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42435050_2093293160760111_4630001528504057856_nThis morning I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral. It was the most difficult task I have ever undertaken. I was unprepared. I was in shock. And the one man I knew I could always turn to for steady advice, cool counsel and sharp insight– that man was my subject.

This morning I gave the eulogy for my father. This is my tribute to the most influential man in my life– forty-eight years summarized into barely eleven hundred words.

It is not enough. It will never be enough. And yet it must be. This is my what I said in church this morning in front of hundreds of our grieving friends and family.

I don’t want to be here.

I want to be somewhere else. I want to be with Dad.

I want to be cold– and tired. I want to feel blisters popping on my toe. I want to hear the whir of chainrings rush past my ear. I want to be above timberline. I want Dad to encourage me one more time. “It’s all downhill from here.” All the while he’s looking over me toward the treeless peak far above my head.

We could be anywhere else. Someplace evocative! We could be on our way over Music Pass. Phantom Terrace. Mount Massive. Old Monarch Road. I want to be bouncing around the Jeep onto the back side of the Sand Dunes. I want to try once more to dam Medano Creek with sand and look for arrowheads.

I want to hear the winds howling down the San Luis Valley and look on in wonder as it shreds our campsite to pieces.

I don’t want to be here. I want to be with him.

Let me tell you about my Dad.

My Dad is an explorer. He takes me exploring everywhere. Mountains and canyons and rivers and lakes and sea shores.

When the destination is a bit further away, a bit of a logistical nightmare, we go by book. He opens a novel and he and I travel to a new world. A world of pirates with peg legs. A world of castaways. We pilgrimage to Mecca. We go to Mars. We go on adventures with his friends across the river in Missouri. Do you know Tom and Huck? We go everywhere. Anywhere.

And when I got to a certain age, an age when I had absolutely determined the exact locations of everywhere cool–. When I foolishly decided Dad can’t know anywhere cool. You may know that moment yourselves. That wise old age of, oh, let’s say six. Or was it twelve? Or twenty-one. Or forty.

At that moment I resolved to find my own destinations (thank you very much). My own evocative locations. Why not? If Dad can do it, so can I.

I think a proper eulogy should contain some parables, right? A myth or two? A heroic legend? An epic, told by a poet. Let’s go.

I am remembering a cold February evening in Berlin. I am deciding to take the U-Bahn to the end of the line and walk across the bridge to Potsdam. I am disembarking the train and walking down the road. It’s dark. Snow is falling. The air smells of coal fires. I stop. I pick up a fragment of concrete– a shard of the Berlin Wall.

I am continuing on to the bridge. I am imagining myself involved in some clandestine prisoner exchange with East German Stasi agents.

Close your eyes. Close your eyes as you stand on the Glienicke Bridge. See a tall, dignified man emerging out of the snow from the other side. You recognize him as he points to the Wall fragment.

My Dad is a student of history. Listen. Listen as this man, my Dad, describes the weight of the piece of history you hold in your hand. What shaped it. What broke it. How you came to hold it. Listen. Listen in this cold quiet. The snowfall swallows all other sounds. Listen and you can hear him. He is right here.

Listen as he explains the complexities of war– both hot and cold. The intricate web of incremental choices. Some are small and seem insignificant. They become powerful when he sums them together. Some are dramatic. Bold, decisive actions taken by just a few. He teaches you patience. It takes time to expose the truths of history. He teaches you understanding. He teaches you to listen. He shows you the enormous complexities of the world.

He is right here.

My Dad is a storyteller. I’m trying to be that for him– to be his raconteur. It’s an impossible task. To summarize a man’s life into minutes. I’m trying to be Homer. Or Plutarch. Or Herodotus. I’m trying to demonstrate some aptitude for his laconic speech. It’s an impossible task. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here. Here are a few anecdotes about arguments with Dad. They could have occurred some evening on the back patio, or at the kitchen table or on the shore of a tarn at timberline in the Sangre de Cristos. We are arguing. We are having some ridiculous argument. He and I.

Which is the most representative form of American music? Dad says “bluegrass”. Me. I say, “the blues”. I lose. (This one I remember. It happened at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago.)

We argue for an age-appropriate curfew. I lose. (Maybe that was parental privilege.)

Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton? It doesn’t matter. I have this argument twice. I defend each side. I lose. Both times.

My Dad is a musician. I’ve already told you about the first round of arguments about music. Blues vs. bluegrass. Let me tell you about the rematch.

This should be good. I’m confident about this one. I’m older now. I’ve seen some things. I’ve been to a concert or two. This one I’ve got. I go into it wanting to quote King Leonidas’ response to Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae (Yeah, wonder who first told me that one?). I want to declare “Molon labe“. Come and take.

Dad chooses the Beatles as the finest rock band of all time. He picks Rubber Soul as his exhibit. I choose Led Zeppelin. Physical Graffiti. I think maybe he was spotting me some points by avoiding Sergeant Pepper. I still lose. Demolished. Trounced. No contest. Dad admits a little grin behind that ever-present moustache. It’s as close as he ever gets to gloating.

After all, it was Dad’s voice that guided me to rhetoric. He showed me the power of argument. How to support statements with evidence. Deductive reasoning. Nuance. Subtlety. Flavor.

In the end he instructs me to, “Say what you mean. Mean what you say.”

I want to lose the next one. I want to have the next one.

Through all of this my Dad is teaching me about failure. All of these methods: rhetorical combat, climbing insurmountable mountains, racing on the velodrome and hiking across untamed wilderness. Through all of this he’s teaching me what is important about failure. Failure, he says, does not matter nearly as much as what comes after. Get up. Try again. Learn. Adapt. Adjust. Overcome. Surmount.

And because of him, we do.

This is my Dad. You know that already. I know you know that. You’re here.

Dad emboldened you.

Dad defended you.

Dad challenged you.

Dad guided you.

Dad supported you.

Dad championed you.

Dad made you a better you.

Dad loved you.

This. This is how Dad loved you.


20525197_10212296097789056_6161385892751995455_nWhirl and I spent this past weekend celebrating a milestone: twenty years of marriage. That hardly seems real and at the same time I cannot imagine my life without it being real.

To celebrate, we traveled with our friends to Indianapolis for Gen Con, the best four days in gaming. Games have been a huge part of our lives– both separately and together. We fell in love playing games together. It felt appropriate to mark this anniversary with four days filled with games. Board games. Card games. Role-playing games. Puzzle games. Tabletop games. Games, games and more games.

It was wonderful.

Highlights included a romantic dinner for two at St. Elmo Steak House on Wednesday night. I reconnected with one of my college roommates and slipped back into a game of D&D with him as if it were nearly thirty years ago. We reconnected with our Best Man and Maid of Honor and their two children. We survived True Dungeon!

Did I mention all the games? There were a lot of games. We didn’t sleep much. We played. We played a lot.

I think play just may be the secret to happiness.

Go. Go play.

