March 2005


Got me a new Palm Zire 31. It's already loaded with several hours worth of tunes and two PopCap games.

Anybody care to recommend some cool games?

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This little business trip has proven to be yet another in a long series of blessed interesting adventures. I shall begin at the beginning. Of course, everyone is already aware of dooce.com and what can happen when you blog too much about what you do at work, so I can only generalize. Too bad too since I think I've gotten to do and see some pretty interesting things this week. Ah well, I'll just make this a travelogue. I wrote this as my trip progressed and since nothing bad happened, it reads like a boring episode of “Travels in Europe” on PBS but so be it. For some reason, my creative writing ability seems to have taken a rather unhumorous turn.

I left on Saturday. This was unfortunately a very busy time for us what with Erin's birthday, my trip, and Evan leaving on a mission trip. He was to be deposited at the church at 5:00 am which we did. I had had a great opportunity to fly on the company aircraft the night before as a substitute crewman and had stumbled into the house after the night flight at around midnight so the 4:00 am awakening came hard. But we made it to the church and waited around for the usual hour-long chaos until everyone was safely deposited on the busses and they pulled out. Then it was on to the airport for me.

I guess I knew in my head that it was the beginning of spring break in Tulsa but I hadn't thought that the airport would be chock full of people going places for the spring break week. Well, it was – chock full that is. I was in such a hurry this week that I never even checked on my reservation. I just printed the boarding passes and headed for the security checkpoint and the departure lounge beyond. Imagine my surprise when I looke at the boarding pass to see what group I was in and it said FIRST. By some miracle, I had been provided with a first class seat by the employer.

SCORE!

I had dressed for coach though; I was wearing jeans, a T shirt, and tennies but that's life. Nobody else looked much better.

Due to my abreviated sleep schedule, I managed to fall asleep on the second leg from DFW into LAX. As a result, it seemed a short trip for me. I don't usually sleep on planes but these were extenuating circumstances. Either that or it was those warmed nuts that I got in first class. You may now insert a tastless joke about flight attendants and warm nuts here.

I was traveling with two guys whom I barely knew and was a bit nervous about it. They seemed nice but you never know when you get a guy out of his home town if he's going to go crazy and want to go to the nudie booty bars. It was with great relief that I found these guys to be of the very nicest sort. Furthermore, they are interested in much the same stuff that I am. Of course we are all scientist/engineers in the aerospace business so I shouldn't be surprised. Nevertheless, we had plenty to talk about as we arrived at LAX and prepared for the drive over the mountains to Edwards Air Force Base. It's normal to get to know people when you're thrown together for a business trip like that so eventually the subject came up of when we'd done before and it finally came out that I have a Ph.D. in physics and that little statement had it's usual effect:

dead silence.

That always happens. I can kill a conversation immediately and consistently by describing my education. That's why I almost never mention it. Fortunately, I made a joke of it and got the conversation restarted but it always happens that way. Freaky.

One of the guys had grown up in the LA area and I had lived in California before and was moderately familiar with those parts so we decided to take the long way into Rosamond which is the closest town to Edwards AFB. We left the airport and headed up the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu. We went a short way up the coast and turned onto some canyon road and wound our way across to highway 101 near Thousand Oaks. We had meant to take Topanga Canyon road but it was closed; presumeably from the mudslides. From there we followed highway 14 over the mountains and down into the high-desert plateau towards Rosamond.

We had reservations at a hotel in Lancaster but had found out before we left that “billeting” had been arranged for us on the base itself. In other words, we were to say “on base”. I had no idea what that would turn out to be; I had visions of a quonset hut barracks with 50 bunks in it and one shower. Imagine my surprise when we drove up to what appeared to be a dormitory. It is basically a hotel run by the air force for visiting servicemen and contractors who are working there. It's called the “High Desert Inn” and we walked into the lobby and up to a very typical-looking front desk and were greeted by Senior Airman Amanda Ortega; a charming young lady who provided us with very typical keycards. I was moderately surprised to find that I was expected to pay my way. It was indeed a real hotel. It is quite a bit cheaper than your typical hotel though. I had a brief difficulty when my keycard didn't work but things worked themselves out after several trips back to see airman Ortega and her magical computer system. Everyone had his own room but two rooms share a bathroom so perhaps they were originally dorms. Fortunately, many rooms (approximately every other one) is used for storage so most of us don't have to share a bathroom. When the TV comes on, it's tuned to the Pentagon Channel. Who knew that there was such a thing?

