Saturday, July 23, 2011

Welcome to Houston!

On Monday, July 18, I boarded a plane at way-too-early-o'clock for Houston.  I was one of 30 lucky people from around the world who had been invited to tour NASA's Johnson's Space Center during the STS-135 Mission.  This was the last shuttle mission and NASA wanted to allow a few space enthusiasts from the public the opportunity to be a part of it. 

I almost didn’t go.  The financial strain of last minute travel was big.  Technically we had the money, it just wasn’t there for me to go gallivanting off to Houston on a whim.  Realizing that I was in an amazing position to experience American history first hand, I decided that the memories would be worth the financial sacrifice.  I am so glad I made that decision; it was even more amazing than I could have imagined.

The highlight of Space Center Houston
Upon arrival to Houston, I hopped in my rental car and learned that I had a 55 minute drive from the airport to Johnson Space Center.  I steeled myself for the journey and was on my way.  I had to make a few stops – to a Kohl’s (I forgot my shoes and was specifically told that the sandals I had traveled in wouldn’t cut it on the simulators) and decided to grab lunch at Sonic.   On the way to the hotel I saw signs for Space Center Houston,  Johnson’s Visitor’s Center.  I checked the schedule on my phone and realized that I’d only have an hour to check it out.  I didn’t know if I would have an opportunity to buy gifts on the actual tour, so I decided to postpone my hotel check in and go see NASA the way the average tourist gets to see it.

If I were the average tourist I’d be disappointed.   A large chunk of Space Center Houston is taken up by the “Summer Sports Explosion” an interactive play area where you can “Experience every sport in the world”.  I believe that they were able to extremely loosely tie some of this “science” to space, but it was questionable at best.  If I had Nate and Kitty with me this would have surely been the main attraction and I would have been pissed that they were spending their time playing “Human Foosball” and not learning about aerospace.

I dinked around the exhibits, put on a space helmet and watched a presentation about life on the International Space Station.  I was debating on whether or not to take one of the hour-long “behind the scenes” tram tours, but after consulting with the girls working the line decided to wait and see the sites on the tour “for real” in the morning.  Instead I went to a presentation in a theater with a small mockup Mission Control where the Emcee showed us footage of the day’s Space Station undocking ceremony and briefed us on the current mission. I hit up the gift shop and took off for the hotel.

Being the hostess (read: bossy person who insists on a plan) that I am, I had organized a dinner for our group.  By sheer luck I chose Frenchie’s Restaurant.  I was apprehensive about eating Italian food in Houston (shouldn’t we be having Barbeque or Tex-Mex?) but after consulting few locals and many crowd-sourced reviews, I came to the conclusion that this was the place to be.  Really, we couldn’t have picked a better spot. It was like the Sardi’s of spaceflight, the small room that Frankie, the proprietor put us in was covered with autographed astronaut photos It seems that Frenchie’s, with it’s delicious food and proximity to Johnson, was the place the astronauts ate!

I wore Kitty's souvenir to dinner, this is the only surviving photo of the dealy-boppers as she promptly broke them and Nate turned then into LEGO parts.
Meeting my fellow tweeps was amazing.  We had a former Houston radio DJ, a commercial pilot, a designer at CNN, an aerospace engineer and more private pilots, math geeks, and space nuts than you could shake a stick at.  It was the only time in my life that I felt like the least geeky person in the room.
After dinner I returned to the hotel where I met my roommate, the lovely @RennaW.  We were sooooo excited and giggled like schoolgirls while talking about what we *might* get to see in the morning.  We stayed up entirely too late, seeing as how we had to be back at NASA at 7:30 the next morning, but with the excitement of what lay ahead of us we were just too excited to sleep.

 In my next post, I'll recap our tour day, stay tuned!


Friday, July 22, 2011

I talked to space, and this time it answered back

Here is a link to a CNN iReport story submitted by my fellow NASA tweep @absolutspaceguy of our phone call from the International Space Station.  As we followed our Twitter feeds, those of us following @Astro_ron saw this:
If Amiko answers her cell phone I can say hi to everyone at the

Amiko is the Social Media Lead at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and was our gracious tour guide.  Someone found her, and from what I heard, her cell phone was dead, a fate many of us were experiencing as the tour was non-stop with little access to outlets.  I think a fellow tweep offered up his phone and Astronaut Ron Garan called us with a mere two minute window before he was out of our range (things move fast in space!)

So my interesting and thought provoking question comes about 18 seconds in when I ask "Are you having fun?".  Not a shining moment for me, but I was one of the few to actually be able to talk to the ISS, and it was one of the highlights of the trip.

I took some video, but @absolutespaceguy's is better so go to the link and check it out.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Last night Nate and I went to see Captain America: The First Avenger.  This movie has everything: Nazis! Dancing Girls! Mythology! Technology! Dames! Old Ladies with Tommy Guns! Car Chases! Oh, and actually some nice dialogue about being right and good. 
Because of the quaint "Go USA!" storyline that is inherent in telling Captain America's origin, it would have been easy for director Joe Johnston and the filmmakers to go with a tongue in cheek "we're in on the joke" approach.  With help of a lovely script, a nice smattering of 2011 CGI, and a fun supporting cast, Johnston is able to depict this somewhat clich├ęd branch of the Marvel Universe without being trite or disrespectful.
Chris Evans shines as Steve Rogers.  He plays the character with such heart and sincerity that the over the top "good guy" stuff doesn't ever come across as corny or forced.  The audience believes that Rogers is archetypical American hero - earnest, completely virtuous and almost stupidly brave - without doubt.
My main complaint is the  poor character development of Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter.  The filmmakers seem to have tried tocreated a strong female character to not only serve as a Roger's love interest  but to counteract the male dominated cast (the only other female characters are the aforementioned old lady, a hysterical mother, the occasional army nurse/secretary and Howard Stark's dancing girls).  They really missed the mark, and Peggy Carter seems more like a caricature of a strong female character as opposed to an actual strong female character. She comes across as an over the top ball-buster whose background is never explained.  Even the love story between her and Cap is poorly developed and therefore unbelievable.  Her main purpose might have been as a nod to hardcore Captain America fans who will surely recognize the name from Cap's extensive comic book history.

