Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On the road again

Greetings and salutations from Virginia!

Yes...it's that time of year again...THANKSGIVING time! Jeannie and I are safely at the farm in rural Virginia. And the weather isn't what I expected at all! I brought my cold-weather gear, thinking it would be frigid. It's not (woo-HOO!) It's still chilly for me, of tropical blood....I'm chilly in California usually! But considering what it could be, I'm quite thankful.

Let me back up a few days...into last week. My work has been quite busy. We are shorthanded, and I don't see that changing anytime soon, if at all. Well, let me be fair...we have a plethora of managers...just not enough WORKERS. We just went thru our last (?) round of layoffs, where we got rid of MORE workers...while the managers seem to have shielded themselves quite aptly. So in 3 years when our contract is bid for real, there's likely no way we can win it against a company who doesn't need the upside-down pyramid structure of managers to workers. But I digress...

Last Thursday my boss came to me late in the day and said I was needed to come in at 11:30pm that night for a 12 hour shift. It was time for the spacecraft (that I was with down in Los Angeles back in Sept) to be transported to the launch pad from the processing center. Okey dokey I said (not a lot of choice, but hey...I'm a team-player). So I went home, had a bite to eat and went to bed (like you can go to sleep at 6pm). The babies were hovering and walking around, wondering what I was doing in bed so early. Jeannie was out getting her hair done, as she was flying to VA early Friday morning (she was going out early to visit with friends). I was to follow on Sunday morning.

I get up at 10pm, grab a bite to eat and head out by 11 for work. The transport went well, and we were at the pad by around 5am. Then the problems began. It seems the company responsible for this part of the operation (lifting the encapsulated spacecraft into the Mobile Service Tower and attaching it to the Atlas V booster) hadn't run a "trailblazer" on this model fairing and with the lifting sling. A "trailblazer" is a full dress-rehearsal with a fake spacecraft/fairing assy so-as to find any wrinkles in the plan. Well...there was a wrinkle. The lifting sling holding the encapsulated spacecraft wouldn't allow them to lower the vehicle all-the-way down onto the booster so it could be attached...there was parts that didn't fit. That should have been caught during a trailblazer. So now there is a billion dollars hanging on the "hook" (attached to the crane) that can't be mounted...so they had to lower it back to the pad-deck far below and disconnect / reconfigure the lifting sling. Then they re-hoisted the billion (plus) dollars and tried again. Still no work'y. Lower and reconfigure. Try again. No joy. By then our shift was well over and the next shift came in.

My job in all this btw is to wait until ULA has the vehicle attached to the booster and then we shut down one of our monitoring systems, load it all up and move it all into the tower, hook it all back up and get it working). So I had now worked a 14 hour shift on maybe 3 hours sleep. And because the vehicle STILL isn't attached to the rocket, we had to come back in again on Friday night at 11:30 to try it all again. Jeannie was now gone, somewhere in mid-travel to Richmond VA. I got a few hours sleep (another 3 or 4 maybe) and then it was time to go back in. After a few more tries they finally had the sling configured correctly so they could soft-mount the vehicle to the booster....HOORAY! About 9am on Saturday morning we got the go-ahead to shut down one of our systems, take it all apart and move it into the tower. We had that all done, system hooked up and functional, around 1pm. My job is done, I am now on VACATION! Got home and did a zillion things on my pre-travel list, and then some sleep...Sunday morning I was at the airport for my turn in the travel blender.

All went relatively well...just a few extra-hours in Chicago as my flight was weather-delayed in arrival, so instead of getting to Richmond around 9:30pm Sunday night I landed about 11:30pm. Finally got my luggage and a cab, and I arrived at Jeannie's sisters place around midnight. Jeannie had been napping on the couch waiting for me, her sister asleep as she had to work on Monday. No showers were available sadly as the cast-iron-tub had fallen over the morning before, luckily her sister wasn't hurt, as she was just getting ready to get in...the tub must weigh 300lbs and could kill or maim for sure if it rolled over on her. The maintenance guys had never seen a cast-iron-tub have a foot fall off, and it had ripped the plumbing out of the floor and was lying on it's side.

So as Sara went off to work we were off to find breakfast and then drive to the farm (about 2.5 hours north-west of Richmond). We made it to the farm uneventfully after a nice drive thru the Virginia countryside, resplendent in fall colors. The temperature was probably in the mid to high 60's...not too shabby for sure. We stopped at the Farmville Wally-world for groceries as usual on the way. And now we are relaxing at the farm. It's Tuesday morning, cloudy and windy but a far cry from snow and cold that I was expecting.

