Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Good Start

I was a recent participant in a length of service award ceremony at work.  It struck me how when we are young, we don’t tend to think much about things when we have plenty of time to make the best decisions.  Then as we age we tend to mull things over a bit more just as time becomes an ever more precious commodity.

During the ceremony the 25 year service awardees, like me, paled in comparison to those veterans of 35, 40, and even 50 years.  I wondered if those long-time veterans had figured out how to ease the passing of time.  Obviously they had made peace with their workplace.  Had work become another example of their patience and harmony with life, or was work a refuge of routine away from a life less lived?

I couldn’t decide whether to envy my more experienced colleagues or suggest retirement counseling.  Of course, I am not in a place to judge, nor are you…  The answer is that there is no one answer.

Some of us are truly happy coming to work each day and perfectly willing to keep doing that until the very last day we are alive.  Those are the lucky ones who have found their true calling and love what they do.  Either they are doing what they have always loved, or they have learned to appreciate the subtle joys of professional accomplishment.  The years go by like weeks in a vocation more like a vacation.

Then I remembered my dear friend who ticked off the days to her retirement, starting back at T-minus 3 years and counting.  It wasn’t that she despised her work, or struggled for motivation to fulfill responsibilities.  In fact, this woman was in demand as a natural leader, objective thinker, and a creatively productive worker.  But she had other stuff to do….  Greece, Italy, wine on the back patio, independent children with comfortable, loving relationships with their mom.

Back at the ceremony, as I approached the big boss, he smiled and said, “That’s a good start,” as he shook my hand and we posed with the 25 year certificate.  All I could think about is all the things I haven’t done.  Yes, there is unfinished work…  But I can’t help but think there is much more left to do in life.

I can’t start counting down just yet.  I think this grizzled civil servant has to quit mulling things over and get busy, whether it’s at the office or in the back yard.  After all, like the boss says, I just got started….


The Definition of “Troll”

A little education for the less than savvy internet surfers out there. I was recently characterized as a “Troll” by someone very experienced at the game. I have come to embrace the thought. Trolls are welcome here. Just make sure you can produce some entertainment value to the discussion, and don’t sharpen the barbs so much as to leave painful permanent scars…

Application of the term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used as an ad hominem strategy to discredit an opposing position by attacking its proponent.

Often, calling someone a troll makes assumptions about a writer’s motives. Regardless of the circumstances, controversial posts may attract a particularly strong response from those unfamiliar with the robust dialogue found in some online, rather than physical, communities. Experienced participants in online forums know that the most effective way to discourage a troll is usually to ignore him or her, because responding tends to encourage trolls to continue disruptive posts — hence the often-seen warning: “Please do not feed the trolls”.

Brand Name Recognition in Chile

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to an incredible story.  Two of our NASA Flight Medicine folks treated hundreds of us to a presentation about how they contributed to the Chilean miner rescue.  It’s not often that a story like this comes up to showcase what NASA does and what NASA can do.

In case you’ve been in a cave, or should I say underground isolation, here’s the background in a nutshell.  Since earlier this summer, 33 Chilean miners were trapped over 2000 feet underground.  Chile has a rather elaborate mining history and capability.  They have been working continuously in the mines for well over a hundred years, and they have had to dig ever deeper to reach the still valued gold, silver, and copper reserves.  One might think that once you’ve had the entrance collapse, you’re done.  Well, because of the depth and experience with mining, they had established a very elaborate network of underground refuges with survival supplies, and supported by a fairly robust variety of ventilation holes.  The miners were alive with a hope of rescue.

The President of Chile did not hesitate to call for all the help and support the world could provide.  Understanding the circumstances — extended isolation, limited quarters and supplies, harsh living conditions, the need for rapid technological application, etc. — NASA recognized that this was a challenge we could definitely contribute to.  Our Space Medicine folks were dispatched to assist with the physical, mental, and technical challenges associated with the rescue.

Immediately upon establishing contact with the miners, there was a rush to make sure they had enough to eat and drink.  For the first couple of weeks, they had been rationing 3 days worth of provisions and were near starvation.  Our NASA docs immediately understood that too much food too fast could be fatal.  Their metabolisms would not be able to absorb the carbohydrates, and they could potentially die.  We were reminded of just this fact from history when our troops had liberated the death camps in Nazi Germany.  American soldiers had rushed to provide chocolate bars and rations to the emaciated prisoners only to watch them perish as their bodies went into shock.  Our flight medicine guys had long ago worked out routines for rationing and recovery in event that astronauts were left to survive for long periods in orbit until the next resupply flight could arrive.  The Chilean miners were beneficiaries of this advice and as a result a strict diet was arranged for delivery through their 4 inch ventilation pipe.  It worked and their health was managed well during the underground stay.

Habitation was a challenge.  How do you make use of a few hundred square feet of space to keep 33 people occupied, exercised, and sane?  Sounds a lot like a Space Station orbiting for years with just communication, work and exercise to occupy your time.  A regimented series of exercises, diversionary activities, social interaction, and communication with the surface was developed to support what could be a very long stay.

And the mental and emotional aspects….  The miners were conditioned through counseling and emotional monitoring to have hope, patience, and a sense of connectedness with their families and the rest of the world.  The families were accommodated right at the rescue site and counseled on the right tone and content of their communications with their loved ones below.

The technical aspects of the rescue pod were thoroughly addressed by our NASA emissaries.  How do you stand scrunched up for nearly an hour, sensory deprived, while you are pulled through a pitch black hole.  Think of standing in a too small coffin that has been nailed shut for just 5 minutes…..  Now multiply that by about 10….  Get the picture.  There were challenges of medication, mental preparation, remote health monitoring, and maintenance of the physiological environment….  in a too small coffin.  Who does that sort of stuff?

Probably the most amazing aspect of the story from a NASA employee’s perspective….  In the first few anxious weeks while the rescue effort was being formulated, the miners families were huddled in a terrified vigil at the surface.  The Chilean government announced that an agreement had been rapidly arranged for NASA to assist with the rescue.  Telling us the story, Dr. JD Polk paused, overcome with emotion, as he recounted the reaction of the families upon their arrival.  Children were crying tears of joy as they saw NASA coming to save their loved ones.  Dr. Polk said, as a parent, there is no value you can put on something like that….. Who else gets that kind of reaction?

In the cold hard business vernacular it’s called Brand Name Recognition.  The NASA brand means something to the rest of the world, particularly in the Chilean mountains where 33 people are alive and with their families today because of their caring government and NASA’s human spaceflight science and technology.

The NASA political arm-wrestling over the last few months seems hopelessly petty after that kind of story.  My pride has been restored just a little bit.  My hope has been restored a lot.

Mishka, the Fugitive

An update on Mishka’s exploits.  This weekend as Natasha walked the boys, both Mishka and Who’syer decided to chase a wayward duck.  An elderly woman started hollering and chasing after Mishka with a very log stick.  She struck Mishka with a glancing blow.

Less wounded than confused, Mishka sat quietly as the woman began berating Natasha for the unruly dog behavior.  Granted, they were not on their leashes, frollicking without a care in the rural area near Clear Creek.

Natasha, eager to exercise her developing medical assistant skills, calmed the woman’s fears about rampant duck-icide.  She promised to never leave Mishka unleashed near the ducks again.

Until the next duck encounter….