Our first day on the job really didn't involve me but I tagged along anyway. We shipped a computer system out in order that I would be able to try and get some work done in my off hours but it unfortunately didn't arrive until Monday which was perilously close to when I have to fly on the mission for which I was sent out so it went unused to a certain extent. That left me available for tagging along. My two coworkers spent the morning doing their business and when finished, we decided to take another road trip. Since we had base access, one of the guys took us on a tour to see some interesting airplanes. These were at the on-site museum as well as an area where the Air Force puts its old airplanes that they aren't using any more but which haven't made it to a museum yet. One of the guys had been in the Air Force for many years and had actually flown aboard or worked on many of the aircraft we saw. He was full of interesting stories. Sort of like a living history exhibit.

From there, we drove across to one of the dry lakes that the area is so famous for. Because of all the recent rain, the lakes are no longer dry so we wanted to see them in one of their rare “non-dry” dry lake states. The water was only a few inches deep but the lakes are huge and with the high winds we had, the muddy water was rippling with waves, some of which came over the road. It was a rare sight indeed.

We left the base and headed up the road into Mojave to see some of the planes at the Mojave airport and then drove on up into Tehachapi. We stopped at the BigKmart; two of us had gotten out of town without our sunglasses and we replaced them there in addition to supporting one of the local girl scout troops by buying some of their cookies. We poked around the downtown Tehachapi area for a bit and then one of the guys wanted to check out a glider airport. This turned out to be a very nice little place to hang out. While they froze to death in the chilling wind walking around and admiring all the glider aircraft, I went into their pilot store/coffee shop and had one of those big cookies and admired all the photos on the wall. Airplane people always decorate their places with pictures of other airplanes – usually ones that have been autographed by somebody. I have a couple but Mel seems against the idea of putting airplane pictures on our walls at home. That's one of those woman things that I'll never understand.

We then took the backroads back down into Mojave and in so doing, saw a great many Joshua trees and windmills. The Tehachapi pass is covered with power-generating windmills and along the backroads (Oak Creek Road to be exact), you can get up close and personal with some of them. We were on our way over to Boron to eat at Domingoes which is well-known amongst the Air Force and contract engineer crowd. The mexican food there is excellent so if you're ever in Boron,… well you know what to do. You can't miss it; it's the only restaurant in town just across the street from the Borax museum which, not surprisingly, is very small. I finally got a taste of fried ice cream at the restaurant. I've eaten at the Domingoes in Tehachapi and it's not nearly as good.

After lugging the silly laptop all the way across the country, I found that my room did not have internet access, nor do any of the other buildings that I intend to spend time in so I've lugged this monstrosity across the country for nothing. It has no wireless card, no DVD drive, and takes forever to boot up. Add to that the fact that I don't have admin access and so couldn't fix the network configuration problem that it had which would have prevented me from getting on the internet even if my room had had it. I guess if I want a laptop that does what I want it to, I'm just going to have to buy one. I finally started taking my own cell phone so that I can, in good conscience, call home but of course, it had that unfortunate trip throught the laundry last Thursday so I took one of my employer's.

Monday, we had to go do some more work. Again, I tagged along with the systems engineers who were arranging for all sorts of aircraft support stuff. We managed to work in time around lunch to go over to NASA Dryden Flight Research Center which is just chock full of historical airplanes. Unfortunately, the visitor's center is under renovation. Apparently when they took the shuttle out of service, they took this out of service too since it has the same back-in-business date as the shuttle does. We could still take photos of all the airplanes on sticks outside the facility though.

Monday afternoon, my computer came in. Again the folks at the original hotel were a bit amused by my big rollaround case but I came and got it out of their lobby and that's all that mattered. And, in one of my grand faux pas, I manage to pack the computer without its power cord. So I have this system all set up and ready to go but have no power cord. But I'm a resourceful guy and managed to make do with something I found laying around.

That evening, we drove into Lancaster and ate at Stuart Andersen's Black Angus steakhouse. After a good meal I was feeling spendy and decided to buy a new PDA so into the local Staple's I went only to be informed that they were out of the one I wanted. They had some over in Palmdale but since I had no idea where that was and since my coworkers were not particularly interested in driving over there, we just decided to go to Baskin Robbins instead. Still, when you make up your mind to buy a gadget, you don't like to be told you can't get it.