We’re approaching the end of the year. Time I start taking stock of what’s happened over the past year and start thinking of goals for the next one. But first, a graph. The blue line is day-to-day weight, the red is a 30-day average. Each gray horizontal axis line is ten pounds. Each gray vertical axis line is six months.

Weightloss Timeline :: 2013-2015

I’ve lost another ten pounds since my March update. This brings the overall total to more than seventy pounds. More importantly, I’ve stabilized my weight. The 30-day average is nearly flat with only minor fluctuations. The variance is smaller than five pounds up or down.

I feel great.

For positive reinforcement I took advantage of some Father’s Day sales to pick up a new wardrobe. When the sales clerk asked me what I was looking for, I answered, “Make me look like Don Draper.”

Don Draper

This accomplished two things. First, I updated my wardrobe. Most of the dress clothes I owned were twenty years out of style. Second, I now have a tangible reinforcement point to stay on target with my health. The clothes are a constant reminder of where I should be. If I can no longer fit into them, I’m doing something wrong– undoing a great deal of hard work in the process.

Confidence. Style. Swagger.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and this is a way to express it.

In other news, On Monday I hit my 2015 Go The Distance goal. On Sunday, I swam in the 3rd Annual Tri Right Masters Candy Cane Swim Meet and brought home some hardware.

  • 200 IM: 2:43 [First]
  • 50 Breast: 0:39 [First]
  • 50 Free: 0:30 [Third]
  • 200 Free: 2:26 [Second]

During the meet I met some swimmers from another Masters team in the city. They invited me to join them for practice. I may have found a new team. It could be the beginning of a great adventure.

Shelley Base Complete
Extraplanetary construction is no joke. I have been been working on this thing for over a month. It is the most ambitious project I’ve undertaken in KSP so far. And it has been immensely rewarding. My goal was to build a modular moon base on the surface of Minmus that included several major modules: Command, Communications, Science and ISRU. This is Shelley Base. It’s named after the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. For those keeping track, Keats Station was named after John Keats.

I looked at a number of approaches for moon bases. The simplest would be to just settle a collection of landers roughly near each other and call it a base. Fair, as far as it goes, but not really a construction project. Another solution would be to utilize some of the base-specific mod part packs. These are appealing, and I may look into this in the future. But this time around, I wanted to work with parts I was already familiar with. I wanted a station that was contiguous, where my kerbonauts could move from section to section without needing to go outside. I wanted it to stand on its own legs above the surface. And I wanted it to look cool.

This left me with the third choice. I could try to adapt the orbital construction techniques I practiced with Keats Station and Atlantis 1 to microgravity. I looked at Kerbal Planetary Base Systems, USI Kolonization Systems (MKS/OKS) and the Stockalike Station Parts Expansion before deciding on a combination of parts from the Stockalike Station Parts Expansion and Near Future Construction. I was familiar with these parts from the Atlantis project and I’ve really grown to like the aesthetic of them when used together.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

The next step was coming up with a design. I knew the features that I wanted to include. I wanted a generally horizontal layout– like my early Minmus station design. I tried out a number of configurations until I settled on something I liked. The next step was more challenging. It’s easy to just click parts together in the Vehicle Assembly Building or the Spaceplane Hanger. The difficult part is breaking the design up into modular pieces. I had to ensure that the pieces could been lifted into orbit independently, had appropriate connection points for construction, and didn’t make a rocket overwhelmingly unwieldy.

Shelly Skycrane w/ Hab Module LandedIn parallel, I worked on designs for two construction vehicles: a skycrane and a crawler. The skycrane lifts modules from orbit to the surface. The crawler moves modules into the required positions on the ground.

The crawler design was straightforward. I needed something low and flat that could fit underneath my modules to attach. Modules need just enough clearance for the crawler and then the docking modules would lock them together. The modules permanent landing legs serve double purpose as a jack. When the legs are retracted the entire piece settles onto the wheels on the ground and can be driven into correct position. When the legs are deployed, the docking port just barely clears the port on the crawler. I experimented with various wheel configurations. I used different wheel types and placements to make standard, high- and low-riding crawlers. I even designed a crawler using Infernal Robotics that allowed for a form of variable clearance. In the end the small mid-range crawler functioned most consistently– but introduced the requirement that all the base modules must have almost exactly the same clearance underneath. That affected the overall base design.

Shelley Skycrane w/ Connection Tube on Descent 1The skycrane design was more complicated. I knew rough dimensions required for the skycrane’s engines to clear the expected cargo. I estimated my requirements to include safely landing 15-25 metric tons of cargo from orbit, return to orbit and rendezvous with orbital spacecraft. How to find the proper balance of thrust, loaded weight, unloaded weight, control and fuel reserves to handle the specific tasks? I anticipated staging a fuel depot in orbit to allow for multiple surface trips; it was the capacity testing that was challenging. The intended sphere of operation was Minmus orbit. My testing grounds were on Kerbin. Minmus has no atmosphere and minimal gravity (0.05g). Light engines with low-thrust and high-ISP engines are ideal. Except those don’t work well at all on Kerbin. Kerbin’s gravity is twenty times greater than Minmus. Kerbin also has a thick atmosphere. A skycrane that tests successfully on Kerbin will be considerably over-powered for Minmus operations.

I could always boost various designs to Minmus and test each one there. I rejected that approach. Too slow; too expensive. Too wasteful. Instead I mocked up a rough design, flew it on Kerbin and revised it a number of times– checking my current capabilities against what I anticipated on Minmus. Kerbal Engineer was particular useful for calculating available delta-V and thrust-to-weight ratios for various designs. The result was a practical, if somewhat overpowered skycrane. It carries far more fuel than it needs, and not enough RCS monopropellant for my liking. But it’s close enough, and capable of operating on Minmus and I hope the Mun and Ike.

With these constraints in mind, I finally completed an acceptable base design. It included a central control tower, a huge communications mast, a science laboratory, a habitation module, and a giant nuclear reactor to power it all. I laid it all out in the Spaceplane hanger, then cut it apart into modular pieces and reconstructed it on the green space beside the KSC runway. A bit of tinkering with parts placement and a lot of learning how to drive a little tractor with tons of moonbase strapped to the roof and only a few unfortunate accidents before I felt I was ready. Patience, always patience. Patience is key. All of this took over two weeks of serious gameplay.

Minmus Orbital Fuel Depot 3
So I had my two construction vehicles. I had my basic base modules. Time to put some stuff in orbit! All of the vehicles are robots; no kerbals. The crawler, the skycrane, the orbital fuel depot and all the booster rockets were designed to be remotely operated. Earlier this year I had completed my RemoteTech communications network around Kerbin, the Mun and Minmus. I was able to leverage that infrastructure for almost the entire construction project. Once I had the major pieces in place and connected, I planned to deliver some enterprising kerbonauts to turn the lights on and put on some of the finishing touches.