And so...have yourselves a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving! On a closing note, just watching the news and the pathetic rioting and looting in Missouri over the Michael Brown Grand Jury decision...pathetic (the rioters, not the Grand Jury). There are always those looking for an excuse to do bad things. Which sadly takes away from the 99.9% of honest folk who were peacefully demonstrating their feelings (which is a god-given right). I certainly can't say what the right answer is other than I listened to the prosecutor talk for about 15 minutes explaining what evidence the Grand Jury heard, and how/why they came to their decision. It sounds like they did the right thing...but a lot of people don't want to hear that...their minds are already made up even though they had not heard the FACTS of the case. And the looting/burning commenced as expected. I sure don't know how we will ever get past all this racism stuff....sure it exists and I don't know how to fix that. But it appears our country just stepped back 50 or more years. Sad, just sad.

I have lots to be thankful for this year as always...I'll reflect on that during the week as we approach Turkey-day. Be safe and enjoy.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Asheville, NC

I'm really intrigued by Asheville. On the map it looks like it's in a PERFECT place....far enough south to have a mild winter, not too far north of Greenville SC, not too far from a major interstate, and it's IN the Great Smoky Mountains (I believe I stated before that it was in the Blue Ridge Mts...my mistake) As a cyclist that all sounds wonderful! But I really don't know much (yet) about this new town that has popped up on my radar. Rae, your brother lived there...I'll be anxious to hear what he thought of the winters....are there outdoor sports happening pretty much year-round? Sure....there are bound to be bad days....every place has that. But overall...through the winter, is it still a cyclist's paradise?

Here's some info I scooped up...first off, the average temperature and rainfall:

Yeah, I see it's just a teensy bit chilly for the average daytime highs in Jan/Feb/Mar/Nov/Dec. But the lows aren't too awfully bad...certainly April thru October look pretty decent. Here's some info from the beloved Wikipedia:

Asheville is a city in and the county seat of Buncombe County, North Carolina, United States.[5] It is the largest city in Western North Carolina, and the 11th largest city in North Carolina. The city's population was 83,393 according to the 2010 United States census.[6] It is the principal city in the four-county Asheville metropolitan area, with a population of 424,858 in 2010.[7] Asheville is home to the United States National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the world's largest active archive of weather data.
Nationwide recognition
Asheville pops up on national rankings for a variety of things: "a New Age Mecca" (CBS News' Eye On America, 1996),[28] the "New Freak Capital of the U.S." (Rolling Stone, 2000), one of "The 50 Most Alive Places To Be" (Modern Maturity, 2000),[29] the "Happiest City for Women" (Self, 2002),[30] one of the "Best Places to Reinvent Your Life" (AARP Magazine, 2003),[31] one of the "Best Outside Towns" (Outside Magazine, 2006),[32] one of the "Top Seven Places to Live in the U.S." (Frommer's, 2007),[33] one of the “10 Most Beautiful Places in America" (Good Morning America, 2011),[34] one of the "25 Best Places for Business and Careers" (Forbes, 2012), and one of "20 Great Cities For Writers" (Flavorwire, 2013).[35] Asheville has been listed as one of the "Top 25 Small Cities for Art" in AmericanStyle magazine's annual list from 2000 to 2012[36] and has reigned the champion "Beer City USA" each year from 2009 to 2012.Dozens of micro breweries dot the downtown and major producers, including New Belgium Brewing Company (opening 2015) are in the process of building in or near the city.
In his 2008 book, The Geography of Bliss, author Eric Weiner cited Asheville as one of the happiest places in the United States.
Recent national accolades:[37] "Best city in America for locavores" The Daily Meal, 2014 "The hippie capital of the South" Huffington Post, 2014 "#1 most popular city for retirement out of 900+ U.S. cities" TopRetirements.com, 2014 "#1 town to live and work in as a movie maker MovieMaker magazine, 2014 One of 6 top "Alternative Travel Destinations for 2014" Men's Journal and Business Insider, 2014 "One of 20 cities you should visit in your 20s" Huffington Post, 2014 "#1 of 12 Dreamy Towns for Vegan Living" VegNews, 2013 “One of 10 Tastiest Towns in the South” Southern Living, 2013 “Hippest City in the South” Fodor’s The Carolinas & Georgia, 2013 “One of America’s Best River Towns” Outside, 2012 “#1 Beer City USA” Imbibe Magazine online poll, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 “Most Romantic Place in USA and Canada” About.com Readers Choice Poll, 2012 “Top 10 Great Sunny Places to Retire” AARP Magazine, 2012 “10 Fantastically Yoga-Friendly Destinations” Yoga Journal, 2011
Asheville and the surrounding mountains are also popular in the autumn when fall foliage peaks in October. The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the area and near the Biltmore Estate.


