies to Rodney Dangerfield 🙂

Posted in Engineering, Personal | Leave a comment

Happy 40th Birthday, 4004!

Ok, this could get really geeky really quick, but I’ll try to keep it readable.

It's not much to look at, is it?

Forty years ago, on November 15, 1971, Intel ran the first ad for a new type of integrated circuit:  the 4004.  Why is this important?  Because it was the first commercially available integrated CPU.

“What’s a CPU?”  It’s that thing inside your computer or smart phone that makes it more than an expensive paperweight.  It’s the brains that run the programs that let you read this article.  Most people who use computers don’t really care about what the CPU is or what it does, but for those of us in the business it’s almost unbelievable the progress we’ve made in the past 40 years.

“What kind of progress?”  The 4004 was a tiny, tiny CPU.  Not so much in size:  the package (in the picture above) was about an inch long.  The package for  the CPU in your computer is probably 1.5 inches square; not that much physically larger.  The chip of silicon in the 4004 (not visible, but under the gold lid on the package in the picture) is about a quarter-inch square, about the size of a pencil eraser.  The chip of silicon in your computer is probably about an half-inch square; again, not that much larger.

But thanks to Moore’s Law and the shrinking of the size of components on a chip, the CPU in your computer probably has in the neighborhood of 150,000 more components that the 4004.  Another way of looking at it:  if the CPU in your computer had been built using the same process as the 4004, it would about 8 feet square.  That’s not going to fit on your desk (or in your smart phone!) very well.

Thanks to the miracle of engineering, the 4004 led to the 8008, then the 8080, then the 8086, the 80286, … and so on to the Intel Core 2 Duo you might be using to read this (if you have a current, higher-performance computer).  It has been a slow, methodical process getting to this point; one that we tend to take for granted.  Seriously:  if your under the age of 30, computers have been ubiquitous for your entire life!  Only us old guys can remember what is was like 40 years before the 4004, when computers filled entire buildings and yet were less powerful than my phone.

And yet, there you are:  reading this article on a computer that has more horsepower that all the computers in the world combined at the time the 4004 came out.  What will the next 40 years bring?

FYI:  If you’re curious, The Register has a really nice article on the 4004 and the development of CPUs since then.  It’s a rather geeky read, though, so be forewarned.

Posted in Engineering, Geekery | Leave a comment

What’s wrong with America: Part 286

Just in case you were wondering if the government ever over-regulates Americans, here’s the latest from the geniuses at the Department of Labor and their effort to destroy the American family farm improve the safety of children on farms (from “Critics fear new Labor Department rules will take the family out of family farms” in today’s Denver Post):

Oh, the horror!

Nonagriculture workers under 18 would be banned from grain elevators, silos, livestock exchanges and auctions.  And the provisions also would stop children younger than 15 from working near “sexually mature” livestock, including bulls and boars or nursing cows and sows.

Well, that would pretty much kill the FFA and 4-H, not to mention youth participation in the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  God forbid children see a sow nurse her piglet, or a cow her calf!  They might be scarred for life!  And as for where the piglets and the calf came from … well, their precious little psyches couldn’t handle it.  And no raising rabbits, because they breed like … well, rabbits.

Seriously, is there anything that the government doesn’t feel like it needs to regulate?  For our own good, of course (“Think of the children!”).  I wonder if the people writing these regulations have ever actually been on a farm.

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Encouraging kids to become engineers with office supplies

I commented on an article entitled “What Were Your Childhood Inspirations” on the Engineer Blogs site today with the following observations that 1) point out my age, and 2) emphasize my nerdiness:

I’m not exactly sure whether my parents pushed me into engineering or whether they merely encouraged my interests, but I always had science toys around growing up. So, I had Erector sets, blocks, Tinker Toys, and chemistry sets (back when chemistry sets actually contained chemicals!).

The survey list was undoubtedly created by someone much younger than me, since it left out several staples of my youth: Heathkits; model cars, planes, and ships; and “Things of Science”. Of course, some are no longer even available, and others are sadly out of favor with kids today.

A manila folder.  Duh.

Oh, the possibilities ...