The orbital fuel depot went up quickly: two major fuel tank sections connected end-to-end, and then a cluster of RCS fuel tanks around the center spine. The RCS fuel tanks provided a variety of docking ports as well as a bit of separation from the central spine and any vehicles that might rendezvous with the depot. About this time is when I learned a valuable lesson about large construction projects. I was individually boosting each module from Kerbin directly to Minmus orbit. In hindsight, I think it would have been better to boost all the components to Kerbin orbit, connect them together in a temporary configuration for the trans-Minmus injection. Once the collection was safely in Minmus orbit, I could disassemble each piece and lift them down to the surface. With the exception of disassembly, that’s exactly how I’d moved Keats Station around the solar system– first from Kerbin to Minmus orbit, and then to Duna and finally to Ike.

Shelley Skycrane w/ Connection Tube on Descent 1But I didn’t. I also began to see the value of SSTO lifters like the Space Shuttle program. A reusable low-Kerbin orbit vehicle would have significantly reduced the launch costs. I just have not had much luck flying SSTO vehicles. So I continued to employ my fleet of single-use boosters built with the beautiful parts in KW Rocketry.

The Phase 1 launches, in sequence:

  1. Base Tower
  2. 4x Connection Tube Cluster
  3. 2x Base Crawler Cluster
  4. Communications Mast
  5. Science Module
  6. Hab Module

The communications mast included a small amount of solar panels and sufficient batteries to power the station through the night. This allowed for the first kerbonauts to descend with the Hab in launch 6 and board the station.

Shelley Base w/ ISRU Modules Installed 1
Phase 2 of the station construction comprised of the delivery of the powerful fission reactor from Near Future Electrical, and appropriate radiator fins. Additional kerbonaut engineers descended with the reactor and oversaw its connection to the station. Connection tubes set the reactor far from the Hab on the opposite side of the communications mast.

The reactor is a prerequisite for Phase 3: ISRU. The reactor provides ample power for the science laboratory and deep space communication antennas on the mast, as well as sufficient power to sustain twin ISRU converters. These two converters were lifted down from orbit and carefully– oh very carefully– installed on branches from the reactor.

Shelley Base Fuel Module Skycrane RendezvousThe final phase, Phase 4, was the delivery of the Minmus mining truck and a huge fuel tank to store the output of the ISRU converters. With support of SCANsat satellites, the mining truck is able to explore the surface of Minmus, mine for resources and truck them back to the base for conversion into rocket fuel and monopropellant. The base can support four mining or tanker trucks and two fuel tanks, but is now a complete extraplanetary outpost.

Between each phase kerbonaut engineers removed unnecessary parts using Kerbal Inventory System (KIS) and Kerbal Attachment System (KAS). I did this for technical and aesthetic reasons. I wanted to keep the part count on my base low. Game performance decreases as part counts increase. Aesthetically I wanted to remove single-use docking ports and legs once pieces were connected in their final configuration. I’d never worked with KIS/KAS before. They’re very powerful mods, and the sort of functionality that I would love to see in the base game.

I kept a rough journal of the amount of time I’d spent working on each phase of this construction. Pre-planning, base design and construction vehicle experimentation totaled about 50 hours of gameplay over two weeks– not counting all the time I’d spent building the RemoteTech communication satellite network, or practicing the various orbital construction maneuvers.

Shelley Base at Night 1
Phase 1 took about eight hours over three nights. I thought delivering the reactor in Phase 2 would be simple. It was just one piece, but designing a booster for that payload took some time, and then I forgot to include an antennae and lost radio contact during the Minmus transfer. And then the first time I fired up the reactor, I forgot to deploy the radiators and the reactor overheated and exploded while I was working on delivering the ISRU converters in Phase 3. So, about six more hours and two more nights. By the time Phase 3 began, part count was growing and causing some game instability. It took ten more hours over four more days to get those converters attached. Designing them on the fly after I had decommissioned the Kerbinside model to save on part count didn’t help matters.

Abort, retry, fail.

Similar problems plagued Phase 4, compounded by designing a light booster that had to contend with a huge drag force on the nose. Eight more hours, at least. So, altogether eighty- to eighty-five hours over the course of at least a month.

Immensely satisfying.

Burroughs 4 Before Lander Separation
I’ve been thinking about several exciting developments in spaceflight recently as I tend to my own nascent Kerbal Space Program— some of the real world highlights, a few notable anniversaries and one catastrophic failure. While spaceflight has been with us for decades, I’ve been playing this game for about a year and a half and it is as enjoyable now as it was when I first started. On April 27th the game finally came out of beta. With a couple quick patch updates following, KSP is mature to a significant degree. Here are some of the actual news items I’ve been thinking about while playing.

New Horizons arrived at Pluto: sent back extraordinary images and an incredible amount of new data about the dwarf planet. This completed the set of high definition images of all of the planets in the grand tour.

Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) Returns View of Sunlit Earth : The last time NASA released a full image of the Earth from space the year was 1972 and the photo, snapped by the Apollo 17 astronauts, was called the “Blue Marble.” Today we have this.

Kepler Mission Discovered Exoplanet Kepler-452b: It is the closest match of any exoplanets found so far to our Earth-sun system. Kepler-452b is the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone”– the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet– of a G2-type star, like our sun.

50th Anniversary of the Mariner 4 Flyby of Mars: On July 15, 1965, after an eight-month voyage, Mariner 4 performed the first flyby of Mars, becoming the first spacecraft to take close-up photographs of another planet.

40th Anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Mission: On July 16, 1975 two Russian cosmonauts and three American astronauts met in orbit on the Apollo-Soyuz mission. In spite of the political cold war that encompassed world politics, this mission began an era of international cooperation in space that continues today with the International Space Station and its inclusion of NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA.

46th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing: The Apollo missions blazed a path for human space exploration. In hindsight it may appear unfortunate that NASA was conceived in the midst of what was essentially an arms race; the consequence of which was an organization that was fundamentally unsustainable once the goal was achieved. To survive, NASA has had to transform itself– slowly– into something else. Nonetheless, this consummate achievement of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth cannot be underestimated. Today, Mars beckons.

Falcon 9 Resupply Mission Failure: Falcon 9 disintegrated minutes after launch resulting in a total loss. The unmanned Falcon 9 was carrying cargo intended to resupply the International Space Station. This marked the first primary mission failure for Falcon 9, following 17 fully successful launches.

Whirl and Princess and Farmboy and just about anyone who will listen to me has heard me go on about this game. I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment playing a video game as I have with KSP. I attribute that to the the unstructured nature of the game combined with the true difficulty of space flight. I decide I want to do something. “Let’s put Jebediah on Duna [the Mars analog] and get him back to Kerbin [the Earth analog],” I tell myself. Then I have to figure out the rocket science to make that happen. It’s not easy. And this is a game! I find it incredibly rewarding when I succeed.

So this post is me discussing a few of my accomplishments, showing off a few screenshots and just blathering about KSP.

