Well, to be accurate the International Astronomical Union (IAU) needs your help, but it’s about Pluto.

This is a great way people can get involved in planetary science without an advance degree, powerful telescope or even leaving the comfort of their homes: Help the IAU put together a list of potential names for features on Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

Why now?

This summer, the New Horizons spacecraft is going to fly past these two mysterious celestial objects. The IAU wants a ready list of names for the craters, plains, mountains, valleys, rifts and whatever else we see on Pluto and Charon.

The Hubble Space Telescope – the magical window to the universe that has brought us breath-taking images of galaxies, nebula, star clusters and more – is unable to provide a detailed image of distant Pluto. Pluto is too small, too far away and too dimly lit.

NASA's best image of Pluto taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA’s best image(s) of Pluto taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

That’s where New Horizons comes into play. Launched in 2006, New Horizons has been sailing through space towards a rendezvous with Pluto since before Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status.

After a gravity assist by Jupiter, the spacecraft is zipping along at 9,000 miles per hour. Pluto is a long way from Earth so, even at that rate, it’s taken over ten years to get there.

The spacecraft will pass within 8,000 miles of Pluto and should provide an array of detailed high-resolution images.

The IAU would like your help in developing a list of potential names for the features of Pluto and Charon that are about to be discovered. They have a list of nominees that people can vote on broken down by categories and sub-categories:

History of Exploration
Historic Explorers: those who pioneered the exploration of the land, sea and sky.

Space Missions and Spacecraft: the launch vehicles that have carried our people and our machines into space, and the spacecraft we have used to explore the cosmos.

Scientists and Engineers: Those who have contributed to our understanding of Pluto and the solar system.

Literature of Exploration
Fictional Explorers and Travelers: The characters who have embarked on journeys in the stories we tell.

Fictional Origins and Destinations: The places they have sought and the homes they have left.

Fictional Vessels: The sailing ships, starships, and everything in between that have carried them on their journeys.

Exploration Authors and Artists: Those who have envisioned our explorations of the land, sea and space.

Mythology of the Underworld
Underworlds and Underworld Locales: The deep, dark places of mystery and death, as imagined in all the cultures of the world.

Travelers to the Underworld: The intrepid travelers who have ventured into the underworld and (sometimes) returned.

Underworld Beings: The deities, demons and denizens of the underworld in our stories.

If you’re not fully satisfied with the list of nominations, you can submit your own ideas.

I have already done so – under the category Literature of Exploration: Fictional Explorers and Travelers. I nominated Tom Swift – the central character in a long series of books about science and adventure. I think I read all of them when I was a kid and they helped inspire a life-long love of science.

So, put your thinking cap on and come up with your own ideas – get involved. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll be talking about the Tom Swift mountain range on Pluto.

I have a deep appreciation for sound. If you pay attention, it’s amazing the power sound has to define and enhance our experiences. There’s a direct connection between hearing and feeling – hearing is an emotional experience. Nothing has the power to evoke our emotions like a favorite song from our youth, the plaintive mew of a kitten or the whisper of a lover.

I was thinking the other day of what winter sounds like here in New England and how these sounds might be different from other warmer, parts of the country. Most people don’t live in New England and many don’t even experience winter the way we do in the northern parts of the country,

Here are some of the sounds from this winter here in New England:

The barely perceptible sound of snow falling around you. It’s a quiet, muffled, still kind of sound. It’s almost like a nearly silent tinkling  – like a smaller, subtler version of sand blowing around a beach.

The squish and squeak of snow compressing under a boot.

The deeper and louder yelp of car tires compacting snow into an ice-like white mass that will turn to actual ice and then resist melting until April.

The crunch and swoosh of a snow shovel biting into freshly fallen powder.

The “ungh” people make as they throw the white stuff as far away from the driveway or walkway as possible.

The high-pitch whine of tires on ice – spinning and sliding sliding sideways until they find traction.h94cw25dgxegd1zrhemx

The sharp, breaking china-like chink of an icicle cracking, then shattering on the ice-encrusted snow below.

The pop-pop, rumble-rumble of your neighbor’s snow blower as he starts it up at 6am for the fifth consecutive day.

The hollow, rubbery, aluminum sound of your other neighbor as he violently kicks at his snowblower, which refuses to start.