I also found the CGI used to create the tiny, pre-Super Soldier Steve Rogers completely distracting.  In some scenes it looked great, and so I was distracted by trying to figure how they did that.  In other scenes the proportions looked off and I wondered why they did that.  In particular there was scene of Rogers in a car with Carter where he looked so much smaller than her that I worried that he should have been in a car seat.

Balanced with a well-written script, the film suffers no shortage of action and fighting sequences, and comes with the accompanying violence and death.  The PG-13 rating seems apt.  Know your child and their sensitivities before you take them.

All told, it was an entertaining film.  Yes, much of the plot was preposterous, this IS a super-hero movie after all and suspension of disbelief is a vital part of enjoying such a flick.  An all-star cast, a fully developed world, lots of laughs and nods to fan favorite characters make this a great summer movie.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Still Time for Young Space Geeks to Submit a question!

I'm leaving for NASA's Johnson Space Centerearly on Monday morning.  I will take questions right up until I can't anymore. I would guess that I will have computer/internet access during any Q&A's we have, but I'd say if you want your child's question to be considered, Monday night would be a good cutoff.  That's when I'll make sure that I have all of the questions available to me on my mobile device.


I'll be meeting astronauts, flight directors, trainers and managers.  If your kid, teen (or you if it's a good one!) has a question about NASA or space submit it in the comments section below. Make sure to leave your child's first name, age and city.

I can't guarantee that I'll get to ask your child's question, but I will do my best!


For more info on my upcoming NASA trip read my original article here.

Be sure to follow @ParentingGeekly on Twitter during the tweetup.  I'll be using the #NASATweetup hastag!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Kitty's new lunch box.

She saw this at Arcane Comics and More and got soooo excited.  She begged me to buy it for her, and promised she would keep it safe until preschool in the fall.

My guess is that she'll be the only one with this particular lunchbox:

Read about my trip to NASA on MyBallard.com

I live in Seattle.  Specifically in the northwest Seattle neighborhood of Ballard.  I looooooove Ballard.  Among the many, many cool things that Ballard has to offer is an award-winning neighborhood blog.  Today they published a little write up on my NASA adventure!  Click here to check it out!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Young Space Geeks: What should I ask NASA?

I have the very special honor of visiting NASA in a few days.  I'll be joining 30 other Tweeps who follow @NASA accounts on twitter.  From the NASA Press release:
The tour for Twitter followers includes a look at mission control and astronauts' training facilities. Visitors also will have the opportunity to speak with flight directors, trainers, astronauts and managers. The Tweetup will include a "meet and greet" session to allow participants to mingle with fellow Tweeps and the staff behind the tweets on @NASA and @NASA_Johnson.

So...does your kid have a question they'd like to ask an astronaut (or a flight director, trainer or manager)?  I can't guarantee that I'll get to ask them, but I'll take the best ones with me!  Leave your question in the comments below along with your child's first name, age and city and state.

Then, follow me on Twitter (@ParentingGeekly) while I live tweet/blog the Tweetup on July 19th to see if your question gets asked!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Help me go to NASA!

I got this EXTREMELY AWESOME email in my inbox today:
You are confirmed to attend the NASA Tweetup in conjunction with the last flight of space shuttle Atlantis, STS-135. The NASA Tweetup is Tuesday, July 19. You'll find details about the event below. Please read the information carefully. We look forward to seeing you on the 19th!

YAY! Awesome!  I get to go to the Johnson Space Station in Houston, check out Mission Control and use the flight simulator that the astronauts train on, and I get to photograph, tweet and blog about it!

There's one issue: funds.  It's short notice and I just don't have them.  So, I've decided to put myself out there and ask for sponsors.  I know it's a long shot, but I'm hoping there is a cool company (or companies) that have some discretionary funds (I'll need about $1000 to cover the travel and accommodation expenses) laying around to help me get to NASA!  In exchange, I will promote the hell out of your company both during the tweetup (which tons of people will be following) and before and after here in this blog and on my Twitter account.  I'll even wear a corporate logo.  If you are interested, please contact me at sharon@parentinggeekly.com.

Seattle Area Geeks: EMP Seeking New Members for Youth Advisory Board

I would have LOVED this opportunity as a teen!

From the EMP's website:
Experience Music Project seeks new members for the 2011-2012 Youth Advisory Board (YAB)! The mission of this program is to connect teenagers to the Northwest's all ages arts and music scene by giving them an opportunity to be a driving force in EMP's teen programming. YAB members are invited to create and promote teen programs, work with local musicians and artists, meet other creative types in the community, and help out with Sound Off!, EMP's annual battle of the bands.

For more information and to apply click here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beautiful Photography Cheat Sheet

This Photography Cheat sheet from Living in the Stills is beautiful and practical.  As a new photography hobbist, I tend to forget which setting does what.  I want a little business card sized print of this to stick in my camera bag.  It's so pretty that would look right at home on a living room wall or in your photography studio!

Click on the image below to see a bigger version or to order a print.

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