Kerbal Space Program Missions: Completed

Minmus Station
Minmus Station : Science Station On Minmus: When KSP was released at 1.0, I decided to start a new game in Career Mode. I had the basics of orbital mechanics worked out. In sandbox mode, I could reliably get to the two Kerbin moons and back. I understood how to collect science to unlock technology in the tech tree. I’d done all that before, but I had not played using the contracts and economic systems Squad had added to Career Mode. Nor had I experimented with the experience system or specializations added to the game in version 0.90. All of those are integral to Career Mode. Minmus Station was my first major contract fulfilled: I had to collect science from a permanent station on the surface of Minmus. The station needed to support five Kerbonauts. This is my design. I got it there and managed to land it in one piece. It does not fly well. At all. I originally planned to hop around to various locations on the moon to explore but quickly abandoned that idea on descent. The good news is, I collected a lot of valuable science. The bad news is, I’ve stranded several Kerbals on the moon for quite a long time. I should probably do something about that.

Eve Surface Explorer Aerobraking
Eve Surface Explorer : Extraplanetary Probe Exploration: After the moons, the next major target was to put a probe on the surface or another planet. Initial development of the Burroughs program was underway– I was experimenting with lander designs– and I knew there were a few techniques I would need to perfect if I were to make that mission successful. I would need to complete an interplanetary transfer. I would need to work out having a two-vehicle design: an orbiter and a lander. And I would need to use aerobraking from interplanetary orbit. Additionally, I needed to do these things cheaply. I was running in Career Mode. I did not have a limitless budget. So I decided to build a small probe to fly to Eve, the Venus analog. It worked. I used ion thrusters on my vehicle due to the very high fuel efficiency. The trade-off was needing to complete an hour long burn for Eve capture once I arrived. Patience paid off. The entire mission was successful from the first attempt.

Burroughs 4 : Manned Mission to Duna and Return: This was my next major science mission. In short, the Burroughs program is a combination of the manned missions to the nearby moons with the Eve Surface Explorer program. Time to get my ass to Mars! Err, I mean Duna.

Burroughs 4 Command Module Burns to LDO (Low Duna Orbit)I decided to try a mission profile based on NASA’s Apollo program. I built a single booster that would carry three kerbonauts and two vehicles to orbit. One vehicle would be the service module: it would perform the trans-Duna injection, Duna capture and Kerbin return maneuvers.

Burroughs 4 Lander Descent 2The second vehicle would be a smaller two-man lander module that would descend to the Duna surface and ascend again to rendezvous with the service module in Duna orbit. I constructed the various vehicles individually and then assembled them in one big rocket. Like the actual Apollo mission, the transfer vehicle detached from the booster, rotated around to dock with the lander and removed the lander from its fairing once in orbit.

Burroughs 4 Lander Descent 4What complicated things was that Duna, like Mars, has a thin atmosphere. This was useful, in that it allowed for aerobraking and parachutes to assist the descent to the surface. But it also meant I needed to include a heat shield and a powerful ascent stage for my lander, or my kerbals would never make it home.

Burroughs 4 Landing Site
Burroughs 4 was the successful mission. There were three previous Burroughs missions that were less successful. Burroughs 1 missed Duna entirely on the trans-Duna orbit insertion burn. My kerbals were left drifting helplessly around the sun forever. The lander on Burroughs 2 burned up on Duna descent, killing the two aboard. Burroughs 3 made it to the surface of Duna just fine, but did not have enough delta-V to return to orbit and rendezvous with the transfer vehicle. It crashed into the Duna highlands, again killing the two kerbals aboard. Unlike the real world, I could simply reset the game from a save point and start again, but the lesson is very tangible: do not hire me to fly you to Mars. Your odds of survival are, at best, five in twelve.

Keats Station in Orbit Around Minmus
Keats Station : Orbital Construction, Science, ISRU: I named this station after the Romantic poet John Keats. It was my first attempt at a large-scale space station constructed in orbit over multiple launches. I had experimented with simple one-piece stations, where I built it all on the ground and then attached large enough boosters to get the entire station into orbit in one go. I wanted to do something bigger than that. I could easily see how to double the size of my station– just do what I had done before and dock them together nose-to-nose. That just seemed like cheating. Keats was my attempt to build a station that would serve multiple functions as well as teach me orbital construction techniques.

The station is comprised of eleven sections:

  • 1 Station Core
  • 1 Communications Module
  • 1 ISRU Module
  • 1 Science Module
  • 4 Solar Panel Masts
  • 2 Habitation Modules
  • 1 Thruster Module

Each section was launched separately and connected together in orbit using a small tug craft. The tug consisted of two docking ports on a probe core, a big reaction wheel, some solar panels and lots of RCS fuel and thrusters.

Keats Station supports up to twelve kerbals. The ISRU Converter can convert ore and electricity into liquid fuel, oxidizer, or monopropellant– this is a critical piece of real-world technology for most manned missions to Mars. The Mars Direct proposal depends on ISRU. So of course I wanted to include it somewhere. The Mobile Processing Lab has the capability to process data obtained from experiments for science. Any decent space station has a big lab! The communications module allows for interplanetary transmissions and includes a survey scanner for orbital low resolution resource scanning. The station core contains a huge fuel tank, allowing for refueling operations for other spacecraft.

Prometheus 2 Rendezvous with Keats Station 2
Prometheus Program : Minmus Mining Operations, ISRU w/ Keats Station: A complimentary program to Keats Station, the Prometheus Program comprises the operation of the robotic mining probes. The probes land on Minmus and bring ore to orbit where it is processed on Keats Station into rocket fuel. Through Prometheus I can support refueling depots outside of Kerbin orbit, allowing for bigger and more powerful interplanetary rockets. Get it? The Titan who stole fire from Mt. Olympus? Yeah, okay. Moving on.

Hyperion 2 Moving to Minmus Escape 1
Hyperion Program : Kerbin-LKO-Mun-Minmus Ferry: Once construction of Keats was completed, I needed a way to shuttle crew to and from the station. I have not had particularly good success with building spaceplanes in KSP, so my method is closer to the Soviet Soyuz or SpaceX Dragon V2 model, partially reusable two-stage spacecraft designed for bringing personnel and supplies to and from various orbits in the Kerbin-Mun-Minmus system. Hyperion 1 brought the initial two members of the Keats Station crew from Kerbal Space Center, however the craft and pilot were lost on the return to Kerbin– the parachutes aboard Hyperion 1 were insufficient to slow the descent from orbit; the pilot and craft was lost at sea. Still want me to fly you to space? The craft was redesigned to address this flaw and Hyperion 2 has successfully ferried the rest of the crew to Keats.  Hyperion 2 proved capable of ferrying crew from Kerbin to the station at LKO and back. Midway through the Hyperion Program, Keats Station was elevated from LKO to Minmus orbit and Hyperion 5 assumed the duties of ferrying crew and supplies.

Whitman 3 Deployed in Orbit Around Dres 2Whitman Program : Altimetry and Biome Scanning Satellites: Whitman 3 is a research satellite deployed around the dwarf planet, Dres. I included two new mods into my game: SCANsat and Infernal Robotics. Those mods defined the project. SCANsat supplied the RADAR altimetry and multispectral biome scanners. I used Infernal Robotics to create a compact launch design that expanded once achieving orbit. I like the dramatic presentation of the design. I planned to launch several of them to explore the major planetary bodies, including Moho and Eeloo. However the amount of fussing over electric capacity, scanner and solar panel orientation doomed the project. It was promptly canceled. Whitman 1 and 2 never saw the launch pad. No one hears your barbaric yawp when you sound it over the roofs of space.