The deep-throated, scraping of a snow plow the next street over and the whooosh of snow being piled up into a matterhorn-like mound at the corner.

The dull thudding and crunching of two cars colliding because their drivers could not see around the matterhorn-like mound of snow at the corner.

The repetitive, disappointing sound of melted snow and ice dripping on your couch from a leak in your ice-damed roof.

The whooph-wooph-wooph of a thrown snow shovel helicoptering towards the snow plow that has just filled in the end of the driveway for the third time today.

The exploding, filthy words spewing forth the pent-up anger from the owner of a shoveled out spot that has been taken by an interloper. And then, the irritating scape of a vengeful key on automotive enamel.

The breathy, near orgasmic tone TV meteorologists adopt when discussing the “jackpot area” for snow accumulation.

The groan of an overburdened roof and the final cataclysmic crack as the support beams give way, bringing tons of snow and ice into your bedroom.

These are just a few of the sounds of winter in New England 2014-15. I hope you’ve enjoyed them.

With age comes understanding. Well, on a few topics, on many topics I’m more baffled than I was decades ago. One thing I have a keen understanding of is how my body functions. I guess experience really is a great teacher, and I have over half a century of experience with this body.

I have come to understand that my body naturally wants to rest in the late afternoon. Call it a siesta, tea time or nap time, by four o’clock I need a rest. After scores of years fighting this tendency, I have come to embrace it in the last decade.

I take naps.

There, I said it (well, wrote it).

I take naps and I’m not ashamed.

There was a long time – like 25 years – when I thought there was something wrong with me for getting so tired before the end of the work day. I really beat myself up a lot about it.

I used to fight through that late afternoon slump with coffee, surgery snacks and brisk walks around the office. When I was able, I’d try to sneak in a quick little nap but they were few and far between. I could get away with it at home on the weekends, most of the time, but that was pretty much it.

When I worked at an AT&T retail store, I’d take a cat nap in my car during my lunch break – coincidentally that was usually somewhere between 3pm and 5pm. I’d read a little, eat my lunch then sleep a little. I felt so much better after my little rest break.

I have to say, the guys I worked with made fun of me in the beginning, but it made such a difference in how I felt for the rest of the shift, I didn’t care how much they kidded me.

For me a nap is like rebooting your computer. It’s rebooting my brain. It gives me a fresh start, resetting my emotions and eliminating fatigue. Maybe the people I worked with saw the difference in me because, one-by-one, they all started napping in their cars.nap-time-13

Now, I try to get a little sleep every afternoon. It doesn’t take a lot – fifteen or twenty minutes of actual sleep will suffice – more, like an hour, is better of course.

Can I power through my day without a nap? Yes, and I often have too. But, I feel a whole lot better if I can get just a little shut-eye late in the afternoon. My wife is supportive of my nap time – she likes me better with a nap then when I don’t have one.
Unlike some people who sleep during the day, I never – and I mean never ever – have trouble sleeping at night. I get up early because that’s when I’m most alert and productive. I have a really hard time staying up late – but that seems easier to do in Las Vegas for some reason.

A little nap in the afternoon and a hot cup of fully caffeinated coffee and I’m ready for anything.

I’m a napper and I’m proud to admit it.

Everyone runs out of gas at one time in their life – well, everyone except my wife but that’s another story. I’d almost be willing to bet no one has hit the big “E” as often as I have.

It’s not as if I try to cruise around on fumes, it just kind of works our that way and occasionally, like twenty times in the past dozen years, I’ve grossly over-estimated the amount of fuel in my tank.

People say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I have to agree. For example, I know that there’s always couple of gallons left in the tank when the low-fuel light comes on and, to make matters worse, I also know that there are usually still a few drops left when the gauge reads empty. I just don’t ever believe my instruments until the engine coughs, hesitates and goes quiet.out-of-gas-running-empty-no-gas

At one time I had a ready excuse; my car, a rusted out 1981 Toyota Tercel, had no fuel gauge. I ran out only twice with that car. The most memorable time caught me racing to the bank to cash a check during my lunch hour. I was probably going to get gas money – and that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

I was cruising North on Route 495 just after the 495/93 exchange when my engine quit. I sighed, turned down the radio (I don’t know why, but that’s was my first reaction when I run out, and how sad is it that I have a routine for running out of gas?), and pulled into the breakdown lane. As I crossed the white line, it occurred to me that I was still traveling over 70mph and, at the very least, I could coast closer to the nearest gas station – which was at least a couple of miles away.