But by far my coolest “toy” was … manila folders. My dad picked them out of the trash at work brought stacks and stacks of these home for me. I then colored, cut, and glued these into spaceships, ships, and Star Trek phaser and communicator models (among other things). The kids of things I could build was practically unlimited (although objects curved in two dimensions were impossible). Based on this experience, I should have been something other than an electrical engineer (mechanical? civil? architect?), but the experience taught me much that I’ve used since: the value of having a plan before you start out, there are limitations to what is physically possible, and things can be use for tasks other than for what they’re designed, for example.

Of course, this hobby has been a source of endless mirth for my children, who have gently mocked me for years about building paper spaceships instead of having a social life (something which, of course, was not entirely true). I reply by reminding them that it helped me learn skills that put food on the table, a roof over their head, and send them to college.

It’s been a long time since I turned a manila folder into a model of the Star Trek shuttle craft, but I still can’t pick one up without thinking, “Hmm … I could make a model of an X-wing fighter out of this …”

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9:45 a.m. EST on December 12, 1965

Where were you at 9:45 a.m. EST on December 12, 1965?

Gemini 6 launch abort


What?  You don’t remember?  Maybe you weren’t even born yet?  I remember exactly where I was:  watching the launch of Gemini 6 on television in my parent’s living room in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Or more accurately, watching the attempted launch of Gemini 6.  After the Titan rocket engines had ignited but before the rocket lifted off, an umbilical cable fell off causing the rocket engines to shut down.  Procedure dictated that the crew was supposed to eject from the capsule, but since in tests of the ejection seats the test dummy had been smashed against the unopened capsule hatch, Wally Schirra decided to take his chances that everything was going to be OK if they stayed where they were.  Seeing the aborted launch I remember thinking at the time, “I’m not sure what just happened, but that can’t possibly be good.”

Neil Armstrong sets foot on the moon.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

How about 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 21, 1969?  No?  I was watching Neil Armstrong step off the landing pad of Eagle, the Lunar Landing Module of Apollo 11, and say, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind”.  I’m still amazed that my parents let me stay up that late.  Since it wasn’t a school night, I guess it was OK.

OK, how about 10:21 a.m. PST on April 14 1981.  Still no idea?  I was standing the conference room at ADR Ultrasound in Tempe, Arizona, the company I worked for after graduating from college. 

Columbia landing at Edwards AFB at the conclusion of STS-1.

"Well what do you know, the son-of-a-bitch works!"

We had set up a television on the conference table so we could watch the landing of the space shuttle Columbia at the end of the first space shuttle mission.  As one of my co-workers said at the time, “Well what do you know, the son-of-a-bitch works!”  Yes, it did.

I wanted to be an astronaut.  Almost every kid did when I was young.  It was new, it was exciting, it was adventuresome … in short, it was cool.

But then I got glasses in the 5th grade, and that was the end of that dream.  Back then, only military pilots could be astronauts, and military pilots had to have 20/20 vision.  So I was never going to be an astronaut.  But I didn’t lose interest in the space program:  I watched it from afar; encouraged by its successes, disappointed by its failures.  To me, it was still cool.

Launch of Atlantis on STS-135, the final space shuttle mission.

So sad.

Which brings us to 11:29 a.m. EDT on July 8, 2011, the launch of Atlantis on the final space shuttle mission, and (perhaps more significantly) the end of the nation’s manned space flight program.  I didn’t watch it; maybe I should have, but I couldn’t bring myself to.  Not so much because the shuttle is being retired:  it was a technology that had reached the end of its useful service life.  I understand that.  What makes me sad is that there’s no plan to replace it.

Yes, I know about SpaceX and the other private concerns that are developing manned space flight capability.  I’m quite encouraged by their work and the results they’re achieving, and I wish them well.  But I think there’s something missing in not sending men into space as a national effort.  It seems to me to be a sad comment on the state of the national psyche.

I can’t say that the space program was the only reason I chose engineering as a profession, but it had a big impact.  The space program made science cool, and since it was cool I studied it and loved it.  Other kids felt the same, and we’d build models of rockets or shoot off actual rockets in vacant lots.  Do kids even build models any more?  Would a national space program have the same effect now?  I wonder.  Maybe it’s too late and the United States has already passed a tipping point.  Maybe as we outsource manned space flight to the Russians and possibly later the Chinese it’s just another symptom of the diminished nation the United States is becoming.

I hope not.

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