Complete Kerbin-Mun-Minmus Communication Network
Kerbin-Mun-Minmus Communications Network : RemoteTech is one of my favorite mods to KSP. It overhauls unmanned spaceflight by requiring probes to have a connection to the space center. Without it, unmanned probes cannot be controlled. It’s a great reason to put satellites into orbit, and to be precise about those orbits. Once a network is built, the satellites do work for you– namely, they allow communication among all the craft in flight. RemoteTech provides a variety of dish and omnidirectional directional antennas, enforces line-of-site and signal delay and introduces a flight computer that can be used to schedule actions ahead of time to carry out basic tasks during a communications gap. It raises the degree of difficulty, and discipline is rewarded.

At my work, I build computer networks. Many of the criteria I use at work, I can apply here. They’re both networks. The satellites serve as routers. They’re just always moving. I built my first communications network very quickly. Just putting things together and putting them up there to get familiar with the mod and the process. Once I had that down, I set out in earnest to build KerCOM 2.

A lot of practical information had to be deduced to make this work. I needed to ensure that my satellites had enough battery capacity and solar power to power themselves and all their antennas through a complete orbit. I couldn’t have communications gaps caused by satellites going down for lack of power. I needed to determine geostationary orbit. I had to design a delivery vehicle, and a procedure for bootstrapping the system before it was fully in place. I couldn’t rely on the existence of my communication network to control the probes; that’s what I was building.

KerCOM 2D Decouple
The KerCOM 2 Network Deployment Vehicle carried six communications satellites to geostationary orbit directly above Kerbal Space Center. It was built using the mods RemoteTech, KW Rocketry and
Near Future Technologies. RemoteTech’s inclusion is obvious. I included the other mods for mostly cosmetic reasons. The vehicle could easily be adapted using stock parts. I used KW Rocketry because I love the look of the tanks and engines, and I used Near Future Technologies for the extended probe batteries, the structural platform on the deployment vehicle and the cool-looking circular solar panels.

KerCOM 2FThe orbit was modified to a 5/6s resonant orbit– meaning I dropped perigee to a point where the orbital period was only 5/6s the duration of true geo-stationary. I launched one satellite at apogee of each sequential orbit over the next six orbits. Each satellite immediately circularized its orbit and established a full communications network above Kerbin. When I was through, I had a six-node network that provided nearly complete satellite coverage of Kerbin using omnidirectional antenna. I designed each satellite with two additional directional dish antennas, one aimed at Mun and the other at Minmus– uplinks for additional networks to be deployed around each moon.

MunCOM 1 Deployment Vehicle at Mun Capture [3/3]MunCOM 1 repeated a similar process around Mun, except I only required a four-node network due to the moon’s smaller size. So I repurposed the last two sattelites. I boosted the delivery vehicle from Mun to Minmus. The two remaining satellites joined Keats Station and formed a three-node network around Minmus.

Atlantis 1 Port Truss Boom [2/3]
Atlantis 1 : Jool System Exploration Platform: My second attempt at large-scale orbital construction had a number of inspirations– Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Hermes from The Martian and the International Space Station. Like the Hermes, Atlantis 1 uses a nuclear-powered VASMIR engine for a low-thrust, high specific impulse design. Long, slow burns give it a tremendous amount of delta-V, at a significant increase in complexity. The modular design is based roughly on the current configuration of the ISS– minus the giant VASMIR– with a science module, a huge communication module and a structural truss with two huge solar panel booms. Atlantis 1 has capacity for seventeen kerbals and enough delta-V to achieve orbit around Jool or any of its moons.

Atlantis 1 Core + Engine [2/3]It took me two days to arrive at the design. It is comprised of seven sections, launched separately and constructed in orbit with the use of a small tug craft :

  • 1 Station Core
  • 1 Engine Module (VASMIR, Argon Tank, Nuclear Reactor)
  • 1 Science Module
  • 1 Communications Module
  • 1 Truss Mast
  • 2 Solar Truss Booms

I used a number of mods to achieve the particular look and design: most of the station parts came from Near Future Technologies and Stockalike Station Parts Expansion. I continued to use RemoteTech and SCANsat for functional components. I want to establish Atlantis 1 as a remote command station, a feature where a manned vehicle can be used to provide remote control of probes without the requirement of reaching all the way back to KSC. The last two mods I included primarily for the particular look they give the game and some of the rockets. They are KW Rocketry and Distant Object Enhancement.

Odysseus 2 Docked with Atlantis 1After completing Atlantis 1, I designed two support craft. Poseidon 1 is a small two-man lander that also uses an argon ion thruster. It has sufficient thrust to land and depart from Minmus and the smaller moons of Jool. As a shake-down mission, I launched Poseidon 1 from KSC to Minmus orbit and landed in the midlands. Poseidon 1 continued on to rendezvous with Keats Station, and exchanged crew. Jebediah and Bill Kerman boarded Poseidon and ferried down to Atlantis 1 in medium Kerbin orbit. Once aboard, Jeb and Bill tested the nuclear reactor and VASMIR engine by firing them up and pushing the ship to high Kerbin orbit above the Van Allen belt.

Poseidon 1 Over MinmusThe Hyperion program proved inadequate to deliver the number of kerbonauts needed to supply a full crew to Atlantis 1. I designed a new crew delivery vehicle to support the large complement aboard the interplanetary flagship. Odysseus 2 is capable of bringing nine kerbonauts above geosynchronous orbit and return them to Kerbin. It delivered the remainder of the crew in two successful launches. Odysseus 1 is a complimentary unmanned supply ship that can deliver argon and monopropellant beyond Minmus orbit.

Atlantis 1 [7/7]

Kerbal Space Program Missions: Planned

With all of that completed, I’ve been thinking about what missions to do next. As soon as I complete one thing, a number of other options present themselves. That’s one of the many reasons I love this game. Here are some obvious ones.

Minmus Station Rescue : I need to launch some sort of vehicle to rescue all those kerbals I’ve stranded on Minmus. They’ve been there for years. I bet they’d like to get a shower and a beer.

Deep Space Communication Network : I am going to need some larger satellites in Kerbin orbit to communicate with probes and systems beyond Duna and Dres. So a mission to supplement the existing communications network is in order. Additionally, I’m going to need to do some corrective maneuvering to get some of the satellites back in position. They’ve drifted from station over time.

Atlantis 1 Burns to High Kerbin Orbit
Poseidon Program : Atlantis 1 Jool System Exploration : This is the big one. I’m ready to transfer Atlantis 1 to the gas giant Jool and establish a long-term exploration program. Atlantis is functioning well. The Poseidon 1 lander has successfully landed and ascended from Minmus, proving capable of doing the same on Pol and Bop. Additionally setting up a remote command station for the Jool system would allow for further automated exploration of the many moons and Jool itself. I also intend to park Atlantis in an inclined orbit around the inner moon of Laythe and initiate a thorough altimetry and biome mapping.