I rolled past the off ramp to Rte 28 still going about 40mph and that’s when I realized I might be able to make it all the way.

I rolled silently down the off ramp, made a quick look to my left to check for oncoming traffic, and pulled onto Rte 114 and into the Exxon station at the corner. After hiking over to the Shawmut Bank across the street to cash a check, I filled the car and headed back to work.  All-in-all, my little trip was a bit more exciting than I’d expected, but I did manage to get back to work before my lunch break ended.

Sadly, that has not always been the case. I pulled the same trick at a gas station in Chelmsford one morning. As I rolled in front of the pumps – silently again – I realized that station was still closed. That day, I missed an appointment while roundly cursing myself.

This running out of gas thing has become almost a rite of passage for all my cars. I don’t think I’ve ever owned a car that I didn’t find empty at one time or another.

When I bought a Ford Escort a few years ago, I assumed it had a low-fuel gauge. On the first full day I had the car it stopped running. I was idling in a parking lot, waiting for my wife. No reason, no explanation, and most importantly, no warning lights. As I looked up the number for roadside assistance in my owner’s manual, I was chagrined to note that the car didn’t even come with a low-fuel warning light. I guess someone at Ford figured I would have ignored it anyway even if they had included it.

No amount of gas will ever prevent me from running the tank to empty. While in college, I drove a 1967 Chrysler New Yorker – a car so large I could fit four teenagers in the trunk (don’t ask). It came with a 22-gallon gas tank that I don’t think I could ever afford to fill. In any case, I hit a dry patch one Friday afternoon after work. I was on my way to cash my paycheck and scrambling for gas held me up just long enough for the bank to close. I was left holding my paycheck all weekend (Right, this was back in the days before ATM’s, Saturday hours and branches in grocery stores). You can’t imagine how long a weekend can be until you’ve spent it flat broke. My girlfriend was none too impressed either.

My father still reminds me of the times – yes, more than once – that he had to bring me money for gas. Sometimes he had to travel scores of miles to bring me five dollars.

I’m sorry to admit that I’m still running out of gas at an embarrassing pace.

Just a month ago, my engine sputtered and died as I waited for an attendant to come out of his little booth at a Methuen gas station. I handed him two dollars and raced off wondering if I had enough to make it to work and home again.

Update: I wrote this in the 1990’s and have at least slowed down my frequency of running out of gas. I’m pretty sure I’ve only run out twice since 2005.

In April, 1943 a B-24 Liberator nicknamed “Lady Be Good,” and her crew of nine began their first and only combat mission of World War II.

Lady Be Good was crewed by:

  • Pilot William J. Hatton,
  • Co-pilot Robert F. Toner, (from North Attleboro, Massachusetts,)
  • Navigator DP Hays,
  • Bombardier John S. Woravka,
  • Flight Engineer Harold J. Ripslinger,
  • Radio Operator Robert E. LaMotte, and
  • Gunners Guy E. Shelley, Vernon L. Moore, and Samuel E. AdamsConsolidated B-24D "Lady Be Good"

The B-24 was a long-range heavy bomber developed just before the start of the second world war. It was instrumental in air operations in Europe and the Pacific theaters.

Returning from a bombing mission to Naples, Italy the B-24 crossed over the Mediterranean Sea heading for her base in Libya. Her mission would not end until August of 1960.

When Lady Be Good failed to return to base, a search was organized. Planes fanned out over the Mediterranean looking for wreckage, life-rafts or any trace of the aircraft or crew. One plane searched the desert to the South of the base. Nothing was found. The crew were declared missing, and after a year passed, declared dead.

End of story…until 1958.

In May of that year, an exploration team working for British Petroleum spotted the wreckage of a B-24 in the desert some 440 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. They marked the location on their maps and continued their survey work. It was nearly a year later, in March 1959, that a team of oil explorers visited the crash site.