Finally, on Tuesday we got word that the plans for the entire mission had changed and that we should pack and come on home. We set about the business of packing my computer back up, turning in rental cars, turning in flightline passes, and all manner of administrivia. As usual, it didn't involve me directly but I felt obligated to help anyway. Having finished that we had only to find a FedEx drop point where I could leave my computer. Nobody on base was much help with that – apparently nobody wanted my big box to be left with them. Furthermore, one of my coworkers had checked his laptop as baggage and the airline had misplaced it. It was to arrive by FedEx today. In one of those comic coincidences, we stopped at a gas station on base and a FedEx truck pulled up. The driver was apparently getting a drink. We ran out and stepped up into his truck (to his great surprise) and asked if he had my coworker's laptop. Well, it turns out that he did. Furthermore, since I had a pre-paid shipping label on my big computer case, he took that too and with that, all our administrivia magically worked itself out.

That left us enough time to drive about and see a few more interesting sites around the base before leaving. We drove to the on-base museum and browsed about. But then, having gone back to the interior of the base to see some aircraft on sticks (you know, those fighters you see around airforce bases that are mounted on poles for display), we passed by what appeared to be a junkyard. My coworker who had spent several years in the air force at Edwards noted that the gate was open to this yard – an event that had never occurred in his memory. We stopped. Lo and behold, there was the museum curator there browsing around; it was the museum's storage facility for things that they had yet to characterize or restore. He invited us in and thus we got to experience an aspect of aviation history that few others can boast of. We saw all sorts of historically significant things that have barely escaped being scrapped over the years: rocket motors, airplanes, parts of the X-4, etc. First of all, the entire place was covered with PSP (or Marsten Matting) which is those interlocking steel grates that they used to build runways with on islands during WWII. All the miscellaneous junk was sitting on this stuff which created a makeshift parking lot. We spent a good deal of time there.

After that, we headed towards Palmdale to see some other planes on sticks but it started to rain on us pretty hard (another desert first for most of us) so we ended up looking for a place called “Aviation Collectibles” in Lancaster. We found it and ended up spending a good deal of time in there too. They were supposed to be closed but the guy in there found us interesting enough to stay open and talk. He was pretty interesting too – he and one of my coworkers shared a similar air force career history and so the proprietor began to go in the back and bring out miscellaneous pieces of airplane flotsam and jetsam which we found fascinating. He had quite a collection of things – the sorts of things that the Smithsonian is not interested in due to its being only bits and pieces rather than intact objects but immenently fascinating to airplane buffs. We bought some minor souvenirs and reluctantly took our leave.

After that it was dinner at Club Muroc (the former Edwards AFB officer's club) and went off to bed early for our flight home the next day.

On the way out of Edwards, we stopped in Palmdale (forgetting about my PDA that was allegedly for sale there) at a city park that has yet more airplanes to look at. These were pretty ordinary by comparison with the others we'd seen but the best part was meeting the curators. These were a handful of old retired machinists who had worked at Lockheed Skunkworks (located nearby). They were in charge of restoring and displaying the planes there and did so in there spare time (which was considerable since they are retired). They invited us in and showed us the palacial workshop they had which was stocked with machinery donated by Lockheed when they shut down one of the facilities. They had a bit too much in fact and so the old guys gave me a dead-blow mallet which I had been admiring (and which they had two boxes full of) and my friend got a handful of old Mechanix Illustrated magazines from the '50's. Nobody had any idea how they got there. So not only did we get the insider's tour, we got free souvenirs.

From there, we went over the mountains into LA to Redondo Beach where we passed the time on the fishing pier until it was time to go catch our flight. No first class this time for me but who's complaining. Actually, I did get first class from DFW to Tulsa but that flight's so short, it doesn't really matter.

Every time I travel, I want to update my journal and check email. That's not so hard is it? Well it turns out to be so for me. If I take the lame-o employer provided no-wireless laptop, I seem to land in a hotel that does not have internet in the room. (perhaps in the 'business center' which prevents surfing in your underwear from your room). Plus, the lame-o laptop doesn't have a DVD drive so I can't use it for watching movies while on the road. Ah me.

I had this huge (and hopefully interesting) journal entry all ready to go and the business center won't let my laptop on its network. I guess I'll just blog it when I get home.