Epimetheus Project : This is the second generation of the Prometheus program. It will involve the relocation of Keats Station to Duna orbit, the establishment of Duna-Ike comsat network, mining operations on Duna’s moon, Ike, with ISRU at Keats Station.

That’s plenty to keep me busy for the rest of the summer, I’m sure. And by that time, I suspect something else will appeal to me and I’ll be off on another interplanetary adventure.


The Martian, Andy Weir This is how I was introduced to The Martian by Andy Weir. Mooch asked, “Remember that scene in Apollo 13 where the engineers get together and have to figure out how to fit the square pegs into the round holes or everyone will die?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s The Martian. That scene. For the whole book. On Mars.”

I’m a sucker for stories about Mars.

The novel follows NASA engineer and biologist, Mark Watney, after he becomes stranded early in the Ares 3 mission, the third of five manned missions to the red planet. What follows afterwards a series of unfortunate events– each one requiring ingenuity and creativity to resolve. And not a small amount of 70s nostalgia. They’re not simple problems. This is rocket science we’re talking about.

It’s a quick read, and most of the science is real. Robert Zubrin detailed a plan for manned exploration of Mars almost twenty years ago: the Mars Direct proposal. Weir borrowed heavily from this proposal. Not too far-future science fiction allowed for his inclusion of the constant-thrust, nuclear-powered VASMIR rocket for the Mars transfer orbit. “Not some boring Hohmann Transfer, either!”, Weir wrote for Salon about the novel and about how science shaped his writing.

I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to com­municate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab designed to last thirty-one days.

If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water re­claimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

So yeah. I’m fucked.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for stories about Mars.

Missoula, Jon KrakauerA series of sexual assaults between 2010 and 2012 in Missoula, Montana is the subject of the latest book from Jon Krakauer, Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. This is not an easy read. This is not an inspirational story. Instead, Missoula is an incisive and unblinking investigation into the crime of rape. It also serves an indictment to the adversarial structure of our modern day legal system. Krakauer painstakingly exposes and invalidates the myths that surround rape.

“Krakauer’s investigation will succeed in altering the conversation around sexual violence.” —Los Angeles Times

In May, Krakauer appeared in front of a capacity crowd at the Missoula Doubletree Hotel to defend his book. Outside magazine reports, “Krakauer may have expected a tide of detractors, but the audience gave him a standing ovation when he was introduced.”

Maybe the detractors did not show up at his speaking engagement, but they are out there. And they, too, have powerful allies and publishers. I’ll single out one passage from Emily Bazelon in her review for The New York Times. Concerning the case involving UM star quarterback Jordan Johnson and woman whom Krakauer gives the pseudonym Cecilia Washburn, Bazelon opines, “Krakauer doesn’t seem to have spoken to Johnson or Washburn. (In an author’s note, he says he tried to interview the victims and accused men whose cases he covered.) And it’s not clear that he spoke to any prosecutors or police officers in Missoula, or to university officials. As a result, the book feels one-sided. It also lacks texture.”

Bazelon either missed the book’s preface where Krakauer lays out his methodology, or she is being intentionally obtuse– to what end, I can’t imagine. Access to information is one of the very elements that makes rape difficult to discuss. He spent two years meticulously researching what transpired in this town. That much is obvious. And Krakauer does not attempt to be unbiased; this book is a defense of rape victims. Krakauer attempts to be honest. It’s a distinction between the principles of objectivity and accuracy. A line that he argues gets muddled and often disregarded, and by so doing fosters a culture that enables rapists to walk free. Krakauer goes to great lengths to discuss his methodology and precisely what he means when he places words in quotations. Quotations mean someone said it and in most cases, they wrote it. Krakauer’s extensive bibliography supports those claims.

What results from this research is some of the most compelling writing Krakauer has ever produced.

It’s been six months since I last wrote anything about my health. I wrote about starting a low-carb diet and the various techniques I’d developed in the first three months of that process. It’s time for an update. First, the numbers: I’ve lost forty-two pounds since mid-June 2014 when I started consciously eating low-carb. That’s eighteen additional pounds since my September update. I achieved that weight loss in early December.

And then winter came. And Christmas with its cookies and pies and delicious mashed potatos. And then the trip to New Orleans. I didn’t stick very closely to my plan through the latter half of December and all of January. So I added about eight pounds back over that period. When we got back from New Orleans I went back to the process that had worked before and the additional weight all melted off by the end of February. That’s what I expected would happen, and it did.

Before I spend another 150 words describing what has happened over the past two years, look at this graph. The blue line is day-to-day weight, the red is a 30-day average.

Weightloss Timeline :: 2013-2015

If I look back at where I was two years ago in early 2013 in the height of my “eat less; move more” days. Well, I’ve lost a total of sixty pounds since then. Before the New Orleans trip, I went clothes shopping. This is not something I do often, but friends and colleagues had commented– more than once– that my clothes were not fitting well. I took some Christmas money and purchased a new winter coat, some long-johns, some nice shirts and new jeans. That’s when my eyes were truly opened as to what was happening with me.

My first problem was that my winter coat was way too big. So big that it was not particularly good at keeping me warm. It had served me very well for over a decade of Chicago winters, so when I replaced it with something else, something smaller, I didn’t feel guilty. Then I could not find shirts that didn’t billow like sails luffing in the wind. I went to a number of stores, got myself measured, tried things on, and several times I just awkwardly, apologetically ended up walking out with nothing in hand.

This was after Christmas and all the clothing stores on State Street were having some fantastic sales on men’s clothes: deals like 75% off or “buy one shirt or suit, get two free”. I eventually started looking at sizes and styles I had not originally considered: men’s slim fit and trim fit shirts. They fit. I was shocked. I bought a bunch. Why not? They were on sale 75% off.

Then came the jeans. Again, I was astonished. I knew I needed a smaller size, because they were bunching up when I did up the belt. What I didn’t expect was to go from a Levis 42×30 in 2013 to a 34×30 in January for the exact same style. But that’s what happened. I tried on the 36x30s. And then, emboldened by my shirt success, pulled down a pair of 34s. Just to see.

They fit. They fit very well.

This wasn’t just water weight I was losing. This wasn’t a trick. I lost mass. I lost volume. I feel better than I have felt in a decade. I still have a little ways to go. I’d like to lose another eight to twelve pounds and go down one more size in jeans to a 32. I think that goal is very much within reach.

What has continued to be astonishing to me is this feeling that the change came about not through some particularly brutal reworking of my life. I haven’t obsessed about every little thing I’m consuming. I’ve been conscious of the carb count, and disciplined about getting regular strenuous exercise. I swam over 275 miles in 2014, even with the loss of my Masters team. I’m on track to do the same in 2015. I walk to and from work every day, and that gives me another thirty minutes of activity.

Whirl and I have discovered a large number of really delicious low-carb recipes, and we continue to add more on a regular basis. It’s been a wonderful change for me, something I’ve worked on– unsuccessfully– for more than a decade. And now, nine months in, I’m starting to really see the benefits.