They found the Lady Be Good, broken in two behind the wings. The bomb bay doors and rear escape hatch were open and there were no human remains, life vests or life preservers to be found. It was clear the crew had bailed out before the crash.

lady-be-goodThree of the four engines were not running when the plane crashed, suggesting that they had been feathered as the plane ran dangerously low on fuel. The crew probably remained in the plane as long as they felt they could. The fact that they bailed out with their Mea West life vests suggests they thought they were still over water.

In 1960, the US Army conducted a formal search of the area for the crewmen’s remains. In February, five of the crew were found some eighty miles from the crash site, indicating they had walked for quite some distance after bailing out of the aircraft.

The desert in this region of Libya is not the endless vista of sand dunes one might imagine. Instead, much of it is a gravelly plain. Some researchers have proposed that they walked Northwest following truck tracks on the rocky surface of the desert. The crew had no way of knowing those tracks were over ten years old.

The eight survivors did not know the were some 440 miles from home. Sadly, had they chosen to walk South they would have, in all likelihood, found the wreckage of their plane and been able to gather some supplies before continuing South. Some have suggested that they would have also been able to use the plane’s radio to call for help.

A diary recovered from Robert Toner’s pocket documented the crews tortuous walk through the desert:

Sunday, April 4, 1943: Naples — 28 planes — things pretty well mixed up — got lost returning, out of gas, jumped, landed in desert at 2:00 in morning, no one badly hurt, can’t find John, all others present.

Monday, April 5: Start walking N.W. Still no John. A few rations, 1/2 canteen of water, 1 capful per day. Sun fairly warm, good breeze from N.W. Nite very cold, no sleep. Rested and walked.

Tuesday, April 6: Rested at 11:30, sun very warm, no breeze, spent p.m. in hell, no planes, etc. rested until 5:00 p.m. walked and rested all nite. 15 minutes on, five off.

Wednesday, April 7: Same routine, everyone getting weak, can’t go very far, prayers all the time, again p.m. very warm, hell. Can’t sleep. Every one sore from ground.

Thursday, April 8: Hit sand dunes, very miserable, good wind but continuous blowing of sand, everyone now very weak. Thought Sam and Moore were all done. LaMotte eyes are gone, everyone else’s eyes are bad. Still going N.W.

Friday, April 9: Shelly, Rip, Moore separate and try to go for help, rest of us all very weak. Eyes bad. Not any travel, all want to die. Still very little water. nites are about 35 degrees, good N. wind, no shelter, one parachute left.

Shelly, Ripslinger and Moore continued working their way Northwest.

Shelly’s body was recovered by a team of BP oil explorers 24 miles from the group of five and Ripslinger was located by the US Army 42 miles from the group in May, 1960.

Vernon Moore’s body has never been recovered. In 1953, a British Army patrol came across an unidentified body in the desert and buried it in place. It may have been Moore’s remains. It equally possible that he walked into the sandy portion of the desert where his body was eventually covered by drifting and shifting dunes.

The other eight crewmen’s remains were returned to the United States and were laid to rest. They gave their all and now, all we can do is remember them, and thank them.

I can’t believe its been a year. It seems like I was writing my “Books I Read” post for 2013 a few months ago, but there’s no arguing with the calendar.

2014 brought a major change in my consumption of books. Since I have a ridiculously long commute, I vowed to use that time productively and not just waste it on talk radio and traffic reports. Thus, the audiobook makes up a large percentage of the books I read this year. So, when I say “read” I mean read the paper or digital version or listened to a book. I have noted which were audiobooks on the list.

Once again, and now for the fifth consecutive year, I reached my goal of reading 20 books a year. In fact, I blew it away thanks to the audiobooks.

My Brief History - The autobiography of Stephen Hawking. Very interesting.

Rhode Island Disasters: Tales of Tragedy by Air, Sea and Rail - So many disasters for such a small state.

A Briefer History of Time – A nice re-write of Hawking landmark work for the masses on cosmology.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 – An inspirational book every teacher should read.

Directed by Jack Arnold – I love the old Jack Arnold movies – you know them: The Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula, The Mouse That Roared.Unknown-1

For Teachers Only - Forgettable.

The Wisdom of Steve Jobs - Nice bathroom reading.

The Fog - I read this in High School and then passed it around to all my friends. There’s a lot of sex in this story and the cover was pretty racy. What more do you need in a trashy novel?