Asheville is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the Swannanoa River and the French Broad River. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 45.3 square miles (117.2 km2), of which 44.9 square miles (116.4 km2) is land and 0.31 square miles (0.8 km2), or 0.66%, is water.[6]


The climate of Asheville is a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa), resembling the rest of the Piedmont region of the southeastern U.S., but with noticeably cooler temperatures due to the higher altitude; it is part of USDA Hardiness zone 7a.[38] The area's summers in particular, though warm, are not as hot as summers in cities farther east in the state, as the July daily average temperature is 73.8 °F (23.2 °C) and there is an average of only 9.4 days with 90 °F (32 °C)+ highs annually;[a] the last time a calendar year has passed without 90 °F readings is 2009. Moreover, warm nights where the low remains at or above 70 °F (21 °C) are much more uncommon than 90 °F temperatures. Winters are cool, with a January daily average of 37.1 °F (2.8 °C) and highs remaining at or below freezing on 5.5 days.[39]
Official record temperatures range from −16 °F (−27 °C) on January 21, 1985 to 100 °F (38 °C) on August 21, 1983;[40][41] the record cold daily maximum is 4 °F (−16 °C) on February 4, 1895, while, conversely, the record warm daily minimum is 77 °F (25 °C) on July 17, 1887.[39] Readings as low as 0 °F (−18 °C) or as high as 95 °F (35 °C) rarely occur, the last occurrences being January 7, 2014 and July 1, 2012, respectively.[39] The average window for freezing temperatures is October 17 to April 18, allowing a growing season of 181 days.[39]
Precipitation is relatively well spread, though the summer months are noticeably wetter, and totals 45.6 inches (1,160 mm) annually, but historically ranging from 22.79 in (579 mm) in 1925 to 75.22 in (1,911 mm) in 2013.[39][b] Snowfall is sporadic, averaging 9.9 inches (25.1 cm) per winter, but actual seasonal accumulation varies considerably from one winter to the next; accumulation has ranged from trace amounts in 2011–12 to 48.2 inches (122.4 cm) in 1968–69.[39] Freezing rain often occurs, accompanied by more significant disruption.

OK...so MAYBE this isn't really THE place to be in the winter...but it would be AWESOME in the summers! (though I wasn't really looking for that....I need a place to ESCAPE most of the winter, where I can ride bikes nearly every day).  But you have to admit that up in the "Nationwide Recognition" part from Wikipedia, it sounds pretty nice! This paragraph pretty much sums it up if you ask me:

One of "The 50 Most Alive Places To Be" (Modern Maturity, 2000),[29] the "Happiest City for Women" (Self, 2002),[30] one of the "Best Places to Reinvent Your Life" (AARP Magazine, 2003),[31] one of the "Best Outside Towns" (Outside Magazine, 2006),[32] one of the "Top Seven Places to Live in the U.S." (Frommer's, 2007),[33] one of the “10 Most Beautiful Places in America" (Good Morning America, 2011)

And this is from the Asheville tourism webiste:

 What adventure seekers will find in the Asheville area: natural waterslides, rollercoaster-like mountain bike trails, and stunning vistas that will take your breath away faster than a Ferris wheel. Whether you're into extreme sports or soft adventure, the mountains surrounding Asheville offer endless adventures. Outside magazine consistently ranks Asheville among its top destinations for outdoor recreation and adventures.

Sadly, most of this applies during the warmer months...then it seems like a lot of the country, they suffer thru the cold months waiting for spring. Overall, I think I could suffer thru a cooler winter IF I was in a place that cycling was still good (and sadly, I don't think that will really apply to the Richmond area...too flat for my tastes).

Next week I think I'll look at Hot Springs, NC. It seems similar to Ashville but with a slightly warmer winter (and, it's got HOT SPRINGS! What better way to spend ANY winter than sitting in natural hot-springs!)