Madame Lily Devalier always asked “Where are you?” in a way that insinuated that there were only two places on earth one could be: New Orleans and somewhere ridiculous. — Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis 4

One of my first memories of New Orleans is reading the Tom Robbins novel, Jitterbug Perfume— but ‘memory’ is not the right word. Maybe ‘encounter’ is better. Or ‘introduction’. Considering that I’m talking about a Robbins novel about immortality, Pan and perfume, I’m tempted to use ‘preface’, ‘prologue’ or ‘preamble’. Robbins took me through the streets of New Orleans accompanied by a mysterious Jamaican beet salesman and his helmet of swarming bees. His name was Bingo Pajama. And ever since reading that book, I’ve wanted to visit this enchanting city.

Thirty years later, we did. 2015 marked the tenth anniversary of my brain injury and this year I made up my mind against returning to Las Vegas. I wanted to travel someplace new, some place I had never seen before. After considering a number of possible new destinations– including some overseas– we narrowed the field of possible destinations to the Florida Keys and New Orleans. I decided for New Orleans. I’m so very glad that I did. We had a fantastic time.

Once more, Farmboy and Princess joined Whirl and me for the trip. We stayed at the historic Roosevelt Hotel. Originally built in 1893 as the Hotel Grunewald, the hotel has seen a great deal of New Orleans’ history. The Grunewald was sold in 1923. New owners renamed it the Roosevelt Hotel in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s efforts building the Panama Canal had tremendous financial benefits for the city. In 2005, the hotel was damaged by Hurricane Katrina and closed indefinitely. During the closure, the hotel was sold, underwent complete renovations and modernizations. Much of the public areas– notably the lobby and the Sazerac Bar– were restored to the look of grand days of the hotel in the 30s and 40s. The Roosevelt Hotel reopened in 2009.

We began by listing things we wanted to see. We talked to friends and relatives for suggestions. Whirl works with a museum curator who is a New Orleans native. Through that contact, we received an extensive summary and advice. It was a start. By the end of a week or so the list had grown. By the time we landed in Louisiana, it looked something like this:


  • Acme Oyster House
  • Antoine’s
  • Bennachin
  • Brennan’s
  • Broussard’s
  • Cafe Du Monde
  • Central Grocery and Deli
  • Clancy’s
  • Commander’s Palace
  • Domenica
  • Emeril’s
  • Fiorella’s Cafe
  • Galatoire’s
  • Gumbo Shop
  • Jacques-Imo’s Café
  • PJ’s Coffee
  • Parkway Bakery & Tavern
  • Sazerac Bar
  • Slim Goodies Diner
  • Verti Marte
  • Wink’s Buttermilk Drop Bakery


  • Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
  • Audubon Park
  • Backstreet Cultural Museum
  • Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World
  • Buckner Mansion
  • Crescent City Books
  • French Market
  • French Quarter
  • Garden District
  • Pearl River Eco-Tours
  • Holt Cemetery
  • Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church
  • Jackson Square
  • Krewe du Vieux
  • Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
  • Langlois Culinary Crossroads
  • Leonidas
  • Magazine Street
  • Maple Leaf Bar
  • Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo
  • Ogden Museum of Southern Art
  • St. Charles Street Car
  • St. Louis Cathedral
  • St. Louis Cemetery No. 1
  • The Moon Walk


  • Blue Nile
  • Frenchmen Street
  • Hi-Ho Lounge
  • Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar
  • Preservation Hall
  • Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro
  • d.b.a.


  • The Roosevelt Hotel

Twenty-one restaurants. Twenty-five cultural attractions. Seven music venues. One hotel. Four nights. Five days. It was pretty obvious we weren’t going to get to everything on the list. And we didn’t. But we did manage to do quite a bit while we were there and came away from the trip thinking we’d really managed to see something of the city.

Buckner Mansion 2

While it had been our intention to visit some venues for music, we never did quite make that work exactly that way. But what I can say is that music– live music– was everywhere. From the street musicians in the French Quarter, to different two- and three-piece bands in the hotel lounge every night to the piano player to the jazz three-piece at Commander’s Palace during brunch. Music was everywhere you went. And as much as I would have liked to seek it out explicitly, it still found me.

We arrived mid-morning on Wednesday to clear skies. It was apparent looking out the window that we were somewhere new. Even in winter, with much of the greenery gone, this was a different place. I thought maybe I had seen the Mississippi snaking along. I was wrong. It was one of any number of rivers and streams flowing through the area. We were out of the airport and quickly on our way to the Roosevelt. Checked in and looking for lunch. Off to the French Quarter.

While the hotel is not directly in the French Quarter, it is only a block away on the south side of Canal Street. We found New Orleans quite walkable. So we walked into the quarter looking for The Gumbo Shop— and right into Bourbon Street cliché. For the six blocks we walked along, I felt that perhaps we had made a horrible mistake in coming here. This was kitch and commercialism and no more interesting than any tired bar with dollar shots and tight t-shirts. Then we turned onto St. Peter Street and into a period film production underway outside Preservation Hall. A half block away from Bourbon and the entire vibe changed. It was a whole different place. And it was fantastic.

Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis 3The Gumbo Shop served as our entry into what became really an eating tour of New Orleans. I mentioned that we did a lot while we were here but we ate even more. And every meal was fantastic, starting with this one and the one immediately after. Coincidental to our trip, Princess’ parents were in town for a conference and had made arrangements for the six of us to have dinner at Clancy’s that evening. So with that in mind, we took the remaining couple hours of the afternoon to explore. We headed down St. Peter Street, took a left and discovered rows of fortune tellers and artists lined up. Whirl went to have her tarot read. Princess joined her. I turned around and suddenly realized I was standing in Jackson Square right in front of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France. That’s right. Sober, and with a belly full of gumbo I’d bumbled into the one Crescent City location I absolutely wanted to see– and I’d done it on accident.

While Whirl had her cards read, Farmboy and I went inside, and then wandered around Pirate and Pere Antoine Alleys beside the cathedral, eventually making our way across Decatur to the overlook of the river and the square. Princess and Whirl caught up with us after a while and we set back across the quarter exploring the shops along the way. I made a note of Cafe Du Monde for café au lait, beignets. For later.

Clancy’s with Princess’ parents meant more fantastic food and wine (baby drum with muddy waters sauce and shrimp, sweetbreads, bread pudding) after a long, slow cab ride from the hotel to the Audubon neighborhood. Our driver took us down St. Charles Avenue and we spent most of the trip admiring the antebellum mansions. We returned the next day, this time on the St. Charles streetcar to visit Magazine Street, take a guided tour of the Garden District before continuing on to the Carrollton Historic District for afternoon drinks at the Maple Leaf Bar and another fantastic dinner at Jacques-Imo’s (paneed rabbit with shrimp and tasso pasta, alligator cheesecake, fried boudin balls).