The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era - This was a fascinating look at the discovery, understanding of and harnessing of radioactive elements. It’s a chemistry, physics and history class all rolled into a gripping story.

Jade’s Story – The unpublished sequel to Nora Waite. Maybe it will hit Amazon in 2015?

The Sun Also Rises – The first Hemingway novel I’ve ever read. I read some of his short stores in school but never got around to one of his novels. I’m glad I read it. I didn’t find it a life-altering read. I try to read one classic per year. This was the first of four classic works on my list this year. Mrs. Quinlan, my 9th grade english teacher, would be proud.

Irwin AllenTelevision Productions, 1964-1970: A Critical History of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants – I loved these shows as a kid. Irwin Allen made the kind of movies and TV shows I loved. This book wasn’t really what I was looking for, which was a narrative of Allen’s life and his creative process, but it was okay.

The End of the Point: A Novel – I saw this book mentioned on WCVB’s Chronicle TV show as a noteworthy book by a local author. It was very good.

Pride and Prejudice (Audiobook) – Saw the movie, listened to the book. Tried and gave up on the zombie version. I’ve had quite enough of Miss Jane Austen, thank you.

Kaiten: Japan’s Secret Manned Suicide Submarine and the First American Ship It Sank in WWII (Audiobook) – Who knew? A very good read about a chapter of World War II that I never knew about.Unknown-6

Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration (Audiobook) - Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon – just moments after Neil Armstrong. He has some very cool ideas about exploring Mars.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (audiobook) – This was part of my school’s 8th grade Fall expedition. It’s a fascinating read. It will change the way you think about food. So much corn.

On the Road (Audiobook) – I started reading this book a few years ago and ran out of gas. Listening to it made all the difference. Jack Kerouac’s novel is a stream of consciousness – images and ideas swirling past the reader with barely enough time to comprehend the significance before being replaced by newer images and ideas. I’ve seen the manuscript/scroll. This book works so much better for me as an audiobook. I loved it. I can imagine myself listening to it again someday.

Dirty Love (Audiobook) – This is a series of long short stories (novellas) by local author Andre Dubus III. They are interrelated in a very loose way. All the characters and places in these stores exist in the same universe. I liked it and wouldn’t mind reading more about this particular universe.

The Ghosts of Bungo Suido : a Novel – A fun, action-packed naval story of World War II.

Hidden Warbirds: The Epic Stories of Finding, Recovering, and Rebuilding WWII’s Lost Aircraft – If you like abandoned things and aircraft especially, you’ll enjoy this.

A Gift of Time – A self-published autobiography of a retired Marine who fought in Korea with my father. I keep urging my father to write his own story. He’s lived an interesting life and it ought to be preserved.

Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World (Audiobook) - Fascinating. This is chemistry where you don’t think about chemistry – like chocolate making. The joy of concrete is another great chapter. Unknown-3

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Audiobook) – A classic that I was embarrassed to say I’d never read. Now, I don’t have to feel that way anymore. It holds up really well for a book written 138 years ago.

A Stir of Echos (Audiobook) – Why doesn’t Richard Matheson get the recognition he so richly deserves as a writer? I mentioned him to an English teacher who I know reads science fiction and she’d never heard of him. This was excellent and, what do you know, it was made into a movie. Someday I’m going to do a post just about the importance of Richard Matheson.

The Box: Uncanny Stories (audiobook) – More Richard Matheson. As it turns out, I had read this collection a few years ago but it was just a good the second time around.

A Very Short Tour of the Mind: 21 Short Walks Around the Human Brain (Audiobook) – One might expect this to be an interesting read. It was not. The best part about it was that it was, blessedly, short.

Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond (Audiobook) – This might be the best book I read all year. It was gripping, funny, insightful and fast-paced. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys history and the space program.Unknown-4

Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side of the Good War (Audiobook) – This was very good. Fathers and sons and all that doesn’t get said between them.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex – This is the other book on my list that gets consideration for best read of the year. This is the real life story that inspired Moby Dick. Someone recommended it to me about five years ago, and I finally got ‘round to reading it. It’s great. Now, I want to visit Nantucket. The movie, directed by Ron Howard, comes out in March.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


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