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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Scott Carpenter, Aurora 7, and Boulder

Scott Carpenter (photo NASA)
Fifty years ago today, astronaut Scott Carpenter became the second American to orbit the earth. The 1960s were a busy time for our space program, so the 2010s are going to be a busy time for 50-year space achievement anniversaries.

I've been a bit of a space junkie ever since I was a young boy with my Kmart telescope and Space Shuttle models. My very first "Do you remember where you were..." moment was the Challenger disaster, and even when NASA wasn't in the spotlight I was getting up in the middle of the night to watch Shuttle launches and landings.

One of the perks of being a student at CU-Boulder is the university's history of producing astronauts (20 at current count, which I believe is more than any institution other than the military academies) and our strong involvement in building space craft and experiments (we're the top NASA-funded university in the world). There's a great exhibit in the CU Heritage Museum where you can see a moon rock, various spacesuits and equipment, and artifacts collected from the Challenger wreckage that belonged to CU alumnus Ellison Onizuka, who died in the disaster.

CU can trace much of this proud space history back to Scott Carpenter, a Boulder native. I'm reminded of him almost every day: I live across the street from Scott Carpenter Park and I route my runs behind Aurora 7 Park, named for Carpenter's Mercury spacecraft (which I've seen in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry). After Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom made sub-orbital flights, and John Glenn made a three-orbit flight, it was Carpenter's turn. The flight was designated as a science mission and not everything went well, as discussed in this video:


This video makes it look like Carpenter did a lot of work to save a ship with malfunctioning guidance equipment and a lack of fuel, although Chris Kraft's comments in the documentary When We Left Earth and elsewhere make it sound like Carpenter was willingly pushing the craft to its limits, even when instructed not to. I suppose in the end it just makes for a good story, as whatever headaches Carpenter might have caused were replaced by the wealth of data Carpenter collected about the Mercury spacecraft and what's possible in spaceflight.

Carpenter returned to earth and to Boulder a hero, and locally he has been anything but forgotten. Here's a sampling of some great local articles written about him in the past few weeks:

Boulder Daily Camera: Scott Carpenter leaves mark on Boulder, 50 years after blasting into space
Boulder Daily Camera: Carol Taylor: Boulder declared Scott Carpenter Day in 1962 after historic spaceflight
CU-Boulder: CU astronaut-alumnus Scott Carpenter looks back at 50th anniversary of Aurora 7 mission

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Podcast Predilection

I think my main modus operandi is to interact with as much information as possible. I read for school, keep track of a couple hundred news feeds in Google Reader, watch documenaries, and follow really smart people on social networks who share good things. It's a full-time job, and I love it. Now that the semester is over, I can try to stay more up-to-date with a growing number of podcasts I follow. Being a PhD student is a very immersive experience, but podcasts are one way I keep myself stretched in more than just one direction. Here's a list of what I watch or listen to on a regular basis:

TWiT.tv: I keep up with a ton of technology news and debate by following Leo Laporte and others on his podcasting network. Here are the podcasts I prefer to watch:

This Week in Tech (This is roughly the tech equivalent of "Meet the Press," but far, far less formal)
Tech News Today (Today's their 500th show, and I'm sure I've never missed one)
Security Now (Steve Gibson and Leo are great together, and even though I'm not responsible for other peoples' computer security, I enjoy the geekiness)
This Week in Google (Jeff Jarvis and Gina Trapani make this a consistently good show)
Windows Weekly (Paul Thurrott and Leo have great chemistry)

And here are the TWiT podcasts I usually just listen to:
All About Android (As an Android user, this is the primary way I hear about new devices and apps)
Home Theater Geeks (Depending on the guest I sometimes skip this one, but host Scott Wilkinson gets some great guests)
The Tech Guy (Leo's call-in radio show, where I get reminded about "real people's" tech problems)
This Week in Computer Hardware (Ryan Shrout and Patrick Norton geek out over CPUs and video cards, old-school tech enthusiasm)
Triangulation (Leo and Tom Merritt interview a great guest each week)

Although the length of the shows above varies, on an average week I think that adds up to about 16 hours of programming. How do I manage all that? It helps that I listen to all of my audio podcasts at 2x speed, thanks to Pocket Casts and the Presto sound library. The one other technology podcast I listen to is the Vergecast, mostly because I enjoy and value the opinions of Joshua Topolsky and Nilay Patel.

NPR and PRI are my other great podcast sources. I listen to:

NPR: Car Talk (I listen for the entertainment value, less so far car advice)
NPR: Education (NPR does have some great education coverage)
NPR: Fresh Air (Is there a better interviewer anywhere than Terry Gross? Seriously, listen to the "Fresh Air Remembers Author Maurice Sendak" show)
NPR: Planet Money (I love the educational angle Planet Money takes on the world of money and finance)
NPR: Science Friday (I skip this one sometimes depending on the topic)
NPR: Sports with Frank Deford (Short and somewhat curmudgeonly, just as I'd imagine from a great veteran sportswriter)
NPR: Story of the Day (A great variety of topics)
NPR: Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! (A humorous round-up of weekly news stories)

PRI: Smiley and West (Cornel West and Tavis Smiley are a great team, shining a light on the poor and disadvantaged)
This American Life (The best storytelling...anywhere?)

Lastly, a few miscellaneous podcasts that I subscribe to:

Freakonomics Radio (I've read the books and enjoy the podcast...usually. Sometimes I'd prefer to see the world not the way an economist would see it.)
Hypothetical Help (Scott Johnson and Mark Turpin (Turpster) turn (usually) bad advice into a pretty funny show.)
Radiolab (interesting stories here)
Talkin Walkin (An entire show dedicated to Kevin Pollack's impersonation of Christopher Walken? Yes, please!)

Obviously, even listening at double speed, it's hard to get through these in a given week. I skip some of them or save them for all-day listening on a weekend. Now that it's summer and I'll be running more, I can count on these to keep me company.