We wrapped up the evening with cocktails at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt. The four of us spent a couple hours talking with Andy, Andrew and Benji behind the bar. They made many delicious cocktails and capped off a great anniversary day with a flourish. Returning the Sazerac to its 1940s glory was one of the goals of the post-Katrina restoration work done on the hotel. Art deco decor, huge African walnut bar and the associated theater of serving absinthe.

Pearl River Swamp 3Friday morning came early. We booked a swamp tour along the Pearl River and the Honey Island Swamp to the north of the city. For hours we slid along among the bones of the swamp– winter had pulled back much of the greenery, revealing the structure of the environment in a way that we would never have seen at other times of the year. And while wildlife was comparatively scarce, we did see herons, kingfishers, egrets, turtles, osprey, wild pigs and a raccoon. Most striking were the artifacts left in the swamp from Katrina. We cruised past shrimp boats from the gulf that had been lifted by the storm for over ten miles to be left, wrecked among the oak and cypress. A small hut still hung up in the branches ten years later.

Lunch was New Orleans staples: the muffaletta sandwich from Central Grocery followed by café au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde for dessert. (Told you we’d be back!) We waddled across the street for a second visit to St. Louis Cathedral before touring the The Presbytère. The Presbytère is part of the Louisiana State Museum and holds two permanent exhibits. “Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond” documents the disaster, the aftermath and ongoing recovery. “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana” offers a window into the annual celebration rituals of Mardi Gras– parade floats, costumes, and glimpses into the secretive social club society from which modern-day Mardi Gras krewes evolved. Both were powerful, informative exhibits and well worth the time we spent in them, providing context and structure to the act of walking through living history.

When the museum closed, we found ourselves once more on Jackson Square and explored more of the French Quarter on our way back to the hotel. Princess collected at least half a dozen different samples in her attempt to discover the perfect praline. Whirl found some decorations for our kitchen back home. I had a tummy ache. That night was another great dinner. This time at the John Besh restaurant, Dominica in the Roosevelt Hotel (paneed pork chop with paprika aioli & pickled carrots, sweetbreads, roasted cauliflower, gianduja budino). By this point you’re likely detecting a theme. There were a number of bridal parties in the restaurant and we learned from our waiters that it was quite popular to get married in the church across the street and have receptions in the Roosevelt.

Audubon Insectarium 4

Saturday was filled with more culture, starting with a visit to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. This was more than appropriate given the amount of work Whirl does in the Insects department at the Field Museum. Several of her coworkers encouraged her to visit the Insectarium. Once she knew of it, there was no way we were going to miss it. The museum did not disappoint. Fantastic displays and an engaging staff marked this as one of the highlights of the trip. Farmboy commented that this was his very favorite item on the list.

We walked north along the Moon Walk to the bustling French Market. It was mid-afternoon and I wanted to try a French Fry po-boy sandwich. I found one along with some delicious beer, fried pickles and fried chicken at Fiorella’s Cafe. For dessert– and, as it turned out, dinner– buttermilk drops from Wink’s Bakery.

Immaculate Conception Church 7We hustled across the French Quarter to tour the Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church that afternoon. I am so very glad we did. It is one of the most singularly beautiful churches I have ever seen. A volunteer from the parish took us through the building and up into the choir balcony before the afternoon mass. I shot what I could, quickly and quietly, to try and capture the grandeur of the building. It was very clear to me why this church is such a popular wedding location.

You may be asking, “But why did you skip dinner Saturday night?” Simple answer: Krewe du Vieux. The first parade of the Mardi Gras season was Saturday night and we did not want to miss it. I know, the sacrifices we make for satire. Krewe du Vieux is the only krewe allowed to parade through the French Quarter. All floats are small, drawn by hand or mule. All the music is from live bands.

“With its theme ‘Krewe du Vieux Begs for Change,’ the group pondered a city, state and nation wrestling with transitions everywhere. What it found were confusing education mandates (with teachers of dubious moral character), dysfunctional city services, a bankrupting health care system, and legalized gay marriage (’50 States of Gay’) and marijuana (‘Toke of the Town’) sweeping the nation.” —David Lee Simmons

We met Art and Emily at the parade and spent the time before the arrival talking and joking around with them: comparing notes. It was also while we were waiting for the parade to begin that we learned of Winter Storm Linus– our flights back home Sunday night had been canceled. The storm was dumping nineteen inches of snow on the city. All flights into anywhere in the Midwest were grounded for the next twenty-four hours. But by this point in our trip we knew there were much worse places in the world to be stranded. Everyone we met knew it too.

After the parade we retired back to the hotel and tried to contact the airlines to look into alternate flights. That was fruitless. The best we managed was to arrange for a response at some ambiguous time later that evening– two hours or more. So it was back to Sazerac Bar. It was going to be a long night. Airline robots honored their promise and called us back with new travel arrangements. They were diligent calling us every ninety minutes or so starting at about 1:00 AM until 6:30 AM Sunday morning. Made for a good night’s sleep.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 2

We were booked on an early morning flight Monday through Charlotte, NC. Princess and Farmboy were booked on an even earlier flight through Miami. Whirl and I decided to stay put at the Roosevelt. Princess and Farmboy decided to book a room at a hotel by the airport. And with those arrangements made we thought of things to do on our extra day in New Orleans, Superbowl Sunday.

With a bit of “positive mental attitude” the concierge arranged a reservation for the four of us for the Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace. It proved to be the highlight meal of the trip: turtle soup, commander’s salad, cochon de lait eggs Benedict, pecan crusted gulf fish, black angus sirloin and egg, sugarcane & black pepper bacon, buttermilk biscuits, creole bread pudding soufflé, southern style pecan pie. It was delicious. Service was excellent. A three-piece band moved throughout the restaurant playing requests: trumpet, banjo, stand-up bass. After the meal we spent some more time in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 before making our way back down St. Charles Avenue and the hotel.

A brief detour to the casino on Canal and we were spent. Filled, content, happy and sleepy. We said our farewells. Princess and Farmboy headed for the airport hotel. Whirl and I settled into the lounge at the Roosevelt to watch the football game. The hotel had set up a couple televisions in the lounge and a small group of twenty people or so watched it together. By the time the third quarter began, we retired up to our room, watched the exciting finale, packed and turned in. Morning would come early and I was uncertain exactly what to expect for the leg home.

But as it turned out, everything went perfectly. No delays. No complications. We were home from a wonderful, fulfilling– and very filling– trip to the Big Easy.

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson With 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson expanded upon many of the themes presented in his seminal work in the Mars trilogy— one of my all-time favorite science fiction series. Terraforming, longevity, human sexuality, the significance of art: Robinson explores these in detail as well as investigating how all of these developments shape what it means to be human. There are characteristics of the future history in 2312 that appear to just assume the events of the Mars trilogy as history. And as always, the Earth is a mess.

What Robinson adds with this novel are some of the post-cyberpunk themes that remind me of William Gibson and Ian McDonald: artifical intelligence, quantum computing, radical anthropogenic evolution.

Mooch recommended it to me, much as he originally recommended the Mars trilogy to me almost twenty years ago.