In the meantime, here I am using one of their computers but can't get my blog entry from the laptop since I can't get to the CPU to plug in my keydrive. It's always something!

One day, all this will be a thing of the past at which point I will probably have run out of things to say.

Anyway, greetings everyone from Edwards Air Force Base!

They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and I always knew that Evan and I were of a like mind on many things. But Erin surprised me this week.

She's a bit miffed at me for leaving town on her birthday (although we celebrated last Saturday) so I ventured to do something with her one on one last night. Her choice: taking apart a bad CD player. It had been on the fritz for awhile and I had taken it apart and determined it to be DOA (or at least beyond my abilities to fix which is essentially the same thing) so she decided she wanted to take it apart again to see what was inside.

The nerd's family activity!

So off we went to get the teeny screwdrivers.

She seemed truly interested in all the little bits and pieces. There are two teeny electric motors: one to spin the CD and the other to move the laser back and forth. The little laser motor we took and hooked it directly to a battery to watch it spin. She then, without my knowledge, went and put it in her dollhouse hanging from the ceiling with little makeshift ceiling-fan blades fixed to the shaft. It worked for awhile until the out-of-balance fan blades made the wobbling so bad that it shook one of the wires loose from the motor. Still, it was pretty fun.

If things keep going this way, I'll be having her replace her own brake pads by the time she's 16.

I'm off on another adventure and the agenda calls for me to end up chronically short of sleep in the next few days. Apparently, I'm flying tonight (takeoff at around 4:30 this afternoon) to do some work, back tonight at 9:00 pm or so then back on a plane tomorrow at 8:00 am for the next week. I'm OK with all of the above, but I'm a bit flustered by it all. Plus, a couple of pieces in my plans haven't quite fallen into place yet so there's a little stressor.

Today is Erin's birthday (party last weekend) so she's now 12. Evan's headed off tomorrow morning on a mission trip (at 5:00 am – yawn – but of course, I'll be up anyway!)

Well, that was a quick trip. (That's how you can tell I'm from the south – I start a sentence with the word 'well').

I had to take a quick jaunt out to California for a meeting during which I was to present something to a roomful of people. No big problems there. But as I left Tulsa, I started feeling funny and by the end of the day, I was aching all over. For me, that usually means I'm coming down with a cold but the head cold/snotty part never developed. I just got really achy and slightly feverish. When I got to the hotel, I pretty much just went to bed and tried to sleep it off.

Not surprisingly, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4:00 am at which point I discovered what a vast wasteland the television is. One channel showed nothing but advertisements for the “Girls Gone Wild” series of videos. And I wonder who's up at that hour wanting to watch a show about fishing? At any rate, I felt somewhat better. I dosed myself with pain reliever and headed out for my meetings and by the end of the day when I got back to the airport in Santa Barbara, I was beginning to feel better. I didn't need to take any more Tylenol by the time I got to Salt Lake City where I felt good enough to eat a salad at the airport there between flights.

So, I'm not sure what that was. The strong correlation with the trip suggests some mind thing going on where I'm stressing out about it but I still feel a bit achy today too so who knows?

Imagine my surprise when I go to the rental car place and they handed me the keys to a Lincoln Town Car. That was like driving my living room around while sitting in the Barcalounger. After only two days in the flying couch of a car, I immediately thought “Gee this pickup truck is loud” when I got home. I also kind of felt like a grandpa in it since that the only people I ever see driving those. I don't need to mention that it uses a ton of gas.

One of my little tasks was to survey a possible site to put a sensor up which was at the top of a mountain near an omnirange station. So here I am, driving up a tortuous little one lane road near the top of mountain in a grandpamobile. At some point, the spare tire thing and the jack handle came loose from their moorings in the truck and began to rumble and clank around during my uphill climb. Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with a dump truck. Not room enough for the two of us so I managed to get out of the way at a slighty wider spot. And then, the inevitable: nature called. Well, it's pretty remote so there was pretty much nothing stopping me from just taking a leak beside the road. That far out in the woods, you can always hear if someone's coming. All this felt pretty silly in a Lincoln Town Car.

And so it went. Pretty uneventful aside from the strange malady.

Off I go to California's central coast again tomorrow. Another quick meeting, a site survey, and back again.

But, I have even more interesting travels in my future. I can't wait to see if the trip pans out with no more changes in schedule. I also can't wait to tell everyone.

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